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Merlinfic: Misdirection

Title: Misdirection
Rating: G
Word Count: 2k
Warnings/Spoilers: None; S2, particularly 2x02, "The Once and Future Queen".  
Pairings: Merlin/Arthur preslash, one-sided Arthur/Gwen, Gwen&Merlin friendship
Summary: In which Arthur's not quite as emotionally constipated at the end of 2x02 (or, arguably, is even more so), and Gwen heads him off at the pass with a nudge in the right direction.

Notes: Um, so, I don't know what this is.  I'm actually working on the obligatory reincarnation fix-it (which is growing, and growing, and being difficult), and this just came out of nowhere, literally in the middle of the document.  So...yes.  Because apparently I miss old!Gwen again, after finally catching up on season 5.  (Am I the only one who was kinda horrified by every single one of Gwen's dresses this season?  I could be wrong, but I don't remember even Morgana wearing anything that low cut in the early seasons, just saying.  Though I suppose it is one way to ensure good posture...)

Set after 2x02, only that last discussion in the castle never happened, and Arthur's...er, "courting" continued.

{ misdirection }

It’s two weeks since Arthur’s undercover misadventure, and the Crown Prince has now been to dinner at Gwen’s house on no less than three separate occasions, including that first time when he ‘cooked’ for her by having Merlin steal it from the palace kitchens.  When she arrives home one night to find him already there, waiting for her with a slightly charred offering that might indicate that he actually had a go at cooking it himself, she starts to get truly alarmed.

The thing is…well, the thing is, she hadn’t thought it meant anything.  The kiss, that is.  It had shocked her at the time, seeming completely out of the blue, but she had gone with it because…well, because Arthur really is quite good looking if you can see past his personality, not that she’d ever admit to it.  It was…nice, and Gwen hadn’t been kissed in too long (Merlin’s fault), and it was nice.

But Arthur is the Crown Prince, and Gwen’s not that kind of girl, so she really hadn’t expected anything more.  Beyond the rank, she thought they’d made it pretty clear that they couldn’t stand one another in any kind of normal setting.  As the dinners continued, however, it slowly dawned on Gwen that Arthur didn’t see it the same way.  She’s not quite sure where they stand in his mind, but she suspects some degree of mutual liking is involved.  The realization surprises her, mostly because she knows she hasn’t been pleasant to be around, and she wonders who taught him to think that insolence and insults were signs of affection.  (She doesn’t have to think very hard.)

And now, confronted with a half-burned chicken displayed proudly on one of her own battle-scarred plates and the disarray of her clearly misused kitchen, she knows she has to say something.    She doesn’t want to, mostly because she’s really enjoying the royal-worthy food (and Merlin as well, since she usually splits the leftovers with him afterwards) but also because she has come to respect Arthur even if she still doesn’t quite like him, and she doesn’t want to hurt him.  But she knows her own feelings are no match for Arthur’s, even if she has her doubts about those as well, and she’s scared of what this could turn into, if she lets it.

She spends the meal working up her nerve.  The conversation is stilted and awkward like always, interspersed with Arthur’s fumbling attempts at compliments and her own accidental moments of painful honesty.  She calls him Arthur now, at his insistence, but it only makes her feel more out of place, especially as he persists in calling her Guinevere as though she were some courtly lady.  The only times it feels natural is when they talk about Merlin, one of the few things they have in common, and Gwen thinks that’s probably a bad sign.  Still, she enjoys watching him talk about her friend; he seems less the Crown Prince and more just Arthur, and although his words are mocking she can see the affection in his eyes.

Which is why she’s never lectured him about Merlin, much as she would like to.  Her friend deserves more appreciation than he gets (don’t they all), but it feels more complicated than that.  For one, she knows for a fact that Merlin helps Arthur with what to say to her – he told her so himself, after being subjected to her stream of confused babble after the second dinner and taking pity on her – and she’s sure he’s the reason the chicken is only half burnt.  She can see his touch in the ruins of her kitchen too, if she looks: the way the dirty trays are stacked in a corner, the fact that the right tools are dirty at all, and the ratty red dishrag in the corner that she knows isn’t hers and likely enjoyed a previous life as a neckerchief.  Gwen’s worked in the palace long enough to know that these are definitely not the normal duties of a manservant, even the prince’s, but Merlin is so used to it that even Gwen forgets to be surprised these days.

She swallows the last bit of chicken on her plate and chases it down with a fortifying gulp of wine.  Arthur has already finished his share; it’s now or never.  She takes a deep breath and looks her prince in the eye.

“Arthur, why are you doing this?”

His eyes widen and she can tell she’s startled him; clearly Merlin hadn’t predicted this question.  Still, his answer comes faster than she’d expected, and he doesn’t misunderstand her vagueness.

“I…admire you, Guinevere.  You—“

He’s not done, but the partial answer startles a smile out of her and he stops to smile back.  She’d been expecting something more typical, along the lines of physical beauty (which she knows very well she lacks), and her respect for her prince climbs a few notches.  Everything else aside, she’s glad she got the opportunity to get to know him a bit better, no matter the circumstances

“You always speak your mind,” Arthur continues, encouraged.  “Even to me, when we both know half the things you say could land you in the stocks.  You’re strong, and brave, and not afraid to fight even if you’re outmatched.  And you’re…you care about people, about my people…”

Gwen’s smile softens.  She wishes she could believe he really is talking about her because the person he’s describing sounds truly extraordinary, but she’s quite sure at this point that he means someone else.  She’s not all that special, and every one of those traits fits one other person just as well – better, if she’s honest

“Arthur,” she starts softly, gently, as if trying not to spook a skittish horse, “how long have we known each other?”

The question seems to confuse him, again, and Gwen wants to laugh but knows it isn’t the time.  “I’m…not sure, Guinevere.  Quite a while, I suppose.”

She knows she can’t really fault him for not knowing how many years she’s worked in the castle, but she does anyway, just a little.  “Right.  And in all that time, did you ever notice me?  Any of the servants?  Before Merlin came, did you even know my name?”

He rears back a little.  “Of course I knew your name!  Morgana—“

“Drilled it into you eventually, yes, I know.  Anything else?  Did you know anything else about me, beyond what Morgana forced you to?”

“I…I always knew you were beautiful, Guinevere.”  And ah, there it is.  Gwen sighs, but Arthur presses on, clearly uneasy now.  “But you were a servant, and I—“

“And what, Arthur?  What’s changed?  I’m still a servant, I’m still the same girl who’s worked under your feet for the past decade.  I haven’t changed.  Why have you?”

“Merlin—” Arthur starts, and then cuts himself off, as if he hadn’t meant to bring his manservant (Gwen’s best friend) into this conversation.  He looks more puzzled than ever now, and frustrated, but Gwen smiles and tries to make it a gentle one even though it feels forced.

“Yes, Arthur.  Merlin.”  She wants to stand up, back away, put some distance and preferably some furniture between them to match the emotional distance she feels.  Instead she forces herself to lean forward and clasp his hand between hers, because he looks like he might bolt and she needs to have this out, now.

Fleetingly, she wonders if Merlin might actually be in the room right now, and decides it wouldn’t surprise her.  Her mouth quirks a bit at the thought.

Arthur looks very wary now.  “Merlin has nothing to do with this,” he says, and bless him, he actually sounds like he believes it

“Merlin’s our best friend,” she says over Arthur’s increasingly rebellious expression.  “He has everything to do with this.”

His Highness scoffs.  “Merlin is not my best friend.”

He’s being ridiculous, but Gwen can’t help a wince of sympathy for Merlin, whether he’s listening or not.  “When was the last time you spoke to your old ‘friends’, then?  That troupe of prattish nobles you used to hang about with.  I haven’t seen you with them since…about a year ago, now?”

Arthur just glares, and Gwen thinks she’s probably annoyed him enough now to drown out any lingering romantic notions on his part.  The thought gives her a slight pang, but mostly she still just wants to laugh.

“Merlin’s changed you, Arthur,” she presses, and watches for some sign of comprehension.  “Whether you see it or not.  You’re not just your father’s son anymore, and he…he deserves the chicken more than I do.”

Arthur looks horrified.  “Are you implying—”

“No,” Gwen says, even though she totally is, because he’s obviously not ready to hear it.  “No.  I just…what you said before, about why you admire me.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, because I do, please don’t think that – it’s just that everything you said fits him, too.  Better.  And I think maybe you only admire it in me because you saw it in him, first.”

Arthur looks…actually, Gwen’s not sure how to define what she sees on his face, but she doesn’t think it’s anger and that’s good enough for now.  “Just think about it, please,” she finishes, her voice more hushed than she’d wanted.  “I don’t want to…start something with any doubts.”  Or at all, she thinks but doesn’t say, and hopes she won’t have to.

Arthur’s not looking at her anymore, but he gives a jerky nod and she lets go of his hands, finally retreating back to her side of the table.  She watches as he stiffens and straightens, visibly reconstructing his defenses, and her respect for him leaps a few more notches as he finds the courage to meet her eyes when he wishes her goodnight.

Her own goodnight comes out soft and quiet, and she doubts he hears it over the creak of the door.  And then she’s sitting alone at the table that she used to share with her father, and missing him more than she has in months.

“Merlin?” she tries, and hates how her voice comes out thin and querulous, making her seem far closer to crying than she wants to be

The back door creaks as Merlin slips in, ready to enjoy his share of the food as his prince sneaks back into the castle.  He gives her a conspiratorial grin and she feels her heart swell in response.  Romance is overrated anyway.

He falls into the chair opposite her with his usual lack of grace, and digs into the (mostly burnt) chicken.  But before he can take a bite, he seems to finally notice the expression on her face, and his grin blinks out

“Gwen?  Are you all right?  What happened?”

She summons a proper smile for him, and finds it easier than she expected.  “It’s nothing.  I’m fine, really.  We just…came to an understanding, I think.”

Merlin looks doubtful, and eyes the chicken suspiciously for a moment before looking back up to her face.  Whatever he sees there makes him slump.  “No more dinners?”

“No more dinners,” she agrees.  They share a mournful moment.

“Gaius makes the best gruel,” Merlin offers half-heartedly, and Gwen huffs a laugh.

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” he continues, grinning again as he finally bites into his chicken leg.  “There’s nothing slimier or grittier in all of Camelot.”

“I suppose I have become spoiled,” she muses, "what with the expert culinary talents of his royal highness at my beck and call.”

Merlin snorts into his cup.  “Oh, Gwen, you should have seen him!  He kept looking at the chicken like it was going to attack him.  And Cook!  She just couldn’t believe that the Prince actually wanted a raw chicken…”

And so Merlin launches into the epic saga that was his day, all waving arms and contagious enthusiasm, and soon Gwen is laughing so hard she can’t breathe.  It’s easy and effortless and more fun than she’s had in weeks, and there’s nowhere else she’d rather be.

( <3 )


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 13th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for the kind words. :)
Feb. 12th, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)
I liked how Gwen was finally able to tell Arthur that it was not really going to work out. Well done.
Feb. 13th, 2013 02:00 am (UTC)
Yeah; realistically, I feel like it wouldn't have. Thanks for reading!
Feb. 12th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC)
Great work with this, lovely character study.
Feb. 13th, 2013 02:03 am (UTC)
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. :)
Feb. 13th, 2013 07:00 am (UTC)
Wow, this was really lovely. Gwen's voice came through loud and clear, and quite honestly fit more with the character she had been in S1 and early S2 than where they actually went with her in canon.
Feb. 14th, 2013 01:48 am (UTC)
Yay, glad you liked it! Personally, I prefer to think of post-S2 Gwen as completely different person - makes more sense to me that way. :S It felt like the writers realized they'd made her too interesting or unique or something, and had to strip away her personality to make her fit her "destiny"...
Feb. 14th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
Well, why didn't we get to watch this in the actual series??? I'd have enjoyed this Gwen and this Arthur so much more than their forced romantic-by-numbers!

Thanks for writing this!
Feb. 14th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC)
I know! It was like watching them try to force square pegs into round holes.

Thanks for commenting!
Feb. 14th, 2013 08:38 pm (UTC)
aaaww I really liked this well done ^^ i sort off had this thought too. that Arthur didn't really see Gwen till he started changing because of Merlin.

The more the series went on the more annoyed at Gwen lol I knew what was gonna happen, but still >.< hehe
Feb. 14th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you. Great minds think alike, I guess. *g*

And yeah, it was basically a train wreck we knew was coming from the very beginning, and yet they still managed to make it worse than I expected. >.< Especially in S5, Gwen is just awful.
Feb. 16th, 2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
That was lovely. Gwen doesn't recognise her own virtues, at all, but she has very clear sight when it come to others.
I loved it all, their stilted conversation and Arthur's struggle. And the last bit, too, with Merlin. That was really lovely.
Feb. 17th, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! I love that you caught that about Gwen; I always worry I'm being too subtle/blunt/inept when I try things like that lol.
Feb. 19th, 2013 02:07 pm (UTC)
Ooh~ That was wonderful. Yes, I like this Gwen very much :)
Feb. 20th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC)
Yay, thank you. Glad I could spread the Gwen-love! :D
Dec. 18th, 2013 11:14 pm (UTC)
"I think maybe you only admire it in me because you saw it in him, first.” I think I could marry you, really. You just wrote my thoughts. Every single one of them. I always thought that those things Arthur loved about Gwen were actually the same identical things that Merlin had... and it was Merlin who made Arthur notice those things as well. In my head, if only Merlin had been a girl, Arthur would have actually married her.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )