Pairing: Merlin, Arthur/Gwen, Morgana
Disclaimer: Owned by the BBC
Summary: Arthur's concern for Morgana gives him an opening with Gwen.
Notes: I like the idea of this but I'm not sure how well it's worked - but I wanted to post it anyway before it becomes AU tomorrow...
Arthur’s heart leapt into his throat as Gwen answered Morgana’s door.
“Guinevere,” he murmured, unable to think of anything else to say.
Gwen gave him a sweet smile and answered, “Sire,” before moving aside to let him in. Arthur narrowed his eyes, wishing he knew what she was thinking; she seemed to have taken their kiss and then his rejection of her completely in her stride, which was good, of course; exactly what he’d wanted, and he didn’t know why it bothered him that she smiled at him exactly as she had before – no more and no less – and called him “sire” and “my lord” just as she had before, and looked at him just as she had before-
“Are you going to come in?” Morgana cut into his thoughts.
“Yes- yes, of course,” he answered, moving into the room and hoping he hadn’t been staring at Gwen too obviously. He squared his shoulders and tried to regain the upper hand, remembering why he was here. “I need to talk to you, Morgana.” He didn’t add “alone” but hoped that Gwen would take the hint; this conversation would be uncomfortable enough without Gwen there too. Unfortunately, Morgana picked up on it immediately.
“You can’t possibly have anything to say to me that you can’t say in front of Gwen,” she stated flatly.
“It’s okay,” responded Gwen hurriedly. “I can go, if you’d rather be alone.” She looked flustered, Arthur was pleased to note, although, God, he hoped she didn’t think he wanted to be alone with Morgana for any romantic reason.
“Don’t be silly, Gwen,” said Morgana airily. “What is it Arthur?” she asked, fixing him with a stern stare.
Arthur considered the best way to broach the subject, and decided on the direct approach. He looked at the floor. “My father… er… I think my father expects us to marry. One day,” he added hastily. Why had he let Merlin convince him that this conversation would be a good idea? This was awful, and embarrassing, and the only reason Merlin could possibly have had for suggesting it was that he was such a girl.
“I hope you’re not trying to propose, Arthur, because if you are you’re not doing a very good job of it,” Morgana replied coolly.
“No,” Arthur said far too vehemently, seeing Gwen’s shoulders tense from where she was folding clothes at the side of the room. “No,” he continued, more quietly. “It’s just that- you don’t want to marry me. And I don’t want to marry you.”
Morgana inclined her head regally, looking every inch the queen Uther hoped she would be. “Do you have a point to make, Arthur?”
Arthur was on the point of saying “No” and running away to put Merlin in the stocks, or something, when he really looked at Morgana for the first time since he’d come in the room. She was even paler than usual, and had dark circles under her eyes; she looked as if she hadn’t slept in a month, and the worry he’d felt for her came flooding back.
“I just want you to know that – well – I’m here for you anyway. I’ll always protect you – if… if you need it,” he said in an awkward rush.
Morgana’s expression softened. “I know that, Arthur,” she said quietly.
Arthur smiled. “You look terrible,” he said teasingly, on firmer ground now.
“It’s just dreams,” said Morgana with a wave of her hand, clearly not fooled by the change in his tone of voice. “Gaius says it’s nothing to worry about.”
Arthur glanced across at Gwen, knowing that he could guage the seriousness of the situation from her expression. She looked extremely concerned, and glanced at him briefly before quickly looking away.
He took Morgana’s hand. “Well, let me know if I can do anything,” he said softly.
“I will, Arthur. Thank you,” Morgana said sincerely, and Arthur realised how far this conversation had gone beyond their usual bickering. Maybe he wouldn’t put Merlin in the stocks after all. “You’re a good man,” Morgana continued. “Your queen – your wife – will be a lucky woman.”
Arthur swallowed. He was absurdly touched by Morgana’s words, even if her stupid incense was making his eyes water. He resisted the urge to wipe at them with the back of his hand.
Morgana smiled at him. “Gwen,” she said, suddenly, and Gwen looked round from her pile of clothes and linens.
“My lady?” she asked.
“Could you get me some more of that sleeping draught from Gaius? Arthur will accompany you,” she stated firmly, a knowing look in her eyes.
“Of course,” Arthur murmured, even though there was clearly no need for Gwen to be escorted to Gaius’ chambers. He narrowed his eyes at Morgana. What did she know? Morgana smiled back at him innocently. Arthur reasoned that she probably - no, definitely - didn't know anything. If she knew what he'd done she'd be lecturing him, not sending him off with Gwen, he thought, with a rush of unaccustomed guilt.
“You don’t have to- that is, there’s no need- I mean-” Gwen looked very uncomfortable, and was she blushing? Suddenly feeling ridiculously pleased, Arthur fought to keep a grin off his face.
“I’m going that way myself, in any case,” he said courteously, offering her his arm. She visibly collected herself before taking it.
“Do you need anything else, my lady?” she asked Morgana.
“No, nothing,” responded Morgana, her smile transforming from innocent to trimphant. As they got to the door she added, “Gwen, take your time. I think I’ll try to catch up on some sleep.”
Gwen said, “Yes, my lady” coolly, but Arthur noticed her blush deepen.
He definitely wouldn’t put Merlin in the stocks, Arthur decided. Not only had he and Morgana called a truce, but he also had an illicit walk with Gwen to enjoy. And on top of that, thanks to Morgana – about whom he was genuinely concerned, but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth – they even had a suitable topic of conversation.
“These dreams of Morgana’s,” he began, once they were a little way down the corridor. “They must be serious, if they’re making her look the way she is now.”
Gwen had clearly been looking for an opening; Arthur guessed that she hadn’t wanted to talk about Morgana behind her back, but now that he’d brought it up, felt she could discuss it more freely.
“I’m worried about her,” she admitted. “They’re not dreams, really, but horrible nightmares – night terrors. She wakes screaming several times a night.”
Arthur looked down at her sharply. “You can’t be getting much sleep either.”
She looked up with a small smile, appreciative of his concern, before looking forwards again quickly. “I’m alright. Morgana sends me home most nights; sometimes I stay anyway, but usually I do as she asks.”
“You should give Merlin lessons,” Arthur said drily, and she smiled properly at that.
“I think Gaius is more worried than he admits,” she continued. “He’s giving her stronger and stronger sleeping draughts, but they’re not working.”
Arthur frowned, slowing his already very slow pace. “Hmm. Merlin seems worried too; maybe Gaius has let something slip to him.” He increased his pace slightly as an idea came to him. “Well, it shouldn’t be difficult to find out; he’s the worst liar in the kingdom.” He felt infinitely more cheerful at the prospect of being able to do something, however small.
“You are a good friend to Morgana, sire,” Gwen commented. Arthur considered telling her to use his name, but remembered with a pang that he’d forfeited that right. It didn’t stop him slowing down again, though, as they neared Gaius’ chambers.
“We grew up as brother and sister – well, you know; you were there. I don’t know why my father thinks…” he trailed off awkwardly, suddenly aware of who he was talking to. Gwen was silent, and Arthur understood that she would not criticise his father in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he apologised. “I should not trouble you with this.”
“No, it’s fine,” she replied quickly, but didn’t look at him.
Despite Arthur’s efforts to slow them down, they were at Gaius’ door. Arthur cast around for another topic of conversation, reluctant to leave Gwen yet.
“Guinevere,” he said suddenly, and she turned to look at him as they stopped. “What do you do – I mean, for yourself, when you’re not working for Morgana?” He was honestly curious; he’d begun to realise how little he knew about her when he’d begun to fantasise about stealing out of the castle in the evening and sneaking down to her house in the lower town. He’d open her door and murmur, “Never mind about my father,” and she’d get up from – what? What would she be doing?
“Oh, nothing very interesting,” she responded, evidently surprised at his question. “I mean – well, I go home and have dinner, of course, and then there’s often mending to be done for Morgana or for me, and then I go to…to bed.” She closed her mouth abruptly, as if she was still uneasy about the topic of beds between them.
Arthur was about to criticise Morgana for giving Gwen mending to do after hours when he rememberd the pile of armour he’d dumped on Merlin while he was having his dinner only last week. He wasn’t sure how to respond, though, and when Gwen looked up at him in the silence he suddenly didn’t want to respond with words at all. Unbidden, his gaze dropped from her eyes to her lips, and he leaned forwards, his eyes beginning to close-
At that moment, Gaius came round the corner. “Your Highness,” he said. “Gwen. Are you here to see me?” Recovering himself, Arthur hoped that Gaius was as preoccupied as he sounded.
“No,” he said, just as Gwen said, “Yes.” Gaius looked a little startled, and Arthur scrabbled to rescue the situation. “That is, I was keeping Guinevere company until you got back,” he explained hurriedly.
“Well, come in,” Gaius said impatiently, pushing the door open with his back as his hands were full of books.
Arthur gave Gwen a tiny apologetic smile. She curtseyed gracefully and said formally, “Thank you for accompanying me, my lord,” before following Gaius into his chambers. She didn’t look back as the door swung shut.
Left alone outside, Arthur took a deep breath, and then strode off to tell Merlin to saddle his horse. They were going to go hunting, or something equally vigorous, and he was not going to work on that fantasy.