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Merlinfic: Double Displacement

Title: Double Displacement
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~2.5k
Warnings/Spoilers: None; first season-ish
Pairing: Merlin/Arthur, Gwen/Lancelot; hypothetical Gwen/Arthur
SummaryThe day Uther dies, Arthur asks Guinevere to marry him.

Notes: Future!fic, AU after S1, Gwen POV.  Morgana kills Uther, Merlin goes after her, and that's really all I know about that.  Oh, and Arthur found out about the magic awhile back.

Written because I want to like Gwen again.

{ double displacement }

The day Uther dies, Arthur asks Guinevere to marry him. 

It’s not premeditated or well thought out; there are no flowers or romantic rides out into the country.  It’s just a question, posed because she’s still there and all Arthur knows for sure anymore is that he can’t do this alone. 

For much the same reasons, she says yes.

Merlin returns only a few days later with the news that Morgana escaped.  This isn’t surprising to anyone, particularly not to Arthur and Gwen who both know how conflicted Merlin’s hunt must have been.  They don’t blame him for it and Gwen thinks Arthur is probably even a little grateful.

Merlin takes the news of Arthur’s betrothal better than Gwen expected, or seems to.  His façade falls a few nights later, a mere fortnight before the double coronation, after a feast where he indulged himself in the wine just a bit too much.

Or maybe, Gwen reassesses as she’s pinned by unusually sharp, bold eyes, he’s had just enough.

“You shouldn’t marry him,” he tells her, and she can’t help but agree.  She keeps silent though, because for all that she still considers him a friend, they’ve grown apart more every year since the first – every year since she started getting close to Arthur, Gwen thinks – and she can no longer tell what he’s thinking.  She waits for a reason.

Merlin doesn’t disappoint her.  “It’s not right,” he assures her, voice at once brightly earnest and darkly true.  “You’re both doing it for the wrong reasons, and it…it’ll ruin you.”

She doesn’t ask him how he knows; she stopped asking him how he knew things a long time ago, when the first question brought a weight to the normally upbeat warlock’s shoulders and a shadow to his eyes.  Oh Gwen, he’d whispered to her then, I wish I didn’t.

“Please,” he says now, and Gwen can’t remember the last time she’d heard him beg for anything.  “Don’t.”

And so she doesn’t.  She packs a bag with a few essentials and enough food to last her about a week, saddles the new mare Arthur had bought for her and leaves that night.  Her heart breaks for Arthur as she rides undisturbed through the castle gates, the guards never thinking to question the queen-to-be, but she knows he has Merlin and that he’ll be okay.  They’ll be okay. 

She’s doing what’s best for them both; what’s best for her, finally. 

Gwen doesn’t have much of a plan when she sets out, other than to put some distance between herself and the castle, and after a few days it’s a surprise to realize that she actually is headed somewhere.  Unintentionally she’d been retracing the route to Ealdor, which in retrospect she supposes makes sense; it was the first and last time she’d made such a long journey under her own power.  She spends a few hours wistfully remembering those days, when the four of them had been a cohesive, determined team, united unbreakably by a shabby servant boy with over-large ears.  Gwen smiles to remember Merlin back then, all goofy smiles and clumsy grace, and realizes only slowly that it isn’t him who has changed, not that much; it’s her.  She remembers the unnatural wind on the day of the battle, Merlin’s tears on the deathbed of his childhood friend, and Arthur’s unforgiving face and wonders if Merlin’s been carrying that weight for his whole life. 

She’s seeing more clearly now; that’s what’s changed. 

Gwen tries to talk herself out of going to Ealdor, but the truth is that she has no other plan, better or worse, and she really would like to see Hunith again.  Merlin’s mother had never returned to the castle, and Gwen doesn’t blame her; she’s quite impressed with the woman for making that journey alone even once.  Merlin visited her twice, once with Gaius and the second time with Arthur, ostensibly because Hunith had complained about the prince’s absence on the first visit.  Gwen wasn’t surprised, since Hunith had obviously taken a shine to Arthur on first sight – who wouldn’t, Gwen thinks – but she hopes that Hunith will be pleased to see her, too. 

She reaches Ealdor just as the last of her food runs out, and is rather proud of herself for managing to stretch it out that far.  She dressed drably and rode mostly at night, just off the main road, and had been lucky to avoid trouble.  She isn’t as optimistic about her chances in the future, but it’s a relief to know she’s safe for a few days, at least.

(She knows Merlin hadn’t meant for her to leave, and that he’s probably as broken up about it as Arthur is and feeling guilty besides; she still loves him, loves them both, and believes in him enough to know he would never run her out of her own home.  But she also thinks he wasn’t looking far enough ahead to know exactly what he was asking when he said don’t, and she forgives him that, because otherwise he might have kept quiet and this, this is best.  For everyone.)

Hunith welcomes her with a beaming smile, a warm hug and warmer soup.  Gwen sleeps better than she has in months. 

The next day is filled with chatter and hard, honest work as Gwen fills Hunith in on Camelot news – the optimistic, grit-free version – and helps her with her chores.  She cleans around the house, weeds the garden, feeds the pigs, and marvels at how glad she is to have pig slop under her nails instead of delicate oils on top of them.  This is where she belongs, she thinks; she’s far too plain for a throne anyway. 

In the afternoon they make bread with the other village women, first preparing the dough and later chatting while the loaves rise in the ovens.  They have warm, fresh bread with their soup that night and Gwen thinks it’s the best thing she’s ever tasted.

Almost a week passes like this before Gwen starts to think that she should start thinking about moving on.  Hunith never shows any sign of being anything other than genuinely glad of Gwen’s company and help, but Gwen hates to impose – on the mother of her ex-best friend, no less – and she knows she’s another mouth to feed.  Come winter, she could become a problem, and she knows Ealdor is still recovering from its conflict with Kanen and his thugs.  They don’t have enough stores to feed strangers. 

She’s still thinking about thinking when she hears the news.  Apparently Rhys, the young son of a farmer, had been attacked by bandits while gathering herbs in the nearby woods.  Rhys had only survived due to the heroic interference of a strange traveler, a raggedy man who, according to Rhys, was better with a sword than the best knights of King Cendred.  The boy hadn’t managed to get a name, much to his disappointment, but his description of the man leaves no doubt in Gwen’s mind.

Lancelot is near Ealdor.

Gwen leaves that night, travelling under cover of darkness once more.  Her pack is refilled with what food Hunith could spare, according to Gwen.  It isn’t much, but it will last her to the closest village to the west, which is where Rhys had claimed his saviour was heading.  Gwen makes record time, and arrives in Leyawin late in the afternoon on the second day.

It’s easier than she thought it would be.  The town is abuzz with gossip about its newest (and possibly only) hero, the dashing not-a-knight who had saved Mellina’s youngest from a bear just that morning.  Gwen has to smile at the news; heroes can’t go anywhere without leaving a trail.  Of course, they can never stay in one place for more than a few hours, either.  By the time Gwen arrives Lancelot is long gone, but the villagers cheerfully point her in the right direction.  She gratefully accepts an apple for the road and leaves immediately.

It was a foolish decision, made in the fever of excitement at being so close, and she’s not really surprised when her campsite that night is set upon by bandits.  Her luck can only go so far, and it had already exceeded her expectations while she was making sensible choices. 

But the truth is that Gwen has always been lucky.  Not every blacksmith’s daughter gets a position in the royal household as maidservant to the king’s ward, and not every maidservant gets proposed to by princes.  She knows this too, and so she’s not really surprised when the bandits start to fall before they can even touch her. 

She is surprised when she finally sees him, mostly because he’s not surprising at all.  He looks exactly the same, from his ruffled brown hair to his kind eyes and the expert way he wields his sword.  Perhaps he has a few more scratches than the last time she saw him, or perhaps he has less.  But this is undeniably him, this is her Lancelot, and when her eyes meet his for the first time in years she feels something slot into its rightful place in her world.

They talk for hours, all through the night and into the dawn.  He’d heard the news of Uther’s death, of course, but he’d been unsure of his welcome and hadn’t returned.  Gwen is horrified by this, by the thought of waiting in Camelot for a return that would never come, a future that suddenly seems all too close and possible.  If she hadn’t left…

Or what if he had returned, and she had stayed?  What then?  Would they have been able to stay away from each other, stay true to a marriage born of circumstance and need?  Gwen isn’t sure.  She doesn’t like not being sure.  She thinks she can see a hint of what Merlin might have seen that night, and her world realigns itself a little bit more.  She made the right choice.

She doesn’t want to go back, not now that they’ve finally found each other, not now that she understands why she had to leave in the first place.  But Lancelot, now convinced of his welcome, won’t be swayed from his renewed duty to support Arthur.  And what other options does she have, really?  She won’t survive the winter on her own, and she won’t force Lancelot to stay with her.  So she lets him convince her, and argues with herself over the reasons she can’t speak aloud.

Gwen knows Arthur doesn’t love her, not really.  Oh, he would have convinced himself over time, and given enough time, she thinks that maybe it would have become true.  She knows she would have done the same, and maybe they could have found happiness together, of a sort.  Enough to live off, anyway.  But it would have been convenience, she thinks, making the best of a bad situation, and not…not anything like true love.

So she’s not afraid of falling into his arms when they return, and she’s not afraid that she broke his heart when she left.  She’s not, because she didn’t and they don’t love each other.  But that other future still terrifies her a little bit, and she can’t shake the fear that it waits for her still back in Camelot.

But this fear is irrational and vague, and Gwen won’t hide herself away from such cowardly demons.  She leaves with Lancelot in the morning for home.

Lancelot has a horse, and the journey back goes a lot faster than the journey away.  Gwen hitches up her skirt and rides in front; she’s never been much for propriety.  Lancelot makes a token protest, but she can tell he’s mostly just amused by her defiance.  All the way back she can feel him behind her, solid and warm like a wall at her back, preventing her from turning away.  She focuses on the feeling and tries not to think about what the future holds.

They arrive at the castle just as the sun is setting on the fourth day of travel, and Merlin is waiting for them.  He is different, for all that it’s been barely a month since she last saw him.  He’s dressed more like Gaius now, cloaked in billowing robes of deepest blue to fend off the autumn chill.  He stands different too, taller and straighter, as if he’s grown into something too large for a boy’s shoulders.  Gwen looks at him and she can’t help but think of a guardian.
And then Arthur comes out to stand beside him, and she realizes what’s changed.  Their hands brush in acknowledgement when he arrives, and the way they both relax ever so slightly and exchange smiles tells her everything she needs to know.  The weights they both carry aren’t gone, of course; if anything they’ve increased.  But they’re balanced somehow, combined and slung between them as a burden they can both share, making them both lighter in the process.

She and Arthur…they would have been okay, they would have functioned; but she doesn’t think they could ever be this.

Her king smiles wide when he sees her, and meeting his eyes isn’t nearly as hard as she’d expected.  He draws her into a hug and she goes gladly, trying to express with the strength of her grip just how sorry she is.  She imagines that his embrace is trying to tell her the same. 

He greets Lancelot next, leaving Gwen with Merlin.  They stare at each other for a moment, and Gwen can feel unspoken conversations shivering in the air between them.  There are too many things to say and, looking into his wary eyes, she finds she doesn’t want to say any of them.  This time she’s the one that pulls him into a hug, and he’s the one that gratefully falls into it.

When they draw back Merlin grabs hold of her shoulders and fixes her with an intense look that she’s come to associate with random prophetic truth.

“Thank you,” he tells her, and Gwen thinks that even his voice seems lighter than before.  “Thank you,” he repeats more slowly and with a little squeeze to her shoulders, as if she’d missed it the first time around.  “You’ve saved us.”

Gwen hears the power in his voice and knows it’s true.  She doesn’t ask why, doesn’t ask what would have happened.  She thinks she’s wise enough now to appreciate her own ignorance.  She nods.

Merlin’s face breaks into one of his old uncontrollable grins, and Gwen grins back.  And then Merlin is waving her forward and Lancelot is taking her hand and she’s entering the castle with her champion at her side and her best friends at her back.

She hears Arthur laugh at something Merlin said, and the sound sends the last of her fear fluttering away into the sunset like released doves.  It will be okay now.  They’ll all be okay.

Gwen wonders though, as the familiar stone of the castle embraces her once more, whether Merlin might be wrong about one thing.  Maybe it wasn’t her that saved them; maybe they just weren’t meant to fall apart this time.  Because she looks at them, together and whole, and she can’t help but think—


{ -=- }


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2011 10:59 am (UTC)
I really like this :) You've got Gwen's character pinned down really nicely.
If I may, you did type "Arthur" instead of "Uther": "He’d heard the news of Arthur’s death, of course" :)
Lovely work, particularly the ending :)
Oct. 10th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC)
Fixed, thank you! And thanks so much for the kind comments. :)
Oct. 10th, 2011 11:35 am (UTC)
Oh I really like this outcome and I loved your Gwen,this was so wonderful and I wish it could have played out like this
Oct. 10th, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
I love her too. ^-^ Glad you liked it, and thanks for commenting!
Oct. 10th, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, that was lovely. I really liked that Gwen knew it was time for her to leave. Loved how everything was better with the right people together.
Oct. 10th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
That's the annoying thing about the Arthurian legend...so much could have been prevented if only that marriage never happened. >.< Glad you liked it!
Oct. 11th, 2011 06:12 am (UTC)
Simple, but lovely, thank you!
Oct. 13th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Simplicity was the goal, thanks!
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:05 am (UTC)
I know what you mean about "wanting to like Gwen again". I think you achieved that admirably here. I really enjoyed the story, the characterizations were tight and the prose flowed nicely. Great job!
Oct. 13th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks so much! I figure it's a bit of a buffer for future episodes too, since it can really only get worse...
Oct. 11th, 2011 11:51 am (UTC)
If only this was canon *sigh*

You did a really good job going through Gwen's thoughts and such. Love that she goes after Lancelot and he makes her go back to Camelot. Then there is the connection between Arthur and Merlin :D!!!
Great fic!
Oct. 13th, 2011 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :D Despite being Gwen POV, this really is a M/A fic, so I'm glad that came across. Thanks so much for commenting!
Oct. 16th, 2011 07:42 am (UTC)
Beautiful absolutely beautiful.

I totally agree on the wanting to like Gwen again bit. Half of me loves her but the other half can't stand the sight of her and it's a bit painful. I really do agree that things would end so much better, in less pain if she didn't marry Arthur. I think Merlin would stop breaking my heart ever episode if Arthur could just SEE HIM. Really truly see him.

Sorry ranting. Lovely story. One of my favorites.
Oct. 17th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
*grins like an idiot* Yay, thank you! Glad you liked :D

That's exactly what I mean about Gwen. I *want* to still like her, because I remember how adorable she was back in S1 with her foot-in-mouth disease and her crush on Merlin, but...yeah, can't stand the sight of her these days. She doesn't make sense anymore, and it's hard not to hate for ruining everything. /sigh

Btw, love the icon. ;D
Oct. 18th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
You've very welcome. C:

I loved her so much in season 1 but she changed so much when she entered that whole love triangle with Arthur and Lancelot thing.

Thank you I saw the doctor's wife and I instantly fell in love with Idris, how could you not? I've always loved the TARDIS and She was just as brilliant human.
Oct. 24th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
This is a truly wonderful fic! There aren't nearly enough Gwen!centric fics like that. Thank you!!
Feb. 13th, 2013 07:11 am (UTC)
I am so glad I discovered your fic tonight! I am absolutely loving your take on Gwen and co. Seriously, I'd kill for long epics with this kind of characterization.
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you did too! :D I think you just gave me the final push I needed to sign up for Paper Legends this year. The idea kind of terrifies me, but knowing there are people who'd like to see it is super helpful. <3
Feb. 14th, 2013 02:56 am (UTC)
Yay, I'm so excited to hear you've signed up for paperlegends! I went and checked your summary on the sign-up post and your blurb has me doubly jazzed. I'd been planning to post a time travel fix-it prompt idea to KMM or one of the fic fests coming up because I so wanted to read a story where Merlin travels back in time to fix things, knowing all he knows by the end of the series. And now I don't have to because an author I already know is brilliant is going to be tackling that type of scenario! Hee, apparently sometimes wishes really do come true. <3
Feb. 14th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC)
Aw, that's some ridiculous serendipity right there. I just hope I can do the idea justice. I have a pretty strict timeline in mind already, with an actual endpoint and everything, so I'm pretty optimistic about finishing - but then, nothing ever goes according to plan, so we shall see lol. There do seem to be a lot more sign-ups this year, so maybe we can get enough peer pressure going to make everyone finish? Here's to crazy optimism!
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )