Characters: Arthur, Morgana, Merlin, Gaius, Gwen, Uther
Pairing: Arthur/Merlin friendship, Arthur/Morgana, some Merlin/Gwen (so basically like the show)
Warnings: Jousting could be a bit nasty at times, that’s all I’m saying.
Spoilers: Minor for 1x02
Summary: Arthur simply cannot resist a chance to prove his mettle. Unfortunately, in the joust, arrogance can become a dangerous failing.
The next day, much to Merlin’s relief, Arthur definitely seemed stronger.
Morgana arrived early as usual, looking tired having left so late the previous night, but she seemed instantly heartened by the news, her face brightening when he told her.
He chatted to her lightly as they waited for Gaius to arrive. To be honest, he’d felt very awkward around her at first, not really knowing what to say to a lady, but the several days they’d spent watching over Arthur together had made her seem less strange and distant to him.
Yes, she was a noble woman and an incredibly beautiful one at that, but at the end of the day she was just a person like him.
Well, sort of anyway.
She was a lot kinder than he’d imagined. Not that he’d really thought she’d be horrible or anything, he just couldn’t envisage that she’d care all that much about him. Yet she’d asked him a lot of questions, about his childhood and where he’d grown up. He didn’t think it was particularly exciting, not the parts he could tell her anyway, but she seemed to take a genuine interest all the same.
The one thing they studiously hadn’t talked about was Arthur. It was sort of an unspoken mutual agreement between the two of them, neither wanting to start sharing stories in case it began to sound like his eulogy. But as Gaius arrived and crossed into the prince’s bedchamber, Merlin felt that fragile stir of hope once more and this time he dared to indulge it.
It certainly felt much better than the horrible doubts and thoughts of failure that had been plaguing him for the last few days. In his most desperate moments he’d been half convinced that Arthur was going to die and totally convinced that it was his fault. He’d been given a mission, had been told how important Arthur’s destiny was, and yet had let this happen. How could he have been so stupid? After all the deadly, mystical threats he’d saved Arthur from, he’d gone and let him be killed in a game. Camelot would be ruined and it was all his fault.
Not to mention a young man was going to lose his life too soon. A man who, in Merlin’s humble opinion at least, deserved to live. A man who was needed and couldn’t be replaced.
He tried to bury all those thoughts now though, buoying himself with optimism once more, hoping for all their sakes that it wasn’t misplaced.
“I’m sure he’ll be up and around in few days,” he said cheerfully as they waited for Gaius’s verdict.
Morgana, who had been standing looking out of the window, turned to him. “What? So he can start bossing you around again?”
“Yeah,” Merlin said with a chuckle. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
She smiled in return.
It seemed in rather bad taste though to completely berate a man who’d so nearly had died and so he felt the need to say something nice to counter that.
“I think we’re all lucky that he’s going to be okay though,” he pointed out, feeling slightly embarrassed to admit it. “He still can be a bit of a prat at times, but he’s a good man at heart and Camelot needs him.”
Morgana’s smile took on a warmer tone.
“And he’s lucky to have you,” she reasoned sincerely.
Merlin felt slightly uncomfortable at such praise and shrugged, turning the conversation away from himself. “Well you have Gwen. I think that makes you luckier.”
“Perhaps for now,” she admitted. “Although I won’t be surprised if you take her from me someday.”
From her suddenly slightly wicked smile he knew exactly what she was implying. He was about to deny it, sure he was blushing, when he was saved by Gaius returning from the bedchamber.
“He’s doing much better,” the physician confirmed with some relief before they’d even asked. “I think he’s through the worst of it.”
Merlin didn’t know if he’d ever smiled so widely in his life.
“Now,” Gaius said, his own smile briefly lighting a tired face, “the covering on the wound needs changing and more of the herbal paste must be applied. I need to go and tell Uther the good news.”
Merlin nodded, promising to do so before Gaius left.
“Well,” the young wizard said, smiling brightly at Morgana, feeling a thousand times lighter, “duty calls.”
“I’ll do it,” she offered softly. “Why don’t you go and find Gwen and get us both some food?”
It wasn’t really a demand but he suspected that there was no use arguing with her and so he left her to it, unable to quash his beaming smile as he walked out into the corridor.
The last thing Arthur properly remembered was Morgana’s fingers on his thigh, cleaning the wound he’d sustained there.
When he awoke to feel Morgana’s cool fingers on his flesh again, he became very confused, wondering if no time had passed at all since then and he’d only closed his eyes for moment. But no, he realised upon seeing that he starred up to the canopy of his own bed, last he remembered he’d been in Gaius’s rooms.
A slightly ragged intake of breath on his part grabbed her attention and she looked up at him, smiling reassuringly before continuing with her work. She seemed to be smoothing some substance over the wound and the gentle caress of her fingers made him shift a little uncomfortably, assaulted by the unexpected intimacy of it.
If she noticed his reaction she said nothing about it.
“How do you feel?” she asked instead, unnaturally quiet, almost as if she considering him too delicate for anything louder.
“Tired,” he croaked out, his voice feeling harsh and unused. Then he frowned a little. “And hungry I think.”
“That’s hardly a surprise, you haven’t eaten in days. I’ll get Merlin to fetch you something when he comes back.”
Arthur’s frown deepened further at that, a mild sense of alarm coming over him.
“How long have I...?” he asked, almost afraid to know the answer.
Four days? But he remembered nothing of them. He recalled the accident quite clearly, the sudden shock and the impact. He vaguely remembered being in Gauis’s room too with the old physician, Merlin and Morgana fussing around him. He knew he’d been in some pain but thankfully the memory of that seemed to have dulled. But then to know nothing until now? To have lost four whole days? It unnerved him greatly and suddenly made him realise how ill he must have been.
Morgana confirmed that as she continued to speak.
“You developed quite a fever. Had us all worried for a while there.”
He cocked his head at her, catching something in her demeanour that told him she was more troubled than she was letting on.
“Even you?” he asked, with the slightest smile, trying to lighten the mood.
She gave him a dry look.
“Between the very important task of choosing a new gown, trying new ways to braid my hair, doing a little embroidery and picking flowers, yes.”
But it was clear from how tired she looked that her flippancy wasn’t exactly accurate. He wondered if she’d been here a lot, caring for him whilst he slept. The idea warmed him a little, but he didn’t have the courage to ask her if it was the truth.
He flinched as her cool fingers found a new area of skin to toy with. He knew it was utterly wrong to find the sensation pleasurable, that she was simply tending to his wound, but he couldn’t seem to repress the flashes of contentment that she provoked with each stupidly small movement. He rested his head back heavily in his pillows, trying not to look at her, trying desperately to think of something else. But his mind was always drawn back to the way her fingers seemingly traced random patterns on his thigh whilst she attentively applied the ointment.
He was just ill, he told himself firmly, and it was making him think the stupidest things. It wasn’t as if he was some awkward teenager who’d never even kissed a girl before. Still, he couldn’t deny that this was something different. It was Morgana for a start. And for some reason, she seemed able to raise his passions even with the tiniest movements in the least romantic situation.
When he found his tired mind drifting though, suddenly considering the softness of her lips, the grace of her neck and curve of her breasts, he chastised himself greatly for such impertinence and decided that he had to say something.
“Shouldn’t someone else be doing that?” he asked, his voice sounding abnormally tight.
“I know what I’m doing,” she assured him, taking his question as a lack of confidence in her skill.
“I didn’t mean that. It’s just...”
He trailed off with embarrassment, not really knowing how to put it. Somehow he didn’t think saying ‘I’m tired and apparently not in complete control of my faculties because I am seriously contemplating pulling you to this bed’ was the right approach to take. Even if it was the honest one.
She smiled wickedly though, apparently catching at least some of his meaning this time and not at all embarrassed herself.
“Don’t worry,” she teased, “I’ve seen your leg before. You’ll just have to hope I have no scandalous intents.”
She wriggled a playful eyebrow at him and he actually smiled at that, although he couldn’t honestly say he felt much more comfortable.
He was saved from further thought by his father’s sudden entrance. Fortunately the king was too delighted to notice the embarrassed and somewhat ashamed look on Arthur’s face as he tried to wipe away the last of his less than chivalrous thoughts regarding Morgana. He was certainly grateful that she seemed to have finally finished and moved a pace away. He didn’t exactly want to continue having such unbidden feelings with his father, her guardian, present.
“Thank heavens,” Uther said in clearly relief as he strode across to the bed.
Arthur tried to sit up to greet him but much to his dismay he didn’t have the strength to do it.
Uther didn’t seem to be bother by that though, laying a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.
“How do you feel?”
“Tired, Father,” he admitted. “But I’m sure I shall be well soon.”
“Good. Very good.”
“I’ll go and ask Merlin to fetch you that food,” Morgana said, seemingly having decided to leave them be. Uther caught her wrist lightly as she passed and even though he said it very quietly, Arthur heard him thank her with undeniably sincerity.
She nodded graciously and left, but there was a clear tension between the two of them that somehow Arthur didn’t feel able to enquire about.
Arthur, unsurprisingly, proved not to be the best patient in the world. Being confined to his bed to rest didn’t suit him and he quickly became short tempered and sullen. Poor Merlin seemed to bear the brunt of it, being the unfortunate person to have to take the prince his tonics and his meals.
Most people tried to avoid visiting him when they could, put off by his foul moods and sharp tongue, but Morgana was not so easily chased away. He did himself no favours by sitting alone brooding and, whilst it would probably serve him right if no one wished to see him at all, she couldn’t bring herself to be quite so cruel.
Early one morning she entered his rooms to find Merlin asleep in a chair, snoring lightly. She smiled sympathetically at the young man before continuing on to Arthur’s bed chamber.
She had ready a cutting remark, intending to ask him whether he was going to act less like a sore troll today, but she was silenced by the sight of him out of bed for the first time in nearly two weeks. He was standing by the window, leaning against the stonework, obviously careful not to put any weight on his injured leg. Whilst the sign was encouraging, she knew for a fact that Gaius had not yet told him he could get up.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked incredulously.
He whipped his head around, startled, and attempted on guilty instinct to return to the bed. His injured leg wouldn’t support him though and it was only through a combination of grabbing onto the small table and her rushing over to help him that he didn’t fall unceremoniously onto the floor.
“Why are you out of bed?” she demanded crossly, a steadying hand on his chest as she slipped under one of his arms, using her full body to better support his weight.
“I wanted to see what the weather was like today,” he replied, just as grumpily.
She looked skywards. “Don’t be so ridiculous,” she scolded harshly. The great fool. It was his injured pride no doubt that spurred him to try and get better ahead of expectations. He’d never been hurt in contest before and he seemed to be taking it like some great personal tragedy, as though the people would be whispering about his cowardice if he wasn’t well again immediately.
She tried to lead him back to the bed. He was heavy enough as it was and she certainly didn’t need him resisting her, yet he did so all the same.
“I don’t require your help,” he muttered angrily, trying to shake her off.
Glaring at him her voice held an irritated snap as she spoke.
She let him go and, just as she expected, he nearly fell to the floor, the wounded leg giving out on him immediately. Prepared for it, she grabbed him as soon as the undignified lurch had proved her point.
“Would you like my help now?” she asked sarcastically, “Or would you prefer to crawl back to your bed?”
He clearly didn’t like it but, having apparently decided that this was the lesser of two humiliating evils, he refrained from arguing further as he leant on her for support whilst he limped across. Once sitting, he gruffly insisted that he could do the rest himself and she left him to it, glad to relieve her sore neck and shoulders.
After a moment, watching him so gingerly lift his pained leg back up, having to use his hands to do so, she felt a little sorry for him and her temper cooled somewhat.
She walked over to the bed side, pushing him forward a little as she straightened his pillows, making it more comfortable for him to sit. His eyes looked at her hand resting on his shoulder for a moment before he glanced up, much of his anger now gone too.
“I didn’t know you had such desires to be a nursemaid,” he jested lightly.
“I don’t,” she pointed out. “You can consider yourself a fortunate case.”
He actually smiled at that and she saw it as the perfect opportunity to press her point whilst he was in a better frame of mind.
“You can’t push yourself into being well, Arthur. Gaius said it will take time. I’m sure your strength will return.”
She’d hoped that he would just nod and agree with the sense in that but it wasn’t really in his nature to do so.
“And in the meantime?” he challenged sullenly, unable just to accept her words of wisdom. “What do you expect me to do? Like it?”
“No, I expect you to be sensible about it.”
“How can I?” he asked with unmistakable bitterness. “How can I just lie here doing nothing? I’m useless. Worse than useless, I’m a burden.”
“No you’re not,” she dismissed but he didn’t seem like he was listening to her.
“If Camelot was attacked right now, what I could do? How can I protect this city or you or father in this state?” His anger grew again but it seemed more directed inwardly, at his own failings.
“You couldn’t,” she agreed, “but this won’t last forever. You’ll be back on your feet, out training with your men before you know it.”
“And how are they supposed to trust me?” he reasoned quietly. “Don’t you think they’re always going to look at me with doubt now? To wonder if I have some weakness remaining.”
It hadn’t occurred to her that that might be his fear. That it wasn’t his pride that was hurting but his sense of duty, the idea that he couldn’t fulfil his role in this condition. She suddenly felt badly for having blamed his vanity before.
“I think,” she said firmly, “that once you’re strong again, you’ll show them why you’re their prince and they won’t have room to doubt you.”
He starred at her for a long moment and then nodded, grateful for her belief in him.
“Now,” she said, taking a deep breath and reaching for the bottle of tonic, “I’m sure it’s time you had more of this.”
His face scowled like an unenthusiastic child. “Do I have to? It tastes vile.”
“Would you like me to pour it down your throat?” she asked innocently. “It’s not as if you could run away.”
He glared at her for that.
She simply smiled and held out the small cup she’d filled. He looked at it most apprehensively.
“You were so much more obedient when you were half senseless,” she pointed out with an exasperated sigh. “I only had to ask you once then.”
He frowned as if something had suddenly occurred to him. “I remember that,” he said softly. “I thought it was dream.”
“Why?” she teased. “Do you dream of me often?”
“Only if I’m very unlucky,” he intoned dryly.
To stop her answering back he took the cup and drunk the contents down hurriedly, grimacing as he did so. When he handed it back again, it was her turn to frown as she noticed something on his wrist.
It was the piece of blue lace she had given him during the contest, still tied securely there. Sitting on the bed, she studied it for a moment before looking up at him curiously, wondering why he still had it on. Had he simply forgotten it was there?
He smiled wryly. “Ah yes, I suppose I should apologise. I promised I’d win that tournament for you, didn’t I?”
“Well you’ll be pleased to know,” she said with a smile of her own, “that my honour remains undamaged. It obviously didn’t need the improvement after all.”
He shook his head in exasperated amusement at her.
“Perhaps you’d be happier if you found a man you do want to win tournaments for you.”
She couldn’t quite bring herself to say she was beginning to believe she already had, fearing he’d laugh at her. Instead she said nothing but her fingers reached for the knot, meaning to untie it.
“Leave it there,” he requested, pulling his wrist back a little.
She looked at him in askance and he simply shrugged.
“I thought it might bring me luck,” he quietly explained.
“It hasn’t done very well so far,” she reasoned.
“I’m still here, aren’t I?”
She smiled at that, subconsciously running her thumb in circles over his palm, his hands rough and calloused for someone so young.
“Yes, and I’m glad,” she admitted quietly, unable to hold her tongue this time, looking at the bed sheets rather than him.
Something in that moment seemed to stir him.
When he reached out and lifted her chin with his free hand he looked at her carefully, as though trying to discover something. Then his face changed to the most uncertain expression she’d ever seen on him, as if he was being drawn into something half fearful and half exciting and was struggling to decide what action to take. She didn’t dare to think what it might be until he leant closer, his lips heading for hers.
Did he really intend to kiss her, she wondered with a start. And more importantly, why wasn’t she pushing him away?
Instead she looked up into his eyes and he starred right back, seeming to ask a question of her. She gave no conscious answer but a feeling in the pit of her stomach felt like it was demanding ‘yes’. He must have read that in her because he moved a little closer, his eyes drifting closed. She did so too, thinking that she must be mad but ignoring that to concentrate on the feel of his warm breath on her lips, the clutch of his hand in hers and the heady anticipation that made her experience a delightful light headedness.
She half expected him to pull away at the last moment, for it to be a prank and for him to start laughing at her. What she got instead however was a single, sweet brush of his lips against hers, his entire kiss over in the merest moment. Yet somehow it still felt wonderful, despite the simplicity, her breath catching in her throat and warmth running right to the tip of her fingers. It was so chaste she barely knew what to make of it. On the rare occasion she’d imagined Arthur’s kisses, she’d thought they would be full of strong passion, his confident manner surely translating to everything he did. She’d never imagined anything so soft and uncertain.
He withdrew a little, anxiously watching her face for reaction. When she smiled he seemed heartened and leant in as if to kiss her again.
He never made it. Instead the two of them leapt apart as Merlin burst into the room, prattling merrily on about what a fine morning it was. For a moment she thought he hadn’t noticed anything awry but then the young servant stopped and looked them curiously before a sudden smile broke onto his face.
“What?” Arthur asked tensely.
“Nothing,” Merlin replied, although he was grinning from ear to ear. “You two are just really sweet.”
“Merlin!” Arthur chastised through gritted teeth, whilst Morgana bit her lower lip, looking to the floor with a slight smile of embarrassment.
“I should go,” she said hurriedly. “Uther wanted me to join him for breakfast.”
She released Arthur’s hand and quickly left.
Arthur watched her go with a slight sigh before the young prince turned to look across at his man servant, his eyes giving him daggers.
“You know what, Merlin,” he said with a caustic determination. “I think I will make a full recovery. Then I’m going to kill you.”
Merlin just continued to grin regardless.