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i.

"That film you want to see is at the old cinema tonight." Merlin's arm slips warm and tight around Arthur's waist to tug him away from the lecture hall and toward the steps out of the Faculty of Letters building. "We should go."

"Just tonight?"

"And last night. But we missed that one."

Arthur leans into Merlin, lets Merlin direct him down the corridor and to the door, lets Merlin choose the way the rest of his day will unfold.

Once they're standing on the steps outside, Merlin smiles, reaches up to brush Arthur's fringe from his eyes, and kisses him.

ii.

"Is life with you like this all the time?" Arthur asked after the first time Merlin had taken him out.

Merlin stopped and shrugged. They'd had Indian food and had woven their way through a maze-like used book store, speaking in half-hushed voices, and Arthur thought he could still smell the scent of spices, incense, and dry paper on Merlin.

"Maybe not exactly like this. I'm usually trying to finish essays or get to work on time. But, um, I like curry, and old books, and I like having somebody else there with me to enjoy them." He shrugged again, the movement gracefully unconscious, and smiled to see Arthur take a step closer to him on the pavement.

Before that night, Arthur had known that Merlin was a post-grad doing a taught MA in comparative religion, that he worked at the new café a few blocks down from Arthur's flat, that he'd been waiting three weeks to ask Arthur out, waiting for the moment when he knew Arthur would say yes.

Now he knew that Merlin had slim, strong fingers, that he read mysteries before he went to sleep, and that he liked the feel of Arthur's mouth on his neck.

iii.

This is what life with Merlin is like.

Wednesday evenings at the cinema.

(He remembers the films that he wants to see and that Arthur wants to see, scribbles their names in the back of the current book he's reading so there will be a record of the things both he and Arthur forget.)

Hummus and pita bread for dinner, wine that costs enough to almost be deemed good, leftovers from the café on the nights Merlin closes.

(They eat on the floor of Merlin's flat. The bed takes up nearly half the room, and the only chair is the one in front of Merlin's desk. He has no other furniture to speak of, but unlike Arthur, he also has no flatmates. When Arthur complains they can't eat on the bed, he drags blankets and pillows and Arthur onto the floor and feeds him there.)

It's like this every day, a constant unfolding and remapping of his life. Merlin doesn't care that Arthur's four years younger than he is and he doesn't care that Arthur's only been out for a year, that he's Arthur's first long term relationship, doesn't care that Arthur can't quite seem to get everything about being in a relationship completely right just yet. Fuck, that Arthur can't quite seem to get everything about himself completely right just yet.

He cares that Arthur tries, that Arthur listens to his own uncertainties and insecurities, that Arthur learns the shape of his body using hands and mouth and lips and tongue, that Arthur will stay with him any night Merlin asks him to, and that half those nights, he doesn't have to ask. Merlin cares that Arthur realizes that he, too, hasn't figured how he wants to live his own life just yet and it's all right. They're both all right.

iv.

"That film was good," Arthur murmurs and traces his fingertips over the edge of Merlin's shoulder. "A bit obscure, but good."

Merlin makes a quiet, pleased sound in reply and shifts closer to Arthur on the bed, close enough that he's nearly curled against Arthur's chest. Outside, the drizzle that met them on the way out of the cinema has swelled into a steady rain and a damp breeze skims over the sheets and their bare skin.

"A bit?"

"All right. Rather obscure."

"But you liked it anyway?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did."

Merlin's right to ask; Arthur doesn't like obscure things. He likes what he can figure out, what he can at least begin to figure to out. He doesn't say that what he likes is listening to Merlin unravel the film for him and turns to rub his face into the rumpled mess of Merlin's dark hair.

Beneath the cool, clean scent of rain and evening air is the scent of their bodies, the heavier, warmer musk of sex and drying sweat. The scent of their bodies, Arthur thinks again with a shiver of pleasure and recalls the slide of Merlin's mouth down from Arthur's shoulder to his hip, the tickle of his breath over Arthur's cock and then the slower, warmer sensation of Merlin's tongue.

"You're not thinking about the film anymore." Merlin leans in to nuzzle Arthur's ear, then tucks his face in along the curve of Arthur's neck. "I'm not even sure you're thinking at all."

"Mm. I am. Sort of."

"And you're getting sleepy…"

"… not really."

"Really. Everything was good tonight," Merlin adds, lips moving against Arthur's neck.

Arthur sighs his agreement and closes his eyes. Merlin's stroking his chest, slow and lazy, and if Arthur were as awake as he claimed to be, he would ask Merlin what he's thinking about, what the little thoughtful noises his makes are for, and why he's able to stay awake so much longer than Arthur after they have sex.

But he really is sleepy, the heavy, comfortable kind of sleepy, all satisfaction and bodywarmth, that he wants to bury himself in forever. So, instead, Arthur noses into Merlin's hair to breathe him again and asks, "How is it like this with you?"

"Like what?" Merlin's hand rests at the center of Arthur's chest, another heavy, familiar warmth.

"Easy," Arthur replies, voice already blurred and drowsy.

"I don't know; we're lucky."

v.

Arthur wakes up first.

Arthur always wakes up first, which is as it should be. It's what he deserves in exchange for Merlin getting to watch him fall asleep at night, stroking his chest and whispering words Arthur only half-hears.

He deserves this time to skim the palms of his hands over Merlin's sleep-flushed skin and to map the tattooed mark that twists and scrolls across Merlin's left shoulder. He deserves the way Merlin arches into the touch before he's fully awake and how Merlin groans for him, his voice low and sleep-rough, when Arthur kisses him there.

He loves the tattoo. It's probably the only obscure thing he loves, the only twisted thing he as no urge to unravel. He loves the way Merlin's marked himself – the tattoo, the leather cord around his neck, the leather band around his wrist.

The one he's tied around Arthur's wrist, one of the few visible ways Arthur's allowed himself to be mapped out and owned.

(He likes the invisible ways better: the press of Merlin's lips to his wrist, the nip of Merlin's teeth along his stomach, the surge of feeling that starts in the pit of his stomach and reaches up to his chest whenever Merlin puts his hands on Arthur in public.)

Licking at Merlin's skin draws out a sigh from Merlin that sounds as if it comes from somewhere deep, deep inside him, deep enough that Arthur thinks he can feel it resound inside himself, so much like that surge of need and desire that Merlin sends through him. Arthur loves that, too, how rough and uneven Merlin's voice is when he first wakes up.

He moves in closer to Merlin, kissing and licking him gently until his body's half atop Merlin's and he can trace the angles of Merlin's body. The curve of his shoulder, the line of his spine, the distance from his waist to his thigh. Merlin moans, and the sound is barely voiced, more a deep rumble of want than anything else. Arthur smiles against the back of his shoulder and nudges one knee between Merlin's legs.

Arthur does it slowly this morning. Slicks his fingers up and teases Merlin open one finger at time, keeps slipping inside him and pulling out, over and over again, until Merlin's pushing back against his hand and whimpering for him. When Merlin sounds like he can't possibly do anything else but want, Arthur crooks one finger, stills his touch, has Merlin fuck back against him with another sound that Arthur swears he can feel inside himself this time.

He doesn't stop though, not until he's fingered Merlin into a state that's more feverish arousal than wakefulness. Not even until he's so hard and desperate himself that even the tight clench of Merlin's body around his fingers is too much to bear.

They jack each other off with sticky, slippery, fumbling fingers, hands all over each other and all over themselves, and when they kiss, it's wet and messy, mouths sliding against each other with hitching, gasping breaths.

 

When he's awake – really awake – Merlin brings Arthur tea and toast triangles, and teases him about eating in bed, then covers Arthur's mouth with his own before Arthur can reply.