Disclaimer: I do not own Arthur or Merlin or Kilgharrah or Aithusa, although I wish I owned Aithusa, because she is all kinds of adorable.
Pairing(s) : Merthur
A/N: First Merlin fanfic! Omg. Unbeta'd, so all mistakes are mine. Also I don't know much about taking care of dragons, since I've never had one, so if anyone wants to correct me...
For: Aimee (hoshi'lite), who has been flailing with me ever since Aithusa first arrived in all his (her?) adorable glory, and who found me all sorts of adorable paternalMerthur!fics, and who has also written a bbdragon!fic of her own which you should check out because it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The Aithusa Chapter
He keeps me in his room until I get too big and the castle food he manages to filch for me isn't enough anymore. Which takes approximately about one and a half weeks, and by this time I am half as tall as he is.
"Arthur saw me smuggling this back here," he tells me ruefully one night,
pushing the door shut with his elbow as he carries a big plate piled full of beef and a small bowl of mashed potato. He pushes the meat towards me and starts eating from the bowl. "He thinks there's something wrong with my stomach now, seeing as I'm eating all this food and not growing at all." He mimics what I assume to be the King's Royal Tones. " 'Merlin, if you're going to be stealing so much food from the kitchens, you might at least stop being as thin as a tent pole.' Typical idiot." He's amused, shakes his head as he scoops the potato into his mouth.
I've almost gobbled up all of my meat when I realize the potato's all he's going to eat. I look at the last piece of beef, look at my master, and push it to him.
"Oh, no no no, Aithusa," he says, frowning. "You're a growing dragon." He sighs. "Growing pretty fast though. Uh, we're going to have to find somewhere bigger for you to stay soon. And you're going to have to learn how to hunt."
He reaches out to me and strokes me behind my ear. I make a purring sound of contentment. He rambles on, his familiar voice lulling me to sleep; the first sound I heard, the only voice I will obey. Something about how nowhere in the forest is safe enough for a baby dragon, how he is the last person equipped to teach a dragon how to hunt, how he wishes Arthur could do it instead, how if only Arthur knew.
It is a recurrent theme: if only Arthur knew.
He's managed to find a place, though, despite his protestations that nowhere is suitable or safe enough for a baby dragon. He does not seem to realize that if I draw myself up, I am as tall as he is.
It is a cave, almost on the edge of the forest, but close enough so that he can walk to it without getting tired. The first few days he visits countless times, bringing me piles and piles of food and apologizing for me not being able to stay with him and generally clucking over me like a worried mother hen.
I want to tell him that dragons do actually have some self-preservation. They do, after all, have the wisdom of ages imbedded in the very stuff of their souls. But I doubt that that would stop his clucking.
He tells me one evening that even Arthur's getting suspicious about his unexplained absences.
"He asked me if I've gotten myself a girlfriend," he says, laughing at the thought. "He enquired as to whether he could meet this deluded young lady." He snorts. "That deluded young lady, Aithusa, would be you, so not bloody likely."
There's a pause, then, and I glance up at him from my turkey leg. He's staring out the cave. He catches me looking at him and chuckles, a bit.
"Girlfriend. Stupid Arthur."
I wonder if he knows how wistful he sounds.
Luckily for him – and for me – he does not have to teach me how to hunt. The first time he brings me out – nowhere near the castle – and points at an oblivious rabbit in the distance, and suggests, tentatively, that I "Scratch it? With your claws? Like claw at it…", I roll my eyes at him (as much as it is possible for a dragon to do so) and take a silent running leap after the rabbit, which notices me and tries to run.
But I am, after all, a dragon, even if a baby one, and it stands no chance. I haven't yet learned to fly, but I position myself in the air in such a way that I will land gracefully atop the terrified rabbit, and slit its neck with one steely talon. I look back at my master, and I grin a dragon's grin.
"Yeurgh," he says, watching the rabbit bleed itself out. "You and Arthur would make good friends, really. But good boy. Good boy, Aithusa."
He smiles at me, as proud of this small achievement as any mother would be.
At night, if he can't see me in the daytime, he sneaks out and comes to see me. I open one sleepy eye, sensing his approach, and he leans against me and talks about his day. About what he learned from Gaius. About his duties. About what strange creature he had to save Arthur from. About Arthur.
Always, always, about Arthur.
One peaceful, moonlit night, as he's finished telling me about a selkie which tried to seduce Arthur, he laughs, an exhausted laugh. It's been a long day, he tells me, the kelpie was especially stubborn, he'd almost collapsed trying to get it to back off and at the end of it Arthur was oblivious as usual and pissed that he hadn't ironed his pants for dinner.
"I know he doesn't know anything," my master says tiredly, back against mine, "but God. He makes me so angry sometimes. All I bloody well do for him."
He puts a hand over his eyes, like his head is aching, and I feel a rush of hopeless anger that I can't do anything to stop his hurting.
"And I think we're getting somewhere sometimes," he continues, quietly, "I really am. And then he'll turn around and remind me in no uncertain terms that I am his servant. Nothing else."
The pain in his voice is killing me. I stretch out one wing cautiously, and pat him like he does when he's trying to soothe me to sleep. He laughs, but it's a little broken.
"Nothing else," he repeats. "I'm an idiot, Aithusa."
The sunlight streams into the cave. I judge that it's late morning, or perhaps early afternoon, but the sunlight isn't what wakes me. It's the sound of a voice calling my master's name.
My master hears it too: awakened, he jumps to his feet, as though burnt. "Oh, hell," he hisses. "Hell. I slept. Oh God, oh hell. They're coming. I'm so sorry, Aithusa. Shit!"
He stiffens and is quiet, then, though, as the voice comes closer. "Wait. No, it's him. He sounds like he's alone. Maybe I could. Wait here, Aithusa, wait here, if they see you… Oh God."
He dashes out, and I am in half a mind to follow him, but he has expressedly ordered me to stay here and he doesn't seem to be in any immediate danger, so I stay put, and I listen, oh high alert for anything that might indicate my master's safety be endangered.
"Arthur!" I hear him say. "Arthur. Arthur, listen."
"Merlin!" The voice that answers him is dripping with relief and fondness, and my nerves untense, just a bit. "Where were you, what were you doing, do you know how worried we were when we couldn't find you, you bloody-"
"Arthur," my master says desperately, "where are the others?"
"They're coming soon, I went ahead. Did you sleep in this cave, you idiot, what-"
"Tell them to go back. Now. Arthur. Sire. They can't come here."
"Why-" There's a pause. Arthur must've noticed something in my master's tone, or face, that forbade any argument.
"Okay," I hear. "But Merlin. I'll be waiting." Then, in a louder voice. "Found him, boys! Safe and sound. Time to head back, idiot's already wasted half our day."
"Thank you," I hear my master murmur.
"I want a proper explanation," is the reply, growing fainter, and all is quiet.
It is late at night when they return. I am already sleeping when I hear voices: one unquestionably my master's and one last heard but a few hours ago. King Arthur. Their voices are loud in the stillness of the night.
"Sire. Talk to me." My master's voice is pleading.
"I said I wouldn't harm him, Merlin, I didn't say I would talk to you." King Arthur's voice is angry. Cold.
"Arthur, I told you I'm sorry."
"You lied to me." The King's voice is weary, like they've been fighting all day.
"I had to! I couldn't tell you, you'd banish me and who'd be left to take care of you, you idiot!"
"I can take care of myself, Merlin," Arthur snaps, their voices drawing ever closer. I crouch into a defensive position. "I wouldn't have… banished you… if you'd just told me from the beginning. You lied to me. For years."
Closer, he doesn't sound as angry. He sounds hurt.
"God." My master sounds extremely frustrated. "I couldn't have told you in the beginning, you would've had me executed, damnit."
They are at the mouth of the cave now, their shadows lying across the entrance. I steel myself.
King Arthur steps in.
My eyes meet his, and they widen. His mouth drops. A step behind him comes my master, who looks at me, looks at him, and says, "Arthur, it's okay, Aithusa won't hurt you, and you promised you wouldn't-"
"Oh, shut up, Merlin," Arthur interrupts, and takes a step closer to me, gazing at me with something like awe. "He's beautiful."
"Oh," my master says. He smiles.
"I loved dragons when I was a kid," Arthur says. "I used to read stories about them. I'd draw them on scraps of paper. I wanted one so much. And he's… he's magnificent."
I cock my head at my master, as if to say What were you talking about? He seems to be a wonderful young man.
My master shakes his head, as if to say Why am I not surprised.
"He likes you," he tells Arthur, and the King smiles.
"Can I touch him?" His voice is wondering.
"If he'll let you, and of course he will, you complimented him."
I incline my head towards Arthur. He steps forward, slowly, and I can see the child who was entranced by dragons and spells and magic, before the pain of death took the entrancement away from him.
He reaches out a hand and touches the bridge of my snout. I nuzzle his wrist and he startles, a bit, but then he smiles and starts stroking my skin.
"How old is he?" he asks.
"Can he fly yet?"
My master squints at me. "No…? He's never shown any inclination towards flying yet. Should you be flying, Aithusa? I should've asked Kilgharrah when you're supposed to be. I forgot about it. What if I was supposed to teach you how to move your wings since you were a baby? It's too late now; you're taller than me…"
"He worries too much," Arthur murmurs to me, and I dip my head as a nod. Teach me how to fly, indeed.
My master stops rambling about how my wing muscles will never be developed enough to fly and looks at us, with Arthur's hand now scratching the back of my ear.
There is silence, for a bit.
"I wanted to tell you, Arthur, I really did," my master says quietly. "Don't you think I would've wanted you to know… I was going to, even, but then your dad..." Arthur's hand stills. "-and it was Morgana, but you hated magic then, and I have to protect you. Don't you see. I have to. And I couldn't stand you hating me. You would've hated me. You do hate me-"
His voice breaks, at the end, and he stops like he isn't able to talk anymore, and I move instinctively towards him, but Arthur's faster. One long stride, and one arm is around my master, and the other is stroking his hair.
"Shh, shh, Merlin," he soothes. "Oh, Merlin, I could never hate you, you idiot… shh, don't cry, I'm sorry, shh, baby, I'm sorry."
The endearment makes my master look up, wet eyes wide, lips parted in a question that never comes out because right then Arthur leans in and kisses him.
"Mprf-" my master starts, but decides against it, and brings his hand up to cup Arthur's neck, and the other to entangle itself in Arthur's hair.
Humans seem to like that. Hair, that is.
They kiss enthusiastically for a while more against the cave wall, and I observe them, pleased that he's finally making my master happy for once.
Then Arthur's hand reaches down to cup my master's arse, and his leg moves experimentally between his, and my master lets out a moan, and starts… grinding, and I'm suddenly getting a bit uncomfortable and I wonder if they would notice if a medium-sized dragon sneaked past them to get some fresh air.
Luckily, my master notices me staring fixedly at the floor, laughs, and breaks away from Arthur, who's pressing kisses to his jaw line.
"Not in front of Aithusa," my master says sternly.
Arthur grins. "In my room, then," he says. "Goodnight, Aithusa, we'll see you tomorrow."
My master throws his arms around me before he leaves. "He kissed me," he says into my neck, laughing and breathless and ecstatic.
It's cool and slightly windy. The few misshapened clouds in the sky are white and bright; the warm evening sun is hiding behind one.
It's a perfect day for flying.
I take a look behind me, where my master stands worried, tense, in a position that suggests I may fall at any moment and he will have to rush forward to catch me.
He does not seem to realize I will probably crush him.
The King stands a few paces behind him, wearing an expression of amusement at my master's worry. I trade a look with him: I know, right.
"Hey," my master says.
I give him an affectionate glance, and without any warning, I take off into the sky, and it's so easy, free, swooping, flying. So, so easy, with power and wind and rush and happiness.
I glance down, and the King is standing with his arm around my master's shoulders, looking for all the world like parents who've just sent their kid to school for the first time.