Word Count: 1812
A/N: Vampire AU set in the Scent 'verse.
Summary: Arthur has issues with self-control. Merlin doesn't make it easy for him.
Being a manservant, Merlin decides, is quite possibly a fate worse than death.
It takes him roughly two days to come to that conclusion.
He's certain 'manservant' can't even be a real job. So far his duties seem to consist of doing whatever Arthur is too lazy or too royal or too smug to do himself. He ends up in the stables, mucking out Arthur's horses. He polishes armour. He cleans clothes and sweeps floors and fetches food and heats water for Arthur's ridiculously frequent baths.
And all of that would be bad enough in itself - but, to make matters worse, Arthur has a habit of watching him as he does it. Standing a small distance from the stables - he'd claimed the smell made him gag - Arthur had watched him all day. When Arthur trains with his men he comes up with tasks that Merlin could do while in viewing range. It's downright creepy, and Gaius does not seem nearly concerned enough when Merlin mentions it to him.
"You are his servant, Merlin," he explains, while stirring a bubbling pot. The liquid inside is a disturbing brown-green colour. Merlin thinks it's best if he doesn't ask what exactly it is. "You ought to be close to him at all times, in case he needs anything."
There's a strange stress on that last word and Gaius looks up, catching Merlin's gaze and holding it. Merlin feels that there's some sort of deeper meaning in that look, something important, but it flies over his head.
"I'd better go," he sighs. "Arthur's started sending his men after me if I'm gone for more than an hour." Arthur's going to drive him mad within a week. Whoever could have predicted that the royal family would be so utterly bonkers? He supposes that he'll at least have some fun stories to take with him the next time he gets to go home.
"Be careful," Gaius advises.
It sounds rather more ominous than Merlin thinks that it ought to, but he waves cheerily and heads back towards Arthur's chambers.
His cheerful mood fades within two seconds of entering the room. Should've known that it wouldn't last long.
"Where on Earth have you been?" Arthur snaps before the door has even closed behind him.
"I was visiting Gaius."
A dry puff of air fluffs from Arthur's nose: "Hmph."
And if Arthur were not the Prince of all of Camelot, Merlin is certain that the expression on his face right now would be described as pouting. Neck sniffing, near-stalking, and now pouting. The more he learns about the prince the odder he seems.
"You should have asked my permission first," Arthur scolds. "It isn't right for you to wander off while you're working for me."
"But I'm always working for you." No breaks, no stops for lunch unless Arthur remembers that - yes - servants do in fact need to eat. Merlin's not surprised that Arthur forgets sometimes. He's hardly ever actually seen him eat, though he's made to bring food to his chambers regularly. When he takes the plate or bowl away it is usually in the same condition as it entered the room, but pushed around or played with. Seeing this always makes him want to clip Arthur around the ear and tell him about the conditions in the rural areas; about how a single bad harvest could starve a family; about the starving poor; about what some men would do for something as simple as that meal.
But he is a servant and Arthur is a prince, so Merlin sticks to his sarcasm and to rolling his eyes behind Arthur's back.
And talking to Gwen about it. He's found that Gwen, one of the other servants, is one of the few sane people in this entire place. Complaining about Arthur's odd behaviour to her is always met with a knowing smile, as if she understands what he's going through. Come to think of it, Morgana is always in the same area as Gwen. Maybe…
Before the thought takes root, he glances towards Arthur to find his sire clicking his fingers at him. "Sorry?"
"God, Merlin, you are absolutely insufferable," Arthur complains.
"Yet for some reason you insist on suffering me," Merlin points out, smiling. That's one mystery he still hasn't gotten to the bottom of. "What were you just saying?"
Arthur gives a put-upon sigh. "You still haven't polished my armour. We need to go and do that."
We. Merlin's fairly certain that the whole point of having a servant is so that Arthur is free to do other, more important things, like picking other necks to sniff and prancing around like a right royal prat. Accompanying Merlin on all of his tasks has to be a waste of time for the prince – but whenever Merlin cares to mention this he is met with either a scowl or another sigh. Arthur sighs a lot around him.
They trudge down to the armoury. When they get there, Arthur finds a seat while Merlin finds his armour and is left to kneel on the floor as he works on it. All of this would be so much easier if Arthur would simply leave him alone for a while: a little magic would have it done in no time, but considering the national policy on sorcerers Merlin isn't willing to try that at all. He quite likes his head being attached to his neck, to be perfectly honest. He'd like it to remain that way.
It's not all bad. Not really. Despite being an absolute twat, Arthur's actually pretty fun to talk to - and he's certainly fun to listen to as he rants and ramble about various nobles and knights. Merlin is happy to listen to him as he works on polishing this stupid armour.
While Arthur is talking about some knight or other and the scandal surrounding him and an older woman, Merlin takes to sharpening his sword - and it's then that it happens. So stupid, so clumsy, his finger slips and slashes along the blade. Nothing too big and nothing too deep but it stings like hell. A few drops of blood well up.
Merlin curses creatively beneath his breath and screw his eyes shut, waiting for the initial sting of pain to fade.
And Arthur has stopped talking.
The armoury is silent.
Merlin's body tenses though he doesn't know why - a long-hidden and forgotten instinct is screaming danger at him. He opens his eyes slowly, raising his head - Arthur is right there, kneeling right on the ground beside him, and he looks just like he had on the first day that they'd bumped into each other in the castle's corridors. He looks down at Merlin's hand, focused on nothing but that, but Merlin can see his eyes. Black, pitch black, and hungry.
"Sire?" Merlin breathes cautiously.
Arthur reaches out to hold onto his wrist. Merlin feels certain that his pulse is racing ridiculously fast; there's nothing's wrong here, he tells himself, but he doesn't believe it. Not for a second.
"You're bleeding," Arthur says. His voice sounds distant, far-away.
Merlin can't take his eyes from Arthur's face, but he can hardly feel the throb of pain from his finger any longer. "It's just a scratch," he says. "Nothing to worry about. Um. Can you let go of me now?"
Arthur's grip remains. It's freakishly strong. What does Camelot feed its knights anyway? It has to be some sort of bizarre strength-enhancer, because even when Merlin struggles to tug his arm out of Arthur's grasp it doesn't work. Arthur's eyes stay greedily focused on his finger, on the few drops of blood dribbling down.
"Arthur, this isn't funny," Merlin says, as if using his name might jolt him out of whatever strange mood he's in.
It doesn't work.
If anything, well, Merlin would be inclined to say that it makes things worse. A lot worse - because Arthur draws his hand up until it touches his lips. He doesn't kiss Merlin's fingertip, that'd be the wrong word. He runs it over his bottom lip, leaving a faint coat of blood there that he follows with his tongue. His black eyes shiver closed.
Oh god, then he lets out a moan that makes Merlin's breath catch in his chest. It's a deep, rumbling thing, the kind of sound that Merlin's never heard before and that he's certain he's not supposed to hear from Arthur - not caused by him and not by smearing blood over his lip.
He's not even struggling to get his hand back any more, leaving it loose and limp in Arthur's grasp.
Arthur's tongue runs over Merlin's fingertip, teasing the open cut. His hand is covered with dirt and dust and metal from his chores of the day so Merlin knows he must taste awful but Arthur gives another of those moans. It's enough to make Merlin ignore the stinging ache in his finger.
He's watching Arthur, unable to move, but when the stinging pain becomes something much sharper and stronger he can't help but yelp. His eyes flare and he pulls his hand back, breaking that supernatural grip upon his wrist with burning ease. Arthur yelps too, tumbling backwards and pulling his hands to his chest as if he'd just plunged them into boiling water.
Looking down at his finger, Merlin can see another cut on it next to the one that had started this nonsense. This one's deeper, messier, and more painful. Even staring at it, it takes Merlin a moment or two to realise what just happen - Arthur bit him.
He looks up to find Arthur staring at him, his eyes like the night sky. Black, so black, but different now - there is the faintest touch of gold upon them, something warm and magical. "Go," Arthur rasps. His voice doesn't sound like his own. "Go and find Gaius. Get him to fix your finger."
He's breathing heavily. After the words have spoken he grits his teeth and clenches his hands as if he's in pain.
Although Merlin knows that his finger is not wounded badly enough to need a physician's attention, he takes the opportunity to scramble clumsily to his feet. At first he tries to pick up the armour still sitting on the floor but Arthur shakes his head and waves at the door. "Go," he insists, as if he isn't sure what will happen if Merlin doesn't leave soon.
Merlin's never counted himself a coward, but he leaves as quickly as he can: there's a cold sweat upon his skin, something he only notices once he's half-way to Gaius's chambers. His hands are shaking.
Neck sniffing, now finger tasting... Holding his bleeding finger to his chest, Merlin knows that he needs to work out what's going on - and soon.