An outsider could see it, perhaps; the universe, certainly, can. There haven't been many like them. Not in the past, and not in the future. Their lines curl together, always, almost always, a meld of minds and bodies, and the silver-tongued sword of destiny. Rarely will a life pass without their union – well, there was the Great War, and them on disparate sides. Mostly, though, not even a decade will go by, before they find each other – curled together, in an earlier war, both their jackets red, and marred with gunpowder. Sometimes the world just lets them be and, when they entangle, crookedly or easily, they might be equals, or not; might be friends, or not. (Once, Arthur was a red-headed woman with a rather militant parasol, who'd been more than a little irritated to realise that he – the one she'd been waiting for, in a skin-deep and inarguable kind of way – was, indeed, a he.) Occasionally, just occasionally, they miss each other all together, almost wilfully, almost as if the sheer weight of feeling is too much for that particular generation – but even that remains a part of their togetherness, even when they never touch.
Once time, it was a mere thirteen months, before destiny tipped and lapped at their souls, and pushed them into each other's worlds.
Or, technically, pushed Merlin into Arthur's.
Seeing as how Arthur was the eldest son, and all.
Oh, but the universe was giggling as it made them, that time; as it knit the magic child together, knit him in the same womb as had already woven the once-and-future. It was the Old Religion, coming out to tease, to play; appearing, in a world that either denied it, or relegated it to the corners of bookstores – one shelf down from self-help, and not too terribly far from UFOs.
Merlin, their mother named her second son, and Arthur, her first. Their old names, this time, then; their originals. She was re-reading Lawhead as her womb contracted back, and as her breasts hung heavy, and she smiled, as Arthur watched pensively from his crib, humming at his hand as the new baby suckled. She ruffled his hair, fondly, content, when he learnt to talk, and labelled the littler one as mine.
And the universe? Ha, the universe danced.
Destiny is a wicked thing, you see, but positioned in such a way that you can't really consider it so. It floats, above and beyond the laws of steady men and bright-eyed women; you can't judge it, for it won't allow it. What should destiny care, if the three-year-old declaring his wish to marry his older brother is greeted with nothing more than a laughing huff from a grandmama?
(As for their father, who even knows.)
Merlin reads from a picture book, about a little blue steam engine with fish caught in its water tank, and he cries when they make fish and chips out of them. Arthur elbows him roughly, but makes up a new ending all the same.
(The neighbours, if you're curious, tell stories about a busty postmistress in northern Spain, or crippling debts from too much love for the ponies, or a car accident, or the day, in late June, when the boys' mother's husband simply took a bag and walked out, without so much as a word, and never came back. These things happen, you know they do.)
Arthur likes girls, and, so, therefore, does Merlin. That's as much logic as Merlin puts into it, so he's vaguely surprised when Pete, who's supposed to be dating Angelica, anyways, kisses him beside a vending machine. Pete tastes of Pepsi and Wrigleys, and not Arthur, and it's funny that that's what it takes for Merlin, after all this time, to realise that he might have a problem.
(Arthur doesn't believe in problems. It's just Merlin, after all.)
The first time, they'd been so small that it didn't even count. Ditto for the second. Possibly the third. They were just kids, just children. Playing doctor. Playing families. Who had it bothered, and hands can only do so much, and it wasn't as though they were hurting anyone.
(Of course, when Arthur was ten, Merlin just recently nine, Arthur actually had, abruptly, realised a lot of things. He wasn't really as dense as sometimes people thought, you see.)
When they're fifteen, they go camping, and there's a storm, and the tent caves half in. They huddle together, in a corner, and bitch about how dumb this all is, and how shite the weather can be, and maybe their father really is in Spain and I bet they have more sunshine there, and why didn't they just stay at home like their mother had advised, and Arthur's breath is so hot at Merlin's throat. Merlin doesn't know how it happens, though he's pretty sure it's Arthur's fault (everything is, naturally), but Merlin's hands are running up and down Arthur's back, and touching bare skin beneath layers of clothes, and Arthur moves to glare at him, and Merlin moves too, misjudging, and then they're tangled, and they're fifteen, and they're hard, and all it takes is a shift or two, a push, a moan; Merlin's eyes wide, Arthur's eyes clenched tight, and it's done.
They're quiet, on the way home. Until they realise how unnatural it sounds. And then they're very loud. To compensate.
There's guilt, of course. They're not really children any more, and they know it. Know things. Know how the world works.
Don't know jack shit about destiny, of course, or the way that the universe purrs when they realise they're staring at it each other. Again.
Arthur dates the sister of a guy on his football team. Merlin paints his nails blue and hangs out with a bloke who plays significantly too much Halo, but who doesn't mind if Merlin likes to press against him, in the breaks between shooting things.
They barely talk, by the time they get to college, though they speak all the time.
Sometimes, spoken silence is the easiest way out.
And neither of them can quite say how it happens, in the end, that evening, in the middle of winter, with their breaths white between them, and Merlin's lips parted, and Arthur's hands rough on Merlin's arms, and college books long forgotten in a bag on the steps, in a neighbourhood where nobody knows them, and they mark each other, with tongues and teeth and tight-gripped knuckles, until they know nothing but their names, and only those because they transcend time and space itself.
The pleasure is a flush of pain, and the pain is a curve of reality, sharp in the shifting fog of the night.
Destiny rubs its hands and makes it easy for them, dangerously so. Nobody's ever believed they were brothers, not to look at them.
There's a windfall, a scholarship, a chance to get away, and a foreign country wraps itself sweet around their shoulders.
And the universe purrs, as Merlin's eyes gleam shades of gold, and Arthur bucks, and they gasp about fucking and feelings, and lock together, how they were always meant to be, always, always, and Christ.
Destiny is a silver-tongued sword, but this time it kisses them, as they curl in sin and fake names, and breathe.