I sometimes feel I neglect Gwen a little in fanfiction. I've wanted to do this for a while - so naturally, now that I've done it, it's nothing like I expected. I'll leave it for y'all to decide whether that's a good thing or not. =]
Rough, Tough, Save-the-World
When she first met Merlin, she already knew he was something other than average. Not above average, not below average, just not usual.
She knew without a doubt that she liked him, but other than that, she didn't know what to think. He was possibly the strangest person she'd ever met, but he smiled a lot and seemed perfectly harmless.
The first time she really had to wonder about him was after her father, at death's door with an illness no one could explain, miraculously recovered.
She couldn't stop smiling the whole day, and it was true she hadn't smiled much since he first fell ill, but... how could he know?
"I'm psychic," he said, grinning contagiously. She snorted. No, he wasn't, and she told him so. He insisted on it anyway.
They laughed about the whole thing, and in the end he walked away, but when she was left alone Gwen started to wonder.
He wasn't psychic. But what was he, exactly?
The second time she suspected something about Merlin was much later, after she'd already forgotten about cured fathers and people who knew things they weren't supposed to.
She'd long since fallen for Arthur, and he for her... or so she'd thought. It would make sense, that he had only been toying with her, hadn't been serious. Who was she to think she had the prince's sole attention?
All it took was for someone like Lady Vivian to come along to prove that she had been foolish to squander her heart so freely.
If only she could take it back, go back to loving... who? Lancelot? She didn't think it fair, wanting to fall back on the man she'd turned down for Arthur.
She watched Arthur's fight with Olaf through the window, trying to convince herself she wanted Olaf to win, but at the same time... it was supposed to be a fight to the death. She could never want Arthur to die. She just didn't want Vivian to be his prize, that was all.
Had she ever felt so deeply about Merlin? He was probably her best friend, apart from Morgana, and she cared for him. Like she cared about Arthur, though? Arthur made her feel like a princess, took her breath away, pulled forth some sort of inner wisdom she hadn't been aware of before.
Merlin, on the other hand, used to make her stumble over her words, fall into daydreams, still made her laugh and smile like nothing was wrong in the world. Which one was better, she wondered?
All of a sudden he was there, bursting through the door, always in a hurry and never quite explaining why. That was another thing about Merlin; he was always there, ready to help when she needed him most. Being there in that moment could have changed everything, until...
"He's enchanted," he told her. Gwen's heart skipped a beat. Dare she believe it?
"Yes, with the Lady Vivian, I can see that." It came out almost angrily.
Then he explained, without explaining how he knew any of this, that it was true. He was enchanted with magic, not another woman, and her Arthur would come back if she just kissed him. Naturally, she did exactly as the moment called for, rushing to save her prince with a kiss.
Later, when Olaf and Vivian and all the other dignitaries had returned to their respective kingdoms, Gwen was brushing Morgana's hair, and Morgana wasn't talking, so she had time to let her mind wander.
Just how had he learned of the enchantment and how to break it? A lucky guess, maybe, or - she thought with horror - he just wanted her to be able to kiss Arthur one last time before he died. The coincidence, though, it was too much.
"Morgana?" Gwen wondered aloud. Her mistress hummed in response. "Do you ever think Merlin knows a lot more than he's saying?"
Morgana laughed and turned her head, effectively halting Gwen's brush strokes. "I've had the feeling before," she said. "Why do you ask? Has he done that thing, where he knows exactly what's going on and doesn't say how?"
Trying to hide her surprise - of course she wasn't the only person to notice, why would she be? - Gwen said, "Yes, he has." A curious expression crossed Morgana's face, and a million thoughts were going through Gwen's head, but neither one said anything after that. Gwen returned to the soothing, even strokes of the brush, lost in thought once more.
The third time, she decided she was an idiot for never guessing.
It wasn't anything she saw, exactly. It wasn't anything he said. It was simply a combination of many little factors that added up to something larger.
One, Merlin never once acted shocked that Morgana was Uther's daughter, was in league with Morgause, was trying to destroy Camelot. It was one thing for Elyan or Percival, who hadn't known Morgana, but Gwen remembered times like fighting Kanen in Ealdor and hiding a druid boy from Uther, and Merlin should have felt the hurt. But he just looked tired.
Two, she noticed that while one night Merlin had no sword, the next he did. He carried it wrapped in a cloth, and sure, he wasn't all that adept with weapons, but there had to be a real reason, somewhere.
Three, when it was all over, Elyan insisted he'd seen Lancelot and Merlin go completely the wrong way to get to the warning bell. If even he recognized such a mistake, there was no way Merlin could have made it, not after living in the castle for four years.
None of this should have actually told her anything, because all it pointed to was that Merlin made even less sense than she'd originally thought.
Something clicked, though, when she saw him the day after Morgana's reign ended, and there were a few drops of dried blood on his sleeve.
"You're hurt," she said, brushing her hand over his arm with a frown.
"I'm not," Merlin denied, and he rolled up his sleeve to prove it. "See? It probably happened during the fight. It's the enemy's blood, not mine."
When Gwen asked Arthur later, she wasn't surprised to learn that no, the immortal enemy had not shed any blood when stabbed. Yet Lancelot had no sword wound, either, and he had been Merlin's only companion.
It shouldn't have added up to anything, but it did.
She went to his room, one day, and found him reading something thick and old-looking. She took care to make noise when she shut the door.
Merlin jumped and his head snapped up. "G-Gwen," he stuttered, shutting the book and shoving it out of sight in the bed covers. "What are you doing here? I-I mean, hi. You scared me, sorry."
The display made her smile, but it slid off her face quickly. Should she? It was what she had come for... "Is that... a spell book?" she asked hesitantly.
Merlin paled about four shades. "What makes you think that?" he croaked, trying and failing to sound genuinely confused. Gwen sat next to him on the small, unmade bed and pulled the book free.
"Because," she said, "I've known about your magic for a long time, and I suppose you must have been learning it from somewhere. A spell book would make sense, wouldn't it?"
Merlin blinked, and slowly reached to take the book out of her hands. "Yeah, I suppose it would," he said finally. Then: "Gwen, how did you...?"
"I've mostly only wondered about it until recently," she admitted. "I knew there was something, but I never guessed magic. Except, well, one day it just made sense." She bit her lip. "I'm not sure why."
He stared, appearing to have troubles taking it in. "And you're not, you know." He paused. "Afraid of me?"
If anyone was afraid right now, it was him. The look in his eyes spoke volumes. He was terrified that she was going to say that this changed things, that she had really only been waiting for him to confirm it, and now she was either going to ignore him or turn him in.
When she'd found out about Morgana, it had been sudden and unexpected. Clearly Morgana had been up to no good. Gwen could tell. She'd never seen Merlin use magic. Was that why nothing felt different now?
But maybe it was because she'd secretly known the truth all along, and Merlin with his magic was the same person in her mind as Merlin with all his mysterious ways from long ago.
She looked at Merlin and saw the man who had marched into Camelot and fearlessly challenged the crown prince. Could she be afraid of someone who laughed while in the stocks, who had worn the flower she gave him on his tunic, who had a million and one things to do and still had time to give her a hug when she needed it?
Not now, not ever.
"Of course I'm not afraid of you," she chided him gently. "You're still you. You're who you've always been. So what if you can - can - turn a rock into a bat." Merlin laughed. "I just want to know what you've been doing, all those times you went running all over the place and never stopped to tell anyone what was really going on."
Merlin hesitated, then reluctantly launched into a spectacular story providing a lot more depth to the challenges Camelot had faced since he'd arrived, and telling tales of things she hadn't known were going on in the first place. She had a feeling he left out certain things, maybe even some big things, but she also saw the burden lift from his shoulders with every word he spoke, and knew now was not the time to ask for anything else.
When he was finished, Gwen could hardly speak, and Merlin appeared to be losing his voice. "Well," Gwen said, and was surprised to find that she sounded normal. "You know what this means?"
Confused, Merlin asked, "What?"
"It means you really are the rough, tough, save-the-world kind of man," she told him with a grin. "In disguise and everything."
With relief she saw the grin spread across his face, too. "That's rough, tough, save-the-world kind of warlock," he corrected. Gwen couldn't resist; she pulled him into a hug. Not the desperate kind of hug she gave Arthur before he left to fight the immortal army. Not the sad, comforting hug so many had offered when her father died.
In fact, she couldn't say why exactly she felt the need to hold him tight while they laughed their relief, but she knew it wasn't hurting anything.
"You know Arthur wouldn't care, either," Gwen said when they both drew back. "He wouldn't," she insisted at Merlin's doubtful look, "and you know it. Only Uther could ever be blind enough to think you mean any harm."
"Maybe," said Merlin. He looked away. "I think... I think it's almost time to tell him. Something keeps trying to tell me I have to do it. I can't even look at him without wanting to just... just shout it."
"You should. Tell him, I mean, not shout it." She took a deep breath. "We could... do it now. I can go with if you like."
He returned his eyes to hers, and for a moment she thought she was pushing him too far, because they sparkled with something oddly like tears. He swallowed, hard, and when he blinked they were gone. "That... would be great. Thanks."
She took him by the hand and led him out of his bedroom. Gwen suspected Merlin was hardly aware of their surroundings until they were standing outside Arthur's door. She squeezed his hand before letting go.
"Are you ready?" she whispered. He didn't reply with anything except a barely perceptible nod. "Remember. Rough, tough, save-the-world. Even he must have noticed that by now."
Merlin waited a long time before, as if by magic, his hand lifted into the hair and poised to knock. Then a small smile appeared, and he let the hand drop.
"What's the matter?" Gwen asked.
"Nothing," said Merlin, and he'd brightened slightly. "It's just, I'm not doing it right. It'll be easier if I do it right."
He threw the door wide open and marched in unannounced. Gwen laughed to herself and followed him in, in time to see Arthur's head turn in his servant's direction.
Merlin was right; better to do it the way he always did it. After all, it was going to be the last reminder of old times Arthur would get before everything changed.