Title: ithin Reach (AO3)
Summary: n which Gwaine has a lot of feelings and Arthur's hair moves in the wind.
A/N: It seems I've written more Arthur/Gwaine words. Um. Yay? It's set in the same universe a Out of Reach AO3).
The stealthy ninjas were unleashed by giselleslash. I didn't come up with them but wasn't able to leave them out
See, the thing was, Gwaine didn’t do love.
OK, so maybe he did. Loved his mother pretty good (well? whatever), he did, and he’d even go so far as to say he loved his closest friends. If Arthur had been just that, a close friend, he’d be loving the heck out of him, no doubt about that.
But this? This situation? This whole falling for your charge thing? Infinitely more complicated than being friends with him or just fucking him on a weekly (read: daily) basis. And complicated was another thing Gwaine didn’t do.
Basically, there were all kind of things Gwaine didn’t do. He was fine with that. Life was easy if you wanted it to be, straightforward if you acted like it was. So maybe it pretended to be difficult at times, threw bad things and hardship your way—bad things bounced right off Gwaine, always had. He’d built himself a pretty decent shield over the years, a barrier shutting useless things like pain and heartbreak right out. He liked it that way. Feelings were to be enjoyed; impulses were to be acted on. Hearts were made for beating, not breaking.
So yeah. Gwaine didn’t do love. And he was doing a pretty good job of not doing anything of the sort, had mastered the act of refraining from going down that road lifetimes ago. Decades, if you were going for accuracy. One decade. Nine years, to be precise.
Falling in love? Not his thing. And he was glad of it.
Arthur’s hair moved in the wind.
Of course it did. Gwaine’s hair was doing the same thing. A good thing too, that, or people would think he used products, the kind with armies of chemicals in them. The kind he never used because they smelt bad and they made Arthur sneeze. Rather adorably actually, but that was not the point and yes, there was a point to this. There always was when Gwaine was on a roll.
So. Arthur’s hair moved in the wind. And Gwaine was looking at it. Obviously. If he were a poet, this would be the moment to come up with something stupid like ‘his hair glowed like a brilliant halo, casting a soft light over his angelic features’.
Fortunately, he wasn’t a poet, and last he checked, Arthur was no angel. Still. His hair glowed rather impressively in the sunlight. Having blond hair obviously had its advantages. Gwaine’s hair was cooler, though. Even Morgana said so, and Morgana was always right. Except about . . . yeah, no, she was definitely wrong about that.
“You’re staring, Gwaine.”
Gwaine startled, jerked his head to the side. “I am? I am. Aren’t I always?”
Leon shrugged. “At Arthur? Yeah, pretty much.”
And that was just. That was just not what Gwaine had meant at all. Also, Leon was the most oblivious person he knew, except maybe Arthur, but even Arthur picked up on some things every now and then. Leon though? It had taken him three years to finally gather the damn guts to ask Morgana out on a date. Three years. Honestly. Worse still, she had been the one to propose because he kept missing the hints she dropped all over the place. So. For Leon to miss Morgana’s come-ons but pick up on Gwaine’s rather pathetic staring was not something he felt he should be okay with. Frankly, he wasn’t.
“I do not.” He decisively turned his head away from his friend. Arthur was laughing at something Merlin had said, throwing his head back in a way that should not be as attractive as it was. His laughs when he thought no one was watching were particularly dear to Gwaine. None of Uther’s business partners ever got to see Arthur’s crooked teeth. Gwaine? Knew all of them by heart. And okay, that might be a bit freaky, but he was the man’s bodyguard, wasn’t he? He was meant to be keeping an eye on him. A very close eye. At all times. And Arthur’s teeth needed to be kept as safe as the rest of him.
“Oh, you do.” Leon was nibbling on a grass haulm now and where did he even get that? They were in the middle of a shopping mall, for fuck’s sake! “It’s very cute. We all coo over it. Well, Gwen does. Morgana just smirks.”
“Morgana always smirks,” Gwaine couldn’t help but point out. “And I’m supposed to stare at Arthur.” Because that was just it, wasn’t it? He got paid to stare at Arthur Pendragon on a daily basis. There was no denying the fact that he had the best job in the world. Usually. When they were safe and well; when Arthur wasn’t bleeding out in his arms, and when they weren’t running for their lives and firing at anonymous assailants in black uniforms, it definitely was.
“Yes, you are,” Leon allowed. “You are a lucky, lucky man.”
They watched Arthur throw his empty Starbucks cup at Merlin’s head, grinning stupidly when Merlin flailed a little and swatted at him. In the blink of an eye, Morgana was striding over, picking Merlin’s side and smirking dangerously when Arthur told her she didn’t even know what the argument was about. Arthur, being Arthur, loudly told her to mind her own business, and that’s when Gwen became involved as well, hands on her hips, glaring at Arthur in a way you’d normally expect from Morgana, but Morgana was a good teacher and Gwen was an even better pupil.
“How do you do it?” Leon wanted to know, gesturing in the general direction of the people they called their friends. “I mean, I know he’s a good man. Theoretically. And he probably likes you too, what with your hair and . . .” he trailed off, cleared his throat. “But he’s Arthur. He’s going to follow in his father’s footsteps. He’s going to be—”
“No,” Gwaine said sharply, “he’s not going to be anything like Uther and Bayard and all those other soulless types I don’t know by name. Arthur’s not like that.”
“Maybe,” Leon said reluctantly. He threw his haulm to the ground, stepped on it. “But even if he becomes the man you think he’ll be, there’ll be no room for you in his life, will there?”
Gwaine didn’t know what to say to that. So he kept his mouth shut.
Gwaine supposed you could love someone selflessly. Granted, he was no expert on the matter, but if you loved someone enough to let them go, then that was a selfless kind of love, wasn’t it? Very romantic. Probably. If you liked that sort of thing.
Gwaine didn’t like that sort of thing.
Selfless lovers spent their lives away from one another, and what was even remotely romantic about that? It was honourable, maybe, and selfless, yes, he’d established that. But not romantic. Or maybe he wasn’t the romantic sort. He’d never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet, now that he thought about it. Or Rachel and Ross for that matter. OK, so he wasn’t a romantic guy. Not if being romantic meant pining and pining and pining until there were enough pine trees to build an ark (or a very big tree house, he liked tree houses).
Pining. Loving someone from afar. Wishing them all the happiness in the world but not being able to make them happy yourself. Admiring them from a distance. Living off stolen touches. Wanting them to be happy and safe, doing everything you could to make it so. Never once taking that final step, knowing it would make them uncomfortable. Unhappy. Because their father wouldn’t approve and they didn’t even know if they liked blokes that way.
Gwaine was completely and utterly fucked, wasn’t he?
“Are you getting married? Again?”
“Shut up. No, I’m not.” The words were said without heat. Arthur was distracted, engrossed in a book with a nondescript black cover—a book Gwaine knew to be the adult version of Harry Potter. “He looked up suddenly, frowning lightly. “And certainly not again. Why would you say again?”
“I’ve never been married.”
“So I couldn’t possibly do it again. Not that I would.”
“What?” The book slipped from Arthur’s hands. He cursed under his breath.
Gwaine sat himself down on the edge of Arthur’s mahogany table. “Your father’s invited the Hudsons over for dinner.”
Arthur, who had been in the process of getting down on his hands and knees, immediately straightened up and looked at him. “He has?” He frowned. “He has. Oh.”
Gwaine bent over and picked up the book. “Still not getting married?”
“Don’t laugh. It’s not funny.” Arthur ignored Gwaine’s outstretched hand with The Order of The Phoenix in it and slumped back against the armchair. “I’m getting married. Oh God.”
“At least you won’t be doing it again,” Gwaine said, going for a reassuring smile, but somehow ending up grinning his face off instead. Arthur in a fetal position was simply too precious a sight not to grin—or poke fun—at.
Arthur covered his face with his hands. “Gwaine.”
He cleared his throat, willed the smile away from his face. “Yes, Arthur?”
“Don’t leave my side tonight.” Arthur lowered his hands, his eyes wide and imploring.
Gwaine looked down at him and swallowed, something raw and prickling stuck in his throat all of a sudden. “I won’t,” he told him softly. “I won’t, Arthur.”
The careful smile Arthur sent him in return did strange things to his insides. He turned his head away and clutched Arthur’s thumbed book a little bit tighter to his chest.
Gwaine was in love.
Stupidly, undeniably, absolutely and basically irrevocably (no, he never read single page of Twilight, shut up, why would you even think that) in love. With the only person who had ever told him no.
That wasn’t true.
He’d heard the word ‘no’ before. And not just from his father—who he did not want to think about, ever, because Gwaine didn’t do heartbreak and he wasn’t about to start now—but from a couple of guys and girls in college as well. Still, those moments didn’t exactly count. Gwaine liked challenges. He’d ended up in bed with most of those people. It had been fun, chasing after them, changing their minds, charming his way into their pants. Utterly charming was something he could be. Effortlessly.
But he was that on a daily basis. Arthur knew he was charming, even thought he was. He hadn’t told Gwaine this, obviously, but Gwaine could see it on his face whenever Gwaine did something stupidly noble or dangerous—concern, anger, frustration and fondness, all mingling into one emotion; an emotion Arthur didn’t allow himself to express in words, or even actions. He couldn’t. Wouldn’t.
So yeah, for someone who didn’t do love, let alone the selfless kind, Gwaine was pretty damn good at loving someone selflessly from afar. Because loving Arthur? Was something he apparently did, in a stealthy ninja sort of way; his treacherous feelings had simply snuck up on him one day and caught him completely off guard. What puzzled Gwaine the most was that they had found a way around his shield.
Having had plenty of time to think about his terrible defenses (which were amazing) and his weak resolve (which was incredibly strong, thank you very much), Gwaine was well aware it all came down to this: Arthur Pendragon broke all the rules. The bastard got under Gwaine’s skin; inside his head and, God help him, into his heart, and changed those rules he’d set himself, those very important rules he lived by religiously. Arthur was the exception to his rule on feelings. Now, most of his feelings were connected to (read: for) Arthur, and wasn’t that just the most confusing thing since IKEA’s assembly instructions?
He was in love. In selfless love.
The problem was, Gwaine was just not a selfless person.
Never had been.
“No, you will not be accompanying me to the bathroom. For heaven’s sake, Gwaine.”
Gwaine toyed with his gun. Spinning weapons used to be Arthur’s thing, but Gwaine was great at adapting, and trumping Arthur in all things was a fantastic life goal if he did say so himself. Someone had to make sure the guy’s ego fit through the front door. Besides, spinning guns was infinitely cooler than spinning wooden swords, though he had to admire a guy who was man enough to play with his childhood toys on a daily basis. “You sure?”
“Stop doing that.” Arthur stepped away from the door. “Is the safety even on? And yes, I am absolutely sure. No one is going to kill me in the bathroom, Gwaine. There’s no way in. Not if you guard the door.”
“Are you positively positive, princess?”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed. “Is that a lame pregnancy joke? Because I’m not laughing.”
Huh. And people said Gwaine’s mind was a strange place. How did Arthur even leap to conclusions the way he did? It was kind of endearing, really, and more than a little amusing. Especially when he got worked up over his own stupid theories.
“Furthermore, I am not fat,” Arthur said, “And I repeatedly told you not to call me that.”
Hm-m. “You did.”
Arthur sighed, his shoulders sagging a little. “You are impossible. I must have done something very wrong in a past life to deserve an incompetent bodyguard like you.” He walked over to the door and pointedly held it wide open. “Now shoo. Get out of my room.”
“Shoo, Arthur? Really? Who even says that anymore?”
“Shut up, Gwaine.”
“No, I absolutely must know.”
“Go away” Arthur shook the door a little. It creaked dangerously and he abruptly let go, frowning at it suspiciously before turning his attention back to Gwaine. “Now.” He was using his fingers now, pointing down the corridor.
“It was Merlin, wasn’t it? Merlin shoo’d you. Oh, that is just—”
“I will throw things at your head.”
“I’m sure you will.” He wouldn’t really, would he? Arthur only ever threw objects at Merlin’s head, and breaking tradition was something he didn’t take lightly.
Arthur narrowed his eyes at him. “You don’t think I would. Oh, I would. I most definitely would.” He tentatively grabbed hold of the door again. “Now leave.”
“I’m serious, Gwaine.”
“Serious ‘serious’ or just serious? Because I’ve come up with this awesome strategy that involves staying with you forever.”
Arthur’s frown deepened. “Get out.”
There was just no talking with Arthur when he was upset about something. “All right, all right, getting out. See? I’m leaving.” Gwaine sauntered over to the door, smiling broadly when he passed Arthur. “Keep your pants on.” His gaze dropped. “Or not.”
Arthur carried an apple on him. He actually carried an apple on him and he was in the process of throwing it at Gwaine’s head. Huh. Gwaine watched the fruit splash against the doorpost. “Your aim is absolutely terrible. It’s a good thing I’m around to protect you.” And apparently Arthur did not just carry one apple on him because the next one hit Gwaine’s forehead. “Ow. Oh, that’s better. Much better.”
“Yes, yes, I’m getting out. No need to get violent. Wasn’t I supposed to escort you to the bathroom? I thought you wanted to—”
He caught the third apple and really, how did Arthur keep them all hidden? Gwaine never noticed a damn thing, and he was trained in catching suspicious shapes on other people’s bodies. He’d have to pay better attention from now on.
It wasn’t until Gwaine reached Lance’s office and allowed himself to sink into the man’s comfy couch that he realised Arthur hated apples with a passion—and that Gwaine once told him they were his favourite things in the world.
Gwaine liked to think he’d hired himself.
He’d literally thrown himself at Arthur’s feet one day, diving in the way of a knife meant for the other man’s heart. The next morning, Uther Pendragon had been standing at the foot of his bed, thanking him for a job well done, and offering him a job Gwaine did not think he needed at all. He’d been in the middle of telling Uther where to shove it when he remembered the face of the man he’d rescued the night before and, hang on, was that blond bloke the man’s son? The one with the eyes? And the hair?
Merlin had stepped forward then, lightly touched a stunned Uther’s shoulder, and told him he’d like to have a moment with his possible colleague to be. Fortunately for all involved, Uther had left the room.
Merlin’s speech had been pretty straightforward. It was his job to protect Arthur. It was a job he took seriously, and one that took up most of his time—and dedication. But he’d slipped up last night. Arthur had almost got himself killed, and Gwaine had been there to prevent that from happening. In short, Gwaine had done what Merlin had not been able to do, and if Gwaine could do the same from now on, their lives would be infinitely more tolerable, of that Merlin was sure.
Besides, Merlin could use a break every now and then, and Gwaine looked like a competent guy. A nice one, too, it would be nice to hang out together, didn’t Gwaine think so?
That goofy grin, combined with the ears and the imploring look on Merlin’s face had almost been enough to make Gwaine say yes. It wasn’t like he’d had a job—or a home—back then, and Merlin had seemed like a decent bloke, indeed fun to hang out with. What ultimately made Gwaine say yes, though, was the photo of Arthur Merlin showed him on his phone right after his proposal. It was the first glimpse Gwaine ever caught of sunlight glinting furiously off Arthur’s golden hair.
“Oh. Oh. Oh, what the heck. Yes.”
Merlin had beamed, and squeezed his shoulder. “You can sleep in my bed tonight,” he’d said, and Gwaine had just been about to frown at that, when another man stepped into the room and cleared his throat.
“That won’t be necessary this time, Merlin. Mr Pendragon has set up the guest room—or had the guest room set up, to be more precise—and there will be no need for Gwaine to sleep in your bed. Unless he wishes to, of course. Hello.” He’d held out his hand to Gwaine, who’d taken it after a moment of hesitation. “I am Lance. One of your new colleagues.”
“One of your . . .” Gwaine had turned his head to look at Merlin. “How many of us are there exactly?”
“Um.” Merlin had scratched behind his ear. “Well, I might have done a fair bit of recruiting over the years. There’s Leon. Percy. Elyan. Tristan.”
“Galahad,” Lance had added helpfully.
“Galahad. Pelinore. Agravaine.” Merlin’s brow had furrowed. “Oh, and Mordred.”
That last person’s employment hadn’t turned out too well. Fortunately, Gwaine had been there to help his brothers in arms save the day and—more importantly—Arthur’s life.
All in all, Gwaine couldn’t say he regretted saying yes that day.
“Damn it, Arthur.”
Arthur didn’t respond. Why would he? He was too busy bleeding out in Gwaine’s lap. Gwaine’s heart was doing something funny in his chest. It beat, and sometimes it didn’t, only to beat again faster moments later. His bloody hands were pressing down onto Arthur’s chest with all the strength he could muster, trying to preserve some of that precious blood, willing it back into Arthur’s body, attempting to prevent it from coming out.
“Why didn’t you just—fuck it, why would you do that? Why? Huh?”
No response. Just ragged breathing, occasional groans.
“I’m supposed to protect you, you stupid git. It’s what your father pays me for.”
Arthur’s face was getting blurry. In fact, everything was getting blurry. Gwaine blinked for all he was worth, but he couldn’t stop the tears from obscuring his vision, and so he did the only thing he could: he let them run free. Some splattered onto Arthur’s face, and Gwaine turned his head to the side, his shoulders shaking.
Where were the others? Why weren’t they here?
His gaze flickered to the unmoving form of Gwaine’s would-be-killer, sprawled on the floor a couple of feet away from them. He’d come out of nowhere and aimed his gun at Gwaine with the intent to kill, presumably to get him out of the way to get at Arthur. Arthur had seen him earlier than Gwaine. He’d quickly elbowed Gwaine aside, only to jerk backwards when a shot rang out. And then he’d been falling—falling right before Gwaine’s eyes.
The assassin had gone down moments later. Gwaine still wasn’t sure how it had happened, but he’d had his gun in his hands, a strange red colour spreading behind his eyes, and a mouth set so firmly he didn’t think he’d ever be able to open it again.
He’d dropped down to his knees beside Arthur, searched for a pulse.
There had been one. There still was one. Barely.
“Oh God, Arthur!”
Footsteps. Running towards him. Hands on his shoulders, on his back. Voices. More voices. It wasn’t ‘until those hands and voices tried to usher him away from Arthur that he lost it. “No. No.”
“Gwaine. Let him go. Gaius is on his way. Lance can handle this. Gwaine. Gwaine.”
“He’s . . .”
“We know, we know.” Merlin was patting his back, humming nonsensical nonsense into his ear. Gwaine didn’t listen, could only stare as Lance pressed his fingers against Arthur’s wound and talked into his earpiece, his hands steady and his expression calm.
“He pushed me away,” Gwaine said softly, helplessly staring at Arthur’s prone form. “The idiot pushed me away.”
Merlin didn’t say anything to that, just continued rubbing his back.
“It should be me,” Gwaine said, swallowing hair when he felt his throat tighten. “It should be me lying there. What if he . . .”
“He’ll make it,” Merlin said softly, a determined edge to his voice. “He will.”
Gwaine wished he could be as sure.
He’d never really thought about growing old with Arthur. He was a ‘live in the moment’ kind of guy, never stayed in one place for too long. Moving on was his best bet, always had been. He got out before things got complicated. Before he got attached.
There was no getting out of this, though. No running away from these feelings.
For the first time in his life, Gwaine wanted to stay.
“You turned me into this other person. This person I don’t recognise.”
Arthur didn’t answer.
Gwaine gripped the rail a little tighter. “I like him, though. This new guy.”
The steady beep of the monitor was annoying, incredibly so, but it was soothing too, because it didn’t stop, didn’t end, and it was Arthur’s heart beating on and on, never once faltering, and how could he possibly hate the sound of that?
He took a deep breath, his grip on Arthur’s bed loosening slightly. “He’s working with other people now, you now that? Actually relying on others? Yeah, I know, it’s crazy when you think about.” Memories of years spent traveling from town to town rose unbidden, and he pushed them away, focusing on Arthur’s too pale face as he kept talking. “You gave me a reason to stop running.”
His hand moved from the cool railing to Arthur’s hand. “You know how they say you don’t feel other people’s flesh when you touch them? That you’re just being aware of your own nerve endings? Well.” He squeezed softly. “I’m no expert, but I’d stake my life I’m more aware of you than me right now. And that I have been for some time now.”
Still no response.
Gwaine leaned forward, eyes never leaving Arthur’s face. “You know, I used to think I couldn’t be selfless when it came to you. That I’d always keep pushing for more.” He half-smiled. “And maybe I will. But I realised something else tonight. Or just became aware of it actually. You see, I didn’t want you to sacrifice your life for mine.” His voice rose unwittingly, pent up helplessness rising to the surface. “I wanted so badly to take your place back there. I wanted you to live, Arthur, and if that meant giving up my life for yours, I would have done it, no second thoughts, as long as it meant you would keep breathing, keep shouting, keep throwing objects at Merlin’s head—actually, no, you really ought to stop doing that, mate, it’s pretty mean. Anyway.” He shook his head, searched for the right words. “I guess I just wanted to tell you that I’m really fucking grateful you’re still here, that your life is what matters most to me in this messed up world, but that it doesn’t have to have me in it for me to love you stupidly and, well, selflessly, I suppose. So. This is me being selfless. And letting you go. If you want me to.”
He was so focused on Arthur’s face that he didn’t notice the slight twitch of Arthur’s fingers, but the small groan that escaped Arthur’s mouth seconds later had no hope of going unnoticed.
“Arthur?” Gwaine abruptly let go of Arthur’s hand. “Are you—Arthur?”
Gwaine, in the process of getting up and calling for a doctor, almost didn’t hear Arthur’s rough whisper. When the words registered to him, he sat down again, eyes wide. “Sure, I’ll, I’ll just—oh.” Holding his breath, he could do nothing but watch as Arthur’s eyes fluttered open. Had Arthur merely been responding to Gwaine’s decision to leave the room or had he heard what Gwaine had said—what he’d asked?
Arthur’s eyes were unfocused for a brief moment, but they were quick to find Gwaine’s, and Gwaine felt something heavy lift itself off his chest by what he found in them. Warmth. Trust. “Don’t leave,” Arthur said, voice clear this time. “I don’t want you to.”
Gwaine couldn’t help it. He grinned like a lovesick fool.