The last thing that Arthur remembered was the heat of the dragon's flame and the hard ground as he tried to escape the fire heading toward him. His his last thought was of Camelot and Merlin left alone. He hoped that both would be saved, that the wound he had inflicted on the dragon had been enough.
When he awoke he wasn't near Camelot any more and it wasn't night. Bright light shone through a canopy of leaves overhead. He was in some sort of forest. He could hear birds singing and he felt warm and safe, though why he wasn't sure. He sat up slowly and took in his surroundings. The first thing he saw was a familiar figure sitting on a log in front of him.
There was a nod in reply.
Arthur scrambled to his feet. He looked around for any other sign of others, perhaps Cendred's men, but the only other person nearby was Balinor. The man who Arthur had seen Arthur die.
“You're dead,” he said, pointing at Balinor, who currently looked as alive as Arthur had ever seen him.
“Yes,” came the reply.
Arthur was breathing hard as he tried not to panic. “Am I dead?”
Balinor stood up. “No. You're here temporarily. Between worlds.”
It was all coming back to Arthur now. The dragon, Camelot...Merlin. “I have to go back! I have to go back now! I have to stop the dragon.”
Balinor sat down again and offered the other half of the log to Arthur. “My son will take care of the dragon.”
“You son?” There was another like Balinor? Another possible dragon lord? “You don't understand Merlin is out there, alone. He doesn't even have a sword. He's defenceless against the dragon!”
“You care for Merlin don't you?”
“Of course I care for him! He's my...”Arthur paused. “He's my friend. More than my friend.”
He wasn't sure but he thought he could see the hint of a smile on Balinor's lips but it was gone as quickly as the wind.
“I said my son will take care of the dragon,” Balinor repeated.
“Who is your son?” Arthur almost felt like he had the answer, lurking at the back of his mind. He reached for it. “Merlin? Merlin is your son?”
“Merlin,” Arthur repeated. Merlin; the son of a dragon lord. No wonder he had been acting so strangely. It all began to make sense. His quietness on the journey, his grief at Balinor's death. He was barely aware of sitting next to Balinor on the log. “Can Merlin kill the dragon?”
“He will stop it,” Balinor replied.
“When will I go back?” Arthur asked, feeling an awkward silence. What were you supposed to say to the long lost father of your friend? Your friend who was a dragon lord.
It didn't hep that Balinor wasn't the best at conversation either. He seemed tense and Arthur supposed it was because of who his father was. Yet Arthur couldn't help but try for conversation.
“Merlin never told me you were his father,” he said.
“He didn't know until a couple of days ago,” Balinor replied. “I didn't know until he told me I had a son.” His tone was wistful, reflecting lost opportunities. “I hope I would have made a good father.”
“I'm sure you would,” Arthur replied, more out of reflex than much thought. He knew how badly Merlin wanted to know his father and he suspected that he would have been happy with Balinor for a father but he didn't know. Merlin would never know.
“He cares about you.”
“I'm the prince. I suppose he does.”
Balinor shook his head. “He cares about you. As you care about him.”
Arthur found himself trying not to blush. “Yes, well...”
“I approve. You're a good man. Not that you will remember this,” Balinor said. “Not yet.”
“You approve what?” Arthur asked. “What won't I remember?”
Before his eyes Balinor seemed to be fading, the forest seemed to be receding. There was a bright light and Arthur didn't remember anything after that.
When he awoke the dragon was gone and Merlin told him the dragon had been slain by the wound he inflicted. Arthur felt joy rush through him. He'd done it, against all the odds the dragon was gone. Yet for some reason he felt that his elation at his success was wrong. As if there was something else, a shadow in his mind that he couldn't quite make out, and then it was gone.
It was sometime later, when Merlin was polishing his armour of all things, that Arthur remembered. It was strange how it came to him in a sudden wave, washing over him and leaving everything slightly shifted in its wake.
“Balinor was your father,” he said.
Merlin stopped polishing the armour. He had gone a deathly pale.
Arthur came and stood closer. “You stopped the dragon,” he said. “You're a dragon lord.”
Merlin stayed silent.
“I know the truth, Merlin!” Arthur said, raising his voice.
“How?” Merlin's voice was strained.
“When the dragon tried to kill me I found myself somewhere...strange and I spoke with your father.”
“You spoke with him?” Merlin's face was less fearful now, more hopeful.
“What did he say?”
He couldn't blame Merlin for throwing other concerns to one side He had done the same to speak with his mother.
“He said you would take care of the dragon. That I...that we...and he approved of me...” Arthur hadn't fully realised what Balinor had meant. But then he had been talking with a dead man.
“Arthur?” Merlin was back to looking concerned.
“You know, Merlin, I really appreciate the effort you put into my armour.”
Merlin looked at it. “You do?”
“Yes and I thought you'd like to know I care a great deal about...the way you treat it. I'm glad that you care about it and I care that you care.” Arthur stumbled over the words, not sure if this was even the right thing to be saying.
“I care about...your armour and I'm glad you care that..I..care,” Merlin replied.
“I think all this care should be rewarded,” Arthur said, hauling Merlin onto his feet.
Merlin looked happier now. “If you think so...Sire.”
The sire had been delivered the same way Merlin always did it. The way that made Arthur feel warm and pleased inside. “I do.”
There was nothing more to say so Arthur kissed Merlin. It was a little bit awkward but then they grasped each other's arms and suddenly everything seemed to slot into place. They began to kiss a little more, Arthur leaning into Merlin, pushing him closer to the table, and was only stopped by Merlin's sudden “Ow!”
“Merlin?” Arthur tried not to sound frustrated.
“You pushed me into your armour,” Merlin said. “I think you might have hurt it.”
“Oh, I'm sorry, Merlin,” Arthur grinned. “Maybe we should put it somewhere else.”
“Or we could go somewhere else...” Merlin replied. “I don't think the armour will mind.”
Arthur smiled. Sometimes Merlin had some good ideas. “I'm sure you'll make it up to it later.”
Merlin smiled. “I will.”
That was probably why, when he entered the room in search of Prince Arthur an hour later, Sir Leon saw the armour tucked up in bed, and Arthur and Merlin tangled up together in several blankets on the floor. What he didn't see was the figure of a ghostly dragon lord sitting in a chair by the fire, a slight smile on his lips, carving a pair of dragons.