Chapter 1: Prologue
On a little island off the shore of a great continent stands a little house on a cliff by the sea. It is rather ramshackle and more than a little slapdash, but nonetheless, it is home.
Rollicking waves playfully chase each other like children, foam spraying like little balls of sunshine when they break on the surface of the rock face. Birds fly overheard lazily, flapping their wings when the urge comes, and gliding gracefully across the clear blue sky when it doesn't. A little car trudges its way up the cliff slope, blue hood gleaming in the sunlight. With a hurried slam of a car door and a dash up the toy strewn driveway, Balinor Emrys tumbles through the door and immediately locates his son.
"There's my boy!" The man shouts gleefully.
The tiny toddler, who had been crawling around his coloured blocks on the living room floor, giggles in delight as he is caught and carried through the air into his father's arms.
"Getting up to no good aren't you, you little rascal." Balinor said into his son's belly, blowing raspberries that had the child squealing in laughter. The lovely aroma wafting in from the kitchen catches his finely honed maritime senses, and cradling his son against his chest, he carefully tugs tiny grasping hands and falls in love with sweet blue eyes.
"What's that smell Merlin? What is it?" He says teasingly, bouncing the still giggling toddler. "Let's go find Mummy and ask!"
His son claps and squirms excitedly, and happily gurgles "Hoon-ey! Hoon-ey! Hee hee hee," his bright blue eyes darting this way and that for his mother.
Balinor feels his jaw drop.
"Hunith!" he yells ecstatically. "Hunith come quick, Merlin's talking!" He drops to his knees and places Merlin carefully on the floor. The toddler sits back in his dinosaur print nappy with a thump and reaches out for his father, making unhappy noises and squirming impatiently, pulling at Balinor's long, wavy brown hair.
"Who's a smart boy Merlin? Who's a smart boy?" he coos. "Can you say that again? Can you? Say Mummy's name."
Bright blue eyes flicker past his silly daddy and release the wavy strands, holding out his arms for the exasperated, but fond young woman in the doorway. "Hoon-ey! Hoon-ey! Up!"
"Hunith! Did you hear him? Our boy is so smart!" Balinor laughs, hugging the toddler to his chest. "He said 'Hunith, Hunith, up'! Did you hear?" He lies on the floor, grinning like a loon, and lets Merlin crawl around on his chest.
"I heard, you silly man. And you would've too if you'd been home a week ago like you were supposed to." In spite of her slightly accusative tone, she joins her family easily on the floor, the sound of waves breaking against the cliff soothing her even further as she lay against her husband's warm side. Balinor kisses her hair and takes her hand. They exchange quiet hellos and welcome backs, basking in the glow of their perfect family of three lazing about on the living room floor, the smell of dinner and home permeating the air.
Their mischievous toddler sources their entwined digits and tries to fit them into his mouth.
"Oh no," Balinor groans. "Already?" He had dreaded the very thought of it, but the day had finally come. His adorable son had reached the stage where he was going to put whatever he could find into his mouth. So not fun.
"Yup." Hunith sighs contentedly. "You can now play the exciting game of, 'where do I think I can sit that Merlin hasn't drooled on?'" Her supposed annoyance was belied by the way she let Merlin slobber all over her finger to his little heart's content.
Balinor smiles ruefully, ruffling his son's soft brown mop. "He's growing up so fast." He whispers quietly.
"It just seems that was because you keep running off with that lover of yours." She teases playfully. Before she had even agreed to marry Balinor, she knew the sea would always come first for him.
("Marriage," she had harrumphed. "How outdated and antiquated an idea is that?"
"Would you do it because I really, really want to spend the rest of my life with you and have it validated on a bit of paper?" Balinor had pleaded, down on one knee.
She had taken the ring out of the champagne flute and let him slide it on her ring finger with a long suffering sigh and a promise that she would get to name all their children.)
No matter how much he longed to stay and raise a family with her, the pull of the ocean was too great in his blood. She had told him, the first time he had returned from a voyage with a guilty look on his face, that she didn't mind. She was like a lighthouse guiding his beloved vessel in a storm, always thinking of, and looking out for him (for him only, she had wanted to say, but that was deliriously sappy, and she'd already conceded a good chunk of dignity when the initial sentiment crossed her lips in the first place).
Also, if he ever cheated on her, she would have his balls.
He had pulled a face, just like the one he was giving their son now. "Why is your mother so mean to me Merlin?" he pouted. His captain's hat was digging into the back of his scalp, so he took it off and placed it on his happily slobbering son's head. Merlin squealed in pleasure, giggling as the hat made him disappear from the neck up. Balinor kept it in place with a gentle palm and smiled warmly at Hunith's pouting face.
"Don't I get a hat?"
He pretended to deliberate over the idea, smiling at her. "Well.."
Balinor closed the gap between their lips, thrilled, always thrilled, at the familiar taste of Hunith's welcoming mouth. Their lips and tongues relearn their familiar dance and rhythm after a month (and two weeks) at sea, mouths slowly growing slack, lips softening and reluctantly drawing apart. Balinor, not being able to resist, places another chaste peck on his wife's lips before opening his eyes.
"Shameless man." Hunith says, flushed and pleased. "What are you doing in front of our son?"
Balinor grins recklessly, tilting his head as they both looked at Merlin, his chubby fists whipping about excitedly, captain's hat masquerading as his head and making boat noises. Lifting the hat clear off the toddler's head causes Merlin to shake his mop of hair out, laughing and falling onto his hands and belly on his father's heaving chest.
Balinor plops the naval hat unceremoniously onto his wife's head, the cap dwarfing half her face and vision, just as it did on their son.
"Bal, this isn't 'An Officer and a Gentleman'." Hunith grins, pushing the tip up out of her face.
"Wear it in bed tonight?" He asks, living up to her earlier declaration of his shamelessness. Hunith despairs, and yet loves being shackled to the man.
Merlin, however much he loves these two big people, decides that he'd much rather have the hat back to play with, determinedly parks his behind on his father's chest and wiggles his fingers. Like his favourite coloured blocks and Mr. Bear, the hat comes when called, and he delightedly squeals as it drops over his head once more, content to ignore silly adults and play his with his new toy.
This time, Balinor isn't the only one who drops his jaw in shock.
Chapter 2: Arthur and Merlin on a Cliff by the Sea
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Merlin, aged five and five sixths, was a terribly mischievous child indeed. He loved to play in the sea at the bottom of the cliff where his house stood, looking at the ships as they crossed the bay. His favourite toy was a plastic tugboat, which he named Ealdor II (Ealdor the first was Bally's). Hunith said she despaired of him and his father, but Merlin was certain she was only kidding.
While Hunith was getting ready, Merlin decided he had enough time to go dip his toes into the water and play with Ealdor II for a bit before they had to leave. He liked to think that the Ealdor would appear over the horizon if he stood there for long enough (which it would, but Hunith insisted he go to school).
"Don't take too long, Merlin!" Hunith yelled from inside.
"OK!" Merlin shouted back, taking the stone steps down into the bay two or three at a time. He held his boat above his head carefully, wiggling his toes in the sand. The water glistened, leaving slimy seaweed and bits of shells on the shore. Something hit the side of his foot, and he looked down to find the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, stuck in a bottle.
He put his tugboat down carefully, and picked the bottle up, turning it over in his hands.
"It's a goldfish." He murmured to himself. It was vibrantly red, with flecks of gold where the light danced off its scales and very, very pretty. The fishy's tail stuck out of the bottle's opening, so he tried to pull it free. It held fast. "It's stuck," he whined.
Waves started to rush into shore. Merlin thought they looked like slime monsters with beady eyes coming to get him. He clutched the bottle tightly in one hand with his boat in the other and retreated onto a big pile of rocks, which the slime monsters broke apart against, retreating back into sea foam.
Merlin blinked. "That was weird."
He looked back down at the bottle in his hand. The red fishy was stuck, and stuck good. Looking about him quickly to check the coast was clear, he willed for the bottle to release the goldfish, feeling his tummy get a bit funny as it did every time he did things Hunith smiled at him for.
Instead of melting away, like he had wanted, the bottle jerked a little unsteadily in his hands, before it exploded; one of the glass pieces grazing his finger.
"Ouch!" He cried, shaking his hand out and sucking the injured digit into his mouth. One of these days, his magic would listen to him properly! Probably. Carefully, he shook off the excess glass into the ocean. He put his hand back under the goldfish, cradling it in both his palms. It didn't move.
"Is it dead?" He wondered sadly. He gave it another jiggle, willing it not to be.
In response, the goldfish darted out a quick tongue, cleaning off the blood welling up on his thumb with a lick.
"It licked me!" He shouted excitedly. "It's alive!"
He dashed back up the steps, rounding to the back to where the tap was, picking up a green bucket off the ground as he ran past. He struggled to turn the tap, having to use both his hands before a trickle of water started falling into the bucket. Once the flow swelled, he carefully deposited the limp goldfish into the bucket. He turned off the tap absentmindedly, watching the red body float in the water. He hadn't seen when the fishy's head had been stuck in the bottle, but it had a mop of golden hair that glistened in the sunlight. It looked like a crown!
"Merlin, we have to hurry love!" Hunith called, stepping out of the door. A strong gust of wind almost took her coat off her shoulders. "Where did that come from?" She said, shuddering with cold.
"I found a goldfish Hunith!" Merlin yelled out.
"That's great sweetie." Hunith yelled back. "I'm going to bring the car around now!"
The red body was buoyant, but still. The pretty red fishy was belly up, eyes closed and peaceful looking. (Merlin had never seen a fish with eyelids before, but he was only five after all. Why wouldn't there be fish with eyelids?) He looked on at the unmoving fishy curiously, a bit sad. "Maybe it's too late..."
Blue eyes snapped open and Merlin had a stream of water squirted in his face.
Merlin gleefully laughed. "It's alive!"
The red fish swam in circles in the bucket as Merlin held it to his chest, water sloshing over its side.
"Come on Merlin, we're late!" Hunith beeped her horn.
Merlin carefully walked to the car, allowing Hunith to bundle him in as he hugged the green pail with his little red fish to his chest. He was so focused on it in fact, that he totally ignored an exchange between Hunith and a scary looking man spraying water on their lawn, menacingly coming towards their car before Hunith drove off.
"That better not have been pesticides he was spraying." Hunith muttered as she put on her seatbelt. The car swerved precariously as she did so, but Merlin was used to that.
"Yeah, he was mean looking." Merlin piped in. The winding descent down into town from their home was very pleasant. The salty air weaved in the rolled down windows, and the radio hummed in the background.
"Well, yeah." Hunith conceded. "But don't you judge people by how they look Merlin."
"Ok, I won't." Merlin agreed readily.
"Are you taking that to Kindy with you?" Hunith said, tousling her son's hair fondly. Merlin didn't even notice.
"Is that alright with Catrina?" Miss Catrina was Merlin's kindergarten teacher. She was an alright sort, he supposed. It would be nice if she could lay off the beans a little though.
"It's okay, I'll protect him." At this, Merlin proudly showed her his goldfish, which was elegantly gliding across the water.
"It's so cute!" She laughed. Putting her eyes back on the road, she noted with dismay that the ship was almost coming into dock. Quickly, she took two sandwiches out of the backseat and popped one in her mouth, handing the other to Merlin. "This'll have to do for breakfast today!"
Merlin held his clumsily, nibbling on the corner. A piece of lettuce fell out an plopped onto the surface of the water, where his goldfish was observing him with interest. He looked from his red fish to his sandwich, to the lettuce in the water. He nudged it closer to the fish, but he only turned his head away, as if to scoff. "Not hungry?" Merlin asked his fish.
He licked his thumb and broke off a bit of ham to offer instead. Then he noticed something.
"Hunith! My cut's gone!" He exclaimed.
"Hmm?" Hunith responded absentmindedly, pushing down harder on the accelerator.
"I'm going to name him Arthur. Because there's a crown on his head." If Hunith squinted hard enough, she supposed the gold pattern around its head might have resembled a crown to Merlin. A child's imagination had no limits, after all (She had learnt this when Merlin gave her a picture he had drawn of her, which basically consisted of two wobbly squares in black and gold with some sticks coming out of for limbs. She had hung it on the fridge and laughed for weeks whenever she saw it. Merlin had been very pleased).
The newly crowned Arthur took this opportunity to leap out of the water and yank the big piece of ham left in Merlin's sandwich, gobbling it up quickly. He swam around in circles three times in delight, even going so far as to flip out of the water to perform a somersault in mid air.
Merlin giggled. "You like ham?"
Arthur nodded at him seriously, eyeing the sliver Merlin still held in his hand. Merlin ate it quickly. "Hunith," Merlin said, after swallowing. "Arthur likes ham!"
"Just like you!" She laughed around her sandwich.
"And he healed my cut too!" Merlin lifted his thumb to show her. "Arthur's magic! Just like me!"
Hunith nearly slammed on the brakes. "Merlin! What did we say about that!"
Merlin nodded in a serious manner, or as serious as a five year-olds could be. He put his pointing finger to his lips and went, "Ssssssh" at her. Then he did it to Arthur too.
Hunith parked the car with time to spare, out in front of the Wildflower Senior Centre. They had come to the border crossing just in time to be waved through by the men with fluorescent batons Merlin liked to recreate in their backyard, the ship's shadow looming over the small car as they made a mad dash for it.
Merlin got out of the car, eyes only on Arthur.
"Take care, no funny business alright!" Hunith said, kissing Merlin's head before dashing off to work.
"You too." Merlin said distractedly. He walked straight over to the hole in the fence that separated Wildflower and Kindy, eyes only for the gleaming red creature swimming in the bucket. He passed the veranda, and frail voices greeted him.
"Hello there little Merlin."
"Good morning little Birdie."
Merlin didn't even look up. "Sorry Miss Morgana, Miss Morgause, I'm busy."
"Oh my!" He heard behind him as he squeezed between the old gate and the wire fence. He dusted off his clothes and looked around for a good hiding spot. He crouched down in front of a good bit of shade, and carefully put the pail down.
"Miss Catrina's not very nice to pets, so I don't think I should bring you in." Merlin explained. He collected some big leaves twigs, carrying them hurriedly back to the bucket as fast as his stubby legs would allow. Arthur looked amused as Merlin covered the lip of the bucket with the foliage.
"So the cat won't get you!" Merlin explained further. Arthur looked at him dubiously.
The bell started ringing, so Merlin bid Arthur a hasty farewell, and ran into Kindy. Miss Catrina was standing at the entrance. She smiled at him, busy with some of the fussier children. He smiled back bashfully, staying in the corner next to the exit, fidgety and anxious to get back and check on his new friend.
Miss Catrina took the children into the classroom, and Merlin thought about making a dash for it, but Nimueh caught him. "Merlin!" She yelped, bounding through the door. She stopped in front of him and twirled, her dress becoming the shape of a bell. "Isn't it pretty? Mummy bought it for me."
Will walked up to the two of them with a beach ball gathered to his chest. "Merlin, let's play," the boy said.
"Maybe later." Merlin said. "I'm busy."
"Busy with what?" Nimueh asked, no longer spinning around.
"Just busy." Merlin replied defiantly.
Nimueh turned her nose at him and walked off. "You're weird Merlin."
Will copied her, although he almost fell over because he turned his nose with too much force. "Yeah, you're weird."
Seeing the coast was finally clear, he ran back to the spot he had hidden the bucket. It looked undisturbed, which pleased him very much. The cat hadn't come.
He lifted the leaves and twigs, peering in excitedly. His face soon fell.
"Arthur!" he cried out unhappily.
The red fishy was just as it had been when Merlin had first put it into the bucket, body still and unmoving, belly up. Maybe the cat had come after all! Merlin sniffled.
Arthur lazily opened one eye and yawned at him.
Merlin giggled, swiping the tears of relief from his face.
It was Nimueh! He hurriedly piled the twigs and leaves over Arthur's displeased face.
"What is that?" She peered over his shoulder and saw the flicker of a red fin. "You can't bring that into Kindy!" She told him bossily.
Merlin frowned at her, biting his lower lip. "The trees don't belong to Kindy, they belong to the Wildflower so it's fine!"
"Let me see!" The bossy girl demanded. Merlin reluctantly moved aside and let her see. Nimueh gasped. "Oh, a goldfish!"
"It's not a goldfish." Merlin corrected, feeling proud to show off his new friend. "It's Arthur." He dragged the bucket out of the shade so they could both see Arthur better, doing lazy laps in the small pail. "Don't tell anybody, okay?" Merlin pleaded.
"I won't tell." Nimueh promised. She waved at Arthur happily, but Arthur turned his face away and ignored her.
"Isn't he cute?" Merlin giggled. Nimueh was no longer impressed.
"It's weird!" she declared. "And it's fat. My Plecos are much better than that thing."
Arthur squirted water all over her face and front in retaliation for such slanderous remarks against his appearance. Nimueh's face scrunched up and Merlin ran for it, Arthur in tow. Sure enough, Nimueh started crying loudly about her dress behind him.
He wriggled through the hole in between the fence and the gate, consoling Arthur all the while. "Don't be sad Arthur, Nim was just being mean. Let's go change your water okay?" He walked quickly to the tap, detaching the hose that had been inserted with a wave of his hand and a tickle in his tummy. Arthur watched him curiously, rolling around on the surface of the water.
Merlin started to tip the bucket, slowly releasing the water down the drain. He hadn't thought about what would happen to Arthur though, and inevitably the red goldfish bounced out onto the grille on top of the drain, flopping around indignantly.
"Oops!" Merlin said sheepishly, scooping Arthur in his hand and back into the bucket. The water from the tap began to fill the bucket again, and Arthur flicked a fin at him, squirting him with water to show his displeasure. Merlin just giggled.
"Oh my, do you hear a little Birdie, Sister dear?"
"That can't be right, it's time for him to be in Kindy, Sister dear."
The kind but gravelly voices of Miss Morgana and Miss Morgause filtered in from the verandah. He looked at Arthur consideringly, and had a feeling that Arthur shrugged his imaginary fishy shoulders at him. Not that fish couldn't have shoulders, but Merlin was only five and hadn't seen them on any fish yet.
"Well, maybe my hearing is playing up." said Miss Morgause's voice. Being a very conscientious boy, Merlin certainly did not want Miss Morgause to believe that!
He ran in front of the two old ladies. "Here I am Miss Morgause!"
The two elderly women laughed.
"Well, well, little Birdie."
"It is a little Merlin after all."
Merlin stood there bashfully, before suddenly remembering. "Misses! Guess what I have in here!" He held out the bucket proudly. Though he was not very tall, being only five and five sixths, the Misses were close to his height in their wheelchairs, and he was certain they would not be able to see.
"Oh, I'm no good at guessing games Merlin," Miss Morgana said, smiling.
"Terrible," Miss Morgause agreed.
"Well... What colour is it?" Merlin tried again, not giving up.
"Hmmm..." The old ladies looked at each other, and turned back to him, speaking in unison. "Red."
"Uh huh!" Merlin said, grinning. Then he frowned slightly. "How did you know?"
But the Misses ignored the question. "Let's have a look then."
"Sure!" Merlin dutifully held the bucket where the could see Arthur, who was floating on his stomach looking at the two old ladies curiously.
The two old ladies let out an impressed gasp, leaning forward to look. "It's so pretty!"
"Very cute!" Miss Morgana agreed.
Merlin leaned over to look as well, grinning at his friend. "His name is Arthur." He told the Misses. "He likes ham, and he's magic!" He was about to say that he knew some too, but stopped himself in time. "I cut my finger, but it healed when he licked it!"
"Can he heal our sore knees?" Miss Morgause asked cheerily.
"Yes, if we could run with little Merlin, that would be wonderful!" Miss Morgana added.
Arthur swam idly, apparently no longer interested in the conversation. Merlin tilted his head to the side, and finally said, "I think we'll have to ask him later."
The two ladies chuckled, and patted Merlin's head in turn.
"Let me look Merlin." Boomed the voice of an old man, sitting a bit further away from the sisters in his own wheelchair.
"Okay Mr. Killy," Merlin happily agreed. He hopped over where the old Mister sat, showing Arthur to him very excitedly. Mister Killy took one look at Arthur, and recoiled violently.
"Young warlock, that thing is vile!" Mister Killy roared. Merlin doesn't know what a warlock was, but Hunith told him not to worry about it, because Mister Killy was a funny old man.
"That is a mermaid! A fish with a face! Return it to the sea or it will bring about a tsunami on us all!" Mister Killy continued.
"A tsunami? Don't say such things Kilgarrah," Miss Morgause chastised.
"You're scaring Merlin," Miss Morgana scolded.
But Mister Killy took no heed, leaning very close to Merlin's ear and whispered furiously, "When a mermaid is taken from the sea, the king of the sea will grow angry! He will cast a tsunami on the land dwellers in retaliation!"
Frightened, Merlin felt tears well up in his eyes. In retaliation, Arthur squirted even more water in Mister Killy's face he had at Nimueh.
"A tsunami! A tsunami has come!" Mister Killy wailed. From inside Wildflower, hurried footsteps rushed to the verandah. Merlin took off before he could get into trouble, though not before Hunith spotted him. He ran down to the sandy shore, hidden under the rock face. Above him, he heard Hunith demanding he come back and apologise. Merlin determinedly did not, sitting in the sand with Arthur in his lap.
He put his face right up to Arthur's, his nose touching the fishy's wet face. "Don't worry. I'll protect you," Merlin promised.
Arthur responded with a wet lick to his face, prompting the boy to jerk away, giggling. He exaggerated wiping off the wet with his sleeve, and was astounded to hear that it wasn't only himself who was laughing.
He looked down at Arthur in amazement. The goldfish was almost cackling, breaking the surface of the water and splashing about with his fins. Merlin, being five years and five sixths, had never seen a goldfish laugh before, but he took it in his stride and giggled along.
Arthur looked up at him, blinking. Merlin smiled fondly down at him, thinking of all the wonderful games he and Arthur would play together, only breaking from the thought when Arthur opened his mouth and said, "Merlin!"
He pointed to himself in delight. "Yes I am! And you're Arthur!"
The goldfish giggled and did some backflips in the air, shouting out "Merlin" and "Arthur" happily, finally ending with, "Merlin, Arthur likes Merlin!"
Merlin hugged the bucket tight. "I like you too Arthur!"
So enthralled were they with each other, neither of them noticed the presence of that weird man who had been at the house the cliff that morning, mostly because only his head and his left arm was visible, the rest of his body submerged in the sea. The outstretched arm deposited wriggling, writhing black masses into the ocean. When they plopped in, they grew large and grotesque, racing to the shore in a wall of large angry waves, completely encompassing the boy and his bucket. Oily limbs reached into the pail and fished Arthur out, trapping the flailing fish and receding back into sea to their master, leaving the empty bucket rolling on the sand and a child, soaking wet, tears and seawater mingling on his red face when he realised what had happened.
When Hunith arrived on scene, thoughts of disciplining her mischievous child were displaced by fear. Merlin was making the sea water float in a vast sphere above his head, trying to empty out the inlet to search for Arthur, tears streaming down his unhappy face and wailing his goldfish's name, and finally resorting to splashing around in the sea himself because he couldn't lift anymore water, and more just kept rushing in and the water was dripping down on his face and his tummy hurt so bad and he just wanted Arthur.
Hunith ran to him, picking up the bucket up on the way and lifted him into her arms, rocking him against her chest. As if the feeling of her solid body had broken something, the massive floating body of water dispersed, cascading down around them as he cried pitifully into her wet shirt.
Hunith could only murmur into his wet hair, barely holding back her own tears seeing her baby so distraught, "Arthur will be fine sweetheart, he'll be fine, he was meant to live in the sea, he had to go back Merlin, sweetheart don't cry."
Merlin just let out a heartbroken sob into her neck, as the water level righted itself around them, calm and placid once more.
Arthur was not a happy goldfish at the moment, to say the least.
He was suspended in one of his father's isolation bubbles, his many brothers and sisters looking daggers at Uther as he so rightly deserved. Arthur had been having so much fun today too! And he missed Merlin.
The evening before, near the little island off the coast of a large continent, an evil magician had conducted nefarious experiments underwater. Fouler than any magic he could conjure however, was one act so dastardly, children (namely his own) wept in horror. He forbade any in his charge to come in contact with the human world — any aspect of it. That meant basically that he had put a ban on having fun.
So of course Arthur had snuck out.
He had waved off the concerns of his many siblings, determined to get out of their prison and have fun adventures the likes of which his mother embarked on every day (probably).
He and his siblings lived in a giant coral castle, every day swimming in and out and around the porous structure, watching as their father came and went, collecting magical sea elixir or something. Whatever, Arthur wasn't very interested.
He had stuck his head out of a hole in their wall and looked around. A school of jellyfish were lazily floating around, as per usual, and their was no sign of the evil magician. Perfect.
He squished himself into the hole, trying to wriggle the rest of the way through. From behind, his brothers and sisters gave him a hard push, causing their tiny bodies to spill out after his. He nudged them all back inside, out of harm's way. His brothers and sisters mouthed their platitudes and well wishes, and he gave them a royal wave of his fin as he hitched a ride atop a nearby jellyfish. Schools of them, white and cushiony and tempting to lay on, bobbed up and down in the tranquil waters all day long. He had spent many days idling away on their soft heads, and that day was to have been no different.
Except he had fallen asleep beneath the glow of the moon, and had been rudely awakened by the noisy foghorn of a human ship the next morning which was most definitely not part of the plan. After an extremely unenjoyable game of 'run away from that weird net thing' which he lost, he got stuck in an isolation bubble (but unlike his father's, he couldn't breathe through it) and almost suffocated, until Merlin came along and freed him.
Merlin, who he was having quite a jolly good time with and rather liked. He had funny ears and pretty eyes and a big smile and he laughed a lot. And he had ham! Yummy, yummy ham! Not that his stupid evil magician of a father cared about that.
"Humans are disgusting! They care for nothing except themselves, making the skies and oceans filthy with their pollution and refuse!" Uther ranted. Arthur ignored him, testing out the limitations of the bubble. It was a little sturdier than usual, possibly because he had bitten the water ooze that had taken him from Merlin, and Uther had found out. (It had probably told on him. Whiner.)
After Uther's rage had calmed somewhat, he pushed in a small rolled up ball of seaweed for Arthur to eat. "Don't fraternise with humans, they're not worth your time. Now hurry and eat."
Arthur pointedly refused.
"Do you hear me Twrch Trwyth!" Uther hissed out, at the end of his wits.
Arthur glared at him. Then he sucked in the ball and shot it out of the bubble, just missing Uther's head. "I want ham!" Arthur declared.
"Ham?! How do you know about ham?" Uther demanded in a panic. He crouched down in front of his stubborn son, who pointedly turned his face away. "Answer me, Twrch Trwyth!"
The red goldfish swam right up in Uther's face, declaring, "Arthur is not Twrch Trwyth! Arthur is Arthur!" He swam around the bubble in displeasure. "Arthur likes humans! Arthur wants to be human with Merlin!"
Uther could see that he was making no progress. He changed tactics.
Stroking the bubble, he put on his best soothing, yet no-nonsense tone. "Humans are stupid and horrible Twrch Trwyth, they befoul the sea. I was once human too, but I saw the folly of their disgusting ways and changed myself. I sacrificed and toiled to be rid of their human stench. You are a child of the seas son, why would you want to be such a disgusting creature?" Uther personally thought he had sounded very reasonable, and prayed that his son would see the error of his ways.
"Arthur wants hands!"
Clearly he did not.
"Don't want fins!" Completely ignoring Uther now, Arthur decided, "Want legs! Arthur wants to play with Merlin and hold hands!"
He willed his change to take place, pulling the very essence of his magic from within him, forcing his fins to transform. He had a very good sense of what human hands and legs were like, because Merlin had cradled him with them many times that day.
There was a sudden pop, and Uther could only look on, aghast, as what appeared to be chicken feet replaced his son's beautiful red fins. Chicken feet.
"That's enough!" he shouted hysterically.
"My hands came out!" Arthur cried, delighted. He stretched his new, orange, three pronged limbs and giggled in triumph. There were two more popping sounds, and Uther nearly fainted when two more hideous chicken limbs appeared.
"My legs came too!" Arthur yelled gleefully, running around on the stalk-like limbs in the confines of the bubble excitedly. Were he still human, Uther might have had a heart attack or stroke or some other immediate malady. He staggered backwards holding the place his heart would have been as his chicken/fish mutant son shouted "Hurray! Hurray!" over and over, running (running, for Poseidon's sake!) around the isolation bubble. There was only one way his son could have gained such foul appendages.
"Son, you tasted human blood!" Uther accused furiously, sea floor reverberating against his feet at the force of his roar. Gathering his billowing sleeves about his elbows, he set about charging all the elixir in his body to his palms as his son obliviously went on about his new limbs and some Merlin (a bird?! Ridiculous!). Chanting the incantations under his breath hurriedly, he grappled onto the runabout bubble, repeating "revert" endlessly as he tried to force his son's body to reset itself. He squeezed the bubble and forced his son's body into submission, victory fueling in his smiling for mere seconds before he staggered backwards from the force of his son's magic, his son stubbornly holding onto his hideous form.
He seethed. Striding quickly to his urns, the tall receptacles lining the walls of his makeshift abode, he opened the stoppers and up ended them above his waiting mouth. He downed their contents quickly, one two three four, draining the precious liquid and feeling his control and power quadruple as his son petulantly called to be let out of his holding barrier again and again.
"Let me go you evil magician! I'll fight you!"
Never let it be said that his son couldn't throw quite the impressive temper tantrum.
"You are most certainly her child," Uther muttered, finally subduing his son's magic and squeezing his imprisoned hybrid body between his palms, calming the seas and stars and restoring the balance of nature for the moment, revealing his son's pristine aquatic body when he removed his hands, floating belly up and dozing quietly. He sighed in relief.
"This will do for now, but it won't hold for much longer." He sighed ruefully, pushing his son's bubble-enclosed body back through the barrier housing his brothers and sisters and the coral castle. His many siblings swam down to him fretfully, showing their backs to Uther in displeasure. He sighed even more deeply. He obviously didn't do the whole parenting thing very well, though he supposed he didn't know he was signing up for single parenthood of oh, a hundred or more children at the time.
"Don't look at me so children, its for your brother's own good. Humans cannot be trusted." In their collective snit, his children paid him little attention — as was to be expected. They doted on their eldest brother something shameful. "Such willfulness and power. Your mother is the only one who can handle you now." His eyes certainly did not soften fondly as he looked at his eldest, and Uther carefully banished any eagerness from his expression at the thought of calling on his beloved now that this situation had arisen. He was so undistracted in fact, that he of course, immediately noticed the crabs littering the floor of his home, breaking past his barriers that had weakened considerably after his scuffle with his son. He swiftly shooed them out and resealed the barrier.
Of course then the jellyfish pushed through.
"My crab barriers and my jellyfish barriers?!" Uther muttered darkly. "All is anarchy! Everything is out of balance!" The jellyfish were blown backward by the force of his rage, and decided to take their chances with the sharks and predators outside the magician's underwater home.
He piled the empty urns in his arms, muttering to himself. "Keep calm, find your happy place, find your happy place, don't get so flustered just because you're going to see her again Uther, what are you, a fourteen year old schoolboy? Be a man!" His diatribe was briefly derailed as he kicked the door to his study rather too enthusiastically, breaking it completely off its hinges. Well, he wanted to redecorate anyway.
Setting down the empties as he came to the pressure door guarding the Forbidden Room, he noticed that its crank took far too much out of his back, having to use both arms as he spun it until the door released. He was wheezing when it was finally done, not budging from the door frame. Good. If just one sea creature were to get inside, everything would be ruined. He tugged with effort, getting the door to slowly open, and then yanked the urns that still had elixir through the passage after him.
He was immediately greeted with a radiant golden glow emanating from the well in the centre of the small room. The well contained the might of the ocean, all collected into one receptacle, ready to be unleashed on the land dwellers when the time came. He slowly uncorked an urn and slid more of the viscous golden liquid inside, licking the remnants of it from the rim. It made his short hair stand on end.
"The time of the ocean is near! Soon, all those filthy humans shall know the fury of the sea!" He cackled maniacally, emptying urn after urn of elixir into the half filled well, his face backlit with the luminescence from the viscous trickle, thick and thrumming with the might of the sea. "When this well is full, it will give rise to the new age of the sea. The air breathers will rue the day!"
It was a good five minutes before Uther even realised he was talking (and cackling) to himself. The elixir in the well churned mulishly, as if in reproach. He cleared his throat, tugged on his billowing sleeves and strolled out of the room, spelling the urns after him. He put as much of his back into closing the door as he could, before deciding the bloody thing was closed good enough and he was seriously getting too old for this crap. He vowed to replace it with something a little less straining, like a safe door with a combination lock so as to save his back for more carnal pur— ...to save his back.
He ambled out to the ocean floor with a spring in his step and a procession of urns dancing after him. It was time to call his wife, and collect more of the ocean's power.
Floating belly up next to the coral castle, Arthur opened one eye slowly and smiled as the last urn danced merrily out the door.
Merlin was bravely putting up a smile on his face as he helped to unload the groceries from the car. Hunith wanted to reward him with cuddles, but she also wanted to break something into very, very small pieces. After collecting her son under the cliff, she had let him clutch onto her shirt until they had made their way back to the Wildflower, listlessly letting the elderly sisters tell him stories (after apologising to Mr. Kilgarrah) until the work day ended. He had been quiet all the way home, smiling only very slightly when Hunith reminded him Balinor would be back today, and they would have a huge banquet (no fish) and won't it be nice to have a party since it's been weeks since Balinor has been home?
She was a tiny bit afraid that she'd have to resort to letting Merlin sail out on the Ealdor at this rate, just to get him to really smile and laugh. She had never seen him so down, not even when he had been miserably sick last year and had made her life a living hell. As it was, Merlin had stopped half way to the stoop, gazing down the stone steps to the tiny inlet under their cliff, dewiness clinging to his eyes. He still clutched the green bucket in his tiny hand. She gently pushed him from behind and murmured softly, "Come on Merlin, no time to go down there again today."
She hummed as she prepared dinner, listening to the soothing rumble of the ocean, the gentle noises of the rustling trees outside the kitchen window. Merlin trudged up to her, pulling on her pant leg with one hand and holding on to the bucket with the other. She turned off the heat and knelt down.
"Hunith," her son said, far too solemnly, "can I put this bucket on the fence outside? That way, Arthur will know how to find his way home."
She bit the inside of her cheek, nodding. She watched as Merlin toddled out the sliding doors onto the grass, placing the bucket right side down onto the fence spike next to the gate, spelling it to keep the light plastic from flying away. She saw him rub his tummy, and pretended not to see him rub at his eyes.
"Okay little man, come help me make dinner!" She called out. He tottered over and they both sat on the floor, Merlin sitting in her lap as he made ingredients fly into pots and woks toss in the air. Hunith sat, rubbing his tummy. She smiled at him, and laughed when a ladle came over and she and Merlin tasted how the soup was coming along.
"Mmmmm, delicious!" they both declared.
While Hunith was setting the table, the radio began crackling in a very familiar way. As Merlin answered it, Hunith noted that the sky was turning pink, the sea clear of boats in the horizon.
Hunith almost threw the last spoon onto the plate of stir fry, and did throw her (practically spotless) apron into the sink. Sure enough, Merlin called out to her with those hated words: "Hunith! Bally says he's not going to make it back tonight and he wants to talk to you."
"Tell him he can shove it!" She growled out. Merlin thrust the magically extended receiver into her hands and took his place at the table.
"What do you want bastard," she bit out. Hunith honestly did not know where her son's sweet disposition had come from.
"I'm sorry Hunith, we need to pull in a couple more loads before I can come back."
"The fish are still going to be there next week Balinor! Me and Merlin made a huge banquet!"
"I'm really sorry honey, I'll make it up to you, I promise! I love you darling."
"Go drown, asshole."
She slammed the receiver down, still hearing ghosts of his radio-crackled chuckle in her ear, making warmth rise below her waist. Treacherous body! She whirled around, incensed.
"Merlin!" She declared. "We are going to eat every single darn thing on this table!"
Merlin looked worriedly at the spread, rubbing his tummy (for a very different reason than usual).
After (a large, ill-advised) dinner, Hunith spread herself out on Merlin's bed, groaning, head off the side of the bed while Merlin soothed her stomach. That thing that she had wanted to break into very, very small pieces earlier? That thing would be Balinor's stupid head! And his stupid ship.
Right after her stomach settled.
"Hunith?" Merlin said hesitantly. "The Ealdor is calling."
Hunith hmph-ed and ignored the bright light blinking into Merlin's bedroom. Merlin peered at her curiously, poking her side lightly before getting up to answer his sperm donor's call. She folded her arms across her chest, petulant.
The Ealdor was a seasoned seafaring vessel, home to a crew of three men and its captain, who at present was whooping in delight as his son's bedroom light went out. Merlin reappeared seconds later, replying with his own blinking beam of light.
"My son's a genius! Look at that, he's only five!" Balinor boasted proudly.
Aldred, his best mate (and first), smiled wryly in his direction. "Mate, you do know Hunith is never letting you sleep with her again."
Balinor's smile froze, and he let out a heartfelt moan of despair.
The light from Ealdor blinked quickly three times, then once, the second longer and quickly once again. Hunith huffed as Merlin reported his findings to her.
(... .-. -.--)
"Bally says he's sorry Hunith."
(.. .-.. ..-)
"He says he loves you." The lights hitting the back wall made her grit her teeth.
(.- .-.. --- -)
"Very, very much."
That did it. She scrambled off the bed and viciously pressed the portable lamp with precision and intent.
.- .-. ... .
And then pressed it some more.
.- .-. ... . . . . . . . . .
To that declaration of hate, the Ealdor burst into shining lights like a giant Christmas tree. The glow was reflected by the water, backlit by the moon, trailing candy coloured streaks in the inky darkness. Hunith was not impressed, even though Merlin clapped delightedly at the display.
"What am I? Fourteen?!" Hunith yelled furiously. She slammed the door on her way out of her son's room.
Merlin wished his father good luck and safe sailing, before finding his mother sitting in the hallway scowling. He clambered into her lap and hugged her tight.
"It's okay to cry, Hunith," he told her. She had a feeling this was parenting coming back to bite her in the arse.
"I'm not going to cry over that piece of rubbish Merlin," Hunith declared. She couldn't muster any heat into it though.
Merlin just nodded and said very seriously into her shoulder, "It'll make you feel better though. I cried when Arthur left." Hunith looked on worryingly as he sniffed into her collar. "I wonder if Arthur is crying right now too."
She allowed him a few seconds of seriousness before rubbing his hair furiously and tickling his sides until his tears were of laughter.
"Silly boy!" She laughed and bounced him on her lap, though the look on his face told her clearly that he was too grown up for that sort of thing. "Listen you," she said, smooshing her nose against her son's. "We gotta cheer up! I bet Arthur's home with his family and happy as a clam."
Merlin giggled, trying to pull his face away, wrinkling his nose at her. "Arthur's a fishy Hunith!"
Hunith tucked Merlin over her arm, holding his midsection tight. His arms and legs dangled and he demanded through giggles to be let down. She marched them down to the kitchen, opening the fridge door.
"Stuff the lot of them Merlin! Let's eat all of Balinor's ice cream!"
She took Merlin's general flailing as his approval of the idea.
Hunith and Merlin woke up the next day with the world's worst stomach aches. It was, very clearly, Balinor's fault for buying horrid ice cream.
They had slept in Merlin's bed, Hunith splayed out on her back, and Merlin curled at her hip, nose pressed into her waist. She groaned blearily as she woke up, gazing out the window at the torrential rain and furious waves breaking against her cliff. She was insanely comfortable and had no intention of climbing out of bed at all, especially not in that weather. Rubbing her boy's head fondly as he burrowed in closer for warmth, she fished for the phone on the bedside table, called both of them in sick, hung up, and promptly rolled back under the covers and went back to sleep.
The next time she woke up, the power was out, Merlin was absolutely soaking wet, and two pairs of blue eyes were eyeing her curiously from beside the bed. It was still filthily wet outside and Balinor was still not back. Merlin's ball of light illuminated two children, one fair haired, one dark, holding hands and being cute and cuddly and really, Merlin had a bad habit of adopting anything that waltzed out of the ocean and onto the shore, but another child was truly ridiculous.
"Boys," she grumbled out at them. "Hunith needs some coffee." and then promptly rolled over and ignored everything until it was brought.
Arthur was very good at making plans. That's why he had never been caught on his jellyfish outings before.
After his evil magician of a father left, he immediately grew out his hands and legs, to the delight of his brothers and sisters. He cut through the barrier easily, water from the bubble escaping and his brothers and sisters flopping out in shock. That was soon fixed by Arthur putting a hole in the barrier keeping out the ocean and all its creatures.
His plan went slightly astray after that.
See, he hadn't factored in that things getting out of the underwater lair also meant things getting in to the underwater lair. As a result of cutting a hole into the barrier, a tidal wave of water and marine life burst through the opening, pushing Arthur further into the lair instead of out of it.
To make a long story short, he sort of got into the Forbidden Room and it kind of...exploded. The good news is that his body was completely transformed, with awesome hair and awesome fingers and toes (were there really five appendages? He was so sure there was only three....oh well, whatever.)
His brothers and sisters who had gotten into the room were transformed with him, not humans, probably because they didn't know how awesome humans were, but brilliant rainbow fish. They were massive (probably because they were tiny usually, and quite possibly developed some sort of complex about it) and he rode on their backs as they broke the surface of the water, shooting out like a geyser. Arthur sniffed out Merlin's scent, and ran towards it, back to the house on the cliff by the sea. He ran past ships and boats and buildings, roads and cars and hills as the water swelled and the sky opened up and let down fierce bullets of rain, wind howling and whipping his new blond hair away from his face as he raced and raced and raced. His siblings swam alongside him, breaking back into foam when they got too close to the rocks. He jumped from fish to fish, delirious and frantic, getting closer and closer, until he could see it, the winding road and the small house, a speck of red in the distance that called to him and Merlin's scent, his beacon in the storm.
And then he saw him.
Merlin was standing next to his bucket, waiting for him. He was wearing a yellow raincoat and he was holding onto the white fence posts firmly, staring out at Arthur.
Arthur brimmed with happiness, standing on one of his brothers, letting him ferry Arthur towards Merlin, his other siblings clambering underneath and he was rising, rising, and meeting surprised blue eyes. He could feel the seas roiling tumultuously and the sky cracking open wide the closer he got to Merlin.
Giddily, he nodded.
"Arthur! You're home!" Merlin reached his arms out, and Arthur couldn't stand it, he jumped onto him, fiercely happy. The boy squawked under him, and they tumbled on the green, water cascading down from the sky and Merlin wrapping his hands around Arthur and Arthur finally, finally able to hold him right back and magic pouring from them and down on them and all around, absolutely everywhere.
After her hit of conjured caffeine (taste: acceptable), Hunith had wrestled them both with towels, and was fascinated by how absolutely drenched to the bone Merlin was, as opposed to Arthur's dry skin and clothes, warm like laundry tumbled fresh out of the machine.
"It's because Arthur used to be a fish Hunith." Merlin told her, as Arthur made happy sounds, snuggling into the terry cloth. "He won't get wet."
She watched them play for a while. Arthur was all over the furniture, not letting go of Merlin's hand as Merlin's teddy, Mr. Bear, chased after them. He also kept smacking into the sliding glass doors that were keeping out the raging storm. Merlin rubbed Arthur's head worryingly, but Arthur simply rebounded and dragged him off again.
There were no tiny shoes in the wet foyer that didn't belong to Merlin, nor had she ever seen Arthur before at kindergarten. How the child could have made his way up to their isolated cliff in the first place was baffling to say the least. She wasn't quite sure how Merlin had picked him up, only getting a vague "he called me, so I went out and got him", as a response when she had asked. He was adorable though, ruddy cheeks flushed and sky blue eyes, his head topped off with tufts of shiny blond hair and wearing the fluffiest pair of white bloomers she had ever seen, red tunic billowing around his torso. With his blond head and Merlin's own dark one pressed together, lit by the blue glow of the ball of light following them around. They made an endearing, if mischievous, picture. For a moment , Hunith regretted not having had at least one more child.
Then she remembered what pregnancy was like and oh yeah, not happening, not even for all the sweet little toddlers in the world.
Merlin, Arthur and Mr. Bear were seated at the table while Hunith fixed everyone a hot chocolate. Merlin was busy showing Arthur how to sit on his chair properly, while Arthur stubbornly clung onto his terry cloth towel, for some reason Merlin's green bucket, and Merlin's left hand.
"You won't be able to drink Hunith's chocolate if you don't have both of your hands!" Merlin chided, though he clearly wasn't trying to pull his hand free at all.
"Arthur doesn't need hands! Arthur has feet!"
A shocked silence had descended behind her, and by the time Hunith had turned around with their steaming mugs on a tray, Arthur had his feet on the table, wiggling his extremely long, dexterous toes as Merlin gaped at them.
"Hunith! Arthur's feet are like his hands! And kind of weird."
Arthur frowned. And then stuck out his tongue. "Your face is weird!"
"It sort of is dear," Hunith agreed. Merlin pouted and leaned back into the chair, left hand limp. Arthur just grasped it more tightly. "Now come on, let's drink these while they're lovely and hot!"
She nearly laughed when Arthur's blue eyes widened comically large at the thick, dark liquid, nose lifted and smell permeating his senses. He dropped the bucket carefully on the table when she put in three little marshmallows into each mug and then set them in front of the two boys. The mugs were as almost the height of their heads, and it never failed to amuse her when Merlin grappled with the ginormous thing. To see both boys struggle with them was definitely her cutest highlight of the day (she started having those when Merlin was born).
Arthur was still looking at his drink curiously when Merlin squeezed his hand, prompting his blond head to turn and face her son. Using the hand not occupied with holding Arthur's, Merlin took hold of the big spoon resting on the lid of the mug and stirred it slowly. Then, he carefully brought the laden spoon into his mouth and swallowed. He tilted his head, gesturing for Arthur to do the same.
It took all of Hunith's willpower not to cackle when Arthur took the spoon out of the mug the wrong way up, sloshed liquid running over the sides. It didn't deter the boy in the least, plopping the utensil in his mouth. Hunith swore his eyes lit up and his hair stood on end. He squirmed in his seat and quickly devoured the mug, losing at least half to the tabletop in his enthusiasm.
"That was yummy!" Arthur said, licking his lips and smiling brightly at Hunith. He then eyed Merlin's half filled mug with greed. Merlin quickly drained his mug at the look, to Arthur's immense disappointment. He brightened considerably when Merlin offered him his last marshmallow on his spoon, and ate it with great relish while smushing his cheek up against her son's. Merlin giggled in response to Arthur's hairs tickling his skin.
Hunith polished off her own mug, smiling behind it softly. And she always thought Merlin by himself was going to kill her with cuteness.
His tummy was still tingling.
It didn't hurt or anything, not like when Arthur had been taken away from him yesterday. It was just weird. His tummy had never tingled for so long, and never when he wasn't making things happen. It was what had woken him up in the first place, the tingling. It made him go outside, and he had stood there, outside the house, as the ocean swelled and the ships swept out of sight. He had never felt the sea so excited before, and the wind was singing, nearly taking him off his feet. Then the tingling made his whole body thrum, and then Arthur came home, and the tingling still hadn't stopped.
Arthur noticed his constant rubbing and had tried to make him stop by putting his hand on Merlin's, but all that did was provide Merlin with two hands with which to rub his belly. Then it sort of just degenerated into tickle fighting until Hunith loudly declared it time to eat. They all had instant noodles, which amazed Arthur (but he had been a fish, so he was pretty much amazed with everything. Merlin found it hard to explain what a water tank and a back up generator was with his limited vocabulary anyway, and he had a feeling Arthur nodded at him not in understanding, but because he very quickly worked out that nodding was the favoured response to anything Hunith and Merlin said to him). In the middle of eating it (but after he had eaten all the pieces of ham), Arthur had slumped against Merlin, tuckered out and fork tumbling onto the floor.
The tingling didn't stop when Arthur was asleep, but it got quieter. Everything did.
"The storm's over Merlin." Hunith remarked, putting Arthur gently on the couch with Mr. Bear under his head as Merlin cleared away the dishes. Mother and son came together in front of the clear sliding doors, looking out at the sleepy island ravaged by the elements and half submerged.
"Because Arthur's asleep." Merlin replied into Hunith's leg. He was growing tired from playing with Arthur, even though he had been asleep a long time with Hunith before that. "Hunith, do you think Bally's okay?" he asked quietly. He felt Hunith rub his head soothingly. They didn't say anything for a while, just looking over their island home and the night sky, stars burning more brilliantly than Merlin had ever seen. Another blinking light startled him.
"Someone's saying something over there." He blinked slowly. "Is it Mr. Killy?" As quickly as it started, the light disappeared. "It's gone Hunith!"
"They're in trouble over there." Hunith murmured. Her body sprang into action and Merlin darted after her. "Looks like I'm going into work today after all."
"You're going to the Wildflower?" Merlin asked.
"I'm going to the Wildflower." She nodded, already making plans and muttering to herself about using the mountain road. Merlin could see her gathering blankets and flashlights, boxes filled with medicines and food and water.
"Arthur and I will come too." Merlin went to shake Arthur awake, but Hunith stopped him, bending down to look him in the eye.
"No Merlin, you have to stay here and protect Arthur, protect the house."
"But Hunith!" her son protested. She was usually very easily swayed when it came to Merlin, but on this she would not be moved.
"We're like a lighthouse Merlin — who will be able to talk to the sailors, to Bally, if no one's here?" Merlin sniffled, clutching at her sleeves as she tugged him close, her breath warm against his ear. "I'm worried about Mr. Killy, and the old sisters. I need to know that they're okay at the Wildflower, and I need you here, to protect our home. Can you do that for me?"
Merlin wiped his eyes on her warm shoulder before steeping back and nodding. Hunith took Balinor's captain hat and plonked it on his head as he tilted to give her a watery smile and a shaky nod.
"I'll be back before you know it captain. Smooth sailing."
And then she was out the door and in the car, shouting an "I love you", Merlin saluting her off as the headlights of her car disappeared.
He closed the door firmly, and then locked it. He was going to protect their home.
The house was dimly lit by his balls of light. He went around the house and checked that no taps were running and all the doors were closed. He had to shut the linen closet again, now empty of spare blankets and sheets that had been hastily packed into the back of Hunith's car. The kitchen needed to be tidied of the dinner dishes, and of the supplies Hunith used to quickly make Arthur and Merlin morning snacks and lunch, if it came to that.
He donned his yellow raincoat and slid the doors to the yard open just a crack. The antenna was still standing firm from when they had all wrangled the long pole into the earth. If the Ealdor was going to call, Merlin would be there to answer. Arthur had done something funny to the fence when they had been out there, and his face had gone a bit weird and his arms and legs too, but Merlin's tummy had tingled, so he supposed Arthur must have been protecting their home.
Satisfied, he trudged back into the house and took off his coat. He straightened out his captain's hat and toddled to the couch, sitting down with his back straight. Arthur had pillowed his head on Mr. Bear's stomach, the terry cloth towel a fluffy blanket on top of him and still clutching the green bucket, even in his sleep.
Merlin didn't sleep for a long time, keeping watch long into the night.
Outside the house on the cliff, with his legs planted in water and his sleeves billowing as his arms crossed his chest, Uther fumed.
He had been having a rather good time, gallivanting off into the deepest crevasses of the ocean and collecting all the elixir his urns could hold. He had successfully pulled rank and told his children what for, reinforced the barriers on his abode, and been nearly two thirds of the way into filling the well. Plus he'd also put a message in a bottle to call his beloved wife to discuss this issue with their son and well, his wife was coming to see him. Truly, life couldn't get any better.
Except Uther did not 1) expect to come home to and find it completely trashed, nigh impossible to reuse without a lot of magic that he just didn't have, and 2) did not expect his child to have started the bloody apocalypse! Over a human boy!
"When I get my hands on you son..." The magician ground out. "Lift me higher!"
His pool of water ooze complied at once, lifting him over the cliff face and within spitting distance of the house where that foul human boy lived. His son's scent had led him here. That, and the incredible echoes of power still bouncing of the winds and seas. He wasn't sure how his son had gotten out of the damn castle, out of his damn barriers and, this is especially noteworthy, out of the sea with the whole bloody well empty and all the elixir gone!
He can't have passed for anything human though. Uther himself was born a human, and he certainly could only hit the borderline between amphibian and hominid now. His son certainly couldn't have gotten fair with chicken legs and beady fish eyes but Poseidon, if any humans had dared to capture or harm his child! He certainly wasn't going to lift a finger to prevent this calamity from coming to fruition.
But first things first. He'd get into the house, smack the humans in the house silly, retrieve his son and then, and then...
"AND WHY THE BLOODY HELL IS THERE A BARRIER AROUND THE SODDING HOUSE!"
His howling alone pierced the night, roiling oceans and furious squalls quiet and calm while his insides writhed alone in worry and displeasure. He had attempted to grab hold of one of the spikes of the ramshackle picket fence surrounding the property, but judging by the angry sizzling in the air when he got close, it would be foolish to attempt to break the protective shield at his current level of power.
Why was this happening to him? He wasn't a terrible person. He loved his children, and he loved the sea. Why was he being punished like this?
He spotted the clear sliding doors and urged the ooze to sidle around so he could peer inside. His fury at what he did see made him feel like he was about to spontaneously combust (though he was a cold blooded creature and combustion really wasn't very likely at all).
"He's turned into a human."
"Precisely, he's turned into a vile human!" Uther spluttered.
Then promptly fell off his platform of water ooze.
"Oh darling, are you alright?"
Uther spluttered some more, thrashing in the water. His children fluttered all around his drenched form, playing in the golden threads of their mother's hair. Ygraine basked in their playfulness, contentedly floating in the reflection of the water, the glistening trails of her hair like elegant fins gliding through the liquid surface. Pearls of the ocean adorned her head and neck, her laughter like the ebb and flow of the sea against the shore. Uther admired her, or at least what he could see of her from his traveling vessel. One of her beach softened hands alone dwarfed him three times over. He would have loved to just bask in her mere presence, but unfortunately such pleasant endeavours were not to be that night.
"Ygraine, we have a serious problem. Arthur has tasted human blood."
"Oh, Arthur?" Her voice melted over him like warm honey. "What a lovely name. So warm and alive."
Bollocks. Uther was positively steaming, even thinking of his son as that disgusting human name! Oh, but if Ygraine liked it...No, he couldn't get sidetracked.
"Arthur's misused his power. He used up all the magic in the well and as a consequence he is destroying the very fabric of our world. The end of the world!" Uther near shouted.
Ygraine floated peacefully, stretching her arms in a wide and causing her dress to billow. Uther coughed and looked away.
"Arthur wouldn't have known what he was doing dear." Her soothing voice a balm on his very soul. A very incensed soul.
"He turned into a — a stinking human! He ran away from home, he's shacked up with his — with his boyfriend and the stars are falling Ygraine! If we don't stop him he will destroy us all! Poseidon knows the gravitational pull has already—" He gestured futilely as the sky lit up at regular intervals, shooting stars falling out of the sky to the befuddlement of astronomers around the world (met with the equal delight of children with many wishes to make). His whole body was shaking in anger. Only her touch, a tip of her finger on the whole of his head, made him deflate. The finger slid down to trace his jaw, slick and ever so gentle.
"Calm down dear."
One of their children whispered in her ear, and for the first time that night, she opened her eyes. A happiness brimmed about her and she sat up, smiling at Uther with a twinkle in her eye. "Oh, so the child's name is Merlin!"
Uther paled slightly, still entranced with his beloved's ethereal glow. "Poseidon, now the boyfriend has a name."
She gathered all her children in her arms and positively beamed. "I know you all love your big brother, but he cannot be a child of the sea and walk with land dwellers." They nodded back to her dutifully as she turned to her beloved. "We'll have Merlin prove his good heart. If Merlin passes the test of old, Arthur can stay human if he forfeits his sea magic."
Uther gaped at her before protesting, "If Merlin doesn't pass the test our son will be turned into sea foam!"
"We will all turn back to sea foam sooner or later dear," Ygraine chuckled. "Besides, you believe in love don't you darling? Love brought you to me, after all. And," here she placed a gentle kiss on Uther's head. "Love will bring our child happiness!"
"Sweetheart," Uther ground out. "I was being sarcastic when I called him Arthur's boyfriend, as they are five year olds and boys and you can't possibly want to give the responsibility of the fate of our child to a boy who is five years old."
"Five and five-sixths," she corrected absentmindedly. The lack of a truly good protest was as good as an acquiescence and she took it as such. She stretched out a hand towards the children on the cliff by the sea, setting their destiny into motion.
"Sleep, my children." She breathed out, her words carried by the waves. "Sweet dreams."
Arthur was terribly bored.
He'd woken up when the sunlight had started creeping into the room and warming his belly. Merlin seemed to have some sort of box on his head to help him sleep, which Arthur had put on and tried out. He found it hot, stuffy and dark after a while, and not very conducive to going back to sleep so he put it back on Merlin's face where he had found it, after pushing Merlin's head on to Mr. Bear's belly. He ran around their house for a while, exploring the 'water tank', 'the back up generator', 'the oven' (also too hot, stuffy and dark after a while) and finally decided to take a swim outside with the crabs and flounders.
Unfortunately, they paled in comparison to playing with Merlin so Arthur could only splash about for twenty minutes before thinking his time better spent staring at Merlin's face.
Which it totally was, for about five minutes. Then it was more entertaining to poke Merlin's belly until he twitched and rolled over. All the way over in fact, that he rolled right off the couch. Arthur winced when Merlin's body hit the floor with a loud thump. At Merlin's muffled groan, Arthur neatly tucked his new legs under himself and leaned over so his face was right above Merlin's, and grinned gleefully down at him. He would not be owning up to poking Merlin off the couch anytime soon.
Merlin groggily blinked at him, before grinning back. "Morning Arthur!"
Arthur liked Merlin's giggle. It made him feel very happy and warm inside, like that yummy water Hunith had given him yesterday. He hadn't seen her while he was running about earlier, but maybe she went out to collect elixir just like Uther? Land dwelling and sea living were more alike than he first thought. The most important thing though, was that Merlin was now awake, and they could play with each other! Maybe even play all day! He couldn't wait to bounce next to Merlin on top of a jellyfish! Swiftly taking Merlin's hand and yanking him off the floor, he excitedly led Merlin to the clear barrier showing them the outside world. "Look! The ocean's calm!"
His best friend gawked. "Oh wow!" He jumped up and down in excitement and flung the barrier to one side, splashing out into the shallow pool of water. Come to think of it, Arthur didn't remember there being a pool here yesterday, but then again it was really really windy so maybe all the water blew away somewhere and then came back when the wind stopped? "Arthur, there's— there's so much water everywhere, the whole island is flooded! How did the sea level rise so much? Wow, look! There's a whale swimming by a tree!"
Arthur cocked his head to one side and considered this. He supposed if land dwellers wanted to go about calling coral 'trees', he could get used to that. Merlin looked really, really shocked, darting this way and that and making excited noises. Arthur didn't see much that was very exciting really, he had seen it every day when he was still a fish after all. Schools of brightly coloured fish swimming by, crustaceans ambling along unhurriedly on the ocean floor, whales swimming overheard, masking the light filtering through from the sun... Truthfully, Arthur thought Merlin was much more fun.
So he splashed Merlin. A really big splash.
Merlin made a silly noise, which made Arthur laugh at him. Then Merlin splashed him back.
Five minutes, they were both howling in laughter and pinning each other in the shallow depths. "Arthur, I give! I give!" Merlin finally shouted.
"Of course you do! Arthur's the best!" Arthur said smugly, pinning him for a second longer before climbing off of him. He set about floating on his back in the water, basking. He had been right, it was a lot more fun playing in the water with Merlin than it had been by himself. He heard Merlin grumble at his side, and looked across to see his best friend floating on his back too. He clasped Merlin's hand firmly in his so they wouldn't float away from each other. The sun warmed his skin, and Merlin's hand was tight in his own. Arthur was feeling very content, and about to doze off when Merlin suddenly sat up.
"Hunith's not here Arthur." Merlin said sadly, hugging his knees to his chest and staring out across the island. He started making sniffling noises and huddling his face into his knees. Arthur had not been human for long, and he wasn't sure how sniffling really worked, but he know that he did not like it. It meant that Merlin was upset, like that time when the old human had been telling the dark haired boy about tsunamis. Arthur didn't like it when Merlin was sad. He sat up too.
"We'll go find her!" He launched himself at Merlin and rubbed his friend's cheek fiercely with his own. "We'll go find her and she'll play with us too, okay?"
"Ow, Arthur!" Merlin grumbled, but Arthur could tell he wasn't serious about it. Then his face got sad and sniffly again. "Hunith said she used the mountain road to get to the Wildflower, but the roads are flooded. We need a boat to get to her. I wish Bally was here so we could take the Ealdor and find Hunith." Arthur tugged Merlin's wet shirt, puzzled. Merlin smiled a little and explained, "Bally's my dad. He's the captain of the Ealdor."
Arthur wrinkled his nose, tongue poking out of his mouth. Bleck, fathers! "Uther is an evil magician. He locked Arthur up, but Arthur ran away." He bumped his shoulder to the wet boy's and hugged him when the boy turned to face him again. "Merlin's a good magician though."
Merlin giggled, hugging back. It felt really warm and nice, even though Merlin was a bit cold and wet. Hugs were a lot nicer than fish nuzzles, even if he had only Merlin's hugs to compare his hundred siblings' fishy nuzzles to. "Arthur, you're good at magic too!"
Arthur shook his head back and forth wildly, "Nuh uh! Mummy said Arthur's magic isn't too contr— contra— good enough yet. Arthur's mummy is the best at magic though! And she's big and beautiful!" He let go of Merlin, swinging his arms in an arc to show Merlin just how big. Then he whispered, "but really scary when she's mad."
Merlin leaned in close and shared a secret of his own. "Just like Hunith!"
That set the two of them off again, throwing their heads back and rolling around in the shallow depths, splashing each other and laughing. When Arthur opened his eyes again, he gasped. The tugboat Merlin had been carrying when he first rescued Arthur down by the inlet was bobbing gently in the water, tethered to the tap Merlin had filled his bucket of water with. Merlin's boat!
"Merlin!" He grabbed the boy's shirt eagerly and pointed. "The Ealdor! We can go and find Hunith!"
Merlin giggled and stretched out his hand, loosening the tethered rope with a flick and gesturing the boat to come to him. "Silly, this is Ealdor II. It's too small to fit the both of us."
Arthur huffed at him, pushing him from Arthur's side so he could hug the tugboat when it came within reach of his new pink fingers. "Silly, we're magic!" Arthur said snootily, and then proceeded to urge the boat big enough to fit the two of them with all his might. He felt his body leaving the water as the tugboat grew, smiling triumphantly over at Merlin as the boy clapped and cheered. When he was done he felt a bit tired afterwards, but it was worth it to see Merlin happy.
Morgana and Morgause stood on their own two legs for the first time in twenty years. They chased each other around the underwater palace in unabashed glee, falling and toppling and getting right back up, sprightly and unencumbered by aged limbs and sore muscles. They got up and raced each other from landmark (seamark?) to landmark, huffing and panting and feeling gloriously young again.
"Sister dear, I do believe we are having the best time of our lives." Huffed Morgause, rolling around the sea floor in delight.
"We're like two princesses in a palace." Puffed Morgana, stretching out blissfully tired limbs. "Well, two old maids, but you know."
They bound to their feet after a while, intent on exploring the water wonderland. They hadn't imagined the Wildflower evacuation process to be quite like this at all. Marine life great and small swam by over their heads and almost by their sides, kept out only by a protective dome structure that allowed them to breathe while life swam on outside. On the very top of the dome, far, far away from the top of their heads was a opening covered in jellyfish like threads, glistening and fluttering at regular intervals. It probably pushed through oxygen, serving as the entrance for when Merlin and Arthur would arrive.
On top of all that, to have the Goddess of Mercy (or Ygraine, as she liked to to called) heal their ailing bodies was, in a word, magical.
"Sister dear, we are living in a fairy tale." Morgana grinned.
"Sister dear, we are sitting in the world's most outrageous fish tank! Much cooler than a fairy tale," Morgause laughed.
The gravel beneath their feet glimmered, coloured like fairy lights. Porous coral structures provided seating and shelter for the two old women, pinks and purples, in all shapes and sizes. On the far side was a submarine, submerged into the ocean floor. A mysterious man with billowing clothes who introduced himself as Uther muttered to himself as he moved the debris from inside the submarine outside. There were quite a few tall urns littering the ground, twinkling like coins in a wishing fountain.
"Little Birdie will be here soon," Morgause murmured.
"He will pass the test won't he? I'm sure he will," Morgana whispered back.
Morgause laughed. "A bird and a fish! Whatever happens, we'll be here to witness it."
"It's what we were brought here for," Morgana agreed. And what an exciting story was unraveling for their favourite boy! Much more exciting than any tale they had spun for him at the Wildflower. On a quest to prove his pure heart, the young hero must test his bravery, strength and ingenuity. He must travel to the depths of the sea and rescue his fair mother, and gain himself a fair prince! The sisters both looked over at Hunith, in a deep discussion with Arthur's mother. Though Ygraine towered over her considerably, Hunith held herself with dignity and poise. They were lost in their own battle of wills as their sons battled the elements above them.
"This must be so hard for Hunith, leaving Merlin alone at a time like this," Morgause mused.
"It has to be done," Morgana sighed out. Then, invigorated by the feelings of youth and hope and impulsiveness she had long since thought she'd forgotten, she scrambled to her feet and yelled out to the young mother. "Hunith! Don't worry Hunith, Merlin is coming!"
Morgause leapt up beside her. "Yeah Hunith! We'll kick Uther's arse if he tries to hurt Merlin! We love you Hunith!"
Hunith waved back at them, shouting back an "I love you too!" before turning back to Arthur's mother.
Job done, the sisters ignored the radiating heat of the glare Uther threw in their direction and slid back down on the seaweed, linking fingers and staring at the top of the dome, waiting for their dark-haired prince to ride in atop a watery steed.
The sun warmed the backs of two hearty sailors, Captain Merlin Emrys and his first mate Arthur of the Slightly Burned Fingers.
Merlin had forgotten that Arthur, having been a fish up until the day before, had never been near fire before. When they had packed up the food Hunith had left them, a set of binoculars, his all important Captain's hat, Arthur's towel and his bucket, they had clambered onto the boat and made her seaworthy. Both the boys were breathless, but still trying to laugh after they had cleared the airways for the steam to propel the tugboat forward. Arthur made the candle bigger before setting it under the boiler. Then Merlin flicked it alight, tummy tingling almost imperceptibly more than the constant thrum he had grown used to. They got ludicrously excited when the boat chugged to life, puffing out steam and leading them away from the house on the cliff. Their whooping and cheering attracted a school of otters, who very agreeably let the children pet them before pulling away to get on with their day. When he turned around, Arthur had his fingers in his mouth and was glaring evils at the candle.
"Did you touch the fire Arthur?" Merlin giggled. "Don't you know it's hot?"
"Hot," Arthur said glumly. "Very hot."
Checking the height of the candle again, Merlin estimated that it would hold out for an hour, maybe more. Then he'd get Arthur to make it big again.
"You're really good at making things bigger Arthur!" He reported playfully, tugging his hat on straight. "Want to sit in the front while I drive?"
Arthur happily scampered to the top of the vessel with his towel and bucket, waving his hands about and pointing out sea creatures that were lazily trailing the waters below them. A huge green fish, all snout and fins and flashing scales moved beneath their vessel. "That's Gogonasus!" Arthur told Merlin, his blonde hair tousled by the wind. Merlin bat it down under it was flat while Arthur went on. "He used to live here a long, long time ago!" He reached down and trailed the last flash of green fin as it moved away from them.
"From the Devonian period!" Merlin piped in. Arthur made a noise of agreement as he sat back up. Merlin tugged the rudder to the right, causing Arthur to hold onto the slippery hood of the boat as they careened left, following the mountain road. Arthur waved goodbye to the green fish. "He's shy," Arthur informed him. "Bye bye Mr. Shy!" Gogonasus didn't look back, swimming further and further away until he was only a green speck in the distance.
"We're following the mountain road." Merlin said absently, pointing out the submerged road so Arthur could see. The blond boy turned from Gogonasus' direction and looked down, sweeping his gaze over it and frowning.
"Hunith's not there?" He asked Merlin, looking back over his shoulder.
Merlin shook his head slowly to indicate that she was not, but confidently said, "Hunith is fine. She promised."
Arthur nodded once, solemnly. Turning forward, he pointed to a beautiful blue fish with six fins and a tail. "Coelacanth!" he declared.
Merlin was happy to stop talking about Hunith, looking at the back of Arthur's back gratefully before saying, "It's beautiful."
The sunny grin he received from the blond boy lifted his spirits. Adjusting his hat once more, he steered them alongside the tallest treetops, making shadows on the mountain road below. A brown panderichthys crashed into a the belly of a dipnorhynchus just after a stop sign, snapped its jaws and glided away in a huff. Merlin frowned at them. "Marine life have to respect road rules too you know!" he shouted.
Arthur laughed, back flat and puffy bloomers in the air as he wriggled his finger like toes. "Merlin is silly."
Merlin stuck out his tongue. "Your face is silly! Especially after you do magic."
"Arthur's face isn't silly!"
They bickered all the way into town, passing boats still tethered to ports tens of metres below sea level. The crossing Merlin and Hunith used every day to go to the Wildflower had been taken over with crustaceans, gleaming orange and yellow and moving very slowly. They didn't see anyone else for a long time, and that was okay. Merlin knew that the everyone in town was really good at evacuating to high ground, especially when you lived on an island just above sea level for as long as Hunith and Bally did. People were smart, and safe. Hunith was smart and safe too. Merlin was gong to find her, and they would have a big laugh and he'd give her a big hug. She was going to be just fine.
The mountain road inclined, going up and up until flattening where Kindy and Wildflower were. More trees were breaking the surface of the water, getting denser as Ealdor II got closer to where the water finally met the slightly inclined mountain side. Merlin and Arthur ate lunch under the low hanging moon, big and bright in the sky even though it was still daylight. At least, Merlin ate his lunch. Arthur just went through the whole lot and ate all the ham (he didn't mind the cheese either). They both took turns sipping out of the canister filled with cold tea and honey under they were full and drowsy.
"Hey! Are you kids alright over there?"
A female voice broke the silence. Arthur perked up immediately and tugged on Merlin. He waved his captain's hat back and called back, "Ahoy there!" Arthur blew out their candle so the Ealdor II stopped just alongside the larger rowboat, grinning impishly at the couple seated within.
"Hello there little Merlin! Fancy meeting you here," greeted Miss Gwen. She was a mechanic in town. Hunith would go to her when the car made stranger noises than usual. She was a very nice lady who let Merlin turn screws for her with a red screwdriver when he and Hunith waited for the car to be patched up. Sitting in the boat next to her was Mister Lancelot, the town vet. His practise was across the road from Miss Gwen's auto shop. Hunith made a lot of jokes about them sitting in trees that made Miss Gwen turn bright red. Mister Lancelot was holding a little puppy in his lap that Arthur stared at avidly.
"Hey little man, I like your boat," Mister Lancelot said. Merlin adjusted his hat proudly while Arthur snapped his head away from the whining fluff in Mister Lancelot's lap.
"He's not little, he's Merlin." Arthur insisted.
Merlin held Arthur's hand after he tethered Ealdor II to Miss Gwen's craft, and they both hopped into the much larger rowboat. "This is Arthur!" he said proudly, holding up Arthur's hand. "He's a goldfish. Have you seen Hunith?"
Miss Gwen blinked. "He's a what?"
Mister Lancelot laughed, causing the puppy to growl in displeasure from all the movement. "Arthur? That's a good name for a goldfish."
Miss Gwen made a humming noise in agreement, but patted Merlin's hat to get his attention back. "Isn't Hunith with you?" she asked gently. "I mean, you're more welcome to stay with us until Hunith comes back, obviously, I don't mind. Not that I think Hunith left you and Arthur alone or anything— Not that you're not very capable of handling a boat Merlin, but Hunith probably would want to be around in case anything happens. Oh, not saying that you didn't captain just fine of course, getting all the way out here and everything but—"
"What is that?" Arthur cut in very loudly, tugging Merlin's hand as he pointed to the puppy. Merlin giggled as Miss Gwen took in a loud breath.
"This little guy is Yuri. He's an akita puppy, but he's sick." Mister Lancelot said very patiently. "He's very friendly though," Mister Lancelot continued, pulling the hand Arthur was pointing with to the puppy's fur. Arthur's blue eyes widened in wonder was Mister Lancelot slowly guided Arthur's hand in circular motions, feeling the soft fur and warm body beneath. Arthur let go of Merlin's hands to kneel in front of Yuri, using both hands to pet the puppy.
"Why is he making those noises? Is he hungry?" Arthur asked quietly, stroking the Akita's head.
"He could be." Mister Lancelot said.
Arthur gently removed his hands and stood up, quickly grabbing the knapsack full of bread slices and bits of lettuce from Arthur's uneaten portion of his lunch. He broke off a piece and put it in front of Yuri's muzzle. The small dog sniffed it for a bit, found the smell to its liking and picked the morsel up with his pink tongue. Its tail thumped audibly against Mister Lancelot's knee.
Arthur giggled and grinned back at Merlin, holding up his hand, shiny from Yuri's tongue. "It licked me! It's alive!"
Merlin grabbed the hand Yuri didn't lick, and squeezed. "It's alive," he repeated fondly.
The stayed on the boat for a while longer, Arthur somehow managing to wrangle Yuri onto his own lap and tearing off bits of bread while Miss Gwen made sure Merlin didn't want to stay with them and Mister Lancelot rummaged around for a small candle for Ealdor II. Their own candle was on its last, waxy legs. Just after that, a crackly voice amplified by a megaphone called out to them.
It was Mister Leon, and he had a parade of boats filled with townspeople, many strong arms splicing oars into the water. "Do you need help with anything?"
"No, we're fine!" Miss Gwen shouted back.
"That's good!" The megaphone let out a great big shriek, so Mister Leon put it down and cupped his hand over his mouth. "Follow us to the shelters at your own pace then!"
As the Misters and Misses shouted back and forth, Merlin nudged Arthur and told him it was time to go. Arthur nodded, quickly getting up and into Ealdor II. His face went funny when he lit the fire, and Merlin undid the rope as Ealdor II rumbled beneath him. Merlin wished the Misters and Misses well as they chugged on slowly.
Nimueh called to Merlin, bossily telling him to let her on board too. Merlin just shook his head and told her he had to look for Hunith. Nimueh huffed and turned away from him, and Arthur stuck out his tongue to her back.
"Merlin!" Mister Lancelot shouted out. "Merlin, Arthur took Yuri!"
Merlin blinked, nudging Arthur's wriggling stomach as the goldfish boy bashfully lifted his shirt to reveal the squirming puppy. Merlin felt his mouth twist. "Go return it Arthur."
Arthur pouted at him, and Merlin pouted back. "We have to find Hunith Arthur. Let Mister Lancelot look after Yuri. Please?"
Grumbling, Arthur reluctantly cradled Yuri to his chest and ran across the surface of the water, depositing Yuri into Mister Lancelot's shocked arms, nuzzling the puppy quickly before bounding back to Merlin and the Ealdor. Mouths gaped at the spectacle, but Merlin ignored them and sped along quickly. Hunith hadn't said anything about keeping Arthur a secret.
Arthur had dozed off into a grumpy sleep when the candle flickered out. He wouldn't talk to Merlin even though he had promised the goldfish boy that they'd go back and play with Yuri as soon as they found Hunith. With the candle out though, Merlin had no choice but to shake Arthur awake and hand him the candle. They weren't far from where the water met the mountain top, but it would be faster if they went around the tunnel. He waited patiently as Arthur grumbled awake, putting his chubby hands over the candle Mister Lancelot had given them and scrunching his nose. He released the candle with a big spread of his arms, which Merlin made a grab for.
It was still short.
Merlin looked at it puzzled. "Arthur, it didn't work. Do you want me to try?"
When he didn't answer, Merlin realised Arthur was out like a light, spread on top of the Ealdor II and snoring his lungs out. Merlin supposed Arthur must be really tired after playing with Yuri, and then using his magic to run and return the puppy to Mister Lancelot. Then the boat started shrinking and Merlin knew something was wrong. "Arthur?" He cried out worriedly. "Arthur! We have to go, it's shrinking!"
But the goldfish kept right on sleeping, and the boat kept right on shrinking. Merlin plopped into the water, holding onto the side of the boat tightly in case his feet didn't touch the ground. His shoes did not hit dirt, but the mountain road was clearly visible so it was bound to be shallow the closer they got.
Frantically, he edged to the back of his beloved vessel and kicked his legs. The boat, and Arthur, moved forwards toward the mountain road. His arms screamed in protest and his legs were going numb, but Merlin kept on kicking, right until he finally met dirt and he could push the tugboat — and Arthur — up to safe ground. It couldn't have taken more than a minute, but Ealdor II had turned back into its normal size. The captain's hat, binoculars, knapsack, everything they had taken with them had shrunk too. But Arthur had been squeezing the green bucket to his chest as he slept, so thankfully that was still big.
At the moment though, Arthur was flat on his back on the road, mouth gaping open and snoring without a care. Merlin snorted and ran his wet fingers through the blond strands, styling it like Wolverine's hair on TV (Hunith kept telling him he was mega dreamy. Bally doesn't like watching X-Men with Hunith, but watches it with Merlin when he asks).
Giggling, he congratulated himself with a job well done, and looked around. And grinned.
He shook Arthur excitedly. "Arthur! It's Hunith's car! We did it!"
Arthur just grumbled something and rolled over, smacking his lips. Merlin rolled his eyes and sprinted to the small vehicle. "Hunith! Hunith! It's Merlin!"
She didn't shout back, back maybe she was asleep like Arthur. The driver's door was open, so Merlin clambered in. "Hunith!" The backseat and passenger side was still full of all the things Hunith had jammed in last night. Merlin lifted all the bedding in the backseat just in case, but Hunith was not underneath.
"Hunith?" Merlin croaked out.
He scrambled quickly out and ran around the car, because maybe she had to fix a tyre or something and didn't hear him. Or maybe she went to the toilet while waiting for him?
His voice echoed back at him. there had to be a reason the car was still loaded, the doors still unlocked. Maybe the car battery had died and she went to the Wildflower on foot? Maybe...Maybe...
"Merlin." Arthur's sleepy face appeared, blurry, in front of him. "Merlin, water is leaking out of your eyes." He had his green bucket and Ealdor II in one hand, his hand holding Merlin's loosely. Merlin wiped his eyes on his sleeves and hugged his goldfish tight.
"Silly, I'm not leaking! Fish just don't have tear ducts." He sniffed into Arthur's neck.
"Okay." Arthur replied simply. Merlin gave him a final squeeze and released him, taking hold of Ealdor II with one hand and tugging them both forward. Hunith said she would be fine. She had to have gone to the Wildflower on foot. "Lets go find Hunith?" He asked, shakily moving his feet forward towards the tunnel.
"Yeah, we're going to get Hunith, and then we'll go play with Yuri." Arthur said, determined but tired. His steps were slow like Merlin's too. They shuffled over to the tunnel's entrance in silence. Arthur stopped moving when they got to it, his whole body stretching out as he yawned.
"Okay Arthur?" Merlin tugged his hand worriedly. Arthur squeezed back, but Merlin barely felt it. "It's like a big cave. I think it goes downhill."
"Don't like it." Arthur mumbled, voice faint.
"Just don't let go of my hand, we'll be okay." Merlin told Arthur confidently. Arthur gave him another barely there squeeze and breathed out, "okay."
Merlin's wet shoes made unpleasantly loud squelching noises that reverberated off the walls of the tunnel. The green bucket Arthur was holding dragged across the tar. The light at the end of the tunnel was getting bigger and bigger, and Merlin felt Arthur squeezing his hand at regular intervals. His tummy was churning, a strange pressure was making it hard for him to breathe. They were almost out when Arthur's hand spasmed and went entirely limp. He cried out in anguish, and sure enough, Arthur's whole body was shrinking, just like Ealdor II. His hand slid out of Merlin's grip as they first changed to chicken feet, and then back to tiny fins. Just like the boat, it took less than a minute. Arthur's red body, a gold ring of scales around his head, lay very still on the tar, and Merlin's shaking hands as he scooped him into the green bucket didn't feel a twitch, or breath coming from his limp form. "Oh god," he choked out. "Oh Arthur, please. Please don't die."
He fumbled with the bucket, keeping it as steady as he could with his trembling hands. He could smell the sea. Arthur would be fine. He could make it. He stumbled and scraped his knee on the tar, but he kept on running. He burst out of the tunnel and sobbed in relief when the ocean came into view. He scooped the bucket full of sea water, pushing Arthur's still body under it. Arthur was belly up and unmoving, just like at Kindy.
Just like the cat got to him.
Merlin let out a cry from his throat, his vision going blurry as he scooped more and more water into the water, the salt stinging his bloody knee. The churning in his tummy was unbearable, like when he was looking for Arthur under the Wildflower. "Please," he begged. "Please wake up. Please."
"Let him sleep boy," came a gravelly voice. Merlin quickly wipe away his tears and held the bucket close. A man, the funny looking one who better not have been spraying pesticides on their lawn, was standing on the water. Just like Arthur. He hugged the bucket closer.
"Took you long enough," the man muttered. "Hunith and the elderly women are waiting for you Merlin."
Merlin relaxed his hold on Arthur's bucket a little. "H-Hunith?"
The man nodded, impatient. "Let me take Arthur and I'll take you to them."
Hunith was here. His mother was here. She would solve everything. He slowly lifted himself onto his feet, staggering forward to Uther's outstretched hand.
"Don't do it young warlock!" Merlin whipped his head around. Leaning heavily on his cane underneath a gazebo, Mister Killy roared, "Don't let him fool you! He took everyone Merlin, he fooled everyone! It's all a trap!" His wrinkled hand swept over to the side, where indeed there two wheelchairs and a van, all facing the edge of the sea.
"Imbecile!" Uther howled. "The moon is almost upon us! The greatest calamity we have ever known will befall the earth and we will all persih if you do not give him to me!"
Arthur chose that moment to wake up and fling his green bucket to Uther's shocked face. He flipped, and neatly landed into Merlin's waiting palms.
"How dare you treat your father this way! Arthur!" Uther bellowed. But Merlin was already on the move, running to Mr Killy's outstretched arms. One foot in front of the other, Arthur squirming indignantly at his rough handling. Just a little more to go, and he could hear Arthur's father closing in on him.
"Jump, you silly boy, jump!" the old man yelled.
That was the last thing he remembered, as a wave crashed over them all and tossed them into the depths of the sea.
Everything was shining. The ocean was like an amusement park at night. He could hear Hunith, and Miss Morgana and Miss Morgause. Arthur was here too, hiding behind his ear. It tickled, but his tummy hurt so bad.
A beautiful lady floated around him. Her hair shone like honey spooned straight out of the jar, metres and metres of it everywhere, caressing his aching body and holding him safe and warm. He knew who she was.
'Hello. You're Arthur's mum.' He said. Or maybe he didn't, he couldn't remember either of their lips moving.
Her laugh was like maple syrup, sweet and sticking to his skin.
'Yes I am. I didn't make it easy for you to come here Merlin. Thank you for bringing Arthur to me.'
Her large hands cupped his face. His eyelids drooped, his body fading away as a sense of peace overcame everything. He could feel everything, every footfall, every bird cry, every leaf floating in the breeze. It felt wonderful.
'Merlin, Arthur broke the laws of nature to be with you. To regain the world's equilibrium, he needs someone willing to accept and understand him as he is. Can you be that person for Arthur, Merlin?'
Did Arthur really do that for him? That was so silly. Silly goldfish.
'He really is a goldfish. You know that don't you? When he licked the blood from your finger, he turned into half man, half fish.'
'I know. I love him when he's a goldfish. Just as much as I do when he's a kid like me. But we'd have more fun if he stayed a kid I think. Can Arthur stay with me?'
Sweetness stuck onto his skin, dripping all the way down through his pores.
'Arthur, come here my beautiful boy.'
Arthur swam out from behind his ear hesitantly. Then he darted forward and buried himself into his mother's cheek.
'Arthur, you have to give up being a fish to stay with Merlin. You have to give up everything, even your magic. Do you want to do that?'
Arthur stilled, then swam back furiously to Merlin's shoulder, nodding. Merlin nuzzled him.
His mother touched Arthur lightly on the head, encasing him in a bubble. He wiggled inside, but didn't look like he could break it. Merlin cupped Arthur in his hands.
'Once you return to the surface, kiss the bubble Merlin. Then, Arthur will be just like you, an ordinary human boy. Congratulations my children, you chose well and passed the test.'
He closed his eyes and hugged Arthur tight. 'Thank you Arthur's mummy. But don't worry, I can do enough magic for the both of us.'
Maple syrup pooled in his tummy, and he felt his body returning even as his mind drifted away. The tinkling laughter would linger in his dreams for a very long time.
"Merlin, Merlin sweetie, time to wake up." Hunith's voice nudged him out of sleep. He blearily opened his eyes. He was still at the beach, warm and dry. The wheelchairs were still at the edge of the sea, as was the van. Miss Morgana, Miss Morgause and Mister Killy were playing jump rope under the gazebo. He stretched out lazily, blinking up at Hunith's amused eyes.
"Hunith!" He wrapped his arms around her tight. He had found her after all. Everyone was safe. Hunith hugged him tight, sitting him in her lap. A tap on his shoulder made him turn around.
Arthur's father looked at him wryly, huffing out a huge sigh. "Thank you. I never would have hurt you, you know. Your will really is too strong for me." He handed Merlin Arthur's green bucket and departed for the seas. "You take good care of him." He flung out over his shoulder, and the next moment, he had sunk into the ocean's depth, not even a ripple in the water to betray his presence.
But there was something else coming in from the ocean.
"Hunith! Hunith it's the Ealdor!" Seagulls called out as the ship pulled the horn, Bally's weather worn face grinning inanely at them from the deck, arms waving a mile a minute. "Hunith! And Merlin too! I'm home!"
Merlin jumped up from Hunith's lap to wave back, jostling the bucket and causing the bubble to bounce into Merlin's face, bumping into his lips.
Then he was down on the ground again, Arthur's arms around him and his face nuzzling Merlin's as hard as he could. As soon as it started to hurt, Merlin pulled Arthur's face off of him, which made the blond boy promptly lick his face. Specifically, all over his lips. Merlin gaped at him.
"You licked me!" he yelped. Arthur nodded his head, his grin so bright he nearly outshone the sun.
"Just to be sure!" He went in to lick Merlin again, but Merlin was ready for him, and they ended up roughhousing into the sea, spluttering when salt water got into their mouths.
Hunith sat back and watched her boys coming home.
It sort of felt like happily ever after.
Arthur the goldfish photoshopped from the Ponyo movie poster by the ever so lovely Vensre.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It wasn't happily ever after, much to Hunith and Balinor's chagrin.
The door slammed shut violently after their son, a storm whipping up a frenzy outside their house on the cliff, and his face three times as thunderous as the weather he was inflicting on the whole island.
Hunith and Balinor, not even bothering to do much else besides sip their tea in the front room, asked their boy together, in bored tones, "You hate him?"
"I hate him!" Merlin yelled, storming past and slamming the door to his and Arthur's room shut. Obviously deciding that did not properly express his rage, he made all the other doors in the house slam shut too, including the cupboard doors in the kitchen. Hunith's tea sloshed out onto the carpet, and she sighed long sufferingly.
"Fight you for it." She declared. Balinor raised his fist challengingly.
He rose begrudgingly (because his tea hadn't spilt and he was rather comfortable draped all over Hunith on the couch) and went, while Hunith smirked after him, victory held in her flat, paper palm. He didn't bother knocking on the door as he manoeuvred into The Den of Adolescent Suffering, sitting heavily on his son's bed. He put his hand gently on his Merlin's soft hair, and waited.
Not a minute later, Merlin snuffled and threw himself into his father's lap, curling his body tight and resting his head on Balinor's knee.
"What's Arthur done this time?"
"What did you do this time?" Hunith asked idly, watching Arthur struggle through the kitchen window, as Merlin had, per usual, barred the doors from letting Arthur through them.
"Why is it always my fault?!" Arthur huffed indignantly, squeezing himself through the small opening. The windows of the house were quite large, but Merlin covered all his bases. Arthur wasn't getting back in without knowing Merlin was seriously pissed. "It might be Merlin overreacting, as usual! You always take his side." He grumbled, not really putting much fire into it.
"Sweetheart. Do you really want me to take out Merlin's list again?"
Merlin had, one extremely memorable day, brought out his file of Arthur's transgressions, complete with witness reports, testimonies, photographs, and even store receipts. It was extremely impressive, and Hunith is saying this after seeing Merlin raise up their house three metres off the ground for half an hour so he and Arthur could see a litter of kittens and their mother. Arthur had been adamant about rescuing the kittens, as he had learned, horrifyingly, that the mothers had a tendency to eat them. "Land dwellers are barbaric! Oh my god, I voluntarily joined a barbaric race!"
"Arthur, sweetheart, we descend from monkeys. Not cats." Hunith had told him from the front door, feeling it quite a novel sensation for her home to basically be floating on air.
Arthur wouldn't let Merlin be in the same room with Hunith alone for months after. The culmination of that of course being the first time Merlin and Arthur realized that Merlin could spell the doors to not let him in, much to the blond boy's agony. Hunith, being the upstanding adult that she was, promptly pretended to gnaw on Merlin's head like she was a lion.
She could see why Balinor told her she cruel and horrible. Of course, she had shot right back that he couldn't be a sterling character then, having begged a cruel, horrible creature on one knee to "marry me, please, please, please marry me."
Balinor had scowled at her, and went out to sea for half a year after that. Hunith did not see the point of it, as she promptly spoiled the children rotten and had a jolly good time while he was cold, wet, and smelt like fish. She in fact, gloated about this every night until Merlin took the lamp away from her. He was much too kind and sweet natured to be her ally in mischief.
Which of course was why she loved Arthur best. (Not that her love for Merlin wasn't all encompassing and all consuming of course, just that pranking him was especially not fun and generally very guilt inducing, whilst pranking Arthur made her whole day brighter. She was such an awesome parent.)
"Please don't take out the list Hunith. Merlin will know, and then he will cry his tear ducts dry because his little girl heart regrets compiling mean things about me."
"I don't think you can get away with calling Merlin a girl Arthur, you used to be a fairy princess."
"I was a sea princess!" He corrected. And then thunked his head when he realised Hunith had succeeded in getting him to call himself a girl. Then he let the rest of his body go lax, and stretched out his arms, throwing her some serious cow eyes. "Hunith, please help?"
She put her hand on the window sill and it grew to the correct size, allowing Arthur to slide through easily. He rose to his feet and pat the dust off his clothes. She looked up at him expectantly. "Well?"
"I might have... embarrassed him a bit."
"Sweetie, that you harassed him is a given. What was it about?"
He shuffled his feet, huffing. He crossed his arms and said sullenly, "We were playing volleyball on the beach, and he kept getting hit with the ball! I was just hitting them so he wouldn't get hurt, that's all."
Using her ultra refined Mum Bullshit Extractor, Hunith scoffed and translated. "So what you mean to say, is that you showed off and didn't let him hit the ball, probably while calling him a rubbish athlete and particularly useless? And perhaps made snide remarks about how his performance on the sand was about on par to his performance in the bedroom?"
The blond teen cringed every time she made a correct guess, staring at the floor. He raised his eyes at the end of her speech and bit his lip, imploring and exuding innocence. Hunith had a lot of practice dealing with Merlin however, and his techniques were five times as effective.
"I... might have done?"
"Arthur, please. I taught you everything you know, of course you did." She crossed her arms and scolded him. "You'll never get him to sleep with you at this rate you know."
Arthur flushed, his voice tight. "I would prefer not to discuss this with you, if that's all right."
"Just saying." She shrugged, relaxing her stance again as she continued to wash her and Balinor's mugs in the sink. As Arthur slunk away, she delivered a parting shot over the sound of the tap running. "Better buy another condom princess, the one you have now is probably no good since you've had it for over a year!"
"It was from a sex ed class that you signed off on and you bloody well know it and also I don't like you very much!" Came his muffled squeak behind the bathroom door. He would probably have an hour long sulk in the bath and refuse to come out until he was wrinkled and prune-y, at which point Hunith would then delight in calling him awful names.
"I love you too Arthur!" She called back.
She was such an awesome parent.
Balinor was so not an awesome parent.
He was an awesome captain, and sometimes he and the crew played at being awesome pirates at sea, but on the whole this child rearing business was not really his forte. Still, he persevered and suffered for his children, because god knows what would happen if he left it up to Hunith to raise by herself. They might all have become nudists, or monks, or be known as those crazy nudist monks on the cliff by the sea. At the end of his admittedly juvenile six month sulk he had come home, blessedly relieved to find it still standing (if weirdly adopted by a family of cats who still yowl at him from their territories on the foot of both Merlin and Arthur's beds. It didn't stop him from trying to pet them).
"I don't get it, Bally." Merlin pitifully sniffed into the fabric of his jeans. "It's like he hates me. And he wants everyone to know he hates me and have them point and laugh at me too." He curled tighter around Balinor's knee. "I wish we were still kids."
"Merlin, that's not true. Of course Arthur likes you," he said soothingly, cradling his son's head protectively.
Arthur, that mysterious and mischievous blond child. When he'd come home after that freak storm at sea when Merlin was five, he was shocked to be greeted with two rambunctious children and Hunith's pointed, "I get to name all the children, so that one's Arthur."
Merlin's protests that he was the one who named Arthur were drowned out by the fact that his wife and son had gone a bit mental and adopted a (ridiculously cute, but still) child from god knows where.
Then again, he also had a vivid hallucination where the Goddess of Mercy had saved the Ealdor and her crew from being shipwrecked while out at sea. Adopting a flesh and blood child? Not as crazy in comparison.
Plus, Hunith had been truly against the idea of another pregnancy, which he completely understood, because after her first trimester he'd been more than ready to don his hat and be on the next boat out (the next two trimesters he was so completely wiped out that he knew nothing but love for this crazy, crazy woman and their unborn child got him up in the morning, and then Merlin was born and he was so beautiful so he sort of forgets about that dark nine month period of his marriage). Having another child whose laughter and footfalls filled up their house was an unprecedented, but entirely welcome surprise.
They made too many sea princess jokes that he didn't get though. Hunith just stuck out her tongue and told him to suck it up.
"I wish we were kids again." Merlin mumbled, sitting up. "We used to talk and have fun and be the same fucking size."
"Language!" he scolded. Merlin snorted.
"Bally, you're a sailor. You'll live."
He wanted to say he was a captain, Merlin, but that probably wouldn't help matters. Their difference in physical appearance was a particular sore point for Merlin that Arthur kept prodding. When they were young, there was no way of knowing Merlin would shoot up and be all graceless limbs and frighteningly thin gangly frame. Not at all like Arthur, who simply grew into his confidence and his broader build. Merlin still tripped over stone steps he had jumped down a million times when he was a kid.
God, how he wished they were still kids. They had been so freaking cute then.
"You're still growing son, you'll take him down one day and he will rue messing with you." He tousled Merlin's dark hair fondly, already fairly mussed from before. Merlin mustered up a tenuous smile for him, so he decided to get serious. "You're young kiddo, and so is he. You guys will fight, and things won't always be perfect, but you'll get through it." Balinor couldn't help a disturbing flashback to Aldred's pep talk whenever he and Hunith had a fight while he was cheering Merlin on. He shafted it out of his mind.
"Thanks Bally," Merlin's smile was still a bit wobbly, but Balinor counted it as a parenting success. "I guess I'll go talk to Arthur."
Balinor nodded. "You'll patch things up." He slapped his son lightly on his back, pulling a resigned smile when it made Merlin stumble out the door.
"Yeah. We're pretty much stuck with each other. Damn you, five year old self." He heard Merlin mutter.
Stuck with each other?
That was sort of true, because they were family but — but it wasn't like the had to be stuck together all the time. They'd eventually get girlfriends and marry and have kids that Balinor could spoil rotten. When they were ready of course. Fifteen was still way, way too young for his kids to even think about dating.
But, hadn't he dated a slew of girls at seventeen? And, their reliance on each other was a little weird wasn't it? Balinor had two brothers, and while they were all close in age he didn't remember sticking to them as closely as Merlin and Arthur did. Balinor heard the door across the hall open without so much as a knock on the door as a warning.
Right, he definitely didn't remember walking into the bathroom that casually when he knew his brother would be in the bath. Naked in the bath.
He tipped his head back and to the side. He could just make out Merlin kneeling next to the bath talking to Arthur. Well, that's good then. They're just close. Totally nothing weird about that.
Then Arthur learned forward to lick Merlin's face and Merlin let him. Balinor saved himself from falling off the bed by turning his momentum into a side roll, coming out of the tuck on his feet to the applause of absolutely no one.
That was fine. He was cool with gays. He had heard enough jokes about the YMCA to last him two lifetimes. And he still loved his kids, their sexuality didn't change who they were. He didn't care about what society would think either. For goodness' sake he had married Hunith after all, if that didn't send out a giant bat signal about how liberal he was he didn't know what would.
There was no way in hell he was going to let them keep sharing a room though.
He quietly slunk into the kitchen, collapsing into the nearest chair at the dining table. His beautiful wife was drying the dishes and stacking them away. And Hunith being Hunith would of course be alright with Merlin and Arthur having an epic gay romance with each other (it was sort of like a story line from those daytime soaps she swore she never watched but Balinor knew she did and— and did he just compare his life to a soap opera? Christ) but there was no reason to bash her over the head with a two by four of tactlessness.
He cleared his throat. "Hunith, do you think adopted siblings can get married?" he asked, trying for causal. He could do this. It was fine. No pressure. Hunith looked up from her dishes and gave a disgusted scoff and an eye roll, stacking a dish and shutting the door loudly.
Maybe this wouldn't go down as well as he had imagined.
She threw her hands up in the air and lay into him. "There is nothing wrong with cohabiting, you antiquated gobshite! For gods' sake Balinor, Arthur hasn't even hit a home run yet because our son is as dense as a brick wall so bloody well stop pushing your soul crushing social constructivist agenda!"
Balinor could only gape after her as his wife flounced off to collect the laundry.
He probably wasn't going to get backup on that whole room separation thing then.
...And he was probably going to be sleeping on the couch tonight.
-And so they lived, sort of happily ever after, in a house on the cliff by the sea-
Aaaaaaand that's all folks! Thank you so much for coming this far with me, I had such a good time writing them, and I hope you had a good time too! Final shoutout to the awesomesauce vensre, without whom I would still be in a panicked mess on the floor with not nearly enough written out and way too many errors to ever find, ever, by myself! All remaining errors in the text are completely my own, so point them out to me with glee.