Magic licks against exposed skin, tendrils glowing bright, almost blinding in the darkness that cloaks the room. They’re warm where they make contact, and though they don’t burn, the threat is there nonetheless.
It was never meant to come to this.
It should have been easy, his magic more than enough to overcome whatever hinderance might be posed.
Fate, after all had smiled on him, matching them together like this.
An opportunity like this would never again present itself to the cause, and to pass it up seemed like the ultimate betrayal.
But stood here, now, looking into eyes owned by one he had slowly grown to care for, he realised that maybe what he had been told his whole life, was not actually what destiny intended at all.
For as long as Merlin could remember, the DNA test had been the only method of matching prospective couples. The concept of actually courting someone is so foreign and far removed, that it didn’t even register as a viable method for finding a life partner.
The test had always been there.
And so that’s how Merlin finds himself queued up outside the school nurse’s office with the rest of his year, waiting for his name to be called. All around him everyone else is chatting; voicing their preferences for the test results.
Everyone but Merlin. He remained silent, lost in his own mind.
He honestly has no idea what he would prefer, to be matched straight away, or not. For his record to sit on some database for years and years, maybe forever if a suitable match was never found.
On one hand, if he was matched, then he would spend the rest of his life keeping his magic hidden, all but trapped with someone who was supposedly his genetic equal, but whose personality could be anything under the sun.
The next student is called in, and as the queue shuffles along, Merlin bites at his bottom lip, his nerves trying to overcome him.
He knows if he were to be matched, then he would be the one displaced, there would be no way his home on the outskirts of the city would be considered suitable. Especially given the type of people that share the space, people that under Uther Pendragon’s current administration would be considered outlaws, that even if his match were also a resident of the poorer side of society, they would be guaranteed to be moved to somewhere built for the sole purpose of housing the newly matched, intended to promote a successful relationship.
Merlin could admit, even just privately to himself, that the prospect of getting to move somewhere where he would never have to worry about the heating going out, or whether there would be enough rations to go around, is something to look forward to.
Morgause would slap him one if she knew the directions his thoughts are going, but he couldn’t help it. He moves up another spot, shirt fabric pulling against the rough paint of the wall behind him.
There are only about ten more students in line before Merlin reaches the front, he notices as his fellow peers got closer, their chatter starts to die down, excited speculation becoming muttered half-comments.
Perhaps he isn’t the only one worried over what their result might be.
For the whole of his memorable life, Merlin had lived on the outskirts, amongst the same people.
He had heard to story of how he ended in their care multiple times, that he had been left as a baby outside of Alice’s clinic one evening, wrapped in a deep blue blanket, no other identifying objects but for a small wooden carving of a dragon with the words for Merlin encarved on the underside.
Whoever had left Merlin had clearly known what they were doing, dropping him off on a day when Alice would be the last one to leave the office. Alice, who, though only in possession of the smallest trace of magic herself, lived with probably one of the last communities of magic users remaining in all of Albion.
Even before she had known of Merlin’s powers, Alice had taken in him in, tucking him close to her body and carrying him the whole way home.
The other adults had supposedly been less than impressed by Alice’s choice, though it was not something they would ever consider admitting to, now they knew who and what Merlin was, but there were always rumours, snide glances and glares from those that held resentment.
But though Alice was a kindly woman, she could also be unbearably stubborn when pressed, and from the moment she had lain eyes on Merlin’s tiny form, she had felt something stir in her.
Not just the parental urge, as many would dismiss it, but a something that tugged at her magic, that told her she needed to do all she could to take care of this child who had found their way into her life.
Of course it didn’t take long for Merlin’s powers to become evident. Less than a week in fact.
Living in the home Alice shared with a few other residents, the moment Merlin used magic to float his blanket over to himself one morning, was not only witnessed, but also felt by some of those that still believed in the old legends. Ones that foretold the coming of a light, in the form of two people joined unbreakably by destiny’s threads during the world’s darkest hours.
The first, the Once and Future King, to lead the populace from out of the shadow. The second, Emrys, who would guide the King as his light in the darkness of the world. Both parties sworn to protect each other.
People’s opinions had changed after that, forever influenced by words spoken long before his time.
Merlin remains in shock the whole way home, not registering the world as it carries on around him, people’s voices fading into the background, like a dull but constant buzzing, as if he’s frozen whilst the rest of the world continues to turn without him.
He feels detached, like he’s floating somewhere up in the air, no longer really in control of this life, his body, his mind.
Someone brushes past him. The contact feels sharp, and Merlin shies away, folding further in on himself.
He is glad in that moment that everyone that has been matched is being allowed home early, Merlin doesn’t think he could have managed to endure a whole day acting like everything is fine with this hanging over his head.
Amongst the others that had also received the news that he had been matched there was a feeling of nervous excitement, a feeling Merlin wishes he could join in with.
Instead he found himself leaning against a wall, alone, with his head bowed.
Eyes flicking side to side, he searches for a break in the crowd of students. He wants to be away as fast as possible before anyone takes it into their heads to either ask about his match or even just how he was.
Seizing his opportunity, Merlin presses forwards, footsteps hurrying him along to such an extent that he almost sends himself flying. It’s only by some sort of miracle that he doesn’t end up on the floor, instead he stumbles almost colliding with a fence. Shooting a look over his shoulder in the hopes that no one had notices his almost mishap.
Black shoes devour the grey carpet below them, their purposeful stride unbroken as Arthur heads towards his destination. His shoulders are a tense line, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, and brows creased in the centre.
Reaching the final door, Arthur pauses, straightening his tie and brushing his fringe back into some semblance of order.
Composed, Arthur knocks twice on the door, before opening it without waiting for an invitation.
“Arthur.” Uther greets without even a glance upwards.
“Father.” Arthur greets in return. Neither of them have ever been ones to engage in small talk, especially when it’s clear they are there for business.
There are two empty seats in front of Uther’s desk, Arthur sits in neither of them, choosing instead to focus his attention on one of the few photographs that decorate the walls of the office. It’s one of their whole family, an eleven year old Morgana, hair covering half her face, next to a ten year old version of himself, whose cheeks are pink from the cold weather. Behind them both is Uther, expression relaxed in a manner that he rarely sees these days.
It’s the same picture that Arthur has on the mantelpiece back at his place. It’s one of the few in which they are all present and actually genuinely happy.
The silence between them stretches for a long time. It’s some sort of power game between them, the intricacies much too complicated to explain, but with the aim to make the other speak first.
“I presume you’re here about your match.” It’s not a question, Uther knowing Arthur too well to be in any doubt about why his son is there.
“You promised, that I would get more time.” If he were talking to anyone other than his father, Arthur would have used his trademark glare, but as it is, he knows that that would be the worst move he could make.
“I am aware of that,” Uther answers, not looking up from what he’s reading. “However, the circumstances have changed.”
Arthur exhales a loud sigh, at which point Uther does look up, one eyebrow raised.
“Your match is a resident in, let’s just call it one of the more unsavoury areas of the city.” Finally Arthur had all of his father’s attention. “It would prove dangerous for him to remain where he is, even for a few more months as we had originally agreed. Even more so if anyone finds out you’re his match.”
The longer his father speaks, the more Arthur’s imagination runs wild, trying to picture his match.
“As you know we will be sending a couple of guards down to fetch him in a week. After that you will both move in together.”
“I shall accept no negotiation on this, Arthur. You are not entitled to any special treatment just because you are my son.”
Arthur would have scowled, but instead he settles for crossing his arms over his chest. He’s glad he’s standing rather than sitting. For all the confidence he gains by being on a higher level, it could never amount to enough when it comes to his father.
Knowing the battle has already been lost, Arthur has no other choice but to accept his father’s decision.
“Of course, father.” He nods decisively as he answers. There is nothing else that Arthur wants to say. So disappointed at the outcome, though not, if he’s being honest with himself, is he surprised.
With one last glance at the photo, Arthur turns, he’s halfway back down the corridor before he deflates, acceptance written in the lines of his body.
Merlin could only nod, still completely numb.
“As in Uther Pendragon’s son Arthur?”
“Yes.” Merlin drops his eyes, holding his letter out at arm’s length, using it as a means to take attention away from himself.
A few seconds later, cool air curls around Merlin’s fingers as someone snatches the paper away.
“This is amazing, Merlin!” Alvarr, slung one arm around Merlin’s shoulders, dragging the eighteen year old in close so he could ruffle his hair. “In my wildest dreams I could never have orchestrated something so perfect.”
Face pressed into Alvarr’s chest, Merlin could only nod, least he end up with a mouth full of fabric.
A hand clamps around Merlin’s wrist, giving a sharp tug.
Freed from Alvarr’s - for lack of a better word - hug, Merlin is spun around to face Morgause.
The blonde sorcerer had a genuinely happy smile on her face, an expression that rarely found a home there.
“How’s my favourite sorcerer doing?” She releases her vice-like grip on his wrist, instead taking a more friendly, almost companionable hold on his upper arms.
Blinking slowly, Merlin hides his discomfort behind a confused exterior. “I’m alright,” he shrugs, eyes falling to the left. “Just trying to process everything.”
“I bet you are. It’s a shame they only give you a week, but we’ll be able to make it work.”
“Make what work?” This time his confusion is real, one eyebrow lifted, and head tilted ever so slightly.
“Our plan to capture Uther Pendragon’s son, of course.”
Merlin huffs a breathy laugh before he registers the look on Morgause’s face.
“Wait, you’re being serious, aren’t you?”
Gentle fingers take ahold of his chin, thumb brushing against the smooth skin there. Their eyes meet, and Merlin has to fight hard not to flinch away.
“Oh Merlin, you should know by now.” Her mouth twists upwards, “I’m always serious.”
She presses her thumb against his closed lips for a second, using them as a lever to push Merlin further away from her.
“But don’t worry. We won’t send you in unprepared.”
Arthur gives a grateful sigh as he sips at his coffee, enjoying the heat as it burns down his throat.
On the other side of the table, Morgana cradles her hands around the cup, but she does not drink.
They sit, both silent and content for the break in their normally hectic lives.
Being two years older, Morgana had been matched with her partner since she had taken her own test not four years ago; and whilst she and her partner, who turned out to be none other that Gwen from human resources, someone to whom she was already extremely close, she understood perfectly well that no everyone was so lucky.
It could not have turned out better for her.
But knowing her brother as she did, she could hardly picture him tied down to a stranger, compliant to Uther’s ideals.
This is true especially after the past couple of years, as Arthur had started to question some of Uther’s decisions more and more. Not to their father’s face of course, not after the first time…
“So,” Morgana places her mug back down on its saucer, “what do you know about them?”
Arthur doesn’t respond for a long while, taking another drink from his coffee, until finally:
“What makes you think I know anything?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur. You and I both know that Uther will have already done extensive research, and that you will have confronted him about why you haven’t been allowed more time.”
Putting his mug down, Arthur levels Morgana with a look.
“If you know so much already, why don’t you just tell me what you think about it all.”
“Now, now. That would be too easy for you.” She smirks at his expression.
“I hate you sometimes, you know that?” Morgana’s smirk simply grows at his words. “I know he’s currently living in one of the rougher areas of Camelot, right on the city's outskirts, abandoned as a child, he was adopted by the owner of a local clinic. Average grades, no remarkable skills or talents. By all accounts he’s just an ordinary citizen.”
“What is it that has you stressed out then? Worried that you’ll both end up hating each other, and spend the entire rest of yours lives unhappy?”
Morgana had clearly been intending just to tease him, but that was just it, wasn’t it? How could he, Arthur Pendragon, Uther Pendragon’s son, and Albion’s heir ever hope to express the fact that he was simply worried about not getting along with this Merlin.
Rather than admitting the truth he says:
“I just don’t want to be saddled with some witless child.”
Morgana rolls her eyes, his deflection successful.
“I should have guessed.”
They huddle Merlin through the door, barely giving him a minute to try and take in the opulent surroundings he now found himself in.
His anxiety from that morning returns with a vengeance, the chauffeur's hands on him burning even through his clothes.
Merlin ducks his chin as he attempts to shuffle out of the hallway into a much smaller room.
Since the car had arrived to pick him up two days ago, Merlin had found himself being ferried around from pillar to post as he was poked and prodded beyond what anyone could possibly consider comfortable.
Apparently Uther had required a full and complete screening of Merlin’s health, certain aspects to be passed before he would even be allowed near Arthur.
He had passed, it seemed, not that he would have expected not to, but there was something at least mildly gratify to be able to say he was a good health.
This new room is decorated in a much more modest fashion then anywhere he had been so far, but even so he still found his eyes roving around the room, taking note of all the small things which when combined just screamed of money.
He shakes his head sharply directing his thoughts back to the present, there are more important things to be thinking about, then the decor of somewhere he may never see again.
Shoulders slumping, Merlin spins on his heel, eyeing the black leather sofa. It doesn’t exactly look comfortable, but seating seem like a good idea right now.
He cringed as the fabric squeaked under his weight, and he finds himself sitting stiffly, wanting to avoid making any more unnecessary noise.
Merlin clenches his fist where it rests on his bouncing knee. Pressing down, he tries to halt the erratic movement.
He is about to meet the son of the man who would sooner see him dead than tell him the time of day, and while at another time he be completely petrified, now the only thing on Merlin’s mind right now is the desire to have Arthur like him.
At some point in the time between Merlin discovering who his perfect genetic match is, and now, Merlin has accepted that his life was going to change, and that he needs to make the best out of it.
The day before, some unnamed man had arrived at the room Merlin had been staying in, and taken his measurements despite Merlin’s best attempts to stop him. He had even gone as far as to sit on the floor, legs crossed, refusing to move. In the end the tailor had had to call in one of Merlin’s handlers, the tall man with shoulders about twice the width of Merlin’s own.
Percy, as Merlin had later found out that guard was named, had held Merlin upright, his back pressed firmly against a warm chest.
Held in place whilst the tailor finished with his job, Merlin had fought against the blush that coloured his cheeks as his inseam was taken.
No one had ever touched him with any kind of care, somewhere even as simple as the inside of his thigh.
Percy held Merlin in place for a short moment after the tailor had left, though his hold lost most of his strength.
“I know you’re scared.” Merlin’s eyes had widened, his heart had almost skipped a beat. “I would be too, but Arthur’s a good man.”
Merlin had hummed, allowing himself to sink back into Percival’s hold.
Stress had been wearing at Merlin since the moment he had opened that letter, and he had not had a moment to just let go. Until now.
Eyes closing for just a moment, he had inhaled a slow breath, concentrating on the steady beating of his heart, and the warmth pressing against his back, before Merlin had shifted his weight off of Percy, allowing the guard to move away.
Now he is wearing the product of that day, a well fitted dark blue suit - a colour that apparently brought out his eyes, -along with a crisp white shirt, and black tie. Merlin had never worn clothes of such an expensive style or quality before, and while he could admit wearing them did give him a certain feeling of confidence, at the same time he couldn’t help but notice how over the top the entire thing seems.
Abandoning his leg as a hopeless case, Merlin takes a sip from the water that Mithian, his other guard, brought up for him.
He concentrates on swirling the cool liquid around his mouth, the temperature almost soothing, before he hears footsteps outside.
After his conversation with his father about his match, Arthur had only come to expect the worst, so when the door was opens, and he gets his first sight of Merlin he does a literal double take.
Merlin rises from his seat the moment Arthur had enters - either from some sort of ingrained lesson in politeness, or simply from surprise, but the action allows Arthur a full view of him.
He is skinny, almost painfully so, the close fitting suit doing absolutely nothing to hide that fact. Though he knows Merlin is eighteen, with his large blue eyes, and soft off-black hair he could easily pass as a lot younger.
The words Arthur had been planning to say the moment he meets his match suddenly flee. Finding that they don’t apply now he has actually seen Merlin, intended as they had been for a hardened, and jaded petty criminal, rather than a literal kid.
“I’m Arthur, nice to meet you, Merlin.” He pulls one of his hands out of his pocket, holding it out for Merlin to shake.
When Merlin fails to take it, Arthur almost drops his hand, but the moment before he does, fingers, cool despite the heated room, grasp his hand, halting the retraction.
“Nice to meet you too.” Despite the way he looks, Merlin’s voice is surprisingly deep with just a small touch of an accent, one hidden and long buried by time.
“How was your journey over?” He needs to make a good impression while the guards hired by his father are nearby, likely within hearing distance. Luckily small talk is something Arthur is well versed in making.
They draw apart, Merlin sitting back down in the same spot, and Arthur sits to the left and in front.
“It was…” Merlin’s tongue flicks out, in thought, “strange, I guess? I’ve never been this far into the city before.”
Eyebrow quirking, Arthur has to stifle his initial reaction of incredulity, never before having met anyone with such limited travel experience
“I suppose the area you’re from must feel like the countryside, or as much as anywhere can, these days.”
“Don’t be so supercilious about it. It can be a very beautiful area.”
So Merlin has a bit of fire in him, that is good. He’d never want to be saddled with someone meek and wilting. It’s also nice, Arthur thinks, to be around someone who isn’t star struck by the thought of who his father is - of who Arthur is or will eventually be.
“I’m sure it is. If you’re into that sort of thing.”
A creases appears between Merlin’s eyes, the boy clearly about to retort with some, likely scathing, comment, when a knock sounded at the door, cutting him off.
“If you’re ready, sir. We should make a move.”
“Of course.” Arthur doesn’t look over his shoulder, able to recognise Mithian’s voice anywhere. Instead he watches as Merlin’s eyes track over his shoulder, dark lashes flickering.
Arthur’s almost tempted to comment on what appears to be an apprehensive gesture, but then he remembers where it is that Merlin grew up and stops himself.
He pushes himself up, unbuttoning his jacket as he does so, and waits for Merlin to join him.
“Time to show you where we shall be living.”