Rating: PG, just - definite case of better safe than sorry
Timeframe: 5-10 Years in the future
Prompt: Based on the prompt "Merlin grows the beard. Everyone finds it hilarious/disturbing." by twoskeletons
Summary: Merlin grows a beard; and if he likes it, he must be the only person in Camelot.
AN: Um, mad. Cracky. Probably absolutely not what the poor prompter had in mind. o.O
"Merlin," Arthur asked very carefully, "What the hell is that?"
Merlin looked up innocently from the map he'd been checking over for Arthur. "It's a map, Arthur." He said, with equal care. "You asked me to check the lay of the land and make sure that everything was stable...?"
"No, not the map, you fool," Arthur said with rather less patience. "On your face."
Merlin, like the idiot that he was, put a hand up to his face and felt it. "Oh. It's a beard."
"No, it's not." Arthur told him firmly. "It's an unpleasant growth. Either get rid of it, or see Gaius about it, I don't care which."
"I'm not shaving because you order me to, Arthur," Merlin said stubbornly, and Arthur was hit by the sudden, unpleasant realisation that he might have been able to get Merlin to shave it if he'd gone about it a different way, but that now, Merlin would defend his right to grow the horrific thing to his dying day.
Any other person would have relented. Arthur simply shrugged. "Well, it's up to you." He said, bluntly. "Lose the beard or your job."
Merlin glowered at him. "Fine." He said, sharply, and strode out.
Arthur glared after him, and began plotting.
Unfortunately, the first stage of his plotting took him to Morgana's chambers; after becoming King, Arthur had had less time to spend with Morgana – though he would have denied that he wanted to spend time with her with his last breath – until he managed to create an official position for her after lifting the ban on magic. No one could deny that a Seer was a useful person to have on your side, not to mention so unquestionably loyal a seer. Morgana's relationship with Arthur had none of the fire and anger of her relationship with Uther, and she was sincerely fond of him, even if that fondness did manifest itself through her jibing and snarking at him at every available opportunity.
That fondness also didn't stop her from shouting at him when he told her what had happened.
"Were you dropped on your head as a child, Arthur, or is this stupidity of yours a natural gift?" She asked, scathingly, when she had finished shouting. "What kind of idiot do you have to be to act so stupidly towards the most powerful sorcerer in Albion?"
"He's also Merlin," Arthur said, defensively.
"And it's about time that you realised that the two states not mutually exclusive." She snapped, turning away from him and whisking towards the window in a great whirl of green silk and perfume. "Merlin has done a great deal for you, and if he wants to grow a- great gods, what is that?!"
Merlin - complete with beard - was in the courtyard, entertaining a group of children with magic displays. Although he was smiling, Arthur didn't think it was his imagination that made Merlin look a little less insufferably happy than usual.
"That's Merlin," he said helpfully. "And his Beard."
"Well." Morgana said, controlling herself. "I understand now how you may have - overreacted."
"Overreacted?" Arthur asked, smugly. "I wasn't the one who appealed to the gods."
"Arthur, sometimes I don't like you very much," His mostly-sister said, dangerously. "And this is one of those times. I would be very, very careful, if I were you."
Arthur heeded very few people's warnings, but Morgana's were best listened to. "Well, what are we going to do about that - monstrosity?" he asked, gesturing towards the courtyard. It wasn't quite a retreat, but it got them off the more dangerous subject.
Morgana tapped her cheek thoughtfully. "I'll tell you when I have a plan." She said, finally. "Now, go away and be King. Worry about the big things, not your advisor's beard."
"If he doesn't shave it soon, my advisor's beard will be one of the big things." Arthur muttered, but didn't push his luck. He gave Morgana his most perfunctory bow, and left the room.
Morgana considered the problem from her window, and waited until it looked like the children were dispersing before sweeping down towards the courtyard. Fond though she was of them, Morgana was not someone that ordinary children - i.e. non-magical children - tended to warm to easily, and she knew Merlin would be annoyed with her if she scared them away. She didn't want to start with him in a defensive position.
She stopped by him on the steps, and stared until he looked up at her. "Good heavens, Merlin, what have you done to yourself?" She asked, and he rubbed one palm glumly against the half-grown black stubble he was sporting.
"Not you as well." He mumbled, rather sulkily.
Morgana resisted the urge to roll her eyes. For the King of Albion and the most powerful sorcerer in the country - possibly even in the world - Arthur and Merlin did some of the best impressions of sulky children she had ever seen. "But why on earth are you growing that - thing?" She asked, innocently.
What little she could see of Merlin's face flushed. "I just thought it made me look - you know. More grown up." he said, in a rush. "A bit more - distinguished."
"It makes you look like a rat hiding in a bush." Morgana said, frankly.
He flinched. "That bad?"
She saw her chance. "Yes." She shrugged. "But, if you want to keep it-"
"I do." Merlin said, firmly.
Morgana blinked. She hadn't seen that one coming.
Gwen was the next unfortunate to have Merlin's beard inflicted upon her, but, to do her credit, she reacted far better than either Arthur or Morgana.
"Merlin!" She greeted him with a smile. "Like the new beard."
He brightened. "Really?"
Gwen was a good and friendly person who now found herself torn between doing the right thing and telling someone an unpleasant truth, or doing the friendly thing and lying through her teeth to make her friend happy.
"Well..." She paused, then settled on a truly admirable compromise. "It's not exactly my cup of tea, and I'd have said you looked better without it. But I'm sure lots of women would find it very attractive."
"Arthur doesn't like it." Merlin said, gloomily.
For a moment, Gwen's mind tried to follow the train of thought which had taken Merlin from women finding his beard attractive to Arthur not liking it - then gave up. Some things were best not followed. "Maybe he'll come round to it?" She suggested.
He shrugged, listlessly. "He fired me because of it."
"Fired you!?" She stared. That seemed a little extreme. But obviously Arthur knew what he was doing. He was the King, after all.
"Fired me." He repeated, glumly.
"Well - is anyone coming who finds beards offensive?" She asked, hopefully.
"No. He just doesn't like my beard." Merlin shook himself, but Gwen was almost completely engrossed in trying to work out why her new monarch would act in so surprising and cold-blooded a way. "How are you, anyway?"
"Bearded." She said, absently, and walked off.
Merlin was left staring after her. The castle had suddenly become a very strange place.
The fourth and final person who reacted rather badly to Merlin's beard was Lancelot, who had returned when Arthur became King, and had been hoping to get Merlin to do a certain spell he had used before, which created a living practice dummy - Lancelot rather liked fighting a creature that never stopped. He could see how it could be a disadvantage in a real situation, obviously, but to practice against, it was fantastic for his stamina and technique, and for keeping cool in the actual heat of battle.
"No." Merlin said sharply in answer to Lancelot’s good-natured question, without turning from the book he was reading.
Since Lancelot was himself almost universally even-tempered – occasionally to the point of actual emotional inertia – he struggled to understand Merlin’s snappishness, frowning worriedly. "Is something wrong, Merlin?"
Merlin looked up at him, and Lancelot leapt back, hand going immediately to his sword. "Oh! Oh. Oh, it's only a beard."
"What did you think it was?" Merlin snapped, and, had Lancelot not known Merlin, he would have been worried about being turned into something. But Lancelot did know Merlin, and he was sadly unintimidated by the implied threat. He was, after all, one of the greatest knights on life.
"Well, I don't know." He said, with admirable honesty, but a sad lack of tact. "I thought something was attacking your face."
Merlin slammed his book shut - without using his hands. "I hate all of you." He declared, angrily, and stalked out, taking his beard with him.
Lancelot stared after him, reflecting that Merlin could be very odd sometimes. Did sorcerers get Certain Times of the Month like women did, which made them act so unpredictably?
That night in Arthur's chambers, the masterminds behind Operation Shave Merlin convened.
"It's the most horrific thing I've ever seen." Morgana declared coolly. "And yet he's set on keeping it. He says he thinks it makes him look distinguished."
"If he wants to look distinguished, he should grow a moustache!" Lancelot said, frowning.
"Please, don't give him ideas." Arthur said, shaking his head. "The beard is bad enough. Can you imagine what horrors Merlin could come up with if he tried to shape it?"
Struck by this thought, Lancelot subsided.
"He really likes it, though." Gwen said softly. "It's not really fair to-"
"It's not fair of him to inflict it on us." Arthur said quickly. "Or the court."
"Or any strangers we might get!"
"Exactly!" Arthur agreed, and Morgana smiled at him. Then he ruined it by adding, "It doesn't go with his eyes, either."
Morgana rolled her own eyes. "Arthur, I don't think that should be one of the arguments you give him."
"Well, what argument are you going to make?" Arthur demanded, rather hurt.
Morgana looked unforgivably smug. "I did some research," She said, producing an enormous book from her bag, and slamming it down on the table. "And there's a study here which implies that facial hair has an adverse affect on magic. I'm sure Merlin loves magic more than his new - accessory." She paused. "And that he's never read Morsden, who talks a load of utter rubbish." She added fairly, patting the book with a fond hand.
Arthur considered this for a moment or two, then nodded. "Yes. Good." He agreed. "Try it tomorrow, and we'll report back here tomorrow night to see how it goes."
Morgana knocked on the door of Merlin's rather impromptu study the next morning and waited until she definitely heard Merlin say 'come in' - too many people had made the mistake of assuming that Merlin wouldn't be doing anything dangerous, and had spent several ignominious days with different coloured hair, or skin - or even an entirely different body.
"Morgana." He said, with a tight smile. "What can I do for you?"
'Shave' was probably a bit blunt, Morgana thought, and there were subtler ways to go about it. Not that Merlin would need much subtlety, she added mentally. "What are you doing?" She asked casually. "Anything interesting?"
He shrugged, looking back down at the book he was reading. "Nothing exciting." He said, and she could see a half-written page in front of him.
"Composing a spell?" She asked, genuinely interested.
He nodded. "But not for anything exciting." He said, dragging a hand over his face, which rasped unpleasantly as it met the monstrosity covering his cheeks and masquerading as a beard.
"Well, what is it for?" she asked, pulling up a stool next to him, and perching on it.
"When I was Arthur's manservant, I used to do all my chores by magic," he explained, "And I was just thinking how useful it would be if other people could do that too."
"What's the problem?"
"I didn't use a spell for it." He admitted. "I just wanted it. You can't write 'you have to really want it' on a spell, can you? So I'm trying to track what the magic does and put it in words for people. It's taking a while."
"No, I suppose you can't." She agreed, then added, slyly, "You know, facial hair is supposed to make magic more difficult...?"
"Only Morsden ever said that," Merlin snapped, "And he was a deranged halfwit who thought he was King of somewhere called Sweden. He thought he was the king of a land of vegetables."
Morgana stared at him. "You've - you've read Morsden?" She asked, taken-aback.
"Of course I have!" he said, crotchety. "I'm a sorcerer, I have to be informed, or people die." Merlin emphasised things more as he got cross, Morgana noted, fascinated by this rare and heretofore unseen side of Merlin. "I even tried reading that idiot, until he started talking about bathing in the warm blood of goats. Not that it did me much good," he added, bitterly, "Since I got fired anyway."
"Yes, that bit about the blood was rather off-putting, wasn't it?" She agreed, for once in her life unsure how to react to something; she didn't know what to do with Merlin's bitterness at being fired. "So who did you find the most useful?"
"Can it wait?" Merlin asked, gesturing at the parchment with his now-dry quill.
Morgana stood, and swept an absent curtsey. "Of course."
"No go on the magic front." She reported back that night. "Though you might be reassured to know that your sorcerer is surprisingly well-read. But rather bitter about being fired. Which was maybe a little extreme, Arthur."
Arthur brushed that aside, impatiently. "Well that's all very reassuring, of course." he sad, bad-temperedly, ignoring the part about firing Merlin just as Morgana had at the time, "But how are we going to get rid of that thing on his face?"
"We could set fire to it?" Lancelot suggested, rather absently, one hand entwined in Gwen's, thumb stroking the back of her hand.
"It's just as well you're pretty, Lancelot." Morgana said scathingly.
Lancelot accepted the jibe placidly. It took a fair bit to rile him, thankfully, or Gaius would have been overrun with arrogant knights of offensively noble birth daily. "Alright, so that was a silly suggestion. Maybe we could tell him that ladies don't like beards?" he amended. "He might go for that?"
Gwen noted Arthur's wince at that, but couldn't work out quite what it meant. Unless Arthur was in love with Merlin himself, and didn't want Merlin to be popular with ladies, which was obviously ridiculous. Arthur always wanted Merlin to be happ- oh. Oh.
Morgana paused, glanced at Arthur, and then shrugged. "It's worth a try, isn't it?" He nodded, mutely. "Um, Lancelot, why don't you give it a go?" She suggested, quickly. "And - report back here tomorrow night again?"
Lancelot's approach to this was less sneaky than Morgana's, but equally inscrutable. After collaring Merlin in one of the corridors, he proceeded to talk his ear off over his relationship with Gwen and then rounded the whole off with a subtle,
"I think she likes my stubble." He rubbed at his jawline, "Stubble is very popular with the ladies."
He kept his eye on Merlin while saying this, to catch his reaction - but was disappointed. Merlin's only reaction was a shrug, and there was very little change to his look of blank terror, which he had been wearing ever since Lancelot had caught him.
"I don't think fully grown beards are that popular." He persisted. "They're not really fashiona-"
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Merlin shouted, and stormed off, leaving a rather shell-shocked Lancelot on his wake, and the echo of the thunderclap which had come with his shout.
"No luck, I'm afraid." Lancelot reported that night. "He was just angry when I suggested it."
Arthur perked up for a moment. "So he wasn't interested when you were talking about women?"
"The only time he was interested was when he was getting angry with me." Lancelot admitted. "He just looked frightened, or bored the rest of the time."
"You were talking about Gwen again, weren't you?" Morgana said, shrewdly, and Gwen flushed, but Lancelot just squeezed her hand again.
"It seemed sensible." He said, with dignity.
"Sensible, and very sweet, I'm sure." She agreed, "But there is a limit to all of our endurance."
"Well... what are we going to do now?" Gwen asked quickly. Very few things got Lancelot riled, but any criticism of his relationship with Gwen - perceived or otherwise - would do it.
"Gwen, maybe you should speak to him." Morgana said, hopelessly. "Though, if this doesn't work, we're just going to have to resign ourselves to getting used to the Thing. You're the nicest of all of us, and god knows-"
"I'll talk to him." Arthur said, abruptly.
"Arthur, I really don't think that that's a good idea..." Morgana warned, quickly, but Arthur ignored her.
"You needn't come back if he's still wearing his beard tomorrow morning." He said, heavily. "I won't have managed it."
Morgana was about to say something, but caught Gwen's eye and subsided. For all her sweetness, it was best to listen to Gwen; her retribution was pathetically unthreatening, except that she kept exuding this soul-crushing disappointment, and frankly, that was often more than Morgana could bear.
"Of course, Arthur," Gwen said now. "We'll see you tomorrow morning."
She led the way out of his chambers.
"My lady... I mean, Morgana, I think Arthur loves Merlin." Gwen said, urgently, the moment the door shut behind them. "I think that's why he was happy when Merlin wasn't upset that girls wouldn't like his beard."
Morgana paused, staring at her, then laughed. "Gwen, you are a dear, sweet creature." She said, kindly, "But you are an utter, utter goose."
Lancelot frowned at her, and Gwenn stared. "What do you mean?" She asked, finally.
"I mean, Arthur has been besotted with Merlin for months now." Morgana said, her eyes laughing. "Which is probably why he's reacted so badly to the Beard."
"Well, we should be helping him, shouldn't we?" Gwen asked, anxiously. "I'm sure Merlin would love him-"
"Gwen. Dear, silly Gwen." Morgana linked her arm with her former servant's. "Merlin is at least as much in love with Arthur as Arthur is with him."
"Oh. Oh. But-"
"Why don't we go to my chambers and have a nice cosy chat about it?" She suggested. "Lancelot, I'll even let you come too."
Alone back in his chambers, Arthur paced for a few moments, before ringing for a servant. "Er - fetch Merlin to me, would you?" He asked. Then, "Please." He added, finally.
The servant stared at him for a long moment, then fled. Arthur frowned after him.
Servants were very strange these days.
The boy arrived at Merlin's chambers panting, and burst in. Thankfully, Merlin was still writing, rather than casting anything, and the boy was saved a few days as some animal or another.
"Master wizard!" he panted out. "Master wizard, the king! I think there's something wrong with him!"
Merlin stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"He's acting oddly, sir!" The boy said, eyes rather wild.
"What do you mean, 'oddly'?" Merlin demanded.
"Oh, please, sir, just come and see him..."
Unable to refuse in the face of the boy's panic, Merlin allowed himself to be dragged out of the room, towards Arthur's chambers. The boy actually refused to come in with him, so he entered the room alone, confident that he was more than capable of dealing with anything Arthur might throw at him, even while apparently deranged.
"Ah, Merlin, there you are." Merlin braced himself for the insanity to come, but Arthur just turned to him and gestured him to a chair. "Take a seat."
"Wait, what?" Merlin demanded.
"Take a chair, Merlin, sit down, it's not that hard. Has all your admittedly pathetic brainpower been sidetracked while you try to grow that door mat?" He gestured at the Beard.
"That boy said you were acting oddly!!" He said, looking frankly betrayed.
"Not that I've noticed." Arthur said, impatiently. "Now, I wanted to talk to you seriously about that beard you're attempting to grow."
"For heaven's sake, Arthur." Merlin snapped. "It's a beard. You'll get used to it."
"I don't want to get used to it!" Arthur said, loudly. "It's horrific!"
"Well, I want to get used to it, so there!" Merlin said, rather childishly.
"Why, though? It doesn't suit you." Arthur pleaded. "It makes your lips and eyes look smaller, it hides your cheekbones..."
Merlin gave him a slightly odd look. "You've obviously thought rather more about this than I have." He said, slowly.
"Yes, I ha- wait. No. I just. No. What?" Arthur said, looking increasingly trapped.
Merlin grinned. "No, don't worry - I think it's sweet that you've put such a lot of thought into my beard."
Arthur gazed at the horrible thing on Merlin's face and frowned. "You - you do?"
"Well." Arthur coughed, not wanting to seem too much like a girl. "Well, I mean. Yes. I just - didn't want to, um, have you scare any visitors."
"Oh." Merlin looked a little taken aback, and his expression closed off again. "Well, I'm sure it won't frighten them too badly. And if they're going to be frightened of a beard, they're not worthwhile having as allies, are they? So think of it as a sacrifice you'll just have to make for the good of-"
Arthur could almost feel his chances of success ebbing away. "And I just - preferred you clean-shaven." He said, desperately. "You look so much better that way."
Merlin was silent for a long moment. "Really?"
"Oh, yes." Arthur nodded, fervently. "Much - er - nicer." He bit back the 'prettier' which wanted to escape, sensing that it might have something of an adverse effect. "I mean..."
Somewhat to Arthur's relief, Merlin interrupted him there, taking a step forward. "Arthur, why did you put so much thought into my beard?" he asked, softly.
"Like I said," Arthur said, awkwardly - this was not a conversation he was comfortable with, "I just wanted to be sure that you weren't going to-"
"Arthur." Merlin said, smiling at him. "Why did you put so much thought into my beard?"
"It doesn't suit you!" Arthur burst out, finally. "You don't suit beards! I can't see your cheekbones when you have a beard, and you don't look as - well, as... you with one."
"And this bothers you?"
"Of course it bothers me, you idiot, I didn't fall in love with the bearded wonder!"
Merlin smiled, rather mistily. "I wasn't aware that you'd fallen in love with me at all."
Arthur stopped dead. "Oh. Oh, gods." he moaned. "I just admitted I loved you, didn't I?"
"Yes." Merlin said, still with that soft smile.
"And you're acting like a girl about it, aren't you?"
"Obviously, my confession of love was an act of desperation to get you to shave that thing off your face." Arthur improvised, wildly.
"If that were true, you'd have waited until I actually had shaved it before admitting it." Merlin said, calmly.
"I didn't realise you loved me too-"
"I never said any such thing!"
"So obviously I had to take it back before I really hurt you." Arthur finished, triumphantly.
Merlin was quiet for a long, long moment - then he turned away. "If you didn't mean it, you should never have said it," he said, in a shaky sort of voice. "It's not - you can't play with people's feelings like that."
Arthur groaned. "Oh, Merlin, I didn't-" Merlin's shoulder's began to shake. "Oh, how big a girl are you?" he asked, despairingly, but the insult lacked bite. "Please don't cry." he said, desperately. "Look, I really didn't mean it-"
"That's the problem, though, isn't it?!" Merlin wailed.
"No, no, I meant that I really didn't mean that I don't love you!" Arthur said, successfully confusing himself, without much hope that Merlin would understand any better than Arthur himself.
Merlin hiccuped. "Really? You love me?"
Arthur nodded helplessly, then realised that Merlin couldn't see it. "Yes! Yes, I do, madly, only please stop crying!" He paused. "You - big girl." He added, rather half-heartedly.
"You're not just saying that because I c-cried?"
"No, no I'm not!" He said, hurriedly.
"Or to get me to shave?" If Arthur had been paying attention, he might have realised that Merlin's voice was suspiciously steady now, but he had been driven to an emotional feverpitch himself, and his levels of concentration had dropped somewhat.
"Well, not entirely. I mean, initially, maybe, but I wasn't planning on you finding out because of that." He said, fairly. "And I won't kiss you when I have to battle my way through that thing to get to your mouth. But - no. I love you anyway."
"Oh, you're so sweet." Merlin smiled; Arthur could hear it in his voice and relaxed somewhat - he hated it when Merlin was upset. Especially that upset; he'd never seen Merlin cry before. And certainly not when it was his fault. "That's the best declaration of love I've ever had." he turned back to Arthur, eyes clear, skin as pale as ever.
"You were faking!" Arthur exclaimed, shocked. "You - you faked crying to get me to say I loved you!"
"Well, not entirely." Merlin said, echoing Arthur. "I faked crying to see how you'd react. You passed the test, by the way."
"You sly, underhanded bastard!" Arthur exclaimed, betrayed. "What kind of decent man sneaks around to get a declaration of love!?"
"Careful, Arthur, or no sex." Merlin said, smugly, and grinned when Arthur shut up.
The blessed silence didn't last long. "So.... does this mean you'll shave, then?"
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