Autumn Too Long
Summary: The day Guinevere sleeps with Arthur Pendragon is an autumn's day like any other, and there is nothing to mark it special as it dawns. [Arthur/Gwen]
Rating: Light teen. Some implied adult activities.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
Author's Note: A few references to 3x06, nothing very spoilery. Inspired by autumn in Norway and my own vague annoyance at being stuck in waiting patterns. Much thanks to clevermonikerr for beta.
A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand. I think, I too, have known autumn too long.
e. e. cummings
The day Guinevere sleeps with Arthur Pendragon is an autumn's day like any other, and there is nothing to mark it special as it dawns.
The air is cold, but not freezing. Frost clings to the grass like a lover's embrace, but it is not snow. The leaves are falling, but some still cling stubbornly to the branches, colourful in the face of certain death. Every breath taken outside becomes white in the chill of the air, almost like fog, and just as insubstantial.
Gwen wakes to a cold that sun will eventually mellow slightly, and hurries to dress herself before the chill settles in her bones. Her house never quite feels warm enough in winter, and sometimes even the royal apartments of the castle feel like ice.
That could be due to more than the weather, she has to admit. There is Morgana, who feels cold for all her smiles; they never reach her eyes. There is Uther, heart like ice that only thaws when it serves him. And there is her and Arthur, frozen in place between something more than friendly and something less than a romance. Can't go forward, can't go back.
But she does have to go to work, and she grabs her basket and heads out into the morning sounds of Camelot. A few familiar faces smile at her as she passes, and she gives a few hurried back. Only in the courtyard does she pause, as several horses come riding in, looking like they've ridden through the night.
King Uther and Arthur are back a few days early, and she can tell it's not for the best reasons just from the expressions on their faces.
Merlin gives her a look as he gets off his horse; Arthur's gaze holds her just a few seconds longer than is just polite. She has to check herself not to walk over and ask him what is wrong, as something clearly is.
Uther doesn't look at her at all,and she's sure even if he did look in her direction, he wouldn't see her. She can still feel his fury, only barely restrained.
She courtesies as Uther passes, lifting her head slightly as Arthur walks by, and Merlin comes to her side as she stands up fully. He looks tired, and not in a 'has had exciting adventures with the prince of Camelot, narrowly escaping death' way.
"Come to Arthur's chambers later," he says in a low voice.
"Has he asked for me?" she asks, feeling her heart pick up a little at the thought.
"No," Merlin says simply. "But I know him. Come to his chambers later."
So she does.
Morgana goes to see Uther, and Gwen takes the opportunity to slip away and find Arthur's chambers. Merlin is in the hallway outside, but merely nods at her before disappearing further into it.
She doesn't knock. She probably should, but the door is slightly ajar and she just slips in. Arthur is resting his hands against the table, staring at the wood as if it has some sort of message he just needs to decode.
"Arthur?" she asks, and he looks up, eyes dark. "I'm sorry, I can leave."
"Stay," he says, and it is more a request than a command. "How has Camelot fared while we were away?"
"Well," she says as she walks further into the room. "Morgana has ruled well these few days you have been away."
"My father will be pleased to hear it," he remarks, and his voice is as dark as his eyes. "It will give him one cause for pleasure at least."
"Is he displeased?"
She takes that in, and knows it can only be Arthur that is the cause of the displeasure. His body language and tone of voice rather shouts it, and she cannot help but let her fingers brush against his in a comforting gesture.
"We had a row," he says suddenly, sharply. "About firewood supplies to Camelot, of all ridiculous things. Camelot can do with less if it means the farmers will have enough to keep their livestock alive through the winter."
That is not a ridiculous thing to those not living in royal quarters, she knows, but she suspects that Arthur starting to learn the same is part of the cause for the row.
"We're never been close, but... Why does it feel like I am growing up, yet growing less in my father's eyes?" He sighs. "What am I doing wrong, Guinevere? This time, I mean."
"Nothing. You're just not like him."
"To my father, that is wrong."
"It's not wrong to me."
He looks up, the filtered sunlight from the window catching the light in his eyes. He suddenly feels very close, and she realises her comforting gesture has become hand-holding and his other hand is resting on her hip.
"If you say you need to go, I will tie you to this table," he says, his voice still dark, but now no longer with anger.
She draws a breath to tell him off, but it catches a little in her throat as he tilts his head. He's going to kiss her, she realises, but instead it's she who tip-toes and presses her lips against his. He responds eagerly, parting his lips and running a hand up along her back, pressing her closer.
She lifts her free hand (the other still linked with his) to his chest, feeling it rise and fall as he breaths with her and into her until they're both breathless. Her lips feel swollen as as his lips wander down the side of her neck, and his heartbeat seem to be her pulse too.
"Arthur," she says, and he presses a kiss against her collarbone before lifting his head to look at her again. "If your father sees us like this, you will have real cause for a row."
He gives a halfhearted chuckle, but doesn't step away. Instead, he kisses her, softly and slowly this time, his thumb caressing her cheek all the while. After a few breaths, she reluctantly pulls away.
"I must go," she says, stepping out of his embrace. He doesn't hinder her, but she does note the brief look of disappointment on his face.
"Thank you," he says softly, and she feels his eyes on her all the way out of the room.
Gwen knows she has company the moment she steps into her home, which isn't all that remarkable, given that Arthur's leaning against her table in the middle of the room.
"Arthur," she says, and he inclines his head. "What are you doing here?"
"Exercising a strategic move," he says, walking over and tucking a tendril of hair behind her ear. "You can't tell me you have to go here. This is your home."
She has no retort to that, so she simply watches as his hand takes hers and lifts it to his lips. His breath is hot across her knuckles and the tiny hairs on her hand seem to rise.
"A few years ago, I would not have fought my father on issues such as firewood for the farmers," he says after a moment, not letting go of her hand.
"Why did you now?"
"Because a king should respect his people and their needs."
She once told him something similar, she remembers. Now he is saying it with conviction and she could kiss him breathless for it. He is becoming what she saw in him, and it's making it all the harder to look away.
"Guinevere," he says, her name always sounding so regal when he speaks it. "I will be a better king because of you. And maybe because of Merlin, just a tiny, miniscule bit. Don't tell him I said that!"
She bites her lip to prevent a smile, but he seems to catch it anyway, kissing her the corner of her mouth just as her lips curve upwards. He kisses her cheek, her upper lip, the other side of her mouth, her lower lip, all the while keeping the touches featherlight.
Once, she told him what he wanted was mad, and he proclaimed himself happy to be so. Now she seems to have gone mad too.
"We should not be doing this," she says, licking her lips slightly as he pulls away a little. "We are not even betrothed."
"In here," he says, putting her hand over his heart, "we are more than that."
Queen of hearts, she thinks. Or rather Queen of a heart, Arthur's heart.
"Do you want me to go?" he asks, watching her face intently. "You know what I want."
She bites her lip so hard it might draw blood, but he tilts her head up with a finger under her chin and kisses it gently.
If she tells him to leave now, he will, she knows. And their relationship will stay as it is, undefined and in between, waiting for something to change.
Nothing can stay the same forever. Seasons pass, traditions fade and Kings die, and nothing stays all together the same.
"Arthur," she whispers, resting her cheek against his, feeling the heat of his skin. "Please stay."
When he smiles, she kisses him, and she does not break it even when she leads him step by step to her bed. Not even when they fall onto it together, fingers entwined too; a servant's bed holding all that which the prince desires.
The day Guinevere sleeps with Arthur Pendragon is an autumn's day like any other, but there is something to mark it as special as it sets.
It's snowing in Camelot, light flakes of white falling down in the last rays of sunlight. In the morning, the ground will be covered, and the seasons will have changed, as they must. Autumn will be no more.
Winter has come.