Friendship is more than an act of kindness
Summary: "She squeezed his hand. Trying to pass on everything she couldn't say. Thinking that, even if it was only for a moment, she was tying him to Camelot."
"Merlin… Merlin?" Gwen said quietly, hoping she didn't startle the man. She watched in a vague sense of amusement as Merlin turned towards her. His expression was strained, as though he had to fight to pull himself from his thoughts. Even as he faced her, his eyes still lingered where, only moments before, he had been staring out over the lower town.
Finally his eyes met hers. "Gwen?"
"You were away with the fairies." She teased lightly.
"Hmm, I suppose I was." He turned back to face the town.
He was slipping away again. Even as he conversed with her she could see it, behind his eyes clogs were turning. She sat beside him, slipping her legs over the wall to swing beside his. If she were any one else she would have asked what was on his mind. Instead she slipped her hand in his, threading their fingers together.
He didn't turn to look at her, she didn't expect him too. He didn't question her presence, she would have been surprised if he had. He did however, tighten his grip ever so slightly. So, without a word, she squeezed right back.
After the day on the wall Gwen kept a closer eye on Merlin. She watched, hurt and confused, as he started to pulled away from everyone. Arthur, Gaius, Lancelot… even from her. It was maddening, she could see no reason for it, and she had no proof with which to call him on it. Arthur hadn't noticed, the prince was wrapped up in the kingdom and caring for his father. It wasn't Arthurs' fault, Merlin acted his part well. Teasing insults, laughs, smiles. There was no reason for Arthur to look beyond it. Even Gaius was blind to the change in his ward.
But Gwaine knew. The outgoing, loudmouthed, drunkard of a knight knew something was off with Merlin. Gwen suspected he knew even before she did, especially if the serious nod he gave her when he saw her watching Merlin was anything to go by.
So here she was, outside Gwaines quarters, with nothing but a nod and a hunch but she'd be damned if she left without answers. Gwaine had to know something. He had too.
She stared at the door. Was she just being silly or did it suddenly look far more intimidating than her previous trips to see Gwaine. Annoyed at her own cowardice (because really, it was Gwaine) she knocked sharply. Upon hearing the knight in questions joyous, and slightly slurred, greeting she grinned smugly to herself as she pushed open the door.
He was drunk. Excellent. That was going to make this so much easier.
"Ah, 'tis the fair -hic- maiden of Camelot. Wha' can -hic- we -hic- do for.. you?"
Gwen was about to leap straight into the conversation, the one in which she found out exactly how much the knight knew about Merlin and what was bothering him, when she noticed the figure off to Gwaines left. The slumped, drunk figure off to Gwaines left. The one wiggling his fingers at Gwaine in an attempt to reach the tankard clasped in the knights hand.
Oh good lord. He'd gotten Merlin drunk.
"What…" What happened? What were you thinking? What possibly possessed you into thinking this was a good idea? All valid questions. The types of questions a sensible person would have asked. Gwen wasn't sure what stopped her. All she knew was any conversation she had intended to have with Gwaine died the moment she saw the smile on Merlins lips.
She watched stunned as Merlin noticed her presence and giggled. Drunk! Merlin was drunk. Merlin never got drunk. She couldn't remember a time she'd seen him more than tipsy. It seemed (to the frustration of the knights) that no matter how much alcohol Merlin consumed he never got drunk. He could even drink Gwaine under the table, yet still remain sober enough to get all the knights home safely.
It was then she took in the rest of the room.
Good god. How much had he had? One-two- three barrels lay dripping but otherwise empty on the floor. Immediately she was furious with Gwaine. Had he lost his mind! With the amount they had consumed they could have died! …Should have died! She was about to tear into the bloody idiot of a knight when she froze.
Gwaine was looking at her with an expression that was downright fierce. Leading Gwen to believe the knight wasn't quite as drunk as he seemed, nor was the scene before her as reckless as it first appeared. However she was unable to ponder the thought further as Merlins drunken giggles again reached her ears.
It seemed Merlin had successfully procured the mug from Gwaines possession, and Gwen was startled by the absolute fondness Gwaine directed at Merlin, as he turned and laughed with him. Loud joyous laughter, that was echoed by his considerably less sober companion. It was then she realised, that rightly or wrongly, Merlin needed this.
Therefore rather than berating the two for being utter fools, she closed the door behind her and silently made her way towards the table. Merlin's laughter subsided and he began -with flailing limbs and everything- to tell Gwaine how he'd once almost flattened old man Simmons with a tree. Only, in the state he was in, they only got the words, "Flattened", "Tree", "Old man Simmons" and "Will's fault" out of him before he was consumed by giggles and hiccups. Silently Gwen sat on the chair nearest Merlin, pulled her knee's up to her chest and reached for an abandoned goblet.
As she sat, listening to Merlin's occasional childhood story, (all of them much like the first, unintelligible and they all ended in a fit of giggles), and the many; many, recounts of the many, many quests Gwaine had fulfilled, she found herself fighting to control a blush spreading furiously across her cheeks. For she may not have asked for it and she may not have needed it, but the approval in Gwaine's eyes meant more to her than she'd realised.
Even when Arthur found them the next day, slumped over each other with barrels and goblets strewn across the floor (each with headaches like you wouldn't believe) she didn't regret her decision to stay. Especially not when Merlin, head in his hands, stumbling along side her to Gaius, swore he was going to kill the ridiculously happy knight bouncing off ahead of them. (Headaches, Gwaine, Headaches!)
After all, she knew Merlin, and she knew when he was angry and she knew when he wasn't. So she knew, without a doubt, that even as he moaned and complained and insisted "never again", that what he really meant was "Thank you."
The first time she realised there was more to the change in Merlin than she and Gwaine suspected, and that it might not be a bad thing, was on the first day of the summer solstice. The lower town was a bustle of noise and excitement as the festivities started, musicians huddled in groups, as challenges were issued and accepted between fiddles and violins. Music whistled and purred across the square, weaving between couples as they span and twirled.
She spotted the dark haired man off to the side, absently tapping his foot to the music, oblivious to the garble of girls to his side hoping for a dance. Carefully she navigated her way through the throng of people.
"Merlin!" He grinned as she approached, and she noticed with a wry smile that the gargle of girls did not share his sentiments. She ignored their disgruntled glares.
She also noticed, with a smile, that he had yet to stop tapping his foot to the music.
"Come on." He grabbed her hand the moment she was close enough and she felt herself tugged back the way she had come. Back into the sway of bodies. Oh lord.
He ignored her stuttering protests and simply laughed at her half hearted attempts to pull her hand free.
"Merlin what-?" She began to question her friend, but was quickly interrupted.
"Living in the moment Gwen." But there was a weight to his words. Something else lingered behind his lips, as if there was something he wanted to say, but couldn't. "I'm living in the moment."
Then he let loose a whoop, voicing his own excitement and he tugged her against him; one hand firmly clasping hers while the other rested at her waist. Her cheeks burned. Then without so much as a smidgen of embarrassment he waltzed her around the square. His steps were quick and sure as danced them right passed couple after couple, through a group of excitable children and around the musicians. His eyes danced and he left a trail of laughter; such real throaty (contagious) laugher, in his wake. And, as one would follow bread crumbs, the people of Camelot followed his example. Chuckles spread like wildfire, until they soared above the music. Life, as happy and tangible as it could get; shared between folk.
Suddenly he spun her into the arms of a passing gentleman, simultaneously pinching a girl from the man to his right and it (whatever it was) started. Partners were passed and traded, swapped and stolen, in a messy but fun dance, in which everybody knew the steps. (Even when June, the inn keepers daughter and her partner tripped and fell, it seemed right because life was messy, and yet everyone knew the steps to that.)
Then just as quickly as she'd left him, her hands were once again clasped with Merlin's. They were warm, and just the slightest bit sweaty, and for the briefest of moments his eyes seemed golden. He grinned and dramatically twirled her, and she hasn't been twirled like this in years, not since before her father died, but he's laughing and she's laughing and everything is alright.
She soon finds herself twirling him; to the amusement of those around them, and she realises she has never been happier that, on that day years ago, she managed to muster up the courage to talk to the man in the stocks. The man who stood up to Arthur. The man who quickly became her best friend.
"Purple suits you."
She's startled out of her thoughts as he tucks something behind her ear. So, with a grin to rival even his, she plucks an identical flower from the passing basket (much to the confusion of the flower girl), and tucks it carefully in the cloth around his neck.
"Not," She adds fondly. "Quite as much as it suits you."
And they're off. Spinning wildly in a merry jig that conveys exactly how precious his friendship is to her, and to hers is to him in turn.
A week later, somewhere between the wall and the square she gets her first taste of what it would be like to lose him.
There's a man, and a sword and Arthur. And every thing happens so quickly she doesn't really have time to fear for anyone. Even when the sword is suddenly a lot closer to Arthur than it should be, and really shouldn't Arthur be blocking that right about now-
Then Merlin is in the way.
When the sword pierces his chest she's not sure whether the scream was his or hers. All she knows is Arthur and the knights have converged on the man; the man who stabbed Merlin, and that she is suddenly too far away. Her feet carry her straight pass the group who are restraining the man with more force than strictly necessary- his only weapon was still protruding from her best friends chest.
Somehow she managed to reach Merlin just as he stumbled backwards, her hands cradling his head as he tumbled to the floor. Arthur was yelling something. Gwaine was yelling something else, but it was like someone had stuffed wax in her ear. What did it really matter if Arthur was yelling for Gaius? Anyone with half a brain could see even Gaius couldn't stop this. The blade was through his heart. Blood was everywhere, she could hear the horrible gurgling sound as his fought to breathe. No one could stop this.
"Merlin! Merlin look at me!" Someone cried. "You're going to be okay! Merlin… Merlin look at me." She wished the awful wailing-yelling-screaming would stop, you couldn't stop the bleeding with words, you couldn't heal this just by saying his name. "Merlin!"
Oh god. It was her. She forced her lips together, silencing the terrible noise. Her hands stroked his cheek, his hair… his cheek again. As if by touching him, she could reverse the past two minutes. God, her chest hurt. As if it was her chest the sword had been plunged through. This couldn't be happening. No. God please no. Not Merlin. Her vision started to go foggy, and she furiously blinked away the wetness. She wasn't going to miss out on the last few moments of Merlin's life, dreadful and heart breaking as it was, because of a bit of water. No. Instead she drank in his features, his eyes, his hair, his ears. Everything, drank it in and committed it to memory.
She tried to pretend his cheeks, as stupidly pale as they normally were, weren't ashen as he continued to lose blood. She tried to pretend his eyes were bright with… everything that was Merlin, rather than the frantic jerky movements as he fought to focus on her face.
She tries to pretend Merlin isn't dying.
"Merlin." The strangled sob isn't hers this time, instead its Arthurs as he falls to his knees beside them. His robe fisted in one had as he presses it carefully to the wound in Merlins chest. The sword is still there. Shiny and wrong but neither of them are stupid enough to try and remove it.
And then Gwen isn't thinking anymore. She's yelling and screaming, and demanding to know where the hell is Gaius. She's crying and begging Merlin not to leave her. Then she's screaming again, and it is the knights that face her anger. Why did they let this happen? Why weren't they protecting him? What sort of knight lets a friend get stabbed?
All the while they stand, agony splashed across their faces; they let her scream.
After all they are asking themselves the same question.
They've seen people die, they've been around dying comrades all they're lives. But seeing her, tears streaming down her face, choking sobs slipping through her desperate screams; Merlin's head cradled in her lap, they can't quite hold on to Arthurs words. "No man is worth your tears." Because its not just a man, its Merlin. And Gwen. And even their prince is a wreck. And really, how can this not be worth crying over.
Gwen see's the pain in their eyes, but can't bring herself to lessen the sting in her words, nor the volume of her cries. Merlin begins to tremble in her arms. His limbs beginning to jerk and twist, uncontrolled, as -right there in her arms- Merlin continues to fight for his life.
There isn't a grand speech. Merlin can barely breath, let alone talk, but his final gasping breath had more impact on those around him than any speech in ever could have.
Merlin was gone.
Gwen had never imagined it would hurt so much. When she'd lost her father it has been as though part of her had died inside, dull and consuming… that part of her would never- could never come back. She couldn't find forgiveness to lesson its loss, nor forget the gaping whole in her life. Yet this was different. She hadn't thought- or ever considered a person could survive such a thing (losing someone) twice. Merlin wasn't her father, and while one would argue the loss of her father should have hurt more- it didn't, because how can you measure one life against another. Instead, rather than feeling a part of her die along side her loved one, she felt her heart screaming. It battered against her chest; refusing to believe the sight of the pale, still, body in her arms. The pain was entirely different to the pain she felt when she lost her father, yet there was something achingly; painfully similar.
She swallowed the scream that threatened to burst from her throat, but she could do nothing to stop the torrent of tears cascading over her cheeks. She felt a sudden urge to run. To burst through the door of her home, and baracade it behind her. She wanted to crawl into her bed and scream into her pillow until her throat was sore. She wanted an outlet for the pain in her chest. She wanted this to all be an awful dream. One where she'd wake to find Merlin stumbling into her house at a god awful hour of the morning; impervious to her state of undress, putting a pot over the fire and moaning about chores and Gaius and Arthur.
Her throat constricted, and for a few short seconds she almost forgot how to breathe. Gods. She was going to miss him. "I love you." She muttered furiously into his hair, "You were the best friend I'd always dreamed of. I love you. I love you. "
She numbly realises that Arthur has dropped the blood soaked cloth and has reached up to close Merlins eyes.
Only, Merlin's eyes didn't say closed, they snapped open and split second later, they burnt gold. His chest expanded and air rushed into his lungs. The sword; the stupid shiny sword, started to rise, slowly at first, but then with added momentum as it flew from his chest.
The sound, loud and poignant as the sword hurtled into the wall a hundred yards away.
Zoiiing; as from the force of its impalement, it swung, the vibrations dicing the air.
The flash of gold, (and it really was merely a flash) was enough of an explanation for the young prince. Arthur stumbled backwards, shock and understanding forcing him to retreat and reassess the situation.
Gwen however, lurched forwards. Her hands tugging at fabric. Her fingers gliding over the soft, smooth, un-stabbed skin of Merlin's chest. They were both stained with blood, but that didn't stop Gwen from grabbing Merlin's face, bringing his face close to hers and staring hopefully, at his closed eyelids. Could he be alive?
Moments later she was rewarded with stunning blue. He was alive. She pressed her lips to his cheek. He was alive. His nose. He was alive! His forehead… Even as he gasped for breath she could only clutched him tighter.
Merlin was alive.
( And later when Uther demanded the boys execution, he was faced with his wards old handmaid, defiant, beautiful and every bit as terrifying as a Igraine use to be. He sensed (but would never admit) defeat even before his son and the knights rose to stand beside her.)
Gwen sat alone on the wall over looking the town. Her legs dangled over the edge, and her feet swung back and forth casually as she stared off into space, her fingers absently tapping the ground beside her.
Arthur had managed to convince Uther not to execute Merlin. She should be happy. But she couldn't help but feel like she was losing Merlin anyway. For while the Uther reluctantly agreed not to execute Merlin, he wouldn't back down from banishing him. So really Merlin was still leaving her.
She gripped the wall tightly. What was she thinking, she'd take Merlin's banishment over his execution any day. However no matter how many times she told herself this was the better option, the ache in her chest didn't diminish.
Her gaze rested on the gates to Camelot. In less than a day Merlin was going to walk through those gates, and she didn't know when he'd be coming back. It wasn't fair.
She jumped slightly as someone sat down beside her. She refused to greet them. She had come up here for solitude, since Merlin would be packing, and she wasn't sure she could watch him prepare to leave. Nor could she bare the company of the knights who had gazed at her in pity as she passed.
She didn't want to bother him. He was losing his best friend as well, and selfishly, she didn't want to have to comfort him when she needed comforting herself. There would be time for that later, when they were both alone, best-friendless and strong enough to not break at the mere mention of Merlins name.
Warm fingers threaded through hers.
Oh. She felt tears burning behind her eyelids. She didn't need to turn, she knew who was beside her. She took a few deep breaths, attempting to compose herself. She didn't want him to see her cry. It wouldn't be fair on him if she fell apart.
She squeezed his hand. Trying to pass on everything she couldn't say. Thinking that, even if it was only for a moment, she was tying him to Camelot.
Wordlessly he squeezed right back.
She barely, just barely, managed to choke back a sob.
It was only after he'd left, his lone figure disappearing into the forest that she realised she'd never figured out what was bothering him. The thing that caused him to pull away from them all.
And now it was too late.
AN: Ta da. Er, so yeah. I'm an angst maniac. Sorry, but I think that eventually Merlin will have to leave Camelot, even if its just to go off studying and learning about his magic and such. But you know, being me I had to banish him.. Eheh, sorry.
I tried to present the Merlin/Gwen friendship that the show seems to have forgotten from the first season. I know it sometimes seems a wee bit romance-y but that really wasn't my fault… I started of as a Gwen/Merlin shipper… :D
Oh, and I know I slip in and out of different tenses, I tried not to really, I did. Unfortunately … I'm rather terrible at sticking to one tense.