The early morning light filtered into the room through the open window. Like most nights, the curtains weren’t drawn, better to let in as much cool air as possible. It was hot, even more so since July had ended, and there was no air conditioning in Merlin’s house. Not that he would’ve use it, anyway. The noise would’ve weirded Arthur out.
He had returned to the world of the living only a few months ago. It had been a surprise, to say the least, since there was no obvious threat to Albion. However, Merlin was sure their peaceful days were limited and there would be more than enough dangerous adventures soon enough.
Nevertheless, Merlin wasn’t complaining about spending a few quiet and calm days with the man he loved. It had taken long enough for him to return. Merlin had waited centuries! He was going to make the best of every second he got to spend with Arthur, now that he finally could.
This particular morning Merlin was awoken by some noisy blackbirds chirping right in front of their bedroom window. Arthur grumbled into his pillow and moved closer to Merlin – probably trying to block out the noise.
Merlin considered doing the same — just five more minutes — but there was already the annoying voice at the back of his mind reminding him of everything he had to do today. He had to water the garden before the sun got too hot, the chickens had to be fed, and the work on the new arbour next to the pond had to be finished.
Not to mention that in about half an hour, Arthur would wake up and demand breakfast.
With a drawn out sigh Merlin untangled himself from Arthur’s hug. He grumbled in protest but didn’t try to hold Merlin back — well, at least not for long. Merlin pressed a kiss into Arthur’s hair before finally getting up.
He yawned wide and scratched his left leg with his other foot while taking a look around the room. There were clothes covering almost every part of the floor. Guess he’d have to do laundry soon, too. He picked up a blue shirt, sniffed it and — deciding it didn’t smell too bad yet — put it on. Then he picked up his favourite shorts, grabbed a clean pair of pants from the dresser, and put them on before walking out of the room.
It was almost exactly half an hour later when he re-entered the bedroom. Arthur still lay in bed just like Merlin had left him. The blanket only covered him from the waist down and he was facing away from the window, his head buried as deep into the pillows as possible to block out the chirping birds.
Merlin walked around the bed and put down the breakfast tray on Arthur’s nightstand. He leaned down and pushed his hand carefully through Arthur’s hair to wake him, but only got a low grumble in reply.
“Rise and shine, sire,” Merlin teased and continued to brush Arthur’s hair out of his face.
Arthur let out a low rumbling sound that was probably meant to be an actual reply — a protest to the familiar wake-up call. Merlin’s smile only got wider and he sat down on the bed next to Arthur. He continued to move his hand through Arthur’s hair and then slowly down his neck and shoulders.
Arthur let out a contented sigh before finally turning over and sitting up. He yawned widely, grabbed for the cup of steaming tea and blew on it. Merlin reached for his own cup and circled the spoon around a few more times. He just liked the calming effect of the repetitive motion.
Merlin started to talk about the chickens: how many eggs they had laid today, how they had run over his feet when he wasn’t feeding them quickly enough, and how the youngest of them, Milla, finally seemed to fit in with the others.
It was their everyday routine: Merlin would prattle on about whatever was on his mind at the moment and Arthur would slowly sip his tea and listen until he was ready to face another day in this strange, new world.
Sometimes it wasn’t easy for Arthur to adjust to everything that was the 21st century. Especially everything to do with electricity put him off: the radio had made him think their house was haunted ("How else would we hear voices but not see anyone, Mer lin?"), the ringing telephone had made him draw his sword and frantically search for whatever creature made such dreadful noises, but worst of all was the high pitched noise that anyone who was used to electricity didn’t even hear anymore. Arthur was trying really hard to get used to everything because he always had the prospect of Albion needing its king at the back of his mind — but Merlin knew Arthur was struggling.
Therefore, he tried to make it as easy for Arthur as possible. That’s why they lived in Merlin’s house in the countryside, instead of the nice, air-conditioned flat in London that Merlin owned. As many electric devices as possible were unplugged and only turned on when needed. Most importantly he tried to bring familiarity into their new routines.
Like in the morning when he made sure to bring breakfast to their bed, just like he did back in Camelot. He sometimes also helped Arthur to dress, but more often than not, Arthur insisted on doing it himself nowadays.
It was his way of showing he was adjusting just fine, Merlin assumed.
Either way, they tried to face one day at a time, and for today that meant finally finishing that arbour, go to the shops, and maybe continue to teach Arthur how to use the toaster. For reasons Merlin still could only guess at, Arthur had declared the toaster his arch enemy. It was hilarious, really.
Most importantly, however, Merlin made sure Arthur wasn’t overwhelmed by all the new things he had to learn and get used to. It wasn’t always an easy task. There was just too much of everything. Electricity, for one, was ever present, and no matter how much Merlin tried to keep it to an minimum in their house, they couldn’t go completely without it. Well maybe they could for a time but Merlin wanted to at least be able to use the fridge, freezer and, really, anything food related. He just never had been good at doing any of this with his magic — not that Arthur was much more comfortable with the open use of magic, either, but it disturbed him somewhat less than electricity.
“So, what’s the plan for today?” Arthur asked, startling Merlin out of his thoughtful state.
“Well, I recall you promised me to finish the roof of the arbour, for one. I also prepared some books for you on modern military and strategies since you asked for them.” Merlin paused and looked at Arthur with raised eyebrows to make sure Arthur knew how little he thought of that request, but he didn’t comment on it any further. They had argued enough about it two days ago. “We could go on another walk up to the old ruins, if you want to. It’ll be nice and cool in the forest.”
And there would be few other people, unlike if they made a trip into town. But Merlin didn’t point that one out. Arthur didn’t need to know he was being so protective. Arthur would just end up sulking in a hidden corner of the garden, or spend all day training with his sword — blatantly ignoring Merlin the whole time.
Nope, Merlin certainly didn’t need a repeat of that day.
Arthur nodded and picked up a plate from the breakfast tray. “I’ll start on that damned roof right after breakfast, so you can shut up about it,” he said, an annoyed frown on his face. There was no heat in his voice though, and Merlin knew he only pretended to be cross about being pestered into this work.
Arthur had suggested to build the arbour himself, after seeing something similar in their neighbour’s garden. Merlin wasn’t sure about his actual reasons but he guessed it helped Arthur to feel more grounded in this new world. If nothing else he got to do some hard work and had a way to distract himself — and if Merlin got a nice new addition to his garden out of it he certainly wasn’t going to complain.
Well not more than usually, anyways.
After they finished breakfast, Merlin grabbed Arthur’s hand and pulled him into the bathroom for a much needed shower. Not that it would help for long in this weather but it was nice, and it was one of the few things Arthur really liked about the modern world. He had always liked his baths fine but the shower was something Arthur never wanted to miss again — especially when Merlin joined him. Merlin couldn’t agree more.
Merlin picked up the car keys from their usual spot on the kitchen counter and walked out the back door.
“Arthur?” he called out. A blond head wearing a bright red cap popped up over the row of currant bushes. He tried to look nonchalant but it was obvious he hadn’t been working like promised, and instead had lain in the warm grass and eaten some berries. A low tune was audible, too. Arthur must have given the laptop another try.
Merlin couldn’t help the wide smile spreading over his face. No matter how many days passed, he was just so completely happy every time he saw Arthur’s face.
“I’ll head out for a bit.” He held up the car keys and rattled them in the air. Arthur made a face, still not comfortable with the idea of cars and driving. Merlin would prefer to take Arthur with him — not only not to leave Arthur to himself but also so he could meet more people, talk to someone other than Merlin, and learn about the modern world.
But he wasn’t going to push it. Arthur was trying very hard, Merlin knew.
Anyways, Merlin had to do something about the deepening frown on Arthur’s face.
“I’d consider to buy some of those mini cakes again, but after you ate all of them yourself last time instead of sharing...” Merlin had to hold back a grin when Arthur started to sputter a protest — instantly forgetting about the damned car. To be fair, out of the ten cupcakes Arthur had saved one for Merlin and Merlin didn’t even mind all that much — Arthur was the bigger sweet tooth between the two of them — but that didn’t stop him from bringing it up every now and then, on principle. Well that and to tease Arthur with his inability to share goodies, obviously.
Merlin dropped his gaze to hide his smile and the chuckle he couldn’t quite hold back, and walked the few feet over to where Arthur still sat in the grass. The music got loud enough for him to finally recognise it. To Merlin’s surprise it was some modern-ish pop music instead of Arthur’s usual taste. Merlin chose to not comment on it for now. There would be time to banter about Arthur’s taste in modern music later. Right now he really had to get going or he would melt in his car on the way home. It wasn’t even ten o’clock and they already had about 30 degree Celsius.
Stopping in front of a still pouting Arthur, Merlin bent over and placed a kiss on his nose. “See you in a bit, yeah?”
Arthur nodded and reached up with both hands to pull Merlin in for a proper kiss on his lips, before he let Merlin stand up again.
“Don’t forget the milk again!” Arthur shouted after him when Merlin started to walk back to the house. Merlin rolled his eyes although Arthur couldn’t see it right now. Not like Arthur needed to see it to know Merlin’s reaction.
“That was one time.” Merlin didn’t have to turn around to know Arthur was grinning at him, either.
Merlin let out a drawn-out sigh when he finally entered their house again, almost two hours later. It was close to noon and the heat was unbearable by now. He really had to get the air conditioning in his car fixed. Focusing on driving and using his magic to get at least some cool air into his car was just too much to do at once — at least in this heatwave.
“I’m back!” Merlin shouted and started walking down the corridor — three heavy bags with groceries floating behind him. There was a muffled reply from the general direction of the kitchen. Arthur probably had found himself some kind of snack since Merlin was late with serving lunch.
He made his way into the kitchen and found Arthur sitting on the kitchen counter — shirtless and eating some warmed up leftovers from yesterday. He slid off the counter, put down the half-empty plate and walked the few steps towards Merlin.
“Welcome home,” Arthur said, this time without too much food in his mouth to be incoherent.
He engulfed Arthur in a tight hug — only to be chastised.
“Eww you smell almost as bad as after mucking out the stables.” Not that that stopped Arthur from hugging him back. Neither stopped it Merlin from telling Arthur that he didn’t smell any better.
They shared a chaste kiss before Arthur continued to eat and Merlin started to unpack the groceries, putting everything in the fridge and cupboards. He didn’t use magic for this task since Arthur was right there. He might not mind magic as much as he used to — Arthur hadn’t even flinched at the floating bags, which he would have done a few weeks ago — but Merlin knew very well where Arthur’s limit was, and he wasn’t going to push it.
Not after Arthur had managed to not only grab some food from the fridge but also had reheated it all on his own.
“What have you been up to in the meantime?” Merkin asked while unpacking the second bag of groceries, which were mostly frozen food.
Out of the corner of his eye, Merlin could see Arthur shrug. “Not much. Worked a bit on the roof. Made lunch.” He shrugged again and put the half empty plate on the counter next to him.
Merlin wasn’t sure what to make of that reply. Arthur seemed to hide something. It was obvious in the way he tried to act casual and shrugged the question off — literally — but at the same time, he didn’t seem like he usually did when he just got too overwhelmed with all the new things or with missing their old friends and lives.
With one raised eyebrow, Merlin looked at Arthur for a long moment. Arthur didn’t fidget under the stare or anything too obvious but Merlin could tell it was working on him. It was in the way he shifted between pouting his lips out and pulling them in to keep himself from saying anything. In the way he wouldn’t quite meet Merlin’s eyes despite not looking away completely. Or in the way he absently twisted the ring on his thumb over and over again.
“You didn’t break the laptop again, did you?” Merlin finally asked in a stern voice. It had taken him a lot of effort and magic to fix it last time and he was almost sure he wouldn’t be able to revive it again.
“No, it’s not the damn laptop“ Arthur rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, but at least he was finally talking. “The, uhm, phone was ringing earlier and I have seen you use it all the time. And no I didn’t break the phone either.“
Merlin hadn’t even opened his mouth but yeah, that’s what he had been thinking. He felt a little bit bad for it. But only a little because really, considering Arthur’s track record, it was a very reasonable assumption.
“I may have promised we go over to Ellie’s for pie later?” Arthur added before Merlin could actually say anything. Merlin frowned and had to think about what Arthur had just said, but he still didn’t get why Arthur would be acting so shifty about it.
Ellie and her girlfriend were their closest neighbours and they had visited them a few times already. Arthur got along with them just fine and he liked the walk over to their house and— oh, right. They had planned to go on a walk to the old ruins.
Arthur must have seen the moment Merlin realised what this was about and launched into an explanation: “I— I’m sorry. I was so excited about doing this whole phoneing thing and I just—”
He broke off and lowered his head.
Merlin sighed and walked closer to Arthur, not touching him yet. He knew it wouldn’t be helping right now. He thought for a long moment about what he should say. It’s not like he minded the change of plan — he liked their neighbours too — but they usually didn't do anything spontaneously. At first it had been to help Merlin to get used to having Arthur back, then it was to help Arthur get through the day by day life in this strange new world and, well, they kind of just stuck with it. It was familiar, in a way, since that’s what it’s always been like for them. Arthur always had his whole day planned with kingly duties and whatnot, and Merlin with his chores and work for Gaius and— magical... things.
In a way, Merlin had rarely ever had the chance to stick to the plan for his days back then. But Arthur had always had his day planned out – especially after he became king. Nevertheless, that didn’t mean they couldn’t change that, at least in such small ways.
Not to mention, Merlin was really looking forward to that pie. Ellie was an amazing baker!
Besides all that, he felt so proud of Arthur for accepting a phone call, and getting it right no less. The first time Arthur had heard the phone ringing, had been a disaster. The phone had been irreparably smashed. It had taken an argument, a pouting king, and lots of explaining and apologising to fix that.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Merlin finally replied. ”We haven’t seen them in almost a week, and we can still go to the ruins tomorrow, right?” He glanced at Arthur out of the corner of his eye. He didn’t seem too convinced and still had his gaze fixed on the floor.
“If you really want to call it off, I can call Ellie and tell her I already had plans for the evening you didn’t know about. But honestly? I’d prefer this small change of plan.”
Arthur finally looked up at Merlin and Merlin tried to reassure him with a broad smile and gentle touch to his shoulder. After a moment, Arthur sighed and looked away.
“I’m making this a way bigger deal than it calls for, don’t I?” Arthur said, followed by another drawn out sigh, but he also shifted closer to Merlin and put his arm around Merlin’s waist.
Merlin smiled and crossed that off as a win. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t have you any other way.”
Arthur snorted in return and pushed Merlin away playfully. It only continued to assure Merlin that he did well in avoiding a bigger problem. It wasn’t always easy to say the right thing to reassure Arthur, not to start an argument over nothing, but today Arthur seemed to have a really good day. Merlin couldn’t help the bright smile at the thought. There had been a lot of good days lately. Arthur really was getting accustomed, and Merlin couldn’t be more proud of him.
“Alright, let’s go to Ellie’s later,” Arthur finally decided and sealed it with a kiss.
Merlin locked the front door, added a quick protection spell, and turned to Arthur. It was late afternoon by now, and although it was still way too hot, there was a cool breeze. It was almost bearable to walk on the shadowed path up to their neighbour’s house.
They started up the narrow path uphill. It would take them about 30 minutes to reach their neighbours but neither of them minded the long walk. The trees were high and casted deep, cooling shadows, a light breeze blew occasionally, and the way was only slightly steep. All in all it was a nice walk and a good way to wrap up their day.
Arthur had a small bag slung over his shoulder with a bottle of cider in it. It had become kind of a thing that whenever they visited each other that the visiting party would provide the alcohol. Usually that meant Merlin had to get it.
During the afternoon, they had finished the work on the arbour. It had been a pain to work in the hot midday sun, but Merlin had made sure they both put on more than enough sunblock, helped along with some magic. Most of the time Merlin kept in the background and either made sure Arthur had everything he needed, or simply watched him work. It was almost like back in Camelot when he had watched Arthur and the knights train.
The hard work had been worth it in the end. The arbour looked amazing, and Arthur was obviously proud of his work to the point that he had refused to leave the cooling shadows of the arbour until they had to get ready.
Merlin had been happy to allow him the well deserved break and — after moving the new garden bench and table inside the arbour — had joined Arthur. They had sat there for a long time, silently enjoying each other’s company and the nice view over the garden and pond.
Now that they were on their feet again, Merlin was back to prattling on about whatever came to his mind. Arthur sometimes replied, or laughed in response, but stayed silent for the most part. Merlin knew it reminded him of the old times when they were out on hunting trips or patrol. Going by Arthur’s content smile, he enjoyed the nostalgia just as much as Merlin.
Nevertheless, a lot had changed, and mostly for the better.
The biggest difference was that now they could walk around hand in hand without any reservations. Not that either of them would have been ready to admit their feelings in the past anyway. But even if they had, there would have been no way they could have acted on it.
But now... now there was nothing holding Merlin back when he reached for Arthur’s hand and easily entwined their fingers. There was nothing holding Merlin back from leaning in and pecking a kiss on Arthur’s cheek. And most importantly, there was nothing holding Arthur back from pulling Merlin in and giving him a proper kiss on the lips in return.
It had been a little surprising how quickly Arthur had adjusted to this new freedom, but a pleasant surprise at that.
Merlin had always believed that even if Arthur loved him back it would take him a lot of time to realise it — nevermind act on it. After all, it had taken Merlin a few hundred years to get there himself.
It hadn’t even taken two weeks for Arthur.
Arthur had told Merlin that it was one of the few things he really liked about this new age — the fact that he could just be himself. No duties. No responsibilities. He could just live his life however he chose and, most importantly, he could be with Merlin, openly, and affectionately, and just as true to his feelings as he never could have as a king..
Of course Arthur also missed his old life and especially their friends, but he knew better than to live in the past. At least most of the time. Whenever either of them felt like dwelling in memories they had each other.
For now though, Merlin was more than happy to enjoy the feeling of Arthur’s hand in his, the way Arthur kept looking at him with a fond smile on his face, and especially the kisses they kept stealing from each.
The early evening spent with Elena and Mithian — or Ellie and Mimi as they were called in this time — was wonderful, as always. The girls didn’t know about their past lives, that they’d been princesses once, but the resemblance was undeniable, in looks and character alike.
They all had gotten along so quickly, almost as if there was still a link between them although they hadn’t know each other that well in their past lives. Merlin was all the happier to get to know them better this time around. The girls were wonderful, and it was good for Arthur to have more people than just Merlin to talk to.
Ellie and Arthur chatted about the nearby paddock, the horses and how they planned to go on a ride as soon as the weather cooled down a bit.
Arthur and Merlin had been on a few rides before, but it was good to see Arthur was ready to go out without Merlin tagging along. Or maybe Arthur expected Merlin to be there anyways. Merlin would have to ask him about it, later when they were alone again.
Mimi was joining in on Arthur’s and Ellie’s discussion occasionally, but Merlin preferred to lean back and just listen. He held a glass of the cider they’d brought in one hand, and rested the other one on Arthur’s calf. They were sharing a cosy garden swing and at some point Arthur had turned so his legs were now resting in Merlin’s lap while his feet hung over the opposite end of the swing.
Ellie and Mimi sat on a bench opposite of them and there was a small plastic table between the two couples, covered with empty plates, leftover pie, and bowls with snacks. The now empty bottle of cider was on the ground next to Arthur’s bag. They had planned to leave as soon as they would finish their drinks, but Merlin wouldn’t mind staying a bit longer.
There were a lot more trees in Ellie’s garden and right around the property. The sun was low, drawing long shadows from the high trees and the air was already cooling significantly. Back at their home it would be way warmer, and wouldn’t cool down until way after nightfall. On the upside, they had a way nicer view of the sunset. Especially now that they could sit in the arbour to watch it.
Reluctantly Merlin pulled out his phone from his back pocket, almost dropping Arthur’s legs in the process. His alarm to feed the chickens and usher them back inside had gone off. He hadn’t realised it was that late already. With a sigh he put the phone back in his pocket.
“Sorry, the kids are waiting for dinner.” It was a joke Mimi had come up with the first time she had visited them and their chickens. She had laughingly called them their kids, and it had stuck ever since. Merlin mostly liked it because of the face Arthur always made at it, although Merlin was sure that Arthur secretly liked the joke, too. Just as he secretly loved the chickens. Merlin had caught him giving them treats and looking after them often enough.
Right now, Arthur didn’t look happy at the prospect of going home, but he didn’t protest when Merlin pushed his legs off his lap to stand up. Merlin put his now empty glass on the table.
“Thanks again for the invitation,” he said to Ellie and Mimi with a smile. Then he turned to Arthur and leaned a bit closer so only Arthur could hear him when he asked: “Do you want to stay a bit longer?”
Until now they had never done this. Besides Merlin’s occasional trips to the grocery store, they spend all their time together, at least when they were outside the house. Merlin didn’t like the idea of leaving Arthur all by himself, because he worried something might happen. Arthur could get overwhelmed with the smallest things out of nowhere and what if Merlin wasn’t there and—
“Don’t be stupid, Merlin. I’m going with you.” Arthur gave him a short but reassuring kiss, then he stood up and turned to their hosts who had been quietly watching their interaction.
Merlin couldn’t help the bright smile. He knew he had to get used to the thought of letting Arthur out and about all by himself, but he was glad that day wasn’t today. He just wasn’t ready, and maybe Arthur wasn’t either.
Ellie got up too and hugged them goodbye. “I’ll get some kitchen foil and pack the leftover pie for you!” she proclaimed before rushing off to the house. Mimi smiled at her fondly before getting up too.
“How about next time we visit you two? I really want to see the finished arbour.”
Arthur and Merlin nodded in union, broad smiles on their faces and hands entwined.
It was late evening, the sun had set at least an hour ago, and the chickens and garden were tended to. They had just finished their dinner — mixed salad, grilled meat, and some of the leftover pie — and now they enjoyed the quiet evening. Merlin conjured a few pale lights around them in calm, orange colours, almost like candles. There was an actual candle on the table between them, too, but it didn’t provide enough light for what Merlin had in mind to wrap up the day.
With a wave of his hand he made the table float out of the arbour and carefully put it down on the grass. Arthur looked at him with raised eyebrows, but he seemed more amused than bewildered.
Merlin stood up and held his hand out for Arthur.
Pretending annoyance Arthur took the offered hand and let himself be pulled up. Merlin made the bench hover out of the way, too, and turned on some quiet, familiar music from his phone. It wasn’t exactly the same as back at feasts in Camelot, but close enough to put an understanding smile on Arthur’s face.
Arthur pulled him closer, put his hands on Merlin’s hips and started to sway them to the music. Merlin happily obliged, since that had been his plan all along, and slung his arms around Arthur’s neck.
When the first slower song ended, a quick, rhythmic song followed, one they had danced to before. Arthur recognised it instantly and let out an excited laugh. He pulled back enough to readjust their hands and dance properly.
The first time they had danced to this kind of music, had been on a night out in the tavern with Arthur und some of the knights. They’d had a good time and the music had been so tempting — but there had been no girls around, not to mention that the king couldn’t have be seen dancing with random girls. Merlin couldn’t remember whose idea it had been, but suddenly some of the knights had been dancing with each other. All it had taken was one shared look between them, and Arthur and Merlin had joined them.
They had tripped over each other’s feet more often than not, partly because of the mead but mostly because they couldn’t stop laughing about the ridiculousness of the situation.
To this day, it was one Merlin’s fondest memories.
When the song ended, he pulled Arthur close for a kiss. They stood like that, lightly swaying to the music and sharing kisses for a long moment. The magic lights danced around them in random patterns, crickets started to chirp somewhere nearby, and the wind picked up, finally bringing cool air with it. Not that either of them paid attention to any of that. All that mattered to them at the moment was each other.
“Wanna go back inside?”, Merlin asked when they finally pulled apart for more than a second. Arthur took a look around them, considering. Even before he spoke, Merlin knew what he was going to say, just by the smile on his face.
“Nah, let’s stay and dance a little more.”