I got time, and I came up with this short fic for it. The voting was *really* close.
And see my pretty?
Title: Entrapped No More
Spoilers/warnings: Spoilers up to 4x10
Word Count: 2650 words
Summary: Morgana decides to take a more proactive approach to preventing Gwen from telling Arthur about her plans to invade Camelot.
When Morgana whipped around and began marching away from his scurrying men, Helios grabbed her arm, tightening his grip when the sizzle of magic across her skin threatened to throw him against the wall. He’d vowed after the last time she did that he would be the one to do the tossing the next. “Where are you going?”
Her lashed dipped dangerously, heavy and slow, to regard the iron clasp of his fingers, almost bruising against her untouched flesh. “To fix what you’ve managed to nearly break, of course.”
“She’s just a girl.”
Her lip curled. “Would you say the same for me?”
“But she doesn’t have your magic.” He was sure of that. After so many dealings with the Druids and then Morgana, he knew the look of it, a madness in the eyes, an arrogance they couldn’t deny. Of all the words he could use for Guinevere, that was hardly one of them. “What sort of power could she possibly have?”
“The most insidious there is.” Slowly, she extricated from his grip, no flex of muscles to betray the effort, no grimace of exertion across her flawless face. Only the scorch of her magic seared along his fingertips as his hand fell to his side. “So I must take away its source before she has the chance to use it.”
She had no choice, especially knowing the threat to Camelot (to Arthur) as she did. The circumstances of her banishment meant nothing in the face of what the kingdom was about to endure should she not warn them in time, and if she had to risk Arthur’s wrath and disappointment for returning when he’d made it so clear she would never be welcome again, so be it.
Her life meant nothing if she allowed Camelot and everyone she held dear to fall and perish just to preserve a shred of dignity, a hope of her own longevity. Such would be the act of the truly selfish. Hadn’t she been selfish enough already?
She blocked out the memories of those last hours with Arthur and Lancelot. Thinking about them would serve her no good. Running was priority.
By nightfall, her pursuers were too far away to hear. She sagged to the cold ground, desperate to catch her breath. Camelot was near. A few more hours and she would be there. All it would take was pushing a little bit longer. But once she stopped, the adrenaline that had been fuelling her dissipated, leaving her muscles too heavy to lift again.
She slept until nearly dawn. When she woke, the fear that she’d wasted precious time drove her back to her aching feet, through the now-familiar trees, closer and closer to her final destination.
Her banishing meant venturing into Camelot was trickier than it should be. Avoiding the lower town, she circled the outer walls to reach the royal stables and fields that stretched into the hills. More people would recognize her here, but she understood their work patterns well enough to avoid detection for the most part. Besides, this was the easiest way to get to Merlin, the only person in Camelot she trusted to listen to her first rather than turn her immediately over to the knights and Arthur.
Something nagged at her as she slipped inside the scullery’s washroom. She only meant to stay a moment, to wait for the girls to step to the far end of the kitchen and give Gwen a window to make a dash for the back stairs that would lead to Gaius’s chambers, but the feeling held her in place, her heart thumping wildly against her ribs. She strained to listen past her own body’s rhythms.
And heard nothing.
Not the clatter of a pan. Not the chatter of the cooks as they worked at their daily chores. Not even the distant hum that always accompanied the citadel, the reminder that life breathed inside its walls, passing back and forth, in and out, from before dawn until well after sunset.
Peering around the edge of the door, Gwen risked a sweep across the room, trying to determine where everyone might be. Her throat closed at the sight of a maid standing hunched over, arms thrust into a large basin of water. The girl appeared to be washing dishes, drying plates stacked at her side, but her body was frozen, a spray of water suspended in the air that looked like it had been aimed for her arm.
She wasn’t the only one.
Nobody moved. From the head cook to the smallest scullery maid, everybody stood as if caught in a single moment, in the middle of whatever they had been doing, kneading a loaf of bread or reaching for a pot or stirring something over the fire. Even the flames had frozen in time, mid-dance in an eerie tableau.
Gwen exhaled, long and slow. “Hello?” she called out carefully.
Stepping out of her hiding place, she edged closer to the nearest servant, expecting her to start moving or talking at any time. Neither happened. Gwen leaned down to better look at her face, but at its immobility, lifted her palm to beneath the girl’s nose.
She was still breathing. Good. They weren’t dead, then.
That left magic.
Curious, Gwen crossed to the sole window in the room and scanned the grounds. She hadn’t noticed whether or not the stableboys had been in the same state, but she’d been too worried about slipping in undetected. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure she’d ever heard the horses, either.
The few people visible from her spot weren’t moving. One of the knights, Gwaine by the looks of it, was ducking under the meaty arm of one of the grooms, his long hair hiding what she was sure would be a smile on his face.
All of Camelot had been trapped in this moment in time. The question was…when?
Heedless of being seen, Gwen fled the kitchen, her path unerring as she ran through the corridors. Her steps echoed between the walls, the only sounds to be heard, the only whispers of movement to indicate life. She passed knights and Council members, Geoffrey and Gaius. Windows speckled sunlight onto the stone floor, broken by her shadow when she passed in front of them.
The closer she got to Arthur’s chambers, the more convinced she became this was due to Morgana’s influence.
Outside his door, she finally hesitated. She was trained too well to barge in uninvited or unannounced, even suspecting she’d find him in a similar stasis as the others. Pressing her ear to the door revealed nothing, but then she’d expected that.
She knocked anyway. “Arthur?”
At the sound of Merlin’s voice behind her, she leapt away from the door like a child caught in the act of doing something wrong. He strode toward her wearing an excited smile, but the fact that he was moving at all shocked her into silence, even after he enveloped her in a big hug.
“I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m glad to see you.” He glanced at the door. “You won’t find Arthur in there, though. Come on.”
Continuing past her, he forced her to scurry to match his long paces. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Is it a spell?”
“Yes.” His demeanor turned grim, a muscle ticking in his jaw. “Since yesterday.”
So not long then. But yesterday had been… “I think it’s Morgana.”
His stride didn’t falter. “So do I.”
“Don’t you want to know why?”
“Because she hates Arthur.”
“There’s more to it than that.”
This time, he stopped. As the story tumbled out of her, his eyes narrowed more and more, her normally mild-mannered friend shifting into someone she wasn’t sure she recognized. When she reached the part of Helios’s abduction, his gaze swept over, noticing—probably for the first time, Merlin could be horrifically blind sometimes—her odd attire.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
Gwen frowned at the odd question. What did her well-being matter in light of what was happening in Camelot? “I’m fine.” But his concern triggered another thought. “Why weren’t you affected by Morgana’s spell?”
He shrugged. “Maybe she didn’t think I was a threat.”
“And the scullery maids are?”
He resumed walking. “I don’t know what Morgana’s thinking. I don’t even understand how she could turn on Arthur like this, but she has, and it’s up to us to stop her.”
How he thought they’d do that, she had no idea, but she followed along obediently, simply relieved not to be alone. It was both odd and comforting to be in the halls of Camelot, home and not home, the place of her richest days and her most shameful hours. She kept reaching out to skim fingers along the wall, just to touch it, know it was real. If Merlin noticed, he never said a word.
They wound down the stairs, coming to a halt in the throne room’s antechamber. “Arthur’s inside,” Merlin said before she could ask. “Did you want to see him alone before I try to break the spell?”
Her eyes widened. “You can do that? How?”
“With this.” He pulled a vial out of his pocket, its contents a dark, viscous fluid. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but I have to try.”
She was reluctant to touch it, even though Merlin held it easily. “Is that one of Gaius’s potions?”
“Yes.” The reply sounded natural but came quickly, too quickly to Gwen’s ears. “He’s the only one I could think of who’d have something that could counter Morgana’s magic. He’s done it before.”
Not always successfully, though. They both knew that. Still, they had to try. Arthur needed to be warned of the impending threat, sooner rather than later. If the potion failed, they needed time to devise another way of starting time rolling again in Camelot.
“Give it to me,” she said, holding out her hand. “I’ll give it to him.”
Merlin frowned. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Because you’re not supposed to be here. What if this works and he comes out of it thinking you’re the one who did this?”
Gwen scoffed at the ridiculous notion. “Arthur knows I’m not magic.”
“He also knows he sent you away,” Merlin said patiently. “Why would you put yourself into such a vulnerable position if you didn’t have to?”
“Because regardless of what might happen to me, he needs to know about Morgana’s plans.” She kept her hand steady, unwilling to give up. “My duty is to him. Always.”
He must have read her determination in her eyes because after a moment, he passed the vial over. “It should only need a few drops. If I understand Gaius’s notes correctly, if we break the spell on Arthur, we should break the spell over everyone.”
Because he was the fulcrum upon which everything else balanced. Gwen didn’t need that explained to understand it.
The door was heavy beneath her palm, but so was the vial and the hope that she could mend at least one thing that had gone with Arthur. He stood at one of the tall windows, with one hand resting against the edge of the arch, looking out as he always did when he was lost in thought. She’d teased him once about his constant search for answers beyond the four walls of the citadel, but her heart ached now for how much truth those words had really held.
Had he been watching for her? It was foolish to think he might, but part of her soul still cried out for it to be so.
She advanced slowly, as unwilling to lose this view of him, stone-still and utterly perfect with the sunlight lightening the fall of hair against his brow, as she was nervous about administering the potion. At his side, she leaned forward and simply inhaled his clean, masculine scent, her eyes fluttering shut for a second as the smell of him thrust her back to weeks before when he’d pulled her onto his bed one morning and refused to let her leave.
“Oh, Arthur…” she whispered. Even knowing the circumstances of her banishment, she still couldn’t believe it. Her feelings for Lancelot had been long ago buried, eclipsed by what she felt for Arthur. Succumbing to them after all that time seemed beyond the realm of credulity, and yet, she had, a transgression she’d always carry.
Blindly, she skimmed fingertips down his exposed forearm, allowing the tickle of the coarse hairs to send tremors through her flesh. She yearned to touch more, but even this was too much. He wasn’t hers any longer, even when he was trapped within this cage of time. She knew this. Yet, she wanted him anyway.
From the doorway, Merlin cleared his throat.
The potion. Right.
Gwen took a steadying breath. Unstopping the vial, she tilted it to his lips, smearing several drops across his parted lips. Its descent to his tongue stretched time as much as Morgana’s magic had, excruciatingly slow, agonizing in the wait. She was ready to try another taste when a muscle in his wrist twitched, followed by a tightening of his fingers against the window.
Then, he blinked. She barely took a step back, beyond the heat of his body, before he turned his head.
His throat worked as he tried to speak. The shape of her name appeared on his lips first, and tears pricked the back of her eyes when there wasn’t immediate anger in his gaze.
“Are you real?” he murmured.
Speechless, she nodded.
He moved to touch her, but when he pulled his hand away from the window, the movement was stiff and jerky. His attention swiveled back to his awkward motions, and he watched his fist clench and unclench as he worked out the tension of being locked in a single position for so long.
“There was a spell,” she said, and launched into the explanation of why she’d come, of all of Morgana’s schemes to invade, of how Gwen had found Camelot when she arrived. Arthur listened patiently, never interrupting. She wasn’t sure if that was an effect of the magic still taking its time to let him out of its thrall or his genuine interest in hearing her out.
The weight of the silence when she was finished was worse than all the seconds of silence Camelot must have endured in the time Morgana had ensnared it. “You risked punishment to come and tell me this.” A statement, not a question, thus not requiring an answer.
Except she had one.
“Nothing is more important to me than you and Camelot.” Merlin’s gaze was heavy on her back, reminding Gwen they weren’t alone. She retreated a step and bowed her head in deference. “I’ll go now before anyone else sees that I’m here. You won’t have to worry about explaining.”
The single word command was soft but powerful, compelling her to obey.
“You don’t have to go,” Arthur continued. “With Morgana rallying allies, it’s not safe.”
“So you believe me?”
Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much she needed him to say so. So much ugliness had transpired between them, and while this was infinitesimal in comparison, it was such a step in the right direction she couldn’t help but cherish it.
Merlin smiled at her as she passed him on the way out. She would have to stay out of the way until Arthur deemed it all right to be seen, but it would be worth it. This was her chance to fix what she’d broken, time even to earn Arthur’s trust again, perhaps.
And though she knew she shouldn’t hope for more, the suddenly brighter future stretching in front of her—of them—brought her chin up as she entered the corridor and left Arthur and Merlin discussing what had happened behind her.
They had fought against worse.
This time, they would win.