Title: The Eighth Night
Rating: R to be safe
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur
Warnings/Spoilers: All of Season one, takes place shortly after 1x13.
Summary: Arthur was really sick of the dragon waking him up with his foolish screeching.
Notes: First fic in a loooong while and first Merlin fic ever. Also, I can't do smut well so there is none. My apologies in advance.



For the eighth night in a row, Arthur was awoken by screaming. Unlike the seven nights before, this time Arthur has had enough. It wouldn't be so bad if other people could hear the screaming - then maybe he could convince his father to kill the beast. Instead, it was just him that the dragon's anger taunted. Why the dragon was so angry, Arthur didn't know. Nor did he care.

All he cared about was making it stop.

With a briskness and efficiency that Merlin only managed once in a blue moon, Arthur dressed himself, grabbed his sword, and stormed across the castle, his face hard lines and radiating anger. The bloody creature was going to die. He would go root out a sorcerer to do it if he had to. Considering the increase of magical attacks that had come since he came of age, he doubted it would be that hard. Before, it had only been sorcerers - but now it was as if every magical and mythical creature in the world had targeted Camelot.

And now the dragon was acting up. It had mostly left him alone since he was sixteen and he had stated his disbelief and dismissed its words. It spoke of much but delivered little. It was a selfish creature, insidious and manipulative.

Most of all, the one thing it promised would come had never come. He had waited and ached for it and believed its words. Even after he had denounced it, the pride he had felt at its belief he would one day be the greatest king the world had ever seen had remained. Only recently had he realized that he could believe it however he wished, but if he didn't act it, show it, it would never be true.

How amusing that just as he was coming to dismiss the last of the dragon's lies, Merlin had expressed his belief in Arthur. Merlin, who had caused most of his realizations in the past months.

Perhaps it was that belief that let him dare the dragon's prison again. Whether the dragon had lied or not, that didn't mean that Arthur couldn't still make that part true, despite the dragon, not because of it. He tucked the words Merlin had spoken (also, strangely, eight nights ago) close to his heart as he descended the stairs, stealing a torch from the normal part of the dungeon.

The dragon hadn't ceased yelling, roars of mental fury and once in awhile, there was a silence like he was saying something else entirely, but it was a silence that wasn't silent - Arthur could still hear the silence, he knew something was being said. It was annoying.

The dragon was actually already on its outcropping and looked strangely startled to see him. Arthur scowled at it. "You're very annoying. And loud. Do shut up."

"Young Pendragon," the dragon mused, blinking large golden eyes at him. "This is a surprise. I was unaware that my calls had become so broad."

"They have," Arthur snapped. "I can even hear the silences. Who else is there to hear you?"

"The other side of your destiny," the dragon said, largely predictable and sending Arthur into a trembling fit of rage, his grip on the torch becoming white knuckled.

"Do not speak those lies to me," Arthur snarled. "For years you promised me this. Told me of - of someone who I could share all with. A trusted friend, advisor, equal, someone who would be everything. It never happened."

The dragon looked almost amused, the malicious beast, at Arthur's cry. He longed for something that would never be, had hardened his heart away at such thoughts. The dragon cocked his head at him and grew solemn again. "There is no one you see with such potential, my king?"

He didn't bother to correct it, as he had not bothered after the first year of talking to it. Yet, at its words, unbidden to his thoughts came dark hair and blue eyes and too-big ears with painful honestly in every action. He dismissed the thought, scoffing. That would always be an impossibility - no matter how close they grew, Arthur was still a prince, and he would always wield more power than Merlin could ever hope to understand. Arthur barely understood it yet. "There is not."

Strangely, the dragon seemed to droop. "If you too turn from your destiny, then all is lost."

Arthur's brow crinkled, his grip on the torch loosened as he stared at the dragon strangely. "What are you blabbering about?"

"He has forsaken his path," the dragon rumbled. Then it looked at him with odd intensity. "Is no one missing from your life? Nothing different?"

"No," Arthur said shortly. Merlin still tended him, though he had been oddly tired and subdued the past few days after coming in from a long herb gathering expedition with Gaius. Morgana still had her dreams - if anything, they were getting worse and she had been less sharp than usual. Gwen was a constant for all of them, calm and down to earth. The three of them were the closest things he could have to true friends - and as they were not missing, his father was still the same, and court life went on, he had no idea what the dragon was on about. "No one could be my equal anyway - my rank sees to that."

"There is other power than that bestowed by rank." The dragon was back to being suitably mysterious and looking... less worried. Which shouldn't have made Arthur relieved. It also shouldn't have concerned him that the dragon still seemed troubled.

Arthur scoffed. "Like what? Magic?"

The words sprang from his mouth before he could stop them and he froze at the knowing look in the dragon's eyes. Perhaps, once or twice, he had contemplated magic being not all that bad. Sorcerers were certainly trouble most of the time - but the light in the caves of Balor stood out in his mind even to this day, leading him to safety. Still, he felt compelled point out, "Magic is evil."

If only his voice hadn't sounded doubtful even to his own ears. The dragon snorted. "Magic is a tool, and a part of the natural order of things. You would not be alive except for its use many times over."

Arthur stilled at the blatant statement, refusing to make sense of that. "Shut up. You know nothing."

"I know too much - and not enough," the dragon said, oddly weary. "I see much of destiny, know of prophecies and how the world turns. But I know not enough of what goes on in your castle, despite what... others may think. So tell me truly, Prince Arthur, there is nothing changed in your life? Nothing gone?"

Arthur heard the real phrase, asking as if of a person, if someone was gone and he glared at it, squinting as if to puzzle out its mysteries. Really, he should just leave and let it screech its bloody head off... But he really would like uninterrupted sleep. "No," he answered slowly. "My idiot manservant even still bothers me, despite apparently thinking I will be a great king."

"Merlin said that?" The dragon asked sharply.

Arthur stared at him, something in his mind shifting, reordering in a way he both didn't want to and needed to see. "You know his name."

"I know much of the castle," the dragon said, unperturbed.

"You have never cared for anyone's opinions of me but your own," Arthur said flatly. "Neither have you ever cared about servants, no matter what I say of them."

"You were younger then. Things are different now." The dragon was not so much denying the subject but simply avoiding it. The answer was perfectly obvious, but Arthur's mind refused to see it yet.

"Has he been down here?" The question, like his words earlier, tumbled out with a need he refused to name.

The dragon, surprisingly, trembled. Anger, grief, and something that almost looked like shame shone in the eyes Arthur once spend hours looking into, recording every expression as he would an opponents movement. This was the first time the dragon had ever seemed shamed. It was hard enough to read the slight different in posture, the shift of wings, but Arthur couldn't help but know he was right. But Arthur still needed an answer. "Has he?"

A thousand other questions are tumbling around Arthur's mind, all waiting on that answer. But suddenly the dragon stands. Arthur's grip tightened on the torch. He knows that posture, had seen it only once or twice, both times leading to Arthur's fury at the dragon. Posture that signaled the dragon knew it had said too much - and would not say anymore.

"No," he snarled. "You don't get to run away from this!"

"There is nowhere for me to run," the dragon agreed, but went aloft anyway in a great show of wings curving, flapping, tail waving sinuously beneath as the chain rattled. The length of it always made Arthur wonder - why had the dragon never tried to eat its jailers? He supposed Uther had never dared approach this close, or surely his father would be long dead. His father in fact, seemed to like to pretend the dragon existed not at all anymore, despite feeding it the bare minimum that it needed.

"Answer me! I command you!" Arthur shouted - but only his echo met him. He stood, fuming, for too long. An hour perhaps, but the chain did not move from where it lay plastered against stone, and the dragon did not answer.

He stomped back up the stairs, doused the torch - and hesitated. His eyes flickered toward the court physician's quarters. Surely, Merlin would know nothing of the dragon. Merlin would be asleep. Merlin would have been asleep for hours, and not have been woken by angry screaming. Through his mind, the image of Merlin the past few days floated, tired, solemn, and too quiet. He tried for the banter, but it fell flat too often.

His steps turned. He didn't make a conscious decision but he was up the stairs and at Gaius's door before he stopped again, one hand on the door, letting himself breathe. He didn't know what he wanted. Did he want Merlin to be in an uneasy sleep, only an hour of uninterrupted sleep behind him - or did he want him deeply asleep, untroubled by dragons or destiny?

Untroubled by magic?

Arthur couldn't let himself think of it for too long. He had to know. He couldn't think (of Valiant's shield, of how the chandelier had conveniently fallen, the wind in Ealdor, the light in the caves, the gryphon dead by Merlin's friend, wind and fire killing the afanc) of anything until he knew.

He opened the door, every skill he usually used to silence his footsteps in a hunt used now. He spared a glance for Gaius and let his eyes adjust to the dark quarters, a single candle kept lit, a luxury Gaius could afford when they slept only sometimes. He didn't ponder on if there was a significance to it being lit now, if a reason was needed for the light.

He navigated around tables, chairs, the bed, and up the steps to Merlin's small room. Small, but roomy for a servant, Arthur supposed. Idly, he wondered if he couldn't get Merlin somewhere better, closer - his own chambers, where a manservant could properly stay and tend his master at all hours. But Arthur would not get in the way of the paternal affection Gaius had for Merlin, or leave Merlin bereft of what Arthur suspected (but had never asked) was the only fatherly love Merlin had ever felt.

His hand was warm compared the cool wood. It was late autumn now. Winter's chill was creeping up on them. He thought perhaps he should make Merlin get warmer clothes and bedding. He paid him enough. At least, he thought he did. Didn't he? He had never really paid attention, assuming the steward was taking care of it. Was Merlin being given all he deserved?

If there were no proper way, he could always refurbish Merlin's wardrobe himself. It would be quite amusing. Merlin would be horrified.

He needed to stop stalling. Princes didn't stall.

He opened the door and stepped inside before he could take it back. He stared at the bed. There was no candle here, and as he let the door shut quietly behind him, only the pale light of a half moon helped at all. Which was to say, it didn't help at all. Arthur stayed against the door until he could see very dim shapes in the room. Then he - cautiously, because Merlin's room was a mess - made his way to the bed, where he hovered uncertainly, peering at Merlin's face. Did he look more tired than usual?

Arthur tried to tell himself he looked tired all the time now, but that didn't help. Finally, annoyed at all these doubts and thoughts, he shook Merlin awake, perhaps a bit rougher than he should have. "Merlin," he hissed, "Wake up. I demand you wake up."

"Go 'way," Merlin grunted, a sleepily flailing hand failing to do anything at all except smack Merlin's own chest. "Still dark."

"Yes it is," Arthur agreed, hands still on Merlin's shoulders. "I don't suppose you ever hear a dragon screeching do you?"

It was either the best way or worst way to ask the question. Arthur leaned down as Merlin seemed to freeze in his grasp, but for some reason Merlin shrunk away from him. "Stop that," he ordered. "Answer me."

He suspected he definitely knew the answer now. But he wanted Merlin to say it.

Merlin didn't seem to be able to do even this right. "I'm sorry," he gasped, sounding impossibly shaken and terrified. Terrified - of Arthur. "I didn't know it was a dragon at first. I didn't know what he wanted then - and he knew so much. Even if he did give worthless hints - "

"Yes, he finds it entertaining to dance around the subject," Arthur acknowledged. "It's quite irritating."

"Yes," Merlin agreed, sounding aggrieved and forgetting to be frightened for a delightful moment. He irritatingly remembered again a second later and began to shake. "You know."

Arthur did know. He just wasn't sure what he knew yet. "What do I know?" he asked cautiously. When Merlin squirmed in his grasp, in the dim moonlight he could see something vaguely shifty in Merlin's expression. He frowned down at his manservant. "Do you really want to keep lying now?"

Merlin stilled. Then, with a quiet sigh of defeat (he hadn't know Merlin knew how) he murmured, "I'm magic."

"You mean you do magic," Arthur corrected, mostly automatic as he sunk down to sit on the edge of the bed, not loosing his grasp on Merlin's shoulders, but not preventing the other man from sitting up.

"That too," Merlin conceded. "I... I didn't choose it Arthur. Not at first. I've been doing magic since... my mother says the first time she saw me doing something with my... talents, I was less than a week old."

Merlin began to shake, slight tremors under Arthur's hands. He didn't like it at all. Merlin's voice still held that odd note of resignation and defeat. "I'm sorry, Arthur. I couldn't tell you. I tried, in Ealdor. And then Will - "

Merlin's voice broke and Arthur thought he might, horrifyingly, be crying. He shifted on the bed, closer, and was alarmed to see there was indeed something wet to Merlin's eyes. It wasn't just because of Will. "Merlin - "

"Please," Merlin begged and Arthur's insides twisted in agony at the sound. "Just let me - its your due to have me executed. I won't try to escape. I just - I want you to know, I never lied when it wasn't related to magic. I truly do think you'll be a great king."

"Merlin." He wasn't quite sure what else to say, but Merlin was a little foolish and perhaps he needed reminding. "Don't be an idiot. I'm not going to have you killed. Do you think I'm blind? Do you really trust me so little?"

The silence was heartbreaking until Merlin leaned forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry - I can't think. The past two weeks have just been - awful. I don't think I've had a good night's sleep since... since the Questing Beast. Maybe the one, after you got better and before I realized what Nimueh had done."

Arthur wondered for a moment if Merlin even realized now what he was saying - and if Arthur had been annoyed when the dragon's call obviously hadn't even been meant for him, what torment Merlin must have gone through, that anger ringing full force through him. And before that - Arthur caught the strand, dragged it to the surface. "Nimueh? Who is that?"

"She is - was - a sorceress. She's dead now." Merlin's voice was soft, the words purposefully vague, but Arthur was having none of it. The secrets would all come out - and tonight, when they could speak truly and not in the watchful eyes of the daytime.

"Tell me," he commanded.

He was surprised when Merlin did. It only took a little prodding and the whole grisly story is laid out. Merlin only hesitated briefly, and tried to be vague about what, exactly, had been promised to Nimueh for Arthur's cure - but Arthur wasn't stupid and when Merlin stumbled over trying not to explain why Hunith had been sick (he really should have been more concerned over her sudden visit) it snapped into place, around the time Merlin was telling him about going after Gaius because the old physician had made the perfectly sensible decision not to let Merlin die. "You went off and offered your life to a sorceress," he said, slow and furious. "So that I would live. And then, when she decided obviously she had no need for the life of an abominable manservant, you planned to go try again."

"It wasn't that simple," Merlin protested. Arthur's hands tightened on his shoulders in warning. "I couldn't let you die!"

"Because you dying is much better!" Arthur snapped, not caring that his voice was more comparable to a low growl now. "Do you think that would make me happy?"

"No, of course not," Merlin said feebly. "But - your life is more important than mine. You're the prince."

"And you're my destiny," Arthur shouted.

Once said, everything snapped into place, a clear picture. This was what the dragon had once harped about. As selfish as the creature was, Arthur couldn't believe anymore that it had lied. Not when Merlin was sitting so still and stunned in front of him. It was obvious. He slipped a hand up to Merlin's jaw, tilting his head so he could get a proper look into his eyes. "Merlin," he breathed, wondering. "Do you know how long I waited for you?"

Merlin shifted, the tiniest bit closer and a thrill that had nothing to do with destiny shot through Arthur as their faces got closer, closer.

The door to Merlin's room slammed open and Gaius's concerned voice cried. "Merlin! Are you alright? I heard - Your highness?"

Arthur and Merlin had both jerked back at the door opening but Arthur's hand was still on Merlin's shoulder and Merlin's on his. The candlelight illuminated that quite well and Arthur felt absurdly frustrated. Gaius slowly lifted an eyebrow, then the other. "Prince Arthur... if you and Merlin have something to discuss, perhaps it would best be done in the daytime? This is usually a time for sleeping."

"It is. And I am sorry to have disturbed you," Arthur said agreeably. "Come Merlin, we'll discuss this in my chambers."

"What...?" Merlin blinked at him stupidly and he sighed, got to his feet, and tugged on Merlin's shoulder impatiently.

"Now, Merlin," he said firmly, and didn't look at Gaius nervously because he was the prince and if he wanted to drag his manservant (and destiny) from his bed at odd times of the night he would.

There was what sounded like a put upon sigh from Gaius and then, "Please be careful, your highness. Merlin, take a change of clothes and try to be quiet on the way out."

Arthur didn't have to pretend to look confused at the warning because he was. Plus, he was always careful. Instead, he focused on Merlin getting out of bed, looking confused and sleep mussed in the dim light of the candle before that too faded from view. He didn't mind - it meant he was blind to the tracks left by tears on Merlin's face.

They were quiet, as Merlin found clothes in the dark, obeying Gaius far easily than he did Arthur. They slipped from the room, Arthur leading the way because he assumed that he likely had the better night vision - it didn't matter that as a peasant Merlin had probably had to sneak around in total darkness without a torch or a candle far more often than Arthur. Physically, Arthur was superior in every way.

Also, he liked feeling Merlin stumbling into him if he paused suddenly. Gaius pretended to be sleeping as they snuck out very well and for that, Arthur let them get halfway to his own chambers before he stopped Merlin with a hand on his shoulder, crowding him close until the other boy had his back to the wall of a torch lit corridor. "Merlin. You should have told me."

"I know," Merlin said, his voice low and not looking at all scared to be stuck against a wall with Arthur attempting to loom above him. It didn't help that Merlin refused to slouch this once and Arthur was forced to admit Merlin was the tiniest bit taller. "But you know I couldn't dare."

Arthur snorted his opinion of that. Merlin dared a lot of things. He leaned close, heat coiling into his gut when Merlin tilted his head just so and he forgot a moment that he was supposed to be getting information. He licked his lips. Merlin's eyes fluttered close. The clothes in his hands dropped to the floor.

Information could wait. He pressed his lips to Merlin's with a hungry groan, hands fisting in cloth and pinning Merlin's body to the wall with his own. There was a hand in his hair keeping him close and another gripping his hip. Merlin was an enthusiastic kisser and not as inexperienced as maybe Arthur had hoped. The unicorns, they lied.

He kissed Merlin's jaw, nipped at the skin of his neck, wanting and needing. He swept a hand under Merlin's shirt, over sharp bones he could feel too easily and tweaked a nipple just to hear Merlin groan. He thrust their hips together, the fabric rough but a hand on the small of his back encouraging and he was too desperate to take the time to unclothe them.

"Wait, wait, wait," Merlin moaned, his hands not at all following his words as he worked to get a hand down Arthur's pants. "Not here."

Arthur thought here was great indeed, but reluctantly stopped, panting against Merlin's ear. Merlin stifled a whimper and both of them drew their hands back, carefully not looking at each other as Arthur snapped, voice rough with arousal, "My chambers, now."

"Yes." Merlin's eyes flashed gold and suddenly the clothes were back, neatly folded, in Merlin's hands and he was walking awkwardly toward Arthur's room.

Arthur watched him, unable to move for a moment and was stuck between That's how you got your chores done so quickly and Do that thing with your eyes again before he was moving to catch up, body humming with something sweet and perfect thrumming in his veins.
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