In which Arthur DOESN'T admit he and Merlin are destined to be butt-buddies…

No idea if anyone even remembers this series, it's been so long since I updated! But anyhoo, in case there are any lingering wanderers not of a mind to kill me for my negligence, have a freshly baked chapter!

9.

The shadows came alive.

They writhed, creeping ever closer, crawling across the last remaining creases of light, reaching, grabbing, biting at him. He bucked and fought and struggled and ran but they were unrelenting, pushing harder, faster! The darkness pressed closer and closer and closer and it was on him and in him and pushing oh God he could hear that voice, echoing over and over and over again…shhhh little Pendragon, shhhh…and the smile. That smile-!

He couldn't breathe.

"Arthur."

He was so cold.

"Arthur, wake up. You're dreaming."

This voice…this voice was different. It was soft and gentle and whispered of safety and warmth and trust. Lavender. Musty herbs and polishing oil and fresh cotton and hay. Safety. Safe. Somebody…somebody good. Somebody kind. Somebody…important…

"Breathe. Just breathe, Arthur, it's alright. You're alright." splayed fingers rubbing firmly at his back, the fond inflection in that voice casting out the darkness and letting the light come pouring back in. He took a deep, gulping breath, started as he felt himself pitching backwards, flinched, but those familiar hands caught his head and delivered him safely to his resting place. A soft exhale of sweet stale air against his forehead, and a heavy velveteen mass is drawn carefully across his chest. Oddly, he feels not oppressed, but engulfed and cocooned by the weight. He sinks into them with a bone-deep exhaustion.

"You should rest, sire. It's been a long night." The voice filtered through his shattered consciousness from somewhere above him, uncharacteristically somber and subdued "For both of us."

No. No, he couldn't sleep, he couldn't, they were coming! The shadows were coming and they would take the voice from him! HE would take the kind voice from him!

"…lan." Parched lips cracked open a fraction and he felt his limbs flail uselessly against rough cotton "Reylan!" he heard his own voice break piteously as the darkness rushed greedily up to greet him-

"Arthur!" cool, blessed fingers encircled his beating wrists "Shh, calm down, it's alright, its okay, I promise!" he fell forwards into the voice, into something simultaneously soft and coarse "Shhhhh." He was being rocked. Almost imperceptibly, but rocked nonetheless. Like a baby. He flushed. Was he in a cradle? "You're in your chambers." His heart beat furiously. Thump-thump-thump. He must be drunk. Or mad. Or both. "All is well."

A very tiny, very embarrassed part of his brain had a horrific realization: oh God. I'm snuggling my manservant. Thankfully, this particular part of his brain was well accustomed to being determinedly ignored.

"…erlin…?" He croaked. An uncomfortable shift. An awkward pressure on his neck. "You should sleep, sire."

"Can't…" He murmured, thickly, head pounding while brightly coloured lights spun languidly in his mind's eye "…shadows." He shuddered deeply, and clung to the voice, burying himself further into that coarsely warm salvation. Somewhere far above him someone cleared their throat uncomfortably, embarrassed.

"Arthur?" the voice inquired gently, its tone an infinitely complex blend of emotion "what are you talking about?"

"Tired." His lips moved sluggishly, out of rhythm with his head, the words thick and clumsy on his tongue "Cold." So cold.

His makeshift pillow shifted, and he suddenly felt as though he was a lone sailor adrift on a stormy sea, tossing perilously in the waves. He groaned thickly, bile rising in his throat, and was caught mid-shudder as something blessedly soft was wrapped around his torso "Here. Hold this around you." There was a slight frown in that soft voice…softer than usual. Softer than it should be, but not…not unwelcomely so…"I'm not too sure, but I think it will help you sweat out the fever, or whatever this is."

Very slowly, he raised his leaden heat and peered blearily into the eyes of the owner of that elusive voice. Up close, he could just make out a rich blend of deep cerulean to pastel blue, like an expanse of volatile ocean kissing a soothing sky.

"Uh…Arthur?"

He blinked as his nose collided with somebody else's and he slumped abruptly back down, limbs trembling, frustrated. No, none of this was right. Some deep hidden truth itched at the back of his mind, swimming teasingly amid the intoxicated mess of his thoughts and he couldn't…quite…grasp it…

"…you're…eyes're…th'wrong colour…" he murmured, poking clumsily at his pillow's thin chest for emphasis "I…like…gold…better…"

That meant something…something…something important, but he…he couldn't quite…think…right now…

The shadows loomed and he flinched, turning his face into coarse, musty smelling cotton. He wanted to stay there forever, to sleep the dreamless sleep of the dead for a thousand years or more with…with…this person. This important person. But he couldn't. He couldn't stay here, not like this, not this way because…because…

"…stay." He murmured, the whispered plea seeping from blood red lips slick with heat onto untarnished ivory skin like temptation. It branded the blessedly living carcass beneath his head, the foreign pulse quickening, beating accusingly against his flushed cheeks. Bones and skin and fire and ice tore at him mercilessly, but all quieted at the salvation of two simple words:

"Yes, sire."

He closed his eyes, and felt the ache of victory and defeat consume him. It cannot be this way. It cannot be this way. It cannot be this way, because…

because I must be the ignorant Prince while be plays the oblivious Pauper; and I must ignore everything that is, and everything that is not, and everything that could be between us. Because if I acknowledge…this…the shadows danced mockingly as he slipped into their empty embraces…I will lose him forever.

Cold. So very cold.

I can't let that happen.

The darkness swallowed him.

I won't.

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Sorry about the delay, peeps! Please r&r if you have the time!