A/N: Angst. Hello there, angst. Nice to see you.
It was dawn.
Dawn was when Merlin woke Arthur up on tournament days, or days when Arthur needed to get something done. Dawn was when Arthur yawned and stretched languidly, hair ruffled and clothes rumpled. Dawn was when Arthur was young and free from responsibility, and Merlin got to see that for a moment—just a moment. Dawn was when Arthur got to let him see it.
Dawn was when Arthur's eyes remained half-lidded even after Merlin shook him awake; when the heat of Arthur's body soaked through his nightshirt and into Merlin's palm, into his very being; when Merlin had to steel himself beforehand, so that he wouldn't snatch his hand away with a guilty flush; when Merlin had to bite his lip and clench his other hand into a fist to keep from reaching out and smoothing back Arthur's hair and tucking the sheets back around Arthur and letting him go back to sleep and watching that vulnerability spread back across Arthur's peaceful sleeping face and-and—
Enough of that.
Dawn was the greatest test of Merlin's restraint that he had ever had in his entire life; greater than hiding his magic day after day; greater than putting Arthur's armor on and taking it off; greater than watching Arthur in court and not cheering for no particular reason.
Dawn was when Arthur wasn't king; when Uther wasn't dead; when magic still wasn't outlawed; when Gwen wasn't queen and amazing at it too; when Morgana wasn't gone; when they weren't at war; when Merlin wasn't so deeply in love that it ached, oh how it ached sometimes.
But Merlin was loyal, and Merlin was used to hiding, and watching, and loving and protecting from afar.
Merlin would wait; would wait for an eternity if necessary; would wait even if he knew inside that nothing would ever come of his patience, because having hope was infinitely better than having nothing.
Merlin watched the moonlight fade and the skies turn grey with the pre-dawn light.
He looked forward to dawn.