Title: Leave My Heart In Misery
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Gwen, Uther, mentions of Gaius and OCs
Word Count: 1,639
Spoilers: Somewhat for S3, but it's speculation that I had a month ago, a few things which I have since found out will probably go a little differently. So I don't think you'll know what are spoilers and what aren't if you don't know already.
Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin. All I own is my adoration for it.
Summary: After Arthur's brush with death during the dragon attacks, Uther thinks it's time for him to continue the family lineage. But Arthur has a hard time letting go of Gwen.
Author's notes: I'd started writing this for ag_fics' Drabble Challenge of "Lost Year" at that took place awhile back. ("Lost Year" because of news that S3 would take place one year after 2x13.) But this fic easily got to be over the 1,000 word limit, so I wrote Not Quite Pendragon Red instead (in which I decided to go much fluffier, since this fic is pretty angsty).
Title is from the lyrics of the apropos song "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" by Neil Sedaka.
"There's something I've been meaning to discuss with you, Arthur."
Arthur tore his eyes from Gwen's spot at the edge of the room, praying to whatever gods were out there that his father hadn't figured them out.
Luckily, Uther was concentrating on his dinner plate while he spoke.
"At least twice I have been sure that I would lose you, first to the Questing Beast and then to the dragon. Both times…" Uther swallowed, "it ripped me apart, as your father, to think I might lose my son."
"And I'm… sorry to have put you through that," Arthur answered carefully.
Uther waved his hand. "No, I was quite proud of your actions two weeks ago. But what I realized a few days after was that I wouldn't have just lost my son, but I would have lost my sole heir."
Arthur shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He really hoped this wasn't going where he thought it was.
"It has come to my attention that you need to get started on a family of your own. Considering that no one stands to succeed the throne after my death besides you, it is important that you marry as soon as possible and begin producing heirs."
"Father," Arthur choked, overly aware of Gwen standing just at the edge of his vision. This was not a conversation that he wanted to have ever, but especially not in front of Guinevere.
"We should begin meeting with eligible women of standing in earnest. Now if you still have feelings for Lady Vivian –"
"No. I don't," he answered firmly.
Uther tilted his head to one side. "Your feelings had seemed quite strong."
"My feelings were… temporary insanity."
"Well, no matter. I'm sure there are other princesses that would suit you fine."
Arthur finally dared looking back at Guinevere for a moment, only to find her staring at her feet.
"Must we really do this now? I've just taken on a large batch of trainees to replace the men I lost and am trying to focus on –"
"Yes, now. I don't want to be putting this off any longer than need be."
"It's just that now is not the best of times."
"Arthur, you must recognize the precariousness of the situation."
"And I understand that."
"Then why are you being so difficult?"
The prince's gaze swept toward Guinevere. "It's that… I…"
Uther rolled his eyes at his son's appearance of grasping at straws. He set down his cutlery and stood up.
"We will discuss this at a later date. But for now, there are some things that need seeing to before I retire to bed. Good night, Arthur."
Arthur chose to not think about the conversation he'd had with his father the previous night. So by the time he saw Guinevere that afternoon, he had almost managed to forget all about it.
Gwen came to visit him in his room, closing the door behind her. Arthur smiled at the sight of her, but she did not return his sentiment.
"Your father's right, Arthur."
"What do you mean?"
"It would be in Camelot's best interest that you marry a princess and start…" Gwen's voice lowered as she averted her eyes "producing heirs."
"Guinevere," he winced. He didn't want Gwen thinking about him producing heirs – with anyone besides her, anyway. "I thought we moved past this."
"Moved past what?"
"Moved past the idea that I could be with anyone else!" Arthur took a deep breath and started again. "It's just that… after I defeated the dragon, it seemed we might be…"
"I know. But that was all within certain circumstances. Emotions were running high, there was a high possibility of either or both of us dying at anytime, and then I was sure you would die and…" Gwen shook her head, as if to clear it. "We just… we need to be realistic now."
"We both know the most likely end to all this, anyway," she whispered.
He just nodded for a moment, before finally speaking.
"I suppose it would be unfair to you. Dragging you through everything," he said in a rough voice. All the reasons he had once had for not starting a relationship with Guinevere came rushing back to him. "You deserve better. Deserve better than secrecy and nothing but maybes and promises I can't make. You'd be left waiting for who knows how long without any guarantees. I'm being selfish."
"That's not what I meant."
"But it's true. And prolonging the inevitable would just hurt both of us."
Gwen bit her lip. "Yes."
They both stood there for a minute, not sure of what to do next.
"Training is starting soon," he said stiffly.
"And I need to get back, as well."
Arthur pursed his mouth as she curtseyed and left.
Arthur decided it was better this way, ending things with Gwen before it would have become even more painful… Right?
They remained amicable, of course. They did seem to run into each other a lot, between Merlin and Gaius and… since when had the castle become so damn small?
Even though he was supposed to be getting over her, vast amounts of his time were spent thinking about her. He'd push her from her mind the best he could, but it was difficult. Especially when his mind strayed to what it had been like kissing Gwen, as he had particular trouble prying his thoughts away from those memories.
They'd only ever kissed three times. Once, too briefly, at her house. A second time, too vague in his memory, to break the love spell on him. And the last time, after he had defeated the dragon. That kiss had not been brief and he had spent a large amount of energy memorizing every detail. Yet it had still not been enough.
No amount of kisses would ever be enough when it came to Guinevere.
Uther's search for Arthur's bride was delayed by the breakout of a war with Cenred. This of course, only deepened the king's anxiousness for Arthur to have his own heirs. However Arthur couldn't help being a bit relieved that something was taking priority to his pending marriage. Just the subject being brought up by his father made his stomach churn uncomfortably. War wasn't the optimal choice, but if it had to happen, its timing couldn't be much better.
Arthur was slowly coming to the agonizing conclusion that he would have to marry. But it was just too soon. He wasn't ready yet. He needed more time for the mark Guinevere had left on his heart to fade and something to focus on until then.
So Arthur welcomed the conflict in some strange way.
At least until he and his men returned to Camelot after a particular battle, less in numbers and all of the remaining worse for wear.
Arthur sat on a table in his partitioned-off corner of the great hall, waiting to be tended to. Finally, Gwen pushed past the makeshift curtain.
She stood there awkwardly, inclining her head. "My lord."
"You should attend to someone else. It's just some cracked ribs," he offered.
She bit her lip, clearly a tad embarrassed. "I heard. But everybody's been seen to already, except you."
"Oh." He understood, more than she might know. "Then I will wait for Gaius."
"He's with Sir Bedivere."
Arthur nodded. Bedivere had received an arrow to his shoulder, a chance shot between his armor plates. It was one of the worst injuries of those still alive. "Will he be all right?"
"Gaius thinks so. But the extraction will take some time; Gaius must be careful."
"If you really don't want me to –"
"No, it's fine."
Gwen pressed her mouth into a thin line as she set to work collecting the linens wraps to secure his ribcage.
"Now don't hold your breath," she instructed quietly, not looking him in the eye. "Or else it will be wrapped too tightly and you'll have difficulty breathing."
"Sure," he replied as she began to wind the cloth around him.
Arthur did his best to breathe deeply, even though each expansion of his chest was painful. He knew it was partly due to his injury. And he was sure Gwen's presence contributed to that pain, considering how he was used to the clenched feeling in his chest whenever he so much as thought of her. Having Guinevere right in front of him only made it worse. All he could think about were her fingers brushing against his bare chest, her lowered eyelashes as she concentrated on her work, her face so close he'd only have to lean forward to kiss her –
Which is exactly what he did the moment she tied the cloth and dared to look him in the eye for a second too long.
He pressed up against her mouth, all rational thought gone. Nothing seemed to matter as long as he kept kissing her and she returned the kiss in kind. She'd been surprised at first and then hesitant, but was now unmistakably pushing back against his lips.
One of his hands went to her waist, pulling her closer, while his other reached up to cup her face.
When they broke a few moments later, he rested his forehead against hers, too afraid to open his eyes. He was close to panting now and it hurt like hell. But Arthur didn't care.
"Guinevere…" he whispered.
"I should see if Gaius needs help," she stammered suddenly.
He pulled back from her and lowered his hands. "I'm sorry."
"You don't need to apologize, my lord." Gwen avoided his eyes as she gathered up her things and slipped through the partition.
Arthur sighed, knowing that any progress he might have made with getting over her he had just relinquished.