Pairing: Arthur/Merlin, Gwen/Morgana
Word Count: 5469
A/N: Vampire!AU set in the Scent 'verse.
Summary: Merlin is suspicious from the moment Arthur tells him to take a few days off – and it isn't long before he discovers that his worries are justified.
Merlin is minding his own business, bothering nobody at all as he makes Arthur's bed – and he really has no idea how Arthur manages to mess it up so easily considering that he hardly sleeps – when something thuds against his back. He straightens up and looks at his feet where the object has landed: it appears to be a leather bag of some description. It's already packed.
He glances up and finds Arthur standing in the doorway, looking at him with the air of affectionate annoyance that he is an expert at projecting. There's something else, though, something underneath, but Arthur sighs expectantly at him before Merlin can analyse it with any depth. "Are you going to pick that up or not?"
"It wouldn't be on the floor if you hadn't thrown it," Merlin complains, but he abandons the bed to stoop down to the floor and lift the bag. He takes the opportunity to peek inside it: there are nightclothes, a small coin-bag and some food. "What's going on?"
He has the sinking feeling that Arthur is going to announce that they're going to go camping. While he enjoyed doing so as a boy with Will, something tells him that camping with a vampire isn't the smartest of ideas.
"You're going to stay with Gwen for a few nights," Arthur announces. Considering that Gwen sleeps in Lady Morgana's chambers these days, Merlin can't imagine needing a pack for that. He arches his eyebrows. "And Gwen will be staying in the village with her father. Don't come near the castle."
Now there's a warning bell if ever he'd heard one. "May I ask why, sire?" Merlin asks cautiously, knowing there's either an extremely good reason for the request, or that it's simply a case of Arthur being an utter prat. Again.
"Morgana says we're working both of you too hard. While she rarely knows what she's talking about, I tend to agree with her on this one," Arthur says.
Merlin doesn't believe him for even a second. If he was going to come up with a lie he would have been better to think of one that didn't involve him openly taking advice from Morgana. "You're sure that's what it is?" he asks. "Remember, if it's vampire stuff and you're just assuming that I know what you're implying then I don't. I never do."
"I've learnt that lesson by now, Merlin. Don't worry: I'll use small words should the need arise." Arthur smiles, the sunlight from the open window forcing him to squint his eyes a little. "I didn't expect you to complain about receiving another break. Most servants would be thanking me profusely by this point. I'm being very generous."
"Generous by not-so-subtly getting me out of the way?" Merlin asks, but the frown that flashes on Arthur's face is enough to tell him that it would be wise to drop the subject and do as he's told. "Should I finish up here or would you like me to leave now?"
"You can go now," Arthur says. "Guinevere will be waiting for you in Morgana's chambers."
Merlin nods and slings the bag over his shoulder. It's light and easy to carry. Though he knows it's time to leave he lingers for a moment longer, studying Arthur for a moment. "Are you sure I can't stay?" he asks.
"Absolutely certain," Arthur answers without taking even a split-second to deliberate. "As touching as your newfound work ethic is, Merlin, I'm sure I can survive without you for a few days."
Merlin snorts dismissively just to see the offended twist on Arthur's face. "If you say so, my lord. See you soon, then?"
Arthur nods and claps a lingering hand on Merlin's back as Merlin walks past him to leave the room. "Be careful," he urges, and it's all that Merlin can do not to yell at him that he is an absolute idiot for not telling him what's going on. Hopefully Gwen will have more information for him.
He leaves the room and makes his way across the castle. In Morgana's chambers there is a similarly worrying scene going on; concerned goodbyes and preparations and warnings not to come near the castle until it's 'safe'.
"What's going on?" Merlin asks – but Morgana shakes her head and doesn't tell him.
He distracts himself with looking out of the window when the two women kiss, clinging tightly to each other while they have a chance. Outside the day is bright and the area around the castle is as busy as ever: the landscape doesn't seem in-keeping with the urgency atmosphere that surrounds Morgana and Arthur today. It's happy outside and yet worried within the castle. Merlin can't fight the feeling that something bad is descending upon Camelot. If that is the case then surely he should be there at Arthur's side to help in any way that he can. Arthur knows about his magic now; he knows that he can be of so much use to him.
And yet, annoyingly, Arthur is a stubborn, stupid, sniffing idiot and that means that Merlin has no choice but to go along with it when Gwen approaches him. Together they leave Morgana's room and ultimately the castle, but when Merlin asks Gwen for answers she shakes her head as well. "I don't know; Morgana, she wouldn't tell me."
If anything, Merlin would say that that is the most worrying omen of all.
Naturally, he only follows the instructions to stay away from the castle for approximately half an hour before he allows his path to lead him back to where he'd come from; and, just as naturally, Arthur catches him when he does and sternly sends him back to the village. It's difficult to hide your presence from someone who can smell you from half a mile away.
Gwen's father is a sweet and kind man who seems delighted to have his daughter in his home again; Merlin wonders how much he knows about the nature of the royal family, but he holds his tongue. That is a question for another day and he doesn't want to get Gwen into trouble if he can avoid it.
The day is long and boring and even Gwen's bright manner can't keep him distracted. His gaze continually drifts towards the castle that looms over the town. It doesn't get any better the next day. He's sent to the market to buy bread but he spends over five minutes staring blankly at the different loaves, his mind back in the castle instead of here in the town.
"Having trouble deciding?" a stranger beside him asks. Merlin looks up and tries not to allow the surprise to show on his face when he sees him: one side of the man's face is coated with scars and melted skin. The hood of his cloak is pulled over his head but it does very little to disguise the disfigurement. "The bread. You've been staring at it for a while now."
Merlin looks down at the loaves he'd been standing in front of and smiles as he realises how long he's been lost in his own thoughts. "No, I'm – it's fine. I was just thinking; that's all."
"Thinking," the scarred man repeats, hanging on the word for a little longer than strictly necessary. "And what would you be thinking about, hm?"
"Nothing important." Merlin flashes a smile despite his growing discomfort. It's nothing in particular that he can put his finger on, but something about this entire situation is whispering, danger, at him. The rest of the market is loud and bustling and the sun still shines brightly but Merlin can feel a cool chill on his skin: something isn't right.
Something really isn't right.
He takes a small step backwards and that's when he sees it: the flash of black within the stranger's blue eyes, predatory and aggressive. It's something he's seen in Arthur's eyes more times than he's comfortable with but even that feels different from this. That feels so much safer.
He steps back again and almost stumbles into someone behind him. "I should go," he breathes, unable to take his eyes off of the man – the vampire – in front of him.
The vampire dips his head in amused agreement. "I'll see you soon, no doubt," he says as goodbye. Merlin's reasonably sure that that probably qualifies as a threat, but he takes a few more backward steps and won't turn around until the stranger is a fair distance away already.
This can't mean anything good, he thinks to himself as he makes his rushed way back to Gwen's home. In fact it almost certainly means something bad. Very bad.
And, not to mention, he's pretty sure that Arthur already knows about it: other vampires in Camelot? That couldn't go unnoticed. Maybe humans wouldn't have picked up on it, but Merlin knows just how advanced Arthur and Morgana's senses are now. They know. They must know.
He checks over his shoulder when he reaches the right place, but there's nobody following him. Evidently there are more important things to occupy a vampire's time than chasing down servants, even if Arthur's behaviour sometimes leads Merlin to believe otherwise. He slips inside and closes the door behind him.
"Merlin," Gwen says, frowning when she sees him. "Where's the bread?"
"There's a vampire," Merlin tells her hurriedly. Seems a little bit more important than bread right now, though his hungry stomach insists that it is only a little. "Right here in Camelot there's another vampire. I met him in the market."
Gwen stands up and walks forward. The concern on her face almost makes Merlin wish that he hadn't said anything at all. "Are you sure?" she asks.
"Absolutely. I saw his eyes go black when he was talking to me."
Her gaze slips away from him and she looks at nothing in particular. He can see her thinking, see the way that thoughts are churning inside her mind, but she looks just as lost as he is. "What did he look like?" she asks eventually.
"He had scars. Half of his face had been burned, I think. Badly. I couldn't see much else; he was a wearing a cloak."
"Edwin..." Gwen breathes. The name itself means nothing to Merlin but the way she says it does: trouble's brewing.
"Who's that? Who's Edwin?"
"He's the vampire that turned them," she tells him, looking back to meet his eyes. "Their sire. He's never come here before. He's not supposed to come here. I don't understand."
"They knew, didn't they?" Merlin says as it dawns on him. "Arthur and Morgana must have known. That's why they sent us away."
"To protect us," Gwen agrees, barely breathing those two words. "They were probably right to do so, Merlin. If half of what I've heard about him is true then we need to stay out of his way."
"And Arthur? Morgana? It's not right for them to be in his path either." If they had simply been told then together they could have come up with a plan. Arthur knows what Merlin is capable of; now Merlin only needs to manage to force Arthur to get over any ridiculous matters of pride that prevent him from asking for help. His magic had stopped Arthur in his tracks when he'd tried to drink from him. It works against vampires, extremely effectively. There are ways to kill a vampire, and if Edwin is a threat then Merlin can't see any reason to hesitate.
"He's not dangerous to them. He's old, Merlin. Much older than he looks. Morgana told me about him." The way Gwen shudders implies that none of it was good. There's a long pause before she speaks again. "He views humans as food. That's it. Nothing higher."
"Then he should be stopped," Merlin says; there's nothing to think about, not for him. "If Arthur won't do it then I will."
"It's not that simple," Gwen protests, but Merlin turns to leave already: he's fuelled by the need to do something, regardless of what that 'something' turns out to be. The journey to the castle seems to take far too long and he has to dodge around the crowds of people once he makes it there. The guards that see him shift nervously as he enters the front gates: he wonders if they've been told that he's not supposed to be here. Trying to have him banned officially from the castle seems like the annoyingly stubborn sort of thing that Arthur would do, but the guards don't actually make a move to stop him. They share worried glances but stay at their posts like good little soldiers.
It's just as well, because the combination of worry and frustration Merlin is left feeling as if he is about to ignite. He doesn't know what he'd do if someone got in his way right now but he can guarantee that it would be less than pleasant. They let him pass.
He hardly notices anyone else as he makes his way to Arthur's chambers. Doesn't know what happens next in his plan - the idea that he even has a plan is somewhat laughable; he's acting on instinct right now, instinct and emotion, so there's no room for planning or logic - but he knows that it won't take long for Arthur to meet him there, if he isn't waiting for him already. There's something almost dizzying about having that level of power over the prince. It isn't anything direct, and Merlin knows that Arthur would deny it until the end of time, but he has an influence and a way of predicting what Arthur will do next.
Most of the time, in any case.
When he reaches Arthur's chambers he pushes the doors open and walks inside without knocking first. Arthur is there, leaning against one of the posts of his bed with his arms crossed over his chest. "It seems that something is wrong with your hearing, Merlin. I distinctly remember telling you to stay away from the castle, and yet here you are - again. Perhaps you ought to have Gaius look into that for you," he says as Merlin enters, but despite the nonchalant words there is an undertone of anger in his voice. It should scare Merlin; it doesn't. Not at all.
He stands his ground in front of Arthur. The look in his eyes is possibly even a glare. "I know Edwin is here in Camelot," he states. His breath is ragged from his angry rush to the castle. "You should have told me."
"You seem to forget that I am the prince, Merlin. I have no obligation to tell you anything," Arthur sighs at him, but Merlin has no problem with holding his gaze in defiance. "And I chose not to tell you because I wanted you to stay out of the way. What I should have realised is that nothing short of having you chained in the dungeons will keep you out of trouble."
"Let's be realistic, sire. You know even that wouldn't work." Merlin offers a smile without meaning to, his own version of a peace offering. "You really should have told me."
"It wasn't important."
"If it wasn't important you would have had no problem with telling me," Merlin points out. "Why are you protecting him? Gwen told me about him. All about him. He's a monster."
"He's a vampire - like me."
"No. No, not like you." Merlin shakes his head as he speaks, believing what he's saying with every ounce of his being. "You are different, you and Lady Morgana. You choose to be different." He steps forward, getting closer though there's still a sizeable gap between them. Arthur eyes him cautiously but doesn't tell him to stay away. He hasn't told him to go either and Merlin supposes that that can only be a good sign. The instruction to leave is another order he won't follow. "I met him, Arthur, in the market. He is not a good person."
There had been nothing in particular in their brief meeting to make him come to such a conclusion, but Merlin can feel that it's true. The history of Edwin's actions should surely speak for itself as well: he turned Arthur and Morgana into what they are now against their will. Merlin knows the stories, and while the details are kept hidden - too much to be shared - he knows that it isn't right and that it is not the kind of thing that anyone should be forgiven for.
"He was in the town?" Arthur asks, a frown creasing his brow.
Merlin feels that he ought to shake him: this is what troubles Arthur? Not that Edwin is here but that he is in the town instead of the castle? "Yes, he was there. He could've hurt someone."
Behind him, the door opens and he barely has time to turn around before the scarred vampire answers. "I wasn't there to hurt anyone. I wanted to see who it was that Arthur was trying to hide from me - that's all."
There is a permanent smirk etched upon his scarred face and Merlin almost jumps, startled, when he feels Arthur grasping tightly onto his arm and pulling him back. With annoyingly superior strength it is easy for Arthur to man-handle him until Merlin nearly tumbles onto the foot of the bed; Merlin is as far from Edwin as he can be without being flung onto the mattress. Arthur seems for a moment as if he's considering that action, but Merlin glares at him in a way that implies that there will be lots of consequences if he tries such a thing. Dire, embarrassing and painful consequences.
"Merlin is of no concern to you," Arthur states. "You shouldn't have hunted him down."
"You stink of him; he stinks of you. I can't help being curious." Edwin's smile suggests that, actually, he could help it but he chooses not to. "A sorcerer, Arthur, I wouldn't have thought that that would be to your taste."
"You know nothing of my tastes, Edwin," Arthur says. The annoyance in his voice is far from the affectionate kind that he usually levels at Merlin. This is bordering upon anger. "Don't presume that because you are my sire you know anything about me."
"I know that you permit your father to persecute your own kind," Edwin says. "We turned you for a reason: to change Camelot and free the supernatural from your father's tyranny. Yet, for some reason, you-"
"You are not to talk of my father in such a way," Arthur snarls. "Remember whose kingdom you are in: tread carefully."
Edwin smiles, cold and mocking. "Of course, my lord. I spoke out of turn and I apologise for it. It shan't happen again."
"See that it doesn't," Arthur instructs, taking him at his word even though the insincerity drips from Edwin with every second. Merlin glances at Arthur, confused, because this isn't the Arthur he knows. If this had been anyone but Edwin then he would have been dealt with far more harshly; Merlin is usually the only one who can get away with such bare-faced cheek. At least when it's coming from him there is no unlying maliciousness. "And I think it's time for you to leave nonetheless, don't you?"
"Mm," Edwin murmurs noncommittally. "What will happen if I refuse?"
"What do you think?" Merlin responds. He receives a painful nudge in the ribs from Arthur because of it - but he only scowls in return. He is far from a fan of Uther's policy towards magic, but in this case he thinks it might be justified. Being in the room with Edwin leaves the air feeling rotten and dirty. Edwin is old and he is evil; Merlin can feel it, sense it. He can almost taste it.
"I think that perhaps your prince has been keeping some important details from you, sorcerer," Edwin answers. His smile never fades as his pale blue eyes glance back to Arthur. "Am I right in thinking that he doesn't know?"
Arthur says nothing in return, and that alone is ominous enough for Merlin to look towards him instead of at Edwin, trying to seek answers from his expression. "What does he mean?" he asks earnestly.
Arthur isn't breathing, choosing to overcome that reflex, and it makes him look as still and immortal as Edwin does.
"Go on," Edwin says. "Will you tell him or shall I?"
Arthur's response is a low growl, a snarling sound that curls his lip and is enough to make the smug smile on Edwin's face falter, if only for a second. It's a sound that has the same effect as the howl of a wolf in an empty forest: it chills the blood. Even Merlin shivers, knowing it isn't directed at him. "You don't talk to him," Arthur says. "Not ever."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Edwin promises, the smirk back on his face. "But perhaps you should allow him to know the truth before he does something he might regret."
Only silence follows - and by this point, after everything, Merlin is feeling rather sick of silence and of being kept in the dark. He's also, for that matter, rather fed up of Arthur's bizarre ideas of 'protecting' him, which mostly seem to involve not telling him anything and then being surprised when he gets into trouble because of it. With that in mind, he ends up on Edwin's side in this debate: "What is he talking about, Arthur? If you won't tell me I'll just ask him, y'know."
And he will. And Edwin will tell him. And then Arthur will stomp around in a terribly bad mood for a while, but to be honest the prospect doesn't worry Merlin too much. He'll get over it. The prince is always having minor tantrums and Merlin has the feeling that all he will have to do to get on Arthur's good side again is allow him to take a good, deep sniff by his neck. A dangerous apology, perhaps, but one that would undoubtedly work in his favour.
Thankfully he doesn't have to experiment to find out, because Arthur growls unhappily but speaks. "Edwin and I... We have a connection."
That tells him absolutely nothing at all. In confusion, Merlin glances between the two men, trying to work out what Arthur means by that. Whatever it is, it can't be good; the deepening amusement on Edwin's scarred face tells him as much. Anything that can make someone with such a black heart happy is a very bad thing indeed. "What does that mean?" Merlin asks eventually when it becomes clear that Arthur is not in any kind of hurry to elaborate.
"It means," Edwin says gleefully, "that you can't kill me. Or hurt me, for that matter - not without harming your little golden boy over there."
"I told you not to speak to him," Arthur repeats tersely, but he has to give an annoyed sigh when Merlin looks at him for more information. "If you hurt or kill one vampire, all the others below it in its line suffer the effects as well. That's why there are so few on Earth. If you stake one vampire you may actually kill hundreds."
"So if something happens to Edwin..."
"It happens to me too. And Morgana, for that matter," Arthur replies with a lofty wave of his hand as if it hardly matters at all.
It does matter. Merlin can see it on his face, hidden beneath those layers of arrogance. He crosses his arms over his chest, frowns, and conducts a small experiment. He steps forward and kicks Edwin sharply in the shin. The scientific method: Gaius would be proud.
Arthur, however, probably isn't, considering that he's currently far too occupied with spluttering swear words and clutching his shin. "What did you do that for?" he asks, ignoring Edwin as he hops in a similar state, his long cloak shuffling along the ground with every wobbling movement.
"I wanted to see it for myself. Are you alright?" He looks worriedly down at Arthur's leg. At heart, he hadn't really thought that anything would happen. With a life drowning in magic and the supernatural, he wonders if he ought to learn better than that sometime soon.
"I'm fine," Arthur mutters unhappily. Merlin gets the distinct impression that he isn't going to hear the end of this for weeks, and that Arthur is going to refer to it every single time that he wants to rant about how any other nobleman would have had Merlin sacked ages ago.
"I do find it endearing, Arthur, how much you allow him to get away with," Edwin says. "It's far worse than Morgana and her girl."
"You should leave. I may not be able to harm you physically but that will not stop me from having you thrown in the dungeons," Arthur threatens; a growl still threads through every word in a way that is almost enough to make Merlin shiver. When Arthur talks like this it is impossible to pretend that he isn't dangerous.
There's a passing second where Edwin doesn't move at all and he just stares, his pale blue eyes seeing everything, seeing eternity. Merlin shuffles uncomfortably on the spot and he has to wonder if he's going to end up trying to break up some sort of epic vampire battle. That couldn't end well, not at all. In fact, as far as he can see, that will probably end up with him getting hurt rather than either of them - and then Arthur will have to growl and snarl some more and he would really rather just avoid the entire situation altogether. It would be for the best.
It doesn't come to that - Edwin leaves, just as he was instructed to do. His long cloak sweeps behind him and the doors slam loudly in his wake. It's only when the sound of his footsteps fade to nothing that Merlin allows himself to relax, but it takes Arthur much longer: he can hear him until he's much further away. "Sorry about your leg," Merlin mutters, hands in pockets, not because he's really all too sorry but because he knows that he has to say it. There are other things he'd much rather dwell on, truth be told.
"As I said, it's fine. You kick like a girl," Arthur complains. "It's really quite pitiful."
"Looked sore enough at the time," Merlin points out - something that Arthur chooses to ignore. Stubborn ass.
Arthur moves away from him, leisurely striding over to the table in the centre of his rooms. His fingers trail over the wood as he walks towards the window, getting into a position where he can watch the courtyard to ensure that Edwin really does leave as he was told to do. Merlin drifts closer, drawn automatically. It's an instinctual thing, always being reeled in like this. He'd blame Arthur for doing this on purpose, using a vampiric power to keep him close, but he has no doubt that if Arthur had such an ability he would spend a great deal of his time boasting about it.
"You didn't tell me about Edwin before," he says; it sounds like an accusation. He thinks that it probably is one. He knows nothing about what has happened in Arthur's past or how he came to be this way. The details that he does know come from alternate sources, from Gaius or from Gwen. Arthur and Morgana were kidnapped and turned in an attempt to put a vampire in charge of Camelot. It sounded so impersonal before Edwin was drawn into the picture. Arthur won't turn around to face him. "You could die at any moment, really. Right? All it would take would be for someone to take down any single one of your ancestors and you'd be gone. You didn't think that that was important enough to mention?"
"It's not the sort of thing that comes up in casual conversation, Merlin," Arthur tells him, exasperated. Merlin knows that that is the tone of voice that usually means that Arthur wants him to go away for once and stop being so annoying: he doesn't pay it any attention.
"Then you should bring it up in non-casual conversation. Wouldn't you want to know if there was a possibility of me dying out of the blue?" Merlin asks - and the angry grunt that is Arthur's response is all the answer that he needs. He can see the way Arthur's fist tightens at the thought and he wonders if Arthur would try to pick a fight with fate itself if something like that truly did happen to him. It's endearing, in a discomforting kind of way. "Remember that this thing between us isn't just one-way."
"Is that so?" Arthur still hasn't turned around, but that's alright - Merlin hadn't really expected him to. He knows Arthur well enough to know that he would rather stand at a window brooding than have any kind of real conversation.
"I'm allowed to worry about you too," Merlin says; the words bring a gentle, glowing feeling to his chest as they leave his mouth. They're true; he can feel it. "You're a prat. You're a neck-sniffing, blood-drinking, arrogant, annoying, self-centred and utterly frustrating prat."
"This better be going somewhere good," Arthur says, finally turning around to look at him.
"You're mine. My prat. So if you're in danger, I want to know." Merlin can see the smile on Arthur's face that keeps threatening to emerge. "Someone's got to keep you out of trouble, after all..."
Arthur snorts disbelieving air out of his nose. "And how on Earth could you protect me - presuming I needed any protection anyway, which I don't." He walks forward as he speaks, closing what little space Merlin had left between them, and he only stops when he's so close that he's ridiculing the concept of 'personal space'.
"I'm magic, remember," Merlin prompts. He doesn't back away from Arthur, though he knows he's long past the moment where he should. They're standing barely an inch apart in the middle of Arthur's bedroom and Merlin hates the way his heart is racing. He hates even more that Arthur must be able to hear it and that those enhanced senses probably have something to do with the self-satisfied smirk on Arthur's face. "If there's a way to sever the connection that he has with you and Morgana, I'll find it."
Arthur looks at Merlin quietly for a few moments, the expression on his face different from anything Merlin has seen from him before. There's a faint smile, so small that it's almost undetectable, but there's also a hint of a frown, his eyebrows drawn down. Evaluating. Calculating. Wondering.
The sunlight from the window shines upon his face and for a few moments he doesn't look like the prince or a vampire at all. He looks like a normal man, someone that Merlin could have met at home in Ealdor. For a few passing seconds Merlin can wonder what might have happened if they'd met each other outside of this bizarre situation - and his imagination tells him that this connection between them would still have been there, scent or no scent and magic or no magic.
"You are such a strange little man," Arthur says with a chuckle that sounds far too amused for the situation. He leans in, his lips brushing against the side of Merlin's mouth like a stealth-attack while his fingers stroke Merlin's cheek. It feels cold, but all that Merlin registers is the buzz of sudden contact - sudden and then over all too soon, a split-second or less. Arthur kisses him like it's nothing and then moves away, back to his position at the window. Merlin remains frozen on the spot, eyebrows arched as he tries to work out what exactly just happened. "Perhaps you should head back into the village, Merlin - you can let Guinevere know that it's safe to come back to the castle."
"I- Yeah. Right. I'll get right on that," Merlin says, each word drawn out a little bit more than he should. As he walks towards the door, his hand presses against the side of his mouth where Arthur's lips had grazed. He's relatively sure that kissing means exactly the same thing for vampires as it does for humans, even if Arthur seems to be trying to play this off as if it's nothing.
Neck-sniffing, finger-sucking, mouth-kissing... Merlin has to say that he very much approves of the latest addition to Arthur's skill set.