When Merlin learned he was the Last Dragonlord, it was already a huge mantle to accept. His long-lost father had died in his arms and he was supposedly Camelot's last line of defense against Kilgharrah. Needless to say, he handled it just as well as everything else in his turbulent life; he let everything play out naturally, and then he bottled the experience up so he would never, ever have to face the emotional fallout. It was a foolproof plan, really. Merlin needed to appear normal or else someone—particularly Arthur—would catch on.
Personally, Merlin liked having his head attached to his shoulders.
However, fate enjoyed tipping the scales out of Merlin's favor. This time it looked like he wouldn't be able to ignore what had happened. Well, at least not physically. His father hadn't mentioned it… but Merlin soon found that an awakened Dragonlord had a few bodily attributes.
The first time he noticed a difference in himself was two days after he banished Kilgharrah. He was picking herbs for Gaius in a meadow half-an-hour from Camelot. Even though it was midsummer, Merlin noticed that he felt far too hot for the current temperature. Was this a fever? He drank and drank from his waterskin yet ceased to cool down. When he returned to Camelot in distress, the fever had ceased and Gauis determined that nothing was wrong with him.
That was strange.
The second instant Merlin realized something was wrong was when he attempted a fire spell that had given him trouble just a week earlier. He'd gotten much better at magic since he arrived at Camelot—obviously—but sometimes he lacked precision with advanced spells. Now, it was like Merlin's entire core was resonating with the fire magic. He'd never felt anything like it before. Every inch of flame was a part of him; it was euphoric.
Merlin should have suspected then that it had something to do with his awakening, but he wrote it off as a coincidence. Maybe if he'd realized sooner, he could have started correcting his behaviors before they became apparent…
But he hadn't.
It was when the latest sorcerer-of-the-week attempted to kill Arthur, Merlin absolutely lost control. He and the sorceress—a soft-spoken woman posing as a handmaiden—were in a stranded corridor. She was rambling on and on about how Camelot deserved to crumble underneath her heel, how Arthur was as cruel and narrow-minded as his father. Merlin was sick of hearing it. Every single assassin had the same spiel. He almost wondered if there was some sorcerers' bulletin in the tavern with copies of the speech pinned up.
"Can you just not?" Merlin pressed a hand to his forehead. "I'm so tired."
"Look, lady. It's the same thing every week. You're angry at Uther and since he's dead, you blame Arthur for everything and try to off his royal backside! It's all pointless because you can't create systematic change by killing people!"
"Oh yeah, and what else am I supposed to do? Become his concubine?"
Merlin cocked his head to the side and just sighed. Long tendrils of smoke poured from his nostrils and the sorceress rolled her eyes.
"Color me impressed… the manservant can breathe smoke huh? Come on kid, drop the parlor tricks."
"Funny." He leveled her with a weary gaze. "I wasn't even trying."
Flames licked through his throat and expanded once they hit the air. The sorceress was caught in the wall of blue fire and wailed as the searing flames swallowed her whole. When the flames ceased, her charred body dropped to the corridor floor.
The fact that this happened every week or so probably wasn't a good thing, but Merlin's emotional suppression was impeccable. Although, he didn't usually go that far with the fire. That part was new.
When he finally swallowed his pride and confronted Gauis about it, they cracked open a book on Dragonlords. Which, let's be honest, they both should have done in the first place. Apparently, the kinship between them and dragons went beyond what was written on the tin. Who would have guessed, right?
He just had to monitor his anger and make sure that he didn't stay out in the sun for too long because he was essentially cold-blooded now. That didn't sound too difficult in theory but Merlin knew better.
His slip-up happened on a hunt with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Merlin had been careful to stay in the shade all day, not getting overheated, and had used breathing techniques Gaius had taught him so he didn't lose control of his temper.
No, the problem occurred after they had (surprise, surprise) a run-in with bandits. Due to some 'well-timed' tree branches, most of the knights made it out unscathed aside from a few scrapes. Although Merlin had been a bit more… distracted with his magic. It was nothing much, just an arrow to the shoulder, but Arthur and the knights were blowing it completely out of proportion. It stung how little they thought of him!
"Merlin, it's just a flesh wound," Gwaine said. "You just have to stay strong through the pain, alright?"
He ground his teeth. "Oh trust me, I know."
"It's alright to cry," Elyan added.
"Yeah, if you're not used to the pain…" Leon trailed off.
Merlin couldn't fault them for not knowing how much he'd been through up to now, but it was still irritating. He didn't want to be coddled.
"We have to secure the arrow so Gaius can remove it properly once we get back to Camelot," Arthur told him. "Do you think you'll be okay that long?"
Merlin rolled his eyes. "Just peachy, thanks."
Arthur found some fabric to stabilize the arrow shaft. He started to wrap it around Merlin's shoulder when he hesitated. "What the bloody hell is in your wound?"
He snorted. "An arrow?"
"No, no around the arrow. Leon, look at this."
Leon leaned over and his eyes went wide. "That's… what is that?"
"Are you telling me that neither of you has seen infection before?" Gwaine cut in.
"This isn't some infection," Leon snapped. "It's… it's like it's melded into his flesh? It's blue, almost bruise-colored."
Those arrows couldn't have been laced with anything. Merlin was positive. So what were they seeing? The wound stung but it wasn't any more severe than a regular injury.
"Sorry, what's wrong with me?" he interrupted.
"Oh wow, that looks nasty." Elyan winced. "Sorry, Merlin."
"Instead of the blood clotting, it looks like that blue-ish stuff is closing over his wound," Percival observed. "I've never seen anything like it."
Arthur tentatively stuck his finger into Merlin's wound and immediately recoiled. "It feels like scales. Like… reptile scales."
Oh. Oh crap.
The book didn't mention that!
Merlin laughed nervously. "Are you sure it isn't the light?"
"Merlin, I just felt it. I'm pretty sure that whatever's going on with your wound isn't normal."
"What, you think one of the bandits did something to Merlin?" Leon asked.
"I have no idea." Arthur shook his head. "Has this ever happened before, Merlin?"
He gulped. "Nope. I uh, don't know anything about it. Probably… probably nothing to worry about?"
"It doesn't seem like it's hurting him," Gwaine pointed out. "But since it's probably magic it's probably not good."
"We don't know if it's magic," Arthur reasoned.
"You just said it isn't 'normal,'" Gwaine said. "When has that ever not meant magic?"
"No, seriously," Merlin insisted. "It's not a big deal. No magic, I'm fine!"
"You can't even see what we're talking about!" Arthur argued.
"Yeah, but Gwaine's right. It's not hurting me!"
"Merlin, your wound is growing some kind of lizard scales. That's something to worry about!"
They wouldn't back off, wouldn't let him downplay it. He wanted to think rationally, but all of a sudden something just snapped.
"Damn it, Arthur, can't you just give it a rest!"
A vicious roar ripped from his throat and fire followed, imbuing the nearest tree with hot cerulean flames.
Arthur and the knights all stared at him, dumbfounded. Once he processed exactly what he'd done, Merlin wanted to die on the spot.
He hung his head. "Ah, crap."
"Is… is he possessed or something?" Gwaine suggested.
"Why the hell would he be possessed!" Elyan snapped.
"He just spewed fire! And—and roared!"
"We need to take him to Gauis," Arthur decided. "Something's not right. Maybe it's some sort of magical virus…"
"Or maybe he has magic," Leon deadpanned. "Don't tell me the thought hasn't crossed your mind."
Why did Leon have to have common sense?
"Merlin's not a sorcerer! I would know," Arthur said.
Percival shrugged. "Leon has a point, sire."
"Nope. No, he doesn't," Merlin said. "I… feel weird. How about we go to Gaius and just… yeah. Don't talk about it?"
Gwaine narrowed his eyes. "Actually, I kind of see it now."
Arthur scoffed. "I'll believe Merlin has magic when the Great Dragon returns from its grave."
"Well, that's not going to be that hard," he blurted.
Arthur narrowed his gaze. "I'm sorry, what?"
Merlin bit his tongue. "Hm?"
"You just… you just said that wouldn't be hard."
"No, no. I didn't. You must be hearing things. Maybe you have the magical illness too."
Arthur shook his head. "No, I'm pretty sure you just—"
"Sire, can we just all agree that Merlin is a sorcerer?" Elyan asked. "He's not trying that hard to hide it."
"Excuse me! I am trying hard!"
Arthur facepalmed. "Oh, Merlin…"
Well, there were worse ways he could have found out.