Rating/Genre: G. Fluffy McFlufferson, tyvm.
Characters/Pairings: None other than Arthur/Gwen, with a side order of Merlin and a dash of Hunith for good measure.
Summary: Free from the strictures of Camelot, Arthur and Gwen are freer to behave as they wish.
A/N: Originally written for the lovely imigination ♥ for her birthday a little over a month past. A conversation ages ago revealed Mig wanted a look at Arthur/Gwen if they could escape Camelot a la 1.10 now that so much has happened between them and so, voilà.
The first moment of awkwardness is slight. Arthur is holding the reigns to her horse in a heartbeat, raising an appreciative grin to her lips. Gwen turns to slip down the other side when she hears Arthur clear his throat and feels a light tap on the side of her boot.
Turning, she finds Arthur with his arms stretched to her, expectant. She blinks at him a few times, owlish, and when his brow lifts, lips twitching in amusement, her cheeks heat.
"Yes," he agrees, grinning openly now.
"That really isn't -
"Yes, it is," he says easily. Gwen briefly debates dismounting from the other side anyway when Arthur tuts and his hand wraps around her ankle. "Don't even think about it, Guinevere."
With a sigh, she turns in the saddle and his hands reach for her again. She lightly puts her hands on his shoulders and his hands hold her hips.
The moment is fleeting - whispers of security and longing are all Gwen has time to feel before her feet hit soil. Arthur's hands vanish from her waist as hers do from his shoulders.
"Merlin's gone looking for firewood," he tells her after a moment.
Gwen nods. "I'll look for some food then," she offers, turning away as Arthur nods his agreement.
It isn't until she nears the edge of the clearing that she hears Arthur's sigh. She doesn't know if it's disappointed or relieved, but then, she can't tell that from her own thumping heart either.
It's difficult - and, he imagines, probably completely idiotic - to be sitting across the fire from her. Particularly when, as she reaches forward to turn the rabbit and her cloak slips from her arm revealing a field of goosepimpled skin, he thinks that if only he could be beside her...
When Arthur looks away, he finds Merlin watching him. There's a pause, where Merlin's lips curl slightly, and then the irreverent scamp rolls his eyes and quick as anything takes off his neckerchief and passes it to Gwen.
Her murmured thanks is a little embarrassed but her smile is grateful, and before he realises exactly what he's doing, Arthur is rooting around in the bag by his feet for his discarded gloves.
Gwen's flush is clear even in the firelight but then so is the pleased upturn of her lips as she pulls the leather on, the cuff hanging well past her wrist. He can imagine how far her slim fingers must reach, and there's a pleasant visceral tightening with the thought. She catches his eye and smiles more openly, eyes bright and dancing as they reflect the flames.
Clearing his throat and taking up a stick, Arthur pretends he doesn't notice Merlin's wide grin of satisfaction and ignores that he's biting down on his own as he prods the base of the fire.
The next night, Gwen swears that she's only gone a moment, and is certain that Arthur was on the other side of the camp the entire time. Regardless, when she returns to her sleeping roll, a familiar red cloak lies haphazardly alongside her blanket.
She looks up, but both Arthur and Merlin seem kipped under their blankets, backs to the fire.
Gwen hesitates as she slips beneath her own covers, then pulls the heavy cloak over herself. The soft whiff of royal soap mingled with familiar musk rises from the cloak, and Gwen indulges, tucking her face into its folds.
The first day home always feels the strangest, Merlin thinks, sitting on a bench just inside the door of his mother's house. As though the world mostly stopped in Ealdor, while events unfolded wildly beyond its borders.
It's a relief, and a mystery.
The way the sun lights upon the thatch roofs, casting the tendrils of smoke rising skywards in orange... He could believe that Will is just about to turn the corner, next mischievous adventure in the works.
Instead, two familiar silhouettes enter the lane from a house at the edge of the village. The sight makes Merlin smile a little, easing the melancholic turn of his thoughts. He likes the way the taller figure has his head inclined to the shorter one; the way she turns her body towards him as her hands aid her explanations.
The sun drops, and it leaves the smoke behind to turn everything at ground to warm yellow, and as Gwen and Arthur draw closer, Merlin stands to meet them and wonders if they recognise their own possibility as easily as he does.
Gwen plucks an errant blade of grass from the bouquet she picked for Hunith and quietly slips into the room. Only Arthur remains, sitting at the table, looking through one of the trade documents.
"Where's Hunith?" Gwen asks, moving towards him as her eyes scan along Hunith's shelves for an appropriate makeshift vase.
Tensely, Arthur shuffles aside the parchment and says tightly, "Merlin's taken her to their physician."
"Her fever hasn't worsened?" Gwen asks anxiously, pausing as she pours water from the bucket into the cup she's found.
Arthur shakes his head. "She seems better today, they just want to check." Nodding in relief, Gwen carefully places the vase in the centre of the table and reorganises the blooms slightly.
When she looks up again, it's to find Arthur watching her, tension gone from his features and in its place, a slight smile. But almost the instant their eyes meet, his drop and he indicates a covered bowl. "Merlin made everyone breakfast."
"Oh! Thank you for setting some aside." After a moment's pause, Gwen takes the seat next to Arthur, rather than across from him, and he automatically turns towards her. She hides her smile behind a spoonful of food.
"We'd wondered where you had gone," Arthur continues after a moment, watching her. "Hunith said she didn't even hear you leave."
"I woke shortly after sunrise," Gwen replies, ducking her head a bit. She had intended to return before her companions woke up, but she had been learning so much... "I heard some voices moving in the direction of the fields, so I went to speak with the farmers."
At Arthur's silence, Gwen sneaks a glance at him as she swallows down more porridge. His eyes are light, expression unsurprised and a little bit proud. It's an expression she catches herself wearing in his presence with increasing frequency, and which causes her to blush each time she finds him wearing it while looking at her.
As though sensing her discomfort - more likely seeing it, she thinks dryly - Arthur asks gently, "What did you find out?"
"Actually, one very good thing," she says, abandoning her spoon in the bowl and pushing it away before turning to face Arthur fully. "Mostly they farm what you would expect: potatoes, carrots, peas... But they also have a small field prepared for rye."
"Rye?" The news has Arthur reaching for one of the pieces of parchment, brows furrowed as he scans it quickly. "They can use that."
"Right now it's only enough for the village, but -
"There's room to increase?"
Gwen nods quickly. "At least another acre. And, if they're willing to set aside some of the pasture land, they could likely just push it to two."
Arthur sets aside the written document, fishing out a map of Ealdor from the pile. "Can you show me where?"
But instead, Gwen stands and sets the bowl near the wash bucket to deal with later. "I can take you, if you'd rather. I don't have to meet with the farmer's wives for an hour yet."
When she looks at him, Arthur is smiling and this time doesn't look away. "I would appreciate that," he says.
Arthur watches Merlin trot off in search of more information before pushing through the door to Hunith's home.
"Hunith, don't get up, but can you tell me if there's any possibility of having a bath?"
"Do you mind bathing out of a bowl?"
Spinning from where he had been setting down his scabbard, he discovers Gwen looking at him impassively over her shoulder as she stands by Hunith's stove. A cursory glance around the rest of the house tells him what he already suspects: Hunith is elsewhere. She had been feeling rather good that morning, the difference to her health noticeable even to him by the colour in her cheeks.
"I... No," Arthur says quickly, standing straight, keeping his eyes on Gwen's face. She doesn't seem annoyed, however, and after a moment she blinks and her lips quirk. "A bowl is - fine," he adds.
"Mmm," Gwen responds, turning back towards the stove top. "I'll put some water on for you when this is done, if that's all right."
"Of course," he murmurs, hesitating. Then he walks to stand just behind her, letting his hand go to the small of her back, and only smiles a little when Gwen swallows, her chin tipping up ever so slightly in response.
"This smells good," he says a little awkwardly, but still taking advantage of the pretense to lean forward, against her shoulder.
And when she shakes her head, a couple of wayward curls from her bun brush his cheek. "It's only stew," she murmurs, "A modest one at that."
"Fitting," he says quietly. Gwen's eyes slide to look at him, still hovering just at her shoulder. When he grins winningly, her brows raise and her eyes roll.
Then it's his eyes widening as Gwen dips a spoon into the pot and raises it to her lips, blowing lightly across the steaming mix. Enjoying the resultant twitch of her lips and the scrunch of her nose after she's tasted it, Arthur hardly registers when Gwen says, "Do you mind stirring for a moment?"
That is, until she offers him the spoon.
"It's just, I think it would taste better with some onion." Gwen looks into the pot and Arthur takes advantage of the moment of distraction to take an enormous step back. When Gwen looks up again, she stares at him blankly. "What is it?"
She nods, clearly not understanding. "Just for a moment..." She turns fully towards him, and stands uncertainly for a moment. Arthur lets his rigid expression drop to reflect the helplessness he actually feels.
It isn't that he doesn't want to help, so much as that he hasn't ever in his life picked up a spoon without intending to bring it to his mouth.
"Oh..." Gwen breathes after a moment. Her dazed expression lasts only until a flash of amusement takes its place before she schools her features to something marginally more understanding. "It's only stirring, Arthur."
"To you, maybe," he mutters and Gwen makes an effort to prevent herself from laughing, he can see as much from the tight line of her lips. But whatever she thinks or sees on his face becomes too much, and she laughs joyfully, not bothering to smother the sound. Laughter which fills Hunith's home and Arthur tries to take the mild humiliation with a bit of dignity.
But then she reaches forward and takes firm hold of his hand before gently pulling him back to the stove, saying, "It's simple. Honestly."
And Arthur smiles despite himself.
"This is delicious, Gwen," Merlin says, smiling crookedly at her from beneath his mess of a fringe.
Hunith hmms her agreement with a nod, and Gwen smiles, feeling warm. "Arthur helped me, actually," she says lightly, biting the inside of her lip against a giggle as she hears Arthur's spoon drop.
"Hardly," he chokes out, a tinge of pink appearing across his cheeks.
Merlin makes a noise of understanding and plucks something from his bowl. "That explains this wood chip, doesn't it?"
"It does not," Arthur returns in irritation. "I was only stirring long enough for Gwen to chop -
"Stirring? I thought you said you helped," Merlin interrupts cheerfully, setting the wood aside and slipping his spoon into the broth once more.
While Arthur splutters about how it was actually Guinevere who had said that, Gwen investigates the wood. "Merlin," she says quietly, cutting through Arthur's rant. "I think this came from the stable. Weren't you there today?"
He looks up, eyes dancing mischievously and as Arthur growls low in his throat, Gwen rolls her eyes at Merlin and slips her hand into Arthur's beneath the tabletop. She had meant only to give it a comforting squeeze, but as Hunith tuts Merlin's cheekiness with an indulgent smile, Arthur's fingers link with hers and he doesn't let her pull away.
"Gwen, I know you're meant to have meetings all day," he says, trying not to sound exactly as nervous as he feels. "But do you think you can miss the last couple in order to join the negotiations this evening?"
The entire house falls silent. Arthur isn't sure where Merlin or Hunith look; he keeps his eyes on Gwen as she watches him, deliberating.
After a moment, she licks her lips and her entire face lifts with just a gratified twitch of the corner of her mouth. "Yes, I believe so... I would like that."
On the return trip, there are no questions about who sits where. Merlin is more than a little tipsy that night anyway, and they'd seen a touch of frost early that morning.
Arthur's arm is warm across her back.
When Merlin nods off and Arthur's lips tentatively find her cheek, Gwen smiles sleepily.
She turns and lets him kiss her properly; actually, rather deeply when it comes to that. And then she kisses him back. Exactly in kind.
The morning they would ride into Camelot, Arthur wakes with Gwen's head tucked beneath his chin. The more he rouses himself, the more he notices, realising one of her feet is slipped between his calves and her hand has settled somewhere near his spine at his lower back. He can just make out each puff of her breath through the fabric of his shirt.
Twigs painfully prodding his rear notwithstanding, it feels utterly natural to wake this way, after successful negotiations and heated kisses late at night...
But he can sense Camelot's borders looming, half a day's ride away. One of the horses snorts, another stomps its foot, and as Gwen stirs and presses closer to him, Arthur pulls the blanket higher over her shoulder.
There's a light tap on the side of her boot and Gwen starts. Nervous and thrilled, she turns.
"Hear things went well, Gwen," Joseph, one of the stable boys, says, smiling up at her. Immediately scolding herself for that initial swoop of disappointment, Gwen forces herself to return his smile.
"Yes," she says, placing her hands firmly on his shoulders. "Prince Arthur helped the village a great deal."