Pairing: Arthur/Merlin; Gwen/Morgana
Word Count: 3435
A/N: Vampire AU set in the Scent 'verse.
Summary: After Arthur shows up in his bedroom at night, Merlin discovers that the full moon doesn't only have an effect on werewolves.
Merlin hasn't slept well since all the nonsense about Arthur, Morgana and vampires was revealed. It's not because he's scared – because he's not, honestly: Arthur may be a prat but he isn't a killer – but it's because of the dreams. Muggy like a heat wave the dreams press in around him whenever he closes his eyes. It's nothing coherent, but there's sex and there's blood and there's that endless sense of complete belonging. Behind closed eyes, Arthur lays him out on his bed and claims him in ways that no good country boy should dream about, then sinks sharp fangs into the pale skin of his neck and drinks until his eyes shine with gold.
And, really, Merlin is quite absolutely and completely certain that that is not an appropriate way for a manservant to think about his lord.
Controlling his dreams is thoroughly impossible, however, and while Merlin is certain that he in some way can blame Arthur for all of this it isn't Arthur that has to struggle to stay awake every night for fear of what might await him there. 'Fear' probably isn't the right word. Maybe worry, or frustration, or annoyance would fit better. Yes, annoyance. Merlin likes that one.
In sleep, Merlin rolls over to lie on his front on the bed, his arm curling beneath his stomach in a position that will probably make his wrist ache tomorrow: in his dream, Arthur is there with him and pressed against his back. There is cold breath on the nape of his neck and Arthur's hands on his hips and there is no option, none at all, other than to hand himself over entirely to his lord – and even in his dreams Merlin knows that that level of obedience, coming from him, is utterly ridiculous.
That's probably why his mind promptly boots him out of the dream and, groaning, Merlin opens his eyes into groggy consciousness. It's still dark outside his window with a ripe moon providing the only light. He is absolutely certain that it ought to be a criminal offence to be woken up at this hour. Pondering whether or not it would be feasible to have Arthur put in the stocks for life for plaguing his dreams like this, Merlin flops onto his back in the struggle to find a comfortable position and fall back to sleep –
And immediately finds himself staring at a figure standing at the foot of his bed.
A very, very Arthur-like figure.
Merlin rubs his hand over his sleep-blurred eyes: Arthur is still standing there even once his vision starts to clear, though he has started to look a little sheepish. "Arthur?" Merlin mumbles – sleep-sodden, it possibly comes out sounding something like, rara?, but considering the time and the situation Merlin thinks that it's an admirable effort.
"It's me," Arthur confirms after clearing his throat.
"I know," Merlin agrees. He sits up – or tries to, before deciding that's far too much work. "Why? Do you need something?"
"No. Nothing. Go back to sleep."
Well, doing that is really impossible with Arthur standing there: Merlin isn't sure if it's his princeliness, his vampireness or his prattishness that makes sleep an impossibility. Probably a mix of all three. A royal, vampiric prat is in his bedroom, and Merlin knows for sure that he won't be going to sleep again until he's gone.
"No, really. Sire, what is it?" He makes a move to throw the covers back, screwing up all of his courage to face the cold in order to do so, but he stops when he hears a low, insistent growl rumble from Arthur's chest.
"Lie back down," Arthur insists, and Merlin obeys, eyes wide and hair messy.
Arthur scowls at him, eyes narrowing in the moonlight, but at least he isn't growling again. There's something about that sound that is designed to chill the blood; it is a sound that is a reminder that humans aren't as close to the top of the food chain as they like to believe. "Move over," Arthur says once he's done with scowling.
"To the side of the bed. I want to lie down."
"It's not very comfortable."
"I don't care."
"I've seen that." It's Merlin's turn to scowl now. It's not fair for Arthur to have crept in here while he was sleeping – and then to make fun of his sleeping habits. He's sure that's cheating. Or something like it. "Just move over to the other side of the bed, Merlin. I'm the prince. Do as I say."
"It's a very narrow bed," Merlin grumbles as he rolls over onto his side. He can hear the sound of Arthur pulling off his boots, but his eyelids droop and he doesn't bother to offer to help like a good servant probably would. "You're not going to eat me, are you?" he asks, slurring.
Arthur shoves his shoulder. Merlin's not sure if that's a satisfying answer, but then Arthur lies down snug behind him and he doesn't really mind any more. Arthur's arm wraps around his waist and holds him snugly against his chest, and Merlin can already feel himself drifting off to sleep even though he knows that having a neck-sniffing vampire in his bed ought to be a reason to stay wide awake and defensive.
When he wakes in the morning, his room is empty. The sun is shining into his bedroom through the window: it is already high and bright enough that Merlin can tell he's slept in far too late. For once, Gaius hasn't been through to roughly awaken him. He blinks blearily and wonders if, seeing as he's already late for his duties, he could afford to simply lie here until someone comes to chase him out of bed.
Then he thinks of Gaius's disapproving scowl and the mocking he will probably receive at Arthur's hands and he sighs and sits up. There is no sign that Arthur was in his room at all last night, and Merlin frowns: maybe another dream? It's hard to tell.
"Ah, Merlin," Gaius says when he eventually gets dressed and stumbles out of his bedroom. He tenses up and waits for the inevitable lecture about his lazy habits, but it doesn't come: Merlin's beginning to get the impression that nothing in this castle will ever happen like he expects it to. "Arthur came by this morning. He said to tell you that you have the day off."
"I have what?"
"A day off, Merlin. He doesn't wish for you to attend on him today." Gaius looks at him sternly, as if he's about to suggest that Merlin help him all day instead, but Merlin isn't focusing on that impending doom. He's trying to work out why on Earth Arthur would have had such a sudden burst of philanthropy.
"You're sure he said that?" he asks. "Completely sure?"
"I am absolutely certain," Gaius confirms. He catches Merlin's gaze and holds it. "It's the full moon tonight."
And, ah, there it is: one of those mysterious little inferences that Merlin knows ought to mean something to him just by the way that Gaius nods. He sighs. "I don't know any of this vampire stuff, Gaius. You need to actually tell me about it. I thought the full moon was a werewolf thing?"
Gaius's sigh is one of disappointment, and it's a sigh that Merlin knows he will be well used to before long. "Really, Merlin, considering that you serve under a vampire it might do you some good to do a little research."
"I did!" Merlin protests, but he finds himself blushing when he thinks of the old books he'd managed to locate about vampires. They're a very odd subject. The descriptions of vampires in the books had been of sexualised, dark predators preying on innocent young woman, and he can't think of Arthur like that. It makes him laugh whenever he tries. "It, uh, wasn't all that useful."
"The full moon is a draw on the creatures inside them," Gaius says. He clears his throat uncomfortably . "Seeing as Arthur has – well – fixated upon you in particular…"
And now Gaius is blushing too. God, Merlin thinks that he could have quite happily have gone his entire life without having to have any blush-worthy conversations with Gaius. He bites his bottom lip, then says, "I might go and ask Gwen, actually. She has, y'know, first-hand information about it, right?"
Gaius perks up immediately. "Right! Marvellous idea. Just make sure to give Arthur's chambers a wide berth today."
"Of course," Merlin agrees. He all but runs from the room, undecided about whether that was better or worse than the time that his mother had tried to sit him down and talk to him about girls, birds and bees.
There's a lightness in his walk and a lack of tension upon his shoulders as he walks through the castle's corridors: a day off. A day without making Arthur's bed for him or polishing his armour or bringing him food or anything else. Freedom. It feels nice. Unusual, but nice. Maybe Morgana can be wheedled into giving Gwen the day off as well; they could go into the town and explore. Merlin hasn't had much of a chance to do that for himself, in between neck-sniffing and finger-biting adventures.
He knocks but doesn't wait before entering – and soon discovers why, exactly, he should have waited for them to answer the door. Gwen and Morgana sit on Morgana's bed together with Gwen's back resting against Morgana's chest. It would look peaceful and comfortable – there's a happy smile on Gwen's face – but Morgana has Gwen's wrist raised to her mouth and red blood dribbles down Gwen's forearm. Gwen's breathing comes in short, shallow puffs and there are spots of pinks colouring her cheeks.
"Uh…" Merlin says, and he wishes that something more intelligent would come.
Morgana looks up to the door, her lips stained red and her eyes pitch black. She looks so inhuman in her otherworldly beauty that Merlin is rooted to the spot. He knows that he ought to leave the room, slam the door behind him and find somewhere to hide for the remainder of day but he can't move a single inch.
"Oh," Gwen says. She sounds mortified. Pulling away from Morgana, she reaches for a pile of cloths they'd had resting beside them: prepared, waiting. She presses it against her wrist. "Merlin, what…"
"Arthur – uh… He gave me the day off. I was just coming to see if you were free. I should have knocked. I really should have knocked. And waited. Knocked and waited. I- Sorry. I'm sorry."
"It's fine, Merlin," Morgana says, even though it's not, even though it can't be, and even though Merlin's trying to work out if he knows a spell that might cause a hole to open up and swallow him from embarrassment. There had been something all too intimate about that. All too personal. "Gwen, you can take the rest of the day off too if you'd like. I should go and see to Arthur anyway."
'Seeing to Arthur' should have been Merlin's job, and he can't help the faintest frown that forms on his face. Morgana's eyes are still black, however, and the way she moves doesn't seem quite right: too fast, too fluid, too elegant. Merlin decides to hold his tongue, and he looks down at the ground as she passes him. As she walks out the door, passing by closely, she breathes in deeply and a smile curls on her blood-red lips.
"I'm really sorry," Merlin says the second the door has closed. "I had no idea." It's almost midday: surely that's too early to be drinking blood. Maybe. He doesn't know.
"It's okay," Gwen says, though she's still blushing as she sits on the edge of the bed, holding the cloth tightly against her wrist. "Really, it's okay. We should have locked the door, or… I don't know. Put a sign up."
Merlin smiles sheepishly. It's no wonder they wouldn't have thought to do that. Most servants knew better than to barge openly through a closed door. "Are you okay? That looks sore."
Bleeding wounds generally do. Gwen peels back the white cloth pressed to her wrist to take a look at the marks underneath, but presses it back firmly when it seems that the bleeding hasn't yet stopped. "It's alright," she says. "It hurts a little, but it'll fade soon. They heal quickly, you know. Gaius thinks it's something in the salvia."
"Oh…" Merlin isn't quite sure what else to say in response to that little gobbet of information. He's finding this entire situation a little too surreal. "Actually, I wanted to ask you some questions about this. The vampire stuff, I mean. I tried talking to Gaius about it, but he…"
Gwen smiles. "Yes, he gets sort of flustered, doesn't he?" she says.
"Is he always like that?"
"Pretty much," she confirms, nodding. "I don't think the books in the library help. I haven't read any myself, but Morgana likes to quote them. Clearly written by someone who's never met a vampire in their life."
Merlin looks down at the ground and scuffs the stone flooring with his foot, determined not to start blushing like Gaius had. He clears his throat and tries to banish all of those passages from the library books out of his mind. He'd thought that there had been something a little too ridiculously graphic about them. "But, yeah. Gaius was talking about the full moon or something, like that's why I don't have to work today? And Arthur was in my room last night. I think he was, anyway. It's all a bit fuzzy."
"The moon affects their hunger," Gwen says. "It makes it stronger, but it's more than that. Much more. They're drawn to their…" She pauses, frowning, as she hunts for the right word. Merlin would help, would offer some suggestions, but his mind is blank. "Their special people more than ever. It makes it difficult to stay away."
"'Special people'…" Merlin repeats. Gwen meets his gaze and holds it without wavering, and it's him that looks away first with a hearty groan. "You're about to tell me that's me, aren't you?"
She cringes awkwardly, but nods. "I'm afraid so. There's something about you that Arthur's latched onto."
"Can't we make him… y'know… unlatch?"
"It doesn't really work like that." Gwen is smiling sympathetically when he looks back up at her. "Don't worry. He won't make you do anything."
Merlin snorts and thinks, I'd like to see him try. His magic had worked to push Arthur away last time; he's certain it will work in the future.
"Why me?" he asks, though maybe that's something that he ought to direct at Arthur instead of at Gwen. The idea of having this conversation with Arthur, however, is utterly ridiculous. They'd be more likely to discuss how chilly Hell is at this time of year than anything actually important.
"They don't know. It's an instinctual thing. With me and Morgana, it just… happened. She spotted me across the courtyard one morning and then…" Gwen's smile as she thinks back to that moment is possibly the sweetest thing that Merlin has ever seen: when he thinks about his own first encounter with Arthur he feels nothing like it. No fuzzy warmth settles upon his heart. It's hard to think nostalgically about being shoved against a wall and sniffed like a particularly good pie. Gwen clears her throat and checks on her wrist again. Apparently it satisfies her this time, because she sets about simply covering the wound now. "So what do you want to do today?" she asks. "We've both got the day off, after all. It should be fun."
"Why don't you show me around the city? I've been here for a week and I'm still getting lost."
"I've been here all my life and I still get lost," Gwen counters with a smile, before the smile fades as she seems worried. "Not that I don't think you'll be able to find your feet. Of course not. You're smart. Oh, not that I'm implying that if you get lost you're not—"
"Gwen, it's fine," Merlin says. "Really." He can't stop smiling indulgently at her: today is going to be a very good day off.
They get lost, of course. By the time they find their way through the tiny back streets to the castle the sun is beginning to droop tiredly. The sky is dyed pink and orange as if paint has spilt all over it – and in the distance, as they approach the gates, Merlin can see Morgana and Arthur waiting for them. "Uh-oh," he says as he leans over to talk into Gwen's ear. "D'you think we're in trouble?"
"You do know that we can hear you?" Arthur says, raising his voice to a near-shout to be heard over the distance.
"Enhanced hearing," Gwen says quietly.
"Bugger." Just his luck.
"And, yes, of course you're in trouble. Where have you been?"
"He sounds like my mother," Merlin grouches.
When they reach the castle gates, Morgana is at Gwen's side in an instant, their fingers tangling together, and Arthur's arm slides over Merlin's shoulders. It's a struggle not to tense up immediately, and Arthur's grip is light as if he's expecting him to pull away. Merlin doesn't. He isn't sure why not – it'd be the sane thing to do, after all – but he doesn't. Instead he smiles when Arthur's fingers brush against the side of his neck and Arthur says, "I am nothing like your mother," breathing the words quietly into his ear in a way that makes Merlin shiver.
"Not unless Merlin's mother is secretly a selfish little prince," Morgana agrees. She laughs and dances out of the way when Arthur scowls at her, and together the four of them begin to walk into the castle as the sun is setting.
The girls walk ahead of them, leaving Merlin and Arthur to trail in their wake at a slow and leisurely pace. "You should sleep in my room tonight," Arthur says decisively, as if he has just worked out the cure for all illnesses. "Your bed is awful."
"So that was really you?" Merlin asks. "I thought I was dreaming."
Arthur's laughter snorts air through his nose. "I realise I'm a dream come true, Merlin, but—"
Merlin's elbow nudging his ribs shuts him up before he goes any further. "Don't be such a prat," he tells him, "or I'll stay down in my room tonight."
"And then I'll have to creep into your dreams again and sleep on that awful bed," Arthur muses.
"I know it must be a tough decision for you, sire," Merlin says.
Arthur sighs in annoyance, but his arm is still around Merlin's shoulders even though they bump into each other a little as they walk through the castle's large wooden doors and into the stone corridors. Morgana and Gwen are getting further and further ahead of them now.
"I suppose I could try to rein in my…"
Arthur rolls his eyes at him. "My natural irritation with you."
Merlin shrugs. He could press the point a little further – tease Arthur and say that he'll only come and stay with him if he admits that Merlin is actually rather good at his job – but the moon is full and heavy in the sky outside. "Alright then," he says. "Can I go and grab my stuff from my room?" He doesn't know exactly what to take when you're sleeping in the prince's bedroom. He can't imagine that it's at all like when he and Will used to spend the night in each others' houses, staying up past midnight and sneaking food from the kitchen.
Arthur's arm slips reluctantly from around his shoulders. "Don't take too long," he says, "and I know it's difficult for someone as air-headed as you, but try not to get lost."
"If I do I'm sure you'll scold me for it, mother," Merlin teases, moving away from Arthur in the direction of Gaius's chambers.
"You're insufferable!" Arthur yells after him, and Merlin finds himself smiling all the way through the corridors even after Arthur has faded from sight. He feels light, every inch of him, and he feels like he might glow. He should be asking more questions than he is: maybe he even ought to think about going home and forgetting all this madness, but he can't. The need to be here, near Arthur, itches at him in the same way it seems to itch at Arthur. It's only been a week so far – but it feels like the start of forever.