Title: In Too Deep
Pairing/s: Gwaine/Merlin, possibly Arthur/Merlin
Character/s: Gwaine, Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Gwaine knew he should never have returned to Camelot.
Word Count: 1026 (Oops!)
Prompt: 68 Rival
Author's Notes: Thanks to deinonychus_1 for the beta and her suggestion that I give this the alternative title 'The fic where I rip Gwaine's heart out and stomp on it repeatedly' :-)
In Too Deep
It had been a mistake to return to Camelot.
Gwaine had known the situation, known he'd only ever be second best, but he couldn't resist a challenge. Deep down, he'd always thought that eventually things would change. But it had been two years, and he was starting to accept now that they probably never would.
It was early morning, and the sunlight was filtering through the tiny window in his quarters. It was shining across the bed and at any moment it would wake Merlin, shattering the peaceful moments Gwaine was enjoying watching him sleep.
With anyone else, having them wake up early would be a good thing. Gwaine wasn't due out on patrol for hours, they could have spent a wonderful morning in bed, forget the world, forget everything except one another and nobody would even notice. That wasn't going to happen with Merlin. It never did.
They'd first got together soon after Gwaine came back to Camelot. There had been a banquet in celebration of all the newly-made knights and Merlin had come over to him afterwards, distressed by something Arthur had or hadn't done, Gwaine couldn't remember the details or whether he ever even knew them at all. Probably the magic. It was usually something about Arthur's failure to allow magic back into the land that got Merlin upset, made him turn to Gwaine in those early days.
It had been a one-off because they both wanted it and it was good, and that might have been the end of it. Except it wasn't just a one-off, there were other nights, and then it started to become a thing, until finally Merlin slept in Gwaine's quarters most of the time. Which would be fine, but he still kept everything he owned in the little room with Gaius, and called that home. Two years of mostly sleeping together but he still didn't think of Gwaine as home.
Gwaine didn't think Arthur liked them being together. He saw the king watching them sometimes, noticed him carefully schooling his expression into something that was trying desperately hard to be no expression at all. It was only an impression Gwaine got as Arthur never spoke of it, never joined in when Gwaine's fellow knights sometimes made bawdy, good-natured jokes about the two of them. Merlin didn't seem to notice, perhaps because Arthur only watched them when Merlin was turned away from the king and couldn't see, perhaps when Merlin was laughing with Gwaine at some joke, or distracted by something he'd said or done. At the end of the day, if Arthur noticed Gwaine waiting around then Merlin seemed to have more tasks than usual, seemed to have to work longer hours, and Gwaine eventually stopped making it so obvious and waited elsewhere. The tavern was always a good place.
He was always afraid that one night Merlin wouldn't come back to him, that Arthur would forget he was king and all the responsibilities that went with it, would forget he had to take a queen and produce heirs, and go for what Gwaine was sure he wanted.
Perhaps Merlin did see it after all, and that was why he was still so entranced by Arthur? Who would settle for a mere knight if they thought they might gain the king's love? But Gwaine doubted it, Merlin thought they were a casual thing, a fun thing. He would be devastated if he knew that he was causing his lover pain.
Gwaine gazed down at the shock of dark hair spilled across the pillow beside him, at the slender neck and the darkening bruise on Merlin's shoulder where Gwaine had marked him the previous night. It was always somewhere that his neckerchief would easily hide, somewhere that nobody could see, and Gwaine always pretended he was doing it as a joke, part of their foreplay. But it would be there all day while Merlin served Arthur, whether Arthur could see it or not.
Gwaine leaned down and planted a kiss on the back of Merlin's neck, drawing him in close. Merlin was starting to wake, shifting and stretching and pressing back into Gwaine with a soft murmur of pleasure. But when Gwaine reached around to stroke at his lover's early morning erection, Merlin gently pushed his hand away.
"Save it for tonight. I've got to go."
"Tell Arthur you're ill."
"He'll come looking."
"Not for hours, you can make a miraculous recovery!"
Merlin laughed, but still struggled free and sat up. "I'll be late. Arthur sulks if he doesn't get his breakfast on time."
A quick kiss, and he was off the bed, pulling on his clothes, running a hand through his hair and somehow that made it look even more tousled than before.
"You never bring me breakfast," Gwaine pouted. "I might sulk."
"You're not the king!" Merlin grinned back.
He couldn't see how it cut, Gwaine knew that. The unintentional raw truth of that statement bled through every part of their relationship. It didn't matter what Gwaine did, it didn't matter how much Merlin thought he loved him... and he did love him in his way, Gwaine was sure of it. It was just that Merlin would never love Gwaine as much as he loved Arthur.
And Gwaine had known that, and stupidly come back anyway. Merlin was still grinning at him, and Gwaine wondered with a pang of jealousy how much of that smile was for him and how much was simply because the night was over and he was going to see Arthur again.
Gwaine, for his part, loved Merlin more than ever, and covered it with teasing and light remarks that hid the depth of his feeling. If Merlin knew the truth of it, if he ever realised that this wasn't just convenient sex that made them both happy, he'd probably put a stop to it rather than risk hurting Gwaine. He'd think that was kinder. So Gwaine smiled and teased and smiled and smiled and played his part very well. Too well.
It had been a mistake to return to Camelot. But he was in far too deep to ever leave now.