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lights go out, here I go again

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It’s been weeks since Arthur walked out of that lake and into this strange, unfamiliar, over-bright world, still wearing his full armor and sticking out like a sore thumb and speaking entirely the wrong language, apparently. 

(To Merlin’s credit, Arthur only needed to grab him and say “bidde, Ic þæt ne undergiete!” before familiar eyes flashed gold and all of the strange, half-familiar syllables Merlin was tearfully babbling at him began to make sense, but still. It was quite disorienting at first.)

The truth is that even though Merlin is trying to make things easy on him, Arthur feels so entirely out of his element that he spends most of his days in constant frustration. 

There’s nothing for him to do, here, yet. Merlin insists that Arthur must have woken for a reason, that his destiny is vast and ongoing and his work on the earth may never be done, and something about the burden of greatness and the human race’s need for strong leadership and purity and guidance, blah blah blah and so on and so forth.

(Arthur wasn’t fully listening when Merlin gave this speech, because he’d just come back after being effectively dead for more than a thousand years, and was still sopping wet and a little sore, and Merlin had his arms wrapped tightly around his neck and his warm, tear-streaked face pressed against his cheek, and so quite understandably there were rather a lot of other things demanding Arthur’s attention at the time.)

The point, though, is that Arthur is frustrated. And bored. Very, very bored. So when Merlin is finally forced to return to work at his antique shop or risk going out of business (“Because I actually like my job, Arthur, and gold isn’t so easy to come by these days—no, not even for sorcerers”), Arthur feels that he has no choice but to wander about Merlin’s flat pulling things out of cabinets and generally being as nosy as possible. 

He finds the thing inside the top drawer in Merlin’s bedside table. (Arthur’s drawn to the sleek black box it’s being stored in, which says to him that the thing inside, whatever it is, is sure to be mysterious and exciting.) 

It’s mysterious, certainly, because Arthur has no earthy idea what it could possibly be. The thing itself is sleek and black, just like its box, and only about the length of his palm. It’s soft and yielding, with a strange arrangement of curves and dips, and the overall shape almost suggests a blunt, rounded dagger with a hilt that stops short at the cross-guard.

He can see letters etched subtly at one end, but it proves unhelpful—the word ANEROS is entirely meaningless to him. Maybe it’s a spell, and this thing has something to do with facilitating or amplifying Merlin’s magic. The thought makes Arthur smile a little; why should Merlin hide such a thing away inside a box in a drawer? Old habits must die hard. 

Arthur’s fingers catch on cold metal, and he notices then that the smooth black shape is in fact only an outer shell of sorts—far too snug to be a useful scabbard, but perhaps a decorative covering? He tries to remove the inside bit, just to get a closer look, and his thumb slides over a button that—

“Good god,” Arthur yells, dropping the thing as it starts trembling in his hands. It lands on Merlin’s bed, whirring innocently, and Arthur watches in fascination as it scoots a tiny bit across the quilt under its own power. 

“Everything in this whole place is bloody electrical,” Arthur groans under his breath. 

(Merlin insisted repeatedly that most of the things Arthur called magic at first were actually just this era’s version of science—nothing more supernatural than any of Gaius’ remedies and potions and experiments—but it’s still a bit of a struggle for Arthur to wrap his mind around things that light up instantly or provide heat without fire or move on their own without any sorcery being involved.) 

Arthur studies the thing for nearly an hour, determined to discover its secrets. He figures it can’t be one of Merlin’s many complicated cooking tools, because it’s being stored in the bedroom instead of the kitchen. It doesn’t appear to be a cleaning agent, either. Arthur might have assumed it was meant for decoration—it has a kind of odd, inelegant charm that Merlin would be the type to appreciate—if not for the fact that Merlin keeps it hidden from view. Not to mention the electricity, which suggests it must have a more functional purpose. 

It turns out it can be made to shudder at several different speeds, in fact, and in a few different rhythms as well. Perhaps it’s a percussive musical instrument? Not that Merlin’s ever been very musical. Or very rhythmic, for that matter. 

Arthur works himself up into such a frenzy over the device that he’s panting to know what it is by the time Merlin finally comes home.

“Evening, Arthur!” Merlin says brightly. “I brought you that curry you liked so much last time; let’s eat before it gets cold.” 

“Tell me what this is, Merlin,” Arthur orders before Merlin’s even shut the door all the way. He thrusts the thing under Merlin’s nose, flicking the button so it hums in his hand. “I give up. I’ve been going out of my mind.”

Merlin’s face goes through a fascinating transformation, wherein he first turns completely ghost-pale and then rapidly flushes redder than Arthur has ever seen him flush before. He drops the plastic bag with the food on the floor and snatches the thing out of Arthur’s grasp, fumbling it several times before managing to switch it off. “Where did you… why did you… Arthur!”

“Yes, I know.” Arthur rolls his eyes dismissively. “I’ve gone through your things. I apologize. Truly. What is it?

Merlin makes a faint, overwhelmed sound in his throat and pinches the bridge of his nose. “It’s a… it’s for… Okay, look, I know you’re afraid of the computer—”

“I am not. I dislike using a device that reminds me of scrying like a warlock.” Arthur sniffs imperiously. “There is a difference.”

“Yes, well, as you like. But I’m just going to… bring up a few pages on my laptop for you to read, all right? Because I’ll do anything for you, Arthur, you know I will. But I absolutely entirely refuse to explain this to your face.”

“Fair enough,” Arthur agrees eagerly. Because anything that’s able to get such a strong reaction out of Merlin—who generally appears to have no shame to speak of—has got to be good. 

~*~

“Oh… my…” Arthur tilts his head at the computer screen, feeling his face burn hot. 

“You can come have dinner,” Merlin calls from the other room in a voice gone reedy with desperation, “as long as you promise to not talk to me about this ever.”

“But—” 

“Not ever!” Merlin yelps.

Arthur has to bang his head against Merlin’s computer desk a few times to try and jog his brain away from images of that thing—the vibrating anal plug, as it turns out to be called—and what it’s used for. What Merlin apparently uses it for, god have mercy.

He can’t stop thinking about it, all through supper. Not with Merlin sitting right there across from him at their little round table for two, blushing down at his basmati rice, his long, lovely fingers wrapped white-knuckled and tense around his bottle of ginger beer. 

Because Arthur has wondered. Of course he has. He loved Gwen in his other life, of course, with as much of himself as he possibly could—and that was enough, at the time. He misses her, a gentle ache in his heart that eases a little when he thinks about the long life he’s told that she lived when he was gone, ruling well in his absence and surrounded by loyal friends. He’ll love Gwen forever, probably, but.

Merlin is something else. Merlin has always been more than forever (something they’ve already proven by sitting across from each other eating curry right now). Merlin is sunlight and flame and clear, rushing water, too much for Arthur to control and never enough to quench him, and maybe it took Arthur dying for him to realize it but oh, he wants. He wants things he never realized he could have, before, when his life was all planned out for him and his servant still seemed like this wild, unknowable thing even after all those years, beloved and strange and always slipping out of Arthur’s grasp. 

Arthur has this crucial, essential knowledge of Merlin now. He knows, finally, that Merlin is not too ethereal for earthbound, human needs. Even more than that, he knows exactly how Merlin satisfies those needs. He’s got articles. He’s got diagrams

Oh, god, if he could only see it.

“Stop thinking about it,” Merlin grinds out through his teeth. He hasn’t looked Arthur in the eye even once since they sat down at the table.

“Sure, right,” Arthur says, and thinks about it some more.

He needs a plan.

~*~

“I want you to show me how you use that thing,” Arthur says during breakfast the next morning. “The vibrating thing.”

Merlin spits out his cereal. It’s possible Arthur could have led into this a little more delicately.

“It’s just,” Arthur says, reasonably. “I find myself… curious? In an academic way. Of course. And as you know, I tend to learn much better through practical demonstration.”

“Eep,” Merlin says. His spoon is hanging limply from his fingers.

“Like with a sword,” Arthur continues. No point backing down now, even though Merlin is starting to look like he might faint any moment. 

“Arthur.” Merlin takes a deep breath and sets the spoon down. “You want me to… use the vibrator?”

“Yes, as I just said. Keep up.”

“On you?” 

“What?” Arthur drops his own spoon. All he wants is a demonstration; he thought he was perfectly clear. He was aiming for the sight of Merlin, his long, pale body arching and straining as he pleasures himself with the device, and he’s about to correct Merlin’s misapprehension when he just… reconsiders. 

Life is short, after all. Even if you end up getting more than one of them. Arthur plans to roll with a few more punches, this time around. 

“Yes, exactly,” Arthur agrees confidently. “On me.”

“I just… I…” Merlin looks embarrassed, and lost, and painfully confused. “You’ve never… I don’t think it would be entirely appropriate to…”

“Since when have we had boundaries,” Arthur scoffs. “And besides, you won’t even be touching me. Not really. You bathed me and dressed me and emptied my chamber pot for ten years, Merlin; this is hardly more intimate than all of that, is it?”

“I should think it is, actually, yes.” Merlin is looking a bit wild around the eyes, so Arthur brings out his secret weapon.

“Please, Merlin,” he says, letting himself sound as vulnerable and earnest as he feels in this moment. “I need you to do this for me.” When it looks like Merlin is about to crumble, Arthur adds “I trust you,” and that does it.

“Fine, fine, you manipulative bastard.” Merlin grabs both of their bowls, even though Arthur still had quite a few bites of cereal left, and brings them over to the sink. “You’re an insufferable and entitled prat, but fine.”

“Soon, then?” Arthur presses, and Merlin groans as he grabs his messenger bag.

“Oh my god, Arthur.”

“Tonight,” Arthur says, nodding decisively. 

Merlin runs into the doorframe on his way out.

~*~

“So,” Merlin says. 

They’ve skipped right over dinner—Arthur doesn’t think he could eat through his nerves, anyway, and Merlin isn’t looking much steadier—and they’re sitting side by side on Merlin’s bed, with the vibrator sitting on the mattress between them. 

“I’m not sure… I don’t know what to do,” Merlin says quietly, and Arthur closes his eyes and decides to be the brave one, this time.

“I’m going to undress,” he tells Merlin, trying to sound firm and confident, “and you’re going to get things ready. We need some kind of… lubricant, I imagine?”

“Oh hell,” Merlin mutters. “I mean, yes. I’ll just… fetch it, then.” 

Merlin gets up and heads for the bathroom, and Arthur strips all of his clothes off as fast as he can (and since he’s refused to let Merlin perform most servile tasks for him since his return, he’s actually gotten quite adept at dressing and undressing himself). 

When Merlin returns, holding a small bottle in one hand and a clean towel in the other, Arthur is already naked and stretched out over Merlin’s quilt, trying to decide whether he has the courage to stroke himself to hardness while Merlin stands right there.

Then Merlin looks at him, his wandering eyes hot and helpless as they drag over Arthur’s body, and all at once, it becomes apparent that getting aroused isn’t going to be a problem.

Oh,” Merlin breathes, focusing in on Arthur’s cock as it swells under his gaze, and Arthur just honestly cannot take it anymore. 

“Haven’t got all night, Merlin,” he says, full of entirely empty bravado.

“Yes, we do, in fact,” says Merlin, and Arthur bites his lip in embarrassment when his cock actually twitches at the words. “And I know you said I shouldn’t actually touch you, but…”

“But?” Arthur gets up on his elbows, trying to look impassive instead of wildly and madly hopeful. 

“I can’t just… shove it in. Not when you haven’t had practice. Unless…” Merlin shifts his weight from foot to foot and twists the towel in his hands. “Have you? Had practice, I mean. Before, when…”

“You know I haven’t,” Arthur mutters, and Merlin gives a tiny squeak. “And even if I had, what difference would it make? I’ve been out of commission for a millennium and a half; certainly that’s enough time to negate—”

“Yes, okay, just… be quiet,” Merlin says, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and Arthur is feeling generous and grateful enough not to bristle at the command. “Here.” Merlin hands him the towel, rolled up a bit to form a cushion. “Lie down, erm, on your stomach. Put this under your hips.” 

The position feels terrifyingly vulnerable, once Arthur gets into it; but he can feel Merlin’s nearness, in the warmth from his thigh where he’s sitting close to Arthur’s calf, and it’s actually much more comforting than it is embarrassing. He shifts his hips a little bit against the soft towel, getting some brief friction to ease the ache of his arousal. He thinks he’s being very subtle about it, but Merlin’s small, sharp gasp suggests otherwise. “Now what?” 

“Now I have to… breach you? But with my fingers. First.”

“Your…” Christ, Merlin’s fingers. Arthur isn’t going to survive this after all. “Is that entirely necessary?” 

“Yes, it’s necessary! I’m not going to hurt you, you arse,” Merlin bites out, and then groans. “Or rather, some other much less on-the-nose insult. Jesus. Remind me to tell you about Freud, someday. Met him once. Completely mad, but possibly onto something.” Arthur hears him messing about with the lubricant, and when he glances back, Merlin is rubbing liberal amounts of the stuff between his hands. “Ready?”

“For the last time, Merlin, get on with—ah,” Arthur gasps. Merlin’s got both hands on him—one warm and lube-slick palm at the small of his back, and one firm, gentle finger pressing up against his opening—and Arthur honestly doesn’t know which touch is more devastating. “There,” he says, breathing hard through his nose as just the tip of Merlin’s finger slips inside. “Was that so hard?”

“Fucking hell, shut up,” Merlin snaps, and Arthur rolls his hips a little more, because maybe he’s always had a bit of a thing for Merlin’s voice when he gets saucy with him. “Bloody impossible. I don’t know why I even…”

“Are you just going to sulk all the way through this?” Arthur wriggles back a little bit when Merlin starts working in another finger. He feels serene and strangely eager; trusting Merlin to take care of him has never been much of a struggle, and despite the slight discomfort, he already feels like whole new parts of him are lighting up. 

“Are you going to be a massive pillock all the way through this?” Merlin shoots back, and then he twists up and presses in a way that has Arthur making a frankly embarrassing noise into the pillow.

“Probably,” Arthur answers after a moment, but it comes out sounding breathy and undone. He can feel the hand on his back curl into a fist and then slowly uncurl again, bitten-down nails dragging against his skin, and he shivers hard. “Are you almost done? I want—”

“Are you sure you haven’t done this before?” Merlin asks dubiously, spreading his fingers apart a bit and working Arthur further open. Arthur clutches at the pillow under his face, humming a low note of surprised pleasure and allowing his body to melt into the stretch. “Only, you seem to be very… at ease.” 

“You’d never hurt me,” Arthur sighs, warm and annoyed because obviously. “Why shouldn’t I be at ease when—oh, but, yes, that, again, please.” 

“That’s twice you’ve said please,” Merlin whispers. He slides the hand on Arthur’s back down over the swell of his arse, rubbing with his thumb a little before moving to hold him by the hip. “Twice in one day. Is that. Is that a record, for you, do you think. Or.”

Arthur ducks his head and smiles helplessly against his forearm. “Not up to your usual levels of vitriol, are you?” 

You are so fucking gorgeous,” Merlin says, all in one breath like he can’t hold it in any longer, and Arthur’s next playful jab lodges in his throat. “But this is all a joke to you, isn’t it? Like every other goddamn thing between us, unless I’m dying or you’re dying or undead minions of darkness are literally breaking down our doors—”

“I don’t—” Arthur lets out a long, shuddery breath when Merlin slides his fingers out. He hears the vibrator being switched on, and whimpers when Merlin lets it rest, feather-light and tantalizing, against his worked-open hole. “I didn’t. Merlin—”

“I don’t know why I missed you so fucking much.” Merlin leans down and opens his mouth against Arthur’s skin, oh god, pressing a lush, wet kiss into the dip of his spine. “You’re a bully and a nuisance and there is no goddamn reason at all for me to love you more than anything else in existence.”

Merlin,” Arthur moans, and then cries out when Merlin pushes the whole plug in at once.

“Oh god, oh god, Arthur, I’m sorry.” Merlin’s leaning down over him, his clothed body right up against Arthur’s bare skin, and between that and the relentless stimulation going on inside of him Arthur almost can’t believe he hasn’t come already. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… did I hurt you, are you okay? Talk to me. Arthur.” 

“Fine, I’m fine, unnh, just, more, would you—”

“You’re crying, Arthur,” Merlin says, sounding small and afraid. He brings a hand to Arthur’s face,  turned to the side on the pillow, and brushes a few tears off his cheek. “Why are you—”

“I’m not hurt, I’m.” Arthur gulps in air, feeling as though he might shake to pieces any moment. “It’s only. What you said.”

“Oh.” Merlin swallows audibly, tracing delicately around the base of the plug with his thumb. Arthur whines through his teeth. “Well. Can you just pretend you never heard—”

“I’ve never loved anything the way I love you,” Arthur tells him, and wonders at how easy it is to finally say. He thinks that maybe Merlin’s set something loose in him. Or that the vibrating thing could be magical, after all. “So could you… could we, perhaps…”

Merlin has him on his back in an instant, and then Arthur’s being kissed—well, devoured, more accurately, Merlin’s mouth moving ferociously against his and sucking on his tongue like he’s got something to prove. Arthur grabs him by the arms and arches up into it, groaning harshly when the movement shifts the still-pulsating plug in a particularly good way. 

“Take off your clothes, take them off now,” Arthur orders when Merlin breaks the kiss to mouth his way down Arthur’s neck and across his flushed, heaving chest.

“I don’t know, sire, that sounds a little intimate,” Merlin says, resting his chin against Arthur’s sternum to give him a brilliant, impudent smile before mouthing at his nipple. “Are you sure your ‘academic curiosity’ extends as far as to—”

“Bloody hell, yes, fine, I’m an idiot, I’m a bully, I’m whatever you say I am as long as—”

“Dollop-head,” Merlin suggests, running his hands down Arthur’s stomach.

“Dollop-head, naturally, I quite agree, now undress right this instant or I swear oh holy fuck.” Arthur throws his arms back and grabs at the pillow as Merlin licks him, all the way up the underside of his cock and then slowly around the head. He sucks the whole thing in for a single endless moment, riding out the desperate roll of Arthur’s body, before sliding off and leaning further down to draw one of Arthur’s balls into his mouth. 

“Does it feel good?” Merlin asks, like he’s honestly checking instead of deliberately trying to ruin Arthur’s brain with his husky, sex-soaked voice. He reaches down and presses a switch on the bottom of the plug, and Arthur writhes and grabs at Merlin’s shoulder when the thing starts to vibrate harder. Merlin moans sympathetically, pulling the plug in and out a little bit, like he’s fucking him. “Do you honestly like it?” 

“What a ridiculous question—oh, damn it, ooohh—you’ve used this thing, you know it feels good, you must know.”

“I’ve never used it on someone else, though,” Merlin says, flicking the switch again and changing the rhythm, watching Arthur’s face for every nuance of his reaction. “Or had someone use it on me. Usually I just—”

“Open yourself up,” Arthur finishes for him, sliding his hand up to the back of Merlin’s neck. “Did you think of me? If you could even, oh christ, remember my face, that is, after—”

“Every time,” Merlin swears, reaching back and holding Arthur’s hand against his neck. “Every single time, of course, of course I did. And I got every detail right. Except you were a lot bossier in my fantasies.” 

“I can be bossier,” Arthur says. “I command you to fuck me.”

“I am,” Merlin points out, and gives him a particularly firm push from the vibrator that has all the blood rushing momentarily out of Arthur’s head.

“No, I mean, fuck me,” Arthur tries to clarify through his dizziness. “You, inside me. Not this thing. Just you. You’re hard for me, aren’t you? Are you, Merlin?” 

“Well that’s a fairly massive understatement,” Merlin says, sounding dazed.

“So do it.” Arthur reaches back and works the plug out, whining a bit from the loss, and throws it across the room as it continues to buzz.

“You’ll waste the battery—” Merlin protests, but he makes no move to retrieve it. Arthur shoves him off so he can roll back over, and then gets up onto his knees and pillows his forehead on his folded arms. “Arthur.”

“Do it, take me, I’m waiting,” Arthur says. He hears a zipper and the rustle of fabric, and for all of his eagerness he’s still completely unprepared when Merlin enters him.

“Fuck fuck shit buggering fuck,” Merlin says when he gets all the way in, and Arthur moans wordlessly in agreement. 

“Move, move, will you—”

“Yes, your majesty,” Merlin says, snapping his hips, and when Arthur’s eyes roll back it’s only partially because Merlin is being fresh. 

“You’re, oh, christ, you’re actually… why are you so good at this,” Arthur accuses. He arches his back a bit more, pushing back against Merlin’s steady rhythm, and grins triumphantly when Merlin’s hips briefly falter.

“I’ve done it… once… or twice… before,” Merlin gasps out, his fingers digging in at Arthur’s waist. “You were gone a long time… you know… oh, Arthur.”

“Not again,” Arthur says sharply, glaring over his shoulder at Merlin’s beautiful blissed-out face. “Not ever again, now that I’m here, do you… do you understand me?”

“Not supposed to be with anyone but you anyway,” Merlin says agreeably, and he slips a hand between Arthur’s legs to stroke his cock in time with his rhythm. “Born for you, remember? Just biding my time, waiting. None of them were you, you’re amazing, you’re perfect, you’re mine.”

“That’s not… how a monarchy works,” Arthur says. “You belong… aah… to me, remember?” 

“We’re a parliamentary monarchy now, and yes, I do,” Merlin says, scraping his teeth proprietarily against the back of Arthur’s neck. “Now come for me.”

“You can’t tell me what to do,” Arthur protests, and then he grabs at the edge of the headboard and comes with a drawn-out sob.

He’s still lost to it, limp and euphoric with the way all his nerves are still sparking pleasantly, when Merlin suddenly hauls him upright. He lands in Merlin’s lap, head lolling back against his shoulder, and he’d complain about the disrespectful manhandling except that he can’t seem to remember words at the moment. 

“Hmmm,” he sighs as Merlin adjusts his weight and starts fucking up into him again, holding him up with an arm around his stomach and whispering soppy, lovely endearments into the side of Arthur’s neck. “S’nice. Stronger than you look, you always said.” 

Merlin laughs, and Arthur likes the way it jostles them together. “Missed you,” he says, and kisses Arthur’s ear. “So much. You’ve no idea.”

“You’re such a girl,” Arthur says, smiling beatifically, and Merlin laughs again and grabs him tighter around the middle.

Prat,” he moans, and Arthur feels it everywhere when Merlin comes, in the tremors of his muscles and the wet gasp pressed against his throat and the hot pulse of his release inside him. “Yes, yes, oh, you’re infuriating.”

“You’re wonderful,” Arthur says, turning his head for a slow, sweet, worn-out kiss. “But don’t get used to hearing it, because that’s probably the last time I’ll say it.”

“We’ll see,” Merlin says, biting Arthur’s lip. “I learned how to do this tantric thing, when I was passing through Persia in the 18th century. I bet you’ll be writing me poetry after I try that on you.” 

“You’re welcome to try it,” Arthur allows magnanimously, pinching Merlin’s side to keep the moment from getting too tender. “I’m not going anywhere, after all.”