Merlin switched off the telly and turned towards Arthur with a grave expression.
"We need to talk."
Except Arthur did not want to talk. He had an inkling of what it was going to be about and he would just rather avoid it at all costs.
Arthur felt dread well up in the pit of his stomach, even though he knew this conversation was coming sooner or later ever since he first caught Merlin furiously texting Morgana a month ago.
“Mmm,” he murmured noncommittally. “Do we?”
Merlin nodded. “Yes, there’s something –”
Slightly panicked, Arthur adopted his age old strategy of distraction and leaned forward to place a lingering kiss on Merlin's lips.
Merlin squeaked in surprise and immediately pulled away to glare at him. "Really?” he exclaimed. “That stopped working on me about sixteen months ago!"
Arthur raised his eyebrows. "Is that a challenge?"
Merlin sighed exasperatedly. "Don't –”
Arthur pinned Merlin against the backrest and tipped his head back to start planting kisses down his neck.
"Arthur, no –” Merlin tried but his weak protest was cut off when he inhaled sharply and dug his nails into Arthur's shoulder when Arthur grazed his teeth on a particularly delectable spot of warm skin.
Merlin went still and tilted his head back even more, his breathing becoming shallow. Arthur cheered inwardly.
Crisis successfully averted.
Merlin came to his senses much too soon for Arthur’s liking and pushed him off, his face coloured a deep red. "Stop it! Do not touch me until this conversation is over."
Arthur crossed his arms in objection. "You're the worst. I don't want to talk."
Merlin ignored him, straightening his frayed Spiderman t-shirt that had been worn so many times that the loose neckline drooped below his collarbones, and honestly who permitted him to walk around like that?
"It's about your father,” Merlin said stoically. “Apparently he's been inviting me for dinner for the last four months and you've neglected to tell me."
Arthur flushed slightly and grumbled, "I can't believe you even know about that."
He didn’t even know why he was feeling guilty. He had good reasons for not telling Merlin. Valid reasons like his father being incapable of human emotion.
"I have my sources," Merlin let him know haughtily.
Arthur scoffed. "Oh, please. Don't act like it wasn't Morgana."
Because of course it was. It had been his worst nightmare to discover that Merlin and Morgana had struck up a sudden friendship out of nowhere and both of them had enough embarrassing stories about Arthur to send him to an early grave out of sheer mortification.
"And what if it was?” Merlin questioned with a fiery countenance. “I would've expected to hear it from you."
"I couldn't!” cried Arthur, running a hand frustrated hand through his hair. “You can't have dinner with my father, Merlin."
"Tell me one good reason why not!” demanded Merlin.
"He hates you.”
"I hate him too."
"Exactly! People who hate each other don't have dinner together," Arthur pointed out sensibly. What was so hard to understand about that?
Merlin held up a finger. "I hate him but he's also, unfortunately, the one who spawned you -"
Arthur spluttered, “ –spawned me?”
" –and I want to meet him as my boyfriend's father, not the soulless commercial lawyer he is,” Merlin informed him matter-of-factly.
“Excellent, that’s how you should start the conversation,” Arthur said sarcastically.
He sighed and tried to make Merlin see reason. “Listen, my father isn’t like your mum. He’ll humiliate us both and I’m just trying to save you an incredibly unpleasant evening –”
"I’m not scared of him,” Merlin interrupted heatedly. “Arthur, we've been together for two years and you didn't even tell him about us for the entirety of the first one. Haven't I cured you of being a coward yet?"
Arthur gave an incredulous laugh. “I’m the coward? Wait, help me out here. Wasn't it you who went out with Freya for a week because you were too afraid to tell her you were already taken?"
Merlin’s cheeks instantly turned pink, and he crossed his arms defensively. "I wasn't scared. Freya is a very sweet girl, and I just didn't want to hurt her feelings."
Arthur snorted disbelievingly. "Yes, because your fake girlfriend catching you making out with your actual boyfriend must've spared her feelings.”
Merlin threw up his hands. "God, will you ever stop bringing that up?"
"No, never,” Arthur replied flatly, suppressing a smile at the memory. It had been quite the debacle. Merlin still couldn’t look Freya in the eye.
"Besides, you're -you're changing the subject!” Merlin accused with narrowed eyes. “The point is that you didn't tell your father about me for a full year."
Arthur scoffed. "Nonsense, he knew about you the whole time."
"Being under the impression that I was your weird friend who made you drop commercial law through brainwashing and/or hypnotism doesn't count as knowing about me,” Merlin informed him scornfully.
Arthur smirked. "But you are my weird friend who got me to drop commercial law through brainwashing and/or hypnotism. Haven't figured out which yet."
"Arthur!" Merlin cried in outrage. "Just –just promise you'll accept the invitation next time and tell me about it!"
Arthur avoided Merlin’s gaze and rubbed a tear in the sofa’s fabric.
"Arthur," Merlin warned dangerously.
Arthur groaned loudly and fell back on the sofa, covering his face with his hands in frustration. "Eurgh fine, fine. Have it your bloody way,” he caved angrily. “You two can meet and make my life unbearable. Happy?"
Merlin diffused the tension in the room by chuckling, satisfied at last and climbed on top of Arthur. "Yes, very. And if you don't tell me, I'll know anyway. I've got a trustworthy ally in Morgana."
Arthur rolled his eyes, his hands absently settling on Merlin's hips. “I knew she was the one I should've been keeping you away from."
Merlin grinned and leaned down to peck his cheek. "Love you."
Arthur scowled. "I hate you."
The dreaded call arrived much sooner than Arthur was anticipating. He’d been hoping for a bit more time to get used to the idea of Merlin and his father in the same room but only three days after his talk with Merlin, Uther Pendragon’s caller ID flashed on his mobile.
He set his laptop aside and steeled himself as he swiped to pick up the call.
"Father,” he greeted, making his voice as devoid of emotion as possible.
"Arthur,” Uther acknowledged and continued without bothering with pleasantries, “I'm having Morgana for dinner next Saturday evening. Would you like to join us?"
Uther made it sound like it was a choice but it really wasn't. Arthur had tried to get out of it plenty of times to know by now.
Arthur frowned, a little taken aback. "Just me?" he asked sceptically.
Uther paused. "Why, I'd given up on inviting your hippie lover since he clearly doesn't want to meet me."
Arthur sighed, feeling the particular brand of headache incoming that only his father had the ability to induce. “He’s not a hippie, he’s an environmental law student.”
Uther sniffed. “Same thing.”
“Yes, well,” Arthur coughed. “Merlin might be a bit more open to it now.”
“Oh?” his father sounded surprised in his horribly snotty way. “I should consider myself lucky, I suppose. Will Merlin be able to make it next Saturday then?”
Arthur knew Merlin was free that day, knew they didn’t have any other plans than to unwind after a long week of studying –to order unhealthy takeout, watch some movie they’d already watched a dozen times only to lose interest in it halfway and stumble towards the bed with greedy mouths and roaming hands, and then to sleep in late the next morning.
Arthur knew he should accept, like Merlin had told him to. He had made a promise.
“I’ll ask him and let you know,” Arthur said, his throat tight. So much for the promise.
Uther grunted, clearly peeved at the vague answer. “See that you do. I’ll email you to the venue and time shortly.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “You could just text me, you know.”
Uther ignored him and said formally, “Good day, Arthur,” before hanging up.
Arthur rubbed a hand across his face and collapsed on the bed, sinking into the plush mattress. He almost hoped that it would swallow him and suffocate him to death.
Arthur sighed. Merlin and his father were the most stubborn people he knew, and their moral codes, principles, lifestyles were the exact opposite of each other. Arthur just could not see a scenario of their meeting which wouldn’t end in disaster. Unless one of them was gagged and couldn’t speak.
Well, Uther would disown Arthur if he were to ever do that and Merlin really wasn’t into that sort of thing.
The bottom line was that Arthur really didn’t want to be put in a position where he would be forced to choose between the two of them.
“What am I going to do, Morgana?” he whined, looking blankly up at the ceiling.
Morgana viciously kicked his leg and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. “You could get out of my flat before I have to call security and kick you out.”
“I'm serious,” Arthur responded. “This is a bad idea and it's all your fault.”
Morgana huffed indignantly. “How is it my fault?”
Arthur turned his head sideways to glare at her reproachfully. “If you'd just kept your big mouth shut, Merlin would've never found out and –”
Morgana laughed and primly crossed her arms over her chest. “And then what? You would've directly sent Uther an invitation to your wedding?”
“My point is,” Arthur bit out, refusing to visualise any weddings, “that it was none of your business.”
Morgana shrugged indifferently and pulled out her phone as if this conversation wasn’t worth all her attention.
“This was bound to happen sooner or later, Arthur,” she informed him. “Just get it over with would be my advice.”
“That’s rubbish advice,” said Arthur. “I knew I should’ve gone to Gwen instead.”
“Nobody’s stopping you,” Morgana muttered, and Arthur chose to ignore that barb because Morgana was an evil banshee and couldn’t help her nastiness.
“Except I think she likes Merlin more and would probably take his side,” Arthur admitted begrudgingly.
While Arthur had come to accept it, dating Merlin meant letting all his friends inevitably fall in love with him and favour him in all situations. Arthur couldn’t blame them, he was helpless when it came to Merlin too.
Morgana smirked and kicked his foot. “For the record, I like Merlin more too.”
“Yes, but I’m your brother and you’re obligated to help me.”
“What the hell do you want me to do about it?”
“I'll tell father that Merlin can't make it this time and you could not tell Merlin about it?” Arthur suggested hopefully, sitting up so he could look her in the eye.
“Hmm,” Morgana considered with a grim expression, and then shrugged. “No, sorry. Can't do that.”
Arthur was aghast at her audacity. “Morgana!”
“I won’t betray Merlin,” she informed him nobly.
“The least you could do is make up for the way you’ve ruined my life,” Arthur hissed bitterly. “You sound like you’ve sworn him some oath of fealty. When did you two become so close anyway?”
“We meet whenever we have time, mostly to discuss you,” Morgana replied nonchalantly.
Arthur’s eyebrows climbed high. “Discuss me? What about me? What did you tell him?”
Morgana grinned at him evilly. “Nothing he doesn’t have a right to know.”
Arthur’s blood froze in his veins. “If you told him the football incident –”
“I don’t think he would still be with you if he knew about the football incident. Would he?” Morgana mused like she wasn’t casually playing with Arthur’s life.
Arthur exhaled and got up. He didn’t have time for this. The bar exam was inching closer by the day and he didn’t need this.
“Listen,” he said in a tired voice. “Just –distract father somehow, so he doesn’t pay as much attention to us. Maybe tell him about your Peru shenanigans.”
Morgana brightened up at that. She always did love an opportunity to make the vein in Uther Pendragon’s forehead throb angrily. It was somewhat of a speciality of hers.
“Fine,” she conceded, getting on her feet as well. “I’ll come up with something adequately scandalous.”
“Thank you,” Arthur smiled, relieved.
He was surprised when Morgana awkwardly stepped forward and enveloped him in a tight hug.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” she whispered softly in his ear. “And give Merlin some credit, he wouldn’t do anything to put you in a difficult position. He loves you far too much for that, though I can’t fathom why.”
Arthur laughed and squeezed her once before letting go.
“Now, get out,” she ordered, pushing him towards the front door of her obscenely extravagant flat. “I have a very sexy lunch date waiting for me.”
Arthur smirked as he grabbed his coat. “Send Mithian my love, and ask her out already. She makes a terrific girlfriend.”
Morgana made a disgusted face. “Don’t remind me of that horrible month you two dated all those years ago, I’m trying to erase it from my memory. I can’t believe she would stoop to your level.”
“How dare you!” Arthur exclaimed in mock-outrage. “We were sixteen and each other’s first love.”
“That’s tosh,” Morgana scoffed. “She told me that the only reason she said yes to you was so that she could be closer to me.”
Arthur grinned smugly. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
Morgana groaned loudly, gave him the finger and firmly shut the door in his face.
It was Thursday. It was Thursday and Arthur still hadn’t reverted to his father’s email with regard to Merlin’s availability nor told Merlin about it.
He was in deep water now.
Arthur’s eyes scanned the page for the fourth time but his brain still didn’t manage to register a single word.
They were in Arthur’s flat and he had promised himself to be productive at least for a couple of hours that evening. He’d bribed Merlin with food and the promise of sexual favours to come over and give him company. After all, Merlin’s lap was a tried and tested spot for some of Arthur’s best study sessions.
Merlin’s hand in his hair stilled. “Will you please get your giant head off my lap? My leg’s been asleep for an hour,” he complained.
“No,” Arthur answered flatly, but did slide down a little to take some weight off Merlin’s thigh.
Merlin let out an entirely too long-suffering sigh but did resume stroking Arthur’s hair with his left hand while he tapped and swiped on his phone screen with his right.
Arthur put his notes down and glanced at him from his upside-down position with some amount of suspicion. “What are you doing?”
Merlin didn’t look at him. “Nothing,” he said quickly.
Arthur’s suspicion increased dramatically.
“Are you playing Words With Friends with Gwen while I’m studying?” he enquired.
Merlin snorted and raised his eyebrows at Arthur. “Studying? You’ve been staring at the same page for the last twenty minutes.”
“At least I’m trying,” Arthur griped, feeling his face go hot at being caught. “Might I remind you that you’re supposed to be looking at grad schools?”
And like a light switch, Merlin closed off.
He turned his face away, his expression going blank and Arthur knew something was wrong.
He sat up slowly and placed a hand on Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin bit his lip and Arthur saw his Adam’s apple bob nervously.
“What is it?” he asked softly. “Did you hear something?”
Merlin stayed silent but tentatively met Arthur’s eyes, such raw vulnerability on his face that Arthur felt his stomach clench.
Merlin swallowed and looked down at his hands. “I –” he hesitated. “I um, got emails from a few unis I applied to. Edinburgh being one of them.”
Oh. Oh. Arthur’s heart climbed up his throat.
His hand on Merlin’s shoulder tightened in anticipation. “What did it say?” he breathed.
Merlin didn’t respond and realisation dawned.
Arthur sighed, pulling Merlin closer. “You didn’t open them, did you?”
Merlin wrapped his arms around Arthur’s middle and buried his face in Arthur’s neck. “I’m scared,” he admitted in a small voice.
It was Merlin’s dream to get into a good LLM program, something he’d excitedly talked Arthur’s ear off for ages. His entire self-worth was practically rooted in it. And now for his whole future to be resting in a small device in the palm of his hand, to know if he had made it or not…it was terrifying.
Merlin was a generally confident person but there was a side to him that was devastatingly insecure, riddled with self-doubt. No wonder he hadn’t been able to muster the courage to open it.
Of course Merlin was scared. Of course. All the signs had been pointing to it. Distracting himself, refusing to be alone, inserting himself into Arthur’s life so he didn’t have to think about his own…how could Arthur not have noticed before? Merlin probably would’ve ended up in his flat even if Arthur hadn’t bribed or even asked him. He was so preoccupied with his own problems with the bar exam and his father, that he hadn’t even realised that Merlin wasn’t being himself. How could he have been so self-centered?
Hot feelings of guilt and shame bubbled inside him.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Arthur asked softly.
Merlin shrugged imperceptibly and Arthur held him closer.
“I didn’t want to bother you with it,” he admitted.
“Merlin –” Arthur started to say but then his phone started blaring loudly.
He irritably glanced at it and paused.
Arthur swore under his breath. Trust her to choose the worst time to call.
Arthur looked at Merlin in his arms and then at the phone, conflicted.
As if sensing his thoughts, Merlin sniffed and pulled away. “Go on, take it,” he mumbled, wrapping his arms around himself and looking utterly lost.
Arthur ached to comfort him but couldn’t because it was Morgana and she never called him unless it was important.
“I’ll be just a moment,” Arthur promised, pressing a kiss to Merlin’s temple.
He picked up the phone, furiously swiped to accept the call and snapped, “What?”
"Uther Alert,” came Morgana’s bored voice.
‘Uther Alert’ was a code he and Morgana had made up when he was ten and she was twelve. Back then it had meant a game where they hid from their father whenever they saw him approaching, giggling and struggling to keep quiet as he looked for them in the massive Pendragon mansion. Now it had transformed into a duty to inform each other if they found out that Uther was going to be dropping by their place unannounced, as he had an infuriating tendency to do.
"Wha –right now?” Arthur exclaimed, clutching the phone firmly against his ear.
"Yes,” drawled Morgana. “Be thankful I managed to give you some warning. Our ETA is seven to eight minutes from now."
"’Our’? You're also coming? Why?"
A distorted sigh from Morgana sounded. "I don't know, he got some phone call and just had to tell it to you about it in person straight away. He was in the middle of telling me off so I got to tag along."
A horrible feeling of dread was unfurling in Arthur’s stomach as he glanced at Merlin on the sofa. "No,” he breathed. “Does he know Merlin is here?"
A pause. "Merlin is there?"
"Yes," Arthur confirmed, pushing a hand through his hair.
To her credit, Morgana did sound regretful when she said, "Oh, Arthur…well, good luck. I’ll –I’ll see you soon."
Arthur hung up and immediately considered faking his death.
Merlin was giving him a puzzled look. “What was that all about?”
There was no point in beating around the bush. “My father is coming here right now. He’s on his way.”
Merlin’s face was unreadable as the words sunk in. “Oh,” he said.
"Listen,” Arthur hastened to assure him. “You don't have to deal with him right now. You can just lay low in the bedroom."
Merlin’s eyes widened in outrage and he swatted at his arm. "I'm not going to hide from Uther Pendragon!” he cried. ”Who do you take me for?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. “God Merlin, can you stop acting like a medieval peasant revolting against an oppressive tyrant king who has personally wronged him?”
Merlin shot him a dirty look. “I’m sure that must have been true in another life, but my point still stands. I’m not going anywhere. It’s about time I met him anyway.”
Arthur opened his mouth to argue but then he saw it.
Arthur saw the determined glint in Merlin's eyes, the slight quirk of his lips. He was just offered the opportunity of the ultimate distraction and Merlin was going to take it. As for Arthur…Arthur was going to bury himself alive.
Uther’s eyes raked blankly over Merlin’s form. He took in his attire, and his lip curled when he read the message written in big, bold letters on Merlin’s faded hoodie: ‘Capitalism kills Humanity’.
“Ah,” he sneered, as he shook Merlin’s hand. “You must be Mr. Emrys.”
Arthur vaguely wondered if changing his identity and fleeing the country was a viable option.
“Oh, please call me Merlin. Nice to meet you,” Merlin answered with an easy grin.
Uther looked like he had bit into a particularly sour lemon. “Likewise,” he ground out and moved inside, turning a disapproving eye to the mess of notes and books in the living room.
Merlin seemed unbothered by the rudeness, and Arthur dared to hope that maybe this wouldn’t end in metaphorical bloodshed. His father hadn’t commented on Merlin’s hoodie and Merlin seemed totally composed. Wonders never ceased.
Uther stood rigidly. "I must confess that I had expected to speak with Arthur alone but –”
"You brought Morgana," Merlin pointed out, with a completely straight face. Was he enjoying this?
Uther stared at him for a moment in surprise but recovered quickly. "Yes, but what I'm trying to say is that I'm glad I found you here too. Arthur has kept you hidden long enough.”
Merlin laughed. “Against my wishes, I’ll assure you.”
The smile Uther pasted on his face as he settled on the most stiff-backed chair he could fine was record-breaking fake, barely-concealed annoyance simmering underneath.
Arthur’s skin prickled. He didn’t know what was going on but he didn’t like it.
"Father," he cut in quickly. "Would you like a drink? There's tea or coffee –”
"Or there’s Satan's Ambrosia," Merlin offered brightly.
Uther's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "There's what?"
"There isn't," Arthur insisted, throwing Merlin an irritated look.
Merlin ignored him and was only too happy to provide a detailed explanation. "It's a mix of coffee and energy drink and yes, Arthur there is. I just saw it in the fridge yesterday."
"Seconded. I saw it too," Morgana supplied with a catty grin.
"You stay out of this," Arthur snapped, and she winked at him from where she was sprawled on the sofa.
Uther was looking at Arthur like he'd lost every ounce of respect for his son. "You drink...that?"
"No," he denied vehemently. "It's just something for desperate times. The bar exam is coming up and I needed something strong to stay awake and study, that's all."
Merlin pulled Arthur into the recliner he’d settled down in. “Liar, you’ve come to like it,” he whispered cheekily in his ear.
Arthur shifted away to the armrest, keeping a little distance from his suddenly overly affectionate boyfriend. Best not to aggravate his father further with public displays of affections. Morgana was enough for that.
However Merlin, ever the stubborn mule, proceeded to place a possessive hand on Arthur’s thigh. Arthur barely suppressed a roll of his eyes.
Uther, on the other hand, was still looking at him like he'd grown several horns. "This is lunacy, Arthur," he announced judgementally.
And of course, of course Merlin chose to take offence. Arthur had creatively insulted the drink for years and Merlin just chuckled fondly but now he had to defend the damn thing.
"Excuse me," he interrupted with a frown. "Just because it's unconventional doesn't mean it's ineffective."
"Unconventional," Uther repeated with a nasty sneer. "I suppose you came up with it then, Mr Emrys? I'm sensing a pattern here."
Merlin's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Arthur felt that it was the perfect time for the ground to swallow him whole.
Thankfully, Uther didn't rise to the bait and disregarded Merlin's question as he turned to Arthur.
"Arthur, how is Lance?" he asked abruptly. "What a lovely boy. Bring him around the house some time, I haven't seen him in ages."
Arthur blinked, thrown off by the sudden mention of Lance. He had been Arthur’s only serious relationship before Merlin and Uther had barely tolerated him. His father had certainly never expressed any love for him.
Realisation dawned when he saw the contempt in Uther’s eyes as he glanced at Merlin and a wave of swift anger flared in Arthur as he understood what his father was trying to do.
"Really? Because you didn't seem to think he was so grand when he said you have sociopathic tendencies," Arthur remarked coldly.
Merlin was flabbergasted. “Lance said that?” he asked in awe.
“And Gwaine agreed,” Morgana added enthusiastically, choosing the best time to join the conversation as always. “Said it was Lance’s most accurate diagnosis to date.”
Uther's eyes flashed angrily. "I did not come here to be disrespected.”
“What did you come here for again, Father?” Arthur said with a raised eyebrow. He was getting rather tired of the mind games, having endured them for almost two a half decades.
Uther straightened up and cleared his throat. “Yes, about that. I spoke to Godwyn today and he has a wonderful job prospect for you. If you’re just averse to working for me, this is an equally wonderful opportunity,” he said. “You should really give up this criminal law nonsense, Arthur. Enough of your childish rebellion."
Of course. Arthur should have guessed what the important phone call Morgana mentioned would be about.
He huffed out an incredulous laugh. "This again? It’s not a rebellion. Why can’t you understand that I might not want to follow in your footsteps?"
"And I want to know where this sudden change of mind came from,” Uther barked. “You were perfectly content with our plan a couple of years ago.”
“I arrived at the decision by myself in uni. I realised that commercial law wasn’t for me,” Arthur explained tiredly. He’d had this same conversation at least twenty times in the last two years.
His father scoffed, glaring vaguely in Merlin’s direction. “I highly doubt that.”
Arthur groaned. “For the last time, Merlin had nothing to do with it. He isn’t even going into criminal law.”
“Yes,” Uther said scornfully. “Mr Emrys seems to have his mind set on environmental law.”
Merlin leaned forward, the hard set of his jaw prominent. “I’ll have you know that it’s a perfectly acceptable field, especially if we want to keep this planet from being destroyed by the people you represent.”
Uther crossed his legs, adopting an expression of superiority. “Admirable intentions. Tell me, Merlin, are you employed or have a job lined up?”
"An internship perhaps?" Uther asked next, with a raise of his eyebrows.
"My ultimate goal is working for ClientEarth but I'm doing a Master's program first," Merlin said, biting on his lip.
Uther wrinkled his nose in distaste at hearing ClientEarth. “Of course. Where, may I ask?"
Merlin hesitated, uncertainty and doubt flickering in his eyes. "Err –University of Edinburgh, if all goes well."
Uther chuckled unkindly. "Yes, let's hope so."
Merlin’s nostrils flared at Uther’s derisive tone.
"What, you don't think I can get in?” Merlin challenged, standing up straight.
Arthur’s heartbeat pounded in his ears as he reached for Merlin’s hand, but Merlin evaded him.
Uther shrugged noncommittally, and Arthur hated him in that moment.
“Father, there’s no need –” he started but Merlin silenced him.
“No, Arthur. Let’s see if he’s right. In fact, I'll check right now," he said fiercely and Arthur’s head spun.
Everything was happening too fast, the situation quickly spiralling out of control. This wasn't how they were supposed to find out, not when his father sitting right there to ruthlessly mock them. He had full confidence in Merlin but just in case he didn’t get in –
Arthur could only stare helplessly as Merlin grabbed his phone from the table and furiously unlocked it.
Everyone waited with bated breath as he opened his email and his eyes feverishly scanned the words.
Something in Arthur’s stomach loosened when a slow grin spread over Merlin’s face.
"See? I got in!" he announced triumphantly, thrusting the screen in front of Uther’s face, who was wearing a look of bewilderment.
There was a pause as the room quieted down, the Pendragons all staring at Merlin.
One, two, three.
It took a moment for the fact to kick in and then all colour drained from Merlin's face.
"I got in," he echoed, his eyes widening.
Arthur’s heart leapt wildly and he smiled, feeling heady with pride.
"You got in."
Merlin’s acceptance into the University of Edinburgh succeeded in shutting Uther up for the time being and aside from offering Merlin a few clipped words of congratulations, he was generally quiet. Morgana hugged Merlin tightly and Arthur couldn’t remember feeling this happy in a long time.
Merlin was glowing.
Uther begrudgingly extended him an invitation to dinner and asked Arthur to seriously consider Godwyn’s offer, before taking his leave with a gleeful Morgana in tow.
Merlin shut the door and leaned with his back against it, a deep flush high on his cheeks. Arthur wanted to kiss him.
“You were right. Your father really does hate my guts,” Merlin remarked.
Arthur laughed, stepping closer. “Of course he does. Why else do you think I keep you around?”
Merlin pouted. “Aw, I’m just a ploy to piss off your dad?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t figure it out sooner,” said Arthur, shrugging. “There couldn’t be a more perfect candidate.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” Merlin replied. “It doesn’t matter in any case, because I only keep you around for the money as well.”
Arthur’s lips quirked up in amusement as he glanced at Merlin’s chest, where the words ‘Capitalism kills Humanity’ were emblazoned proudly.
“For my money? Really, you anti-capitalist? I think you keep me around despite that,” Arthur mused, bunching his fingers in Merlin’s incriminating hoodie and pulling him closer.
Merlin looked at him through his eyelashes as he wrapped his arms around Arthur’s neck. “Don’t flatter yourself, you’re not that interesting.”
Arthur smiled against his lips. “Shut up, Merlin.”
Merlin kissed him, but then pulled away abruptly. “Wait, you didn’t call your father to trick me into opening that email, did you?”
Arthur made a frustrated noise. “Seriously? When would I have had time for that while you were sobbing into my chest?”
Merlin gasped and tugged sharply at Arthur’s hair. “That’s ridiculous, I didn’t shed one tear –”
Arthur rolled his eyes and muttered, “I’m so glad you’re going to be Scotland’s problem soon. I can’t stand you anymore.”
“You’re a prat and I hate you,” Merlin declared, before closing the distance between them and kissing him hard.
The idea of Scotland sent a spike of fear through Arthur’s heart but then he felt Merlin’s hands reach inside his shirt branding his skin, claiming him and Arthur suspected they were going to be just fine.