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What the fuck is this place?” Arthur grumbles as soon as they shuffle inside the hotel room they have been assigned to. Merlin, for once, agrees.

The room is small, poky actually, and not at all cosy-looking. The walls are plain white, the ceiling looks like it’s too low and it’s going to eat them any moment, and there’s barely any furniture, just a ratty wardrobe in the furthest end of the room and two simple beds on either side against the walls, separated by a small night-stand in the middle.

But on top of that, it’s fucking freezing.

“It stinks in here.” Arthur scowls, throwing his bag to the bed on the left. Merlin drops his stuff on the other one. “Do people really stay here in this hovel?” He scrunches up his nose.

“Yeah, well, not all of us have so much money it comes out of our ears.”

Arthur gives him a look, a quick once-over, and then his mouth lifts up at the corners. “Do you really want to talk about ears, Merlin?”

Merlin feels the flush hit him like a wave, sudden and sharp, and he feels himself going hot all over, from his neck to his face and, of course, touching his ears and painting them red. He swallows as he sits down on the edge of the bed, tries to force the flush to go away by avoiding gazing anywhere but at Arthur. So he spreads his legs before him and fixes his gaze down on his ratty Converse, looking at one of the laces that is coming undone.

When he hears Arthur chuckle, Merlin tosses him a disdainful glare.

“You’re a dick,” he mumbles, and then turns around to grab his bag, ready to unpack, before he catches sight of the horrid aspect of the wardrobe, and decides it seems a much wiser idea to leave his clothes where they are.

“Yeah, I’ve been told I have a nice one,” Arthur replies and Merlin stills for a second, but then bursts out laughing at the unsuccessful attempt at a witty retort, ignoring Arthur’s ‘shut up’ a moment later and enjoying watching a small mortified flush taking over Arthur’s face.

“You’re a prat,” he corrects himself, and when Arthur throws something at him, that’s the end of it.

Merlin wonders what the hell did he do to deserve ending up rooming with Arthur of all the people, wishing he could have chosen staying with Will or Freya instead, but then, he remembers that Kilgharrah was the one to pair them up randomly. Merlin’s not sure if he’s going to be able to stand three days of Arthur, though. Luckily for him he only plans to be in the room during night time and he intends to spend his time sleeping then, so maybe it won’t be so bad as long as he avoids Arthur during the Model UN conference.

They aren't even in the same group, each of them has to represent a different country and maybe they do have to argue at some point, but Merlin doesn’t think that’s a problem, considering that’s the only thing they ever do and they are pretty good at it.

Once settled in, the rest of the day’s spent doing nothing productive in Arthur’s case, and preparing his speech in Merlin’s, so it's flawless and there's as little as possible left to chance. He uses his very slow laptop to research interesting facts, writing them down with different coloured pens on the pile of notes and cards that litter the mattress. Arthur gives him odd looks now and then from where he’s lazing on his bed, typying away on his iPhone, and Merlin tries to overlook the way Arthur's gaze makes him feel edgy every time it lingers on him for a beat too long.

Merlin barely notices the low temperature at first, too caught up in googling and noting down and memorising, until he distractedly reaches out for his hoodie and shortly after loses his concentration when he has to stand up to get his jacket and put it on top. Arthur rolls his eyes at him, but a while later he’s the one who hunches in over himself and frowns as he slips under the covers for warmth.

When it starts getting unbearably cold, they realise the heating system is not working at all.

“I’m not going to complain alone,” he retorts after having Arthur telling him to go find Kilgharrah.

Arthur rolls his eyes, then says with disdain, “Merlin, are you really that much of a big girl's blouse?”

“You're so infuriating,” he mutters, glowering in Arthur’s general direction. “I’m not the only one sleeping in this room, and I’m not the only one who’s cold, so you’re coming.”

“You know, if you’re scared you’ll get lost, just say so. No need to make up stupid excuses,” Arthur replies, hopping down the bed and sighing dramatically, as if putting up with Merlin is a big hardship.

As they head out of the room and down the corridor, Merlin has the urge to shove Arthur down the stairs, but luckily he restrains, hoping that he will be assigned another room and he’ll get rid of Arthur as his roommate.

/ /

He doesn’t have such luck.

Merlin's exasperation grows when, after he's explained the problem to Kilgharrah, his response is merely a wacky smile. Arthur and him share a confused but frustrated look before Kilgharrah decides to explain how when he made the reservations something was mentioned to him in passing about a heating being broken in one of the rooms, and how it’s so very unfortunate that they have ended up in that room. He prattles on about coins and little pushes needed in occasions and fate next, and some other things that make absolutely no sense, and Merlin just stares at him blankly, hopelessly.

Turns out, the only solution he gives them in the end, is to share one of their beds for warmth, as if it were the most normal thing to suggest, before he shoots them a sly smirk followed by a maniac laugh, and promptly slams the door closed in their faces. Merlin's so stunned Arthur has to pull at his sleeve and drag him away.

As they make their way back to their freezer of a room, Merlin tries not to think about the fact that he’s pretty sure that, as they stood in the doorway to Kilgharrah’s room, he saw a couple of empty beds through the open crack of the door.

/ /

Neither of them acknowledges Kilgharrah’s words, not at first.

Thing is, as they get changed into their pyjamas in turns, using the bathroom that, for some reason, seems to be warmer, Merlin starts feeling the cold seep through his bones, and it feels so gelid that he puts his hoodie back on over his nightshirt.

They both slip into their respective beds and it’s not until Merlin curses and his teeth start to clatter that Arthur huffs and clucks his tongue.

“Merlin, can you stop with the noise? I can’t fucking fall asleep.”

Merlin bites his tongue to stop the shaking, but he still frowns, says, “I can’t well stop it? It’s— not my f-fault I’m fucking d-dying here, you prat.”

Arthur makes a grunting sound himself, and Merlin listens to him tossing and turning, which has Merlin growing even more sleepless himself. Then Arthur sighs. “Maybe. . . Maybe Kilgharrah’s idea could be a solution?”

Merlin pauses, biting his lips so tightly it hurts and opening his eyes in the dark to try to make sense of Arthur’s words and make sure he’s still awake and not dreaming. Because Arthur can’t be suggesting that they sleep in the same bed.

“You’re joking,” he replies, astonished, and then brings his knees closer to his chest, making a ball of himself to keep warmer.

“I, uh—” Arthur trails off, sounding the most awkward Merlin has ever hear him sound. Arthur’s speech never falters.

Merlin cleverly ignores him and attempts to doze, repeating the word 'sleep' in his head like a mantra, then counting sheep until he loses count, and finally trying his best to leave his mind blank, but his body keeps shaking and Merlin knows that's the reason why he won't fall sleep.

He startles when he hears rustling and then a thud, but before he can turn around to see what’s going on, the covers of his bed are sent flying and a breeze of cool air floods against Merlin’s neck, raising goosebumps.

“Hey, what are you—“ he starts, but then the mattress dips under the weight of a body and Merlin stays motionless, processing the fact that Arthur’s sneaking inside his bed, rearranging the bedcovers, and wrapping them tightly around them before he presses his arse, back and shoulders against Merlin’s and goes completely still.

Merlin's first reaction is to tell Arthur to sod off but his brain can't seem to be able to form any coherent train of thought, not even when he begins sensing some warmth.

Sooner than he’d expected Merlin finds himself finally drifting off, and with that his mind is put at rest as well.

/ /

When Merlin wakes up the following morning, he comes to realise of three things: one, he’s got a inopportune boner; two, said boner is currently smashed against Arthur’s hip; and three, there’s no way he can slip away without Arthur noticing, mostly because as soon as he looks up subtly to assess the situation, Arthur is already very awake and gazing down at him, seeming half-amused, half-shocked. Merlin sees then how he’s practically draped all over Arthur’s front, hugging him like he hugs his pillow at night at home.

It’s mortifying, to say the least.

“Someone's happy to see me,” Arthur teases, smirking a little, and when his voice comes out a bit raspy with sleep, Merlin’s traitorous body reacts. He freezes, hoping Arthur doesn't notice, but then Arthur's eyes widen. “That, or you had the most pleasant dreams,” he adds, trying to erase the awkwardness and failing spectacularly.

“What?” Merlin scowls up at him. “It’s not because of you. It just— happens,” he babbles defensively, feeling stupidly exposed. “It happens a lot, to everybody, and obviously when you’re not nearby. Stop being a self-centered— prat. It has nothing to do with you.”

Arthur’s eyebrows shoot up and his lips curve upwards annoyingly. “Obviously,” he deadpans.

A moment passes and Merlin’s body burns with embarrassment. He doesn’t know what to do. The only thing he knows for sure is that, as cosy as he feels, he has to slip out of Arthur’s half-embrace right away since the situation is turning irremediably exasperating with every ticking second, but more importantly, because they are expected to meet the rest of their classmates for a rehearsal. He’s shocked to see that Arthur’s in no hurry to move, though, considering that Merlin's crotch is practically jammed against his hip.

Problem is, he has no clue how to untangle himself from Arthur without making this all the more maddening.

“Well?” Arthur says after a beat, gesturing with his head to Merlin’s arm surrounding his body. “Are you done pawing me?”

Merlin mouth falls agape. “I’m not— pawing you,” he moves away abruptly, lifting his hands from Arthur’s body. “I was asleep and not conscious of where I put my hands. Besides—“ he snorts, “—you’re the one who suddenly assaulted me last night and forced yourself into my bed.”

Arthur splutters, bolting up and making a mess of the covers and sheets in the process. Merlin sits up, too. “Assaulted? You were shaking so hard the floor was almost quaking with it, you idiot. I was trying to be helpful.”

Merlin frowns, even though he knows Arthur’s words are earnest. “Thanks, but I could’ve handled it just alright by myself, I‘d have fallen asleep eventually, didn’t need you to save the day.” And he tries to convince himself that he didn’t need Arthur’s body heat to fall asleep. Merlin can't stand Arthur's arrogant attitude, which is what this is, because Arthur has never been nice to him, so why would he start now.

Arthur’s eyebrows knit together and his bottom lip juts out. “Why are you making such a big deal about it? I’m the one who should be feeling weirded out, considering sleeping with me gave you a boner.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry I can’t help it if I get a hard-on in the morning, Arthur.” He rolls his eyes. There’s no way of having a conversation with Arthur that doesn’t lead them to some bickering, never has been. And he doesn’t want to talk about this anyway. “Y’know what? Whatever, never mind,” Merlin murmurs and then stands up, and after four long strides, he’s ducking inside the bathroom, trying not to think about how his bottoms are still tented and Arthur must have seen everything.

Door closed, Merlin leans his back against it and heaves out a shaky sigh.

He's already stroppy enough in the morning as it is, he doesn’t need Arthur being Arthur right now; smug and mocking. As fit as he is, and Merlin can't deny that because he’s got eyes, his personality puts Merlin off to no end most of the time.

He washes his face, killing some time whilst he wills for his erection to go down, but when after a few minutes it’s still in the same state, Merlin sighs, pulls his pyjama bottoms down enough to fist himself and jacks off quickly leaning one hand against the sink, gathering his come in his hand and biting his lips to avoid any sound break past his lips. He doesn’t want Arthur to hear.

As his breathing evens out and he opens his eyes again, there’s a knock on the door. “You done fuming? I need to pee.”

Merlin frowns. He washes his hands, and curses when he sees his face in the mirror. He doesn’t look sleepy anymore, he looks rather blissed out now. He pats his hair down, noticing a few rebel strands of hair standing at odd ends, and then taking a deep breath, he clicks the door open and rushes outside, brushing shoulders with Arthur and avoiding looking at his face.

Arthur closes the door shut behind him, and when he comes out, neither says a word.

/ /

That night, they find themselves in the same situation.

It’s okay during the day when they are out of the hotel and during the conference, where they are too focused on the debate to be mulling over what's happened this morning.

But as soon as they are back in their room, Merlin notices the atmosphere growing tense between them and the temperature dropping a few degrees when he takes his beanie, scarf, and jacket off and changes into his pyjamas. That’s where the real trouble begins. They don’t talk. Arthur is grumpy. Merlin is embarrassed and annoyed.

At some point Arthur finally seems to decide he could benefit from doing something other that sulking and he settles a tome named Economic Development of the Russian Federation on his lap. It's a good sign, or so Merlin thinks, until Arthur begins flicking through the pages with such force he seems about to tear them off, and Merlin cringes.

After a small moment of hesitation he rolls his eyes and pushes to his feet, walking over to Arthur and stopping just as his knees brush the feet of his bed. Arthur looks up at him through his fringe but quickly glances back down, clearly showing his disinterest in whatever Merlin’s got to say.

“Well,” he starts grudgingly, scratching the side of his face. “since it’s obvious you’re too much of an arse to acknowledge me properly, I’ll just say that I think I may have overreacted a bit this morning and I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. But you can go back to your bed tonight, Freya gave me some blankets, so I'll be okay.”

Arthur frowns slightly at that, and Merlin waits for him to say something in response, because it took some reflecting and a bit of swallowing his pride to do this, but when nothing comes and Arthur keeps silent, forehead still creased, Merlin just sighs and turns around, leaving Arthur to his things.

Merlin’s surprised, though, when after ignoring him blatantly all evening Arthur get inside his bed once again that night. Only, this time he doesn’t wait until Merlin can start shaking— which he won't because, as he expressly told Arthur, he has Freya's blankets. Arthur simply shoves Merlin to one side of the bed and as he murmurs a ‘budge over’ and he settles down on the other end, disregarding Merlin’s words completely, and turning the lights off.

/ /

Fighting his way to wakefulness the next morning, Merlin opens his eyes to the feeling of a warm and solid pressure against his back, to the feeling of someone —Arthur, he belatedly realises— wrapped around him snugly.

Merlin lets out a contented sigh as he leans back against Arthur’s chest almost unconsciously, not registering what he’s doing, feeling drowsy and pleasant still caught in that mid haze usual of winter mornings, mornings of wanting to stay in bed burrowed under thick blankets forever without falling back asleep.

Closing his eyes again, he thinks how he’s never been held like this before. Sure he’s been in someone’s arms —concretely Gwaine’s— but of all the times they’ve jerked each other off they’ve never ended up cuddling together of all things, basically because their relationship has never been like that. It’s more like a friends with benefits agreement what they have going on, and Merlin’s always considered it more than enough, except that now, as he savours the thrill of this moment, he thinks he could be missing something out.

He’s not sure if he scoots backwards, or if it’s Arthur the one who curls closer into him, but as soon as their bodies slot together completely from shoulders to knees, Merlin notices that Arthur is hard under his pyjamas when he feels the stiff ridge of Arthur’s erection pressing against his arse.

He freezes first, a small flutter rising inside his belly unexpectedly. It seems funny that the same thing that happened to him yesterday is now happening to Arthur, and Merlin wants to turn around and tell him to see how this can happen even when you have no feelings whatsoever for the person you’re sleeping with, but it’s childish and something holds Merlin back.

He tries to shift away from the boner poking him in the bum, but Arthur’s hand flies to grip his hip so tightly that Merlin gasps in surprise. He feels a pulse start in his temple when he realises that Arthur is already awake.

“What are you—”

Shut up,” he rasps out, his words breathed against Merlin’s nape.

Merlin shudders, his neck having always been especially sensitive. He finds his own cock filling to hardness when Arthur subtly rubs against him once, accidentally or purposefully Merlin doesn’t know. He inhales sharply, completely gobsmacked when Arthur’s erection slides against the dip of his lower back, and Merlin swears he feels the dampness already seeping through the fabric and wetting Arthur’s pyjamas where the cloth catches against the tip of his cock.

Merlin turns his head towards his pillow hopelessly and buries it in there, breathing a bit harshly, mind racing, closing his eyes at the sudden heat rushing towards his own groin.

He has no idea what Arthur thinks he’s doing, let alone why the fuck Merlin is letting him, but when Arthur flattens himself firmly against Merlin’s back and thrusts, it takes Merlin’s coherence away and leaves his brain blank, only making Merlin extremely horny for some reason. He wonders if he should feel ashamed to be humped like a dog in heat, but the movements of Arthur’s hips are slow and sensual, not forceful, and even though his grip on Merlin is tight and demanding, Merlin thinks he could easily escape if he so wished. Only he realises that he doesn’t. Because this is strangely bizarre, but also surprisingly exhilarating.

So he fists his pillow in one hand, still feeling like he’s suffocating but needing to keep his face buried there, feeling like it’s the only thing anchoring him to reality and muffling his panting. He feels like he’s run a marathon, his head is light and his heart hammering against his ribcage so hard he’s afraid it may burst with the force of it.

Then his breath hitches and his stomach jumps when he feels Arthur’s hands moving on him, hips still working lazily against Merlin’s lower back but with urgence, his breaths constant puffs of air against Merlin’s neck, and his fingers skimming across Merlin’s hips. His hand comes down to run over the side of Merlin's stomach and flat over his ribs, holding, surely noticing his tensed muscles and the erratic pace of Merlin’s own breathing.

He’s not prepared for when Arthur’s hand skates even lower still and stops over Merlin’s erection, seeming hesitant, and then palming him once through the cotton of the bottoms and forcing a choked sound from Merlin’s lips.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he chants against his pillow, body burning and hips jolting madly, backwards against Arthur and forward to chaste more of that touch, shoving himself onto Arthur's hand without finesse. He needs release, never mind that is Arthur the one he’s getting off with.

Arthur seems to get encouraged by that, because he creeps his other arm between the mattress and Merlin’s body and wraps it around Merlin’s torso as he rubs his palms over the hardness between Merlin’s legs once again, the angle a bit awkward, but it doesn’t seem to be a bother for either of them. He knows Arthur can feel the wild pumping of his heart beating furiously under his palm, and probably can even hear it as loudly as it pulses in Merlin’s ears.

Merlin’s body is tense and stiff, and when Arthur fingers his way down past the waistband of his pyjama bottoms and briefs and gets a hold of his cock, squeezes it, Merlin reaches with the hand on the sheet backwards to grasp at something else more solid, and manages to place his hand on Arthur’s thigh, strong and flexing with each buck of his hips.

Arthur curses against the nape of his neck then, a small sound, before his open mouth suddenly glides along the first knots of Merlin’s spine and he presses his forehead there. Merlin can’t help but shiver at the gentle gust of breath across the slightly damp skin of his nape.

He feels feverish and high, too hot, sweating faintly with confusion and arousal, and he’s aware of Arthur’s hand closing around his cock and bobbing up and down from base to tip, the touch slippery with Merlin’s pre-come but rough and rocky, as if this were Arthur’s first time giving someone a hand-job. And it could be, Merlin wouldn’t know because he doesn’t know these kind of things about him. The thought makes Merlin feel emboldened, so even though the way Arthur’s stroking him is a bit messy Merlin fucks up into his fists, saying, “Yeah, c’mon.”

Arthur pants against Merlin’s neck, the rhythm of his own hips stuttering as he grinds against Merlin almost desperately now, his needs clear. Merlin unclenches his right hand from the pillow and wraps it over Arthur’s on his cock, because Arthur’s strokes are too irregular and Merlin really wants to come.

They carry on moving together for a beat longer, all harsh panting and frantic moves, until Merlin feels his balls draw tight against his body before he shoots come all over his and Arthur’s hand, over his shirt and bottoms and the sheets, not caring one bit and feeling blissfully dazed with pleasure. He barely registers Arthur cursing once, almost crushing Merlin in his arms as his cock pulses against Merlin’s arse, making the front of his trousers go sticky.

When Arthur’s desperate rutting comes to an end and he heaves out a deep, long exhale against the bare patch of skin of Merlin’s nape, Merlin suddenly feels aware of every spot of his body where Arthur is touching him in the aftermath of his orgasm. Feels where their hands are joined together, fingers twined messily and smudged with come, feels the tingling on his lower back and arse when Arthur’s been rubbing himself raw against him, his nape wet with spit, his entire back hot and sweaty with the shedding warmth of Arthur’s body. It seems so odd feeling so physically connected to someone he’s not even friends with only because he’s full of adrenaline and buzzing with pleasure. It feels way too strange feeling this kind of intimacy with Arthur, who's never liked Merlin enough to even say hello.

Arthur stays slumped against him for some amount of time, barely twitching a muscle, until the alarm of his phone suddenly startles them both. He jumps and the moment is broken, whichever the moment was and whatever it meant.

Arthur silences it with a thud, a punch of his hand, and then lays on his back. Merlin finally has room to stretch himself and move, and when he dares to roll over to look at Arthur in the eye, knowing his own face is flaming, he’s not counting on Arthur’s face being as much of a mess as his, with strands of his fringe sticking up and damp, eyes hooded dark and lips bitten red.

Arthur meets his gaze and his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows, but before Merlin can muster a word, Arthur’s sending the bedding aside and locking himself inside the bathroom, clearly avoiding any kind of interaction.

Merlin can only lie there thinking how his pyjamas, his hands and the sheets are now dirty with come, and wondering how is it even possible that it has felt that good with Arthur of all people.

/ /

That morning is hell, an absolute nightmare. Everything seems to be going awful for Merlin today.

For starters, Arthur's trying his hardest to avoid staying in a room alone with him, and yet he keeps sending these indecipherable looks in Merlin’s way when he thinks Merlin’s not looking, lips forming a sour line. Merlin has no idea what to make of it except that Arthur clearly regrets what's happened.

It’s exasperating. Merlin can see Arthur’s distracted and that's causing Merlin to be distracted as well. He keeps fiddling with his notes, forgetting everything he’s supposed to say, who he’s supposed to tag along with, and he continues receiving these disapproving looks from Kilgharrah and odd looks from Will, who goggles at him as if he’s gone bonkers.

He’s feeling restless and anxious, and he just wants the conference and the stupid trip to end so he can finally go home and erase from his mind that all of this ever happened. His relationship with Arthur isn't supposed to be awkward, it's supposed to be nonexistent.

As they walk through the corridors on their way out, Freya asks what's going on with him as she pats his arm sympathetically, because she knows how important this conference was to Merlin, how much he wanted to make a great impression. But he isn't feeling particularly talkative— he's rather annoyed with himself for letting the thing with Arthur this morning affect him so much.

But then Arthur walks past him, brushing their shoulders together, and says, “Good speech in there, Merlin.” Unexpectedly, fleetingly, with the same eyes that are always blue and piercing and arrogant, but seem now strangely open.

Merlin stares after him. He stands there in the middle of the corridor, not believing Arthur’s words and silently flipping out because Arthur’s been nice for once. His speech today wasn’t anything near good, Merlin knows, Arthur knows, and the entire class knows. Merlin messed up a bunch of lines and had to improvise more than once.

“What the fuck, mate?” Will says as soon as Arthur is gone. Merlin swallows and blinks away, still seeing the glint of Arthur’s eyes in the back of his mind. He can’t help but remember the events of this morning, the moment where he turned around and met Arthur’s wild gaze. “Did Pendragon just bloody praise you?” he continues and Freya beams so wide that Merlin thinks it must hurt.

He shrugs, trying to act nonchalant but feeling as shocked as Will inside.

“Oh my god. Has something happened between you two? Something that I’m not aware of?” Freya exclaims. Merlin's entire face burns and he hopes he’s not blushing. Freya slaps him in the arm. “What kind of best friend are you that won’t tell me what’s up?”

“I’m not sure I want to hear,” Will murmurs from behind them.

“Did you, like, stumble upon him naked in the bathroom or something?” Freya inquires and Merlin wishes it’d have been that.

“Something like that,” he mumbles. He doesn’t want to have this conversation.

Freya and Will exchange a look, but when Merlin avoids their gaze for a full minute and dodges Freya's questions, thinking about Arthur and what on earth does he think he’s doing to Merlin, only then does Freya change topics.

/ /

They head to the library and Merlin doesn’t bother lying to himself. He knows he only wants to get away from Arthur and a library seems like the best place to keep his mind busy. He plans on researching for tomorrow exhaustively, which is the last day and his only chance to mend his cock-up today.

The last thing he’s expecting is to find Arthur there with a couple of mates when he arrives.

Freya seems amused, Will displeased, and Merlin doesn’t even know how he feels about Arthur anymore, but having him around all the time doesn’t help Merlin make up his mind.

They sit on an empty table by the corner and Merlin manages all right for about ten minutes, reading and writing down interesting facts he could add to his speech before he makes the mistake of looking up from his notes and catches Arthur’s gaze set on him. After that, everything is an absolute disaster. Merlin loses his concentration completely, resigning himself to an unproductive afternoon yet again.

It’s only when Arthur stands up some time later that Merlin perks up, believing Arthur’s leaving. But when Arthur's friends don't pack their things and make a por job of pretending they aren't peering at Merlin, he belatdly realises Arthur's on his way to their table. Wihout uttering a word, he drops a piece of paper on the table before heading away, leaving Merlin stunned into silence.

‘meet me outside now’, reads the note. Merlin’s head snaps up and he follows Arthur’s figure as he slips out of the door whilst Freya leans over Merlin’s shoulder to eye the note up. Merlin just passes it over to her carelessly, standing up as silently as possible.

“Merlin, you should give it a moment so it won’t look suspicious,” Freya hisses but Merlin doesn’t care anymore. He simply crosses the room with long strides and shuffles outside.

And there Arthur is, waiting for him. Propped up against the brick wall, with his arms crossed over his chest, shirt sleeves rolled up and jumper wrapped around his shoulders with a haphazard knot. His gaze is fixed on the horizon, his expression thoughtful. Merlin swallows, walks over and, as looks at him, all he can think is how, for the first time, he sees what everyone else sees when they talk about Arthur.

Arthur turns his head to the side, as if sensing Merlin’s presence, Merlin's gaze on him.

“Hey,” Merlin says for a lack of anything better.

Arthur pushes himself off the wall. “Look, Merlin, about this morning,” he starts, coming closer, and Merlin immediately feels his heart lurch inside his chest and his face face heat at the memory, still too fresh in his mind. “I just wanted to get off. Simple as that. You were there, and as you said the other day, it didn’t— mean anything. No big deal, yeah?” He looks square into Merlin’s eyes.

Merlin doesn’t know whether to feel disappointed or relieved. He has so many things to say, so many questions to ask but he’s not even sure about what anymore. Arthur puzzles him.

“Yeah, no big deal. But maybe a warning next time would be nice,” he replies, and as soon as he realises what he’s said he hastens to correct himself. “I mean, not that there’s going to be a next time with me, obviously, but with other people you could— y’know, be less aggressive. They might not react as I did.”

Arthur looks so thrown for a moment that Merlin almost runs way in shame, but then his lips twitch and he says arrogantly, “yeah, well. Luckily for me you reacted as if you didn’t mind. As if you wanted it.”

Merlin stares, scoffs. “What is that supposed to mean? Are you implying that I want you?”

Arthur huffs a chuckle, stuffing his hands inside the pockets of his uniform trousers and shrugging before he attempts to leave.

“Arthur—“ Merlin says, reaching out to grab his arm, feeling Arthur’s skin beneath his fingertips just as soft as this morning, but now dry instead of bathed in sweat. “You know, you’re the one who started it in the first place.”

Arthur seems confused for a beat but then his face draws into realisation and he's quick to cover it with a frown. “Yes, I already told you. I wanted to get off,” he mumbles, snatching his arm back softly.

Merlin huffs out a bitter laugh. “Right.”

Arthur’s lips curl upwards cockily just so, before he brushes past Merlin and slips back inside the door.

/ /

Merlin stays in the library until closing time and then lazes around Will's room, delaying returning to his own for as long as he can get away with it. It works for a few hours, until Will's roommate begins giving Merlin the stink eye and saying how he wants to go to sleep in a way that clearly indicates he wants Merlin gone. To top it off, and as if he could sense Merlin's presence by magic, Kilgharrah knocks on the door, and upon coming across Merlin he sends him to his own room in a tone so stern Merlin feels mortified at having been so selfish and having kept Gilli up only because he meant to avoid Arthur.

Reluctantly, Merlin shuffles to his room, immediately noticing the change of temperature as soon as he's inside. He huffs, then stops in his tracks when he finds Arthur already lying in the bed that belongs not to him but to Merlin, blanket up to his neck.

He hesitates as he stands by the bed, as he changes into his pyjamas, and then, recalling their conversation from before once again, Merlin tiptoes towards Arthur's empty bed.

When he pushes the covers off, he listens to a muttered, "don't be an idiot."

Startled to find Arthur awake, Merlin whirls on his heels, peers at Arthur's poorly lighted figure.

“Having me freeze to death is too boring a punishment. Even someone as dim-witted as you can do better, Merlin,” Arthur continues, voice rough but low.

As he shivers, Merlin fights a small, unexpected smile.

He relishes in Arthur’s twisted way of admitting he needs his warmth to fall asleep before dragging his feet to the other side of the bed and lying down next to him. With ease, he manages to make their bodies fit in the diminutive bed, and that and the sound of Arthur's quiet breathing evening out make it stupidly simple for Merlin to fall asleep within minutes as well.

/ /

When Merlin first opens his eyes the next day, is to find Arthur’s face mere inches away from his, already awake once again and looking sort of troubled with himself.

Merlin doesn’t even have to look down at his bottoms to see how ridiculously hard his dick is, he can feel the strain against the waistband of his bottoms. It’s so frustrating that he can’t help but groan against his pillow softly, wishing it’d just go away.

“Not again,” he mumbles, and Arthur, surprisingly, barks out a throaty laugh.

And just like that it doesn’t feel that awkward anymore.

It’s relieving knowing their little chat yesterday had some sort of effect to help ease the tension between them. And it’s relieving knowing that even though Merlin doesn’t think they can consider each other friends yet, their relationship has definitely evolved into something different during these three days they’ve been rooming together. He doesn’t know exactly where they stand right now but they are something more than what they were before the trip, that’s for sure.

“God, it’s so hot,” Merlin blurts when he catches up with the high temperature and noticing how there are droplets of sweat clinging to the hair at this nape, how the sheets have been pulled away at some point whilst they slept.

“Yeah, I think the heating came back during the night or something. It really is— hot. . .” Arthur trails off and Merlin lifts his gaze up to look at him, meeting his bright blue eyes through longish tufts of blond hair.

The air seems loaded and charged, thick with something Merlin can’t put a name to and it makes his pulse speed up. He becomes aware of how very close they are, wedged in the tiny bed and freed of cosy blankets and heavy covers, facing each other and with their knees and feet touching at random places.

Merlin feels that odd thrill he’s been experiencing after waking up with Arthur by his side for the past few days, the fluttering inside his belly that’s he’s been attributing to nerves or annoyance to be sharing such a private space like a bed with Arthur. But that now that Arthur's complete attention is focused on him and he’s looking at Merlin as if he doesn’t want to ever take his eyes away, Merlin thinks that maybe he’s been interpreting his feelings the wrong way. That maybe he's been misreading Arthur’s actions, his sneaky glances and averted eyes, and that ridiculous hand-job yesterday and his need to run away afterwards. Misreading the tingling sensation inside his own chest, the strange pull towards Arthur that has always considered irritation. Maybe Arthur was right and he wants this, and maybe Arthur wants it, too. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

Arthur's tongue darts out to wet his lips slowly, almost as though he’s nervous or unsure, which seems absurd because that’s so uncharacteristic of Arthur that the gesture manages to get Merlin's attention, makes him think that he wants to kiss that dumb expression off Arthur’s face with a press of their lips, to see where that takes them.

He shifts minimally closer but before he can think about it twice Arthur is on him. He seizes Merlin's mouth in a rough kiss that forces him to lie back against the pillows, curling his hand around Merlin's jaw and licking into his mouth, impatient and hungry. Merlin’s mind reels as Arthur nips at his bottom lip and swallows down the little noise Merlin makes, so he decides to forget about all the things his mind wants to bring up and simply let this happen; he can ponder what this was later, when Arthur’s not knocking all the air out of him.

He reaches out with his hands to get a hold of Arthur’s shirt, his arm, feeling the strong muscles under his fingertips and squeezing when Arthur grunts and climbs on top of him in a swift move. Merlin doesn’t know how they have ended up here, together, but he can’t say he cares when it feels so good. When Arthur’s kissing the side of his face and his jaw, and then mouthing his way down to suck at his neck just in the right spot at the same time that he lowers himself on Merlin just so to make their groins brush together in a way that has Merlin gasping and his stomach jumping

Arthur feels it because his hand is splayed flat low on Merlin's chest, keeping him pinned to the bed as he ravishes Merlin’s throat without finesse, and he smirks against the skin on his neck. Merlin can almost imagine it if he closes his eyes, the smug and satisfied, and bloody infuriating smirk blooming on Arthur’s face, and it makes Merlin smile too, for some reason, makes him laugh breathlessly.

“You like that?” Arthur husks. Merlin can feel the blood pumping under Arthur’s mouth as he sucks hard at his throat, can already picture the love bite that will mark his skin there.

“Shut— up. God.” He laughs again, squirming under Arthur’s lips.

Arthur’s hands start roaming over his chest and then he lifts his head from Merlin’s neck just enough to let some room between their bodies and look down as he starts unbuttoning Merlin’s shirt. Merlin curses inwardly for owning a pyjama shirt with buttons but, luckily for them, Arthur seems to get half of them undone pretty quickly and he doesn’t waste any time to wrench it over Merlin’s head. Merlin urges Arthur to take off his own too, and he does, tossing it to the side carelessly before he leans back down.

Merlin crushes their mouths together before Arthur can go back to his neck. Because his pulse is hammering there. Because it’s the perfect excuse to taste the texture of Arthur’s pouty lips again. To grab at his hair and tilt his head to the side to find the right angle, enjoying hearing Arthur panting for breath as he licks his way inside Merlin’s mouth. His firm hands spread wide over Merlin's skin, kneading Merlin’s chest while fingers wander, toying with one nipple and making Merlin laugh again.

“You’re ridiculously ticklish,” Arthur says, sounding far too amused, looking down at him with a expression on his face that seems almost strangely— fond, before he lowers his gaze, slinky, and moves his mouth to the nipple he was fingering, teasing, until Merlin has to bite his lips so as not to choke out a groan. He uses his grip on Arthur’s hair instead to drive him down, slowly, wanting him to lap lower still, to go past Merlin’s ribs and his belly and navel and past the small trail of hair disappearing under his waistband, and to put his mouth lower, right there, on Merlin’s cock.

Arthur gets the hint, of course he does, but takes his time on every inch of Merlin’s chest, stroking along the lines of his not very impressive abs with his thumb, swirling his tongue over the bone on his hip, pressing his hand against the bulge inside Merlin’s pyjamas, up and down, until Merlin has to throw his head back against the pillows and heave out a long sigh to avoid burrowing Arthur’s head between his parted thighs and keep him there until he does as Merlin wants.

He closes his eyes and breathes in and out as his dick jerks beneath Arthur’s palm before he seems to understand Merlin’s desperation and mouths at the outline of Merlin’s hard length through soft cotton, hot and absolutely maddening. He looks down at Arthur, feeling precome dipping wildly from his dick, tickling and itching in its way, wanting Arthur to lick it clean with his tongue.

“You’re so hard, Merlin, look at how hard I make you.” Arthur hums appreciatively, and Merlin wants to protest, wants to tell Arthur not to be so big-headed, but the words die on his lips when Arthur peers up at him with a smirk and lust-darkened eyes.

“Aren’t you gonna do something about it, then?” he replies, feeling brave and a bit silly. He’s not even going to deny that Arthur might be the cause of his erection at this point. “Was that handjob yesterday the best you can do?”

Something flickers in Arthur’s eyes and his smirk grows, fingers slipping inside Merlin’s trousers and tugging down, finally giving Merlin what he wants. He frees Merlin of his briefs too, and it’s only when Merlin’s lying completely naked on the bed, with Arthur atop of his legs, that he realises that this is really happening and he wants to keep going all the way.

Arthur wastes no time pushing the skin of his cock back and gently fisting the moist tip. Merlin hisses at the contact, fingers twitching on Arthur’s hair, as Arthur brushes his lips against the underside of his cock, flicking his tongue down to the base and then up over the head before he takes him in his mouth without any preamble.

He sinks down leisurely only to pull out again, spit glistening Merlin’s cock obscenely from only just one lick. Merlin watches as Arthur lungs forward again, stuffing almost his entire length into his mouth, ripping a hopeless groan from Merlin’s throat. His fingers rake through Arthur’s hair, pulling at it with each flicker of arousal caused by the slow drag of Arthur’s tongue on him, and he tries to hold back, to bit his lips when he wants to shout out his pleasure and his need to come. His chest heaves as his breathing quickens, and it’s all wet and warm the way Arthur works on him with both hands and his mouth, touching Merlin’s dick and his balls in a way that, admittedly, has far more skill than the atrocious handjob yesterday.

He lies on the mattress with his eyes closed and his bottom lip caught between his teeth, his cheeks burning so much he knows there are patches of colour high on them. Both of his hands tangle and untangle on Arthur’s hair, and he digs his nails against Arthur’s scalp every now and then as Arthur sucks him off just in the right way, swirling the tip of his tongue around the head of Merlin’s cock or taking him down until he hits the back of Arthur’s throat. It feels so fucking amazing and Merlin feels so blissed out already, that he’s barely aware of his orgasm building in his belly, of the stifled sounds he’s making, and he catches himself just in time when Arthur sucks too hard and Merlin feels the toes of his feet curling in ecstasy.

“Fuck, fuck— stop or I’m gonna come right the fuck now,” Merlin babbles, breathing hard and yanking furiously at Arthur’s hair so he lets go.

Arthur lets Merlin’s cock slip from his mouth with a pop whilst he smirks slightly, his lips lewdly swollen and eyes dancing with merriment. “I thought that was the point, Merlin,” he drawls.

“No, not the point if we can do other things,” Merlin replies in a gush of breath.

Arthur stares, his hand on Merlin’s thigh gripping slightly tighter. Merlin seizes the opportunity and pushes himself to his elbows weakly, urges Arthur down onto the mattress beside him, and settles between the cradle of Arthur’s legs. He fumbles Arthur’s clothes off, trying to get them off the way so they can be touching skin to skin. He wriggles him out of his trousers and boxers, smiling goofily at the nonplussed look Arthur gives him as soon as he’s naked, too.

Merlin takes a moment to look at him, to appreciate the athletic muscles and the lines of his torso, his shoulders, abs, and pecs and especially the blond hair dusting his chest and legs and curling above his cock. He’s an arrogant, spoiled prat, but Merlin can’t deny Arthur is incredibly good-looking.

Merlin reaches out to him, swipes the pad of his finger over the head of his dick, softly and then traces a line downwards until he’s caressing between Arthurs balls, then lower, finger heading towards Arthur’s arsehole. At the first touch, Arthur sucks in a breath so loudly that Merlin’s head snaps up to look at him and his fingers retract.

“What are you—” Arthur asks, voice shaky and expression anxious.

“I—” Merlin thinks it’s pretty obvious. “Do you want me to stop?”

Arthur stares at him, licks his lips. “No,” he says, bending his knees higher so Merlin has better access. “C’mon, keep going.”

Merlin stomach flips, nerves settling in with want and confusion and Arthur, with his legs splayed open and wanton, his face flushed and hair a mess from Merlin’s fingers. The same fingers Merlin licks vigorously now and plunges between Arthur’s arse cheeks impossibly gentle, guardedly and taking his time, because Arthur’s incredibly tight inside and the last thing he wants is to hurt him with his eagerness.

He bows his head down to suck at Arthur’s cockhead at the same time, tonguing at the ridge and then moving to the tip, trying to pleasure him and distract him and tasting the faint bitterness of Arthur’s precome, then spitting it on his fingers and Arthur’s hole to make it more slippery. His ears pound and he listens to their mingled harsh breathings as he works Arthur open with his saliva, feeling his fingers enveloped in wet velvet heat, little by little giving in and allowing Merlin to pump his spit-slick fingers steadily in and out. He licks at Arthur’s balls and then nuzzles as low as he can go, attempts a lick at Arthur’s hole but the angle is all wrong.

Fuck,” Arthur swears nonetheless as his head knocks into the pillow, already sounding wrecked and reveling in the friction, hands grasping at the sheets for leverage.

Merlin goes back up, sliding his fingers out of Arthur’s arse and using them to fist him roughly a couple of times before he welcomes Arthur inside his mouth, swallowing around Arthur’s dick as best as he can as he inches down, and feeling his mouth watering and his own cock throbbing between his legs at Arthurs choked out half-cry.

“Yeah,” he breathes in a puff of air, panting. “Just like that.”

Merlin scrambles for his dick, and gives it a few needy pulls, moaning around Arthur’s cock when he brings his hand to Merlin’s neck and touches the corner of Merlin’s mouth in the place where Arthur’s dick is splitting his lips open and saliva is breaking past them with each bob of his head, messy and without much of a rhythm to it anymore, urgent.

He draws away, jaw a little sore, and spits down on his own cock, smearing the saliva all over himself until it’s disgustingly slicky. He shifts his position, kneeling closer and rearranging Arthur’s legs until he can align himself just so and nudge the tip of his cock against Arthur’s pink hole, ready and waiting. It’s reckless and stupid and he knows they shouldn’t do this like this because it’s not safe, but Merlin needs to. And so does Arthur, by the looks of it. Because he keeps urging Merlin to fucking get on with it already, his expression fierce, eyes rampant and body willing, angling towards Merlin.

It’s so overwhelming when he first pushes the tip in, so tight despite all the preparation, that Merlin thinks he might come right there and then and embarrass himself. All he can think about is how he’s never fucked anyone bare before and how amazing it feels, in a way he can’t even describe, but it’s way too much, and as soon as he’s completely buried to the hilt with a hot wet slide, he hears himself gasping, head falling forwards to look down through half-lidded eyes at the place where they are joined.

Everything is sticky enough between them to make it comfortable for Merlin to pull away and drive back in, and he’s not sure which of them is the one who moans, or if it’s the two of them, but he thinks he might die from the buzzing sensation in his body if it goes like this for much longer.

He rolls his hips experimentally again and Arthur wheezes, abs pitting and eyes fluttering closed. He grabs hold of Merlin’s shoulder and his nails dig softly into the flesh, breath coming in shallow bursts as they move against each other in shuddery little motions, Merlin thrusting and Arthur responding, pushing back. Merlin’s body falls forward, tiredly, and he places his palms on the mattress, hovering above Arthur. The room is filled with the slapping sounds of their bodies, their ragged breaths, and Merlin soon gives up on making this last, because he’s already feeling his own orgasm pooling hotly in his spine.

It's messy and clumsy, and Merlin sneaks a hand between their bodies to take hold of Arthur’s dick, swollen and ruddy, and pumps him hard in his fist, moving his hips at the same pace and dropping his head on Arthur’s shoulder.

It doesn’t take long. They’re both strung too tight and way too needy. Arthur comes first with a strangled sort of cry, hand clamped around the nape of Merlin’s neck as Merlin strokes him a couple of times out of rhythm, making his hips hitch and his hole clench so much around Merlin that his vision almost goes blank with the force of it. Arthur legs unwrap from Merlin’s waist and and land heavily on the bed, his heels digging into the mattress as his cock shoots streaks of come everywhere and Merlin watches through the space between their bodies, catching the last drops of Arthur’s come in his fist and listening to Arthur puffing air frantically against his ear.

Merlin’s hips buck brokenly and he forces his body to cooperate and heaves himself up on his knees, then glides off Arthur before he can stumble over the edge and come inside him. He jerks himself off with a few pulls and his cock pulses out his hot release all over Arthur's stomach whilst he curses loudly, not giving a damn about who might hear, closing his eyes and pumping his fists until he feels as drained and worn-out as his cock is over-sensitized, until his blood thrums.

He sits back on his haunches and takes a deep breath, and when he blinks his eyes open, Arthur’s staring at him, all sprawled, with drying come on his belly and his hair sticking up in every which way. He opens his mouth to say something, but the alarm goes off, interrupting him, and he turns around to switch it off.

When he looks back at Merlin he speaks, says, “Shower?”

Merlin thinks that this is the moment when it gets awkward. He nods. “Yeah, you can go first.”

Arthur raises an eyebrow and looks at him the same way he did a few days back, as if Merlin’s utterly stupid. Then he rolls his eyes and sits up. “That was an invitation, you dimwit. I meant if you are up for another go. In the shower.”

But Arthur doesn’t wait for an answer or maybe Merlin’s too slow to reply. He all but grabs Merlin’s arm and tugs him out of the bed and towards the bathroom. And when Merlin protests and tells him how they are going to be late, Arthur corners him against the bathtub and cuts him off him with a smothering look and the most demanding snog.

Merlin gets the hint and shuts up with a smile, then gives Arthur what he wants.

/ /

Hours later, shouldering his backpack, Merlin steps inside the bus.

He looks up just in time to meet Arthur’s eyes across a couple of heads poking up from their seats. Arthur is already sitting in the same place he took a few days back, but now the seat next to him is empty. Merlin swallows at the implications. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or maybe he’s waiting for Leon, Percy, or someone else. Arthur hadn’t commented anything about it when they were packing, nor before he had left to meet his friends.

But when Arthur’s eyes find his, he straightens up a bit, and Merlin holds his breath, waiting for something to happen.

“Merlin,” Freya calls out, breaking the moment and waving at him to sit beside her, patting then the free seat at her side.

Merlin hesitates. Will is in the row behind her, mouth open and head pressed against the glass of the window in an awkward angle, fast asleep. He bites his lip and turns his gaze back to Arthur, who’s still staring at him quite intensely. He makes an almost imperceptible nod with his chin towards the empty seat beside him, raises his eyebrows just so, and Merlin’s heart lurches inside his ribcage like it had done hours ago when they had been surrounded by curtains of water and wrapped in each other in the shower, dizzy with pleasure for the second time.

He’s jostled from behind by a classmate, murmuring something about him blocking the way as he tries to enter the bus, and Merlin breathes an apology and springs into action, crossing the small hallway in a rush and falling down on the seat next to Arthur, then dropping his backpack to the floor at his feet and sighing out a deep breath.

He turns his head to the side and Freya gives him a huge, knowing grin and a thumbs-up sign, and Merlin laughs silently.

Upon spining his head around to his left, he catches Arthur looking out of the window with his lips quirked up in a small smile, simple and contagious, and it has Merlin’s face splitting into a grin, too. He knocks his knee against Arthur’s and Arthur looks at him then, with big blue eyes from under strands of blond hair, the tips of his fringe still a bit wet from the shower, making Merlin’s belly flutter at the memory.

Kilgharrah stumbles into the bus with the last students trailing after him and taking the vacant seats, before he motions to the driver to take off, glancing once in Merlin and Arthur’s direction with a pleased smirk.

Merlin has no idea where this undefined thing they have going on will take them, but in this moment it doesn't matter much, because wherever it is, this is where it begins.