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Watch It All Melt Away

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Merlin and Arthur’s Relationship Tally Sheet

  • Times they have kissed (proper kisses that is): 7
  • Times they have gotten off together: 0 (well, one time, but they’re not talking about it)
  • Times they’ve had sex: 0

  • Road trips taken together: 1 — currently ongoing.
  • ___________________________________________

    The sky is low, heavy and white. It hangs over the road, almost ominous, full and ready to burst. Clouds cling to the side of the mountains around them, like life-lines, as their car makes its way along the curves and bends.

    Arthur is careful and focused, the steering-wheel tight in his grip, his brows furrowed—he’s nervous. Merlin recognizes the tension in his shoulders. It’s the ‘I really don’t want to fuck this up’ tension—back straight, determination in his eyes, a boasting confidence only betrayed by the white knuckles of his hands and the slight twitch in his right eye. Not to be confused with the ‘fuck I can’t believe I only studied 8 hours for this final’ nervousness, where he tends to bite his lip and roll his shoulders forward, or the ‘my father is in town and I need to have dinner with him’ tension which results in a confusing conflagrance of all the previous symptoms, plus an on-edge state of mind that makes him say cruel things to the wrong people. Merlin has learned to ignore him and to take all of it in stride, or to silence Arthur with a well-timed bottle of vodka.

    They’ve been silent for a solid hour—an hour of Arthur grinding his teeth, as he navigates the icy roads, winding around the mountain slopes, deep ravines on their left. An hour of Merlin trying not to imagine them plunging to their death, crashing upon the rocky mountainsides in a mess of broken bones and twisted metal and shattered glass. Of crossing his fingers that the snow doesn’t start falling before they get to Arthur’s uncle’s cabin.

    He wants to reach out and put his hand on Arthur’s thigh—to reassure him, to somehow extricate the stress from his body, pulling it out with his fingertips. He just wants to touch him because, even though he’s sitting right there beside Merlin, close in the small, overheated car, Arthur feels too far away. He doesn’t. He keeps his fingers tucked under his own thighs. It’s strange this feeling, of finally being able to touch Arthur like he’s always wanted and still being unable to truly do it. It’s new and scary, and sometimes he still forgets that he is allowed to kiss Arthur, to hug him, to snuggle close to him at night. It’s not awkward, not really, or maybe a little, they just seem to... forget somehow, stuck in old habits and locked desires.

    The past two weeks have been so harrowing, a whirlwind of studying and exams and staying up late at night writing essays, of panic attacks and too much caffeine, that there’s hardly been time to do anything else, really.

    Merlin sighs and looks at Arthur’s profile. He wants to kiss his jaw and rub the line between his eyes with his thumb. He forces his gaze away.

    Outside, it starts to snow.

    ___________________________________________

    They’ve known each other for: 3 years, 3 months, and 12 days

    The first time he meets Arthur, it’s the day before the start of classes. They’re taking one of those extremely boring, but sort of obligatory-for-all-freshmen, tour of the university campus. It’s a chilly day, more October than September, it’s damp and grey and it leaves Merlin in a foul mood. He wants to go back to his dorm, wants hot tea and possibly a trip to the university bookstore to check how expensive his books are going to be. Something he will probably have to recover from with the consumption of at least half the bottle of cheap whiskey Will gave him before he left.

    The tour guide is a very nice, but quite shy and soft spoken little brunette, and Merlin likes her instantly. She has a small smile, but bright eyes, says her name is Freya with a tone like she expects to be mocked for it, which makes Merlin snorts because he’s named Merlin and really, if there’s a name that gets mocked it’s his. Arthur is being loud and obnoxious, talking to some of his mates about other things instead of at least pretending to listen to Freya, who gets flustered and does her best to ignore them. Merlin bites the inside of his cheek for ten minutes before he snaps at him, tells him that while he was expecting people like him—obviously rich, obviously privileged, obviously too gorgeous for their own good, though he keeps that part to himself—to be obnoxious and entitled he would have at least expected them to be well-raised, or to show a modicum of politeness instead of acting like rude prats.

    Arthur replies with a roll of his eyes, a sneer, and a repartee about Merlin’s ears that Merlin is sure he thinks is very clever and funny—as if Merlin had gone through his whole life somehow unaware of how large his ears are. Freya smiles at him though, and Merlin considers it worth it.

    ___________________________________________

    It’s almost dark when they finally make it up the winding dirt path to the cabin, and there’s already several centimeters of snow on the ground.

    It’s also fucking cold.

    Arthur stops the car and breathes a sigh of relief leaning his forehead on the wheel. Merlin turns to him and reaches out slowly to rub his back. He slides his hand along Arthur's arm and passes his fingers over his knuckles, until Arthur relaxes his hands and lets go, turning his head and giving Merlin a small smile.

    “We made it,” Merlin says, peering through the encroaching darkness at the silhouette of the small cabin against the dark shadows of the trees. Snowflakes are fluttering in the beams of the car’s headlights, bright and wild.

    “Let’s go inside,” Arthur says, an exhausted breath, more air than sound.

    They grab their bags from the trunk along with the provisions they’ve brought. The air smells fresh and cold, like pine needles and resin, wet wood and water. It’s silent and heavy around them. Their footsteps are loud, crunching the snow under their weight, the sound seeming to both echo on the mountain sides surrounding them, and be swallowed by the forest. The tall evergreens and leafless trees rise above them, only shadows and shape in the dim light, blurry through the falling snow. It’s vaguely creepy and Merlin stands closer to Arthur as he digs in his bag for the key and opens the door—it squeaks and groans, and Arthur has to push a little with his shoulder to force the hinges until they loosen and the door opens completely. It’s dark inside, and terribly, horribly damp.

    Merlin shivers. “Jesus, it’s colder in here than outside.”

    Arthur hums and drops their bag beside the door. Merlin can barely see anything, but then Arthur takes his phone out and uses it as a flashlight. He makes his way inside and Merlin just waits beside the door, unsure.

    There’s some banging and grunting and then, finally, some light—a kerosene lamp. Arthur walks around the room with it, lighting three more, until the cabin is alight, washed in a soft orange glow, shadows in the corner softer and less foreboding. But still, still, bloody cold.

    Merlin walks in, takes a look around the small room. On one side: a woodstove, and an old sofa—pine frame, faded red cushions. On the other side: wood cabinets and table, and a small single bed with a big chest at the foot of it. There’s a trapdoor in the floor, probably the cellar, and a small room at the back which Merlin assumes is the loo.

    It’s charming in its sparseness and rustic-ness, with its smells of pine and cedar, and Merlin would appreciate it more if only his teeth were not clattering so loudly together. The dampness of the air creeps under his layers of clothes, through his skin, makes its home around his bones.

    Arthur comes close to him and rubs Merlin’s arms vigorously with his gloved hands. “Get the food in the cellar, I’ll get some logs for the fire,” he says, and goes back outside.

    Merlin closes the door and stares blankly at the room for a moment, suddenly acutely aware that he is here, with Arthur, the both of them, alone, together. Jesus. There’s no exams to study for, no paper to write or research for, no more boyfriends and one-night stands and other vague relationships that never made much sense. It’s disconcerting and confusing. It really hadn’t sunk in before, but now, now it’s very much, unavoidably, clear—his chest fills with glee and, yes, fear too, because what if this isn’t what they had hoped for? What if he cannot be what Arthur wants? What if Arthur doesn’t—

    No. This is nonsense. They have loved each other for too long, have been total idiots about it, and Merlin is sick of waiting and pining and hoping. Now he has Arthur and he’s not letting go, even if the whole thing has taken a turn for the slightly awkward.

    He grabs the bags of food and goes down to the cellar where he places their provisions on seriously uneven shelves. He grabs a can of soup and some bread and cheese before going back up. He pours the soup in a pot and leaves it on the woodstove so it can warm itself once they start the fire.

    He looks at the narrow single bed and decides two things: one, it’s way too far from the stove and eventual fire; two, it’s too small for the both of them. He eyes the bed, then the sofa, and makes the executive decision that no one is going to sleep on either of them tonight.

    He finds several quilts and blankets in the cedar trunk, goes back outside to grab the two sleeping bags from the car as well as their pillows, and proceeds to make them the cosiest bed he can in front of the stove.

    He takes off his coat quickly and wraps himself in one of the quilts before bringing one of the lamps with him, and starting a fire with the kindling he finds in the box by the stove.

    Arthur comes back inside with an armful of logs that he stacks neatly along the nearest wall, while Merlin softly blows on the kindling, trying to will the flames to catch, to will his body to stop shivering.

    “I’ll get more wood. Don’t want to get out during the night,” Arthur says standing beside Merlin, his fingers brushing his shoulder lightly.

    “Okay.” Merlin leans into his touch a bit.

    There’s a pause, a second of immobility, a tremor in Arthur’s fingers, and then Arthur bends down and kisses the top of his head. Merlin smiles into the blanket around his shoulders, looks back at Arthur, who shoots him a grin before going back outside.

    Later, they huddle together under the blankets to eat their soup, the cheese, and the bread, both facing the fire, as Arthur occasionally pokes the flames and adds another log. Merlin loves the way Arthur’s thigh and side bleed warmth against him. They don’t talk much, and when they do it’s in whispers. Arthur turns his head a bit, breath brushing Merlin’s cheek and neck, and Merlin leans in and kisses Arthur’s cheek quickly. They’re such small touches, inconsequential really, but each one is like an explosion inside of him. When he brushes Arthur’s thigh with his fingers, there’s no guilt, no bittersweet longing in his fingertips, and when they’re followed by Arthur’s hand over his, it’s comfortable, if a bit hesitant, but not sad, and that’s new, so new.

    Arthur smiles softly at him and leans on Merlin, dropping his head on his shoulder, sleep pulling heavily at him.

    “Come on, Arthur. Let’s get you to bed,”

    Arthur straightens himself up, rubs his face. “‘M' sorry, Merlin.” Merlin chuckles as there’s more mumbling about too much driving and worst idea ever and bloody fucking weather.

    The air in the cabin is still slightly cold, though it’s much better where they are, close to the flames. They undress to their pants and t-shirts and Arthur lies down under the covers.

    Merlin leans his back on the sofa and grabs a book from his bag nearby. Arthur snuggles to him, buries his face in the side of his thigh, and wraps his arms around Merlin’s legs. Merlin’s chest swells with affection. It takes his breath away for a moment, all the trust and vulnerability that Arthur—confident, proud, a bit arrogant, Arthur—displays just for him.

    Merlin wraps the blanket around his shoulder more tightly and cards his fingers through Arthur’s hair, scratching gently.

    “Read to me?” Arthur whispers, lips moving on Merlin’s bare skin, sending a shiver all over his legs.

    Merlin smiles and starts reading.

    ___________________________________________

    They hate each other for exactly: 3 days, 2 hours, and some minutes

    Turns out they live on the same floor, in the same dorm—which surprises Merlin because he knows now that Arthur’s family is extremely wealthy, and while this is a really nice dorm, it’s still the cheapest accommodation on campus.

    Merlin is coming back from the laundry room. He tried, without success, to wash off the stains on one of his good shirt that a random guy left there by being sick all over it the night before. He walks past Arthur’s room and hears raised voices. He stops—he can’t help himself. One of the voice is low and stern, intimidating in its authority, scathing and immovable in its certainty. And yet, he hears Arthur stand up to it, insists he doesn’t want to be what the other man wants him to be, wants to study history, wants to make his own choices. His voice is defiant and proud, even as Merlin can hear the cracks at its edges. But Arthur doesn’t bend under the onslaught, and the cracks don’t break.

    A tall, austere man storms out of the room, barely glancing at Merlin. Merlin peeks inside the room. Arthur is sitting on his bed—head bent, looking small and soft. He can see his hands shaking in his lap, the way he’s trying to breathe steadily, but not quite managing it.

    Merlin goes back to his room, sets his laundry in a corner and stands there, looking at his permanently-stained shirt. He takes a decision, not sure what, how, or why, but he’s walking back to Arthur’s room before he can think more about it. This time Arthur sees him, and Merlin expects to be yelled at, expects Arthur to lash out at him. Merlin would probably let him, but Arthur only sighs and passes his hand through his hair—looks back down at his hands, still shaking, laughs humourless and almost cruel, more at himself than at Merlin.

    He gives Arthur the other half of the whiskey bottle.

    ___________________________________________

    It snows all night.

    When Arthur takes a look outside into the grey light that filters through the curtains, the world is white. It’s hard to see far through the flurries and the wind—his car is already half buried in snow. It’s quiet and light, inviting almost. He shivers and walks over to the bed where Merlin is still sleeping.

    He wraps himself in a blanket and pulls the covers tighter around Merlin’s body, before putting more wood in the stove and rekindling the fire that died down overnight.

    He makes some tea before waking up Merlin, shoving the cup under his nose—the only safe way to make Merlin any kind of coherent in the morning. He lets his fingers linger over Merlin’s cheeks, and through his hair, so surprised, still, at how it all feels under his fingertips.

    He thinks of all the mornings where he stood by Merlin’s door, resisting the urge to lie down beside him and whisper his name for Merlin’s eyes to flutter open so that the first thing he sees is Arthur’s face. He remembers yelling ‘Merlin’ instead, and walking in with sure, strong steps to the bedside table, putting down the cup of tea and pushing at Merlin’s shoulder never letting his fingers linger, then walking out, laughing, as Merlin grumbles. Arthur was always out of the bedroom before Merlin could see his face.

    “Is it still snowing?” Merlin mumbles, and turns his head into Arthur’s touch a bit—Arthur presses harder with his fingers, makes the touch real.

    “Yes. A lot.”

    “What are we going to do?” He stretches and yawns.

    “We have to wait until it’s over,” Arthur says, sitting down and stretching his legs out. “My uncle gave me a number in case this happened. We call it once it stops snowing and someone will come and clear the path down.”

    “How long do you think it will last?” Merlin asks, sitting up, making grabby hands at his cup of tea.

    “Dunno.” Arthur shrugs. “I’ll call Morgana later, ask her to check the weather.”

    “Are we gonna miss Christmas?” Merlin rubs at his eyes with the back of his hand.

    Arthur curls his fingers into the covers—doesn’t reach out for the bare shoulder exposed by Merlin’s stretched shirt, pale and soft-looking in the dim light. “Would it be such a bad thing?” he whispers instead.

    Merlin looks at him for a moment. His fingers slide across the covers, grab the bottom of Arthur’s t-shirt, and pull a little. “You’re not looking forward to this, are you?”

    Arthur shrugs again.

    Merlin pinches his lips together and pushes his fingers into Arthur’s side, before sighing slightly. “Lazy day?” he says, lying down on the bed.

    “Lazy day.” Arthur gives him a small smile and rubs his shoulder, letting his thumb ghost over his collarbone, up his neck. He traces Merlin’s lips with his fingers. They're a bit dry, but red, and Merlin darts his tongue out, moistening them, licking Arthur’s fingers in the process. He looks at Arthur and smiles a little and there’s this thing that flares inside Arthur’s—warm and overwhelming—the only thought passing through his head being how much he wants to throw Merlin on the side of the sofa and fuck into him hard and fast. It flashes through him so suddenly, almost violently that he doesn’t know how to deal, has to get away .

    “Need more wood,” he says getting up, brushing Merlin’s forehead with his hand.

    Arthur puts on his coat and boots and shoves a hat on his head. He turns and takes a look at Merlin, stretched out on their makeshift bed—all long limbs, angles at once sharp and round, gaze fixed on the ceiling, at ease. Arthur wonders at the lines of Merlin's body, the negative spaces around them, wants so very much to touch and kiss and own. He is awkward in his desire, this fine line he walks, perched precariously between two states, and doesn’t know how to cross it.

    They are friends, the best. He knows how to make Merlin laugh, and how to make his tea, knows what he looks like after hours of revision. Has held him when his mother died, has seen the wreck of it, the pieces and the brokenness, has witnessed the mending and the pasting things together. Has loved him for it, loved—is loving him for all these things and so much, so much more.

    He knows the way Merlin’s kisses taste, has brushed his lips with his, soft and quiet before falling asleep, putting his arm around his waist. Always too tired—from studying, from long hours of typing and revising and stressing out over books and essays, panicking over exams and the sheer fright of ruining everything, absolutely everything, if not done properly—to do anything else but hold him. Staying wide awake at night despite all of it, kept there by the thought of absolute failure.

    Now they are here, tired, exhausted, and Arthur doesn’t know how to show Merlin, how very much he doesn’t want to handle his body like a friend’s, how very much he wants him, in all possible ways. Wants to cover his body with his own, mold himself into these negative spaces, see if they can hold his shape, cling to Merlin’s back, dig his fingers in his thighs, his mouth too, his everything.

    ___________________________________________

    Arthur says he has known he loved Merlin for: 1 year, 11 months, and 21 days

    Arthur refuses to tell him when it happened exactly, what made him realised. He just tells Merlin the date when Merlin asks him. Merlin is surprised. He wasn’t expecting Arthur to know exactly, he’s not the sort to take note of these things. Merlin is the one who counts, takes notes, remembers. They are packing, getting ready for the Christmas break. Well, Arthur is packing and Merlin—Merlin just lies on Arthur’s bed. He smells Arthur’s scent on his pillow, tries to find the shape on his body in the mattress, tries to find the hilarity in the knowledge that they have both loved each other for about two years and never said anything until now—can’t quite make it.

    Merlin remembers that night though, the night Arthur realised he loved him—it was Leon’s annual New Year’s party, and the first time Gwaine kissed him.

    ___________________________________________

    When Arthur comes back from outside the heat of the cabin is like a slap on his face, his skin burns with the cold and he shivers all over. He puts down the few logs he’s holding by the door. Merlin is sitting on the small wooden table, facing him, legs swinging lightly. Arthur raises an eyebrow at him; Merlin just smirks and shrugs.

    Arthur rubs his hands together, blows warm breath between them. His fingers are stiff and cold, clumsy on the buttons of his coat. The rest of his body is already warming under the layers he’s wearing, heat prickling at his skin, uncomfortable.

    “Come here,” Merlin says, reaching a hand out to him, and Arthur goes, dragging the heavy boots he’s wearing on the floor. Merlin has opened the curtains and Arthur can see the pale shadows of the snowflakes falling outside create a dance on Merlin’s cheekbones. He looks ethereal, his eyes a surreal blue under his dark lashes, even as his lithe body wrapped in a shapeless shirt and loose cotton trousers has never seemed more real.

    Merlin grabs Arthur’s coat and pulls him forward, between his legs, squeezes his hips with his knees. He pushes Arthur’s fingers away from his jacket and starts undoing the buttons himself.

    Arthur looks at his face, at the downcast eyes and long eyelashes, at the clear, sharp angles and lines of his bones under his skin, and the soft curves of his lips and ears—all strange and odd-looking by themselves, but together, absolutely beautiful. He remembers all the other times he was this close to Merlin, all the other times he saw his face like this—teeth slightly biting at his lip, small lines of concentration on his forehead, between his eyes, the quirk of his smile, almost invisible dimples. He remembers all the times he wanted to touch it, run the pads of his fingers along the edge of his cheekbones, trace the slope of his nose, dip his thumb between his lips, and, most of all, kiss him, kiss all of it.

    Not for the first time, it takes him a moment to remember this: that he can.

    So he does, softly, presses his lips on the rise of Merlin’s bone, just under the corner of his eye.

    Merlin’s fingers still for a second before resuming their slow work over Arthur’s coat. Arthur moves his lips up, kisses the corner of his eye, then his forehead, lightly, then rests his own against it and breathes deeply—Merlin smells like wood and snow, and the vague traces left of his shampoo. It’s soothing and intoxicating, and he wonders when the smell of Merlin started having this effect on him, but doesn’t remember, decides it doesn’t matter.

    When he’s done unbuttoning the coat, Merlin lowers the zipper slowly, and pushes it off Arthur’s shoulders, lets it drop on the floor. He pulls back and gives Arthur a small smile, almost shy, before grabbing the edge of his jumper. He looks almost uncertain for a moment, and Arthur leans forward again, nudges at Merlin’s nose with his own, nuzzles his cheek lightly, before kissing the corner of his mouth.

    Merlin’s breath hitches and Arthur can feel the warm air, the stutter of it, across his cheek. Arthur’s heart stutters with it. Merlin lifts his jumper. Arthur takes a small step back to raise his arms over his head and Merlin’s hands are back on his chest, over his shirt, before the jumper has hit the floor. Merlin curls his fingers in the fabric, frowns a little—that frown that Arthur knows means he’s thinking of the right words to say, to express whatever is on his mind. Arthur let’s him think, rubs lightly at his thighs with the palms of his hands.

    “Arthur, I...” Merlin says in a small voice, barely above a whisper. He stops and frowns some more—smooths his hands over Arthur’s chest, slides them up to rest on his shoulders, swallows, and tugs lightly to get Arthur closer. Arthur goes, as he always does and won’t ever stop, and wraps his arms around Merlin, letting him bury his face in his chest.

    Merlin’s breath is warm through the thin cotton of his shirt. Arthur rubs his cheeks lightly over Merlin’s hair, revels in the feel of it on his skin, the smell of it, of Merlin, enveloping him.

    Merlin starts mouthing against his chest up to his collarbone, and something slowly unfurls inside Arthur—something tight and big, kept locked and silent for so long. It would almost seem impossible to free, but there it is, thawing quickly under Merlin’s warmth, as if it had never been frozen, as if it had never known cold. The bloom of it resonates through his bones.

    It’s all those months of wanting, and needing, and pining for something he thought he could never have, pushing down everything for the sake of keeping Merlin close to him, always, in any form. It’s months of being in love with a man he thought would never love him back, not that way—not in the way Arthur loved him, like breathing, like being apart is having his lungs tore from his chest and thrown to the wolves, his heart too. And now he has all of it, everything he’s ever wanted, his and his alone, and he doesn’t know what to do with it. It’s absolutely terrifying, probably a bit mortifying, and most certainly wonderful.

    Merlin’s lips are on his throat, small, tender kisses along the muscles there, scraping his teeth along his jaw, up to his ear. Arthur groans and wraps his arms tighter around Merlin until there is no space between their chests. Merlin fists the back of his shirt, exhales “Yes, finally,” into his skin, and Arthur shakes with it. It floods his veins and he whimpers at the force of it—could almost cry with the relief, the pressure bleeding out, the sheer joy at not having to suppress this, anything, everything. His knees almost buckle with it.

    Arthur pulls back, brings one hand to the side of Merlin’s neck, the other settling lightly against the side of his ribs. He brushes his lips over the tip of his nose, his eyelids, before pushing his chin up with his thumb and kissing his mouth—it’s a brief touch, a whisper against the lips, more breath than skin. Then he pushes, lets their lips slide over each other, retreats, licks to moisten them, and recaptures Merlin’s upper lip between his own. It’s warm and wet and fucking brilliant. They’ve kissed before—Merlin could probably tell him exactly how many times, he counts these things—but this feels like the beginning of something.

    Merlin bites lightly at his lower lip before opening his mouth, inviting. Arthur smiles and licks at Merlin’s teeth, at the underside of his lips, feeling them stretch under his as Merlin smiles. A small giggle escapes his throat and Arthur catches it on his tongue, pushes it back against the roof of Merlin’s mouth, pins it there to savor it. He brings his hands against Merlin’s jaw, stroke his cheekbones with his thumbs, breath hitching when Merlin sucks lightly on his tongue and drags his nails on Arthur’s nape, into his hair.

    It gets wetter fast, hands grabbing and tongues tasting, exploring. There’s a sound in Arthur’s chest that wants to get out, wants to travel to Merlin’s lungs and rests there—it’s equal parts desperation, relief and need.

    Merlin is still smiling into their kiss, still laughing a bit, like he can’t keep the joy of it, of them, inside of him—it fills Arthur, bright and warm, it’s sexy and tantalizing—and Arthur pulls back, kisses his lips and cheeks, his whole face. Merlin just laughs some more, eyes bright and delighted, arms around Arthur’s neck.

    Arthur takes a step back to try and take off his boots—toes of one foot pushing against the heel of a the other—and Merlin’s fingers grab at his shirt, trying to pull him back toward him. Arthur loses his balance, slips with his boots halfway off and finds himself on his back. He groans when the melted snow on the floor seeps through his trousers and shirt.

    Merlin’s laugh fills the whole cabin and he looks down at Arthur from his perch on the table, a smirk on his lips. “Alright there, Arthur?”

    Arthur wants to be annoyed at the mirth in Merlin’s eyes, at his obviously fake-caring tone of voice, but doesn’t quite manage it since Merlin looks all kinds of lovely from this angle above him.

    “You would know,” Arthur says, pulling sharply on his boots with both hands—socks getting stuck in them, shivers going up his legs as his toes, fuck, land in the cold puddle under him—“you’re the one who usually has to pick yourself off the floor.”

    Merlin shrugs. “Yeah, well, at least I do the whole falling thing gracefully. We can’t really say the same about you.”

    “You keep telling yourself that.” Arthur gets up, stripping off his shirt and trousers.

    Merlin’s laughter is cut short in a gasp. Arthur looks back, meets Merlin’s eyes—a deep red flush quickly spreading on his face and neck—as he bites at his lips, hands curling tightly on the edges of the table. Merlin’s gaze travels the length of Arthur’s body, and for a moment everything goes still except for the fast rising and falling of their chests.

    Arthur hesitates. He wants this, wants Merlin, wants it so suddenly and completely that the force of it paralyses him.

    “Arthur, please,” Merlin pleads in the silence, voice hoarse and low. He licks his lips.

    And that’s it for Arthur, that is it.

    He walks back to him—one step, two steps—and pushes Merlin down unto the table, covering his body with his, hands roaming everywhere. He wants to touch, to feel, to learn every millimeter of Merlin’s body with the tips of his fingers, with his tongue—still amazed, always, that he can have this, Merlin, everything. And there’s something in the way Merlin’s fingers fly over his skin, the way he touches Arthur’s face, light and rough, that speaks of disbelief and wonder as well. Merlin moans under him, kisses him fiercely and wraps his legs around Arthur’s waist bringing him closer—their cocks slide against each other and it’s a shock, it’s electricity all over his body, it’s blinding.

    Arthur grinds his hips down, making Merlin arch up from the table, his head thrown back, hands grappling at Arthur’s shoulders. There’s a loud creaking noise from the table, a crack of wood, and Merlin instinctively tightens his legs and arms around Arthur, clinging.

    Arthur chuckles. “Hold on,” he whispers into Merlin’s neck. He lifts Merlin up from the table, hands grabbing his arse for support as Merlin squeezes his thighs around his waist. Arthur mouths at his thin shirt, finding a nipple under the cloth as he walks blindly around the table until he has Merlin pinned against the wall. He licks and bites at Merlin’s nipple some more, wetting the shirt in his mouth. Merlin’s head hits the wall behind him, his fingers dig into Arthur’s hair, pulling—it makes Arthur a bit frantic, and he digs his own fingers into Merlin’s trousers, his skin, trying to keep him there, solid, warm and writhing against his chest.

    It should feel new, it should be new—all discoveries and inquiries and secrets uncovered. It’s all of those things and none of it, because they know each other, have wanted each other for so long and belong, crazily, to each other. It’s more like discovering you still know how to swim even if you haven’t done it in over a decade—the familiarity and re-discovery comforting, reassuring, overwhelming, and fucking fantastic.

    Merlin tries to grind down, tries to get some friction between them, and Arthur shifts his legs lower on his hips, pushes Merlin’s arse over his groin, and groans, loud. Merlin’s hands leave his shoulders for a moment, fingers skitting over his cheeks, pushing at the back of Arthur’s head, forcing him to mouth and bite harder at his chest.

    Arthur braces himself and pulls Merlin off the wall. “Take it off,” he growls. Merlin grabs at his shirt, pulling it off quickly, before Arthur slams him into the wall again, lips finally meeting his skin there, licking once more at a hard nipple.

    Merlin stretches his chest toward Arthur, hands tight around his shoulders. “Arthur, fuck, Arthur,” he says between his teeth. His body is taut under Arthur’s hands and mouth—tension thrumming along his muscles, quivering and restrained, but all his seams visibly unraveling.

    Merlin moans and the sound flashes through Arthur’s mind, brings him back to nights in their flat where he heard it—this sound, and so many others, whispers and names, gasps, hitches, groans and the slick sound of skin on skin—right through the walls, him on one side, Merlin on the other with other men, with Gwaine. The hurt of it expands through his memories to his chest and he stills, frozen, caught between pain and disbelief that he is, now, the one making Merlin sound like that.

    Merlin stills in turn, gazes down at Arthur. Arthur wants to smile at him, wants to reassure him, but there’s doubt and fear filling his throat—fear that this is not going to last, that it doesn't mean what he wants it to mean, that he’ll forever be the one on the other side of the wall.

    Merlin’s fingers dig deeper into the muscles of his shoulders, thumbs pushing painfully against his collarbone, and he untangles his legs from Arthur’s waist, forcing Arthur to let him down. In one swift movement, he’s the one being twisted around and slammed into the wall. Merlin is immediately on him, knees between his legs, pushing roughly against his cock, hips colliding, and he’s grabbing Arthur’s face between his two hands, vice-like, forcing Arthur to look at him.

    “Don’t you dare, Arthur Pendragon,” he says, almost dark and dangerous. “Don’t. You. Dare. I’ve wanted this for too long.” He crushes his mouth on Arthur’s, bruising, then looks at him again. “I’ve wanted you, all of you, for too long.” He shakes Arthur’s head sharply, and Arthur would think he’s angry, if not for the fact that Merlin’s fingers are trembling against his head, and his eyes are pleading with something fierce and desperate.

    “You don’t get to doubt this, Arthur. Not this,” he whispers.

    It’s the way his voice breaks on the last word that snaps Arthur out of it, sudden and harsh, like the pain and joy of your first breath after holding it too long underwater.

    “Okay,” he says, breathless. He swallows and clears his throat, finds his voice—surer, louder—“Okay. Never. I promise.” He smiles.

    Merlin’s face brightens and he smashes his mouth on Arthur’s once more, pushing his tongue between his lips. It lacks finesse, and it’s messy with too much tongue, sealing the promise—it’s happiness.

    Merlin pulls him off the wall by the wrists and walks them clumsily back to their makeshift bed in front of the woodstove, Arthur keeping him balanced with his fingers through his belt hoops. Merlin pushes Arthur’s pants down impatiently before attacking his own trousers, taking everything off, pants and socks and all. Arthur wants to feel all that naked skin along his until there are no spaces between and around them that is not filled with their limbs, their mingled breaths, their warmth and sweat, the words they sear on each other’s skin.

    He lies down on his back, drags Merlin over him, entangling their legs. Merlin thrusts down with his hips, brings their cocks together and they moan.

    Merlin ruts against him, kisses his neck, mumbles meaningless words there, along the muscles. Arthur’s hands can’t seem to settle anywhere—he touches Merlin’s back, traces the bones of his spine, the bumps of his ribs, dips between his arse cheeks, backs up to bury his fingers into Merlin’s hair.

    “Merlin,” he gasps, “shit, I...can we, can you...fuck, just—” He doesn’t really know what he’s asking exactly, just wants everything: more of Merlin, more of this, moremoremoremore.

    Merlin bites at his earlobe, licks the shell of his ear, dips inside, before blowing air over it to whisper a Yes, silky and soft. He braces himself against Arthur’s chest, and stretches his hand until he can grab their small traveling bag, left beside the sofa.

    He digs around in it, while Arthur mouths at his collarbone—he loves the smoothness of Merlin’s skin under his tongue, the roundness of the bones there, prominent and strong, the curve of them, creating bruises.

    “Shit,” Merlin says, curling himself a bit over Arthur, putting a bottle of lube beside them. “No condoms,” he adds, lips already mapping the side of Arthur’s face. Arthur moans as Merlin licks back into his ear.

    “Sensitive ears.” Merlin chuckles, and does it again. “Noted.”

    “Other bag, Merlin,” Arthur says. “Merlin, fuck—Merlin, I swear to god, if you don’t...”

    Merlin groans, drops his head on Arthur’s shoulder. “Okay,” he says and “okay,” like he’s trying to convince himself to move. “I’ll be right back.” He kisses Arthur’s nose before pushing himself away and getting up. The space he leaves is cold and Arthur has to stop himself from grabbing him back down and keeping him there, warm and soft and hard-lined, perfectly fitted against him.

    Arthur grabs the bottle of lube and coats his fingers with it, slides his hand between his legs, gives his cock a pull, before reaching behind him and pushing one finger inside of himself. He spreads his knees, eyes fixed on the glowing reds and yellows of the fire—focuses on the warmth, there, in front of him, inside of him, the lingering heat of Merlin’s skin on his, of Merlin’s lips mouthing along his body, and the tight warmth around his finger as he adds another one, arches into it.

    There’s a whimper behind him, and he stretches his head back to see Merlin looking at him, dark lidded eyes fixed on his hand moving back and forth between his thighs. He moves his gaze to Arthur’s, visibly swallows. Arthur smirks—he spreads his legs wider, arches his back again when he crooks his fingers inside himself, doesn’t try to quiet his moaning. He raises an eyebrow at Merlin. “Don’t just stand there, Merlin. Make yourself useful.”

    Merlin tries to scuff, but it catches in his throat, sounds more like a whine. “Only you can manage to look smug while pumping your fingers into your own arse,” he says, but it’s mumbled and breathless. He’s moving, almost tripping over their bags and discarded clothes, He lets go of the condoms he’s holding, and drops on his knees between Arthur’s legs. Arthur just laughs, revels in the look on Merlin’s face—all hunger and adoration. It makes his chest tighter, his breath catching there for a moment.

    “Lube,” he says, instead of all the things he wants to say, stuck somewhere behind his ribs—I want you, I need you, I love you.

    Merlin knows, he must know.

    Merlin kisses the side of his knee and adds more lube to Arthur’s fingers, still stretching his muscles, and slides one of his own beside them. Arthur gasps, and throws his head back.

    “God, Arthur,” Merlin says softly, awed.

    They move their hands together until Merlin touches Arthur’s wrist and pulls out his fingers replacing them with more of his own. Arthur grabs the sheets under him, digs his heels into them—they slide slightly, struggle to find purchase, so he spreads his legs even more, grounds his heels on the wooden floor on each side of the thin mattress instead—and pushes back against Merlin’s fingers. He raises himself on his elbows to look at Merlin. Everything around him pulses red with heat.

    Merlin is panting hotly against the inside of Arthur’s thigh, bites and licks and kisses, his long, lovely fingers pumping in and out of Arthur—the number of fantasies Arthur’s had about these fingers in the dead of night would fill countless books . Merlin’s grabbed his cock in his other hand and is jerking himself, hips rolling.

    Merlin buries his fingers as deep as he can into Arthur, rubs the outside of his hole with his thumb and Arthur closes his eyes, lost in it—hips moving off the mattress, thighs quivering with the effort of it. He tries to push back even more, tries to take Merlin even deeper, like it’s not enough.

    It’s not enough.

    “Merlin.” Arthur lifts his head to peer at Merlin, sees him eyes now fixed on his hand, fingers deep and slick, other hand still, but tight on his cock, and Arthur grabs his own, tries to take the edge off, tries to make some sense out of the haze that fills his mind, where it’s only him, and Merlin and their limbs and breaths. “Merlin,” he repeats louder, nudging him with his knee, almost startling him.

    Merlin looks at him dazed, face full of wonder, licks his lips, and Arthur thinks he could come right now, just from the look on Merlin’s face, the naked desire, the love—he grabs the base of his cock tighter.

    “Now, please, just... come on... need you to—” Merlin is nodding before he can come up with the proper way of telling him what he wants. He leans back down on the blankets—only listens to the sound of his own ragged breathing, the tearing of a condom wrapper, the hiss Merlin makes as he puts it on himself—and Merlin is over him, kissing him.

    Arthur is impatient. He can’t quite think anymore beyond the tightness inside of him, the buzzing and humming under his skin—the need—fuck, he needs so much, is a bit delirious with it.

    He cries out in relief when Merlin pushes inside of him, slowly, hands tight on his hips and his thighs— it’s smooth but it burns, and it’s overwhelming because it’s Merlin, just Merlin, and he’s wanted this for so long, longer than he knows, he thinks, and a part of him is still scared this could be a dream. He tries to breathe slowly and to relax until Merlin is all the way in, tries to slow down the rhythm of his heart as it pounds wildly in his ribcage. Tries a lot of things, actually—fails at most, but, for once, it’s so much more than alright.

    Merlin kisses him softly and Arthur opens his eyes to look at him. Merlin smiles, small and quivering and a bit blinding. There are tears in his eyes, and Arthur reaches up to wipe at their corners with his thumbs, smiles back at him, vision blurry too. But then Merlin starts moving and Arthur can’t think of a single thing that would need to be said.

    Merlin starts slow, brings Arthur’s legs on his shoulders, and Arthur fists the covers under him once more. He wants this to last—wants this to never end. Merlin moves faster and faster—it’s all skin and sweat and ragged breaths, waves of it crashing over him. It’s all fingers and Merlin and the blanket of snow outside keeping them in, here, in this place, locked together, a beacon of heat pulsing brightly against cold mountains’ skin.

    Merlin almost collapses on him when he comes, Arthur’s name on his lips, a steady mumble in his neck, shudders all over his body. Arthur traps his hips between his thighs, wraps his arms around him, holds him tight, momentarily forgets about his own release. Merlin pulls out slowly and rolls on his side dragging Arthur over him with lazy fingers, hands fluttering, lips bitten red and glistening.

    “Come on, Arthur, come on,” he whispers urgently. Arthur kneels, legs on each side of Merlin’s hips and grabs his cock in a tight hand, pulls roughly—three, four times—and when Merlin’s fingers skitter on his cockhead, he cries out, comes hard all over Merlin’s chest.

    Merlin laughs, delighted and bright. He pulls at Arthur until he can kiss him, and Arthur laughs along with him, into their kiss, until he knows exactly what Merlin’s laughter tastes like, and his whole body vibrates with it.

    ___________________________________________

    They moved into a flat together: 2 years, 7 months, and 20 days ago

    It’s the end of their first year and they’re already Merlin and Arthur, Arthur and Merlin. They have stopped trying to put people right when they assume and just decide to move in together—make jokes about being a couple, except there are too many boys, too many men coming and going through their dorm rooms, first, then their flat, for that to be true. And it’s okay and it doesn't matter—they like it that way.

    They order takeaway too often. Merlin can’t cook anything but pasta and frozen pizza. Arthur is far better at it, but he hates it, only wants to do it if there’s a special occasion, or if it’s the middle of the night and they’re drunk and it’s just faster to make bacon under the stove light in his boxers while Merlin whines, than to actually order something from somewhere. Not that anything would be opened, anyway.

    And it’s easy, so easy, because they know each other so well by now. Merlin remembers more details about Arthur’s habits, likes and dislikes, than any other person in his life, including his mom and childhood friend, Will. He remembers everything except how Arthur still manages to surprise him on a regular basis.

    ___________________________________________

    The mountains loom over them, all rocks, grey, black and white, almost invisible against the sky, through the falling snow—still falling, always falling, a quiet world to cradle them in.

    Arthur takes a moment to breathe in the cold air, lets it fill his lungs. He enjoys the contrast of it on his skin compared to Merlin’s burning touch. His skin, he thinks, is raw from being touched so much. Everything smells fresh and clean.

    His breath creates clouds in the cold air. It reminds him of childhood days playing with Morgana on the grounds of the Pendragon estate, of damp days walking through campus to meet Merlin at the coffeeshop. Of freezing evenings huddled together close to their electric heater when the heat broke in their flat and it was the holidays and nobody had been able to come and repair it for three days. How they had run across the city, skidding on ice, to beg Gwen to let them sleep in her tiny living room where it was warm and dry and where it smelled like lavender and cinnamon. How they had shared the sofa, head-to-feet, and Arthur had woken up with a stitch in his back, Merlin’s toes on his chin, and a feeling it had taken him hours to figure out, something warm and soft and a little bit fragile. He should have known then.

    From where he stands he cannot see the road, buried as it is. All he sees is the snow falling, the white of the world and the towering shadows of the mountains as they envelop them—tall and solid and forever old.

    When he goes back inside, he cuddles with Merlin, warms his cold toes on his bare legs, and welcomes the shades of browns and green and fire-red of the room, subdued, diluted, bleeding into one another .

    They read books to each other: poems from Merlin’s haphazard collection—Arthur traces with his fingertips the notes Merlin has left in pencil in the margins—and plays, Shakespeare mostly, where they make funny voices for the characters, and take turns at being the villains.

    Arthur makes sure to give Merlin at least five more proper kisses, as Merlin calls them—ones with intent, ones that give them butterflies in their stomachs and make their lips tingle, that are unspoken things, too fragile to be made into words.

    They never let the fire die down.

    ___________________________________________

    Merlin has known he loved Arthur for: 2 years, 7 months, and 19 days

    It’s the first morning in their new flat and Merlin doesn’t know why he is awake at such an ungodly hour—he is half sprawled over the counter in their small kitchen a cup of tea in his hands, hoping his body would just decide to wake up or go back to sleep, teetering between the two states. It’s bright and there’s a breeze coming through the opened window, it smells like jasmine and something that reminds him of his mother’s garden—basil leaves, or rosemary, he’s not sure, but it’s familiar and soothing and maybe that’s why, maybe that’s what does it.

    Arthur walks blearily into the kitchen—the sun catches his hair, and it’s a bit dazzling, he scratches at his stomach and yawns. He mumbles something like a hello with a tone of voice that Merlin knows means ‘where’s the goddamn tea’. Merlin has this sudden impulse to kiss him—just a small peck on the lips, or perhaps on the nose. He wants to wrap his arms around him because it’s so comfortable and it feels so right, him and Arthur in their kitchen and their flat, and it smells like jasmine and basil, or is it rosemary—it smells like home—and Merlin knows, just knows.

    He gives Arthur his tea and smiles at him.

    ___________________________________________

    Merlin is woken up by the feel of lips against the back of his neck, his shoulder—small, peppering kisses across his skin, gentle, almost careful. Arthur licks lightly, blows, makes goosebumps skitter along his spine, one of his hands firm on the side of his thigh. There’s slickness, cool, on the fingers splayed across his skin.

    “Alright?” Arthur whispers, an exhalation of breath against the shell of Merlin’s ear.

    Merlin only hums in approval, warmth pooling already through his limbs. He pushes back against Arthur’s chest, twists his body slightly to kiss the corner of his mouth as Arthur drags his hand up—over Merlin’s hip, his arse, to dip between his cheeks and rub lightly at his hole before pushing in slowly. Merlin moans deep in his throat, sleep still lingering in the corners of his mind. He licks at Arthur’s lips, twists even more, hitching a leg over Arthur’s, trying to spread himself wider.

    He lets his head fall back on the pillow, Arthur’s mouth immediately attaching itself to his exposed neck—sucking, biting, mouthing lazy, open kisses. The covers hide their bodies up to their chests, it’s hot and damp under them, a stark contrast to the slight chilly air of the room—the fire is almost out, only embers burning red and black in the somber light of early morning.

    Arthur takes his finger out, adds more lube to his hand, spreads it around Merlin’s hole, before pushing two fingers back in. Merlin’s body goes taut with it, then relaxes, and he grips Arthur’s hip, letting his fingertips dig into skin, skid over the sweat. Arthur pants in his ear, warm breath full of hitches and barely restrained moans—Merlin’s head is pillowed over his other arm, where Arthur’s fingers are gripping into the mattress. Merlin can see them flexing, finds himself fascinated with the moving muscles in Arthur’s forearm, turns his head to kiss them, licks at the saltiness, while pushing himself back on the fingers inside of him, in and out, pumping in a steady rhythm.

    Arthur moves his lips on his throat forming words Merlin can’t hear, but feels them—knows what they are saying, knows the pounding against his back is Arthur’s heart, an erratic, but steadfast thumping. Merlin moves faster against Arthur’s fingers. Arthur bites at his shoulder and Merlin can't stop the sound that claws itself out of his chest, doesn’t want to stop it, wants to fill the whole room, until the air is heavy with it—heavy with all of the sounds they pull out of eachother, heavy enough to permeate the walls, stick to furniture, fall on them once more, like the snow outside, covering the world with them.

    Arthur pushes his fingers harder inside Merlin, faster, twists his wrist, crooks his fingertips, and Merlin grabs Arthur’s hand to pull his fingers out of him. Arthur grunts in surprise, but lets Merlin push him on his back, lets himself be manhandled as Merlin straddles him, covers falling away from their bodies, cold air shivering on the sweat of their skin.

    Merlin grabs Arthur’s cock, gasps in surprise to find a condom already over it. Deep, brilliant affection and hot arousal rush through him at the thought—the thought of Arthur awake and hard, wanting Merlin so much, preparing himself, but still taking the time, slowly, to wake him up, to touch his skin and kiss him, to make sure all of his muscles are awake, his body prepared, making sure Merlin wants it too. Merlin has to still himself, has to take a deep breath to stop the onslaught of desire and other things, nameless things, filling him and making him come too soon. Arthur is quiet under him, fixing him with large, bright blue eyes, his mouth open and panting. He smiles, lifts his shoulder slightly in a shrug. Merlin laughs, adding the sound to the other ones floating around them, sharp in the quietness. He lowers himself carefully on Arthur’s cock, forcing himself to look in his eyes—look at Arthur, just Arthur, always Arthur.

    They resume their slow rhythm. Merlin braces himself on Arthur’s chest, his nails slightly digging through the blond hair, into his skin. Arthur bites his lips, arches his back when Merlin snaps his hips down a bit harder. Arthur digs his fingers in Merlin’s thighs, letting Merlin set the pace. One of his hand slowly goes up Merlin’s side, strokes lightly at his stomach, until his thumb rubs at Merlin’s nipple, hard, before the touch melts again over his ribs, the fleeting, gentle caress of his fingers.

    Merlin leans, buries his face in Arthur’s neck, Arthur’s tongue immediately licking at his ear.

    “Fuck, Merlin—” His voice is low, it catches in his throat and Merlin hears more—a whole speech, paragraphs and paragraphs of words, a bloody declaration—in the sound it makes around his name, the exhalation of syllables against his jaw. Merlin bites lightly at Arthur’s earlobe in response.

    His thighs tremble, his muscles aches, but he cannot stop, never wants to stop, warmth and an irrepressible yearning flowing through his veins, the feel of Arthur’s skin on his, sweaty and soft—it burns red and black in him, like embers, on its way to become a blaze, raw and powerful, consuming.

    The cold air of the room hits his back, clings to the sweat there, makes him shiver—despite the fire building inside him—all along his spine, his arms, to the roots of his hair. Merlin’s rhythm falters, he’s out of breath, tries to resumes, but Arthur stills him with firm hands on his hips. Merlin looks between their bodies, marvels at the sight of Arthur’s large hands covering his hipbones, loves the push of his thumbs against his stomach.

    Arthur slowly pulls him off his cock. Merlin whines. “Arthur, what—”

    “Shhhhh,” Arthur says, lips on collarbone. “You’re cold.”

    Even so, Merlin tries to push back down, but Arthur has him in a firm grip. Arthur slides from under him, kneels in front of Merlin and attacks his mouth with hard and frantic kisses. Merlin responds immediately—shows Arthur how he doesn’t want to stop, how they better not fucking stop. He bites at Arthur’s lower lip, drags his nails over his back.

    One moment Merlin is dragging his lips over Arthur's throat, and the next he's being turned around, pushed brusquely on the sofa behind them, his upper body splayed on the seat cushions. And Arthur is there, all over his back, covering him with his heat, wet mouth at his hairline, licking at his ear, and pushing back inside Merlin in one swift thrust of his hips.

    It’s hard and fast and perfect—friction everywhere, in the slide of Arthur’s cock in and out of him, the slide of his chest on Merlin’s back, their thighs knocking. Merlin grabs at the edge of the cushions, fingernails scratching against the old fabric. It smells like mildew and wood and earth, wild and intoxicating and Merlin drags his teeth over it, has a fleeting impulse to growl. The smell washes over him and he closes his eyes, only listening to the sounds Arthur is making over him, grunts and moans and mumbles—words of fuck and yes and shit and something that sounds like mine or want or more; he doesn’t know and doesn’t care, because it’s all the same.

    Merlin can see them in his mind, two bodies moving together in this silent room of wood and fire, Arthur pushing in him, Merlin pushing back, meeting his thrusts, and their sounds, always their sounds which mean so much more, he thinks, hopes, than just how much they want and hunger for each other.

    The world is still and they’re the only ones moving in it

    Arthur comes with a sharp cry and a bite on the first knob of Merlin’s spine, his body trembling, fingernails leaving marks in Merlin’s skin.

    Merlin is so hard, he needs to come, needs to come right now, so much it almost hurts, teetering on the edge. He needs Arthur’s hand on him, but doesn’t want to come all over the furniture and he’s almost crying with the frustration of it all—right there, his face pushed in the cushion, needing just a bit more, just a bit—“Arthur... please, pleasepleaseplease,” he says into the fabric.

    Arthur pulls out, turns him around, and lifts him up—muscles and movement sluggish but still strong and sure, even as he is trying to catch his breath, eyes unfocused and wild—until his arse is on the edge of the sofa. Then all it takes is Arthur’s lips on the head of his cock, just a slight lick of his tongue and Merlin is coming, hard and fast, loud too, the world going white at the edges. Arthur swallows, his lips tight around his cockhead, eyes close, harsh breaths taken through his nose. A part of Merlin sees all that—the flushed skin of Arthur’s face, his lips red and shiny with spit and come, and Arthur opening his eyes, looking right at him—sees everything, it’s everything, blazing like fire, consuming. His body shudders and shakes and Merlin rides it all out, head thrown back against the sofa.

    Arthur swallows, then nuzzles the side of his thigh, catching his breath, places soft kisses there, licks at the sweat, and Merlin lets his fingers slip through his hair, soft and wet, like melting snow.

    He rolls his head to the side to look out the window. Everything smells like pine. Outside, it is still snowing.

    ___________________________________________

    They started dating: 2 weeks and 1 day ago

    In the end it was very simple, really. One could say anticlimactic, and maybe it was a bit, if one were to ignore the long months they spent pining for each other, breaking each other’s heart without knowing, unconsciously looking for each other in other people.

    They are taking a break from studying. Exams are killing them, they have too many papers to write, too many tests to study for. Arthur is too nervous, like he always is—dreads failure and disappointment, keeps himself awake at night, dark circles under his eyes and a constant tremor in his hands from drinking too much coffee on too little sleep.

    Merlin drags them out of the flat for dinner, refusing to call for takeaway, says the fresh air will help them, before they get cabin fever and starts hallucinating.

    They are walking back to the flat—it’s cold and windy and dreadful out, but it smells like ice and it might even snow and that makes Merlin happy. Their shoulders are almost touching and Merlin’s knuckles occasionally brush against the back of Arthur’s hand, so he takes a deep breath—his lungs screaming against the cold air, his heart screaming against his ribcage—and hooks his little finger with Arthur’s—holds his breath, holds his everything tight and bound and eternally hopeful—and Arthur just turns his wrist, grabs Merlin’s fingers in his, and squeezes.

    They get back to the flat and study some more, except Merlin burrows his toes under Arthur’s thighs on the sofa while typing on his laptop and Arthur lays a hand on his ankle while scrolling through articles.

    It’s that simple.

    ___________________________________________

    They wake up to sunlight streaming in the cabin—rays pooling on the furniture, specks of dust floating, suspended in the air, it seems, and it’s quieter than it has been in days, only the sound of Arthur’s breathing in his ear filling the space between them.

    It has stopped snowing. It’s Christmas Eve.

    “Guess, we’re going after all,” Arthur whispers, squinting in the light.

    Merlin wraps his arms around him, and kisses his neck. “It’ll be alright, you’ll see. You got me.”

    Arthur smiles. “Best Christmas present, ever,” he says, nuzzling Merlin’s cheek.

    “Damn right, I am.”

    “Most annoying, too.”

    “Oi!”

    After breakfast, Arthur calls the garage down in the village and they soon come and clear a path for their car.

    They pack up their bags, and as they get ready to go, Merlin turns around and takes a look at the cabin—once more dark and damp in the blinding whiteness—and smiles.

    “We could come back, if you want,” Arthur says from the other side of the car. His cheeks are red and there’s snow slinging to his hat and his shoulders. He smiles that boyish smile of his and Merlin has this vision of a young boy running into his house, leaving trails of snow everywhere, excited and bright, wanting to show his dad his snowman, but not finding him. His dad’s absence always palpable in the too big house, yet disappointing as the boy hasn’t learned yet to expect it, and his smile fades as the snow melts all over the expensive carpets. Except now Arthur has him, Merlin thinks fiercely, he won’t leave and he’ll always be there.

    “I’d love that,” Merlin says, sliding his fingers on the rickety railing beside the steps.

    “Maybe this summer, though, when there’s not so much snow.”

    “I don’t know.” Merlin opens the passenger door, grins at Arthur. “I like the snow.”

    Arthur laughs, loud and delighted. Birds fly off into the sky from a nearby tree, black against the white mountain tops.

    They make their way down the winding path once more, and turn onto the main road. Merlin slides his fingers under Arthur’s thigh, rubs at the seam of his trousers with his thumb. Arthur turns on the radio, fills the car with Christmas music. They sing and laugh and joke, leaving the mountains behind them.

    ___________________________________________


    Merlin and Arthur’s Relationship Tally Sheet

  • Times they have kissed (proper kisses that is): 25
  • Times they have gotten off together: 8
  • Times they’ve had sex: 4
  • Times they have said ‘I love you’:

  • Merlin: 8
  • Arthur: 9
  • Merlin would never tell Arthur because he wants to keep claiming that he was the one who took the first step—Arthur was too scared, that’s what it was. But the truth is, Merlin would never have found the courage to take Arthur’s hand in his, if the previous night Arthur hadn’t passed his hand softly through Merlin’s hair and whispered the words while he thought Merlin was asleep. But he’ll never tell. He would never hear the end of it.

  • Road trips taken together: 1 — still ongoing
  • ___________________________________________