Pairing: Arthur/Gwen, hints at Merlin/Arthur/Gwen
Summary: The king is dead. Long live the king. ~1050 words.
It's after midnight when Arthur finally closes the door to his room and bolts it for good measure. Gwen collapses gratefully into a chair. "All right," she says. "What do we still need to do?"
"I'm not sure," Arthur says. Merlin is tempted to take the other chair, since Arthur seems determined to pace, but he's afraid if he sits down he'll fall asleep. Gwen looks at him as if hoping he can pick up the threads of determined organization that she has been holding all day.
"I think that's it for tonight," Merlin says. "In the morning there are probably …"
Gwen squares her shoulders. "We'll need to arrange some kind of, some kind of feast for the wedding," she says. "That'll make it not seem so bad that we didn't invite anyone to the coronation."
"What coronation," Arthur says, in familiar sharp tones of complaint that are almost comforting, "it's not a coronation when someone shoves a crown on your head and says here, you're the king now, pick up this damn sword—"
"It was sincerely meant," Merlin says. He meets Arthur's eyes, and he thinks Arthur might for a moment be fighting a smile.
"Be that as it may," Arthur says. "We should have a proper coronation when we do the wedding."
"You don't have to," Gwen says abruptly, as though she can't hold the words back even though she knows it's not the right time. "It was one thing when your father was going to keep on saying no—"
"It's just nerves," Merlin says, because he can see how brittle Arthur is, and he has the feeling Arthur is about to say something like don't you think I'm going to keep my word, which is not I really want to be married to you, please don't leave. Merlin knows that Arthur is pretty much incapable of saying the latter, but he's good at saving Arthur from himself. "You'll make a great queen."
Gwen answers what Arthur doesn't say instead of what Merlin does. "You'll be a good king."
"Of course I will," Arthur says abruptly, turning away from her. Merlin can't tell if he wants them to stay or go away. Possibly both, which is tricky to obey. Arthur scrubs a hand through his hair. "I'll send messengers to everyone in the morning about the wedding. And to tell them my father is dead."
"I'm so sorry," Gwen says, even though she's said it enough times already. Merlin thinks that may be because she's only sorry that Arthur is grieving, not that Uther is dead. It's possible that the only people in the kingdom who are truly grieving tonight are Arthur and Gaius, and at the thought Merlin feels a stab of guilt. He should be keeping Gaius company tonight, even thought Gaius said go on, stay with him and Merlin went.
"Mercia, Northumbria …" Arthur says under his breath, clearly having reached the middle of a list while Merlin's thoughts have been straying. "Cornwall of course, and we should do some kind of proclamation, so that people can carry it around and read it …" He waves his hands helplessly, and Gwen nods seriously.
"That's a good idea," she says. She bites her lip and looks up at Merlin, and he knows what she wants him to ask, so he does.
"Will you send for Morgana, and ask her to come home?" It's better for him to be the one to ask, because it will strain nothing between them if Arthur refuses him.
Arthur lets out a sharp breath. "I don't know."
"She's not an enemy of Camelot," Merlin says. "Not really. And you know she loves you. In her own way."
"Never mind," Gwen says rather to Merlin's surprise, her eyes on Arthur's face. "Let it be for tonight. There's plenty of time to figure it out in the morning."
Arthur closes his eyes. "Morning. Which will be arriving horribly soon."
"She's right," Merlin says. "You should get some rest." He looks at Gwen, a sudden awkward question hanging in the air. She shrugs and turns up her hands. He isn't sure which of them would do Arthur the most good.
Arthur starts to pull his surcoat off, and then looks up at them. "Are either of you planning to go get some rest yourselves, or should I just ignore you while you permanently occupy my chair and you lurk in a corner?"
"Just ignore us," Gwen says, nodding.
Merlin meets her eyes and then nods too, willing enough for her to take the lead for a while. "We're not actually planning to leave, no."
Arthur looks very tired. "I — you don't have to—"
"Shut up," Merlin says, and begins undressing Arthur with practiced hands.
"I am your king, you know."
"Shut up, sire."
"That's better," Arthur says, and leans back a little against Merlin. Merlin can tell that he's watching Gwen watch him undress, and then watch him pull on a nightshirt. There would be something very perverse about this, if it weren't for the fact that they're all so tired that they can barely move.
"Go to bed," Gwen says firmly, taking Arthur's arm and steering him to the bed. She lies down beside him, either too tired to take off any clothes or not really fancying Merlin seeing her in her shift. This is the point when Merlin ought to leave, and he might if Arthur didn't say, without looking up, "Don't tell me you can't find the bed."
"I think I can if I look around a bit," Merlin says, and lies down on Arthur's other side, kicking off his shoes and pulling a blanket over the three of them.
Gwen brushes Arthur's hair off his forehead as if he were a child, and Arthur turns his face into the pillow, his whole body tense.
"I'm fine," he says hoarsely.
Merlin catches Gwen's eye, and she climbs out of bed long enough to put out the candles, leaving the room in deep shadow. It's too dark now for either of them to see if Arthur is crying, or at least they can all pretend it is. Arthur takes a quiet shuddering breath.
"We won't leave," Merlin says, and he can just see Gwen nodding and pressing her forehead to Arthur's.
"You'd better not," Arthur says, and Merlin cups his hand over Arthur's hair, knowing it's all they can do to keep him safe until morning.