"Merlin," said Gwen, hesitating a bit, as if she was dreading a certain conversation but determined to have it out anyway.
Gwen was fine company almost all the time, Merlin had learned, but not when she wanted to have important conversations. Also, not in the days after the bloke she fancied had ridden off into the wilderness to prove his worthiness (not to her, but to himself, or to Arthur, or something) and she'd no idea when he might return. This last bit about Gwen's moods, Merlin had just worked out in the last couple of days.
He smiled up at her noncommittally, hoping at least the serious conversation would keep her from telling her how he was doing a bad job polishing Arthur's armour.
Gwen sat down next to him and said, "I shouldn't have kissed you."
"I thought you were dead…"
"Er, yeah, you explained that already."
"I know I did. But I still. Sometimes I have a bit of trouble catching the signals people send. I'm not as bad as you or Arthur, obviously, but I should have picked up on…." She looked at her hands. "Morgana and I have been talking things over."
"Is this about Lancelot?" Merlin asked, because most of Gwen's thoughts were these days, or so it seemed.
"No. Yes. He talked to me before he left." She paused, and looked at him. "He told me."
"He…." But Merlin could trust Gwen, he was sure of that. This wasn't the end, he thought, forcing himself to breathe deeply, this wasn't –
"He told me he asked you, about you and me, and you said…"
Oh. "That we were just friends," Merlin finished with a great rush of relief, which Gwen didn't seem to share. But then she wouldn't – if you didn't know the thing that was likely to get Merlin killed any day now then you wouldn't feel the same relief he did every time it didn't get said out loud, and he got to live for just a bit longer.
"And between that and what you said, the other night, about Arthur…I just wanted to let you know that I understand. I'm good with that, with being friends. I wasn't at first –"
"Wait, you didn't want to be my friend?"
"Oh, Merlin, do I really have to spell it all out for you?" She sighed. "I suppose I do, if you're going to be such a boy about it. Well then, I was hoping, at one point, that we might be more than friends, all right? That you might like me the way I liked you…at first. Not that I don't like you know, but I liked you, you see?"
"But I understand now that you only care for men that way, and one man in particular," said Gwen. "And I just. Well."
Merlin's mouth might or might not have been hanging open. He was trying to come up with some words but couldn't think of any at the moment.
"Good then." Gwen stood up and brushed off her hands and her apron, as if she'd just finished some messy task or other when in fact she was perfectly clean as usual.
"I," Merlin tried, pleased to have found a word at last.
"It's all right, you know. My uncle, my father's brother is like that, so I'm used to the idea." Her face lit up suddenly. "I could introduce him to you if you like! That is, not that I'm trying to. But you might have other things in common or just, things you could talk about, is all."
"But you can talk to me too, anytime you need to. Anything, really."
"Thank you," Merlin said. Gwen beamed at him and, after looking at him hopefully for another minute during which he didn't answer her, she nodded, turned and started to walk away.
Pull yourself together, Merlin told himself. And, with an effort, he did. "Gwen," he called, and stood up to follow her, had to run a bit to catch up. Apparently she was happy to have the conversation done with and eager to get away. But he caught her and tugged at her sleeve and when she turned to him she was still smiling.
"Thank you," he said again. "I…I hadn't thought to say it outright, but it's good, knowing that you know." He took her hand. "I'm glad we're friends, Gwen, I truly am."
Gwen's smile only grew as she listened, and when she let go of his hand it was only so she could hug him close. "I mean it, you know. You can trust me with anything."
And though he'd told himself that same thing many times before (and as recently as two minutes ago), now, for the first time, he really believed it. And one of these days, he really would tell her.
For now he just hugged her back and said, "I know."