It all turned out like that just because they were drinking. Gwen wasn't even sure how that had started, but she suspected Merlin's hand in it. He was really not as subtle as he believed himself to be.
In the end it didn’t matter how exactly it happened, though. What was currently important was them -- sitting together by the table in Arthur's chambers, pleasantly tipsy and happy and warm, Merlin by Arthur’s side and Gwen facing them both.
Somehow along the way they started making fun of Arthur's -- well -- love adventures, for complete lack of a better word (even though Merlin insisted it was far too fitting). It was a surprisingly good feeling to do that, when for years each time she saw Arthur with another left her miserable and hurt. Laughing at it all now felt refreshing; or rather, refreshing to her. Arthur obviously didn't share the sentiment.
Merlin just finished telling her details about how Arthur tried “wooing” Vivian, leaving her breathless with giggles (because really, somehow it didn’t seem so funny then), when the king of Camelot apparently decided that he had had enough.
“It doesn’t even count, since I was enchanted at the time, wasn’t I, Merlin?” he demanded, sitting straighter. Merlin grinned at Gwen before pouring Arthur more wine, in an obvious attempt to placate him.
“And what about Sophia? You weren’t enchanted then, sire” he said innocently, and the look in his eyes told Gwen that there was something wrong with that sentence. Arthur’s pout -- because that was definitely what it was -- proved itself to be way too distracting to wonder about it for too long, though.
“I didn’t do anything-- like that, with Sophia.” He grabbed his cup and emptied it, which was a shame because Gwen couldn’t tell if his blush was from embarrassment or from wine anymore. “And anyway, why won’t you tell us about your conquests, Merlin? Some tale from the tavern, perhaps?”
Something unrecognizable and ugly flickered through Merlin’s face, and Gwen threw Arthur a warning look -- which he completely ignored. Or maybe not as much as ignored as simply didn’t even notice, since he was staring at Merlin himself. He was apparently too thick (and Gwen loyally tried to tell herself that it was the wine’s fault) to notice Merlin’s expression.
She knew very well that her “conquests” would be completely spared from the conversation. What happened with Lancelot was still a sore topic, and she was actually surprised that they were managing to have fun being so close to it as they were. If Gwen’s head wasn’t buzzing in that rather enjoyable way, she’d wonder longer about Merlin’s role in it because it truly looked like it was him who started all of that. The wine, the easy talk, the jokes; as if to remind Arthur that he wasn’t the only one who saw the person he loved with someone else.
It wasn’t the same; of course it wasn’t, and Gwen knew that, and if Arthur noticed what Merlin was doing, he had to know that too. Still, it somehow helped, maybe to clear the air a little, something they didn’t get around to do until now.
“I can’t have conquests on my own because I’m too busy washing your socks, sire.” Merlin got up to put the empty tankard away, and probably did that only to get away from Arthur, because the next thing he did was sitting on the seat next to Gwen instead. “Or covering for you when you’re busy with your own, or cleaning the stables, or being your practice dummy, or--”
“Yes, we get that!” Arthur rolled his eyes, but Merlin was talking too much and too quickly and it was obvious he wasn’t telling something. Gwen felt herself getting as curious as Arthur looked.
“Come on, Merlin.” She nudged him with her elbow a little, trying hard to not let his betrayed expression get to her. “I can’t believe there was nothing. Not even a single kiss?” she added without embarrassment, feeling more forward than she usually did.
Merlin’s eyebrows rose and just like that, she remembered, surprised at herself that she could possibly forget in the first place.
She flushed. “Oh.”
“Yeah,” Merlin grinned his goofiest grin, “oh.”
“Oh what? What are you talking about?” Arthur looked between them with a frown, obviously displeased to be left out. Gwen managed to pry her eyes away from Merlin’s face and swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable.
Whatever could be said about Arthur’s empathy skills, he wasn’t an idiot; Merlin’s grin and Gwen’s blush was enough to show him exactly what they were talking about.
He gaped at them, before turning to Merlin, looking menacing. To Gwen’s relief there was no real anger in his voice, though; he even sounded almost amazed. “You kissed my wife!”
Gwen opened her mouth to defend Merlin -- or herself, she wasn’t sure -- but Merlin beat her to it.
“Actually, it was Gwen that kissed me,” he offered helpfully, staring daringly at Arthur. “And it was way before you started making eyes at each other.”
Gwen kicked Merlin’s leg under the table, mostly for riling Arthur up, who spluttered indignantly. Merlin hissed, bending down to rub at his ankle theatrically -- she barely bumped him, really -- and threw her a hurtful look.
“It was pretty soon after Merlin arrived in Camelot, and you surely remember that we didn’t even talk much back then,” she said calmly, addressing Arthur, but focused on tapping her foot against the floor, just enough for Merlin to notice the movement of her leg. He didn’t understand the warning, or decided to ignore it, because he beamed at them again.
“She had a total crush on me!”
“Merlin!” Arthur and Gwen both exclaimed, making him double over with a laugh.
“This isn’t funny!” Arthur grabbed his cup in a manner as if he was handling a sword, looked at Gwen and quickly put it back down.
Merlin didn’t seem any more alarmed than he was by Gwen’s foot-tapping. “I don’t know why you’re so mad, since you were so insistent that I was in love with Gwen anyway.”
Oh. That was something she didn’t have the slightest idea about.
“Were you?” she asked before she could stop herself, blushing immediately after. Stupid wine.
At least she wasn’t the only one in state of constant embarrassment, since Arthur’s face was getting progressively redder. “Guinevere!”
“He has such a way with names, doesn’t he?” Merlin bend his head to her, but spoke clearly so Arthur could hear. “It’s only: Merlin, or: Guinevere! He doesn’t even need to use another word!”
“You kissed,” Arthur whined and Gwen had to bite her lip to not laugh at that along with Merlin. She took a pity on Arthur soon, though, and smiled reassuringly.
“To be fair, it was mostly because I thought he was dead. I mean, not that I wanted to kiss dead Merlin, um--” Oh dear, not only was it completely disturbing thought, it had been a while since she stuttered like that. It was all Merlin’s fault. Suddenly she understood how Arthur looked so flustered so often when he was with his manservant. “It was after when he was poisoned -- for a while we thought the potion Gaius made didn’t work and then he suddenly woke up and I was just...”
Arthur’s face was pinched and the atmosphere in the room dropped a little. The whole scheme with the Mortaeus flower was the first thing that brought Gwen and Arthur closer -- there couldn’t be possibly anything better for the feeling of companionship than working together to deceive the guards and disobey the king, after all. Still, the remainder of them both almost losing Merlin laid heavy on their minds.
Merlin shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable, just as Arthur cleared his throat.
“I see,” he said, and then turned his gaze to Gwen. “So it wasn’t Merlin that--” At both Gwen and Merlin shaking their heads, he continued. “So you kissed my manservant. That—that was also entirely inappropriate!”
“What?” Merlin looked just as dumbstruck as Gwen knew she did, but it’d probably take more to make him speechless. “Why?”
Arthur fumed into his empty cup, his neck completely red, and apparently decided to ignore the question. “At least-- at least you know that I’m much better kisser.”
“Hey!” Merlin protested.
Gwen blinked, noticing that there went yet another answer not given, but instead of dwelling on it, she decided to come to Merlin’s rescue, not really thinking. “Well, I can’t know that. I caught him sort of by surprise.”
She pursed her lips right after, worried that Arthur would get offended -- despite everything he was ridiculously self-conscious at times, and besides-- she did love Arthur’s kisses. She wasn’t sure why she even said that.
Fortunately Arthur didn’t seem to notice the possibility of-- wrongness of her opinion. “You caught me by surprise in the tent when I was,” he waved his hand vaguely, “with Vivian. It didn’t stop me.”
Merlin immediately jumped in. “Yeah, but you weren’t dying only seconds ago, you prat!”
“As a matter of fact, I remember someone telling me I was close to get killed,” Arthur replied smugly. “And I was very confused. Anyway, I’m sure Guinevere couldn’t possibly enjoy your kiss even half as much as she enjoyed mine.”
“Why are we talking about this?” Gwen asked, suddenly irritated, because damnit, kissing wasn’t a one-way effort. She squared her shoulders, not caring what left her mouth anymore, and swearing to watch out just how often Merlin refilled her cup in the future. “I don’t remember how I felt with Merlin anyway. I mean -- he was sweaty and smelly and pale as death, and all I knew was that he was alive. It was slightly more enjoyable than having you singing paeans about Vivian moments before I had to smash my lips against yours.”
She could hear Merlin gasp and then laugh madly on her right, but Arthur’s open-mouthed expression was way too priceless to turn her gaze away from it.
“But I kissed you back! It-- it has to count for something!”
“I--” Merlin fought to get his breath under control. “I couldn’t kiss Gwen back because, because I was in shock!” He sounded way more cheerful about that than he had any right to be, Gwen thought sourly.
“Whatever!” Arthur crossed his arms against his chest, glaring in turns at them both. “I’m still a better kisser.”
“Oh, for...” This time Merlin rolled his eyes at him. “I’m not Gwaine, I’m not gonna... I don’t know, compete with you about it.”
“If you’re so bothered by me being unable to confirm,” Gwen said sweetly, surprising herself even before she finished the sentence, “I could kiss Merlin again, just to make sure.”
Arthur just frowned at her, and they both ignored Merlin’s squeak in favor of staring each other down.
“As if you would,” Arthur finally said, and he sounded daring.
Gwen raised her eyebrows, something tightening low in her belly when Arthur’s gaze flicked to Merlin for the briefest of seconds.
“Arthur, you’re being a royal--”
“Shut up, Merlin.”
Gwen had no idea what Arthur was doing -- no, she had no idea what both of them were doing, but Merlin was fidgeting in the seat next to her, what was becoming distracting, and Arthur’s flush traveled all the way up to his ears. Her heart beat so quickly she was afraid it’d burst off her chest if she stared at her husband for a moment longer.
Her husband. That thought should have been sobering, but somehow it only made her dizzy with something very much like excitement.
She fisted the fabric of her skirt in her lap before releasing the grip and smoothing it back down. She felt way too hot with Arthur’s gaze on her, not daring to wonder what it’d feel like with her kissing Merlin at the same time, with all three of them wanting it. She raised her eyes once again, hearing Merlin babble something on her right, but too focused on her silent exchange with Arthur to recognize the words.
“Fine.” She said suddenly, and if Arthur’s previous statement sounded like a challenge, this was like picking up the glove.
“Fine!” Arthur said back, ever the five years old.
“Not fine!” Merlin protested, but when Gwen finally, finally turned to him, he was red too and avoided her gaze. “You’re really cute with your couply argument, but--”
“Merlin,” she interrupted him, laying her hand on his shoulder, feeling the rough texture of his shirt. Her fingers brushed his neckerchief, close to the hot skin of his throat and she watched him swallow, giving him time to pull away if he wished to do so.
When no movement came, she took a deep breath, aware of Arthur’s hot gaze focused on both of them, and leaned in.