"catch with hungry hands"
Genre: Friendship, Drama (and why do we not have a gal term for bromance? )
Time Frame: Season II, Post "The Once and Future Queen"
Characters: Gwen/Arthur, Morgana
Summary: "And who else would teach you?" the lady's smile was painted bright, her sleepless eyes reflecting her mirth as she invited you closer.
Notes: A marathon of old Merlin episodes today made me nostalgic in the most nostalgic of ways. And so . . . the good ol' days. Here we are.
And Merlin, while you are a show that redefines bromance, it seems at times you have no idea what to do with your leading ladies (cough*Morgana*cough), this is me trying to fill in one little scene while indulging a little bit in heavy handed foreshadwowing and galmance (and the term shall stick, I do so declare!).
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.
"catch with hungry hands"
Guinevere has long held silk and jewels in her hands, but has never worn them upon her body.
She knows how they feel – knows the formation of them, thread by thread. Her fingers are callused from needle and thimble and loom, and she has spent years enough patching up after the Lady Morgana to know them more than any damsel of the court knows her finery.
It has only been a handful of eves (feasts, skirmishes, valiant deeds) since the tourney that had decided all for her, and her mind was still full of morning sunlight (sunlight? Childhood imaginings having always been hushed shadows and candlelight), and careful, crooked grins. Wants and could-bes are bewitching things, and she finally had to try to push them away lest she have to redo the same tiny braid in Morgana's hair for the fourth time now.
The affection she holds within her is an impossible thing. She knows this; knows that she has hands for needle and thread rather than silk and lace. She has, and would always, know sweat upon her brow rather than the weight of a crown. Simple cotton and simple affections are what's left to her for as long as she will live.
And really, she has never wanted more – she wears her contentment like iron under her skin, and it has never failed to warm her. Her family loves (hadloved, but she loses track of tenses at times), and she had always been secure in that. Rich in that.
Gwen frowned at her task, biting her lip. Would that Arthur were a simple lad in the stables, or one of the pages skittering through the castle halls like bees through a hive. How much simpler that would be. How much easier for her to think on sunlight and stolen kisses and -
She cut herself off. The remnant of the thought was a stabbing thing behind her eyes, and upon it, she pulled at a snarl in Morgana's hair with a little more force than she ought to have.
"Give me a name, and I shall take care of whoever has so inspired your ire tonight, Gwen," Morgana's voice was colored with a smirk, wry over the weariness that clung to her like a shadow.
"There is no ire, milady." Another tangle.
Morgana winced. "I," she declared imperiously, "do not believe you."
"My fingers are merely clumsy tonight, I am sorry," Gwen said softly, stepping away from her lady's hair. The dark tresses were styled enough, and a few wayward curls had always helped Morgana anyway. Made her look like some elemental spirit rather than a woman of flesh and mortal bone.
She stepped around the seated lady, looking down at the vanity and seeing the cosmetics waiting there. Morgana's eyes followed her, waiting. Her eyes were set into her pale white face like bruises that evening, and Gwen bit her lip against the memory of Morgana waking that morning (technically morning, still late enough at night for it to be blacker than pitch out, the sky turbulent), trembling, something in her eyes possessed. Instead of asking about her dreams (again), Gwen took her paint out, and started to hide their evidence.
She was tired so often as of late, Gwen thought, a stab of worry deep within her chest. Morgana's nightmares had always been horrible – unholy demons that Gwen had seen the aftereffects of, if not the cause. Always, she had been there for them - in that first year with Gorlois slain and Vivienne gone, Morgana had asked Uther for a sister with the innocence of a young child. He placed a hand upon his ward's head, never able to deny her anything, but had given her Gwen – the blacksmith's daughter as a maid.
And years later, she was still fighting away the nightmares from the Morgana's eyes.
It took her but minutes to make the other girl up. Minus the violet staining her eyes, Morgana already had a loveliness to her that was hard to improve upon. Gwen set her kohl aside with the brushes and stepped back so that her mistress could stand.
Morgana stood, peering in the mirror for a moment to appreciate Gwen's work before heading towards the screen further on into the room. "It 'tis a pity that you are so good at what you do, Gwen," Morgana said lightly. "I do suspect that there is no chance that Lord Wynne will not claim the first dance with me now."
"Such hardships must be born," Gwen bit back a smile as she hung her gown for the evening up over the screen. The silk of Morgana's dress was cool under her hands. It snagged against her callused fingers.
"It is to be born, until Uther finally picks one of the greedy hands for me to take and wed," Morgana sighed.
Gwen bit her lip, and kept her thoughts her own. If anything, Uther's brow remained furrowed and his opinion tight about who was worthy enough to claim what he held dearest to him. Most likely, Arthur would be wed and expecting before Morgana as a bride was used to further Camelot's power. The thought struck like a stone in her, and so Gwen set it away.
A moment later, Morgana stepped out again, smoothing out the wrinkles in her gown as she waited for Gwen to help her with the laces. The color was rich and turquoise – not Gwen's color, personally, but it did make an almost unearthly beauty out of Morgana's loveliness – made the watery cast of her eyes that much more vivid. A crown would never look askance upon her brow, Gwen thought as she laced up the back – familiar with the formation of the other girl as much as she was with her own self.
Gwen darted a glance up to the curls she had put into place before letting her hands fall away. The space was absent, but should it be filled . . .
"Lord Aderyn has a terrible way of stepping on toes, especially after the first round of wine," Morgana continued, and Gwen listened. A part of herself – the hopeless part of herself that she kept locked up secret and tight – even filed such information away, just in case, someday, maybe, the promises in Arthur's eyes became true . . .
Gwen shook her head, and replaced the traitorous thought with the dust of a memory. She had never danced in her life – save for years before, when Elyan had twirled her about the kitchens when the music from the feast played, both of them laughing like only children could.
"He dances like a stampeding oxen, yet, he has land holdings enough for me to smile politely at him. He does not know the difference between the right step and left step," Morgana looked thoughtful for a moment. "Do you think it would be noticed if I wore my riding boots under my dress? Better to protect my feet then these dainty . . . things, you have selected." She gave the slippers at her feet a truly withering stare, the soft silk and fine embroidery not nearly enough to hold up to the heat of her gaze.
Gwen leveled a patient gaze at the other woman. "I can fetch a different colour, if you would like."
Morgana rolled her eyes. "These will do," she muttered as she slipped them on. "Although they will help me not if Uther insists upon me taking a turn with his son tonight. A woman has not known true torture until trying to stay a whole song in the arms of Arthur Pendragon. That man is made for sword and shield, not for dancing," Morgana made a face.
"I wouldn't know," Gwen said softly, her smile tugging as she stepped away to star picking up the used things at the vanity. The pins she had not used, she placed back in their box, the emerald stones set into the tips of the gold glinting in the half light. She passed her thumb over them in routine's caress, making them shine. "I've never danced before."
Morgana looked at her, considering. She would have missed the look if not for the backwards glance of the mirror before her. Gwen caught her gaze for a moment, before dropping her eyes back down, finding the floor as was proper. She snapped the lid on the box of pins shut, and then took the basket at her feet in order to start collecting the clothes that Morgana had discarded to prepare for the feast. Even the silk of her chemise was more than Gwen's finest dress. She straightened, stood, handled her load with a practiced poise.
And was honestly surprised when Morgana reached out with her shawl, trapping her from her duties. She hung on to the laundry basket as the fondness in Morgana's eyes flared bright for a moment, true underneath the cosmetics. The heavy fabric about her shoulders – such a token part of Morgana's wardrobe worth more than Gwen earned in a season. It caught against the linen of her gown, and still the Lady smiled. "It is a good colour for you," she declared with all of the haughtiness of her rank, and Gwen found herself smiling despite herself. The violet set vividly against the dark cast of her skin, making it something molten and rich.
"Milady?" Gwen asked through her smile.
"Come now, you shall dance," Morgana declared.
Gwen raised a brow. "I, my lady, have laundry to see to, and you have a feast to attend."
Morgana waved a hand. "And it shall wait for me to start."
"The king will be cross," Gwen said.
"Let him be," Morgana smiled, and the look was true. "You have not danced before, and to the laws of this land, that is a crime."
"By what order?" Gwen challenged. "In what code is that said?"
"I shall have Merlin look it up," Morgana waved a hand. "And if it is not there, I shall have his majesty declare it so."
Gwen shook her head. "You are speaking foolishness."
"And it is your job to humor my foolishness," Morgana threw her nose in the air. "Your laundry can wait." She held out a hand, her eyes oddly soft. "Besides? Who else would dance with you if not for me?"
The words tugged at Gwen, even though she knew them to be spoken truly. The other girl had her peers within the court - had Arthur's teasing, and Uther's affection; but she had not a true friend. Gwen was the closest thing Morgana had to a confidant – shared nightmares and secrets and dreams, and for a moment Gwen let herself forget the odd silences and shadows around the other girl as of late.
Instead, she held her hand out, the equal of any lady with her grace, and said, "I accept."
She let her laundry basket fall to the floor. Without its weight, she stood up taller; poised and perfectly straight.
Morgana stepped closer to her, held her head up like a haughty peacock of the court (and Gwen swallowed back her own teasing, how natural the role of lord and leader came to her), and held her hand out.
Gracefully, Gwen curtsied, having sat through the arduous days when Morgana's tutors had been hellbent on making a lady out of the spitfire, harpy of a child that she had been.
A hand at her waist, and another in her own. Morgana's hands were soft and warm, not even callused from where she had worn the king down in order to learn swordplay. "One two three, one two three," Morgana chanted in place of music, leading as Gwen began to move. The other girl made it easy to follow her – Pendragon arrogance, adopted or not, looked good upon her, and she had never hesitated to use it as such.
"I remember when Madame Iowyrth taught you this dance," Gwen admitted as they spun. "When she forced you to walk around with books on your head to make you stop fidgeting, and so you did so for an entire fortnight - even to dinner, in order to spite her."
"She was insufferable," Morgana did say, her painted lips stretching into a vicious grin set to cut. "If Uther would not have been so very cross, I would have turned her into a toad then and there."
Treason, on the lips of anyone else. If anything, it would earn a fond smile from their king. Gwen felt her throat work, remembering her father, and she swallowed.
"Few would have deserved it more," was all she did say. It was the truth, after all.
"Arthur never took well to dancing," Morgana made a face. Indeed, the ward and the prince took to dancing like swordplay, and Gwen had lost count of the times that they had taken to purposely stepping upon the other's toes. Gwen thought of Arthur now, sure hands strong at her waist, almost afraid to touch her. And -
Morgana spun her. Gwen felt the air swirl around her, made sweet from her lady's perfume.
"I daresay you learn more quickly than even him," Morgana continued wickedly.
One two three, one two three, one two three . . .
Still, Gwen turned. Morgana led, and she followed; met her eyes rather than stared at her feet like she wanted to. Remembered she and her brother in the kitchens, laughing and spinning around maids with arms full of food for the feast. Remembered Arthur and Morgana young, and acting younger so as they tripped, one about the other. Remembered Uther finally intervening when the tutors declared their task impossible. Remembered the child Morgana had been meeting the king like an opponent when he had finally taken it upon himself to guide her. Steel meeting steel, and oddly lovely so for the clash of it . . .
One two three, and -
Morgana came to a stop.
Gwen's feet still moved for another step. Two. She would not have missed. Her brow furrowed, her cheeks flushed. "Is something the matter, milday?"
"It is nothing," Morgana smiled as if forcing back a frown, her eyes tilted as they did when they had a riddle she could not quite solve. She still held her hands, but she had stepped back. "It's . . . your feet take naturally to this." Her eyes, searching, found hers. Gwen held up her chin, and let the other find all that she wanted to there. "You are always so much more than you appear to be."
There was a shadow in the Morgana's eyes. Ever descending. When she spoke, there was a wall in her words, remembered and returned. "That will be all, Guinevere."
Gwen bowed her head, remembered her place as the other remembered hers. Still, her steps to the door were made with dancing feet. She paused to collect her laundry, balanced it upon her hip. She knew the steps, she could learn them further . . .
"My lady," she mumbled by route, and curtsied before taking her leave. She made it deep, made it low. Kept her balance like a musicians fingers, curved about a harp. Elegance, poise, she chanted in her mind.
Not that she would ever need it, of course.
. . . of course.