Warning: angst, hurt/comfort, fluff
Summary: I think the title is fairly selfexplanatory ;]
Author's Note: written for the Gwen battle summer 2009 happening at thefuturequeen Prompt: Arthur/Gwen, kisses in the rain. Comments are ♥ & concrit appreciated.
Arthur turned sharply from tightening the last strap on his saddle to find himself face to face with Guinevere, water still running in veritable cascades down her face and body. It was late autumn, so the rainstorms were almost a daily occurrence, and he was a little surprised Gwen wasn't prepared for it. "What are you doing here?" he yelped, glancing around for a coat or blanket as she shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. He was set to leave with Merlin shortly, his servant had just gone off to collect the last of their necessities.
"Morgana," she said simply. Arthur avoided her gaze, busying himself with digging through the piles of dusty riding equipment - did the stable master not keep any clean blankets in the stables at all? He heard her sigh and then the shuffle of her feet through the damp dusty floor. "Please just take it, sire."
He paused, then glanced at her. "Guinevere-
"I know," she said heavily, holding the small wrapped package before her. "I know why you're... reluctant." At this he met her gaze and studied her expression: resigned, but a little defiant.
"You agree with me then," he responded a little hesitantly, and Gwen's expression became distant.
"I... I am wary of the druids," she was almost whispering and Arthur bent down a bit to hear her over the pounding rain. Doing so brought him so close to her that he could see the water where it made droplets along her eyelashes, and he tried not to think about how the effect added to her natural loveliness. "But it's important to Morgana," she said firmly, refocusing her gaze and looking stern.
He had not condemned Morgana's secret visits with the Druids outright, but neither was he approving of them. The reasons the Druid peoples had captured her attention was inexplicable to him, and the stakes she risked by travelling fortnightly to see them was higher than he was comfortable with. His father could be unpredictable in his rage, Morgana equally so, and Arthur dreaded the inevitable day when her sneaking away came to his father's attention.
"To take it would be to condone that she goes," he said, raising to his full height and moving back towards his horse. "I can't do that, Guinevere."
She appeared beside him, her hand on his upper arm and he tried to ignore her, continuing to work the bridle. "Please, Arthur," Gwen said softly. "It's so important to her. She says it will protect you." Her voice wavered a little on the last sentence and he stilled, eyeing her closely.
"Do you believe that?"
Guinevere's hand dropped and she stepped away, looking a little as though she'd swallowed sour milk. He'd seen the look before but unlike previously, she did not look away from him, simply holding eye contact, waiting expectantly, and not saying a word.
"All right," he finally said. With a sigh of relief, Gwen extended the wrapped charm to him, but Arthur shook his head. "No, put it on for me and tell Morgana you had to deceive me to get it around my neck." At this, she almost rolled her eyes but her lips curved into a small smile and she nodded.
There was no denying that the charm was beautiful; carved in wood, the lines of the design crossed intricately to form an interwoven point. It was hung on a simple, long piece of string that would disappear easily beneath his layers of armour. Almost as though it wasn't there. Morgana had selected the charm well, Arthur could not deny that.
"Bend down, then," Gwen said a little sardonically, tucking the fabric wrapping under her arm. "I can't reach all the way over your head." Arthur obliged with a chuckle, dropping his head to look at her feet. He watched the wooden pendant swing before his face, felt as something - her hands, or the string? - stroked over his hair. Then her fingers - this time there was no doubt - brushed against the base of his neck, smoothing the necklace and causing his stomach to drop pleasantly. He instinctively looked up, finding himself staring directly into the warmth of her eyes, closer even than they had been earlier.
The pads of her fingers were still resting against his neck and it seemed to Arthur that the heat from them was a tease, tiny pinpoints that he longed to know more of. Gwen's eyes were wide looking at him, and he could not read the underlying emotion there, but her tongue darted out, wetting her already rain-dampened lips and Arthur leaned towards her without thinking.
The moment when her eyes fell upon his lips, he was certain he'd soon know the touch of her own -
Then her hands dropped and she stepped away, muttering about how the necklace would fit easily beneath his armour, as he probably wanted it hidden. A knot of irritated disappointment tied itself tightly in his stomach as he stood, thanked her, and watched her make her way to the doors of the stables.
"And get dry, Guinevere," he snapped, instantly chagrined that he'd not contained his frustration with more skill. Gwen turned back to him and her expression seemed to tell him he was an idiot, though it wasn't anything she wasn't used to.
But then she took a breath, smiled at him with something like fond amusement, saying, "And come home soon, Arthur," before stepping out into the downpour.
The rain had begun early that morning, pounding down in huge, heavy drops which had the ground turned to muddy pools in minutes. The tournament would continue in the outside arena regardless of the weather, as it had done for the last fifteen years, and had Arthur not already been suffering a head-cold, he would have thought little of it. As it was, he was keen for the midnight bell which would signal the official end of the tournament, and allow him to begin several days of doing little but lying in bed and bossing his manservant around.
However Merlin, currently playing the role of mother hen, was not helping to ease his present apprehension. "Really," he was saying anxiously, "if you weren't to compete in one tournament, it wouldn't -
"Shut up," Arthur said angrily, annoyed that his voice sounded more like a wheeze than an order. "As prince, I have to represent Camelot in the tournament, the rules state it." He emphasised his point by having a fit of sneezes, then glared so ferociously at Merlin when he opened his mouth to protest that he scarpered from the tent.
"Useless," Arthur muttered, snuffling as regally as possible. He reached for his gauntlet, just to be overcome by another sneezing fit, and he kicked the table in irritation.
"I think that table has little to do with it," came Guinevere's voice from beside him and Arthur snapped his head around in surprise. This resulted in whatever warmth which had spread through him with her arrival to dissolve into misery as the motion sent shocks of sharp pain between his temples. "I just saw Merlin dashing out of here, muttering about -
Another sneeze rocked free of his nose and Gwen held up a handkerchief, a sympathetic frown on her face. What Arthur really wanted to do was take the kerchief and blow his nose until there was no mucus whatsoever left anywhere at all in his body. But the moment was too primed, and instead, he grinned cheekily. "A token, Guinevere?" he asked, and relished the flush which rose swift on her cheeks.
But where once her eyes would have flown to her shoes, they narrowed; where her head would have ducked in embarrassment, it tilted curiously. "And if it were?" she asked. He was not too sick that he could not hear the underlying something in her voice, and would have sworn some of his weakness left him.
He mirrored her actions, tilting his head and trying to look as though he were considering it. This brought another quick change to her demeanour: her expression became startled and then nervous. "Um, no. No. Definitely not a token," she mumbled, glancing at his hand and shaking the handkerchief towards it. "Obviously, I'd never - Merlin just said something about needing hundreds of rags for your sneezing but didn't wait to hear me say that I... had one..."
"Well, thank you." He took the kerchief and turned away from her to blow mightily into it. "I don't expect you'll want it back immediately," he said dryly, folding it in half for later use. "I'll have Merlin take care of it and return it to you." Arthur turned back towards her to discover Guinevere watching him with a small frown. When she realised he was watching, she looked away, spotting his gauntlets and picking one up in a purposeful kind of way.
There was a moment of stillness between them, and Arthur didn't say anything, following Gwen's silent lead. Instead he simply raised his wrist curiously to give her the access she required, though even Merlin had not dressed him for battle since Ealdor. Gwen quickly and adeptly finished suiting him; it was shockingly intimate, having Guinevere so close, moving around him so easily, and created images in his mind of Gwen at his bedside in the days that followed, rather than Merlin.
His fever must be getting the best of him, he thought as she tugged on the final strap and glanced over her handiwork. Apparently satisfied, she met his gaze again, this time with a soft smile. "I trust you'll take your rest after the tournament, my lord?"
"Nurse's orders?" he asked, and immediately wished he hadn't. Her smile evaporated and by the astonished look now on her face, she couldn't believe he had said it either. After a brief hesitation, Gwen raised her hand to lay against his forehead, testing for fever. Her expression morphed into something more grim, and Arthur was entirely certain he preferred her smile.
She shook her head, and stepped away from him. "Good luck, sire," she said after a moment, not waiting for his response before she began walking away. He didn't like the hopeless calibre of her tones and without thinking, his feet began leading him in her wake as she made her way to the entrance flap of the tent and through it. The icy raindrops were particularly chilling against his over-hot flesh, and he shivered, already almost feeling his body weakening.
"Guinevere?" he said hoarsely, offering a huge sneeze as she jumped and turned around.
She almost dashed towards him through the mud and put her palms against his chest, ushering him back towards the tent. "What are you doing?" she asked in a squeaky whisper, trying not to be overheard by any other contestants. "You'll have a hard enough time as it is without making yourself worse before you need to."
"So you don't think I'll succeed?" he asked plainly, and Gwen's eyes flashed to his. She didn't respond until they'd made it beneath the canopy, and she drew another handkerchief from her sleeve, passing it quickly across his face and neck to wipe the water away as he blew his nose into the one she'd given him earlier.
"That isn't - I wasn't trying to say..." she sucked in a sharp breath and straightened her shoulders before meeting his eyes. "You'll win, as you always do," Guinevere finally responded firmly. "Then spend several days making Merlin miserable as you recover from it." Ignoring the brazen jab, he found that as always, her confidence was infectious, and was thankful he'd thoughtlessly left the warmth of the tent to pursue her.
He chuckled, nodded, and studying her upturned face, was suddenly very aware of the gentle round of her cheeks with their dusting of freckles now damp from rain. Arthur wanted to put his lips to the smooth curve in appreciation for her words. It seemed natural somehow, yet he knew it would be inappropriate.
Gwen glanced around, obviously unaware of the line of his thoughts, then she lifted his hand, and tucked the second kerchief beneath a gap in the mail, just at his wrist. "In case you need it," she muttered, pulling away from him and out from the cover of the canopy, back into the rain. "But not for luck," she added, almost warningly. "It is no token."
Guinevere gave him one last severe look, before turning and walking swiftly away through the lines of tents. Arthur ducked through the flap of his own, and when Merlin returned a few minutes later, nearly weighed down by the number of kerchiefs he brought, Arthur was still smiling, if a little deliriously.
Morgana glanced up as Arthur walked in, and raised her brows in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
He ignored her question and asked sharply, "Where is Guinevere?" Looking past Morgana to the empty seat he was certain Gaius had relegated Gwen to, his distress increased, much to his annoyance. The physician's chambers were not large, and though he knew she had stayed in Merlin's room in the past, he doubted that was the case now. When he looked back to Morgana again, her brows had dropped into a deep scowl and she crossed her arms over her chest.
Had Gaius not entered at just that moment, Arthur is certain Morgana would have told him exactly where he could go, though he doubted Gwen would be anywhere near there. "She's on the roof with Merlin, sire," Gaius said, sounding unimpressed, his hair dusted in beads from the drizzle currently falling halfheartedly from the sky. "Perhaps you'll have more luck convincing her to come back in than I did."
Arthur thanked Gaius before pounding up the stairs which coiled around his chambers. He knew he shouldn't feel as furious as he did; there was no reason for it. Guinevere was perfectly capable of making her own decisions, and it had absolutely nothing to do with him. Except that he could no longer imagine the kingdom without her, and felt himself in a near panic to see that she was indeed well enough to be on the rooftop in the rain.
The sounds of laughter did little to comfort him, irritating him instead, and when he shoved the door open with a dull thud, the startled and guilty looks he received only added to his aggravation.
"Arthur!" Merlin exclaimed as Gwen said, "sire!" in surprise. Arthur quickly looked her over - a bandaged hand, scrapes on her cheek - before directing his glare to Merlin. "There are chores in my chambers you can attend to," he snapped.
Merlin frowned, and raised his hands in a placating gesture. "I was only checking on Gwen -
"Now, Merlin." Though Merlin raised a brow, and looked very much put out, he didn't say anything, instead striding past Arthur without another word. Guinevere watched Merlin leave with a small frown before she turned away, resting her hands against the stone wall. Her shoulders were curved a bit inwards, and he wasn't sure if that was due to some injury, or the cold, or discomfort with his presence.
Once he'd moved to stand beside her, she said softly, "I know why you're here."
He doubted it. Guinevere never thought anyone was ever around her simply for her company; never considered that her views were most valued, and most sought after; never thought that they may well be visiting in order to check on her well-being. No, Arthur was positive she had little clue why he was there. "I... I just did what I had to do, Arthur."
He had been standing shoulder to shoulder with her, but this declaration had him turning, leaning his hip against the wall, studying her expression as she continued to stare straight forward, refusing to look at him. "I couldn't just watch while the boy - the horses were wild, anyone could see it from miles off and he just stood there." The shock that she actually did understand his reasons for visiting nearly knocked his anger out of him, but the memories of seeing her swallowed by a mass of undulating bodies while the horses bellowed and neighed their blind terror burst through his mind like the gelatinous bubbles in boiling tar.
"You were lucky this time," he said softly, trying to keep his anger from sneaking into his tones. The fingers on her uninjured hand clenched on the stone, and a muscle in her cheek twitched. The rain began to increase its strength, and Gwen blinked rapidly, still refusing to look at him though the wind blew the drops directly into her eyes. "Someone else would have stepped in, if you hadn't," he continued stiffly.
"Yes," she agreed, and he realised she was fighting to keep her tones neutral as well. "It was Morgana or me - would you rather she faced the horses?"
"Of course not," he snapped, slapping his open hand against the wall, finally losing control of his temper with the provocation. "You could have died."
She sucked in a sharp breath, finally turning to look at him. "A boy of six could have died. I had the better chance of survival. His name is Gregory, Arthur," she was speaking all in a rush, holding his gaze and almost seeming to grow in stature the more she spoke. The light in her eyes was like kindling to the blood in his veins, each pump of his heart sending fiery pulses through his body. "He's the son of a tavern owner, someone I've known since I was very little. I couldn't watch his son die because the horse keeper couldn't keep his foals under control."
With these points, he could not argue; the hypocrisy of his anger sat heavy in his belly, though he yearned to scold her. But the words which rose to his lips were repetitions of so many lectures he had heard from his own father; lectures which made his skin crawl because their foundations were simply not right, no matter the type of justification his father added to the argument.
So, though she held his gaze, eyes fierce and lips thin in determination, he looked away, back towards the main turrets of the palace. His blood was still racing, and no thought would calm or cool his temper; but he knew precisely what she felt, and would not just spit venom because imagining Guinevere huddled amidst the sea of trampling hooves had terrified him. "I understand," he said softly. From the corner of his eye he saw her shoulders loosen slightly and heard as she released a small sigh of relief.
"I'm sorry," Gwen muttered, clearing her throat a little awkwardly. "I shouldn't have said - that - so... harshly." Arthur glanced at her, and she looked away; the familiarity of her abashedness seemed ironic given her earlier certainty and he grinned wryly. Though only a little.
"How do you feel?" he asked, and resisted the impulse to lift her bandaged hand to inspect the damage. She looked at him again, and he took advantage of the angle, scrutinising the scrape on her face. It ran the length of her left cheekbone, making her eye squint a little bit, but Gaius had done well, there were no signs of infection. Arthur had to admit she was lucky: she could have easily been flattened. Having only a few of broken fingers, a scrape and probably some hidden bruises was almost a miracle.
"Mostly fine," she said, but her voice trembled. "A little shaken." Arthur forced himself to meet her gaze, finding her eyes wide. There was the same assurance he always saw in Guinevere's eyes, but it was shadowed by fear, which caused his own anger to vanish entirely. He now wanted to open his arms to Gwen; shelter her and make her feel better. The nearly overwhelming urge to lightly touch his lips to the scrape on her cheek, to each one of her broken fingers through the bandaging, rose from deep in his chest, as though by doing so some of her fear and pain would leave her.
Arthur cleared his throat and rotated his shoulders as the rain began pelting down in earnest, drenching her dress and weighing down each curl of her hair. As his eyes followed the droplets tracing the line of her neck to her clavicle and on - thinking the sight made her appear so delicate - he glanced over his shoulder towards the roof's door. "That's understandable," he said as evenly as possible. "You should go inside. Gaius is itching to see you out from the rain."
He didn't miss as something akin to disappointment washed across her features, but she nodded sullenly, walking a little stiffly towards the exit and Arthur studied her retreating form before forcing himself to follow.
They had kissed eleven and a half times (Gaius had interrupted them once) before securing the opportunity to leave the castle boundaries alone together under the pretence of legitimacy. On their way to the forest, Gwen knew Arthur was excited, his eagerness seemed to move off of him in waves, sweeping her up and along. They talked almost incessantly to keep their delight under control, but it danced beneath their deflections nonetheless.
They were meant to be searching the woods for a particular herb for Morgana - her birthday was in a fortnight, and with Gaius' assistance, Arthur had convinced Uther the herb would help ease her nerves before sleep and could be made into a special soap for use before bed. He had depended upon Uther's sense of familial affection and ingrained gallantry, explaining he ought to find the herb himself for the ward he viewed as close as sister. And, he had insisted, only Guinevere or Gaius would be able to identify the plant, and seeing that Gaius was so busy with a recent flu outbreak, wouldn't it make the most sense to lend Merlin to Morgana for the day?
She felt silly and light as they scoured the forest together, and even when the sun began to move behind rather ominous looking clouds, Gwen couldn't convince herself to be concerned. Presently she walked slowly between the delicate patches of flora, and Arthur was kneeling, investigating something by a tree. He was rubbish at recognising anything; a simple clover would catch his eye and have him calling her over to take a look.
Of course it was entirely likely that he was doing so in order to have her near, Gwen reasoned, feeling heady at the thought. His hands would find her waist or her shoulders or her fingers as she inspected his discoveries, and though she could tell immediately that the plant wasn't correct, Gwen found herself hm-ing and haw-ing just to make the time to revel in his affections.
A drop of water fell on her forehead, startling her from her thoughts. She looked to the sky, realising in surprise that the clouds had become almost black they were so pregnant with rain. "Arthur," she said, looking back towards him and he raised his head with a cocked brow. "We may want to hurry, it's going to start raining."
"I think I may have found it," he said, and Gwen narrowed her eyes a little in disbelief. He laughed and gestured her over, shaking his head against her dubiety. "Honestly, you said the stem would branch into tiny flowers that looked a little like blades, and..." he pointed at the ground beneath his feet.
Gwen bent double to take a look, her fingers reaching to gently lift the delicate herb's stem so she could see it properly. Arthur refrained from touching her this time, a little to her disappointment, but he had been right, the tiny plant was just the one they were looking for.
"Is that it?" he asked after a moment, and Gwen heard how eager he was for her answer. So she stood slowly, and pretended to be considering it while he watched her impatiently. "Guinevere..."
Smiling in amusement, she reached her hand out. "Could I borrow your knife?"
"So that's it?" he asked, pleased, as he reached to his hip and drew the blade from it's sheath. As he went to pass it to her, several droplets of rain splashed across his face and hair from the branches above, and Gwen laughed.
"Yes, that's it. And just in time, too." Crouching down, she deftly cut a dozen stalks. Standing slowly, meticulously enfolding the herbs in a rag for protection, Gwen didn't notice Arthur was so close until she looked up. His sudden proximity caused her heart to jump to her throat and flutter just as a new butterfly in first flight. He hadn't bothered to wipe the rain water from his face, and his fringe lay almost flat on his forehead, tempting her to ruffle the hair with her fingers.
The rain was falling fairly heavily now, the trees filtered it down in unpredictable places in a heavy scatter of drops. The forest had fallen naturally silent but for the sounds of rain, and it was strangely serene, standing opposite Arthur, as though none but they existed. "We probably ought to go back," she whispered, as another series of drops fell from the trees above them, sprinkling across her face.
Arthur made a disagreeable noise in the back of his throat. "Perhaps," he said reluctantly, and his hand found her hip, then slid to her back, gently pulling her to lean against him. She couldn't actually honestly say that she wanted to leave; in fact, she quite wished they had no further obligation, enabling them to stay just as they were. "Before we go, though," Arthur continued softly, ducking his head closer to hers. "You've got something on your face."
As that was not at all what she expected, Gwen opened her mouth to ask what it was when his lips brushed across her forehead where the first drops had fallen. Then he dusted her cheek where further dampness lay, before his lips finally closed over the tip of her nose, collecting the last of the errant water in the warmth of his mouth. "Oh," she breathed, hands now resting on his shoulders. She slowly opened her eyes, not having been aware of when they closed, and the urge to giggle bubbled effervescent through her at the sight of his satisfied smirk.
"You know," Gwen said, raising her hand to touch her finger to his cheek. "You've something right here, too." His skin was soft and a little cool beneath the pad of her finger, the moisture left from the raindrops earlier now nearly dry. His eyebrow rose a bit, his hand on her back holding her closer as he dropped his face so it was nearly on level with hers.
"Have I?" he asked, in the benign tones of someone just informed they've spilled a drop of sauce on the table. With Gwen's solemn nod, Arthur turned his face slightly towards her, presenting her with the cheek in question. "Best clean it off before we go then."
"That would be best, yes," she agreed, touching her lips to his cheek. Thrilled, as always, by having the chance to display her affection for him this way, Gwen murmured, "and here," while brushing her mouth along his jaw, and then, "also here," she whispered as she nibbled along his chin.
They continued this way - Gwen, then Arthur, then Gwen again - kissing haphazard paths across each other's faces, until Arthur panted, "your lips aren't damp at all, are they?" against the hollow of her ear. And Gwen did giggle then, shifting her face to touch her forehead briefly to his. "I was just thinking that very thing," she murmured, using her hands now lightly braced just behind his ears to guide their mouths together.
"It's bad that it's raining," Merlin muttered out of the corner of his mouth as they waited. Morgana, expression tight and face pale, nodded stiffly in agreement. The past weeks had not been easy for her, plagued as she had been with visions of Uther's death which none could stop, regardless of her warnings. The last couple of days had been a bit better for her, but the symptoms of her affliction still lingered.
Gwen tilted her head and looked curiously at Merlin. "Why do you say that?" True, it was not the gentle spritz Camelot tended to get this time of year, as the seasons transitioned slowly into summer. It was a full gale the likes of which generally heralded tough winter months. But the people were standing, a sea of solid support, awaiting their new king and Gwen could not see the problem.
"They'll see it as a bad omen," Morgana said hollowly, eyes flitting from face to upturned face below them. "For the new reign to begin with a storm..." She shook her head and swallowed thickly.
Straightening her shoulders and tugging a little at her sleeve, Gwen cleared her throat. "We just have to... encourage them to think differently, then." She had felt many things with Uther's passing - many of which she smothered or ignored - focusing her attentions on caring for Morgana in her malady, and Arthur in his grief. But with his looming coronation, all she could feel was an unabated joy, and the undeniable certainty that anything - anything - was possible.
Gwen had waited so long for this day.
"What do you mean?" Merlin and Morgana asked in unison. Morgana's eyes flicked past Gwen's shoulder for a moment before returning to her face. Gwen shrugged a little, taking a step out from beneath the overhang beneath which they were taking cover.
The raindrops were massive, each easily the size of a shilling, and she was almost instantly sopping wet. Her gown hung heavy, clinging uncomfortably tight to her body, and she felt several pieces of her hair slip free of the delicate style she had put it in that morning. She almost laughed, imagining the noble women grimacing.
A low murmur of surprise began amongst those gathered in the courtyard as she walked to the balcony edge and Gwen looked away from them, instead across the turrets of Camelot. For months rumours had abounded in the streets that there was something between she and Arthur. The rumours had initially been accidental: they had been seen and overheard being too familiar with each other on a few too many occasions. As they had not felt it prudent to announce their relationship at the time, Merlin suggested fostering the rumours in order to test reactions and, to an extent, prepare the populace for the inevitable.
They had still not confirmed a thing, but Gwen noticed a change in her peers as they tended to offer her more deference and respect, though she felt she had received enough from them as their equal. Regardless that she felt she was still one of them, it appeared they thought she would stick close to the walls, as the nobles did, not wade out into the storm to wait, as they had to.
"Gwen!" Merlin called, voice loud to be heard over the rain. "What did you mean?"
Confident no one beneath would hear her opinions, she spoke without turning to face him. "Uther was a decent king, but he left a lot of festering wounds in Albion." She paused, looking down again at each person, almost all of whom she knew. They looked hopeful and expectant, waiting for their new king; Gwen wanted to hug each one of them for sharing her faith. "Arthur will heal them. But the first step is to clean the infected areas and this rain... it starts that." She smiled a bit, and began to turn back when a familiar hand slipped into hers, tugging her all the way around.
"Guinevere," was all Arthur said before his mouth was pressed tightly to hers. Gwen froze in shocked uncertainty, and it took his hand rising to cup her face, thumb brushing her cheek reassuringly before she acquiesced, opening her mouth so they could kiss properly. The fresh rain slipped across their chilled lips and along their hot tongues, and the combination of sensations delayed her recognition that the growing roar filling her ears was a cheer of approval from the people in the courtyard.
Gwen leaned against the side of the wall, taking shelter from the rain, and watching with a small smile as the children dashed about in the puddles. Their laughter was uproarious, and their clothes were getting absolutely filthy, but it was obvious they could not care less. She wondered vaguely where their parents were, but Camelot's people dealt better with the misty rain which was the norm, than the pounding rain of the past few days; they were probably taking shelter inside.
"I've never seen children do that," Arthur's voice said suddenly in her ear and Gwen jumped. She heard his chuckle, felt the breath blow against her neck and relished the consequential twist of pleasure which sent goosebumps across her skin.
She didn't turn to face him, instead nodding her head a little towards the children. "They're happy, like the rest of Camelot," she said softly. It was simply fact: under Arthur's reign, spirits were soaring amongst the people. They felt safe within their boundaries, no longer so terrified of magical attack from nefarious foes or undeserved retribution from their king, and so they were joyfully languishing in the wealth of a prosperous and welcoming land.
A little girl shrieked as she tumbled into one of the deeper puddles, now soaked and muddy up to her elbows. Several of the other children laughed, but three others went to her, extending their hands and smoothing her dress once she stood. They began to play again almost immediately, jumping heavily into the puddles and competing to make the biggest splash. Arthur's arms wrapped around Gwen's waist as she watched them, and he pressed a light kiss to her neck. "One day," he murmured huskily, lips butterflying across the curves of her ear. "Our children will play that way."
Sighing, she turned in the confines of his arms and squealed when she realised how wet he was. "You're drenched!" she cried accusingly. But rather than releasing her as she'd hoped, Arthur only laughed loudly, and held her tighter.
"Yes, Guinevere. It is raining." He ducked his head and shook it so sprinkles of water landed in small splashes across her face and neck. She started laughing through her annoyance, and pushed vainly against his shoulders to get him away. They had no fear of being seen together any longer, but she had been taking shelter in order to avoid becoming a sopping mess, and already she could feel the dampness seeping from his shirt through her bodice. "You never used to care about the rain," he said, finally lifting his head and eyeing his handiwork as she raised a hand to wipe droplets from her cheeks. Gwen thought he looked altogether far too satisfied with himself, and vowed to gain retribution in the near future.
"I never used to wear such finery," she retorted, squirming again to get free. It was not so much that she was concerned about ruining the dress, more that it meant she would have to change. While many ladies of the court seemed to luxuriate in changing their outfits several times a day - something Morgana had rarely indulged in, finding the habit too impractical - Gwen had never understood the appeal.
It suddenly occurred to her that the gleeful shouts of the children had gone silent, and she glanced over her shoulder to see where they had gone.
Which was nowhere, as it turned out.
They stood in something resembling a line, staring wide-eyed at the king and his fiancee, with mouths agape. Arthur did then release her, and Gwen turned hurriedly to face the children, smoothing her dress and brushing loose hair behind her ears. Arthur cleared his throat, and then, surprising Gwen, he strode out into the rain towards them asking, "what game were you playing?"
A shocked silence followed his question before the tallest boy, one who had helped the little girl up when she fell, stepped forward. "We were just jumping and running, sire," he said, puffing up his chest a little. Though Gwen couldn't see Arthur's face, she was certain he was smiling in amusement, but she could remember spotting him as a boy of six or seven, striding around with his shoulders thrown back and chin tipped up almost too high to be useful.
"Have you ever played tag?" he asked, and the children all nodded their heads. "I used to play tag when I was your age," he said thoughtfully, looking around at the muddy street. "But we played primarily in the courtyard."
One of the girls scrunched her nose at this and Arthur cocked his head in her direction. "What if you fell, sire?" she asked, voice wavering a little at the boldness of addressing the king of Camelot. "Rocks hurt to fall on."
Arthur nodded at that, explaining that they did their best not to fall, and Gwen watched, amazed, as her king and future husband spent several minutes chatting with commoner's children about various outdoor games as though they were... Well, almost as though they were his own. The day had been a chill one even before Arthur had dampened her clothes, but the sight of him with the children sent warmth flooding through her, banishing any cold.
From somewhere around the corner, a mother began calling for a couple of the children - siblings, presumably - and it seemed to send them all scarpering. Arthur stood, appearing a little bewildered at their sudden disappearances, his hair hanging down in sopping tangles and the normally light red of his shirt was the deep stain of red wine. Gwen glanced down at herself with a sigh before lifting the bottom of her skirts and stepping out into the downpour.
When she reached him, she put a hand on his shoulder and he turned to face her, a little surprised. "No longer frightened of the wet?" he asked teasingly, shaking his fringe out of his eyes, which were overbright with a carefree cheer she had not seen in weeks.
Looking up at him, Gwen smiled, and shook her head, blinking against the heavy drops pattering down against her face. "You are so..." she began, but no word seemed sufficiently apt; they were all too mundane or too embellished for her purpose. Her silence turned his smile a little wry and he crossed his arms over his chest.
But Gwen shook her head again. "No," she said, rising to her toes and pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
His head automatically followed her down as she dropped to her heels, his arms unfolding from his chest to wrap tight around her waist, and Gwen smiled against his lips, sliding her arms around his neck. Her sleeves ruffled wetly and caused bumps in his shirt, and she imagined as they sank slightly into the grubby mud that her shoes were likely a loss and that she would scrub at the hem of her dress for hours. But when Arthur's palms slipped across the dampness of her bared shoulders in his desire to deepen the kiss and her fingers became tangled in the sodden clumps of his hair as she reciprocated eagerly, she could not bring herself to care much about mud or changing outfits.