Characters/Pairings: Gwen/Arthur, Gaius, Merlin, mentions of Morgana
Genre/Rating: PG. Episode coda: angst, drama, a teeny bit of romance.
Spoilers/Warnings: 2x13. It's all about 2x13.
Summary: What Gwen was doing while certain other people were elsewhere.
Author's Note: This was me trying to get into Gwen's head space for this episode. There are definitely spoilers for 2x13 ripe throughout. Hopefully I've done her justice. Cut quote is by Lucille Ball. Here's to season 2, bbs. ♥
She wiped the back of her hand across her brow, and fought off a weary sigh.
Instead, she gave the wide-eyed girl as reassuring a smile as she could muster, gripped her hand soothingly, and said calmly, "I'll just get some ointment, and then we'll find your mother."
At the girl's nod, Gwen moved away to the store cupboards. Her feet and back ached, her head pounded and sometimes she thought she heard a distant ringing in her ears - though she couldn't be certain that wasn't some sound resulting from the Great Dragon's attack.
She jumped, and turned towards Gaius. She had never known him to move so silently.
"Get some rest, Gwen," he said, in the commanding tone she had known since childhood. It had swayed her many times in the past, though not so soundly recently.
"I will take my leave when you do," she countered.
Gaius' lips pursed and his brow dropped, but Gwen just watched him steadily until he released a long sigh. "At least another hour then."
"Another hour," Gwen agreed.
She watched him walk away.
Her feet led her to Morgana's chambers.
It was foolish, automatic, familiar, and the instant her hand curled around Morgana's door handle, her heart seemed to shatter in her chest as reality broke through her haze.
If Morgana was in Camelot, Gwen would have gone to her chambers having heard Morgana's plans to retire for a few hours. In preparation, Gwen would light the fire, turn down the bed, leave a sprig of lavender against her pillow for restful dreams, light two candles (one to guide Morgana in; the other beside her bed), before fetching her night gown and laying it out for her.
But Morgana was not in Camelot. The bed did not need turning down, there was no reason to lay Morgana's night gown out, her fire did not require rebuilding. Wherever she was, she was being either looked after by someone else, or left alone to tend to herself. And either way, there was nothing Gwen could do for her from Camelot in the midst of the Dragon's attack.
Gwen hesitated in the hall, wondering if she had the nerve to look into Morgana's chilled rooms; take in the sight of her familiar chambers so obviously un-lived in for the past five days.
Her hand fell from the door knob.
She was halfway to her home before she knew she would never be able to sleep.
Between her own heartbreak and fear, and the memories of burns and weeping people, Gwen's mind was overrun. She needed distraction, and something commonplace, something simple.
A way to help without having to witness the consequence of hatred and flame.
Arthur's chambers were a mess: remnants of meals hardly touched, a knocked over chalice of wine still dripping inexorably onto the floor, and a scatter of discarded clothing.
The scene before her screamed desperate times, but Gwen forced herself to pretend it was simply Arthur's way, and it was easy to imagine Merlin's reluctance to attend to such a mess, if any excuse presented itself which allowed him to skive off the duty.
The fire needed to light a candle was as unwelcome as the mere thought of stoking anything to flame in the hearth, but she required the light. She set the candle holder as far away from herself as she could still see by it, and began by cleaning the spilled wine.
A dull ache panged when she caught a particularly strong whiff of his scent while putting his clothes away, and when she found a dagger, it put her in mind of the reasons for his absence, and the terror that he, too, may not return nearly overwhelmed her.
But she put his clothes in the hamper; put the blade in its place; created a pile of his dishes; added a log to the fire. She fell into the rhythm of tidying once more, where the only thing required of her was to ensure no dust remained with her departure.
Tending to his room didn't take nearly as long as she would have liked, but the routine was enough to keep thoughts, and memories, and feelings at bay for a while. The reprieve was a blessing.
Her feet were dragging, her shoulders hunched, and still she knew she would not sleep. Having begun with Arthur's room, a fevered mission had overcome her: the need to ensure that, upon their return, those she loved who still remained would know they were cared for.
She stood, staring at Gaius' door for several minutes. Though the chances of it were slim, if Gaius was asleep, she would simply sneak past him and into Merlin's room. And if he was awake, which was far more likely, she would simply have to explain herself.
Gwen did not bother knocking. The door opened with a quiet creak, something she made note of for later, and the light which met her sore eyes gave her all the information she needed.
"Gwen!" Gaius was surprised.
"Gaius," she replied wearily. She crossed the threshold and closed the door purposefully behind herself. "I want to tend to Merlin's room."
"Gwen, honestly. Look at the state of you. You need to go to bed."
Already halfway across the chamber and nearly abreast of him, Gwen didn't bother to turn. "I will. This is just something I need to do."
She heard him take a deep breath as though about to say something, but silence followed and she soon found herself pushing Merlin's door open.
His room was disappointingly tidy, both in comparison to Arthur's, and to Merlin's habitual state of living.
There was still a bit to do, however, and Gwen threw herself into the the task with a gusto she hadn't thought she would be able to muster. It was both easier and harder here; the room was wrought with more memories than Arthur's had been, more reasons to think of the past and the future.
But as with Arthur's chambers, Gwen set her mind to the repetition of precise folding and sorting, eyeing stained linen critically and worn boots thoughtfully.
By the time she finished, his newly made bed seemed all too welcoming and her home much too far away. It had been a haven before, and she prayed, sliding her feet from her slippers and extinguishing the candle with a puff of breath, that she would find solace beneath his blankets again.
Gaius was gone when Gwen awoke, and she expertly re-made Merlin's bed before hurrying to the great hall.
A quick survey showed that numbers had swelled, though some faces Gwen had expected to see were inexplicably gone, and she forced herself to not fear the worst for them.
Despite the awful state of things, Gwen's fellows were strong. She set splints and cleaned wounds of men and women alike, most of whom stoically tipped their chins and clenched their teeth, making hardly a sound of complaint as she worked.
And each one of them said thank-you.
Gwen loved them all for that. And for their bravery and their strength. She loved that those who could walk, would get water for the those who could not leave their beds. She loved that those who were bedridden, but could speak, would tell stories of hope and light to those who could barely do more than stare at the ceiling.
She blessed the ones who smiled, and adored the ones who asked after her own well-being. If she had the power to send her heart out to each of them, she would have done it one hundred times over.
It was not through fanfare that Gwen learned Arthur and Merlin had returned, but through a susurrus of tongue wagging from peasant and noble and Camelot guard.
It was not by official declaration of the court that Gwen learned they would ride without a Dragonlord to face the Dragon, but through overhearing nervous conversations between knights passing through the great hall.
She resented them for not telling her; she understood why they would go; she envied them for being able to; she respected them for trying.
But none of these matched the panic of imagining them standing like ants before the Great Dragon's wrath, of thinking of all that could be lost in a single burst of flame from it's mighty lungs, and so Gwen did all that she could to disconnect her mind from her heart, else her shaking hands would cost someone dearly.
Gwen reached for the water pitcher when Gaius' fingers curled around her wrist.
She breathed, "Both of them?"
And with Gaius' nod, they moved together towards the exit.
Had Uther come to meet Arthur, or had Gaius not been so clearly set to meet Merlin, Gwen thought her greeting may have gone differently.
As it was, she watched only Arthur, as he gazed around himself as though seeing his kingdom for the first time. He took in each burn and broken structure not with eyes burdened with grief, but with an expression of knowing hope for the future.
So she began to run, because hope was scarce and the loss of Arthur was suddenly painfully real and she wouldn't know peace until he was in her arms.
"I thought I'd lost you." It was a confession she hadn't allowed herself until then.
His body formed to hers as she wrapped herself around him and he hugged her so tightly that she felt each coil of his armor pressing into her skin through her dress.
Arthur held her until she was ready to let him go, and even then he ducked his head so that their foreheads were nearly touching. Wordlessly, he pulled her hand into the space between them, and very deliberately laced his fingers through hers.
"Let's go," she whispered, pulling her gaze from their hands to look at his face. Relief was a weakening force as she took in his expression. "I think your table is available."
"Kept the space open for me, did you?" he murmured as they began to move past Gaius and Merlin hugging each other as tightly as she and Arthur had moments before. She was relieved that Merlin appeared to be in similar condition to Arthur; intended to see him as soon as Arthur was settled.
"I hoped you would have need of it, yes," she said. It took a moment for her to recognise an alternate implication for her words, and Gwen drew a deep, tired breath. "What I meant to say -
But Arthur's hand tightened around hers - Gwen had never known an action so small and so simple to be so intimate and soothing - and he said gently, "I know what you meant."
Glancing at him, Gwen found Arthur looking around at Camelot again as they walked, his hand sporadically squeezing hers. It made her smile a little. All was not lost; they would all live to see tomorrow. And with the dawn, grief and worry and urgent plans for finding Morgana and rebuilding Camelot would come.
But Gwen allowed herself this time to bask in the hope Arthur exuded as they moved through the kingdom.