A Prince's best friend

Author's note (2011): This started off as an oneshot-silly-thing, but got bigger and bigger and at the end simply wrote itself. Just like most of my one-shots/lighter/more humorous Merlin stories its set just briefly after the end of season one, with a still good Morgana and not as much angst as in later seasons. Also, I might be dismissing and/or disregarding some Arthur/Gwen that's been developing during the season, as it's Merlin/Arthur mainly. Do not read if you're upset by slash (no matter how mild). This is written to humour and entertain, no kerchiefs to dry up tears are needed. (It might become a reveal fic in the end, but no one will get killed or seriously injured.) I strayed off the angsty path awhile, in need of respite. Please do not take it too seriously (this is humour. Not parody though, but still.)

Set after season 1, but before season 2 episode 2. Note! Includes a character originally from Season 3 (Gwaine), but he's so awesome I had to use him, so I've changed some facts about him like he's originally from Camelot.

Newer note (2012-07-22): I'm going through and revising each chapter of this story, mainly checking for grammatical mistakes but also other errors. All edits will be minor and not affect the story-line or plot.

Rating: M because I'm paranoid.

Pairing: Arthur/Merlin

Disclaimer: 'Merlin' and its characters are property of the series producers, BBC and mythology, not me, no matter how I'd wish it. (I think you could guess the outcome if I'd been in charge of the series.) Any OCs occurring in this or any other of my stories belongs to me.

Lastly, no cats, brooms, old men or knights were harmed during the making of this fanfic.

()()()

Chapter 1: In which Merlin has an accident (…no, not that kind of accident!)

"Merlin?"

Large blue eyes, uncanny on that face – too intelligent and sharp and steady – stared up at him. The look startled him, and forced him to repeat, "Merlin?"

The answer was something meow-like and a look saying 'No, I'm an ordinary kitten.' (Could a cat even express sarcasm?)

Arthur blanched, unable to decide whether to be horrified or shocked or maybe laugh his head off. Because this was Merlin, inevitably clumsy, stupid and friendly-to-a-fault (maybe except when dealing with certain pratheaded princes), and if he'd ever been fated to get turned into an animal a cat seriously didn't fit. Cats were supposed to be graceful and ferocious (to some degree at least) and whatnot; not stare up at him with worried eyes and be so damned uncatly intelligent (or maybe stupid to get turned into a cat in the first place). Lastly, if there was one, it was so unfair that Merlin had to look so…so… cute (Arthur did not just think that!), like in a kittenly, big-earedly cute, Merlin-innocent-way. The servant's clothes lay in a pile in the corner, but somehow the red neckerchief had stayed in place, if a bit too big. He very much looked like a tiny, poor kitten which had been abandoned by the owner, lonely and longing to be picked up and taken to a safe new home.

"How did this happen?" Arthur demanded to know and the cat huffed at him, like 'Oh yes, ask the cat, he can talk' – the prince sighed, looked down at the black animal, not really able to glare. Well, it was just a tiny defenseless kitten! (Had it been a full-human Merlin, he'd acted differently, really. It was just the weirdness of the situation getting to him. Really.) Hopefully nobody would hear him - the prince of Camelot having gone lunatic. Talking with a cat. He'd never hear the end of it. Was this a dream? What had he drunk last night anyway? Had someone smuggled something into his cup? Had Gaius drugged him again?

This felt a bit too…real.

"Right. Right. What on earth am I going to do with you? You were an idiot to begin with (of course) but how are you going to survive as a cat? Heavens, you're no good at anything, you can't fight, can't hunt—you're going to bloody starve and the dogs will slash you into meat-pie within five minutes-Don'tlook at me that way!" Merlin was hissing at him and showing off glintingclaws. For heaven's sake…claws!

Now he'd let off some steam, feigning anger when in truth he was very worried: he'd never admit that out loud. But this was sorcery. It was tricky and dangerous and unless Gaius' had something up his sleeve (like an ancient dusty book no one else cared about) Merlin might have to stay like this forever. Permanently. Cat. Stuck. Not to mention the king would go berserk when finding out about witchery going on right under his nose…yet again.

Merlin stared up at him desperate to say something, like 'I'll fix this!' and 'I'm not an idiot!' but out came only hisses and meows and other cat-like sounds. It felt so weird, not to mention everything was in the wrong height. Arthur was like a tower, blonde and loud and obnoxious as ever; and every piece of furniture tempted, beckoned him to start scratching at them with his sharp claws; his senses were heightened too, someone moved down the corridor outside the door, making him flinch. Some thoughts he couldn't get his head around yet – he had a bloody tail, for god's sake!

It twitched. Nervously.

"Stay put. I'll find Gaius." The prince swirled on his heel (no wonder the boots always had holes in them) and marched out of the room.

()()()

The black cat waited till the outer door clicked closed before trying to reach out for magic: it'd always flowed in his veins, his breath, his bones, but now he found it difficult to grasp. Getting turned into a cat had been a complete accident - honest! - but there had to be a solution of some kind. But with paws he couldn't lift the loose board in the floor of his room and reach the book beneath (he wasn't insane enough to nudge Arthur there, dance around his feet with begging eyes, to make him lift it), so he used the power surging beneath his furred paws. The board crumbled and turned into a bunch of brightly coloured flowers. The cat blinked. Odd.

At least he got the book out.

When he tried to turn the pages (using magic), the book turned alive and snarled at him like a dog. Merlin, startled, jumped back and began hissing at the thing and the book fled to cover down the stairs, into Gaius' chamber, out of sight of the thousand unimportant things filling the room – more books, bottles, parchments, boxes. It'd be almost impossible to find.

What'd just happened? His magic never had been so sporadic. Impulsive maybe, but he'd always been able to control what he wanted…like slowing down time and making things float. He tried to do the latter, it shouldn't be hard, but instead the pot intended turned into a bouquet. Again, he tried. The chair began to tap dance around the room. Horrified, Merlin stared at it and tried to make it stop, and instantly it transformed. Into a table. That continued to dance.

Oh great. He could already feel Gaius' Eyebrow burning on his back.

()()()

"Merlin! My god - what happened?"

Seriously, he wished he could stand up hands crossed over chest and say, 'Why are you asking a cat when you know I can't talk, damn it?'. Crossing paws was a lot more difficult and a lot less effective. Silence descended upon the room instead and Merlin felt kind of stupid.

By the time Gaius had come back to his home, the chair-turned-table had decided to take a break, perhaps worn out by all the new exercise. In the middle of the room, surrounded by some disarrayed bottles (they'd stilled now), there'd been a black cat reading an old, thick book. When the door had opened, the animal startled and jumped into a basket behind it, which promptly toppled over, sprawling the contents over the floor with a loud clatter.

Arthur followed closely after the physician. "I found him like this. I'm positive, Gaius. This is Merlin, how improbable it may seem. Just…just look at him!" The eyes were the same. Uncannily the same. The neckerchief. Everything. The cat was also clumsy – too clumsy to be a real one. The prince was oblivious to the strange chaos of the room, how there was an extra table instead of a chair and all those flowers and the open, mysterious book. Gaius' chambers had always been a bit odd and anyway, he was the prince so why should he care?

(Exactly the point.)

He was far too focused on the cat to notice anyway.

The creature meowed pitifully.

"Oh dear," Gaius said. Well, yes, 'Oh dear', Merlin agreed. Though that tone of voice isn't necessary.

"Can it be fixed?"

Gaius gave the blonde a serious look. "Arthur, I heal those who are ill and injured. This certainly isn't a…malady of a scientific kind. This must be the result of an enchantment. I've never heard of the likes before. I do not know how to reverse it."

The cat's already wide eyes widened more, before the animal's shoulders slumped. Well, would've slumped had he had human shoulders. What was he going to do now? He didn't want to stay a cat forever! No! Never! He'd have to stay short, small, four-legged, tailed, furry, and have to hunt mice, have a diet mostly consisting of fish…and maybe little birds and mice. Yuck. Making Arthur eat (or at least trying to, as in the end it'd been himself eating) rat was one thing. This, this was completely another.

The prince took a bit of pity on him. No matter how useless a servant Merlin was, not even he deserved a fate such as this.

"Maybe if I search through one of my books…" Gaius said slowly after awhile, really, he wanted to help too. His ward looked so crestfallen where he was sitting on the floor. "It's best to keep Merlin out of trouble."

'Hey! Don't talk about me like I'm not here!' All that came out were yowls and growls. Arthur looked half-worried, half-amused (if that kind of expression even is possible) and stood there weighing his options while Gaius left for his manuscripts. He had an odd urge to pick the servant-turned-cat up in his arms (the fur was slightly tousled and the tail twitched and the ears turned to follow every slight sound) but that'd just be … weird. Even if Merlin was a cat.

The options, however, weren't about lifting the cat up. They were the following:

Tell his father there had been sorcery in the city, the castle, right under his nose and it had made a man turn into an animal. Thus the king would search, accuse, arrest and eventually execute people in a heartbeat. Everyone would be afraid and worried and confused and suspicious and would lead to a headache beyond despair. (Because if it was an assassin, why pick a simple servant boy and not someone royal? Hm? Oh, an attack from within, to hit close to home, namely Arthur: every option meant trouble…The king would go into frenzy.)

Keep this occurrence a secret and pretend that Merlin was ill, and lock the cat up in a room, keep him put, or something else, as a cat couldn't be useful other than keeping the castle mice-free (But then again, Merlin was a terrible hunter, in the past he'd been bested by a rat for heaven's sake.)

Or maybe he'd take a strong drink, go to sleep and wake up with the realization he'd had a very weird dream. (The pinching thing hadn't worked.)

…He'd think of a fourth choice to insert if need be. Yes. Right.

Arthur was shaken out of his thoughts when a crash reached his ears and he saw a pile of books fall down over a black shadow, which tried to move away but reacted too late. Obviously the cat had been trying to jump up to the table. After the hit, Merlin whined and rubbed his nose with a paw. Far too cute for his own good. Before knowing what he was doing, Arthur had picked him up ('Hey! Don't manhandle me!' shouted Merlin, Grrr grrr grrr) in a secure, firm but somewhat gentle grip.

"You really are a klutz, Merlin," he muttered. "Do you need babysitting or what?"

The fur beneath Arthur's hands was very soft and he couldn't stop himself from scratching behind the left twitchy ear. The animal slacked and began to purr. Merlin didn't notice he was doing it and Arthur wasn't really minding. Actually it was quite nice, the man's hands were really warm and slightly roughened, like strong but not in a bad way, no definitely not bad at a-…

Wait just one moment! He was not purring by being scratched by that prat! God, it was Arthur, how could he enjoy Arthur scratching his ear! Abruptly the cat twisted and bit the blonde's hand. Not hard enough to draw blood, of course (he'd never hurt the prince like that without a reasonable reason) but hard enough to make the man jump and start shouting, almost dropping the cat in the process.

"What do you think you're doing?" the prince swore and shouted, both shocked and outraged. "You stupid idiot! You bit me, me, the prince of Camelot! Oh just you wait, I am so going to put you in the stocks for this! A whole day – no, a week, a month! You bit me!"

Merlin glared at him, before jumping out of his arms and taking refugee behind a few bottles on Gaius' desk. Admittedly the landing was kind of awkward but at least the table was higher off the ground than the floor and thus not such a long drop, and luckily he landed on all fours, not on his back this time.

"Oh right. Fine. I've got physical evidence that you are the worst manservant in history! Ever! I ought to replace you."

'Since when did you need evidence to proclaim that? Besides you've already said that thousands of times – but never actually fired me,' Merlin growled at the prince and promptly turned his back. Arthur was in a huff.

"Honestly. You are an idiot. Letting yourself get turned into a ball of fur."

'It's not like it's my fault! Although maybe it is … you know, I do have magic after all. Wait, you don't know that, Arthur. So it's not my fault,' the cat retorted but was left incoherent in the men's ears. 'From now on I'm not talking to you anymore.' Like it mattered what he tried to say. He trotted over to Gaius' side, briefly brushing the old man's feet to get attention and show that he had nothing against him, contra a certain prince who was glaring at him rather heatedly now.

"Sire, perhaps you have duties to attend to," Gaius pointed out. "Your father did request your presence in the hall."

"Yes. Of course," the prince muttered distractedly, a glance at the dark-furred animal at the physician's feet. "Alert me if you find any solution to this…problem."

()()()

The library was as usual dim and dusty, shelf before shelf after shelf filled with ancient texts and scrolls blocking out the sunlight from whatever scarce windows there were. A few candles were lit at the historian's desk, and silence lay everywhere like a sheet.

Geoffrey didn't like visitors too much, but was an old friend of Gaius' so he tolerated (or even liked) the other man's company. Merlin the cat managed to sneak inside after the two old men, in another direction than they were headed. Just because he happened to have paws at the moment, instead of hands, it didn't mean he was unable to read. Actually his sight seemed to have improved a lot, along with all other senses, so he could read titles far above his head. Must be some feline trait, useful when hunting.

'Family tree of Sir Wernhelm the Third of Mercia' (there were a lot similar books there as well: Geoffrey really loved history)… 'History of Camelot - 200 years of kingship and glory' (Oh yes, glory, especially since after the Purge, Merlin thought sarcastically)… 'One hundred uses for Belladonna' (Oh! That sounded like a magic book!)…'Common ailments and how to heal them' (This wasn't a common ailment, so Merlin skipped that one too)… 'A guide'… The last volume was old, torn and worn, a piece of its back had fallen off so there were no more words to read.

A guide? What guide for what? That was the whole title? Was it maybe a magic book? His curiosity peaked; Merlin summoned his magic and (amazingly without error) succeeded in lifting the book from its shelf, through the air and onto the floor. The first few pages contained plain black-on-white words, printed delicately, and they told almost nothing about the book itself. It was all vague. But when he nudged it open somewhere in the middle, a variety of colours opened before his eyes and he was both surprised and thrilled to see the language of the Old Religion. This must be some forgotten thing, if the king knew he might have this burned. The text spoke of magical creatures, enchantments of all kinds concerning certain animals. Maybe..?

'Gaius!' he cried, 'Look what I found!' Out came out an excited yowl, too late he realized he wasn't supposed to be here. The librarian came rushing from a corner…with a broom.

"I will not tolerate this, cats in the library, this is outrageous! Out, out, out!" Maybe he thought a black cat a bad omen, or he simply didn't like cats in general. The broom came swinging down forcefully, dangerously close to Merlin's nose. "Get out, infernal beast!"

Merlin did the only sensible thing, the man had a surprisingly strong grip and steady swing of the broom, dust was dancing by his feet. So he leapt out of the way, down the corridor and out the door at the back, leaving behind the magic-book open on the floor.

()()()

"Found anything?"

"Not anything that could be of help, sire. I'm afraid Merlin will have to survive his current situation a bit longer."

Both men shared a glance towards a spot next to the table, where the cat had curled up to sleep. The tail sometimes twitched unconsciously, like he was dreaming. Do cats even dream? Arthur wondered, and then shrugged; this wasn't the time to think about such things and anyway, he'd ask Merlin later when he was back on two feet. Because he would be, definitely. There had to be a way.

"We got to find a solution. Nobody's noticed Merlin's absence yet but soon they'll pay heed: the cooks, the other servants, maybe even some of the knights - and if word reaches my father…" Arthur couldn't exactly explain why but he had a feeling that Merlin's unexpected transformation actually hadn't to do with a sorcerer attacking the city. It was just a feeling. (A logical explanation of what had happened could be that Merlin had found an old book or item and stupid as he is touching it or something without checking for danger first: it'd be so typically Merlin.) After all, if there was a sorcerer out there, why attack a simple servant like that? Why not the king, the prince, a lord or lady? This certainly didn't seem the right way of making the kingdom roll into chaos. It couldn't even classify as an attack upon the kingdom, really.

"We could say he a serious, contagious illness has befallen him."

Despite the seriousness (or perhaps serious hilariousness - in Arthur's mind it's questionable which one it is) of the situation, the prince couldn't help but exclaiming: "I do hope his condition isn't contagious!"