"Stop being such a child, Merlin!" Arthur snapped.
Merlin glared back. "Me? You're the one acting like a spoiled brat. You are so immature!"
Arthur grabbed Merlin's arm at the same moment that Merlin's eyes flashed gold. Merlin had about a second to think 'oh, hell' before he felt the warm tingle of magic wash over them both.
Gaius was just sitting down to his dinner, tired after being on his feet all day, when someone knocked on the door. He sighed; he never got a moment's peace, he thought, going reluctantly to the door. With any luck he could persuade whoever it was that it wasn't urgent and that he could deal with whatever it was tomorrow. When he opened the door and saw the worried look Lady Morgana's face, however, he let her in.
"We have a bit of a problem," she informed him. "It's Arthur and Merlin; there's something wrong with them."
Gaius frowned. "What do you mean?"
Morgana leaned back out through the door again and dragged Arthur inside, Merlin following along with a big smile on his face.
Now Gaius was completely confused. The pair of them looked fine, nothing obviously wrong with them.
"I don't understand."
Morgana shut the door and came back to stand by his side. As she passed Arthur by, he moved to let her past, accidentally stepping on Merlin's foot. Merlin scowled at him and smacked him on the arm.
"Ouch! You hit me!"
Merlin stuck his tongue out at Arthur. "You pushed me first."
"Did not," Arthur stamped one foot, glaring at Merlin. The pair stood face to face now, noses almost pressed together as they argued.
Gaius turned to Morgana, not sure whether to laugh or panic. "What is going on?"
"I'm not sure," Morgana told him, "but there is something not right. I can sense- I'm not sure, really- but there is something."
Gaius caught what she was trying not to say. "Something magical, perhaps? You think that they have been enchanted, somehow?"
Morgana nodded, looking relieved that she didn't have to say it aloud. She looked around sharply as she heard a crash, seeing the two men standing next to a broken bottle on the floor. They both looked guilty.
"He did it," Merlin said immediately.
"Liar liar pants on fire!" Arthur's retort was accompanied by a pinch to Merlin's shoulder.
"Morgana. Morgana," Merlin whined. "He nipped me!"
Gaius glared at the two of them. "Right, that's enough. The pair of you, sit down over there. NOW!"
When they were finally seated and quiet, he went to crouch in front of Merlin. From what he could gather as he spoke to Merlin, he had regressed to roughly the mentality of a six year old. It did explain their behaviour, he thought, just not how it had happened. He wasn't certain, but he had a good idea who was to blame.
"Merlin, what did you do?"
The young man shook his head, not meeting Gaius' eyes. "Nothing," he said quietly.
"Merlin, please." Again, Merlin shook his head. And he thought that his charge could be stubborn as an adult. "Tell me the truth; I'm not going to ask you again," he said, trying to keep his irritation out of his voice and knowing that he had failed when Merlin's eyes began to glisten and his lower lip trembled.
"You're shouting at me."
Almost immediately, Arthur was at his side. "Leave him alone, you big bully."
Wonderful, Gaius thought. They finally stop fighting and it's to gang up on him. He wasn't going to get anything out of Merlin; at present, the young man was thinking like a six year old and unfortunately, a six year old would not have a good enough grasp of magic to be of any help.
"Morgana, could you stay there with them for a moment whilst I check on something?"
Morgana stood watching the two men- no, boys- and frowned. Now that they had stopped squabbling, seemingly united due to Arthur's defending of Merlin against Gaius, they sat with their heads together, whispering. They were up to something.
She was glad when Gaius returned a short time later with a huge, dusty book in his arms. Setting it on the desk, he opened it up and pointed.
"As far as I can tell, this is the work of a spell," he said. "Apparently, it will wear off naturally; they will gradually age back to what they should be."
"How long will that take?"
Gaius sighed; that was the bad news. "Twenty-four to forty-eight hours. In the meantime, we have to keep Prince Arthur away from his father."
Morgana couldn't agree more. She had no intention of fuelling Uther's hatred of magic further with the news that his son had been enchanted. It would be safer all around if they could just keep the two men out of sight until this spell wore off.
"Tell Uther that Merlin and Arthur have gone hunting," Gaius told her. "That should give us enough time for the spell to fade. I can keep an eye on them here- what's the matter?"
"It's awfully quiet, don't you think?"
They both turned to see the seat where the two men had previously been sitting completely empty and the door slightly ajar.
"I knew they were plotting something," she said, hurrying out to find them before Uther did, Gaius at her heels.
From their place on guard on the north wall of the castle, the two guards watched curiously as two figures crept along the side of the building, around the edge of the courtyard. They weren't being particularly stealthy, not when they paused every few steps to laugh and then shush each other.
"Is that Prince Arthur?" the first guard asked.
His companion nodded. "I think so. That's definitely the kid, Merlin, with him."
"What are they doing?"
About ten minutes after the Prince and his manservant were gone, Gaius and Morgana came into the courtyard. The Physician called up to them, asking if they had seen Arthur and Merlin, and the guard pointed toward the main hall.
It took them two hours, but they eventually found the two men in the kitchens. They were sitting on the floor, cross legged, a plate of leftover chicken between them. The pair had missed dinner and had come looking for food.
"There you are," Gaius said, going into the kitchen. He tried to remember he was talking to a child, not raising his voice. "We were getting worried about you."
Merlin looked at Arthur, then back up at Gaius. "D'you want some chicken?"
Gaius smiled and shook his head, realising that he had just found the one thing he could use to get them to co-operate. They were children, and so maybe it would work.
"How about we all go back home and I'll make you some supper?" he suggested.
Arthur chewed thoughtfully on a piece of chicken before pointing out, "Daddy said I have to tell him where I'm going."
Morgana crouched down before him. "It's alright; I've already asked your dad," she told him.
Gaius took them home with him, giving them supper and a glass of milk before putting them to bed. They seemed reluctant to be parted, getting upset when Gaius attempted to put them to sleep in separate rooms, and so Arthur ended up sleeping in a makeshift bed on Merlin's floor.
Morgana looked over his shoulder as he checked on them a short time later, glad they were finally asleep.
"If this is what I have to look forward to," she told Gaius, "I am never having children. I had better get back before anyone misses me. Good night, Gaius."
By noon the following day, Gaius was ready to strangle one, or both, of them. If he thought they were bad a six year olds, he was wrong. Thirteen year olds were much worse. Morgana had come by to see how they were doing earlier that day, causing Merlin to blush and scurry away back to his room.
"What did I do?" she asked, bewildered.
Gaius laughed. "I wouldn't worry about it, my dear." He told her to listen and they heard Arthur's voice, teasing,
"Merlin and Morgana sitting in a tree," he chanted. "K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"
"You fancy Morgana."
"Don't. Shut up."
Morgana bit her lip to stop herself laughing.
By late afternoon and a couple of years older, they had figured out that it wasn't Morgana that Merlin wanted, but Arthur. Gaius had caught them more than once casting surreptitious glances at each other, acting like nervous teenagers on a first date. Arthur's cheeks flushed as he realised that Gaius had seen him eyeing Merlin and he mumbled an excuse, escaping to Merlin's room.
Gaius couldn't face having to do the birds-and-the-bees talk with them, instead deciding to keep them both where he could see them at all times. Unfortunately, he turned his back for one minute and the next time he looked, Merlin was gone.
Following the sounds of whispering and giggling, he pushed open Merlin's bedroom door. The two men were entwined in a clumsy kiss, sitting on Merlin's bed.
"I want you both back out here, please," he told them.
At the sound of his voice, they jumped apart, both blushing furiously.
He lost them again a few hours later, after they crept out whilst he was clearing the dishes from dinner. This time, he wasn't quite as worried; they weren't six any more and could look after themselves now. He was pretty certain he knew where they had gone, anyway. After all, where else would two horny, love-struck seventeen year olds go?
Morgana was heading for her room with Gwen when she saw them; Arthur had backed Merlin into a corner, into the shadows. They were too busy kissing to realise that they had an audience, but when she saw Merlin's hand move lower, groping Arthur's backside she cleared her throat loudly. At the sound, they jumped apart.
They were lucky it was her who had found them. There were only a few in the castle- namely herself, Gwen and Gaius -who knew that the two of them were lovers and so had anyone else seen them it would have meant trouble.
"Aren't you supposed to be staying with Gaius?" she asked.
Merlin shook his head. "No," he lied. "He said we could come here."
"I don't believe that for a second," she told them.
Arthur eyed her suspiciously. "Are you going to tell him where we are?"
"No, on one condition," Morgana reasoned. "Actually, two conditions. First, you make sure that Uther does not know that you're in the castle. Understand?"
They nodded obediently.
"Secondly, you have a bedroom," she pointed out. "So, use it."
The two men grinned and hurried away, hand in hand, casting the occasional glance back at Morgana and Gwen before disappearing into Arthur's bedroom. They heard the key being turned in the door a moment later.
Morgana saw the question on Gwen's face and shook her head. "Trust me, you don't want to know."
The following morning, Arthur awoke to a killer headache and the feel of a warm body curled up at his back. He felt as though he had drunk too much ale the night before but the slightly hazy memories didn't match that theory. The one clear image that came to his mind, in among the rest, was of golden eyes. He shifted to study Merlin, wondering if he had seen what he thought he had.
His movements disturbed Merlin, who opened his eyes and smiled at Arthur, leaning over for a kiss.
Arthur frowned at him. "I remember, Merlin. It's getting clearer even now," he said. "What did you do?"
Merlin sighed. He knew this conversation would come sooner or later, he had just hoped it would be later. He was still dreading it, not because of the consequences if Uther found out, but for Arthur's reaction. This one conversation could cause him to lose Arthur, and that would be worse.
"Please don't be mad, Arthur, but I've got something to tell you that you might not like…"