TITLE: Finding Sanctuary
WORD COUNT: 1800 words
DISCLAIMER: Oh, how I wish they were, but no, they are not mine.
SUMMARY: Set immediately after 4x09, Percival worries about his king.
SPOILERS/WARNINGS: None if you've watched up to 4x09.
NOTES: Written for the KMM prompt, Percival loves to put his arms around his Prince and hold him. Arthur lets him.
In the aftermath of Gwen’s banishment, keeping an eye on Arthur felt like the right thing to do. Percival told no one of his intentions. Leon was too busy with the younger knights, Gwaine was spending all of his time with the scullery maid who always snuck food to him—though Percival strongly suspected the young groom who watched Gwaine’s every movement was a part of that time as well—and Elyan was trying too hard to hide his conflicting feelings about what had happened to be of much use to anyone. Merlin might have helped if he’d been around, but he had yet to return from burying Lancelot.
That left Percival. For him, watching Arthur was far from onerous duty.
When Arthur finally retired for the night, Percival took up sentry in an alcove down the hall from his quarters. He was prepared to wait out the whole night, but within minutes, Arthur’s door opened. Percival peeked out to see a cloaked figure slip away in the opposite direction. The broad shoulders were unmistakable. He’d spent enough hours watching his king from every angle to recognize the man, even in nondescript shadows.
Following was simple. He maintained a proper distance, grateful he’d changed into a tunic and trousers. Arthur never looked back. He was either lost in his own world or didn’t care about who might be trailing behind him. Considering his efforts to hide his appearance, though, Percival feared for the worst.
They left the citadel and navigated through the narrow streets into the lower town. Arthur avoided well-lit areas, ducking between buildings in such a way to suggest intimate knowledge of his whereabouts. Percival had to be more careful in his pursuit, staying farther back lest he be caught. A turn into a wider street, however, revealed Arthur’s ultimate goal.
Percival paused at the corner of a small cottage, watching Arthur descend the slight distance to Gwen’s front door. The house was dark, the shutters drawn. Guards had confirmed that morning Gwen had left as ordered, but as far as Percival knew, not even Elyan had asked about her home. He had no idea what would come of it, though he’d heard speculation Agravaine wanted it sold. As for Arthur’s plans…
Arthur didn’t open it. He stood on the threshold, his head bowed, as if waiting for someone to answer. Percival’s gut twisted for his king. Though there had been occasional rumbles of discontent in certain quarters about Arthur’s impending marriage to Gwen, nobody could deny how much he loved her. Just a few hours before, Percival would have claimed she felt the same. To have that wrenched away in the worst possible betrayal…nobody deserved that. That kind of pain cut deep. And it was this exact reason he’d known he couldn’t let Arthur out of his sight.
A hand emerged from the cloak, fingertips grazing across the scarred wood. Percival held his breath. Ghosts always found a way to come back when least expected, and he wouldn’t be party to adding to Arthur’s pain by shattering the moment. He exhaled as silently as he could when Arthur dropped his hand to the handle and turned it carefully. No noise escaped, not from the hinge, not from the bottom scraping across the ground when Arthur pushed it open. He slipped inside, and the darkness swallowed the space he’d only just filled.
Without fear of being seen, Percival darted across the street. A sliver between the shutters allowed a glimpse inside, but the interior remained shrouded, sheltering its specters from any who lacked the courage to enter. He couldn’t even detect shifting shadows to determine what Arthur might be doing. His imagination filled in the blanks, though. Worse, it told him he had no business lurking outside. Arthur had come here for a reason, which had nothing to do with Percival and everything to do with his pain.
Except Percival understood his sire’s grief better than any other knight. He’d lost an entire village, their safety betrayed by a young boy who’d thought allying with Cenred would protect his family. Plus, he’d lost Lancelot, not once but twice. The first friend he’d had in a great while. The one responsible for giving Percival a new family to serve and champion.
He couldn’t walk away. There was no hope to be found in immersing oneself in grief. Arthur needed a friend.
He’d opened the door before he could talk himself out of it, hesitating on the threshold as his eyes further acclimated to the dark. Arthur stood at the nearest end of the table that ran down the middle of the room, his back to the door. Unprotected. Shoulders bent and broken.
“Sire?” Though he kept his tone low, in the silence it boomed, and he cringed at how awkward he felt.
“Is there a problem, Percival?” He posed the query without glancing back, frozen in place, just as the cottage had been locked in time upon Gwen’s exodus.
He couldn’t lie. “No, sire.” Dismissal would come next. He’d have to leave then, because disobeying Arthur was out of the question.
“Are you alone?”
“Shut the door.”
His heart leapt at being included, and he did as commanded, surprised he wasn’t shaking with relief. What to say now, though? Could he say anything that might be of help? Understanding what Arthur was going through was not the same as knowing what to do to lessen its power. Neither was the desire to make things better enough to provide insight as to how.
“A part of me didn’t think she’d actually go.” The confession came quietly, like that of a lost child’s. It was so unlike the Arthur he served, it drew Percival closer, into the room, toward his king. “She’s always been there. Always.”
He’d learned much about Arthur in the time since he’d come to Camelot. Like how Arthur was a man who put his full trust in people. How he needed their stability to anchor his own strength. How he needed to believe in the good in order to fight against the evil. Without that mainstay, he floundered. Percival couldn’t offer wisdom to help Arthur find that balance again. All he’d ever been good for was his physical prowess, a body that could do things others could not.
Without speaking, he curled one arm diagonally across Arthur’s chest, gently drawing him back until their bodies were flush. For a moment, Arthur stiffened, so rigid he practically quivered from the tension, but Percival remained focused on his intent, completing the circle by winding his other arm around Arthur’s waist. His cock betrayed his attraction, rising unbidden at the heat that poured off Arthur even through the cloak, but he ignored its demands. This wasn’t about his desires. This was for Arthur, for his needs and nobody else’s.
He expected Arthur to yank away from the embrace, to send him away with a derisive order, but again, his sire shocked him. Arthur’s chest hitched once, as if he struggled to catch his breath, then his body sagged against Percival’s, the strings of control severed, all fight fleeing. A lesser man might have dropped with the added weight. Percival held strong.
They stood like that for several minutes, time stretched to oblivion and back. Though their clothes barricaded their flesh, every tattoo of Arthur’s heart thudded against him, into him, through him, echoing deep into corners few—if any—reached. Outside these walls, they had to be strong, independent, unshakeable for the people of Camelot and more, but here, in this sanctuary, not of Gwen’s house but within Percival’s arms, they could ask for aid, rely upon the other to give it, reverse their roles without censure. Here, Percival could indulge urges better left ignored during the light of day.
He bowed his head, allowing his lips to come to rest at the spot behind Arthur’s ear. When his breath fanned across it, a shudder wracked through Arthur. The cloak parted, and Arthur’s arm reached blindly back to grasp at Percival’s thigh, squeezing the hard muscle, pulling him closer as if he feared Percival would ever let him go.
It could never happen. Percival loved Arthur like he did no other. For as long as he could fight for him, he would stay.
The instant he felt some of the strength begin to harden Arthur’s body, Percival let him go. He let his arms drop—an act that shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was—and retreated a step, waiting silently for Arthur to revert to his usual self. Arthur’s head remained bent, but some of the squareness had returned to the set of his shoulders, more proof that Percival’s presence was no longer necessary.
“I should return to the castle,” Arthur said. He began to reach for the edge of the table only to stop himself before making contact. His hand fell back to his side, fingers winding tight. “Was I missed?”
“No,” though that wasn’t entirely true, at least not how Percival was interpreting his question. “Nobody’s the wiser, sire.”
Arthur snorted and shook his head. “I’m certainly not.”
He held his tongue. No good would come of arguing.
“Are you on duty tonight?”
“My only duty was to you.” Which wasn’t the question asked but the one he wished to answer.
When Arthur shifted to look back at him, stray light from cracks in the shutters haloed his profile, revealing his soft mouth, the proud nose, the way his nostrils flared before he spoke. “Walk back with me.”
“And I’ll ensure you’re not late in the morning. I doubt very much I’ll be sleeping much tonight anyway.”
He almost commented that the hour wasn’t that advanced when Arthur’s unspoken invitation sank in. His throat tightened, as well as his body. The best he could manage was a brief nod.
Most definitely, the night would be an arduous one, plagued with the ghosts of their doubts, but he would shield Arthur from as much as he could, as much as Arthur allowed, for however long it took. Though this single night to hold Arthur as he wanted might be the only one of its kind, he’d cherish every second he got. His one wish was that, when dawn came, Arthur would have found sustenance in it, that he’d know how much it meant to Percival to be the one to give it. More would be riches beyond measure.
In the street, when they fell into step beside each other, Arthur shrugged the cloak over his shoulders, allowing their arms to graze against each other as they walked. Every once in a while, his fingertips touched the back of Percival’s hand. Seeking.
Percival smiled in the darkness.