There are a few things Merlin knows for certain: he’s clever, he learns fast, he has an unhealthy caffeine habit and a slightly overzealous passion for old dusty stories, his handwriting is messy, he’ll never understand the rules of football, and his research supervisor is completely, unfairly fit. And off-limits.
But even knowing all that Merlin can’t help the skip in his heart when Pendragon praises him or his work. Or the warmth that pools in his stomach when he realizes they’ve been discussing Merlin’s thesis, and Pendragon’s—Arthur’s—work for hours without either of them getting tired. Or the shiver down his spine when Arthur leans over a book with him—tracing the words with his fingers, speaking low and close to his ear—and Merlin has to resist the urge to lean against Arthur, into the solidity of his body.
And so there are a few things Merlin knows he wants and doesn’t want. He wants to finish his thesis with honours, and to publish at least one paper before the end of the year. He wants to work with Arthur, but he also wants Arthur, but he doesn’t want to get expelled, or for Arthur to lose his job, or to change program or school, or to stop coming into Arthur’s office with a coffee at the end of the day, and for Arthur to look up from the papers he’s grading, hair messy and tie loosened, and for his face to split into a grin at the sight of Merlin.
It’s a bit of a mess really, but Merlin’s up to the challenge. After all, he’s clever and fast and he might not know how to play football, but there are other games he’s willing to bet he can learn how to play.