It isn’t supposed to be this way.
It isn’t - Uther isn’t supposed to be standing here, with his baby boy in his arms and his wife freshly buried. He shouldn’t be dressed in black, Arthur wrapped in a thick blanket of matching colour. At the very least, the sun shouldn’t be shining, even though the day is cold.
But the sun is shining, and Ygraine is gone.
Uther holds Arthur closer when the baby starts fussing, jiggling him like the nurse had taught him. They’re alone now, the other mourners having left once the coffin had been lowered. Uther doesn’t want to move - he doesn’t want to leave Ygraine alone. She doesn’t - they’ve been together since university and Uther doesn’t know how to be without her.
Arthur is a week old.
Arthur is a little over one year old when Uther makes one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
He could argue that he’d been drunk, lonely, they hadn’t known what they were doing. It makes no difference. Vivenne had been spending the night, helping Uther with Arthur, while Gorlois was out of town on (another) business trip.
It’s after Arthur is down for the night and they’re sharing a late nightcap. Vivenne is talking about how lonely she’s been now that Gorlois is taking more business trips (it’s as a favour to Uther, who doesn’t want to leave Arthur on his own for long periods of time), and Uther is commiserating, the loneliness he feels without Ygrainne not abating in the year she’s been gone.
Talking somehow turns to kissing and kissing turns to more. In the morning, Uther wakes up alone. In the afternoon, just after he’s put Arthur down for a nap, Gorlois storms in and punches him.
Uther lets him. He knows he deserves it, and he doesn’t fight, doesn’t argue as Gorlois paces and rants and lets it be known that from now on, he and Uther are business partners and no more.
Arthur never knows his Uncle Gorlois and Aunt Vivienne.
Arthur is seven years old when Morgana comes to live with them.
Morgana knows about Uther, knows that while Gorlois might have raised her, Uther is the one who provided the DNA that created her.
She doesn’t hate him but she doesn’t like him either, and she holds tight to Gaius’s hand and asks when her daddy and mummy are coming home.
It takes her three months to come to terms with their deaths. It takes her a year to finally accept Uther and Arthur as more than just the people she has to live with. It is a very difficult year.
Arthur is eight and Morgana is six when she becomes part of their family.
Arthur is ten and Morgana is eight when he drags home two boys.
One is sturdy, like Arthur, with thick golden blonde curls and blue eyes. The other boy has blue eyes as well, almost painfully bright ones, and an unruly mop of black hair. He’s also so skinny Uther’s half afraid he’ll tumble in a stiff breeze.
The blond is called Leon and Merlin is the dark haired one. They’re both his best friends, Arthur announces, before almost knocking Merlin down with an arm around his shoulder.
Leon is fine. He’s stocky and solid and obviously used to roughhousing. Merlin, though, Uther is very much afraid that Merlin will emerge black and blue from Arthur’s idea of playing.
Except Merlin, as it turns out, is very, very wily. He hides when the playing gets too rough, refusing to come out until Arthur apologises for whatever perceived wrong has happened. After a few months of Merlin being over every day, Uther walks into his living room to find a little figure covered in pillows waving a wooden sword at Arthur and Leon.
He stays long enough to ascertain that the figure is, yes, Merlin, and for Morgana to get bored of playing damsel-in-distress and demand to be a knight or dragon.
Uther is thirty-five when he accepts Merlin’s and Leon’s constant presence in his house.
Arthur is still ten and Morgana is on the cusp of nine when she brings home her own best friend.
This is Gwen, she says, pushing a pretty, dark-skinned, curly haired girl in front of Uther. Gwen, Uther learns, is short for Guinevere, and she’s remarkably polite and sweet. Uther is unsure of how she’ll fare with Morgana, who is, at best, stubbornly independent but holds his tongue.
It turns out he needn’t have worried –Gwen more than holds her own, against both Morgana and Arthur at their worst. Uther witnesses one occasion when she stands in front of his children, treating them to a tongue lashing worthy of him, and decides that she will do well, very well indeed.
It is only later when Arthur looks at Gwen while she and Morgana take command of the game console that Uther realises something.
Morgana is almost nine and Arthur is ten when Arthur gets his first crush.
Morgana is eleven and Arthur is thirteen when Arthur decides to expand his circle of friends.
It’s almost a parade of gangly boys through the house, for a month, each one more rambunctious than the next. Uther decides he very much dislikes Cedric when he catches the boy trying to make off with one of Ygraine’s ceramic figurines, and he detests Valiant when Arthur comes home in bruises and tears because of ‘Valiant’s game’.
Slowly, the parade whittles down to a select few and Uther gets to know their names and personalities.
Lance is as physical as the rest of the boys, but soft-spoken and polite, with an unconscious charm that doesn’t leave Uther unaffected. Elyan is Gwen’s brother, as different from her as Arthur is from Merlin. He is a little loud, a little reckless and very protective of his younger sister.
Percival is the largest of the lot and the quietest. He’s gentle, as evidenced from the way he handles Merlin, and giggles instead of laughs. Gwaine is as talkative as Percival is quiet, and mischievous too boot, as Uther finds to his chagrin when he gets caught in one of the pranks meant for Arthur.
Together, they form a chattering, boisterous group around Arthur, Merlin and Leon, one that is over more days than not.
Arthur is thirteen when he forms friendships for life. Morgana is eleven and seems perfectly happy with only Gwen.
Arthur is fifteen and Morgana is thirteen when he finally gives in to what everyone’s been waiting for and asks Gwen out.
Uther knows nothing about the event until the aftermath of it rips through his home. Morgana is, for some reason, furious, and Arthur is defiant. The boys are conspicuously absent, where they’ve been surrounding Arthur for years.
Uther has no idea what’s going on, neither of his children are talking and the one person he has been able to count on to blab is nowhere in sight.
Things slowly settle down, but they’re not the same. Morgana is not talking to Arthur or Gwen, and has taken up with a blonde girl who wears far too much eyeliner and who scowls at Uther every time she passes him.
The only thing that’s normal is that Arthur’s friends return, though Merlin is hanging out far more with Lance than he usually does. Uther often comes across the two of them, alone, whispering furiously, only to stop once they catch sight of him.
Arthur is fifteen, Morgana is thirteen and Uther is forty-one when his house splits down the middle, with no way, it seems, to mend the rift.
Arthur and Gwen last until the end of his A-Levels.
Once again, Uther is left in the dark about the actual events, but he gleans enough from Arthur’s expression and Morgana’s comments to know the break-up had not gone well.
Merlin, it seems, is not happy with whatever happened either. Uther sees far less of him about the house, though he does see far more of Morgana’s current boyfriend than he would like. He still hasn’t forgiven Valiant for what he did to Arthur.
Lance is missing as well, while Leon and the other boys seem determined to make up for their loss by being as loud and crass as possible. Thankfully, they quieten down when they know Uther’s at home.
Uther has no idea what’s going on and, again, the person Uther can count on to blab is missing.
Arthur is twenty and Morgana has just turned eighteen when she comes home in tears.
It takes Uther, Gaius and, finally, Gwen, three weeks to get her to admit why. The truth knocks Uther off his feet—literally. He finds himself on the floor with no idea how he got there and with Gaius and Gwen bent over him.
Morgana, who’d announced her pregnancy with her customary defiance, is staring at him with wide, apprehensive eyes.
The only thing he can think is to ask who’s the father and where is his sword?
After Morgana finishes yelling at him, Gwen finishes yelling at her and Gaius calms Uther down, they figure out what to do. Morgana refuses to leave the baby to nannies while she finishes her studies and Uther refuses to let her even think about not finishing them.
They settle on an arrangement in the seventh month of her pregnancy and she gives birth two months and five days before her nineteeth birthday.
Arthur is just about to turn twenty-one when he comes home to find out he has a nephew.
Arthur is twenty-two, Morgana is twenty and Mordred is almost one when Uther comes across an invitation for Morgana in the post.
It’s heavy, in a thick vellum envelope and has, neatly stamped in pretty cursive on the back, the names Guinevere Smith & Lancelot du Lac on it.
He supposes this explains a lot about what happened four years ago. It doesn’t explain Morgana’s bad temper or her subsequent wild period, as everyone has taken to calling it, but it does explain why Arthur still refuses to talk to Gwen, even though Morgana has very obviously embraced Gwen back into her life.
He leaves the invitation in her room and does not mention it, even months later when Mordred toddles towards him in a tiny suit and Morgana follows in a stunning dress. He pats Mordred on the head, allows Morgana to kiss him on the cheek and watches them drive off.
Arthur is twenty-two and away at university when his first love marries another man.
Arthur is twenty five when he graduates from LSE with a Masters in Economics. Morgana is twenty-three and has been working for a year, perfectly happy and seemingly deaf to any lectures from Uther about going back to study.
Mordred is four and attends his uncle’s graduation in a suit and sneakers no one could talk him out of, though no one tried very hard. He falls asleep ten minutes into the ceremony and Morgana has to carry him when they leave the hall to look for Arthur.
Arthur is bright eyed and flushed with laughter as he emerges from the crowd of milling graduates. He shakes Uther’s hand and accepts Morgana’s congratulatory kiss on his cheek. Mordred surprises them all by flinging himself out of Morgana’s arms and onto Arthur’s chest.
Though neither of them has shown much affection to each other, Arthur scoops the sleepy boy out of Morgana’s embrace and settles him onto his shoulder. Morgana smiles at him, hand slowly rubbing Mordred’s back.
Uther has to turn away to take care of the sudden frog in his throat.
Arthur is twenty-five, Morgana is twenty-three, Mordred is four and Uther is fifty-one when his family starts its first tentative steps towards reconciliation.
Arthur is twenty-eight and Morgana is twenty-six when she starts dating Leon.
Uther is the unfortunate witness to Arthur’s flailing as he paces the confines of Uther’s office. Uther isn’t sure who he’s more upset at, Leon or Morgana, but, in the end, he manages to work himself into an almost foaming lather.
Uther determines as he’s not the one who started this, he’s not going to be the one who will be dealing with it. He calls Morgana while Arthur continues pacing and ranting, and gets informed that she’s already taken care of it.
Moments later, there’s a knock on his door and Merlin, who Uther hasn’t seen in years, pops his head in.
By the look on his face, Uther suspects Arthur hasn’t seen the other man in just as long. After a very, very awkward conversation, they both finally leave his office and Uther can get back to work on crushing Mercia.
And he’s content, as the person he can count on to blab is back.
Arthur has just turned thirty-one, Morgana is twenty-nine and Mordred is ten when Leon pops the long-awaited question.
Morgana says yes, apparently without hesitation, Mordred appears to be thrilled and Arthur is, once again, in Uther’s office, though this time he’s restricted himself to just ranting.
But Uther knows what to do know and, while pretending to hold a call, he presses three on his speed dial. Five minutes later, Merlin knocks on the open door and, in a whirlwind of cheerful chatter, drags Arthur out.
Satisfied, Uther goes back to work.
The wedding is in autumn, because Morgana looks beautiful in its colours.
She refuses to wear white for the wedding. It’s not her colour, she argues, it makes her look washed out and for god’s sakes, she has Mordred, everyone know she’s not a virgin.
It makes Arthur’s ears go red hot but Merlin just laughs. Uther decides to usher Mordred out of the room and spends the rest of that afternoon playing with his grandson.
In the end, Morgana walks downs the aisle in a deep red gown, one she’d picked off the rack instead of tailored, like Uther had wanted. She allows him to accompany her, holding onto his arm with a tight grip. She’s smiling but Uther can practically smell the panic roiling off her.
They stop a few feet away from Leon, just like the wedding planner had told them to, and turn to face each other. There is no veil to raise but he kisses her on her forehead, whispers into her ear, “Leon has survived Morgause, Arthur and me. If he’s not running, he’s either very stupid or very in love with you. Knowing you, it’s the latter.”
It’s clumsy—Uther has never been good with words, not when it matters—but Morgana smiles and kisses his cheek before releasing him.
Arthur is seated in the first row, and Uther sits beside him. He pretends to not notice how Arthur slips his hand out of Merlin’s.
Morgana is thirty when she marries Leon in the ballroom of the home she’d grown up in. Mordred is ten as he gives his new step-dad his mum’s new wedding ring.
Arthur is thirty-one and Uther is fifty-seven when Leon officially becomes part of their family.
Arthur is thirty-three when he blows into Uther’s home study with all the bluster he uses when he needs to make an Important Announcement (Mordred is the one who named it, and he’d insisted on the capital letters).
Uther, because he can learn no matter what Morgana says, sets aside the contracts he’s reviewing to give his son his full attention. Arthur falters but doesn’t let the attention stop him.
He lifts his chin and announces that he’s dating Merlin.
Uther stares at him, waiting for the punchline. When none is forthcoming, when Arthur keeps staring at him as if waiting for him to pass judgement, Uther finally ventures out a faint “okay?”
Arthur collapses into the chair, like a puppet with its lines abruptly cut. Uther watches him warily, finger already on the button that will speed dial Merlin. Arthur just stares at him and finally, Uther presses the damn button. “I think I’ve broken Arthur,” he says when Merlin picks up, because Merlin has trained him out of social niceties on the phone when it’s an Arthur-Emergency (Merlin’s words, not Uther’s because Uther would never word anything like that).
Merlin trots in fast enough that Uther suspects Arther made him wait outside the study. That makes Arthur gape harder, if that’s possible, but he allows Merlin to collect him, drag him out.
It’s the most fun Uther’s had in years.
Arthur slowly comes to terms with the fact that Uther not only is happy that Arthur and Merlin are together, but that Uther’s known (and been waiting to be told) for years.
Merlin finds enormous amusement in this, teasing Arthur relentlessly, though always at the edge of Uther’s hearing. Morgan, of course, finds the whole matter hilarious, and mocks Arthur in Uther’s presence, though she makes sure Mordred is not around when she does.
Leon, for his part, tends to pat Arthur consolingly on the shoulder and hand him a beer.
Gaius nods approvingly whenever he sees Arthur and Uther together. Uther takes him aside on day and thanks him for forcing Uther’s head out of his arse. Gaius merely smiles and informs him that’s what friends are for.
It’s Christmas when it hits Uther. The table is set and Leon is in the kitchen, cooking up a veritable feast, with Merlin as his willing assistant. Morgana—who unfortunately, takes after Uther in the kitchen—is in the living room with Arthur, who had been banished from the kitchen after distracting Merlin one time too many.
Mordred is sprawled out in front of the fire, fourteen and too teenage cool to join his uncle and grandfather as they talk to Morgana’s belly.
Morgana is almost eight months pregnant and is sure she’s carrying a girl. Leon is just as sure it’s a boy.
Merlin’s taken bets and jotted down odds and is counting down the days to the results. Gwaine, Uther knows, is assisting him and it both warms and annoys Uther that Arthur has managed to really keep those friendships for life. Warms because, well, friends for life and annoys because Gwaine is an adult but is still as ridiculous as he was a child.
Leon comes in to announce the turkey’s just gone in the oven. Merlin, coming in behind him, joins Mordred on the rug in front of the fire, nudging the boy’s shoulder with his own as he sprawls out.
Uther sits back, watches as Leon sits next to Morgana, putting a hand on her belly, watches Arthur heave himself off the sofa and onto Mordred, smirking when his grandson squawks and flails, smirking sliding into a smile when everyone bursts into laughter.
If he lays his head back and closes his eyes, he can almost hear Ygraine in the way Arthur speaks, the way he laughs.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, his life. He and Ygraine had planned for three beautiful children, who would be perfectly groomed to be polite and charming, shining diamonds in a society of precious and semi-precious gems.
Instead, he’s got a hodgepodge of a family instead: a son who’s a little too loud, a little too arrogant and completely, charmingly in love with his best friend; a daughter who’s only half-related to his son, stubborn and wilfully defiant of societal norms; a grandson born out of wedlock, who’s cheek is only matched by his love for his family; and two son-in-laws, both warm and steady in their own ways, and one who can be counted on to blab if pressed right.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way—yet Uther can’t imagine any other life that fits just as perfect as this.