Title: Bedevil Me So
Word count: 6600 words, in 2 chapters
Disclaimer: Not mine. No matter how much I wish it so.
Summary: Set immediately after 2x04, "Lancelot and Guinevere." Seeing Gwen with another man rouses Arthur's possessive inclinations.
Notes: Written for the KMM prompt, Arthur/Gwen, jealous!Arthur when Lancelot returns (nothing happens between Gwen and Lancelot - it's all in Arthur's head), leads to their first time
Images could not be unseen. Voices could not be unheard. And try as he might, Arthur could not find rest.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of need. After Lancelot disappeared, nobody seemed prepared to stop again until they reached Camelot. Even when Gwen had started to nod off atop her mount, Arthur’s suggestion they make camp for the night had been met with a sharp, “No! I just want to go home.”
He’d ordered Merlin to ride behind her, then. When she fell asleep for real this time, Merlin was the one who ensured she didn’t fall as they continued their journey.
A bath had been followed by a meeting with his father, during which he stood mute as Uther berated him for his sentimental foolishness. Only Morgana’s intervention had brought it to a halt. As he fled for his chambers and the call of his bed, he made a mental note to thank her once he was fully rested.
But sleep never came.
He had tried not to listen, but curiosity won over common sense.
“Here. Let me.”
“It’s not that wide, Lancelot. I can make it on my—”
“There. Now there’s nothing to argue about.”
Gwen laughed. “That was hardly arguing.”
“Which was much my point in assisting you. I’ve seen you far too serious these past few days. I much prefer the sight of your smile.”
Arthur had glanced back just in time to see it himself, accompanied by a shy tilt of her head when Lancelot returned his own. It was that response that had most provoked Arthur’s childish answer at the fire that night, a half-hearted attempt to assert his superiority over the situation. The fact that he’d failed miserably only reinforced his jealousy over the pair.
When he discovered Lancelot had left in the night, relieved delight had surged through him, squelched within moments when he heard Gwen’s restrained sobs. She wept for Lancelot like she never had for Arthur. He was mostly convinced she would have taken off after the man if she’d risen early enough to follow.
With a frustrated growl, Arthur rolled over and punched his pillow. It wasn’t as if any of this was new. Hadn’t he confessed to Merlin on their initial journey that he knew it could never be? No matter how many times he thought of Gwen, or dreamt of Gwen, or wondered what Gwen was doing.
But that was before. Before the rescue, before Lancelot, before she’d cried because Lancelot was gone.
Did she toss and turn in her bed tonight, wishing for Lancelot to return? When her thoughts idled, did she create fantastic plots to seek him out again? Had she considered Arthur at all in her incarceration, or had Lancelot commanded her very soul with his return?
That last question tortured him most. He’d thought he’d come to mean something to her, too, even if acting upon those feelings was impossible. He refused to believe the Guinevere he knew could be so fickle. She was stronger than that. Kinder than that. So much more than any of the dozens of women he’d seen throwing themselves at the knights through the years. Lancelot might not be one in name, but he was in spirit. Perhaps that was what Gwen responded to.
Had she responded in other ways before Arthur had arrived? Was the reason she was so disappointed by Lancelot’s departure because she’d given herself to him in body as well as heart?
Arthur felt like he was going to throw up. Gwen deserved only the best, only happiness, and he had known it couldn’t be with him. Lancelot was a good man, noble and strong. In theory, he was ideal for Gwen. Arthur knew that. But facing the very real possibility of them together, imagining her soft body bending and molding beneath another man—especially one he’d always admired—proved he couldn’t accept it.
Throwing back the covers, he rose and prowled around the room, any pretense at resting now gone. The images came fast and vehement, hurtling one after the other to create a collage of naked limbs, soft murmurs, locks of long dark hair.
Lancelot would have held her.
Bowed at her feet.
Stayed there to—
“No,” Arthur growled. Long strides took him back to the bed, where he grabbed his trousers, yanked on his wayward boots, stormed to the door to race to…
Where, exactly? Gwen’s? A chase after Lancelot? The training yard so he could run a sword through a practice dummy and at least vent some of this bitter frustration?
None of the options were any good. Each failed in one way or another, but all in the most important way of all.
He wanted no other man to have Gwen.
For all his honor, for all his good intentions, he wanted her for himself.
Outside his door, he leaned heavily against the wall and closed his eyes. He was Prince Arthur, Camelot’s future king. An example upon which the people of Camelot modeled their own actions. What was he going to do, break down Gwen’s door like a drunken lout and steal her virtue? He’d never be able to face himself again. He’d never be able to face her.
An intermediary. That’s what he needed. Someone to put a stamp of manners on their meeting.
He trusted only one in this matter. With his mind made up, Arthur headed for the other end of the castle.
Gaius’s snored filtered through the closed heavy door, but Arthur took care opening it anyway. The room was dark, the candle at the side of Gaius’s bed burned completely away. Only melted wax remained, glowing with its ambient heat.
He waited inside the threshold for several minutes, silent and unmoving. Waking Gaius would raise questions he didn’t want to answer, but once he was sure nobody stirred, and his eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, he crept forward across the room, up the few stairs to Merlin’s quarters.
The tiny space was cluttered, creating an obstacle course for him to navigate to the side of the bed. Crouching down, he frowned when he saw the thick book cradled against Merlin’s chest. It hardly looked like light reading. Merlin must have nodded off in the midst of one of Gaius’s endless lessons.
Arthur nudged Merlin’s shoulder. “Merlin,” he whispered.
No response except a tightening around the book and a slight turn of his head toward the window.
“Merlin,” he tried again, a little bit louder. “Wake up.”
A fluttering of lashes. “What…” His eyes shot wide when he saw Arthur scowling down at him, and he nearly dropped the book as he bolted upright. “Arthur. What’s wrong?” The book tipped over the edge, where it landed with a resounding thud.
Arthur grimaced. “It won’t matter if you wake up the whole castle.”
“I’m sorry. I just…” His lips clamped shut for a moment. “Do you need something?”
“Yes. I need you to go fetch Gwen.”
“Gwen? Is Morgana all right?”
“Then what…oh.” His cheeks went pink.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “There’s no oh. I just need to talk to her.”
“And it can’t wait until morning?”
“I can’t sleep.”
“Gaius has a tonic for that.”
“Any particular reason you’re being so difficult about this?”
Merlin opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again after a few seconds of silence. Pushing back the blanket, he swung his legs over and sat up. “What would you like me to say to her?”
He hadn’t thought an explanation would be necessary if Merlin merely explained Arthur wished to speak to her. With a frown, he sat back on his heels to ponder it as Merlin shuffled with his shoes.
“Just tell her it’s important. Not life-threatening,” he hastened to add. “Just important.”
His clarification satisfied neither of them. How could it? A few minutes ago, he couldn’t even figure out what to do himself, let alone how he was going to do it.
“And where do you want me to take her?”
“In the middle of—right, your chambers.”
Ignoring the disapproval in Merlin’s face, Arthur left him to dress, creeping out without disturbing Gaius to rush back to his room. Now that he’d made the request, flutters of anticipation took up residence in his stomach, beating against his skin from the inside out. This was the right thing to do, the only thing that would bring him peace of mind. He’d fought it for weeks, reluctant to admit what was right in front of his face. But she needed to understand just what she meant to him. She needed to know she was the one.
Of course, finding the right words to tell her was easier said than done.
His thoughts churned all the way back to his quarters, and then some more as he paced its interior. The minutes ticked by with neither sign of Merlin’s return nor revelations on how best to convey his feelings. The wrong thing, and he’d come across as a privileged prat, everything Merlin condemned him to be on a daily basis. Such antics would put Gwen off and only deepen the distance between them. She’d use it against Arthur as further proof on why they could not be, why she was better off with a man like Lancelot, and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
By the time the knock came at his door, he still had no idea what to say.
He smoothed his hand over his shirt, pulling himself as straight as he could manage. “Come in.”
The door creaked open. Merlin appeared in the opening, but rather than cross the threshold, he held the door wide to allow a slightly rumpled Gwen to enter before him. Her hair was down, more than one curl falling against her cheek, and she clutched a shawl tightly around her shoulders, but the eyes that sought out Arthur were bright and alert, her chin high.
He would wager his best sword that she hadn’t been sleeping either.
“Thank you, Merlin,” he said. “That’ll be all.”
At the dismissal, Merlin frowned, his gaze jumping back and forth between them. Gwen caught it and offered a wan smile.
“It’s all right,” she assured. “I’ll be fine.”
His hesitance lingered, but he gave her a brief nod, his eyes slanting back to Arthur one final time before he stepped out into the hall. Sometimes, he acted more like Arthur’s mother than a servant, though perhaps in this case, considering the nature of Arthur’s earlier fears, it wasn’t exactly unwarranted.
“You can wait in the hall.” The direction surprised both of them, but Arthur maintained his composure, as if that was what he’d meant all along. “You can escort Gwen home again once we’re finished here.”
The murmured, “Yes, sire,” eased some of the tension between them, though not all, and certainly none of that which remained between him and Gwen after Merlin shut the door behind him.
She wouldn’t meet his direct gaze, her eyes focused on some spot on the miles of floor between them. Funny how it hadn’t been that long ago that he wouldn’t even have noticed the deference. She had just been Gwen, just a maidservant, just another loyal subject doing what was expected of her. Could he put his finger on the moment that had all changed? No, it would’ve been like trying to capture a single waft of air in a galestorm, because she’d come into his world in a blaze of demanding awareness, whether she realized it or not.
“What did you wish to speak to me about, sire?”
Her voice was low and calm—too calm, like she forced its modulation. He took a step forward, only to halt when she gripped her shawl more tightly. Was she frightened of him? Or wary? He wanted neither response, and yet, he feared he might have ruined any chance he’d had at any other.
“I wanted to apologize,” he said. Her head snapped up, surprise clearly etched in her face, and he dared to risk another step closer. “I was not as…gracious as I should have been on our return to Camelot. I’m sorry.”
She blinked once, then again, before seeming to snap out of her astonishment to shake her head. “Honestly, sire, it’s not necessary. I didn’t think—”
“Yes, you did.” He offered a rueful smile. “And you were right. I was abominable. I said things I didn’t mean, and I let you believe the worst.” Another step, and he could smell the faint scent of her soap, that lingering tinge of lavender he’d come to recognize while staying at her house. “For instance…I was already packing to look for you when Morgana came to me and asked. I would’ve gone regardless.”
Her breath caught. “Why…why would you pretend otherwise?”
“Because I saw the way you and Lancelot were together.” He’d forever see it, even in dreams when his waking self had finally suppressed the memories. “I thought it would be easier for you to believe I didn’t care.” He couldn’t keep meeting her eyes, not when he was so ashamed of his crass words and the hurt he’d seen on her face when he’d uttered them. “I thought it would be easier for me to pretend I didn’t.”
He waited for her response, anything to becalm the nerves taking hold beneath his skin. He should’ve been accustomed to his reaction by now. Every moment he spent with Gwen, he came untethered, the ground uncertain beneath his feet, his emotions just as uncontrollable. But nothing—and nobody—else had ever left him feeling so helpless. He prided himself for his courage, for facing down his foes without fear and doing so with confidence he could fake if not always feel. Gwen changed every rule he had ever known, and she did so without even trying, probably without even aware that she was doing so. It was both exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time. And further proof he needed her for his own, whether it was easy or not.
Too many empty moments went by. When he lifted his gaze back to hers, he found her looking as lost as he felt, and without considering it, he finally closed the distance between them.
“Did I see things correctly?” he asked. “Are you and Lancelot…?” Words failed him, though the torturous images of the pair of them, naked and sweaty and panting the other’s name, did not.
Gwen squared her jaw. “Lancelot left.” The look in her eye defied him to press.
Except he had to. Because otherwise, he could’ve left her alone in her bed. “That doesn’t actually answer my question.”
“What does it matter if he’s not here?”
“It matters to me. It matters, because I need to know.”
Any explanation he gave would make him look foolish. Any except one, perhaps.
“Because if I’m to have a rival, I’d like to know that from the start.”
She jerked back, and his hand shot out automatically to stop her from running away. One end of the shawl fell free where he tugged at her arm, and then she was up against him, warm breath fluttering beneath the open collar of his shirt, soft breasts tantalizing his already sensitive skin.
“You said nothing could happen.” She sounded as breathless as she appeared, her pulse racing beneath the circle of his fingers. “We both knew it could never be.”
Her loveliness hypnotized him, distracting him from her rushed words to coax more contact, more touches. He grazed his knuckles along her jaw, watching her lips quiver, and wondered how he could have ever thought he could simply let her go.
“I was wrong.”
To be concluded in Chapter Two...