On their wedding night, when they’ve slipped free of the celebrations to the privacy their chambers, Gwen pauses by the side of the bed. After everything that’s happened, after all the trials that brought them to this place, it occurs to her for the very first time that she’s never gotten around to bedding anyone before. The thought is a curiosity as Arthur quietly sets aside his crown and turns to her, lifting the new weight from her own head with a small smile.
“Guinevere,” he says, in that low, fond voice he reserves just for her. She grins at him, giddy, and follows the surge in her heart up onto her tiptoes and into a messy, enthusiastic kiss. Arthur laughs against her mouth and lifts her up (so easily), spinning them around until they topple onto the bed. Their wedding garments crease and the stiff fabrics and jewels crackle, and Arthur is completely heedless as he tugs clumsily at Gwen’s dress - an effort made all the more arduous, he pretends to grouse, by her shaking laughter. When she is mostly free of the laces and stays and ties of her gown, she kicks at it until it slithers off the side of the bed. Then Arthur is on her, a warm, happy weight over her chest and belly, his mouth sucking kisses into her neck with one hand buried in the mussed masterpiece of her hair and the other shackling her wrist.
Gwen has never known so much of his touch before, and never so intimately, but his hands and mouth and body span hers with such thoroughness that she has to wonder at the restraint in them every day preceding this. Her forbearance could be excused from ignorance, perhaps, but each knowing path he forges over her skin wakes her to the urgency of her own desire and leaves her marvelling at his.
She jumps and giggles, nervous when he first touches over her cunt with his fingertips. He presses a fierce kiss to her lips before sliding quickly down her body and parting her thighs with his strong hands. Before she realises what he intends, he helps himself to the split of her sex, probing and licking and sucking with animal entitlement. Gwen startles under his hold, shocked at what he’s doing and so overwhelmed by the novelty of how it feels that the first pleasure he gives her is a collision of surprise and hot wet sensation that makes her center clench and her hips buck. She cries out, threading her fingers into his hair and holding him down tight to her. He wriggles his tongue firmly against the sensitive little dot of her sex, a place she has only ever touched with her fingers, and the second surge is upon her so strong that her whole body seizes with it, curling up around Arthur’s greedy, relentless mouth.
When they join he takes her from behind, broad chest mated up to her back, thighs tucked beneath hers where they lie on their sides. Their twined fingers guide him inside her together. There is pain, but it’s sharp and abrupt, incidental to the larger sensation of Arthur wrapped tight around her. She feels his eyelashes against her cheek when he’s seated, his breath gusting across her jaw and lips. Every thrust is powerful, jarring, an imperfect balance of Arthur’s strength and passion and his desire to be gentle. The pressure inside her is queer, like it has the potential to satisfy a deep hunger but hasn’t quite hit the mark and instead feels like what it is, a rhythmic, foreign intrusion.
Their first time is inelegant, and messy, and not what Gwen has been led to expect from the few things she’s heard of romantic love from the girls belowstairs. But it fits, it makes sense, like a final puzzle piece slotting into place. It’s the way Arthur cups her throat with one hand and holds her mound with the other, burying the sounds of his completion in her hair like she’s defeated him even as her body throbs with sweet, sore exhaustion.
She is queen now. The thought assaults her the following morning when Merlin happily bustles into their room and Gwen startles at the sudden intrusion, tumbling off the side of the bed in a pile of sheets. Arthur’s quick enough to catch the slide of blankets before she slams into the floor in a truly ungainly display, and Merlin looks absolutely horrified for a long second before Gwen snorts, and then starts to laugh, partially suspended in a sling of linen.
Arthur peers at her over the edge of the bed with a confused smile, and Merlin looks like he wants to skid to her side and apologise and fuss but is hesitating instead, most likely because she’s naked under her blanket swaddling. Arthur rolls his gaze over to Merlin, patiently expectant.
“Morning?” Merlin offers brightly, which sets Gwen off laughing again
She is queen now, which doesn’t just mean getting caught up in the vortex perpetually surrounding Arthur, a windstorm she has only ever observed from a distance. It means she has her own duties and responsibilities, a sudden and immediate press of expectations from all corners. It surprises her. Not because she hadn’t expected to work, or to be asked for counsel and leadership, but rather because she hadn’t expected anyone to really listen. Not to her. She’s a peasant bride, easily overlooked as one of Arthur’s odd, soft-hearted affectations. It is perfectly clear to Gwen that the remainders of Uther’s old guard solicit her voice out of nothing more than courtesy in council meetings, and some of Arthur’s men will even deign to compliment her candid, level head. It surprises them all the first time Arthur sits back in his seat and says “I’m not certain I agree with your assessment, Guinevere.”
The weight of fifteen pairs of eyes makes her feel like she has been literally pinned to the back of her seat. “My lord?” she says, struggling under the sudden scrutiny. She experiences the oddest flash of fear. If Arthur is listening to her, then his men will follow his lead, and that means hers is not just another voice in support or disagreement of the motion to strengthen the border between Lot’s kingdom and Camelot. It means her thoughts have more weight than what simply feels right to her own heart; they have the very real threat of possibility, of action, hiding just beneath the encouragement in Arthur’s eyes. And it is that— that look which annoys her. “You believe he intends to attack us, then?” She challenges, sitting up taller in her seat.
“Not necessarily,” Arthur says. He laces his fingers, capturing Gwen’s attention for a second before she snaps her eyes back to his face, worried that she’s been caught ogling and then kicking herself for worrying about something so trivial. Arthur looks amused, because of course he would notice. “A display of strength is not always an intention to wield it, but Camelot cannot afford to be perceived as timid. Support along the western borders would offer King Lot a tacit reply to his increased patrols.”
Gwen nods, swallowing. “And King Lot’s reply after that?” she says, just as the rustling of discussion begins to turn away from her. Silence settles. “A conversation is not ended just because you think yours is the final word on the matter.” Gwen’s heart hammers in her throat; she squeezes her hands together beneath the cover of the table and forces herself to hold Arthur’s gaze, which narrows thoughtfully.
“With respect, my queen,” Leon says, looking pained, “We can hardly allow King Lot to have the final word on the security of our borders.” There is a general murmur of agreement.
“And if we do nothing,” Old sir Kay gestures, “it would be as much an invitation as Lot would need. He has already claimed Escetia; why should he stop at Camelot when her men are milksops too afraid to give offense that they will not lift a finger in her defense?”
“I only meant to say— I think there is more than one way to engage in...in conversation,” Gwen says, faltering. They are all looking at her, men of war and diplomacy both. She feels suddenly wrong-footed. What does she really know about border conflict beyond that which occurs between one chicken coop and the next? One neighbour and another? She washes hot with embarrassment, pointedly avoiding Arthur’s gaze now.
Gwaine spins his knife on the table by its tip and says suddenly “I agree with Queen Guinevere.” Gwen lifts her head, half sick with the idea that Gwaine would taunt her in front of everyone. But his expression is wry, as if he is unaccustomed to choosing the losing side of an argument. “If it is unreasonable to scold a child for a sin he has not committed then it is equally unreasonable to respond to an attack that has not been made.”
“Says the man who keeps a lover’s distance from sin,” Arthur says.
“Says the man who’s only too happy to wallop first and ask questions later!” Gwaine sits back in his seat, taking mock offense, and laughter eases the tension around the table and the pressure weighing upon Gwen’s shoulders.
“What would you suggest we do, then?” Kay grumbles. There is an expectant silence before Gwen notices that Gwaine has raised his eyebrows, looking at her.
“I was taught that a punishment should always fit its crime,” she says. “If Lot only wishes to...display himself, then let him do so to his heart’s content. It costs us nothing and perhaps he will feel foolish in performing for an indifferent audience.” Her voice strengthens as she addresses Sir Kay directly. “If a challenge is made, we will meet it. Or do you think Camelot so unequal to the task that she must strut as King Lot does, in the hope that our roar will discourage a fight more decisively than our talons?”
Kay eyes her for a long moment, his large hands folded before him on the table and his face inscrutable before he finally drops his gaze. “Your highness,” he defers, neutral.
There is a change in the air like a held breath being released. Gwen works to keep her triumph in her breast, indulging it for only a moment when she shares a private smile with Gwaine.
Arthur is quiet that evening. Gwen doesn’t know how to interpret his mood. On a normal night her instinct would drive her to make herself available to him, a ready ear for his troubles or open arms for silent comfort. Tonight, she suffers a mild tickle of aggravation as she watches him shed his belt and shoes and leave them lying for Merlin to pick up tomorrow. In that moment she feels a keen sympathy with Merlin - not for his servile duties, which is a kindredness they’ve shared for far longer than the time she has spent as queen - but rather for his similar intimacy with Arthur. She imagines if Merlin were here now they could trade understanding glances and he might even roll his eyes behind Arthur’s back. As it stands it’s just her and Arthur alone, and so she goes to pick up the offending belt and boots.
Arthur’s brow beetles when he sees her tidying his things. “Leave that for Merlin, he can sort it all in the morning.” Gwen’s annoyance flares and she bites her tongue, stowing Arthur’s boots at the foot of his wardrobe and reaching up to fold his belt on the top shelf before Arthur cups her shoulder. “Gwen,” he says, a huff of disbelieving laughter in his tone, and Gwen turns and pushes his hand away.
“I don’t want to leave it until the morning! How difficult is it to put away your boots and a belt?”
Arthur takes a bewildered step back, her outburst clearly interrupting whatever path his thoughts had been wandering. Gwen doesn’t let him get far, tugging him into an abrupt kiss with a hand to the back of his neck. She opens her mouth against his, licking at the softness of his upper lip. He doesn’t respond, shocked into stillness, until she bites him. At that his hands spasm and tighten on her waist and he stalks her backwards until her shoulders hit the wall, her breath leaving her. They kiss with parted mouths and sharp teeth, Arthur’s firm body pinning her to the cool stones of their chambers. Gwen has never felt this sort of momentum before, her anger and uncertainty blending with the red-hot, rabbiting pulse of lust beating in her ears and fingers and between her legs. When Arthur tries to slow down, to gentle the press of his lips, Gwen responds by digging her nails into his scalp and hooking her calf around his thigh.
“Gwen, the bed,” Arthur says, tight.
“No,” she says, wrestling with the ties of his breeches, shoving the fabric just down his hips. “Here,” she kisses him again, sucking at his tongue and bottom lip before repeating, “here, now.”
They lift and shove at the heavy folds of her gown until Arthur’s hands cup the bare skin of her thighs and rump beneath layers of fabric. Their foreheads press together, the air between them a hot storm of panting breath as he hefts her up and she helps with the strength of her arms at his broad shoulders. His face sets as she sinks onto him; she tips her head back and feels the muscles in her center tighten and release, from her chest down to her thighs and groin.
He starts slow, which is a mixed blessing. It gives her time to find her balance, and something animal within her is strangely satisfied when she makes the mental connection between the grip of her knees around Arthur’s hips and the seat she keeps on her horse. It’s not enough, though; it’s not what she wants. She feels hot as a stove fire, and his measured thrusting is like the careful tending of fuel seen to by the scullery maids: just enough to keep the flames licking at the pot but not enough to make them grow. The thought tricks a burble of laughter from her throat. Arthur looks at her, focuses on her, his rhythm faltering. “Come now, husband,” she chides, leaning close to his ear. “Put your back into it.”
He bares his teeth and his fingers bite into the meat of her backside. It’s the only warning she receives before he slams her into the wall. It startles a moan out of her, the muscle and tendons protesting where he’s pressed tight between her thighs. Arthur watches her, noses at her chin and cheek before he pistons in again, spearing so deep it feels like her spine is recoiling and she knocks her head back into the stone. He stops like that, huffing his breath through his nose, and it takes her a dizzied moment to realise this is Arthur asking for permission, paused at the ready but still uncertain.
“Yes,” she gasps, squirming against him, hiccuping a deeply delighted noise to find he is just as immovable as the wall behind her. “Yes, again,” she begs. He presses his face into her neck and grunts, fucking into her with a snap of his hips. She tangles her fingers in his hair, tugging. “Again,” she orders, and he obeys, again, and again, and again again again, until they’re both making the most undignified sounds, Gwen into the sweaty crown of his head and he into her neck.
She’s close, she knows she’s close, her body gripping at his with every punch of his thrusts, wringing down and grabbing for her completion. Arthur shudders and pumps his hips like a skittish colt, clipping out a surprised “Oh, Gwen,” and she can feel him spurt in her, making her breath sob out in frustration even as she clutches him tighter. He’s hardly finished before she shoves at his shoulders and drops unsteadily to her feet, pushing at him until he falls to his knees before her.
“Finish me,” she says, sharp with urgency, wrestling her dress up and out of the way and nearly ready to scream outrage for how many blasted layers there are. Arthur tugs her forward with one hand at her hip, unerringly hooking three fingers back into her wet cunt so fast she shouts, almost dropping her skirts over his head. He puts his mouth to her slit, licking and sucking where his fingers furiously jostle in and out. She is so, so close, and in that one certain instant before she comes it feels a little bit like snapping and flying both: her world goes silent and she knows she’s rocking desperately against Arthur’s face and she knows that in any other moment she would be mortified — but Arthur is practically devouring her and his free hand is squeezing a bruise into her hip and Gwen couldn’t care less because she’s coming and she loves him, she loves him she loves him so much—
Her knees give out and she collapses ungracefully onto his lap, gulping for air. He looks dazed as their eyes meet, his hair a tangled mess and his face gleaming. Gwen realises she’s shaking and coughs out a wobbly giggle. Arthur grins, and she leans forward and darts her tongue out to taste the slick on his lips, and then they’re laughing, trembling and pressing their cheeks and foreheads together, a triumphant mix of bashful and happy and the sharp edge of satisfaction.
Arthur’s kiss is sticky. Gwen kisses back, letting him pet and soothe her the way he likes with gentle lips and reverent fingers. She’s aware of a growing stillness in her breast, a calmn after the roiling anxiety of the afternoon. Arthur pulls away only long enough to whisper “I love you too,” smiling, and pleasure tickles down Gwen’s spine as she loses herself in the sweetness of his mouth.
War descends upon Camelot like an angry boar, shockingly fast and violent. It starts with reports of raiding in the villages hemming the borders to the West, and no sooner has Gwen personally dispatched patrols than the first wave of refugees begins to flood the lower town.
Lot’s army attacks with the force of a hammer striking an anvil, burning crops and homes, slaughtering or stealing livestock, seizing control of the supply routes and waterways that connect Camelot to its farthest garrisons. The advance crosses leagues at a rate that reveals discipline and stern direction, chewing up miles of buffer ground fast enough to layer alarm over the initial outrage within Arthur’s council. This invasion was planned. The supplies and men necessary for an enemy to even dream of challenging Camelot would require many months of preparation. Lot does not simply mean to pitch battle over borderlands, picking away at Arthur’s most distant vassals and forcing him into long and tedious negotiations. The path he burns is aiming straight for Camelot’s heart, making it clear that Lot does not intend to compromise. He means to conquer.
The stream of villagers splits wide around her, making her an island in their midst. Gwen can smell smoke and waste, and hopes it is mostly the result of too many bodies cramped suddenly into an area that was not prepared to receive them. The people are skittish around her, avoiding her eyes. She wants to rationalise that it is only because of her attire, her circlet. They have no reason to accuse her, no reason to hold her responsible, even if she feels that way herself.
She sees an elderly woman herding a small child. His feet are bare and one leg hitches, making him wobble as he walks. He stares at her with one large eye, the other dark and swollen shut, his little pink mouth slightly agape. Gwen crouches and beckons to him. The old woman hesitates for only a second before pressing him forward, into the empty berth of dirt surrounding her. He sidles up to her knees and lets Gwen gently push his hair back off his forehead. She swallows when it sticks to the dried blood on his face.
“What is your name?” she asks, taking his small hands.
“Thomas,” he says. “Ma calls me Tom.”
“Oh,” Gwen says, and starts to ask where Tom’s mother is until she notices the old woman shaking her head sharply. “Well, Tom,” she says instead, swallowing again. “I am very pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you, too,” he says, making a short, jerky bow and coming up with a grin. “I think you’re pretty,” he adds as the old woman begins to usher him away.
“Thank you,” Gwen says, but the words are weak pushing past the lump in her throat, and Thomas has already stumbled off with his guardian into the swirl of people.
Arthur is not available to her for either comfort or counsel. She hardly sees him except in passing, distributing orders to three people at once, poring over maps in the armoury with Elyan and Leon. She has seen Gwaine and Percival beating the living hell out of new recruits on the training grounds and watched foot soldiers cart heavy piles of wood through the courtyard under Kay’s direction, fuel for the forges beneath the castle. She helps Gaius fold and sort his bandages, thread, potions and medicines, but there is only so much mindless work she can take before she goes wandering again, wanting to make herself useful in a more significant way.
Her voice fails her. She feels like an interruption. There aren’t enough men, there isn’t enough time, there are too many people to protect behind the citadel’s walls and nowhere near enough stores to sustain them all under a siege. Gwen overhears snatches of these discussions, neither included nor excluded from them. Like a ghost. The people are afraid and the knights and soldiers grim, throwing themselves into their work, though no one more fervently than Arthur. And Gwen doesn’t know what to do. There is nothing more to be done. She has said enough, after all. Humans are more cunning than animals, more determined. She was unforgivably foolish to think that she could account for a man - a king - like Lot.
She turns and heads back to Gaius’ chambers, because doing nothing is simply not an option. She walks in on Merlin, seated at Gaius’ long wooden table, his head in his hands.
“Merlin?” she says. He jumps, almost tipping from his seat.
“Gwen! Your highness,” he says.
Gwen’s brow knits. She doesn’t understand why Merlin practically refuses to address Arthur by anything other than his name but has such difficulty dispensing with her title. “Are you alright?”
“Yes! Yes, I’m fine,” he says, gesturing and knocking a small clay pot off of the table. He winces when it shatters.
“Here,” Gwen says, kneeling to help him sweep up the pot and its powdery contents. “That wasn’t important, was it?”
“Well, it was the last of Gauis’ bicorn horn supply,” Merlin says, grimacing. Gwen doesn’t know what that means, so she pats Merlin’s shoulder. He flinches, turning his face away.
“Merlin?” Gwen pauses, removing her hand.
“Funny things, bicorns,” Merlin says. “They’re not easy to catch, for the most part. Except in Camelot - Gaius won’t have trouble finding some fresh horns. They drop them. When they’re frightened.”
“Oh?” Gwen sits by Merlin’s side. “They are native to Camelot?” she prods him when he seems content to just sit there, running one long, pale finger through the pale bicorn dust.
“No,” Merlin smiles. He looks up, and his eyes seem sad. “They live wherever there are good men. Legend says bicorns feast on honourable husbands, but they’re grazers. Very placid. I think they just like kindness. They’ve always been here, only...” Merlin turns back to the pottery shards and powder. “Never so many before Arthur was crowned.”
“I think he would be pleased to know that,” Gwen says. Her smile fades at the sudden despair carving lines in Merlin’s face.
“But...you said they are harmless?”
“Merlin—” Gwen touches his wrist, threading their fingers together. “I don’t understand.”
Merlin looks at her hand in his, then up into her face. He brings his other hand over the broken crockery. His eyes burn gold while he stares at her, and it is Gwen’s turn to startle. When she glances down the pot is repaired, not a crack in its surface, not a speck of pale dust on the table.
“Why are you showing me this?” she breathes, squeezing his hand so hard her knuckles whiten.
“Because,” he whispers. “I am not harmless.”
They find Arthur in the hall with his knights. Gwaine is jabbing at one of their layers of multiple maps, adjusting the placement of their markers while Leon shakes his head and Arthur’s jaw tightens with growing frustration.
“Arthur,” Gwen says, cutting through the babble of their talk. He lifts his eyes from the map, frowning when he sees Merlin hovering at her shoulder.
“Is something wrong?”
“I need to speak with you,” Merlin says, admirably steady.
“It’s not a good time.” Arthur returns his attention to his maps. Gwen clears her throat. Arthur rolls his shoulders and closes his eyes, visibly mastering himself.
“We would not interrupt if it weren’t important,” she says.
“What is it, Merlin?” Arthur’s voice is short. Merlin’s mouth opens, but he says nothing. When Gwen takes his hand, she is unsurprised to find him trembling.
“A moment, please?” Gwen looks to Leon, and then her brother. They stand, hesitating only until Arthur sighs, and that seems permission enough for his men. They file out, Gwaine bringing up the rear and clapping a friendly hand on Merlin’s shoulder before he tugs the door closed behind him.
“Alright,” Arthur says, stripping his gloves and letting them slap onto the table, no doubt having forgotten to take them off when he finished sparring Percival and Gwaine’s suggestions for their newest knights hours ago. “Let’s have it. What is so important it couldn’t wait until later?”
“I know how you can defeat Lot’s army,” Merlin says. Gwen can feel the flutter of his pulse through her fingers.
“Oh?” Arthur lifts an eyebrow. “Well, that’s fine news. I was starting to get concerned. Tell me this plan of yours.”
“He has many men,” Merlin says, almost as if he hasn’t heard the impatience in Arthur’s tone. “More than we do. But he doesn’t have magic.”
Arthur looks at him for a long moment. “And? Not that I’m not thankful Lot’s men are as vulnerable as you or I, but I hardly needed you to tell me that. Now, are you finished wasting my time?”
Gwen nudges Merlin. He’s gone pale and looks like he’s about to be ill. “Merlin,” she urges him, quietly. Arthur shakes his head and stalks toward the doors, clearly intent on calling the knights back inside. The bolt slides home before he reaches the threshold. Arthur stops.
“Lot doesn’t have magic,” Merlin says as Arthur slowly turns. The tapestries on the wall flutter under a sourceless wind - it swirls around Arthur and ruffles his hair. “But you do.”
“I don’t understand,” Arthur says. Glancing between them, Gwen feels like her heart is climbing up into her throat. Merlin looks determined, sharp and glittering like a jagged edge of broken glass, almost angry. Arthur, by contrast, has shuttered - his expression and bearing like stone. “In Ealdor...?”
“Me,” Merlin says.
“The mortaeus flower? The cave?” Arthur’s eyes narrow, advancing slowly.
“Me.” Merlin matches Arthur’s movement, stepping away from Gwen’s side. They begin to circle each other.
“The Great Dragon?” Arthur growls.
“Me,” Merlin says. “But also the afanc and the questing beast.”
“The old sorcerer. The man who killed my father.”
“I meant to heal him,” Merlin says. “Truly. He wore an amulet - I didn’t know. Morgana killed your father, Arthur.”
“And after all this time, you tell me now. Why?” Arthur says.
“Because you cannot win this war alone—” Merlin starts before Arthur cuts him off with a gesture.
“Why now? Why this moment? You have done so well on your own,” Arthur snaps, and Gwen has to cover her mouth with her hand. “You wait until Camelot faces a battle she cannot hope to win and that is the moment, Merlin, you think it best to reveal your betrayal? Only you,” Arthur shoves him, sending him reeling into the hard edge of the table, “could manage such a thing. Just tell me why!”
Merlin stands very still, his face a rigid mask. “Because I wanted you to know,” he says, quite simply.
Arthur curses, and drops Merlin to the floor with one punch.
“Arthur!” Gwen cries, stumbling a little when Merlin rallies, launching himself past her and into Arthur’s legs. “Merlin! What are you doing - stop!” she shouts at them both, dodging the mad flailing of their limbs as they roll around on the floor, kicking and punching with all the viciousness and accuracy of young boys. She scrambles past them towards the entrance to the hall and throws the bolt free, leaping out of the way just as the doors burst open under Percival and Gwaine’s combined weight.
“What in the hell—” Gwaine snarls, helping Percival pry them apart with a firm arm around Merlin’s waist. He takes a bony elbow to the nose for his troubles, and both Leon and Elyan have to help Percival restrain Arthur.
“Gwaine, get Merlin out of here. Take him to Gaius and do not let him leave, do you understand me?” Gwen says.
“Dammit, Gwen, Arthur’s beaten the daylights out of him—”
“Hardly,” Merlin hisses over Gwaine’s shoulder, spitting blood. Behind them, the sounds of scuffling and grunting as Arthur’s struggles begin anew.
“Out!” Gwen orders, waiting until Gwaine has hauled Merlin bodily from the room to turn on her husband. “Let him go and leave us,” she addresses this to her brother, Percival and Leon. They exchange a look but do as she says, leaving Arthur to fume and tug his mail back in order while Gwen watches him, silent.
“Did you know?” he demands suddenly, fixing her with a look she never thought she would see again on his face, not since...
“No. Not until today.”
He nods, short, and makes to leave. Gwen puts herself in the way of his exit. “I am only going to our rooms. Follow if you don’t believe me,” he says, stepping around her.
She does follow, only much later that night, quietly entering their chambers to find Arthur in his chair before the empty hearth. She makes up the fire herself and changes into her shift, coming to stand between Arthur’s knees when all is prepared for bed. In the firelight she sees that Arthur’s bottom lip is split, a thin line of dried blood puckering its center. She reaches out to touch it, sliding her fingers into his hair when he turns his face away.
He eventually catches her hand and thumbs at her palm, his breath slow and warm at her wrist. When they climb into bed he pulls her close against him, and she is almost asleep when he finally speaks. “I thought I knew him.”
She has to take a moment to consider her response. “You think he is so different now?” she asks. The night and the warmth of their bodies and the fire blur the rough edges of the day into something distant, manageable.
“How can I know?” Arthur says after a long while. “He is more sly than I ever gave him credit for.”
“And yet...you knew many of his deeds even before he confirmed them.”
“What do you mean?” Arthur says, leaning up on his elbow to look at her. “You believe I suspected him?”
“No,” Gwen says, tilting her head thoughtfully. “But he seemed to provide an answer for questions that were never resolved to your satisfaction. Why must it change who he is? Who he was, to you?” When Arthur doesn’t respond, Gwen adds softly, “He loves you as I do. If you are uncertain of it, remember that he let you attack him like the great bully you are, when he might have easily held you off with less effort than it took three of your best knights.”
“Smarmy bastard,” Arthur mutters into the back of her neck. Gwen turns over in his arms, arching a brow.
“You’d also do well to remember that you let him hit you back,” she says, touching a finger to Arthur’s mouth.
It takes some work to convince Arthur to bring magic out onto the field, even when he knows he has no other choice. But there is something to be said for having a great, fire-breathing dragon on your side that makes insurmountable odds seem suddenly far less intimidating, especially when said dragon sends over half of the enemy force running for the hills in mortal terror.
Gwen is well pleased to discover the healing powers of draconic sarcasm, because it seems like no time at all passes between victory being declared and the resumption of Merlin and Arthur’s customary loving bickering, presided over by the great, scaly hero of the day himself.
Gwen has an idea. It occurs to her one afternoon while she watches Arthur train, blindfolded, with a fresh batch of young men angling for knighthood. They come from farther and farther away now, bringing skills and customs so foreign to Camelot's court that Arthur hasn’t lacked for entertainment since the bloodless triumph over King Lot's giant army.
She considers him as he moves, certain and fluid even without his sight. But her idea will keep until the morning, so she goes to her wardrobe and tears a strip of cloth from an old shawl, tucking it safely into the drawer of her dressing table to wait, heart beating an excited tattoo at its quiet promise.
She sits close by him the following day at breakfast and surreptitiously watches him pick at the fruit, fingers seeking the most perfect berries. “Do you trust me?” she speaks without preamble.
Arthur doesn’t understand the question at first, looking at her with concern. “Of course. Do you need to ask?”
“Will you trust me tonight?” Gwen clarifies, heat flaring under her skin.
“Of course,” he says again after a short pause. “Always.” His eyes track the swell of her chest, the curve of her waist, making her smile. She touches his shoulder briefly as she stands, enjoying the familiar shape of him before she takes her leave.
The cloth slips through the circle of her fingers, a smooth and pleasant repetition while she waits. The lower town is expanding, growing out to accommodate borderland villagers (who came for protection and never left) as well as the curious and skeptical who, upon hearing about Arthur’s change of heart concerning all things magical, felt the need to bear witness to this shifting in the very bedrock of Camelot’s foundations.
Consequently, darkness falls before Arthur abandons his work for the day and finds her in their chambers, offering a warm kiss as greeting and apology both. Gwen can only partly focus on their conversation, distracted by the rub of soft, fine wool between her fingers while they share a goblet of wine. Predictably, Arthur rolls his eyes at Gwen’s mention of Merlin, but she recognises it for the expression of fondness that it is.
The moment slips into something soft, so it only feels right to ask again, “Do you trust me?”
“More than anything,” Arthur responds, eyes sharpening on her, intent and aware.
“Stand up,” she says gently, waiting until he’s on his feet to approach. “Don’t speak.”
His breathing goes deep and even when she ties the cloth around his eyes, his hands reaching for her waist on some sensual instinct. She steps neatly out of his hold, putting her lips to his ear. “Trust me.”
She wants him to understand, and so she doesn’t let him touch her. Not yet. Her idea is about trust, but it is also more than that, a curiosity she wants to test without having to put it into words. She watches him closely, steering him back to their bed, leaning in to listen to his heart when she pulls off his shirt and breeches. He doesn’t need instructing twice, letting her move him where she pleases, quiet and calm under her hands. It makes Gwen’s heart thump to see, sharp but incredibly sweet.
“You look beautiful,” she says, because he does. Not just his form, which is lovely in its masculinity, a weight and strength she knows and takes comfort from now in the same way Arthur does his sword.
He is familiar to her like this - it is only the mood that feels alien. Even during their occasional wrestling games, a mock struggle for dominance that they have both happily won and lost in the past, Arthur is a man accustomed to action. Historically his submission has amounted to his hands at her hips while she rides him, or his willing devotion to her pleasure with lips and tongue and fingers. By contrast, his stillness is a unique thing, a silent relinquishing that Gwen has only recently begun to believe she has earned.
She spreads herself with two slow fingers, breathless at the thought of taking him like this, unseeing but patient, eager and yet perfectly controlled. The play of feeling across his face as she helps him find his way inside her makes her blood pound.
Arthur knows her body even without his sight - he is hesitant only to make a move she doesn’t want, but grows certain once she makes it clear that she does want his hands on her, and his mouth. He finds the apex of her sex by touch alone, circling her while she rocks over him until she’s gasping, shuddering at the combined sensations.
“Let me know when you’re close,” she says, working him tight and deep with every thrust, trying to quiet her own noises to better hear the way he bites back his growing desperation. It doesn’t take long for him to warn her on a shaky exhale, hands tightening at the small of her back. She pushes the blindfold off, holding him tight while he blinks away the sudden brightness and jerks like she’s shocked the pleasure out of him.