Characters/Pairing: Ultimately Arthur/Gwen; OFC, Morgana, Gaius
Warning: Spoilers for Le Morte d'Arthur.
Summary: Three people who are impressed by Arthur's injuries. And Gwen, who is concerned by them.
Author's Notes: beta'd by the lovely writeangel1, any remaining mistakes are all mine. Comments are ♥ & concrit appreciated!
Her fingers were small and delicate, running over the recently healed wound. The gentle touch tickled against the new skin and Arthur raised his hand to grip hers.
"It was in a recent battle, then?" The servant girl's eyes were wide and her lips parted in awe of his deeds. Her hair hung loosely from a messy bun, about to get messier once Arthur got his way.
Arthur was fifteen, having several days past returned from his first battle. An opposing knight had succeeded in finding an unprotected slit in his armour and managed to pierce his chest. Arthur had known fear then, his life passing slowly before his eyes as he swung his blade down to disable his foe, winning him enough time to escape to safety. Uther's rage would have been more severe had the wound been deeper. As it was, it took just over a fortnight to heal and his training had increased substantially to avoid repeating the incident.
"Yes," he whispered, his voice low and husky. "It was a terrible battle and few returned home in such good condition." His other hand found the small of her back, tugging her roughly against his chest.
"Were you scared?" she asked in a breathless whisper, even as she moved her body in such a way to elicit a surprised hiss from Arthur's lips. The corners of her mouth turned up in response as her hand began to slide its way from the scar to his trousers.
"No." Arthur ignored that his tones were less regal than they were belligerent. "I'm never frightened. I merely did what had to be done." A small, ecstatic moan left her throat, and suddenly her lips moved roughly and messily against his.
As he lifted her skirts and pushed her against the stall wall, the girl whose name he did not even know, muttered a dazed, "you're so brave." To which Arthur replied, "I am."
"Get yourself into many more brawls and King Uther will put you in the dungeon." Gaius had a rough hand when it came to applying some remedies and Arthur fought the urge to grunt when Gaius' ministrations became particularly aggressive.
He turned his head very slightly to eye the court physician. "When the brutes in the local taverns quit behaving like idiots, I'll stop putting them in their place." It was almost pure bluster and they both knew it but Arthur felt confident that Gaius would not push the issue. Who was the old man to question a prince?
Gaius' fingers pressed hard into a particularly tight bruise on Arthur's back, rubbing the balm with more force than Arthur would have thought possible for such an elderly man. "Your words will lead you to folly, Sire, if you do not soon learn to reign in your temper." Gaius walked away to one of his tables in order to collect another tub of ointment and Arthur stared moodily at the wall, intent on ignoring the old man.
"I will say this, though," Gaius said after a time. "You may put yourself into unfortunate situations, but your causes are rarely misguided." Arthur glanced up at the deeply lined face of the court physician, and was almost embarrassed by the warmth that spread through his body at the pride in Gaius' eyes.
The last of his ministrations were gentler and, at nineteen, Arthur felt he had been paid a high compliment.
A soft knock sounded at his door just as he planned to get into bed and Arthur groaned before turning towards the sound. "Go away, whoever you are." His whole body ached and he was not in the mood for attention or chastisement, both of which were sure to come with the dawn's first light. As such, he much preferred being well rested in order to deal with it all.
The door creaked open in spite of his order and Arthur turned his head, a biting retort sitting on the tip of his tongue. His jaws snapped shut as his eyes fell on his visitor.
Morgana, her skin stark in the cold moonlight filtering through the windows, slipped through the door before shutting it with a gentle click behind her. They regarded each other for a moment before Arthur finally sat on the edge of his bed and waved his hand in an invitation for speech.
After another moment's hesitation, she said, "I just wanted to say thank you. I know you went to great lengths to ensure their safety and, well..." Morgana waved a hand smoothly in the air, as though her gesture would replace the words she could not say.
Arthur watched her stand awkwardly against the wall. She had visited his chambers hundreds of times over the more than two decades they had known each other, never feeling awkward or particularly distressed in doing so. Yet, tonight she stayed close to the exit and kept her voice low.
His brow furrowed slightly and he nodded once, accepting her thanks.
A strange look of relief passed over her features before she murmured, "I am sorry for your injuries, Arthur." Morgana paused briefly, before squaring her shoulders and getting a stubborn look on her face that was all too familiar to Arthur. "Your wounds speak highly of the type of king you will be."
Arthur stared at her wordlessly, the things she spoke were far from his expectations. She mirrored his earlier actions, nodding once before disappearing through the door, leaving Arthur to his thoughts in the cold silence of the palace.
Arthur woke up as Gwen shifted so that her head now rested beneath his chin and he had began to inhale more hair than oxygen. Arthur was very aware of every facet of their situation now he was awake: one of her legs pressed tightly to his, her right hand splayed over his chest next to her face and her left loosely gripping his arm. Her breath dusted his throat and her skin pressed flush to his own warmed him in ways that surpassed the physical.
It was the first true glimpse of what the rest of his mornings would be like and Arthur found that he did not mind.
However, he did need to breathe more easily. He shifted as gently as he could, but he was not gentle enough. With a loud huff and grumble, Gwen nuzzled her face into his chest before propping herself up.
Arthur gave a great laugh, he couldn't help it. He had seen Guinevere at her worst and at her best: from splendor to the sweat and dirt of battle. He had witnessed her tears and her laughter. Arthur had faced confrontation with Guinevere, survived the ferocity in her eyes and lasted to stand at her side as ally for another fight. Seeing her so disheveled, and hearing such an inelegant noise spring from her lips was a new phenomenon and a strangely pleasant surprise.
"You would sound as such had your pillow just moved about and woken you," she scolded sleepily.
"My apologies, Queen Guinevere," he responded in amusement as she rolled onto her back and fitted her head against his shoulder.
She made an indistinct sound and caught up his hand in her own. "I will never get used to that title," she whispered vehemently.
They lay in silence for a few moments. Arthur knew that such a marriage was unheard of, at least within Camelot. His father had married for love, it was true, but his love had been of nobility, and as such Uther was merely lucky. Arthur had to fight everyone - and their father, it sometimes seemed - in order to be granted this privilege. Gwen had protested, loud and long, against bothering: he had a kingdom to run and needn't spend time dallying over something as distracting as love. Arthur had been immovable, however, and was never so thankful as in this moment that he had been unrelenting in his fight to earn the right to wed someone so far beneath him in the social ladder. Beneath him in class Guinevere may be, but he could not imagine a more suitable woman to stand at his side and be called queen.
"Let me look at you," she ordered suddenly, raising herself to her elbow and tugging back the covers to reveal the length of his body. Arthur had never thought about it, but their previous trysts had been in the dark out of necessity, and their love-making the previous night to consummate their marriage vows had been slow and hardly lit by the low burning fire at the foot of their bed.
Not many things embarrassed the king anymore, but Arthur found it difficult to watch her face: the affection and warmth in her eyes made his skin burn in discomfiture. When her gaze narrowed and her brow furrowed however, his skin prickled in agitation.
"Guinevere," he said, raising a hand to turn her face towards his own. "That look on your face is not exactly... encouraging."
She made an effort to smile and gently shook her face free of his hold. "It's just... Your body is littered with scars." Her fingers began gently prodding the numerous marks down his chest, then drew a line across one particularly brutal scar on his thigh. "I had never considered the consequences of battle, really. Stupid, I know." Gwen shook her head before lowering her chin to his shoulder and sighing.
Arthur watched her worried expression briefly before directing his eyes to the ceiling. Everyone had always commented on any wounds he got in an appraising way, judging the ferocity of battle or the price that had been fought and won. No one had looked at the scars and spoke with worry for his safety.
"Arthur?" He lowered his gaze to her face again. "Has anyone ever really... Well, that is, have you ever been looked after?"
Arthur frowned and opened his mouth to speak but she spoke over him.
"I don't mean how a cook makes you food, or a servant helps you dress. I mean has anyone ever cared for you?"
He answered her slowly, the words leaving his lips almost grudgingly. "I suppose not."
Arthur couldn't read the expression on her face as she watched him, though he wondered if her pity was being very carefully hidden. Suddenly, Gwen moved and her lips began caressing each mark on his chest: twenty of them, at last count. Arthur felt his heart contract, and for some reason his throat thickened, though he could not explain to himself why that would be. She skipped the toothy scar left by the Questing Beast and slid under the covers to butterfly kisses along the length of the scar on his thigh.
Gwen slithered up his body and laid across him, finally pressing kisses to each tooth-mark left from his fight with the Questing Beast.
"You cared for me then," he rasped, eyes now tightly shut.
"And each day since," she whispered and then her lips were on his. Delicately at first, and then with increasing yearning as tongues, hands and bodies became more intertwined beneath the sheets.
As Arthur rolled them carefully so that Gwen was beneath him, she grasped the back of his head and tugged him close. She whispered a desperate, "I love you," in his ear, which seemed to flow around them like the aria of a captivating piece the likes of which Arthur had never dreamt of deserving to hear.