Characters/Pairings: Gwen/Arthur, Gaius, Merlin, Leon, an OC or two
Rating/Genre: PG; um, most definitely fluff, with a touch of angst, a side of kissy-kissingness, and an ickle bit of crack for good measure.
Spoilers/Warnings: None that I can think of!
Summary: Three times Arthur and Gwen's romance was discovered.
Author's Note: Written for rubber_glue for her prompt, A/G's budding romance is discovered by either the townspeople or the Camelot's knights at the Camelot loves Haiti thing-a-thon. Have both ;) I hope this is what you were looking for, and that you enjoy this! Thank you so much for your generosity ♥ Many thanks to mancalahour for her betawork and support!
Gaius stands and restokes the fire as Merlin disappears through the door. The night is growing late; Arthur should really be returning to the castle, and Gwen to her home. But it seems that just for tonight, they had found a gentle kind of contentment, where even the ghost of Morgana's lengthy and increasingly mysterious absence was leaving them be.
Arthur finds himself averse to leaving such a sanctuary.
"Don't let me forget to give you the tincture before you leave, sire," Gaius says offhandedly, as though reading his mind.
Gwen glances at him from her place at his side - something Arthur thinks he could very quickly become accustomed to - and frowns worriedly. "What's the matter?"
Arthur meets Gaius' questioning brow over her shoulder and shakes his head slightly. This is one thing he would really rather Guinevere not be privy to. "It's nothing," he says, looking back to find her lips now parted, frown deepened, as his silence increased her concern. "Nothing to worry about."
"Then why would you need a tincture for it?" she asks, voice tight. It's as close to a demand as he thinks Gwen will ever make and for that reason, Arthur nearly tells her. But he shakes his head, and Gwen swallows irritably, twisting in her seat to face Gaius. "Gaius?"
"I'm sorry, Gwen," Gaius says, in his measured tone. "I can't tell you anything if Prince Arthur is unwilling."
He can't see her face, but he can imagine her expression as she comes to accept Gaius' assertion. He does hear as she draws a deep breath, and when she speaks, he recognises her tones of forced calm, "But it isn't anything serious?"
Gaius' smile is softer and more indulgent than Arthur has ever seen it. He wonders briefly if Gwen knows how cared for she is, by all of them. "No, Gwen. It's nothing serious."
When she faces forward again, Arthur grins at her pursed lips. "I promise I'm fine," he says, taking hold of her hand as she stares resolutely into the fire.
"Then I don't understand why you can't tell me what it is," she says softly, and Arthur deflates a little bit. Since Morgana's kidnapping, Gwen has been sensitive about secrets, and very protective of he and Merlin. Sometimes protective even of Gaius.
So, with a sigh and the bowing of his dignity, Arthur squeezes her hand to draw her eyes back to his face, and takes a deep breath to steel himself. "The... tincture," he begins slowly, rather grudgingly, actually; though he does like the way Gwen leans in towards him, watching him very closely and taking each word he speaks so seriously. "Is for... my... snoring."
There's a beat where she freezes, then there's a flash of relief before Arthur watches as Gwen's smile grows quickly, her entire face lighting in delighted surprise before the sound of her laughter wraps warm around him. Even Gaius' rough chuckles join her and Arthur lets himself smile a little, even if their humour is at his expense.
"You don't have to do that," she tells him warmly, her fingers wiggling between his. "It wasn't so bad."
"Guinevere. You told me I sounded like a pig."
She laughs loudly again and Gaius comes to join them at the table, still smiling goodnaturedly. Through her laughter, her other hand comes to wrap around their clasped set on the table, and she strokes the back of his wrist.
"I'm sure that was merely happenstance," she says, and nobody looks up as Gaius' door opens and closes with Merlin's return from the well. "Just... I don't know, an adjustment to the new environment, or something like that."
"There's no need to be kind now, Guinevere," Arthur says, acting far more aggrieved than he actually feels. "The damage to my ego is already done."
"Pardon me," comes a hesitant voice from near the door, and all three of them freeze. The speaker is far more female than Merlin has ever sounded. Much older, too.
"I didn't mean to intrude..."
With this, Gaius stands, and Gwen's hands vanish from Arthur's. Arthur forces himself to turn, trying to ignore the anxious, icy churn in the pit of his belly. From the way the woman is eyeing both he and Guinevere, ignoring Gaius entirely, no secrets were well kept this evening.
But the physician is nothing if not tenacious, for which Arthur is suddenly thankful. "What can I do for you Evelyn?" Gaius' insistence is finally enough to draw her attention, and the woman - Evelyn - jolts and walks towards Gaius, telling him something about her grandson's cough.
Gwen's hand suddenly on his thigh beneath the table makes Arthur drop his gaze from the woman and look back towards Gwen.
"What do we do?" she hisses, eyes wide, her face looking pale. He notices she hasn't removed her hand, but it's far from pleasant; her nails are beginning to dig through the cloth of his trousers as she tightens her hold fearfully.
Arthur shakes his head. "I'm not sure... Nothing yet. Let's see what she says."
"What if she doesn't say anything?" Gwen squeaks.
He's never quite seen her like this. As though she fears she's going to lose everything. The thought makes his stomach twist and he covers her hand where it's clenched over his thigh. He strokes her fingers lightly, trying to be reassuring.
"I'll take care of it," he murmurs, holding her eye.
"I'll pay her if I have to. Guinevere - nothing will change for us until we wish it to. I promise you that."
Gwen breathes out heavily through her nose, and she worries her lip, clearly not quite sure how she wants to respond. But before she has the chance to decide, Gaius calls her over.
The woman sidles away from Gaius, giving Gwen a curious look before - and Arthur is quite surprised by this - she takes the spot Gwen had only just vacated. Closer now, she looks familiar. He thinks that perhaps he's seen her working in one of the baking stalls in the market, or possibly surrounded by a group of small children. Though knowing how hard working the peasants in the towns are, he supposes it could easily be both.
"Is it love, then?" she asks suddenly, looking straight ahead at the wall across from them.
Arthur hesitates, then says, "Pardon?"
"Oh, excuse me for being so bold, sire," Evelyn says, now turning towards him and resting an old, gnarled hand on the table between them. "Just, I was only wondering if it's love you've got with our Gwen, or something less permanent. You see, there's lots of people in town who would be unhappy if Gwen was hurt again. What with being alone now and everything."
She watches him steadily, this little elderly woman. He hasn't spoken of what emotions and promises lay between he and Gwen with anyone but her, and yet, he finds himself nodding to this stranger. "It's love," he says softly.
There's a small, embarrassed part of his mind which registers the smile on his lips as somewhat timid. But in the face of the woman's obvious adoration of Gwen, he can't help but be pleased, and so a little shy of her judgement of him.
"Hm." She studies his face, before she turns forward again with a nod. "And you want to make her queen one day, my lord?"
"More than anything."
Evelyn is silent then for a long time, and so Arthur takes to watching Gwen as she works at Gaius' side. As though determined to give him cause for surprise at every opportunity, Guinevere showed herself to be an incredibly quick learner, and had already begun tending to a few patients on her own.
"I'll tell nobody, then," Evelyn says after a time, and Arthur turns again to find the woman watching him closely. "If you'd answered different, I might've. But lots of people trust you, Prince Arthur... And besides, I can see it in her eyes, in her smile. She's happier."
"You don't need to do this every time, Gwen," Arthur tells her lightly, though she knows exactly how much he likes having her here.
She has seen his eyes linger, has witnessed the twist of his lips as she tightens this strap or that. It isn't that either of them think he needs the luck of a superstitious ritual - it's been years since Arthur has lost a tournament - but to Gwen, it only feels right that she would suit him for battle, even if only a pretend one. And the tent space also affords them privacy, even with Merlin acting as inadvertent chaperon all the while.
And Merlin is certainly not complaining, perched on the preparation table, legs swinging idly. "I don't mind," he calls cheerfully, now leaning comfortably back on his hands.
Fingers wiggle to catch her attention and Gwen looks up at Arthur from beneath her lashes as she tightens his gauntlet.
He smirks down at her.
There's a light in his eye that she knows, something beyond the simple excitement he feels with each of these competitions, and before she has a chance to step away, his other hand has captured her jaw and his mouth is moving playfully across hers.
If it weren't so pleasurable, it would be annoying; she knows he's partly kissing her only because they'd recently discovered Merlin liked to pretend to be dramatically bothered at seeing them kiss. And, proving her correct, with Merlin's subsequent groan of complaint, Arthur presses his mouth harder to hers - Gwen thinks he means it as a consolation - fleetingly before pulling back.
Which is when Gwen steps on his toes, just heavily enough to cause him to yelp.
"It won't happen again," Arthur says above her. His tone is a poor attempt at sounding contrite and Gwen just rolls her eyes before continuing with his gauntlet.
"It will," she corrects, and can almost hear Merlin nodding in fervent, unhappy agreement behind her. "But perhaps next time I'll kick your shin and leave a bruise instead."
"You're too kind for that," Arthur tells her with a chuckle, although he sounds a little unsure.
"We'll see," is all she says as she finishes the rest.
She pats his breastplate - an unexpected memory flashes in her mind of doing similar to Merlin long ago - and steps back to assess her work. The first time they had done this, Arthur had been eager to leave the instant she finished, but now he waits patiently, hands hanging loosely at his sides as she ensures she's done everything properly.
"Okay..." she begins, but stops herself, tilting her head to the left to eye the buckles on his right shoulder. When she looks at his face, it's to find that he's raised a brow and is smirking a little at her expression, before he obligingly twists to present her with the offensive piece of armour.
She murmurs, "Thank you," feeling a little shy at his indulgence, and rises to her toes to re-do the clasps.
When she drops to her heels, Arthur straightens. "All finished?" he asks, and there is a little impatience in his voice this time.
Grinning slightly, Gwen nods. "Yes, you can go," she says quietly. Arthur smiles hugely at her - and though she's sure his grin is due more to his excitement than his gratitude, it doesn't seem to matter; her stomach still swoops pleasantly at the sight - and leans towards her, but Gwen turns away. "Merlin..." she reminds him, imagining their friend dry retching on the table.
"Merlin," Arthur says, face still close to Gwen's. "Look away."
"Oh, yes, don't mind me," Merlin says tartly, and Gwen smiles a little in amusement.
"I don't," Arthur says, and then he kisses her. Much more nicely than earlier, she thinks vaguely, slipping her fingers into his hair. There's still an energy behind this kiss, but also the tenderness to which she's become sinfully accustomed.
She doesn't mean to moan, but it's nearly impossible to stay silent when his gloved hand finds the nape of her neck, gently tilting her head so he can sweep his tongue into her mouth...
Which is just when Merlin noisily clears his throat. Arthur breaks away, irritably snapping, "I swear on all things, Merlin -
"I believe he was trying to alert you to my presence, my lord."
Arthur's eyes flash up to look over her head as Gwen feels her heart lodge somewhere in her throat and her stomach join her feet on the ground.
Arthur releases her quickly, but just as with Evelyn a few months ago, the damage is clearly already done. Gwen turns to meet Sir Leon's gaze, biting the inside of her bottom lip nervously. She wonders if she ought to be relieved that he looks as uncomfortable as she feels.
Leon raises a fist to his mouth, glances once between them before focusing on Arthur, and clears his throat. "My lord, the king requires your company before the tournament begins."
With a rustle of chainmail, and the quiet clanking of the various protective pieces against one another, Arthur brushes a hand surreptitiously against her lower back and walks towards Leon. Gwen swallows thickly when he pauses beside his knight, and strains to hear as he says, very lowly, "Leon, I would ask that you -
"I won't breathe a word, sire," Leon interrupts firmly, and that is obviously enough for Arthur because he pushes through the tent flap without another word.
Gwen glances towards Merlin, who is watching Leon closely - which is when Gwen belatedly realises the knight has not yet left the tent.
"Gwen," Leon says quietly, and Gwen takes a deep breath. Clearly he has stayed to speak with her, and she tries to formulate some kind of argument, something Leon would respond to, would understand. She wonders a little deliriously if trying to cite the knight's code would ensure he not break his vow to Arthur. But it seems immoral, somehow, to use that against him. Contemplating it certainly isn't helping to ease the nausea she now feels.
So Gwen breathes deeply once more, and turns from Merlin to Leon. Leon's expression is soft, kind of understanding, and he raises his hands peaceably. "On my honour as a knight, I won't tell another soul." Gwen studies him closely, sincerity is an attribute Arthur looks for in his men, and she has witnessed it often from Leon. She nods her acceptance.
"We've been wondering for some time," he continues, looking more comfortable after her nod, even beginning to grin a little in hesitant amusement. "Who has been affecting Arthur."
"What do you mean?" Gwen asks, tilting her head and frowning slightly.
Merlin laughs, and hops down from the table to stand beside her. "He's almost always in a good mood, Gwen," he says, squeezing her hand gently. "More forgiving."
"Er, that isn't to say Prince Arthur was in any way unbearable before -
"Speak for yourself," Merlin mumbles.
"But he seems to take enjoyment in far more than he used to." Leon's smile widens and Gwen feels the blush beginning to heat her cheeks. "And, if I may say so, I'm pleased it's you."
She feels very warm beneath Leon's level, honest stare, and with her tongue feeling so dry in her mouth, can only bring herself to nod her thanks. Leon doesn't seem to mind, saying only, "My lady," and he actually half-bows to her before he leaves the tent.
After a moment of silence, Merlin claps his hands together causing Gwen to look at him in surprise. His grin is wide and catching, and when he cheerfully says, "I've always liked that Sir Leon," Gwen can't help but giggle.
He wonders if it's the wine, or the dancing, or the fact that he, at least, has never attended such a function before.
Whatever it is, and though they both know it's ill-advisable, Gwen has allowed him to lead her into one of the side rooms of the tavern, and, for the first time in his memory, they're both giving themselves over to one another fully.
Her hands stroke dizzying lines across his ribs, her lips tug wetly on his ear lobe, and soft sounds tremble across his lips from deep in her throat as he mouths his way down her neck and across her shoulder.
The quick dance music still filters through the door; their rhythm seemingly founded in the steady drum beats from outside. The flickering candle casts Guinevere in gold, makes the lilac in her gown seem ever deeper, and Arthur thinks she appears every bit a queen regardless of only being a physician's assistant.
He finds it strangely humbling, as she shifts to pull him closer against her, that he is the person she allows to touch her in these ways. Humility blends with gratification a moment later as he twitches the shoulder of her gown aside, sucking and nipping to leave a small mark of claim just beneath her collarbone. He may have felt a little guilty, if he didn't feel one such mark throbbing gently on his own shoulder.
She husks his name when he pulls back to view his work, and tastes a little of salted meat and cheap red wine when she kisses him down from their frenzy.
He tugs her back for one more kiss when she moves to slide off him, but lets her go after that. They nestle close to one another in the only chair in the storage room filled with old tables and broken lamps, and while he holds her hand, fingers dancing patterns along her knuckles, Arthur listens closely to Gwen telling him how she knows the bride.
"So, essentially," he says after Gwen wraps up her story, telling him her blanket was even sewn by the bride's mother. "You've known her... Forever."
She chuckles and nods. "Since childhood, yes," she agrees, then hesitates. "I didn't mean to talk so much," she adds apologetically.
"I liked hearing it," Arthur says firmly, and Gwen smiles a little.
"Everyone was really pleased that you came tonight," she says after a moment. "The groom's family, especially, feel very honoured."
Arthur licks his lips and shifts uncomfortably. His reasons for attending the peasant wedding - between the seamstress's daughter and one of his knights - aren't all honourable. It's certainly true that he had felt he could learn from the occasion; to see his people at their most relaxed and happy, and speak with them on something masquerading as equal terms. But those had come second to the thought of spending a little more legitimate time with Gwen in public.
But when he twists to face her, ducking his head in guilt of his coming confession, he's surprised when Gwen laughs. Her hand tightens around his, and she tentatively brushes a finger across his bottom lip to quiet him.
"I know what you're about to say," she whispers, voice a little tremulous, and it causes Arthur to lean towards her instinctively. "But... tell me, did you have a good time before we found this store room?"
"Yes," he answers honestly. It is true: he had learned from and enjoyed the company of his subjects. Had they not found the store room, Arthur suspects he still would have considered the evening worthwhile.
"Then you have nothing -
The door opens suddenly, flooding a good deal more light and noise into their small sanctuary. Arthur thinks that perhaps if they move quickly - but even if it weren't for their laced fingers, one of Gwen's legs is slung over his, her ankle tucked under his calf, and his arm is wrapped securely around her back.
At the same time as Arthur fully comprehends the hopelessness of the situation, the main room of the tavern goes oddly silent.
Gwen breathes heavily beside him, and begins extricating herself from his hold with extreme care, which catapults Arthur back to his senses. He manages to raise himself from the chair first, and extends his hand to her, helping her to her feet.
He meets her wide eyes briefly before they both turn to face the other wedding attendees. At whose sustained silence, Gwen's fingers twitch and Arthur rubs a thumb across her wrist, as reassuringly as possible. Arthur swallows, trying to think of something appropriately diplomatic, but which could also not be mistaken for anything but an order -
"Are you taking good care of Gwen then, sire?" pipes up an elderly voice unexpectedly from the stunned assembly.
And just as Arthur finishes saying, "Guinevere hardly needs it," feeling quite baffled, another voice raises, "Are you speaking for us, Gwen?"
Now Gwen looks startled beside him, and says quickly, "When Prince Arthur has need of it."
"Do you see each other often?" comes another, which Arthur, after brief consideration of the consequences of honesty, answers truly with, "Whenever we can."
Gwen takes the next, ("Do you think of the kingdom?") by answering, "We don't ever stop," which is met with an unreadable kind of quiet, before some people start nodding their approval. Arthur stares at Gwen for a moment then, and tickles her palm so she looks at him. He likes that, even here, her eyes shine a little more brightly at his proud smile.
A fresh chorus of questions follows when he looks away from her, from the mundane to the political, and all manner of other in between. He hardly has the chance to think through his responses before another question is posed, and he vaguely hears Guinevere responding similarly beside him.
"Does the king know?"
This question seems to cut through the rest with little consideration for propriety and a new silence falls upon everyone. It feels nervous and tense, and as Arthur looks around, most eyes are trained on Gwen anxiously. He glances at her, and she meets his eye fleetingly before licking her lips and taking a deep breath.
"No, King Uther does not," comes a familiar voice from the back of the tavern. Evelyn pushes her way through to the front until most people can see her clearly. She nods to he and Gwen - which likely passes for a bow in one so old, Arthur thinks - before turning towards her peers. "And if any of you tells anyone else before Gwen and the prince announce it, I'll flog you myself. We'll show the prince and his future wife that we're worthy of them, eh?"
The small woman, who had seemed relatively harmless when he'd first met her, scowls around the room until she receives enough nods of agreement to satisfy her. Then she turns to face them. "They already believe in whatever good future you would bring us, sire. You've given 'em more reason to be loyal to you now," Evelyn says simply. "You can trust this lot."
From the corner of his eye, he sees as Gwen, dignified as ever, inclines her head to the woman in thanks, and Arthur says heavily, "Thank you, Evelyn."
The woman gestures to someone behind the bar, and a booming voice erupts with, "To Arthur! To Gwen! For Camelot!"
He has led many such chants in his life, but never has one meant so much, or struck so deep a chord as this one; as this small, first group of their - his, and Guinevere's - people raise mugs of ale and cheap wine, and pay a hearty tribute to those things Arthur cares most about.
Arthur glances at Gwen instinctively, and the sight of her with glistening eyes as she looks around herself... He can see the exact moment when she accepts it: when she admits to herself that the future she sees in him is one she shares. There's such awe behind her expression, reminder of her innate modesty, no matter how impressive a woman she is, that Arthur feels a conflicting sense of pride and humility at having earned her loyalty, her love, and the promise that she will be by his side in all things to come.