Rating/Genre: G; angst, romance
Warnings/Spoilers: All seasons, no warnings.
Summary: Thirteen ficlets chronicling Arthur's perspectives on his journey with Gwen from Ealdor until his return from fighting the Dragon.
Author's note: Written for the Arthur/Gwen thingathon. For thedreamygirl who prompted: "Happiness hit her like a train on a track /
Coming towards her stuck still no turning back / She hid around corners and she hid under beds / She killed it with kisses and from it she fled" from Dog Days Are Over by Florence + the Machine. The fic also includes lyrics from various other artists: KT Tunstall, Mumford and Sons, Sarah McLachlan, Michelle Branch, The Fray and Duffy. So many thanks to imigination for listening to my rambles and helping me keep my head on, and to robinmarian for suggesting songs. ♥ thedreamygirl, I hope you enjoy this!
There are hands. Reaching towards him, wakening something to twist in anticipation deep within before he fully registers what's happening.
Then there is hair. Rich curls, familiar curls, curls his hands have cradled as his lips moved on hers. The curls pass his face: his eyes, nose, mouth.
Finally it's her cheek and jaw, pressed tight to his. He can feel the grime and sweat from his own skin blend with the ash and sweat on hers.
She holds him so close, and he takes a moment to close his eyes and thank everything as he pulls her closer. He takes a breath he didn't know he needed.
If he'd had half a second, he would have considered her sooner. Gwen - Guinevere - Morgana's mousy maidservant who found her voice in tiny Ealdor so far from home.
Instead, she brings him breakfast and a tongue lashing as reminder of the previous night. Under other circumstances, he may have laughed. But there's something deeper than mere disapproval beneath her tones.
He identifies it, moments later, with her next words.
"Because I have faith in you."
He appreciates the qualifier that follows quickly, but it's the original phrase that matters.
Faith. In him.
He hasn't ever really wanted to live to standards that weren't his father's before.
He may be base to admit it, but it isn't really Tom that he feels for.
Not specifically, at least. The ethical complications involved in Tom's case have thrown his entire perspective askew, further calling into question that which he once knew to be true, but which is increasingly becoming...
How certain he is of the depth of Gwen's suffering pangs extra guilt and discomfort. Even had her father been guilty, Gwen deserved none of the consequence of his crime.
Arthur suspects Morgana has already ... spoken ... with his father by the time he attempts to address Guinevere's place in the future. Uther is unusually willing to provide what he requests.
When he knocks on Merlin's door, the coward in him hopes Gwen will be sleeping and that Merlin can simply deliver the message later. If he discovers her awake, he has little idea what to anticipate.
It feels like insult to injury that she stands so quickly, so prepared to drop obeisances to him after what happened.
But on that he doesn't comment. He simply says his piece, and her silence might as well be yelling for all the multitudes of things he imagines clog her throat as she holds them back for propriety's sake.
But Arthur feels he may have learned something as she opens very slightly, very tentatively, when he expresses his regret.
All he knows is burning and pain and visions of things unpleasant that make him tremble in fear as he has not done since he was very young.
He knows his father's voice. Recognises the commanding tone he knows he will always heed. And it seems even the demons in his body and his mind must obey the king of Camelot. If only for a few moments.
Then he's slipping. It's easier in the darkness, though there's something also infinitely more terrifying here. Burning fingers and grating noises don't reach him, and some of the constant, driving ache in every limb seems to dim.
A voice does find him, though. It cuts gently through the frightening haze.
It tells him things that seem to slither through his mind into something substantial that wraps warm and secure around his heart.
The voice commands him, much as his father had earlier.
For the love of Camelot, you have to live.
His father's command had been a blessing. This one is a lifeline and he holds tightly to it until liquid passes cool through his cracked lips.
He doesn't understand it. Gwen is always there these days. Around the corner, across the courtyard, laughing with Merlin, gossiping with Morgana, aiding a fellow servant, wandering the town...
Saving him from gargoyles sprung to life.
The fear is all over her face as she stares to the sky and yet he can only stare at her. His head throbs quite horrifically, making his eyes glaze, but somehow he can still make her out clearly. He thinks daftly that he quite likes her in purple, and that the dirt smudges on her cheeks don't detract at all.
When she lands on top of him, he has absolutely no idea how she managed to push him down. She hardly seems heavier than a child's straw doll and barely any more solid.
It's then he realises he can only tell this because his hands are on her hips, and damn but his head aches as he mutters something idiotic about it being a pleasure that she saved his life by landing on top of him.
There's an ache in his chest he doesn't really recognise. It feels, perhaps, something like failure, though he can't pinpoint exactly what he failed at.
He breaks the heavy silence of the morning. It was too pregnant with words and actions left unsaid or unexplained; moments of promise never likely - or meant - to reach fruition.
He doesn't even know exactly what he's actually feeling, let alone what he truly wants.
Guinevere smiles sadly and it resonates deeply in him. And when she steps forwards, ratty rag in hand, a wave swift and strong rolls through him from belly to heart, rumbling out through his limbs. It makes him heady - he has received nicer things, of course, but never anything so sincere.
He feels the smile on his own lips, light and happy, and he doesn't remember ever feeling this way. Not like this.
She shrugs when he thanks her, as though it's nothing. She didn't have to do anything for him, but she let him stay in her home, gave him her bed, fed him her food, and taught him lessons on the way.
She showed him her heart.
With her brief, awkward grin, he realises it's her heart that he wants.
His lips have touched hers before his mind catches up with the action.
Then there's a moment of pure clarity, pure bliss, where he is absolutely aware of how soft her lips are, how full against his own. He notices the scent of her - lavender mostly, and lingering hints of thyme from their meal the previous night.
And just when he thinks he ought to pull away, a puff of air like surrender breezes below his nostrils. The warmth and pressure from her lips intensifies as she joins him, and his heart throbs, pounds, soars.
She follows him as he leans back, follows -
Whatever air he had left vanishes. His lungs are empty. He needs breath. Breaking away, her whole body sways towards him as he moves.
He can't read her expression, isn't sure he wants to, and he can't think anything clearly. There's a mess: he needs to explain himself; he needs to kiss her again. But really this all started because -
"I must go."
He leaves her.
Reason and shame and betrayal battle viciously in his chest and sickeningly in his stomach.
He had told Merlin he could not expect her to wait.
It seems she shared that sentiment.
That didn't alter how much it hurt that he was so quickly replaceable. Lancelot is a better man, of that, there is little doubt. But...
He has no right to her.
And after speaking so rashly by the campfire, how can he blame her for choosing other?
His head aches, something cruel gnaws at his belly, his heart is in tatters.
And after all she had been through, Guinevere rides just behind him, stiff-backed and valiantly attempting weak conversation with Merlin.
The choice must have been simple for her.
He's just so bloody thankful she's alive.
Her appearance is unexpected but he appreciates the company. Guinevere brings with her a calming presence, and he could do with some serenity.
It's easy, so easy, to confide in her. In the wake of his father's disgust, bare the broken remains of his certainty and allow her to collect the pieces, let her defend his morality in this moment when ethics seem to matter little in the face of his hurt.
He doesn't expect her to take it further. Doesn't expect that she'll take some of the burden he showed her and make it her own.
She's near now, and the kingdom falls away because Gwen holds the room, no matter how he wishes she didn't.
He doesn't feel fine as she speaks with such conviction about his kind heart, but he certainly feels closer to it. So close, his mouth lifts slightly upward without his having told it to, and he takes the moment to consider her earnest expression.
He wonders if she knows she's beautiful.
Sharply, the interlude ends - a knock sounds, Gwen's head ducks and she takes a step away. Boundaries insert themselves against Arthur's will.
Verity beckons him; his father and the queen require him once more.
He finds her gaze as he steps down from the dais.
The look he gives is meant as unspoken recognition. Servant or lady, it no longer matters with Gwen. She has his ear as much as she reads his mind - and his heart. He tries to honour that at least.
And he hopes she understands that he defends Gaius not for her, but because of her.
But she only holds his gaze steady as he passes and he hasn't the time to consider what that may mean.
Later, he will wonder if he imagined the twitch of her lips as his eyes slid away.
There is a blissful moment - a beat, in the space of time - just after an attempt to convey all longing - and love - into the pressure of his mouth on hers, when he thinks, perhaps, they will actually try... something. Talk, find a way.
Instead, pain rushes through his body like a winter downpour, and her hands rise to hold his neck, his face. Desperate to keep his attention, to focus him.
fight to the death -
The words swim in his mind, and bliss evaporates. He had seen so damn much in her eyes - she had been with him, each second, as he raised her to standing once more. Her smile, her eyes, her arms around his neck, the warmth and curve of her body pressed so tightly to his. The sudden sense of loss feels like a gaping void in the midst of the soreness he recognises easily as broken ribs.
Guinevere will never ask him to simply stay, not to fight; she shares, or at least understands, his sense of duty.
Possibility is gone, when her hands brace him, fingers touching, stroking, fighting for purchase in a way he doesn't fully grasp - because what the hell was going on, anyway?
Live for me, Arthur -
His eyes find her mouth again and he wonders if perhaps whoever he's fighting also managed to brutalise his heart because it hurts to watch her now.
- that's all I ask right now.
A reply forms clumsily on his tongue, born of the need to show her - confess - everything.
He just... He wants her.
But the bell rings, and he knows it's probably too late.
It isn't right. Guinevere is not some doll to be left and discarded in the centre of a room. He doesn't care, for just a moment, the state of the rest of the kingdom.
If he can give her nothing else - no wakefulness, or time for proper attention and care - he will give her the resting place she deserves.
Run! Faster! Sprint! Get to her - now!
Hand on her back, push forward push forward push forward - go faster!
He feels the shift in the air as soon as the Dragon is upon them. Claws or tail or who cares, who knows, cut through his mail, but the same attack would have made ribbons of her dress.
No, ribbons of her.
It doesn't feel strange as she helps him from his armour; only natural, perhaps, she's so easily adept at removing it. It allows him the space to look at her, to make certain that the worst she suffered is bruises and scrapes.
He smiles a little; she seems almost exasperated as she settles him down and bustles away to find supplies. And he isn't surprised in the slightest, when she's sat in front of him once more, and she says, "You shouldn't have risked your life."
He looks at her. She's a mad woman, he thinks vaguely, studying the slight red on her cheeks, the disbelief in her eyes as she refuses to meet his gaze. Brave, clever, kind to a fault, and beautiful. But mad.
"I wasn't goint to let anything happen to you." It's simply fact.
Finally she looks at him, and smiles - a little delayed, but so sweetly. As she moves away, he captures her hand without knowing what he'll do with it - then thinks, what else is there to do? and holds it over his heart.
She smiles again, more accepting this time; he hopes she can feel the particular, peculiar beat of his heart, result of whenever she's near.
Tomorrow, he knows - because she taught him to expect it - reality will crash back.
There will be buildings to mend and homes to rebuild entirely. The death count will begin, and it will continue to rise until he thinks that none but the weeping must exist in the city. But he knows he won't see much; the strong hearts of Camelot's people, ever willing to keep going, they will share their sorrow behind closed doors.
Tomorrow, necessity will dictate that he part from her, longer than he likes, longer than he fears, for Gwen is terribly certain of all but her own worth. Especially when it comes to him. Though he thinks he may be slowly rectifying that travesty.
Tonight, Arthur defeated the Great Dragon, and Guinevere told him he was someone for her to lose. Which means, equally, he is someone she wants to keep.
And he will dawdle in the idea that reality and private truth will one day be the same.
Arthur takes Guinevere's hand - grimly relishes the way her palm is nearly as callused as his, definitely as dry and dirty, signs of shared burden - and they walk together into the castle.