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Title: Think I'm Addicted to Your Light
Author: kepp0xy
Rating/Genre: PG. Angst, humour, some action/adventure, some hurt/comfort, some awkwardness and romance.
Characters/Pairing: Arthur/Gwen, Merlin, Morgana, Gaius; mentions of Tom, Uther & Leon; Lancelot alluded to.
Spoilers: Up to 2.07; see A/N for additional spoiler explanation
Words: ~8,500
Summary: The one way Arthur tripped into love with Guinevere and the ten ways he kept falling.

Author's Note: A couple of people requested the Arthur equivalent story to The King, He Waited on My Doorstep and this is the result :] It's a companion piece, and so a few of the ficlets relate directly to parts of Doorstep. In other words, this one won't make sense without having read the other ;]

Spoilers - second verse, same as the first: there are 11 ficlets herein, some of which were inspired by various clips from promo ads and set visits. I don't even consider the pieces speculation though, and if you weren't aware of the spoiler content to begin with, you'd never be able to discern which was spoiler-inspired and which was simply story :]

Alpha & Beta credits go to the incredibly helpful, indulgent & clever mancalahour and and_i. My gratitude knows no bounds ♥! All remaining mistakes are mine. Comments are ♥ & concrit is always appreciated.




0.


It's a shock, as she turns away, that he doesn't want to leave it like this - he can't leave it like this.

His hand is around her elbow before he's thought of it, and even once she faces him, even as she jerks her arm gently to free herself, he doesn't relinquish the hold, letting his hand slip down to wrap around her wrist. It's almost, though not quite, like holding her hand.

"I know I have much to learn," he implores softly, words tumbling slowly before thoughts fully form. "There are some things that I am terrible at - cooking, being one of them." He's learned to read her face these past few days, this past dinner, and now Guinevere's eyes - if not her expression - soften, and hope wells inside of him.

He needs her to know.

"Also, knowing what to say to someone I care about."

It strangely hurts that she doesn't immediately understand what he means. That he must indicate with his eyes that he speaks of her, and that just when realisation starts to dawn on her face, they're interrupted.






1.


It wasn't that Guinevere was the first woman he had ever seen cry.

While Morgana was certainly not prone to fits of sorrow, at least nowhere near Arthur (except once, just after her arrival in Camelot; his memories of it were shoddy at best, but he did remember the feel of a shirt soaked in tears), the other women of nobility had no such compunction.

Their tears were nowhere near as genuinely aching as Guinevere's had been in the forest.

Those ladies then tended to wallow in a state of exaggerated sorrow for days and days. Guinevere simply carried on as she always had.

He watched her, when he could do so without her knowing it. She walked with straight back, warm smile ready to curl her lips when she needed to return a greeting, and there was barely more than a shadow across her features when she thought no one was looking.

That shadow was the only indication that anything was wrong with her. The selfish part of him was pleased that she was hurting in ways similar to him. But she also softened him as no one else ever had, and he mostly just wished there was something more he could do to ease her heartache.

Arthur had yet to meet anyone as dignified as Guinevere. An irony he did not miss, as he was constantly surrounded by those he had always been told were her betters.



2.


When Gwen came to him after the taxation incident in the lower towns, it was the first they'd spoken since the return from Hengist's castle. He had still been pleased to see her, regardless of everything that happened there, and her words had reminded him of every reason he had fallen in love with her in the first place.

He had wondered if it was the last time she would visit him that way.

But she kept coming. Not always to his rooms, not always to support, not always with a compassionate expression, but Guinevere came nonetheless, and he was glad of it, every time.

He never felt fully satisfied with her departure; wondered if he would ever feel fully satisfied that she had to leave his side. Doubted he would.

But Arthur could never claim that he resented her visits. They may not have been building a relationship of the kind he desperately wanted, but they were starting to build a friendship.

He would learn to accept it as enough.



3.


Arthur had no inkling as to what went on between Merlin and the woman while they were lost deep in the caves. He just knew that when he questioned Merlin about it, the best he would receive was a shrug and mumble.

After a day of trying, he gave up on finding out what happened.

He tried to stomach Merlin's morose mood, tried to ignore it or even accept it, but the fact of it was that he wanted his annoyingly chipper friend back. Not this shadow that made Arthur's heart ache for reasons he couldn't guess.

So he attempted distraction in the form of obtuse disregard for the situation: Arthur tried ordering him to gather wood, find water, stupid tasks that Merlin would normally either set about doing without complaint and with that jovial bounce in his step, or would make his expression go sour, grousing amusingly under his breath all the while pretending he thought Arthur couldn't hear where Arthur went along with it, entertained.

But Merlin did neither. He looked at Arthur balefully before stomping off in search of wood, and with his return, Arthur left him alone.

Because Merlin and the woman had wandered so far in the tunnels they made it back to the castle on the third day of travel, and were met in the courtyard by servants and a nervous knight, relaying an angry summons from the king. Arthur looked up to find Morgana by the main doors, watching Merlin knowingly without ever sparing Arthur a single glance.

He didn't think anything had developed between them since he had spoken to Merlin those months ago, but her expression held something that he couldn't quite name which worried him.

He was distracted from Morgana when Guinevere stepped from the shadows beside her, eyes flashing to his face. He took grim pleasure from watching her look him over; her eyes narrowed slightly as they roved across his features and down his body, presumably searching for injury. Arthur offered her a nearly imperceptible nod when she met his gaze again, and Guinevere held eye contact for a beat before looking away to Merlin.

And she promptly froze.

Then she was dashing down the steps as though chased by a sorcerer and was beside Merlin's saddle, expression tight with concern. Merlin stared at her for a long moment before slumping and sliding awkwardly off horseback only to be drawn tightly into Gwen's arms.

Arthur watched, stricken, as Merlin appeared to buckle in her hold, burying his face awkwardly in her hair and wrapping his arms tightly around her in return.

"You need to go to the king," Morgana said quietly beside him and Arthur turned to her in surprise. He hadn't heard her approach. "He's eager for word of what happened."

Arthur began to say, "I don't know what happened," but thought better of it with Merlin distraught so nearby. So he said, "Of course," instead, dismounting, and risked another glance at the tableau of Guinevere holding Merlin.

As though sensing his attention, she moved so that she could see him over Merlin's shoulder to look at him questioningly. Arthur nodded that she should take him away, and Gwen's lips twitched her understanding before she shifted to pull a little out of Merlin's arms. Whatever she whispered had Merlin moving slowly beside her, heading towards Gaius' chambers.

"It's going to be a long night," Morgana said heavily beside him.

Arthur watched Gwen and Merlin disappear into the passageway before he nodded, and he and Morgana made their way up the castle steps.



4.


"They bloody stole from us!"

Arthur picks up his pace, striding down the lane to follow the sound of the shout. Things are quiet in the kingdom these days and he doesn't want that to change. Certainly not for something so petty as a theft in the middle towns.

Someone must have responded to the shouting man, as a second voice pipes up, equally irate, "That doesn't matter! They'll pay for it one way or another!"

Rounding the corner, Arthur freezes.

Guinevere stands with two children peeking around the arms she's stretched behind her to protect them. Three men stand before her in a loose semi-circle, hands in fists clenched tight at their sides, looking to be nearly trembling with fury, and yet by the expression on her face, she doesn't seem the least concerned for her own safety.

"They'll return your goods," she's saying in reasonable tones when Arthur shakes his head to clear it. "But you have to understand - the recent drought means they -

"They've got to learn a lesson."

"A finger each, at least," says another.

The other brutes nod, and Arthur bristles, about to move forward. But the expression which appears on Guinevere's face holds him back. She straightens, taking a small step away from the children though their fingers knot in her dress, and she raises her chin, every muscle in her face taut.

Pride, swift and unexpected, straightens his shoulders and he pauses by the wall, waiting to see what she says.

"We look after one another in Camelot," she scolds fiercely, looking at the men as though she had never met anyone so despicable. Arthur knows she has met worse. "These are children. They have learned their lesson through terror. You will take your goods and leave, or I will report this to the guards."

The silence is echoing. Torn between watching the consequences unfold, and intervening with support, Arthur watches as Guinevere's gaze never falters, shifting deliberately from face to face as she awaits their response with no trace of apprehension.

"And who would believe a little maid?" one of the men finally sneers, though Arthur hears the worry in his voice, the other two shifting uncomfortably.

Gwen just opens her mouth to respond when Arthur says lazily, "I would."

The men whirl to face him, nearly tripping over one another, gaping at him stupidly. "You should follow Guinevere's suggestion," he continues lightly, waving a nonchalant hand towards her.

"My lord, the boy stole from us," one grits out, cords of his neck straining.

"Guinevere," Arthur calls, not breaking eye contact with the one who had spoken.

"Sire?"

"Return to these men whatever the child stole."

There is scuffling, the murmur of soft voices, before Guinevere moves forward. Arthur spares her a fast glance and sees, with another surge of pride, that her back is still straight, her chin is still held high and her face is set in a mask of disapproving fury. The man takes whatever it is and looks for a moment as though he would do something to Guinevere but Arthur takes a threatening step forwards and the man only grunts, gesturing for his cronies to follow as they slink up the street.

As soon as they've rounded the corner, Gwen turns back to the children with their backs pressed against the wall, eyes wide, and Arthur thinks sadly that they may even be trembling. She crouches before them, and stretches a hand out to each as they collapse into her hug.

"You won't steal again, will you?" she asks sternly. Arthur can't make out their response, mumbled fervently into Guinevere's neck, but her hands come up to stroke their heads soothingly. "If you ever need anything, come and find me." Another mumbled reply, and Gwen just holds them after that.

Arthur waits, leaning against the wall until the boy pulls away a little to wipe his nose. The girl, presumably his sister, pulls back as well, and takes the boy's hand. "Thank you," she whispers.

Gwen nods, turning a little on her heels to glance at Arthur. "You should thank the prince, too," she says and watches Arthur with disconcerting steadiness as he accepts their gratitude.

"Thank you," she says to him heavily after the children have gone and they're alone. No one gives appreciation like Guinevere, he thinks. "For helping."

But he shakes his head slightly. "You hardly needed it," he says, honestly. She had been incredibly imposing; he's certain that most normal people would have been waylaid only by her bearing. It was only idiots like those she'd been facing who needed the extra threat of authority. "I mean that," he adds at the flash of disbelief which crosses her face. "You were fairly intimidating."

She laughs breathily, and looks down. She appears a little shaky now, and Arthur resists the urge to slip his fingers beneath her chin and tip her face back up. He wants her as proud of herself as he is of her, but he waits, instead, for her to compose herself.

It takes a few moments, but when she does meet his eyes again, Arthur smothers a wave of adoration - at her bright eyes and pink-tinted cheeks, obviously pleased with herself now she's thought things through - and clears his throat. "I hadn't realised the drought was -

"Oh, I only said that," Guinevere interrupts, now looking a disarming blend of cheeky and sheepish. "When the boy first ran into me, he said something about a challenge his friends had set him?" She shrugs uncertainly.

"Well," Arthur begins, then blows out a long breath. "He won't accept any challenges again soon."

"The danger never stops you," she says with an indulgent smile and he raises a brow, grin turning his lips.

"That isn't true," he says slowly, thinking she'll call the lie and waits, looking forward to it.

But instead Guinevere simply looks at him and offers him a softer smile, which adversely warms him and sets his heart aching. "I hope this didn't delay you," she says, bending to pick up the basket he hadn't realised was there.

"No," he replies, swallowing disappointment, falling into step with her as she moves back towards the busier parts of town. "I was on my way to inspect the guards at the northern entrance. Reports have it that Cedric takes the occasional nap."

Whatever sour expression appears on his face sets her grinning in amusement. "I'm sure that's not true," she says with certainty and Arthur shakes his head. She holds his eye for a moment before twitching her basket as an indication. "Morgana's probably wondering where her fresh bread is."

"Of course," Arthur says with a nod, pausing at the street junction to say farewell. "Take care, Guinevere."

Her smile widens for a beat before she ducks her head. "And you, sire," she says, dipping briefly into a curtsy before moving away from him up the street.



5.


He knocks lightly on Morgana's door, hearing a muffled voice he thinks is hers before she appears in the opened crack. "Arthur!" Her surprise is evident in every facet of her expression, and she suddenly looks fearful. "Is something wrong?"

"No," he answers quickly with a shake of his head, and he wonders if he's come at a time when Gwen is away. "I'm actually here to speak with Guinevere."

There's a brief pause before Morgana opens her door to let him in. Guinevere is standing by the window, and turns to face him when he enters. She looks haunted, and sad. She meets his eyes unfailingly, though, and nods in greeting. "Sire?"

Tomorrow marks a year since Tom's death, and though it has not arisen between them again, Arthur hasn't been able to forget the look in her eyes on the day of Gaius' near execution.

He walks to stand before her, and is suddenly nervous. "Morgana told me you'll make a pilgrimage tomorrow," he says quietly, and Gwen's eyes flick past his shoulder to where Morgana still stands near the door. Morgana told him that they will ride to the Fields of the Dead, where those of peasant birth are laid to rest, so Gwen can lay flowers at the site of her father's burial.

"I would like..." He falters when she looks back at him because where she had been open moments before, she is suddenly entirely closed to him, defensive and hidden. And it makes Arthur afraid. Afraid this is the wrong gesture to make; afraid she'll say no.

He clears his throat, and tries again. "May I accompany you?"

The only noise is a shift of silks as Morgana makes some movement behind him, but Arthur doesn't dare look away from Guinevere's face while she decides.

"You don't have to," she finally whispers. Her eyes look bright all of a sudden, and she's open to him once more. Guinevere again: honest, sweet, and hurting.

"No," he agrees simply, because nothing more needs to be said. He doesn't have to go, but it's what is right. He remembers Tom; not well or by any means intimately, but all his memories are of a jovial, hardworking man deserving of respect in his unwarranted death. And he was the man singlehandedly responsible for raising Guinevere, something worthy of gratitude and acknowledgement in its own right.

Gwen worries her lip and her expression collapses for a beat before she sucks in a deep breath, and nods stiffly. "Yes," she says softly; the word seems a forgiving benediction. "We leave after Morgana has breakfast."

Relief is fleeting as he becomes aware of the full implications of her acceptance. "Should I bring anything?" he asks awkwardly, and Guinevere's smile is swift but weak before she shakes her head.

"A strap of leather," Morgana says behind him, and he turns away from Gwen towards Morgana. "Tom favoured black to any other colour for binding the grip on his swords. It's what I'm bringing to him. We'll tie Gwen's bouquet with it."

Arthur nods and turns back to see Guinevere's face a convoluted mess of emotions and vulnerability that he doesn't fully understand but which nearly rends him in two. She glances at him before turning away towards the window, mirror to her actions in a camp near a castle which held her hostage, where a man left her without good-bye.

He could do nothing to ease her suffering then, either.

Swallowing thickly, Arthur says, "Tomorrow morning," and Morgana gives him a nod of approval as he passes her on his way from the room.



6.


He wanted her to let him in. It had taken him a long time to realise that he didn't actually really know Guinevere. He knew some things (he hoped, the most important things) like her views on the kingdom, and on leadership, and about him. But he had no inkling to the details of her life.

He wanted to know if she lived simply because she wanted to, or because there wasn't another option. Did she prefer chicken or pork? Were the flowers she wore in her hair of a specific type, or merely those she happened across? They were mundane things, he knew, and yet they were the details evading him which were beginning to drive him mad.

Like, when she laughed at something he said - which part of the joke was it that set her giggling?

And he wanted to know what she needed. Strange that a woman who he had only been really aware of for less than a year, already seemed to know the words which would soothe him or set him on fire. Yet if ever he wanted to (needed to) reciprocate, he would struggle with where to begin.

It had been whispered amongst the servants, and then from Merlin's mouth to Arthur's ears, that Morgana was having nightmares again. Arthur was chagrined he'd not noticed himself earlier, but a bandit had been wreaking havoc on the southern trade road and was proving surprisingly elusive to capture, so he had been leaving early and returning late to the castle all that week.

He visited Morgana at breakfast the day following Merlin telling him. Guinevere answered Morgana's door, her ever-present gentle smile there to greet and warm him before she ushered him in. He did notice that she looked pale, a little distant; her shoulders a little curved instead of set straight as usual.

But he was there to visit with Morgana, not Guinevere.

He would visit her later.




He hesitated for a full three minutes before finally mustering the courage to knock on her door. And, like an idiot, he chastised himself for banging his knuckles too sharply on the wood before Gwen finally answered.

Arthur almost laughed watching her expression go from curiosity to shock to a forced expression of polite enquiry. "Sire," she said, glancing quickly over his shoulder. "Is there something I can do for you?"

Arthur was ever thankful he had thought his words through prior to leaving the castle. "I know times with Morgana have been stressful for you recently," he said carefully and barrelled on when Guinevere opened her mouth quickly to protest. "As she's eating now with my father, I thought you might be able to take this time to relax."

Guinevere stared at him blankly for a moment before licking her lips, opening her mouth, taking a deep breath, and finally saying, "What?"

"Oh, uh..." Arthur shifted the small basket he'd brought along so she could see it in the light falling from her home. "It's dinner."

"Sorry?" she squeaked, and Arthur frowned a little. How could she tell him how good he was and yet be shocked when he presented her with something?

Glancing over her shoulder to gather his thoughts, he spotted a pot set on her stove, small fire crackling beneath. "You're already cooking," he said, trying not to relay how disappointed that made him. He had thought his timing would be ideal.

Gwen shook her head and turned to look over her shoulder as well. "That's just water," she said, still sounding a bit dazed. "I hadn't actually started anything yet. But, sorry, did you say you brought me dinner?"

Nodding, Arthur lifted the napkin which covered the basket's contents. It wasn't just any dinner; it was actually his dinner, as he couldn't always just go around ordering Merlin to get two meals from the kitchen without explaining it. In any case, he could easily justify skipping a meal having now witnessed the wide-eyed look of interest which commanded Guinevere's features as she looked at the pork and vegetables.

"Oh, my," she breathed and he was certain that she leaned forward to smell the food without having thought of it. She took a deep breath, her eyes going distant and she swallowed thickly. "But I couldn't possibly," she murmured distractedly, slowly straightening again.

He studied the way her eyes lingered on the basket, and suddenly realised why she had been so shocked by the gesture; it had little to do with him and almost everything to do with Guinevere's view of herself.

Frustrated that she still saw herself as somehow worthy of less than others, he said definitively, "Yes, you can," roughly throwing the napkin back over the food and extending the basket to her. "You deserve a break and good meal like anyone else."

"But whose meal is it?"

Arthur cursed her intimate knowledge of castle goings on. "It doesn't matter," he said stiffly, still attempting to force her to take it. But short of taking hold of her hand and wrapping her fingers tight around the handle, it appeared he still had his work cut out for him.

"It does if someone will go hungry while I get full," she persisted, and Arthur couldn't keep the small smile from his face.

He watched her for a moment before saying, "What if I tell you the kitchens had extra food?"

"I wouldn't believe you," she said immediately. Her brow raised, and a small, almost challenging smile appeared on her face. "Extra food goes to your dogs."

This brought Arthur up short momentarily; how he'd not known that information earlier was beyond him. But the practise was unacceptable when there were currently a number of beggars in the lower town. He would change that the following morning.

"Can you not just trust me?" he finally asked. Her expression instantly became abashed and Gwen peered up at him from beneath her eyelashes with a small, nervous grin.

"You promise it wasn't someone else's dinner?" she asked after a moment's contemplation. He hesitated to answer; last time he had lied to her about dinner, the tongue-lashing he'd received was nothing short of distressing. And apparently his hesitation was enough answer as her face fell. "Then I can't take this."

"It's mine," he blurted, ignoring how wide her eyes got with that information. "I want you to have it," he said forcefully, stomach twisting, as she opened her mouth to protest.

He watched her closely as she studied him, seeing exactly when a subtle shift occurred in her expression, something quiet and delicate that he couldn't identify but which had warmth pulsing through him with each beat of his heart. "All right," she said quietly, finally extending her hand to take the basket. "Thank you."

Arthur nodded and went to turn away when Guinevere said hurriedly, "Do you want tea? In return?" He looked back at her, found her expression unreadable as she clutched the basket handle tightly. "I know it isn't much, but..."

There was no doubt he wanted to accept, to sit at her small dining table, and sip from one of the mugs that he swore she had likely made herself, and watch as she ate his meal. But it had been one thing to stay in her home when everyone save Merlin and William thought he was battling a beast. It was another for him to visit now, when eyes were always seeking him out.

But... if he believed his subjects could be his friends, could he not set that example here, now? There was no one nearer to friend, save Merlin, than Guinevere, and if his visit was short, no one would think anything of it; he knew Guinevere was respected enough amongst her peers that they wouldn't think ill of her.

And he had questions to ask her, after all.

"That would be nice," he found himself saying, a little surprised at how calm he sounded though his heart thrummed excitedly in his chest. "Thank you."

Guinevere's eyes widened again - Arthur had never met anyone who said so much with their eyes - and swallowed with a nod before stepping back to allow him entrance.

He pretended it didn't feel a little something like returning home.



7.


From the castle steps he watches her leave with heavy heart.

It feels somehow like an injustice; they are cut of a similar cloth and perhaps at another time would have decided to follow their mutual interest through to fruition. But she still mourns a lover long dead, and he still mourns a lover never truly a lover in the first place.

"I'm surprised to see her go," Morgana says lightly beside him and Arthur stiffens defensively. "Oh, relax, Arthur," she continues, exasperated. "I only meant that you seemed to get along well, and Uther had high hopes."

Georgia turns briefly to give an elegant wave before passing under the arch which would lead her into the towns and out of the kingdom. Arthur knows they will meet again; Georgia is a desirable woman of marriageable age and comes from a respected family. She will grace Camelot's courts in the future as someone else's queen or a lady of high stature and perhaps then Arthur will regret not having asked her for that right.

"He's not the only one," Arthur finally responds and sees from the corner of his eye as Morgana turns to face him fully. He feels her scrutinising him closely, and refuses to meet her gaze because when she wants to, she can read him better than almost anyone.

"It was your decision, though," she says and Arthur sighs, beginning to move down the steps towards the stables, the halfhearted idea that a hunting trip could nicely distract him forming in his mind.

"She told me so, last night at dinner." Morgana's shoes are quiet against the cobbles and Arthur doesn't realise she's so close.

"It doesn't matter," Arthur mutters, catching a servant boy headed in the direction of the castle and asking him to find Merlin and send him to the stables.

Morgana takes the opportunity to move in front of him, barring his way, and Arthur sighs in the face of her determination. "Arthur, you could have asked her to stay. She would have been happy to."

Arthur easily imagines Georgia on a throne; she knows the way of the court, has a heart for its people, and understands duty, responsibility, in ways that Arthur recognises.

But through their hours of discussions, she never challenged him to think differently. In their times of relaxation, she never brought a smile to his face which lasted more than a few seconds. When moments of doubt in their debate arose, she never, with a few words and a voice laced with conviction, straightened his spine and sent pride coursing through his veins.

Her face doesn't glow with her smile, eyes crinkling at the corners, dimples appearing on her cheeks. Her voice, when she said his name, was a little too high. Her words a little too deliberate; her wardrobe a little too bland. And she hadn't smelled of wildflowers, but of berries.

He imagines how astounded his father would be with the knowledge that Arthur now measures a woman's right to be on Camelot's throne by the standards set by a handmaiden.

It had been surprising how easily he accepted the realisation that he actually pictured Guinevere as his queen. She had long since ceased to be a maid in his eyes; instead, simply equal, with no title (or lack of), besides that of woman. He doesn't really believe it will happen; he knows Guinevere doesn't feel that way about him.

But he hasn't been able to convince himself that it's impossible. It's hard to think anything is impossible when Guinevere seems to break through his preconceptions at any and all opportunities.

"Arthur?" Morgana asks, her brow now furrowed in concern and Arthur clears his throat. "Why didn't you ask Georgia to stay?"

"It wasn't right," he says, without thinking and Morgana's brows rise high from their frown. "Neither of us wanted it. Not really."

She studies him intently now, and there's no escape for him as they face each other. Arthur holds her gaze, and doesn't want to know how he appears: melancholy maybe, or possibly worse. After a few moments, Morgana looks away and Arthur clears his throat. He doubts she will guess exactly the reasons for his sadness, but she'll know near enough.

"I'd best get to the stables, or Merlin will beat me there," he says, hoping she will allow him the small mercy inherent in this tactless topic change.

She does. "We can't have that," she says wryly, and gives him a sarcastic grin to match.

"Glad you understand," he says with a brisk nod, turning away. He pretends not to hear as Morgana says heavily, "I do."



8.


"How did this even -

"Fetch Guinevere from Morgana's rooms," Arthur interrupted, trying not to be too impressed by the display in front of him.

Merlin bristled slightly beside him, and Arthur wondered what could possibly have Merlin upset now. "What's Gwen got to do with anything?" he asked suspiciously and Arthur turned to him with a raised brow.

"Just bring her here."

Arthur had to hand it to her; she gave a near perfect performance of baffled innocence when she entered his chambers. Her eyes were wide, her brows arched, and her lips parted in a delicate oh that he tried not to find too appealing. But she was also a terrible actress with too many giveaways; her hands were clenched tightly together, her breath came in soft excited pants, and there was no denying the self-satisfied shine in her eyes.

"Oh, my," she said, sounding wondrous and shocked, and Arthur's eyes narrowed suspiciously. He wondered vaguely if she had practised that response.

"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" he asked lightly, gesturing around them.

There had to be hundreds of apples covering nearly every surface in his main chamber. The table was a forest of bright green baubles; artful piles decorated the window sills; there were even two apples perched carefully on the arms of his dining chair.

It was genius, really.

"My lord?" she asked innocently, turning to face him as Merlin gawked at Arthur behind her in the doorway.

Walking the length of his table, he stopped at the far end, lifting an apple from the arm of his chair and eyeing it speculatively. "I just don't know how you managed to convince the cook to give you so many," Arthur said thoughtfully, sliding his gaze from the shiny green of the fruit to the bright brown of her eyes.

Guinevere batted her eyelashes at him a couple of times, before finally dropping the facade in response to his raised brow. Her grin was a tentatively pleased one at first, breaking into a fully proud smile with his begrudging smirk.

"I didn't have to talk to the cook," she said. "I picked them myself."

Of course she did. "There must be hundreds -

"One-hundred-thirty-seven," Gwen recited, bobbing her head a bit. "There's a few wild apple trees on the western border of the forest."

"And you carried them all in here by yourself," he continued, incredulously.

Gwen tilted her head, sucking her lips between her teeth before releasing them with a puff of air. "Well, nooo... I had a little help."

Arthur looked quickly at Merlin, who raised his hands defensively. "Don't look at me. I'm as shocked as you are!"

"Not Merlin..." Guinevere said carefully, now not meeting Arthur's eyes, focusing instead on his mantel, which he now noticed held a neat line of apples. Almost like soldiers ready to march. Arthur studied her expression; she didn't look worried, so obviously her accomplice was not a fellow servant who could face punishment, which left -

"Morgana," Arthur said, through gritted teeth.

"She was particularly proud of the window displays," Guinevere said lightly with a small nod. There was a brief pause as Arthur debated how worthwhile it was to seek vengeance on Morgana. On principle. "Really, sire, I was only looking to be helpful," she said quickly into the silence.

"Really."

Guinevere met his gaze again, and if he hadn't resigned himself to it, he would have resented that the light in her eyes made his heart patter excitedly in his chest. "Now you'll not have to snatch apples from hapless servants passing you by."

"Hapless?"

Her smile returned, gratified and beautiful, and Arthur barely resisted smiling back.

She raised her brows. It was a delicate, playful invitation that she'd never extended before and Arthur raised his chin in rebellion. Guinevere lowered her own slightly in response so she was looking at him from beneath her eyelashes, her smile still warm and waiting, and Arthur succumbed, grinning in defeat. Which he really didn't mind at all if it meant she would continue to look at him exactly like that.

"The apple smell will never leave this room," Merlin groused, and Arthur's eyes snapped to Merlin's face in irritation. Merlin wasn't looking at him, focused instead, with a frown, on the covered table, and Arthur was once more reminded of how Merlin had absolutely no sense of timing - or self preservation.

Gwen cleared her throat in a thoughtful way, drawing both their attentions back to her. "I've always been fond of the scent of apples," she said lightly. She was obviously enjoying herself and if Arthur had the power to extend the moment for eternity, he would have done it. "If that's all, my lord, I should really return to Lady Morgana."

Arthur nodded and Gwen turned to leave when Merlin said, "Wait! Just like that, she gets to go? Who's going to tidy this up, then?"

"You, Merlin. And I'll..." It was Arthur's turn to enjoy himself, but Guinevere caught his eye from the door. She arched a brow, lips a little tight and Arthur's shoulders sagged. "... Help. You."

The hour of work and smug, amused looks Merlin kept casting his way were all made worth it by Gwen's departing nod and crooked smile.



9.


He just wants to catch her eye. It seems somehow entirely - annoyingly - fitting that the day following their conversation in the courtyard, where Guinevere said, yes I'll wait, and proceeded to show him some of exactly what he would be waiting for, an emergency struck the kingdom and kept them apart.

She's standing on the periphery of a crowd of maids, listening to instructions from Gaius about what he needs from them as the injured start to fill the hall. He knows she's heard it all before, and yet her attention is rapt.

He lets out a sigh of frustration and finally slides his attention back to Merlin, who has been trying to divert him for the last few minutes.

Merlin's smile is too damn knowing. There is a light in his manservant's eyes which means that Guinevere is either far less discreet in her conversations with Merlin than he thought, or his attitude towards her has been so transparent that even Merlin has figured it out.

"I do remember leaving the both of you alone," Merlin says lowly while sorting through the spare maille. He says it in a way which sounds as though he was continuing a conversation recently dropped; Arthur debates the value in feigning ignorance. "I remember that much."

"I'm shocked you remember anything," Arthur says mildly, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand, and no longer let his gaze drift to Guinevere across the hall.

It has been two days; there had been little time for anything but planning counter attacks to the mercenary band's stronghold in the southwestern quarter of the town. There was pause now for he and his knights as the mercenaries holed up, acting only defensively to the knight's advances. It makes Arthur uneasy, but he knows opportunity in battle when he sees it and intends to make full use of the brief respite for preparations.

"Even if I didn't remember," Merlin continues, undaunted and chipper, "It's obvious in the way you look at each other."

Arthur smiles unwillingly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"No?" Merlin asks lightly, and Arthur glances at him suspiciously. "I'm sure Gwen would tell me, then -

"Stay right where you are," Arthur orders quickly, ignoring Merlin's chuckle. He turns his back on Merlin, rifling through the various pieces of armour to be dispensed to the peasant fighters.

"Hm. I guess I don't have to move," Merlin says and Arthur straightens quickly, turning to find Guinevere walking towards them. Her eyes linger on Arthur's, making his smile grow despite his best efforts. "Much, anyway," Merlin allows, but Arthur hardly hears him.

As she draws abreast of them, clearly intending to pass by, Merlin steps before her and blocks her path. "My lady," he greets quietly, with a swift bow and Gwen stops short, startled.

"Merlin, what -

"Whatever task you've been sent to do," Merlin says, and though Arthur can't see his face, he hears the enormous smile on Merlin's lips. If they weren't in public - if they weren't in front of Guinevere - Arthur would have tackled him. "Allow me to take over."

"What are you on about, Merlin?" she asks, an uncertain smile creeping onto her face as though she believes she's walked into some kind of joke. "I don't need any help..."

"Are you sure?" Merlin asks, nearly bouncing on the balls of his feet and Gwen tilts her head. Her eyes flash to Arthur's face and he gives her a helpless shrug which causes her to frown slightly as she looks back to Merlin in confusion. "It's no problem, my lady."

Arthur watches in agitation as understanding dawns on her and Guinevere stares at Merlin for a moment before Arthur swears her lips twitch with the makings of a smile. But then her expression clears to something a little impatient.

"Honestly, Merlin," she finally hisses and Merlin's laugh is loud and entirely unrepentant. "Don't say things like that," she says, tone an interesting mix of imploring and commanding. Arthur glances at the back of Merlin's head, wishing he could see his manservant's face in response to her now; he doubts Guinevere has ever spoken to Merlin that way before.

Her stern stare to match seems to cow Merlin in a way that Arthur has never managed to achieve as Merlin nods. "All right," he says, almost sheepish, but Arthur knows Merlin well enough to hear the mischief still in his voice. Gwen obviously hears it too as she briefly narrows her eyes threateningly before carrying on past them.

Merlin turns around, looking pleased with himself and as they settle to their task again, Arthur mutters from the corner of his mouth, "When this is over, I'll have you in the stocks for a week."

"It was worth it," Merlin responds cheerily, tossing a useless gauntlet aside. "For the look on Gwen's face. Did you see it?"

Arthur snorts. "Mortification?"

He feels Merlin's unrelenting stare and finally turns to meet his eye, finding Merlin's expression almost pitying. "Gratification," he corrects with no small measure of certainty.

Before he can respond, Merlin nods to something past Arthur's shoulder. He turns reluctantly to find Guinevere returning to the hall, arms laden in cloth, a basket of something clutched awkwardly in her hands. She glances towards them, and rolls her eyes at Merlin before offering Arthur a brief and secretive smile.

Warmth flows swiftly through him as he smiles back and even when Merlin says, "See?" in an infuriatingly smug way, the most Arthur can muster is a muttered, "Shut up, Merlin," before leaving the great hall to meet with his knights.



10.


Aside from Merlin's stunt on the second day, Arthur had no chance to really be near Guinevere again.

They would see each other briefly, of course, and if Guinevere's hand didn't brush deliberately against his as they passed in the halls, then it was his fingers tangling with hers for the space of a heartbeat.

But it was strange; Arthur had grown used to finding Gwen by his side when things were going wrong, giving him advice or solace, or even just a cup of water when Merlin was nowhere to be found. Instead she kept her distance, and he wasn't sure if it was accidental.

He was starting to blame Merlin for her absence. And felt that this time, at least, it was probably completely justified.

The great hall was far different than it had been earlier in the week. Beds lined the walls, most with injured peasants lying forlornly on top of their mattresses; tables for swift examinations were set up in the centre. Interspersed between, several cabinets stood with doors wide open, displaying bandages and various elixirs or lotions Arthur had no hope of naming.

He had only been there three hours before to report to his father, now he found himself leaning restlessly against a wall, having been deposited by Merlin - rather unceremoniously - onto a bed to have his leg and arm tended.

Gaius finally bustled over, frown looking as though it intended to remain permanently in place as he assessed Arthur's wounds. "They are not too bad, sire," he said roughly, glancing over his shoulder and beckoning to someone Arthur couldn't see. "I'll apply balm, then have Gwen wrap them."

"Gwen?"

She appeared at Gaius' shoulder just as Arthur had said her name and her eyes moved quickly from his bloody forearm to his bloody knee before she snapped her gaze to his face, looking almost reproachful. Arthur was nearly overcome with the urge to laugh, but thought better of it as Gaius set about instructing her on the salve and supplies he needed.

After Gaius applied the healing salve - none too gently - Guinevere sat next to Arthur, small pile of bandages in her lap. He waited until Gaius had moved on before inclining his head towards her, whispering, "I feel like I haven't seen you in ages."

Her eyes flashed quickly from his arm to his eyes and she gave him a small, tentatively pleased smile. "I know," she whispered, smile fading to be replaced with a frustrated purse of her lips as she turned towards him and shuffled closer on the pretence of taking a better look at his wound. "I've visited your chambers every morning on my way here, but missed you each time," she continued softly, and Arthur let the relief that she hadn't been avoiding him deliberately wash through him. "How are you?"

"In good form," he replied wryly and Gwen glanced up at him, just to roll her eyes. "It should be over soon," he answered seriously, and was only sort-of speaking from a place of hope. His knights were very near to sussing out the last of the mercenaries; it had been surprising how much strength their forces had. "We're no closer to discovering who hired them, though."

"Not Odin? He's done similar before," she muttered from the corner of her mouth as someone shuffled past, cradling their limp wrist.

"No," Arthur replied, shaking his head. He was finding it incredibly frustrating to speak with her this way: her head bowed, shoulders curved as though trying to draw as little attention as possible. Which she was, he knew, but he wanted to see her reactions, speak in normal tones and openly discuss ideas for resolution. "He hasn't the funds after the battle with Bayard."

She nodded, fingers pressing hard against his arm and Arthur groaned despite himself. "Sorry!" she breathed, withdrawing her hands as Arthur released a heavy sigh. "So - an unknown foe? Do you suspect anyone?"

"We have no quarrel with anyone else," he said, finishing his sentence with a cough as another servant hurried by carrying bloody bandages towards the wash. "But Camelot always seems to draw someone's anger."

Gwen straightened to quickly glance over her shoulder before leaning in nearer, and Arthur tried not to think about how the soft scent of flowers overcame the foul smell of the balm still glistening wetly on his arm. "Perhaps the newcomers to the north-east? The ones with magic?"

"The thought crossed my mind," he admitted, now breathing through his mouth. Somehow her close vicinity erased the pain in his arm, and his leg was a long forgotten memory. "I had thought, if we sent messengers..."

"To welcome them, and negotiate their needs," she continued with a nod, quickly picking up the thought where he left off. "It would waylay any possible hostilities."

"That was my hope, but it appears we're too late."

"I don't believe that," she murmured with a shake of her head causing a curl to fall loose, drawing his eye. Arthur had multitudes of reasons to wish this fight over; between the people suffering and the injuries his knights were sustaining, he hardly needed any more. But Guinevere had only just given him her promise before this began; he wanted opportunity to relish it.

"I will speak with Leon. He has the time to think of a plan," she continued. Arthur smiled briefly; there was hardly any exasperation in her tone.

Leon had been one of the first injured, and each time Arthur had seen him, he was causing no end of trouble for Gaius and the maids acting as nurses. He was constantly insisting that his broken ankle was miraculously healed and he could return to battle. Merlin had told Arthur that Gaius was near the point of secretly administering a sleeping draught.

"It would keep him busy," Arthur commented lightly and it was Gwen's turn to smile.

Content that they'd come to a solution, Guinevere shuffled back a little, much to Arthur's displeasure. "Your knee is better than your arm," she commented, voice now a normal volume, before she set about wrapping it. With a small sigh, Arthur let his hand drop to the bed beside him, and when Gwen had moment for it, she laid her fingers over his.

"You really should stay off your leg for the next..." her voice faded as she looked up at him, a small frown creasing her forehead. "I should know better. Be careful, Arthur," she whispered, looking away as she tidied up.

He hesitated. He very much wanted to ask her to stay for a moment, under some false pretence or anything to give her believable cause to sit by his side. But he could not, would not, turn his back on duty; neither would Guinevere.

The fact remained, however, that she looked drawn and exhausted, dark shadows falling on her cheeks as she gathered the bandages. But there would be no convincing her to rest while he strode back into the fray. And if he were honest, he could do with just a few minutes rest himself.

"I'll wait a few minutes," he offered and Gwen's head snapped up in shocked relief. But whatever expression he had on his face caused her eyes to narrow slightly in suspicion. "If you find reason to stay."

"I can't do that," she said, looking surprised that he had asked. A small measure of guilt moved through him at that, but they would both be better for a short - very, very short - rest. Perhaps the kingdom would be better for it. "Not when there are people who need tending. But -" she continued hurriedly as he opened his mouth to argue, "you have very legitimate reasons to stay seated for a while."

"When was the last time you rested, Guinevere?" he asked, trying to sound stern and not pitiful.

The question obviously made her uncomfortable as she shifted so her back was to him. "There's been no time to stop," she murmured, and he waited, allowing the silence to sit heavy between them until her shoulders slouched a little and she turned back to face him. "Ten minutes," she said, in tones that brooked no argument.

"More than I was asking for," he said earnestly.

She looked for a moment as though she would renege on the amount of time and Arthur cursed how his tongue loosened in her presence. But her doubtful expression cleared and she carefully set the pile of bandages on her lap, sorting through them with one hand, while nonchalantly slipping her free hand onto the mattress between them. When Arthur knotted his fingers with hers, Guinevere twisted her knees so that no one would be able to see their clasped hands.

He could not watch her here as he wanted to, so Arthur let his eyes drift closed as he leaned against the wall, trusting Gwen to alert him when their ten minute allotment was reached. Arthur wondered if that was how they would be as king and queen: negotiating with each other to take the time they both needed for clarity of mind in the midst of brutal times; finding ways to look after one another in small moments when the opportunity presented itself.

Squeezing her fingers gently, and smiling slightly when her thumb brushed across his palm, he decided that was fine. It was the price of partnership.

Comments

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kepp0xy
Nov. 17th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I reckon that they'll more be together without being together for a while, if that makes sense. At least at first. Anyways, thanks for commenting ♥

I feel like I haven't talked to you in forever, btw!
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
kepp0xy
Nov. 17th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it ♥♥
felix_aeternus
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)
yes!!!! I loved 'The King, He Waited on My Doorstep' and this is just the perfect companion piece!

My favourite, oddly enough, was part 7: I loved that Arthur wanted to let Gwen go, but just just knew he wouldn't ever, at the same time. Morgana's concerns were also really sweet.

4 was WONDERFUL. Future Queen right there! :D 5 was perfection and broke my heart. and of course the ending was just sad and beautiful at the same time.

I love the structure of these two stories and how much just these short glimpses can show us.
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I really like 7 too. I think it would be kind of an interesting/important thing for Arthur to experience - caring for someone else in similar ways to how he loves Gwen. So I'm very glad that it worked for you! And thanks for the wonderful words about the rest ♥!
misplacedmoony
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
I want to read this so badly but I have to write a stupid poem in stupid French and go to stupid class. Well, I know I'm not going to be paying attention in art history XD


kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Haha, well, I hope your French went well! ♥
misseri44
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
This was SO beautiful!! The perfect piece to go with The King.... it's also so hard to find a favorite ficlet because all of them are amazing
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! ♥
yalegirl03
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
I loved this, especially the segment with the apples and the ending. Very well done!
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The apples ficlet was particularly fun to write XD
javabreeze
Nov. 16th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous!
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Cheers :]!
gryffinclaw
Nov. 16th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
I do not know how I missed reading The King, He Waited on My Doorstep' but since you said this was it's companion piece I went and read that first and simply loved it!

This was equally as amazing, I love how you have their relationship building and growing. Brilliant work.
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed both pieces ♥ :]!
scornedsaint
Nov. 16th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
I love this! The last one especially--it was so sweet but also completely in character.
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed :]
songandsilence
Nov. 16th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
I absolutely loved this!!! Fantastic job, and a wonderful progression. :D
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it ♥
mancalahour
Nov. 16th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC)
Yaaay! *flails*

I have already told thee many times, but I do so love this. Gwen being cheeky with the apples, and my favorite bit with the children and the town bullies. SO MUCH AWESOME CHARACTERIZATION, I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE TO START.

♥ thank you for letting me alpha for you! ;D
kepp0xy
Nov. 17th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
Pfffft, thank YOU for alpha-ing me! Honestly, this may never have been posted if not for your help ♥!
ruby_caspar
Nov. 16th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
Fabulous, absolutely lovely. I loved every single moment, but I think my fave was the apples, just because it made me grin so much!
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you! The apples ficlet was a lot of fun to write, so I'm glad you enjoyed it ;D!
anakisa
Nov. 16th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
Aww, I absolutely loved this!
You write Gwen beautifully :)
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
crazy4dw
Nov. 16th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
Absolutely lovely fic. Besotted Arthur is alwyas so sweet. And I loved how he thinks Georgia can't measure up to Gwen's standards. Great job as always!
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed :]!
(Deleted comment)
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
Aw, I'm so glad. Thanks for the lovely comment ♥!
thirteenthchime
Nov. 17th, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
Adorable. The last one was perfect, although I loved all of them.
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed :]!
(Deleted comment)
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! This comment made my morning. I'm very glad you enjoyed, and particularly that you commented on parts from the sixth ficlet. I'm rather fond of that one, so it's great to hear that parts of it stood out :]!
jyellow13
Nov. 17th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
New to LiveJournal, but read this and wanted to delurk and tell you how much I enjoyed it. You really built up the little moments (from funny to poignant) to showcase how Arthur and Gwen's relationship grew and developed.
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Welcome to LJ! I hope to see you around more often :] And thank you so much for the kind words about the fic, I'm so glad you enjoyed this ♥
fireblazie
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC)
AH. Freaking fantastic. I loved the Arthur-companion piece to this and I was ecstatic when I saw that you'd updated. A perfect end to a tiring Monday.

I loved the bit where he brought her dinner and the APPLES and him offering to go with her to pay respects to Tom and the end when they're just all quiet and peaceful and so content just to be with each other. Ah. So so so good, really. ♥
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! And I'm glad the ficlet with Arthur bringing Gwen dinner stood out, I'm particularly fond of that one, so it's nice to hear you enjoyed it :]! And the apples one was ridiculously fun to write XD! Thanks again ♥
mattyroh07
Nov. 18th, 2009 09:35 am (UTC)
As always, this is brilliant. Methinks I liked it even better than the original companion piece! :D
kepp0xy
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed ♥
kasie101
Nov. 20th, 2009 09:15 am (UTC)
too incredibly sweet. definitely can see them as king and queen like that, always bustling around with duty and having to call one another out like that for rest. :)

lovely read, thank you so much! :DD
kepp0xy
Nov. 22nd, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for the lovely comment :]! I think one of the wonderful things about Gwen and Arthur - now, and in the future - is that they'll strive to look after one another, when no one else can/does.
zhushasha
Nov. 21st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
kepp0xy
Nov. 22nd, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!
shootingstars88
Nov. 22nd, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely amazing. So good I bookmarked it to re-read again and I hardly EVER do that with fic. Just brilliant writing :)
kepp0xy
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for the lovely comment! I'm very flattered and so pleased you enjoyed it ♥
alyz_elliott17
Nov. 23rd, 2009 01:46 am (UTC)
this is lovely i just read the other one from gwens viewpoint and they are both beautiful thank you for writing such an enjoyable piece :)
xxx
kepp0xy
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:46 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for the lovely words :]!
imigination
Nov. 24th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
I always meant to come back and review this, and now I see that I forgot.

You capture Gwen and Arthur so - freaking - well. This was just perfect ... and thus, canon for me.

Beautiful. More more more!!
kepp0xy
Nov. 26th, 2009 05:11 am (UTC)
I'm glad you came back and that you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for the lovely comment; I try to focus most of my energy on their characterisation and so it's always wonderful to hear that it rang true. And coming from you, it's a high compliment indeed. ♥
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