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Kilgharrah Moves to Camelot

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Alright. Kilgharrah had had enough of this shit. He was over 1000 years old and he had still never met someone so inclined into getting into trouble as his lord and brother, Merlin. One month ago he had gotten tied up and left to die in a serket den by the witch Morgana. That’s fine, at least he had actually called for help. Then, not a month later, Merlin had almost died again, in a collapsing throne room after Morgana had invaded. Kilgharrah had spent days wondering if his brother was alive or dead, then Merlin calls out of the blue acting like nothing was amiss. As if Kilgharrah hadn’t been left to wonder if his only living family had died and left him alone again.

He had been alone so long. Twenty years without a soul left in the world who cared about him. He was the Great Dragon, Triple Goddess be damned. No longer would he let Merlin risk his life alone, unprotected and uncared for.

There was only one clear course of action left.

Assume human form and move to Camelot as Merlin’ long lost half brother. It was mostly true, anyways.

There was no way for this to go wrong, he was sure.

Ah. Famous last words.

 

***

 

The plan (aptly named Make Sure Merlin Doesn’t Get Himself Killed) was coming along smoothly.

Step 1) Acquire human currency. Kilgharrah had no intention of leaching off his brother’s kindness. Luckily, dragon hoards are impossible to find, unless you were a dragon yourself. The coins were outdated, but nothing a bit of fire and magic couldn’t fix.

Step 2) Acquire a profession. A millennia of living had given Kilgharrah many useful human skills. Woodworking seemed appropriate, given what Merlin had explained about Balinor before his death.

He also couldn’t ignore the fact having his livelihood made out of extremely flammable materials would be an extra failsafe against his temper.

Step 3) Acquire a therapist. Kilgharrah wasn’t stupid. He was well aware that having everyone he loved systematically slaughtered then imprisoned and abandoned for twenty years by a man who was supposed to protect him probably gave him issues. Balinor had been a brother to him before his untimely cowardice and death, and any therapist worth their salt would recognize these “daddy issues.” He would be pretending Balinor was his father in order to claim human relation to Merlin, so it wouldn’t be too hard.

Also the murders. There had been a lot of people burning to death. It was frowned upon, Merlin had explained, shouting himself hoarse in the weeks after his release.

After Morgana’s poisoning, Kilgharrah’s release and subsequent attack on the citadel, and his father’s death.

Maybe Merlin needed a therapist too.

Nevertheless, a city such as Camelot certainly had a trained professional who could help him, this should be as easy as the first two steps.

Step four would be harder

Step 4) Find Merlin’s human companions and ingratiate himself among them so Merlin would have no choice but to allow him to stay in Camelot.

 

***

 

Step four found Kilgharrah, The Great Dragon, standing outside the lively tavern as a sign swung in the breeze, displaying the words “The Rising Sun.” The sign creaked and groaned, and the door whined as he yanked it open. Kilgharrah’s ancient eyes took a moment to focus in the half-light of the taproom until he found what he was looking for. A group of rowdy men in the corner booth. Everyone was not-looking at them, in a pointed way that indicated they were important men, not to be trifled with. The descriptions matched both Merlin's stories and the prophecies. There was a ginger haired man desperately trying to get a smaller, dark skinned man to stop chugging his drink so desperately. Another short man with long hair, and a giant of a man cheering them on. There was no noble, serious face present, but perhaps Kilgharrah shouldn’t be surprised. Sir Lancelot, the most noble of the king's knights would not be caught in public with this unseemly behavior.

Kilgharrah took a moment to recall the knights names. Leon. Elyan, brother of the queen. Gwaine and Percival. That’s right. Nodding to himself, the Great Dragon strode to the bar. He had timed it perfectly, for Gwaine arrived at the same time to order refills for his friends.

Gwaine nodded at him, his human traveling outfit dusty to indicate recent travel. “You a traveler then? New to Camelot?”

Kilgharrah turned to look at him, as if surprised to be spoken to. “Used to be. Looking to settle down, actually. A home, if you will.”

Gwaine’s face showed interest. Kilgharrah had used words and ideas to curry favor based on what he knew about the man, but the knights didn’t have to know about that. “Felt about that way myself recently. Camelot’s as good a place as any. Better, probably.”

A little grin. “What an endorsement. But Camelot’s not random. I’ve got family in the city.”

“Oh yeah?” Gwaine turned more fully toward him, nodding as the bartender sat drinks on the table. Gwaine braced his elbows up behind him, then asked, “What sort of family?”

“A brother. He’s lived here for some time. I don’t see him as much as I’d like to. As good a place as any, as you said.”

“Younger or older?”

“Younger. Feisty little brat too. Never listens to me, even when I am completely correct.”

“Aye. Siblings.” Gwaine pushed off the bar, and jerked a thumb at the table full of knights. “Care to join us? Swap some stories, have a few drinks?”

Kilgharrah chuckled. Amused at the knight’s antics and how quickly he had managed to get an invitation “Alright. What’s your name then?”

Gwaine stuck out a hand, then saw it was covered in dry stick mead and wiped in on his front. “Where are my manners?” Gwaine. Sir Gwaine, knight of Camelot.”

Kilgharrah raised his brows, “They’re just making any old rascal a knight these days, are they?” They shook hands, in the easy way men do when they are determined to become friends, or at least drinking partners. “Kilgharrah. Kilgharrah the new carpenter of Camelot.”

Now it was Gwaine’s turn to laugh, and he thrust the drinks he ordered into Kilgharrah’s hands. “Carry these. I’ll introduce you to the boys then.”

Step four was progressing nicely. Now all he had to do was ambush Merlin and convince him to let him stay.

Kilgharrah and the knights were getting along well, exchanging stories about past travels and daring adventures. Kilgharrah kept his stories close enough to Camelot to be believable for a human to travel in one lifetime. He had made his human persona similar enough to Merlin’s to pass as family. Curly black hair, sharp cheekbones, blue eyes. But there were enough differences that it was easy to tell them apart. Kilgharrah was taller, for one. He had no intention of letting his brother look down on him. His jaw was squarer, his eyes a bit narrower. He was also older. While Merlin was in that ambivalent age of late teens early twenties, Kilgharrah appeared firmly on this side of thirty. If only they knew how old he really was.

The tavern doors swung open. Kilgharrah knew without turning that it was his brother and his brother’s best friend, Sir Lancelot. Gwaine stood up to greet them both, planting an embarrassing kiss on Lancelot’s cheek that had him spluttering and pushing. Merlin was laughing along with the rest of them until he made eye contact with Kilgharah.

He stopped laughing.

The knights noticed the tension between the traveling stranger and Merlin. No one said a word.

Merlin spoke first, “Kilgharrah.” It was a cold statement.

“Merlin.”

Gwaine looked between the two, observing and analyzing in a way many didn’t think he could. “You two… know each other?”

Merlin pursed his lips. “Yes.” He offered no other details. Leon’s brows were closing in, putting together Kilgharrah’s numerous tales of his reckless but goodhearted younger brother with what he knew of the king's servant. Also they were too similar in appearance for it to be an accident.

Kilgharrah decided it was up to him to take control of this situation. He stood up and placed a hand on Merlin’s shoulder, “This is who I was telling you about. My younger brother, Merlin.”

“I didn’t know you had a brother, Merlin,” Elyan said.

Merlin didn’t acknowledge anyone, eyes still fixed on his brother. “That’s a nice… outfit. Where’d you get it?”

Kilgharrah understood the innuendo for what it was. The body was not stolen, or made with dark magic. He had made it himself, through ethical ancient dragon arts. He answered the only way he could, “I made it. Do you like it?”

Merlin bit down on his lip in a clear gesture of irritation. “Let’s take this outside, shall we?”

Kilgharrah made a sweeping motion with one hand, as if to say, ‘by all means.’

Lancelot tilted his head, and watched them leave.

***

A dark alley. A dragon and his lord.

Merlin shoved him, hard. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”

Kilgharrah glanced down at where his brother had shoved him. “First of all, a polite greeting is ‘hi, how are you?’, not whatever you just did. Second of all, don’t hit me,”

“I’ll hit you whenever I damn well please if you don’t explain what the hell you’re doing here,”

“I was getting to that before you so rudely interrupted me. As for what I’m doing, I’m moving to Camelot.”

Merlin snorted, “No you’re not.”

“Excuse me?”

“No you’re not moving here. Or need I remind you last time you were in the city you burned this place to the ground! Remember that? You betrayed me and tried to kill the people I love? Or did that just slip your mind?”

“I apologized for that, didn’t I? Anyhow-”

“You barely apologized.”

“Anyhow, I am moving to Camelot.”

“No.” Merlin’s face was immovable. “I don’t know what the hell you’re planning. What is this? Some type of nefarious revenge scheme?” Merlin got up in Kilgharrah’s space like he wasn’t a thousand year old dragon, like he was some mortal to be cowed. “Tell me what you’re planning, brother.”

Kilgharrah gave out a low, dark laugh. “What am I planning?”

He closed his eyes in irritation, then opened them so Merlin could see he spoke nothing but the truth. “What am I planning, Merlin? Everyone I have ever loved is dead, never to return. I finally get out and Balinor dies before I get to yell at him for abandoning me for twenty years. You’re mad at me for some petty grievance-”

“Mass murder is not a petty grievance I should think-”

“I have nothing left, Merlin. That’s why I’m here. You keep almost dying because of your destiny, I understand, but I cannot cope wondering if I’ll wake up the next day knowing my only family is dead again.”

Merlin had backed up, hand over his mouth. “You want to be family?” He had not expected this. Here he was thinking his brother wanted to betray him again, betray Camelot. Instead he was offered what he most wanted in the world. Acceptance. Family.

“Well, we sort of are, Merlin. That’s family’s whole thing. You cannot choose who you are and aren’t related to.”

“That’s why you’re here. You care about me.” Surprise. And perhaps, a glimmer of hope.

Kilgharrah shrugged, embarrassed. “Course I do.”

“I just- I thought-” Merlin sputtered and stopped.

“What?”

“I thought you thought I was just, you know, an annoying failure. Too small, too weak, not a worthy warlock. I always thought I was a big disappointment to you.” Merlin wasn’t facing him. That would have to be rectified. Kilgharrah was filed with shame for the unkind things he has said over the years.

Kilgharrah grasped Merlin’s shoulders, forcing him to turn to him. “Merlin. I am hard on you because I care. Not for a lack of it. If I didn’t care about you, if I didn’t love you as a brother I would have left you to die a long time ago. Though you are very small. I don’t understand how you cope with it.”

Strangely, Merlin reacted by shoving his hands in his pockets and backing up. "Oh.”

“See?” Kilgharrah implored, “I want to move to Camelot to show you that I care. Your destiny is a lot to handle. I want to help, to keep you safe.”

“And Arthur. And Camelot.”

“They’re not as important to me as you are, Merlin.”

Merlin let out a little laugh, and a false smile. “Fine.”

“I’m serious.”

“And why should I believe you? Last time I trusted you you burned the city down.”

“Keep your voice down,” Kilgharrah hissed, giving a warning flick of his fingers to Merlin’s shoulder. He glanced around the alley, but there was no one to be seen. “And that wasn’t the last time you trusted me, or need I remind you. The serkets? Morgana’s invasion? Excalibur?”

“Alright, alright you’ve made your point.” Merlin took a deep breath, then let it all out. “Oh, I’m going to regret this.” He looked skyward, as if begging the gods to save him from his older brother’s tricks.

Kilgharrah smiled. Merlin was going to give in.

Merlin held up a hand, “A few conditions.” Kilgharrah nodded. “No murders.” Kilgharrah opened his mouth to protest, but Merlin forestalled him. “I mean it. Not even if they’re really really annoying.”

“What if your life is on the line? Or mine? Or Arthur’s?”

“Fine. If someone’s life is on the line, and I mean actually in danger, you can do as you see fit. Second, don’t get caught using magic. It’s not worth it. Third, get your own friends, these are mine.”

Kilgharrah scoffed. “As if I wanted to be friends with them. I only spoke with them to find you. I assure you, they are not remotely my speed.”

Merlin gave a sharp nod. “I mean you’ll break Gwaine’s heart but it will be better for him in the long run.”

“Any other conditions, my Lord?” Merlin shot him a withering look, but considered.

“We need to get our story straight. How are we related? When did we meet?”

“Easy. We’ll stick to the truth.” Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Or close enough to it. Our father, Balinor, raised me by himself after my mother walked out. We were both imprisoned for crimes we didn’t commit. Balinor escaped, I didn’t. Solitary confinement for two years. You found me, we became friends but you couldn’t free me. When you did, I went crazy and tried to kill everyone in the surrounding area. You tried to find my father to calm me down, while simultaneously realizing he was also your father, which made us half-brothers. He died saving your life, you calmed me down yourself, I left for a year for personal reasons, now I’m moving to Camelot to be with you.”

Merlin nodded. “Close enough to be true.”

Kilgharrah nodded in agreement. “Close enough to be true. The best lies always are.”

“Alright, brother. Let’s go get you a drink then, shall we?” Merlin made a gesture toward the tavern door.

Kilgharrah pushed past him, scoffing, “As if you could ever hold your liquor, Merlin.”

Merlin grinned. It was unexpected to see his brother in Camelot and in human form, no less. Unexpected, but good in a way he hadn’t considered. Now he had one more person who knew about his magic.

Well, Merlin thought as Kilgharrah strode into the tavern. One dragon, anyways.

 

***

Lancelot was… confused. He was Merlin’s best friend, he knew everything about the man, magic included. Or he thought he did. Lancelot was very sure Merlin was raised a bastard, never knew his father. There was no plausible way for him to have a brother, right?

Perhaps this was related to his magic in some way. Or a threat that needed to be dealt with outside. Lancelot could understand that. He nodded internally, then tuned back to what his fellow knights were saying.

“I mean, I’ve only known him for three-ish months so I guess it’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Gwaine said.

Leon tilted his head to begin his counterargument, “Merlin’s been in Camelot for some time. I have never heard him mention a brother, older or otherwise.”

Quiet Percival spoke next. “Maybe he’s just private. Seems that kind of sort, anyway.”

Murmurs of confirmation went around. That decided on, Elyan spoke up a new question. “What kind of name is Kilgharrah? Who would name a child that?”

Gwaine shrugged, “Same lass who named her son Merlin I would suppose.” That comment earned him a few quiet chuckles. The conversation continued without Lancelot’s input to other tavern talk. The king, training, the ladies in the court. Normal topics. But Lancelot couldn’t bring himself to focus on it.

The door swung open. Two pairs of footsteps. The door swung shut. The footsteps got closer. Merlin and Kilgharrah sat down, Merlin next to Lancelot, Kilgharrah next to Gwaine. Merlin leaned over to whisper a message to Lancelot. “I’ll explain later. But he really is my brother.” It was concerningly vague, but Lancelot trusted Merlin. He’d have his answer after the night was over.

The knights cheered and made merry through the night. No one in the tavern even suspected who was in their midst: The Last Dragon and his Lord.

Chapter Text

Human Kilgharrah

 

Merlin

 

This is Human Kilgharrah and his brother the Warlock Merlin. Yes, I made him attractive but he has to be to pass as Merlin's brother. Don't @ me. 

Chapter Text

The wood paneling on the house was exquisite. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into each piece, making sure they fit snugly against each other. It looked as if it would be very warm in the wintertime, Kilgharrah thought. Keeping the heat in. It also provided the illusion of keeping the secrets in. The words and tears and whispered stories released in this office.

Dr. Ethel William’s office was, for lack of a better word, cozy. It was good for a therapist’s office to be cozy, Kilgharrah thought. Easier to be exposed in a comforting place. He was planning on exposing himself to a human in a way he hadn’t attempted in over two hundred years. He could still leave, run away. No one would force him to come back. But Kilgharrah was no coward. Nor was he so prideful he could not ask for help. And he needed help.

“Where would you like to start?” Dr. Williams asked. She was a kind old woman who matched her office perfectly. Long graying hair, sharp, intelligent eyes. But at the same time, cozy, comforting.

“I don’t know.” A hard thing to admit. Kilgharrah was the Great Dragon. He was supposed to know everything, the answer to every question. But he didn’t. That’s why he was here.

“Why don’t you start with why you’re here. Why you chose to seek out help.” A prompt to start talking.

“Well,” Kilgharrah sighed. “It’s a long story.” A dark one. A story of betrayal, Confinement. A creature of the sky chained to the earth. A proud dragon from the oldest species on earth suddenly and utterly alone.

Dr. Williams wasn’t deterred. “I’ve got time.”

“It’s a treasonous story. You hear this and keep quiet the king will have your head.”

“It’s my job to help people. Magic or no magic. Escaped prisoner or not.”

“I’m not people.”

“Oh?” Dr. Williams raised an eyebrow, “What are you then?”

Kilgharrah leaned forward, desperately hoping he could trust this woman. “Dr. Williams, what do you know about dragons?”

 

***

 

All in all, Kilgharrah’s life in Camelot was off to a good start. He had a nice, relaxing routine filled with light, people, and a lack of magic. An easy contrast to all those years spent in the dark. While he missed his magic, he was also a part of it, and it was never far from him.

He woke, as a creature of the sky should, at dawn. So did the hardworking humans in the town. In the Craftsman's Quarter, where he had purchased a workshop with an apartment above, everyone got up with the sun. The air was filled with the smell of fires burning, forges starting. In Kilgharrah’s house, it smelled of the acidic taste of magic, as the eggs and bread floated and prepared themselves.

Merlin had stopped coming by after the first couple weeks to make sure he wasn’t doing anything suspicious. He still came over in the evenings for their daily chess game, if it could be considered a game. It was normally a slaughterhouse, Kilgharrah reigning victorious over his lord. Merlin never thought his bragging was funny, accusing him of having the ‘biggest head this side of the castle, including His Prattishness.’

Now that Merlin trusted him enough not to burn down the whole city if he got bored, Kilgharrah had the mornings to himself. He ate quickly, enjoying the taste of human food. Breakfast and regular mealtimes was one of the best things humans invented, Kilgharrah decided. A good time for reflection and relaxation, even if they were strange to get used to. His therapist said ‘moments of quietude’ were important for healthy living.

The clinking of his dishes as they cleaned themselves. The smell of wood chips from his shop. The hustle and bustle of the city waking up. Silverware under his mortal hands. ‘Think of things you can observe with your 5 senses’ his therapist had said. Remaining present was important. Easier to stave off fits of temper and anger.

Without noticing, Kilgharrah had finished his breakfast of toast and eggs. The dishes obediently flew over to his kitchen and began washing themselves. Kilgharrah ran through what he needed to do for the day. He was running low on foodstuffs, so it was best that he visit the market. Early morning, while the produce was still fresh. Kilgharrah nodded sharply to himself, then strode down the stairs and out of his house. He locked the door securely behind him. No one could get through his wards but it never hurt to be careful.

 

***

 

The market was the same as it always was, yet there was something new to see. The farmer nearest the entrance had finally brought in his apple harvest, two days later than everyone else. Poor man. Kilgharrah strode through silently. Camelot’s public had accepted him with only a few questions, content to take his money and use his services. No one ever greeted him or attempted to talk to him. Merlin said it was because he had ‘resting bitch-face’, but Kilgharrah wasn’t about to take him at his word.

As Kilgharrah perused the new apples from the late farmer, he heard a shout rise up from one end of the market. His ears were still dragon's ears, human appearance or not, but judging from the sharp looks the humans were giving the source of the noise, they could hear it too.

Finally, the words could be made out, “Stop that dog!”

Kilgharrah looked up as the sounds of distress increased, coming toward him. A huge clattering noise echoed through the square as an apple cart was overturned. The vendor was hurriedly backing away from the source of the disturbance: a mutt with a coat of shaggy brown hair.

The dog was frolicking recklessly through the square, his leather leash trailing behind him. His owner must have lost a struggle with the dog, sending him loose through the marketplace. All the vendors were defending their merchandise, so no one attempted to grab the mutt. Kilgharrah, disgusted with the cowardice of humans, decided this was his problem to solve.

‘Look at me now, Merlin,’ he thought, ‘The Great Dragon, defender of Albion, reduced to dog-catching.’

Decision made, Kilgharrah leapt over the overturned apple cart in one smooth movement. The dog bared his teeth at him, then whimpered as he caught the dragon's scent. Leaving the animal no time to decide on fight or flight, Kilgharrah grabbed the dog and attempted to restrain him.

Kilgharrah’s grip was firm on the dog's thick collar. The dog sensed he was being held by a superior predator, yielded, and didn’t attempt to move. The dog whined low once, giving up. Not thirty seconds later did a young woman come barrelling around the same corner the dog did yelling, “Rufus! Rufus, you come back here you naughty dog!”

The woman, slender, mature, and walking with a slight limp came to a complete stop as she saw Kilgharrah holding what was presumably her dog in the middle of the street.

“Is this your dog?” Kilgharrah asked, completely oblivious to the picture he painted. A handsome young stranger who had saved her dog

“Yes!” the woman replied, out of breath and thankful.

 

***

 

Anabel was having a bad day.

Not the worst day ever, mind you. She had certainly experienced worse in her third of a century of living but today was especially bad.

Anabel had been walking Rufus through the marketplace when the disaster had occurred. Her dog, the incorrigible bastard, had yanked on the leash, hard, in an escape attempt. Anabel’s lame leg was no match for 90 pounds of canine determination so she had been forced to let go.

Sometimes Anabel wished she had never inherited Rufus from her incompetent uncle who never remembered to feed him, but most especially on days like today.

As she raced through the marketplace, desperately hoping not to embarrass herself further, she cursed her lame leg, and the stares from the others in the market. So much for avoiding embarrassment. Anabel rounded the corner and came upon her dog, being held by a man she did not recognize.

“Is this your dog?” The man asked.

“Yes!” Anabel replied, absurdly grateful that this man had caught her dog, and that she could stop putting strain on her bad leg. The man wordlessly handed her Rufus’ leash and gave her a small nod. He stood and moved to turn back to his shopping without another word, but Anabel’s compulsive need to be polite wasn’t having that.

“Thank you!” Anabel exclaimed, much too awkwardly, and winced. The man gave her another small, strained smile, then glanced down to Anabel’s leg. The smile faded.

“You’re injured,” the man said, deducing quite correctly, from her stance favoring one leg that her lame leg did not work right. But he was wrong about the reason.

“Oh, no,” Anabel laughed awkwardly, dying from embarrassment and the pitying stares of the townspeople who knew what had happened to her. “My leg, it’s uh…”
“Hurt,” the man supplied, he took the leash from her and proffered his arm. “Not to worry. My brother is the physician’s apprentice, they can help you.”

“Nope!” Anabel said. “No physician necessary! My leg, it’s lame. Not from the dog. Though that didn’t really help matters ahah.” Anabel wanted to cry. Explaining the leg always got her stares and pitying glances. But the man didn’t react like that. He simply handed her the leash back and smiled.

“Alright then. Have a good day.”

But Anabel wasn’t about to let this man walk out of her life after helping her. Her desire to make friends and not let favors go unpaid made her speak up. “What’s your name?” she asked.

The man turned wide eyes on her, apparently unaware that saving a random dog would force him to participate in small talk with a stranger. He shoved his hands into his pockets, thought better of it, and thrust his hand outward for a handshake. “Kilgharrah Ambrosius,” he said, not unkindly.

“Anabel. Just Anabel!” She said shaking the man’s- no - Kilgharrah’s hand. She gestured to her errant dog, who was whining in fear of Kilgharrah’s stature. “And this is Rufus.”

A look of confusion passed over Kilgharrah’s face. “You… named this animal?”

“Yes! Well, no, my uncle did, and now he’s mine. I think it suits him, don’t you?”

Kilgharrah gave the mangy mutt a look of disdain, and ignored the question. “Why’d you name it?”

Traffic was now starting to flow around them, and the marketplace resumed its natural flow as the shock of the dog incident wore off. Because of this, it took Anabel a second to process the question. “Why’d I what?”

“Name it.” Kilgharrah repeated. It didn’t look like he was joking. He appeared seriously invested in the answer of the most bizarre question Anabel had heard in her entire life.

“...he’s a pet?” Anabel responded, unsure if she was understanding him correctly.

Kilgharrah crossed his arms, apparently taking offense at the idea of naming a creature simply because you could claim ownership of it. Before he could get into an argument about the morality of naming unintelligent creatures with this random woman he just met, Anabel spoke.

“Anyhow, thank you so much for stopping him. I was afraid of how much trouble he’d make if you didn’t. Let me buy you lunch? As a thank-you?”

Kilgharrah glanced skyward, observing the sun. “It’s 9 AM,” he said, as if one could not eat outside the hours established by human social norms.

“Brunch, then?”

Kilgharrah glanced at the lame woman, who took in a dog that wasn’t her responsibility out of the kindness of her own heart and chose to thank a perfect stranger with lunch. Or brunch.

‘Friends’, his therapist has said, ‘are vital to the road of recovery.’ Merlin often mentioned how dear his friends were to him as well. If they agreed on something, then it must be very important indeed.

Friends.

It had been a long time since he’d had a friend.

“I would enjoy that very much,” Kilgharrah said. Anabel beamed at him, and Kilgharrah was immediately assured of the shrewdness of his decision. He offered his arm to Anabel again, and this time, she took it.

Chapter Text

“Who broke it? I’m not mad, I just want to know.” Leon said, staring at his newest group of knights.

 

Lancelot spoke immediately. “It was me, I did it.”

 

Leon spared him a pitying glance then turned back to the group, “No, no you didn’t. Gwaine?”

 

“Don’t look at me!” Gwaine exclaimed, offended for the little honor people perceived him with. “Look at Elyan!”

 

“What?! I didn’t break it!” Elyan yelled back.

 

“Huh,” Gwaine said, “Then how’d you know it was broken?”

 

“Because it’s sitting right in front of us and it’s broken!” Elyan said, hoping not to get stripped of his new-found nobility barely a month into his service.

 

“Suspicious.”

 

“No it’s not!” Elyan yelled, bordering on hysteria.

 

“If it matters, probably not, Percival was the last person to go through that door and we all know he’s strong enough to rip it off its hinges.”

 

“Liar! I don’t even use that door,” Percival said, confident the true culprit would soon come to light.

 

Gwaine realized his mistake, but doubled down purely for comedic reasons. “Really? Then why were you standing by it?”

 

Percivial scoffed. “I like looking at myself in the mirror, Gwaine, everyone knows that.”

 

Gwaine really couldn't argue with that.

 

Leon knew it was time to step in. “Who broke it?”

 

“I did. I broke it. Let me pay for it.” Lancelot said, eager to get this conflict over with.

 

“No, no you didn’t. Who broke it?”

 

The knights descended into chaos.

 

Before long, Prince Arthur showed up, and sorely regretted it, as his knights started directing their insults and accusations at him, as if he had anything to do with the armory door that was completely torn to pieces.

 

“Just WHAT is going on here?!” He exclaimed. The knights quieted down and looked to Leon, the sole voice of reason left in the mess of splintered wood and the remains of the armory door.

 

Leon inhaled, gathered his courage, and spoke. “I think we need a carpenter, sire.”

 

Arthur, fuming and furious at the idea of replacing the perfectly suitable but no longer present armory door, nodded his head. “Well go and bloody get one!”

 

All the knights, eager to escape the prince’s wrath, tried to go through the door at the same time, but Arthur wasn’t having it. He blocked it with his not inconsiderable build , patience wearing thin, and snarled, “Just. One. Of. You.”

 

This did not rectify the situation, as each knight assumed they were the man for the job and tried to push through the wall of Pendragon muscle.

 

“Just.” Arthur said frustratedly, picking a knight at random. “Percival.” Percival nodded respectfully, and slipped out of the armory. Then, not knowing the can of worms he was about to open, Arthur asked, “Who broke the door?”

 

Chaos.

 

***

 

While Percival was more than a little grateful to be the sole knight excused from the anarchy of the destroyed armory door, he was not quite sure he was the correct man for the job of fetching a carpenter.

 

Of all the knights, Percival had spent the least amount of time in Camelot, less than a month since his knighting. But he also understood that a functional, locking armory door was of the utmost importance, lest some light fingered opportunist make out with the knight’s equipment.

 

Percival understood the importance of his task, but that didn’t mean he knew how to complete it.

 

You see, Percival did not know where to find a carpenter.

 

Percival wandered about the lower town until he spotted a sign: ‘The Craftsman’s Quarter.’ He was hit with a wave of relief. That sounded like a good place to find a carpenter. Upon entering the Quarter, Percival spotted a familiar face.

 

“Kilgharrah!” He exclaims.

 

The man in question raised an eyebrow and stepped to greet him. “Sir Percival. Do you need something?”

 

“The door,” Percival said, then realized that made no sense. He tried again. “The armory door.” He tried a third time. “The door don’t door correctly no more.”

 

“Are you having a stroke?” Kilgharrah asked, completely serious. At least, Percival thought so.

 

“No, just,” Percival sighed frustratedly. “Come look?”

 

Kilgharrah nodded warily, unsure if this was just human behavior he had never encountered before, or if the man was having a medical emergency. He guessed the former seeing as the man was still upright.

 

“I’ll just grab my tools then.”

 

“Please do. Thank you so much.” Kilgharrah wasn’t sure what he was being thanked for, seeing as he had yet to do anything, but perhaps that was another human oddity.

 

***

 

As Kilgharrah stared at the ruins of the completely destroyed armory door, he said, “What on earth happened here?”

 

The knights all opened their mouths. “Don’t even start,” Arthur said. The knights all closed their mouths. “Can you fix it?”

 

“Can I fix it?” Kilgharrah laughed, “Your Highness, most respectfully, the door is in more than a dozen pieces. It’ll have to be replaced.”

 

Arthur groaned, but saw no alternative than to pay this random carpenter to replace the armory door. He instructed Sir Leon to supervise the carpenter and pay him. He loathed giving one of his best knights to such a menial task, but the carpenter could not be allowed in the armory by himself for as long as the task would take to complete. He simply could not risk it.

 

Arthur grabbed his prime suspects, Gwaine and Elyan, by the ears and dragged them from the room.

 

“Ow. Princess. That hurts.”

 

“Lord have mercy.”

 

“No.” Arthur said, delighted that he’d have a proper excuse to beat the shit out of them.

 

The knights left, leaving Kilgharrah and Leon staring at the mangled ruins of the armory door.

 

“So who broke the door?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

“I did.” Leon said, straight faced. “It shut too loud and scared me so I attacked it with a mace.”

 

Kilgharrah nodded. “Good. It was getting a little too chummy around here.”

 

***

 

After successfully beating the shit out of his newest knights on the training field but failing to capture a convincing confession, Arthur was feeling like he had regained control of the situation. It was always possible the door had spontaneously shattered into a dozen pieces, Arthur supposed. It was unlikely. He suspected sorcery.

 

The knights lay in one huge pile, much too exhausted to move up to the castle. After several minutes of trying to regain their mobility, Merlin walked onto the training field.

 

He put his hands on his hips in a clear gesture of annoyance. “I leave you lot alone for two hours and now you’ve gone and broken the armory door! What’s the matter with you?”

 

“Sorry Merlin.”

 

“Yeah, sorry mate.”

 

“I’m not sorry, I didn’t fucking do it.”

 

“Shut up, Elyan.”

 

“So you’ll apologize to Merlin but not to me, is that how it is?” Arthur snapped.

 

Gwaine shrugged. The other knights nodded reluctant agreement.

 

“Unbelievable.”

 

“I try to be nothing but believable, Princess,” Gwaine winked at Merlin, who blushed ever so slightly. “Besides, what’s the big deal? Merlin’s brother will fix it right up and it’ll be good as new.”

 

Arthur sighed. He made it a point to never listen to Gwaine, and especially after he winked. Merlin just gave a half hearted chuckle.

 

“How is your brother liking Camelot anyways, Merlin?” Elyan asked.

 

“Good. He’s settling in fine, I think. Now that I know he’s not going to burn the place down I’ve actually liked having him around.”

 

Arthur’s brain came back on as Elyan and Merlin’s words sank in. “Merlin’s what?”

 

“His brother, Kilgharrah.” At Arthur’s look of non-comprehension, Elyan tried again. “The carpenter you just hired?”

 

“I think you’re quite mistaken, Elyan. Merlin doesn’t have any siblings. Right Merlin?” Arthur looked at the man in question.

 

A pause.

 

“Right, Merlin?”

 

Merlin did not meet Arthur’s eyes. “Well, you haven’t met him before. He just moved to Camelot this past month.”

 

The words made sense. Logically, Arthur knew he had spoken and understood English from a very young age. Merlin’s. Brother.

 

But Arthur knew Merlin. Better than anyone. They trusted each other with their lives and their secrets. Nothing hidden from each other. Arthur had met his mother for Chrissake! He knew Merlin had never mentioned a brother. Not once in all the years he had known him.

 

“You don’t have a brother, Merlin. I would know.”

 

At this, Merlin just turned an amused eyebrow at him. “I think I would know about my own life a little bit better than you, sire.”

 

Arthur scoffed. Now he had challenged his honor. “Well if he’s your brother, then you won’t mind us talking to him.”

 

Merlin simply shrugged.

 

***

 

Steps sounded outside the armory. Kilgharrah sensed it was Merlin, and didn’t bother to turn around as he was still taking measurements.

 

He spoke, “Don’t tell me you were the one who broke this door, Merlin.”

 

Merlin snorted. “As if. I was in the castle doing laundry. You overestimate me, Kilgharrah.”

 

At this, Kilgharrah turned. He noticed that the prince and the other knights were with him. “Your capacity for getting into trouble never ceases to amaze me, little brother.” Dismissing Merlin, he turned toward the prince who stood open mouthed and shocked. “Is there something you need, Your Highness?”

 

“So it’s true.” Arthur breathed. He turned to Merlin. “Why didn’t you tell me?” If Kilgharrah didn’t know better, he’d say the prince sounded… heartbroken.

 

“Um…” Merlin paused. Kilgharrah knew he was fishing for a convincing lie. “It never came up?”

 

“It never came up.” Arthur repeated flatly. The prince’s eyes roamed over Kilgharrah’s human form, putting together the pieces: their hair, their jawline, their bright blue eyes. Unmistakable.

 

The prince was upset, Kilgharrah reasoned, to know that one side of his golden coin had held back from him. Merlin had hidden the truth about his family.

 

Would it break the prince’s heart more to know that it was not disinterest but pure, unadulterated fear that inspired this lying? the dragon did not know. Not just the human fear of being known, but fear of the prince himself.

 

Of course, Arthur did not know this. He assumed that Merlin simply did not care enough about the prince to share about his life. Though he would not admit it, Merlin was the prince’s closest friend, and being excluded from his life hurt him. And when a warrior was hurt, he would do what warriors did best.

 

Lash out.

 

Wishing to spare his brother any further conflict with the other side of his coin, Kilgharrah stepped in.

 

“Well, that’s Merlin for you. Never says a word about himself to anyone. Getting personal with him is like getting blood from a stone.”

 

Merlin, not even looking at the devastated prince, snorted and replied, “Nah. I’m just ashamed of being related to someone as scaly as you, you big lizard.”

 

At that, Kilgharrah laughed. He grabbed the young warlock by the shoulder and dragged him in for a hug. Merlin went willingly, but then tried to pinch his side. Kilgharrah side-stepped it and slapped the offending arm away. “Go be ridiculous elsewhere. I’m working.”

 

“Right. You heard the man. Everybody out!” Leon commanded. The knights, the prince, and Merlin all jumped. They had forgotten he was there.

 

They filed out, Gwaine desperately trying to get Merlin’s attention, Arthur fleeing the scene of betrayal.

 

***

 

Arthur’s chambers were quiet. Peaceful. The sounds of the town had died down as everyone went to bed. The remains of his dinner sat on the table waiting for Merlin to clean them up.

 

A steady contrast to the storm brewing inside the prince. He could not vocalize his hurt, nor could he bring himself to lash out. He wished he could, knowing that some issues became clearer after a good fight. Arthur stared into the fire, watching the flames twist and spark as Merlin built it up and poked it with a stick.

 

“Why did you never tell me?”

 

The sentence stole all the peace and quietude from the room. Merlin tensed, his hand frozen mid-task.

 

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

 

Arthur stared blankly into the fire. He felt… empty. He told Merlin everything, even if it took him a while to drag it out. To know that trust wasn’t returned… that hurt. A brother. A brother! All this time Merlin had another man in his life, someone he could look up to, turn to for advice and lean on.

 

Arthur thought he was the older brother for Merlin, wiser by an eternal nine months.

 

Apparently he was wrong.

 

“I asked you about your family and you lied to me.”

 

“I didn’t lie, Arthur. I didn’t know.”

 

With that, Merlin turned around. He sat perched on the hearth, framed in flame. Almost like… he belonged. In the fire and flame. In the shadows.

 

Merlin heaved a great sigh and spoke, “Kilgharrah and I have been friends, well, not friends, more like acquaintances, for a long time. Then, my father, um.” He hesitated, brows drawn together. He pursed his lips. “Then...we had a big fight. I was… so angry with him. For so long.”

 

“What happened?” Arthur asked softly, knowing this was perhaps the only time he’d get Merlin to open up about his life. Merlin hesitated again, eyes fixed on the legs of Arthur’s chair.

 

Getting personal with him is like getting blood from a stone, Kilgharrah had said.

 

Indeed.

 

“He, uh.” Merlin bit his lower lip. “I made a mistake.” He looked up at Arthur with big blue eyes, soft under his lashes.

 

Arthur had never known what attracted him to Merlin. Why a farmer turned servant-physician should compel him so much. Whether it was friendship, love, or some sort of soul-bond that went beyond the explainable. Maybe it was destiny.

 

At that thought, Arthur snorted softly, clearly at his own thoughts and not Merlin’s story.

 

A mistake.

 

The spell of Merlin opening up shattered, the moment gone. Merlin realized it was his chance to escape. He rose gratefully from his throne of flame and started collecting the dishes on the table. As Merlin left his sightline, Arthur stated, “You’re a riddle, Merlin.”

 

“Goodnight, Arthur,” Merlin said warmly, and shut the door behind him.

 

“I don’t think I’ll ever really know you.” He muttered to the flames. The flames said nothing. He wondered idly, with the romance of late nights, if Merlin could speak to fire. Merlin was so warm. So warm he burned with it. Arthur feared the fire, and had a new appreciation since Camelot roasted and burned all those years ago.

 

But it seemed to suit him. Merlin.

 

Now Arthur knew that if his thoughts were to wander any further toward his enigma of a manservant his heart might never recover.

 

He went to bed.

Chapter Text

“What else do you enjoy?” Dr. Williams asked. “So far we have woodworking, history, fire, magic, books, your family, and vengeance.”

 

Kilgharrah frowned. “How, exactly, is this relevant?”

 

“Family, friends and work are important, but so are hobbies. Activities. Something constructive you can do with your time that isn’t giving cryptic prophecies or setting fire to cities.”

 

“I like to help Merlin.”

 

“Beyond that. Something just for you.”

 

Kilgharrah would have to think about that one.

 

***

 

A few days after the Big Reveal, Arthur and Merlin’s friendship had recovered. Arthur couldn’t bear holding a grudge against his closest friend (even if he could not admit that was what they were). Merlin was exceptionally practiced at pretending everything was alright, even when it wasn’t. So, on the surface, nothing had changed. Underneath, all Arthur confirmed his idea that Merlin was just a big of a mystery as he always suspected.

 

But what hadn’t changed was the knight’s weekly night out. The Rising Sun tavern was more than happy to serve the prince, his servant and his knights for as long as Arthur would allow. They grabbed their usual table near the dice game while Percival got up to fetch drinks.

 

“Fancy a match, sire?” Merlin asked cheekily. He had almost...unnatural luck at the dice tables.

 

Unable to back down from a challenge, Arthur agreed.

 

Percival brought the drinks to the table and sat down. He looked at Gwaine, who was staring morosely into his ale.

 

“Alright there, mate?”

 

“They seem like good friends.” Gwaine said sharply, jerking his head at the prince and his servant, laughing and giggling like children at the dice tables.

 

Lancelot nodded. “They’ve been friends for a long time. There isn’t anything they wouldn’t do for each other.”

 

“Great.” Gwaine said. “Happy for them.” But the air of bitterness still stung the air. Gwaine’s eyes were fixed on the servant, something like longing on his face.

 

“Oh.” Lancelot said sagely. “You’re in love with him.” It wasn’t a question.

 

Gwaine didn’t bother to deny it. He had always been a shit liar. He also wanted sympathy from his newest friends that he couldn’t get from Merli
“Why the long face? I’m sure you could land him, Gwaine. You could charm the pants off a prostitute,” Elyan said.

 

Leon, a little more perceptive of Gwaine’s feelings, interjected, “You think he’s in love with Arthur.”

 

“I’m not blind, Leon. I can see how much they care for each other.”

 

“They might be mates but they’re not in love.” Elyan said.

 

“Oh yeah? How do you know?” Gwaine challenged, feeling rather sorry for himself.

 

“Because if His Highness is stringing my sister along I’ll beat his fucking face in.” Elyan said simply.

 

The group paused at that announcement, then moved on. “Seems simple enough.” Percival said. “Arthur’s courting on pain of death, Merlin’s single. You’re single. Just use one of your many pickup lines and you’re golden.”

 

“Might be putting the cart before the horse there.” Leon warned. “How do we even know if he’s gay?”

 

“Oh he is,” Lancelot said, much too quickly. All eyes swiveled to him. “Or, bi, rather. He likes the ladies too.”

 

“And… how, exactly, do you know that?” Gwaine asked.

 

In lieu of answering, Lancelot blushed bright red and lifted his drink to his mouth and started, well, chugging, for lack of a better word.

 

“Unbelievable,” Gwaine muttered. Apparently, brave, noble, serious Sir Lancelot had slept with the man Gwaine fancied. Fan-fucking-tastic.

 

Lancelot finished his drink, less out of desire to stop and more out of his lack of oxygen. “If it’s any consolation, it was once, and years ago, and we were both very very drunk.”

 

Gwaine knew he had no right to be jealous and he had no claim on Merlin, especially before they met, but that didn’t stop the ugly emotion rising within him. He decided getting inadvisably drunk and maybe starting a fight was the best way to deal with his feelings. Though, getting into random fist fights wasn’t allowed anymore, now that he was a knight. He frowned.

 

Lancelot misinterpreted the frown. “I’m sorry Gwaine, I really am. I do think you’d be a good match for him.”

 

“Whatever.” Gwaine wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

 

Wisely, the knights changed the subject to lighter material: naturally, the debate about who broke the armory door.

 

“For the last goddamn time, it wasn’t me!” Elyan shouted.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah quite liked his new friends, and he quite liked the Rising Sun tavern. Anabel was an excitable extrovert and happily incorporated her new friend into the group. The group was mostly other middle aged adults, and this suited Kilgharrah just fine. Years where the only person he spoke to was an over-powered anxious teen gave him a craving for adult friendships, even if he was centuries older than them. He also liked learning about their hobbies.

 

“So… you’re all in a band?” Kilgharrah clarified.

 

Ralph, the large, heavy set drummer made a noise of disagreement. “More a music group than a band. It’s not anything formal. Just for fun.”

 

Kilgharrah nodded in understanding.

 

“Do you play any instruments?” Evelyn, the flutist, asked.

 

“Piano, of course. And the guitar, a bit.”

 

The group stared at him with astonished expressions. “The one instrument we don’t have is a piano!” Anabel informed him. “ How good are you?”

 

Kilgharrah stood and winked, “How about a demonstration?”

 

 

***

 

Merlin and Arthur had long since returned to the knight’s table when Kilgharrah strode up to them.

 

He tapped Merlin on the shoulder, and Merlin spun around. He smiled, “What do you want, dear lizard?”

 

Kilgharrah snorted, amused at the new, albeit uncreative, nickname. “I need your help.”

 

Merlin set down his drink with a thud. “If you killed someone, I’m not fucking helping you this time.”

 

“Not that sort of help, though I appreciate the honesty. No, my predicament is of the more musical variety.” With that, Kilgarrah reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small object, which he held out for Merlin to take.

 

A harmonica.

 

Merlin lifted an eyebrow. “You just… keep one of those on you?” He asked dryly.

 

“Never hurts to be prepared.” Kilgharrah deadpanned. “Come on, Merlin, play with me,” he whined.

 

“Alright, fine,” Merlin sighed, stood, and took the harmonica from Kilgharrah’s outstretched hand. He then followed in his brother’s wake to the corner of the tavern. To the piano.

 

It hurt Arthur’s heart that he didn’t look back once.

 

The knights had watched the exchange wordlessly, then spoke all at once.

 

“Killed someone?”

 

“THIS time?”

 

“How the fuck do you have a musical problem that can be fixed with a harmonica?”

 

The knights all glared at Elyan, who had asked the last question. “What? It’s a valid question,” he defended.

 

But before they could really let him have it, music started to float, and a hush fell across the room.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah approached the ancient upright piano, unused in the corner, and dragged the bench out from where it hid under the instrument. He sat. Merlin grabbed Kilgarrah’s shoulder, placed one foot on the bench, and swung his body forward so he could sit on the narrow top of the piano, legs dangling off. He shifted until he got comfortable.

 

Kilgharrah stared at the keys, hesitant to touch, to make noise. He traced over the middle C with his index finger silently. Merlin stared at him from where he was perched up above. “Ready?” He asked.

 

He nodded. Not wanting to embarrass himself on an untuned instrument, he did a series of scales, C major, from the very lowest note to the very highest. The sounds poured out, pleasing to the ear, one note complementing and soothing the next as his hands travelled up the keyboard.

 

Ah. Now he remembered. The music, the notes, the magic of it all came rushing back as he finished his warm-up.

 

The tavern was quiet, holding its breath in anticipation. He let the silence draw out for a long moment.

 

Then he placed his hands on the keys, and played a chord. The left had held as his right flew up in pitch and played the melody. Sound of the chord died out, and Kilgharrah nodded at Merlin, who lifted the harmonica to his mouth and began to play.

 

Much louder than the initial soft notes of the piano, the harmonica rang through the room. Kilgharrah played a soft accompaniment, laying down the rules for the future melody.

 

Merlin’s notes died out on his breath, and Kilgharrah got louder to compensate, rising and raising the stakes. His hands repeated and flew across the keys.

 

And then, Kilgharrah opened his mouth.

 

And sang.

 

It's nine o'clock on a saturday

Regular crowd shuffles in

There's an old man sittin' next to me

Makin' love to his tonic and gin

Here, Merlin got louder, repeating the melody, lifting and supporting the lyrics and piano. Voice gravely and low, he continued:

He says: "Son can you play me a memory?"

I'm not really sure how it goes

But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete

When I wore a younger man's clothes

La-la-la de-de da

La-la de-de da da-da

Merlin’s harmonica emphasized the nonsense words. Suddenly, Kilgharrah felt anger toward his brother. Angry with the demands for all the answers, constantly having to be the person to turn toward. He missed his younger, carefree days where he was not quite so lonely.

 

Sing us a song you're the piano man

Sing us a song tonight

Well we're all in the mood for a melody

And you've got us feelin' alright

Though it wasn’t Merlin’s fault, Kilgharrah reflected. The dragon was the one who forced him toward his destiny, forced him to rely on a select few. Kilgharrah should be honored to be among them. Trying to shove his anger down, Kilgharrah got playful.

 

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine

He gets me my drinks for free

And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke

But there's someplace that he'd rather be

He says Kill’ ‘I believe this is killing me’

As a smile ran away from his face

‘Well I'm sure that I could be a theater star

If I could get out of this place’

Oh, la-la-la de-de da

La-la de-de da da-da

 

There’s no place he’d rather be, the dragon realized. The magic, the music, the potency of this moment right here was worth all the pain and suffering he had gone through. He looked up at Merlin, breathing into his instrument, breathing out song, swinging his legs off the piano in time with the beat.

 

Now Paul is a real estate novelist

Who never had time for a wife

And he's talkin' with Davy who's still in the navy

And probably will be for life

 

Swelling with emotion, affection and anger both, Kilgharrah got loud, bringing the song to new heights.

 

And the waitress is practicing politics

As the businessmen slowly get stoned

Yes they're sharing a drink they call loneliness

But it's better than drinkin' alone

 

Every ounce of loneliness Kilgharrah had felt he tried to convey with the strength of his voice, the force of his hands pounding into the keys. He tried a more complicated melody, which his brother heard and matched. It reached every corner of the building, shaking every person and making them feel at least a fraction of the emotion he felt.

 

Sing us the song you're the piano man

Sing us a song tonight

Well we're all in the mood for a melody

And you've got us feelin' alright

 

Calming down, Kilgharrah brought the melody to its original simplicity. He did not want to frighten the crowd, just trying to draw them in and out.

 

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday

And the manager gives me a smile

'Cause he knows that it's me they've been comin' to see

To forget about life for a while

 

But now he’s remembering, they’re all remembering, and the emotion comes through again, and he almost shouts as he sings.

 

And the piano it sounds like a carnival

And the atmosphere smells like a beer

And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar

And say man what are you doin' here?

 

He doesn’t know. The Great Dragon, sitting in a shitty little tavern singing songs. What was he doing here? He catches the motion of Merlin’s legs, and remembers.

Oh, la-la-la de-de da

La-la de-de da da-da

Sing us the song you're the piano man

Sing us a song tonight

Well we're all in the mood for a melody

And you've got us feelin' alright

 

Merlin’s harmonica finishes the song, Kilgharrah having said what he needed to say. It was strangely… cathartic, he thought. He completed the story and finished the melody, hands drifting easily across the keys.

 

As the last note died out, Kilgharrah looked up, and Merlin smiled at him. At that precise moment, the tavern burst into applause, shocking the dragon who had forgotten they were there. Merlin clearly hadn’t, giving a jaunty little wave as he jumped off the instrument.

 

“Nice job,” Merlin said.

 

“Thank you brother. That was… very fun.”

 

Merlin simply clapped him on the shoulder. Overwhelmed with the emotion of the music, Kilgharrah followed Merlin back to his table out of pure habit.

 

***

 

As the music faded from the room, the knights looked at each other, wordless. Elyan’s jaw had dropped.

 

“Didn’t know you sang, Kilgharrah,” Leon said. He barely knew the brothers, and this was not a life changing moment for him. “Do you, Merlin?”

 

Merlin snorted. “Not in public I don’t.”

 

“You’ve a lovely voice, Merlin,” Kilgharrah bumped his shoulder with his own. “You should sing more often.”

 

“No thanks.”

 

Elyan, who had just gotten over his wave of starstruckedness, asked, “Wow. Is there anything Kilgharrah can’t do?”

 

“Get laid,” said Merlin without missing a beat.

 

Kilgharrah smacked the top of his head. “Some of us don’t believe in pre-marital sex, Merlin.”

 

Merlin turned around with a look of incredulity. “What do you mean you don’t believe in it? It’s not ghosts.”

 

Kilgharrah simply heaved a great sigh. Gwaine looked incredibly interested.

 

Kilgharrah held out his hand. “Whatever. Give me the harmonica, whore.”

 

“Oh, yeah.” Merlin dug around in his jacket pocket for the harmonica before handing it to his brother.

 

Kilgharrah grabbed the instrument and began to walk away.

 

Merlin shouted after him, “If you had more sex I think you’d be less high-strung!”

 

Kilgharrah simply flipped him the bird from his table. Merlin chuckled under his breath.

 

Arthur stared at him, open mouthed. “I didn’t know you could play the harmonica, Merlin.”

 

Merlin simply shrugged. “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

 

“I’ll say.” Lancelot interjected. “Since when do you sing?”

 

Merlin blushed. “I don’t know why he says stuff like that. I can barely carry a tune.”

 

Arthur’s heart twisted in an uncomfortable way. Merlin was his servant, nothing more. He didn’t care that he didn’t know these small details about Merlin. About the harmonica. He couldn’t even tell if Merlin was lying about the singing. Was his voice pleasant? Or was he really incapable of carrying a tune? The prince reached up and rubbed at the burning sensation in his chest. Must be heartburn.

 

Not watching Merlin be a companion to someone else- his brother- not Arthur. It was supposed to be Arthur Merlin served and stood by and depended on. Not this random man who waltzed into his life after so many years.

 

The prince glared at Kilgharrah from across the room, eyes burning holes in his chest. As if sensing this, Kilgharrah turned around and lifted his drink in salute. Arthur didn’t know if he was mocking him.

 

Disgusted with himself, Arthur turned away. He didn’t care about the life of his servant, didn’t care that he clearly kept secrets.

 

And kept them well.

 

He didn’t care. He didn’t.

 

Maybe if kept telling himself that it would be true.

 

He put his drink to his lips and swallowed. It didn’t taste like anything.

Chapter Text

“Come on, Merlin put your back into it!” Arthur shouted, landing blow after blow with his sword on the shield Merlin was holding to block the prince.

 

“Don’t you think it’s time for a break, sire?” Merlin asked. His arms, while not weak, were much too tired to hold the shield for much longer. Arthur landed a particularly strong right swipe to the shield.

 

A little too strong, as Merlin promptly fell flat on his arse in the dirt, shield landing heavily on top of him. He would have yelped, but the shield knocked the air out of him, letting out a quiet “Oomph” as the air was forced from his lungs. He sucked in a huge rush of air, feeling even more light-headed than he had before.

 

Arthur kicked him roughly in the side, expelling what air he had managed to gain. The prince laughed at the pathetic noise his servant made. Was beating Merlin with a sword under the pretext of training the best way to cope with his feelings of anger? No. Was he going to continue to do it anyways? Absolutely.

 

“Up, Merlin,” the prince commanded. Merlin, not about to quit, got up, even if the sun was too bright and he felt woozy.

 

“Arthur,” Merlin whined, hoping to convince the prince to stop the abuse. Unfortunately for him, the prince did not stop. He landed two more backhanded strokes on the edge of the shield before Merlin could regain his balance. Completely off his footing, Merlin raised the shield above his head in a vain attempt to block the on-coming downward stroke.

 

It didn’t work.

 

The prince’s sword caught the upper lip of the shield, forcing it down onto the top of Merlin’s head. The servants eyes rolled up to the back of his head, and he dropped to the ground, unconscious.

 

***

 

“Do all dogs smell like this one or is it unique to this particular specimen?”

 

Anabel quirked her eyebrow. “I think all dogs have some sort of smell to them, Kilgharrah.”

 

“Hmm,” the dragon hummed, dissatisfied with that answer, but had no reason not to accept it.

 

They were on their daily walk around the citadel. The obnoxious mutt Rufus needed walking, and Anabel and Kilgharrah were both self-employed and could set their own hours. After Kilgharrah’s last job of finishing the armory door, he had nothing pressing to complete, so he incorporated a mid-morning dog-walk into his schedule.

 

Even if the dog in question was annoying to Kilgharrah’s sensitive ears, but he’d put up with worse.

 

“I want to try a different route today,” Anabel announced. “I think we should swing by the castle gates.”

 

Kilgharrah nodded in agreement, but his mind was swirling with questions. Was there something wrong with their original route? Was it too long? Too short? Was her lame leg bothering her? Was there a threat he was unaware of? He carefully turned each and every theory over in his mind but was unable to come up with a conclusion.

 

Seeing Kilgharrah’s confused expression, Anabel added, “I like the architecture.”

 

Or that.

 

He was still getting used to human thought processes. He always thought Merlin happened to be the most emotional and illogical human on earth. He was now realizing not only was emotion and illogic typical of the human species, it was also expected.

 

(Merlin, while prone to fits of emotion, never let it stand in the way when it really mattered. Kilgharrah found he had a new appreciation for him)

 

Take for example, the dog. Kilgharrah did not refer to the mutt by his name aloud or in his head both as a sign of respect to the animal that could not name itself and as a sign of disrespect as the dog was smelly, naughty, and prone to running away.

 

Anabel, a level-headed and intelligent woman, gave the dog food that she paid for, time out of her day that could be better spent elsewhere, and cleaned up after its messes. Kilgharrah did not understand why the dog was allowed to remain in residence, but when he tried to bring it up Anabel got strangely touchy so he left it alone.

 

They rounded the corner, Anabel putting more weight on Kilgharrah’s arm as the steepness of the path increased. He didn’t mind, he quite liked feeling useful and relieving the pain on her bad leg.

 

They passed through the castle gates and stumbled upon the knights training ground.

 

“Sloppy,” Kilgharrah mumbled under his breath.

 

“What?” Anabel asked.

 

Kilgharrah pointed to one of the newer knights-in-training at the edge of a training field. “See the one running drills?” She nodded. “His left foot is upsetting his balance. If he shifted it he’d be able to put more force into his swings.”

 

Anabel looked up at him, “Now where’d you learn something like that?”

 

He hummed. “My father taught me a bit of swordplay.” Anabel understood. When Kilgharrah talked about his father it was either wild accusations against his character for abandoning him in prison or sweet memories like this one. She resolved herself to saying nothing, but then saw two figures on the training field.

 

“Hey, isn’t that your brother?”

 

Kilgharrah looked to where she pointed, seeing his brother trying to stave off golden hair and a flashing sword with just a shield. Merlin’s stance was abysmal. He had no leverage, no strength in his grip. The prince, on the other hand, had perfect form. He could have ‘stabbed’ his servant at any point, but seemed to be drawing it out in the name of training.

 

Two blows seriously unbalanced Merlin, and the overhead one was his undoing. He crashed to the ground. Anabel gasped. Kilgharrah watched with wide, unbelieving eyes. He reached instinctively for the mental bond that connected them, and was relieved to still feel him breathing, his heart beating.

 

Without realizing it, Kilgharrah unlooped his arm from Anabel’s and started jogging across the field. Merlin got back up. Thank the Triple Goddess. Maybe he was overreacting. He felt for the bond once more. Merlin was lightheaded, exhausted. Kilgharrah frowned.

 

The prince’s sword connected with the shield, and slammed into Merlin’s head. Merlin fell to the ground, and the brother’s bond fell eerily silent. Unconscious.

 

Kilgharrah started running faster, and before he knew what he was doing, he shouted, “Hey, arsehole!”

 

The prince spun around just time to have Kilgharrah’s fist connect with his face.

 

***

 

Arthur realized he may have made a tiny mistake when Merlin collapsed to the ground twice in as many minutes.

 

In his defense, he was frustrated and angry. It was hard to wrestle control away from his fathers counselors, they were old men who indirectly implied he was too childish and naïve to be Prince Regent.

 

He blamed his mood on politics. It was easier than thinking about the revelations of a week ago.

 

So he thought a bit of sword practice would help him destress. Work the muscles, get his head clear. And if he got to hit the source of his frustration, well, that was just an added benefit.

 

Nevertheless, he now had an unconscious manservant at his feet. The shield was covering him almost entirely, highlighting the unnatural position his limbs took on the ground. Arthur was frozen. He was no coward but as Merlin crumpled to the ground, his heart stopped. Just stopped, dead in his chest. He regained movement in his muscles, before he heard a low, deep voice shout, “Hey arsehole!”

 

He spun around and registered the shape of a man. Before he could think about it any more, pain exploded across his face. Blood dripped down his face, copper wetness sinking into his mouth.

 

He looked up, and saw the man who had assaulted him. A face now burned into his memory. Merlin’s brother. Kilgharrah. Merlin’s brother. Merlin... who was now unconscious, courtesy of Arthur.

 

‘Oh shit,’ was the only thing Arthur had time to think before his shoulders were grabbed.

 

***

 

Rage.

 

That was about the only emotion Kilgharrah was feeling at the moment. His therapist said it was good to articulate his emotions. In the plainest words possible, Kilgharrah felt deep, violent, and unending rage toward the man who had struck his brother unconscious.

 

He knew Merlin, in the long run, was going to be alright. The bond that connected them told him that Merlin just had a mild concussion, nothing more.

 

But the rage didn’t care about logic. It didn’t care that Arthur, as prince, had the right, nay the privilege, to knock as many manservant unconscious as he wanted.

 

He felt rage, violent, all consuming rage against the man who had dared to lay a hand on his brother, his lord, his family, his kin.

 

As Kilgharrah’s fist connected with the prince’s face, he felt a sense of deep satisfaction. Blood came away on his knuckles. He grinned. Arthur had enough time to look up at him and register his face. Clearly, if he had enough time to move Kilgharrah wasn’t doing this fast enough.

 

He grabbed the prince by the shoulders and smashed his knee into Arthur’s stomach.

 

The prince made a gasping noise, out of breath. Kilgharrah enjoyed the symmetry of Merlin’s gasping for breath as he fell the first time.

 

The dragon brought his knee up again, this time with all the force he could muster into the prince’s groin. This time Arthur let out a most unmanly yelp and instinctively doubled over to protect his nether regions.

 

Kilgharrah felt immensely satisfied by the sight. He took his hands off the prince’s shoulders and backed up. He was immediately grabbed by two knights who wrestled him into a kneeling position. He looked over at Merlin. His brother was surrounded by the common born knights, his head gently cradled in Sir Gwaine’s lap as Sir Lancelot felt for a pulse. Elyan stood behind Lancelot, open mouthed with shock at the series of events that had just transpired in front of him.

 

Kilgharrah looked up and saw that it was the most loyal and true-hearted of the prince’s knights, Leon and Percival, respectively, who held him.

 

Arthur finally stood upright and wiped the blood from his face. He was unsuccessful as the blood was just smeared across his face, painting him every inch the violent man that he was.

 

“What the bloody hell was that for?” The prince demanded, desperately trying to control the situation.

 

Kilgharrah didn’t struggle in the knights’ hold, he merely looked up at the prince. “You gave him a concussion, you arsehole! He could have brain damage!” He spat. Kilgharrah knew he didn’t, but he wanted to see Arthur squirm.

 

The prince flinched, ever so slightly. Kilgharrah grinned inwardly. “Do you enjoy hitting defenseless servants, Your Highness, or is my brother just special?”

 

Arthur opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

 

Just at that moment, Merlin groaned.

 

Gwaine cupped his face. “Merlin? You alright, mate?”

 

“My head.” Merlin reached up to block out the sunlight. It wasn’t that bright out. Kilgharrah got even more concerned.

 

“For Chrissakes take him to the physician!” Kilgharrah snapped.

 

Gwaine looked over at him and nodded. He scooped Merlin up in his arms and walked away from the training fields. Lancelot escorted the pair through the throngs of knights staring at the carpenter who had attacked the prince. They didn’t look back once, not even for permission to leave from their prince.

 

Not to be outdone in his desire for attention, Arthur shouted, “You punched me!”

 

“You knocked my brother unconscious! What was I supposed to do?” Kilgharrah was now getting angrier, spitting as he yelled, “You know he’s never been trained with a shield nor sword! You know he can’t say no to you! So why on earth would you abuse him this way?!”

 

Silence fell across the training grounds. All eyes were locked on to him. “...Your Highness,” he added awkwardly.

 

Arthur looked ashamed for half a second, his face twitched in genuine remorse. But Arthur was nothing if not his father’s son, Kilgharrah thought in disgust. The prince’s face smoothed out, ignoring the blood spatters he so rightfully earned.

 

“Take him away,” he said with an imperious tone.

 

“Sire?” Leon questioned, as gently as he could. “Take him… where?”

 

“To the dungeons! Where else would he go?”

 

Leon personally didn’t think that punching someone who had assaulted one’s brother was unreasonable. He had a younger sister after all. If any man, prince or not, had laid a hand on them he would have done the same. Well, perhaps not the exact same. He would have honorably challenged the man.

 

But Kilgharrah was a peasant and not beholden to the rules of nobility. Leon could not find it in himself to feel sorry for Arthur at all. He had been driving Merlin to the breaking point lately, and the prince got what was coming to him.

 

He sensed the prince was in a dangerous mood and did not want to be on the other end of his wrath. But that didn’t stop him from asking one more time “Sire?” Are you sure?

 

“That’s an order, Leon.”

 

Leon nodded, and stood Kilgharrah up. The man went willingly, Leon and Percival on either side of him.

 

Kilgharrah didn’t care. Merlin was safe.

 

***

 

 

“So, he’ll be alright?” Gwaine asked anxiously.

 

“With time, Sir Gwaine,” Gaius replied. “Light trauma to the head means he should be bed bound for a week, only light activity for another six weeks.”

 

“I’m right here,” Merlin whined, “And I’m fine. Now let me go. If I don’t follow Arthur around he’s going to yell at me and it’s just going to get worse.”

 

Lancelot’s face clenched in anger. Gwaine had never seen such an expression on the knight. “He shouldn’t have been taking his temper out on you anyways. Quite frankly his actions were… dishonorable.”

 

Gwaine’s jaw dropped. Sir Righteous and Honorable himself had called the prince dishonorable! What a world!

 

The door to the infirmary opened and shut, and Elyan walked in.

 

“Where is he?” Merlin asked.

 

Elyan took a deep breath. “Kilgharrah’s in the dungeons, I’m afraid. Sorry, Merlin.”

 

“It’s all right.” Merlin shook his head ruefully. “I expected him to get thrown in jail at some point. I’m honestly surprised he lasted this long.”

 

A voice from the doorway said, “No mortal cage can hold me, Merlin, I assumed you’d know that by now.”

 

Merlin sat up straight and looked toward the door. Kilgharrah leaned against the doorway, grinning ever so slightly. “Kilgharrah!” Merlin exclaimed, absolutely delighted. “Are you alright?”

 

The dark-haired dragon stalked toward the bed where Merlin rested. “I’m fine. The prince didn’t lay a hand on me. I feel like you should be the one answering that question.”

 

“He has a mild concussion, nothing more,” Gauis said. Kilgharrah thought he could put up with the old man for Merlin’s sake, but today his temper was easily provoked.

 

“Did I ask you, old man?” Kilgharrah asked, teeth bared. Gauis just shook his head. Once friends, the former sorcerer and the Great Dragon had their friendship shattered in the Great Purge. Kilgharrah never forgave Gaius for his cowardice and Gauis never asked for forgiveness.

 

Gauis just shook his head, and got up to give them some privacy. He knew the dragon was never going to forgive him for choosing his king over his people. The physician thought it best to give the brothers space.

 

Alarmed, Gwaine said, “Hey, take it easy, mate. Gauis did nothing wrong.”

 

“Unrelated grudge,” Merlin interjected. “Because Kilgharrah likes to hold grudges.”

 

“Indeed I do,” Kilgharrah agreed. “So tell me, Merlin, how long has His Highness been using you as a training dummy when he’s too much of a coward to face his own knights?”

 

“He’s not a coward,” Merlin defended on instinct. Kilgharrah didn’t dignify that with a response. Merlin was deflecting, ashamed that this had gone on so long. Merlin’s eyes locked onto the bed. He played absently with the frayed end of his blanket.

 

“Merlin.” Kilgharrah demanded. He grabbed his brother’s chin and forced him to make eye contact. “Answer me.”

 

“It’s gotten better. These last couple years,” Merlin said haltingly.

 

He got his answer. Kilgharrah dropped his hand and Merlin’s eyes fell back on to the bedding, ashamed. Not only did the prince like to beat his servant, he did it often enough that Merlin did not think it unusual. He didn’t blame Merlin. Not one bit. Emrys was born to serve, it would wound his soul to say no to the other side of his golden coin.

 

He already despised Gaius for his cowardice from the Great Purge, but letting his ward suffer day in and day out just added more fuel to the flames.

 

The prince, the knights, however....

 

Kilgharrah turned accusing eyes on the three knights in the room. “And none of you saw fit to put an end to this?”

 

Elyan shrugged, embarrassed. “He’s the prince. We can’t exactly go about punching him in the face. No offense,” he tacked on hastily.

 

“No matter how much we might want to.” Gwaine added.

 

“Guys. I’m right here. I don’t need defending or saving. Arthur’s just in a bit of a mood and then it’ll all blow over.”

 

“The true character of a man is shown not in times of peace and plenty, but in times of turmoil and strife. Remember that, Merlin. The prince has a long journey ahead of him before he is ready to be king.”

 

Merlin scoffed and rolled his eyes, but he nodded all the same.

 

Kilgharrah felt satisfied with that. Suddenly, his ears gave him a warning.

 

Footsteps outside the door.

 

“Wait here,” Kilgharrah commanded, and got up to see who it was.

 

***

 

Arthur strode down the hallway, lost in thought. How much time was appropriate to lock up a man who had punched him in the face? He didn’t know.

 

The prince had cleaned himself up in his own chambers, much too humiliated to face Gaius after his actions on the training field. The blood was gone now, even though flakes of it still splattered on the shirt he discarded.

 

He grinned at the thought of making Merlin clean up his brother’s messes. Maybe then he wouldn’t look up at Kilgharrah like he hung the stars and the moon and instead return to trotting after Arthur, as was his place.

 

Arthur reached his destination at the end of the hallway. He couldn’t exactly be seen inquiring about the well-being of his servant, even if he was the one who caused the unwellness. What he could do was pop in, see how he was, and demand Merlin serve him in the morning. He never wanted to be without Merlin, even at the cost of Merlin’s well-being.

 

He placed his hand on the knob of the door, but before he could twist it, the door opened.

 

Arthur looked up in shock as Kilgharrah, the man he had just thrown in jail, leaned on the doorframe.

 

“Your Highness.” Kilgharrah greeted duly.

 

“What!” Arthur exclaimed in shock. “How did you- you- you -you’re supposed to be in the dungeons!”

 

“I was.” Kilgharrah explained simply. “Then I left. The locks on the cell doors are dreadfully inadequate. You should look into that.”

 

The calm, arrogant expression on his face irritated the prince.

 

“Let me in. I demand to see how my servant is doing.”

 

“No.”

 

“No?” Arthur repeated incredulously. Very few people ever told Arthur no, much less the brother of his servant!

 

“No. You’re the one who gave him a concussion. I’m sure seeing you would only upset him further.”

 

“How dare you speak to me that way!” Now Arthur was really upset, not even Merlin challenged his ego that way.

 

“My brother’s well being is more important than anything. If I thought you’d be conducive to that, I’d let you in. You’re not, so out you stay. Simple as that.”

 

Arthur’s face was red for the second time today, not from a bloody nose, but bright red with embarrassment. He tried to reason with Kilgharrah. “I need to see how he is.” He couldn’t admit that he cared about his servant, but he could make demands.

 

“He’s fine. He’ll be ready to return to your service on light-duty in a week.”

 

“A week!” Arthur exclaimed. He couldn’t be without Merlin for all that time. His outburst was a mistake. Kilgharrah’s face hardened.

 

“So you show your true colors, Prince Arthur. It seems as if you do not care about my brother’s well-being at all, but rather your own needs. How sad.”

 

Arthur spluttered, “That’s not - that’s not true.”

 

“So then you won’t mind giving him the week off. It’s what's best for Merlin’s health, after all.”

 

Arthur searched for an excuse to keep Merlin by his side, “Then who will be my servant? I’m the prince, I can’t be expected to do my own washing up.”

 

“My God,” Kilgharrah said softly. “You really are every inch the arrogant arsehole people make you out to be.” Kilgharrah pushed off the door frame and stood up straight. “If my brother matters so little, and your desires matter so much, it seems there is a simple solution. I’ll do it.”

 

“Do… what?” Arthur asked.

 

“I’ll fill in for my brother, as your manservant. That way he gets to keep his brain undamaged and you need not lower yourself to worrying about the peasantry.”

 

Arthur didn’t know what to say to that. The only way to escape being followed around all day by a man who clearly hated him was to admit he just wanted to see if Merlin was alright, and admit the incident was his fault.

 

As ever, Arthur could not admit he cared.

 

“I like to be woken at dawn,” Arthur said stiffly.

 

Kilgharrah raised one eyebrow. “See you bright and early, Your Highness,” he said and slammed the infirmary door in Arthur’s face.

 

“Great,” Arthur muttered. “Exactly what I wanted.”

Chapter Text

8:00

 

“You don’t have to stay, Gwaine,” Merlin told him nervously.

 

“Don’t listen to him, Sir Gwaine,” Gauis said. “Concussed patients need to be woken up every two hours lest they seize or choke on their own vomit.”

 

“I’m happy to stay, Merlin. It’s no trouble at all,” Gwaine said.

 

Merlin blushed, ever so slightly. He wasn’t quite sure how to alert Gauis that it wasn’t the actual waking-up he objected to, but rather the idea of the man he fancied in such close quarters for the foreseeable future. Waking him up, then having a conversation for fifteen minutes so Merlin didn’t fall asleep again. It would be difficult, but Merlin had been through greater trials.

 

Surely he could handle a couple of nights with Gwaine in close quarters, right?

 

No trouble.

 

No trouble at all

 

***

 

9:00

 

Merlin had offered Gwaine his bed, just like old times, but had been waved off.

 

“You’re the one with a head injury, Merlin, not me,” Gwaine had said. Merlin didn’t have a response to that that wasn’t extremely self-deprecating so he said nothing.

 

Gwaine made himself a makeshift bed on the floor, tucking his blankets just so to get them comfortable. He flopped down with a great sigh, then stared up at Merlin who stared back at him from his bed.

 

Caught looking, Merlin blushed. “What?” Gwaine asked coyly.

 

Merlin shook his head, trying to dispel the tension that had built up in the small room. Merlin had a crush, yes: on a daring, handsome knight who was unflinchingly honest and loyal, and perhaps drank too much, but that didn’t mean he was looking for commitment. Or anything, really, after Freya.

 

“Just wondering how I’m going to sleep without Arthur trying to kill me,” Merlin mock-whispered, deflecting the attention away from him.

 

“Don’t worry, the Princess will have to get through me first,” Gwaine replied.

 

Ah. So deflecting did not work. Merlin blushed harder and spun around so he was no longer facing him. Gwaine’s chuckle let him know his actions had not gone unnoticed.

 

“Goodnight Gwaine,” Merlin whispered.

 

“Goodnight Merlin,” Gwaine answered.

 

***

 

11:00

 

Gwaine woke up at 11:00 precisely. One benefit of a life on the road was that he was able to wake up and go to sleep almost on command. Otherwise he would have lost his purse and his life a long time ago.

 

He rose slowly, trying not to make any noise. While he may have told Merlin that sleeping on the floor was no trouble, it actually did a number on his back, turning his muscles stiff. But, there was no reason to make Merlin feel even more guilty or nervous than he did.

 

Gwaine’s hand closed over Merlin’s shoulder. The servant immediately bolted awake, mouth open to scream before he remembered.

 

“Oh,” Merlin said. “Hi.”

 

“Hi,” Gwaine said. “How’s your head?”

 

Merlin sat up and felt along his cranium where the shield had connected. “S’fine.” Merlin yawned.

 

“Sleepy?” Gwaine asked.

 

“Well you did just wake me up in the middle of the night, so yes.”

 

“Hmm. Let’s wake you up then. Tell me about your brother.”

 

Merlin’s heart jumped in his chest. “Wha-what do you want to know?”

 

Gwaine grinned. “I knew that’d work to wake you up. See, I asked around about your brother. Nobody knew he existed. Not even the Princess. I thought you two told each other everything.”

 

Merlin fidgeted with the blanket. “It’s- he’s not something I really like to talk about.”

 

Gwaine got the message. “Sorry, I’ll leave it alone.”

 

“NO!” Merlin exclaimed, then winced. “Sorry, no I meant, it’s not something I share with just anyone. You, you’re…”

 

“Charming? Roguish? Handsome?”

 

“...different,” Merlin finished lamely. Merlin took a breath. He remembered how nice it was when he finally shared his father’s story with Gwaine. The acceptance in his eyes, how he understood the pain of an unknown father.

 

Gwaine grabbed a tinderbox and lit a candle. Merlin, if it was possible, looked even more beautiful in the light of the fire. The fae planes of his face became dangerous, seductive. Gwaine had never wanted anyone more.

 

“I met Kilgharrah a few years ago. He was, um, in prison, actually.”

 

“Didn’t seem like you were the type to be involved in that scene, Merlin.” Kilgharrah as an ex-con, now that filled in a lot of the pieces. The rage, hurt-or-be-hurt attitude he had with the Princess earlier. It fit Merlin to a T too, befriending a man in prison. “What did he do?”

 

“Well, you know how my father was a nobleman?” Merlin asked. Gwaine nodded. “The other lords at the time coveted his power, land, you know, the normal things.”

 

“So they had your father and his son and heir locked up.” Gwaine finished. In the times they lived in, a land divided into five kingdoms, stories like this one were all too common. Even siring a bastard was par for the course these days.

 

“Pretty much. Then my father managed to escape, with Gauis’ help. Kilgharrah didn’t make it and stayed down there for a few more years.”

 

Gwaine’s eyes widened. That...was not normal.

 

“Then I met him and then he manipulated me into letting him go and then Kilgharrah tried to kill a bunch of people. He succeeded a lot, actually, burned their houses down. I found my father, and he was killed before he could see Kilgharrah again. The townspeople were out for his blood so I faked his death and now he’s in Camelot.”

 

Gwaine had no response to that. “Did he burn down the houses while people were inside them?”

 

“Oh yeah. That was his goal.”

 

“So Gauis was the one who freed your father?” Merlin nodded. “Is that why Kilgharrah doesn’t like him?”

 

“Yeah. If Kilgharrah can do one thing it’s hold a grudge. He’s angry that neither our father nor Gauis ever came back for him. But our father was killed before Kilgharrah could see him again and now all that anger is targeted at Gaius.”

 

Gwaine laughed nervously. “Well if there’s ever a reason to be angry at someone…that’d be it. So you freed Kilgharrah, not Gaius?”

 

Merlin blushed a little. “Yes. I sort of promised him I would then… I waited a couple of months before I actually did.”

 

“What- Merlin why on earth would you do that?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “I was afraid of what he’d do.”

 

Merlin glanced at the candlemarks on the candle Gwaine forgot he was holding. “That was 15 minutes. Wake me up in another two hours.” And promptly laid back in bed and fell asleep.

 

So Merlin’s brother was an ex-con who had no compunction about killing innocent people in their homes. That was...less than ideal, Gwaine thought. Especially since he was now living in Camelot and had access to all sorts of things. Namely, Gwaine, who wanted to court his younger brother.

 

Gwaine stared at the candle. The candle stared back. He blew it out, unable to look at the flame. The ceiling glared down at him. There was absolutely no way he was going to be able to sleep more.

 

***

 

1:00

 

After what felt like just a few seconds, Gwaine’s internal clock woke him again. He groaned. He desperately wished he had not promised to wake Merlin up every two hours, but he made a promise and by God he was going to stick to it. Besides, close quarters with Merlin only had upsides. He wasn’t quite sure if Merlin understood he intended to court him, but Gwaine didn’t mind. He needed to draw this out, prove that he could be committed to one man, if only offered the chance.

 

Gwaine grabbed Merlin’s shoulder and shook him. “Merlin,” he whispered, teasing. Unlike last time, Merlin was dead to the world, and did not stir. He shook him harder. “Merlin,” he said a bit louder in a sing-song voice.

 

Merlin groaned. “Go away,” he mumbled into his pillow, batting at Gwaine’s arm half-heartedly.

 

“Alright, up you get,” Gwaine said, hauling Merlin bodily into a sitting position. Merlin went willingly, then stayed upright. Merlin rubbed at his eyes.

 

Seeing that Merlin wasn’t about to keel over and go back to sleep, Gwaine reluctantly moved his hand from Merlin’s warm body and lit a candle. Merlin squinted in the sudden brightness.

 

“How’s your head?”

 

“Good,” Merlin said. “How’s your mother?”

 

Gwaine’s heart lurched and he almost dropped the candle, the movement sending waves of light across the room.

 

“Wha- what?” Gwaine asked. “Why are you asking about my mother?”

 

“This,” Merlin said, indicating the space between them, their unique bond of friendship, “is a two-way street. You asked me about my brother. Tell me about your mother.”

 

Gwaine chuckled. He loved it when Merlin casually decided to give people heart attacks. He loved it slightly less when it was him on the receiving end though.

 

“I don’t really know, Merlin. I haven’t seen her in years,” Gwaine answered honestly.

 

“Well, tell me a story about her then, so I have something to listen to.”

 

Gwaine cast his thoughts back, far back to his childhood by the coast in Caerleon. Knight training, tittering nobility, the stares of the other boys as they realized he had no father.

 

“I stole some sweets from a candy shoppe once, and when the shopkeeper confronted her about it, my mum pretended she didn’t know me,” Gwaine said.

 

Merlin barked out a laugh, “She didn’t!”

 

“She did,” Gwaine countered ruefully. While it had been devastating at the time to have his mother pretend she didn’t know him, it made sense in hindsight. A stray noble boy couldn’t be made to pay the fine, and the family name would remain untarnished.

 

“I was wandering Caerleon’s lower town when I spied the world’s largest carmel apples in the window of this shoppe…” Gwaine began. He spun the whole story, full of exaggerations and excessive apple metaphors.

 

Merlin laughed and groaned at all the right parts, blinking the sleepiness away as he listened to the story. Eventually, the call of dreams became too strong, and Merlin slumped over and began to snore.

 

Gwaine looked at him fondly. Merlin was such a lovely lad. It was a wonder nobody had snatched him up yet. ‘Well,’ Gwaine thought, ‘more for me.’

 

He blew out the candle.

 

***

 

3:00

 

“Do you trust him? Gwaine asked. The third time he had woken Merlin had gone the same as the last two. He was relieved Merlin didn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects from his head injury. Beyond, perhaps, his uncharacteristic openness and honesty.

 

“Trust who?” Merlin quiered.

 

“Kilgharrah.”

 

Merlin let out a whoosh of breath that disturbed the flame of the candle Gwaine was holding. “Isn’t that the question for the ages?” He chuckled ruefully.

 

“You two seem to have a complicated history. And relationship.”

 

“Understatement of the century,” Merlin agreed. “He’s one grumpy old lizard, that’s for sure.”

 

Merlin did this a lot, Gwaine had realized. Deflection. Kilgharrah had noticed and put a stop to it earlier that evening (or was it yesterday?) when Merlin skirted around the topic of Arthur’s treatment of him. Kilgharrah’s anticipation of Merlin’s deflection indicated to Gwaine they had a close relationship. Closer, even, than that of Lancelot or Gaius.

 

Gwaine had a knack for reading people. He saw that Kilgharrah was important to Merlin, and what was important to Merlin was important to him.

 

“You didn’t answer my question,” Gwaine said. Directness had worked for Kilgharrah, so Gwaine gave it a shot. “Do you trust him?”

 

Merlin shifted, uncomfortable. “A little too much,” he admitted. “Sometimes he’d tell me to do things and I’d regret them later.”

 

“Bad things?” Gwaine prodded gently.

 

“Very bad,” Merlin said softly. “Wrong, dishonorable things. And when I made mistakes…” He looked away, ashamed. “...people died.”

 

Gwaine had no response to that. ‘It’s not your fault’ wasn’t true. ‘It’s alright now’ was trite.

 

“But you still trust him?” Gwaine asked.

 

“With my life,” Merlin responded instantly. “And much more than that.” If only Gwaine knew how much Merlin trusted Kilgharrah with his life. Not just to save it, but to decide the course and direction of it.

 

“So he’s not all bad,” Gwaine concluded. “Otherwise you wouldn’t trust him so much. He’s been helpful, given you good advice.”

 

“Definitely,” Merlin agreed. “He’s helped me through a lot. It’s easy to talk to him.”

 

“Why?” Gwaine asked. Why not me? He meant.

 

“Cause we’re family. And he understands.”

 

“Understands what?”

 

“What it’s like to be alone,” Merlin said, then flushed. He hadn’t meant to say that. Gwaine just always managed to drag the truth out of him, willing or not.

 

Gwaine sensed that Merlin was done talking about his brother. He could respect that. He had honestly learned more than he expected too.

 

“Families can be complicated. Sounds like you got a good one.”

 

“Yeah.” Merlin smiled. “Yeah I do. Kilgharrah is… for all his flaws Kilgharrah means a lot to me. I don’t know who I’d be without him.”

 

“He cares a lot about you too. Punched the Princess in the face pretty hard.”

 

Merlin groaned. “I wish he hadn’t done that. Arthur’s going to get pissy with me about it.”

 

“Don’t worry your pretty head, Merlin. I’m sure everything will work out just fine,” Gwaine said.

 

Merlin flushed at being called pretty, even inadvertently. “See you in two hours.” Merlin whispered.

 

Gwaine just blew out the candle in response.

 

***

 

5:00

 

This time, Merlin woke first. “Almost dawn,” he whispered, staring into Gwaine’s half awake eyes.

 

“How are you up so early?” Gwaine groaned into his pillow

 

Merlin laughed softly. “I always get up around this time. You can go back to sleep. I promise I’ll wake you when you need to be up.”

 

Gwaine really really wanted to stay awake and keep Merlin company, but his makeshift bed was so warm and soft…

 

***

 

Merlin strode into the main room of the infirmary, dressed and ready to go. His head was pounding something awful so he needed to make a potion before he got ready to serve Arthur. He went through his mental list of tasks for the day. Arthur’s morning routine. Give Gwaine breakfast as a thank-you for staying up all night with him so he didn’t have a seizure. Muck out the horse’s stables. Knight’s training (Arthur would force him to do that anyway, concussion or no). Visit Mary and her new baby. Make the daily potions for the castle. Bring Arthur lunch. Visit the cobblers and so on and so forth until Merlin’s favorite part of the day: visiting his brother’s workshop to sit and talk.

 

Kilgharrah’s dusty woodshop brought Merlin indescribable comfort. There was something about being close to the person who knew of every evil and ugly deed Merlin made, along with every moment of heroism. There was nothing like being seen in his entirety: all-powerful warlock and a boy becoming a man.

 

Though it seemed his daily run-in with his brother would be sooner rather than later, judging from the dark figure sitting at Gauis’s table.

 

“Kilgharrah?” Merlin whispered, staring at his brother, who sat nonchalantly at the table like he belonged there.

 

“Good morning, Merlin,” his brother answered.

 

“What- what are you doing here?”

 

“You should be in bed,” Kilgharrah said in lieu of an answer. He strode over to Merlin and forcefully ushered him into his room.

 

“No, I can’t. I have to bring Arthur his breakfast and then get Gwaine’s and then-”

 

“Yeah. No. You’re not doing that today.”

 

That pulled Merlin up short. “I’m sorry?” He queried.

 

“You have a concussion. You’re staying home today,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Merlin blinked once, twice in confusion. “Arthur let me have the day off?”

 

“The week.”

 

“He did?” Merlin said, surprised. That didn’t sound right. He didn’t even get the day off after the poisoned chalice. He knew Arthur cared for him, it showed in the life-or-death moments they experienced all too frequently, but the mundanity of life often obscured it. A whole week without Merlin’s service: that was out of character for the prince.

 

“Sort of,” Kilgharrah said vaguely. Not that he ever said anything clearly. “Your job is to rest and do whatever else you do when not chasing after the prince.”

 

Merlin frowned. There was definitely something suspicious going on here. But he didn’t have enough evidence to call him on it. He was also wary of the fact Arthur hadn’t come and said anything after his injury. Not a sly comment about his skills or a demand to come back to work. Nothing.

 

Not that Merlin expected the prince to care or anything. It stung, sometimes, that Merlin gave Arthur so much and received so little. The times he did care, a smile, a thoughtful comment, or telling Merlin he valued him, those were far and few between. Merlin lived for those moments.

 

“Right,” Merlin said, disappointed. He thought he’d have a proper excuse to yell at Arthur, but it seemed that was not to be. “I’ll just go back to bed then.”

 

“You do that,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Merlin glared suspiciously at him. The dragon’s face revealed nothing.

 

“Do you trust him?” Gwaine had asked.

 

“A little too much,” Merlin had answered.

 

That was still true. As much as Merlin knew that Arthur, in his heart of hearts, cared for him, Merlin knew the dragon cared for him also. Kilgharrah would do nothing to jeopardize their destiny.

 

Merlin nodded, then went back to bed.

 

***

 

7:00

 

“Good morning,” Merlin said cheerfully, setting a breakfast tray on his nightstand.

 

“Merlin- what- what is this?” Gwaine asked, looking at the breakfast tray.

 

“It’s breakfast,” Merlin said, confused.

 

“You didn’t have to bring it up here, Merlin. You have a concussion. I’m supposed to be taking care of you,” Gwaine said. He didn’t want to take and take from Merlin like Arthur did, he wanted to show Merlin that he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself.

 

“It’s a two way street,” Merlin said. “Breakfast is my thank-you for looking after me all night. Besides, it’s just like old times.”

 

Gwaine grinned at the memory of waking in Merlin’s bed all those months ago. “It was nothing, Merlin,” Gwaine said.

 

Merlin hummed disagreement, but said nothing. He hated that Gwaine looked so beautiful in the morning light. He knew romance wasn’t in the cards for him, not after Freya and with the weight of his destiny pressing down on him, but still sometimes he looked at Gwaine and wished-

 

It didn’t matter. It couldn’t happen. Not while magic was banned. He shook his head to forcefully dispel any more thoughts about the knight.

 

He could enjoy their friendship over breakfast, at least.

 

Gwaine smiled up at him, and his heart raced so fast the lie became all the more obvious.

 

Merlin was so, so screwed.

Chapter Text

Precisely at dawn, a knock sounded outside the prince’s room. That detail immediately tickled onto Arthur’s subconscious. There was no way Merlin would ever knock. That meant it was either a guard or a knight- Camelot was being invaded or his father had succumbed to his grief.

 

Arthur shot straight up in bed and barked, “Come in.”

 

A head of dark, messy hair strode into the royal chambers. It was not Merlin, it was his brother, Kilgharrah. Arthur binked once. Twice. Three times, before he remembered.

 

“I’ll fill in for my brother, as your manservant. That way he gets to keep his brain undamaged and you need not lower yourself to worrying about the peasantry.”

 

“I like to be woken at dawn.” As much of an agreement as Arthur would give.

 

“See you bright and early, Your Highness,” Kilgharrah had answered.

 

Arthur groaned. “I can’t believe you actually showed up. Merlin wants to sit on his arse all day that badly?”

 

Kilgharrah set the prince’s breakfast down and crossed his arms. “He’s injured. And I am a man of my word.”

 

Arthur didn’t have a response to that. Judging by the fiery expression on the carpenter’s face, he was still furious about the whole knocking-his-brother-unconscious incident.

 

“Well…” Arthur trailed off. “I can tell already this is going to be super fun,” he said sarcastically.

 

Kilgharrah, if it was possible, just glared harder.

 

Arthur grimaced.

 

***

 

It was seriously unnerving to have someone trying to bore holes in the back of your head while you were eating. But Arthur wasn’t a prince for nothing, and just suffered through the staring. He had grown up that way, after all.

 

The silence, though, was something he hadn’t experienced in many years. Merlin normally jabbered on and on about nothing to keep Arthur company. Arthur wasn’t sure why he expected his brother to fill the space in the same way. Kilgharrah most certainly did not talk, or move, or breathe without careful consideration for his movements. Almost like he was doing everything in his power to not be like Merlin.

 

Kilgharrah’s stare continued to burn holes in the back of Arthur’s head. It made his skin crawl. Suddenly done eating, Arthur realized he needed to get dressed. Merlin always dressed him first for whatever inane reasons Merlin concocted. It seemed Kilgharrah had different priorities.

 

Arthur moved to speak, then cleared his throat. “I need to be dressed,” he said.

 

Kilgharrah indicated the bed with his head in a nod. “It’s on the bed.”

 

And indeed, there was a set of perfectly appropriate clothes laid out on the bed. Arthur had a distinct feeling Kilgharrah did not move to put them there, but rather they had appeared on all their own. He shook his head to dispel the strange thoughts.

 

He stood by the bed with his arms out, making a clear ‘let’s begin’ gesture.

 

Kilgharrah frowned, arms still crossed as Arthur did not move to dress himself. “Anytime now,” Kilgharrah said dryly.

 

“Yes. I am aware,” Arthur stated tightly. “Now do your job.”

 

Kilgharrah uncrossed his arms. “How old are you? Twelve? Thirteen?” he asked. “I’m bad with kids,” he added by way of explanation.

 

“I’m twenty-six,” Arthur said, confused if he was being teased or not. Merlin often liked to poke fun at Arthur’s inability to dress himself.

 

Apparently Kilgharrah was dead serious as his eyes got wide and he dropped the glare. “Goddess Above! You’re a grown man and you can’t dress yourself?!”

 

“There is no need to be rude,” Arthur said, wrong footed.

 

Kilgharrah simply stared, open-mouthed. “I can see why Merlin complains about you so much.”

 

“Hey!” Arthur exclaimed, offended. “He does not!” Though truly Arthur didn’t know if Merlin complained about him often. He resented the fact that Kilgharrah knew something about Merlin that he didn’t.

 

Kilgharrah blinked once, twice, three times before coming to a decision. “Right. Well. You can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

 

“What on earth does that have to do with anything-”

“Today’s your lucky day, Your Highness. I am going to teach you how to dress yourself. I don’t even have hands most of the time and I know how to do that.”

 

“Huh?”

 

Kilgharrah clapped his hands together. “Let’s begin.”

 

***

 

45 minutes later, Kilgharrah exclaimed, “How is it possible that you are the finest swordsman in Camelot and are still unable to understand the movements required to put on a fucking shirt!”

 

“Stop yelling at me! I can barely see out of this damn thing!” Arthur shouted from where he was indeed trapped inside of his shirt. His arms were pinned together in one of the sleeves, his eyes obscured by the heavy fabric.

 

“Mother, Maiden, and Crone, what do you do if you’re at war or have to get ready quickly? What if there’s an emergency?”

 

Arthur stilled from inside his cloth prison. “Merlin would help me.”

 

“Yes, but what if Merlin’s not there?”

 

“Merlin’s always there,” Arthur said. “He’s never not there. Like from the first day I met him he hasn’t stopped following me around.” Arthur continued to wiggle around, failing to get his arms free and instead got his ear pressed painfully against his skull. “Don’t you have any useful advice?” he whined.

 

“Just do a better job,” Kilgharrah suggested.

 

“Great. Super insightful,” Arthur said, then sighed. If these kinds of torturous lessons were going to characterize the week then Arthur was decidedly not looking forward to it.

 

***

 

 

Normally the knight’s training was Arthur’s favorite part of the day. There must be a first time for everything since all Arthur could feel was dread.

 

The day was cool enough that the heavy armor wasn’t stifling hot. A pleasant day to face my death, Arthur thought.

 

From the way Kilgharrah grinned at him from across the training field, Arthur could tell the man was thinking the same.

 

The carpenter was holding a shield he got from Lord knows where. Probably Leon. The knight acted loyal but he had strange ways to get revenge on Arthur if he thought the prince deserved it. And judging from the not-at-all subtle lineup of Round Table knights on the outskirts of the training field, Leon wasn’t acting alone.

 

Sometimes Arthur wondered if his knights were more loyal to Merlin instead of their prince.

 

“Right,” Arthur said. He wondered if he could get out of this by focusing on the knights today, but he somehow didn’t think that would go well for him.

 

Well, if there was one thing Arthur wasn’t, it was a coward.

 

He approached Kilgharrah, who was standing in perfect form with his ill-acquired shield.

 

The prince raised his sword. “Let’s begin.”

 

Arthur lunged forward in an easy side-swipe, expecting to make contact with the shield. Instead, his sword made contact with open air, no Kilgharrah to be found.

 

“What on earth-” Arthur began to say. Then he caught sight of Kilgharrah standing 90 degrees to his left, still wearing his insufferable smirk. Arthur had wielded a sword for a long time. He had never met a soul who could possibly move that fast. The prince’s eyes narrowed.

 

“You’re supposed to stand still for these drills otherwise it won’t work.”

 

“Do your enemies normally stand still for you, Your Highness?” Kilgharrah asked dryly. The watching knights snickered in amusement, clearly eavesdropping. Arthur set his jaw.

 

“You are not my enemy. This is merely practice in a drill. Nothing so serious. Don’t be a coward,” Arthur said.

 

Kilgharrah’s expression changed from cool amusement to something new: respect. He nodded. “Very well.”

 

Arthur got into position and moved before Kilgharrah could raise his shield.

 

Or rather, any man other than Kilgharrah. Before Arthur could change the path of his sword, Kilgharrah’s shield was raised and angled so the whole weight of Arthur’s stroke slipped off like water and led to the prince stumbling his footing.

 

Now the knights weren’t laughing. That move wasn’t cowardice, that was skill. To predict the weight and force of a stroke and counteract it in a way that leaves your enemy off balance: that necessitates years of experience and practice.

 

Kilgharrah simply watched the prince. Would he get angry? Or would he fight back?

 

Arthur, for his part, was getting terribly excited. It was a rare opportunity for him to find a swordsman who could best him.

 

Arthur pulled back and considered. Classic sword thrusts would not cut it here, he could feel it. Time for something a little more creative.

 

The prince feigned right and slashed left, underneath the shield.

 

A mistake, Arthur realized, five seconds too late.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah, for lack of a better expression, had been around the block more than a few times. A prince has a destiny greater than he knows, a great warrior but is sometimes arrogant. Blah. He’d heard it a thousand times.

 

The best way to resolve this issue was kicking the shit out of those princes.

 

So the Great Dragon stood, holding an old battered shield he had charmed from Sir Leon, ready to forcefully expedite the prince’s character development whether he liked it or not.

 

The prince’s first swipe was tentative, unsure what kind of opponent he was dealing with. Kilgharrah did not dignify that with a response, and simply slid out of the way.

 

The prince turned narrowed eyes on him, trying to suss out exactly how skilled he was. When Arthur reproached him for acting like a coward, Kilgharrah was impressed. Those were not the words of a boy-prince, but the words of a High King. It seemed his plan was working already.

 

A third attempt from Arthur was more clever. However, his body language betrayed him. This was Kilgharrah’s opportunity.

 

As the prince’s sword came toward him, time slowed down. Merlin wasn’t the only one with unnatural powers over the laws of nature.

 

Kilgharrah took the edge of the shield and struck the sensitive inside wrist where the prince was gripping the sword. On reflex, Arthur dropped it. Seconds dragged on into minutes. Kilgharrah aimed a kick to the prince’s front knee, sending him crashing into the ground.

 

Now he had the prince where he wanted him. Unarmed, vulnerable, on his back in the dirt.

 

The dragon kneeled down next to him, shield putting pressure on the prince’s airways. Time resumed its normal pace.

 

Kilgharrah moved his mouth close to the prince’s ear and began to speak. “I want you to remember this feeling. Hopelessly outmatched and beaten by an enemy who is stronger than you.” Arthur began to wheeze as the shield continued to cut into his throat.

 

“This is the way you make Merlin feel. Every day. I hope you will find it within you to be more merciful in the future.”

 

With that, Kilgharrah removed the shield from the prince’s throat and stood.

 

***

 

Arthur was not sure what he did wrong. It happened much too quickly for him to see. One moment he was lunging forward, the next he had dropped his sword and was lying on his back in the dirt.

 

An uneducated peasant carpenter had beaten the prince in fair combat. This was extraordinary, this was unprecedented, this did not happen. Arthur barely got his wits together as Kilgharrah began to speak.

 

“I want you to remember this feeling. Hopelessly outmatched and beaten by an enemy who is stronger than you.”

 

The man’s voice was calm and relaxed. Prepared. He had been planning this, Arthur realized. And he was right, too. It had been ages since Arthur was properly beaten in a fight. He wasn’t frightened, not exactly. He knew Kilgharrah wouldn’t hurt him. But he was humiliated, ashamed. He felt less than.

 

“This is the way you make Merlin feel. Every day.”

 

Though Arthur was lying on his back, he felt the world slide out from under him. Was that true? This hopeless humiliated feeling, did Merlin suffer it everyday at Arthur’s hands? His eyes prickled with shame, or perhaps it was the lack of oxygen.

 

“I hope you will find it within you to be more merciful in the future.”

 

Arthur would have nodded in agreement except the shield was pressing down painfully on his neck. As it lifted, Arthur took in a great breath of air. He vowed to do better in the future.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah was quite pleased with himself. Terrorizing people into doing what he wanted always seemed to work out for him. First Merlin, now Arthur.

 

The knights of the Round Table were still staring at him, open-mouthed with awe.

 

Sir Leon, ever faithful, helped Arthur to his feet before crowding around Kilgharrah with the rest of the knights. It seemed his plan of loaning Kilgharrah a shield to kick the shit out of Arthur had worked out nicely.

 

“Wow!” Elyan said, starstruck. “That was some move you did there!”

 

Leon added on, “Most impressive.”

 

Even quiet Percival said, “Nice to see someone get one over our prince.”

 

Kilgharrah looked to Lancelot in confusion.

 

Are they always like this? He asked with his facial expressions.

 

Lancelot simply shrugged.

 

Gwaine, who had more insight into Kilgharrah’s past, was quite alarmed at this development.

 

“Hey mate,” he started, “Where’d you learn to do something like that?”

 

Kilgharrah decided to tell the truth.

 

“I’m a thousand year old dragon who has studied the art of swordplay for millennia as I sometimes take human form for my own amusement.”

 

Gwaine blinked. “Fine. Don’t tell us then.”

 

Kilgharrah sighed.

 

***

 

At least in council meetings, a servant’s place was to keep quiet and say nothing. Arthur was acutely aware of Kilgharrah standing behind him, but he was able to ignore it in favor of running the kingdom. Being Prince Regent had its challenges, but Arthur found he rather enjoyed it.

 

And staring out across the Round Table filled the prince with an immense sense of pride. His high and low born knights sitting at the table as equals. Nothing made him happier.

 

Except, maybe, if Gwaine actually paid attention during the meetings. Though today, something was different about today.

 

If today was a normal day, Leon would drone on and on and Gwaine would look skyward, head rolled back, plausibly not asleep but fooling no one.

 

But today was not a normal day. Leon was still droning on and on and Gwaine was not paying attention to him. Instead, Gwaine’s eyes seemed fixated on a point just above Arthur’s shoulder. In truth Arthur wasn’t much interested in Leon’s report either so he chanced a look to where Gwaine was staring.

 

At Kilgharrah. The man in question responded to Gwaine’s staring with a grin. A grin that had a few too many teeth to be considered friendly. Gwaine’s eyes narrowed.

 

Right. Arthur quickly spun back around, not wanting to get involved in...whatever that was.

 

The cadence of Leon’s voice signaled to the prince that he was done speaking. Arthur was privately thanking the gods but willed that it didn’t show on his face.

 

Arthur stood. “Does anyone else have any proposals they’d like to submit to the council?” he asked, though it was just a formality. If anyone actually had a proposal to submit they certainly would have discussed it with him beforehand. So one could excuse the prince’s shock when Sir Elyan stood.

 

“I have a speech I’d like to address to the council,” Elyan said.

 

Arthur had never encountered this before but it seemed bad form to turn down the knight immediately. He made a sweeping hand gesture that could loosely be interpreted as ‘please proceed’.

 

Elyan slammed a thick pile of papers on the table. “This is my report on how it could not have possibly been me who broke the armory door.”

 

The knights of the Round Table blinked in shock while Eylan continued. “This is a 16 point presentation and it will last 45 minutes. Pay attention, there will be a quiz at the end.”

 

Arthur may have never encountered this particular situation before but he did know when a problem was brewing. Time to nip this in the bud.

 

Arthur stood. “That concludes today’s meeting,” he said, interrupting Elyan before he could really get going.

 

Elyan looked crushed, but so was the life of a prince.

 

As the knights swept out of the room, glad to be spared Elyan’s lecture, a thought tickled at the back of Arthur’s mind.

 

Why was Gwaine staring at Kilgharrah?

 

***

 

Arthur was a few paces down the hallway when he found Kilgharrah was no longer behind him. As silent as the man was, it was hard to notice when he was gone.

 

He spun around and found Kilgharrah staring at a large tapestry hanging at the end of the hall.

 

Kilgharrah’s eyes were fixed on it, roaming the details over and over. Almost as if he were trying to memorize it. The tapestry was older than Arthur, probably older than Uther. It took up the entire end wall, leaving only the barest hint of a stone border.

 

Arthur had grown up with that tapestry at the end of the hall. It had become so much a part of his environment that he hardly noticed it anymore, eyes skipping over it as if it were part of the wall.

 

But the way Kilgharrah was staring at it… Arthur couldn’t place the emotion. Anger? Sadness? Resignation? But there was also an undercurrent of affection in the way the corners of his lips ticked upwards.

 

The prince found he did not want to break the reverent moment Kilgharrah seemed to be having with the tapestry. Kilgharrah and Arthur had come to an unspoken understanding after the sword fight that morning. Arthur simply stood beside him and stared up at it, trying to see what he saw.

 

After a moment, Kilgharrah spoke, “It’s very flattering, I suppose.”

 

Arthur shot him a questioning look, but did not speak.

 

“The Great Dragon,” Kilgharrah said, and jerked his chin toward the tapestry.

 

The tapestry’s design was bold, in two colors. Gold edging surrounding a red field. A great golden dragon poised to take flight. Arthur didn’t see what was so remarkable about it. Camelot was hardly the first kingdom to go around brandishing their colors everywhere.

 

“It’s the Pendragon Crest,” Arthur explained. “Not any real dragon. There aren’t anymore dragons. I killed the last one.”

 

“But the Pendragon Crest was based on something, someone. The Great Dragon of Camelot, chieftain of his people. Your ancestor, Bruta, chose to honor him with this image. And here he is, all these years later…” Kilgharrah trailed off.

 

Arthur snorted. “It certainly aged badly. The Great Dragon attacked Camelot not two years ago.”

 

“And then you killed him,” Kilgharrah said. He sounded heartbroken. Perhaps that should be expected. Merlin certainly cried plenty over any dead magical creature they came across, maybe Kilgharrah was no different. “Bit morbid, though, isn’t it?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

“What is?”

 

“Hanging a dead dragon’s likeness in your hall as a way to honor yourself. A dragon slayed by your own hand, the last of his kind. A corpse in a field of blood…”

 

Arthur suddenly saw the tapestry he had seen a thousand times with new eyes. Not a figure of strength, but a sight of a slaughter. The Last of Dragons was not poised to take flight, but lying on the ground, wings bent unnaturally, soaked in the blood of his dead species. Betrayed by the very kingdom for which he was named. The dragon of the tapestry stared at him with dead eyes. He shivered.

 

“It’s just a tapestry. It doesn’t mean anything,” Arthur said.

 

“All symbols have meaning,” Kilgharrah said quietly. He finally tore his eyes away from the tapestry, and looked at Arthur. “Long live the king.”

 

Arthur was afraid to ask what he meant by that.

 

***

 

Because of the 45 minute delay in getting ready that morning plus more of Kilgharrah’s shenanigans- not that they were really shenanigans, it was more that he wasn’t Merlin- it was already time for lunch.

 

Arthur pushed his paperwork aside as Kilgharrah silently set the plate down. Arthur took a sip from his glass to delay eating. The prince was apprehensive about consuming it. Did Kilgharah poison it? He poked it suspiciously with a fork.

 

Apparently reading his mind, Kilgharrah said, “If I wanted to poison you, Your Highness, I would have put it in that water you’ve been drinking.”

 

Arthur immediately spat out the mouthful of water he had indeed been drinking for the past hour.

 

Kilgharrah, no longer amused, stared at the puddle of water now on the floor. “...not that I would,” he added lamely.

 

Arthur didn’t seem convinced, switching his glare between the plate of food and Kilgharrah himself.

 

The carpenter in question just threw a rag on the floor and toed it around with the bottom of his boot to mop up the mess Arthur left. If it were anyone else Arthur would say something about the lackadaisical method Kilgharrah chose, but well-

 

Arthur really didn’t want to get poisoned.

 

So instead the prince stared at the puddle of water in mild horror for how his life got to the point that he just allowed this sort of thing to just happen to him. Other princes probably didn’t have peasants punch them in the face then receive the privilege of serving them. Not once, but twice! Sometimes Arthur wished he was a normal prince who did normal prince things.

 

But alas, it was not to be as Kilgharrah was apparently not done talking. “Besides, Merlin would kill me if I so much as suggested that I was trying to off you.”

 

“Hardly comforting.”

 

Arthur stared at the plate of food. Going out via poisoning was a normal prince thing, wasn’t it? Then maybe Arthur wouldn’t have to put up with everyone’s shenanigans.

 

“By your leave, Your Highness?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

Arthur frowned at the sudden change of topic. “Where would you be going?”

 

“To… eat lunch?” Kilgharrah was pretty sure humans ate three times a day. It might have been two, or was that unicorns?

 

“You’re supposed to stay here in case I need something from you.”

 

“In case you decide to spit up all over the floor again, is that right?”

 

No, no that is not why, it’s because-”

 

“Then when does Merlin eat lunch?” Kilgharrah asked softly.

 

That stopped Arthur in his tracks. Merlin always had lunch with him. Or rather, Merlin stole food off his plate while Arthur ate. Did Merlin eat before? No, he always had the knight’s training then council. Or perhaps after? No, Merlin always had a stack of chores to complete. Did Merlin always go without a meal of his own? Arthur felt sick dread pool up in his stomach. He didn’t want to be the sort of man that didn’t notice these sort of things about the people around him.

 

Just look at Morgana.

 

“You’re dismissed,” Arthur said, no room for argument.

 

Kilgharrah nodded, and shut the door behind him.

 

Arthur ran a hand through his hair and sighed. He had to bloody well fix this or it was going to drive a wedge between Merlin and Arthur forever.

 

Arthur didn’t mind that the whole castle thought he didn’t care for Merlin, he preferred it, actually. No one would know of the very vulnerable weakness the prince had, with his sharp cheekbones and smiling eyes.

 

But the thought of Merlin not knowing that Arthur cared for him, would do anything to protect him, that was abhorrent.

 

He had thought Merlin knew how much he was valued, even if it had gone unsaid. Apparently not.

 

Arthur groaned. He was going to have to talk about his feelings, wasn’t he?

Chapter Text

Pendragon Crest

 

Photo: Pendragon Crest 

Chapter Text

As Kilgharrah disappeared to god-knows-where on his lunch break, Arthur embarked on a mission he should have completed long ago.

 

“Can I come in?” Arthur asked.

 

Merlin blinked at him from the infirmary door. “Are you actually asking if you can do something?”

 

“I was trying something new- you know what, nevermind- let me in, Merlin.”

 

Merlin gave him a bemused look, but stepped aside. “Gaius isn’t here, if you’re looking for him.”

 

“I’m looking for you, actually.”

 

“Oh,” Merlin looked surprised. “What can I do for you, sire?”

 

Arthur spoke quickly, lest he not speak at all. “I wanted to apologize.”

 

Merlin looked shocked. “Well no wonder you came to the physician you must not be feeling well at all-”

 

“I’m serious, Merlin,” Arthur said. He was only going to say this once so it was important that Merlin understand him. “I shouldn’t have treated you like that. I’m sorry you got hurt. I would never-” Arthur’s voice broke and he cleared his throat. “I would never hurt you on purpose.”

 

Merlin’s face lost its shocked look and faded into a genuine smile. “Thanks, Arthur. I appreciate that.”

 

The smile warmed up Arthur from the inside. He privately vowed that he would never try to wipe that smile away again.

 

Suddenly, Merlin frowned. Did Arthur manage to break his vow so quickly?

 

“Wait…” Merlin trailed off. “If I’m here and George is out sick with the flu, then who’s been attending to you?”

 

Arthur felt his mouth drop open. He thought Merlin had begged Kilgharrah to stand in for him. Apparently Kilgharrah had done it of his own accord.

 

“You don’t know,” Arthur said in awe.

 

“Know what?”

 

“It’s Kilgharrah. Your brother has been standing in as my manservant.”

 

“WHAT!?” Merlin shouted at the top of his lungs. “You’ve been letting Kilgharrah be your manservant? Are you crazy?”

 

Arthur blinked in surprise. He had rather thought the brothers were on good terms but apparently not. Though judging from today’s sword fighting incident, perhaps Merlin wasn’t far off. He grinned, suddenly. He could use this to his advantage.

 

Arthur scoffed. “Of course I have, Merlin. Someone needed to do it and it certainly wasn’t you. Besides, Kilgharrah is a much more competent manservant than you are.”

 

That stopped Merlin’s panic. “No he isn’t.”

 

“He most definitely is. I think anyone could be a better manservant than you, up to and including a dead horse with no legs.” Arthur liked that they were back on speaking terms. He never liked being separated from Merlin.

 

Merlin scowled despite knowing that he was being teased. “Well it’s not like I can be the world’s most talented manservant when you have me running around all the damn time.”

 

Arthur sobered abruptly. “About that, Merlin.” He took a deep breath, knowing Merlin didn’t like to be babied and so this issue would have to be approached delicately. “Kilgharrah has brought it to my attention that you don’t end up eating lunch most days.”

 

Merlin immediately closed off his face, eyes no longer on Arthur’s face, carefully neutral in the way he spoke. “It’s fine, Arthur. I don’t mind.”

 

I mind. I care. You shouldn’t be going without a meal. It’s not- it’s not healthy.”

 

Merlin’s head tilted in curiosity and amusement. “Careful, Arthur. It almost sounded like you care about me.”

 

Don’t be a coward, Pendragon, Arthur told himself.

 

“I do care,” without waiting for Merlin to register that, he continued. “And if I ever inadvertently put you in a position where you’re going to be harmed in some way, even at my own hand, I want you to tell me.”

 

“I do tell you, Arthur,” Merlin sighed, “You just, you don’t always listen. And after a while I got sick of trying to change your mind and make you listen.”

 

The sick feeling was back in Arthur’s stomach. He never wanted to be the sort of king that was approachable to his subjects.

 

“I promise to listen in the future. I swear.”

 

“But what if you don’t? I can’t exactly force you to.”

 

“Then-” Arthur didn’t really know what to promise his manservant, his friend. There wasn’t a whole lot of power a manservant had over his prince. But he wanted to be the sort of man Merlin thought he was, a prince who listened to his friends.

 

“I swear on my mother’s grave. If I do anything that may harm you, Merlin, you remind me of this promise and I’ll believe you.”

 

His manservant fixed his big blue eyes on the prince. Merlin knew how important Arthur’s mother was to him. “Okay,” Merlin said softly. “Okay.”

 

The moment stretched on, becoming awkward. Arthur couldn’t regret it though. He needed Merlin to know how important his safety was.

 

Merlin broke the silence. “How is Kilgharrah as a manservant, anyways? Does he make cryptic pronouncements and act like you’re stupid for not figuring them out?”

 

Shocked out of the solemn moment, Arthur let out a laugh. “Oh god! Does he do that to you too? Earlier he looked at me like I was an illiterate imbecile for not knowing the specific origin of a random tapestry.”

 

Now Merlin was laughing too. “He does that to me all the time! I’m glad someone else is suffering alongside me.”

 

The boys continued to laugh at each other, glad that they were friends again.

 

And if Arthur’s heart sped up a little when Merlin smiled at him?

 

Well,

 

That would be his secret.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah was most definitely not thinking about what his therapist would say about this decision. Probably something disapproving.

 

But he needed to know. He needed to see.

 

Casting a discerning glance about the hallway, he saw that it was entirely empty. For a moment, he was disgusted with the lack of security in the castle. But all the better for his mission.

 

Kilgharrah looked around one final time, then slipped silently into the room. Or rooms, rather. It was the king’s suite, after all. The Conqueror of Camelot deserved only the very best.

 

His entrance into the suite was rather anticlimactic, in the end.

 

Face to face with King Uther for the first time in twenty long years.

 

The king sat alone in his chair, gazing mindlessly out of the window. He had a plate of untouched food in front of him. His face was gaunt and pale, mostly covered by an unkempt beard.

 

Kilgharrah spoke into the silence. “Do you recognize me, old friend?” It had been so long, perhaps the man would not recognize his voice though it remained unchanged.

 

As the dragon approached the king’s chair, he wondered what exactly he wanted from this situation. Closure? Recognition? An apology? He snorted. That was extremely unlikely. Even before he turned tyrant, Uther had been a conqueror. Men like him did not apologize.

 

He pulled up a chair and sat across from the king, staring into his vacant eyes. “Will you not even look at me?” He asked softly.

 

There was no recognition on the king’s face. There wasn’t anything on his face. A corpse just waiting to die. Uther had been emaciated by grief.

 

“I would have warned you, you know,” Kilgharrah continued conversationally, despite there being no response from the king. “About the witch.”

 

“She was always destined to betray you. It was written long before either of you were born. I could have told you, had you not...locked me up.”

 

Kilgharrah tapped on the wooden surface of the table in between him and the king. It was the only sound other than the creaking of old wood.

 

“It’s not fun to be betrayed, but of course you’d know about that, wouldn’t you.”

 

“You betrayed your wife, you betrayed Magic, you betrayed me.”

 

“And for what?” Kilgharrah sighed. “To sit here, a half dead king, the mad tyrant of Camelot?”

 

The Great Dragon stretched his memory back 40, 50 years. When Uther was a daring young man itching to change the world to suit his visions. When Uther lept from cliffs to ride the dragons into battle, always trusting that his army would have his back. When he threw extravagant parties after a victory in battle, druids offering blessings, priestesses brewing bewitched wine. And Uther, King of them all, prophesied Father of the High King.

 

Strong. High. Beloved.

 

King.

 

“You threw it all away. Second to last of your line. Because of Arthur’s conception, he will never bear children. Because of you, Arthur will be the last of the rightful Pendragons. Because of you, Merlin is the last of the Dragonlords. Because of you I-

 

His voice broke. “I am the last of my kind.” Kilgharrah turned to face the king more fully.

 

“Does that make you happy? Can you feel joy? Better question, can you feel emotions, full stop?” Kilgharrah looked into the king's vacant eyes, searching for an answer he would never find.

 

“You must do, because this wasting illness is caused by grief. Somewhere down in that wicked soul of yours you must be able to feel something.”

 

“Do you feel regret? For what you’ve done?” Kilgharrah mused. “Or did you think it justified?” He ceased tapping the table and instead began to play out chords on an imaginary piano. The silence stretched on, Uther offering no response to the conversation. The castle groaned.

 

“Don’t know if you noticed since you seem to do absolutely fuck-all about the castle but I pulled a bit of an ‘Uther’ around here a few years ago. I burnt innocent people, I heard their screams.” Kilgharrah resumed his tapping on the table, music forgotten. He shook his head. “It didn’t make me feel better. Not any happier or less angry, just more of a killer.”

 

“I wonder...do you feel regret, Uther, for what you’ve done? Or do you just feel sorry for the situation you found yourself in, sorry for yourself?

 

Uther did not respond.

 

The king simply stared mindlessly out the window.

 

“Will you not even look at me?” Kilgharrah asked for the second time.

 

“Look at me,” Kilgharrah commanded.

 

The silence stretched on. The king continued to wallow in his grief with no regard for the kingdom he had ruined around him.

 

“Look at me!” Kilgharrah shouted, demanded, and pounded his hand flat against the table. The noise rocketed through the room. The dragon was standing now, though he hadn’t made the conscious choice to do so.

 

The king did nothing.

 

Kilgharrah, quick as lightning, reached across the table and grabbed the king by his forearms. Uther was yanked bodily forward into the table but still he did not make eye contact.

 

“Answer me!” Kilgharrah screamed at a man who had no answer for him. Their faces were inches from each other, one in a fit of rage, another completely blank.

 

Uther’s forearms smelled of burnt roast. They were burning, Kilgharrah noticed in shock.

 

He dropped the king’s arms as they smoldered with dragonfire. Kilgharrah must have lost his temper more than he realized if Uther’s flesh was already licked with flame.

 

“No murders,” Merlin had said.

 

Being infected with dragonfire was pretty much a one way ticket to the end. With great regret, Kilgharrah laid a hand over the burning flames. They winked out one by one, the skin stitching back up over itself.

 

He stood, suddenly disgusted with this whole venture. It was stupid to try, anyway.

 

“Pathetic,” Kilgharrah spat. He was done here.

 

As the door slammed shut behind him, Kilgharrah couldn’t help but think that the only pathetic thing here was him.

 

***

 

“See you tomorrow, Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said. He did not want to look the prince in the eye, lest he see what Kilgharrah had almost done.

 

Arthur simply nodded. Today had been a whirlwind of emotions and he suspected the rest of the week would be no different.

 

***

 

“Why do you always use violence to solve your problems?” Dr. Williams asked.

 

“It’s the number one most effective way to make sure you don’t have a problem anymore,” Kilgharrah responded, as if it were obvious.

 

Dr. Williams blinked. “Walk me through that one,” she said with a concerned tone.

 

“Alright,” Kilgharrah said, “Say someone is trying to kill your friend. You kill that person. No more problem.”

 

“What if it’s a more interpersonal issue? Say you and your friend are having a fight. What then?”

 

“Talk to them about it. If the issue is not resolved, threaten them. Then kill them. No matter what happens, the problem is solved.”

 

Dr. Williams sighed. “I’m concerned that you seem to be pushing these behaviors, behaviors you acquired from decades of imprisonment, onto your brother. Doesn’t that concern you?”

 

“Should it?” The dragon asked.

 

“You tell me,” Dr. Williams answered.

 

Kilgharrah frowned. He didn’t appreciate cryptic answers.

 

Ah,

 

Irony.

Chapter Text

That Morning

Arthur, possibly for the first time in his life, was feeling rather good about himself. With his life with Uther as a father, the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders, and a perfectionist streak, it was hard for Arthur to be satisfied with himself.

 

But right now he was feeling satisfied. He had made up with Merlin. His courtship with Guinevere was going well, and a group of foriegn dignitaries had arrived that day and so far, no disasters! He had even managed to gain some grudging respect from Kilgharrah which he considered quite the accomplishment.

 

This feeling of satisfaction lasted for approximately 10 minutes, at that was the time it took for Arthur to walk to his chambers.

 

This was the last day of Kilgharrah’s service so he was more than a little surprised to find him sitting at Arthur’s desk.

 

The man looked devastated. Far from the cool, serious look Kilgharrah always wore, his face was gaunt and his eyes red rimmed. As if he had been crying.

 

“Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said. “I think we need to have a little chat.”

 

“What about?” Arthur questioned warily.

 

“It’s about Merlin.”

 

Arthur’s stomach dropped.

 

***

 

The Night Before....

9:00

 

Gauis was still insisting that Merlin have someone watch over him during the night. Gwaine and Lancelot both happened to be placed on night patrol and so the duty fell to Kilgharrah.

 

The dragon laid on the wooden floor, chatting with Merlin in the Dragon Tongue. “The prince is a little bit of an arsehole, isn’t he?”

 

Merlin snorted. “You’re telling me. Great big prat he is.”

 

“Would have thought he’d be over that by now,” Kilgharrah mused.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“The whole… arrogant prince thing. Very immature of him. I mean it’s been years. Where’s the High King of all Albion?”

 

“Hell if I know,” Merlin said, resigned. Sometimes I see him in Arthur, like at the Round Table preaching equality and honesty. Other times,” Merlin sighed, “It’s like nothing’s changed and he’s just his father’s son.”

 

“But you’re working on that, right? As part of the whole destiny thing?”

 

Merlin didn’t respond. As the silence stretched on, Kilgharrah turned to look up at Merlin sitting on his bed. “Merlin?” He asked again.

 

“I don’t know how,” Merlin whispered. If Kilgharrah had to guess he’d say he sounded … ashamed.

 

“Don’t know how to do what?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

“How to turn a prince into a High King. Hell, I can barely keep him alive most of the time! I don’t know-” Merlin swallowed. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

 

Kilgharrah sat up off the floor. This was serious.

 

“Merlin,” Kilgharrah paused. “What are you talking about?”

 

“My destiny,” Merlin said, and in the Dragon Tongue it sounded particularly powerful. “I don’t understand it. I don’t think I can do it.”

 

“Of course you can, young warlock. That’s what destiny means.”

 

Merlin nodded and said no more.

As Merlin laid down to sleep, the hairs on the back of Kilgharrah's neck started to prickle.

 

10:55

 

Just before 11, Merlin started to thrash in his sleep.

 

“Please,” he begged his dreams, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m sorryI’msorry. I won’t do it again- please-” tears fell down his face, eyes shut and unconscious but his face was full of pain.

 

As Merlin’s sobs began in earnest, Kilgharrah shot awake. “Merlin?” The dragon began to shake the boy, trying to wake him.

 

Merlin gasped and opened his eyes, sitting straight up. Tears still pooled in his eyes.

 

“Merlin,” Kilgharrah said again, “What was that? What were you dreaming of?”

 

Kilgharrah sat fully on the bed, reluctant to move from his brother’s side. Merlin simply pitched forward and buried his face into the crook of Kilgharrah’s shoulder.

 

The dragon raised his hand and started stroking down Merlin’s back in a soothing, repetitive manner. “What’s wrong, young warlock?” Kilgharrah asked gently.

 

Merlin’s sobs were muffled by Kilgharrah’s shoulder, but the dragon could still hear them. His sobs eventually tapered off to a point where Merlin could draw enough breath to answer the question.

 

“I can’t do it. Sometimes my destiny weighs so heavily on me I feel like I’m drowning. Everyone’s expecting me to do something grand but I’m barely holding it together most of the time.”

 

Kilgharrah simply continued to hold Merlin in his arms, waiting for him to speak.

 

“Last week some bandits almost stabbed Arthur in the back. If I had turned half a second later they would have got him. I feel like a failure and I don’t know how to cope with it.”

 

“But you did save him,” Kilgharrah said. “The prince lives.”

 

“What if next time he doesn’t? What if next time I’m distracted for too long? Then Camelot collapses and any hope of Albion with it.”

 

Kilgharrah paused in stroking Merlin’s back to consider his words very carefully. Merlin did not want reassurance that he was the man for the job. He knew that was why he had been chosen for this destiny. Merlin was overwhelmed by the enormity of his task.

 

“If Arthur is foolish enough to let a few bandits get him, then the fault lies with the prince, not with you.”

 

Merlin jerked back from Kilgharrah’s hold. “But you said...” he trailed off.

 

Kilgharrah’s concern grew. “What did I say, young warlock?”

 

“You said it was my destiny to protect him, serve him.”

 

Kilgharrah blinked once, twice. “Yes. I did. I certainly didn’t expect you to take me so literally as to become his personal bodyguard and manservant.”

 

Merlin stared at him with his tears dried on his face. “So… if that is not my destiny, then what is?”

 

Kilgharrah stared at his brother with growing horror. The dragon had been aware, to some extent, that he was the first person to inform Merlin of his destiny. That Merlin came to him when he had troubles or needed assistance.

 

But he had not thought each of his words mattered so much to Merlin that he would change his life for it.

 

“We’ll talk about this later,” Kilgharrah said, “go back to sleep.” The dragon placed a hand on Merlin’s head, and the warlock drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

 

1:00

Kilgharrah, as a general rule, did not need to sleep. He simply watched Merlin toss and turn in his sleep. Merlin’s thoughts were a constant tumble of worries. Arthur, the looming threat of execution, Gauis’ tasks, the weight of his destiny, repairing his clothes, all the lives he had taken, Morgana.

 

He knew Merlin was stressed. He had not been aware Merlin was about to buckle under the weight of it. He felt guilt, for not noticing sooner, for not helpling.

 

“Why did you not tell me you resented your destiny?” Kilgharrah asked once he had woken Merlin. “Why did you not tell me it weighed on you like you shoulder the sky?”

 

Merlin rubbed his eyes and shrugged. “Does it matter? It’s destiny. It cannot be changed.”

 

“I think if anyone could change their destiny it would be you, Merlin.”

 

Merlin gave a half hearted laugh. “None of us can choose our destiny, Merlin. And none of us can escape it.” Merlin parroted Kilgharrah’s own words back at him.

 

“I don’t think Arthur will ever lift the ban on magic. I do believe that he will be the greatest king Camelot has ever known. Just not for me,” Merlin confessed.

 

To be fair, Kilgharrah felt that way sometimes too. Perhaps that was why Kilgharrah pushed Merlin so hard, to compensate for Arthur’s lack of effort.

 

“And sometimes… I manage to forget that if Arthur ever really knew me, if anyone knew they’d kill me without a second thought. Then it all comes crashing back down and I…”

 

“You weep. And have night terrors,” Kilgharrah finished. Merlin nodded.

 

“Then why stay?” Kilgharrah asked. “Why sacrifice everything for the prince?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “I spent my whole life thinking I was a monster. A freak of nature. I thought I was cursed. Then I realized that I have a gift.”

 

“I understand what my life is for and why I am this way.”

 

If Kilgharrah had a week he could not unpack all of the things wrong with those statements. Emrys’s destiny lies with the Once and Future King, yes. But it was not the purpose of his life.

 

“I think you are confusing destiny and purpose. And you are most certainly not a monster. If you sought a monster you need only look at me.”

 

Merlin’s head jerked up in shock. “But you’re not a monster!” He protested.

 

“Then neither can you be one.”

 

Merlin had no response to that. He bowed his head. “I don’t understand. If I am not to be Arthur’s servant, then who am I?”

 

“You are Magic itself. You are Light, and Love, and Goodness. But you are also a man. And a man’s purpose is the same as any others. To live, to love, to make mistakes and die one day. You need not sacrifice your life for a man who would hunt you.”

 

“But my destiny…”

 

“Requires two sides of a coin, Merlin. You cannot do it alone. If Arthur does not pull his weight then there is nothing you can do.”

 

The tears were back in Merlin’s eyes. “So what do I do? Brother, please tell me. I am drowning in it. What do I do?”

 

Kilgharrah looked into his brother’s eyes. “You have done all you can. Arthur will be king and the leader of the Round Table. The witch is weakened and far from here.”

 

“You wait for Arthur to become the man he needs to be. If it is forced upon him it will not happen at all.”

 

"If it does not happen... that is Arthur's weakness. Not yours."

 

Merlin nodded, relief flowing off of him in waves.

 

“Rest, now, young warlock.”

 

3:00

 

Kilgharrah would make no assumptions. He would never again assume Merlin did not need help, or that he understood something.

 

It was very good indeed that Kilgharrah had moved to Camelot.

 

“Who taught you magic?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

Merlin frowned at him. “No one, I was born with it.”

 

Kilgharrah blinked in surprise. “Goddess you truly are Emrys, aren’t you?” Merlin blushed. “Who taught you spells?”

 

“Um,” Merlin hesitated. “Gauis gave me a book on magic. And I’ve learned some things from other sorcerers but I’ve learned the most from you.”

 

Kilgharrah’s jaw dropped. “Merlin… I’ve only taught you a few, specific spells. Are you telling me that that is the most instruction you’ve ever received?”

 

Merlin nodded. Kilgharrah was flooded with shame. He had been more than remiss in guiding the young warlock. He had been utterly useless, bordering on criminal negligence.

 

“Give me your spell book,” Kilgharrah demanded. “I want to see it.”

 

Merlin got up to get the book, and Kilgharrah’s gut tightened further. Why would he not use magic in the privacy of his own space?

 

“No,” Kilgharrah said, stopping Merlin in his tracks. “Do it from here.”

 

Merlin’s face fell, as if often did when he realized he could have used magic to do a task. But his life had been shaped by fear.

 

The spellbook slipped out from under the floorboards and floated over to Kilgharrah before settling into his lap. Kilgharrah noticed that Merlin used no spell, just simple telekinesis. He had excellent control and good form.

 

Then Kilgharrah’s eyes fell on the cover of the book. “Merlin… this is a book for beginners. It barely covers the basics. Shouldn’t you be past this?”

 

Merlin’s cheeks flushed with shame. “It’s slow teaching myself. Gauis doesn’t want to be associated with it.”

 

“I’m so sorry Merlin. I am so sorry.”

 

Merlin tilted his head in confusion. “For what?”

 

“I am sorry that you have been alone and struggling for so long. I will do everything in my power to fix it, Merlin, I swear,” And Kilgharrah had never meant a promise more.

 

“Why? I’m used to it.”

 

Kilgharrah gently stroked Merlin’s sleep mussed hair. “And I will show you why you shouldn’t be.”

 

5:00

 

“Tell me how you’ve been feeling,” Kilgharrah demanded. “Since you came to Camelot.”

 

Merlin spoke with uncharacteristic honesty.

 

He painted a bleak, gruesome picture.

 

One warlock, alone against the rest of the world, with only his traitorous uncle and a homicidal dragon for company.

 

Merlin was alone. Frightened. Overwhelmed.

 

He did not want to continue living his life so he attempted to throw it away at every opportunity, hiding it under the veil of self-sacrifice.

 

He worked two jobs and ran around day and night so he could fall unconscious into a dreamless sleep and not think about the people he had slaughtered.

 

Arthur would not listen and would actively prevent his efforts.

 

Merlin had the responsibility of a king but the resources of a servant. If anything went wrong, he blamed himself.

 

Eventually Merlin’s voice ran hoarse from speaking, and the sun peeked out over the horizon. It had been hours, Kilgharrah realized. Hours of the darkness and pain and loneliness. But for Merlin…

 

It had been years.

 

Merlin drifted off to sleep as he finished his tale.

 

Kilgharrah looked at the young warlock.

 

And wept.

 

He cried great big dragon tears for the childhood Merlin had been deprived of.

 

He cried for the terrible destiny looming over him.

 

And he mourned his own failures in shielding Merlin.

 

Never again would Merlin be alone, he promised himself, never again.

 

***

 

That same night, deep in Camelot’s forests…

 

“Nice out, isn’t it?” Gwaine asked. No one really wanted to be assigned the night patrol but at least it was a warm night. It would have been almost unbearable to sleep so really Gwaine was more than a little grateful.

 

His partner, Lancelot, simply nodded, clearly not listening in the slightest.

 

Gwaine winced. He was having a tough time integrating with the knights of Camelot. He had hoped that Lancelot, low born as well, would be an easy friend to make. Apparently not. The knight didn’t speak unless prompted and acted as if the sanctity of knighthood must be respected at all times, even neck deep in the woods.

 

“What’d you think of the little showdown this week?” Gwaine queried, trying for conversation again. Let it not be said that he wasn’t persistent.

 

“What showdown?” Lancelot asked. Now Gwaine had finally got his interest. Maybe this night wouldn’t be unbearably boring.

 

“Kilgharrah and Arthur. The skirmish in the training fields with the swords?”

 

Lancelot hummed in recognition. “I’m glad they were able to come to an agreement about Merlin without violence,” Lancelot said. Of course he would. Everything comes back to morals with him.

 

“Without violence?” Gwaine said. “It looked like Kilgharrah was going to chop the Princess’ head off at one point!”

 

At that, Lancelot smiled. “Without much violence, then,” he amended.

 

“I wonder where he learned those tricks,” Gwaine mused aloud. “Not your average carpenter that could land His Highness flat on his back.”

 

“It isn’t unusual for a commoner to learn sword fighting these days, Gwaine, just look at you or I.” Lancelot had not looked at Gwaine once as they traveled through the forest, but it warmed Gwaine’s heart to have him acknowledge their connection out loud. He desperately wanted to feel the connections of brotherhood that the knighthood preached.

 

As happy as Gwaine was to have Lancelot speak with him, he felt he had to voice his apprehension to someone.

 

“But that wasn’t normal sword fighting you pick up on the road. That was… something else.”

 

Gwaine might not be an expert on many things, but he knew swords. He wouldn’t be deluded into thinking Kilgharrah had won out of pure luck.

 

Lancelot narrowed his eyes at a stray tree as he cottoned on to what Gwaine was insinuating.

 

“What are you suggesting, Sir Gwaine?”

 

“Merlin told me Kilgharrah used to be in prison,” Gwaine blurted. He simply could not keep it secret anymore.

 

Lancelot raised an eyebrow as if to say, ‘so’?

 

“That doesn’t seem suspicious to you? You don’t think he might pose a threat to the prince or the kingdom?” Gwaine said, but what he really meant was ‘Do you think he’d be a threat to Merlin?’

 

Lancelot took a deep breath and thought for a moment before he spoke.

 

“Every man has done something they’re not proud of, Gwaine. In crime, in prison, or in cage-fighting-”

 

Gwaine tilted his head in confusion. “I never said Kilgharrah was a cage-fighter. Where’d you pick that up from?” There was something Lancelot was not telling him, Gwaine could sense it.

 

“You didn’t?” Lancelot feigned politely. “I must have misheard you.” Never mind Lancelot’s own secret cage-fighting past.

 

“Right,” Gwaine said, unconvinced. Lancelot was hiding something.

 

“Every man has made mistakes,” Lancelot continued. “And Camelot, Merlin, represents a second chance for all of us. I would not deny Kilgharrah that.”

 

Well, when Lancelot put it like that it was hard to disagree with him.

 

Still. “I think he’s hiding a secret,” Gwaine confessed, “Something big. And dangerous.”

 

Lancelot, strangely enough, did not deny these accusations. He simply turned and faced Gwaine full on for the first time that night.

 

“I know you want to court Merlin,” he said. And Gwaine reeled back because what on earth did that have to do with anything?--

 

“And if you’re serious about him, Gwaine,” Lancelot shook his head and sighed. He stopped walking altogether.

 

“You’re going to have to get used to secrets.”

 

With that ominous pronouncement, Lancelot turned and continued the patrol as if nothing had happened.

 

Gwaine scrunched his eyebrows together, left with more questions than he started with.

Chapter Text

That Morning

 

Arthur, possibly for the first time in his life, was feeling rather good about himself. With his life with Uther as a father, the weight of a kingdom on his shoulders, and a perfectionist streak, it was hard for Arthur to be satisfied with himself.

 

But right now he was feeling satisfied. He had made up with Merlin. His courtship with Guinevere was going well, and a group of foriegn dignitaries had arrived that day and so far, no disasters! He had even managed to gain some grudging respect from Kilgharrah which he considered quite the accomplishment.

 

This feeling of satisfaction lasted for approximately 10 minutes, at that was the time it took for Arthur to walk to his chambers.

 

This was the last day of Kilgharrah’s service so he was more than a little surprised to find him sitting at Arthur’s desk.

 

The man looked devastated. Far from the cool, serious look Kilgharrah always wore, his face was gaunt and his eyes red rimmed. As if he had been crying.

 

“Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said. “I think we need to have a little chat.”

 

“What about?” Arthur questioned warily.

 

“It’s about Merlin.”

 

Arthur’s stomach dropped.

 

***

 

“What’s wrong with Merlin?” Arthur asked. Was he dead? Was he dying? Had something happened?

 

“Nothing so urgent,” Kilgharrah explained, reading his mind. “But I fear that if it is left unaddressed there would be disastrous consequences for us all.”

 

Arthur sat at the desk, now confused.

 

“Before I explain I need your word that the contents of this conversation will not leave this room.”

 

Arthur was confused. What could possibly be so important that warranted such a promise? But if it concerned Merlin then Arthur simply had to know.

 

“You have my word,” Arthur agreed.

 

Kilgharrah relaxed marginally, bloodshot eyes still darting about the room. “I have known Merlin for some time, as have you,” he began, and then stopped.

 

Arthur was dying of curiosity. “Yes. And?”

 

“And you are aware he is a hard person to get to know. Constantly harboring secrets, Deflecting. You think you understand him and then you get a glimpse behind his shield and you’re left confused all over again.”

 

Arthur nodded. He couldn’t quite articulate his thoughts about Merlin so clearly, but Kilgharrah’s description was right on the money. Merlin was just an idiotic manservant- until he wasn’t.

 

“You’re a riddle, Merlin. I don’t think I’ll ever really know you,” Arthur had said.

 

Kilgharrah swallowed nervously. “He confessed something rather private to me last night and I thought it would be best if you knew, even if Merlin would kill me if I told you.”

 

“So Merlin himself is also to be left unaware that I know,” Arthur guessed. Kilgharrah spoke rather like his father’s ministers who would insinuate something so they could not be condemned for their words.

 

“Yes. Will that be a problem, Your Highness?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

“Not if it’s important, go on.”

 

“Merlin is terribly unhappy,” Kilgharrah blurted. He blinked back tears and shook his head. “And not in the normal fashion of the lower class.” Kilgharrah’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I fear for his sanity and his safety.”

 

“His safety?” Arthur questioned. “Who threatens my manservant?” He demanded an answer. He was a prince, this was a problem he could solve with ease.

 

“Merlin himself, My Lord,” Kilgharrah said softly.

 

All of the anger drained out of the prince. He understood the words Kilgharrah uttered but did not want to believe them. He had known many men, good men driven to the unthinkable by events out of their control. Arthur did not blame them, but himself for not seeing the truth in time.

 

“Is he-” Arthur’s voice broke. “Is he harming himself?”

 

Kilgharrah immediately shook his head, and Arthur eased a bit. “Not in the way you’re thinking.” He took a breath. “His unhappiness is mostly mental, though he pushes himself into his work so hard that he collapses at the end of the day into a dreamless sleep. And then he gets up and does it again because he believes he deserves it.”

 

Arthur was numb with horror. “Why?” He whispered. He had no idea that this was going on.

 

“He believes he deserves it. It’s his version of self-flagellation. He thinks himself a monster.”

 

“Merlin?” Arthur could not comprehend the idea that a world existed where Merlin did not think himself the bravest, greatest man Arthur had ever met. But then he thought about it some more and he found he could.

 

In moments where Merlin didn’t think Arthur was looking, heavy darkness settled around Merlin, in his eyes, on his shoulders. Specific incidents came to mind. The poison he attempted to drink during the unicorn incident, those few days after Morgana returned from imprisonment, and his strange goodbye after the Questing Beast,.

 

“Are you ever going to change, Merlin?, Arthur had asked.

 

Merlin had smiled ruefully, “No, you'd get bored. Promise me this, if you get another servant, don't get a bootlicker.”

 

“If this is you trying to leave your job…”

 

“No. I'm happy to be your servant, till the day I die.” Like dying in service was inevitable.

 

“Sometimes I think I know you, Merlin. Other times…”

 

“Well, I know you, and you're a great warrior. One day you'll be a great King.”

 

“That's very kind of you.”

 

“But you must learn to listen as well as you fight.”

 

“Any more pointers?”

 

“No. That's it. Just don't be a prat.”

 

The pieces clicked into place. Merlin had returned...injured. Arthur felt great shame for not noticing sooner. Merlin did not value his own life, and therefore he was content with risking it in all manner of behavior. He was deeply unhappy in his work, his life, and in his own skin.

 

“How did I not see it?” Arthur asked, drowning in shame.

 

“You are not alone, Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said. “I thought I knew Merlin better than anyone and still I could not see.”

 

“Then both of us are fools,” Arthur said. Kilgharrah nodded agreement.

 

“You must understand, Your Highness, Merlin has very few friends and even fewer he trusts. If he were to discover I confided you in this he would never forgive me.”

 

“I understand,” Arthur stated grimly. He was a leader of soldiers, knights. Men who saw one too many terrors needed special handling. Too much care and the wounded would last out. Not enough and they’d slip away without notice. Regretfully, Arthur was more than experienced in this way.

 

“How do we fix it?” Arthur asked. “What has caused this...unhappiness?”

 

Kilgharrah smiled dimly. He had done the right thing confiding in the prince. Now he had a partner in helping his brother, even if Arthur did not know the origin.

 

“Merlin has many secrets,” Kilgharrah said. “Dangerous ones.”

 

Arthur tilted his head, then he understood. “Secrets… and no one to listen to them.”

 

Kilgharrah nodded.

 

Arthur fixed blue eyes on the carpenter. “Why me?” Arthur asked. “Of all of Merlin’s friends, why did you confide in me?”

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “It has to be you. It’s always been you. Merlin and Arthur, now and forever. If anyone could drag him out of this…”

 

Arthur bit down on his lip in thought, then nodded agreement. “It’s the same for me too. Anytime I am lost… he finds me.”

 

“Two sides of the same coin,” Kilgharrah explained. “One cannot hate that which makes it whole.”

 

“Merlin thinks I would hate him?” Arthur guessed.

 

“Yes.”

 

Arthur did not know how to respond to that. He had always known that there was more to Merlin than met the eye but he did not know it was something so dark. He swallowed.

 

“Thank you for your trust. I think between the two of us we can figure out how to help Merlin.”

 

“I should hope so,” Kilgharrah said. He stood up from the desk to leave. “Merlin should return to your service tomorrow. On light duty,” he reminded the prince.

 

Arthur nodded, but before Kilgharrah could leave the room, he asked. “Do you have any advice? For dealing with Merlin?”

 

Kilgharrah paused thoughtfully in the doorway. “If there’s one thing Merlin is, it’s a good man. If there’s a second thing he is, Your Highness,” he turned to face Arthur.

 

“It would be a liar.”

 

“He lies to everyone, but most importantly to himself.”

 

With that, Kilgharrah shut the door behind him.

 

Arthur rummaged through his desk before pulling out a sheet of paper. He dipped his quill in the inkwell before writing one word across the top.

 

MERLIN

 

He frowned at it, then added something.

 

MERLIN?

 

The feeling of satisfaction was back. Now he just had to develop a strategy. Arthur excelled at strategy.

Chapter Text

“You look cheerful today, Merlin,” Gwen said as they hung up the laundry on the clothesline.

 

It was a bright, sunny day that followed a warm night, and Merlin, Gwen, and the other servants were hanging their own clothes out to wash. It was much easier to wash everyone’s clothes together, and it evolved into a little off-the-clock ritual for the royal household.

 

Merlin gave her a bemused look from where he was currently struggling with hanging up one of his blankets. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Gwen ducked her head, unsure. “I don’t know,” she said, “You just seem a little lighter, is all. A little bounce in your step.” Gwen could read Merlin’s moods, even if she did not understand them. “Are you having at it with the kitchen maids again?”

 

“Gwen!” Merlin exclaimed, scandalized. Though it was true, Merlin had done it with almost every servant in the castle, and most of the knights. He was a little bit of a whore, yes, but that didn’t mean he appreciated his business being aired out all over the castle. He blushed, and Gwen seized on the opportunity.

 

“You are! I knew it! Is it Mary? She’s had the most terrible crush on you for ages now-”

 

Merlin shook his head, “No, Gwen, I am not having sex with Mary. That’s not why I’m in a good mood.”

 

“But you are in a good mood because of something, right?” Gwen gave him a blinding grin, and Merlin realized he had fallen right into her trap. A devious she-devil masquerading as a friendly maidservant.

 

Merlin rolled his eyes. “You got me. I’m pretty happy.”

 

“Why?” Gwen wanted to know. Merlin talked a lot but he never really said anything. An unexpected good mood just added to the air of mystery surrounding the odd boy from Ealdor.

 

Merlin bit down on his lip and paused in hanging his blanket. He must have come to a decision because he began to move again, not meeting Gwen’s eyes. “I-um.” He took a breath. “I reconnected with some family recently.”

 

Gwen lowered the dress she was hanging in shock. “Merlin! That’s amazing! Who is it?” She was very happy for her friend. She knew how much Merlin loved Gaius and Hunith; the more family Merlin had, the better.

 

Merlin met her eyes for a brief second, then looked away. He was...pleased by her reaction. “My brother.”

 

“You have a brother?” Gwen said. She had thought Merlin was a bastard, but it seemed impolite to ask.

 

“A half brother,” Merlin amended. “On my father’s side.”

 

“Oh!” Gwen said, unsure how to respond. This was the first time she had ever heard Merlin mention his father, and from that alone she could deduce some important aspects of their relationship. “Well-um. Congratulations?”

 

“Thanks, Gwen,” Merlin said, giving her permission to be happy for him. “I’ve known him for years but he recently moved to Camelot. We’re much closer now.”

 

“I know how that goes. When Elyan left Camelot I didn’t speak to him for years. Now not a day goes by without conversation. What’s your brother’s name? Is he younger or older?”

 

“Older,” Merlin chuckled. “Quite a bit older. His name is Kilgharrah.”

 

Gwen gave him a soft smile, “What an unusual name. But I can see that he makes you happy. Do you have a lot in common?”

 

“What do you mean you can tell he makes me happy?”

 

“I don’t know,” Gwen let out a breath, “You just have this look about you. You’re lighter. Freer. Less burdened,” Shaking her head to dispel the fanciful thoughts, she added, “Or something like that.”

 

Merlin beamed at her. He felt the same way about strengthening his relationship with his brother. Someone to share his burdens with was...invaluable.

 

“He makes me happy is all,” Merlin said. Gwen cooed at him.

 

“That’s so sweet! When can I meet him?”

 

“Right now,” said a voice from behind Merlin.

 

***

 

While the prince developed a strategy, Kilgharrah was off making one of his own. Perhaps it was a little less subtle or clever than the prince’s but, well,

 

Subtlety wasn’t his strong suit.

 

He always knew where Merlin was, on account of his status as a dragonlord, so he simply tracked his brother to the lower courtyard. The household servants were doing their weekly laundry, taking advantage of the bright, sunny day.

 

Kilgharrah strode determinately into the courtyard, intending to act quickly before Merlin realized what was up. But he paused as he overheard his brother’s conversation with the Once and Future Queen.

 

“Older,” Merlin chuckled. “Quite a bit older. His name is Kilgharrah.”

 

The Once and Future Queen responded,“What an unusual name. But I can see that he makes you happy. Do you have a lot in common?”

 

“What do you mean you can tell he makes me happy?” Merlin sounded puzzled.

 

“I don’t know,” the Queen let out a breath, “You just have this look about you. You’re lighter. Freer. Less burdened. Or something like that.”

 

“He makes me happy is all,” Merlin said.

 

Kilgharrah’s old, dead, heart warmed at that. He had feared that Merlin’s little breakdown last night would convince the warlock to push him away but it appeared the opposite had happened. The brothers were closer than ever.

 

“That’s so sweet! When can I meet him?” The Once and Future Queen asked.

 

That sounded like a cue if Kilgharrah ever heard one.

 

“Right now,” Kilgharrah said. He could be sneaky when he wanted to, and it seemed to have worked for Merlin positively jumped in shock.

 

Merlin spun and put his heart over his chest. “Kilgharrah! Don’t scare me like that, you big lizard!”

 

Kilgharrah simply shrugged. “I was standing right here. It's not my fault you didn’t see me.”

 

Gwen giggled from behind Merlin. “You must be Kilgharrah,” she said, and put her hand out for a handshake.

 

“Indeed I am. You must be Gwen,” he responded, and shook her hand. “I’ll need to borrow my brother for a bit, I hope you don’t mind.”

 

Gwen shook her head. “Not at all! I hope you boys have fun. It was a pleasure to meet you, Kilgharrah.”

 

“Likewise,” Kilgharrah said, “Excuse us,” and with that he led Merlin away from the courtyard and into the Lower Town.

 

They walked in step in silence for a few moments before Kilgharrah grinned. “I can’t believe you said all those nice things about me. I’m touched.”

 

Merlin immediately shook his head. “I didn’t mean it. Those were lies to impress Gwen,” he said, straight-faced.

 

“To get in her pants?” Kilgharrah joked.

 

Merlin could not keep a straight face after that, he cracked a smile “Hey, I may be a whore but Gwen’s my friend.”

 

Kilgharrah just laughed at that. They continued walking down the road before Merlin paused, stopping in his tracks in the streets.

 

“Wait. Where are we going?”

 

Damn. Kilgharrah had hoped to get him a little closer to their destination before he asked.

 

“You’ll see, young warlock,” he said vaguely, trying to throw Merlin off the scent. But Merlin narrowed his eyes and dug his heels into the dirt.

 

“No. Where are we going?” Merlin demanded.

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “I’m taking you to therapy with me.”

 

Merlin immediately reared back. “WHAT!” He shouted, drawing disapproving looks from the townspeople.

 

“I’m not going to fucking therapy with you, Kilgharrah!” he exclaimed.

 

Kilgharrah winced at the stares, and placed a firm hand on Merlin’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “I think it would be good for you.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

 

Well, that was an unhealthy attitude. “I never said there was,” Kilgharrah said evenly.

 

“Great! Then let’s not go,” Merlin said, eager to get out of this situation. He tried to force Kilgharrah’s hand off him but his grip was as solid as iron.

 

“You’re not getting out of this, Merlin,” Kilgharrah said calmly.

 

“There’s nothing wrong with me!” Merlin shouted, once again drawing the attention of the townspeople. He struggled in Kilgharrah’s grip.

 

“Shouting and wiggling like a madman isn’t the best way to convince people that you don’t need help.”

 

Merlin stopped wiggling and scowled at his brother. “Fine. But I’m going to be a little bitch about it.”

 

Kilgharrah smiled brightly at him. “And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

 

Merlin scoffed.

 

***

 

“This is, may I say, rather unusual,” Dr. Williams said as Kilgharrah entered the room. He had dragged a second chair in with him. A second chair that contained a dark-haired sullen boy, pouting with his arms crossed.

 

Kilgharrah briefly explained the situation to her, and asked Dr. Williams to speak to Merlin.

 

“Hi, Merlin. I’m Dr. Ethel Willaims. Kilgharrah said you needed to speak with me?”

 

Merlin shot her a dark look that would have made a lesser person flinch, then turned to face Kilgharrah. “I don’t have time for this. Arthur’s been unsupervised for three whole hours. He could be injured. Or kidnapped. Or dead.”

 

Kilgharrah ignored him, and addressed Dr. Williams. “As you can see, he’s dealing with some anxiety, among,” he gestured vaguely at Merlin’s person, “other things.”

 

Dr. Williams nodded.

 

“Merlin,” she said, using her patented therapist voice for unruly children. “Why don’t you tell us why you’re here. That is- if you want Kilgharrah to stay.”

 

Merlin shot them both a glare, but relented a little. “Kilgharrah can stay,” he muttered under his breath. “Because he’s the reason I’m here anyways.”

 

“But if you had to guess why Kilgharrah brought you here, what would you say?” Dr. Williams said.

 

Merlin raised an unimpressed eyebrow, forcing her to say what she meant. “Walk us through some of your trauma,” she clarified.

 

Kilgharrah knew the direct approach worked best with Merlin, compared to other methods that didn't work at all. However, he didn’t think Merlin was just going to open up to a complete stranger about his emotions. Merlin had a lot of powerful feelings, but he very rarely shared them.

 

“Okay,” Merlin sighed. He straightened out one leg and folded it over the other, settling on the chair.

 

Kilgharrah was apprehensive. This was too easy. Merlin had said he was going to be a little bitch about it.

 

“When I was five my mother told me I’d probably never make it to adulthood,” Merlin said flatly.

 

Ah. There it was.

 

Dr. Williams, to her credit, did not react. “Oh? And how did that make you feel?”

 

“Sad,” Merlin said, without any emotion. His face betrayed nothing.

 

Kilgharrah knew this was going to be a long day. Merlin wasn’t going to stop throwing his tantrum anytime soon, giving short, sharp answers and letting his distaste for this event flood through the rooms. Kilgharrah sighed.

 

***

 

An hour later, Merlin walked out of Dr. William’s office. Dr. Williams asked Kilgharrah to stay behind, so Kilgharrah asked Merlin to wait a moment.

 

Merlin scoffed, “I can’t wait. Arthur’s probably dead by now. Maybe a foriegn diplomat got him and now he’s bleeding out all over the carpet, stabbed and alone.”

 

“It’s just one minute,” Kilgharrah responded dismissively.

 

Merlin’s eyes narrowed, but he remained where he was.

 

Kilgharrah ducked back into the office, where Dr. Williams rounded on him with anger. Kilgharrah was shocked: Dr. Willaims never got angry.

 

“What did you do to that poor boy?!” Dr. Williams exclaimed. She was trembling with anger.

 

“I’m helping Merlin achieve his destiny,” Kilgharrah defended.

 

“You fucked up a perfectly good warlock is what you did. Look at him. He’s got anxiety.”

 

And indeed, Merlin was pacing restlessly outside the office window, glancing up at the castle, probably imagining a thousand scenarios of Arthur’s gruesome death.

 

“In my defense, I didn’t know it had gotten this bad. That’s why I brought him here,” Kilgharrah said. He sighed. “I’m the one that encouraged him to embrace this path. I know the responsibility lies on my shoulders. I accept that. I’m trying to help.

 

Dr. Williams softened. “You’re working on it?”

 

“I’ll do whatever it takes to help him,” Kilgharrah promised.

 

“Good,” Dr. Williams said. “I’ll be watching. Bring him back in a week.”

 

“Understood,” Kilgharrah said, and strode outside to meet Merlin.

 

 

***

 

“What if he’s been poisoned? Or stabbed? Or poisoned and then stabbed?”

 

Goddess, Merlin really was a little ball of anxiety once he got going.

 

“I’m sure the prince is just fine, Merlin. It’s barely been four hours.”

 

Just then, a herald came bounding around the corner, hollering at the top of his lungs,

 

“The prince! The prince has been kidnapped! Sound the alarms!” he shouted, running through the streets.

 

Merlin whipped his head toward his brother and glared at Kilgharrah with all the force of dragonfire.

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “Perhaps I spoke too soon?” he offered meekly.

 

Merlin just glared harder.

Chapter Text

“Kilgharrah. I told you. I don’t know how to scry,” Merlin said, for the dozenth time. “Can’t you just do it and then we go get Arthur?”

 

“Nope!” Kilgharrah said, searching through his kitchen cabinets. His voice was muffled by the wooden cabinets, and he was facing away from Merlin. “I’m going to teach you, right here, right now.”

 

The brothers stood in the lower level of Kilgharrah’s workshop. Merlin had wanted to search for Arthur right away, but Kilgharrah had rightly pointed out that they had no idea where the prince even was.

 

Merlin had been touched by the mention of ‘we’. He was so glad that he was no longer alone in his trials. If this had happened before Kilgharrah and Lancelot moved to Camelot, he would have had to deal with the fallout alone, blaming himself for wasting time. Lancelot would scold him for saying taking care of himself was a waste of time but Lancelot didn’t need to hear his innermost thoughts.

 

Because Kilgharrah had discovered not only Merlin’s deep unhappiness, but also his lack of training, the dragon made it his mission to turn everything into a learning opportunity. He seemed not to care that Arthur’s life was potentially in danger. ‘If it’s destiny, young warlock, he’ll live.’ Kilgharrah had said.

 

Whatever. Outside of Merlin’s anxiety, the warlock was pleased to be learning new magical skills. He craved the feel of magic, the ideas clicking into place in his mind.

 

Apparently, Kilgharrah had determined that scrying was a basic spell for a young warlock to know, and had been muttering non-stop about ‘incompetent, traitorous physicians,’ and ‘the lack of quality literature in the citadel’.

 

Kilgharrah finally found what he was looking for and dropped a large shallow bowl onto the kitchen table. With a flick of the dragon’s wrist, water flowed from a bucket in the corner of the room to fill the bowl.

 

“Scrying,” Kilgharrah began, “starts with the element of change: water. It can, with enough focus, allow you to see anyone, anywhere in the world.”

 

Merlin settled on the bench next to the bowl. He propped his hand up on his chin. “With what limits?” he asked.

 

Kilgharrah rewarded him with a small smile. “Good question. You’re learning.”

 

***

 

Merlin was just about able to see the image in the water. He could feel Arthur’s location, the other half of his soul reaching to him. He just needed to concentrate a little more, add a little more magic when-

 

A knock on the door.

 

Merlin jolted in place, knee banging against the table. His concentration broke and the tiny, hazy image in the water shattered.

 

Kilgharrah frowned at the doorway. “Who could possibly get through my wards…? He wondered aloud. Before that idea could become full-blown panic, a voice called through the wooden door.

 

“It’s Lancelot,” the knight called. “Are you two inside?”

 

Merlin breathed a sigh of relief. Lancelot! No worries here, except for that his concentration was broken.

 

“It’s open,” Kilgharrah said. And indeed, the door swung open of its own accord.

 

Lancelot stepped over the threshold, the door swung closed. “The prince has been kidnapped, so I assumed you two were on the case.”

 

“We’re working on it,” Merlin offered with a small smile. “Progress has been...slow.”

 

The knight settled onto the bench next to Merlin, peering at the scrying bowl with curiosity. “Is that for a spell of yours?”

 

Merlin nodded absently, then continued staring into the water. If he could just get that image back…

 

“Don’t listen to him, Sir Lancelot. Scrying takes most sorcerers a year or two to learn,” Kilgharrah said.

 

At Lancelot’s confused look, Kilgharrah elaborated. “Scrying is being able to foretell the past, present, or future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface, like water.”

 

“Ah. So we’re using it to determine the prince’s whereabouts.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

Merlin could feel the magic calling out to him. The soothing rhythm of his brother and his friend’s voices made it easy to relax and concentrate. No harm could come to him here. Suddenly, he understood.

 

No, he saw.

 

“Arthur’s in Heather’s Grove,” Merlin announced. “He’s a bit underground.” The warlock looked up. “I don’t know where that is,” he admitted.

 

“Not to worry, I know of Heather’s Grove,” Kilgharrah stood and patted his knee once. “Will you be joining us, Sir Knight?”

 

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Lancelot said, and offered Merlin a soft smile. Merlin blushed.

 

***

 

“Have you ever ridden a dragon before?” Merlin asked. They were well on their way into the forest to find a suitable clearing so Kilgharrah could take flight. Heather’s Grove was too far to walk in such a limited timeframe.

 

“I’ve ridden a Dragonlord, does that count?” Lancelot replied innocently, though his mischievous smile gave him away.

 

Merlin blushed and bumped him with his shoulder. “Lance! We need to focus.”

 

“Sorry,” Lancelot said, not sorry at all. They had reached a clearing.

 

“Focus, children,” Kilgharrah said. With a great flash of light, Kilgharrah transformed back into his true self. He stretched out his wings and sighed, a wisp of smoke curling from his mouth, “We may not have much time.”

 

Lancelot stared up at Kilgharrah, mouth agape, all signs of teasing gone. The Great Dragon stared back down at him in all his glory. Great, leathery wings covered the clearing, teeth as long as a man’s forearm, bared down at him.

 

With a small voice, Lancelot said, “I should have been much more scared of you than I was. Holy shit.”

 

Merlin tilted his head, “Don’t be scared, Lancelot he’s harmless.”

 

Lancelot eyed the menacing rows of teeth and privately disagreed. “It’s one thing knowing he’s a dragon, and quite another actually seeing it.”

 

“We should get going if we’re to arrive in time,” Kilgharrah reminded them impatiently.

 

“Right, yeah,” Merlin said, and muttered a quick spell to launch them both into the air.

 

Lancelot was not expecting that. He let out a little shriek before he latched onto one of Kilgharrah’s horns.

 

“Merlin, maybe we should talk about this before we leave. I don’t know how to ride a dragon.” Lancelot said, panicked. He grabbed onto Kilgharrah’s horn with both arms, wrapping his legs around it and clinging on for dear life.

 

Merlin grinned, feral and fae with his teeth bared high above the ground. He looked as if he belonged high in the sky, riding a dragon. “It’ll be an adventure! Cheer up and enjoy it, my friend.”

 

The Great Dragon’s wings lifted and with a massive flap:

 

They were airborne.

 

Lancelot had never screamed so loud in his entire life.

 

It wasn’t even a conscious decision, just an unnatural unending shriek emitted from his lungs. He drew breath to apologise, but then he chanced a look downward. They were high, high above the ground, villages now little dots in the distance.

 

Lancelot started screaming louder.

 

Merlin looked alarmed. “Lance, are you okay? It’s just flying. He won’t drop you.”

 

Kilgharrah was less kind. “Sir Knight, can you, please, shut the fuck up? You’re hurting my eardrums.”

 

Lancelot was hurtled back into reality: kindness was a code of honor for him. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

 

Merlin let go of one of the horns and walked over to Lancelot. He grabbed on the same horn Lancelot had a death grip on and put his other hand on Lancelot’s shoulder.

 

“Are you feeling alright?” Merlin asked, concerned.

 

“I’m fine,” Lancelot answered, “Now that you’re here.” And he meant it. He knew Merlin’s magic could protect them from any mishaps. His presence was just soothing. As a bonus, Merlin blushed, too.

 

If all else failed, Lancelot could flirt his way out of any situation. Including flying thousands of feet above ground on a slightly homicidal dragon, terrified out of his mind.

 

But hey, at least he wasn’t screaming anymore.

 

Merlin's hand tightened on his shoulder, and Lancelot was rewarded with a small smile. Maybe this wasn’t so bad.

 

***

 

Well now that Lancelot relaxed some, he was bored. At first, an infinite view of the sky was amazing! But then it all started to look the same.

 

“We could play a game,” Merin offered. He was sitting completely reclined in a small divot of Kilgharrah’s neck, holding on to nothing.

 

“Alright,” Lancelot said, thinking of something to play. “I spy, with my little eye, something blue.”

 

Merlin squinted at him. “The sky.”

 

“Yep.” That didn’t take very long. To be fair, there wasn’t much else to look at. The ground was a green blur below, and most of it was obscured by Kilgharrah’s great leathery wings.

 

“I spy, with my little eye something… green.”

 

“The ground.” This wasn’t a very fun game.

 

“I spy with my little eye one warlock who needs to stop playing this inane game,” Kilgharrah called from ahead.

 

“Sorry,” Merlin muttered. The silence stretched on.

 

***

 

Well, not too long, of course. This was Merlin and Lancelot, after all. Nothing was ever boring with these two.

 

“Seventy-five bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-five bottles of beer! Take one down, pass it around, seventy-four bottles of beer on the wall!” Lancelot and Merlin sang, loudly and outrageously out of tune.

 

“Seventy-four bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-four bottles of beer! Take one down, pass it around, seventy-three bottles of beer on the wall!”

 

Now they were having fun. The knight and warlock were grinning ridiculously at each other, singing as loud as they could.

 

They took a deep breath. “Seventy-three bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-three bottles of beer! Take one down, pass it around, seventy-two bottles of beer on the wall!”

 

“If you two don’t shut the hell up, I will turn around and fly us all back to Camelot!” Kilgharrah roared, punctuating his words with a plume of flame.

 

“But-” Merlin said.

 

“Shut it!”

 

They did.

 

***

 

Finally, the trio landed in a wooded clearing. Heather’s Grove. A flash of light and Kilgharrah transformed into his human disguise. Merlin and Lancelot tumbled off of his back and onto the ground, letting out a woof of air.

 

As they got up, Kilgharrah turned to them. “My guess is that the prince is being held in that stronghold.” He pointed to a moderately sized stone garrison. It looked abandoned, though the stone had not yet begun to crumble.

 

“Makes sense,” Merlin said, still struggling for breath. “The vision I had...lots of stone.”

 

“We need a plan,” Kilgharrah said. “Any ideas?”

 

Lancelot half raised his hand. “I have an idea,” he said with a smile on his face.

 

The trio drew in closer and put their heads together.

 

Lancelot’s voice dropped to a whisper. “We go in. I start swinging my sword around." He illustrated his words with a mock sword swing. "See where it takes us. Go from there.”

 

The brothers frowned at him.

 

“That’s a terrible plan,” Merlin said.

 

“It’s not even a plan, it's barely even an idea.” Kilgharrah remarked scathingly.

 

Lancelot shot him a wounded look. “Alright then, you come up with something.”

 

“I have a plan,” Merlin said confidently. “We go in. Ask somebody where Arthur is. If they don’t tell us, I set the ceiling on fire. See where it takes us. Go from there.”

 

Kilgharrah blinked at him. “Merlin, that’s the same plan.”

 

“No it isn’t.”

 

“This one’s got fire in it,” Lancelot agreed with Merlin. Completely different plans.

 

“Would I get to use my sword in this one?” Lancelot questioned.

 

“Probably.”

 

“Then I’m in. What do you say, Kilgharrah?”

 

“First and foremost, we need a better plan,” Kilgharrah said. It was a wonder Merlin and Lancelot had survived this long. They clearly had the same brain. “Second of all, we need an adult because I don’t think you two should be unsupervised.”

 

Silence fell as they digested that.

 

“Wait…” Kilgharrah thought aloud, “If Lancelot’s not the adult, and Merlin’s definitely not the adult…”

 

“By the Triple Goddess,” Kilghharh realized with growing horror, “I’m the adult.”

 

“Yep,” Merlin said, as if it were obvious. “So, my plan?”

 

“Yes!” Lancelot said, and they high-fived.

 

“No!” Kilgharrah exclaimed. “Bad!”

 

Perhaps looking after a certifiably insane warlock and his equally chaotic best friend was going to be a little more difficult than Kilgharrah anticipated.

Chapter Text

Footsteps sounded on the stone floor. Three pairs of eyes scoured every corner of the crumbling garrison. Lancelot held his sword aloft, Merlin and Kilgharrah had a spell on the tip of their tongues.

 

In the end, the trio had gone with Merlin’s plan, as they hadn’t been able to think of anything else.

 

Kilgharrah desperately hoped they would find the prince soon as he qualified as an adult and could form competent plans. Most importantly, Lancelot would listen to him and Merlin would follow Lancelot’s lead.

 

The rhythm of feet on stone was broken by a fourth pair of feet, approaching from the northeast.

 

Lancelot readied his sword to a defensive position.

 

“Who goes there?” Merlin called out.

 

“It is I, Master of the Keep,” said a mysterious voice. Male, by the depth of it. Magical, by the drama of it. “I have waited a long time for you, Emrys.”

 

Merlin’s eyes widened in alarm. This plot wasn’t for Arthur, it was a trap for Merlin. Willing his voice not to shake, Merlin replied, “You’ve found me, come out and face me.”

 

“I did not think Emrys would be a young, cowardly boy,” the voice said, and the body belonging to the voice stepped out into the light. A wizened old man bearing an enchanted staff paused 20 paces from the trio.

 

“Where’s Arthur?” Merlin demanded.

 

“You don’t even want to know why I summoned you here?” The sorcerer asked.

 

“Where’s Arthur? I won’t ask again,” Merlin warned.

 

Ignoring him, the sorcerer launched into his monologue. “20 years ago, during the Great Purge, the wicked king of Camelot dared to hunt the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. Me and my kind were forced into hiding, and from that day I swore-”

 

A great burst of flame shot out of Kilgharrah’s hand, cutting off the sorcerer's words. The column of fire arced toward the man, killing him before he could even start to scream.

 

The body burned and toppled to the floor, smoke curling upwards. The smell of burned flesh was nauseating.

 

“Kilgharrah!” Merlin turned to his brother in outrage. “What was that for!?”

 

Kilgharrah gestured with the hand he had just used to end the man’s life. “He was monologuing,” as if that explained everything.

 

“You can’t just kill him because he was monologuing! What’s wrong with you?”

 

Kilgharrah blinked at his brother, baffled. “Never let your enemies monologue, Merlin. That’s when they get you.”

 

Merlin spluttered, as he had been attacked many times while he let his opponents talk. “That is not the point. Killing people is wrong.”

 

Kilgharrah made a noise of disagreement. “Is it, though?”

 

Merlin’s face turned red with rage, and opened his mouth to speak.

 

Lancelot interrupted. “He’s dead now. Not much to be done about that. We still don’t know where the prince is.”

 

That distracted the brothers enough that their disagreement didn’t turn into a full blown argument. They turned from each other, facing Lancelot. The smell of charred flesh made Lancelot wrinkle his nose but it didn’t seem to bother the brothers.

 

“We could split the garrison up into 3 sections and search those,” Lancelot suggested.

 

Merlin and Kilgharrah nodded, and started walking in separate directions, East and West.

 

“Guess I’ll take the middle section,” Lancelot called out to no one. “Good talk, guys.”

 

***

 

If one walks far enough either East or West in a round building, you will end up in the same spot as the person going the opposite direction.

 

This is what happened to Merlin and Kilgharrah. They glared at each other from opposing ends of the room, saying nothing. Merlin really wasn’t that mad anymore but it was the principal of the matter, damnit!

 

Kilgharrah glared back until his eyes snagged on letters written on the northern wall.

 

“By the Goddess…” he whispered.

 

Merlin turned his eyes to find what Kilgharrah was looking at.

 

In the curving script of the Language of the Old Religion chilling words were carved into stone.

 

Destiny

 

At any price

 

The Brotherhood of Sorcerers

 

“That’s… ominous,” Merlin commented.

Kilgharrah made a noise of agreement. “No wonder he wanted to kidnap you and the prince. Perhaps he’s unhappy with how your destiny is progressing.”

 

“And there’s a whole society of them.”

 

The brothers shot each other a resigned look.

 

***

 

Arthur’s head hurt.

 

It was all he could think about. One minute he was in the council chambers, discussing reports. Then endless, endless black.

 

Time could have passed in hours or minutes or days, Arthur didn’t know. All he knew is that he had barely returned to consciousness and his head was pounding.

 

He could scarcely think, he could scarcely breathe.

 

He couldn’t feel his arms or his legs and secretly wished the darkness would come back and pull him under.

 

Arthur groaned softly, and a light shone in his eyes. He closed them against the explosion of pain the light brought.

 

“Arthur?” A voice called. He would recognize that voice anywhere. Merlin. Arthur whimpered with relief and pain.

 

“Arthur!” Merlin said, much closer now. His voice was high and distressed, but Arthur was overcome with comfort.

 

“Merlin,” he whispered, just before the darkness dragged him into unconsciousness.

 

***

 

Arthur blinked his eyes open slowly. The first thing he became aware of was the blessed lack of pain in his head. The second was Kilgharrah’s face not 5 inches from Arthur’s own.

 

Arthur gave a very unmanly yelp and thrust himself backward in shock. “Kilgharrah!” What the hell, why was he so close? The man had no concept of personal boundaries.

 

The man in question turned his head over his shoulder. “He’s awake,” he called.

 

Merlin hurried over to Arthur, and Arthur took in the space he was in. They were outside, in a large clearing. It was nearing sunset. Arthur must have been out for the better part of the day.

 

“Are you alright, Arthur?” Merlin asked. His eyes roamed the prince’s body looking for signs of injury.

 

Embarrassed, Arthur sat up, a blanket draping off of him. “I’m fine, what-what happened?”

 

“You were kidnapped, sire, by a rogue sorcerer,” Lancelot explained. Arthur managed to hide his shock: he had not seen Lancelot over Merlin’s shoulder.

 

“How did you find me?” Arthur questioned carefully. He wasn’t sure how to bring up the huge gap in his memory. “Was I abducted with sorcery?”

 

It seemed he needn’t have worried, for Kilgharrah answered his question. “Not magic, Your Highness, but Chemistry.”

 

Kilgharrah held up a small square of white cloth. It smelled of something pungent. “Trichloromethane, also known as Chloroform. It is capable of knocking out a grown man within moments. I found this cloth outside of the room the sorcerer was keeping you in.”

 

Arthur’s brows furrowed. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. Are you sure it isn’t magic?”

 

Kilgharrah’s answering smile had just the wrong number of teeth in it. “Would you like a demonstration?”

 

Arthur nodded.

 

Kilgharrah pounced, hand wrapping around Arthur’s mouth and nose, his grip as strong as iron.

 

Arthur attempted to kick and shout, but he received no give from the carpenter's hold. Arms caged him in, the drug filled his senses.

 

“Just a good old fashioned chemistry lesson,” Kilgharrah’s voice whispered in his ear.

 

“Kilgharrah!” Merlin scolded, but his voice was very far away.

 

The sweet smell of the cloth took hold and dragged the prince under.

 

***

 

“Not funny,” Merlin said, trying not to smile.

 

Lancelot hummed, “I don’t know, it was a little funny, Merlin.” Lancelot, at his core, was a bit of a bastard. He found pranks like that funny. He smirked. “Though perhaps Kilgharrah’s reaction was a little over the top.”

 

Kilgharrah had laughed, hard at Arthur being rendered unconscious.

 

Merlin had never seen him so amused, not even when Uther married a troll. But Kilgharrah loved other people’s misery, especially when he caused it. Merlin had taken the cloth and burned it, much to Kilgharrah’s chagrin.

 

“No more playing with the chloroform,” Merlin scolded the dragon and the knight. “I mean it.”

 

“What about for pranks?” Lancelot wanted to know.

 

“No.”

 

“Kilgharrah got to do it,” Lancelot protested indignantly.

 

“No more chloroform.”

 

“Damn,” Kilgharrah muttered.

 

Just then, Arthur roared awake. He jumped straight up, hand going to a missing sword. “What the hell did you do that for?” He demanded.

 

“You wanted a demonstration,” Kilgharrah explained. Arthur simply blinked at him.

 

“I told him it wasn’t funny,” Merlin offered.

 

“As did I,” said Lancelot, the bastard.

 

‘Traitor,’ Kilgharrah mouthed in the knight’s direction.

 

Arthur paid them no attention, and looked directly at Kilgharrah. Even disheveled and unarmed he cut an imposing figure in the clearing. “I have a question for you, Kilgharrah,” He folded his hands together and gestured with them. “Are you- are you crazy? Are you an insane person?”

 

“I mean,” Kilgharrah sighed. He rearranged his limbs to better recline on the grass. “It depends on who you ask.”

 

“If I ask anybody. Are you crazy?”

 

“Then yes,” Kilgharrah admitted with a dazzling smile. “Most people would say I am deranged.” The smile did nothing to hide this bizarre statement.

 

Arthur simply stared at him. “Is no one going to say anything?” He asked Merlin and Lancelot.

 

Merlin shrugged.

 

“I mean he’s got you there, sire,” Lancelot said, unhelpfully.

 

“I hate all of you,” Arthur said.

 

***

 

“Well, he did help me rescue you, Arthur, you can’t be mad forever.” Merlin said. Merlin and Arthur were crouched around a fire. Supplies that Kilgharrah pulled from thin air lay scattered throughout their hap-hazard camp. Having Arthur around made things go by smoothly, he gave clear orders and the trio followed.

 

Arthur continued to glare at Kilgharrah from across the campfire. “Who would even think that sort of thing was funny? Bodily harm is no laughing matter.”

 

Merlin poked the fire with a stick. “He said it himself, sire. Kilgharrah’s kind of insane.” And yet Merlin kept him around. Listened to him, even. Maybe Merlin was a little crazy too.

 

Arthur hummed. The brothers were crazy. That was a given. But Arthur hoped that the journey home would run smoothly nonetheless. At least Lancelot was in company as an even-keeled, calm voice of reason.

 

***

 

After Arthur set up night watches, and bedded down to sleep, Lancelot could not contain himself any longer. There were only so many hours he could pretend to be the voice of reason.

 

“Hey Merlin, do you think I could jump across the fire?” Lancelot asked.

Chapter Text

After Lancelot tired of jumping across the flames, (he insisted it had nothing to do with almost getting burned) he watched Merlin pace restlessly around the fire. Arthur and Kilgharrah were asleep, and it was Lancelot’s watch and Merlin had no reason to be up.

 

“What did you talk about in therapy?” Lancelot inquired. Might as well talk to his dearest friend if he was going to drive himself insane pacing.

 

Merlin shrugged, his mind turning over the plot that the Brotherhood could be planning. “Apparently the ‘bad vibes’ I’ve been feeling lately are actually ‘severe psychological distress’.”

 

“Ah.” Lancelot said. He was the furthest thing from the expert in healthy coping mechanisms, but he did have a lot of regular coping mechanisms. “Have you tried swinging a sword at the problem?”

 

Merlin stopped pacing and considered, tilting his head. “I could try to throw a fireball at the problem,” he said, adapting Lancelot’s solution to suit his skill set. He wasn’t quite sure that burning the whole Brotherhood to the ground was “healthy” or “sane” but if the plan was good enough for Lancelot it was good enough for him.

 

Despite the problem temporarily being solved, Merlin continued to pace. Lancelot watched him, bathed in firelight. Beautiful, Lancelot thought. Fire was Merlin’s natural element. Warm, comforting.

 

Dangerous.

 

Lancelot didn’t mind getting burned if it meant he could have him, even just as a friend.

 

After several minutes of studying this beautiful, dangerous creature Lancelot had befriended, he said, “You should go to bed, Merlin.”

 

“I don’t need to go to bed. I’m not tired,” Merlin said sharply.

 

“But darling, I’ll be so lonely without you. Come curl up in my arms so I can feel whole again.” Flirting was Lancelot’s signature weapon, and now he was using it for Merlin’s benefit.

 

Merlin blushed, barely noticeable in the light of the fire. “O-oh. Well. If you need it.” He crossed over the campsite and curled easily into Lancelot's side as the knight swung an arm around him. It was a comforting weight, relieving him of his anxiety.

 

Lancelot felt a warm sense of pride in his belly as Merlin stopped his pacing and sat down. A few moments went by as knight and warlock stared into the fire together. Then Merlin made the connection, and looked up indignantly.

 

“Wait. Are you trying to seduce me into healthy sleeping patterns?” Merlin said.

 

Lancelot glanced down at him with absolutely no shame. “Is it working?”

 

Merlin snuggled more insistently into Lancelot’s side, resting his head on the Knight’s cape. “Yeah,” he said quietly.

 

Lancelot smiled with smug pride, and pressed a faint kiss to the top of Merlin's head.

 

***

 

Arthur woke to the clearing bathed in moonlight. He was supposed to be relieving his manservant to take the dawn watch but Merlin continued to snore lightly into Lancelot’s shoulder.

 

When did that happen? He wondered to himself, feeling a faint pull of jealousy.

 

Kilgharrah sat in Merlin’s place, facing away from the fire and into the deep gloom of the forest. Arthur quietly approved of his choice. Facing away from the fire improves one’s night vision.

 

Arthur walked over and sat down next to him.

 

Kilgharrah spoke. “I apologize for earlier. I thought my actions would be amusing, but you did not. I’m sorry.” He did not look at Arthur

 

Arthur knew that feeling. He often hurt Merlin’s feelings in a similar manner, and the poor carpenter was crazy, by his own admission. “No harm done,” the prince replied. “Just a bit of...horseplay.”

 

Kilgharrah smiled and bowed his head in thanks.

 

Before Arthur could ask about Kilgharrah taking Merlin’s shift, Kilgharrah offered the information himself. “I thought it best to let him sleep. He’s had a long day.”

 

The moonlight washed over Kilgharrah’s features, turning him even more ethereal. The clearing was quiet except for the wind and the chittering nocturnal animals.

 

“I took him to therapy with me,” Kilgharrah said at last. “It seems Merlin has been deeply unhappy for longer than I have known. Since before he came to Camelot.”

 

“I suspected as much,” Arthur admitted. “After you left, I spent my time going over the last couple of years with Merlin at my side.” Arthur reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It was titled:

 

Merlin?

 

Following it was a list of everything Arthur knew about the man. Which wasn't much, admittedly. His home village, his characteristics, his professions, and his actions. Merlin didn’t often speak of himself.

 

Underneath all of the facts Arthur had to work with was his plan. Arthur was nothing if not a master strategizer. And this was one mission Arthur was determined to succeed at. He passed the sheet over to Kilgharrah for inspection.

 

The moonlight offered just enough light for the man to read by. He silently scanned the contents of the sheet. After a few minutes of scrutiny, Kilgharrah huffed a laugh.

 

“It’s brilliant,” Kilgharrah acknowledged. “I think this will help tremendously.” He passed the paper back, and Arthur tucked it carefully back in his pocket, pleased with himself.

 

Kilgharrah turned to face him, a serious expression on his face. “Thank you for doing this for him.”

 

“It needed to be done,” Arthur said. I Should have done it earlier, he didn’t say.

 

“There are not many kings who would do this for a servant.”

 

Arthur shot him a bemused look. “I am not king.”

 

“Not yet,” Kilgharrah inspected Arthur’s face for any sign of insincerity, “But I see in you now what Merlin sees in you. The greatest king Camelot has ever known.” Arthur’s plan had touched Kilgharrah, down in the very core of his magic. The wheels of Albion were turning, and this time, it would be Merlin left in the dark.

 

This night was special. Arthur could feel it. He suddenly regretted all those times he had made fun of Merlin’s funny feelings.

 

“I am the king Merlin made of me,” he admitted. It felt right, to refer to himself as king. “I would not be who I am without him.”

 

Kilgharrah gave him a considerate glance. He sensed the shame beneath those words. That if Merlin had not come along and saved Arthur from himself, Arthur would still be his father’s son, not worthy of his crown.

 

“It is not such a bad thing, to be one of Merlin’s creatures.”

 

Arthur examined this simple carpenter, who came from God knows where to Camelot. Merlin’s brother, talented and insane. And mysterious. “Are you?” Arthur asked. “His creature?”

 

“More than you know,” Kilgharrah said. “He delivers us all from evil.”

 

The evil that lives inside men. Yes, Arthur was aware. His own thoughts and actions, his father’s laws plaguing his every move.

 

“He saved me from myself,” Arthur said. “What did he deliver you from?”

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “I used to live in Camelot’s castle, you know.” Not quite the truth. He didn’t fit in the castle but he called it his home nonetheless.

 

This announcement shocked the prince. “Truly?” He hadn’t known. Nothing about Kilgharrah screamed nobility. Except his arrogant, authoritative way of speaking. And his knowledge of the inner workers of the castle. And his swordsmanship.

 

Then it dawned on him. Everything about Kilgharrah screamed nobility.

 

Or rather, fallen nobility.

 

“Yes,” Kilgharrah chuckled. “House Ambrosius. My father’s eldest son.”

 

“What happened?” Arthur felt dread pool up in his stomach. He did not recognize the family name. That meant something terrible had happened to that line.

 

“The usual. Court politics. My father and I were forced from our home. My entire family was executed. Eventually, I wound up in prison.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Arthur didn’t know what to say. A whole line, a whole House of people, executed. The clearing felt noticeably cooler.

 

“Don’t be,” Kilgharrah said. “I may have been innocent before my imprisonment, but I certainly wasn’t afterward.”

 

Arthur didn’t want to hear more. He did not want to hear what crimes Kilgharrah had committed that Merlin saved him from. “But your family was innocent.”

 

Kilgharrah smiled ruefully. “That they were. The most innocent. Some were not yet old enough to speak.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes in solemnity. Every time he heard his father’s crimes he thought nothing would shock him and yet every time he was surprised.

 

“My brother is all I have left. If you fuck this up, I will hunt you down.” Kilgharrah promised. “You’ll regret being born.”

 

“I will try not to do that,” Arthur said. “Besides, Merlin’s creatures need to stick together, do they not?”

 

“That they do, that they do.” With that, Kilgharrah got up and left Arthur to his watch. He bedded down near Merlin, angling his body so Merlin was caught between his brother and the fire. Protecting him, even in sleep.

 

Arthur carefully took out the paper with his plan on it and added: House Ambrosius.

 

***

 

After Arthur’s dawn watch, he woke his manservant, his knight, and Kilgharrah. The clearing was bright and cheerful, and the birds fluttered from branch to branch.

 

While Arthur watched Merlin make breakfast over the fire, his attention snagged on his knight. “Lancelot, why are your trousers singed at the bottom?”

 

Lancelot glanced down as if surprised that his pant leg was burned after trying to leap across a fucking fire last night. “I know not, my lord,” Lancelot said.

 

Merlin snickered. It had been highly amusing to watch Lancelot jump back and forth, magically raising the height of the flames each time he succeeded. They had to stop the game after Lancelot caught his leg on fire.

 

Thankfully Merlin’s magical flames didn’t burn skin, but they did burn cloth.

 

Arthur and Kilgharrah shot them twin looks of concern, but Merlin interrupted. “Breakfast, anyone?”

Chapter Text

After breakfast was served and plates were cleared, Arthur jerked his head at his servant, indicating they should speak privately in the woods.

 

Merlin raised his eyebrow in question, but dutifully followed the prince into the trees. Arthur walked until he determined that Lancelot and Kilgharrah could no longer hear them, at which point he spun around to face his servant.

 

Merlin waited, hands clasped behind his back. “Alright there, sire?”

 

“I’m firing you,” Arthur said bluntly.

 

Merlin’s eyes shot open and his jaw dropped. “After I just saved your ungrateful hide! You can’t fire me, or I’ll-”

 

Arthur held his hand up for silence until Merlin ran out of accusations to hurl at him. “You done?”

 

Merlin scowled and crossed his arms. “You can’t fire me.”

 

Arthur chuckled. “I can fire you and I am. As my manservant.”

 

“Wait-”

 

“And I am re-hiring you.”

 

Merlin shot him a skeptical look and uncrossed his arms. “Re-hiring me as…”

 

“As my Private Secretary.”

 

Wide blue eyes blinked at him. “What’s brought all this on?”

 

I think your brother would kill me in my sleep if I didn’t reduce your workload, Arthur thought but did not say aloud.

 

“I’m going to be king soon. I cannot possibly manage all my paperwork alone. Besides, you're a terrible manservant. Perhaps you’ll make a passable secretary.” Arthur had found a convenient way to keep Merlin beside him without forcing him to do menial work. Merlin was as smart as a whip, he was wasted on shining shoes.

 

“But Arthur, I already do all of your paperwork,” Merlin whined.

 

“Now you’ll get paid for it. And you don’t have to muck out the stables.”

 

Merlin paused at this and considered. “Alright, I’ll do it.”

 

Arthur sighed, exasperated. “Merlin. I’m the prince. You don’t get to agree. I’m telling you what will happen.”

 

Merlin gifted him a genuine smile, seeing the promotion for what it was. “Thanks, Arthur. I appreciate it.” He hated being a manservant, found the work disgusting and tedious, but he loved to serve his king. Now he could do it with his mind instead of his body.

 

Arthur clapped Merlin on the shoulder and steered him toward camp. Merlin felt a warm sliver of pride in his king for acting so mature, and pride for himself for being noticed, worthy of promotion.

 

Maybe Albion wasn’t just a silly dream after all.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah watched the prince and the warlock walk into the trees, then turned to stare at the knight, who was sipping some water from a skin.

 

“Are you fucking my brother?” Kilgharrah asked bluntly. The dragon had seen the two of them curled up by the fire, and wondered. Kilgharrah didn’t mind, he just didn’t want to see it. He found human mating rituals gross.

 

Lancelot spat his water out, and looked up at Kilgharrah in outrage. “What-why- why would you ask something like that?!” The poor, noble knight had gotten used to court decorum where nobody but Merlin or Gwaine ever really said what they meant, and certainly didn’t use such language.

 

Kilgharrah shrugged. “Curious, is all.”

 

Lancelot spluttered some more, looking for a way to say, ‘I’d like to be but I think we’re both in love with other people. I just think he’s the most brilliant person I’ve ever met and I want the world to see it. I want to give him the devotion he’s missing.’

 

He didn’t say any of that. Lancelot could not even articulate those thoughts to himself. “I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Lancelot said stiffly.

 

Kilgharrah didn’t bother to reply. His brother had slept with half of Camelot. What was one more conquest to him?

 

***

 

After Arthur and Merlin returned, the foursome packed up camp. Kilgharrah clocked Merlin’s change in mood instantly. He had been stressed about the Brotherhood, the implications for Albion, but now he seemed lighter.

 

Kilgharrah assumed whatever had made the change must have been drastic, or private, so he bided his time.

 

As the group set out walking back to Camelot, Kilgharrah pulled up to Merlin’s side and addressed him in the Dragon Tongue, so no one could understand them.

 

“What’s got you in such a good mood, brother?” Kilgharrah asked, his voice low and raspy, curling over the rough sounds of the ancient language.

 

Merlin glanced at him sidelong and answered in the same tongue. “I have been promoted. Seems the prince wants me as his Private Secretary.” Merlin’s voice was much deeper than its normal use in the common tongue.

 

Kilgharrah had seen that detailed on the prince’s plan but hadn’t realized it would be enacted so quickly. Still, he had to act surprised lest Merlin figure out he had already known. “Well, congratulations. No more getting your arse kicking on the training fields.”

 

Merlin chuckled. “Indeed.”

 

Arthur was walking not two feet away but had not understood a word. He could not even recognize the language, and hadn't known Merlin was bilingual. Yet, Merlin’s deep voice rolling over the cadence of the words did something to the prince, something warm and soothing and heavy. He could not describe it, so he put a stop to it.

 

Arthur interrupted them, bristling in the common tongue. “What in God’s name are you two talking about? What language is that?”

 

The brothers swung their gaze to him and answered in unison.

 

“Swedish.”

 

“Greek.”

 

Merlin and Kilgharrah glared at each other, silently arguing for who had to cover their slip-up. Merlin lost, so he spoke, “Our grandparents were immigrants,” he explained.

 

Arthur scrunched up his nose. “To Greece or from Sweden?”

 

“Yep,” Kilgharrah agreed, as if that made any sense.

 

Lancelot was pretty sure that both of Arthur’s guesses were one and the same, and he was also sure that Merlin and Kilgharrah were full of shit, so he kept quiet. It would be a long walk home. No need to get anyone executed in the meantime.

 

The things he did for friendship.

 

 

***

 

Back in Camelot, the town was very happy to have the prince back. Especially Sir Leon, because the prince had been stolen during his watch. Leon had not managed to find out how the sorcerer had captured the prince, but seeing as the kidnapper could use magic, there was absolutely fuck-all Leon could do to prevent it happening again.

 

While he was very grateful Sir Lancelot, Merlin, and Kilgharrah brought the prince back (Lord knows how), Leon wondered if, perhaps, things could slow down, for once?

 

Of course not, this was Camelot, after all. And the prince’s uncle has just arrived at the castle. Arthur had to get ready in a hurry to pretend that he hadn’t just been kidnapped by a crazed sorcerer, and walked out on the castle steps to greet his uncle, Agravaine de Bois.

 

What a lovely addition to Leon’s stress induced headache.

 

Nevertheless, Leon smiled dutifully as Agravaine jumped off of his horse, and strode up the steps to meet hs nephew.

 

The prince and the lord exchanged niceties while Leon zoned off, bored out of his mind. Merlin got the afternoon off as a reward for rescuing the prince, so there wasn’t anyone to make faces at. The fake smile was starting to hurt Leon’s face. The sun burned his eyes.

 

Eventually, Arthur and Agravaine entered the castle. Leon silently thanked any gods who might be listening and strode in behind them. Obsentibly guarding them, but it was statistically unlikely for there to be a threat against Arthur’s life again. Even for Camelot, that would be a bit much.

 

Leon walked behind the pair as they passed a small alcove where Kilgharrah and Merlin were perched, sitting and chatting in their strange, rolling language. Arthur had thrown a fit about yet another thing he hadn't known about Merlin, but Leon hadn’t been listening.

 

The sound of the brothers’ conversation washed over Agravaine and he turned, wide-eyed, to where Kilgharrah sat.

 

“Kilgharrah?” Agravaine exclaimed, shocked and disbelieving.

 

Kilgharrah turned to Agravaine, and jumped off of his perch. “Agravaine? Is that really you?”

 

Arthur looked between them and said, “You two...know each other?”

 

Kilgharrah and Agravaine ignored him and approached each other.

 

“Holy Goddess,” Agravaine said, under his breath, “Everyone thought you were gone, Kilgharrah. You’re supposed to be dead!”

 

“I’m obviously not,” Kilgharrah said dryly. “How are you, Agravaine? Still lurking around the far corners of Camelot?”

 

Leon was...not sure what was going on at this point. Merlin and Arthur were trading incredulous looks as their family members ignored them and chatted with each other. Leon felt like he had missed something.

 

“Excuse me, my lord,” Leon interrupted politely. “How do you know Kilgharrah?”

 

Agravaine tore his gaze away from where Kilgharrah stood to look at Leon. He huffed an awkward laugh. “Kilgharrah and I...we go way back.”

 

“Way back,” Kilgharrah agreed. If Leon didn’t know better, he’d say the twinkle in Kilgharrah’s eye meant he was hiding something.

 

Silence descended. Arthur didn’t know who to look at, his gaze bouncing from Merlin to Kilgharrah to his uncle and back.

 

“I shall show your rooms now, uncle,” Arthur commanded. He didn’t know what the hell was going on but he was going to put a stop to it.

 

“Of course,” Agravaine agreed, then turned back to Kilgharrah, “You should join me for a drink later, old friend,” he said.

 

“I’d like that,” Kilgharrah accepted. Merlin’s eyes got impossibly wider, and he shook his head minutely. The action went ignored by the group, but Leon made note of it.

 

He turned the action over in his mind as Agravaine and Arthur walked to the guest suites. The only conclusion he could come to was that Merlin didn’t trust his brother. Or he didn’t trust Agravaine.

 

Or both.

 

Was it a coincidence Arthur was kidnapped so close to their arrivals in town?

 

***

 

Seeing Ygraine’s brother had been shocking for Kilgharrah. He had almost forgotten the man was still alive, seeing how Uther managed to kill off the other two de Bois siblings.

 

Merlin’s tense, terse words spoken directly into Kilgharrah’s mind had not gotten unnoted by the dragon.

 

“Careful, brother. Agravaine is most likely working for Morgana.”

 

“Understood,” Kilgharrah had replied.

 

Mindspeech was just so useful. He really didn’t know how humans got by without it.

 

Now that Kilgharrah knew where he stood in relation to Agravaine, he considered his options. He could just kill the man, but that seemed distasteful and Uther-like, so he discarded the idea.

 

Kilgharrah didn’t really know Agravaine all that well. They had exchanged the necessary small talk and commands during Uther’s siege on Camelot to claim the throne, but they didn’t share much connection beyond that.

 

Though he supposed being some of the only people who remembered the truth about how Uther had claimed his throne made them allies of a sort. If only Kilgharrah could persuade him away from Morgana, and offer him a place at the side of the Once and Future King.

 

Yes, that would work.

 

Arthur gets a family member, Kilgharrah gets leverage at the Round Table, and Merlin gets no blood on his hands. Everybody wins.

 

Worst comes to worst, Kilgharrah could just kill him.

 

***

 

Agravaine was still reeling from seeing the Great Dragon, alive and well, sitting and chatting in the corridors of Camelot like nothing was the matter.

 

The Great Dragon was dead. Dead! Agravaine had received a missive saying his dear nephew had killed him, a clean blow through the heart. And yet he lives.

 

Arthur, the naive little boy, wasn’t one to claim false honor for himself, so how was it that Kilgharrah came to live?

 

Agravaine remembered the Great Dragon well. His huge, hulking presence and wise, all-seeing eyes had been instrumental during the siege on Camelot. Agravaine had been (quite, rightly, he thinks) afraid of him. He’s never understood men like Balinor or Uther who rode dragons without fear.

 

They were creatures to be respected, yes, but also feared. In the same way he feared God, Agravaine had feared the Great Dragon.

 

Until his sister died.

 

Then Agravaine had no more room for fear. When his brother died, when thousands of innocent people were slaughtered and burned, Agravaine learned that Kilgharrah was not God, just an overgrown lizard.

 

If Kilgharrah could not have saved Camelot, then who could?

 

In his heart of hearts, Agravaine knew the moment the Great Dragon had been captured, any hope of magic surviving had been banished. It was why he felt no remorse towards fleeing to the outer edges of the kingdom, lying low enough that Uther would take no notice of him.

 

There had still been a little sparkle of hope, that the Great Dragon had just been captured, not slayed. Perhaps one day he would rise again, bringing with him the promise of all Camelot could be.

 

Agravaine snorted at the naivety of his thoughts. The very rooms he stood in now showed there was no chance of that. The carpets were threadbare, the mirrors unenchanted. The glass windows did not open and closed themselves. The stone wore with wind and age where it used to get stronger.

 

Magic had abandoned his family, his kingdom twenty long years ago.

 

Now it was time for Agravaine to bring it down.

Chapter Text

Kilgharrah walked into Lord Agravaine’s chambers. They were nice rooms, done in the same red and gold style that Price Arthur preferred.

 

“I see you are admiring my portrait,” Kilgharrah greeted.

 

Agravaine was staring at a small tapestry of the Pendragon Crest that decorated a column of the room.

 

He turned and snorted as Kilgharrah approached, “It seems our legacy lives on, even when we do not.” Agravaine couldn’t decide if he was bitter about it. He left the double meaning open for Kilgharrah to explain how it came to be that he was not dead.

 

The dragon chose not to, and instead sat down at the table. He poured himself wine without so much as a by-your-leave. He had a sip and said, “This is much better than the swill they sell down in the Lower Town.”

 

Fine. Kilgharrah didn’t want to talk. Agravaine could play this game. He sat down across from the dragon and poured himself a cup. His hands attempted not to shake. He wondered if dragons could smell fear.

 

“Camelot has always had the very best vintages,” Agravaine agreed.

 

“Is that why you came to the citadel? To sample its alcohol?” Kilgharrah prodded.

 

“I am here at the behest of my nephew. I am sure your intentions are equally as noble,” Agravaine said.

 

Kilgharrah gave him a significant look, and set down his wine glass. “Cut the shit, Agravaine. I know you’re working for Morgana.”

 

Agravaine, to his credit, did not flinch at the accusation. His hand simply tightened on his wine glass. It was no use trying to lie his way out of the situation, Kilgharrah could smell lies.

 

“I thought you, of all people, would approve of her methods and goals, O Great One. Slash and burn? Take no prisoners?”

 

Kilgharrah gave him a wry smile. It was true, Morgana was ruthless, Kilgharrah admired that. But he valued destiny before all.

 

“Morgana’s reign is not to be. The throne of Camelot belongs to the Once and Future King. I don’t play for the losing side.”

 

Now Agravaine was caught off guard. “Emrys and the Once and Future King is just a fairy tale.”

 

Kilgharrah didn’t bother to respond.

 

Agravaine paused, then gave an incredulous laugh. “My half-wit nephew? The High King of all Albion?”

 

“You should see Emrys. He’s barely come of age,” Kilgharrah remarked dryly. The prophecies had implied an ancient powerful sorcerer, not…Merlin. Smiles and light and kindness. Merlin. His brother.

 

Agravaine considered this. If the Great Dragon said it shall be so, then the future will come about. Did Agravaine want to be on the winning side, or the losing?

 

Kilgharrah offered him a choice. “These boys are so young. They have very little…experience. They need a firm hand to guide them. To offer them wisdom.”

 

“You’re Emrys’ mentor, then?” Agravaine guessed. Clever dragon. Allying himself with the most powerful men in Albion.

 

“I am. Work with me, Agravaine. Not against me. The Once and Future King could use your perspective.” A magic-friendly perspective from a familiar face would be invaluable.

 

Agravaine considered. On the one hand, painful, fiery death at Kilgharrah’s hands, the villain of the story. On the other, becoming the prized uncle of the greatest king the world had ever known.

 

“You’ve got yourself a deal, you old bastard.”

 

Kilgharrah smiled. Albion's future grew brighter by the day.

 

***

 

Merlin’s first day as Arthur’s Private Secretary was going well. He sorted Arthur’s papers, read through the new reports, and completed some miscellaneous tasks while he waited for George to wake Arthur up. George was delighted to clean to his hearts content, and Merlin was glad to leave him to it.

 

Arthur and Merlin exchanged their usual banter as they strode to collect Agravaine for council. Arthur wanted to consult with Agravaine before the meeting, and spend time with his uncle.

 

George was just happy to be included.

 

Arthur knocked on his uncle's door, and then opened it without waiting. Merlin shot him a judgmental look, but Arthur ignored it. It was his castle, he could do what he wanted.

 

The door opened. Arthur and Merlin stared unblinkingly at the contents of the room.

 

Agravaine and Kilgharrah stared back.

 

Silence fell.

 

George cleared his throat.

 

“Arthur,” Agravaine greeted.

 

“Kilgharrah,” Merlin said, surprised.

 

“Merlin,” Kilgharrah said.

 

“Agravaine,” Agravaine said.

 

Kilgharrah whipped his head toward Agravaine. “Did you just say your own name?” He asked incredulously.

 

“It was the only one left,” Agravaine muttered into his wine glass.

 

Finally, Arthur spoke, “What- you know what. Never mind. I don’t want to know. Uncle, the council meeting?” He reminded him.

 

Agravaine made a noise of realization and got up to join his king. Kilgharrah stood and flanked Merlin, closing the door behind him.

 

George was confused. Maybe he didn’t want to be included anymore.

 

What on earth were you doing in there? Merlin asked his brother.

 

Making a new ally. Worry not, young warlock. Kilgharrah replied.

 

Suspicious, but Kilgharrah had his ways. Merlin knew better than to question him.

 

***

 

Days passed. Merlin spent time with his brother, learning magic. He accompanied and protected his prince. He set some healthy boundaries with the help of his new therapist. He flirted with Gwaine, hoping one day magic could be free and they could be together.

 

But most importantly, he made trouble with Lancelot.

 

On his travels, Lancelot had discovered a solution of liquid that could turn one’s hair pink, no matter the original shade. Kilgharrah had exploded one too many fireballs in Merlin’s face lately, so they hatched their plan.

 

Merlin and Lancelot thought it was a clever plan. Sneak in, add the potion to Kilgharrah’s soap, and leave. The perfect plan.

 

Merlin and Lancelot had been on edge all day, waiting to see what the fallout would be.

 

Arthur had noticed their uneasiness. “What’s the matter with you two?” he asked.

 

Merlin and Lancelot gave their half-hearted excuses but Arthur had tuned them out by then, turning his attention back to the knights. Gwaine was looking at the duo, longing and desire written on his face. He had never been able to figure out how Lancelot fit so easily at Merlin’s side.

 

Well too bad for him, because Arthur was sick of his pining. “Lancelot, Gwaine, have a bout, see if you can bring your focus back to the present.”

 

The two knights faced each other, ready to strike before a loud voice shot across the Lower Town.

 

“Merlin Emrys Balinor Ambrosius, I am going to kill you!”

 

“Uh oh,” Merlin muttered. It seemed Kilgharrah had discovered his little trick.

 

“Merlin who?” Arthur and Gwaine asked in unison. They didn’t get their answer, as Merlin started running in the other direction.

 

A series of slanderous insults and threats grew louder as Kilgharrah drew closer. “I am going to slit your throat while you sleep! Your mother was a whore and wishes you were never born! I am going to find you!”

 

With that final threat hanging in the air, Kilgharrah barreled onto the training fields.

 

With a shock of bright pink hair.

 

Arthur couldn’t help it. The expression on Kilgharrah’s face promised a painful, fiery death, but his hair was so ridiculous in its color and shape that Arthur laughed. He laughed so hard his belly and armor shook. The knights chuckled along with him.

 

Kilgharrah snarled, “Where is that little bastard?”

 

Arthur gave a half-hearted point in the direction Merlin had run off to, and resumed his laughter.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah was going to make that little bastard the very Last Dragonlord. It hadn’t been very funny meeting up with Anabel only for her to point and ask politely about his new hairstyle. Not funny at all.

 

So his new mission: revenge.

 

He caught sight of the edge of a brown jacket whirling around the edge of the building. Merlin was spinning around toward the training fields again to attempt to lose him. Clever. But it wasn’t going to work.

 

Kilgharrah had longer legs, so it wasn’t much work to catch up with Merlin, who was cackling like a mad man as he sprinted through the streets.

 

Kilgharrah caught up with him in a few smooth movements, yanking Merlin up by the collar of his shirt. Merlin’s laughter cut off as his air did.

 

“Sorry,” Merlin gasped. He tugged at the collar of his shirt, trying to get more air, “But it is really funny. It’s hard to take you seriously.”

 

Kilgharrah just snarled at him, a true dragon sound. Then he spotted the solution to his mischievous warlock problem.

 

He dragged Merlin through the air, his body swinging wildly about. The townspeople were used to their antics by now, and just moved out of the way.

 

Kilgharrah grabbed Merlin’s arms and hauled him bodily overhead.

 

Now Merlin was getting worried.

 

“Kilgharrah? Brother, maybe you should putmedown!” Merlin shrieked this last part as Kilgharrah tossed him away. Merlin sailed through the air and landed with a great big splash! in a horse trough.

 

Water sloshed out of the trough, spilling everywhere. Kilgharrah smiled, his anger fading.

 

Merlin righted himself in the trough, coughing and spluttering as the water expelled from his sinuses.

 

Kilgharrah chuckled and bent over the trough to look his brother in the eyes. “You alright?” Kilgharrah checked.

 

Merlin turned a baleful look at him and splashed him with water from the trough. He made no move to get out.

 

Kilgharrah wiped the water from his eyes and huffed a small laugh. Merlin cracked a smile.

 

“Thanks for not killing me,” Merlin said.

 

“Yeah well you wanted me to stop setting shit on fire.”

 

At that, Merlin let out a true belly laugh, sitting in a horse trough, soaked to the bone, while his brother stared back at him with bright pink hair.

 

Merlin was struck, suddenly, but how much better Kilgharrah made things in Camelot. He didn't have to worry about Agravaine. He could share the burden of the threatening Brotherhood of sorcerers. He had a brother, a companion.

 

He loved him, his brother, his family.

 

The brothers laughed and laughed until the prince called for Merlin again.

 

***

 

Kilgharrah was trying to have a serious conversation with his friends, but Merlin wasn’t having it.

 

His brother tapped on Kilgharrah’s back, trying to get his attention. But Kilgharrah was talking, Merlin would simply have to wait.

 

Anabel spoke, “So my birthday is the 17th, I would love it if you could come.”

 

“I’ll be there,” Kilgharrah promised.

 

“Kilgharrah,” Merlin said, demanding attention. Kilgharrah ignored him.

 

“How’s your latest project coming along?” Kilgharrah asked Anabel politely.

 

She tilted her head a little. “Shouldn’t you see what your brother wants?”

 

“Kilgharraaaaaah,” Merlin said again.

 

“No,” Kilgharrah said, “Ignore him. He’s a little shit who can wait his turn.”

 

Anabel and Kilgharrah continued to chat about nothing much at all. Anabel’s upcoming party, Kilgharrah’s commissions, troubles in the Lower Town.

 

Merlin, unsatisfied with being ignored, got down on the ground and began to tug at Kilgharrah’s right leg. He wrapped himself completely around said leg in the manner of a small child. Merlin didn’t have a brother as a child, so perhaps he was making up for lost time. “Kilgharraaaaaaaah.”

 

He began to tug harder at the lack of response from his brother.

 

Anabel started going into detail about the specific yarn spinning technique she had learned lately and Merlin had had enough.

 

Merlin climbed Kilgharrah’s body until he was seated on his back, legs wrapped around his waist. He was going to be as annoying as possible until he got the attention he wanted. He began to chant directly in his ear, “Kilgharrah Kilgharrah Kilgharrah Kilgharrah Kilgharrah Kilgharrah-”

 

“Merlin Merlin Merlin Merlin Merlin Merlin- what?” Kilgharrah snapped, turning his head to look over at his brother. Merlin’s head was propped on Kilgharrah’s shoulder, looking wide-eyed at actually succeeding.

 

Merlin opened his mouth, then closed it, trying to remember why he wanted Kilgharrah’s attention in the first place.

 

He remembered.

 

“Do you want lasagna for dinner?”

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “I hate you.”

 

“Love you too.”

Chapter Text

Kilgharrah regretted extending the invitation to Merlin.

 

Anabel’s birthday was coming up, and she had graciously offered him a plus-one to the party. The problem lay in that Kilgharrah did not want to show up alone, but everybody he knew was going to be at the party.

 

“So you need me to come with you?” Merlin said, grinning with unrestrained glee.

 

Kilgharrah rolled his eyes and scoffed. “I don’t need you. I’m inviting you because Agravaine won't come with me.”

 

Merlin nodded solemnly. “And you need an extrovert to help you make friends.”

 

“That too,” Kilgharrah agreed. He fucking hated small talk.

 

“Don’t worry, brother,” Merlin said cheerfully, “I’m a ball at parties.”

 

***

 

It had been about one hour since Kilgharrah and Merlin got separated at Anabel’s birthday party, and Kilgharrah wanted to die.

 

There was nothing too terrible about the party itself, just a normal house gathering for middle aged people looking for something to celebrate. It was warm, with mismatched chairs scattered around, conversation flowing easily with wine. Merlin had accompanied him for a while, until he had inexplicably spotted someone he knew and left.

 

Typical.

 

So Kilgharrah sat in the corner, petting Rufus the dog until dinner. His therapist said he should at least try to stick it out in social situations. Rufus wagged his tail, encouraging Kilgharrah to give more pats. Kilgharrah obliged.

 

Merlin, in the meantime, gathered himself a small crowd of perfect strangers and started talking to them. By extending his hearing, Kilgharrah suspects Merlin’s already been invited to be in someone’s wedding.

 

Honestly, where does he pick up these people?

 

“Well, at least I’ve got you, old boy,” Kilgharrah said to Rufus. Rufus wagged his tail happily.

 

***

 

The dinner was good, a hearty stew made by Anabel’s parents as a birthday gift. Kilgharrah was actually seated by people he knew, Merlin on his left, his other friends Evelyn and Ralph to his right, and across was Anabel. Kilgharrah was in much better spirits.

 

Kilgharrah and Anabel were in the middle of a heated discussion about the merits of the different architectural styles of classical Greece when one of Anabel’s aunts cleared her throat pointedly.

 

Conversation died off as the aunt went to speak. “Anabel, darling, is it true that you’re courting this nice young man?”

 

Kilgharrah choked on his drink. “No,” he said, surprised.

 

Just as Anabel said, “Yes.”

 

Kilgharrah set his glass down too hard against the table, making a banging noise. “What?”

 

The whole table fell silent, staring at the pair. Nobody moved or breathed.

 

“Well this is a fucking shitshow,” Merlin muttered into his wineglass. He held up the decanter. “More wine, anyone?” He offered with a bright smile.

 

“Yes please,” Anabel said, breathless.

 

Kilgharrah just stared in shock.

 

***

 

“Merlin, what on earth do I even say?” Kilgharrah asked, pacing restlessly outside Anabel’s house. He had never dealt with a situation like this before. Dragon mating rituals were much more straightforward.

 

Merlin just watched him from his perch on a windowsill. “It’s very easy, brother, I’ve dealt with this exact situation loads of times.”

 

That brought Kilgharrah to a stop. “You have?” He asked, dubious. “People just confess their undying love for you all the time?”

 

Merlin shrugged. “It happens more than you think,” He said, thinking of Gwen, Mary, then it was Micheal, then his dearest Freya, then James and then Mary again. Come to think of it, people did confess their love to him a lot.

 

“Kilgharrah, it’s simple. Do you like her or not?”

 

Kilgharrah’s face screwed up in disgust. “A human? Goddess, no. They’re revolting. Wet, slimy skin. They make water with their mouths when they talk, Merlin. Water! Then it just comes flying out everywhere. Disgusting.”

 

Merlin blinked and held up a hand for peace, and Kilgharrah stopped talking. “That’s pretty clear. You don’t want to be romantically involved. That’s all you need to say.”

 

“Because I find the human species disgusting.”

 

“You can- you can leave that part out.”

 

Kilgharrah frowned at him, “But it’s true.”

 

“Okay, is this a friendship you want to keep?” Merlin clarified.

 

Kilgharrah nodded confirmation. He liked spending time with Anabel well enough. He enjoyed her company and her wit, he just didn’t stray outside of his species. That sort of behavior was repulsive to him.

 

“Okay, then don’t mention the human thing. I am also banning the words wet, slimy, water and moist.”

 

“I didn’t say moist.”

 

“Do you want to keep this friendship?” Merlin asked rhetorically, “It’s banned. I’m banning it.”

 

“Okay,” Kilgharrah said, uncertain. Merlin was the expert. “But what do I actually say to her? Sorry, I love your dry smooth skin?”

 

Merlin winced. Kilgharrah was many things, but tactful wasn’t one of them.

 

“Just be clear, honest, and direct. Women like that sort of thing. Tell her that you value your friendship, and you hope that you can continue to be friends without romance.”

 

Kilgharrah considered. “I can do that.”

 

“Good.” Merlin hopped down from his spot on the windowsill and clapped his brother on the back. “I believe in you.”

 

***

 

Anabel sat on the outer steps of the house, staring into the street. Kilgharrah approached from her left.

 

“Mind if I join you?” He asked. The party had resumed after he excused himself from dinner, but he was sure a level of awkwardness remained in his absence. He felt terrible for ruining her day like that.

 

Anabel just smiled weakly at him and he took that as an invitation, sitting beside her on the steps. Silence reigned for a moment.

 

“I apologize. I had not realized my actions might be interpreted as...romantic. I would very much like to remain friends, if you are amenable.”

 

Anabel gave a soft laugh. “I’d like that too, Kilgharrah. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot that way. My aunt is just very invested in my marriage prospects.”

 

Kilgharrah relaxed now that the whole idea of romance between the two of them was put away. “Why is that?” He asked, reclining on the steps, looking at Anabel bathed in the moonlight.

 

Anabel stretched out as well, propping her bad leg up on the stair next to her.

 

She sighed. “Oh, well, I was supposed to be married a few years ago, but my fiancé left me before the wedding,” Anabel said, nonchalantly.

 

Kilgharrah whipped his head toward her. “He what?”

 

Anabel shrugged. “I’m kind of glad for it. Now I know what kind of man he is, someone who wouldn’t stay for sicker or poorer. He said he didn’t want to be married to a cripple,” she said, pointing to her lame leg.

 

Kilgharrah was filled with rage towards this faceless man who had tossed such vile words at Anabel, someone the fiancé was supposed to love. “I’m so sorry,” Kilgharrah said sincerely. “What a cruel thing to say. But why didn’t he break it off before? Surely he knew you were born lamed.”

 

Anabel shot him a curious look. “Well, I wasn’t born lamed. I was injured.”

 

“Oh,” Kilgharrah hadn’t known. He had just...assumed that she was born that way. He wasn’t sure if it was his place to ask how her injury had come about.

 

Anabel answered the unasked question by hitching up her skirt. She rolled down her long socks to reveal a burned leg.

 

The scar tissue was deep, almost green. It clearly hadn’t healed properly, lending Anabel to develop a limp. The burns covered every inch of her skin from her knee down to her toes. The skin was a nasty red and orange color where it wasn’t scarred, leaving it almost unrecognizable.

 

Her leg must have had prolonged contact with hot flame to develop such a complicated mess of scars. Kilgharrah was both fascinated and repulsed, like a fire you just couldn’t look away from.

 

He met Anabel’s eyes, trying to convey his sympathy and understanding without drowning her in pity. The look he got back said that she understood his message.

 

“What-” he started, then stopped and swallowed. “May I ask, what happened to your leg?”

 

“Oh,” Anabel said, staring into his eyes, before she said something that struck Kilgharrah to his core.

 

“It was burned during the Great Dragon attack.”

Chapter Text

“It was burned during the Great Dragon attack.”

 

Kilgharrah couldn’t have heard her right. She couldn’t have meant what she said.

 

He stared at the burned mass of flesh, pairing it up with the screams of years ago, people dying for his vengeance.

 

You did this. You did this.

 

Anabel sighed. “That thrice damned dragon was burning people’s houses on purpose, but we didn’t have anywhere else to go. My uncle’s house caught fire. He died before I could get him out. That’s where I got Rufus, and this,” she said, indicating her burned leg.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kilgharrah said. He didn’t know what else to say. Merlin’s tips hadn’t included apologizing for this.

 

“It’s okay,” Anabel said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

 

It is your fault. You did this.

 

The silence roared in Kilgharrah’s head, growing louder and drowning out all else. He didn’t know what to feel. He wasn’t feeling anything at all.

 

Nothing.

 

This bright young human...he had taken so much from her. Her uncle, her fiancé.

 

Her leg.

 

You did this. You did this.

 

Kilgharrah considered for the first time that it was people he had killed. Not just extensions of Uther’s kingdom, part of Uther himself, but living breathing human beings with lives and skin and hope.

 

You did this. You did this.

 

Did he do unto others what had been done to him?

 

Had he slaughtered a whole family? Did people whisper his name over fires, damning him, as he did Uther?

 

Anabel did.

 

“That damned dragon….” She chuckled ruefully. “So much has changed since then. I can’t tell if I should be grateful for it.”

 

The silence continued to roar in Kilgharrah’s head.

 

You did this. You did this.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kilgharrah apologized, “I should go.” He needed to leave the scene of his crime.

 

“It’s late,” Anabel agreed.

 

He got up, and walked down the street. She watched him go, but as soon as he was out of eyesight he began to sprint.

 

He ran down the deserted streets, running to the only person who could help him. The unfamiliar pattern of his footsteps drummed out a beat:

 

You did this. You did this.

 

Kilgharrah raced up the stairs, darkness following in his wake, torches going out. He distracted a pair of guards by magically tossing their dice aside.

 

The doors to his destination stood wide open, and he ran through.

 

Merlin looked up from his book to see his brother, breathless and disheveled, standing in the center of his room.

 

***

 

“You can’t just turn up in my room and demand we leave town,” Merlin hissed, trying to follow his brother through the confused streets of the Lower Town. “I at least need an explanation.”

 

Kilgharrah didn’t respond, the silence in his head drowning out all else.

 

Despite his protests, Merlin really would follow his brother into anything, so he continued to track him through the edge of town, into the forests.

 

As they stepped through the trees, Kilgharrah must have deemed them far enough from the citadel to talk.

 

Without warning, he whirled around and grasped his brother by his shoulders.

 

“Did you know?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

Merlin had no idea what his brother was talking about. “Did I know what?

 

“Anabel. Her leg...it’s burned,” Kilgharrah’s voice broke, “I did that. I burned it.”

 

Merlin scoffed. “Kilgharrah, you killed upwards of 400 people. I can barely keep track of them, much less the people who were simply injured!”

 

Kilgharrah held onto his brother's shoulders, searching his eyes. The knowledge had hit Kilgharrah with the weight of the sky, yet Merlin seemed unaffected.

 

“You’re not surprised,” Kilgharrah gathered.

 

“Why would I be? Injuries from your attack are not uncommon.” Merlin honestly didn’t have time for this. He was just minding his own business until Kilgharrah came along with his dramatic crisis.

 

Now that Merlin gave it a second of thought, he realized this must be how Kilgharrah had been feeling for the last couple of years.

 

Merlin tried to reign in his patience, not wanting to give Kilgharrah the same unhelpful advice Merlin got from his brother.

 

“Look, I can see you’re upset, do you want to talk about it more?”

 

Kilgharrah nodded fiercely. With a great flash of light, he returned to his true form. Merlin clambered over scales until he found a spot to hang onto.

 

Kilgharrah lifted his great wings, and launched them both into the sky.

 

***

 

As a child, Merlin had always thought clouds would be fluffy and warm.

 

He was right.

 

Merlin and Kilgharrah perched on the edge of a cumulus cloud that looked like a piece of floating cotton. Kilgharrah sank down far enough that his claws and lower body were obscured, but Merlin floated on top.

 

Silence reigned for a moment. Kilgharrah had been so eager to speak on the ground, but now he seemed at a loss for words.

 

Merlin waited, hugging his knees to his chest, looking out over Albion below.

 

Stars of many different colors twinkled above, and the Mother’s full moon gave enough light so the brothers could see each other.

 

Suddenly, all of Merlin’s problems seemed very far away, miles below. His sadness alleviated, pulling away for just this moment, just tonight.

 

Finally, Kilgharrah spoke, “I always thought the problems you presented me with were...trivial. Unimportant, or obvious.”

 

Merlin scrunched his eyebrows up and hugged his legs tighter. “...thanks.”

 

Kilgharrah tried again, “What I mean is, up here,” he said, gesturing with his snout to the cloud, the sky, everything above the mortal realm, “Everything seems easy. Solutions are obvious when you’re not involved. Down there,” indicating everything low and dirty and human, “things become...obscured.”

 

Women bore scars of vengeance. Princes both did and didn’t care. Laws blurred the lines between right and wrong. It was an emotional, confusing mess, being human.

 

Merlin nodded his understanding. It was so easy to be Emrys in the Crystal Cave or in the company of Druids. It became a burden in Camelot.

 

“I feel the same,” Merlin said softly, “Sometimes perspective is a good thing.” Why else would Merlin call on Kilgharrah so often? Someone caring, but impartial, eternal and wise.

 

“But too much perspective,” Kilgharrah paused and shook his head. “People are an extension of their king. That’s why I burned Camelot, I burned Uther’s kin. I took from him what he took from me. But tonight I have learned that people are not an extension of their king. And yet they are.”

 

“How can that be, Merlin, how can people be both?”

 

People can be both chess pieces in the game of destiny and Merlin’s dearest friends. Just look at Arthur or Morgana. People can be wicked tyrants and fathers, like Uther. People can be both dishonest and noble, like Lancelot or Gwaine.

 

People can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons.

 

Just look at Merlin.

 

“People are complicated,” Merlin said at last. “They’re full of contractions and virtues and sins. You just have to make the most of it.”

 

Kilgharrah stared at his younger brother, the little warlock who had wandered into his cave all those years ago.

 

“You’re very wise, young warlock.”

 

Merlin laughed. “I had a good teacher,” he said with a smile.

 

Kilgharrah shook his head. “You didn’t learn that from me, Merlin. That is all you.” Love, kindness, patience, humanity.

 

Something uniquely Merlin.

 

He was proud to call him brother.

 

They lapsed into silence again. The moon traveled higher into the sky.

 

“Do you regret it?” Merlin asked. He didn’t have to specify.

 

You did this. You did this.

 

The urgency of that idea had died with distance. Kilgharrah sat far from his crimes, removed from humanity and the woman he had befriended.

 

He thought of the mass of burned flesh, creating a limp.

 

He thought of his brothers and sisters as they burned on Uther’s pyres.

 

He thought of how lonely he had been for the past twenty years.

 

His crimes and Uther’s were not equal. Kilgharrah said as much to Merlin.

 

“Someone who drowns in 10 fathoms of water is just as dead as someone who drowned in 20,” Merlin said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re equal. Do you regret laying waste to Camelot?”

 

He regretted that Anabel’s leg was burned. He regretted that her uncle had died, and her fiance had left her.

 

And now, come to think of it, he regretted the fear on Prince Arthur’s face when they had their last showdown.

 

Now that he loved his brother more than Life, more than Destiny, he regretted the anguish in Merlin’s voice as none of his spells prevented Kilgharrah from attacking.

 

Fire. Flames. Death and destruction at anyone’s hands.

 

Merlin.

 

Kilgharrah turned to his brother, his kin, his lord.

 

“Yes,” Kilgharrah said, very quietly, “I do regret it.”

 

Merlin gave him a soft smile, and the moon and stars shone brighter in the light of it.

 

Merlin got up and tottered over to the dragon. Kilgharrah laid his big head on the soft clouds. Merlin stroked his muzzle gently, causing a wisp of smoke to curl out.

 

***

 

“So what do I do?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

At Merlin’s puzzled look, he elaborated, “Now that I regret my actions, what do I do to make amends?’

 

“Um,” Merlin said, “You don’t.”

 

Kilgharrah shot him a quizzical look of his own. “What?”

 

Merlin had committed many a crime or fatal error resulting in innocent people getting killed, but he never got around to apologizing for it, seeing as that would give the game away.

 

“Look,” Merlin explained, “For our safety, the Great Dragon needs to stay dead, along with the dragonlords. There’s nothing that can be done while magic is banned.”

 

Kilgharrah reconsidered everything he had thought about Merlin’s gentle nature. “So we just...move on? Not even a ‘Sorry I killed you all, my bad’?”

 

“What else is there to do? You make mistakes and then wallow in them until sadness consumes you and then you die,” Merlin said, as if it were obvious. “That’s the way it is, that’s the way it always will be.”

 

Something pulled at Kilgharrah’s heartstrings. This wasn’t his Merlin. His Merlin would have done anything to fix what went wrong.

 

This is the Merlin who cries himself to sleep at night.

 

Time to switch tactics.

 

Merlin would not make amends because he was afraid. And lonely, and scared.

 

He didn’t want to lose the only friends he had by exposing his whole self.

 

Kilgharrah thought about the best way to approach this issue.

 

“Do you know what Emrys means?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

Merlin, glad they were moving on from the topic of making amends, answered, “Not really.” It was the truth. He knew he was Emrys, important to the Druids and Camelot. But beyond that was a vague, muddy blur.

 

“It means many things,” Kilgharrah said in the tone of voice he used when imparting important knowledge, “But literally, it means ‘Eternal’ or “Immortal.”

 

Merlin stared up at his brother in growing horror, not wanting to hear what came next.

 

“You, Merlin Emrys Balinor Ambrosius, are immortal. You will not die, and will live for thousands of years.”

 

“Thousands…” Merlin muttered to himself. He thought of the Fisher King, who had begged for death.

 

Kilgharrah traced the thread of his thoughts, and met Merlin’s eyes. “So if you are unhappy now, it will not be so forever.”

 

“The people you fear so much will die, and new ones will rise to take their place. The Golden Age of Albion will come, if not with Arthur, then someone else.”

 

“You will have hundreds of years to find what makes you happy. Friendship. Adventure. Acceptance.”

 

Merlin blinked away tears he hadn’t realized had formed. He had always assumed he would die alone and unappreciated in Arthur’s service. He never pictured a life beyond that.

 

“That’s a nice way to think about it,” Merlin whispered.

 

Thousands of years to live without the shadow of Destiny.

 

But love, family, Merlin wanted those more than anything.

 

“Everyone I love will die,” Merlin said.

 

Kilgharrah thought about that. He was from a long lived, solitary species, and had outlived them. People passing with the seasons was something he was used to.

 

He had been lonely for twenty years, but then found family again. It wasn’t the same, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

 

“Have you ever read the Bible?” Kilgharrah asked, then moved on without waiting for an answer. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die,” He quoted.

 

“You will have an infinite amount of time in which to find love, and to lose it.”

 

“But I’ve already lost so much,” the warlock whispered. “I couldn’t bear to lose more.”

 

Kilgharrah waited.

 

Merlin spoke, “My best friend, Will, was killed because of me. He died for me. I’ll never see him again. My father…”

 

Silence.

 

Kilgharrah offered a story of his own.

 

“My whole species was wiped out. Even before that I was...lonely. My mate had died two centuries ago. My children were long gone. I don’t remember my parents.”

 

Merlin looked up with his tear streaked face. “You had a mate? Children?”

 

“Not in the nuclear family style humans favor, but yes.” Dragons tended to be much more solitary, calling their species family instead of blood.

 

“Did it hurt? To lose them?”

 

“Of course it did. Every dragon or dragonlord lost was a tragedy. But if you don’t find a way to move on and make a new family, then what is the point?”

 

Merlin’s heart swelled. He’d never stop being glad Kilgharrah considered him family. And Merlin could understand moving on. He’d lost Will, now he had Lancelot. He lost Freya…

 

Now he had a dark and charming knight.

 

“Freya,” Merlin choked out. “The woman I loved, her name was Freya.”

 

Kilgharrah listened carefully to the story of the Lady of the Lake. It broke his heart, dragon tears rolling down his scaly face. Now they were both crying.

 

He curled his tail up around the young warlock, trying to offer as much comfort as he could.

 

“Thanks,” Merlin said, when he had finished the tale. “I’ve never told anyone that.”

 

“I’m honored,” Kilgharrah replied.

 

Letting the story leave the confines of Merlin’s heart alleviated something inside him. The horizon started to brighten with the light of dawn.

 

So did the light of destiny.

 

“You won't be alone, Merlin, you’ll be happy and free.”

 

“And you?” Merlin asked tentatively. “Will you stay with me?”

 

Kilgharrah had already lived for a thousand years. He had outlived his species, rightly, his time should come to an end.

 

But he’d be damned if he let Merlin live an eternity alone. Kilgharrah didn’t care what dark magic or god he’d have to bargain with to stay with his brother.

 

“Of course I will,’ Kilgharrah promised. “As long as you want me.”

 

Merlin smiled at him, wiping the tears from his and his brother’s face. He looked out over the edge of the cloud at the grey dawn.

 

“Forever, then.”

 

Maybe forever wasn’t such a bad thing.

Chapter Text

Leon and Gwaine were watching the scene play out below them. Merlin and Kilgharrah were chatting on the steps of the castle. Normal.

Lancelot joined them. Fine. Also normal.

Maybe it caused a stirring of jealousy in Gwaine, but there was nothing inherently suspicious about it.

Agravaine joining them?

That was weird.

Gwaine had been suspicious of Kilgharrah since day one. Merlin trusted and loved him, that’s great. He’s no threat to Camelot.

 

But Kilgharrah wasn’t who he said he was. Gwaine was sure of it.

 

Leon didn’t like Agravaine. Maybe that was treason, but he was sure Agravaine’s motives weren’t pure.

 

Something was going on.

 

Leon and Gwaine watched in silence. They had nothing to go off of but a bad feeling. So they said nothing.

 

Gwen approached from behind, carrying a load of laundry on her hip.

 

“What are you up to, gentleman?” She asked.

 

“Just looking,” Gwaine replied easily.

 

Gwen shifted the basket as she leaned over the railing to view the group below. She pursed her lips.

 

“It’s just the oddest thing,” she said. “I talk to Merlin all the time and he’s never once mentioned a brother.”

 

“Then he turns up out of the blue…” Gwaine finished.

 

“Strange,” Leon commented. It’s all very strange.

 

***

 

Geoffrey the librarian peered over the top of his desk. He hadn’t seen Prince Arthur in the library since the prince was a little boy.

 

“Can I help you with something, Your Highness?”

 

Prince Arthur turned to look at Geoffrey. “Do you have any information about the Ambrosius family?”

 

Geoffrey blinked. It had been years since he had heard that name, but orders were orders.

 

“I’m sorry sire, but all information concerning that line has been destroyed.”

 

“Has it?” The prince didn’t look particularly shocked, but he did look disappointed.

 

“Yes. Besides, the Ambrosius family is long gone.” Geoffrey had carefully marked off Balinor’s name in the hidden records he kept. The Last Dragonlord.

 

“Hmm,” the prince hummed, then left the library.

 

***

 

“You look very much like your father,” Agravaine said.

 

Merlin, Kilgharrah, Lancelot and Agravine sat on the steps of the castle.

 

“Thanks,” Merlin said. He was touched. No one had ever told him something like that before, even if it was from slimy Agravaine.

 

Lancelot clapped Merlin on the back.

 

“Now,” Kilgharrah said. “Tell us what you know about the Brotherhood of Sorcerers.”

 

***

 

After Agravaine shared everything he knew about the Brotherhood, Kilgharrah instructed him to bring the information up with the prince.

 

A few hours later, the prince, his Private Secretary, and the knights were on a quest.

 

A few hours after that, they ended up captured.

 

***

 

“Do you think they’re going to bring us food anytime soon?” Gwaine asked. His ankles were bound to a post in the center of the room by a length of chain, but that didn’t stop his pacing. The other knights and the prince were similarly bound, but all were sitting, except Gwaine.

 

Elyan banged his head against the stone wall. “God, Gwaine, shut up.”

 

“I haven’t eaten since breakfast!” Gwaine snapped. “I’m starving!” Complaining about the food kept him from thinking about their missing member.

 

“We’re all uncomfortable, men. Sit down, Gwaine. I’m sure our captors will be back any moment and you can drink a tavern’s worth of ale,” Arthur said. Managing his men during kidnappings was something Arthur was skilled in.

 

Gwaine muttered darkly under his breath but sat down, chains clanking with him.

 

The most unnerving part of this whole kidnapping was that no one remembered it.

 

One moment they were traveling through the woods to seek out the Brotherhood.

 

The next, they were stuck in a stone room, legs chained to a post. No one knew how much time had passed. No one had even seen a kidnapper, or heard them.

 

Just unending silence, and Gwaine’s constant complaints.

 

At least Merlin had not been kidnapped with them, he had been looking for sticks to make a fire with before their memory lapsed, and presumably been spared the kidnapping.

 

Or so they hoped- unless something far darker happened to Merlin.

 

Silence stretched on. There wasn’t much to do in the dim cave. Percival kicked at the stone floor, his chains clanking with him. Leon glared at him.

 

“Anyone want to play a game?” Elyan asked, hopefully.

 

“Shut up, Elyan,” the group chorused.

 

***

 

Merlin was strung up by his wrists to the rafters of the ceiling. A thick heavy collar sat around his neck. He suspected that was why he couldn’t reach his magic.

 

A man in a heavy cloak stood in front of him.

 

“Emrys,” the man warned. “Camelot does not deserve your loyalty. You would be better off serving us. Join us.” The man reeked of unwashed bodies and blood. He probably tortured people professionally.

 

Merlin yanked hard on his manacles. “You know, kidnapping me isn’t the best way to convince me that you’re the good guys.”

 

The sorcerer chuckled. “We have far more...persuasive methods then that, Emrys.”

 

Merlin opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but the only thing that erupted was a scream.

 

***

 

Lancelot would not have joined the knighthood if he knew there was going to be this many kidnappings involved. First it was Arthur, then it was everybody, himself included.

 

He just hoped Merlin was alright. The Brotherhood had expressed a keen interest in him before, and was doubtless the reason they were separated.

 

But as the hours went by, Lancelot’s concern grew and grew, until he could think of nothing else.

 

Something was happening. Something was happening to Merlin.

 

Lancelot tugged vainly at the chain that held his foot, ignoring Leon’s dirty look at the sound it made.

 

The door creaked open. The knights all shot to their feet, hands going to missing swords. They had nothing to defend themselves with.

 

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Arthur said, as he saw who it was.

 

Kilgharrah stood in the doorway, scanning the room.

 

“Where’s Merlin?” Kilgharrah asked.

 

“How did you even find us?” Elyan wanted to know. He was sick of listening to Gwaine.

 

“Agravaine told me where you were,” Kilgharrah replied absently, “Where is my brother?”

 

Kilgharrah and Agravaine’s friendship was going to be the death of Arthur, even if it saved them all from this kidnapping.

 

“Merlin’s not with us,” Lancelot said. “He’s being held elsewhere.” Lancelot tried to convey with his eyes that it probably had to do with his magic.

 

Kilgharrah tossed Arthur a ring of keys he had taken from outside the room, then promptly shut the door.

 

“Thanks!” Lancelot called after him sarcastically. He sighed. Merlin was obviously Kilgharrah’s first priority, but Lancelot couldn’t help but feel a little hurt that Kilgharrah abandoned them all so visibly.

 

Arthur got busy with the work of freeing them all from captivity. Lancelot didn’t even register that his leg had been freed, he was so preoccupied with thoughts of Merlin.

 

Gwaine walked up to Lancelot, reading his thoughts. “If we want to save him, we have to get a move on,” Gwaine said.

 

Lancelot nodded. The knights were unarmed, but hopefully they could find some swords from the people who had kidnapped them.

 

Arthur marshaled them all into formation, even though they had nothing to arm themselves with. He tentatively pushed the door open.

 

And saw piles of bodies.

 

Dozens of men in dark cloaks lay in gruesome piles, limbs askew in unnatural piles.

 

“My God,” Gwaine muttered. He knew there was something wrong with Kilgharrah. It looked like kidnapping his brother pushed him over the edge.

 

Leon, ever efficient, darted to one of the men to remove his sword. He paused.

 

“He’s still alive,” Leon declared.

 

“What?” Gwaine asked in disbelief.

 

Leon held a hand over the man’s face to feel air whistling in and out of his nose. “He’s breathing. I think Kilgharrah just knocked them out.”

 

“All of them?” Arthur demanded. There was no way that was possible, especially considering Kilgharrah’s temperament. Dozens of men, extraordinarily rendered unconscious, and Kilgharrah escaped unscathed? Nothing short of a miracle.

 

Lancelot, Elyan, Percival, and Gwaine wandered further down the corridor grabbing weapons and inspecting the unconscious men.

 

Every last man was still alive.

 

There was something deeply wrong in this place. Merlin was held away from them, they didn’t remember their kidnapping.

 

All the guards were still alive, unconscious, but alive.

 

Could one man have possibly done that?

 

Wary, armed and ready to find Merlin, the knights took off through the corridors of the building they were held in.

 

The corridors all looked identical, with identical piles of bodies lying around. It was eerie, seeing men that weren’t dead lying like, well, dead men.

 

No sign of Merlin or Kilgharrah.

 

***

 

After the first three rounds of torture, Merlin could barely think straight.

 

His wrists ached from their positions in the manachles, his back was torn up in angry red lines, presumably from the whippings.

 

A vague pain in his abdomen indicated he had probably been stabbed. He just hoped the knights could find him in time. Because if he really couldn’t die, things were about to get much more unpleasant.

 

***

 

The knights had split up, Lancelot’s idea, to cover ground more quickly.

 

He had not walked but twenty paces before he ran into Kilgharrah.

 

“Have you found him yet?” Kilgharrah demanded, speaking without a greeting.

 

“No,” Lancelot said, upset. He had hoped that Kilgharrah’s head start meant that he could find his brother, but alas. Now he worried that Merlin’s magic might be discovered by one of the other knights. “Can’t you do some magic thingy to find him?”

 

Kilgharrah shot him a withering look. “Tried. Someone has blocked his magic. I can’t find him.”

 

Lancelot was alarmed by the idea that somebody could block Merlin’s magic, he had never heard of such a thing before. He didn’t risk asking Kilgharrah, lest he provoke his temper.

 

Men came racing down the corridor at them. Kilgharrah didn’t even spare a moment to look at them before he held out a hand. A blast of magic threw through the air into the walls.

 

They fell, unconscious, in the neat little piles Lancelot had seen so much of.

 

So that’s how Kilgharrah was doing that.

 

“Come on,” Kilgharrah muttered, and the pair took off through the corridors to find Merlin.

 

***

 

Merlin opened his eyes blearily to find Lancelot staring at him. He couldn’t comprehend that for a moment, until his wrists dropped suddenly, leaving Merlin standing on the floor.

 

“Lancelot!” Merlin cried out with a happy smile. “Boy, am I glad to see you.” The collar on Merlin’s neck clicked off and fell to the ground with a thud. Merlin’s eyes briefly flashed gold.

 

“Hello, brother dear,” Kilgharrah said drily, having gone unnoticed by his brother, despite him being the one to magic his chains undone.

 

“Kilgharrah!” Merlin said, and flung himself into Kilgharrah’s arms, heedless of his numerous injuries.

 

Kilgharrah caught his brother with a great exhale of breath. Merlin used that opportunity to summon his shirt to his hand, squeezing his brother tightly. After letting go, Merlin put his shirt on, covering all traces of blood or wounds.

 

“What happened to you?” Kilgharrah demanded, looking his brother over.

 

Merlin shrugged, cheery now that his magic had been returned. True, he was still in pain, but when wasn’t he?

 

“Ah, just some sorcerers wanting my power and fealty. I said no, they got upset,” Merlin said easily, as if he wasn’t just tortured for hours on end. He was practiced at lying through pain, and he was hopeful that Kilgharrah and Lancelot hadn’t had enough time to see the full extent of the damage.

 

Kilgharrah gave him a searching look, but was interrupted by Lancelot.

 

“The others are probably looking for us,” the knight said.

 

The brothers nodded and left the room.

 

***

 

“So these men ignored any of the knights or me and decided to interrogate a secretary. And you expect me to believe that?” Arthur asked incredulously.

 

The knights, Merlin, Kilgharrah and Arthur were camped outside of the crumbling stone garrison. It looked remarkably similar to the one Arthur was abducted from earlier that year.

 

Merlin gave a nervous laugh, “I know! I’m just as surprised as you are.”

 

The knights sat in a circle around the small fire they had assembled in the depths of the forest. Elyan had managed to track down their belongings in one of the rooms, so they weren’t starved. Arthur planned to come back with a battalion of men to drive the wicked sorcerers out, there was no way just 6 of them could take the whole group, and it was dishonorable to do so while they were unconscious.

 

Gwaine and Leon traded questioning looks. They had the same odd feeling about the brothers. Not malicious, no.

 

But not truthful.

 

It seemed even oblivious Arthur managed to pick up on the undercurrent.

 

Arthur’s eyes narrowed. He turned to Kilgharrah for assessment, but Kilgharrah’s eyes were on Merlin’s midsection.

 

Before Arthur could voice his further concerns, Kilgharrah spoke.

 

“You’re injured,” Kilgharrah accused Merlin.

 

Merlin turned an offended face on his brother. “I wasn’t injured, I was lightly stabbed.”

 

The knights’ jaws dropped.

 

Kilgharrah’s eyes got wide. “I’m sorry, you were stabbed?”

 

“Lightly stabbed, I didn’t want to worry you.”

 

“What the hell- show me,” Kilgharrah demanded.

 

Merlin hunched over his midsection. “I’m sorry, is this our stab wound? No! Stay out of it.”

 

Kilgharrah did not stay out of it.

 

***

 

Neither did Arthur or the knights. Once it was determined that Merlin was, in fact, injured, he was wrestled into submission on a soft blanket.

 

Kilgharrah and Arthur had appropriated Merlin’s medical kit and were now surveying the mess of blood and flesh that was Merlin’s back.

 

Merlin grumbled and complained but they paid him no heed.

 

“What part of ‘you can come to me with anything’ did you not understand?” Arthur asked.

 

Merlin said nothing.

 

Kilgharrah took the needle and thread and began to sew up the remains of Merlin’s back. Merlin didn’t flinch.

 

Elyan and Gwaine began to make awkward small talk, trying to distract themselves from Merlin’s torn up back.

 

Leon tried to prod for information. “Say, Kilgharrah, how was it that you came to know Agravaine?”

 

Kilgharrah didn’t pause or look up from his work. “My father and him were friends. More like acquaintances.”

 

“You seem friendly,” Leon said.

 

“We have a lot in common,” Kilgharrah replied neutrally.

 

“Like?”

 

“We’ve lost our entire families, save for one,” Kilgharrah said, gesturing to both Merlin and Arthur. His brother and a nephew.

 

“Ah,” Leon said, feeling like he had grossly overstepped boundaries. He had wanted information about Kilgharrah, but this was too much information. No wonder Kilgharrah was so grumpy, he had lost his entire family.

 

“My parents are dead, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Of course then I was thrown in prison for a number of years. That didn’t help. Then I killed a bunch of people. That didn’t help either. Now I’m here,” Kilgharrah said, punctuating his words with a thread through Merlin’s skin.

 

Now the whole camp was deadly quiet. The knights exchanged uncomfortable looks. Leon felt terrible for invading Kilgharrah’s privacy.

 

“I’m sorry for asking,” Leon apologized. "And I am sorry for your loss."

 

“Why do you like to overshare so much?” Merlin asked from where he lay, facedown.

 

Kilgharrah hummed. “I’ve found that making people super uncomfortable is a good way to avoid small talk.”

 

“By talking about your personal life?” Merlin guessed.

 

“By talking about my personal life,” Kilgharrah agreed. “Now hold still, this is going to hurt.”

Chapter Text

Merlin’s back was patched up, the stab wound sewn closed, and Gwaine was restless.

 

Gwaine sat where he had been for the last hour, watching Merlin get patched up. Of course he had wanted to go over there, but Kilgharrah and Arthur were already huddled around him. He didn’t want to be another cook in the kitchen, that would just confuse the whole process.

 

Shoulder to shoulder with the prince, Gwaine watched Merlin from across the fire. Kilgharrah sat on Merlin’s right, Lancelot on his left. The trio spoke quietly, so no one could hear a word over the crackling of flame.

 

Gwaine noticed that Arthur was clenching his jaw so hard it looked as if it was about to snap.

 

“You alright there, Princess?” Gwaine asked Arthur.

 

Arthur looked across the flames. Kilgharrah was discreetly checking Merlin’s bandages, because Kilgharrah had a right to do such things, to nag Merlin and look after him and take care of him.

 

“I want that,” Arthur said, nodding softly in Merlin’s direction. “I want to be a brother to Merlin.”

 

Gwaine understood, though his jealousy lay with the knight that was gently combing his fingers through Merlin’s hair. And his affection was not the clean sibling sort.

 

“I want that too,” Gwaine said. He had a choice to make. He could sit here and pine uselessly like the Princess, or he could figure out a way to get what he wanted.

 

It would be difficult, though, to get through all the complicated layers, deceptions and lies that seemed to follow Merlin like a cloud.

 

He needed help.

 

And who better to ask than the person who knows Merlin better than anyone?

 

***

 

“I wasn’t the one who broke the armory door,” Kilgharrah said, without preamble.

 

Gwaine blinked at him in the darkness of the forest. “That wasn’t- that wasn’t what I was going to ask you. Wait, do you know who broke the armory door?”

 

Kilgharrah waved a dismissive hand. “Doesn’t matter, what is it you wanted to speak with me about?”

 

Gwaine paused, bravery deserting him. It seemed he had used it all when he asked Kilgharrah to speak with him.

 

“Well, I uh. Merlin. I wanted to speak with you about Merlin.”

 

Kilgharrah groaned. “For the Goddess’ sake. I don’t want to hear about Merlin’s sex life. That’s disgusting.”

 

Gwaine gaped at him. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about! God! Why would you assume that?”

 

“People don’t have interpersonal issues with Merlin. He’s too nice. Until it comes to sex. He’s a love them and leave them type of guy. People get upset. They come to me. I’m sick of it, it’s gross talking about my brother’s sex life.”

 

Okay. Gwaine could see his point. Merlin was far too sweet to have people go behind his back like this.

 

“Related to that-”

 

Kilgharrah groaned louder. “No sex talk!”

 

“It’s not about sex! I want to court your brother. Honestly. With the whole flowers and commitment and vows things. I want that.”

 

Kilgharrah’s expression turned from disgusted to pitying. Merlin had made it outstandingly clear during the story of the Lady of the Lake that there would be no romance until the magic ban was lifted. Merlin had sworn off love.

 

Merlin also probably shouldn’t be entering into any relationships until his mental health issues were addressed, but that was just Kilgharrah’s opinion.

 

“Sir Gwaine, you appear to be a fine, upstanding young man. You have your whole life ahead of you. Perhaps it would be better to find someone less...promiscuous. Someone who would stay with you after morning comes.”

 

Gwaine could not figure out the change in tone, nor did he understand Kilgharrah’s words. “You can’t mean Merlin isn’t a romantic, he’s Merlin!”

 

“Well, Merlin doesn’t really do commitment, Sir Gwaine.”

 

The words made sense, but the meaning didn’t. Gwaine had heard this same lecture thousands of times, but normally it was his paramour getting the lecture, not him. Kilgharrah didn’t even seem to think he was a bad match for Merlin, he thought his brother was a bad match for him.

 

“You must be mistaken mate. I’m the one who sleeps around and doesn’t do commitment. I’m a playboy. That’s me,” Gwaine insisted.

 

“Sure.”

 

“I’m the promiscuous one,” Gwaine repeated. He needed to prove this to Kilgharrah to get practical advice on how to court Merlin properly considering his reputation.

 

“Okay, I believe you,” Kilgharrah said, unconvincingly.

 

Gwaine glared at him.

 

“So, courting, what sort of things does Merlin like? Stuff I should avoid? Foods he’s allergic to?”

 

“Um…” Kilgharrah was at a loss. This romantic talk was almost worse than the sex talk. “That sounds pretty good. I would avoid stabbing. Or maiming. He’s not fond of those.”

 

Alright, now Gwaine was mad. “Are you having me on, mate?”

 

“Look, Merlin’s never had a relationship that’s lasted longer than three days,” with either heartbreak or violently painful death on the end of those, Kilgharrah didn’t add. “I don’t know what to tell you. Try looking within your heart to see what it tells you. Or something.”

 

Great. That was just great. Kilgharrah was useless. Merlin would remain a mystery to him.

 

“You seem like a charming young man, Gwaine. Maybe look elsewhere,” Kilgharrah said. He clapped Gwaine on the back, Gwaine lurched with the force of it. Kilgharrah left and headed back to the fire.

 

Gwaine was alone in the woods, no further on his quest to win Merlin’s affections.

 

“Damn,” he muttered.

 

***

 

Almost everyone was asleep the night before everything changed. Elyan and Percival laid side by side, snoring away. In the morning, they’d blame it on each other. Leon was off doing watch.

 

Kilgharrah was awake, of course.

 

Merlin turned toward him, and started whispering in the Dragon Tongue. “Why didn’t you kill those people?” Merlin asked.

 

Kilgharrah hummed. “Perhaps killing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he replied in the same language. What if he repeated the mistakes of the past? Yes, it would mean the Brotherhood was still out there, but there would be no screaming on his conscious.

 

Merlin smiled at him. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered. He closed his eyes and shuffled to get a better position, mindful of his wounds.

 

“Thank you,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Gwaine laid, not awake, listening to a conversation in a language he didn’t speak. He’d been all over. That wasn’t any language he even recognized.

 

Merlin’s mystery grew greater by the day.

 

Turns out almost everyone was awake the night before everything changed.

 

***

 

As exceptional as Kilgharrah’s realization was, that killing people was bad, it was inconvenient in that it left bad people alive.

 

Merlin realized this precisely around the time when the remains of the vengeful Brotherhood stormed out of the surrounding forest and screaming bloody murder.

 

And it had been such a nice day too. The sun had shone all day, but was not so hot the knights melted in their armor. Merlin’s wound hadn’t been infected yet, all was well in the world.

 

Until of course, it began to get late. Arthur was just starting to think about setting up camp when the attack came.

 

Though the attack wasn’t a bad one, judging by the knights’ usual standards. The last attack, the one they didn’t even remember, that had been bad.

 

This time it seemed the Brotherhood had left all their competent sorcerers at home and sent unmagical, imcompetent foot soldiers.

 

The knights (and Kilgharrah) had an exceptionally easy time dispatching the lot of them. Merlin didn’t even need to use his magic to interfere. This battle was even easier than the mock-combat trials Arthur had designed the day after Beltane when all of the knights were prodigiously hungover.

 

Perhaps this overconfidence was exactly what the Brotherhood intended, for, when no one was looking, the lone sorcerer in the group appeared just behind Merlin.

 

If the Brotherhood couldn’t have Emrys, then nobody could.

 

Before Merlin could whirl around and face his attacker, the sorcerer moved.

 

A blade flashed brightly in the afternoon sun. It made a sickening sound as the metal struck through flesh and blood, right through Merlin’s previous stab wound.

 

Merlin choked, he couldn’t cry out because he had no air.

 

The sorcerer twisted his sword and whispered, “This is no mortal blade.” He vanished, his work done.

 

Merlin collapsed on the very same spot the sorcerer had just stood on. He began to whimper as the weight of what had just happened set in.

 

He was going to die here.

 

***

 

“Well that was easy,” Arthur remarked. He turned to Kilgharrah. “No wonder you had such an easy time breaking into the Brotherhood. They barely know which end of a sword to use!”

 

Kilgharrah had a peculiar expression on his face, remarkably similar to the one he got when Arthur injured Merlin on the training grounds. Arthur couldn’t fathom why Kilgharrah would have any such expression now.

 

Not until Percival called out, “Sire, it’s Merlin! Quick! He’s been wounded!” His voice was laced with an urgency Arthur had never heard before.

 

Arthur and Kilgharrah were over by Merlin’s side in a flash. Arthur had never moved so fast in his life.

 

Arthur looked down, and fell to his knees in shock.

 

Great pools of blood flooded out of Merlin in spurts. His breathing was loud and erratic, he wheezed and didn’t get enough air. As soon as Merlin saw Kilgharrah, he grasped his brother’s forearm with all his feeble might. Kilgharrah was kneeling next to Merlin’s wounded side, stroking his brother’s hair.

 

Merlin gasped out some words in the secret shared language. The rumbling words made no sense to Arthur, but they meant something to Kilgharrah, who nodded.

 

Gwaine, Lancelot, Elyan, and Leon had reached them. Elyan’s weak stomach couldn’t take such a gruesome wound on someone he cared about, so Leon turned him away.

 

“Say your goodbyes,” Percival whispered. “He doesn’t have much time left.” Percival watched Gwaine, who in turn watched the love of his life bleed out.

 

“No,” Gwaine whispered. “Not like this, Merlin…” They could have had so much time. It felt like cosmic punishment for hesitating.

 

Arthur watched his best friend, the only person he loved as a brother, bleed out, and felt unending rage toward Kilgharrah, who seemed unfairly mellow about the whole thing.

 

“It’s all right,” Kilgharrah said, stroking Merlin’s hair while his forearm was bloodied by Merlin’s grip. “Everything is going to be okay.”

 

Merlin whispered some more words in their language, Kilgharrah said some words back, calmly, evenly. Like he wasn’t watching his only family member bleed out in front of him.

 

Arthur would have said something, but he was too overwhelmed with sadness and anger. These were the last moments he would have with his best friend, but they were the last moments Kilgharrah would have with his brother. He had to respect that.

 

Kilgharrah’s expression shifted to a laser focus. He carefully removed Merlin’s grip from his arm, and placed both hands on Merlin’s wound.

 

Arthur had no idea what Kilgharrah planned to achieve with that.

 

Merlin’s eyes fluttered shut, and his breath came in shorter bursts. He lost consciousness, drifting into the dream state that comes before death.

 

Then, quite suddenly, where Kilgharrah’s hands touched Merlin’s flesh, the wound started to glow.

 

***

 

It was a glow unlike any Arthur had seen before. It was a bright, cleansing white, emanating from Kilgharrah’s hands. Little sparkles of light moved from Kilgharrah’s hands to Merlin’s wound, touching the ragged edges and pulling them closer.

 

Arthur couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Magic…” he whispered.

 

“What an astute observation, Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said dryly, without looking up from his work.

 

Arthur had never seen magic so harmless, helpful and beautiful, so for a moment he did nothing. Then the reality of the situation kicked in. A sorcerer had his hands on his best friend.

 

“What the hell are you doing?!” Arthur cried out. He got to his feet and pulled out his sword to hold it against Kilgharrah’s neck.

 

Kilgharrah only looked up in annoyance, his hands not moving from Merlin’s side. “What does it look like him doing?” he snapped.

 

“It looks like you’re healing him. With magic,” Lancelot interjected. “It appears you may save his life.”

 

Arthur’s blade didn’t move from Kilgharrah’s neck but it didn’t bite deeper. “Are you attempting to heal him, sorcerer?” Arthur asked, but it came out sounding more like an accusation.

 

Kilgharrah’s eyes were dark and hard as they met Arthur’s. “Are you going to let me heal him, or would you prefer to ask questions and watch Merlin die?”

 

The question hit Arthur like a solid blow to the chest, he said nothing.

 

Kilgharrah sighed. “Fine, don’t answer,” he said. And held up one hand. A bolt of golden light shot out, sending Arthur flying off his feet. The light grew taller and wider a meter from Merlin’s body, forming an impenetrable wall.

 

To protect Merlin, Arthur realized. To protect Merlin from the knights.

 

Wall formed, Kilgharrah turned back to his task.

 

Everything had happened so suddenly, the knights hadn’t had time to react. Gwaine sprung into action, pounding on the wall that encircled the brothers.

 

He only had one question. “Will he be alright? Will he live?”

 

“He’ll be fine,” Kilgharrah said, “It won’t even scar.”

 

Relieved, both Gwaine and Lancelot sagged into a relaxed pose. Leon, Elyan, and Percival just watched. They’ll follow Arthurs lead, whatever that may be.

 

Merlin laid on the ground, still unconscious, but his breathing evened out. It sounded as if he were merely asleep, and not on death’s door.

 

Elyan circled the glowing, golden wall, and saw that the wound had closed up. The blood surrounding Merlin evaporated from existence with a wave of Kilgharrah’s hand like it had never been there at all. He was in awe. In all his travels, he had never seen magic like that.

 

“And I’m not a sorcerer,” Kilgharrah said, sitting in the dirt. He was fully facing Arthur and the knights, his task complete.

 

“You’re not a-” Arthur began in disbelief. “I just saw you use magic!”

 

“I have magic. Doesn’t mean I am a sorcerer,” Kilgharrah said evenly.

 

“What are you then?” Leon asked. He knew there was something off about Kilgharrah.

 

“Being a sorcerer would require me to be human, which I am not.” Kilgharrah’s posture was remarkably relaxed for not-a-man facing his impending death. He sat upright, one leg folded over the other, a hand on Merlin’s forehead.

 

If it was possible, Arthur’s fear increased. Perhaps Kilgharrah hadn’t killed Merlin yet, but he could, at any moment.

 

“What sort of magical creature are you, deceiving Merlin this way?” Arthur demanded. Poor Merlin would be heartbroken discovering that his beloved brother was a magical fake.

 

“You don’t remember me?” Kilgharrah asked casually. “And Merlin is aware of exactly who I am. He really is my brother.”

 

“Why would I remember you?” Arthur asked. “Because I can’t place you at all.”

 

“I tried to kill you once,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Gwaine and Arthur simultaneously remembered references to the events after Kilgharrah’s escape from prison. Perhaps prison had been much closer to home than they imagined.

 

“That doesn’t narrow it down,” Arthur said. “Plenty of people have tried to kill me.”

 

“But I’m not people,” Kilgharrah reminded him. “And it wasn’t personal. I just wanted revenge at any price, revenge for my slaughtered species.”

 

Well that was alright then. It wasn’t personal! No need to get offended!

 

Yeah, right.

 

“Revenge?” Arthur prodded.

 

Kilgharrah hummed. “When I was 1342 years old, your father enacted a series of laws banning magic. The resulting slaughter is now known as the Great Purge.”

 

“You’re over a thousand years old?” Elyan asked. “How is that possible?”

 

“I told you, I’m not human. My species is long lived. Or it was, before Uther Pendragon hunted every single one of us down and had us killed.”

 

Arthur felt sick. Kilgharrah had told him, in broad strokes, that his father had had his family executed. He hadn’t known it was his entire species.

 

“But not you?” Gwaine questioned. “How are you still alive?”

 

“Uther Pendragon decided that I, the greatest and last of my kind, would serve as a trophy. So he had me locked down in Camelot’s caves for twenty years, Kilgharrah spat the last part darkly. Twenty years without a soul to talk to, marinating in his own failure.

 

“No,” Arthur whispered, dread pooling in his stomach. It couldn’t be. It was dead, Arthur had killed it.

 

“How did you escape?” Gwaine asked, dreading the answer he already knew. “What did you do?”

 

‘He manipulated me into letting him go and then Kilgharrah tried to kill a bunch of people. He succeeded.’ Merlin had said to Gwaine, all those weeks and months ago.

 

“Merlin helped me,” Kilgharrah answered. “Not willingly. For a price.”

 

“What price?” Leon asked. “What did he do?”

 

“Do you remember the sleeping curse and the Knights of Medhir?” Kilgharrah asked, addressing Arthur.

 

Arthur gave a slow nod, the pieces coming together to paint a gruesome, horrible picture.

 

“Merlin promised that if I told him how to lift the curse, how to save Camelot, he would free me.”

 

“No,” Arthur said, as the final piece fell into place. “You’re dead. I killed you.” The beast who haunted his nightmares smiled at him.

 

So I faked his death and now he’s in Camelot. Merlin had said to Gwaine, the words taking on a dark and sinister tone.

 

Kilgharrah continued to smile. He stood, and the walls of his golden shield pushed outward. The knights stumbled back to keep from being run over, gazing at him in terror.

 

A great flash of light filled the clearing. As it faded, a monstrous shadow grew in its place.

 

It towered over the trees, scales shining in the light of the setting sun.

 

Arthur couldn’t see all the parts of it at once. Talons as tall as a horse, eyes the color of magical gold, teeth as long as a man’s arm, stretched into a broad grin.

 

Wings filled the clearing casting a shadow over it, blocking out the sun.

 

Kilgharrah, the Great Dragon of Camelot asked:

 

“Do you recognize me now, Your Highness?”

Chapter Text

“Do you recognize me now, Your Highness?”

 

Arthur didn’t want to, but he did. That monstrous face filled his nightmares. He thought he had put an end to it once and for all.

 

Though, come to think of it, he could not remember sliding a sword through the beast’s body, nor getting near to it at all. He had chalked that up to his head injury, but now it seems other forces were at play.

 

“Holy God,” Leon breathed. “It’s come back from the dead.” Visions of his dead brothers-in-arms flashed before his eyes, burned alive and screaming their last.

 

The beast chuckled (who knew it was capable of making such a sound). “I never died.”

 

“How?” Arthur demanded, “I killed you!”

 

“Did you?” The beast asked. “You see, during my attack on the citadel, you went and sought help from Balinor Ambrosius.”

 

“The Dragonlord,” Arthur confirmed. “But he died. I saw it.”

 

“Yes,” the dragon said. “And due to his untimely death, the power passed to his eldest bastard son, Merlin Emrys Balinor Ambrosius, the Last of the Dragonlords,” and he gestured with his snout to the unconscious figure at his feet.

 

“His son…” Arthur trailed off, recalling the way Merlin had wept over a man he barely knew. His determination to face the dragon. His stomach twisted, both at the lies, and the sorrow that Merlin faced alone. But mostly at the lies.

 

“You gave him a mortal blow,” Merlin had said, lied, with a grin on his face. Arthur had been too relieved to probe further. Merlin didn’t keep secrets, he was incapable!

 

“Merlin has many secrets,” Kilgharrah had said. “Dangerous ones.”

 

He would know, seeing his existence was one of them. But since when could Merlin lie?

 

“If there’s one thing Merlin is, it’s a good man. If there’s a second thing he is, Your Highness, it would be a liar.”

 

All the pieces came crashing together. Arthur felt as if was going to throw up.

 

“Hang on,” Gwaine interrupted. “If Merlin’s human, and you’re,” he gestured vaguely with his hand at the beast, “How is it you’re brothers?”

 

“There is a sacred bond between dragon and lord that can only be described as brotherhood,” the dragon said loftily. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

 

“Who cares about any of that!?” Leon yelled. “Why the fuck are you still alive after you killed all of those people?” If Arthur wasn’t going to get stabby anytime soon, Leon was going to do it himself.

 

“Merlin offered me mercy, time to repent for my crimes. And while I have been in Camelot, I’ve learned that killing people is not all it is cracked up to be. It doesn’t solve anything.”

 

Leon spluttered in anger. “Everyone knows that! You still killed hundreds of people!”

 

“You felt sorry for me when you knew my family was slaughtered. Now that you know I was imprisoned not for two years but twenty and that it was not my family killed by my entire species your sympathy evaporates. How very strange.”

 

Leon gaped up at the dragon, eyes wide.

 

“My parents are dead, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Of course then I was thrown in prison for a number of years. That didn’t help. Then I killed a bunch of people. That didn’t help either. Now I’m here.”

 

Leon had felt sorry for Kilgharrah. Now that he thought about it, would he do anything different in Kilgharrah’s shoes? Betrayed by his king, locked away with nothing left to lose?

 

“So now you have Merlin,” Gwaine concluded. “You have something to live for.” He had been right about Kilgharrah, the beast wasn’t who he said he was. But he was still Merlin’s brother, and that was good enough for Gwaine.

 

“Quite right,” the dragon agreed. “Even if Merlin is a giant pain in the arse but that’s brothers for you.”

 

Anger swirled in Arthur’s chest. He couldn’t believe the knights were falling for the beast’s honeyed words, as if it was easy to just move past all his crimes. He wasn’t human, he was a dragon! And a magic one at that.

 

And Merlin had lied about it. Actively aided, abetted, and covered for a magical beast who slaughtered hundreds.

 

Merlin had lied.

 

When Kilgharrah said Merlin had dangerous secrets, he didn’t think he meant this. Who knew how many more secrets there were?

 

“I’m sorry,” Merlin had said, staring at Kilgharrah as he destroyed the citadel.

 

“Don’t be,” Arthur had replied absently, all those years ago. “It’s not your fault.”

 

But it was. All those deaths, all those lives, lay squarely on the brothers’ shoulders.

 

“Why are you acting friendly with him?” Arthur demanded of his knights. “He’s a beast and a killer!”

 

“That’s funny,” the dragon said. “I thought that you and I had come to some sort of friendly relations, Your Highness.”

 

Arthur’s chest burned. How could Kilgharrah’s voice stay the same? It was so unfair.

 

“It is not such a bad thing, to be one of Merlin’s creatures.”

 

Arthur had known, for a brief moment, the companionship of someone who’s life had also been shaped by Merlin. Though it seemed Kilgharrah had changed to a greater extent than Arthur himself, going from killer to brother.

 

Then again, so had Arthur.

 

The prince didn’t get the chance to speak, as Merlin groaned.

 

The dragon immediately lowered his head to peer at his lord.

 

“Merlin?” The beast asked.

 

Merlin groaned louder and sat up, looking straight at the beast’s head, which dwarfed his small, human body. “I’m fine, stop nannying me, you big lizard.”

 

With that, the last of Arthur;s hope evaporated. Merlin’s easy air, the nickname, it all said that Merlin hadn’t been tricked or fooled.

 

He’d known all along.

 

“Forgive me for checking,” the beast rumbled. “Seeing as you were just stabbed twice in the last twenty-four hours.”

 

Merlin stood up and put his hands on his hips, and Kilgharrah straightened as well.

 

“Well maybe I got stabbed on purpose,” Merlin sassed.

 

Kilgharrah blinked at him. “That’s not better, Merlin!”

 

Lancelot cleared his throat pointedly, loud enough to be heard across the clearing.

 

Merlin whirled around at the noise, eyes widened as he remembered where he had been stabbed.

 

“Oh my God, I forgot you guys were here,” Merlin said quietly. He glanced from Arthur to Kilgharrah and back again. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

 

“Oh really?” Arthur demanded, flinty and hurt at the revelation of Merlin lying to him for all these years. “Care to explain why you’ve been consorting with the Great Dragon?!”

 

Merlin gave a nervous chuckle and thought frantically for a convincing lie. He had always been shit at lying, Arthur was just oblivious. He rocked back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets.

 

“I-um,” He hesitated, then pointed backwards with a casual arm. “That’s not the Great Dragon.”

 

“It’s not the Great Dragon,” Arthur repeated dumbly.

 

“He’s the-uh. Lesser... Not-Dragon.” Not his finest lie.

 

Kilgharrah winced visibly from behind Merlin, giving the absurd impression that tiny, twiggy Merlin was protecting Kilgharrah, shielding the massive beast with his body.

 

“Smooth, Merlin,” Lancelot commented.

 

“Shut up,” Merlin replied automatically, his face lost color as he realized this probably wasn’t the best time for teasing.

 

“As entertaining as it would be to watch you try to lie your way out of this one, Merlin, I’ve already explained everything,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Merlin turned around- feeling quite absurd caught in between the two parties- and faced his brother. “What do you mean you already explained everything?” Merlin demanded, his tone more authoritative and commanding than Arthur had ever heard.

 

Dragonlord, indeed.

 

Kilgharrah stretched out his wings nervously, then folded them along his back in what Arthur suspected was the dragon equivalent of a shrug. It meant something that Kilgharrah was just a tad afraid of Merlin.

 

“That's what I said, I explained everything.”

 

Merlin glared up at him for a moment, not in the least intimidated by a dragon taller than the trees. They appeared to have a wordless argument.

 

“You lied to me,” Arthur said. “You’ve killed, slaughtered, and covered it up. And then you lied to me, for years, Merlin. Years!” His anger poured out of him.

 

“I had to,” Merlin whispered, devastated, though he did not move from the safety of the dragon’s shadow. “I couldn’t let you hurt him.”

 

“You-” Arthur started, then stopped in disbelief. Merlin was worried about the dragon. “You were worried abouthim?” He said, pointing an accusing finger at the beast, who certainly didn’t need anyone’s protection.

 

Kilgharrah decided to intervene. “I have served Camelot faithfully for generations. Do not let one incident determine your path, prince.”

 

“You dare command me?” Arthur spat. Kilgharrah’s insolence had been irritating as a human, now it was too much. “An incident? Is that what you call it? Who are you to advise me?”

 

Kilgharrah did not look in the least intimidated. “I am the one your ancestor chose to honor with his sigil, prince.”

 

A magic force tugged on Arthur’s cloak until it was ripped free from its bindings. The red fabric hung itself in front of the prince and knights like a tapestry, waving slightly in the wind.

 

A gold dragon in a field of blood.

 

The cloak dropped, revealing the dragon behind the legend, still breathing, still living.

 

“Well,” Merlin said slowly, turning back to the knights, “He’s not going to kill or hurt anybody. What happens now?” He asked, addressing Arthur.

 

Silence.

 

Great gold eyes fixed on Arthur. The sun was well and truly below the horizon now. The whole clearing was holding its breath.

 

“You killed so many people,” Arthur whispered. He could not reconcile this great beast with the protective older brother that he knew.

 

“He’s in therapy,” Merlin offered.

 

“That’s true, I am in therapy,” Kilgharrah agreed.

 

Gwaine nodded. Poor lizard seemed like he needed it.

 

As if Arthur needed another reminder about how much Kilgharrah loved his brother, therapy, the plan they had built together. But the excuse seemed trite in light of their sins. The bodies of the would-be kidnappers laid around them, gruesome reminders of Kilgharrah’s deeds.

 

Could Arthur forgive a monster?

 

Merlin gazed at Arthur with shining blue eyes, filled with hope. “He’s my brother, Arthur.” It meant so much to Merlin, the bastard son of a man he didn’t know.

 

At that moment, Arthur knew he loved Merlin, like a brother, maybe more.

 

Such an act, forgiving a monster, would win Merlin’s heart totally. Arthur would have a loyal companion and Dragonlord for the rest of his days.

 

But Arthur loved his kingdom more than he wanted Merlin.

 

And he could not-would not- willingly subject his citizens to the horrors they had faced. He couldn’t risk it. Not even with Merlin’s happiness on the line.

 

It might have been the hardest choice the prince had ever made. Merlin or Camelot?

 

“Go,” Arthur commanded.

 

Merlin took a step back, closer to his brother who would always, always protect him, even from Arthur.

 

“Go!” Arthur said, louder. “Leave Camelot, and never come back.”

 

Merlin gave a nervous chuckle. “Arthur, you can’t be serious.”

 

“I am.” And it was true. His people deserved better than a half-hearted promise from a crazed lizard.

 

“Arthur,” Merlin whispered, “He’s my brother.” He couldn’t bear to be separated from him.

 

“You must go too,” Arthur said, “Dragonlord.” He loved him, he realized. He loved him. Or the idea of him. And not enough. Not enough to keep him.

 

Merlin looked at the knights, eyes wet.

 

Lancelot spoke in his defense, “Sire, Kilgharrah has proven himself to be an ally to Camelot. You cannot banish them.”

 

Gwaine just looked angry. The others were silent.

 

“Some crimes are unforgivable.”

 

And that broke Merlin’s heart. Merlin could forgive Kilgharrah, why couldn’t everyone?

 

But he wasn’t Kilgharrah’s victim. He hadn’t suffered. Arthur’s people had.

 

His prince, his destiny, had given him a command. He could not refuse.

 

“And never return.” Arthur was doing this for his people. It was his duty to protect them.

 

“Okay,” Merlin whispered. Since learning of his immortality, he had been preparing to lose his friends, but not so soon. “Good-bye.”

 

Kilgharrah lowered his head so Merlin could grab hold of his horns. It almost looked like a bow. Merlin clung to the great beast as if he had done it a thousand times. Perhaps he had. Arthur could not see his face, high above the treetops, but if it was anything like his own, it was tracked with tears.

 

Kilgharrah straightened.

 

“I have found, in my many many years of life, that these things tend to work themselves out. I will be seeing you again, Arthur Pendragon,” Kilgharrah declared ominously.

 

Wings covered the clearing, and with a great gust of air, the last dragon and his lord disappeared into the night sky.

 

That was also the first time Kilgharrah had called Arthur by his name. Maybe that meant something.

 

Maybe there was hope, still.

 

***

 

Gwaine had not stopped looking at the spot where he had last seen Merlin. It had been hours. Nobody had moved the bodies of the Brotherhood, so the clearing stank. It felt blasphemous to move.

 

Arthur gazed at his torn cloak, still pooled on the ground. Kilgharrah. Arthur looked up sadly at his knight, who was in turn looking at the spot where Merlin had stood. Arthur had had his chance with Merlin. He did not love him enough to forgive the dragon, forgive the lies.

 

But Gwaine did.

 

Gwaine would simply have to love Merlin enough for the both of them.

 

Lancelot had been strangely silent, for all that he had been willing to defend the brothers. He approached Gwaine and forced him to sit with the group, tearing his gaze away from Merlin’s last location.

 

“Alright, I’ll bite,” Percival said, the first words spoken in hours. “What did the dragon do in Camelot?”

 

“Percival!”

 

“Dude.”

 

“Are you serious?”

 

“I can’t take you anywhere,” Leon said with a shake of his head.

 

“What?” Percival demanded. “I wasn’t here! How am I supposed to know?”

 

Lancelot smiled fondly at his friend. The ice had broken temporarily. Maybe the dragon was right. Perhaps things would work themselves out.

Chapter Text

Merlin strode through Camelot’s halls, hurrying with his things tucked behind him in a storage dimension no one could see. He had already said good-bye to Gauis, now he just had to get to the roof.

 

He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice who he rushed past. No one else would be in these halls in the dead of night.

 

“Merlin?” Gwen asked, sounding surprised. “You’re back early.”

 

Merlin whirled around to face his oldest (living) friend.

 

“Gwen!” he said. He needed to get out of this. Kilgharrah was waiting for him. “I’m back a little early. Something came up.”

 

Gwen approached, concern growing on her face. “Where’s everyone else?”

 

“They’re not here,” Merlin choked out. He was going to miss her. “I came back alone.”

 

“Is everything alright?” Gwen asked, taking Merlin’s hands between her own.

 

“Not really,” Merlin didn’t want to lie anymore. “Something’s come up.” Banishment, to be precise.

 

“What’s happened?” She had never seen Merlin look so distressed. Pain lined his face.

 

Merlin didn’t answer. “You’ve always been a very good friend to me, Gwen. Even when I haven’t been as good to you.”

 

Fear filled Gwen. “It sounds like you’re saying good-bye.”

 

“I am.” Merlin looked down at their joined hands. “Gwen, whatever happens, please don’t think any less of me. I couldn’t bear it.”

 

“You’re one of the best men I know,” she reassured him. “Now, please, tell me what is going on.”

 

“Good-bye, Gwen,” Merlin said, letting go of her hands and sprinting down the hallway. He just had to get to the roof.

 

Gwen was right on his heels, but his longer legs gave him the advantage. He raced up the stairs to the roof, flung himself out onto open air where his brother was waiting.

 

By the time Gwen reached the roof, there was no one there. Only a dark shadow flying away from the castle. She looked around. There was no place to hide on the roof, she looked below, there was no body.

 

What on earth?

 

***

 

While Merlin was off saying his good-byes to his uncle, Kilgharrah was doing something he should have done a long time ago. He had already packed up his things, and left a note for Dr. Williams.

 

He knocked on the front door of the house, despite it being the middle of the night.

 

A few minutes passed, and then an uneven gait sounded on the wooden floors.

 

The door opened slowly.

 

“Kilgharrah?” Anabel asked, surprised.

 

“Anabel,” Kilgharrah breathed. “May I come in? There’s something I need to tell you.”

 

***

 

For the first time in his human body, Kilgharrah got down on his knees.

 

Anabel turned a critical eye on him. “You’re not proposing are you? I thought you made your thoughts clear.”

 

“I have come to beg your forgiveness,” Kilgharrah said formally.

 

Anabel tilted her head. “Whatever for? You’ve done me no wrong.”

 

“I have, many years ago. You might want to sit down for this.”

 

Sensing the important mood, Anabel dutifully fetched a chair and sat in it, feeling quite ridiculous, like a queen before her knight.

 

“I am not who I said I was,” Kilgharrah said quietly.

 

Alright. Anabel could accept that. Once Kilgharrah had spoken of his time in prison, she had not looked too closely at his story. His secrets were his to keep.

 

“I was angry,” Kilgharrah said. “So angry with Uther and myself. I know that is no excuse but it’s the only explanation I have.”

 

Anabel laughed a little nervously. She had no idea what was going on, and was half-convinced she was still dreaming. “Kilgharrah, you’re not making any sense.”

 

“Did you know some dragons can take human form?” Kilgharrah blurted. That shut her up. She shook her head.

 

“We’re not unintelligent creatures. I knew what I was doing. And I regret it. So much, you have no idea.”

 

“What are you saying?” Anabel asked quietly. If Kilgharrah was messing with her, she was going to kill him.

 

“I didn’t think it through,” Kilgharrah confessed. “I just wanted Uther to hurt as I had been hurt. I never thought innocents would be injured.”

 

Her mind whirled. He couldn’t be implying...no. He couldn’t be. Not her sweet, awkward friend.

 

“It’s not like… you’re the Great Dragon. He’s dead.”

 

“Merlin helped me escape,” said the beast in human form. “I’ve been hiding. Until now.”

 

“No…” Anabel whispered. “Not you. How could you?”

 

Kilgharrah’s eyes shone. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

 

Fire, flames. Screaming children.

 

Her leg.

 

She remembered the dog’s whimpering as the city came down in flames around them, a burning log trapping her inside her house.

 

“Get out,” Anabel said darkly, surprising even herself.

 

Kilgharrah nodded sharply, and closed the door behind him.

 

Anabel pitched forward and buried her head in her hands, overcome with memories. He had no proof, but she believed him. The Dragon. The Great Dragon.

 

In her house, in her home, as if he were her friend.

 

He was her friend.

 

He had never been anything but sincere, and she had just sent him away.

 

She tottered over to the door, opening it and calling out: “Kilgharrah?”

 

Silence greeted her. The street was deserted.

 

She had lost him.

 

A great shadow fell over the street, blocking out what little starlight that could be seen.

 

An outline of wings flew away from the castle, and with it, the last of Anabel’s doubt.

 

***

 

“So what now?” Kilgharrah asked. They were in the cave Kilgharrah had lived in during his time away from Camelot. His brother sat across from him, conscious this time.

 

“We wait,” Merlin said simply.

 

“For?”

 

“The Once and Future King.”

 

Kilgharrah considered that. He supposed time passed the same waiting for Albion inside or outside of Camelot.

 

“It’s not like you to give up so easily,” Kilgharrah said. He had been shocked when Merlin had let them fly away without a fight.

 

“I won’t serve a king who thinks me a monster,” Merlin said, stretching out his legs. “Besides, Dr. Williams said I needed to have more ‘self-dignity’. Crawling after a king who rejected me won’t help that.”

 

Kilgharrah nodded. Made sense to him.

 

“Magic will come back to the land, or it won’t. The decision is Arthur’s, I won’t interfere.”

 

Merlin had more strength in him. Since his confession of his deep unhappiness and therapy, he seemed more willing to let go of burdens that were not his to bear. Arthur could think well of him or not. Either way, it wasn’t Merlin’s responsibility.

 

“You grow in wisdom every day, young warlock,” Kilgharrah approved.

 

Merlin smiled at him.

 

***

 

Needless to say, nobody had gotten much sleep last night. Lancelot had made them all dinner since no one else stepped up to the plate. Gwaine had barely touched his food until Percival threatened to force-feed him.

 

Arthur had eaten his mechanically, mind whirling with information, slotting pieces of the story together. It had helped that he had so recently written down everything he knew of Merlin. He had probably known the beast since the day he arrived, letting it fill his head with tales of heroics and other nonsense.

 

Now it was daybreak, and the knights were journeying back to Camelot in silence.

 

“I keep thinking,” Leon said, breaking the silence. “If I were him, would I have done anything different?”

 

“Merlin or Kilgharrah?” Elyan asked.

 

“Either. If I saw a chance to save Camelot from that spell, I would have done it, even with the price it took. And if I had been imprisoned for two decades, of course I would want revenge.”

 

“That’s treason, Sir Leon,” Arthur said quietly.

 

“Is it treason to have sympathy for our friends?” Lancelot asked a bit sharply, while still keeping his eyes on the road. “If so, consider me a traitor.”

 

That brought the group to a standstill.

 

“They’ve killed hundreds of people,” Arthur said lowly.

 

Lancelot faced his prince. “We kill people professionally,” he countered.

 

“It’s not the same. They were innocent people. The beast used magic.”

 

“I’ve killed lots of innocent people,” Lancelot admitted. “Or did you forget, sire, when you found me in those cage fights? I killed people whose only crime was being unlucky enough to get caught by Hengist and you forgave me.”

 

Lancelot took a breath. “You offered me a knighthood, a chance to start over. I would not deny that chance to another, sire.”

 

Gwaine blinked in recognition

 

“Every man has done something they’re not proud of, Gwaine. In crime, in prison, or in cage-fighting...Every man has made mistakes,” Lancelot had said. “And Camelot, Merlin, represents a second chance for all of us. I would not deny Kilgharrah that.”

 

“You knew,” Gwaine said, the words escaping him before he could think better of it. “You knew about them.”

 

Lancelot did not lower his eyes. “It wasn’t my secret to share.” Even if Gwaine would never do anything to hurt Merlin.

 

The revelation hit Arthur like a blow, his dearest knight...had known.

 

When would the people closest to him stop betraying him?

 

“This just keeps getting better and better,” Arthur muttered.

 

***

 

The dreaded council meeting. Arthur had to report to his closest advisors that the Great Dragon was not as dead as they thought and his former manservant was in fact a Dragonlord.

 

He did so in a stiff, unmoving manner that he was secretly grateful his father had taught him. It was much easier to separate emotions from his speech.

 

His closest knights, Gauis, Gwen, Agravaine, and Geoffrey the librarian stared at him with wide eyes after Arthur delivered the information he had.

 

Geoffrey spoke first. “You mean to tell us that Balinor had a son?”

 

Which wasn’t exactly what Arthur wanted them to focus on. He was more interested in the possible imminent destruction of the citadel, but Geoffrey always was more of the academic sort.

 

Agravaine peered curiously at his nephew. “Arthur, why are you telling us this now?”

 

Sometimes Arthur wondered about the intelligence of his advisors.

 

“Because Merlin’s a very dangerous man in control of a dragon and is currently on the loose?”

 

Agravaine shrugged. “So? He’s been dangerous the entire time. All-powerful warlock, Prince of Enchanters, master of life and death, and so on. You’ve hardly been concerned before.”

 

Arthur could not believe his ears. Agravaine must have not been listening, or gotten Merlin confused with another. “Uncle, Merlin is no sorcerer. However, this is a grave concern.”

 

Agravaine straightened, his jaw dropped in obvious surprise. “You mean you didn’t know?

 

Suddenly, Arthur was assaulted with images of the brothers and Agravaine, how his uncle obviously knew Kilgharrah’s identity, recognized him, and was friendly with him. “You knew,” Arthur said softly.

 

“Of course I knew! Kilgharrah is the name of the Great Dragon! It’s no human name. Don’t tell me you thought he was a simple man.” Agravaine doubted his nephew’s intelligence more everyday.

 

“Let’s back up and return to the part where you said Merlin was a sorcerer,” Leon said. “What did you mean by that?”

 

“Well that he’s Emrys, obviously,” Agravaine said, staring out at the wide uncomprehending eyes of the Round Table. “Merlin Emrys Balinor Ambrosius, the magical protector of the Once and Future King, Last of the Dragonlords.”

 

“Sorcerer?” Arthur whispered. So Merlin had not been lying to him for just a few years. No, he’d been lying the entire time Arthur had known him.

 

“There are those who say that he is the greatest sorcerer to ever walk the earth,” Gauis added. Of course Gauis had known.

 

“A sorcerer in Camelot?” Gwen said, thinking back to her other friend who had turned out to be magic. “Whatever for?”

 

“Gwen, whatever happens, please don’t think any less of me. I couldn’t bear it.”

 

“Protecting Camelot, nominally,” Lancelot said.

 

“Don’t tell me you knew about this thing too,” Gwaine said. At Lancelot’s confirming nod, Gwaine groaned.

 

“So you all knew,” Arthur concluded. “Why did you never say anything?”

 

“Well, sire,” Lancelot said. “Seeing as magic is punishable by death, Merlin thought that he’d rather remain alive. As opposed to, well, not being alive.”

 

“I just assumed you already knew,” Agravaine said. Neither of the Pendragon siblings were looking smart enough to sit on the throne at this point.

 

“If I may, sire,” Geoffrey said. “If you did not know he was a warlock-Dragonlord, why did you have him accompany you everywhere? I thought you kept him at your side, despite his incompetence, to assure your own protection from magical threats.”

 

Arthur’s head swirled with information, slotting together pieces of the story.

 

“I think he saved my father once,” Gwen said thoughtfully. “He was sick, and when Merlin asked how he was, it was like he already knew.”

 

“If he had been planning something,” Elyan added. “Wouldn’t he have done it by now?”

 

“Perhaps he’s a spy for Morgana,” Percival suggested in an undertone, undeterred by Gwaine’s dirty look.

 

At that, Agravaine started to laugh uncontrollably. “Emrys? And the witch? Oh, no!” He laughed even louder, then sobered suddenly. “He is her destiny, and her doom. She will die by his hand.”

 

Arthur wasn’t sure if that was reassuring based on what he knew of Merlin’s skill in, well, anything. Perhaps magic was more his forte.

 

People he had trusted, people he loved, had known the truth about Merlin. But they hadn’t intended to betray him, no, they supported him. So perhaps this was not betrayal. Maybe this was just him finally learning the truth before he became king.

 

“This meeting is adjourned,” Arthur said. “No one shall breathe a word about what was said here today. Uncle, with me.”

 

The council got up and filed out of the room in silence.

 

“What do you want to speak about, Arthur?” Agravaine asked, once the room was empty.

 

“Uncle, I need you to tell me everything you know about magic.”

 

Arthur pulled out the piece of paper he carried in his breast pocket and laid it out on the table. He crossed out Merlin’s name and wrote:

 

Magic

Chapter Text

Merlin was enjoying his vacation. Really, he was. He’s just never had one before and he’s starting to think he’s getting on Kilgharrah’s nerves.

 

Currently, Merlin had figured out a spell that made the hard stone floor soft and bouncy, and was having the time of his life jumping up and down on the surface.

 

“I was thinking we could review some books later,” Merlin said thoughtfully while bouncing up and down. “I need you to explain transfiguration. And! We could go to the nearby village for pie. Then we could pick up some new books because I’ve read all the ones you have. Then we could-”

 

Kilgharrah stared wearily at Merlin bouncing up and down, up and down. He had way too much energy in the mornings when he wasn’t being run ragged by the prince. “Do you want to go to the beach?”

 

That brought Merlin’s activity to a standstill. Merlin turned to him, eyes bright. “I’ve never been to the beach,” Merlin said.

 

Kilgharrah’s motivation lay less with showing Merlin new things and more with hoping Merlin would swim and tire himself out until he stopped talking and moving so much but he’d take what he could get.

 

Kilgharrah raised his wings high and darted for the cave entrance. “Race you!” He called over his shoulder.

 

A patter of feet told him Merlin was quick to follow.

 

***

 

 

Arthur had realized that Merlin, and the others who protected him, did not owe him the truth. The truth was a privilege he had not earned, shown in his childish reaction to the truth.

 

Besides, Kilgharrah had trusted Arthur with most of it, just not all of it.

 

It had been Arthur’s fault that Merlin had not trusted him, that he was not safe enough to do so.

 

After some more hours of thinking, stories told, Arthur had made his decision.

 

Arthur was with his council in the Great Hall, sorting out the intricacies of the change in law. Papers were scattered every which way, but nobody was more happy to do this favor for their friend.

 

“Can you imagine,” Elyan asked, halfway through the process, “living your whole life, your whole existence being a crime? Not to mention the truth about your father or brother could get you killed.”

 

“Poor thing,” Gwen agreed.

 

“I wonder how many executions of his people he’s seen,” Lancelot commented idly. Leon and Arthur felt stricken. Just another reason they were doing this.

 

With the Merlin problem almost solved, Arthur turned his mind to the secondary problem, the one with big teeth and fiery breath.

 

Arthur could forgive Merlin’s lies, even the love of his brother, but Arthur did not know if he could forgive Kilgharrah himself.

 

A knock on the door.

 

Arthur looked up curiously as the door opened revealing two women standing in the doorway, dwarfed by the giant doors.

 

He looked at them curiously as they approached, the other council members stopping their work as well.

 

One woman had long straight greying hair. Her sharp eyes picked over the assembled council as she approached.

 

The other woman was much younger. She had a kind countenance. Her gait dragged along unsteadily, one leg favored more than the other, but her head was held high.

 

“Can I help you?” Arthur asked pointedly. The council doors were closed. He wasn’t hearing petitions today.

 

The woman with the limp spoke with a sort of authority he wouldn’t have expected from such a sweet face. “Prince Arthur, I come before you today to beg your forgiveness on the behalf of my friend, Kilgharrah, better known as the Great Dragon of Camelot.”

 

So it seemed everyone and their mother knew about Kilgharrah. This ought to be good.

 

Arthur gave a gesture for the woman to continue.

 

“Kilgharrah has been my friend for some time now,” the woman said. “At first, I was unaware of his true identity. He had never treated me with anything other than respect and kindness.”

 

“On the day of his banishment,” the woman continued. “He got down on his knees and begged for my forgiveness.”

 

“Whatever for?” Gwen asked, curious now.

 

The woman simply hitched up the lengths of her skirt, revealing a large burn scar.

 

The wound needed no explanation.

 

“I did not react in a kind manner, not in the way he deserved,” the woman continued. “But I know that Kilgharrah has long regarded Camelot home, and it would pain him greatly to be away. I ask that you extend him your forgiveness, as I have.”

 

Arthur nodded. He felt he had to send Kilgharrah away to protect his victims, but here was his victim now, preaching mercy.

 

“And who are you?” Leon asked, addressing the other woman.

 

“I’m Dr. Ethel Williams,” the woman said. “Kilgharrah’s psychologist.”

 

That sent a ripple through the council.

 

“And what have you determined about his mental state?” Agravaine asked. He hoped that the wisdom Uther relied on was not gone, but he would not be surprised if the lizard had a screw or two loose.

 

“Kilgharrah came to me after nearly two decades of solitary confinement,” Dr. Williams said. “It was not fantastic at first, but he has shown great progress. He has expressed remorse after Anabel’s injury,” with a nod to the woman she came with. “And is determined to improve himself.”

 

“He is no man, Your Highness. He is a dragon. Before he came to Camelot, he had very little understanding of human morality. It is my belief that with a second chance, he could become a valuable asset to Camelot’s protection.”

 

So there it was. The two souls in Camelot who knew Kilgharrah best. They advocated for his return. It seems his secondary problem also had a solution.

 

“Thank you for your testimony,” Arthur said to the pair. “You are dismissed.”

 

Anabel and Dr. Williams nodded and left the room.

 

***

 

“I think we’re ready,” Gwaine said with a smile, looking over the papers they had prepared. Changes to the law, amnesty to those already convicted.

 

Arthur nodded, and strode out onto the balcony where his people waited below.

 

“People of Camelot,” he began. “Today, a radical change has been made to our law…”

 

Gwaine hoped Merlin, wherever he was, could hear the promise that Arthur was making him.

 

***

 

Just as Kilgharrah had hoped, Merlin had thoroughly tired himself out froliking through the water and trying to use magic to drown Kilgharrah. They had already destroyed the Brotherhood with a bit of fire and magic, so they deserved a vacation.

 

It was the most fun they’d had in ages, and Merlin now slept in the curl of Kilgharrah’s tail, resting in the afternoon sun.

 

Then something very peculiar happened.

 

Sometimes, an important moment in destiny was heralded by a great force of magic that bounded across the land. Kilgharrah had felt it twice, recently. Once when Arthur was born, and then again when Merlin was born.

 

The magic felt like summer wind, or cherry wine, laughter and smiles and a triumphant story told. It swept across Merlin and Kilgharrah and then continued out to sea.

 

Merlin woke from his nap, sitting straight up, sand falling out of his hair.

 

“Did you feel that?” Merlin asked. “What was that?”

 

“It seems Albion has been born,” Kilgharrah said.

 

Huh. He didn’t think the prince had it in him.

 

For once, he was glad he was wrong.

 

***

 

For the first time in almost two decades, a dragon stood in the courtyard of Camelot’s castle.

 

The dragon had accidentally stepped on a cabbage cart and apologized profusely to the gibbering cabbage salesmen, but otherwise the landing was uneventful.

 

The people of Camelot stared into the courtyard with wide eyes. Everyone saw who was in their midst: a dragon and his lord.

 

With a great flash of light, the golden dragon turned into a man. They walked up the steps of the castle. The Golden Age of Albion had come.

 

***

 

With magic returned to the land, the Once and Future King of Camelot needed a court sorcerer.

 

Vows were made in front of the court, a formal pardon was granted to the Great Dragon, applause was heard, then the ceremony came to an abrupt end.

 

The Once and Future King’s inner circle was gathered in a small corner of the room.

 

“I don’t know if this is a good time to mention this, but you’ve had sand in your hair this entire time,” Sir Gwaine said, gesturing to the Court Sorcerer’s messy black hair.

 

Merlin’s hands immediately shot up to his hair, rifling around, and indeed, sand poured out in great quantities. “Why didn’t you say anything?” Merlin demanded of Kilgharrah, pouting.

 

Kilgharrah shrugged. “No time. And it was funny.”

 

Agravaine snickered into his wine glass. The fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and the mighty Emrys had sand in his hair.

 

“Ah, sand-man, don’t be sad,” Gwaine said, helping Merlin comb the bits from his hair. Their faces close. Merlin could feel his breath ghosting across his lips.

 

Merlin was suddenly grateful for the sand in his hair if it meant Gwaine kept his hands in it. “You know, with this promotion…” Merlin trailed off. “I’m going to be sticking around Camelot for good.” Merlin looked hopefully into Gwaine’s eyes.

 

“I’d like that,” Gwaine replied.

 

They smiled.

 

Arthur tried to change the subject. He may have Merlin as the other side of his coin, but not as his love. He’d have to find a way to be okay with that. “Say, Kilgharrah,” Arthur commented, “There was a young woman who came to me to beg for your pardon. You might want to say thank-you.”

 

Kilgharrah’s eyes widened marginally. “I see,” he said.

 

“You may be excused,” Arthur said, seeing the desire to leave on Kilgharrah’s face.

 

Kilgharrah nodded his thanks, then left the room.

 

Before he left entirely, Kilgharrah spun around and returned to the group.

 

He approached Arthur.

 

“In the interest of all honesty, Your Highness,” Kilgharrah said. “I have something I’d like to confess.”

 

Arthur’s stomach roiled uncomfortably. “Speak, Kilgharrah,” Arthur commanded.

 

“It was Leon who broke the armory door.”

 

The words dropped like a match on a pile of dry tinder.

 

“YOU!” Elyan screeched, pointing an accusing finger at the knight in question.

 

Leon put down his drink hurriedly, “Now, Elyan, let’s take a moment,” he said, trying to make calming gestures with his hands.

 

“You were going to have Lancelot pay for it!” Percival said. Great. Now there were threats on three sides.

 

“Let’s all try to calm down,” Leon said, eyeing the door and trying to make a calculation for how fast he'd have to be.

 

Kilgharrah gave a delighted laugh at the chaos he’d caused, and left without another word. He had a friend to see. Merlin sighed. Just another day in Camelot.

 

Arthur sighed as well, taking another drink of wine before this came to blows.

 

Merlin looked away from Gwaine to meet Arthur’s eyes. ‘Thank-you,’ he mouthed. For the magic, for his brother. For being his friend and king.

 

And destiny.

 

They needed no words between them.

 

Albion was built, friendships were restored, and promises made.

 

All was well.

Chapter Text

Gwaine woke in the darkness. Some animal instinct warned him of danger.

 

He sensed a presence in the room, but he didn’t reach for his sword, in order to avoid waking the man sleeping next to him.

 

He searched for an outline, and his eyes latched onto a shadow in the corner of a room.

 

The shadow became outlined in flame before Gwaine’s eyes. Gwaine gave a jolt before he recognized it.

 

“Oh,” he breathed. “It’s just you.”

 

Kilgharrah looked back at him thoughtfully, his gaze switched between Merlin and Gwaine.

 

“You’re a good man, Sir Gwaine,” Kilgharrah said. His eyes alighted on the small ring box Gwaine had forgotten to hide.

 

Merlin valued his brother’s opinion above all else, Gwaine’s stomach clenched at what he’d say.

 

“I approve,” Kilgharrah said.

 

The fire winked out, darkness fell, and Gwaine was quite sure Kilgharrah wasn’t in the room any longer.

 

He fell back into his bed, letting out a great gust of air.

 

“I am going to have the Great Dragon as my brother-in-law,” Gwaine said out loud to no one, in an effort to make the words seem less ridiculous. It didn’t help.

 

***

 

The Great Dragon perched on the roof of the citadel, staring at the kingdom below. “It’s beautiful,” he commented.

 

“I know,” Merlin said, admiring the ring Gwaine had proposed with. A single ring had put an end to both their man-whoring ways but Merlin couldn’t say he was upset about it.

 

Kilgharrah smacked Merlin’s head with the back of his wing. “Not that, the kingdom.”

 

“Oh,” Merlin said, embarrassed. “Yes, that’s nice too,”

 

The brothers looked out on the kingdom they had helped build. The wind rustled past their ears. It was cold this far up.

 

“None of this would have been possible without you, brother,” Merlin said. “And it’s not a bad place to start eternity.”

 

“Not bad at all,” Kilgharrah agreed. “If you like this, we’ll go to Rome next.”

 

Merlin nodded. He loved this kingdom so dearly that it would be painful to move on after his friends had passed. A new continent and language would help.

 

“Camelot, Rome, Eternity,” Merlin listed, “I’m glad to share it with you.”

 

Kilgharrah let his wing wrap around Merlin in acknowledgement.

 

I, too, am glad to share it with you, Kilgharrah spoke into his mind.

 

***

 

“So,” Dr. Williams said. “It’s been five years since the magic ban has been lifted. How do you feel?”

 

Merlin tapped his shiny new boots on the wooden floor thoughtfully. “I am still sad, sometimes. And I am happy at others. It comes and goes in waves.”

 

“I have a husband I love, and a king I am proud to serve. When I am happy, I truly am.”

 

Dr. Williams nodded. “Then I’m happy for you.” This sort of sadness didn’t go away, but it could be managed, and Merlin was doing a stellar job. “And of course, you have your brother."

 

“Yes,” Merlin said with a laugh. “Above all, I am very glad that Kilgharrah moved to Camelot.”