When Merlin steps through the door of his dorm room the first time, he’s pleased. It’s a decent-sized room, not one of the matchboxes he’d seen on his visit last spring. He glances around and realizes that he’s arrived first: looks like he gets to choose his part of the room. Excellent.
He dumps his things on the floor beside the door and goes to the window. He looks out, noting the view—not bad—and the location of the sun. He actually likes being awakened by the sun in the mornings, so he chooses the bed that will get sunlight earliest. It’s probably a safe choice anyway, because how many 18-year old boys want to be awake before noon? He begins haphazardly tossing his things into likely places for them to live when he hears the door open. His mom and Gaius—who’d kindly driven them to Camelot this morning—had already said goodbye outside and would be on their way home now, so his roommate must be arriving.
He turns expectantly, with a ready smile. The smile slides into a bemused frown as soon as he takes in the figure in the doorway, though. Someone—a blond, blue-eyed, would-probably-be-gorgeous-if-it-weren’t-for-the-scowl someone—is standing in the open door, hands sternly on his hips, scowling at the room as if he already owns the place (and is not pleased with it). I got here first, Merlin thinks. With an effort he plants the smile back on his face and moves toward the other boy, hand extended.
“Hi, I’m Merlin. You must be my roommate.”
The other boy’s glance touches Merlin’s eyes and skids away, dissatisfaction pouring off him, but he steps forward and shakes Merlin’s hand briefly, with a sigh. “I’m Arthur.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Merlin says, stepping back toward his chosen bed. “I was just unpacking, such as it were, not that there’s much to—“ He waves his hand vaguely at his small pile of things.
Arthur grunts, but doesn’t respond otherwise. Merlin frowns, wondering what he could have done to annoy Arthur already. They both turn toward the door when they hear a noise outside. An older man comes in with a huge trunk, followed by another man carrying more of Arthur’s belongings.
“Is this your father, then?” Merlin asks, moving to greet the older man.
Arthur snorts, and the man addresses him. “Will this be all, sire? If you need anything else, I can send Gareth to fetch it before we return to the castle.” He indicates the other man, who’s just carried yet another bundle into their room. Merlin freezes, stunned by the revelation of who his roommate actually is. “Arthur,” he’d said. Hah. Arthur Pendragon. Prince Arthur Pendragon.
Arthur glances at the stacks of his things—how much stuff does the prince think he needs at college, anyway?—and shrugs. “I’m sure this is fine. Thank you, you may go.”
“Shall I deliver a message to your father?”
“No, he... No. I’ll see you in a few weeks, no doubt. Goodbye, Lionel.” Arthur dismisses the man with a wave, doesn’t really even look at him. He turns back to studying the bed Merlin had left for him.
Merlin watches the exchange and can’t help feeling bad for the servant. Arthur was rude to him. Living with royalty might take some getting used to, Merlin is starting to think. “Sire? You’re Prince Arthur?”
Arthur turns and looks at him directly, his bearing proud and head pulled slightly back as he answers. “Yes. And if you ever call me ‘sire’—or ‘prince’ for that matter—“ He looks at Merlin fiercely, but doesn’t finish the threat.
Merlin thinks proud looks pretty good on him, but supercilious? Not so much. He’d like to knock that particular expression right off the prince’s face. “Right,” Merlin replies, glancing around. “I’ll just— I’ll just finish putting my things away.”
The next time he glances over his shoulder, he sees Prince Arthur perched on the edge of his unmade bed, head in his hands, looking like the entire world has been dumped on his shoulders.
The first time Arthur sees Merlin, he’s struck dumb. Gawky, thin, but with incredible blue eyes and a wide, utterly sincere, happy smile. He’s immediately charmed, although he makes a point not to let on at all. Instead, he stands in the doorway of what will soon be their dorm room, hands on his hips, and scowls. He watches Merlin’s smile turn to a frown and then, determinedly, somewhat less brightly, back into a smile as he steps forward.
“Hi,” he says, “I’m Merlin. You must be my roommate.”
Arthur catches Merlin’s eyes with his own, but immediately glances away again. He saw no recognition there, which doesn’t seem possible: Arthur’s been paraded through the press his entire life. The whole world knows his face, and so anyone who lives here in Camelot certainly should. It’s not like he went to some far-off land for college. The uncertainty makes Arthur uncomfortable: he’s used to knowing where he stands with people (meaning: they believe everything they’ve read, he sullenly endures the attention while putting on a pretty smile. It convinces most people). He sighs and steps forward to shake Merlin’s hand. “I’m Arthur.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Merlin steps back again in the direction of the bed he’s apparently claimed. “I was just unpacking, such as it were, not that there’s much to—“ He waves his hand vaguely at the small pile of things near his bed.
Arthur wonders whether—no, honestly, he’d known all along he’s brought too much stuff with him. A noise at the door alerts him that Merlin is about to see just how over-prepared a prince can be for his first year away at university. Lionel brings in the first of his trunks, with Gareth right behind him bringing another.
“Is this your father, then?” Merlin asks, moving toward Lionel and Gareth.
My father? Arthur snorts. Before he can say anything suitably cutting, though, Lionel reveals Merlin's mistake.
“Will this be all, sire? If you need anything else, I can send Gareth to fetch it before we return to the castle.” He gestures toward Gareth, who has just carried yet another bundle into the room. Arthur suppresses a wince at the sire.
Out the corner of his eye, Arthur sees Merlin freeze. Confused? Stunned? Shocked? Something worse?
Arthur shrugs. “I’m sure this is fine. Thank you, you may go.”
“Shall I deliver a message to your father?” Lionel asks.
“No, he...” He didn’t bother to accompany me to my first day of college, or even see me off at the castle this morning. I have nothing to say to him right now. “No. I’ll see you in a few weeks, no doubt.” Just as soon as my father decides it’s time to parade me around some event. “Goodbye, Lionel.” He waves and turns back toward his empty bed, composing himself before he has to face Merlin and the inevitable questions.
Merlin apparently recovers from his shock sufficiently and stutters, “Sire? You’re Prince Arthur?”
Arthur turns and looks directly at Merlin, standing tall and proud, as he’s been taught, shoulders and head pulled back as he answers. “Yes. And if you ever call me ‘sire’—or ‘prince’ for that matter—“ He gives Merlin a look that’s meant to be fierce, but Merlin doesn’t really seem to react to it. He supposes he should have finished the threat, but honestly, what was he going to threaten him with? Violence? Right. I’ll be really mad at you? He shakes his head.
Merlin tilts his head slightly, studies Arthur as if he’s trying to puzzle him out. Then, just as Arthur has begun to feel a familiar discomfort under the scrutiny, he shrugs. “Right.” He glances back at his side of the room. “I’ll just— I’ll just finish putting my things away.”
When Merlin turns away, Arthur sinks onto his bed and lowers his head into his hands. How badly have I screwed this up already?
Despite himself and his ridiculous misery, he can’t help but take the opportunity to get a better look at Merlin. He likes the ways Merlin’s jeans hang low on his skinny hips and, yeah, he’s kind of bony, but his hands. He was too distracted by Merlin’s eyes and smile before to notice any other details. His rumpled dark hair and those ears, which are huge and make him look kind of goofy, but endearing at the same time. There’s something oddly appealing about Merlin. Something familiar, too, although he isn’t sure what.
Arthur throws himself back on his bed, legs dangling off the side, not quite touching the floor. He stares at the ceiling and lets his mind wander off in the quiet room (the only sounds are Merlin thumping and scooting his things into their new homes, and the occasional soft hum). He falls into a dream, though he thinks, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he’s still awake. The dream—or is it a memory? Is it something that already happened, or something that will happen? It’s Merlin, laughing at him, making fun of him, and smiling at him with a warmth he’s not sure he’s ever seen. Certainly not from his father. Maybe from Morgana, when she was little and still thought he was the best big brother ever. Not quite the same, though.
The dream scene changes and it’s night-time and there’s a fire lit in a fireplace near his bed. It reminds him of his rooms in the castle, but there’s something off about it. He’s lying on his bed in the firelight, bare-chested, waiting, in lightweight pants with drawstrings. Someone approaches and when he turns his head he sees Merlin. The fire reflects in Merlin’s eyes, but he doesn’t think that’s the cause of the heat blooming in his chest. Merlin climbs onto the bed and lies in front of Arthur, reaches a hand to cup Arthur’s jaw and rubs his thumb along Arthur’s cheekbone. He leans closer and kisses Arthur, gently, lovingly. It seems so real that Arthur begins to wonder whether he really had fallen asleep. (Though if he had, would he even be thinking about this?)
The scene changes again, and this time it has to be the future because he and Merlin are both much older. It still seems off, though. The furniture...something. Arthur sits in his throne. He glances to the side and sees Merlin, with a soft, warm smile, looking at him. The clothes. Why is he imagining himself and Merlin in such old-fashioned clothing?
He suddenly sits up. Glances toward the other side of the room. Merlin still has his back to him, is now making his bed.
Why is he imagining himself and Merlin at all? Yes, he’s attracted to Merlin, but he’s only just met him. He doesn’t know anything about him aside from his smile and his...politeness. Also possibly his lack of intelligence, if you were to judge by him not recognizing Prince Arthur standing right before him. He runs a hand over his face and through his hair (making it stand straight up, no doubt).
He shakes his head, tells himself to get a grip on his imagination. Kissing Merlin in the firelight in his bedroom? That was definitely taking things too far considering he’d only just met the guy. He drags himself off the bed and forces himself to put away a few necessities and make the bed. They still have dinner to get through, but then he’d like to get some sleep. Try to start fresh in the morning.
That night, Arthur tosses and turns in his bed. It’s comfortable enough, and the room isn’t awful. It’s just...he’d been so determined that he would behave like a normal college student, actually make friends who aren’t pre-screened for him by his father. Instead, nearly the first thing he said to his new roommate—who is probably a perfectly nice guy, not that Arthur was likely to find out at this rate—was to more or less threaten him. And then proceed to have ridiculous fantasies about him, within minutes of their meeting. He has to admit to himself that he’s embarrassed. And stunned, frankly. He’s never had that sort of reaction to anyone before, no matter how good-looking they were or how attracted he was to them.
And then dinner. Arthur groans quietly. Merlin had no idea what was going on in Arthur’s head, of course, but Arthur was so messed up at dinner that he was barely responsive, let alone polite or engaging or anything else that would have been pleasant in any way. Merlin was unfailingly polite, however, if a bit bemused by Arthur. He caught a few sly grins that he didn’t understand at all, that Merlin hid away quickly.
Honestly, Arthur is just confused. He’s uncertain, where he’s accustomed to being, well, protected. Insulated. Now he’s floundering.
He turns over again, beating his pillow (his perfectly good pillow, which had been carried here from the castle). Sighs again.
Arthur freezes and glances over toward Merlin’s bed. He can just make him out in the dim light filtering through the curtains from the streetlamp outside. “Yeah?”
“You okay?” Merlin asks, sitting up until he’s reclined on one elbow and lifting a hand to rub at his eye.
“Yes, of course,” Arthur replies briskly, and winces at his own instinctive response. (Will I never learn?) He tries again. “I...I’m sorry, Merlin, for being such a jerk today.”
“Really? Is that what’s keeping you awake?”
Arthur chuckles quietly. “Yes?” It’s only because they’re talking in the dark in the middle of the night that he’ll admit that.
Merlin flops back on his bed and laughs. Arthur thinks he rolled his eyes at him, but he doesn’t really know as it’s too dark to see Merlin’s eyes. After a moment, Merlin speaks up again. “It’s okay, you know. Tomorrow’s a new day. You can make it up to me.” He chuckles and turns over, back to Arthur, clearly ready to go back to sleep.
Arthur smiles slightly, turning Merlin’s words over in his head. Another chance. He’s not sure he’s ever had that opportunity before, has always had to speak and behave to please his father.
“Okay,” he replies. “Thanks. See you in the morning.” He turns on his side and settles into the pillow. He thinks he’ll probably be able to sleep now. And who knows what might happen tomorrow. Maybe he’ll learn to behave like a normal human being. Overnight. Right.