Lance stepped out of the moisture farm, wiping his hands on his tunic and searching the area. The two suns were beginning to set and he soon spotted him, the small silhouette on the hill, staring into the horizon.
Sighing, Lance headed towards him, lowering himself to the ground when he reached him. "Hey." He said softly, but received no response. "What's up?"
"Will's gone – to join the alliance." Came the quiet reply, as he continued to stare out at the horizon, hair ruffling in the slight breeze.
Lance sighed. "Merlin, I know you want to fight – and you'd be good at it, too, but-"
"I know, I know," Merlin interrupted, "I'm needed here." He sighed. "I just…It's hard, you know? I mean, Will's out there, actually doing something to help, something that I could do too, but…I'm stuck here."
Merlin sighed again, still not turning to face Lance. "I know, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Aunt and Uncle didn't have to take me in, but…"
"You're itching to actually do something to help." Merlin turned towards Lance in surprise, who shook his head wistfully. "I get it. Believe me, I do. I may not be a great pilot, but I'm a fair shot, and sometimes…" he broke off, sighing and pushed himself off the ground. "Come on, mum's almost got dinner ready."
He held out a hand, helping Merlin to his feet and slinging the same arm around his shoulders as they walked.
"I really am grateful, you know." Merlin said quietly. Lance turned his head in silent questioning. "To all of you, for taking me in. It mustn't have been easy, having a baby dropped off on you, even if it is your nephew."
"Well, I never saw you as a cousin." Lance said as they reached the door. "You were always my scrawny little brother." He ruffled Merlin's hair as he passed to go through the doorway, but he didn't miss Merlin's grin of gratitude.
As the DuLac family sat down to dinner, a small escape pod crashed into the sand-filled wilderness.
The next day dawned – to the blistering heat of two suns, as per usual – and Merlin was still prone to brooding stares, Lance was dismayed to note. He found his younger brother, once again, staring off into space after finishing his chores. "Come on, the Jawas are here."
Merlin sighed and turned to follow Lance. "Market day again?"
"You know we need more droids, Merlin."
"We have plenty of them out working." Merlin grumbled.
"Yes," Lance agreed, rolling his eyes, "but we do need a translator; one who can speak 'the binary language of moisture evaporators'."
"And bachi." Merlin added. Lance quirked an eyebrow. "Aunt told me to remind you. She knew Uncle would forget."
"Of course he will," Lance grinned. "He gets so excited about those evaporators that he has no room left to worry about anything else." Merlin grinned back and the two fell into step beside Owain to inspect the droids the Jawas had on offer.
After a while of looking over the line critically, Owain turned towards the two boys. "Right. So I've got us a translator – that Dragon-Droid over there-" he indicated a golden waist-height dragon halfway along the line, "now we just need another technical unit; one of these smaller ones." He turned to scrutinise the smaller droids before him, Lance mimicking him.
Merlin, however, turned – why, he didn't know – to the other end of the line of smaller droids. His eyes fell upon the only other Dragon-Droid in the Jawas' possession; a smaller, white-coloured dragon, whose eyes were focused on him.
"Right. That's settled then. Lance, you and Merlin take these two back and give them a clean before lunch."
"But dad, I was going to-"
"No buts, Lance."
A sigh, "Yes father. I'll take this one, Merlin; you take the Dragon-Droid. Merlin. Merlin!"
Merlin jerked, tearing his gaze from the dragon to his cousin. "Huh? What?"
Lance sighed, rolling his eyes. "I'm taking this droid in," he said, indicating the small tech unit, "and you take in the dragon."
Merlin let his eyes drift once more towards the smaller of the two dragons – whose gaze was still fixed upon him – before heading towards the other. The golden dragon fell into step beside him quietly, though occasionally sending him odd looks.
About halfway back to the house, the droid beside Lance suddenly stopped, emitting a large bang and copious amounts of steam as it did so. Lance growled under his breath. "Damn it!" he grumbled, stomping back over to the clearly faulty droid. "Dad!" he called over to where Owain was still haggling with the Jawas. "This droid's no good – its converter's gone."
Owain turned back to the Jawas angrily and Lance focused back on the still-smoking droid. "Great," he muttered. "Just great. Now we're going to have to wait while dad chooses a new one."
"What about that one?" Merlin asked, his gaze once again drawn to the white dragon.
"I can speak for him." The golden dragon spoke up. Lance's eyes widened in surprise, but Merlin merely turned to him in question. "I have worked with him before. He's quite the hard worker."
Merlin returned his gaze to the dragon and Lance followed, nodding contentedly. "Yes, he'll do. Hey dad – the white dragon."
Owain turned to appraise his son's choice, frowning. "He seems a bit on the small side."
Lance sighed, resigned to spending more time at the market, but Merlin spoke up this time. "We have plenty of the larger ones for the farming. It's the tech side we need now; we don't necessarily need large ones for that."
Owain glanced back to the dragon before nodding and turning back to the Jawa. Merlin grinned. "Aithusa!" he called. Lance whipped around in surprise as the white dragon headed for Merlin in response to his call. "Come on, Kilgarrah." The golden dragon started for the house too as the white dragon caught up to them. Merlin went to follow, but Lance held him back.
"How did you know their names?" Merlin blinked at him for a moment, brow furrowing.
"I…" Merlin floundered for a moment, unable to come up with an answer. "They must have told me." He finally settled on with a shrug.
"They didn't tell you, Merlin." Lance spoke seriously, his eyes focused intently on Merlin.
"Must be the magic thing, then."Merlin shrugged, slipping free of Lance's hold and following the dragons inside.
"Yeah," Lance muttered, staring after his cousin as he disappeared inside. "Must be."
Lance sighed as he watched Merlin clean up the two droids. "I don't see why I have to be here; you're the one doing all the work."
"Oh, no," Merlin laughed as he lowered Kilgarrah into an oil bath. "You're not leaving me here to run off with your friends."
"It's not like anything interesting is gonna happen."Merlin sighed and bowed his head, fiddling with the oil bath controls. "Hey, you're not still upset about Will, are you?"
"Will was right, you know."Merlin sighed, heading towards Aithusa. "We're never gonna get out of here."
"Yeah," Lance sighed dejectedly. "It's not fair."
"Excuse me," Kilgarrah cut across, though he seemed to be talking only to Merlin, "but might there be something I could do?"
"No," Merlin sighed. "Not unless you can speed up time so the harvest will be over and Uncle might let me go to the Academy. Or teleport me off this rock."
"Hmm." Kilgarrah watched Merlin intently as he began to clean Aithusa, holding the air of someone who knew more than they were letting on. "I'm not entirely knowledgeable about such things, not on this planet anyway."He paused for a moment. "Come to think of it, I'm not even sure which planet I'm on."
"Well," Lance cut in dryly, causing Kilgarrah to start slightly, turning towards him and blinking in surprise. "If there's a bright centre of the galaxy, we're the farthest from it."
"I see, sir." Kilgarrah said seriously. Lance raised his eyebrows at the shift in tone from when the dragon had been talking to Merlin.
"You can call me Lancelot, or just Lance."
"I see, Sir Lancelot." The dragon replied. Lance's lips twitched into a small grin as Merlin snorted with laughter.
"Just Lancelot." Lance corrected him.
Merlin hid his smile in his elbow as he tried to dig out the dirt in the nooks and crannies ofndnotes]=I struggled for a whi he encountered a particularly stubborn patch. "There's a lot of carbon scoring here – it looks like you two have seen a lot of action." He muttered as he tackled the patch.
"Yes," sniffed Kilgarrah disdainfully. "With all we've been through I wonder how we're in as good condition as we are. What with the rebellion and all."
"You know of the rebellion against the empire!?" Merlin and Lance burst out, whirling round to look to Kilgarrah in wide-eyed shock.
"Yes," Kilgarrah replied, eyes flickering between the two. "That's how we came to be in your service."
The two immediately began to bombard them with questions – what was it like? were you in many battles? – before they fell silent once again.
Merlin sighed. "I'll never get out of here."
"You will. Someday." Lance sighed, moving away towards the tools.
"Maybe, but the question is – will the rebellion be over by the time I do?"
Lance didn't answer, and Merlin focused back on cleaning Aithusa, jumping backwards in surprise when a hologram erupted from the small dragon. "What's this?" Merlin muttered, more to himself than to the others. Aithusa merely stayed silent, trying to look innocent while the others' gazes were fixed upon the hologram.
It was clearly only part of a message, showing a tall beautiful woman, who pled "Help me, Gaius. You're my only hope." before another woman appeared and the two looked to their right – panicked – and the taller woman leant to turn off the hologram. The hologram repeated the fragment of the message as Merlin, Lance and Kilgarrah stared at it.
"Who is that?" Merlin asked, puzzling over the slightest flicker of recognition inside him.
"I don't know." Kilgarrah answered hesitantly. "She was a passenger on our last voyage – a person of diplomatic importance, I believe."
"She's beautiful." Lance breathed, but as Merlin turned to glance at him, he found Lance's eyes following the smaller, curly-haired woman who had run in at the end. "Play the rest of the message."
Aithusa emitted a few beeping noises and Kilgarrah just looked at him for a moment before translating. "He says that he is the property of Gaius and that the message is for him."
"Gaius…" Merlin mused, sitting down on the floor. "I wonder if he means Old Gaius up in the hills."
"Surely not," Lance snorted. "Old Gaius is just a crazy old hermit."
"I don't know…" Merlin said hesitantly but Lance ignored him, instead turning back to Aithusa.
"Play the rest of the message." Lance demanded, but Aithusa bleeped some more. Lance looked to Kilgarrah for a translation.
"He says that the restraining bolt has short circuited his recording system, and that if you take it off, he may be able to play the rest of the recording."
Merlin looked ready to argue, but Lance jumped up to get the equipment. "Oh, of course. I suppose you're too small to run away on us, if I take this off." The bolt came off as Lance took a wrench to it, but the hologram simply disappeared. "Hey, where'd it go!?" Lance demanded angrily, turning to Kilgarrah.
"What do you mean 'where'd what go?'" Kilgarrah demanded of Aithusa. "The message you were just playing." Aithusa blinked innocently, shifting uneasily.
Lance looked ready to argue some more when they were interrupted by a voice calling out. "Boys, dinner!"
Lance sighed, calling back, "We'll be there in a minute, mother!" He looked back to the two dragons, turning to Kilgarrah. "You see what you can get out of him. I'll be right back."
Merlin hesitated in the doorway, unsure, but another cry of "Boys!" had him heading for the main house.
At dinner, Merlin was the one who brought up the dragons. "I think one of those Dragon-Droids might have been stolen." Merlin remarked, pushing his food around his plate.
Owain frowned. "What makes you say that?"
"When I was cleaning the smaller one, I came across a recording. And he said he belonged to a Gaius – I wondered if he meant Old Gaius up in the hills."
Owain and his wife shared a look before he responded. "That wizard's just a crazy old man." Again, Merlin wanted to argue, not knowing why he did, but his uncle spoke up before he could. "Tomorrow, I want you to take that Dragon-Droid to Anchor Head and have its memory erased. That'll be the end of it – he belongs to us now." His wife shot him a look but he pointedly looked away.
"But what if this Gaius comes looking for him?" Merlin argued.
"He won't. I don't think he exists anymore. He died, about the same time as your father." Lance's gaze flickered between his father and cousin.
Merlin's head shot up. "He knew my father?"
"I told you to forget it." Owain said sternly. Merlin dropped his gaze back down to his plate.
"I think those new droids are going to work out fine." Lance cut in, trying to diffuse the tension that had built up. "In fact," he paused, glancing at Merlin before continuing, "I've been thinking about our agreement. You know, about Merlin staying on another summer." Merlin glanced up sharply at him, wide-eyed. "And I was thinking, if these new droids work out, he could submit his application to the Academy this year."
Merlin stared at Lance, but Owain frowned. "This term? Before the harvest?"
Merlin smiled bitterly, shaking his head at Lance, but Lance frowned slightly and continued to argue. "We've got more than enough droids."
"Harvest is when I need the two of you the most, Lancelot. You know that." Lance looked down at his plate, Merlin caught his eye and let out a small grin of gratitude. "It's only one more season. This year, we'll make enough in the harvest that I can spare you, Merlin."
Merlin – who had been fairly calm throughout, knowing that his Uncle would never agree – felt himself getting angry at the familiar argument. "Yeah, that's what you said when Will and I were planning on going together – and looked how that turned out." He stood from the table, smiling gratefully at Lance and his Aunt, before he walked out.
Lance found him half an hour later, sitting on the ridge watching the two suns set. "Thanks for trying, Lance," he murmured, "but you had to know it wouldn't work."
Lance sighed. "I think he's afraid to let you go, Merlin." Merlin shook his head, but Lance continued. "You don't realise how much you mean to us, do you?" Merlin just looked at his cousin for a moment, scrutinising him. Lance grinned back at him, hauling him to his feet and throwing his arm around his shoulders as he had the night before. "Come on, let's get those dragons fixed up for tomorrow."
The room was dark when the two cousins stepped back into it. Merlin glanced at Lance uneasily before he started calling out. "Kilgarrah? Aithusa?"
Lance jumped as Kilgarrah emerged from the shadows, though Merlin didn't bat an eyelash. "I'm sorry, Merlin." Kilgarrah started. "I did try to persuade him, but he refused to listen – just kept babbling on about his mission."
"Oh no." Merlin groaned, grabbing the binoculars and running back out the door.
"Damn it!" Lance exclaimed, running after him. "Any sign of him?" he asked desperately as he caught up.
"No."Merlin sighed, taking the binoculars down from his face.
"This is all my fault." Lance shook his head angrily. "I shouldn't have taken off the restraining bolt."
"Maybe," Merlin conceded, "But let's focus on finding on Aithusa now."
"Dad's going to kill me." Lance groaned. "That little dragon's going to cause me a whole lot of trouble."
"Oh, he excels at that." Kilgarrah said ruefully.
"Well, it's too dark to go looking for him now," Merlin said grimly. "We'll just have to wait and go looking in the morning."
Lance nodded with a sigh, still watching the horizon. Kilgarrah and Merlin turned to head back into the house but as he had that morning, Lance held Merlin back.
"Merlin," he spoke lowly and slowly. "How did he know your name?"
Merlin shrugged. "He must've heard you or Aunt saying it." He twisted out of Lance's grip again and headed back inside.
Lance watched him go, brow furrowed in thought, not quite so convinced.