Also, I need graphics for these two NOW.
Title: The Cost of a Smile
Characters: Morgana, Gwaine, Arthur, mentions of Uther
Pairings: Morgana/Gwaine, hints of Morgana/Arthur
Spoilers: Up to and including 3x04
Summary: The Lady Morgana doesn't smile enough and Gwaine likes a challenge...
The melee had arrived at Camelot - along with crowds of boorish knights - and Morgana was not best pleased. The contest itself was entertaining enough, and at least the point of it wasn't to actually kill anyone else for once, but it would mean more time spent sitting at Uther's side, playing his loyal ward. It was a pretence that she grew tired of, one that made her temper short and her mind increasingly troubled.
Most blamed her mood on her year of captivity, whispering that she was still scarred by what she'd experienced. That couldn't be further from the truth and it almost made Morgana laugh. It was here that she was a captive, back to her old ways of hiding and concealing what she was, no Morgause by her side to accept her fully and guide her to a new sense of self.
Here, she was alone.
Except, she realised with a frown as she walked back through the castle towards the solitude of her rooms, at this very moment, she wasn't.
She'd spotted the man earlier, him standing out from the crowd for one simple reason. Not because she didn't recognise him - there were always people coming and going in Camelot - and not because he was handsome, her mind aware of the fact even if she was disinterested in it. No, it was because he strutted. A swagger she usually only associated with knights, yet he was clearly a commoner.
He'd momentarily caught her interest but hadn't held it, and she'd forgotten all about him again until now. He'd must have followed her, all the way from outside the Great Hall to the bottom of the large staircase that headed up towards the private household. And not subtly either, his attempts at appearing casual very poor. Almost purposely so. As though he wanted to be caught.
Deciding to ignore him, she'd taken the first two steps up before curiosity got the better of her and she glanced back, seeing him leaning against one of the pillars, studying her with a cocked head expression of intrigue. His brazen manner made it impossible for her to hold her tongue.
"Can I help you?"
Irritation gave her voice a hard edge but he didn't seem put off.
"Oh no," he said easily, apparently not bothered at all at being 'caught', "I just couldn't be sure if you were real, that's all."
That stalled her irritation for a moment, a genuinely bewildered frown on her face.
"Well," he explained in a continuing airy manner, gesturing towards her, "generally things that beautiful don't exist outside of dreams and epic tales of romance."
Oh, he was one of them.
She fixed him with a somewhat sarcastic look, one she'd perfected for years on Arthur, before she turned with swishing skirts and carried on up the stairs. He fell into step beside her after just a few short paces. He was bolder than most, she would have to give him that.
"What's the matter?" he asked in what appeared to be mock surprise. "Has no one called you beautiful before? I find that hard to believe."
"I'm the King's ward," she said pointedly, letting him know that she was very much on to his game. "Men call me things to please him. To gain his favour."
Just another new man in Camelot, looking to make his way. More brash than most and clearly hoping to achieve quick advantage. She'd met the type before and had no time for them.
"I don't like the favour of Kings. To be honest, never met one whose favour was worth gaining."
His distaste for the idea seeming quite genuine and that was enough to at least make her frown at him, wondering who he was now he'd dashed her initial judgement.
"Now Queens on the other hand..."
Morgana rolled her eyes and walked off once more. Another line; she should've known.
"Not like that," he hurriedly defended, stepping nimbly around her to make her stop. "I just always thought that the world would be a better place if it was run by women. That gentleness of touch. The compassion. Not to mention the steely resolve when required. And you know what they say about scorned women..."
Again, he seemed most genuine and his words spoke to her own feelings; it was an idea she'd had more than once. But she gave nothing away, her practical self telling her that it would be thoroughly unwise.
"Oh yes?" she asked, looking at him with expectant curiosity that demanded an answer. Playing the woman offended on behalf her gender. "And what's that?"
He seemed a little caught out, as though he hadn't expected to have to qualify that state. It amused her to fluster him.
"Run, basically," he reasoned, some unprepared awkwardness creeping into his thus far smooth manner.
"Yes, I suspect you've done a lot of running from women."
She stepped round him and continued up the stairs once more. When she reached the top, he was still at her side, walking with her and apparently unperturbed by her silence.
"I'm Gwaine, by the way," he offered. And when her attempt to ignore him continued he spoke again anyway. "The general way of things is you now tell me your name."
She didn't. Instead she looked at him with mild curiosity.
"You're the one who helped Arthur."
The prince had mentioned the man at dinner the previous evening, extolling his virtues as a fighter and his bravery. Morgana had teased him about a crush.
Gwaine looked remarkably pleased with himself as she finally acknowledged him.
"So you've heard of me."
Morgana, not wanting to inflate a clearly already substantial ego, smiled with more cool amusement than warmth. He was harmless enough she supposed, and entertaining in his own way, but she'd no intention of encouraging his interest - she couldn't even if she wanted to - and she needed to make that clear.
"Yes, I heard there was another man here strutting around like a peacock."
Most men would have surrendered and retreated at that point, accepting their defeat, but this Gwaine was clearly made of stronger - or stupider - mettle. Her continuing progress was halted as his hand appeared in front of her face, a tiny daisy held rather delicately between two fingers.
"Would you permit me?" he asked, all courtesy.
This playful banter almost reminded her of the way she and Arthur used to be. Only Gwaine took her rebukes with a good humour and amusement.
" It's rather small," she pointed out.
He clutched at his heart dramatically.
"Ah, my wounded pride."
"I could call the guards, you know," she reasoned, trying to make him realise the precarious nature of his attentions. That his persistence could be perceived very badly indeed.
"But you haven't," he pointed out with a simple shrug.
No, she realised. She could have had him removed quite some time ago if he was truly bothering her. Just a few more paces now would take her to the spiral stairs leading up to where her and Arthur's private chambers were - somewhere Gwaine wouldn't be permitted to go.
But, wittingly or not, she had entertained this diversion. It worried her to realise it.
"What do you want?" she asked with a sigh, deciding to end this game of cat and mouse. Indulging him in the hope that he would finally see it as fruitless and leave her be.
He considered her for a moment.
"I want to see you smile," he settled upon with a soft one of his own. "Properly smile."
That just made her frown.
"Because it seems like something you don't do very much."
Hidden amongst the many corridors and hallways of Camelot was the entrance to a private courtyard which only the king and his family had the use of. Morgana had headed there for some peace and privacy, hoping to relax from her troubles for a short while before having to face the world once more. The melee was to be that afternoon and she was already dreading the performance she would have to put on.
Her moment of solitude was not to be however; Arthur was already there, swinging a practice sword at a wooden post, drills that he'd know since he was barely out of childhood. Ones that he'd once taught her.
He looked up as he sensed her presence and he nodded in acknowledgement but made no indication that he expected her to leave. It was that very fact that made her stay, even against her judgement. They seem to have so little time together these days.
"What's wrong?" she asked after studying him in silence for a moment. His swings were short and sharp, tension in his shoulders that was unmistakable.
"My father has decided to banish Gwaine," he said with a heavy and slightly angry sigh.
"The man who saved you? What for?"
Arthur shook his head dismissively as though he thought the reason had been given weight that it didn't deserve.
"He got into a fight with two of the melee guests. Trying to defend Merlin, of all people. Lord knows what he'd done to offend them."
"And Uther banished Gwaine for that?"
Her disdain was quite clear, leaving no doubt as to what she thought about the justice of that decision.
"Sir Oswald wanted him executed," he explained. "I managed to make my father see that that would have been unjust."
Arthur seemed to spend too much time making excuses for Uther in her opinion. Too much effort spent trying to justify him and make him appear to be a better man than he truly was. One day, Arthur would run out of excuses and he would have to admit that his father was a poor king.
At least, she hoped he would.
"Unjust?" she asked sharply, the notion of justice in Camelot being one that played heavily on her conscience. "The man saves your life and defends a defenceless man and his reward is banishment? How is that just?"
"It's the law, Morgana. He's a commoner and he attacked a knight."
Arthur had a terrible way of talking to her as though he believed that she didn't understand these things. Or at least that she was speaking out of turn.
"The law is wrong."
For a moment there was a flicker of doubt in his face, her words hitting home. She was sure that he already knew that, that privately he'd come to that conclusion a long time ago. But, as usual, he hid it well.
"That's not for me to say."
She eyed him briefly and then decided that the argument wasn't worth it. He would rather see his father's view than hers these days. She turned on her heels to leave but his words halted her.
"And you?" he asked simply.
"Why did you come out here?"
"I just wanted some fresh air."
Lies fell so easily from her lips these days, second nature to her. For once, he actually saw through them though. To a certain extent anyway.
"You're not happy, Morgana," he said with quiet concern. "I can tell."
His words both buoyed and cut her. To know that he'd noticed, that someone here saw beyond her mask just a little was a strange comfort. It made her feel as though someone genuinely cared.
But it wasn't as if she could tell him her troubles...
"Arthur," she explained, perhaps talking down a little to him now too, " I spent the whole of the last year in captivity..."
He frowned, walking across and laying what she assumed to be a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I told you," he said, utterly solemn, his word his promise, "you're safe here."
Sometimes he nearly made her believe that.
Goodness, did the man hang actually around at the foot of staircases on the off chance that he would be able to pounce on her?
This time Morgana met Gwaine as she was coming downstairs, just about to step off the bottom and turn into the next corridor when he appeared in front of her, bowing with a flourish.
"For you, my lady," he said smoothly, not giving her a chance to talk before thrusting a flower into her hands in a manner that gave her no choice but to take it. "More to your taste?"
It was certainly much larger than his previous offering, she had to give him that, and a bright, sunny yellow that would have made most women smile without thought.
She handed it back to him.
"You stole this from the banqueting hall," she pointed out.
As usual, he didn't seem at all flustered at being caught out or chided. Far too confident with himself. Like he believed that he could talk himself out of any and all trouble or that he'd at least have a very good go.
"The thought is still there," he reasoned with what could only be described as a roguish grin.
It didn't work on her.
"I thought you were leaving."
There was a sudden tinge of sadness on his face at the reminder of that, much to her surprise. He hadn't come across as the type to become so attached to places or people easily and he'd only been here a few days, yet he seemed genuinely sorry to go.
"By sundown. Just saying goodbye to a few friends. "
She doubted that he would count her amongst those. They'd hardly spoken after all and she hadn't exactly given him any reason to think it. Still, whilst she hadn't encouraged his attentions, they had provided a momentary distraction for her and, truth be told, she would miss it a little.
Yes, clearly for the best that he left now.
"Well," she said, not really sure what else there was to say and hiding a slight awkwardness behind a polite manner. "Safe journey."
Then she continued on her way. She half expected him to follow her again and felt a kind of knowing sadness when he didn't.
Although apparently he wasn't about to let her escape with total ease.
"You didn't give me your name," he called after her with a cheek that no one else would dare use with the highest lady in Camelot.
"No," she said, turning to him with a nod of acknowledgement. "I didn't."
Morgana waited until she saw that Merlin was busy with jobs for Arthur before she headed down to Gaius's rooms. The physician wouldn't be there either, out on his daily rounds of the lower town. She'd watched them before, learnt their routines so she could sneak into the rooms unopposed. Her reason for doing so now though was quite different.
Gwaine was at the table as she entered, putting a few things into a bag. A far too small a bag to contain someone's entire life, in her opinion.
He looked up at her, a warm smile spreading across his features before he bowed in an overly formal manner. Such an interesting mixture of true and false charm.
"The Lady Morgana," he greeted before grinning at her in pleased triumph. "I have my sources you see. I knew I'd find you out in the end."
She'd had no doubt that he would if he asked around.
"I wanted to thank you," she said, ignoring his game and getting straight to the business that'd brought her here. "For helping Arthur."
It'd been a big risk for him to take, she was well aware of that. Uther had already banished him on pain of death and to return to help... She'd misjudged him from the start and something within her deemed that worth an apology of sorts.
Gwaine's smile was a little crooked, as though he was slightly uncomfortable with such praise and would much prefer to make light of it.
"I'd like to pretend I did it all for you considering the advantage that it might give me," he began, before the joke turned into something more genuine. "But...well, he's good man." Then the sentimental part of that was lost a little again as he grinned in amusement. "And, okay, he can be a right gobdaw at times too but he did try to help me when he didn't have to."
Morgana wasn't entirely sure what a 'gobdaw' was but considering some of the things she'd called Arthur over the years, she could take a good guess.
To hear Gwaine speak of him so well though, to see the look of thoughtful respect on his face, gave her pause. She'd always believed in her heart that Arthur was a good man, that he'd rise above his father's cruelty and make the better king. But then Morgause had told her about Igraine, about how Uther had used magic to give himself a son, sacrificing her life when he should have known that there would be a price to pay. About how his guilt had turned to recrimination and death for hundreds of innocents. And how Arthur had learnt of all this and done nothing, still supporting the slow eradication of her kind. It had shaken Morgana's faith in him to the very core, given her reason to believe that nothing in Camelot was worth saving any more.
But if this was how a stranger judged him, a man with fresh eyes and no prejudices seeing the good in him...Maybe there was still hope after all.
"Sometimes," she confessed quietly, "I think he might be Camelot's only chance."
Gwaine looked up at her, apparently surprised by the sadness in her tone.
" A place like Camelot?," he asked kindly, as though trying to cheer her. "Surely there's noble men coming out of the walls."
She snorted a derisive, bitter huff.
"Not one man here is worth his armour."
No, not one of them stood up when wrong things happened, blindly following orders to the end.
Gwaine clutched at his chest again, but the gesture lacked some of its playful drama this time as though he truly understood how much this topic cut her. Yet still trying to make her smile in spite of that apparently. Maybe even because of it.
"You wound me again," he said, almost a pout on his lips. "How cruel."
"You're not a man of Camelot," she pointed out. And that verged dangerously close to a compliment.
He was good enough not to mention it though, instead simply nodding in agreement.
"No, I'm not."
Did he seem almost sad at the fact?
"Your good fortune," she assured him.
He frowned at her, a mixture of concern and perhaps understanding. He hadn't been here long but he had seen some of the more rotten elements at first hand.
"Ah, come now. it can't be that bad here."
His humour was gone and he seemed almost uneasy. As if trying to convince himself that it was true.
His uncertainty made her bold even though he was little more than a stranger.
"You've seen what its king is like," she reasoned harshly, half way between angry and frustrated. "He'll banish a man who saved his son's life because his pride is more important than what's right. He values status above intention. He'll send people to their deaths for simply being who they are. And no one speaks against him."
Her chest was heaving a little when she finished that small rant, a release of emotion that she was finding more and more difficult to hold in.
Silently, Gwaine placed his bag down and came to stand in front of her, looking down at her with a gentleness of manner and an understanding that she only associated with Morgause these days.
"I have met many a bad king in my time and, honestly? Uther is no exception. But there are people who speak out against them. Arthur did. For me. Today."
"Sometimes he does," she agreed with the slightest hint of desperation, feeling like she was teetering upon finding someone who understood. "And sometimes he stands aside. I worry that his mind has already been too poisoned. That he'll want to honour his father's ideals instead of change them."
it had been a long time since she'd been so honest with anyone.
Gwaine considered her silently for a moment before speaking.
"Do you truly believe that, in his heart, Arthur is a good man?"
She thought for a moment but, in the end, there could only be one answer.
"Yes," she replied softly, looking up at the man in front of her hoping to see what he thought of that. Was she a fool for daring to trust?
He lightly took her hands in his, a gesture of comfort that was so soft it barely struck her that it was well outside the realms of courtly decorum.
"And I believe," he assured her with soft conviction, "that that kind of goodness always outs. In the end."
He seemed so convinced of that that it rekindled a spark of hope in her. It made her suddenly want to see if she could find the good that might still be here. If Arthur was king instead of his father. If this outsider believed it, she could too, right?
"It's a shame Camelot doesn't have more men like you," she said with a nod of respect and thanks. "Things might not have come to this."
He smiled again, this time apparently deciding not to let her kind words go without note.
"Was that a compliment?" he asked with a curious frown, lightening the mood as he teased her.
"You're a good man," she conceded, happy to be caught out, just this once.
His grin widened, something warm and...seductive?
"I'm so pleased to hear you say that."
He leant closer, his lips most definitely heading for hers with an assured confidence. She stopped them with a single finger resting on them, leaning back out of his reach.
"Not that good," she grinned at him.
He matched her grin as he stepped back.
"Yes, I am," he said with breezy triumph. "I made you smile."