- - -
Merlin doesn’t know the first thing about boxing. He should. Single man, well into his twenties with a fondness for smokey bars and cold beer? Yeah, he probably should know at least the basics. Add onto that the fact that Merlin writes a weekly column on boxing in Dublin - a pretty popular column at that - and you’ve got something of a perplexing situation.
Perplexing to anyone except Merlin and Arthur, anyway.
There’s a final crash, the unmistakable smack and wheeze of a fully-grown man hitting the floor, and then Merlin’s stubbing out his cigarette on the dirty bar and shoving his way through the crowd, holding his camera above his head and hissing curses at anyone who jostles him.
Arthur’s soaked in sweat and there’s a split in his eyebrow oozing blood. He’s grinning. Merlin hadn’t been able to see the blood from his seat at the bar but he had seen the way Arthur buckled in on himself at a punch to the stomach. He’d seen Arthur’s teeth bared in rage as he swung for his opponent, putting all his weight into a single punch.
The cheering and shouts from the drunken crowd aren’t dying down at all as Merlin clambers up into the boxing ring, teetering dangerously on the edge when he gets his foot caught on the ropes. Once he’s righted himself, he sweeps his fringe out of his face and straightens his jacket, catching the referee’s eye and raising his camera. A quick snap of Arthur, his arm raised in triumph, is all it takes. Then Merlin tugs a grubby pad and a blunt pencil out of his pocket and waves them around a bit.
“Interview?” he calls over the din, glancing back and forth between Arthur and the referee, who just nods and shoves Arthur towards him.
Merlin doesn’t bother fighting back a grin as Arthur grabs his towel, thinking that at least this one he can put down to the excitement of the match. The crowd parts for them and soon they’re slipping into the tiny back room. It’s dark but for a dim lightbulb hanging low from the ceiling and there are three rickety chairs at odd intervals along the walls. Arthur’s clothes are draped over one and he heads straight for them, running the towel over his face as he walks. Merlin sits in the second and drags the third over, propping his feet up on it and leaning back to watch Arthur dress.
“Good fight?” Merlin asks, smirking.
Arthur pulls his shirt over his head. It sticks to the sweat on his back. “You were there,” he says. “Weren’t you watching?”
“Oh, I was watching,” Merlin says, letting his voice drop and knowing that the hint of suggestion will have Arthur flushed and fuming in equal measure. That’s what makes it so delicious.
“Yeah, it was pretty good actually,” Arthur says by way of reply. His voice is level but the way he stumbles when he bends to slip on his shoes tells Merlin that he hadn’t missed Merlin’s real meaning. “I’ll write up the key points for you.”
“Brilliant,” Merlin grins, jumping to his feet and pacing over to push the pad and pencil into Arthur’s hands. “And I’ll buy you a drink.”
They stare at each other for a moment. Merlin is dying to reach out and run his fingers through the dampness in Arthur’s hair; to press his face into Arthur’s neck and inhale the filthy scent of sweat and bruises and violence; to lick along Arthur’s bottom lips and bite until he tastes blood, but the twist of sickness which knots deep in his stomach at the thought stops him. Arthur’s eyes are wide and bright, bright blue but his forehead is creased like he knows what Merlin’s thinking and he’s trying to will him not to do it. Not to touch him. Not yet.
“Not here,” Arthur says and Merlin doesn’t know if he means the kissing or the drink but he nods anyway. Arthur’s voice is quieter than usual. There’s an edge of uncertainty to it and Merlin knows that’s because he’s feeling the twist too.
“I’m not a fucking idiot,” he mutters, shoving Arthur’s shoulder and turning to leave the room.
- - -
The drinks go down easy after the first three rounds of whiskey. The tension drops from Arthur’s shoulders and he starts looking Merlin in the eye, telling him stories about the families at his church. Merlin stops glancing over his shoulder at the men speaking in whispers in the corner and stretches his legs out under the table, letting his ankles rub against Arthur’s in a way that he’s sure will look accidental.
Arthur doesn’t stop talking but he moves his feet back, tucking them underneath his chair, pulling away from Merlin’s touch. He won’t be pulling away later, Merlin knows that for a fact, so he doesn’t mention it. He just sends Arthur a sly grin and orders them both some beers.
“You shouldn’t do that,” Arthur says as they wait, leaning in and keeping his voice low.
Merlin knows what he means but he asks, “Shouldn’t what?” anyway as the barmaid sets their pints down in front of them.
Arthur glares at Merlin as he slides his beer over to him, but says nothing.
“I shouldn’t touch you, brush against you, in a dark, fucking cramped little hole like this?” he motions around him, the movement making his head spin a little and shit, maybe he’s had more than he thought. Maybe this isn’t coming out right. “But I can come and watch you fight?”
“That’s different,” Arthur mutters, running his thumb through the condensation on his glass.
“Different?” Merlin repeats, knowing his voice is rising with indignation but not caring at all. “Different? Tell me how that’s different. It’s worse is what it is, Arthur. Fucking worse and you know it.”
He has told Arthur before; he told him the first time, when Merlin followed Arthur into the back room after a fight and talked him into going out for a drink. Merlin told Arthur when he was soft and warm and drunk in Merlin’s flat, pressed up against the door and moaning into Merlin’s hair. He told Arthur that watching him box made his skin tingle, that it made his pulse pound in his ears and his cock throb in his trousers. Merlin had whispered it to Arthur, mouthed it against his jaw, between Arthur’s pants of we shouldn’t and it’s wrong and I’m not one of them, I’m not.
“Merlin!” Arthur hisses, dragging Merlin in by the collar so that he can bite out his words against Merlin’s ear. “Shut up. Stop it, I’m fucking serious. We’re alone here, right? There’s no one to help us and those guys in the corner are already staring.”
The hairs on the back of Merlin’s neck stand up. He can smell Arthur’s sweat from the fight and his shirt collar is digging into the back of his neck from where Arthur is pulling him forward. The cold shock of fear that runs through Merlin’s body goes a long way to sobering him up. He gulps and lets out a shaky breath, trying to nod so that only Arthur sees because the chance of being discovered is suddenly very, very real.
When Arthur releases him they go back to their drinks, not daring to look anywhere but at the floor for several long, tense minutes. It’s only when the low hum of chatter really starts up around them again that Merlin feels safe to raise his eyes to Arthur’s.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, his voice so hushed that he isn’t sure if Arthur will hear him until his blond head snaps up. Merlin takes another swig of beer. “I’m sorry, I just- you know how those fights... How they get me,” Merlin shifts uneasily in his chair. “And I don’t know how to do that for you, not out here. Not like it is for me. It’s just- it makes it so much better, with people around. People who don’t know what you’re doing to me and I wanna give you that too.”
The touch of Arthur’s palm across Merlin’s hand makes him stutter into silence. Merlin stares down at the way Arthur’s fingers are circling his wrist against the dirty wooden table, his lips parting in surprise. Arthur meets Merlin’s eye for a moment looking earnest, not uncomfortable or angry or hateful like he usually is when they touch in public. Then the moment is gone and Arthur’s hand is firmly gripping his glass, lifting it to his lips and emptying the last dregs of beer down his throat.
“You can’t do that for me,” Arthur says, his tone leaving no room for argument. “You just can’t. Now come on.”
- - -
It’s always the same. Merlin watches Arthur shift between terror and confidence, between disgust and lust, for the entire walk back to Merlin’s flat. There are moments when Arthur pushes in close to Merlin, letting their shoulders knock together and muttering something about boxing - saying his bruises are aching, describing the way his glove feels when it crashes into a muscled stomach, telling Merlin how his mind fogs over at the first punch and what it’s like to taste your own blood and know you’re being paid for this; for putting on a show.
Those are Arthur’s confident moments. Those are the moments which leave Merlin feeling itchy all over and desperate to sink into the privacy of his flat; desperate to hear the click of the latch and know that they’re alone; know that they’re hidden.
Then there are other moments. There are moments when Arthur speeds up ahead of Merlin as if he’s trying to get away and moments when he slows right down, trailing after Merlin like he’s reluctant to follow; like he just wants to go home. Merlin sees the pained look on Arthur’s face in these moments of disgust and he ignores him, waits patiently for these feelings to pass and for Arthur to push his mother, his father, his friends, God, common decency, everything out of his head and give in again. Because Arthur will give in - he always does. The morals which tear Arthur up every time they slink into the first bar of the evening always crumble just as Merlin slides his key into the lock and lets them into the pitch black hall of his flat.
This time Arthur flicks the light on for Merlin and then slips out of his shoes and tucks them under the cabinet to the left of the door. When Arthur looks up, Merlin can’t help but smile a little. It makes his gut wrench how familiar this routine is now. Arthur calmly hangs his coat on the spare peg Merlin leaves for him, and suddenly it feels so right to be home alone with Arthur, both of them digging their socked toes into the thin old carpet and watching each other in the dusty yellow light.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Merlin says and Arthur nods without a word. The cold walk usually rids them of the fuzzy press of alcohol but sometimes they need a little coffee to help them along. They don’t do it drunk, not after the first time. Merlin thinks it would be better if they could only do it drunk, if this was something that required alcohol to feel right, but it doesn’t. He wants to be aware of who he is, remember his own name, know and hear and comprehend everything as he sucks bruises across Arthur’s hipbones or presses his face into the sofa as Arthur’s fingers pull his arse cheeks apart to make way for the hot, torturous drag of his tongue.
When Merlin walks into the sitting room with two mugs of coffee it’s to find Arthur leaning back on the sofa and poking gingerly at the cut across his eyebrow. He sits up straighter when he sees Merlin, smiling weakly as the coffees are set down on the table. He watches as Merlin pulls off his jacket and tosses it onto the armchair. The tense silence only breaks when Merlin perches next to Arthur on the sofa, reaching behind him to run his fingers in a soft, swirling pattern along Arthur’s lower back and leaning in to press his nose to Arthur’s cheekbone.
“Sorry,” Merlin whispers against Arthur’s cheek, kissing him there and letting out a heavy breath. “About earlier.”
Arthur shakes his head. “You just- you push too much when you’re pissed,” he says, leaning into Merlin’s touch. Merlin keeps kissing his cheek and Arthur’s eyes drift shut but he doesn’t stop speaking. “We can’t do that, okay? Any of it. Ever. We shouldn’t even- we really shouldn’t be...”
Arthur’s protests fade into nothing as Merlin tugs him in with the hand on his back and starts rubbing his fingers up and down Arthur’s chest, brushing over the buttons of his shirt as he kisses along Arthur’s jaw.
“I won’t, I promise,” Merlin says into the quiet. “I won’t.”
“You can’t,” Arthur tells him. He’s clearly trying to put some force into his voice, but the way his fingers work their way into Merlin’s hair and press him closer takes away from the sting. “That - what you get from the boxing - I don’t get that. I don’t- I can’t feel it. Not with other people there, okay? Never. It doesn’t turn me on, it just frightens me.”
“I won’t,” Merlin repeats one last time. He waits until Arthur sighs, satisfied, and then he reaches for Arthur’s jaw, turning his face so that their noses brush and he can lean in and press their lips together. It starts off a little timid, a little dry, a little nervous because they know that they could be beaten for this - that they could have died for it tonight - but then the rush of warmth and pleasure and need takes over and Merlin feels Arthur’s lips part. He runs his tongue along Arthur’s bottom lip and pushes inside, licking into Arthur’s mouth, stealing his hot, wet breaths and groaning with relief. It feels like he’s waited forever for this; like the short nod of greeting he and Arthur had exchanged before the boxing match was months ago, not hours.
“Back, move back,” Merlin huffs into a groan, pushing at Arthur’s shoulders, and Arthur obeys. He leans back on the sofa, not taking his eyes off Merlin as he shifts over and swings a leg across Arthur’s lap. Merlin slides down into the dip of Arthur’s hips and grins when he feels the nudge of Arthur’s half-hard cock against his own.
Merlin drapes his arms around Arthur’s neck and rolls his hips, the contact making Arthur moan, deep and desperate.
“Shhh,” Merlin hushes him, cupping Arthur jaw. Then moments later, “Let it all out, love. Please, for me.”
This time when Merlin rolls his hips against Arthur’s, he leans in to kiss him again and lets out a needy moan of his own. Merlin snakes his hand between their bodies and presses it to the bulge in Arthur’s trousers, rubbing his thumb along the hard shaft of Arthur’s cock and biting his lip at the hungry clench of lust which tugs at the bottom of his stomach. He knows his fingers are shaking as he fumbles with Arthur’s belt and fly, but he isn’t embarrassed; he’s never embarrassed when it’s just Arthur, only sad and tired and reckless.
While Merlin is pushing Arthur’s underwear down and closing his fingers around Arthur’s cock, Arthur starts unbuttoning Merlin’s shirt. He begins at the collar, tossing aside Merlin’s twisted tie and licking his way down Merlin’s neck and chest as he uncovers more and more skin. It mainly tickles and makes Merlin gasp and grin, until Arthur pushes Merlin’s shirt over his shoulders and off onto the floor. The cold air makes Merlin shiver, but then Arthur is licking and sucking at one of his nipples, brushing his thumb over the other, and Merlin can’t do anything but whimper. He threads his fingers into Arthur’s hair and kisses the top of Arthur’s head, fingers in a loose circle around Arthur’s cock and hips working in a rhythm he can’t control.
“Let me-” Arthur rasps, breaking off to nip at Merlin’s nipple. “Let me suck you, please. Merlin, Merlin please.”
Just as he says it, Arthur presses his palm against Merlin’s cock and Merlin sees stars for a split second. Before he quite knows what he’s doing, he’s gasping out, “Yes,” and slipping out of Arthur’s lap to stand on shaky feet in front of the sofa.
Merlin unbuckles his trousers and shoves them down with his underwear in one. Arthur strips off his shirt and then tries to push his own trousers down his thighs, but he gives up when he catches sight of the way Merlin’s limbs are shaking. He lies back across the sofa, resting his head on the armrest and letting his feet dangle off at the other end. There are about three seconds when Merlin considers attempting to pull off his white socks but then Arthur nods his head as if to signal for Merlin to climb onto him and the socks are forgotten - they’ll keep his feet warm, anyway.
It feels as though Merlin’s heart might beat right out of his chest as he crawls onto Arthur and scoots up until his knees are pressing against the armrest, just above Arthur’s shoulders. His legs are bent up a little awkwardly over Arthur’s shoulders and across his chest but Merlin barely even notices because Arthur is gripping Merlin’s hips and pulling gently, making Merlin lean over him until he’s in danger of toppling right off the sofa.
The movement brings Merlin’s cock in line with Arthur’s mouth. He just stares down at Arthur for a moment, watching his gorgeous blue eyes flick up and down, then Merlin is throwing his head back with a shout as Arthur licks around the crown of his cock and pulls on Merlin’s hips until he slides smoothly between Arthur’s lips.
Arthur starts sucking straight away, drawing back and sliding forwards in soft, even movements. He swirls his tongue around the head of Merlin’s cock and tongues at his slit, making Merlin moan and hunch over. He plants his hands heavily on either side of Arthur’s head to save himself from falling. The position is awkward and makes Merlin curl up uncomfortably tight but he can’t bring himself to care. He decides this pain is definitely worth the pleasure when he pries his eyes open to watch Arthur. The sight of it - of Arthur humming around his cock, his cheeks hollowed and his eyes glazed over with desire - makes Merlin’s head spin.
He thinks about the Arthur who had glared at him in the back room of the boxing club; of the Arthur who had pulled away from him in the bar and hissed a warning against his ear. He thinks about the Arthur he knows, who is constantly fighting a losing battle against a sin which makes him feel happier and safer than anything else in the world. He thinks about how he and Arthur will never say that they love each other even though they both want to scream it with every brush of their fingers and press of their lips.
Then Merlin thinks about this Arthur, who has suppressed so much and granted himself so little that even the smallest touch is enough to turn him to jelly. This Arthur - this Arthur who loves to pin Merlin down by the wrists and push into him; who wants to draw out the perfect, desperate need quivering through Merlin’s body for as long as possible; who buries his nose in Merlin’s chest and pants every time Merlin fucks into him against the headboard... This Arthur is no different from the others.
The sudden realisation, the understanding, makes Merlin want to wrap himself around Arthur and kiss him until there isn’t a puff of breath left between them. Instead he gasps and pushes forward into Arthur’s mouth, feeling the beginning of bruises where Arthur’s fingers are digging into his arse cheeks, and tips over the edge into his orgasm. Arthur swallows most of it, his arms loosely bracketing Merlin’s hips above him, his breath wheezing through his nose. Then Merlin pulls out and wriggles back down Arthur’s body, cracking the stiffness out of his wrists and kissing away a drop of come by Arthur’s mouth.
“Thank you,” he says against Arthur’s lips.
“Don’t-” Arthur starts to interrupt but Merlin speaks over him.
“Thank you for picking me,” he finishes, kissing Arthur’s nose and nuzzling into his cheek. “I’m glad you did, even with- with everything.”
Arthur runs his thumb over the join between Merlin’s neck and shoulder, mouthing at his collarbone a little. “I didn’t pick you,” he says quietly. “There wasn’t anyone else who I could imagine doing this for. Doing it with. You were just you, it wasn’t a choice. It was... it was meant to be.”
Merlin grins down at Arthur and says, “I don’t think I’ve quite got the wherewithal to make much sense of that right now.”
“Then roll over instead,” Arthur orders with a smirk, nudging Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin scrambles backwards to let him get up. Arthur’s cock has softened a little while they’ve been talking but once Merlin is lying spread out on the sofa, Arthur doesn’t hesitate to climb between his legs and lean down to press a kiss to the centre of Merlin’s chest. When Arthur sits up again he’s got the bottle of slick Merlin keeps hidden beneath the sofa clutched tightly in his hand - they had moved it from Merlin’s bedside table after Arthur freaked out and told Merlin that would be the first place anyone would look if they were even a tiny bit suspicious. As Arthur coats two fingers and starts to circle Merlin’s hole, Merlin finds he’s never been more glad of the foresight.
Filthy moans fall past Merlin’s lips as Arthur pushes his first finger inside. He writhes against Arthur’s thighs, curling his legs up around Arthur’s waist and trying to grind down onto his finger. It’s the way Arthur starts massaging the crease between Merlin’s thigh and arse that finally pushes Merlin into breathy pants and whines. He struggles up until he’s almost sitting, Arthur’s finger still pressed tight inside him, and scrabbles for purchase on Arthur’s neck. Merlin finally manages to wrap his palm around Arthur’s nape and he pulls him in for a messy kiss, groping blindly between them until his other hand closes around Arthur’s cock.
Merlin rubs his thumb over the slit and revels in Arthur’s desperate moan. He can feel Arthur hardening in his fist and the shared heady rush of it means that Merlin hardly notices Arthur sliding a second finger into him. It’s only when the two of them still and Merlin shifts into the stretch that the feeling of fullness truly strikes him. He gasps against Arthur’s lips and pulls back to gaze between their bodies, staring at where large, strong fingers are disappearing into his body.
With a last whimper, Merlin pulls his hand off Arthur’s cock and runs his fingers up and down Arthur’s forearm, finally coming to a stop where Arthur fingers are bunched together at his hole. Merlin strokes Arthur’s ring finger, tracing the spot where a wedding band may one day sit, then slides it into himself alongside the other two. The sensation pushes another desperate breath out of Merlin and he rolls his hips into Arthur’s fingers, grasping onto his shoulders with both hands. Merlin nestles his head into Arthur’s neck and laps uselessly at the hot, sweaty skin there. He can still smell the boxing ring and the thick scent of Arthur’s earlier exertion.
“Please,” he says at last, surprised by the hoarse scratch of his own voice. “Arthur, please. Properly now I need- it has to be you. I can’t just- with fingers.”
There’s a faint twinge in Merlin’s ribs at hearing himself begging for Arthur to fuck him - begging for anyone to fuck him - but the desperate, choking fog of his need clouds the shame of his desire for another man. Merlin can hardly bring himself to care about Hell and damnation, or corrupting his soul, when he’s sure he’ll weep if he doesn’t feel the person he loves surrounding him with strong arms and thrusting hips.
Several long seconds pass and Arthur doesn’t make any move to remove his hand. Eventually, Merlin pulls his face away from Arthur’s neck and ducks his head to look into Arthur’s face.
Arthur is staring down between them, his eyes fixed on his own fingers where they’re buried in Merlin’s arse. Arthur is biting his lip and there’s a tremor running down his arms and along his thighs - when he looks up to find Merlin gazing straight at him, the shaking in Arthur’s arms increases and he opens and closes his mouth a few times. Merlin cups Arthur’s jaw and presses a kiss to the corner of his lips, trying to soothe him.
“Merlin, I- I- I’m sorry,” Arthur pants, his eyes wide and panicked and his words tumbling into each other in his rush to speak. “I can’t believe that I’m- that we’re- Merlin, I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to make you betray yourself like this- I just- I want you.”
Merlin strokes Arthur’s hair, letting his hands trail down along Arthur’s neck and over his shoulders, hushing him with soft, quiet sounds. They have done this before - Arthur has done it before, giving and taking in equal measure. He knows how it feels to have Merlin pushing into him. Arthur knows how much Merlin gasps and writhes on his cock and how hard he comes every time. It’s just a momentary lapse; it’s just Arthur letting the weight of everything outside of this moment wrack his body with fear and hatred and nausea.
“It’s alright,” Merlin whispers, still stroking Arthur’s hair. “It’s alright, Arthur. You’re not hurting me, you’re not making me do anything. You know I want it. We’ve done it so many times, Arthur, and I always want it. Look at that,” Merlin squeezes the base of his own cock, thick and hard with arousal once again. “Does your dick ever do that if you don’t like something?”
Arthur chuckles and kisses Merlin’s bicep. “No,” he says, dragging out the word to poke fun of Merlin in return.
“Then please,” Merlin says, urgent but still quiet. Still calm. “Do it. I know you want to. Come on, Arthur,” he kisses Arthur’s nose. “Please.”
And Arthur does it. He pulls his fingers out and lines up his cock in one swift movement, using the slick left on his hand to ease the way into Merlin’s body. It’s perfect, finally feeling Arthur thick with desire inside him, and Merlin gasps and pants into the hot, close air between them. It’s just two or three thrusts before Merlin lets himself drop back onto the sofa cushions, twisting both hands into the fabric and tightening his legs around Arthur’s waist.
Merlin groans each time Arthur hits his prostate, bucking wildly in an attempt to draw the pleasure out and pushing down against Arthur’s hips. The pace they set is rough with Arthur only half pulling out before he pushes back in, groaning Merlin’s name and digging his thumbs into Merlin’s ribs to hold him still. The wet sound of their fucking is all that punctuates the silence between Merlin’s gasps and Arthur’s pants, until Merlin feels himself getting close once again. He reaches down and wraps his fingers around the base of his cock, pumping erratically and whining into the stillness around them. Arthur’s eyes drag up and down Merlin’s body but it’s not until they connect with Merlin’s own that the thrill of orgasm rips through Merlin.
He sighs, his breathing thin and strained, and reaches for Arthur even as the aftershocks run through his body. Arthur is still fucking Merlin but his thrusts are slower now, shallower.
“Come on,” Merlin pants, curling his fingers around Arthur’s hands where they’re resting on his ribs. “Come on, Arthur. Come in me. I want you to- fuck, please.”
Arthur bends low, kisses Merlin’s jaw, and does exactly that. He growls into Merlin’s neck as he comes, his body jerking into Merlin with short, frantic movements as he pumps his cock in and out of Merlin’s arse. His come is hot and sticky, adding to the wet, squelching sounds between them, and Merlin loves it. He closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the feeling of Arthur all around him for a few moments longer, rubbing his hands over Arthur’s arms and kissing his ear, his neck - whatever he can reach.
When Arthur finally shifts his hips there’s the unmistakable sound of his joints clicking. He groans in pain and slips out of Merlin, swallowing Merlin’s whine with a kiss and wrapping his arms around Merlin’s shoulders to hold him close. He’s heavy and the sweat on their chests is making them stick together and overheat in truly disgusting ways but Merlin can’t bear the thought of moving him. Instead, he absentmindedly threads his fingers through Arthur’s hair and hums.
“It’s just us,” Merlin says softly. “Just me and you, yeah? Don’t freak out. I sense you’re about to freak out.”
“M’not freaking out,” Arthur mumbles against Merlin’s chest. “Just thinking. Don’t know why loving you is such a sin. Don’t know why it’ll send me to Hell.”
“I know,” Merlin sighs. He stares up at the dark ceiling above them and wonders what it is he did to deserve such an awful muddle of happiness and shame. “I can’t imagine anything bad coming of having you in my life.”
Arthur presses a kiss to Merlin’s nipple and squeezes him just a little tighter. They fall asleep like that and don’t wake up until 3am, both with aching joints and pounding headaches. Arthur rolls off Merlin and stumbles to his feet, pulling the two of them out of the sitting room and into the bedroom, where they slide beneath freezing cold sheets and doze off again with cold fingers and chattering teeth.
- - -
Nothing changes. Merlin doesn’t expect it to. He wakes up first and kisses Arthur awake. They have an awkward breakfast, neither sure how long it’ll be before they go back to not touching. Arthur sits at Merlin’s desk and jots down the details of the fight yesterday, underlining the most exciting moments for Merlin to focus on in his column. Merlin watches him as he flicks through the newspaper, feeling sick and winded because of how much he wants Arthur, and angry with himself for not trying to change that - for not wanting to change that.
Then Merlin starts playing an old record and the familiar sound makes Arthur grin and get up from the desk to twirl Merlin around under his arm. They dance for a while with no real rhythm, laughing and tickling each other. Merlin shows Arthur his new suit for the church party on Friday. Arthur kisses Merlin’s cheek and runs his finger along Merlin’s jaw and Merlin drops to his knees and sucks Arthur off in the bedroom, moaning at the feeling of Arthur’s hands in his hair and the weight of Arthur’s balls against his chin.
Arthur goes just before five, leaving the other shoes from beneath Merlin’s cabinet scattered across the hall, and promising to send a note with the date of his next fight. Merlin cries for two hours, then sits down to write up his column.