Word Count: 4925
Rating: PG-13/light R
A/N: Vampire AU set in the Scent 'verse.
Summary: Merlin discovers that sleeping in a vampire's room during the full moon is an incredibly bad idea, and that following a captive dragon's advice is an even worse one.
He wakes up, comfortable and well-rested, to the feel of a cold nose pressed to the skin of his neck. In the darkness, Merlin blinks. There is moonlight creeping in through the windows around the edges of the heavy curtains, but it does little to light the room. The candles were blown out hours ago and the room no longer even smells of their smoke. He swallows. The bed is so soft and comfortable that he knows that it is not his: he remembers the invitation to stay in Arthur's bedroom. He remembers staying up long into the night, talking to Arthur as no servant ought to talk with his master until he was so tired that Arthur harassed and scolded him until he slipped beneath warm, thick bed sheets to find sleep.
Merlin's breath stutters to a stop on the inhale as he feels Arthur's hand on his hip. It is cold, so cold, as if he's been standing outside for hours. When he swallows, he wonders if this is how Arthur's skin always feels; there's a rush of strange anticipation in his belly when he realises that he wants the opportunity to find out.
Arthur's face is pressed close to his neck and Merlin can hear the way he's breathing heavily. It's right by his ear and while Merlin knows now that Arthur's little neck-sniffing habit is a bad, dangerous one and not something to be laughed at, he can't help smiling. "Arthur, I'm awake," he tells him.
If he'd thought that that would make Arthur pull back - hopefully embarrassed - he soon finds that he's very much mistaken. Arthur only grunts in response and doesn't move at all. Merlin's attempt to pull away is met only with the tightening of Arthur's hand on his hip: it's painful, and he stifles a whimper by biting down hard on his tongue.
"Arthur, lemme go," he says. He gives an awkward laugh, though the tension that strikes through him by instinct says that this is no joke. "This isn't funny. Stop being such a prat."
"Stay still," Arthur orders when Merlin tries to struggle out of his grasp. His hand tightens so much on Merlin's hip that it feels like there will be a dark, painful bruise there for days. "Don't struggle. It makes it - harder."
"Good," Merlin snaps. He tries to elbow him, but only succeeds in twitching his arm a little. "I want it to be harder. I'm not going to lie here and be your midnight snack."
Arthur sighs. The breath tickles, cold, over Merlin's skin. "I mean it makes resisting this harder. Struggling. It makes the hunger stronger."
"Oh," Merlin whispers. Belatedly, Gaius's warnings ring in his ears about avoiding Arthur during the full moon. He curses under his breath and screws his eyes shut. Arthur's hand still has not relaxed its grip. "So what are we going to do?"
"Wait for it to pass?" Arthur suggests.
"Do you think it will soon?"
"All I'm thinking about right now is how good your blood will taste," Arthur confesses. The sound of his voice is enough to make Merlin shiver, and that can't be fair. Shiver-worthy voices can't be part of the package with vampires as well, can they? "I don't think that'll pass any time soon."
"So what do we do?"
"I'm sure someone will come to find us in the morning when I don't appear in court," Arthur says loftily. "Hopefully that will be enough to distract me."
"That's your plan? Wait like this until morning comes and someone might distract you?" Merlin huffs an angry sigh of air. "You're useless."
"I don't see you coming up with anything!"
"I'm thinking." Merlin scowls. Coming here had clearly been a bad idea - a very, very bad idea. "You should have warned me about all this, y'know."
"I sent you away from the castle for a day. For anyone with a little more sense than you, Merlin, that would have been more than warning enough." With every word, Arthur's cold lips brush against his neck like a promise. Merlin is trying not to shiver again. He is really, really trying. "Now be quiet."
"Because you're being an idiot."
"And that makes you hungry?"
"That makes me want to shut you up," Arthur says darkly.
"So we'll just lie here, then?" Merlin asks after swallowing hard. He can't make himself be quiet, not now. His body is as a bow string about to snap and he gets the feeling that snapping in Arthur's presence right now would be an extremely bad idea, possibly the stupidest thing he's ever done.
"That's the plan," Arthur agrees. "You could try to go to sleep again."
"As if I'm going to sleep when there's a vampire about to gnaw on my throat," Merlin hisses at him.
Arthur's hand clenches on his hip again, enough to make Merlin squeak. "I would not gnaw on your throat. I would bite your neck. Once. It's a lot cleaner."
"Is that supposed to be comforting?"
"You won't make a mess of the prince's bed. You ought to be pleased." Arthur presses his lips against the fragile pulse point of Merlin's neck. He lingers there, while Merlin counts the beating of his heart and tells himself stubbornly that he can defend himself: he can and he will and he has before. He has nothing to be afraid of from a vampire: he's scarier than Arthur could even anticipate being.
Even as he tells himself that, he has a bloody hard time actually believing it. Near-death experiences - or nearly-being-eaten ones, for that matter - have a tendency of denting self-confidence.
"I don't want to kill you," Arthur says between gritted teeth. His words are muffled against Merlin's neck.
"There's something we agree on, then. I'd rather you didn't kill me too."
"I don't think just waiting is going to work," Arthur admits reluctantly. He makes a strange sound in the back of his throat: Merlin is terribly suspicious that it might be a growl.
"Should I try and leave?"
"I'll probably chase you," Arthur says. Merlin doesn't understand how this works, how any of this works: Arthur talks as if he is hardly in control of his own actions, as if he is merely an observer of what he will do, but it's Arthur's hand that holds him in place and Arthur's mouth upon his neck in the darkness.
"We could shout for help?"
"I'd rather not," Arthur admits. "I think I'd try and kill them too."
"This is useless." Merlin sighs. "I refuse to die here just 'cause you can't control yourself."
"Must be hard for you." Merlin glances through the dark at the door by only flicking his gaze in the general direction. His head doesn't move. It's far, but not too far. Considering his options, he is dismayed to find that there are relatively few: stay here and probably die a bloody death, or run for the door and probably die a bloody death.
Neither, he has to say, sounds particularly appealing.
"It's okay. I won't hurt you. I would never let myself do that, Merlin."
It's a lovely sentiment and perhaps it truly is heartfelt but Merlin doesn't know if he can lay his life on the possibility that Arthur might be able to restrain himself from killing him: from drinking from a servant, who in the hierarchy of the castle means very little at all to anyone but the court physician whose power was negligible. That isn't a bet he feels confident enough to make.
He takes a deep breath, releases it, then takes another for good measure; he leaps to his feet, the momentary advantage of surprise allowing him to throw Arthur's hand from his hip and scramble forth from the bed. Arthur's mouth falls back from his neck and the cold floor hits his bare feet. He has so little grip on the ground that he flails, nearly falling - and it's only because of a supernaturally strong grip on his arm that he doesn't hit the ground. He's spun, dizzy, until he hits Arthur's chest. Arthur grabs his other arm as well, holding him with the sort of strength that would make oxen jealous. In the dim light it's hard to see clearly, but Merlin knows - he knows - that Arthur's eyes are blacker than the pits of hell as they stare right at him as if they can cut through all pretence of bravery to the core of fear that beats like frantic butterfly wings in his heart.
"Arthur," he says - breathes. He needs to talk louder than that. "Arthur, get a grip on yourself. Let go of me."
Arthur's lip curls. In the dark, the growl is spine-chilling. It is a sound of hunger and bloodlust, the sort of sound designed for one reason only: to remind humans that they are in no way at the top of the food chain. The snarling growl makes Merlin try to struggle, thrashing and trying to slip out of Arthur's grasp. Pointless. It's so pointless to try, and Arthur is past the point where he's even capable of human speech. There is nothing in those black eyes that will listen to reason or pay attention to anything but the gnawing hunger. He doesn't even flinch when Merlin kicks his shin. It hurts Merlin's bare foot more than it hurts the vampire.
Arthur's hand grabs his hair and yanks his head to the side: Merlin doesn't get a chance to fight or argue any more. His neck is stretched into a clear line, waiting for Arthur's bite. Breath shivers from him. Merlin is faintly aware that he is whimpering, actually whimpering in fear; he doesn't want to die. Not now, not like this, not for nothing. All this death will serve is Arthur's temporary hunger.
Lips touch his neck. Cold. Teeth.
Before the skin is broken, Merlin feels heat flaring through him instinctually from his toes to his head: it bursts from his chest, shooting outwards. His eyes flash gold and he drops to the ground when Arthur is thrown backwards. A crash; a crack. Arthur hits the wall on the other side of the room and slumps onto the ground. He sprawls, unmoving.
On the ground as well, for a few moments Merlin doesn't twitch a single muscle. His heart still beats hard enough that it hurts and in the dim light he can't move his eyes from the outline of Arthur's body, waiting for him to move and attack again. His body still tingles with the hum of raw, fearful power. He doesn't know what he just did; he's never felt anything like that before.
Arthur doesn't get up, and while perhaps that means that he ought to take the opportunity to escape Merlin instead crawls, on hands and knees, to where the prince has fallen. His hands fumble to find his body and he wishes once more for light.
He yells for help when the prince does not move. His skin feels hot when Merlin finds his hand instead of cold and dull. I've killed the prince, Merlin thinks for a fractured second, before knocking on the locked door summons him to answer it.
It moves in a whirlwind, and he can still feel the magic sparking through his veins as Arthur is rushed down to Gaius's chambers. Gaius, when he answers the door, is freshly awake, but he responds with professionalism that Merlin would have thought impossible. Arthur's skin is pale, so pale he looks like a corpse already.
"Is he breathing?" Merlin asks once the guards have gone, the first word he's spoken since he answered the door.
Gaius chastises him with a look. "Of course he's not breathing, Merlin," he says. "He's a vampire."
"No, he breathes. I know he does." He's felt it before on his skin. He's watched the way Arthur's chest rises and falls peacefully: it's possible that Merlin has paid far more attention to Arthur than he'd realised.
"He breathes. He doesn't need to breathe. When he's conscious I imagine it's a reflex, of sorts," Gaius says. He opens Arthur's eyelid to peer at his eye, but whatever he finds makes him frown in displeasure and move away. Glancing to the door, he checks that nobody is around. "What happened? Truthfully this time."
"I don't know." Merlin shakes his head. "I was - I ran, and he ran at me, and then…"
"No, not that. I want to know why on Earth you were in his room in the first place. I warned you."
There is really very little to be said in response. Sorry, I'm even more of a prat than Arthur is, won't cut it when his lack of judgement has possibly got rid of the kingdom's only heir.
"Is there anything I can do?" There must be. Has to be. He caused this - he has to be able to fix it.
"There's nothing," Gaius says, distracted. "Not yet."
"Merlin…" Gaius's lips don't move.
Merlin frowns. "What?"
"I said there's nothing you can do yet, Merlin. If you want to be useful, you can go and fetch some water."
Merlin does as he's told, reluctant to leave the room. The guards positioned by the door won't even glance at him as he passes by, as if he has ceased to exist. He's glad: he wants that to happen. Arthur may be a neck-sniffing, finger-sucking, hungry vampire, but he's the prince - and deep down in that prattish body, Merlin knows there's a noble king waiting to come to the surface. If he survives. If Merlin hasn't just destroyed the kingdom's future.
It comes again as he's walking through the hallways and doesn't stop this time.
It's stupid - but no stupider than anything else he's done since coming to the castle - when he tilts his head curiously and begins to follow the voice. He knows, objectively speaking, that mysterious, disembodied voices who know your name are generally to be mistrusted and avoided. The castle hallways are practically deserted. It's far too late at night still for anyone sane to be out and about. Even the guards are scarce by now, drawn towards Gaius's chambers and the prince instead of scattered around the castle.
"Merlin…" the voice calls again. It sounds as if it's whispering but it comes from far away.
There's magic to this voice.
And when Merlin thinks of Arthur under Gaius's care, skin pale and chest unmoving because of something that he did, he knows that they could do with all the power they could get their hands on - regardless of whether or not the king would approve. Magic caused this mess. Perhaps it's magic that will fix it.
He finds that the guard's posts have been abandoned. There's a game that looks like chess or chequers left half-way through. Idly, he changes a few of the pieces. There is a gaping hole waiting for him in the wall: a long passageway down, down, down beneath the castle.
"Merlin," says the voice, and he knows he has to go down there.
Knowing he has to do it is not the same as actually wanting to, but after fiddling with the pieces on the guards' game for a little while longer he can't put it off for much longer. Feeling as if he is in a daze as he hears that voice gently guiding him in, he lights a torch and steps into the darkness. The passageway is dark but not dank; the walls don't feel wet at all and Merlin supposes he should be thankful for that if nothing else. Down he goes, down.
When the stairs level out he walks from a thin passageway and finds himself in an expansive cave, much larger than he would ever have thought could possibly exist beneath the castle: with so much empty, echoing space it feels unstable. He swallows. The darkness seems more threatening here and his torch is so small, so futile, like a single flickering candle.
"Is there anybody down here?" he calls. He sounds braver than he feels. He thinks, for a moment, that he almost sounds like Arthur, but that thought only serves to remind him of why he is here instead of in Arthur's room. "Hello? It's Merlin. You knew my name."
A wind rushes through the cave, stirring dead air and upsetting Merlin's torch. He takes a step back on instinct - but it doesn't feel like far enough when he watches the creature in front of him touchdown upon the rocks.
It's of a size that he's never seen before - and has scarcely even imagined - and its reptilian eyes blink at him in the firelight. Its teeth are larger than his hand and they're a lot more frightening than Arthur's fangs when his eyes went black ever managed to be.
Merlin's eyes widen. "You're a dragon."
It smiles - actually smiles - and inclines its head, a gargantuan nod. "Indeed. And you are Merlin, the warlock."
"I…" Crap. Crap, what's the best way to talk to a dragon? Merlin keeps staring, and staring, and wondering if this is yet another thing that everyone in the castle simply presumed that he knew about. "Yeah. Yeah, that's me."
"You are smaller than I anticipated," the dragon huffs. Merlin gets the feeling that he's just been insulted. "So human, but with so much power…"
"I hurt the prince," Merlin blurts. The confession tumbles out of him unbidden and unwanted: hearing it aloud again makes a pain constrict in his chest. "The 'power' I have - it hurt Arthur."
"And within you lies the means to fix what you have broken."
"My magic is what caused this."
The dragon's eyes, large and wise, twinkle. "Magic is not the solution to all problems, Merlin."
"Then what is it?" Merlin says - aware, dimly, that he is snapping at a dragon and that that is surely a recipe for getting yourself barbequed. "Tell me how to save him."
"It lies in you," the dragon responds, his voice deep and booming. Over-dramatic; melodramatic; and with a whooshing wind his huge wings flap and he takes flight, disappearing into the dark recesses of the cave. Merlin's certain he must be doing this on purpose, toying with him.
The dragon does not come back - and Merlin swears he can hear a chuckle echoing from the dark corners of the cave - and he has to leave. The guards are not back yet, but it won't be long before they are: he doesn't know how he'd explain why he was down there, but he's done enough to upset the royals without adding dragon-baiting to his crimes.
"Merlin," Gaius says when he makes it back to his chambers. "Where's the water?"
Merlin looks down at his hands as if expecting a bucket to materialise there for him. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't happen. "I forgot," he says.
Gaius does not scold him for his absentmindedness. "Understandable I'm sure," he murmurs, almost to himself.
Frowning, Merlin moves further into the room. He looks down at Arthur's pale face. "How is he?" he asks.
"Hard to say," Gaius answers, which is really not much of an answer at all but Merlin knows exactly how to interpret it: I don't have a bloody clue.
"I was talking to someone," he says without looking away from Arthur. "They said I could fix him - that it was 'in me'."
"Ah." Gaius walks closer to him and the movement makes Merlin look up, his gaze breaking away from the prince's body. "And what do you think that means, Merlin?"
"He's a vampire." A statement that, until tonight, he might still have had a little difficulty absorbing: the creature that had attacked him in Arthur's bedroom earlier tonight, with black eyes and sharp reflexes, that had been far from human. "Vampires are not creatures of your science or my magic. They thrive on blood."
Gaius's face darkens like a storm approaching. "I hope you aren't suggesting what I think you are. We have no way of knowing how he would react to the special qualities in your blood."
Magic. Merlin can remember the way that Arthur's eyes had shone gold after he'd drank the small amount of blood from his finger: he hasn't mentioned that to Gaius. He doesn't want to think about it, but he wants Arthur to live and maybe this is it, this is what the dragon meant.
"I have to try," he says. He can't stop himself from sounding absolutely terrified about the prospect. This is what he and Arthur had tried to prevent when they'd woken in the night: all roads lead here, it would seem.
Gaius's eyebrow rises in disapproval. "Wait here. I'll fetch Lady Morgana - perhaps she will have a brighter light to shine on our situation."
Merlin nods. He can't help but think that perhaps Gaius is leaving him alone with Arthur on purpose. Perhaps he is more accepting of what needs to be done than he wants to admit.
Once the door has closed, Merlin looks skittishly down at Arthur. He's pale and his skin looks clammy; his chest still refuses to rise or fall. Merlin swallows. Turning away and rifling through Gaius's wealth of storage space he manages to find some towels, some bandages: the same preparations he'd seen Gwen taking yesterday. Only yesterday? he thinks mournfully, because his life is changing faster than he is able to process.
As he sits on the edge of the makeshift bed that Arthur lies in, he begins to roll up his sleeve in preparation until it is folded pasted his elbow. His skin is white and unblemished, without even a single freckle. Breathing shallowly, he places his hand over his forearm and wishes that he had Gwen at his side to show him exactly what to do for the least permanent damage. Eyes focused on his arm, he murmurs ancient words under his breath and hopes that this will work.
He feels it suddenly: the rush of magic and slash of pain. Blood wells instantly, red and hot over his skin. He curses beneath his breath, mouth open and eyes gold as he looks at Arthur's face - and watches the prince move. It's hardly anything at all, a slight turn of his head and a grumbling sound, but it's enough to convince him that the dragon might be right. Bottling his fear away as firmly as he can, Merlin shuffles up the bed, closer to the top, and presses his bleeding arm close to Arthur's mouth.
"Drink," he urges when nothing happens. "Please, sire, drink."
A single drop falls from the wound. It lands on Arthur's pale pink bottom lip, an ugly red droplet. It looks as if he's wearing make-up, and if Merlin weren't so worried he'd laugh. If this was a different moment, a different life, he'd make fun of Arthur for it: tease him until Arthur lost his temper and either tantrummed or decided to teach him a lesson.
As it is, the smile doesn't come until he sees Arthur's tongue flick against his bottom lip.
"That's it," he says, edging closer again - another set of droplets fall as he moves and then he feels Arthur's lips against his wound. It hurts badly, but it's something else as well: a silent thrill down his spine at being able to help like this - being needed like this. He watches, breathless, as the blood trickles into Arthur's waiting mouth. Arthur's throat moves, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows.
Merlin hisses at the sudden pain as Arthur's tongue traces the wound - but it hurts for only a moment, then it's something different. More. He hears a rumbling moan, a sound that comes right from Arthur's chest, and he can't help making a sound of his own in return: at a moment like this, he can understand the dirty vampire literature that populates the castle's library.
Arthur's arms move until his strong hands hold onto Merlin's wrist, holding his arm tight against his mouth.
"It's alright," Merlin assures him - he isn't even embarrassed by the hoarse, breathless sound of his voice. "I'm not going anywhere, Arthur."
Arthur answers without a word, opening his eyes instead: Merlin can see the dark gold swirling in them, power of two kinds rushing throughout Arthur's body. The grip on his wrist is so tight that it's more painful than the cut itself, but Merlin doesn't say a word about that. He keeps staring into Arthur's inhuman eyes, unable to tear his gaze away. It's powerful. Hypnotising.
After a few moments, Merlin barely feels the pain in his arm - he doesn't feel anything at all. Numb. It's a relief to give in so completely. Arthur's fangs tease the cut, widening it, worsening it. There is blood running down his cheeks, a messy drunk, but Merlin barely notices. He sways, light-headed, but the strength of Arthur's golden gaze keeps him from slumping over.
"Arthur..." Merlin breathes. His voice is not his own: he knows that he's never sounded so weak, helpless or wanton in his life.
In Arthur's eyes he can see an uncertain plea to make him stop but he can't do a thing - doesn't want to do a thing, just wants to sit here and watch Arthur take everything he is from him. He is the prince; he is the hunter; he is a vampire. He is owed everything, is he not?
The door opens with a thunderous slam. Merlin doesn't look towards it and Arthur doesn't either. The shout of their names; growling; hissing - none of it works. None of it breaks the contact between them. Merlin feels like he's swaying again, feels like he's dying.
A hard weight thuds into his side and he is thrown from the bed, finding himself flat on the floor and tangled in the endless white material of Morgana's nightdress. His arm hurts now - aches - and his shoulder provides an extra pain from the way he was yanked from Arthur's supernatural grip. Morgana disappears out of his line of sight: he can hear growls and yelps, like a pair of dogs fighting.
Gaius kneels beside him, Gwen too. "Try not to move, you stupid boy," Gaius says - and the worried irritation in his voice is enough to let Merlin know that he'll probably be stuck doing dreadful chores for the rest of his life to make it up to Gaius for giving him the fright of his life.
He tries not to scream as Gaius moves his arm to tend to it. As his eyes water, he says, "Arthur?"
"He's fine," Gaius answers curtly. "Considering that he and Morgana are in the process of trying to destroy my chambers, I'd say your cure worked a treat."
Merlin's face, pale from blood loss, relaxes into a smile. "Finally managed to do something right, didn't I?"
Fading in and out of consciousness, he misses Gaius's reply - but sleep is so warm, heavy and painless. He can't say he minds too much.
The first thing Arthur says to him when he wakes up is, "I should have you put in the stocks for this, you know."
Merlin grumbles and closes his eyes again. He doesn't want to be conscious if he's only going to be ranted at. There's a hand carding through his hair and he thinks it's Arthur's - it's comforting.
"Or whipped - I should have you whipped."
"What for?" Merlin mumbles.
Arthur doesn't respond at first. Merlin tries to shift his head and that's when he notices that it isn't a pillow he's resting on; it's Arthur's thigh. If he opens his eyes he might be able to work out where he actually is, but he quickly decides that knowing is not nearly that important to him.
"For worrying the prince," Arthur says eventually. He clears his throat afterwards, as if that might help to wipe the words away. "And, of course, for being such an utter idiot that you thought you could outrun a vampire. Do you have any survival instincts at all, Merlin?"
"Only a few," Merlin admits. Right now, all of them are telling him that he ought to get out of here fast: he used magic, not only in front of Arthur but on him.
But Arthur would surely already have had the guards set upon him if he intended on doing so - Merlin can't convince himself that he is safe, but he doesn't think he is directly in danger yet.
"We'll have to talk soon, you know," Arthur announces like a king pronouncing a decree, "about what happened back there."
And maybe Merlin could convince himself that Arthur means a whole wealth of the things that have happened in the last twenty-four hours, but he knows what it is that haunts Arthur's thoughts just as it does his own: magic. Arthur's black eyes had shone gold at him as he drank. That means something. It has to mean something.
"Soon," Merlin agrees. "But not yet?"
"Not just yet."
Safe under Arthur's care for now, Merlin allows himself to relax as much as he can - but he can't help but curse at himself for allowing this to happen, knowing that this could all have been avoided if they'd just shown a little self-restraint.