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Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x01: The Beginning
Kilgharrah, called Gary, is the newest dragon on Mount Flame, where most of his race lives, sent because his parents wanted him safe from the Humans encroaching on their territory. His adjustment to life on mountain isn’t easy, though, when he’s greeted by some dragon bullies. Luckily, he’s rescued by the free-spirited Kestrel and some of his friends, and he decides that maybe his move to Mount Flame isn’t all bad after all ...

Merlin, as a lowly intern at Camelot Production Company, is not allowed to express his opinions. This was pressed into his mind before he walked in the first day by his Uncle Gaius, one of the art directors, and then by his direct supervisor, a lovely young woman named Gwen who is madly in love with the Executive Producer’s niece, the second he actually did walk through the door. And then by the Executive Producer’s niece, a frighteningly beautiful girl his age named Morgana, five minutes later when he dared to say that she didn’t actually work there and he didn’t see why he had to make her coffee. Most of the time he manages to abide by this simple rule, other than the occasional comment muttered under his breath because he’s only human.

Some times, though, it’s harder to stay quiet than others. Like when his Uncle Gaius is sitting in the Executive Producer’s office actually suggesting they produce a show called Kilgharrah’s Adventures which, from what he’s picked up, is an animated teen show about dragons having regular teen show drama. Gay dragons.

“I’m not sure about this, Gaius,” says Uther Pendragon, Executive Producer and the Scariest Man Alive (voted by staff secret ballot when he was in France glowering at people shooting a mini-series).

“It gets a whole demographic that is usually lost until they’re old enough to watch adult television. There aren’t many fantasy shows for teens.”

“I understand that, but animation?”

The Simpsons is one of the most popular adult shows in America, as is that wretched South Park, not to mention all that Japanese nonsense, and you’ve seen the scripts. They’re well-written, and Arthur has already expressed an interest in playing Gary.”

Merlin arches his eyebrows and busies himself with the coffee machine, because as far as he knows, Arthur Pendragon hasn’t deigned to do television yet, or anything but Shakespeare since his first Prince Hal, and he can afford to be picky. Then again, it could be because he wants to help out his father. “He has, has he?” muses Uther, and Merlin serves his coffee with a flourish, just the way he likes it (the flourish isn’t the way he likes it. One milk and no sugars and a bit of cinnamon if there is any is the way he likes it. Merlin likes to think that the flourish is a bonus). “And what’s all this about the dragons being homosexual, Gaius?” Or perhaps Pendragon Junior is getting involved because he wants a soapbox.

Gaius sighs. “This is the generation that accepted Dumbledore’s sexuality, Uther.” Merlin does not laugh. Does. Not. Laugh. “One must move with the times. It is a risky move, the whole show is, but we’ve made risky moves in the past and they’ve always turned out well.”

“Very well, Gaius, I’ll trust you. If Arthur’s interested in it, there must be something there.”

It’s a hot July, and Merlin seems to spend it scrambling around running errands that have to do with Kilgharrah’s Adventures, which Morgana instantly dubs Gary’s Playtime on one of her frequent visits to the office. He reads scripts, looks over paperwork, sits in on what seem like a thousand meetings about casting and animation style, and begins to take a sort of horrified pride in the show coming together.

A week before the voice actors are meant to record the first few episodes, disaster strikes. Edwin Muirden, the actor cast to play Kestrel (Gary’s love interest and a bit of a nutter if you ask Merlin, which of course no one does, because honestly, Gary spends the first episode acting like a complete wanker and there’s no way anyone would take to him that quickly, even if they aren’t technically in True Love yet), flounces out of a meeting for some weird reason Merlin can’t even pretend to understand.

They scramble their way very quickly through a second round of auditions. Henry Valiant makes Kestrel sound far too much like Arthur’s interpretation of Gary (there’s a tape, but no sign of the man himself yet, because he’s still performing and that apparently keeps him from being in the studio at reasonable hours). Tristan Dubois is stiff as a board over the microphone, even if he’s a bit of a wild thing on screen (Merlin gets his autograph before he leaves, and Gwen shakes her head sadly at him).

Everyone’s starting to get a little panicked by the time they bring in Mordred Lothian, Morgana’s latest boy-toy (Gwen looks tortured), younger than Merlin, and then Mordred cannot seem to keep a line in his head for more than five seconds. And then it happens: Gaius is playing Arthur’s recording of the audition scene, where the two dragons meet for the first time, and Mordred is supposed to say the first line in their conversation, after he’s chased the bullies off. Mordred is missing his cue, again and again, and sounds saccharine-sweet when he finally does manage to get some semblance of the lines across. “Try again,” says Gaius at the end of a big sigh, his this-is-your-last-chance-by-God-don’t-let-me-down sigh.

Arthur Pendragon’s plummy accent, pitiful and just this side of whiny, rings out of the speakers again. “What, have you come to bully me as well? I’ll take you too.”

Merlin, who’d only meant to mouth the words, finds himself the only one speaking when Mordred misses his cue yet again, sarcasm dripping from every syllable: “No, I’m here to help you out, actually. Wouldn’t have bothered to send them away if I was just going to keep hurting you.”

The whole production team and Mordred snap to look at him, and Merlin thinks faintly that Gaius is probably going to kill him.

And then Uther starts laughing.
*
Killgharrah’s Adventures 1x02: Flame School
Gary goes to his first day at Flame Academy on the mountain in the company of Kestrel and his other new friends, but Amara and her friends don’t want to make life easy for him: Gary finds himself blamed for a disaster that nearly causes a rockslide on the mountain, and it’s up to he and Kestrel to clear his name.

Almost overnight, Merlin finds himself signed to play Kestrel in Kilgharrah’s Adventures, no longer a lowly production intern but Talent, although he finds himself making a lot of coffee anyway.

“I didn’t know you wanted to be an actor, though I should have guessed,” says Gwen over lunch one day. “Most of the interns here do, which was why I was so pleased when you actually seemed interested in the production side of it.”

“I am!” Merlin assures her. “Honestly, I’m waiting for someone to tell me this is some sort of horrible accident and send me back to manning the front desk. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is quite a lark, but I doubt I’ll be trying for any parts after this, and ten episodes of an animated show aren’t going to make me fabulously wealthy or anything.”

Gwen shakes her head. “I can see it happening. You’ve got that spark in your eye now.” Before Merlin can ask what on earth she means, Gwen stops paying attention, which invariably means that Morgana has entered the office. Instead of going to her uncle’s office, though, she strides over to Merlin and Gwen, a cat-that-got-the-canary expression on her face. “Can we help you, M-Morgana?”

“Merlin, I am going to arrange for you to co-star in everything my cousin does for the foreseeable future,” Morgana declares, and Merlin just stares at her and wonders what she’s talking about. “I haven’t heard him splutter like that since the first boy he asked out turned him down.”

Merlin’s heart sinks. “What did I do?”

“He heard your preliminary recordings, and oh, he’s raging. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Gwen jumps to his defense while he’s still gaping like a fish out of water, and manages for once to get out an intelligible sentence in Morgana’s presence. Merlin makes a note to buy her a chocolate bar later. “Merlin didn’t do anything wrong! Uther and Gaius both told him to do it exactly like that, and the whole production team was in stitches!”

“Well, Arthur’s redoing his lines now, and said he didn’t know his father hires hams, and really, it’s absolutely glorious. I wish I’d thought to record it for posterity.” Morgana’s smile is sharp and terrifying, and Merlin decides that he’s going to get her on his side properly at some point, because he suspects making an enemy of her wouldn’t be wise. “My dear cousin thinks he’s been upstaged.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Merlin protests.

“I know you didn’t, because you’re a precious lamb.” Morgana actually pats his cheek, and Merlin ponders reminding her that they are both about to enter their last year of university and she is not his Great-Aunt Mabel. Gwen gives him a wide-eyed look from the other side of the table. “With Arthur using all his Shakespearean training and you being yourself and that bitch Sophia playing to type perfectly, there is no way this show won’t be a hit.”

Morgana sweeps off, and Merlin waits to speak again until she’s out of sight, because he’ll get no sense from Gwen until she’s gone. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Morgana’s instincts are better than Uther’s,” says Gwen, ever the champion of the heir to the production company. “If she says you’ll be a hit, you will be.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

Arthur’s in Edinburgh playing Laertes for the summer, but his next set of recordings arrive the next morning. Merlin sits down to listen with Sophia Moore, who plays Amara, the bitchy dragon, and a few other cast members, their rough readings temporarily edited in so they can hear what they’ll have to change.

The differences are small at first. Most of the whine is out of Arthur’s voice as he reads the lines, and Merlin thinks that he sounds like a teenager out of place in a new setting for the first time. Then Merlin hears his own voice, and a second later, there’s Arthur again--but this time, there’s no self-pity, and certainly no whining. Where Merlin’s sarcastic but trying to be nice, Arthur’s voice is full of the don’t-you-dare-pity-me that Merlin recognizes from every time he’s thrust into a new situation. It sounds like they’re sniping at each other, Kestrel’s friends mediate when it gets to be too much, and Merlin is surprised to find several other cast members hiding smiles behind their hands.

Uther’s smile is thin, but satisfied. “Whatever you’re doing, Merlin, keep doing it, and we might just have a hit on our hands.”

Merlin stammers and blushes and after the meeting, Morgana takes him aside and presses a printout into his hand. “Arthur e-mailed me about the recordings last night, and there was a message for you in there.”

“If he’s threatening to kill me if I ruin his career ...”

“Oh, my dear boy, it’s much better this way and he knows it. Just read the note.” She goes off to terrify the intern hired to replace him or possibly to lean on Gwen’s desk and allow Gwen to ogle her cleavage, leaving Merlin clutching the printout.

Fair play to you, Emrys, it reads. The game is on.

“Game?” Merlin says to nobody in particular, and it comes out a squeak. “What game?”
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x03: The First Ship
One day while Gary and Kestrel are out flying, they see a broken Human ship pulling up on the shore and a few humans getting out. None of the adults on Flame Mountain believe that Humans can get close to them, though, so it’s left to the two young dragons and their friends to make it easy for the unwanted visitors to fix their boat and then leave, all while staying hidden.

Arthur comes back to London, but Merlin doesn’t manage to meet him because his uni classes have started back up so his recording sessions have moved to the evening, and Arthur is rehearsing another production of Hamlet so his recording sessions are during the day.

Morgana breaks up with Mordred and has a torrid two-week affair with Morgause, who does the voice for one of Kestrel’s friends. Gwen spends the two weeks alternately devastated that Morgana isn’t single and elated that she’s apparently bisexual, and Merlin tries not to laugh when he takes her out for coffee between his classes.

They’re polishing up episode three and Merlin is given a few sketches of his character from a friend in the art department (as slender as the girl dragons, but blue and silver and with big frills on his head, very funny, animators). That same night, Merlin finds the first Post-It pressed to the window in his usual recording booth, and Owain, the technician, is smirking. Ham it up much more and we’ll have to serve you for Christmas dinner, Emrys. -A.P.

After the session, Merlin, annoyed with Shakespearean-trained prats, the art department, and the word “invincibility,” which has kept him in the booth an extra half hour because he apparently can’t spit it out, snatches another Post-It and scrawls a note back. Better a bit over the top than declaiming family television like it’s bloody Lear. -M.E.

Morgana finds him at uni the next afternoon to deliver a note on the company’s stationery. You might have heard of this thing called enunciation, and if you haven’t, someone ought to tell you about it. Merlin leaves him a note in the booth when he goes that night to clean up his pronunciation. Passing notes through your cousin, Pendragon? Nobody told me you’re a thirteen-year-old girl.

The next night, Morgana is waiting for him when he gets to the studio. “Arthur turned a shade of red that would put tomatoes to shame,” she informs him with a gleeful grin. “Whatever did you say to him?”

“I told him to stop passing me notes like we’re in the back row of geometry or something. We’re both adults. If he has problems with my performance he can bloody well tell me.”

“Merlin, darling,” she coos, “you sound a bit overstressed. And he doesn’t have problems with your performance. He has problems with the fact that he’s the straight man. He’s never shown an interest in comedy before, but he simply can’t stand that you’re the one making everyone laugh. Do keep up with it, it’s good for Arthur to be humbled once in a while.”

Merlin has nothing coherent with which to respond to that extraordinary statement, so he flees to the relative safety of the booth. Where there is of course a Post-It note waiting for him, and when Merlin reads it, it takes him a good five minutes to get himself back under control. Do you like me? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

At the end of the session, Merlin doesn’t deign to check a box (honestly, Arthur had dotted the ‘i’ in ‘like’ with a heart), but he does write another note. You do realize you just proved my point, right?

The next few days, as they start recording the fourth episode, where their characters start figuring out that they’re attracted to each other and not just friends (much to the amusement of their friends, of course), there is a veritable flood of hastily-scrawled notes stuck on the studio wall, and Merlin suspects everyone in the office is following along avidly.

Gwen and Morgana seem to have teamed up to make sure that everyone hears about it and that Merlin and Arthur keep having to write notes to each other. Merlin thinks about congratulating Gwen on that, but decides he’s annoyed enough with her to ignore it, even though she’s clearly over the moon that Morgana has decided with characteristic suddenness that Gwen is her new best friend.

The Post-Its, he realizes after a few days, are color-coded. Arthur’s always come to him plain yellow, but when he goes to write his notes in return, there’s only a blue pad around. He suspects Gwen is behind this.

He suspects Morgana is the one who’s taking pictures and putting them up on Facebook on a fan page for “Merlin and Arthur’s Post-It Arguments,” which most of the cast and crew join immediately.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x04: Amara’s Plan
Amara decides that she wants Gary to date her and goes about trying to get him to reciprocate the feeling, but Gary hardly notices her. Kestrel understands what’s going on, however, and he’s torn between getting Amara to leave them alone or letting his new friend join a new group ... even as Gary starts wondering if friendship is all he feels for Kestrel.

Merlin gets to the studio late one night to find both Morgana and Gwen there, giggling and refusing to explain what’s going on. “We had to see your face when you see it,” Gwen gasps, and Merlin is suddenly even more nervous.

“Arthur’s expression was amazing,” says Morgana, and Merlin goes to the studio feeling like he’s going to the chopping block.

The paper taped to the glass studio wall is not a Post-It note. It is obviously from the art department, and Merlin instantly suspects Anthony Hora, who “likes” every single picture on the Facebook group. There, in all its glory, is a fully-colored picture of Kestrel, ear-frills and all, sharing a flirtatious look with a bulkier red-and-gold dragon who must be Gary. They’re blowing smoke rings. Pink ones. Shaped like hearts.

It doesn’t take Merlin long to realize that there’s one of Arthur’s usual yellow Post-Its slapped up next to the picture, and he reads it with a sinking heart. To whoever found this amusing: it is not.

For the rest of the week, there isn’t a single note addressed to Merlin in the studio when he stops in, and everybody looks disappointed, although some genius color photocopied the picture and now everybody has a copy of it. Signed by Anthony Hora. A few of them ask Merlin to autograph it as well, and he declines.

The next picture appears the next Monday, in a slightly different style than the first. Kestrel is sitting alone on a beach, head-frills drooping, and obviously depressed while staring up at the sky, where there’s a red shape flying. Arthur’s note, predictably, is right next to it. If you’re moping like that, you have no right to call me a girl.

You stopped speaking to me for something that wasn’t my fault, Merlin replies, and ignores Morgana’s smug smile when she meets he and Gwen for lunch the next day because he suspects he’ll find out whatever’s pleased her so much that night.

Sure enough, there’s a third picture, Gary and Kestrel spouting flame at each other, but the flames meet in the middle to form a heart. At the bottom of the picture, their tails are twined together.

The conversation continues after that, though it stops being about Merlin’s performance and starts being about the art and the fact that the whole company is watching their every move. Once or twice a week, someone from the art department sends up another picture of the two of their characters, none of them scenes from the episodes (and Merlin devoutly hopes none of the scriptwriters ever see, though he thinks at least two of them are in the Facebook group. Gaius is in the Facebook group, and gives his nephew terrifying eyebrow expressions whenever he sees him). A few times they get X-rated, and Morgana and Gwen are always particularly delighted on those days, even though dragon porn (Oh God, Merlin thinks dispiritedly, there’s a phrase I never want to have to use again) is anything but hot.

Once, Arthur tapes a pair of tickets to Hamlet to the Post-It Wall. It’s ridiculous that we haven’t met yet. Remedy this on Friday night.

Merlin, in a case of the worst luck in history, trips running across campus on Friday afternoon and wakes up Saturday morning with a concussion, and with a red plush dragon next to his hospital bed. It comes with a card, and he instantly recognizes the handwriting. Morgana tells me you would rather break your skull than see me. Have sent my alter ego to protect you, though, while you’re in hospital.

Touched, Merlin takes the dragon home with him when he’s released that night and sets it next to his bed while he spends a week Post-It-less and alone while he waits for the world to stop swimming every time he tries to read something.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x05: The Celebration
The yearly celebration of the anniversary of the founding of Mount Flame has come, and Gary and his friends are preparing to celebrate. In the midst of the preparations, though, it’s found that someone stole the Jewel Egg from where it’s stored for the rest of the year, and since Gary is the newest arrival to the mountain, he’s accused of stealing it. Kestrel and the rest of his friends have to save him before he’s exiled from Mount Flame forever.

Merlin spends his unexpected week off catching up on the uni assignments he’s been procrastinating on, which certainly doesn’t help his headache (nothing helps his headache except the good drugs, and he stops getting those very quickly), but he can’t afford to sit around and watch films all week, so he does homework instead and thinks longingly of the studio before reminding himself that he doesn’t plan to become a career actor.

Halfway through the week, he’s messengered some revised scripts, which play up exactly the sort of banter with Arthur that he most enjoys recording, and he decides with a certain fatalism that apparently being in show business is like living in a fishbowl even before the show airs.

When Merlin returns to the studio, Gwen and Morgana are waiting, and finishing each other’s sentences at an alarming rate. “Arthur left you a note every day,” Morgana informs him before he’s anywhere close to the booth.

“And the art department keeps leaving sketches of Gary pining away while Kestrel is injured, which I think is giving the scriptwriters and storyboarders ideas for if there’s a second series,” Gwen adds.

“Which there might well be, because the first few episodes are almost completely animated after a Herculean effort on the animators’ part, and feedback so far is amazing.”

“Though Uther is worried that there’s too much sexual tension for a family show. Not that he’d ever say that aloud.”

Merlin stares at them, horrified. “Doesn’t anyone around here have anything else to talk about?” Both of them stop and think as if they’re actually considering the question, and Merlin refrains from saying that the answer should be a “yes” without hesitation, as they’ve a business to run. “On the other hand, don’t answer that.”

Gwen pats his hand consolingly. “Of course we have other things to talk about. It’s just that stars having a spat filming on location in Cardiff isn’t nearly as sweet as whatever you boys have going on with the Post-Its.”

“Whatever they have going on indeed,” snorts Morgana. “Arthur pined. He says he is too manly to pine, but he is a dirty liar, and he did. Like a Christmas tree.”

“Christmas trees aren’t pines,” Merlin points out, and Morgana gives him a dirty look.

“He just missed Merlin, is all,” says Gwen, ever the mediator, and Merlin makes a mental note to congratulate her for not instantly capitulating to Morgana like she might have a few weeks ago. And then another mental note to perhaps tell her to make a move before she’s relegated to being the best friend forever, because he spent his last two years of secondary school like that with Will and it was an absolute misery.

“He did no such thing,” Merlin retorts, and heads towards the studio.

“Just wait till you see,” Morgana whispers behind him.

There are five Post-Its and several pictures waiting for him. The pictures are just as Gwen and Morgana described, and the notes wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary (mocking Merlin for clumsiness, commentary on the pictures and the week’s episode of Doctor Who) if it weren’t for the last one: You’d better come back soon, Emrys, this recording business is no fun without your hamming to play off of.

Just to mess with the heads of everyone reading, Merlin writes Knew you loved me. Cannot survive without me.

The next night and sixty comments consisting mostly of exclamation points on the Facebook group later, Merlin returns to the studio and finds a picture of their dragons flying together, wingtip to wingtip, and a note from Arthur: And everyone says I’ve got the big ego.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x06: The Second Ship
Another Human ship comes to the shores off Mount Flame, and this time the adult dragons find out about it. While they debate between hiding and flaming the ship so its occupants can’t go back and tell tales, Gary is injured during a Human hunting expedition and without the help of Kestrel and Amara, he won’t get help without exposing everything. But can the two work together?

“It’s obvious you’re enjoying the acting,” Gwen says one evening when she’s dragged him out to the pub, since miraculously almost everything is recorded and Merlin finds himself with unexpected free time. “I don’t understand why you insist this is a one-off thing.”

“Well, I’m not trained, for one thing,” says Merlin, and she just looks at him. “I was a bit scarred in primary school when every time there was a skit I ended up playing the old man. And this time I’m completely serious. The ears made a convenient place to attach beards.” Gwen chokes on a giggle. “Besides, it’s not practical. And I really do enjoy the production side of things.”

“If you say so.”

“I’m pretty sure the ‘backstage people are just people who weren’t good enough to act’ thing is a complete lie. I mean, do you fancy being an actress?”

Gwen tilts her head. “No, I suppose not. Never was good at memorizing things.” Her mobile goes out, playing some sort of poppy tune that Merlin suspects will be in his head for the next week and a half, and she blushes the second she looks at the caller I.D., which means it’s Morgana. “Yes, hello?” she says, flipping the phone open and giving Merlin an apologetic smile, and then she blinks. “Morgana?” It’s hard to hear in the crowded pub, but Merlin is pretty certain that the voice on the other line is not female. “Wait, you mean Arthur Pendragon?” Gwen says a second later, and there, that confirms that. She starts laughing a second later. “Yes, he’s right here. Merlin, Arthur wants to speak to you.”

Merlin takes the phone automatically. “Um, hello?”

Arthur’s voice is cheerful, and sounds very different when he isn’t reading lines. “Morgana said you were with Gwen. I really ought to get your number at some point.”

“What?”

“You really aren’t more articulate than you are on tape. I’d wondered.” Merlin gapes at the phone. Gwen mouths a question, and he’s pretty sure he can hear Morgana cackling on the other end. “Anyway, I’m throwing a wrap party at my flat tomorrow night, for whatever cast and crew can show up. You ought to come.”

And Merlin has been insanely curious to meet Arthur for months now, but he has to have the worst timing known to mankind. “I’m actually leaving town tomorrow morning for a few days, since I don’t have any lectures. Thanks for the invite.”

“Honestly, Emrys, if I didn’t know better I’d say you were avoiding me. Nighttime recording sessions, concussions, having to leave town ... do you actually exist?”

“Do I what?”

“Are you a ghost or something? Because everybody talks about seeing you, but you could be some sort of elaborate hoax invented by Morgana. I wouldn’t put it past her.”

There’s the sound of a scuffle across the line, and then Morgana comes on, panting a bit. “Honestly, he’s impossible. Really, Merlin, you can’t come? This is ridiculous. Give me to Gwen.” Merlin obeys, because that way Morgana will explain what’s going on and he won’t have to. He feels the sudden urge to get drunk anyway.

Merlin returns from a visit to his mother on Sunday night and calls Gwen to ask about the party. He doesn’t even get as far as a greeting before she is squealing right in his ear. “Morgana kissed me! At the party!” Luckily his strangled noise of surprise counts as a prompt to continue. “She wasn’t even drunk!”

“Wow, Gwen, that’s great. Are you two dating now?”

“I’m not easy,” Gwen mutters, and Merlin chooses not to ask for an explanation of that. “By which I mean no, I don’t think so, but Morgana told me that I am to go to lunch with her tomorrow or suffer the consequences.”

“That means it’s a date. Well, a royal edict, but she’s a Pendragon, we can’t expect better of her.” Gwen makes an enraptured noise and coughs to cover it. “Well, that answers my first question, which was going to be if everyone had fun without me. Obviously you did.”

“Well, most of us did. Someone languished a bit. Pined, even.”

“Before you start, Christmas trees are still not pines.”

“You ought to arrange to meet him,” says Gwen, as severe as she ever can get. “Before the studio spontaneously combusts with the force of your epic sexual tension.”
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x07: Amara’s Revenge
Amara, after helping Gary when he was hurt, assumes that they’re dating. When Gary turns her down, she claims that she thinks he let one of the humans see him on purpose, and Gary is suddenly a pariah. Kestrel fights to prove his innocence, but when he misreads a conversation between Gary and Amara he might give up on his new friend entirely.

It isn’t until Merlin hears the final cut of the audio for the episodes that he realizes what everyone’s been going on about.

He’s not an idiot. He knows that he, at least, has been flirting with Arthur for months, and if Arthur isn’t deliberately flirting back, he’s a bit of a hussy. He knows that the whole office hangs on their scribbled conversations like they’re great literature. He knows that the art department is a bit obsessed with drawing their characters together, but he’d always sort of assumed that they were just the dragon-ish avatars for their actors.

But then he and a bunch of the production team sit in a room to listen to several episodes’ worth of audio, and by the end of the second episode, Merlin is squirming. While he’d recorded it he’d thought it just sounded like a pair of teenage boys sniping at each other and the attraction had been secondary, foisted along mostly by the script. But then, he’d never heard it all in order, smooth, and with their characters’ conversations with other dragons interspersed. Arthur practically purrs every time he says “Kestrel,” and his voice gets a bit deeper during their conversations, and Merlin’s conversely goes embarrassingly high and fast, and Jesus, if the whole audience doesn’t think they’re sneaking out in back of the dragon-bleachers to make out by the end of the third episode, they are completely deaf.

Everyone grins at his obvious discomfort, but they’re all also extremely pleased with everything, and the animators (one of whom is staring at Merlin’s every facial expression so closely that he has to be the one in charge of Kestrel) seem over the moon. Even Uther deigns to smile, which is nothing short of a miracle, and Gaius’s eyebrows stay on one level. Barely.

Merlin seizes Gwen’s arm later when he sees her in the hallway. “We can’t possibly air this as a family show!” he hisses.

“There is no nudity or rude language. And there’s worse innuendo on some children’s shows these days. The whole audience will just want to pinch your cheeks.”

Morgana strides up behind them, and Gwen melts a bit. Of course. His day only needed this. “Has he finally cottoned on, then? I thought he was reacting to the sexual tension with uncharacteristic sangfroid.”

Merlin throws his hands up in the air and stomps off, but Gwen stops him. “There’s a convention, third Saturday of November. Uther wrangled a panel for show personnel. Can you make it?”

“I can’t see any reason why not.”

When he turns around, the girls are holding hands, and Morgana is smirking the smirk of imminent doom. “Oh good, you’ll finally meet Arthur then. He’s deigned to speak to the hoi polloi. Speaking of which, he’s asked me to give you his mobile number.” She pulls a slip of paper out of ... somewhere (Merlin chooses not to look too closely, because her skirt definitely does not have pockets).

It takes two hours of Merlin pacing around his flat that night before he can even think of sending Arthur a text, and he needs to text Will before he actually does it (and then the reply is almost horrifying enough to dissuade him: Just tell him Morgana gave you his number and that you want him to bone you, you knob, it’s not that hard).

Eventually, he manages a message, and pretends it’s like just another Post-It. It’s Merlin. Just finished listening to the audio cut. We are going to be murdered by religious fanatics, aren’t we?

Arthur’s reply takes less than two minutes to arrive. You accepted a part in a show about gay dragons and this has never occurred to you before?

It sounds like we’re about to do anatomically improbable things to each other!

Emrys, are you sexting me?

You are a terrible, unsympathetic person.

If humiliation’s your kink, you’re doing it wrong.

I AM NOT SEXTING YOU, YOU ARSE. Merlin manages not to throw his phone across his apartment, because he is a mature adult and also he can’t afford a new one. Instead, he puts it down on his kitchen counter and goes to his bedroom to surf the internet and sulk.

In the morning, there’s one last message from Arthur: Too bad. You’re missing out.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x08: The Visitor
Cornelius, a friend of Kestrel’s who moved away from Mount Flame, comes back, and Gary finds himself jealous when Kestrel spends all of his time with his old friend. Nobody believes him when he says Cornelius is acting oddly, and when he discovers that Cornelius has been enslaved by a Human wizard looking for the dragon enclave, nobody will believe his warnings ... not even Kestrel.

Merlin dresses with unusual care for the convention, and doesn’t call Gwen for sartorial advice because she won’t let him have his dignity and the illusion that he’s dressing for the potential fans and not meeting Arthur for the first time. He gets to the center early and wanders around, waving at a few people he thinks he recognizes from campus, before Morgana finds him and clamps her hands around his arm. “I am going to leave you somewhere conspicuous and then go find my cousin. He keeps muttering about how he should have asked for an identifying marker, because apparently he doesn’t live in the 21st century and doesn’t know how to stalk you on Facebook like any respectable person would.”

As she speaks, Merlin finds himself deposited on a bench next to a sickly-looking ficus, right outside the small room where they’ll be having their panel. And seeing a trailer for the show for the first time, and won’t that be an adventure? Within five minutes, he’s ripped his program to shreds and is desperately wishing that his phone had Tetris or something on it.

“Well,” says a very familiar voice while Merlin is in the midst of composing a very long text to Will detailing his imminent demise by embarrassment, “that explains the head-frill things.”

Merlin drops his phone and looks up to find Arthur Pendragon, looking disgustingly gorgeous in the afternoon sun, smirking at him. He only just restrains the urge to clap his hands over his ears. “Art department thinks it’s clever,” he mutters.

“Yes, I’ve noticed. A certain A. Hora is on the panel with us. I dread to think what he might say.” Merlin can feel himself going the color of a cooked lobster, and wonders if it’s too late to hide behind the ficus. He’d known Arthur was gorgeous, as he knew how to Facebook stalk even if Arthur didn’t, but he’s still disconcerting up close, especially as they’ve been flirting for months now. Merlin has never got the knack of flirting in person, especially not while sober, so he has no clue what to do. “Look, I refuse to let this become awkward,” Arthur says when Merlin’s answer is not forthcoming. “We’ve been conversing for months. I still can’t believe we haven’t managed to meet before this.”

“Well, at least you know I’m not a figment of your imagination now,” Merlin offers, and is pleased that he’s produced a sentence with multiple nouns and verbs and multi-syllabic words.

Arthur beams, wide and boyish, and shoves Merlin to the side as he sits down, pressing them together. Merlin attempts to tie together the frayed edges of his nerves. “No, I never said I thought you were a figment of my imagination. I said I thought you might be a hoax. Did you ever see that dreadful movie with the android actress? Or maybe she wasn’t a robot ... some sort of computer program.”

“I’m not a robot.”

“Yes, that’s quite evident now that I look at you.” Arthur, who apparently has no sense of personal space whatsoever, tugs his jaw open and actually looks in his mouth like a deranged dentist or someone inspecting livestock. “No circuitry or anything.”

Merlin, mortified, realizes what this must look like from a distance: Arthur’s hands on his jaw, faces so close he can smell the curry Arthur must have had for lunch. He manages to find enough motor control to scoot back, at which point he crashes into the ficus. It wobbles, but miraculously doesn’t fall over. “So have you seen the trailer yet?” he blurts out of nowhere, and his voice cracks on the last world.

Arthur smirks again but doesn’t comment. “No, but Morgana’s been looking unbearably smug, so I imagine it plays the relationship up a great deal. I’m still surprised at how shocked you were at the relationship, considering it was in the script.”

“It wasn’t in the script! Not like that, at least!” Merlin protests, starting to get his voice back to normal.

“Merlin.” Arthur sounds pitying. “It was in your audition tape.”

Merlin stammers something about guild actors and Shakespeare and possibly the art department before he is rescued by Morgana and Gwen’s arrival. “The panel starts in fifteen,” says Gwen, “and you ought to get ready.”

Afterwards, Merlin will declare that sitting in front of the shockingly large audience (considering they’re promoting an animated teen show about gay dragons, he wasn’t expecting many people) and answering questions was akin to watching his life flash before his eyes. Morgana will ask pointedly if his life has been a great deal like the trailer for Kilgharrah’s Adventures, and if so, why he isn’t making a living writing for Penthouse Forum.

Merlin remembers answering a whole lot of questions about his sudden promotion from intern to actor, and listening to Arthur chat about why a Shakespearean actor suddenly decided to turn to teen television, and listening to Gaius and Anthony Hora and the head scriptwriter, a slightly terrifying woman named Nimueh (he suspects that he is looking at what Morgana will look like in twenty years) chat about art styles and production and producing an LGBT-positive show in the current political climate.

And he remembers the trailer. The animation is gorgeous, the backgrounds soft and ashy and the characters bright and stylized, so it all has the look of an old Japanese painting. In between the dramatic music and the hints of action scenes, though, there’s also a great deal of banter between he and Arthur, and the animators have taken their dynamic and run with it.

He also remembers the sheer panic when he hears the first question the moderator asks after the trailer is finished: “So, noting the relationship ... Arthur and Merlin, have you got anything going on?”

Merlin chokes.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x09: The Tipping Point
A few refugees from Human territory arrive on Mount Flame, and one of them tells the story of a pair of dragons killed by a group of humans--Gary’s parents. Gary, devastated, swears revenge and travels to human territory to kill the humans who killed his parents, and Kestrel goes after him--just in time to hear that the Humans have discovered Mount Flame and will be coming to eradicate the dragons for good.

After the second press event, Arthur takes Merlin out for dinner, and Morgana invites herself (and by extension, Gwen) along. Merlin can occasionally string together sentences in Arthur’s presence now, but he’s very glad for some conversational mediation.

Or at least he is until Gwen, halfway through the entree, looks around the table with a bright smile and drops her little bomb. “Oh, I forgot to mention earlier--there’s been such interest in the production during these events and from the beta feedback that Uther is thinking of doing a little making-of featurette for the DVD release.”

“Of course he is,” says Merlin, and takes a large drink of his water because maybe he can pretend it’s alcoholic. “Am I right in assuming that a large part of this featurette is going to feature Post-It notes?”

“It will have to be mentioned,” says Morgana, all superior smiles, and Merlin resists reminding her that she doesn’t actually work for Camelot yet because she doesn’t graduate until he does, as that’s off the point.

Arthur beams. “He might have us do some commentary as well,” he says. “What do you think, Merlin? After all your protestations that this was a one-season gig and that you don’t want to be a full-time actor, we’re getting more publicity than anyone thought possible.”

Merlin opens his mouth to tell Arthur that he’s shocked but actually quite pleased before he remembers that he never actually told Arthur he didn’t want to be a full-time actor, and then he’s too busy wondering which of the girls mentioned it and why to continue on that subject.

After the third press event, Merlin has mostly given up on blushing when someone asks the inevitable “so, are you two seeing each other, then?” question after they see the trailer. He and Arthur go for coffee (alone, which requires subterfuge, in the form of Merlin “accidentally” spilling a cup of water on Gwen’s white blouse so Morgana gets distracted), and spend several hours talking about anything they can think of.

After the fourth press event, Arthur invites Merlin back to his flat.

When they get there, Merlin has enough time to stammer out “Wow, Pendragon, posh much?” before Arthur drags him over to the sofa and pins him there with a look.

“Everyone thinks we’re having sex,” Arthur declares.

“Yes, I said that. I have said that. Multiple times. It’s a bit mortifying, actually. I’m surprised the scriptwriters don’t hate us for taking their little innocent slow-building love story and making it sound like ... that.”

“That isn’t my point.”

“You have a point?” Merlin has, over the past few weeks, managed to mostly get over his difficulty in speaking to Arthur face-to-face. The teasing is still pretty new, though.

Arthur holds out a dramatic arm, and Merlin half-expects a skull to appear in his outstretched hand. “So, here’s what I think: I think we should catch up on this ridiculous amount of wild sex we’re supposedly having.”

Merlin wishes that Arthur had given him tea, or at least water, because that sentence definitely deserves a spit-take and he can’t give it one. He settles for letting out an embarrassing squeaky noise of shock. “You--we--what?”

“I was hoping for a more enthusiastic response, you know,” says Arthur, brows crinkling. “It’s not like you don’t think I’m devastatingly gorgeous.”

“I cannot believe your ego. Also, this is probably the worst proposition I’ve ever heard.”

Arthur throws his hands up in the air. “What do you want, a bouquet? Candles? Bloody Marvin Gaye on the stereo?”

“Well, some indication that you aren’t asking me to sleep with you just because nobody will shag you when they think you’re with me would be nice.” Merlin congratulates himself on sounding calm while he gets that out.

“Dear God, I’ve been flirting with you for months. Are you honestly that thick?”

Merlin ponders that for a few seconds. “It’s just that you’ve got a bit of a reputation for flirting with anything with two legs and a dick, is all.”

“I might murder Morgana,” Arthur remarks. “No jury would convict me. Look, Emrys, despite your being a ham and an insult to the world of classical acting and your tragic ears, I actually think you’re sort of irresistible, so if you’re quite finished sitting there blushing like I’m a dastardly rogue assaulting your virtue, I think we could have some very satisfactory sex.”

“Well, if you just think it’s going to be satisfactory,” Merlin says in his snottiest voice.

Arthur lets out a strangled noise of frustration, hauls Merlin to his feet, and proceeds to bend him over backwards like they’re in an old film and kiss him like they’re in a porno. Merlin shoves him until he pulls away and straightens them up, about to say something affronted, and then Merlin decides to pounce on him before one of them actually explodes.

“Satisfactory?” he pants a few hours later, stretching a crick out of his back before curling up against Arthur, who is sweaty and sticky and a bit amazing.

“Nnnnngh,” replies Arthur.
*
Kilgharrah’s Adventures 1x10: The End of the Beginning
A fleet of Human ships land on the shores by Mount Flame, forcing the dragons to make a choice: should they flee, or should they fight? A visitor tells them of another island in the north where they might be safe, and they prepare to leave, but the night before they’re due to go, Kestrel is captured by the Humans. Gary, still reeling from his parents’ deaths, stays behind to try to save him even as the Humans overrun Mount Flame ...

Most of the cast and crew of Kilgharrah’s Adventures find themselves at Arthur’s flat one freezing January Tuesday to eat popcorn and watch the first episode of the show as it airs. They’ve all seen it before, of course, at least in bits and pieces, but it’s different knowing the rest of the nation can see it too.

Sophia Moore is flirting with Uther, who looks both bemused and vaguely disgusted. The art department are all together in a heap on the floor giggling over scraps of paper in a way that cannot possibly mean anything good. Nimueh is glowering at everyone from a corner, though she and Morgause seem to be getting along like a house on fire and Gaius flits back and forth between her and Uther like he’s trying to stop a war erupting. Morgana and Gwen are draped aesthetically over each other on the sofa.

Merlin is seated firmly in Arthur’s lap. Against his will. “Still can’t believe you pulled this off without me knowing,” Arthur mutters occasionally.

“Morgana’s idea, I just helped with the execution,” Merlin says at last, “and it’s your fault you didn’t ask me what I was here for when I knocked.”

“I assumed you were here to watch the show, and then you decided to suck my brains out through my--”

Arthur!”

Arthur tightens his hand around Merlin’s waist, and Merlin stares at the television, which is showing the commercials before the program still. “You didn’t give me time to think,” Arthur mutters at last, and kisses Merlin’s neck quickly. “I should have known there were games afoot.”

“Yes, yes, something rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“You aren’t allowed to quote Shakespeare.”

“Screw you.”

“Later, Emrys, we’re in public.”

“Boys!” Gwen mutters, and Merlin remembers they’re in public and should keep their voices down. Especially with the art department watching.

Luckily, he’s saved from his embarrassment by the sound of the show’s theme music, and then the familiar first episode is starting. There it all is, the gorgeous animation, the teenage drama ... and the flirting. Merlin goes progressively redder as the episode goes on, especially because Arthur chuckles right in his ear every time their characters exchange a heated look, which happens often because the animators are entirely without shame or conscience. He also realizes, with more surprise than he’d anticipated, that it’s good. Sure, the script is a bit maudlin in places, but he and Arthur get sarcastic enough about those places that the audience will probably think it’s amusing. And yes, if one is paying attention it’s very easy to imagine what’s going on “backstage” (only not, because Merlin has promised himself never to think the words “dragon porn” again), but it will go over the younger set’s head.

Everyone cheers and celebrates afterwards, and Merlin has a few glasses of wine against his better judgment and ends up falling asleep, back safely on Arthur’s lap.

When Merlin wakes up, he and Arthur are alone and Arthur’s flat looks like there’s been a hurricane through it. “Finally awake, are you? My legs went to sleep an hour ago.”

“You ought to have woken me,” Merlin says, guilty. “I think I’m good to go home now.”

Arthur presses his face into Merlin’s neck. “Didn’t wake you up to kick you out, you arse. Just thought you might want to head somewhere more comfortable. I’ve been horny since our characters started arguing.”

“Kinky bastard.” Merlin flails his way off the armchair they’re sprawled in and turns around to glare at Arthur. “You fail at being romantic, have I ever mentioned that?”

As always (well, not always, he’s actually very attentive sometimes, just very rarely when Merlin wants him to be, as he’s contrary), Arthur isn’t paying attention. Instead, he points behind Merlin. “The animators left us something.”

Merlin turns around to find a rather large sheet of paper with a black-and-white sketch taking up most of it. As he might have expected, there are Kestrel and Gary, Kestrel asleep and tucked into Gary, much as Merlin must have been with Arthur. Gary is awake, cuddling Kestrel and watching him with what can only be described as a besotted expression.

“I do not look at you like that,” Arthur says, which means he really does, and Merlin turns around, laughing, to give him a kiss.

Suddenly he can’t wait to start recording the second season.