Arthur was living on the roof. He had a potted plant (it was better company than any of Arthur's past flatmates), a sleeping bag (it wasn't very warm), and a microwave that worked without being plugged in (Arthur didn't want to think about how or why).
There was someone else on the other side of the roof, behind the garden and the heater (or whatever the fuck was in that closed-off shed thing). Arthur didn't know who it was, and he didn't want to find out. Whoever it was, they didn't bother him and he didn't bother them. Introductions would be pointless. He wasn't out to help anyone else. He was only interested in himself.
He was also (maybe) interested (only maybe) in the bloke (well, he assumed it was a bloke, though he wasn't sure why) who lived on the pavement below. The bloke didn't even camp in the alley between Arthur's building and the next (which was where an alarming amount of people had banded together for "protection," but so far they hadn't bothered Arthur and he was keen on keeping it that way). The bloke camped right in front of the building, right out in the open, right in the elements and the exposure. At least Arthur had the protection of height (no one could see him, except other roof-top dwellers) and solitude (if it came down to it, Arthur would kill his neighbor - he would chuck the microwave right at their head to knock them out, and then he would throw them off the roof - not that he'd thought about it).
The bloke (sometimes Arthur referred to him as "Martin", just for convenience) had been camped out in front of Arthur's building for almost two weeks, and he was still alive. Arthur had been on the roof for almost two months, and the longest he had seen any pavement dweller survive was one week (and that guy had been in the very back of the alley). Somehow, Martin had managed to stay safe.
Arthur was only interested in Martin because of how mysterious that was. He had watched Martin get rid of evil-doers with what appeared to be no effort at all. Someone would approach him, and Martin would simply hold his hands out. Then the bad guy would fall over and eventually get dragged off by dogs.
It was weird. It was interesting. (It was scary.)
Some time in the middle of his third month on the roof, Arthur was woken up by the sound of shouts floating up from the street below. He crawled to the corner of the roof and, being careful to stay hidden in the leaves of the potted plant, peered over the ledge.
Martin was half-way down the alley, his arms outstretched as he tried to fend off several other men and a handful of dogs. The men were moving far too quickly, and whatever Martin's usual strategy was, it wasn't working on them. The dogs were dropping one by one, but the men were advancing and backing Martin into the dead-end alley.
Arthur slid out of his sleeping bag and bolted to the other side of the roof. He had been avoiding it ever since he realized that his neighbor was no longer there, but he knew there was a rope amongst the rubbish they had collected. He grabbed it and hurried back to his plant.
Slowly, trying pointlessly to make sure that only Martin and not the bad guys would notice, Arthur lowered the rope. He didn't know how long it was or if it would even come close to reaching Martin, but he felt that he had to try. Arthur knew nothing about Martin except that he had managed to survive on his own and out in the open for over a month, but that was enough for Arthur.
Of course, the bad guys noticed the rope before Martin did, and then they looked up and noticed Arthur. Arthur flattened himself to the roof, sure that they couldn't hurt him if they couldn't see him.
The rope started moving and Arthur tried to listen and figure out what was happening and who was climbing it, but the alley had fallen silent. He considered letting got of the rope, just in case the bad guys were coming after him, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. There was still a small chance that Martin was climbing it, and even if he wasn't, Arthur was ready to die. He had been alone on this roof for three months with no company besides a plant that was slowly dying, and he didn't have much hope left.
Someone stepped on Arthur's back and Arthur grunted in pain for a moment before rolling over in a panic, ready to attack or run.
"Sorry," the man said, crouching down and looking over the ledge.
Arthur sat up and took in the long lines of the man's back, the soft curls at the base of his neck, and the small but perfectly round arse that was staring right back at him.
"They're dead," the man said flatly. He turned and slumped down against the ledge, giving Arthur a hard look. "You saved me."
The man licked his lips and Arthur tried not to stare. The man had sharp, intense, angry blue eyes that didn't match the rest of his soft features.
"I've been watching you," Arthur said quietly. He hadn't spoken to another soul in so long.
"Watching me?" the man repeated incredulously.
Arthur nodded again. "You've been camped out down there. And I've been up here. I've been... watching you."
The man stood and started walking around the roof, taking in the garden and the shed and the microwave.
"How long have you been up here?"
"What do you eat?"
"I don't eat," Arthur said, a bit too quickly. "I... I haven't been hungry since... well."
The man's lips twitched slightly. "Me neither."
"How did you do it?" Arthur asked, getting to his feet.
"Survive. You should have been dead weeks ago, sitting out in the open like that." He held out his hands in the same way he had seen the other man do several dozen times. "How do you do it?"
The man turned away and kicked at a pile of dead plants. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Oh. Right." Arthur tried not to feel bitter, but he had saved this man's life. He felt that he deserved an explanation, or at the very least a mention of thanks.
"I'm Merlin," the man said after a minute.
He held out his hand and Arthur shook it warily.
"Did you say Martin?" he asked, wondering if he'd finally lost his mind after three months of seclusion.
"Oh. I'm..." He paused as glimpses of his former life flashed behind his eyes. Friends, family, careers, cars, money, pets, hobbies... it was all gone.
"Yes?" Merlin prompted quietly.
"Arthur. I'm Arthur."
Merlin licked his lips and gave Arthur another piercing look. "Well, Arthur. I supposed I should thank you."
Arthur nodded and Merlin smiled. His smile lit up his whole face and suddenly his eyes didn't look so angry anymore. He looked relieved and wary, but mostly he looked tired.
"There's another sleeping bag," Arthur blurted out as he backed away. "You should sleep. It's still night."
He ducked behind the shed and grabbed the extra bag.
"Thanks," Merlin said when Arthur started setting it up for him. "You don't have to, really."
Arthur shrugged and made sure the sleeping bag was pressed against the ledge for maximum warmth. He went back to his own bag while Merlin inspected the improvised bed.
When Arthur looked over again, he saw Merlin sitting on top of the sleeping bag and staring up at the sky.
"You should sleep," Arthur said again. He crawled back into his own sleeping bag and closed his eyes. He hated looking at the sky.
"I don't understand it," Merlin said after a few minutes.
When Merlin said nothing else, Arthur shifted and mumbled "hm?" so that Merlin would know he was still awake.
"The sky. I know it's the city, but... there should still be stars... or at least a moon. I thought maybe I just couldn't see them from the pavement, but... there aren't any. There's nothing there. But it can't... it can't be our atmosphere, can it. I mean... if it was, the sky would be this black and dark during the day, and it's not. There just... there aren't any stars."
Arthur took a deep breath, trying to control the thudding of his heart.
"I can't even see the sun, anymore. I've been telling myself it's just been hiding behind clouds for a few months, but... but that's not it, is it? It's... it's gone."
"It can't be gone," Arthur choked out. "We'd be dead."
"Aren't we dead?"
"I'm not dead. I'm pretty sure you're not dead."
"I don't feel very alive."
Arthur rolled over onto his side so he could open his eyes and look at Merlin.
"You look alive to me."
Merlin held his hands out in front of him and hummed for a moment. Even in the dark, Arthur could see Merlin's eyes glowing a fiery gold.
He sat up quickly, eying the box of tools hidden behind the plant.
"We should eat tomorrow," Merlin said decisively.
"Eat what?" Arthur asked, desperately hoping that Merlin wasn't a cannibal.
Merlin gestured toward the garden and Arthur turned his head, not sure what to expect.
The garden was stirring. Stalks were shooting up, flowers were opening, fruits were growing, vegetables were popping out of the dirt.
"Holy fuck," Arthur breathed. "How did - how did you do that?"
"I'm not sure," Merlin whispered. "I never could before. Before the, well... before now."
Arthur hurried out of his sleeping bag and crawled toward the garden. He picked a tomato off a branch and sniffed it. It smelled fresh.
"Is it... is it safe?"
Merlin shrugged. "I don't know. I've never made plants grow with my eyeballs before."
Arthur laughed and the sound was loud and harsh and foreign in his ears.
Merlin grinned and made his way over to Arthur. "Are you going to eat it?"
"I don't know if I should," Arthur said seriously. "I haven't eaten in so long. I... I don't know what my body runs on anymore, but it's not food."
"It'll taste good, though... even if you don't need it."
Arthur plucked another tomato off a plant and handed it to Merlin. "Together?"
"Together." Merlin knocked his tomato against Arthur's as a toast, then bit into it.
Arthur did the same and almost choked on the flavour and the juice.
"Fuck, that's so good," Merlin said around a mouthful of food. "I never even used to like tomatoes, but this is like a fucking banquet."
Arthur nodded and continued devouring the tomato, too overwhelmed and speechless and hungry to respond.
"We'll save the rest for tomorrow," Merlin said when he was finished. "We should sleep on it to make sure the tomato doesn't kill us."
Arthur nodded and tossed the last bite of tomato back into the garden.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "I think I'd forgotten what food was like."
"Me, too," Merlin admitted. "Anyway, it's the least I could do. You saved my life, remember?"
Arthur gave Merlin a quick smile before retreating to his sleeping bag. Merlin did the same and Arthur listened to his new friend rustling around for a few minutes. He found that he couldn't sleep either. He was more awake and alert than he had been in weeks.
"Where are you from?" he asked, hoping it wasn't too intrusive.
"Here," Merlin answered after a few seconds. "London. You?"
"Same. I... I grew up not far from this building, actually. My father still lives there. Well... lived... I'm not sure... I don't know where he is."
It felt strange to say it out loud after so many months of determinately not thinking about it.
"I don't know where my mum is, either," Merlin said, his voice low. "Did you have other family?"
"A sister. Morgana. You?"
"Just my mum."
Arthur took a deep breath and got out of his sleeping bag again. He shifted over to Merlin's sleeping bag and sat near Merlin's feet.
"Do you think she's still in London, or..."
Merlin stayed silent for a long moment and Arthur wondered if he'd gone too far. He was about to return to his own sleeping bag when Merlin sat up and moved next to Arthur. Their legs pressed against each other and Arthur was almost breathless at the warmth coming through Merlin's clothes.
"I like to think she's... not in London anymore," Merlin said in a strained voice. Arthur turned his head and saw the tears rolling down Merlin's face. "I just hope she didn't... that it wasn't too bad, that she didn't get hurt."
Arthur reached into Merlin's lap to hold Merlin's hand. Merlin gasped at the touch but then laced his fingers with Arthur's and squeezed tightly.
"I like to think the same for my family," Arthur said. He sniffed loudly, but there was no defense against the tears. "Fuck," he muttered, wiping at his eyes with his free hand. "How did it get like this? What are we supposed to do?"
"I have no idea," Merlin said angrily. "The stars are gone and the sun is gone and there's... there's magic everywhere."
"You've been up here. You haven't seen it. There's magic on the street. I have magic. The eyeballs thing... some people see the future, some people make objects move, some people can set themselves on fire without dying... the stars are gone, Arthur. It's magic. That's what's keeping us alive, that's what saved my life, that's what made the garden grow. Don't pretend there's some other word for it."
Arthur sniffed and wiped at his eyes again. Merlin pulled his hand away to do the same.
"Is that how you survived down there for so long? Magic?"
Merlin nodded and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Yeah. Death is my speciality. Well... life, too... apparently." He pointed toward the garden. "I didn't think that would actually work."
"I'm glad it did."
Merlin gave Arthur a small, sad smile. "Me, too." He reached out for Arthur's hand and Arthur let him take it.
Arthur leaned his head back against the ledge and stared up at the dark, starless sky. He had been pretending that it was some fluke, some radiation or something that would fade in time, something that didn't involve the rest of the universe disappearing overnight.
Merlin's foot knocked into Arthur's and Arthur grunted.
"You fell asleep."
"Oh!" Arthur opened his eyes and looked around. It was still dark and Merlin was still holding his hand. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize. That just doesn't look like a very comfortable position. Let's lie down."
Arthur let Merlin pull him down until they were snuggled close together.
"Thank you for saving my life," Merlin whispered.
"Thank you for saving mine," Arthur said, barely moving his lips.
Merlin wrapped his arm around Arthur's waist as Arthur closed his eyes and drifted off again.
Something was on Arthur's nose, but he was too sleepy and warm to care. He hadn't slept that well in ages, not since his first few nights on the roof, when he had been too tired not to sleep, and he just wanted to go back to his dream. He didn't want to wake up and deal with rats or pigeons or sun-less, star-less, moon-less skies or missing neighbors or anything. He wanted to go back to sleep and keep dreaming about the beach in France. He had only been there once, as a teenager, but he remembered it as hot and sunny and perfect. It was paradise and it was much better than his rooftop shelter.
Whatever it was that was on his nose was too ticklish, and Arthur couldn't fall back asleep. He sighed and shifted, but the tickling didn't stop and he had to open his eyes.
Merlin was staring at him, rubbing up and down his nose with a fingertip. Arthur blinked and the previous night's events crashed over him in a sobering jolt.
"You're still here," he said stupidly.
"Where would I go?" Merlin asked. He moved his finger to Arthur's jawline and traced it slowly. "I told you there's magic. I assume you haven't been shaving up here."
Arthur shook his head. "No. It just stopped growing."
Merlin nodded and pressed his lips to Arthur's briefly.
"Do you think... do you think there are other people out there who... who have done the same things we've done?"
Arthur frowned, his mind stuck on the kiss. "What?"
"Do you think there's anyone else out there who's been living on a rooftop alone for three months and who happened to save the life of some... weird magic kid and... who are now cuddling next to a potted plant and a freshly grown garden?"
The thought made Arthur's breath catch in his throat. "I hope so," he whispered. "The alternatives aren't that great."
"Not everyone turned bad," Merlin said pointedly. He slid his hand into Arthur's hair and massaged his scalp.
"I used to plot ways to kill the person who lived on the other side of the roof," Arthur blurted out. "This is their sleeping bag."
"Did you kill them?" Merlin asked calmly and without judgement.
"No. I think... I think they killed themselves. Jumped off."
Merlin closed his eyes. "I've killed a lot of people."
"I know." Arthur tentatively put his hand over Merlin's hip. "It's not like you did it out of fun. It was self-defense."
Merlin nodded, his brow furrowed.
"Look at me," Arthur said quietly. Merlin opened his eyes slowly and Arthur gave him a smile. "You're not a bad person. You made the garden grow, remember?"
"I did." Merlin licked his lips and inched a little closer to Arthur. "Is it all right if I kiss you again?"
Arthur barely had time to nod before Merlin's lips were on his. They were wet and demanding and Arthur was pretty sure they had both forgotten how to kiss.
Slowly, Merlin coaxed his mouth open. Arthur gasped when Merlin's tongue slid against his, and then Merlin crawled on top of him and he couldn't think anymore.
Merlin was thin but incredibly solid. He was strong and his hands were rough as they dragged off Arthur's shirt and started undoing Arthur's jeans. Arthur tried to take off Merlin's clothes, but his hands were shaking too badly and he wasn't sure where to start. He wanted to feel Merlin's chest against his own. He wanted to prove to himself that Merlin was alive and real and not a figment of his imagination. He wanted to feel Merlin's heart beating against his own.
"I really hope you're not the last decent person alive," Merlin said into Arthur's neck after he had pushed their pants down to their thighs and wrapped his long fingers around their cocks. "But if you are, I'm keeping you all for myself."
Arthur tried to laugh but all that came out was a moan. He arched up as Merlin stroked them, trying to catch his breath and not lose control too soon. He hadn't even had a wank since his first week on the rooftop, back when he still felt things like hunger and lust. Everything had faded as the days and weeks and months had ticked by, but just as hunger had ravished him the night before at the first taste of the ripe tomato, lust and passion and desire and need were flooding his senses now.
He could taste the tomato on Merlin's tongue and he was shaking and he couldn't breathe and they both came right when Merlin's other hand brushed across their balls.
"I'm definitely staying up here with you," Merlin whispered against Arthur's lips. "If you'll let me."
Arthur wrapped his arms around Merlin's waist, trapping him. "Please," he spoke into Merlin's hair. "Please stay."
Merlin nodded and pulled back slightly for another kiss. "Come on," he said, pulling out of Arthur's embrace and standing up. "I'm pretty sure we're supposed to be feasting today."
Arthur grinned and let Merlin pull him to his feet.