After three weeks apart, they only smile at each other in the reception area, and stand close enough to feel each other's warmth while they sign the release papers. Arthur's his usual charming, professional self with the staff. At his prompting, Merlin agrees this clinic is top-notch, more comfortable than many hotels he's known.
In the dark quiet of the parking garage Arthur reaches across the front seat and they kiss – slow, hungry, restrained.
"Zero side effects," Arthur says, like he still can't believe it.
"Not unless they found something in the tests and didn't tell me about it."
(That was Mordred's theory: that the new regimen cut out the obvious, painful side effects but would kill them slowly, perhaps untraceably.
"They'll never kill us off," Sophia scoffed. "Where would Pendragon make their millions if they didn't have a dangerous population to keep in line?")
"Haven't had a headache since the second day," Merlin adds.
"That's fantastic." Arthur kisses him again. "And the withdrawal was..."
Fantastic. "It was fine, Arthur. Come on, I assume you've been reading the reports, and you know I wouldn't lie, so –"
"So let's get home, I'm sorry. Just... I'm really glad you're okay."
"I missed you," Merlin says when they're at home, stripping as fast as they can between reaching for each other. "I thought about you the whole time."
"Did you touch yourself?" says Arthur, palming Merlin's cock through his boxers.
"Yeah." Especially that second week, while they kept him in secure isolation and waited for all the Albiax to work its way out of his system. "Haven't jerked off so much since I was a teenager," which was the last time he went completely off meds.
Merlin grins. "I'd kneel on the bed, like this, and imagine having you with me, like this." He turns Arthur around and pushes him down to his hands and knees.
In the clinic Merlin sent magic to twist around his imaginary Arthur's wrists and ankles, to pull his knees apart while Merlin worked his ass open the old-fashioned way, with fingers and energy and spit.
Today he uses the packet of lube Arthur hands him. Arthur holds his position willingly, easily, and Merlin tries not to think of how much better it would be with magic, of how fucking alive he felt when he had it back, how unfair it is that he can't have both. He's got Arthur, with his incredible devotion and his tight, perfect hole and his surprised little moans every time Merlin thrusts into him. That ought to be enough, but Merlin can't help reaching for more. He doesn't vocalize but his mouth shapes the words to surround them with light, and he knows his eyes stay blue but he lets them lose focus and pictures infinity. He grips Arthur's chest and bites Arthur's shoulder and comes in Arthur's ass, pretending they're in another life.
After Merlin pulls out Arthur lies back and starts to stroke his own cock. Tired and disappointed in ways he'll never express, Merlin simply closes his hand around Arthur's and follows along.
"I love it when you fuck me," Arthur chokes out. "I love having you back. I love you."
"I love you," Merlin answers, honestly, and Arthur comes, messy and open and sweet, like a boy Merlin wants to protect from the world.
They're drifting toward sleep when the timer goes off. Merlin goes to the bathroom and takes the Thursday afternoon pill out of the custom red and yellow plastic organizer. (It's really not that hard to keep track. People who miss doses have other reasons.)
He can hear Arthur talking on the phone in the living room.
"...I know Gaius thinks three pills in a day is a lot. But I'm telling you, once word gets around that they can live without headaches or nausea or sexual dysfunction, and still follow the law, people are gonna be begging their docs for the new scrip. Compliance is gonna soar, Dad. And as soon as we get it in place as the default medication for the mandate..."
Merlin swallows and, out of habit, sticks out his tongue, though there's only the mirror to observe. Yes, sir. Model patient and citizen, compliant with the government mandate.
Three pills and zero side effects. They've only taken away what makes him whole.