Title: The Study of You and I
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin
Summary: A study session makes Merlin realize he has insecurities in his relationship with Arthur. An innocent comment makes him realize he's not the only one.
Warnings: Age difference, student-professor relationship
Word Count: 999
Prompt: Prompt #103: Bitter
Author's Notes: So this is a part of what I'm now calling my Professor's Pet series, but it can be read on it's own I think. I didn't have a chance to get a beta, so sorry now for any errors!
"Can I steal your bed?" Merlin flopped down onto one of Arthur's pillows and sighed wistfully. "Seriously, I could live in this thing."
Arthur snorted from his side of the bed, his eyes never leaving his laptop screen as his fingers flew over the keyboard. "Don’t you already have a bed?"
"Yeah, but it's like sleeping on solid rock compared to this," Merlin protested. "I think that might be why I have a hard time staying awake in Profesor Monmouth's class. Then again, have you actually heard him talk? He could put anyone to sleep--"
"Merlin, I thought you were supposed to be studying, not sleeping," Arthur interrupted, not sounding the least bit sympathetic. "That's why you asked to come over, right?"
Merlin sighed and sat up straight. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew Arthur had a good point. "Yeah, sorry."
Grabbing his bookbag from the floor, Merlin tugged out one of his textbooks and cracked it open. Although mid-terms were still a few weeks away, he was already feeling nervous about passing. He didn't want to let his mother down, not after she worked so hard to get him into a good college.
However, it was hard to get any actual work done when he had a roommate who thought “college” was synonymous with “partying everyday and driving your poor roommate crazy in the process.” And the library was a no-go, since it was always packed with people who seemed to have the same problem. Out of desperation, Merlin had asked Arthur for sanctuary at his place, and nearly wept from relief when Arthur agreed.
"...Thanks again, by the way." Merlin gave Arthur a soft, small smile. "I know I said it already, but it means a lot."
Arthur shrugged. "It's nothing." He paused, and then shook his head fondly. "I think you keep forgetting that my college days were only a few years ago. So I know how tough it can be."
It was true; Merlin often did forget. But it wasn’t because he thought Arthur was that much older than him, just more...established. Arthur had a highly respected job, drove his own vehicle, and had even purchased his own home. His walls were covered with framed documents and gilded plaques that showcased his achievements in society over the years. In stark contrast, Merlin’s walls were bare, except for the one poster he had hung up only to hide the hole he had accidentally made when he first moved into the dorms.
Suddenly Merlin felt rather shabby sitting on Arthur’s immaculately made bed while dressed in ripped up jeans and a stained t-shirt. He squirmed self-consciously and wondered if he had made a mistake in coming where he obviously didn’t belong.
“If that’s the case,” he weakly joked, “then maybe you should go easier on me.”
Arthur’s body stiffened at that, his fingers frozen mid-type. “Is that what this is?”
“Huh?” Merlin blinked. “Is this what?”
“Merlin, if you think sleeping with me will get you a better grade,” Arthur growled as he started to stand up, “then you need to get the hell out of my house. Now.”
Merlin felt like he had been slapped in the face. “What? No!” He replayed their conversation over in his head and then gasped. “That’s not what I meant! Christ, Arthur, how could you think that?” When he saw Arthur didn’t looked convinced, Merlin continued to frantically explain, “I just meant in general! Everyone who has your class loves you, but you’re well known for your severe grading scale. Plenty of us keep wishing you’d give us some sort of break.”
Arthur didn’t say anything, his jaw clenched so tight Merlin could hear the pop. His whole body was like an over-tightened coil, ready to spring at a moment’s notice.
In the unsettling silence, a horrible realization began to take root in Merlin’s mind.
“Arthur...” he said carefully, “has that happened before? Did someone try to get a better grade by...?”
“Just drop it, Merlin,” Arthur snapped, turning his face away. It hurt knowing Arthur would judge so harshly based on past experience, but Merlin couldn’t blame him for being bitter.
“...Sometimes I don’t get to spend as much time with you as I’d like because I’m worried I’ll fail your class,” Merlin murmured as he crawled over to the other side of the bed. “That I’ll fail you. I don’t want any special treatment, but I hate feeling like I disappoint you.”
The tension seemed to slowly seep out of Arthur’s shoulders at Merlin’s words. “You’re not going to fail,” Arthur said softly as he turned back around. “Even if you might act like a complete idiot at times, you’re one of the best students I’ve ever had. You participate in class discussion and your papers are always insightful and well-thought out.”
Merlin huffed. “Arthur, you gave me a seventy-two on my last paper.”
“Doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it, even with a few grammatical errors,” Arthur said with a strained chuckle. He then placed his hands on Merlin’s shoulders and gave them a comforting squeeze. “Look, I’m...well, I should have known you wouldn’t do something like that. There’s no way you could seduce anyone for a better grade--”
“So as apology, how about I help you study?” Arthur leaned forward, his lips brushing against the side of Merlin’s neck. “By rewarding you every time you get answer right?”
“Oh God no,” Merlin groaned. “I don’t want to be in the middle of an exam and popping a boner because I’m thinking about you and your mouth.”
Arthur clicked his tongue in reprimand. “Really?” he whispered, his breath blowing hotly across Merlin’s skin and making him shiver. “Because I say you should be thinking about me and my mouth as much as possible.”
Merlin closed his eyes as Arthur pushed him down on the bed and made all worries about grades and studying disappear, at least for a little bit.