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Arthur wakes up with a start. He's cold, freezing. How could he fall asleep outside in winter? Surely Merlin or his knights would've made sure he got back inside. When he moves to get up, his limbs are heavy, sluggish, as if he'd been drunk or drugged. He can't remember anything, though, the last thing he knows is—
Arthur falls back, the breath knocked out of him by his memories returning. The battle of Camlann, Mordred, Merlin being a sorcerer and, finally, Arthur dying. He stares at the night sky. He feels normal, as if he woke up after a good night's sleep. If he were in Camelot now, he would call for Merlin to bring him water.
"Merlin," Arthur says, his voice rough from disuse. Merlin will know what to do. Arthur has to find him. He pushes himself up again, labouring until he's finally sitting upright. The ground shakes dramatically--he's on a boat, a small one, but he can see the shore from here. With some effort he manages to paddle there. It takes a while, as his arms tire easily and he's out of breath. How long has he been ... dead? But the night sky above him cannot give him the answer.
When he finally reaches the shore and hoists himself out of the boat, his knees are weak and it takes him a moment to gain his balance. It feels good, however, to stand on his own two legs again. He also thinks that moving is becoming easier, as if his muscles remember how they should work. He trudges up the small short, for a moment content to simply be aware of his body, the sand scrunching under his boots, the wind tugging at his hair and clothes.
Arthur walks for a few minutes until the path starts to descend quite sharply and he takes a break. Then he realises his second problem: he has no idea where he is. It looks like a forest, but none he can remember. He looks back towards the lake--Avalon, he thinks, it's called Avalon--but up the hill seems to be the better option.
When he reaches the top, he's breathing hard and he resolves to start training as soon as he knows what is going on. On the path he couldn't see very well, but up here it's almost as bright as day. Arthur blinks at the very tall lamp at the side of the road--he can't smell fire and there don't seem to be any candles there and yet it shines brightly.
The road here is strange as well: it's hard and black. Arthur studies it, but he can't make out what the road is made from. It must be a strange sort of stone, he thinks, as it all seems to be just one big stone.
There's a noise approaching, something Arthur can't place. But it's loud and in Arthur's experience loud things are rarely good. He looks for a hiding place and on the other side of the road there's a bush which seems about right. He starts to cross the road, but then the thing is here--and heading straight for Arthur. He freezes, unsure what to do. He doesn't have his sword nor his armour.
The strange beast doesn't hit him, though. It swerves around him and someone from within the beast yells, "Look where you're going, git!"
Then it's past, but Arthur can hear more of them arriving. He's bewildered and cold and hiding seems like the best solution. Where has he ended up?
So when he jerks upright in the middle of the night, he's less than happy about it. It feels like one of the bad dreams he had after Arthur died. The first few hundred years were terrible, as everyone Merlin had ever known faded around him and only Merlin went on and on and on. It took him a while to start the ever-lasting rhythm of turning himself young and living a normal life until another lifetime had passed. It was, if anything, a welcome routine by now.
But Merlin hasn't had these dreams since ages. He wonders why now--there was nothing spectacular about this day.
When he tries to lie down again, he feels a weird pull, though, as if someone kept pushing him up, as if--someone were calling him. And suddenly Merlin is wide awake because he does feel a presence nearby.
It's Avalon, he realises. He almost trips getting out of bed, hurrying to put on clothes. God, why now, he thinks, but all his tiredness is blown away by the glimmer of hope that's been rekindled. It wouldn't be the first false alarms, but somehow this feels real.
Then he's in his car and driving to Avalon on autopilot. He doesn't even know how Arthur returns--what the fuck should he do if he finds an infant on Avalon's shores? He's a gay bachelor, he can't suddenly turn up with a baby, he has no idea how to change diapers. But he'll worry about that later.
He reaches Avalon sooner than expected--he's pretty sure that he did not comply with the speed limit all the time, but he can't be bothered. He parks his car, doesn't even lock it because this area is deserted at night and who would even want to steal Merlin's yellow ten year old car? No self-respecting car thief, that's for sure. Merlin maybe has a habit of forgetting to lock his car.
He sprints down the small path and--nothing. No Arthur, infant or otherwise.
Disappointment makes Merlin sink to his knees. He felt so sure this time, it was so--his eyes fall on a boat. No, not a boat, he notices, it's the boat he sent Arthur over the sea in.
"Arthur," he says, wonderingly. And then again, louder, "Arthur?" Where could he be? He should be nearby, close to the boat. God, if he went up to the road and got hit by a car or anything.
"Arthur!" Merlin calls loudly. There is no response.
Merlin stares at the boat again. Could he be wrong? Is this just a vision or was the boat empty to begin with?
Merlin walks around the shore, repeatedly calling Arthur again. After half an hour he has to accept that Arthur isn't here. He slowly walks up the path, his limbs leaden with disappointment, once again.
Before he gets into his car, he turns around and says, "Good bye, Arthur."
Only to promptly drop his keys, when he hears someone say, "Merlin?" He turns around and on the other side of the street a head appears out of the roadside bushes. A head he would know everywhere, a head he has looked for for so long. Merlin crosses the street in the wink of an eye and there is Arthur, sitting on the ground, eyes wide and his face pale, but alive and Merlin feels faint with relief.
"Arthur," he croaks, falling to his knees in front of Arthur.
"What are you wearing?" Arthur asks. "And where are we?"
"I'll explain at home," Merlin says. "Come with me."
"Home?" Arthur asks. "Are we going to Camelot?"
Oh. Merlin hadn't ever actually thought about what would happen if the Arthur he had known last came up--he'd somehow always assumed that Arthur would also know all about the modern world. "Not quite," he has to admit. "It's a long story."
He gets up and offers Arthur his hand, being secretly delighted when Arthur grips it and lets Merlin pull him to his feet.
They hit the first road block when Arthur catches sight of Merlin's car.
Arthur stops dead and pulls Merlin back. "What is this strange beast?" he says, eying the car like it is about to charge them at any time. "I saw some of them before."
"It's not a beast," Merlin says. "It's a car. Think of it like a cart, except you don't need horses to draw it."
That at least lets him get Arthur to the car. Merlin absent-mindedly presses the fob to unlock it, contemplating how he's going to get Arthur into his flat without Arthur making a fuss.
At the sudden beeping and lights flashing Arthur jumps back, automatically reaching for a sword he doesn't wear anymore. "What is this magic?"
Merlin opens his mouth to say, nonsense, this isn't magic, it's just technology, but then he thinks--no, this might just be the perfect way to make Arthur understand. "It's good magic," he says instead. And, "do you trust me?"
Arthur looks at Merlin frowning and there's a moment where Merlin's heart drops, when he thinks that, no, Arthur doesn't trust him anymore, before Arthur nods, breaking Merlin's heart in a different way. "I do," Arthur says, voice quiet. "Even though you let me believe--but I understand. I trust you."
Merlin opens the passenger door and opens for Arthur to get it. "Nothing will happen to you," he says with a sudden conviction. I won't let anything happen to you, is what he means.
Arthur sits down cautiously and jumps when Merlin closes the car door, despite Merlin trying to do it gently and not throwing it closed as is his wont.
The drive to Merlin's flat is almost anti-climactic. Once Arthur gets used to the car, he starts asking questions. "Why don't we feel the wind? We must be going fast!"
"It's the magic keeping us safe," Merlin says.
When they reach the city, Arthur falls quiet. It makes Merlin a bit nervous, seeing Arthur look at the buildings. He tries to remember the Camelot days more clearly, but several lifetimes have mixed up his memories. But he knows that the buildings used to be much smaller than the three to five floor buildings that dominate the modern city. Camelot was the only high building for miles.
Arthur is still silent when Merlin parks in front of his building in his usual space. "Everything okay?" Merlin asks quietly.
"What does okay mean?" Arthur asks back.
"Are you all right?" Merlin asks instead.
Arthur glances out of the window. "I don't know."
Despite Merlin's fears, the climb up to the third floor passes without incident and then Arthur's in his flat. Merlin leans at the closed door behind himself and feels a bout of hysterical laughter bubbling up. Arthur, his Arthur, the one who wore breeches and leather boots and line shirts, who practised sword-fighting and tourney rules, that Arthur is now standing on the rug in Merlin's living room and staring forlornly at Merlin's TV.
For all the fantasies he's had about this, he never quite imagined it like this.
There is no fire, but the rooms are still pleasantly warm, and there are more of the artificial lights, smaller ones.
Even Merlin looks strange, out of his customary clothes. That makes Arthur frown. "I miss your neckerchief," he says.
Of all the possible reactions, he didn't expect Merlin to double over laughing.
"You just woke up after being dead for nearly fifteen hundred years and you miss my neckerchief?" Merlin manages to press out between guffaws, sinking to his knees on the floor, holding his sides.
"Well, I do," Arthur says, irritated. Then, "Fifteen hundred years?"
Merlin sobers up again. He sits down on the floor, hands on his knees, and shrugs. "Circa. I keep forgetting which year it was."
Arthur is at a complete loss. That is a lot of time, thirty times his father's lifetime, and to spend it all by himself feels like a worse fate to Arthur than waking up in a world that is frighteningly different.
Merlin sighs. "I'll make tea," he says.
Arthur blinks. "Tea," he says and thinks of the awful concoctions Gaius used to force down his throat for stomach ills and headaches and to cleanse the body.
"Tea," Merlin says. He rolls to his feet with an elegance that makes Arthur remember the clumsy, lank youth Merlin was when they met.
Merlin walks past Arthur into one of the adjoining rooms, and Arthur follows cautiously. Merlin tampers with some strange apparatus, filling it with water. It looks vaguely like a kettle, but it's made from the strangest, smoothest material. It's also bright yellow.
The entire room is filled with yet more strange things. Arthur keeps looking at Merlin, as he walks around, opening cupboards and pulling things out. Mugs he can recognise, the little sachets could be the tea, he supposes. Then Merlin opens the big white box and cold air escapes it.
"What is that?" Arthur asks and steps closer.
"What?" Merlin turns around, carrying yet another weird box. "Oh, that's the fridge." Merlin frowns at it before he closes the door. "I don't--it keeps the food cold."
Arthur wants to ask more, but then he realises that the front of the fridge box is covered in pictures. There are yellow papers and little red pieces with notes on them. But mostly there are pictures of Merlin. They show Merlin exactly as he is standing right next to Arthur, so different than the painting Arthur's seen.
"How long does it take to draw these?" Arthur asks, stepping yet closer so that he can see that last picture facing to the other side. It shows Merlin with another man. The guy has his arms slung around Merlin's waist and they're smiling. Arthur's throat goes dry.
"They're not drawn," Merlin says. "They--fuck, it's difficult to explain."
"Are they expensive?" Arthur counts. "They can't be, you don't have a lot of money."
Merlin snorts, making Arthur look. "I could have! I could have amassed vast amount of riches while you were—", dead, Arthur thinks,—"sleeping. I could be a millionaire."
"What's a millionaire?"
"Someone who has a lot of money," Merlin says.
"But you don't," Arthur says decisively. "You said you could be a mill--a rich man, not that you are one."
Merlin sighs. "They're cheap, okay? Happy now?"
Arthur turns back to the pictures. Merlin rarely is alone in them.
"Here's your tea," Merlin says and offers Arthur one of the mugs. It's hot and filled with a brown, sweet-smelling liquid. It does not look at all like any of Gaius's teas.
Arthur looks at it. "What are we going to do?" he asks. He doesn't--he feels so lost in this world.
"Well, we have to get you up to speed," Merlin says.
"And then?" Why did I wake up, Arthur wants to know, but he doesn't say it. Merlin seems to guess it anyway.
"We'll see," Merlin says. "We'll see."
There's a moment's silence when Merlin drinks his tea. Arthur lifts his mug and takes a cautious sip. It's surprisingly good.
"Do you want the tour?" Merlin asks then.
Merlin shrugs. "Let me show you my flat."
Arthur follows Merlin around and takes notes. Not having to use chamber pots anymore is quite useful, he thinks, although he's not entirely sure that the white bowl isn't possessed--the noises it makes are quite frightening. When Arthur mentions this, Merlin simply says that the plumbing in the building is old.
Arthur refrains from asking what plumbing is. And what exactly the purpose of a "living room" is supposed to be, or why Merlin even needs more than one room for sleeping.
When they get to Merlin's bed room, it's a bit awkward, both of them standing in front of Merlin's bed. Merlin yawns widely. "Sorry," he says. "It's been a long day."
Arthur stares at the bed. "Yes, it has," he says. "Do you—?" He gestures at the bed.
"I can sleep on the couch," Merlin says softly. "If you—"
"I've slept alone for more than a thousand years apparently," Arthur says. "I'd like a change." He feels unsettled, too many news things around him for him to process, and he'd prefer to keep Merlin close, just to make sure he's not still dreaming.
Merlin lets Arthur go first on the white automatic chamber pot (so very useful) and when Arthur returns, Merlin's changed into what must be his sleeping clothes. He even offers a pair to Arthur and the material is soft enough that Arthur wants to try.
Once they're settled in the bed, a proper foot of space between them, sleep comes easily.
Arthur stares at the alarm clock. "What was that?"
"Just forgot to turn off my alarm," Merlin says. He turns around to face Arthur. "Just go back to sleep?"
"Alarm? An alarm for what?" Arthur eyes the small box critically.
"Work," Merlin says, smacking his lip. He's almost asleep again, Arthur thinks. Images of Merlin mucking out barns and scrubbing armour fly through Arthur's mind. But then he looks around Merlin's room. Nothing reeks, although there are a lot of strange clothes strewn around.
"What do you work as?" Arthur wonders.
"Why are you still awake?" Merlin grumbles. "I'm an accountant."
"Go back to sleep, Arthur."
Arthur lies down again, but sleep proves elusive. Instead he uses the chance to look at Merlin's things: the clothes are made from a light fabric, some of the shirts thin and flimsy. They don't seem like enough of a barrier against the harsh of winter.
By the time Merlin wakes up properly, Arthur's progressed to actually poking at the clothes. "What are you doing?" Merlin asks.
"I don't see any armour here," Arthur says. He's holding up what appears to be breeches, frowning at them. The fabric is coarse, but worn smooth in other places.
"We don't need armour anymore." Merlin gets up and pads over to Arthur. "No sword-fighting nowadays."
"Then how do you fight?"
"Well, people still use knives, but guns are much more popular."
"I'm not awake enough for this conversation," Merlin says. "Let's have tea before I start telling you about all the technical advances from the last thousand years."
Arthur finds that he's already getting used to the taste of tea. In any case, it seems to do wonders for Merlin.
"We have to dress you in modern clothes," Merlin says after a look at Arthur's old clothes. "You'll stick out like a sore thumb in those."
That is earlier said then done. "These are not underpants," Arthur says. They are indecently short and, well, tight.
"They are now, you'll get used to them." Merlin throws a pair of the strange breeches at him. "Try those, they should fit you."
Arthur is pretty sure they don't. They cling snugly to his legs and bottom, almost like his dress breeches. Arthur's never liked those, felt too vulnerable with them accentuating the shape of his legs. Worse, however, are the stupid button and what Merlin called a zipper. "These don't work," Arthur says. "Do you have any other breeches?"
"They're called jeans," Merlin says. "And unless you want to wear my dress pants, no." Then he steps closer to Arthur. "Let me show you."
Merlin gets behind Arthur. "This is the fastener," he says as he grips the tiny bit that dangles from the zipper. "You have to pull it up." Merlin puts Arthur's hand on the fastener and helps him, slowly working the fastener over the underpants until it can't go any farther. "And then you have to close the button."
Merlin wraps his hands around Arthur's, shows him the mechanics. It would probably be good if Arthur could pay attention, he thinks, but he's distracted by Merlin standing so closed behind him.
"These are really tight," Arthur manages to say, his voice coming out only a little bit unsteady.
Merlin steps away from him, the loss of warmth both a relief and a tragedy. Arthur chooses not to contemplate that any further.
"They are just fine," Merlin says, a tiny bit strangled.
"But—" Arthur points at his bottom where he feels exposed by the way the fabric shows every curve.
"That's how they're supposed to be."
Then Merlin throws a shirt at Arthur, which hits him in the face. "Pull that one on, it'll go with those jeans."
If Merlin meant that the shirt was even more indecently tighter than the ... jeans, then, yes, he was right. Arthur can't believe this is what modern people wear. Or how they can move in those clothes.
"I think my armour was more comfortable," he tells Merlin.
On the upside, Arthur loves socks. He wiggles his toes. "These I like, I'll keep them."
Merlin loves. "This figures." What figures what, he doesn't say, but then it's not important Arthur guesses.
Currently Merlin's biggest problem is that he desperately needs to go grocery shopping. If he had known that he'd have to teach Arthur about everything that happened between 800 and 2014 A.D., he'd totally have gone to Tesco on Wednesday, but then he'd thought that his Saturday was going to be entirely free and spent mostly recuperating from Ria's birthday party. Little did he know.
It still results in Merlin's fridge containing half a litre of milk, butter and not much else. He's currently unsure what to do--he doesn't really want to leave Arthur in his flat alone. He's like a young puppy, curious to a fault and about as prone to making a mess of everything.
On the other hand, he's afraid that Arthur might freak out in the middle of the super market. Merlin himself keeps tripping up. It's hard to remember that there was a time before electricity, a time before London became huge, a time before tea.
"Don't talk about swords," Merlin instructs Arthur as he hands Arthur a pair of trainers. Can't go wrong with those.
"Or wizards," he adds when he helps Arthur into a wind-breaker. "Oh, and don't ask how things work."
"What am I allowed to talk about?" Arthur asks.
Nothing, Merlin wants to say. "Just follow my lead and observe," he says. He pretends not to hear Arthur's snort.
The walk to Tesco is surprisingly uneventful. Arthur sticks close to Merlin, which he is grateful for. When a bus zooms by, Arthur changes his position so Merlin is between him and the street. Merlin doesn't comment, but lets Arthur crowd him. When they reach the crossing, he takes Arthur's hand, squeezing it gently.
During the wait Arthur slowly relaxes, but keeps his fingers interlocked with Merlin's. "Is that okay?" Arthur whispers, eyes straight forward.
Merlin nods and that's it. At some point Merlin thinks they'll have to talk about it, but right now at a busy street corner is not the best time for it.
Inside the supermarket Arthur behaves not unlike a child in a toy store. He's absolutely delighted by the apples. Merlin can still vaguely remember the dried fruit they'd had to make do with between one harvest until the next.
He ends up buying two kilos of apples just to please Arthur.
In the fast food aisle Arthur's very sceptic. "This doesn't look like real food," he says as Merlin puts several cans of ravioli in the shopping cart. He'll be busy enough this weekend without having to cook elaborate meals.
"It is," Merlin only says and then drags Arthur toward the dairy aisle. He'll need all the tea this weekend and thus all the milk he can make Arthur carry.
When they walk past the meat counter, Arthur makes Merlin buy steaks. The young girl behind the meat counter positively swooned when Arthur stopped dead right in front of her, and Merlin didn't have the heart to pull him away. Besides, he thinks that recently reincarnated people probably could use a good steak.
Despite that and shopping for two people while being unable to say no to Arthur when he discovers something particularly strange and interesting looking food (pocky sticks, smoked mackerel, crisps, custard, courgettes), the total is not overwhelming.
Merlin's pretty glad that he has Arthur to help him carry everything home, though. They do have to take two breaks, once when they reach Merlin's building and on the third floor, but this time Arthur doesn't flinch every time a car drives by. Merlin counts that as a success.
They're quite hungry and Merlin decides to make ravioli. The steaks can wait until tonight.
Arthur watches when Merlin opens the can.
"Don't poke that, you'll cut yourself," Merlin says when Arthur examines the lid. When he puts the bowl into the microwave, Arthur's crowded against this back.
"How does it work?"
Merlin sighs. "It heats up the food," he simply says before closing the door and setting the time.
Arthur watches the microwave like a hawk, peering through the display window at the bowl turning round and round and round. "I'm starting to believe that you don't know how everything works," he says.
"I know a lot," Merlin says. "But there are lots of people who don't know everything."
"Can we find out how it works?"
"Later," Merlin says. This is the perfect time to introduce Arthur to Wikipedia. And youtube. Definitely youtube.
When the microwave beeps, Arthur jumps. Mainly because he was still standing right in front of it. Merlin wonders how Arthur hasn't become bored yet.
"You knew that would happen," Arthur accuses him.
"Guilty as charged," Merlin says. "But you have to get used to all the noises."
Arthur sighs. "This world is so loud," he says quietly. "Are there any quiet places left?"
"Some," Merlin says as he serves Arthur some of the ravioli. "But not in this city."
"This is very hot," Arthur observes after his bite. He's beaming at the food. "Is all cooking like this now?"
Merlin can't help but laugh at the way Arthur looks at simple ravioli as if he's just fallen in love with them. "It's a lazy way of cooking," he says. "Only few people still cook with fire these days."
It turns out that knowing how the microwave works on a principle level takes a backseat to how to use it.
"This means I can eat anything I want at any time?"
Merlin almost regrets showing Arthur how to work the microwave, but his childish delight makes up for the way he insists on immediately trying out his newfound knowledge to make sure he's doing it right.
"I see that you still haven't learned manners," Arthur replies. Merlin just laughs.
Computers are confusing. It's quite irritating to read a text only to have another box suddenly pop up. The text blinks. He shoves the computer at Merlin and gets a book instead. It doesn't blink, thankfully, but Arthur ends up missing the easy connections. He does a lot of paging.
While Arthur reads up on the history of England, Merlin busies himself with yet another big box.
"This is called television," Merlin says with a gravity that escapes Arthur. Then Merlin switches the television on and Arthur almost drops the book at the sound coming from the relatively small box.
"What is that?"
Merlin grins. "This is the History Channel."
Apparently there is an entire channel thing dedicated to history. Arthur understands that history is important, but this is different: no one is reciting anyone's names. It's like a story and it's fascinating to watch. In any case, it's much more interesting than reading and less exhausting, too.
When yet entire box of Merlin's beeps, Arthur just sighs resigned. He thought Camelot on market days was loud, with livestock mooing and bleating, and farmers trying to sell their produce, and traders promoting their wares. It doesn't even compare to the constant noise level of this age.
Merlin pokes a little box and then holds it up to his face. Surprisingly, he starts to talk as if he were having a conversation, but it's the strangest thing Arthur's ever heard and he's currently watching something about a war of the worlds which apparently claimed millions of lives. Arthur is still trying to figure out if this is a good or a bad future.
"Hi, how are you? Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry, I'm kinda--busy today, but I'll be there next week, okay? Yeah. No, sorry, it's difficult to explain... Yeah, I promise I'm not getting into trouble. You know me. Stop laughing, bloody hell, that happened once! Okay. See you next week!"
"I think you've gone insane," Arthur says, while on screen someone prattles on about trenches. "Or perhaps I'm insane and this is an elaborate fantasy."
Merlin shrugs. "I wouldn't discount either option, to be honest."
Arthur glances at the little box. It vibrates and Merlin wipes his fingers across it in what could be a pattern or madness. He's starting to tire of asking what every single thing is. He wishes he'd woken up a little bit earlier. The story before this one was about technology and Merlin made him watch it closely, explaining patiently how machines replaced the traditional working methods. Arthur's sure that if he'd woken up two hundred years ago, it wouldn't have been nearly as frustrating and terrifying.
"This is a phone," Merlin says. "You can use it to talk to people while they are in some other place."
"It looks complicated," Arthur says. He's gripping the controller for the TV. Remote control? Yes, that's what Merlin called it. So far he only knows the buttons for louder and less loud (the battle scenes are frighteningly loud), but he's starting to warm up to it.
"Hm." Merlin leans against Arthur, watches him hold the remote control and tilts his head. "I should get you an old-fashioned phone. With buttons."
Arthur approves of buttons. Except for the one on his jeans--he'd had to call Merlin to help him button up after using the automatic chamber pot. Merlin keeps calling it the loo, but Arthur refuses to believe that it's a real word.
The worst thing happens when Merlin makes Arthur practise with the phone. The landline is easy. He doesn't even have to memorise Merlin's number because it's programmed in. Finding the number is a challenge of its own, but once Arthur understands the difference between the buttons, it gets easier.
The cell phone, however, is the devil, Arthur is convinced, as he manages to wipe his finger the wrong way again and thus hangs up on Merlin's call instead of accepting.
It doesn't help that Merlin's laughing so hard next to him that he's slipping down the sofa and lying half under the low table. "Don't worry, it happens to the best of us," he manages to say between wheezing bouts of laughter.
Arthur thinks it's a testament of his self-restraint that he doesn't throw the phone across the room. According to Merlin the phone is easily breakable and must be handled carefully.
As if he could read Arthur's thoughts, Merlin takes the phone from him. On that thought...
"Can you read my thoughts?" Arthur asks.
Merlin shakes his head. "No, and even if I could, I wouldn't do it," he says. "It's not--it would be an invasion of your privacy. I wouldn't do it."
Arthur believes him and settles back against the cushions. The story on the war ends, finally, and next up is—
"Merlin," Arthur says slowly. "Did you forget to tell me something?"
Merlin looks up from his phone. "Um."
"Accompany us on our quest to find out if legendary King Arthur really existed," says the cheerful person on the screen.
Merlin swallows. Arthur is torn between watching Merlin and staring at screen where there seems to be a reenactment happening of Arthur's crowning. It has absolutely nothing to do with the truth.
"We're ... sort of famous," Merlin says.
And that is how they start watching Sword in the Stone. At first Arthur is affronted. "Wart," he grumbles.
But then Merlin appears and it's Arthur's turn to laugh so hard he's tumbling from the couch.
The songs are quite catchy--there wasn't a lot of music in Camelot, although Arthur always harboured a secret love for the folksy songs of his wet nurse. When Merlin breaks the poor squirrel girl's heart, Arthur has to sniffle.
Merlin pokes him in the side. "I always knew you were a softie," he says.
That makes no sense to Arthur. "You broke her heart," he says before heaving another sigh. "What is a softie?"
"You apparently," Merlin says grinning.
Arthur would wrestle him to get the proper definition, but then Ector punishes Wart and Arthur's caught up in the story enfolding on the screen.
By the end of the movie Arthur feels put through a wringer. It's late and his head is buzzing with all the new information.
"Your world is exhausting," he tells Merlin while they get ready for bed. Merlin's insisted on Arthur brushing his teeth and Arthur accidentally swallowed some tooth paste, so he's a bit nauseated by the awful taste of it.
"Tell me about it," Merlin says as he falls into bed. "And we haven't even covered a fraction of what you need to know."
Merlin sits up and rubs his eyes. "What?"
"These!" Arthur is shaking a piece of clothing at Merlin. "You said you didn't have any other breeches, but I just found these."
Arthur's holding a pair of sweatpants. Then he defiantly puts them on and stalks out of the room. Merlin blinks slowly. "Put some water on for tea, will you?" he calls after Arthur.
Since he's awake, he can just as well get up. He still needs to figure out what to do with Arthur tomorrow.
When he gets to the kitchen, Arthur actually did manage to put the electric kettle on. Merlin still checks if Arthur also filled it with water.
"They're growing up so quickly," Merlin says and grins when Arthur pouts at him.
They put on the History Channel to a segment on Henry VIII, while they're eating breakfast, but then after Arthur starts channel surfing. He still asks many questions, but often he's also content to just watch.
It at least gives Merlin a chance to sit back and ponder. He always thought that Arthur would return in a time of turmoil for Great Britain. Oh, how he waited and hoped when news of the first world war broke. Surely, the demise of the once great empire would be cause enough.
There's no reason why Arthur should wake up now. It doesn't make sense. The world feels relatively peaceful insofar as there's no direct danger. Shit keeps happening all over the world, but Merlin doesn't feel the same amount of trepidation that any of the wars he's lived through caused.
Merlin doesn't even dare to hope that they could get a chance to live their own lives peacefully for once.
"This looks interesting," Arthur says, interrupting Merlin's thoughts. He looks up and finds Arthur watching football.
"It figures that you like that," Merlin says. "It's the modern day equivalent of a tournament."
Ten minutes later, Merlin's found a page explaining football rules for Arthur. Twenty minutes later, Arthur is yelling at the telly. "That obviously wasn't an offside position, are you bloody blind, you clotpole!"
Merlin's about to point out how difficult that rule is--he only has a passing understanding that it has something to do with the defence and the ball and that's as good as he gets--when the announcer on the telly says the exact same thing.
He just stares at Arthur. "I explained to you ten times how to work the electric kettle," he says, feeling a bit peevishly. "But you understand the football rules once and understand them."
"Well, they obviously make more sense than all your electic stuff," Arthur says absently, eyes following the path of the ball onscreen.
"Electric," Merlin corrects him. He stretches his legs. Watching Arthur watch football is much more fun than watching football. His feet end up in Arthur's lap where Arthur wraps his hands around them, holding them in place. It's oddly peaceful.
Arthur's put on a red t-shirt, his sock-clad feet resting on the coffee table. He needs to get a haircut, Merlin thinks. And he needs to magic up documents for him and there's still so much to learn.
But for now, Merlin thinks, if Arthur's return has a purpose, he's entirely content letting the purpose find them. He's waited long enough for Arthur. It will be nice to just have him here for a while without disaster waiting to strike.
Arthur rubs his thumb over the bottom of Merlin's feet, and the sensation sends a shudder through Merlin's body. Arthur grins at him and settles deeper into the cushions.
And perhaps, when the football game is over, Merlin can explain about the gay rights movement and bisexuality. Yes, he thinks that those are things Arthur really should know about. In the meantime, they'll watch 22 guys chasing a ball.