Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Gwen, Morgana, Merlin, Gaius
Rating/Genre: G, angst, hurt/comfort. Oh, and a bit of corn.
Spoilers/Warnings: vague allusions to 2.04
Summary: Gwen is poisoned, Arthur takes over the vigil from Morgana for the night.
Author's Note: Written in response to camelot_love's drabble tag. mancalahour wanted Arthur sitting vigil with Gwen after she's been poisoned. I'm almost entirely incapable of writing short pieces apparently, and this very much exceeded the comment word limit. Comments are ♥, concrit appreciated & I hope you enjoy, bb.
"Merlin. Where have you been?"
Arthur looked at Merlin, who was hesitating anxiously by the door. "What -
"It's Gwen," Merlin said tightly, watching Arthur nervously as he got urgently to his feet. "We think she's been poisoned."
"She's been unhappy lately," Morgana, nearly hysterical, was saying to Gaius as Arthur led the way into her chambers. "And I knew if I drank first, she would find some excuse to get back to work, so I insisted."
"I need her in my chambers," Gaius said, looking up to Merlin. Arthur looked past Gaius to Gwen, sprawled on the floor. Her face was patchy, mottled brown and red, and her chest was hardly moving with each shallow breath. "Merlin -
"I'll take her," Arthur said firmly, striding forwards and bending to scoop her up without hesitance. She was so light, and seemed too damn fragile hanging limply in his hold. Morgana moved forwards, tucking Gwen's hands against Arthur's chest so they didn't just hang there as though she was a rag doll, and quickly dabbed up the drool falling from Gwen's gaping mouth.
Arthur tore his eyes from Gwen's face to find Morgana watching him shrewdly and he quickly glanced away to Gaius. "Someone needs to tell my father that Morgana's wine was poisoned," he said, and Morgana whirled around saying quickly, "No!"
Gaius nodded, expression sympathetic. "Morgana, the king needs to know. After your recent abduction -
"That's why he cannot find out until after we've healed Gwen," she interrupted desperately. "He would keep me from her. I can't just leave her."
"We'll be with her constantly," Gaius said soothingly but Morgana turned on Arthur, glaring fiercely.
"And he would keep you from her as well," she said harshly.
Arthur stared at her for a moment, distressed that she had so easily seen through him. But he could not rise to the bait; the would-be assassin needed to be found.
So Arthur shook his head. "Father must know."
"Please, Arthur," she whispered. " It was my personal store. Whoever did it is either long gone, or works in the castle. You'll have the chance to find them. Just - please. I can't leave Gwen alone."
Looking down at Guinevere, who could have been dead but for the way her fever nearly burned him through all layers of cloth, Arthur swallowed thickly. "One day," he said, finding Morgana's eyes again. She sucked in a sharp breath and nodded her thanks.
Gaius' brows dropped, his one crooked brow looking menacing, and he stared hard at Arthur. "Sire, the king must be inf -
"One day, Gaius" Arthur repeated firmly. As Gaius opened his mouth to protest further, Gwen sighed quietly and he turned his back on all of them, carrying her quickly from the room.
"Morgana, you're due at dinner in less than an hour," Arthur said, carefully shutting Merlin's door behind him.
The look she gave him made him sigh and pinch the bridge of his nose as she reached forward again with the damp cloth to wipe Gwen's brow. "For this to work, you have to maintain appearances," he said, a little waspish. "I'll stay with her."
He and Merlin had set about investigating as inconspicuously as possible. It had been to little avail, and Arthur's heart had not eased since Merlin first told him the news that morning. All he wanted was to sit beside Guinevere, and do all he could to ease her suffering until Gaius' remedy worked.
"All right," Morgana said finally. She stood stiffly and Arthur wondered how long she had been in the same position. "You must look after her," she warned strictly, indicating the water bowl and cloth.
Opening her mouth to continue, Arthur said quietly, "Of course," before taking the seat she had vacated. Morgana stood looking at him for a moment but Arthur wouldn't meet her gaze, opting instead to study Guinevere's fingers laying at her side.
"And Arthur," Morgana whispered, forcing him to look at her. Her expression was soft and almost sympathetic as she hesitated, making his ears burn. "Be careful."
Not managing much more than a grunt and nod to indicate he heard, Arthur turned back to Gwen as Morgana slipped from the room.
Gaius had spent much of the morning and early afternoon studying the wine and chalice from which Gwen had drunk, before feeling certain he knew the cause. The remedy he devised had been given to her just as the sun began to drop, and Gaius had told Arthur and Merlin upon their return that they would know before sunrise whether it would work.
But Guinevere looked exactly the same as when he had first laid her down here.
Her hair was sticking to her cheeks and neck, and, without thinking, he reached forwards to brush it back. Arthur pulled his hand away hurriedly as soon as he'd finished, ignoring that he'd noticed just how soft her hair was, how much he liked it moving between his fingers.
The silence was suddenly oppressive. Arthur reached for the water bowl, for lack of absolutely anything else to do, and managed to spill a decent portion of it as he pulled the cloth free. He bit back a curse, glancing nervously at Gwen before realising how foolhardy that instinct was in the given circumstance. She could no more respond than tend to the mess, and with neck heating guiltily, Arthur set about mopping the spilled water with his sleeve.
He put the cloth back, resolving to act more delicately next time, and to be more disciplined, only reaching for it when the fever burned her so sweat glistened on her brow.
Arthur studied her; the long curve of her lips, the tiny almost-hook of her nose, how her lashes weren't quite long enough to rest on the gentle round of her cheeks. If he was bold, he would have taken her hand to memorise the lines and callouses on her palm. But it seemed too intimate a thing to do with her lying unconscious. And to experience that would likely only cause her to haunt him the more.
His chest felt tight, as though there were multitudes of words trying to break free but they were locked down too heavily. No phrases would form themselves willingly on his tongue.
"Another thing to learn," he muttered wryly, and then grinned slightly, glancing up to her face expectantly. But she bore no expression; she could not even be called impassive. And suddenly he ached to have her respond. In any capacity. He would prefer the soft, joyous smile that meant she shared in his amusement, but he would take the delicate dip of her brow that said she was unimpressed by his flippancy.
He had missed her, the last few weeks. Which was undeniably idiotic, given they'd never spent much time together to begin with, and that the definitive separation now was entirely his own doing.
Well, probably entirely his own doing. It was hard to tell if she was avoiding him given he was already avoiding her.
But whatever the reality, he regretted it.
Clearing his throat, Arthur carefully picked up the water bowl, and gently pulled the cloth free from the chilly water, leaning forwards to lightly stroke the cool rag across her forehead. He pressed it to her cheeks next before hesitantly dragging the rapidly heating cloth over her neck.
He longed to see her smile, or better: hear her laugh. And if he were wishing for things, he would be the cause of it, because it made him incredibly happy in ways he'd not imagined. When she awoke, he resolved to set her laughing one day soon, even if the only way he would accomplish it was at his own expense.
That was, if she awoke. There was always the possibility that Gaius had gotten it wrong; that it was something far worse than he'd anticipated.
Arthur looked at her quickly, eyes narrowed for signs she was giving up the fight, but there was still nothing on her face to indicate her heart still beat, let alone that she was fighting to return to the waking world.
"You'll fight, Guinevere," he said severely, without thinking. He pulled the chair forward so his knees pressed tight to the edge of Merlin's bed and he could lean in close to her with more ease. "I don't care what it takes. You'll open your eyes before dawn."
Feeling suddenly foolish, Arthur looked back at the bowl in his left hand. But Gwen released a soft sigh and his head snapped up so quickly he nearly cracked his neck.
He stared hard at her for what felt like a lifetime, but she gave no more sign of wakefulness or understanding. After several minutes deliberation, Arthur decided her sigh meant she promised him that she would wake before the sun and he whispered, "I'll hold you to that," before reaching forwards with the cloth once more.
Something was moving in the circle of his hand.
Arthur opened his eyes, wincing through his stiff neck, to find delicate calloused fingers lying lightly against his palm, his thumb resting over them. He wondered with a start when he had taken hold of her hand, and when he'd fallen asleep, and why Morgana hadn't returned yet before the reason for his waking up at all pushed through the useless chatter in his mind as her fingers twitched again.
Eyes flying swiftly to Gwen's face, he watched her lips smack shut before opening again to suck in a deep breath. Then her eyes fluttered once, twice, three times before she finally managed to battle them into being half-open.
"Guinevere!" he breathed, leaning in close to her, holding her hand tight now.
She blinked blearily before swallowing painfully. "Ar -"
As she began coughing weakly, Arthur sprang from the chair, tipping the damn thing over in his haste to gather the water bowl. He sat beside her, carefully cradling her head and pressing the bowl to her lips so she could drink.
Once the bowl was empty, Gwen tipped her head to see him better. She looked confused and a little wary, which had Arthur standing reluctantly and moving towards the door.
"Wait," she rasped.
Arthur did not turn, only saying quietly, "I've got to get Gaius," before moving out the door and down the short passage.
He froze briefly at the sight of Morgana and Merlin huddled opposite each other close to the fire. Gaius was no where in sight, but he was baffled that Morgana had not muscled him from the room the instant she returned.
"What is it?" she asked nervously, spotting him. "Is Gwen -
"She's awake," he said, and Morgana let out a soft moan of relief before rushing past him and disappearing into Merlin's room. He could hear the muffled sounds of Morgana speaking rapidly and Merlin stood.
"I'll get Gaius," he offered, a small smile playing the corner of his lips. When Arthur did not answer, Merlin's expression morphed to one of concern, which had Arthur scowling. "Are you all right?"
"I'm not the one who just woke from being poisoned, Merlin."
"No," Merlin agreed, shrugging on his jacket. "You only look like it."
Throwing Merlin a harsh glare, Arthur muttered, "I'll get more water."
"There's some right over -
"I'm going to get more water, Merlin."
Merlin blinked before stooping quickly and holding out a bucket to him. "You'll need this, then."
When he returned, Gaius' front chamber was empty. Arthur put the water down by the hearth, before slowly making his way to Merlin's room. The door was open, Gaius leaned over Gwen who was propped up on several pillows while Merlin stood with arms crossed looking down and Morgana sat beside her on the bed, just out of Gaius' way.
None of them looked at him with his entrance, and so Arthur crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorjamb. Guinevere looked... marginally better, he supposed, scrutinising the way her skin had gone from mottled red to a steady pinkish flush. And she was sitting, not so weak that someone had to hold her head so she could drink. But circles were dark and heavy beneath her eyes, and her lips were chapped.
He paid no mind to what anyone said, letting voices and words wash over him in a seamless muddle of sound. Gwen looked as though she wished everyone would leave her to sleep, but she still smiled slightly and nodded her head, answering softly when addressed, gracious as ever.
After a few minutes of this, Merlin looked over his shoulder, saying in surprise, "Arthur!" which broke through the nonsense buzz in Arthur's mind. Gwen glanced at Merlin's face, following his gaze and finally meeting Arthur's eyes, not looking away.
He could not fathom her expression, but neither could he bring himself to look elsewhere. He heard Gaius say he was finished and that Gwen should really get some rest. As Gaius passed him to go through the door, Arthur said quietly, "thank you."
But Gaius made no response and Arthur couldn't be sure he had heard. Morgana stood abruptly, tearing Gwen's gaze from Arthur's face for which Arthur was half relieved and half bitter.
"I'll just go to get you some water," Morgana was saying, bending to smooth the hair from Guinevere's forehead. Arthur tried not to be jealous by how casually she had done it. "Back in a moment." Then she straightened and looked meaningfully at Merlin. "Merlin, can I get a hand?"
"Getting water?" Merlin repeated, looking puzzled. "There's cups and -
"Yes, I want a hand," Morgana replied tartly and Arthur knew the moment Merlin cottoned on as he blew out a long breath that sounded like oh.
Then he, too, bent quickly, clasping Gwen's hand tightly for a brief moment as he said, "Glad you're awake, Gwen." Her smile was warm and with this, Arthur could not deny his envy.
They strode past him quickly, and Gwen licked her lips as they shut the door behind them. Arthur walked forwards, glancing in the water jug to find it absolutely full. With a sigh at Morgana's transparency, he poured out a cup before passing it to Gwen.
She accepted it without a word, and if Arthur had hope still in his chest for them, he'd have thought the way her fingers passed across his as she took the cup meant something. He sat down, watching her face closely as she drank the entire contents, and he took the cup from her as she lowered it from her lips so she wouldn't have to struggle to put it down.
Arthur watched her closely, waiting for some sign of what to do next.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted to take her hands to test their strength, then hold his own to her brow to feel the fever had passed. He wanted to cup her jaw and kiss her on the mouth - long and slow and deep - then pass his lips all across her face. He wanted to rest his forehead against hers, and perhaps then words would rise from his throat, appropriate and revealing.
"How are you?" she asked, breaking through his thoughts in a voice rough from sleep and being parched for so many hours.
Arthur stared blankly at her for a beat before he started laughing. Even he could hear there was an edge beneath the sound, and when he looked again at Gwen's face, she was smiling a little despondently.
"Guinevere," he finally managed to say. Teasing, admonishing. Gods, he just wanted to touch her.
Her smile widened briefly before she glanced away, looking down at her hands clasped in her lap. "I can remember you talking to me," she said softly. She swallowed thickly and tipped her head up, eyes searching his face. "You stroked my forehead." The hair on his arms stood on end at the familiarity of those words.
"I was tending to your fever," he replied dutifully in a murmur.
Guinevere's smile returned, the full bloom he had been longing to see for hours. Smiling slightly himself, he leaned towards her, anything to get closer and be in the warmth of it. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Tired," she said lightly, wiggling a little beneath Merlin's threadbare blanket.
Leaning back, Arthur put his hands on his knees before standing. "I'll leave you to rest, then," he said and Gwen looked up at him wide-eyed.
"I didn't mean you had to go," she said hurriedly.
"Yes, you did," he said softly, and by the shy appreciative nod she gave him, he knew he had read her correctly. The sense of satisfaction he took from that almost countered the disappointment he felt at being dismissed. "I need to speak with my father in any case."
"Morgana's wine," Gwen said nervously and Arthur nodded.
"Take care, Guinevere," he said gently, tipping her a grin before he turned to leave.
He was almost at the door before Gwen called, "Thank you."
Her gratitude did not sound like an afterthought, but more like a farewell and Arthur turned slowly to face her.
Another smile was turning her lips; it was one he had seen before. A little crooked, and sad. The one that meant she understood, better than he did, what would come next. He tried to ignore how her eyes were a little overbright, and tried to pretend that it did not make his stomach clench and his heart hurt.
"For... everything," she added. Before he knew what he was doing, Arthur was walking back towards her. Her head followed his movement until she was staring up at him, her neck stretched into an elegant line. "Sire," Guinevere breathed, and that definitely was an afterthought which almost made him smile.
His heart pounded as he bent towards her, fingers coming away a little damp with her sweat as he brushed a stray curl from her forehead before he pressed his lips very deliberately to her brow. Arthur lingered only a moment after she had breathed in sharply, praying she understood what he was trying to show her.
Then he straightened and walked away, forcing himself to formulate the explanation he had to give to his father, rather than letting his thoughts revolve incessantly around Guinevere.