Arthur had watched him for weeks, watched the bloke —Merlin— stupidly gorgeous but inexplicably lonely, the silence always with him wherever he went, following him like a burden and scaring people off, depriving him of having friends.
Arthur wanted to change that. Because it wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair.
He decided to sit next to him on the next lecture much to Merlin's surprise, who just stared at Arthur agape for a moment before cathing himself and turned his head to the other side with a small, confused frown.
Arthur cleared his throat, took his notepad out of his bag and quickly scribbled on a white page; I’m Arthur. He nudged Merlin’s elbow with the notepad, trying to get his attention.
Merlin looked at him sideways first, but when Arthur muttered a 'come on,' he sighed and tilted his neck to face Arthur fully, casting his gaze down. He stared at Arthur’s name for a moment, then grabbed the notepad and wrote a quick I know, raising an eyebrow at Arthur and adding, everyone does.
His handwriting was messy, curly at the edges, and a bit illegible, and it made Arthur smile.
aren’t you gonna tell me your name? Arthur wrote, sliding the notepad back to Merlin’s desk. He already knew it, too, but he wanted Merlin to tell him himself; he wanted a proper introduction, even if it was on paper.
Merlin read it and his lips twitched. He took a hold of his pen and immediately replied with a no., making sure the full stop was big enough for Arthur to notice it.
Arthur barked out a laugh when he read Merlin’s negative and quite definitive response.
In truth, Merlin was odd and reserved, different from the rest, and maybe that was why people avoided any kind of interaction with him. It was also exactly the reason why he drew Arthur in in the first place. “Alright,” Arthur said just as the lecturer entered the classroom. Merlin slided the notepad over to Arthur’s desk, making it clear that the conversation was over again.
So Arthur didn’t push it.
He wanted to know more, but he could go slow. He could do that.
“Hey there, stranger,” Arthur said two days later, falling down on his usual seat and feeling strangely satisfied that Merlin was occupying the desk beside his.
Merlin smiled, and quickly cast his head down in an attempt to hide it— a close-lipped grin that lighted his whole face up and made Arthur’s breath catch a little because it was the first time Merlin was offering something other than a quirk of lips. It was sexy without meaning too, charming, and Arthur longed to see it more, again.
“You’re in a good mood today, I see,” Arthur commented. “Or are you just happy to see me?”
Merlin’s eyebrows shot up high, almost disappeared behind his messy fringe, and his eyes went a bit wide when he met Arthur’s gaze. Arthur chuckled good-naturedly and got his notepad out.
“Ready to tell me your name?” he asked, perhaps sounding a bit too hopeful and pitching his voice lower so only Merlin would listen.
Merlin narrowed his eyes a little, pulling a pensive face as he assessed Arthur, but he was still smiling when he dragged the notepad closer to him and wrote his name down on it.
They always sat together after that, filling the pages of Arthur’s notepad with silly pieces of conversations, little things they shared with each other and had them both smiling too much, forgetting they were in a lecture.
Everything was going alright so far, better than. They didn’t talk, not unless they wrote on Arthur’s notepad, but they didn’t need to half of the time. Merlin’s eyes spoke all the words he couldn’t say and Arthur understood.
And just when Arthur thought things couldn’t get any better, Merlin agreed to go out on a date with him when Arthur asked if he would like to get a coffee sometime.
Only, things didn’t go as Arthur had expected.
Hands shoved deep in their jeans pockets, they waited in an amicable silence. As soon as it was their turn, Arthur ordered his coffee, eyeing the blackboard behind the counter, and then asked Merlin what he wanted, forgetting for a moment. Merlin opened his mouth and then his hands shot up in a bundle of gestures, speaking, but Arthur was at a loss. He couldn’t read sign language, never had had to because they always had their notepad with them.
He stared, helplessly trying to figure Merlin out, but he couldn’t. Merlin’s shoulders sagged, a sigh escaping his lips.
“I—“ Arthur scratched at the back of his neck. “would you like a Cappuccino, by any chance?” he asked. Merlin nodded, but he looked miserable, making Arthur’s heart clench painfully. He had been so stupid. He should have taken them somewhere more private where they could have had pen and paper, or at least he should have looked up some basic signs on the internet. He should have known that as comfortable as he felt with Merlin, Merlin wouldn’t be as comfortable as Arthur was if he couldn’t communicate at all.
Arthur ordered Merlin’s coffee, frowning at the pitying gaze the girl behind the counter gave Merlin, and then he searched Merlin’s hand in a silent apology, offering some comfort and squeezing it softly between his fingers.
Merlin flinched a little, his own fingers shaking softly.
Arthur held on tighter.
Merlin’s shoulders shook with silent laughter, head thrown back over the pillows of Arthur’s bed, eyes crinkled in half-moons as he looked in Arthur’s direction
Arthur still couldn’t believe Merlin had agreed to come to his place to revise for the final exams approaching. They were going slow, really slow after three months, but every little moment Merlin spent with him was like a treasure, much more than Arthur had bargained for.
“What are you laughing at?” Arthur asked, swirling in his desk chair a little.
Merlin shook his head, lips pressed together in an attempt not to laugh again, book resting beside him over the bed covers. “Oh, come on, Merlin.”
Merlin rolled his eyes and then motioned Arthur to stand up and come over. Arthur did, until his knees hit the mattress between where Merlin’s open legs were dangling over the edge. Arthur swallowed at the contact. This was probably the closest they had been to each other— aside from the occasional hand-holding.
Merlin smiled and fisted Arthur’s shirt at the front, gazing up at him with a fond look on his face that made Arthur’s heartbeat race. He wasn’t sure if they were still only friends or if they were in their way to be boyfriends, if they already were, but Arthur was alright with either as long as Merlin didn’t leave his side.
Suddenly, Merlin tugged down and Arthur lost his footing and fell forwards on top of Merlin in a sprawl of limbs, trying to catch himself with his hands and planting his knees on the mattress so as not to fall square on Merlin’s chest.
Merlin’s breath stuttered and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he stared a bit wide-eyed at Arthur. He wanted to ask Merlin what he was doing, but Merlin seemed a bit surprised himself.
“Merlin,” he said instead, when the silence had stretched for far too long and he was still hovering over Merlin uncertainly.
Merlin’s hand came up to his hair and smoothed it down, fingertips massaging Arthur’s scalp. It felt so good, so right, and Arthur had been wanting for Merlin to touch him in any way for so long that his mind reeled now. Before he realised what he was about to do, he had already leaned forward and slanted his lips over Merlin’s in a soft peck.
Merlin sucked in a breath and then pushed at Arthur’s chest. Arthur moved back immediately, muttering apologies as he tried to dislodge himself from Merlin and climb out of his lap, ashamed. But before he could go too far, Merlin grabbed at his arm to keep Arthur in place, quickly seeking his mouth in a real kiss, a kiss that had Arthur’s stomach flipping and and his resolve crumbling.
Merlin panted puffs of air against Arthur’s mouth, his hands grasping and twisting fistfuls of Arthur’s shirt, bringing their bodies closer, solid and hot against each other.
Arthur pulled back after a beat just when the tip of Merlin’s tongue slid against the roof of his mouth, making his body shiver. “I’m crazy about you,” he admitted, feeling his face and body flame at the confession. He knew he had to be brave on this if he didn’t want to lose Merlin.
Merlin’s eyes were a shade darker than his usual blue and there was a spot of red on each of his cheeks. His lips curved in a gleeful smile at Arthur's words and he yanked Arthur back down, kissing him and laughing and kissing him some more.
‘I really really like you, Arthur. Text me back if you’re still interested after you wake up. Thanks for giving me last night’
Merlin’s number phone was scribbled at the bottom of the page beside his name.
Arthur stared down at the piece of paper, then at the other side of his bed, at the rumpled sheets where Merlin had been sleeping for the past hours, beside him, with him, silent and perfect and happy, and finally his.
Arthur knew what was going through Merlin’s head now. He probably thought that all Arthur had wanted from him was sex— but that wasn’t right. Arthur wanted so much more than that; he physically ached when Merlin was away.
Dialing Merlin’s number, Arthur didn’t hesitate for a second to ring him instead of texting, to say yes, and yes and yes, because even though Merlin couldn’t reply, the slight hitch of his breathing when Arthur told him he genuinely liked him too, that the thing between them had not ended last night but just started, and the huge grin he couldn’t see but Arthur knew was there, were all Arthur ever wanted to hear.