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Forever is composed of nows

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Winter morning light was watery when it wavered in between the curtains; Merlin was almost awake when the light shifted maliciously onto his face. He rolled over in defiance, pressing his nose between the warm shoulder-blades in front of him. The back Merlin was pressed into grizzled slightly before disappearing altogether but before Merlin could protest too loudly, there was another nose against his. 

Merlin cracked open his eyes, catching Arthur's gaze.

"Morning." Arthur murmured, bumping his nose against Merlin’s again, a little too roughly. Merlin crinkled said nose, screwed his eyes up and buried his face in the space between Arthur's neck and shoulder. He also made a noise, but Merlin wasn't sure if it meant a greeting or complaint. Arthur chuckled at him anyway. 

Merlin cringed slightly when Arthur, now much more awake than Merlin, brightly chirped "Rise and shine!" Merlin just wiggled closer into Arthur, their bodies still warm and cozy with sleep. 

"No?" Arthur mused at Merlin’s non-responsiveness, in some weird revenge he declared, "Up and at 'em!" To emphasize this, he ghosted fingertips up Merlin’s side. The tickling finally pushed Merlin into responding, if one considered a whining, ‘Arthur!’ a response. 

Arthur chuckled again, enjoying the game much more than Merlin. Merlin felt Arthur press a kiss into his dark hair before detangling himself out of bed. Merlin whined again at the loss of Arthur, clutching the duvet in close. 

Merlin heard Arthur move away, so he cracked open an eye, just to watch Arthur; facing away from Merlin, arms up and back taught, stretch the night away. Since Arthur was already naked, Merlin might as well appreciate the view. Well aware of what he was doing, Arthur tossed a grin back at Merlin that was equal parts smug and cheeky. 

Merlin harrumphed and pulled the duvet over his head to hide his own grin as Arthur walked out the door to the bathroom. 

Listening to the sounds of Arthur's morning routine, an ache settled in Merlin’s chest. It wasn't overly familiar just yet but this ache had replaced the one Merlin had carried for a very long time. Unable to deny himself, Merlin crawled out of bed as well, the house thankfully warm. Merlin headed straight for the bathroom, coming up behind Arthur, standing front of the sink, mouth full of toothpaste. Merlin pressed against Arthur's back again, his skin hot against Merlin’s own bare body. Merlin’s feelings must have shown on his face over Arthur's shoulder because he paused, spitting into the sink before asking,

"You okay?"

Merlin averted his eyes and bent his neck to rest his forehead on Arthur's shoulders. He hated himself for acting so coy but looking at Arthur was far too much at that moment. Instead Merlin shrugged, feeling stupid, and squeezed slightly where his arms were wrapped around Arthur's torso. 

Unsurprisingly, Arthur was going to have none of Merlin’s shit, rinsing his mouth completely and turning in Merlin’s embrace, forcing the warlocks’ head up, Arthur didn't even have to say anything; he just quirked one eyebrow but it was enough to nearly split Merlin in half.

The ache in Merlin’s chest intensified, moving up to choke him as he admitted, 

"Sometimes I can't believe you're here. That you're real."

Merlin averted his eyes again, more than a thousand years stinging behind them. He risked a glance up, lacing his hands in the small of Arthur's back to stop them fidgeting. Arthur's face was soft, almost apologetic, like it always was when Merlin got emotional about the time after Arthur- about their time apart. 

Merlin felt Arthur run his hands up Merlin’s arms, curving around his shoulders to pull him in. Merlin went with the motion, tilting his face onto Arthurs’ shoulder again. 

Arthur reciprocated, nudging Merlin’s cheek with his nose. 

"I am here." Arthur tells him in a soft but emphatic voice, "I'm here and whatever will happen, will happen and we’ll deal with it. Together." Merlin really didn't want to argue but he had to say,

"But we don't even know why you're back."

"I’m sure we’ll find out soon eventually. And then well deal with it.” Arthur told him "Until then, let’s just enjoy this." Merlin opened his mouth to reply but Arthur cut him off. "Stop arguing Merlin."

The order sounded so familiarly bossy and so Arthur, Merlin couldn't help but retort,

"You can't tell me what to do." Arthur's oh-so-mature response to that was to lightly bite Merlin’s ear. 
The mood shifting into brighter territory, Merlin stifled his laughter in Arthur's shoulder. 

"Mature." He commented between snickers, to which Arthur responded by doing it again. In retaliation, Merlin unlaced his fingers and poked one into Arthur's ribs, making him jump. 

"Oh, now who's mature?" Arthur taunted with a laugh and gently butted his head against Merlin’s. Expecting retaliation, Merlin looked up but instead was swept into a kiss. Surprise passed quickly and he melted into Arthur. Merlin focused on Arthur entirely; the heat of his skin, the taste of mint, and the smell of his aftershave, the security and the strength in his arms. Merlin’s entire world zeroed in on Arthur. 

Eventually, Arthur slowed them down, finishing the kiss gently with soft presses of his lips against Merlin’s, finally resting their foreheads together. Both of them slightly out of breath, Arthur asked

"Better?" And Merlin was glad that he could answer honestly.

“Yes.” Was all he needed to say and he was indeed feeling much lighter, without the vice grip around his heart. 

Because Arthur was right; Merlin had waited so long for Arthur to return and now that he had, whatever it was for; they would face it together.