Matters of Trust
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
Author's Note: Post 4x09, but will be made AU by future episodes, I can pretty much guarantee it. Sort of a fix-it, depending on how you look at it.
One morning, Arthur is simply standing outside her small hut when she opens the door to start her morning chores, and she wonders for a moment if she is still asleep. The light of the sun across his shoulders make him seem even more regal than his cape bearing the Pendragon crest, but the mud that clings to his boots is all reality.
So is the entourage of knights with him.
"Guinevere!" he says delightedly, his face lighting up. He tries a smile, but it falters a little as she just stares at him.
The memory of the last time she saw him, and what they said to each other then, seems to fill her, for all she's tried to keep it at a distance since she left Camelot.
"What are you doing here?" she manages to ask.
"Morgana enchanted you," he says, and she feels strangely dizzy for a moment, as if the world is spinning into a new orbit. "She raised Lancelot as a shade as well. Merlin uncovered the truth. None of what happened was your doing."
He loks at her as if waiting to see joy on her face, but all she can feel is something strangely akin to pain, a sharp jab to her heart. Morgana. Morgana did this, and Arthur... Arthur banished her. She'd come to terms with it when she thought it her own fault, but now, now... Morgana caused this and Arthur banished her and now he is here, looking at her with bright, blue eyes. As she stares at him, he lowers his eyes slightly, as if he doesn't want to see the pain in her face.
"I have made a public declaration of your innocence," he goes on, every inch the king, taking a step closer and reaching for her hands "I've lifted your banishment. I have brought an escort worthy of a Queen. Now I've come to beg..."
"No," she says, lifting her hands up and away from his grasp. He stares at her, not quite understanding. "No."
"No?" he repeats, sounding confused.
"No," she simply says, stepping back and closing the door in his face. After a breath, she leans her forehead against the wood of the door, every breath feeling painful. This was done to her. She thought herself to blame, resigned herself to the blame, but it was not hers. This was done to her, unfairly, unjustly, maliciously.
'What did I ever do to you, Morgana?' she thinks faintly, but her own heartbeats offer her no answer.
The knock on the door is not wholly unexpected, nor is the person she opens to. Merlin. Of course.
"Did Arthur send you?" she asks simply.
"Yes," he says, sounding ill at ease and guilty. The last time she saw him, he didn't even speak to her, though his gaze spoke volumes for him.
"Then you may not come in," she tells him firmly, and closes the door on him.
It is dark outside when it knocks again, and the light catches something almost golden in in Merlin's eyes as she opens the door.
"I told Arthur you would not see me on my behalf," he tells her. "Now I am here for me."
She looks at him; he swallows a few times under her gaze, but does not look away.
"I am sorry," he says.
"Are you here to ask my forgiveness?"
"No. Just to say I am sorry."
She exhales, then steps away from the door to let him enter. He takes in the hut, her feeble attempts to make a home, but makes no comment.
"It was the bracelet," he tells her.
She considers that, remembering her own confused feelings after she took it off. The bracelet. Such a little thing, and yet such major heartbreak to come from it.
"He never stopped loving you, Gwen," Merlin goes on, and she exhales slowly. "Do you not still love him?"
"He stopped trusting me," she says. "He banished me. I love him, Merlin, but I cannot trust him. Look around you. He did not even think what life I would have outside of Camelot."
"Arthur isn't great at thinking," Merlin says, and for a moment, she almost wants to smile at that. "He has been miserable without you."
"He has at least had his home and friends," she says bitterly, then catches herself.
"You can come home," Merlin says hopefully, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Arthur would give you a royal welcome."
She shakes her head mutely, trying not to let the desire to go home, return to Camelot and let it all be as it was show in her face. Maybe Merlin sees something anyway, because he looks at her intently.
"He will not simply let you go," he says.
"But he did," she says, and Merlin says nothing to that.
When she comes back from gathering firewood in the forest, Elyan is leaning against one of the walls of her hut, a giant basket at his feet.
She suspected the baskets she had been finding outside her door once a week was from him, and now she can be certain.
"Elyan," she says, and he looks at her with guilt all over his face.
"I should have known my sister would not do such a thing," he says stiffly.
"You should," she agrees. "But perhaps we don't know each other as well as sister and brother should. You were away a long time and after your return, your duties as a knight of Camelot has taken you away a lot."
"Did you have feelings for Lancelot?" he asks. "I thought I caught something in the way you looked at him sometimes, that's why I thought you could have..."
"I loved him once," she says, and Elyan nods slowly. "That is why I thought I had..."
"We should both have known," he cuts in, taking her hands. "Gwen, come home with me, please."
"No," she says gently, and he leaves it at that.
She isn't entirely surprised to find all the knights of Camelot kneeling outside her door the next morning, Elyan among them. Gwaine does the talking, managing to avoid flirting at least half of the time and sounding sincere most of it.
They don't beg her forgiveness. They don't apologize. They just offer to serve her as the Queen of Camelot she should be, and for the memory and honour of Lancelot also.
She lets them clean the hut and the pigsty as their oath of allegiance.
She wakes up from a dreamless sleep when the door slams open, and Arthur stands there, his hair wet from rain and clothes crumbled and muddy. Nothing royal about him now, just human.
"I saw you grieve him. I saw how he would look at you. I saw you two kiss," he says, as if they're in the middle of a conversation. "I honestly thought... Guinevere, I know I did you wrong, and Morgana did us most wrong of all, but I always knew he had earned a part of your heart."
"He had," she says softly, rising from bed and hardly even noticing how cold the floor is against her naked feet. "I love you, Arthur, but my heart is not all yours, as yours is not all mine. You loved your father. You love your people, your kingdom, even Morgana a little still. Even Merlin, for all you may deny it. I love my brother, my friends, Merlin of course, even Morgana a little."
"You love me still," he says, a flash of relief crossing his face.
"Did you stop loving me?"
"No. Never. Even if you were the blissful wife and beloved of Lancelot, I would still love you."
She exhales, wondering why she has been holding her breath. "Then grant me the same courtesy. When you were the king of Camelot and banished me, I still loved you. I still love you."
He looks at her, the hope in his eyes so palatable she can almost feel it. "Guinevere, I beg you..."
"No," she interrupts, turning halfway away from him before he grabs her, his fingers digging a little into her flesh.
"No?" he echoes angrily. "I come to beg your forgiveness and you tell me no?"
"Yes," she says, watching his fingers on his arms, now caressing her skin without seeming to even notice. He stares at her, then leans forward and kisses her.
For all the anger in him, his kiss is strangely tender, lips brushing hers feather-light, at least until she tugs at his bottom lip, then the wall is at her back as he pushes her against it and his tongue is in her mouth and his fingers digging into the cloth of her night-shirt.
She braids her fingers in his hair, feeling the moisture of the rain still in it. He must have ridden through the night from Camelot, she thinks, a thought that should have occurred to her earlier.
Oh. Maybe, maybe after all, maybe...
"Guinevere," he says against her lips, breathlessly. She closes her eyes to it, feeling the heat of his body as he presses against her; it makes her toes curl.
"No," she says against his lips, placing her hand on his chest and pushing him away. He doesn't break the kiss until she uses her other hand as well, and then he uses the opportunity to take both her hands and kiss the palms.
"I am not leaving," he says simply.
"Then you may slepe on the floor," she tells him, freeing her hands and stepping back to climb into her bed.
He does; she falls asleep to the strangely soothing sound of his snoring.
He is still there when she wakes, and she watches him for a while before slipping out to get water. It's a foggy morning, dew clinging to the grass, and Merlin asleep against the wall with a cape covering him. She watches him for a moment, before sighing softly and stepping inside.
Arthur is awake, apparently attempting to make her bed. She watches for a few seconds before putting the bucket loudly down. He spins around, looking slightly awkward.
"Gaius suggested I present myself as your servant to earn your forgiveness," he says, and she raises an eyebrow.
"You asked Gaius for advice?"
"Yes," he admits. "And Gwaine. And Elyan. And Percival. And Merlin, but his was completely useless."
"He called me a complete ass and said I shouldn't beg your forgiveness, but earn your trust back."
"You should listen to Merlin more," she says, but before he can react she holds up the bucket. "But you can make Gaius happy and be my servant today."
Arthur isn't much of a servant, she has to admit. Her bed is lumpy, her floor has spots even after he's swept it twice, his breakfast is undercooked and his wood-chopping technique is in need of some refinement.
She still enjoys every minute of it, exchanging amused glances with Merlin as they watch Arthur attempt to give a pig royal commands and finding it a trying subject indeed.
"He has treated you badly many times," she tells Merlin, who just shrugs a little. "He still does. Why do you endure it?"
"Because I trust the future," he says distantly. "It will be worth it in the end. Certain things are."
"Certain things may not be," she says, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice and only half-way succeeding. "How do you know which is which?"
"Trust yourself to tell the difference," Merlin simply says. "But love, Gwen – sometimes you only get that once. That makes it worth a lot."
When she looks at him, he looks lost to a memory; she wonders which.
"I was stupid. I was jealous. I was arrogant. I was thinking only of myself," Arthur tells her, leaning into her as she leans against the wall and feels the sun on her face. "I should have trusted you. I know this..."
"Merlin told you that, you mean," she says, and he shifts a little.
"Him and Elyan and Gwaine, actually," he corrects. "And Percival, though with less words."
"What words were those?"
When he leans in and whispers in her ear, she laughs; he kisses her eagerly, almost as if he is a man starved of laughter and only she can bring it.
Maybe, she thinks again, and kisses him back.
"It's not that you can't forgive him, is it?" Merlin asks, and she wonders if it matters most to Arthur or to Merlin that she takes Arthur back. Maybe it would be quite close to a tie.
"It's not," she admits. "He hurt me, but I love him. I could forgive him."
"Why don't you?"
"He banished me," she says, watching Arthur tackling doing laundry as if it was a mystery of the ages. "He is the king. He has been Arthur to me so long and then he was the king. Even when he came back to tell me it was all Morgana's doing, he was so much the king. I can't forgive him until I..."
She exhales, not sure how to word it, or even if she can word it. She just knows she needs something, that she can't just go back to Camelot and pick up where they were.
"Until you trust yourself too," Merlin says, and she wonders if he's right.
"Give me a task I can master," Arthur begs her, looking at the butter he is to churn. "I can hunt you a stag, we can have a feast..."
"No," she says.
"Guinevere, I know how to hunt. This, I am no good at."
"I know," she says, kissing him briefly and watching the slight confusion on his face. "That's why I want you to do it."
When she looks in on him a little later, he is churning with the determination of a farmer – just not with the skill of one.
On the third night of sleeping on the floor, she wakes up to Arthur making an irritated exclamation then getting up and slamming the door slightly as he marches out.
She listens to the silence for a while, feeling her own breath and heartbeats so very loud in the silence.
It takes half an hour before he comes back, slipping in quietly as if believing her still to be sleeping and not waiting to wake her. He sighs a little as he lies down on the floor again, a sound of resignation.
"You may sleep in my bed with me if you keep your hands to yourself," she says into the darkness, and closes her eyes to sleep.
He is sleeping next to her when she wakes, his arms behind his back, his forehead inches from hers. She leans forward to plant a kiss there, kissing his nose also, stroking his face, his shoulders, his chest...
When he opens his eyes, he seems a little confused; she smiles at it.
"I never said anything about keeping my hands to myself," she says softly, kissing him with vigour, breaking the kiss just as he starts kissing her back. "Now get me some breakfast."
He gets her flowers with her breakfast too, and kneels when he serves her.
"I am your humble servant, Guinevere," he promises, and she has to smile at that, because there is about as much humble in him as there are cooking skills. "What do you want from me? Say it, and it will be yours."
She watches his face, upturned to look at her, so earnest.
"I want to be able to trust you," she says softly. "You banished me. Before that, you let me go once because I was not a proper match for a king."
"I listened to poor advice and changed my mind then. I came to find you the moment I learned what Morgana had done." He reaches for her hands, and she lets him take them. "I am sorry."
"I know you are," she acknowledges. "I am sorry for the hurt Morgana caused you as well. She did you as much wrong as she did me. But Arthur, every time there is a problem, you let me go. You listen to poor advice about me. You changed your mind, yes, but you did listen initially. You banished me from your kingdom. You come back, yes, but you banished me first. I need to trust you will not always let me go if there is a problem."
"I love you," he says passionately. "I always come back to you. It is not... It is not easy for me to humble myself, to admit wrong, but I do it for you."
His kiss is lingering and persistent, as if wanting to assure, though if it is her or him he's looking to assure, she does not know. Perhaps both.
"I think we do Arthur a disservice sometimes," she tells Merlin, who is trying very hard not to laugh at Arthur's idea of persuading a hen to give up the egg. "We both see in him what he could be that I think sometimes we do not see what he is."
"A spoilt arrogant former prince who's used to having all that he wants as his birthright?" Merlin asks dryly, and she hides a laugh. "Is that why you're making him fight for you, aside from enjoying watching him be hopeless at something?"
"If he's had to earn it, perhaps it will be harder for him to let it go," she says, and there is no laughter in that.
"My clothes smell of mud, my hair is a mess, I think I have fleas and animals can't take orders..." Arthur complains, and she bites her lip hard not to smile. "Merlin is no help at all and your floor is hard and impossible to sleep on."
"If it bothers you much, you can just leave," she points out, but he shakes his head.
"Not without you," he says sharply and a touch angrily. He steps up to her, and she notes the wood-chips still stuck in his hair.
"You must return to Camelot to rule your kingdom," she points out.
"For a time," he replies begrudgingly. "But I will return to you, until you are willing to return to Camelot with me."
"It may be a long time," she warns.
"If you only take pity on me when I have grey hair, so be it," he announces, almost as if giving a royal edict, and she can't hide her soft giggle at that. He can't not smile at that, and she kisses him impulsively, feeling his lips be upturned against hers.
"Grey hair will look good on you," she tells him, daring to think that maybe one day they will get to be grey together.
At night, she dreams of Lancelot again, as she has now and then since she learned what Morgana did to him. In the dream, he is a mere shadow, and every time she reaches for him, he is as insubstantial as air to her fingers.
She wakes to her tears and Arthur kissing them away, ever so gently. She tries to turn away, but he places his fingers under her chin, tilting her head upwards.
"You don't have to hide your grief from me," he says simply. "You whispered his name in your sleep."
"That Morgana would use him so... He did not deserve that," she whispers, and he kisses her forehead.
"He did not," he agrees. "You did not either."
She closes her eyes, feeling his arms around her, his lips travelling across her cheek. He is comforting her, even if he must feel a little discomfort over what. But still.
"I will make it up to you," he swears as she drifts back to sleep; she does not dream again.
She wakes to breakfast on the table (most of it not particulary appetizing, but still), floor swept (not particulary well, but still), a crown of flowers on her head (nothing to a crown of gold, but still) and the sound of Arthur telling the pigs off outside. For a while, she just lies listening to it, smiling softly.
When she thinks of how he banished her, it still hurts, but now she can think of all the way he fails as a servant and farmer and smile at that, too. She has forgiven him, she realises. Not because he deserves it, or because he's earned. Because she loves him, and she does not want Morgana kill another heart – Morgana's own was one too many.
She dresses, packs up the things she'd most want to take with her currently, and walks out to the bright sun.
"Let us ride for Camelot," she says, and Arthur looks up in confusion while Merlin just smiles at her. "Right now."
"But I have not asked you to return with me today," he says, sounding confused.
"Exactly," she says, smiling at him. "You did not ask me. I am returning without royal escort, as simply Gwen."
'You as simply Arthur,' she does not say, but perhaps he understands the implication anyway, glancing at his muddy clothes and ruffled appearance.
"If that is what you want..." he starts, but she cuts him off.
"It is. I know you would simply convince Merlin to colour your hair grey if we stayed much longer. Besides, you are a truly appalling servant."
He smiles then, taking a few hurried steps to sweep her up in his arms and twirling her around happily. Merlin merely watches, but she can see the look on his face, and it seems almost more happy then Arthur's.
"I love you," Arthur says intently, kissing her face, still not letting her feet touch the ground. "You will not regret this, Guinevere."
He cannot promise her that, she knows, just as he cannot promise her she won't be hurt again. But even if he does let her go sometimes, maybe she can always trust him to come back – and trust herself to be strong enough for it.
"I love you," she says, taking his hands as he eases her down on the ground. "Let us ride home."
One morning, Gwen and Arthur simply ride into Camelot, the King and his Queen to be dressed so simply they are mistaken for farmers at first. The few that do notice, stop and stare and later retell the story in the taverns over mead.
How King Arthur rode out, and rode in with Gwen as if not royalty at all, but merely a man in love. How she looked a Queen only crowned with flowers. How he kissed her at the castle stairs, and how the knights were kneeling for them both. How romantic, how lovely a love story. Yes. Love story.
How love wasn't ruined by sorcery and held true, they tell the story of, because if love can't be trusted, what can?