Summary: Just when Percival thinks floods in the lower town are going to best him, Gwaine shows up to offer a helping hand.
Word Count: 3479
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, eaardvark! Your request for Gwaine and Percival cuddling and cozy after a hard day turned out a little more angsty than I expected, but I hope you like it anyway. :)
Disclaimer:Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
As many enemies as he’d battled over the years, Percival never expected the heavens to be his greatest foe.
For endless days, the rains had come. They scoured the lower town within hours, driving many from their homes in search of higher ground. Those that stayed behind scrambled to save what they could. Percival stood shoulder to shoulder with men and women as they tried to stem the rising water, rebuilding sandbag walls until his back felt permanently bowed, passing bucket after bucket down the line in ceaseless cycles. Occasionally, other knights would come to help, but they were needed elsewhere. None stayed for long.
Camelot was slowly drowning. Nothing anybody did seemed to make a difference.
At first, he would go back to the castle and his rooms at the end of the day. He’d arrive, soaked to the skin, caked in mud, and fall asleep in the middle of cleaning off. Then he’d be out before dawn, scarcely seeing another soul, to resume his unending labors.
By the fourth day, he realized what a waste it was. He never slept in his bed, too dirty and tired to make it most nights. He lost time in the trek back and forth. He had nothing new to report to Arthur to justify the journey. When he was offered one of the rooms at the Rising Sun that fourth night, Percival surprised all of them of by accepting. The driving rain had turned cold after the sun had set. The thought of trudging a path back to the citadel when it suited no purpose was disheartening.
Calan, the innkeeper’s son, swapped out his soaked clothes for a set that was more worn but thankfully clean and dry. Percival fell asleep on the pallet more comfortable than he’d been in days.
The familiar patter of raindrops on the rooftop woke him, but there was something else mingling with the water’s song.
“I don’t care if he had a late night,” Gwaine said. “If I can make it up at this godforsaken hour, so can he.”
Percival pushed back his blankets at the same time the door was thrown open. Gwaine stood on the threshold, his hair plastered to his skull, a wide smile splitting his open features. Calan hovered behind him, distress clearly written in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Sir Percival,” Calan rushed to say. “I told him how late you were up—”
“Don’t worry.” He stood and stretched, relishing the crack in his spine as his body loosened. “Not even King Arthur could’ve stopped him.”
“Why don’t you go run those supplies I brought with me to your mum?” Gwaine gave the boy a wink. “There might even be a surprise or two in there for you to nick if you’re fast enough not to get caught.”
Percival laughed after Calan bolted off. “We’re supposed to be setting an example,” he chided gently.
“I’m imparting valuable life skills.” Gwaine swaggered inside to drop straight onto the pallet Percival had just abandoned. He stretched back and folding his hands behind his head, putting himself on such obvious display that Percival chuckled and turned away. “Still warm. Maybe I’ll just stay here all day.”
“I thought you were patrolling with Leon to keep the bandits from taking advantage of the situation.”
“We haven’t seen a single soul in two days. Even Leon thinks it’s a waste of time now.”
“So he reassigned you to help me?”
“Nope. I volunteered for this.”
He was very glad his back was to Gwaine so he couldn’t see Percival’s blush. Though Gwaine showed the same gregariousness with all of the knights, not to mention Merlin, Percival sometimes wondered if Gwaine took extra measures to see how far he could push him. Percival was very good at taking teasing and games in stride, but in the months he’d spent as Gwaine’s friend, his feelings had changed from filial to something more.
Nobody knew, of course. Nobody ever could. Especially Gwaine. Gwaine reveled in the chase. He loved being the center of everybody’s attention, even if it was negative. The moment the challenge was over, he moved on, ready to capture the next unsuspecting heart. Percival had seen maids and squires alike fall victim to Gwaine’s affection. The last thing he needed was to join their ranks. Their friendship meant more to him than the possibility of a one-time fling.
“Well, you can’t lay about all day.” He finished with his shoes, grateful that they’d mostly dried out over night. “There’s work to be done.”
“You’re as bad as Leon.”
In spite of Gwaine’s grumbling, however, he bounded up from the pallet as deftly as he’d stretched out on it and followed Percival downstairs, where those who had stayed behind filled the floor as they ate their breakfast. More than one thanked Gwaine as they passed, but he brushed it off with a, “Thank the king,” every single time.
“What exactly did you bring?” Percival asked.
Gwaine shrugged. “Just raided the kitchen like I normally do. I know how much you eat, remember. The way I saw it, you were probably eating these poor people out of house and home.”
Percival swatted at his head in protest, a move Gwaine ducked with ease. They were both still laughing when they strode out into the pouring rain, energized to get to work by the strength of their camaraderie.
While the rain was just as relentless as it had been the day before, the hours weren’t as long, not with Gwaine there to break up the monotony. Gwaine had a way of anticipating a need before it was expressed, whether it was being there to help bolster a sagging wall or to offer a drink in the rare moments they ducked out of the weather. People smiled when he was around, no matter how tired they were.
Most importantly, he remained throughout the day, never finding a reason to return to the citadel, always leaping to rejoin the workforce the moment a break was over.
At what would’ve been sunset, Percival stood beneath the eaves of the cobbler’s home, one of the shelters on higher ground that had been used to help house those who had stayed to help. He stared into the murky sky, uncaring of the water that ran onto his face. He was already soaked to the skin. A few more droplets were meaningless.
But from this angle, the storms weren’t the beast driving across the land. The rain was simply a part of the heavens’ tapestry, individual stitches instead of unraveling threads.
“What, you haven’t had your fill already?”
Gwaine’s wry tone dragged his attention away from the surprising beauty of the skies. “I was just thinking that it doesn’t seem as bad tonight.”
Gwaine glanced past him and nodded. “I think you might be right. We might survive the deluge after all.”
“Is that what you’ll tell Arthur when you report back tonight?”
He asked in all sincerity, though he realized after the words were out that he was already missing Gwaine’s presence from the hours to come. He wasn’t as exhausted as he’d been on previous nights. Sleep wouldn’t be as immediate, which meant he would have more time alone with his wistful fantasies, dreams that would be even more bittersweet if Gwaine came back in the morning to help again.
“Arthur has a window. I’ll bet he even knows how to use it.” Gwaine leaned against the wall, and though the light and laughter slipping out through the cottage’s cracks seemed the perfect cloak to wrap him in, the shadows hiding his eyes made him appear more somber than Percival was accustomed to. “I talked to Evoric. If you don’t mind sharing, I can stay down here tonight. That way, I won’t have to bribe the boy to let me into your room at dawn.”
Though Percival smiled, the suggestion left mixed feelings. “I never mind sharing,” he said. That part was true. He would give whatever Gwaine wanted without hesitating. But after the day they’d had, and having Gwaine all to himself, keeping his hands to himself would be harder than usual. He would much rather avoid temptation than fight it.
“Then I guess it’s just a matter of grabbing something to eat before we settle in for the night.” He bounded back into the rain, the water splashing up around his ankles as he hopped through the pools. “Provided you think you can beat me, of course.”
Percival took the dare for the play he knew Gwaine meant it to be, chasing after him without trying too hard so Gwaine could stay in the lead. His heart felt lighter when they reached the tavern. He thought too much, especially when there was no reason for it. Sometimes, focusing on the physical as everyone assumed he did really was the best thing.
While the rains were definitely slowing, the winds picked up to compensate, finding fissures in every wall that made the fires in the hearth almost pointless. Everyone was huddled as close to the flames they could get, but when they tried to wave Percival over, he shook his head.
“He’d take the place of three of you,” Gwaine said before he could speak up. “If you don’t mind, we’ll call it a night.”
A round of good nights followed them to their room, where Percival found dry clothes waiting for them. “You change first,” Gwaine said, only half inside the room. “I’ll fetch us something to eat.”
The reprieve was welcome, though Percival’s clothing was so sodden, Gwaine was back before he’d finished. Percival finished wringing out the worst of the water in his tunic into the ready basin, ignoring the way Gwaine was already stripping out of his clothing.
“Eat up.” Rather than drape his shirt over the chair, Gwaine dropped it into a wet heap on the floor. “I’ve had my fill already.”
He found that hard to believe. Half of Camelot thought Gwaine had hollow legs, for as much as he ate. But lo and behold, the platter he’d brought up was half-full, crumbs remaining where he’d helped himself to the bread.
Yanking his clean tunic over his head, he ignored the way it stuck to his aching back to dig into the bread and cheese for himself. His stomach growled at the first bite, but if Gwaine noticed, he didn’t say a word. He was too busy combing his fingers through his hair to squeeze out the lingering damp.
“I hurt in places I didn’t even know I had,” Gwaine complained.
“I find it hard to believe there’s any part of you you’re not aware of,” Percival shot back.
Gwaine laughed. “Probably.”
“It won’t be as bad tomorrow.”
“If that’s a lie to make me feel better, thank you.”
Though he didn’t stop eating, Percival glanced at Gwaine out of the corner of his eye. He crouched near the fire, the fine muscles in his back rippling with each sweep of his arms over his head. Mud smeared across a shoulder blade, and an array of freckles trailed near his waist, disappearing beneath his trousers. He could still remember the first time he’d seen Gwaine without his shirt on. They’d been on patrol, the sun blazing down through the trees, and Gwaine had stripped bare the second they found a river to cool off in. Percival hadn’t hesitated to join him, but they’d only spent a few minutes splashing around before common sense intervened and they returned to their duties.
That had also been the first time Percival realized Gwaine possessed another gift. The means to make Percival forget every bad thing that had ever happened to him. Nobody else had ever been able to do that before.
It was rather hard to ignore something so powerful.
Gwaine turned his head before Percival to look away and caught his gaze with a small smile. “Don’t suppose I could ask a favor?”
Grateful for anything to shift his focus, Percival nodded eagerly. “Whatever you want.”
“You mind sharing the pallet? I know it’ll be a tight fit, and this was your room first, but I don’t seem to get warm for anything with this rain.”
His eyes flickered over Gwaine’s bare torso. He could think of nothing he would like more or dread less, but he didn’t dare let that show. “You could try putting your shirt on. I hear clothing works wonders.”
“So does having a mate who puts off enough heat to warm a small village. Come on,” he cajoled. “It won’t be so bad. I promise not to snore.”
Continuing to protest would only alert Gwaine that something was wrong with the situation. Best case, he’d simply tease Percival for weeks about his selfish nature, but Percival couldn’t count on that being all. He would have to hope his body didn’t betray him in ways he wouldn’t want to explain, which would likely mean little to no sleep.
“Fine, but if you kick, I’m kicking back.”
While Gwaine settled in on the pallet, Percival took his time finishing his meal. Each bite was another throb of his pulse, each swallow another moment of expectation. His entire body was a contradiction of needs, limbs heavy from their arduous labor, thoughts a whirlwind at how he was going to survive the night without ruining his friendship.
“Are the crumbs really that good?” Gwaine commented.
No more stalling. Percival extinguished the candle on the table and padded silently over to the pallet. Another blanket had appeared in their absence, likely courtesy of Evoric or Calan, but Gwaine hadn’t taken one for himself to leave the extra for Percival. No, he’d made it even more difficult for Percival by laying them both out so they’d sleep together under a double layer.
At least he’d taken the side closest to the wall, so Percival wouldn’t have to climb over him to get in.
He curled onto his side, his back to Gwaine’s, staring at the flames in the hearth. The blankets remained loose around his waist. Though he was cold, he was more nervous about cocooning himself in the same shroud as Gwaine. Heat would turn him liquid, just as quickly as the touch of Gwaine’s flesh would. Staying cooler was a necessary precaution, as much as he might regret it.
Gwaine shifted behind him, the hard wall of his back disappearing. “What’re you doing?” Gwaine asked.
That was a stupid question. “Going to sleep.”
“You’re going to freeze to death.”
“I run hot, remember?”
Callused fingers ran over the top of his shoulder. “Not warm enough to ignore a perfectly good blanket. Here.” Gwaine yanked it up to cover both of them, then nestled closer into Percival’s back so his breath tickled at Percival’s nape. “See? Isn’t that better?”
Like everything else about this night, it was and it wasn’t, both heaven and hell as Gwaine’s proximity encouraged every bad impulse he’d tried so hard to suppress. He took a deep breath, hoping it would steady him, but it came out broken and louder than he wanted, a clarion call for Gwaine if ever he heard one.
“No, clearly it’s not.” Gwaine sighed. “Maybe this was a mistake.”
He sounded so disappointed, Percival couldn’t help but ask, “Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re tense, and you’re obviously not happy I came by today.”
“That’s not true.” He flopped onto his back to find Gwaine on his side, his head propped up on his hand. “Today was the first day it didn’t feel hopeless.”
“That’s because the rain is slowing down.”
“No, because you were there.”
“Then why are you so tense? Did you get hurt and you’re not telling me again?”
“Then what is it?”
Could he come up with some story and lie to Gwaine to avoid a confession that would change everything between them? If he was smart, that’s exactly what he’d do. If he wanted to protect his heart, he had no other option.
But with Gwaine’s dark eyes regarding him with such surprising somberness, the lies refused to come.
“I can’t relax when you’re so close like this,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Gwaine frowned. “What? That’s rubbish. We’re friends. We’ve slept like this dozens of times.”
“Not like this.” He flicked his fingers at the blankets over them. “This is…different.”
Gwaine did him the favor of glancing down. “I thought it might be about time for us to try different.”
His heart leapt, but just as quickly, his nerves joined his runaway pulse. “I’m not interested in being one of your conquests.”
A flash of that playful grin had never struck him so deep. “That implies I could ever best you, when we both know that’s not true.”
“Can you stop turning this into a joke?” When he shoved the blanket off to start to rise, Gwaine stopped him from standing with a firm hand around his arm. “Let me go, Gwaine. Please.”
“Not until you hear me out.”
Percival squeezed his eyes shut. He could withstand Gwaine’s touch or his words, but not both at the same time, no matter how painful the moments to come would be.
Gwaine took his silence as encouragement. Though his fingers loosened, they glided upward, caressing the taut curve of Percival’s biceps. “I have to say, I didn’t expect this to be so hard. I mean, you’ve seen me at my absolute worst, and yet, you still let me call you friend. That puts you in a very singular class, you know.” He snorted. “But of course, you don’t. You never do.”
Gwaine’s nonsense was all it took to look at him again. “What’re you talking about?”
“It’s all coming out gibberish, isn’t it? This would be a mite easier if I didn’t mind so much what the outcome was going to be.”
“I already said—”
“I know. You don’t want to be a conquest. That’s not what I want, either. I’m looking for more.”
He swallowed against the dryness of his throat. “How does that not make me a conquest?”
“Because I’m not interested in walking away from you.” The smile was gone, as well as any sense of frivolity in his tone. He sounded more serious than Percival had ever witnessed before. “I want what we have as friends to be exactly what we have here. I’m tired of pretending I don’t want more, and something tells me, so are you. There’s been a couple times I thought you might want the same thing, the way you look at me when you think nobody notices. But I always notice when it comes to you. Always.”
It was everything he’d ever wanted and exactly what terrified him. “I don’t want to lose your friendship,” he said softly.
“You can’t. I promise you. Just like I promise I won’t be the one to walk away.” His mouth canted. “And you know how much I do love to roam.”
Which had been his fear all along, but in all the time he’d known Gwaine, Percival had never heard him utter the same vow to anyone else. Gwaine had never lied to him, either. Could he trust him now?
Oh, how he longed to.
Holding his breath, Percival cupped Gwaine’s nape and tugged him gently down at the same time he stretched to meet him halfway. Their lips grazed across each other, and though they scarcely touched, Percival felt the heat bleeding from Gwaine all the way to his toes.
The instant Percival loosened his fingers, Gwaine pulled back an inch to stare down at him in awe. “Tell me that wasn’t letting me down easy.”
He answered him the best way he knew how. By kissing him again.
Gwaine was laughing when they parted the second time. Curling into Percival’s side, he tossed his hair out of the way to rest his cheek over Percival’s heart, his arm tightening around Percival’s waist. “As soon as we’re back in a bed where we can move around properly—”
“And when we aren’t too tired to appreciate it,” Percival added.
“Especially when I’m not too tired to appreciate it,” Gwaine said. “I plan on showing you everything I’ve imagined doing to you from the moment we met.”
“What about what I’ve been imagining?”
“Considering where my fantasies have taken us, I can’t even begin to guess what might be left over for you to suggest.”
As Percival held Gwaine as close, contentment as he’d never experienced before suffused throughout his flesh. He wasn’t just warm on the outside now. It lit him from within, able to withstand any storm, weather any hardship. Because he was armed in ways that had escaped him before. He had Gwaine’s devotion, more than friend, more than fellow knight.
No foe could vanquish him now.