A/N First time I've tried posting something on here...let's see how badly I can mess it up.

Disclaimer: Merlin doesn't belong to me. No copyright infringement intended.

A big thankyou to Ju for betaing this and nagging me to start writing again (it has been a loooong time) and also thanks to Cathy for the encouragement and helpful comments. Hopefully there'll be a few more on the way after this, eventually...

Gwaine and the Red Cloak of Peril

"You know, I could arrange for a proper burial for it, if that would make you feel better?" Merlin offered, eyes twinkling as Gwaine forced his reluctant fingers to let go of the limp and crumpled piece of red cloth, handing it over to Merlin. He pointedly ignored the shiny new red cloak hanging over the back of his chair.

"I just don't see why I need a new cloak." He protested weakly.

Merlin chuckled again, unfurling the old cloak and holding it up for display. "I can't have my knights walking around the city looking like beggars and wastrels!" The servant did a surprisingly good impression, perfectly catching the tone and expression Arthur had used when he'd caught Gwaine still wearing the cloak the Prince had already ordered to be replaced over two weeks ago. "Anyway," Merlin continued in his own voice, "I thought you hated this cloak?"

Gwaine shrugged disconsolately, "I did, but I'd just about broken it in." He sighed, looking over at the new cloak. "Now I've got to start all over again."

Merlin clapped him sympathetically on the shoulder. "I know, I have the same problem every time I have to get a new neck scarf, but sometimes, you just have to let go. I'll see you for dinner if I get finished polishing Arthur's armour in time, okay?"

Gwaine nodded his agreement distractedly as Merlin headed out of his room, taking the old cloak with him. Now alone, Gwaine hooked the replacement cloak off the back of his chair and fastened it around his neck. He gave it an experimental swirl, before settling back down on his bed with a sigh. It just wasn't the same…

When they'd all first been given their "Knight of Camelot" cloaks, some of the others hadn't been too keen. Elyan had grumbled that they'd get in the way when fighting and Percival had obviously been uncomfortable with the attention the bright red colour and royal seal had brought his way. Gwaine on the other hand had been eager to try his out and had headed out to town and the nearest tavern at the earliest opportunity. It had worked out even better than he could have hoped. A few well-timed and dramatic swishes of the cloak, accompanied by some appropriately tall stories and the women had flocked to him. It worked in the market too. The cloak was a veritable chick magnet, although of course, it merely enhanced his existing charm and appeal…

A few weeks later however, he'd discovered the first (of many) disadvantages of the cloak as Arthur had summoned him, rather ominously, to the throne room and proceeded to tell him at great length and volume about the standards of behaviour expected of the Royal Knights, who apparently represented the Crown at all time when wearing their uniforms. Apparently, besides being a chick magnet, his cloak also identified him rather too easily to outraged fathers, husbands and lovers. His somewhat feeble attempt to point out that he was hardly the only knight with black hair, why there was Lancelot for starters…was squashed by Arthur's withering glare and he slunk out of the throne room, glad to escape the humiliation of the stocks but knowing he was going to have to leave the cloak behind on future visits to the tavern.

He discovered the next disadvantage pretty soon after that while on patrol around the town. When people saw the cloak it gave them expectations. He'd even been stopped by one old, and apparently slightly addled, lady who thought that because he was wearing the cloak he'd want to rescue her kitten from up a tree! Lancelot had watched while he explained to the woman that cats had claws and Socks was perfectly capable of climbing down on his own when he'd got bored with sitting in the tree. As he tried to walk off though, Lancelot had launched into a lecture about Knights' Codes, honour and serving the people and some such. To be honest, he'd glazed over after a few minutes and missed most of what the other knight had been droning on about but somehow, the next thing he knew he'd been climbing up the wretched tree and removing a hissing, spitting ball of claws and teeth. The cloak at this point decided to demonstrate another disadvantage by getting caught on a branch and trying to strangle him. Of course, as soon as he'd handed the hell beast back to its doting owner it had magically transformed back into a purring, fluffy kitten.

After enduring a few minutes of the old woman's enthusiastic thanks Gwaine had continued on patrol with Lance, the expression on his face making the other knight reconsider asking Gwaine about how being chivalrous made you feel good inside. Still, Gwaine thought slightly maliciously, at least the cursed cloak had suffered almost as badly from the cat's claws as his hands and face had and was now looking a little less pristine than it had done a few moments ago. Looking at the collection of rips and gashes, he wondered if he could come up with an appropriately impressive tale to tell the other knights when they got back to the castle.

It was only a few more days before his cloak's next attempt to kill him. This time he was out on patrol with Elyan and they'd stumbled across a large group of bandits in the forests to the North of Camelot. Badly out numbered they decided that he would remain hidden and keep on eye on them while Elyan rode back to the castle for reinforcements. Gwaine had just settled himself down into a relatively comfortable spot in some nice thick bushes and was watching the bandits set up camp for the night, when he noticed that one of the men appeared to be staring straight at him. Even more disconcertingly the man then said something to his companions while pointing straight at the bushes where Gwaine was crouching. As the bandits all stood up and started reaching for their weapons Gwaine started to get an inkling about how difficult it might be to go unnoticed in a forest of green while wearing a bright red cloak. After that, since the bandits were between him and his horse, it was mostly running – lots of running, in fact. Since they were all on foot it was pretty even until the pox-ridden cloak had struck again, tripping him up as his foot had caught on the too-long hem. Pitching forward, Gwaine landed face-first in a bramble patch and by the time he managed to extricate himself the bandits had caught up and things suddenly became much more serious. He'd just ducked under a particularly enthusiastic axe-blow, when the cavalry arrived just in the nick of time. With the tables turned, it hadn't taken long to dispatch the remaining bandits, although Gwaine couldn't help but feel somewhat smug about the number he'd already put down on his own. Unfortunately all of the knights had witnessed his pratfall into the shrubbery so his attempts to explain the bramble scratches as heroic wounds didn't work and he noticed a distressing lack of sympathy after he'd rounded up his horse and gingerly placed his thorn punctured rear end in the saddle. In fact, it had taken him weeks to find all of the thorns stuck in his damned cloak. He kept finding new ones at inappropriate moments until he'd finally lost patience and spent an entire evening – an evening he could have spent in a tavern – in his room going over the cloak inch by inch, pulling out the last of the stubborn spikes. He'd also spent some time making what he thought was a very good case to Arthur for changing the colour of Camelot's livery to a much more fetching and practical black. Arthur hadn't listened however, going on about hundreds of years of tradition and the fact that black wasn't an option because it was already taken by the bad guys. Gwaine left the throne room condemned to a lifetime, however short that might be, of trying to sneak around in a bright red cloak.

Following the embarrassing thorn incident things had been relatively quiet for a while and Gwaine let the cloak lure him into a false sense of security before its murderous ways resurfaced once more. This time he was with Percival, investigating rumours of a monster that had apparently been terrorising a nearby village and eating their sheep. The villagers had been keen to tell them about the terrible creature – although no one could actually agree on what it looked like apart from 'it had really big teeth' – and show them the caves where they thought it had made its lair. After that though, it appeared they were on their own as the villagers made themselves scarce.

Gwaine raised an amused eyebrow at Percival's disappointed huff and wondered what the larger man had expected, after all, the villagers weren't the ones wearing the "look at me I'm a hero / idiot / target" cloaks after all. Still, at least the villagers had the forethought to leave them a torch each so they could actually see the monster with big teeth when it attacked. Afterwards Gwaine would admit that it was his fault. He'd gotten too close to Percival – the larger man had been looking nervous and Gwaine had been trying to make sure he didn't get scared, and his nearness had, of course, nothing to do with the rustling noises they'd heard from the darkness. Unfortunately, Percival hadn't realised exactly how close Gwaine had gotten and when he whirled round at a noise behind them, his torch had made contact with Gwaine's cloak which leapt at the opportunity to kill him again and burst into flames with great gusto. It had taken a lot of rolling around, stomping and squawking (although Gwaine would later deny the squawking) to put the flames out. Both he and Percival had ended up with blistered fingers and the cursed cloak had a goodly number of singed holes and a smell of smoke that lingered for weeks. On further investigation it turned out that the monster was actually the village's missing sheep that had wandered into the cave to escape the bad weather and hadn't got around to wandering out yet. Still, he'd managed to persuade Percival to go along with him when they'd told the villages of their epic battle with the fire breathing monster. The larger knight hadn't been sure about lying to the villagers but the prospect of free ale for an evening had eventually won him over.

Eventually though, Gwaine and the cloak had come to a quiet truce. This was helped in part when, during training, Gwaine had noticed that nobody else seemed to have the same problems with tripping over their cloaks that he had. Percival he could understand, his cloak was more of a calf-length affair after all, but the other knights weren't all Percival's height. He asked Sir Leon who had gently explained to him that it was possible to tailor the cloaks and if he asked Gwen nicely – as all the other knights had done months ago, apparently – she would be happy to take a few inches off the length for him. With this done, Gwaine no longer tripped over the damned thing and Gwen had even done something to the collar so it no longer itched and felt like it was strangling him.

It was another few months, however, before Gwaine and his cloak finally became friends. Caught out in a blizzard with a wounded Sir Leon, Gwaine had come to truly appreciate the cloak's finer points. It made brilliant bandages when you tore strips off the bottom, successfully staunching the blood from Leon's leg wound. It also made an extremely good blanket, keeping the injured man warm throughout the night and finally, in the morning it had rounded off its star performance by standing out against the all white landscape, allowing the rescue party to find them and get them safely back home.

After that night, Gwaine had decided the cloak was the best thing ever, next to ale…and women…and a good sword at any rate, even though it was now about a foot shorter than it had been the day before. Unfortunately the next day, Arthur saw him wearing it for guard duty and apparently, besides not enraging the male population of the town, Knights of Camelot shouldn't be seen wearing a badly faded, almost pink rag that smelt of smoke, was stained with blood and other unmentionable substances, was too short and had more holes than material. A new cloak had appeared in his room the next day, by Royal Decree…a cloak he'd been avoiding for the past two weeks as it sat there in its stiff, starchy, shoot me now, shiny bright redness.

Now sitting, wearing it, he gave the scratchy collar a tug, before sighing once more and standing up. First things first he supposed – a visit to Gwen to see what magic she could perform to make it feel less new and more like his old cloak.

He made it half way down the staircase before the new cloak made its first move, catching under his foot and sending him staggering headlong into Merlin as the servant came the other way, concentrating on the tray full of food he was carrying for the Prince…