Title: The Gift
Author's Notes: Written because sometimes there's just so much angst you have to wear a snorkel or drown. So here's a little gift of fluff- contains less calories than a slice of cake and won't make you feel guilty either :)
Summary: She didn't want a present for a Prince, a future King who was surveyed by everyone and example to all. She wanted to give him something private, something for the man he was behind closed doors. She wanted to give a gift to Arthur.
Three weeks before Arthur's birthday, the King and Queen of Rivria come to pay a visit to Uther, renewing their allegiances, and cementing old friendships. Lyndon and Uther are old friends, and his wife Melya, had been at Igraine's bedside the day Arthur was born. They bring gifts as are proper when visiting royalty, and they bring their only daughter, Elaine, with them as well.
Elaine is pretty and blonde, lively, (if a tad spoiled) and a proficient horsewoman. She surprises Arthur, who had been expecting to see the vapid teenager he remembered from their last visit five years ago, and he takes to her immediately.
Morgana is as gracious as she can be, considering she and Elaine have never got on, the two as different as night and day. She tries to stay out of the way of the princess as much as possible, but inevitably they are forced to make stiff conversation, thickly peppered with veiled insults, when they attend the nightly banquets, held in honour of the visiting royals.
It's not that she hates Elaine- she'll make a good queen when she grows up a bit- she just dislikes her immensely and can't wait for her to leave.
On Elaine's first visit to Camelot she'd ridiculed Morgana's dolly for not being pretty enough. As it had been handmade by her mother, and was one of the few things she had still to remind her of her parents, she'd ended up giving Elaine a black eye.
Uther had sympathised with his ward, but she'd still been sent to bed early without any dinner and told to stay away from Elaine. The princess had been made to apologise but it hadn't done much to salve the wounded pride of a seven year old Morgana.
It hadn't helped that Arthur had ended up pitching in that he thought dolls were stupid. She'd complained that he always sided with Elaine because he liked her. Arthur had turned pink and spite had covered his embarrassment.
"She's prettier than you."
Morgana had shrugged and pretended it didn't hurt. But Arthur had been her hero growing up and for him to prefer another was excruciating. She'd walked back to her room that night and balled her little white hands up into fists and screamed and screamed and screamed.
She'd had her first vision that night and woken sobbing, still seeing rivers of blood streaming from the stones of Camelot.
No, she isn't sad to see the guests leave a week later.
Elaine promises to send Arthur a birthday present as she leaps gracefully onto her horse. Morgana scoffs at the showy display as she waves goodbye.
She also dismisses the thought that passes though her mind of practicing mounting and dismounting secretly in the stables of an evening.
True to form Elaine promptly sends him armour, which arrives with due pomp and ceremony on Arthur's birthday. Arthur seems highly delighted with his gift and tries it on in front of the Court, who cheer when he is completely clad in the shining metal, gleaming in the lights of the feast hall.
Morgana looks at the wrapped present in her hands and feels the burning shame of it not being good enough. Perhaps she'd been wrong after all. She's just about to slip out of the hall, taking the gift with her, when Merlin suddenly appears in her way.
"If that's for Arthur, I'll take it." He grins, knowing full well it's the shirt she's been working on, deftly slipping it out of her hands.
"Oh, no I-" But he's already gone, the present put on the table behind him.
Merlin whispers something in his master's ear and Arthur turns to look at her. She shifts her gaze elsewhere, trying not to make her face burn up. Arthur nods and then resumes his testing of the armour. Her present lies forgotten on the table. He isn't going to open her gift after all. Trying to control the disappointment takes over her shame and she slips quietly out of the hall to her room.
Arthur's eyes follow her as she leaves.
In his room later that night he finally comes to Morgana's gift on the table. He's left it till last and his fingers hover over the paper.
"Well, are you going to open it, or just stare at it all night?"
Arthur scowls at Merlin. "Aren't you supposed to be polishing my armour or something?"
"Well I was trying to get you ready for bed before you decided to go all doe eyed over Morgana's- ow!"
Arthur's thrown a pillow at him. "Shut up Merlin. Go and get me a drink, I'm thirsty."
Merlin raises an eyebrow at the poor excuse to get him out of the room but nods and obeys anyway. "Sire."
But Arthur's already turned back to the present, and once he's sure Merlin has gone down the corridor he slips his fingers under the ribbon and tears open the paper. He gently lifts the shirt out, admiring the softness as his fingers rub against the cloth.
He hovers over the embroidery in the top left hand corner, amazed at the intricate detail, an elaborate A in red thread and outlined in gold, a dragon curling round the final flick of the letter, smoke rising to form the cross connecting the inverted v. It's a beautiful piece of skilled work and he's almost afraid to touch it for fear of damaging it somehow.
He's just pulled it over his head and is admiring himself in the mirror when someone enters the room.
"Merlin? Oh sorry, I-"
Morgana's already half backed out when he calls her in again. She steps almost unwillingly over the threshold, staying as close to the door as she can.
"I was just looking for-"
"Merlin, yes I know." He tries to control the snap of his jealousy that comes unconsciously to his speech.
"I thought he might be here but he's not so-"
"What?" His admission has caught her off guard and she suddenly sees what he's dressed in.
"You're wearing it."
"Yes, that's what I thought it was for."
She rolls her eyes at his sarcasm but she's smiling and something in his chest is ever so pleased with himself that she's smiling because of him.
"Hilarious. With that wit you could replace the court jester."
"But Merlin's doing such a good job." She laughs at that and relaxes, stepping a little further into the room. He raises his arms. "It's beautiful. Did you design it?"
She nods, uncharacteristically bashful, her hair sliding in front her face again.
"It must have taken some poor seamstress hours to have this all embroidered. I hope you paid her well."
Morgana smiles tightly. "Of course, but she was happy to do it for her Prince."
"Well, you must thank her if you see her again."
They stand quietly gazing at each other for a moment and then Morgana shifts in the doorway. "Well, I should go and find Merlin."
"I sent him to the kitchens, so he should be along any moment. You're welcome to stay here and wait."
"No." She bites her lip. "It's nothing urgent; just send him along when you're finished with him."
Arthur nods, masking his disappointment. She pauses as she turns to go. "Arthur?"
"I'm glad you like the shirt." She smiles genuinely at him and something warms in his breast. Then she's gone and he's once again alone in his room. He lifts the hem up and inhales. It still smells faintly of Morgana, a light rose petal scent, the smell of her bathing oils.
Someone coughs in the doorway and he hurriedly drops the hem, folding his arms and pretending he's never been caught.
Merlin's laughing at him, he can see it behind his eyes, but he's very good at keeping a straight face.
"If you want to sniff your shirts don't let me stop you."
Arthur's face heats. "Remind me why I employ you again?"
"My charming comedic wit?" Merlin hands him the wine cup and starts picking up the clothes Arthur's discarded on his way round the bedroom. "My handsome good looks..."
"We were talking about you; I'm not sure who you're describing." Merlin is very tempted to throw the dirty laundry at Arthur but holds his peace.
"Hilarious, sire." He pauses. "So you finally decided to open Morgana's present then?"
Arthur nods. "It's lovely."
Merlin nods as he picks up a sock. "With all the embroidery on it, it took her ages to make it, so-"
"Morgana made the shirt?" There's a strange quality in Arthur's voice that Merlin can't quite identify.
"Well, yes, she stayed up every night stitching. Haven't you seen her fingers?"
Arthur shakes his head. "No, she...always keeps them hidden in her sleeves." Realisation hits. "I'm an idiot. Happy to do it for her Prince," he quotes. "I'm going to kill her."
"I'm not sure that's the proper way to thank someone..."
But Arthur's already out of the door, storming down to Morgana's quarters.
He doesn't bother to knock on the door. Morgana stands up hurriedly, hiding the bowl that Gwen had been using to bathe her sore fingers, behind her skirts.
"Gwen. Leave us." His tone is tempered by an added please and the maidservant hurries out, shutting the door behind her.
Morgana shifts uneasily. "Yes?"
"Why didn't you tell me you'd made the shirt?"
"Does it matter?" She turns from him and begins to gather up the bowl and ointments.
"Of course it matters!"
"Does it matter that Elaine hasn't made your armour for you?"
Arthur blows out a frustrated breath. "What's she got to do with anything?"
Morgana raises an eyebrow but goes back to her unnecessary tidying. He grabs her arm and forces her to face him.
"Morgana. Why did you bring up Elaine's present?"
"No reason. I'm just surprised you're not going to be wearing it to bed."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm ridiculous? I think you should take a look at yourself, prancing around in her armour all day as if you'd never seen any before."
The Prince rolls his eyes. "I know you two don't get along but there's no reason to be such a..."
"Go on, say it."
Arthur bites his tongue and smirks instead, deciding to change tack. "Just because she enjoys my company is no reason to get uppity."
Morgana snorts, as if she has no idea what he's talking about.
"I'm a prince, and it's my royal duty to entertain visiting guests. I can't just shirk it because you're going to get jealous."
"Me jealous?" She wants to slap him. "I'm not the one who interrogates Merlin every time he comes back from my chambers."
"What?" He doesn't know how she knows, but suspects Merlin tells Gwen who gossips back to her mistress. He goes on the defensive. "If he didn't spend so much time here, which, by the way, is more than a little inappropriate..."
"He was telling me the measurements for your shirt."
He wasn't expecting that. "Pardon?"
"Well I had to get the measurements somehow and Merlin was the obvious choice. And then I needed a model to hang it on to check it looked like a shirt rather than a pillowcase and then..."
The admission deflates her and she sighs. "I know."
Arthur runs a hand over his face. "Look, I didn't come to start an argument." He laughs bitterly. "Somehow that's all we seem to do these days. Why didn't you tell me you'd made it? A woman who was happy to do it for her prince?" His tone is quieter now, more subdued. "Is that all I am to you? Just the prince?"
Morgana's not sure where this is going. "I was happy to do it for my friend."
"Friend?" He's closer now and her breath hitches.
"I was happy to do it for you," she admits. "Not for a prince, or a friend, but a man." She looks down to the floor. "A man I- I deeply admire." It's as far an admission as she's going to give but it's enough for them both.
He takes her hand, sore and pinpricked from the needle and lifts it to his lips very slowly, giving her the chance to pull away if she wants. "Arthur," she warns. "What-"
And then the pads of her fingers are pressed against his mouth, and he kisses each finger softly, deliberately. She swallows, not trusting herself to speak anymore. Instead she leans a little closer, Arthur still hasn't let go of her hand and she finds herself slipping the other hand around his shoulder.
She tilts her head up and instinctively he leans down, closing the gap between them, their lips brushing. Morgana's eyes slip shut and she kisses him, softly, tentatively, completely unlike the strong, confidant woman he knows in court.
Her lips are warm, plump and gentle. He tastes peaches. She buries herself closer into him and tilts her head more, pressing harder, as she parts her lips for him.
Finally the kiss ends and they stand smiling at each other.
"Is this how I'm going to be repaid every time I give you a present?"
Arthur smirks and nods. "I think it's an appropriate thank you."
"Then I look forward to your next birthday very much."
The prince smiles, and tucks a stray curl behind her ear. "You're forgetting we have Christmas first."
She laughs softly. "There's going to be mistletoe everywhere isn't there?"
He answers her question with another kiss.
Hope you enjoyed the story- please Read and Review in exchange for a moment of pure squee in the form of squabbling Morgana and Arthur with serious underlying sexual tension.
More ArMor fics on the way because these two are so much fun to write :)
Because dying kissing crying loving fighting living is what the Legend is all about.