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[personal profile] heofona_gehlidu
Title: Written in the stars
Fandom: Merlin
Rating:
Genre: Modern AU
Summary: Don’t ask me how I know it but I do: he was meant for me, it’s destiny. Written in legend and written in the stars. Can’t you see that he’s meant for me and not for you?
Warnings: none in this part
Pairing/s: Unrequited Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Uther
Wordcount: 5,341

Arthur Pendragon had spent exactly eleven months and twenty three days answering questions from all and sundry about his father’s current whereabouts. Not that he got a question every day, of course. He could usually get through a weekend without them, even if that had more to do with the fact that he invariably locked himself into his apartment and refused to answer the door or the telephone and didn’t bother checking his voicemail or emails until Monday morning.

Arthur Pendragon had been brought up to always tell the truth, and it had quickly grown to be insufferable that no one believed the truth.

“Just lie,” Morgana, Arthur’s half-sister had told him, more than once. “Tell them he’s gone to the South Pole to look at penguins. That’s what I do.”

Arthur had been tempted, he really had. The trouble was that, for all he knew, the South Pole was exactly where Uther was. Arthur hadn’t seen or heard a word from his father since an envelope had dropped through the letterbox addressed in Uther’s distinctive scrawled handwriting and bearing the simple direction to Arthur to look after the company while he, Uther, was gone.

“He’s gone to find himself,” Gaius had said when Arthur turned up in a state of near-panic. He had nodded wisely, as if suddenly disappearing without warning was a perfectly sensible thing to do. Arthur had nodded too, as if he understood, and that had been a lie. He hadn’t understood at all, and he’d wandered around his father’s sprawling, empty house until the early hours of the morning, half-convinced that his father would appear at any moment, that this was all some huge, entirely out-of-character practical joke on Uther’s part.

Gaius, who was Uther’s oldest – indeed, only – friend, had always claimed ignorance of Uther’s plans whenever Arthur questioned him about them in the months that followed. This infuriated Arthur intensely but he quickly discovered that his father’s plans had been very well laid indeed and the more Arthur tried to find out where he had gone the more frustrated he became.

“He’ll be back,” Gaius had told him, more than once. “When he’s ready. Don’t worry.”

Arthur had listened and nodded his head but he had worried, half-terrified by the responsibilities Uther’s going had thrust onto his shoulders, half-concerned that his father might meet some awful fate in the middle of nowhere and Arthur would never know about it until it was too late. It had cost him a lot to keep going, to plaster the mask of studied indifference onto his face every morning and face the world, to carefully build walls around the parts of him that felt too much. Sometimes he wondered if it was all simply part of his father’s plan to direct the course of Arthur’s life, to guide him in Uther’s footsteps. Arthur hoped not.

But now, on the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, Uther had returned. Or was about to – the phone connection had terrible static and Arthur could only make out one in every three of Morgana’s words. One sentence, though, came through loud and clear:

“He’s met someone.”

“Who?”

Arthur could picture Morgana shrugging as clearly as if she had been standing in front of him. “How should I know?” she said caustically. “He could have married a stripper in Vegas for all I know.”

Arthur winced, both at the thought of it and at the venom in Morgana’s voice. “Look-” he began, through a roar of static. The connection failed and Arthur was left staring at his phone. Morgana didn’t ring back and when Arthur tried to call her it went straight to voicemail. He didn’t bother leaving a message: Morgana never checked her voicemail.

Gaius rang him twenty minutes later, to tell him the same news, except that this time Arthur learned that his father had actually arrived home the previous day, which meant that all the time Arthur had been sitting in meetings and playing squash with an odious toad of a customer and wondering and worrying and answering questions he couldn’t lie in response to, his father had been back and Arthur had not known.

“Morgana says he’s met someone. Is that true?”

Gaius hesitated before he replied, which immediately made Arthur suspicious. “You’ll have to ask him,” the old man replied eventually.

“Gaius…”

“He wants to see you anyway. He wants you to come for dinner. Tonight.”

Arthur knew evasion when he heard it. “Gaius, what’s going on?”

“Nothing. Nothing.” Gaius sounded like he had his hand cupped over the phone, muffling his voice. Which meant he was almost certainly with Uther and didn’t want the other man to hear. “Don’t be angry at him, Arthur.”

Gaius hung up, and Arthur began making a mental list of reasons why he might possibly be angry with his father.

Marrying a stripper in Vegas was looking like one of the better options.

***

When buying a house to live in, Uther Pendragon never worried about mundane things like price or convenience or location or what colour the walls were or how many of the doors you might have to replace. When you were as rich as Uther, such problems tended to take care of themselves anyway – who cared about the colour or the position of walls when you could simply hire in an army of underlings to change it as soon as the house was yours and do it all again if you happened to change your mind half way through?

This was the eighth house Uther had bought since the death of Arthur’s mother. Uther had never actually sold the other houses; he’d simply ceased to live in them, moving on to the next without a backward glance. Arthur had given up trying to make sense of the situation years ago, moving out into his own apartment as soon as he possibly could. Morgana lived in the second house now. A sop to Uther’s conscience, as she liked to call it.

Twenty-three years. Eight houses. And not one of them had ever appealed to Arthur. Too big, too cold, too empty. Every one full of expensive furniture and artwork his father bought because that’s what rich men did. Nothing that said anything about the man his father was.

Except … except that Arthur was now standing in the entrance hall of house number eight – a hall which was in itself bigger than his entire apartment – and staring in disbelief at the miniature Eiffel Tower on the display shelf opposite the door. It was a cheap, tacky thing, entirely incongruous in amongst the antique Spode Blue Willow, and a sure sign that his father had gone completely insane.

“Arthur?”

It was Gaius who came to greet him. Amiable, dependable Gaius. Arthur couldn’t remember a time when Gaius hadn’t been there; his presence had always been reassuring. But now Gaius was frowning and he wouldn’t meet Arthur’s eyes and Arthur’s heart sank still further.

“It’s a stripper, isn’t it? He’s married a stripper.”

Gaius shook his head and smiled an awkward smile. “He hasn’t married anyone. At least,” he amended, “not as far as I know.”

“Gaius!”

“Oh, go on and see him. He’s in the study.”

Uther was, as promised, in the study. And he was wearing jeans. Jeans.

Arthur stared. And stared some more.

“Arthur?”

There was a t shirt too, worn and faded as if Uther had worn it and washed it – or had it washed – and worn it again and repeated this pattern like a normal person.

Arthur hadn’t known his father even owned a t shirt.

“Arthur, are you all right?”

Was that an earring?

“Arthur!”

His world of certainties might be crumbling around him but Arthur recognised that tone of voice when he heard it and it snapped him out of his trance in time to see Uther coming towards him … and was that a smile?

“It’s been a while but I don’t think I look that different,” Uther said, an edge of uncertainty creeping into his voice, but, yes, it was a smile. Aimed at Arthur. Whatever demonic force had possessed his father clearly hadn’t been able to overcome Uther’s dislike of human contact enough for him to actually give his son anything as emotionally weak as a hug but there was a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, warm and reassuring, and that was dizzying enough.

“Hi.” Arthur cleared his throat, suddenly hoarse. “You’re back,” he added, pointlessly.

“Yes.” Impossibly, Uther’s smile widened. “Yes, I am. And I hear from Gaius that you’ve done an excellent job running the company in my absence.”

“It’s not like I had a lot of choice,” Arthur said without thinking.

A year ago that kind of remark would have earned him a frosty glare and several weeks of stinging remarks but today it earned nothing more than a bemused look from Uther.

“No … no, I suppose not. But you’ve done very well. Gaius showed me the quarterly reports. They look excellent.”

“We’ve been lucky.”

“You make your own luck, Arthur,” Uther responded, a touch of his acerbic former self coming through for a moment.

“Yes, well…” Thrown off balance by the unexpected praise, Arthur stared at his feet, trying to regain some composure. “You are back then?”

“Yes.” Uther waved him over to the fireside, where there were two armchairs drawn up. “Would you like a drink?”

Arthur eyed the bottle of Laphroaig his father was holding up. “Oh yes,” he said fervently.

Uther gave him that look again as he poured Arthur a generous measure. Arthur pretended he hadn’t noticed.

“I’ve been thinking,” Uther said abruptly, when Arthur was half way into his first appreciative sip of the whisky, “that I might step back from the day to day running of the company.”

Arthur choked.

“After all,” Uther continued, “you’ve demonstrated that you are perfectly capable of running the company and I see no reason why you should not continue to do so.”

Still reeling, Arthur stared at his father in disbelief.

Uther, oblivious to Arthur’s inner turmoil, settled back into his chair. “Unless, of course, you do not wish to.”

And there it was, the challenge Arthur had been waiting for. The moment where Arthur was supposed to prove that he had grown into the man, the leader, his father wanted him to be. He had always known the moment would come; he had never expected it to come so soon.

Perhaps it was the glow of the whisky, perhaps it was the lingering shock, but Arthur found the decision much easier than he had ever expected it to be.

“Of course I will continue, if you think it’s the right thing to do.”

“Excellent.” Uther raised his glass in a toast and that was it; a deal sealed. Dazed, Arthur raised his own glass.

“Now, tell me what you’ve been up to.”

Arthur found it embarrassingly easy to sketch out what there was of his pathetic social life, although it was difficult to concentrate when his father actually looked interested in what he was saying.

“Are you still seeing Sophia?”

“You mean the Sophia you paid off on condition that she moved to the other end of the country and never contacted me again?”

To Arthur’s surprise Uther looked momentarily discomforted by the reminder. “Yes. Well. She perhaps wasn’t the best influence on you, Arthur. It would have ended very badly.”

“It did end very badly,” Arthur muttered sourly, but his father didn’t seem to notice.

“So are you seeing anyone at the moment?”

“No.” Arthur took a steadying gulp of whisky and tried not to think about just how long it had been. “Not at the moment.” Desperate to move on, he tried to switch to an easier topic of conversation, the current status of the company, but Uther dismissed it with an impatient wave of his hand.

“Gaius has already filled me in on business matters. Let’s not discuss those this evening.”

“Right.” Arthur took another long sip of whisky and cast around frantically for something else to talk about but he had no reference point for this. Pendragon men did not do conversation. “So, what have you been doing?” he asked awkwardly.

It was a weak question and Arthur inwardly flinched the second the words passed his lips but thankfully he was saved from his father’s amused smirk by a shrill ringtone. Uther glanced at his phone, frowned, and mouthed the single word Morgana at Arthur. Arthur took the hint, set aside his glass and quickly left the room.

It was a relief to get away, and he felt guilty for that. Guilty that his father had been back so short a time and already he was looking for excuses to cut their time together short. Arthur sighed.

Suspecting that Gaius was in the kitchen, supervising whichever caterer Uther had employed for their little dinner party tonight, Arthur headed for the library instead. He wasn’t sure whether it was the whisky or the lingering shock of seeing his father in jeans and t shirt and an earring but Arthur was feeling a distinct need for some peace and quiet and he knew from experience that Morgana wouldn’t let Uther hang up any time soon.

The door to the library wasn’t closed, which was unusual because Uther liked doors to be closed. Arthur had never questioned the quirk, growing up. It was just one of those things that made Uther who he was, and yet another thing that seemed to have been cast aside for the new Uther, the one who wore jeans and wanted to talk to his son.

Arthur pushed the door open and stepped into the dimly-lit room and stopped dead, shock at once replaced by a wave of deep anger startling in its intensity, because there was a figure in the corner of the library, leaning over Arthur’s mother’s writing desk – the one item of furniture Uther took from house to house – and Arthur was already moving before his conscious mind caught up with his actions, borne by indignant fury.

The intruder seemed to sense Arthur’s approach but he reacted slowly, realising too late, and Arthur was already upon him as he straightened up, seizing hold of a bony arm with one hand and a handful of thin t shirt with the other and sending the intruder sprawling to the parquet floor.

There was an indignant squawk of protest as Arthur followed him down, using his superior weight to pin the intruder under him. It was harder work than he’d anticipated; the intruder was skinny – now that Arthur had a better look at him he wasn’t much more than a boy – but his determination to get free gave him unexpected strength and he wasn’t giving up – even when Arthur twisted his arm up behind his back hard enough to make him whimper with pain.

“Hold still,” Arthur hissed, twisting the arm up a little bit higher. In response the boy somehow twisted around and kicked Arthur in the shins and, hell, he was a lot stronger than he looked. Arthur gritted his teeth and slammed the boy against the floor.

“Stop fighting!”

“Get off me,” the boy gasped, still struggling.

Arthur managed to shift his weight enough so that he was kneeling across the boy’s legs. In his peripheral vision he saw the door opening again and he turned his head to see his father enter the room. Relief washed over him. Uther could call the police; this could be taken care of; everything was fine.

Uther stopped dead and stared at them.

The boy had gone still, perhaps finally realising that this wasn’t a fight he was going to win. Arthur sat back on his heels and opened his mouth to ask his father to call the police … and that was when his world fell apart.

***

The boy’s name turned out to be Merlin, which Arthur thought was a ridiculous name and indeed he had said as much, right before Uther had given him one of those icy glares Arthur had missed so much and told him tightly that he had done quite enough damage for one evening and to hold his tongue.

It was just like old times, except that Arthur couldn’t ever remember a time when he’d sat in the kitchen of whichever house his father had been living in at the time and watched his father stroke the back of a boy surely younger than Arthur with something terrifyingly like tenderness.

“He’s nineteen,” Gaius said gruffly when Merlin had gone upstairs to change his t shirt – the old one being stained with blood, which was Arthur’s fault and something he was trying not to think about. Uther had gone with him, which Arthur was also trying very hard not to think about.

Arthur nodded, too shaken to even care that Gaius could still read him like a book. He watched the old man potter around the kitchen, disposing of the tissues he had used to clear up the mess of Merlin’s bloodied nose.

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Gaius went on, carefully not looking at Arthur.

“That my father’s having a midlife crisis? I can understand that. How long have you known?” His voice didn’t even sound like his own.

Gaius shrugged. “Not long.”

Which could mean anything. Arthur wasn’t going to push it. He felt nauseated, dizzy.

“I think I’m going to go.”

“What about dinner?”

Arthur thought about it for a fraction of a second. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Gaius nodded, as if he’d expected it.

***

Arthur’s leg hurt like hell for three days, and the impressive-looking bruise that blossomed on his shin was a talking point in the gym for the next two weeks. From time to time Arthur amused himself by pondering the possible reactions if he told enquirers the truth about how he’d acquired the injury.

But he didn’t, because Arthur wasn’t going to think about Merlin.

He’d half-expected the new, altogether human Uther to call him, if nothing else to tell him what an idiot he’d been, but he didn’t. Morgana didn’t call either, and that was worrying. Arthur rang her eventually; just to be sure she wasn’t dead or dying. Morgana was laughing when she answered.

“Where are you?” he demanded.

“I’m making cookies,” she said cheerfully. And then, before he could recover from the shock, she added: “With Merlin.”

And that was just perfect as far as Arthur was concerned. “At Uther’s house?”

“No, he’s here at mine.”

“I didn’t know you knew where the kitchen was in your house.”

“Very funny, Arthur.” The line went muffled, and Arthur heard a door close. “There.”

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t want Merlin to hear,” Morgana said impatiently. “I don’t want it getting back to Uther that I told you to make it up with him.”

“Morgana-”

“Honestly, Arthur, you’re an idiot. Deal with the fact that he has a boyfriend. It’s not totally weird that Merlin’s younger than you. At least he’s legal.”

Arthur banged his head against the wall. It didn’t help. He tried again.

“Just don’t picture them having sex and you’ll be fine.”

Arthur whimpered.

“Ring him. He’s worried about you.”

“Morgana…” Arthur took a deep breath and tried to focus. “Morgana, I slammed his- Merlin, into the floor. I don’t think he wants to talk to me.”

“Idiot,” Morgana snapped, and hung up.

Arthur stared at the phone for a while and then went to find some beer. His sorrows were definitely in need of drowning.

***

The doorbell jolted Arthur out of the blissful haze of sleep and back into a reality where he was lying on the floor of his living room with an empty beer can pressed against his face.

The fact that it wasn’t the only empty beer can in the room provided at least some explanation for how bad he felt, though it didn’t entirely explain why he was on the floor.

“Coming,” he muttered as the bell rang again. Too loud; Arthur winced and struggled to his feet. Something popped. It might have been his spine; there was so much that hurt it was hard to tell.

The walk to the door seemed to talk forever but Arthur would have willingly walked a lot further to avoid seeing Merlin’s smiling face looking back at him when he finally got the door open.

“What?”

Merlin’s cheery smile wavered slightly. “Arthur,” he said politely.

“That’s my name, yes.” And Arthur knew he was being rude but he couldn’t bring himself to care, especially not now he’d realised that he was only wearing yesterday’s boxers and a distinct aroma of stale beer.

“Can I come in?”

No, Arthur thought. “All right,” he said grudgingly, and moved aside to let Merlin past.

Merlin smelled of soap and something else, something familiar. A sick feeling settled in Arthur’s stomach when he realised what it was. Uther was a man of habit and he’d been using the same aftershave since Arthur was a boy.

Arthur closed the door and tried not to breathe.

Merlin was standing in the living room, hands thrust awkwardly into the pockets of his jeans. He looked taller, somehow – not that it had been easy to judge his height when he’d been sprawled on the floor … and Arthur did not need to think about how Merlin had felt underneath him, not now.

“I’m going to get dressed,” he said curtly and fled to the bedroom before Merlin could respond. Part of him hoped that by the time he’d dressed Merlin would be gone.

When he finally emerged Merlin was not gone. He was in Arthur’s tiny kitchen, making coffee. It smelled delicious.

“Thanks,” Arthur muttered when Merlin handed him the steaming mug.

“I hope you don’t mind me using your coffee.” Merlin’s eyes were earnest, imploring. Arthur wondered how much of it was deliberate.

“No.”

They sat in the living room for a while, Arthur feigning fascination with the coffee, Merlin trying not to stare blatantly at him.

“What do you want?” Arthur asked eventually, patience finally running out.

Merlin didn’t answer at once; he looked down at his own mug and bit his lip – and Arthur thought about biting that lip, soothing the hurt with his tongue – and finally glanced back at Arthur.

“Uther – your father…” he began.

“I know who my father is, thanks.”

Merlin flushed, a delicate pink stain across his pale skin. Arthur watched with genuine fascination.

“He wants to see you. Despite, you know.” Merlin floundered again.

“Despite me thinking you were a burglar and beating you up?”

“Yeah.” Merlin’s free hand fluttered against his thigh, where Arthur had shoved his hips down to the floor. It must have hurt, must have bruised. “That.” He looked up, meeting Arthur’s gaze. “Look, I’m sorry about that.”

You’re sorry?” Arthur asked incredulously.

“He should have told you. I told him to tell you.”

Arthur stared at the boy sitting on his sofa, at his flushed cheeks and his ridiculous ears and the full lips that begged to be kissed, and wondered what the hell he was thinking.

“I know it’s not exactly easy for you,” Merlin went on, as if he were unaware of Arthur’s scrutiny.

“I can’t imagine it’s easy for you either.” Shame made Arthur waspish. “Spending my father’s money can’t make up for having to sleep with a man old enough to be your father.”

He was a good actor; Arthur had to give him that. The shocked gasp and the pallor and the indignant anger that almost immediately followed were done to perfection.

“Is that what you think?” Merlin demanded.

“I think you play your part very well.” Arthur was suddenly tired. “But you don’t have to pretend with me. My father’s a rich man. I don’t blame you.”

“You think I’m pretending?” Merlin set his mug down, very deliberately, and stared at Arthur.

“Aren’t you?”

“No.” Merlin started to get up.

He was never sure later how it happened, whether he meant to get up and lost his footing or whether he always meant to push Merlin down to the sofa, but perhaps it didn’t matter because either way that was where they ended up; Merlin on his back and Arthur sprawled on top of him, and it was perfect and wonderful and sickening and wrong. Merlin wasn’t fighting him but he had his head turned away and Arthur had a lungful of Uther’s aftershave and it was as good as a brand as far as Arthur was concerned.

Merlin was Uther’s, and he didn’t want Arthur.

Arthur pushed himself up, away from Merlin, drowning in contrition.

“I won’t say anything to him,” Merlin mumbled afterwards, when Arthur had made him another mug of coffee to replace the one he’d kicked over. When Arthur had apologised over and over again until finally Merlin had simply told him to shut up.

“You can tell him if you like.”

“You’re his son; he loves you. He’s proud of you.”

Arthur snorted; the words slipping out before he could stop himself. “Now I know you don’t know him very well.”

Merlin stiffened for a moment but then he forced a smile. “Maybe. I’ve only known him for a few months. But I know he talks about you all the time.”

“You mean he tells you all the things I’ve screwed up.”

Merlin’s smile became more thoughtful, more considering. “He is proud of you, Arthur. He loves you.”

“Not like he loves you.”

Merlin’s smile became impish. “I hope not.”

Arthur stared into Merlin’s eyes, sparkling with mischief and the promise of what could be – what would have to be enough – and couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’m not … I don’t want his money,” Merlin said later, tucking into the sandwich Arthur had made him. His eyes were fixed on Arthur, imploring him to accept it as truth. “That’s not why I’m with him.”

Arthur’s brain refused to process what with him might entail. “Ok.”

“You don’t believe me.” It was a statement of fact, not a question, and Merlin went on without giving Arthur a chance to respond. “You don’t see what I’d see in him?”

Apart from money? Arthur thought treacherously because, yes, it was obvious that Merlin had never had money, and Arthur had known that even before he’d made his own enquiries about Merlin, the enquiries he was never, ever going to tell Uther about.

“He tried to give me a house,” Merlin said, and his tone was so bewildered, so bemused, that Arthur started laughing again and Merlin stared at him and then he laughed too and Merlin laughing was possibly the most wonderful thing Arthur had ever seen.

“He does that,” Arthur explained, when he’d regained some control. “Don’t worry about it. Which one is he giving you?”

Merlin looked down at his sandwich and then back at Arthur. “He’s not,” he said softly. “I said no.”

“Oh.”

Merlin smiled at Arthur’s confusion but it was affectionate, not mocking. “Come to dinner tomorrow? He’d like it. I’d like it.”

It was a fight that had been doomed from the start and Arthur surrendered to the inevitable. “All right,” he said resignedly, and let himself bask in the warmth of Merlin’s smile.

***

Dinner was every bit as awkward as Arthur had expected for the first ten minutes while Merlin was in the kitchen and it was just him and Uther and Morgana sitting in the study, each determinedly staring anywhere but at each other. But then there came the distinctive sound of something heavy crashing to the floor in the kitchen and a loud yelp followed by a string of colourful and inventive swear words, and Uther – to Arthur’s lasting shock – threw back his head and laughed.

“He’s the clumsiest person I’ve ever met,” he wheezed in explanation, as if this was somehow endearing and not a cause for cold fury as it would have been for the old Uther.

“I’ll go and see what he’s done,” Morgana said smoothly and, with a wink at Arthur, she slipped out of the room.

“Didn’t you get a caterer?” Arthur asked, for wont of anything else to say.

Uther waved a hand dismissively, still smiling. “Merlin said he wanted to cook. He’s not a very good cook,” he added as a fond afterthought.

“I’m sure he has other talents.”

There was a long, drawn-out moment of silence. Uther was staring at him, his face a frozen mask, and Arthur stared back, determined not to back down this time.

“I know this must be … awkward for you,” Uther said eventually. “I thought…”

“You thought what?” Arthur wondered if Uther knew what had happened in Arthur’s apartment. If Merlin had whispered it to him in the dead of night, pillow talk … and Arthur would not, could not think about that. About Uther fucking Merlin the way Arthur wanted to fuck him, Merlin writhing and twisting and bucking under him, breathy moans escaping from his lips, long fingers clutching at the sheets. It was all too easy to picture, all too easy to want.

“I wanted you to like him,” Uther said, forcing a smile, and Arthur had to bite back a half-sob of frustration at the words.

Of course I like him; he was meant for me, he wanted to say, to shout, to scream. Don’t ask me how I know it but I do: he was meant for me, it’s destiny. Written in legend and written in the stars. Can’t you see that he’s meant for me and not for you?

“I do like him,” he said instead, astonished by the evenness of his voice. “He makes you happy.”

Uther’s smile was genuine this time. “Yes, he does,” he said softly.

They didn’t speak of it after that; not through dinner (slightly singed but still edible, and made more palatable by the glorious smile Merlin bestowed on him when Arthur cleaned his plate) and not through an after-dinner conversation that took in the pleasanter anecdotes of Morgana and Arthur’s childhood and Merlin’s story of the Eiffel Tower souvenir, which turned out to be also the story of how Merlin and Uther had met. The telling of it made Uther laugh harder and longer than Arthur had ever seen him laugh before and watching him was an epiphany of sorts for Arthur, a realisation that the strange ménage he had for a family had always included Merlin, somehow.

Written in the stars. Arthur smiled wryly to himself. Perhaps it was.

Finally, long after midnight, Merlin glanced over at Uther and something indefinable passed between them, something that made Merlin blush and Uther smile, and Morgana leaned over to Arthur and elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”

The Laphroaig he’d drunk was still coursing through his veins and Arthur was more than grateful for the lift. The whisky was also insulation from the weight of Morgana’s considering gaze but he knew he wouldn’t make it home without something being said.

“Did you finally work it out?” she asked, not half a mile from Uther’s house.

“Work what out?”

“Merlin makes him happy,” Morgana said flatly.

“Yes.” Arthur stared out of the window at the passing houses. His eyes were starting to glaze over. “I know.”

“It’s better than him marrying a stripper in Vegas.”

“And thank you for that mental image.”

Morgana leaned over and smacked his arm, bringing his attention abruptly back to the present.

“Ow! What was that for?” he demanded indignantly.

She grinned unrepentantly. “You should find yourself a nice boy like that. Since your track record with girls is so disastrous.”

“Shut up.”

“Yes, it’s your sparkling conversation that lets you down every time.”

“I hate you.”

Morgana smirked. “I know.” The car had come to a halt without Arthur really noticing. “And now you’re home. Get out.”

It was raining and the street lights were out again. Arthur peered blearily at the sky as he clambered unsteadily out of the car. “Shouldn’t I escort you home?”

Morgana rolled her eyes. “Unneeded chivalry, Arthur. Get inside before you drown. And think about what I said.”

Arthur let the car door slam closed. The car roared away; Morgana keen to get home to the girlfriend Uther didn’t know she had. Arthur grinned to himself.

He looked up at the sky again. The clouds were starting to clear, the rain was easing, and the moon was full and bright.

On a night like this it was easy to believe in destiny.


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