Their first meeting hadn't exactly been the most…auspicious, to say the least.

But then, twelve year old boys weren't exactly known for their maturity, anyway.

It was right after Hunith Emrys had become Prime Minister, and Uther had made a resolution to be a more active king in the affairs of the people, and that meant making nice, publicly, with the new PM – even though he disagreed with her on…everything, apparently.

She wasn't exactly normal. Her background was far from the privileged childhood that befitted most of the rest of Parliament. Even her son had lived in their small, suburban maisonette until she had become Prime Minister (and before that, gasp, a council estate!). It was a wonder the Labour Party elected her, really, considering just what her son was.

Arthur had sat grimly in various rooms around the palace or at school watching the elections, and after Emrys had been announced, he made sure to study her carefully, and even learned what little there was to know about her son – his age exactly. 'Isn't it weird?' the media asked, 'That the Prince of Wales and the new Prime Minister's son were both born on the same day!'

(Arthur was adamant about reminding anyone who would listen that he was born almost twelve hours earlier…or he would be, except talking about his birthday meant talking about the day Mother died).

So he watched, instead, every piece of news about the election, every update, every little trifle, until finally, it was over.

"One day, you will be doing this," Father had told him only a year back, before they had both gone for Father's coronation.

But it wasn't the coronation, now, and Arthur had spent two weeks getting exasperated at the media flare that blew up when Father offered to throw a celebratory banquet for the new Prime Minister – and she had accepted. And right now, they were preparing to go downstairs for yet another banquet in what was for Arthur a long line of banquets held in Buckingham Palace.

But for him, there would be one advantage, this time – there would finally be someone else his age there.

The Prime Minister, Hunith Emrys' son – Merlin.

"Be nice to her boy," Father had said when he'd mentioned it. "We want to get along with them. I know it will be difficult for us, but it is something we have to bear. Emrys is getting her son to set a good example for the nation with his powers, so the least we can do is set a good example for the nation and reach out to them."

"Yes, Father," Arthur had said before they went downstairs. In the garden, he kept a sharp eye out until he found Merlin.

Merlin was skinny as a twig with ears, and he was very shy, staying close to his mother or his security-guard-slash-aide-slash-whatever-h

e-was-guy at all times…not that Arthur blamed him. He knew that feeling, and while he had a lifetime of learning to work past it, Merlin had only been in the spotlight for a little less than a year or two. Besides which, he and Merlin were the only kids here, and everyone else was staying away from Merlin. Even if he was the Prime Minister's son, he was still a sorcerer, and who knows, maybe Hunith would use him to enchant people her way.

As Father went up to talk to someone, Arthur took several deep breaths, and walked up to the new Prime Minister's son, while trying to think of those photographs of his mother. They say the stronger you visualize someone you love, the harder it is to be enchanted.

While many, many eyes turned to them, Arthur held out his hand to Merlin and said, "Hello."

Merlin stared at him for several seconds, and Arthur started fidgeting. Merlin's guard/aide/whoever gave him a gentle nudge in the back, and Merlin's hand shot up, clasping Arthur's hand in a tight, nervous grip, and he blurted, "Prince Arthur! You're Prince Arthur!"

As the guards backed away slowly, apparently to give them some space, Arthur just snorted. "You noticed," he drawled. Really, unless the tabloid rumors were outright lies, then even that grain of truth told in every lie said Merlin should be smarter than this (unless he was cheating – he was a sorcerer, you couldn't really rule that out).

"You're Prince Arthur!" Merlin repeated, slightly calmer but no less flabbergasted. Really, did he have to point out the obvious?

"Yeah, I know," Arthur said, muttering under his breath, "Idiot."

The other boy's grip stilled and slackened abruptly. Shit, had he heard?

"No, I'm not," Merlin said. "I have the best marks in my class."

"And yet it took you this long to figure out who I was," Arthur sneered. Why the hell did he of all people have to be the new Prime Minister's son? Ugh.

Merlin pulled his hand away. Arthur's hand felt suddenly cold, despite having only held Merlin's hand for a few moments.

"Better an idiot than an ass!" he cried out sharply, chin jutted out in defiance.

By now, a lot more people were watching them. Arthur knew, he knew, he should care more, pay more attention to how this would appear to others. But Merlin was just so…so…infuriating!

"At least I don't have big, stupid ears like you!" Arthur hissed.

Merlin blushed, aforementioned ears turning bright red, and said, "At least I'm not a giant prat like you! There's no reason to be so mean!"

"You're a reason," Arthur said.

"And you're pathetic," Merlin retorted.

Arthur saw red.

Next thing he knew, he and Merlin had to be pulled off each other from where they were on the ground, rolling around and attacking each other with the kind of viciousness only preteen boys could muster. Arthur was using all that his knees, fists, elbows, and skull had to offer, while Merlin's eyes kept skittering from blue to gold and back again as he used sparing but strong pushes of magic against Arthur.

"Let go of me!" Arthur growled at Leon as he and Merlin were pulled away from each other, still waving his fists at Merlin.

"Will, lemme go!" he heard Merlin demand of his own bodyguard, still feeling occasional pulses of pressure from nowhere against his joints.

But they were both duly ignored as they were pulled away in opposite directions.

Their next meeting took place three hours, two lectures, and a yelling later, just after dinner was over and the grown-ups were moving on to cocktails and socializing.

They stood in the foyer, feeling the eyes of dozens of reporters and hundreds of grown-ups, many of whom weren't even bothering to pretend they weren't watching.

"I'm sorry," Arthur ground out, Father's hand on his shoulder.

Merlin's eyes flashed a furious gold, but Hunith Emrys laid a careful hand on the back of Merlin's neck.

"I'm sorry, too," he bit back with about as much sincerity.

Well, at least they could agree on that.

"He used magic against me!" Arthur had tried protesting at home when Father had made him sit on that uncomfortable couch in his office to be yelled at. Mentioning someone else had magic usually made Father more sympathetic to him.

But this time it was not to be. Much.

"I know," Father said, turning to face him from behind the desk. When he yelled, he paced or faced the walls in his rage. When he talked to Arthur in this room it was always from behind the desk. "It's deplorable that he did so. But be as it may, I have no intentions of just sitting back and playing pretty figurehead like my own father."

Arthur wondered what his Grandfather had been like, in private, what Grandmother and Father and old newsreels couldn't tell him.

"If I am to be able to have influence over this country, I will need to start with forging a strong bond with the Prime Minister," Father said, sitting down in his chair and pouring himself some Scotch. Arthur wondered why Father kept drinking it, because he'd tried it once when he found himself alone in the room for a few moments, and it was awful. "If I want her to listen to me and my advice…" Father sighed and took a big gulp, drinking half his glass of the amber drink. "I am at a severe disadvantage as it is. I am young-" No, I am! Thought Arthur. You're old! "-and have limited experience in state affairs in comparison to your grandmother's long and established history. Do not make things any more difficult for me than they already are – even if the boy has magic."

Arthur sighed. "Yes, Father."

"I do not like how blind people are becoming to the dangers of magic, but be as it may, sorcerers are slowly moving to having the same rights as the rest of the general population and that is a reality we have to face." Then Father sighed as he looked down into his now-empty glass. "Hopefully, at least, this Merlin boy will set a good example with his magic, and perhaps teach others with magic to fight against their darker inclinations."

"Yes, Father," Arthur repeated numbly.

The media had a field day with it, field weeks, really, speculating on whether or not this would be a predictor for the relationship between the new king and the new Prime Minister. Hunith wasn't exactly known for her sympathy to the privileged class, and Uther was infamous for his hateful outburst against those with magic that came about when Mother had died.

(Luckily, it wasn't a good predictor.)

Arthur at least had the smug victory of people wondering if this fight was a result of magic, of such a negative energy in such a young boy (or maybe just such a negative boy? Arthur could definitely believe that.) 'Really!' went the general media. 'If Hunith isn't going to hide the fact her son is a sorcerer, she could at least suppress his magic!' And Arthur couldn't agree more.

Their third 'meeting' was completely uneventful, seeing each other from a distance and passing close to each other, as well, studiously ignoring each other. The press didn't much like this, and instead spent most of their time wondering if Arthur's matured or if Merlin's just enchanted him. (Of course Arthur matured, he didn't need to enchanted to be nice!)

Father seemed pleased by this. Or, well, at least not upset, which considering his mood lately was close enough.

At their fourth meeting, they said 'hello' to each other and absolutely nothing else, which even the press remarked upon, if only due to sadness that the boys hadn't given them a story. Really, Arthur was the Prince of Wales and Merlin was a sorcerer, it should have been an easy story, and Arthur drank in the expression on Father's face when nothing happened despite this.

Father actually nodded at Arthur after that, and he decided if things stayed like this, he could put up with that Emrys boy.

At their fifth meeting, they had even worked together.

It was at some environmental expo. Morgana was actually here for this one, and had quickly made friends with someone named Gwen, and was trying to coax her into talking to Merlin.

"So who are you?" Arthur asked this Gwen person carefully. Not carefully enough, though, judging by the way Morgana elbowed him in the ribs. "Ow!"

"You could try being polite!" Morgana snapped, before turning to pick something from the table of snacks and drinks before them all, much shorter than the main table for all the children present. After all, children were the future, and they would be bearing the brunt of global warming and pollution and all that rot.

"It's okay," Gwen said, with a cheerful smile, beaming at him, and even smiling hesitatingly at Merlin as he came up to them, who smiled back broadly. "My dad is Thomas DeGrance."

"You mean the eco-robot guy?" Merlin asked.

Gwen badly-hid a snort of laughter as Arthur frowned. "Eco-robot?"

Morgana huffed in disgust, like she always did, these days.

"They're enviro-mentally friendly machines designed to work with nature instead of against it," Gwen recited proudly.

"And they killed your mum."

They all turned to see another kid there. He was short but bulky, and a little older than them, maybe thirteen at most.

"And who are you?" Merlin asked derisively. How come Morgana didn't seem to find anything wrong with him being rude?

"Cenred," the boy said. "And – a robot he made killed her mum. We all know it." He sneered at Gwen. "How does it feel, knowing your dad killed your mum?"

"He didn't," Gwen said, tears in her eyes as Morgana pulled her into a protective embrace. "It was an accident. They worked together on these eco-robots and-"

"It's still his fault she's dead," Cenred said victoriously.

"No it's not, you prick," Merlin snapped, stepping in front of Gwen as Morgana pulled her back and into a much tighter, more comforting, embrace.

"Do you know who I am?" Cenred asked.

"Does it matter?" Merlin asked.

"My father is the Third Duke of Fife. I'm exactly 60th in line for the throne," Cenred said, looking down at Merlin. "Which is more than you will ever be, Emrys. Go back to your little council flat or coven-hole or wherever – go back where you belong."

And Arthur had enough of this guy.

"Do you know who I am?"

Cendred whipped around to see Arthur standing there, and frowned. "What are you doing here? Your Highness?"

"My dad is the King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," Arthur said calmly. "And I'm first in line for the throne – which is more than you will ever be."

"Well, then, that makes two of us – three counting your cousin-"

"-I'm not like you!" Morgana growled.

"-who were born better than this witchboy here," Cendred said, jerking his thumb at Merlin.

"At least he's not a stupid jerk like you," Arthur said. "That makes him at least a better person than you."

Cendred stared at Arthur incredulously.

"Go away," Merlin said, moving to stand beside Arthur. "You're mean and none of us want you here."

"Fine, I don't want to be here!" Cendred snapped, grabbing an hors d'oeuvre from the table and stomping off.

There was silence. Then:

"Thank you," Gwen said from behind them, before looking at Merlin. "I can't believe you'd do that."

Arthur nodded. Merlin just looked sad. "Of course I'd do that. You're nice."

"Thank you, I just – I dunno, aren't warlocks supposed to be mean?" Gwen asked.

"No," Merlin said, even sadder. Gwen's eyes widened.

"I didn't mean you! I'm just surprised. I'm glad you're nice. All the other kids here are so mean, they don't like my dad because his robots aren't superheroes or anything."

"They totally are, they save rainforests and stuff," Merlin said, a smile growing on his face.

Arthur rolled his eyes and turned to the table, pondering what he should eat.

"…did you mean that?" he heard several minutes later.

He turned to see Merlin looking at him, almost imploringly. "About me being a good person?" he added, looking almost desperate for an answer.

Yes, he meant it. But he wasn't going to say it first.

"Even idiots can be good people," he said stiffly. "Even idiotic sorcerers."

Merlin scowled at him, and Arthur realized – or rather, remembered – that there were a lot of people watching them, again, and instead grabbed something from the table and offered it to Merlin.

"These are good," he said hastily. "You should try it."

Merlin frowned in confusion, and Arthur jerked his head, slightly towards the press.

"They're watching us," he muttered from the corner of his mouth. "So take it and eat it and we'll part ways and my father won't yell at me for causing a ruckus and your mother won't yell at you for…whatever."

Merlin nodded, wide-eyed and taking it and thanking him somewhat hastily and walking back to his mother, and Arthur rolled his eyes and went to look at the rest of the exhibits, making sure that Morgana was still taking care of Gwen, and that Cenred was staying well away from them all.

The media had picked up on this too, of course, pictures of them standing together, protecting Gwen and Morgana behind them, were all over the place, and the media just took it and ran. Even the Guardian said the monarchy might not be so bad, after all, and that Britain could stand to have them a little more involved with the British people. And with the right influence, maybe magic can even be harnessed for good? It is possible, whatever the stupid stereotypes people like to believe otherwise – as went the millions of articles speculating about royalty and magic.

"Good," Father said simply, nodding and hmm-ing to himself as he read through the various articles and reports on the matter. "People need to see the royal family working together with the common person in a positive way. This will lead people to see me working with Emrys as an extension of this goodwill."

"Right," Arthur said.

Arthur didn't quite meet Merlin the sixth time, so much as see him from a distance - at first, anyway.

Morgana wanted to go to the massive Samhain ritual at Stonehenge.

"Absolutely not!" Father had said the moment she'd asked.

"Why would you even want to?" Arthur asked. Both of them just ignored him as they glared at each other, so he took another bite of his dinner, grumbling about his insane family. He blamed George III.

"Why not?" Morgana snapped. "You said you had to improve relations with the magical community so you could get closer to the Prime Minister-"

"Not at the cost of your health and safety," Uther said, setting down his fork to focus all his attention on her.

"It used to be tradition, you know, for the royal family to attend a festival now and then," Morgana said in her know-it-all voice. "Why not bring it back? It would be a great way-"

"It also used to be tradition for cousins and siblings to marry each other," Uther said. Debate voice, here it comes. There was a good chance plates would be thrown before dessert could get here. "Does that mean I'll let you marry Arthur? No."

Nausea curled in Arthur's gut at the thought of marrying Morgana, and he looked rather mournfully at his dinner. It was one of his favorites, too. He quickly took another bite before they could ruin his appetite for good.

"Please?" Morgana changed tactics after a few back-and-forths with Father. "You can make it look like you're just trying to rebuild good relations with the magical community! And by sending me instead of Arthur it'll be a gesture but not too obvious an effort or anything, then-"

"Morgana, it's too dangerous."

"It is not! It's a festival. There are a lot of other kids there, it's perfectly safe!"

"For sorcerers, Morgana, not normal people," Uther said.

"There are a lot of 'normal people' there, too," Morgana snapped, looking about ready to cry.

When Father refused yet again, she did cry.

It took another two days for Father to finally relent - though him saying yes had a lot less to do with Morgana's campaign for permission and a lot more about the news that Merlin Emrys was going to be there - and his decision to make Arthur go, too.

"Why do I have to go?" Arthur demanded, indignant. "Morgana's the only one that wants to, she can go alone-"

"Because she's not the Prince of Wales - you are," Uther said. "Make nice with the boy - especially when there are cameras around. And he will be among his people, so for god's sake don't fight!"

Merlin didn't look like he was 'with his people', any more than all the other kids there, all wearing ritualistic white tunics that went down to their shins, worn over either regular clothes or Halloween costumes for the duration of the spiritual part of the ceremony.

Arthur couldn't tell what Merlin was wearing under his tunic from his safe distance away for those not taking part with the Druids.

One thing he could tell, though, was that Morgana had got her hands on a tunic, somehow, clutching it under her jacket, eyes sharp and body tense as they moved nearer to the ritual circle. It didn't take Arthur long to figure out her plan.

"Are you crazy?" he hissed at her as realization - and panic - dawned on him.

"No - just don't tell Uther, and run from security with this so they don't know I'm in the ritual," was all she said, before shoving her suspiciously-ritual-tunic-colored-jacket at him and slipping out of their guards' sight before he could hit her (or at least stomp on her foot) for her insanity.

It took quite a bit of sneaking around, often waving Morgana's jacket around near his dismally noticeable self in the dim corners of various sweet stands stationed in the outer reaches of the festival during the short but grave ceremony, but when Morgana snuck back to his side with one of the biggest smiles on her face and a promise to return the favor, he could conceded it had been worth it (and would hopefully be worth the yelling he was going to get from Father later on when the security detail reported all this to him).

Merlin didn't have that tunic on when they actually met, but he had what looked to be deep-blue jeans to match the royal-blue robe he wore over, knee-length and covered with silvery stars and moons, and behind him, his security guard was holding a fake magic staff and a faker white beard.

"Are you supposed to be Merlin? Like from the legends?" Arthur asked disdainfully.

"More like from Disney," Merlin grumbled. "And it doesn't look like you're doing any better."

Arthur looked down at himself. With his fake-ermine-lined red robe and stupid plastic gold crown of the sort no respectable monarch ever wore, complete with a sceptre and orb and plastic sword dangling rather limply from his hip, he could concede that Merlin had a point.

"So our parents are pants at picking out costumes," Arthur said.

"I fear for the Kingdom," Merlin said gravely. Before he could check himself, Arthur burst out laughing.

He was just composing himself when Morgana came up in her butterfly get-up, wearing her fake wings now that she wasn't trying to hide from everyone.

"Merlin!" she greeted happily, shaking his hand.

"Lady Morgana, nice to properly meet you."

"And you as well. I never got to thank you for helping Gwen at the environmental convention."

"Hey!" Arthur cried out indignantly. "I helped, too, and you never thanked me!"

"Because you have a big head and I'm not going to help you make it bigger!" she snapped at him, before turning back to Merlin. "I saw the little wooden pumpkins you enchanted - they were brilliant!"

"Oh, they're nothing," Merlin said, blushing of all things. Arthur's blood boiled as he thought of the possibility that Merlin might have a crush on her - especially since it seemed, unlike how it was with most boys, she wouldn't hit him for it. "But thank you."

And they walked away, leaving Arthur there, flummoxed.

"They left me here!" Arthur cried out.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Your Highness," Leon said. "Shall we go and get some of the beverages and find a nice spot to view the fireworks?"

Arthur sighed, still reeling from being abandoned by Morgana and Merlin both. And he hadn't even wanted to come to this stupid festival. "Fine."

When Father was yelling at them the next day, Arthur didn't feel remotely bad about sitting there and saying nothing in Morgana's defense.

She left him there. And took Merlin with her! But mostly that she left him there. Merlin wasn't involved at all. He wasn't.

Arthur sat there smugly as she ended up taking most of the blame.

At their seventh meeting, they dutifully ignored each other, both of them learning by now to not embarrass their parents, and instead socializing with the other kids when they went off promoting the plight of homeless teens in Britain.

Except that Arthur found a hard time even talking to these kids, who actually grew up on council estates or on the streets and viewed him with suspicion despite the fact he'd never done anything to them. And he didn't even have Merlin around to take cues from, as he was with the other sorcerers in the 'courtyard' outside, away from the building's magic suppressors. It was a grotty square of cement and rubbish, but despite the wretched nature of the area, the sorcerers here seemed much happier and more relaxed there.

Arthur wondered if it was because there were no suppressors out here, or if they just liked Merlin better.

When the two groups joined together for photographs, Arthur fought down the strong bitterness rising inside of him at the sight of the genuine smiles Merlin was getting from the kids, so sharply different to Arthur from the carefully manipulated and dishearteningly fake smiles Arthur was getting from his own group.

Eventually, it was too dark to stay outside, and everyone had to go back inside, something which all the sorcerers appeared to be dreading completely.

Arthur sat, trying not to fume, near Merlin, as they talked to the teens about their poor damned lives. Merlin, like most of the other sorcerers, was lying slumped against the wall, ill within the confines of the center's strong nighttime magic suppressors. But even then, Arthur was taking his cues from Merlin, who once upon a time was poor like these kids and could actually relate to them.

A part of Arthur hoped to never be able to relate to them.

Another part wished he could.

By the end of the night, when he ran into Merlin in the carpark in the front of the center, Merlin was snickering and looking amused, despite how ill he looked and must have felt, reacting sharply to the suppressors in the building.

"Excuse me for having some class," Arthur said. "Unlike you and your types."

"You didn't have to be so posh," Merlin said, his humor suddenly lost, now just looking ill. "I didn't really grow up for long on a council estate, either. We moved out years ago, I barely remember it."

"Close enough," Arthur mumbled. "I've seen pictures of the place you and your mother used to live in before you moved to Number 10. It was tiny."

"It's not your palace but it's certainly not tiny," Merlin snapped, and whirled on his heel and stomped away, nearly stumbling over himself until his bodyguard held onto his arm to support him.

The press didn't catch what was said, but it did get the picture of the two furiously walking away from each other in all their "childish fury", and Father sighed in disappointment when he saw it.

The eighth time they met was when Arthur was getting his check-up from Gaius.

He was sitting there in the doctor's patient examination room, quite pleasantly, letting Gaius tut over him, when Merlin wandered in, carrying a book and a bag, and saying, "Gaius, I'm here, and I practiced the spell set you gave me…last night…"

He trailed off, staring at Arthur, and Arthur turned to Gaius and demanded, "What's he doing here?"

"I tutor him, Arthur, in magic" Gaius said, before turning to Merlin. "Just as well you're both here – after spending an afternoon in that magic-suppressing youth center, I wanted to check up on you, as well."

"Clearly he's fine," Arthur grumbled.

"…well now I am," Merlin snapped. Arthur remembered sharply just how ill Merlin looked that night as they'd left, and then promptly shoved that image out of his head. He wasn't going to start doling out sympathy to a magical git.

"I'm strong like that," Merlin added.

"Strong or not, your body guard said you collapsed once you got home, and vomited," Gaius said. "I need to at least see that there are no long term affects."

Arthur stared at Merlin in surprise. He didn't know much about suppressors, but he did know that reaction to them was related to how powerful the sorcerer was. Was Merlin powerful, to get so ill after just a quarter of a day in a suppressant building? Or were those suppressants that strong? Or was this a normal reaction?

He wanted to ask these questions, now that they were there.

But, he was the Prince of Wales, and Merlin was a witchboy. Arthur had to spend too much time talking to him as it was.

Gaius fussed over them both some more, and they glared.

Arthur coughed a bit, but Gaius didn't seem to care much once Merlin admitted to dizziness, but then Arthur admitted to a headache, and Merlin said he had an even stronger one-

Then Gaius stopped, looked at them both, and said, "I don't believe it! You two are really restoring so such childish antics?"

Arthur looked down at his knees, slightly shamed at Gaius's scolding. The man may also have some latent magic, Arthur knew he used it in his medicines (though never any he'd taken) – but he'd been around for a long time, and he could sometimes say things to Gaius and know that even if the physician reported to his father, he was willing to leave some things out. His opinion…mattered.

Merlin's, however, did not.

As such it was quite easy to refuse to say anything to him, even offer a glance of camaraderie, as Gaius continued to scold them while he ushered them out of his patient room, through his waiting room (which seated someone who appeared both important and impatient), and into his office, seating Arthur on one end of the desk and Merlin on the other, Merlin's bag on the desk. He stood by where he, himself, would usually sit, and had a hand on each of their shoulders.

"Now, you two, I'm not foolish enough to think you'll actually apologize or even be nice, so I won't ask that of you," Gaius said. "What I do expect is for you to behave civilly while I go and talk to a patient. It should not be long by any means. Arthur, your car should be here in around fifteen minutes, anyway. Merlin, you can read ahead into today's chapter while you wait for me."

He stood back, taking his hands with him, and repeated yet again, "Civil!" before quickly walking out the door to his patient.

Arthur tracked his progress, grimacing as Gaius kept the door half-closed, before turning back to see Merlin opening his book and flicking through the pages, before settling about a third of the way through it. He squinted for the title.

Annus Secundus Magicis

He frowned, before taking in the various little notes and other typical bylines across the cover. A magic book…for people in their second year of studying magic? Well, they were both Year sorcerers started studying at secondary, then? But schools don't teach magic so why-

"You're staring at me," Merlin said accusingly.

"I'm staring at your book," Arthur said. "Trying to see what you're so deficient in as to require tutoring." He smirked and said, "I guess your mother doesn't have as much faith in state schools as she thought, hm?"

Merlin snapped his book shut. "State schools aren't allowed to offer courses in magic. If I want to learn I have to get tutoring!"

"Gaius's foremost profession is that of a doctor…maths, sciences, he could tutor you in all those, probably has to," Arthur continued. He'd glimpsed the Daily Mail's occasional article questioning PM Emrys' stance on education, how much faith she could have in state education when her own son got such prestigious and private tutoring, even if Gaius reportedly didn't charge for it.

"I don't need tutoring in those areas, I get teaching," Merlin said. "Gaius tutors lots of kids in magic-"

"Yeah, kids who go to schools like mine," Arthur said cheerfully. He'd also read somewhere else – he wasn't sure where, maybe The Telegraph? The Mail? Eh, they were practically the same, the articles they ran – about the knot Merlin's mother was stuck with. It was a rather obvious and well known fact that the Labour Party's current strategy for dealing with the fact the Prime Minister's own son was a sorcerer was to downplay that fact as much as possible. If the Prime Minister were to expend effort in justifying Merlin's tutoring, it would be by expounding on how magic Merlin was.

As funny as it was to read about, watching Merlin turn red as a cherry was proving to be even funnier.

"You know what I think?"

"I don't care what you think," Merlin said.

"I think you're getting tutoring and pretending it's magic lessons!" he crowed. Merlin didn't get to be friends with Morgana and charm all those homeless kids and make people like him even though he had magic and be clever on top of all that. There had to be something in there, something besides the magic. This was clearly it.


"I'm learning magic you prick," Merlin cried out. "Just because you're only passing your classes because you're the Prince of Wales doesn't mean we all depend on our parents' rank to get us through."

"I get good marks because I'm intelligent, not because I'm a prince," Arthur snapped, firmly refusing to remembering all the fawning over him many of his teachers did every year. Morgana, homeless youth, way too many of the people – Merlin didn't get to charm his teachers, too. (Or enchantment. That had to be it. Enchantment.)

"Yeah, of course, you keep telling yourself that," Merlin snorted, picking up his book again. He cracked it open, and as he found his page he said, "It's not like the Crown even does anything, these days – you don't have to pass your classes, do you? You get to just wander around being mean to people because they'll let you-"

"I'm not mean to people just because they'll let me," Arthur said. "You're just a git who deserves it."

Merlin winced, but seemed determined all the same.

Well so was Arthur.

"Let's see that book, then?" Arthur said, hopping off his own chair to wander around the desk, where Merlin was getting off his own seat and backing away, wary. "Give me your book."

"So you can rip out all the pages and crumple them up?" Merlin snarled, snapping it closed again and pulling it tightly to his chest. "No thanks. This is the third copy of this book I've had to get. I'm not letting another bully rip it up!"

"I'm not going to rip it up, you idiot," he said, narrowing his eyes at Merlin's defensiveness. "And I bet they didn't, anyway. You're the Prime Minister's son, why would they beat you up? You're just using that as an excuse to not show me that you're really reading one of your school textbook-"

"It's a magic book, because I'm magic," Merlin said. "So no one cares who my mum is."

Arthur rolled his eyes and said, "Right," And then lunged for the book.

He found himself on the floor several feet away a moment later, and looked up to see gold seeping out of Merlin's shocked eyes.

"You…you used magic against me!" he shouted.

"You attacked me!" Merlin shouted back, and he quickly shoved the book back into his bag on the desk and Arthur lunged again, and Merlin attacked with his fist this time.

Arthur barely got the chance to strike back when suddenly Gaius' voice was shouting, "Boys!" and there was a sharp, painful tug on his ear, and then he and Merlin were both wincing as Gaius dragged them by their ears out to the waiting room, going on and on about civility and childishness and how he only left them alone for five minutes-

"He started it!" Merlin said, still trying to reach angrily at Arthur.

"He did!" Arthur insisted, snatching back at the other boy. He just wanted to see the stupid book, no need to start a fight over it!

"I don't care who started it, I'm ending it," Gaius snapped, shoving Arthur into one chair, then taking Merlin to the other side of the room and shoving him there. "No moving, and no talking! Not a word, either of you."

Gaius huffed back into the patient room apologetically, and Arthur crossed his arms at Merlin and glared.

Merlin glared back.

He sat there, waiting for when Merlin would cast a spell on him (because he would, they weren't allowed to move but Merlin didn't need to).

It felt rather anticlimactic when in the end, Arthur was retrieved by Leon, and Merlin, while glaring at him the whole way out, did nothing.

"Your father is not going to be happy about this," Leon said after hearing Gaius' words.

Father wasn't.

Especially not when pictures from a security camera of Gaius dragging them fighting were posted all over the newspapers.

"People next door heard you, Arthur," Father snapped angrily, as Arthur sat on the couch in his father's office, clutching fiercely at the edge of the seat next to his thigh. The old velvet was indenting as a result. "What the devil is wrong with you, Arthur? You were so well behaved until recently…"

Arthur continued to look forward sullenly, until suddenly his father was looming over him and saying, "I asked you a question."

"It's Merlin," Arthur said carefully, trying to form his words. He wasn't going to just blurt things out anymore. "He's…infuriating!"

Father frowned, turning away. "A subtle change of emotion…hm…that could very well be within his range of magic…"

It didn't feel like magic. He was still able to think of and interact with everyone else just fine, it was only Merlin.

But he let himself be prodded by Gaius, anyway, who sighed and said, "I don't know who you think could have possibly managed to enchant Arthur, but they haven't."

Arthur rather wished they did.

"It's not like anything really happened," Arthur said as soon as Gaius was gone. "Gaius pulled us apart before we could really fight."

"It doesn't matter what actually happened, it matters what people think happened!" Father nearly shouted. It took all of Arthur's strength not to cower back into the couch.

Father eventually stopped pacing somewhere near his desk, had another amber drink, and squeezing the bridge of his nose, he said, "I understand that you think nothing happened – but enough happened for a photograph, and if a photograph is taken, then something happened, understand?"

Arthur swallowed and nodded.

"Luckily," Father said, pressing some buttons on the phone on his desk to summon someone in. "It goes both ways."

So their ninth meeting ended up being a few days later, when the Prime Minister brought Merlin along for her weekly meeting with Father, and while it wasn't a press conference, there were plenty of cameras around as Arthur stuck out his hand towards Merlin and said, curt and pointedly forced, "I apologize for my role in our fight."

Merlin appeared to be gritting his teeth just as much as Arthur was as he shook Arthur's hand and said, "I'm sorry, too."

A hallway and a half later outside the office where they met and talked, Hunith Emrys looked down at them, seeming cross and disappointed, while Uther just rolled his eyes.

"I'm not sure they could have been any more reluctant short of refusing to say anything," she said ruefully.

"Better than nothing," he said to her. "I'll take what I can get."

"We're right here," Merlin grumbled.

"Forget it, they can't hear us," Arthur said. "Or won't."

Above them, Father said, "Well, they've already made their opinions on any kind of joint birthday party known, and at this point I'd be rather wary of their fighting to try and gamble on that kind of publicity." Arthur grimaced. While he doubted his birthday would be any more miserable than it was already slated to be, at least he wouldn't get stuck with the idiot.

"What about Christmas?" Hunith asked as they continued into the office.

"Right. Here," Merlin hissed.

Arthur gave up trying to say anything. Let Merlin ride on the last few waves of indignation. He'd learn better soon enough.

"Might be too soon, it's not even a week after their birthday," Father said.

"And we can't really do much, if anything, for Yule," she said.

Arthur felt a momentary flash of gratitude that he was already born not on Christmas, and wondered how Merlin felt with his birthday so frequently being right on Yule.

Then he forcibly reminded himself he didn't care.

"Let's just avoid any joint anything between the boys, specifically, for now, then," Emrys said.

Arthur was flooded with relief on hearing that, and then he caught Merlin's eye, and all he could think as their parents sat down was, Well I guess we can agree on this much.

After that they were both whisked away while their parents went on to matters of state, and later Arthur glared at Morgana as she sniggered over the way every other news channel was replaying that clip over and over again, alternating between trying to measure how well their parents were getting along and mocking them for their 'childish antics'.

It was a slow news day.

Slow news day or not, Arthur was glad to make it through that Children in Need gala without having to talk to Merlin much. So yes, the ninth meeting was what he'd call a success.

Their tenth meeting was when they got kidnapped.

Please review! ^_^ Next part will be up by tomorrow, day after at the latest.