Merlin had never had much of an eye for fashion. Throughout his life women had constantly made despairing noises and little exact adjustments to his clothing, as if this alone would could fix the fact that Merlin was wearing an orange shirt/too short trousers/a scarf again. And Merlin had never paid them much attention, but now, when he was sitting in a grand antechamber, waiting to be tried for the most coveted magic position in the country, he kind of wished one of the exasperated women in his life had convinced him to wear something other than a t-shirt and scuffed trainers.
Merlin was startled from his consideration of fixing the hole in the hem of his shirt with magic when a man in a heavily starched white shirt and tweed suit called for the applicant sitting beside Merlin to enter the next room. Merlin's neighbor rose and strutted towards the door with all the dignity a man could while wearing voluminous purple robes with golden embroidered stars. This, at least, made Merlin feel slightly better.
Two minutes later, the door opened again, and the man motioned Merlin forward. In the next room, two men and a woman sat in folding chairs, looking more like they were starting an impromptu card game rather than make important decisions of state. The woman looked up, and static electricity made every hair on his body stand at attention. Everyone else in the room looked discomfited, so Merlin supposed it wasn't just him. The woman looked unmoved, and simply looked at Merlin with a weighty, assessing glare. Suddenly, she smiled, and Merlin could taste and smell acidic ozone in the air.
"Bring him to the fire," she said to the tweed suited man, who ushered Merlin quickly into another antechamber that had the roomy space and style of a broom closet.
"Er-" Merlin stuttered, "Was that it? They didn't ask me any questions or to do any spells..." He trailed off when the usher leveled a disapproving glare at Merlin.
"The process of selecting the new Merlin is a sacred secret, and not for you to know," he sniffed. "Also, you have five minutes to figure out how to make yourself more presentable before I return for you. You are to meet your King, boy, have some pride!" he hissed before leaving in a huff.
Merlin would have simply transformed his clothes into something dressier, but the mention of fire held him back. The last thing he wanted was to be presented to court in a sweaty suit, and the formal magician's wear that was in vogue at the moment would be as equally hot and uncomfortable. Inspiration hit Merlin, and he tore off his clothes as quickly as possible. His black undershorts were conservative enough for the moment, as long as Merlin didn't dwell on the number of people that might see him.
Merlin pressed two fingers from each hand to his mouth and spoke the words taught to him by his mentor, so that when he drew them away they were covered in a thick, black paint. Merlin traced lines and patterns on his body also taught to him, and could hear the gruff explanations Gaius had given for each one ("The ones on your feet connect you to earth, your hands to magic, and your heart to man"). After using a little magic to assist him with his back, he finished with his forearms. The patterns that went there were his favorite, although when he had asked of their meanings, Gaius had said nothing, only raising his eyebrow and instructing Merlin to redo the symbols on his ankles until they were perfect.
The pattern on his left forearm always came out perfect, as if Merlin had done it a million times. It had made him desperate enough to search through heavy tomes late at night for the translation, but he had yet to find it.
When the usher returned for Merlin again, his eyes bugged out in a way that suggested that Merlin's change might not have been for the better in his mind. Merlin, however, felt more himself than he had all day, and went with sure feet into the dark of the night before him.
Merlin grew very grateful for his lack of clothing almost immediately, as the bonfire before him was already blazing with intensive heat. He recognized it immediately as Dragon's Flame, the product of a spell taught to the first Merlin by the last dragon before its death. It could only be created by powerful magic users, and was known to be erratic in its burning, often spitting out little flames that would ignite anything it touched instantly, or else dying down to embers abruptly and refusing to be stoked back to life.
Merlin favored the flames and, although he never told anyone, he had the habit of lighting his fireplace every night with it, reading and studying in what was always for him a constant and steady light, while his cat basked and napped on the warm hearth. Merlin could only imagine the look on Gaius' face if he knew, and he had seen enough raised eyebrows and stern frowns to last him a lifetime.
Dragon's Flame was here tonight, Merlin knew, because of its most unique characteristic: No one could tell lies while in its presence. The fire could not compel them to speak, but any words spoken had to be truth.
He had not realized he was staring into the fire stupidly until a hand fell on his shoulder, startling him out of his reverie. Merlin recognized the man vaguely from his Modern Magical Governors textbook, which Gaius had insisted he read from front to back thoroughly (Merlin made it through 20 pages before letting his cat use it as a scratching post). Senior Wizard Geoffrey gave him a stern glare and then addressed the fire.
"We gather today in front of the Fire of Truth to present to Court and country the new Merlin!"
Merlin felt his stomach flip unpleasantly when cheers came from all around him. There were people on the other side of the fire, and a lot of them if the sound they were making was any indication. Merlin felt his skin flushing, and could only hope that since he couldn't see them, they couldn't see him either.
He jumped again when another hand landed on his shoulder, and he turned to see the electric woman from the judging room. She gave his shoulder a sharp squeeze before addressing the fire like Geoffrey.
"But before he can be instated, the question of the late Merlin's death is to be settled. My King?"
A serious voice that Merlin could have recognized anywhere floated over to him from across the fire. "Well, are you prepared to prophesy for us? Tell, who or what caused the death of the last Merlin?"
And this was more embarrassing then dressing in his street clothes or being half naked in front of the entire Court. He had no idea how the late Merlin had died. Merlin Forrester had been a jolly man, and had reminded Merlin strongly of Father Christmas. He had a very grand funeral only six months before, and the flower shops had a shortage of flowers for weeks as people paid homage by placing flowers over his grave and, when room ran out, anywhere they could think of. Merlin had placed a flower of his own, but never had he heard a whisper of how Merlin Forrester had actually died.
Merlin felt his brow growing sweaty from pressure. He obviously wasn't supposed to be here. Had anyone ever failed this part? Shouldn't they be asking him about magical theorems or to do complicated enchantments? He shouldn't be here.
Just as he was preparing to open his mouth to alert someone to this, a chuckling whisper drifted to him from the fire.
"Poison," it whispered to him.
"Poison?" Merlin answered back out loud and felt himself flush as Geoffrey and the woman gave him sharp glances.
"And who administered this poison?" the King asked, sounding unsurprised.
Merlin was silent, and the fire whispered again. Merlin gave a quick glance to Geoffrey, who was staring impassively ahead again, and realized he was the only one that could hear the whisper.
"Chancellor Bayard?" he repeated what the whisper had shared, and he heard the crowd whisper excitedly.
Geoffrey and the electric woman, hands still on his shoulders, pushed him forward, suddenly, and Merlin found himself stumbling into the fire. When he came to a stop, in a rather sprawling, undignified position on the ground, he looked up to find that he was safely on the other side of the fire without a burn. In front of him was a raised dais where the royal family was sitting, and there were waves and waves of people sitting in towering stands behind them, and they were all applauding wildly.
"Behold," King Uther called from the sea of voices, "the new Merlin!"
Merlin straightened up with as much dignity as possible, and dusted the ash off his shorts. The crowd had grown silent, and when he looked up, they were all staring at him in silent awe.
"Um, hello?" he squeaked out, waving timidly. "I'm, er, Merlin Emrys. Or, I guess Merlin Merlin Emrys now. Oh, that's going to sound silly. Just call me Merlin? I'm Merlin," he finished lamely. Everyone was silent for a beat, and Merlin could see Arthur cover his face and shake his head in disbelief.
"The Fire of Truth!" someone suddenly shouted, though Merlin couldn't tell what direction it came from. He looked down to see the fire behind him had spread all over his body, following the paths of black paint. He touched on trail of flame tentatively, but it merely tickled his skin in a warm, feathery way. He felt a wide smile pulling on his face, and pet the fire affectionately down his arm.
"By the Fates, he's actually the Merlin!" another voice called out, and there was another beat of silence before the cheering started again, this time so thunderous and loud that it was echoing around deep in Merlin's chest, making his heart beat erratically. And he knew for sure, this time, that they could all see the violent blush that when from his face to his toes.
It occurred to Merlin, perhaps too late, that people might start treating him differently when they found out he was Merlin. After sending three maids, a butler and a page into complete hysterics at the just sight of him, Geoffrey had banished all non essential personnel from the grand sitting room Merlin had been sequestered in. That, unfortunately, did not include royal prats.
"What, exactly, possessed you to strip down to your pants and parade yourself in front of the entire country?" was the first thing Arthur asked, once he weaseled his way past security and plopped himself on elegant sofa in the corner of the room.
Merlin rolled his eyes. "It's an ancient ceremonial tradition that dates back to the first Merlin's time. Anyway, its better than wearing formal robes, you should have seen what everyone else was wearing."
Arthur shrugged indifferently, but was staring at Merlin's torso intently. "Do they have meanings? The symbols?"
Merlin smiled, and walked over to where Arthur was sprawled to point out some of the more interesting shapes. Half way through his explanation about the ones on the arch of his feet, Arthur grabbed his arm and hauled it close to his face, leaving Merlin squawking indignantly.
"Oh, hush," Arthur chided, and poked at his left forearm. "I've seen this before. What does it mean that its placed there?"
Merlin felt his heart quicken. "Tell me what the symbols mean, then I'll tell you."
Arthur looked at him speculatively. "I don't think I like those terms. You go first."
Merlin pursed his lips and shook his head. If a prat like Arthur could find the symbols, surely Merlin could discover them on his own.
Sighing, Arthur pushed off the sofa and started loping towards the door. "Come on, you pig headed idiot. Its time to meet your adoring public."
Merlin grabbed his wrist frantically. "Promise me you'll help me out if I start to act like an idiot," he begged.
"That would be a full time position, I would think," Arthur teased. Merlin was unimpressed.
"Look, I'm going to be Merlin for the foreseeable future, and your father plans on stepping down and letting you run things soon, so we are literally going to be the most powerful men in the country, and we are going to be working tandem. If you would like that future time together to be completely miserable, you can continue being an gigantic arse. If, however, you'd like a peaceful rule, you'll stop me from putting my foot in my mouth and tripping over everything. Please," Merlin added for extra measure, as he had discovered in the four years of knowing Arthur that he was amenable to flattery, but was completely undone by humility.
Arthur ran his free hand down Merlin's left forearm while twisting his wrist in Merlin's hand until their fingers were entwined. "Together, right? You'll be fine. We'll be fine," Arthur assured him, tugging on his hand and leading them out the door.
And they were.
Merlin's teacher, mentor and honorary uncle, Gaius, had worked as the Royal Physician since before Merlin was born. In the course of being in Gaius' life, Merlin's path had occasionally crossed with Arthur's while growing up. He did not actually meet Arthur, truly meet him, until his first year of university.
"What are you doing in my flat?" Merlin had asked, finding the prince of Albion lounging on his worn couch upon returning from his first day of classes. "Is this a joke?"
Arthur rolled his eyes, and continued petting Merlin's cat, who was curled on his stomach and purring (the traitor). "I live here, too, you idiot. We're to be flat mates. This was worked out weeks ago, if you had been paying attention."
Merlin wanted to be scathing back, but the tiny part of his brain that remembered skipping over unread emails from Gaius wouldn't allow it. Merlin simply sighed and collapsed on the overstuffed armchair near the fireplace. They sat in silence, listening to the clock tick and the cat purr.
"What's his name?" Arthur asked suddenly. "The cat's, I mean?"
Arthur turned to give him a disbelieving stare, which forced the cat off his stomach and on to the floor. Slash gave a disgruntled yowl and curled up on the hearth.
"What kind of name is Slash?" Arthur asked.
"My mate, Will, was horribly unimaginative growing up. Slash was originally his pet before I got him. Will had the tendency to name pets for things they did. He had a dog for while named Wag, a bird named Chirpy and, well, you get the point. And Slash, er, he didn't take well to being locked in rooms, and took his frustrations out on the curtains and every other piece of fabric he could reach. It wasn't long before his mum had had enough and handed him over to my family. But Will had already named him..."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Should I be careful with my clothing?"
"Oh, no," Merlin assured him. "He's outgrown his slashing days. He just purrs and sleeps, now a days."
"Your mate, Will? Does he live near here?"
"Actually, Will's gone," Merlin explained. Arthur looked very solemn. Realization hit Merlin, and he rolled his eyes. "To the States, not Avalon! Although he probably has enough STI's to take him out sooner rather than later now."
Arthur gave a little huffing laugh, and Merlin smiled a little wider. The rest of the day had been filled with companionable chats and teasing, and by the time Merlin had gone to bed, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to have Prince Arthur as a friend.
Living with a prince was not much different than living with anyone else, except their food cupboards were never bare and there were always cars waiting out front to take them where every they needed to go. Merlin had asked Gaius who had decided to have them room together, and he had merely shrugged and told him to re-read the chapter on theoretical interplanetary travel.
Merlin had finally gotten up the courage to ask Arthur himself two years into the flatmate-ship.
"Merlin, are you daft? I chose to live with you. As if anyone could order me around like that," Arthur snorted.
"But! We had hardly spoken before! What in the world possessed you?"
Arthur gave him a disbelieving stare. "Merlin, I know who you are. I have heard Gaius mention you to my father several times. Whether you know it or not, several key political figures have been monitoring your education for years. I thought it would be to our advantage if we got to know each other sooner rather than later."
Merlin felt his stomach churn, and had to ask even though he suspected the answer. "Who exactly do you think I am?"
"Merlin. Not just Merlin, but the Merlin. And future Merlin. You are, in every sense of the word, Merlin," Arthur concluded, waving his hands around vaguely.
"You think I am the reincarnation of the most powerful warlock known, and that I will someday become the second most powerful leader in the country? You know that sounds crazy, right?"
Arthur clapped him on the shoulder. "As is the way with most things that are true. If it makes you feel better, I'm pretty sure I'm the reincarnation of the King the first Merlin served."
And even though Merlin didn't like to think about reincarnation, about his natural ability with magic or about creepy politicians watching his life, it did make him feel a bit better to think him and Arthur were destined to be together.
"So, Merlin, how are things? You look a bit peaky," his sister-in-law, Gwen, asked, while fussing with the collar of his shirt. It had been almost two weeks since the Merlin ceremony, and in that period Gwen had developed the habit of dissolving into tears when seeing him. His brother, Lance, had chalked the whole thing up to pregnancy hormones, and had pulled Merlin aside to apologize after the first time Gwen had cried all over him. Merlin remembered the rollercoater ride that Gwen's first pregnancy with Mordred had caused, and had waved off Lance's apologies. Gwen had yet to cry on him today, so Merlin allowed the clothing fussing, convinced that it was a step in the right direction.
"I'm fine, just a bit...overwhelmed. Everyone wants a piece of me, these days. I popped into the grocer for some milk the other day, and it took me an hour to get back to the flat because of the mob of teenage girls that found me wouldn't let me go. Also, I didn't think it possible, but the number of reporters outside our flat have doubled. It's kind of a nightmare, actually."
"They're letting you stay at your flat, still? I thought they would have moved you to the castle," Lance asked, sticking his head around the doorway from the kitchen.
"They tried," Merlin replied darkly, "But I adamantly refused. If it's been good enough for the prince all these years, there's no reason it can't be enough for me. I can take care of myself."
"Well, at least Slash can take care of us. Fates save the moron who disturbs his nap. He's ferocious as a lion," Arthur added proudly, carrying in a stack of dishes. Merlin shared a smile with him and made sweeping motion with his hand, and the dishes arranged themselves perfectly around the dining room table.
Sunday dinner at Lance and Gwen's home had been a tradition for years, one that Arthur insisted upon once he discovered Lance could cook like a king and Gwen baked like a queen. Gwen found Arthur charming and Lance liked to have someone to talk sports with, so the arrangement worked out for all of them.
Arthur usually brought his seven year old twin cousins, Morgana and Morgause, who adored Merlin's nephew, Mordred, even though he was two years younger than them. Arthur showed up alone today, however, and it wasn't until halfway through dinner that Merlin remembered to ask where they were.
"Oh, their mother is back in town for the time being, so they are trying to be with her for every possible moment until she leaves again. Aunt Nim is very busy, and is traveling most of the year."
"I'd like to meet her," Gwen added, smiling fondly. "She must be an extraordinary woman to have such wonderful daughters." Gwen was very taken with the two girls, who worshiped her and her homemade cookies whole heartedly in return. Merlin found them a bit creepy, though it might be because of their habit of staring at him assessingly and then whispering secretively amongst themselves. They were obviously plotting something, and Merlin didn't think that he would like whatever it was.
"Well, you can ask Merlin what he thought of her, he's talked to her several times."
Merlin looked at Arthur in shock. "I have?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You idiot, she was the judge for the Merlin trials!"
"The freaky electric lady is your aunt? You know what, it really isn't that shocking. It explains a lot about Morgana and Morgause, now that I think about it."
Gwen was mouthing the words "freaky electric lady?" to Arthur, who shrugged.
"Speaking of family," Lance said suddenly, "I've got a package for you, Merlin, from Mum and Dad. Gwaine met up with them last week and shared the good news, and they gave him this to pass along. At least that's what I think his letter was trying to get across. I think he might a have been a bit, er, into his drink at the time."
"Where are they now? I can never keep up," Arthur asked as Lance left the room to grab Merlin's gift.
"My parents are in the Amazon at the moment, cataloging magical plants. Gwaine is...well, anywhere that has a bar as his attention," Merlin confessed.
"This package was postmarked in Russia, don't ask me how he got there from Brazil," Gwen added, shaking her head ruefully. "He has all of your father's wanderlust and none of your mother's common sense."
Lance returned and handed a weathered brown package to Merlin. Merlin tore off the crinkled paper and a heavy tome fell into his lap. Mordred, who per normal had spent the entire dinner sitting quietly and watching everyone talk, moved closer so he could see the cover.
"Uncle Merlin," he whispered, "Why does it have weird letters?"
"They're runes, you'll start learning them when you start school," Arthur interrupted before Merlin could answer. He scooped the book off Merlin's legs, and let out a low whistle. "And your Uncle Merlin here is now in possession of a very fine, very old copy of 'The Legends of Merlin'."
Merlin groaned, and let his head fall back. "Will I ever be able to convince anyone that I am not the Merlin?"
Everyone was silent.
"Come on, Mordred, I'll read you some stories about your Uncle's previous life," Arthur finally spoke up, and shot Merlin an evil grin. Merlin buried his head in his arms and Gwen patted him consolingly on the back.
"Here we go, 'The Legends of Merlin', penned by the High King Pendragon. Once upon a time..."
"What the hell are you doing?"
Merlin wrenched his arm out of Arthur's grip and fell against the wall on the other side of the small corridor Arthur had dragged them to.
"I could ask you the exact same thing!" Arthur hissed, looking livid. "Were you paying attention to the discussion in there or were you day dreaming?"
"I was paying perfect attention!"
"Then why didn't you speak up the entire time? Do you know that they are voting on the education bill tomorrow, and nearly everyone supports Edwin's proposal? Even though you and my father have a great deal of voting power, its still not majority. You need to be recruiting other members of the council to your side!"
"Maybe," Merlin murmured, "I am not against Edwin's proposal."
Arthur stared at him. "You can't be serious."
"I think that separate schools for magic and non-magic learning might be a good idea! It would allow everyone to have specialized education based on their strengths."
"It would set the non-magical students back a great deal! You know that everyone glorifies magic around here, look at how they've made you into a national hero in a two months! All of the funding will go the magic schools, and regular schools and their students will get the short end of the stick."
Merlin sighed. "I see your point, but Edwin-"
Arthur scoffed scathingly. "Yes, 'Edwin'. Could you be anymore obvious? Why don't you just get off with him so your stupid infatuation will pass and you can get the little common sense you have back!"
"Excuse me!" Merlin sputtered, "You are totally off base!"
"The way you fawn over him-"
"Well, I don't know how else to explain this mental lapse! You are Merlin-"
"Maybe I don't want to be Merlin! Maybe I just want to be myself, and not have people expect all of these things from me. I thought you were my friend, and you liked me. But-well, who cares. I'll see you tomorrow at the vote."
"Where are you going?" Arthur barked.
"Away from you!" Merlin yelled back, and stalked away.
He was tempted to take a page out his brother Gwaine's book and hole up in the local tavern, drinking his woes away, but he ended up back at his flat instead. He was briefly worried about another confrontation with Arthur, but it ended up being meaningless, as Arthur never came back home.
So Merlin did the next best thing to drinking – he ran himself a hot bath and moped.
It was a perfectly cathartic experience until the woman appeared.
"Bloody hell!" Merlin squeaked as a woman's face appeared in the water. He covered himself a best as possible with his hands. "Who are you?"
She smiled serenely. "I am the Lady of the Lake."
"Well, you are currently the Lady of my Tub, so can you leave? Can you leave?" Merlin asked, suddenly curious. "Or do I have to send you down the drain with the water?"
The Lady looked unamused. "I can leave when I wish to. However, I wanted to come here to see you. I knew the first Merlin, and I had heard talk-"
Merlin scowled, feeling all of his anger from earlier boiling up. "I'm not your Merlin!"
"I know that," she said, gently. "Merlin, you are his reincarnation, but you are not his clone. You are of the same clay, but you can be shaped into different things. You might be interested to know that my Merlin felt trapped by destiny, too, but he discovered there are many different ways to reach the end of the race. Do you understand?"
Merlin nodded, and felt understood for the first time since the ceremony.
"So," he started, feeling a bit sheepish, "You knew Merlin? I don't remember the Lady of the Lake being in 'The Legends of Merlin'."
"Well, that was a bit more fiction then not, if I remember correctly. Arthur did know how to weave a tale."
"Yes, High King Arthur Pendragon. Him and Merlin were dear friends. Arthur's father was cruel man who purged sorcerers from his kingdom. When he died, Arthur welcomed all of the remaining magic users back to his kingdom, but magic was still a secretive and somewhat shameful thing for decades after. Merlin, who helped King Arthur unite all of Albion under one rule, and who was his most faithful companion, never received as much credit as he was due. 'The Legends of Merlin' was Arthur's way of remembering Merlin to the kingdom. I don't think he could have imagined how it would gain in popularity, and would soon become the revered text it is today."
Merlin was silent for a moment. "Arthur wrote that book for Merlin, to give him concrete proof of their friendship?"
"It may have gone a bit deeper than that."
Merlin sighed, but it was contemplative. "We're of the same clay, huh? I suppose it might be Merlin's turn to make an overly large gesture to Arthur."
"I'm glad we had this talk," the Lady said, smiling kindly. "I have a gift and a suggestion, if you would like either."
Merlin nodded. "If this is going to be big, might as well do it right."
Edwin was waxing on at length about the value of specific magical training, and Arthur looked ready to storm away in anger when Merlin finally arrived at the voting session the next day. Luckily for his plan, the session was being held in the hall completely lined in windows to the outside.
Geoffrey finally had shuffled Edwin off the stage ten minutes later, and looked frazzled. "Now, if everyone has said their piece-"
Sensing his moment, Merlin teleported himself unto the podium.
Geoffrey fell off the stage in surprise, and the entire room broke out into cries. Merlin looked quickly to Arthur, who was staring at him in awe. It might have been in response to Merlin being half naked again, with his ceremonial paint on, or it might have been due to the giant sword he was holding.
It was probably the sword.
"Before we vote," Merlin started, using magic to magnify his voice rather than bothering with the microphone, "I feel I should speak. When Merlin lived hundreds of years ago, he forged Excalibur, the sword of the High King Arthur Pendragon. The blade was made by an ordinary blacksmith and was tempered with Dragon's Flame, the most magical fire in existence. This sword, made from both non-magic and magic, helped unite Albion. Merlin and King Arthur united Albion. To split something so essential to greatness, I think, would be a great crime. That's why implore you all to vote down Edwin's proposal."
Everyone was gaping at him. Gaius, who was seated next to King Uther looked like he was both appalled and enthralled with what was happening. When no one spoke, Merlin continued.
"Now, Excalibur was lost to history, but since I am pledging myself, today, to work in partnership and harmony with the crown for the rest of my days, I have forged a new sword. Let it be a symbol of a new and better Albion."
"But- You don't have a dragon!" Edwin spluttered, finally realizing that there was going to be serious resistance to his idea, and looking to discredit him.
"Oh, yes I do," Merlin countered, and tried to contain his grin as the entire room screamed and gasped at the four story high dragon on the other side of the windows. When it quieted down to a bearable level of noise, Merlin decided to finish.
"So are we all on the same page. I'm Merlin. This is my giant sword. That is my giant dragon. I don't want you to vote yes today. Neither does my giant dragon."
History was made when every single council member voted no, including Edwin.
"So," Arthur started, startling Merlin out of his thoughts, "That was some speech you gave earlier."
"How did you find me?" Merlin asked, astonished. He had chosen to retreat to one of the less popular courtyards on the palace grounds.
Arthur rolled his eyes and gestured at the dragon, which was chewing on the top of a large oak tree and likely visible a league away.
"Oh, right," Merlin replied.
Arthur sat next to him. "I don't think I told you before, but I love your body paint. I'm going to make you wear it whenever I can."
Merlin looked over at him, but Arthur was staring at his left forearm.
"Runes placed on the right forearm," Merlin explained, " Are for identity. Right side has purpose, it does things. In my case, these ruins are 'Emrys', because I am everything that is Merlin. Magic and destiny and all that. The left arm, however, is connected to the heart. It is background to everything else, but necessary for life. Love, I guess, is the purest interpretation."
Arthur looked at him suddenly, and before Merlin knew it, he had him pressed flat on the grass.
"Those runes say 'Pendragon'," Arthur whispered, hovering over him.
"I know," Merlin whispered back, "I figured it out when I looked at the book my parents sent me last night."
Arthur kissed him then, and it was the most perfect fusion of the natural and magical worlds ever.
"Did you really make a sword for me as a declaration of love?" Arthur asked a while later, when they broke away. Merlin laughed in pleasant surprise.
"Oh, no! Wasn't that brilliant though? That's actually the real Excalibur. The Lady of the Bathtub gave it to me last night. I would have made you a sword, but all the dragons are dead, and the Dragon's Flame I use is just not the same."
Arthur sat up, and gestured to the dragon in the clearing with them, which was now curled in a ball and sleeping.
"That's not a real dragon. That's Slash," Merlin explained.
"You turned our cat into a dragon?" Arthur asked, deadpan.
"I just made him look like a dragon. The Slash-Dragon will be the Slash-Cat in about twenty minutes. Fates, can you imagine if he was a real dragon?"
"I know, we'd have to rename him Flamey," Arthur answered with a laugh. He looked at Merlin, tenderly. "You really did all of this for me?"
Merlin looked at him consideringly.
"Did you know why King Arthur wrote 'The Legends of Merlin'?"
"No, but I can imagine I have done and will continue to do a great deal for you," he replied.
"There's your answer. Now, kiss me again before Slash changes back and goes on a kitty rampage," Merlin demanded.
"Wait," Arthur piped up later, when they were getting ready for bed. "Did you say there's a Lady in our bathtub?"