Word Count: 4000
Copyright: Title is from An Honest Mistake by The Bravery
Summary: “My promise still stands,” Arthur adds.
Author’s Notes: Spoilers up to and including 1x12. Because for some reason Arthur/Gwen interests me, even though obviously Arthur/Merlin and Gwen/Morgana are my OTPs. Possibly it’s just that Morgana is annoying me a bit ;) (Also, tee hee, my real name – Jennifer – is the Welsh form of Guinevere, which I’d completely forgotten until I was researching the real Arthurian legends on wiki).
Sometimes I still think of you
And I just wanted you to know
I swear I never meant for this
Don’t look at me that way;
It was an honest mistake.
- The Bravery
Arthur and Morgana are having one of their little petty wars that never seem to achieve anything and just result in Gwen and Merlin having large amounts of cleaning up to do. Possibly it’s a nobility thing; having so much time on your hands you can waste it deliberately annoying other people. Or it might be a sibling thing. Or a fancying-each-other thing.
Gwen and Merlin spend hours on end coming up with increasingly slanderous reasons as to why Morgana and Arthur feel the need to antagonise each other all the time, and even more hours trying to think of ways to make it stop. They don’t come up with anything substantial, but Gaius makes them tea with delicious herbs while they sit around, and it’s an excuse not to go home, so Gwen decides it’s time well-spent anyway.
Today, Arthur has been particularly sneaky, and has managed to steal all of Morgana’s clothes. Quite how he managed it Gwen is not entirely sure, but since Morgana is stomping around her room dressed only in her shift and shrieking obscenities, it is apparently having the desired effect.
“Find them!” Morgana shouts. “And then tell Arthur I’m going to have him killed! No, wait, I’m going to steal all his clothes and then everyone can see how inadequate he is!”
Gwen wonders if Morgana has actually seen Arthur naked at any point, or if she’s just guessing in a nasty way, and quietly files the information away to tell Merlin later. She murmurs a yes, my lady, and scurries off. With any luck, Merlin will be in Arthur’s chambers with his endless list of menial tasks and she’ll be able to find out if he knows what Arthur has done with Morgana’s clothing; since it’s an amazingly extensive collection it can’t be easy to hide.
Arthur is meant to be out with his men hunting in the forest, so when she sees the door to his chamber ajar Gwen decides to enter straight away. She’s taken aback when she sees the prince himself standing at the window, gazing down into the courtyard below, but is immediately distracted by the transformation of Arthur’s room. There are dresses and cloaks everywhere; piles of silk and velvet in every colour imaginable draped over chairs, heaped on the table and bed, folded on the floor. Gwen stares around for a moment, unable to find the words.
“It took all night,” Arthur says, sounding slightly proud of himself, turning around. He has a smug smile plastered across his face. “Morgana is a surprisingly heavy sleeper, she didn’t hear a thing.”
Gwen is not entirely sure what to say in reply to that, but it’s all right because Arthur takes a couple of steps away from the window, closer to her.
“Is she angry?” he asks, sounding gleeful and far younger than he actually is.
Gwen allows a small smile in return. “Very angry, sire.”
“Is she casting aspersions on my manhood yet?”
Arthur’s grin gets even wider. “Has she threatened to have me castrated yet?”
“No,” Gwen replies. “She was rather more concerned about finding something to wear so she could come and confront you face to face.”
Arthur considers this. “It might be more fun to leave her stranded in her chamber all day.”
“It might, sire,” Gwen agrees, trying to be diplomatic. “I imagine the king might notice if Morgana fails to put in an appearance, however.”
The only rule of Arthur and Morgana’s wars is that Uther doesn’t ever find out. Gwen thinks it probably would spoil their fun if the king got involved, if only because he undoubtedly would miss the amusing part and then there would be punishments or something for acting in an undignified fashion.
Arthur scowls, though it’s dangerously close to a childish pout. Gwen tactfully doesn’t point this out.
“You may take her one dress,” he says at last.
“You’ve stolen her shoes as well, sire,” Gwen reminds him.
Arthur’s smirk returns. “Admit it,” he says, “This is impressive.”
“It is impressive,” Gwen agrees, although she’s also privately thinking it’s going to take hours to tidy this all up and get the gowns back into the order they were in previously; not that Arthur would ever consider this. “Shoes for my lady?”
“No,” Arthur replies. “If she wants shoes she can come here and get them.”
Gwen sighs, but doesn’t say anything.
“Pick the dress,” Arthur tells her. “And tell Morgana she should be grateful; I was going to have Merlin wearing some of them while mucking out the stables, but for some reason he refused.”
Gwen tries not to let her relief show. “I’m sure Merlin would have looked very handsome,” she says faintly.
“That’s just what I told him!” Arthur says.
Gwen turns from the pile of dresses she’s been sorting through to raise an eyebrow at the prince.
“All right,” Arthur concedes, “I told him he’d look like an idiot.”
“He should have been grateful they didn’t involve feathers,” Gwen says softly, recalling the monstrous hat Arthur made Merlin wear.
Arthur looks at her in surprise, and then bursts out laughing. Gwen smiles back and then selects a long purple dress that sweeps the floor, since Morgana is going to have to walk across to Arthur’s chambers barefoot. She straightens up, arms full of velvet.
“How are you, Gwen?” Arthur asks quietly. His expression is suddenly grave, serious; it’s hard to believe a minute ago he was gloating over a childish prank. He’s going to be a magnificent king, one day.
“I’m fine.” It’s the answer she always gives; to Merlin, Gaius, Morgana. To anyone who asks. It’s a lie, of course, but the truth is that she’s complicated. So complicated it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“My promise still stands,” Arthur adds. “Ask for anything, and it’s yours.”
Gwen smiles slightly. “May I have a pair of shoes for Lady Morgana?”
Arthur smiles back. “Anything but that.”
A dark little part of Gwen is amused, because Uther has rather inconvenienced himself; there’s no blacksmith as good as her father. All the newly-commissioned armour and weaponry is poor quality and useless. Uther becomes increasingly angry, searching for the kingdom for a new blacksmith; Gwen notes an I told you so look fleeting across Arthur’s face, while Morgana’s face is carefully neutral. Beside her, at the edge of the hall, Merlin reaches and his fingers curl warm around her wrist. Gwen doesn’t know what happened to Merlin’s father and hasn’t asked, but he’s been quietly supportive ever since her father was… executed. No. She thinks murdered because then at least she can remind herself that he did nothing wrong.
She trembles a little, and Merlin squeezes harder.
That night, Gwen helps Morgana prepare for bed, keeping up a steady flutter of chatter because all day she’s felt on the point of cracking. She knows Morgana would offer her a bed for the night, should she ask; but she’s got to get used to living in the house alone. It’s her home, after all, and Gwen will not allow herself to be afraid of it.
Arthur is waiting for her outside Morgana’s chamber.
“Sire?” Gwen frowns at him; Arthur looks a little anxious.
“Will you allow me to walk you home, Gwen?” he asks.
“I’ll be all right, sire,” she says quickly. “I walk the same way every day, I’m perfectly safe.”
The corner of Arthur’s mouth twitches almost involuntarily; it’s not a smile. “Please, Gwen.”
They walk in a lingering silence through the emptying castle courtyard. The sky is speckled with white stars and there’s a chill in the air that makes their breath fog out in the front of them. Gwen is acutely aware of every action, every step she takes; she feels self-conscious, awkward around the prince. Arthur, for his part, seems perfectly at ease, striding beside her as though he already knows the way.
“I spent a large part of my childhood in your father’s forge,” Arthur offers after a while. “I liked to watch him making swords.”
Gwen doesn’t know what to say, so remains silent.
“I don’t suppose you remember,” Arthur tells her. “I remember you, though. Your mother used to bring you to the forge; you didn’t like the fire much. It used to make you cry.”
Gwen curls her fingers into her palms; she can feel her throat closing up, eyes blurring.
“He was a great man, your father,” Arthur continues softly, and Gwen realises that this is why he’s walking her home. They’re alone, he doesn’t have to try and pretend to believe in all of Camelot’s laws. He can admit this now. “He was kind, and patient, and probably saved me from a number of horrific burning injuries. And he will be impossible to replace.” Arthur seems to have difficulty continuing, but Gwen can’t look at him. They keep walking, and she feels a hot tear streak down her cheek. “So I really am sorry.” He sighs. “I just wanted you to know that.”
Gwen says nothing, silent tears coursing down her face. Somehow, Arthur being kind is worse than any amount of the unfeeling glances Uther throws in her direction; he doesn’t seem to recognise her.
By the time they reach her house, Gwen has composed herself.
“Your majesty?” she begins.
“Why did you stop visiting him?” she asks.
Arthur offers her a smile, wan in the moonlight.
“My father didn’t approve. Why else?”
In the silvery weak light, Gwen can see a glistening wet trail down Arthur’s cheek. It makes something in her stomach clench.
“Goodnight, Gwen.” Arthur bows, quick and casually gallant, before turning away and beginning the walk back to the castle.
“Goodnight,” Gwen calls after him, a slight shiver in her voice.
The winter nights are getting increasingly cold, but Gwen perseveres. Shivering alone in the house, stuffing the cracks in the walls with rags. It’s harder making stew for one; sometimes she catches herself making her father lunch before she remembers that he isn’t still asleep next door. But she’s adapting, becoming accustomed. She knows it’ll never be truly easy, but it will at least get easier.
She hasn’t been home long, has just finished lighting the fire, when someone knocks at her door. Gwen is wary, living alone, but steels herself and goes to answer it.
Arthur is flushed from the sharp wind, carrying a large stack of logs in his arms. Gwen isn’t sure she’s ever seen him look less like a prince and is thoroughly disconcerted; she steps back to allow him in mainly out of shock, staring at Arthur as he carries the logs and carefully piles them beside the fire.
Gwen closes her door to stop a draft coming in and follows him, trying to think of something sensible to say. She’s feeling flustered.
“Merlin and I thought you might need fuel,” Arthur explains. “And we were right.” He carefully feeds some of the wood to the fire, the flames leaping higher and immediately making the room brighter.
“So these are from Merlin?” Gwen asks quietly.
“Do you really think I’d let him near an axe?” Arthur asks, his Merlin is blatantly a cretin expression on his face.
Gwen smiles slightly. “Thank you, your majesty,” she says carefully.
Arthur gives her a pointed look. “I think you can call me Arthur, now.”
Gwen nods. “Yes, Arthur.”
“It wasn’t an order.” Arthur shrugs, poking at the fire in a surprisingly expert way, filling the room with heat. “You need to tell me if you’re wanting for anything.”
Gwen flushes; she doesn’t want to fall to charity, to duty. Her father was killed but so many have been murdered for similar reasons and she’s sure Arthur hasn’t gone individually to each of their homes, offering aid to their families.
“You don’t have to do this, sire,” she mumbles, bowing her head, fingers twisting together.
“I want to,” Arthur replies calmly, glancing back over his shoulder, disarmingly straightforward. “I owe it to your father, at least.”
Gwen nods. “I’m really fine,” she says, “I have plenty of food, the house is in perfectly reasonable condition, I have warm clothes.”
“So just firewood then.” Arthur sits down on one of the chairs by the fire, the light glinting off his golden hair. “I can provide that.”
He beckons Gwen closer, indicating the other chair. She obediently sits. “You’re a prince,” she says a little desperately. “You shouldn’t have to do this sort of thing!”
Arthur just watches her anxiety with a bemused expression. “I’m a prince,” he agrees at last. “I can do what I like.”
“-Will never know,” Arthur interrupts. “You may as well stop protesting.”
Gwen smiles, looking down at her fingers curled in her lap. “Yes, Arthur.”
When she risks a glance up, Arthur looks pleased. She fumbles vaguely for a conversation topic that isn’t going to end awkwardly, but then realises Arthur is looking at something over her shoulder. Gwen glances behind her, and realises that it’s the dress her father bought her the day before he died. It’s beautiful but she hasn’t yet worked out whether she can bring herself to wear it.
“My father bought it for me,” Gwen murmurs, aware she’s blushing.
“I’ve never seen you wear it,” Arthur says, and somehow the idea that he’s been watching her makes something tighten in Gwen’s stomach. She knows, though, that everyone is watching her all the time; discreetly but constantly making sure that she’s all right. It can be frustrating but there’s also something warm and reassuring about it.
“No,” Gwen almost whispers.
“You should.” Arthur’s eyes are lit up. “You’re going to wear it tomorrow night.”
Gwen feels something akin to panic wake up inside her. “What’s happening tomorrow night?”
“You’re coming to dinner with me and Morgana,” Arthur replies calmly, as though this is a perfectly normal thing.
Gwen stares blankly at him. Arthur entirely misinterprets her expression of horror, because he adds: “Oh, my father won’t be there. I wouldn’t expect you to dine with him.”
“I’m just a servant,” Gwen stammers. “I can’t.”
Arthur shrugs, for a moment reminiscent of the spoilt brat that he used to be before Merlin turned up and did something small but significant to Arthur’s personality. “You can if I say you can. I’m royalty, remember?” He grins broadly. “I can have whims if I want to have whims and they have to be catered for.”
After a moment, Gwen allows herself to have a reluctant smile. “Will I be put in the stocks if I refuse?”
“Oh yes,” Arthur replies, mock-seriously. “It’s terribly insulting to refuse a prince’s dinner invitation. I’d have no choice but to lock you up and have people throw potatoes at you.”
“Well, in that case,” Gwen sighs, “How can I refuse?”
Dinner with Morgana and Arthur is less strange than Gwen expected it to be. They’re seated in one of the smaller dining rooms; the table is frighteningly large but the room itself is intimate enough not to be intimidating. Merlin is serving Arthur, and keeps giving Gwen delighted little grins, clearly amused and pleased for her, and the other servants don’t seem to have a problem with Gwen dining instead of working. Morgana and Arthur attempt to be civil and polite to each other for all of about five minutes, and then descend into the childish sniping at each other they seem to specialise in. Gwen watches them bicker, amused, and has a far more enjoyable evening than she was expecting.
Afterwards, she joins Merlin and Gaius for rosehip tea.
“You look really pretty,” Merlin tells her with a smile, though Gwen learned months and months ago not to try and read anything into it because Merlin is lovely and charming and kind but doesn’t seem to be at all interested in loving anyone.
“Lovely, Guinevere,” Gaius agrees, bustling about with cups. “Your father had excellent taste.”
It stings, but doesn’t ache; Gwen wonders if that’s progress.
“Are you putting Arthur up to this?” she asks Merlin. “Not that I mind, it’s just…”
“I think Arthur is practising being selfless,” Merlin replies. “After all the fuss died down, he really got upset about your father’s death. He genuinely wants to help you.”
Gwen thinks she might be blushing. “I don’t need to be pitied-”
“I think he actually likes you,” Merlin replies. “Which is not hard to believe, because you’re amazing.” He gives one of those smiles that makes his whole face crinkle, and Gwen wonders how she ever lived without this incredibly sweet boy in her life.
“He’s a prince,” Gwen points out. “I shouldn’t be playing a part in his life at all.”
“Arthur puts up with me,” Merlin shrugs. “I suspect you’re a welcome relief.”
“You really are a better manservant than both of you claim you are,” Gwen can’t help saying. “Because otherwise you would probably have got Arthur killed by now, or at least horribly maimed.”
A look passes between Gaius and Merlin that Gwen can’t decipher, but she doesn’t try to.
“Well, I haven’t yet,” Merlin shrugs. “There’s still lots and lots of time.”
Gwen laughs, leaning back in her chair with her tea. The dress is beautiful and comfortable and she thinks back to her father giving it to her; the pleased smile on his face, the pride that he could dress his daughter finely. She wonders if he can see her now, and she hopes that if he is, he’s blessing all those who have been so kind to her, who have been there for her though she’s had nothing to give in return.
“Arthur is an honourable young man,” Gaius cuts in. “He wants to do what’s right by you, Gwen.”
“I don’t want to be his only chance to redeem his guilt,” Gwen mumbles.
Merlin leans over, lacing their fingers easily together. “It’s all right for him to like you, Gwen,” he insists. “Apparently royalty are human, they do want friends as much as the next person. I think.”
Gwen isn’t sure how much she believes, but the words are nice anyway.
No one is entirely sure what Uther is celebrating – their king loves feasts and Gwen often suspects he uses any excuse to have a party – but the wine has been flowing for hours and even Morgana is starting to look a little the worse for wear. She dismisses Gwen after a while, telling her she doesn’t have to stay and watch when the depravity – and worse, vomiting – starts, which does come as a relief. She’s slinking towards the edge of the hall, carefully avoiding Arthur’s knights (who have a habit of getting very loud and very grabby once you introduce them to mead), when she practically bumps into the prince himself.
“Are you going home?” Arthur asks, catching her elbow to pull her up as she attempts to curtsey.
“I am,” Gwen replies. “It’s getting late.”
“I will accompany you,” Arthur announces.
Gwen looks doubtfully at him; he does appear to be somewhat drunk. “Are you sure you won’t be missed, your majesty?”
“Arthur,” he corrects. “And does it matter?”
Gwen smiles slightly. “I suppose not.”
Arthur takes her arm; Gwen notes he’s carrying what appears to be a jug of wine in his other hand, which is slightly concerning, and together they leave the castle.
“I’m less drunk than you think I am,” Arthur informs her after a while, breath steaming out in front of him in the cool air.
“I didn’t say anything,” Gwen says.
“You didn’t have to,” Arthur replies. “But I’m really not that drunk.”
Gwen looks pointedly at the wine jug.
“Oh,” Arthur adds, “I will be very drunk, but I’m not now.”
“That’s good to know,” Gwen replies, bemused. Arthur’s hand is warm and steady against the curve of her elbow, his hair shining in the silver moonlight. She refuses to let herself be distracted.
Arthur invites himself into her house, adding more wood to the dying fire and sending Gwen to fetch cups.
“I don’t really want-” Gwen begins, but Arthur raises a hand to silence her.
“One drink,” he says. “Please.”
As the Crown Prince of Camelot Arthur could order her to do anything he wanted and Gwen would have to obey; but that isn’t why she hands him two clay cups and watches him pour generous measures of deep purple wine into them. The firelight glitters in his blue eyes, grin just slightly lopsided at the edges.
“Do you blame me?” he asks, too bluntly. Gwen chokes, wine turning sour in her mouth.
“No, your majesty!”
“Arthur.” He drinks deeply. “If I were you, I’d blame me. I hold myself accountable, sometimes.”
There are days when Gwen doesn’t want to have conversations like this ever again, because they hurt so much that it’s like a constant icy pain in her chest. But the greater fear is that her father will slide, that days will go by when she doesn’t think about him, and she would rather ache forever than forget him.
“I don’t blame you, Arthur.” She sighs, and reaches for the wine jug, splashing more into her cup although she suspects she’ll regret it.
“But you blame my father.”
Gwen lets her silence be her answer.
“My father has killed many fathers,” Arthur observes, tone almost sing-song, words bleeding together at the edges, “And mothers, and sons, and daughters. His hands are so wet with blood that they are…”
“Wet?” Gwen suggests softly.
Arthur grants her a smile, but there’s a long moment before he says: “It isn’t easy, you know.”
Gwen suspects that he has never admitted this before, not to anyone, and it’s probably only because he’s drunk and guilty that he’s saying it now. Still, she knows how important this is, even if Arthur doesn’t.
“I imagine that it couldn’t be,” she says carefully, tactfully.
Arthur pours himself more wine and drains the cup in a single gulp. “Sometimes I used to wish…” He sighs. “It doesn’t matter.”
“All fathers have their faults,” Gwen murmurs. Arthur frowns at her, curiosity in his slightly unfocused eyes. “My father… he always wanted more. Wanted better. He could never just be content with what he had.”
She doesn’t add that this desire to have more was what got her father killed, in a roundabout away, because she can’t think about that, not yet.
“I can drink to that,” Arthur tells her, a rueful twist to his lips. And they do, chinking the clay cups together and draining them. Gwen declines any more; the world is softening at the edges, the room spinning, and she knows that now is the time to stop.
After a minute, Arthur adds: “When I am king, your father will not be forgotten.”
Gwen bows her head, swallowing down the tears the words awaken within her. “Thank you.”
“He will be remembered,” Arthur promises, and though his voice is not exactly steady, Gwen knows that he means it, and is grateful. But she also knows that Arthur cannot remain here, not when so much more is expected of him. He has no free will, powerful or not; and he’s been missing long enough.
“You should return to the feast,” she tells Arthur. “At the very least, it is your duty.”
Arthur frowns when she says ‘duty’, but seems to get her point. He turns to face her in his chair, an intent expression on his face.
“Goodnight, Gwen,” he says quietly.
“Goodnight, Arthur,” she replies.
Arthur smiles, and then, entirely unexpectedly, leans forward, cupping her cheek with one slightly calloused hand. Gwen doesn’t have time to ask for an explanation before Arthur gently captures her mouth with his, lips sliding together. It’s brief and tender and sweet and Gwen knows that Arthur won’t remember this in the morning.
Gwen watches him weaving his way back towards the castle, and knows that she will.