Title: What Love Is
Summary: The end of one love is the door way to another.
Coupling: Gwen/Merlin, Gwen/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot, Morgana/Arthur, Morgana/Merlin, Merlin/Freya, Arthur/Merlin
Genre: Romance
Rating: K+
Warnings: Slight slash.
Disclaimer: If I owned it, Arthur would know about Merlin's effin' power's already.


"You have this bourgeois notion... that in order for love to be real it has to be permanent. Nothing is permanent. That's just a fact. We move in and out of loving other people…"

---

What Love Is…

is safety

From the moment she met him, Gwen knew she would love Merlin. She felt it the first time he smiled at her and her heart pounded in her chest. She knew it because of how easily she began to find herself flustered around him, of how being near him sometimes could make her cheeks burn. It was hard not to love him with his silly smiles and playful manner. She didn't have to know him for long to know that he was a good man, that he would be a loyal husband and a caring father. That he was the type of man her father would approve of.

Loving Merlin was sweet, darling, and perfectly normal. There was no mystery, no hidden temptation, no secret passion. No, falling in love with Merlin was probably even expected of her – he was after all, a simple servant like her. Loving Merlin was safe.

But there was no passion.

It was nothing like loving Arthur.

...is romance

Gwen still could not find the moment when she had fallen in love with Arthur. She had always found him attractive (how could she not?), but she did not know when he had stopped being the pompous, arrogant boy she had always known. (Not that he wasn't pompous and arrogant now, because he certainly was, but something had changed.) At some point in time, seeing him suddenly made her heart flutter, or hearing him call her Guinevere caused her breath hitch. A single compliment could keep her smiling for days on ends. A touch for weeks.

Loving Arthur was fire, desire, and absolutely forbidden. They would have to meet at late hours in odd places to avoid being seen. There was no safety, no security, no promise. No, falling in love with Arthur was like living in a fairytale – a love story between a prince and a poor servant girl. Loving Arthur was romantic.

And completely unrealistic.

But neither loving Merlin or Arthur was like loving Lancelot.

...is balance

It had happened out of nowhere. One moment she was sure that she was going to die, the next she was looking into his eyes and she just knew that she loved him. That she had loved him from the very start. Because Lancelot was everything she needed and everything she wanted. Because when Gwen was with him, everything was right.

With him every touch held her forever, as if it would be their last – even when they knew there was no danger. Every kiss was as sweet as their first, but as strong as their last, as if he were afraid of her not knowing his love. With Lancelot, everything was wrong and right – wrong because it wasn't supposed to be him, but right because she knew she wouldn't have it any other way. She didn't have to wish she was someone else, but neither did she feel like the poor maidservant she was. With him she wasn't just Gwen, but neither was she trying to be Guinevere.

Loving Lancelot was somewhere in between the dullness of safety and the romance of the forbidden. With him there was passion and desire – there was a romance to rival any love story – but there was no fear of the future. With him there was a certainty of marriage, of children, of her happily-ever-after. Yes, loving Lancelot was just the right balance.

It was right.

is childhood

Morgana could not remember a time before she had loved Arthur, because for as long as she could remember, he had been there.

He had been her playmate, her friend, her protector. He had shared a crib with her as a baby, fought with her as a child, held her hand when her father passed. He was her savior, her knight, her prince – who she had always believed she would marry, because that was just the way things worked. Because, one day, he was supposed to wake up, see her, and realize that she had always been there. That she was just as much his match and he was hers.

So she sat on the sides and forced herself to be content with waiting. She took the role of his friend – teasing and taunting him when she was in a foul mood, escorting him to all of Uther's events, cheering him on at his tournaments. All the while, Morgana pretended that she wasn't interested in anything more than a sibling relationship – that she had given up hope on something more – until it became second nature to be just that, his friend, his sister.

Somewhere along the lines of pretending to want nothing more than friendship – pretending to ignore her feelings – it became true. Somewhere, at some point, Morgana saw what Arthur had seen all along, and she just knew that they were not right for each other. Somewhere, she had let her childhood and her love for Arthur go.

is trust

Morgana had never, however, wanted to love Merlin.

She wasn't like Arthur – she didn't fall in love with servants because it was forbidden, because it was something she could never have. No, she had neither wanted nor expected for it to happen. For the longest time Merlin had been Gwen's savior, Gaius's boy, Arthur's manservant, but never anything more than her friend. With him, crossing that line had never been given a second thought (not even a first, at that).

Until he saved Mordred, despite the boy's magic. Until he told her to seek out the Druids to find answers, to find help. Until Morgana realized that Merlin was different. That he neither hated nor feared magic the way everyone else did, but rather sought to help those who possessed it.

Crossing that line with Merlin had never been given a second thought until she realized that she could trust him with her secret. With her magic. And, suddenly, it was always on her mind, because Merlin was there for her, because he was a true friend, because Morgana could trust him in a way that she could trust no one else.

Except she couldn't.

Because in the midst of it all, in the midst of all her certainty that she could trust Merlin (because he didn't hate magic – because he understood), she forgot that he was a servant. That he was Arthur's manservant, and thus loyal to Arthur and thus loyal to Uther before any other. Including her and her magic.

She understood why he had done it, why he had poisoned her to save Uther. She had even forgiven him, because she would have done the same in his place. She would have done the same to protect magic, just as he had done to protect those from it. Morgana more than understood – she forgave him for it.

But she could never love him again. Even after years had passed, and she knew of his own secret – his own magic – she would still have the occasional hesitation to take a sip of her drink. To take something that had come from Merlin's hands, in fear that this time it might actually be the end of her.

Morgana could never love Merlin again because, despite everything that proved otherwise, she could never fully trust him.

is pain

Merlin tried not to think of her often and, most times, he was successful. But then he would see a mountain, a lake, or even a black cat, and he would remember. He would remember gentle look in her eyes when she spoke of her home, the softness of her skin when he carried her out of Camelot, or the smell of the fire on the boat, and it would hurt so much that sometimes he wouldn't even be able to speak, think, breathe.

He had loved Freya.

For once in his life, Merlin had found someone who he could relate to, who he could actually speak to about his magic and have them understand what it was like. He had been able to share his gifts without fear that she would turn him into Uther. He had been able to take care of her, to show her that having magic was not always to be feared.

Freya had been a kind girl – a beautiful girl – who had the misfortune of running into the wrong person. She had been cursed, what she had done hadn't been her fault, she hadn't had a choice. It wasn't right that she had been sentenced to death for it. It wasn't fair!

He had not known her for long, but his feelings had been real. He had been ready to give up everything – even his destiny, even Arthur – to take her away, to protect her, because, for once in his life, he was someone's savior and she knew it. Because Merlin had loved Freya.

Merlin tried not to think of her often and, most times, he was successful. But some nights she would creep into his thoughts and he would cry himself to sleep, remembering the pain of his first love.

is something more

Arthur had loved many in his life. Each and every time, sorcery or not, he had loved completely. He had even loved the woman he had married, a sweet and gentle noble from a nearby kingdom (despite the fact that the marriage had been arranged by his and her fathers). He had given each and every one of them – his wife, Guinevere, even Vivian – everything he had, everything they wanted.

Well, at least all that he could, because there was one thing he could never give.

Merlin was a complete and utter buffoon – an idiot beyond measure, really. He was clumsy, annoying, and more often than not forgot his place was as Arthur's manservant. Because that's all Merlin was, a manservant – an idiotic, forgetful, useless manservant – who couldn't do his job if his life depended upon it.

Only he wasn't.

He wasn't quite sure when it had changed, but it had. Suddenly his idiotic comments became helpful, his forgetfulness seemed far less important, his silence annoyed Arthur more than his chatter ever could have. Suddenly, Merlin was his friend. Suddenly, he was something more.

Arthur had loved many before – he had lain with countless more – but with Merlin, it was something completely different. Because he was only ever really himself with Merlin. Because no one knew him (or ever had known him, or ever would know him) the way his stupid, clumsy, annoying manservant did. Because Arthur needed Merlin the way Merlin needed Arthur. Because they were two halves of the same.

But he was King Arthur of Camelot, and he needed his Queen, because he needed his heir. She was the one he would go to bed with every night, the one he would rise with every morning. She was the one he would take to balls, the one he would be publically seen with. She was the one who gave him his sons, the one whose grave his would rest beside.

But even she knew that she was not the one who would ever really him.

Because with Merlin, Arthur has something different.

He had something more.

---

"...but that doesn't make the love any less real."
-Angel Montenegro, Bones


Note: I was looking at my Facebook out of boredom shortly after watching the Merlin finale when I saw the quote above on my wall. It suddenly reminded me of all the different canon shippings there are in the Merlin fandom and how almost all of them seem to work for the short period of time they are there. (You gotta admit, the jump from season one's Merlin/Gwen to season two's Arthur/Gwen was kinda random.) From there this pretty much wrote itself. It's also an experiment in how hard the characters are to write for future reference.

This fic is dedicated to Muffintine who gave me a summary and has been trying to get me to watch Merlin. Here's to you Muffintine - it only took me a year and a half, and 6400 miles, but I finally did it!

Review, please. =]