Gwen left Seattle with tears in her eyes and with her whole life falling apart. Her parents’ death three years ago still sat in her chest, heavy and painful. When she met Arthur, the man of her dreams, literally, things began to look up. Elyan still didn’t remember who he was, but that was perhaps better. She didn’t want him to know the pain of losing your parents twice.
The memories started coming back to Gwen, in her dreams every night, when she was fourteen. And while she knew her story ended in tragedy, part of her was thrilled to remember Arthur. She had grown up knowing her soulmate was out there, and that they were guaranteed to be happy together. When she and Arthur started dating, her world was finally starting to line up. She didn’t mind that he didn’t remember, because she knew the memories would come back eventually, and then she’d finally have someone to talk to.
They got engaged, and everything was perfect until the fire. She didn’t care about the apartment, really, but watching her life burn down felt like losing her parents all over again. And the memories that came back weren’t just from this life. She thought back to losing her mother when she was a child in Camelot. Her eyes stung when she thought of her father’s execution. All Gwen knew was that she had to leave. She had to get out, even if meant leaving Arthur in his last year of college.
She found herself in Chicago, purely because she stumbled upon two brothers’ Craigslist ad for a roommate. Normally that would spell out trouble, only their names were Merlin and Mordred. The chances were slim, but Gwen would do anything to see Merlin again. She thought of the last time she saw him, crying and holding her hand as her lungs gave out. He begged her not to leave him, to stay with him forever. They were inseparable after Arthur’s death, and Gwen knew that she would never have a better friend. She knew that he would always be her best friend, no matter where he was in the world. So she took a gamble and moved to Chicago, knowing Arthur would follow her wherever she went. Arthur would need to see Merlin too, maybe that was the final piece he needed to remember. But Gwen wasn’t really thinking about Arthur, she was thinking about Merlin and how her life was falling apart without her best friend.
Mordred stared at her, a question in his eyes. She thought he remembered her, but his demeanor suggested otherwise. Maybe Gwen was just so desperate for someone else who remembered, she didn’t even care if it was Mordred, the man who killed her husband. She was angry at him, but the boy in front of her was barely 20 years old. He had dark circles under his eyes and shaggy, dark hair. He looked too small and young to hate. He said Merlin wasn’t home, and that he could only interview the roommates when he wasn’t there.
“My brother had an accident a couple years ago. He got into a bad crowd, developed some drug problems. So it’s really important that you don’t do drugs or bring any into the house.” Mordred’s eyes were glazed over, like he knew he didn’t have to say these things to her, but felt like he had to anyways. “He has some eating problems, and he can’t remember any part of his life before two years ago.”
Gwen was shocked, but tried her best to seem normal. SHe knew that if Mordred knew she remembered, he wouldn’t let her anywhere near their apartment. But goddamnit, she needed this. She needed Merlin.
“That certainly won’t be a problem. I have a job lined up at one of the local high schools, so I definitely have an income. I swear I won’t ever be late on rent, and I’m really, really good at keeping things tidy.” If Gwen was begging, she didn’t care. She was so scared that Mordred could see right through her, and that he’d send he out of here before she ever got to see his brother.
“Okay. You can stay, but I need you to help move my brother’s stuff into my room. He’s gonna be gone for a couple days…” Mordred mumbled, looking down at the floor, and sounding profoundly sad. Gwen had to try really hard not to hug him, because he was so young and she remembered sneaking him out of Camelot as a boy, looking just as sad and frightened as he did now.
Gwen had been living with them for a month now. There had been some transitional awkwardness at first, but now they seemed to be in a routine. Only Mordred and Merlin were now sharing a room, which went about as well as expected.
“It’s not my fault you need like four hundred pillows and all the blankets!” Merlin shouted, shoving Mordred off of his precarious perch on the kitchen counter. The younger man fell right at Gwen’s feet as she made her way into the kitchen. The two brothers, although she wasn’t exactly sure if they were related at all, were constantly teasing and rough-housing with one another. They were very close, and while Gwen hated to admit it, she was jealous of Mordred. She hated that her best friend didn’t remember her, and that she had to start all over to get close to him. She wanted to pick up where they left off, and find out what he’d been doing for the last 1500 years. She wanted to why he was pretending to live like this, how Mordred was involved, and how on Earth did he lose all his memories.
She remembered Merlin telling her that he was immortal. He’d stormed into the throne room, two days after Arthur’s death, soaking wet. His skin face was a light shade of purple and he couldn’t stop coughing. God, she’d never forget it. Those deep, wet coughs that sounded like Merlin was wrenching up his lungs. He fell at her feet, whimpering, and in a raspy whisper, he told her he couldn’t die. He told her he was ready to take his own life, that he couldn’t live with the guilt. But fate couldn’t give him any release from his burdens. His face, discolored and sunken, haunted her dreams for weeks as a teenager in this life.
But Merlin was different now. His amnesia had changed him, made him feel lighter than she remembered. He was care-free now, laughing as Mordred pulled him down to the floor. She realized that she’d never seen either of them so happy, and it made her heart swell. She wanted Merlin to feel joy, to feel like this, for so long.
“Hi, Gwen.” Merlin peered up at her from the floor, his cheeks and the tips of his ears red. He got embarrassed around her really easily, she discovered. And she knew that that wouldn’t do at all, because an embarrassed Merlin wasn’t going to be her best friend.
“Mordred is an absolute nightmare to share a bed with. He’s dreadful. He takes all the pillows and blankets and leaves me to freeze to death! You have to help me Gwen!” Merlin pleaded with her, half joking.
Merlin looked too thin, she decided, investigating his jawline. She remembered Mordred mentioning his eating problems, but she definitely didn’t think it was this bad. He was skeletal and ghostly pale. Which kind of always described Merlin, but it was different now. Now he wasn’t a peasant struggling to get enough to eat. There weren’t reasons now.
In spite of this, though, Merlin still looked happy. His hair was longer than she’d ever seen it, sweeping against his jawline. Only it was all matted against the right side of his head right now, at eight AM on a Saturday.
“Alright. I know what to do.”
“Gwen. No. No. Gwen.” Merlin repeated, looking absolutely horrified.
“Guinevere we are two grown men! We are not getting a bunk bed!” Mordred looked at her with such incredulity she wanted to laugh. Except she really couldn’t, because Mordred had just called her Guinevere and she never told him her full name.
“Well, I’m just saying it’s the only set up that’ll fit in that tiny room.” Gwen knew she would win this battle, not just because she was right, but because she knew she had the authority of a queen. It was that same memory of authority that made her students listen to her and stop texting in class.
They got the bunk bed. They spent the day rearranging Merlin and Mordred’s room. They played disco songs on her bluetooth speaker and started cleaning with fervor. That fervor died out two hours later, and Mordred was now sulking in the corner, having failed at assembling the bunk bed.
“You’re just jealous,” Merlin said, halfway finished with the bed. “That I’m clearly more competent than you.” Mordred huffed at this, sullen and tired. They really did act like brothers, she thought.
“Please. Let’s not forget about what happens when you get behind the wheel.” And then Merlin was tackling his brother, and Gwen realized that she would actually be the competent one to finish putting the bed together.
She couldn’t wait for Arthur to see this. She was hoping he’d remember as soon as he saw Merlin, and then the two of them could laugh at the pair of brothers together. But Arthur had another year left, and no matter how much she missed him, she wasn’t going to be the one visiting. There was too much pain back there.
The room was looking much better, but they had to move Mordred’s easel and desk out into the living room. Gwen insisted that she didn’t mind, but Mordred felt bad for taking up too much space.
The rest of their bedroom was covered in posters of Mordred’s favorite bands and movies, and flyers from Merlin’s recitals. The room was still very much Mordred’s, as there wasn’t much Merlin remembered to decorate the room with.
When Gwen was leaving her room after facetiming Arthur, she heard Merlin’s voice, sounding sad and too familiar.
“I just wish I had more things, you know? Like I wish I knew who I was and what I liked. Before we started sharing, the walls and shelves were just blank in my room. I don’t have anything.”
“I kept some of your old stuff before you moved out, I could get some of it out?” Gwen heard Mordred suggest in a soft, careful tone.
“Ah, I’m going out tonight. Maybe tomorrow we can?”
Gwen knew she shouldn’t feel so scared to talk to Mordred. They were friends now, and they both clearly cared for Merlin. But still, she could hear her heart racing as she knocked on his door, an hour after Merlin had left.
Mordred pulled open the door, and his eyes were puffy and red. He’d been crying, which made Gwen just want to pick him up and tell him it was okay, whatever it was. She really needed to stop feeling so maternal towards him, but every time she looked at him, she just saw that little boy she helped escape.
Merlin had told her the truth about Mordred later, about how he’d been lost and hidden, and how Kara was the last straw. It was difficult for Gwen to hate him, even then. Because she knew what it was like to lose your family and the one you loved. She knew very well how grief corrupted the mind.
Mordred motioned for her to come in. And they sat down on the bottom bunk as an uneasy silence settled over the room. Mordred sniffled and wiped his eyes.
“You know me.” He said softly, but his voice cracked and he sounded so broken that Gwen couldn’t help it. She hugged him. And she knew it was wrong. This was the man that killed her husband and destroyed her life, but he really wasn’t. This was just a 20 year old kid who had too much to deal with. He was sobbing into her shoulder and Gwen ran her hand through his hair.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I know who you are, and I accept you.” She knew he needed to hear it. She knew he thought she wanted him dead and gone forever. He started shaking a little more and Gwen held onto him tighter. In this life, she had six years on him. It didn’t make sense for her to want to mother him and make him feel safe, but she did anyways.
“You’re okay, you’re safe.”