Word Count: 2419
A/N: Vampire AU set in the Scent 'verse.
Summary: After running into Gwen, Merlin finally gets some answers.
When Gwen bumps into Merlin on his way to Gaius's, her face slips from pleased to distraught with the sort of speed that would make an archer jealous. At first Merlin worries he's done something wrong, but then he notices the way that she's staring at his bleeding finger. His spirits sink: if finger-sucking is going to be a Camelot tradition he wishes he'd had a little forewarning first.
"You're bleeding," Gwen observes.
With a cautious nod of his head, Merlin confirms that fact. "I cut myself with Arthur's sword. You wouldn't believe the—"
"Has Arthur seen you?" Gwen asks urgently, cutting across his words. He doesn't think she's ever done that before.
"Seen me? Of course he's seen me. He was there. He went a bit mental, to be honest."
Gwen's frown deepens and she takes him by the wrist, popping her head inside the door of the nearest room. Upon finding it empty she leads him inside. "Stay here. I'll fetch some bandages."
"Arthur said to go to Gaius."
"I don't think that's a good idea," she says, shaking her head. "It would spread your scent further."
"My-" Merlin cuts himself off, eyebrows raised. This place is mad. Mad. "Gwen, what's going on?"
"Just wait here," she tells him, "and try not to bleed on anything."
She leaves him, rushing quickly out of the room. He lets out a long breath and looks around. He can't even tell what this room is for, if indeed it is 'for' anything at all. The castle seems full of rooms and corridors that are utterly pointless yet stuffed full with furniture and décor that cost more than Merlin's life is worth. This particular room is dusty and dark. It makes him wish for a flame to light the room and hold back the shadows. The only illumination that comes is the thinning sunlight from outside. Even that is bound to fade soon, once the sun sets.
Gwen returns with a bucket of water, a cloth and some bandages.
"That's sort of overkill, isn't it, Gwen? It's just a cut." She's acting as if he's severed his finger, so he holds it up for her as if to display that his fingertip is still firmly attached. It makes her sigh at him.
They both sit on the dusty furniture and she takes his hand, using the dampened cloth to wipe the drying blood away. It makes him wince and he struggles not to let himself pull away from her gentle grasp. "It's not 'just a cut'," she sighs. "Not with you – not for Arthur."
The way she says it makes Merlin's insides squirm uncomfortably, makes his instincts tell him that something is very, very not right here. Everyone else seems to know something that he doesn't, so he doesn't try to stop himself when he asks, "What's wrong with Arthur?"
That's not a respectful way to talk about their future king, even behind his back, but it's not as if Merlin is especially respectful to his face either - and it's not as if, with all of his bizarre antics, Arthur has done very much to gain Merlin's respect either. Not yet. He'll withhold judgement.
Gwen's eyes narrow as she looks up at him, the cloth stilling in its process of cleaning him up. "You don't know?" she asks.
"Don't know what?"
"Arthur didn't tell you?" She looks away. "Or Gaius, at the very least..."
"Nobody's told me anything. What am I supposed to have been told?"
She closes her eyes and there's a long, stretching pause that makes Merlin's skin itch with tension. "It's... complicated. I don't know what to say."
"Say anything. Tell me why Arthur decided it was a good idea to suck my finger once I'd cut it. That'd be nice."
"He drank from you?" She sounds scandalised. He supposes it is a fairly odd thing for Arthur to do, especially to a servant. Looking down at his newly cleaned finger, she examines the twin cuts, one inflicted by the sword and one by Arthur's freakishly sharp tooth. "He bit you?"
"Only a little…" Merlin mumbles.
Gwen shakes her head in some sort of disappointment, and sets about wrapping his finger in the bandage she'd brought with her. "Do you remember the war Camelot fought three years ago?"
"Vaguely," Merlin says. "It didn't really affect my village all that much." Why would it? They heard the stories and the tales, but the war seemed far away and had ended quickly, overshadowed by so many more important things. The politics of the court meant very little to them.
"It was bad," Gwen says. "Here, I mean. We nearly lost everything. Bayard and his men managed to kidnap the prince and Lady Morgana right from the castle, and when they came back…"
She falls silent as she finishes bandaging his wound. For such a pair of tiny cuts, he's ended up with an obnoxiously large wad covering his finger. He'll be finding it difficult to use buttons or tie laces because of it. "What happened?" he prompts gently.
"They were… different. Changed." She looks down at the table as she folds up the remainder of the bandages. "I shouldn't be the one to tell you this, Merlin."
"No one else is going to, apparently." What would change someone enough that they'd develop a habit of sucking peoples' fingers? "C'mon Gwen, tell me. It sounds serious."
"It is." She won't meet his eyes any more. He's sure that can't be a good sign. "It's Camelot's worst-kept secret; I assumed you already knew. You must know."
"They're vampires." She meets his eyes now. "They were turned into vampires while they were captive. I think it was supposed to turn them against Uther, but it didn't work."
"Vampires?" Merlin says, as if to check that he's heard her right. Vampires.
And it isn't that ridiculous.
Really, it isn't. He has magic running through his veins and he can make objects float and summon lightning from the sky, so vampires… They're really not that out there.
"Are you sure?"
"It's why Uther hates magic so much, Merlin."
"But surely we'd know if the future king was a vampire. It's not exactly something that can stay secret for long, is it?"
Instead of answering him directly, Gwen reaches for the sleeve of her dress. She pulls it up, allowing the yellow material to wrinkle around her elbow. On her arm, there is a mass of bandages just like the one on Merlin's finger. As he watches she unwinds them, revealing healing marks upon her dark skin. He can see the delicate marks of sharp teeth, several of them.
"It's real," she says.
"Arthur did that?"
Her head shakes. "Morgana."
He can't take his eyes from the healing marks. They are in varying degrees of healing; some look a lot older than others. There's one that looks fresh and painful. "Does it hurt?"
Gwen neither nods nor shakes her head. "It's… strange. It hurts afterwards."
"But not during?"
"No." Her smile is a distant and mysterious thing. "Not during. Definitely not during."
Well, that's encouraging. Because if Gwen is Morgana's handmaiden and has services such as that required of her, then Merlin doesn't want to think too in-depth about Arthur's motivations in having him assigned to be his manservant. It would at least explain all the sniffing.
"I should talk to Arthur, shouldn't I?" Merlin sighs reluctantly. He's very rarely dreaded a conversation quite this much.
"Maybe in the morning," Gwen suggests. "I'll ask Morgana if she'll look in on him tonight."
"Thank you." Merlin looks down at his bandaged finger, his mind swirling with the weight of so much new information. He won't sleep tonight. He'll raid Gaius's books or even the library if he can sneak in. Thanks to Gwen, at least now he knows what to look for.
"You're late," is the first thing that Arthur says to him when he enters his chambers the following morning.
"And you're already dressed," Merlin counters with a frown.
"I'm already dressed because you are late. Cause and effect, Merlin." Arthur answers loftily.
Standing near the doorway, Merlin observes him for a moment or two. Arthur is near the window and there is a bright stream of sunshine pouring upon him, the light causing his hair to shine like gold. "You're standing in the sun," Merlin points out.
"Your observational skills are truly remarkable," Arthur says. "Now grab my boots – I want them cleaned today."
"All of them." Arthur smiles smugly. "I'm training the men all day. You can do it at the side of the field."
"Or," Merlin suggests, "I could actually get on with something useful. There must be something else I can do. Something in the castle?"
He knows Arthur won't agree to that. After what Gwen told him last night, he's certain of it – but he can't stop prodding anyway. Can't stop watching to see how he reacts.
And he sees it, the frown of displeasure and the curl of Arthur's lip before he shakes his head insistently. "Sometimes I think you forget that you are the servant here, Merlin, not the master. Guess what that means?" Arthur looks up – frown gone, smirk present – but Merlin doesn't guess. "It means that you have to do what I say."
"Even when what you say is utterly ridiculous?"
"Especially then. It shows loyalty."
Merlin crosses his arms over his chest, trying to look half as physically intimidating as Arthur does effortlessly. He's fairly sure that he fails, but he knows that he has exactly the words that are needed to wipe the smug expression off of Arthur's face. "Gwen told me last night, you know. About the vampire thing."
He has to admit that it doesn't have quite the reaction that he'd been hoping for.
He'd imagined that Arthur would take a shocked step backwards, that the colour would drain from his face, and that he'd gasp – or maybe shriek – in horror. The real reaction is something of a disappointment. Arthur shrugs one shoulder, and he stays right on the spot. "Good for her? You know, Merlin, you don't need to recount every detail of each conversation you have to me. I appreciate the gesture, but—"
He cuts himself off before Merlin has to do it for him, but the look of sudden realisation that dawns on his face instead is not much of an improvement. It's like the clear sky before the storm comes crashing in: as stunning as it is, Merlin knows that what follows is going to be much worse.
"You didn't know?" Arthur asks. "All this time, you didn't know what I was? What I am, rather."
Arthur gapes at him in amazement for a few moments, his blue eyes wide. That's the shock that Merlin had wanted, but it's definitely over the wrong topic. He'd wanted Arthur to be stunned at his knowledge, not at his previous lack of it.
"So what on Earth have you thought I've been doing all this time?" Arthur asks. "Did you think I was sniffing you for the hell of it?"
"I thought you were just being you," Merlin says. The raising of Arthur's eyebrow makes him add, "Being a prat, I mean."
Arthur shrugs, the words seeming to bounce off of him as if he's wearing armour. "Well, now you know the truth. And I presume that means you're going to be more careful. We can't have a repeat of yesterday's fiasco."
"Yeah, about that…"
That's finally enough to make Arthur flounder, but he recovers himself with annoying ease. Taking Merlin's wrist, he leads him towards the large wooden table in his room. They sit down in seats that are closer to each other than they really need to be. Arthur's grip on his wrist doesn't loosen and he shows no intention of pulling back any time soon.
"Merlin…" Arthur says, reasonably.
Merlin isn't much in the mood for reason, though, not when he remembers the bite marks on Gwen's arm. "You're going to drink me, aren't you?" God, he doesn't want to become the prince's lunch. That's not why he came to Camelot. Admittedly, his noble quest in coming to Camelot was more along the lines of nobly leaving his village before he got into trouble there, but that's far from the point. The point being that being Arthur's servant is frustrating enough without having to be a blood donor as well, and Merlin certainly intends on telling him as much.
However, he finds that Arthur is already shaking his head. "If I was going to do so, I would have done it already. Stop looking so scared."
"I wasn't scared."
"You were terrified."
"Well, you did suck my blood yesterday."
"I sucked your finger. That's hardly life-threatening."
Arthur's hand is still holding onto Merlin's wrist, but his grip is soft now, gentle. Despite the derision in his voice, his thumb is stroking the tender skin on the inside of Merlin's wrist: it's soothing, though Merlin doesn't think that he needs to be soothed. His pulse is racing, and he doubts if it's purely because of the danger of being this close to a vampire.
"Lady Morgana drinks from Gwen," Merlin says. "I saw the marks."
"That's different. Morgana can control it better than I can, and…"
"Control what better?"
"The hunger." Arthur's jaw clenches. His blue eyes meet Merlin's gaze, disturbing in their seriousness. "I wouldn't be able to stop. Once I start, I can't pull back, and with you— I don't think even Morgana could pry me off."
"You'd kill me," Merlin says, his mouth forming the words without conscious thought.
Arthur quirks a smile that is utterly devoid of humour, and lets go of Merlin's wrist abruptly. "And that's why I will not be snacking on you any time soon," he says. "Now hurry up and get my boots. We haven't got all day."
If Merlin had been hoping for easier treatment once Arthur's secret was out in the open, he's clearly set to be disappointed. He scrambles to his feet from his chair, rushing to do as he's told while being over-conscious of Arthur impatiently watching him. With all the information that's been thrust at him, he can at least rest assure that he will have something to occupy his thoughts while he carries out the mind-numbing tasks that will occupy his day.