Gwen was exhausted all the time. She was so emotionally worn out after the breakup that she didn’t leave the apartment for most of the summer. That is, until Will came pounding on her door at six AM one July morning. He told he was having strange dreams, and that she was in them. As were Merlin and Arthur. He said the funny thing was that they didn’t feel like dreams, that they felt more like flashbacks.
She’d be lying if she said it wasn’t comforting to know that someone else remembered the same way that she had, through dreams. She hadn’t ever really spoken to Will, in this life or the last, but they were at least connected through Merlin. At different points in time, Merlin had been the most important thing in both of their lives. So they sat on the couch, drinking tea, and Gwen told Will everything that happened after his death. She tried to leave out the more gruesome bits regarding Merlin, and the different ways she’d found him dying after Arthur’s passing, but Will wanted to hear it all. However, she vowed to keep Mordred’s secret. She would let Will think that Merlin was reborn the same as the rest of them. In turn, he told Gwen about Merlin as a child.
“He had absolutely no self-control whatsoever. He used magic any second when he could get away with it. He was sarcastic and witty and lit up whatever room he walked into.”
He told Gwen about how when they were twelve, he and Merlin vowed to run away together and adventure around the kingdom. He told her about how one day, their entire worlds shattered when Merlin almost killed a man with magic. How Hunith insisted he be sent to Camelot, and how Merlin had snuck into his house the night before he left, begging Will to run away with him right then and there. But Will’s family needed him, he couldn’t go. Without his help on the fields, they would starve to death, and he couldn’t abandon his parents.
Since that morning, the two of them had started hanging out at least once a week. Will made sure Gwen was leaving the house, and that she was eating regularly. Their friendship came easily, in part because Will was so similar to Merlin. They were like mirrors of the other. Will and Merlin had a unique time of friendship, one that was strong and eternal. The kind of friend you couldn’t live without, that kept you grounded and made you feel understood. She was starting to understand how hard it must have for Merlin to let that go when he came to Camelot, and when Will died.
Everything that happened the night of Gwaine’s accident was catastrophic. She and Will spent hours drinking and watching medieval period dramas just to point out historical inaccuracies.
She was too drunk to think rationally when Arthur texted her. Arthur, the person she most and least wanted to hear from. He’d sent her a video of Merlin and Mordred clinging to each other at a bar, belting The Cure at the top of their lungs. It was silly, Gwen knew. But she wished she were there more than anything. She wished that she had her friends with her. She hated that Arthur had Merlin and Mordred to help him through the break-up. She hated that they shared the same best friend, and that it was taking so long for Merlin to get close to her again.
Will had left her apartment to check in on Gwaine before she’d started crying. She was alone once more. In all honesty, Gwen was beginning to despise herself. In her mind, in her heart, she was still a ruler. She was a servant turned queen who had won and lost everything before she was even thirty years old. But in this world, in reality, she was depressed and delusional and depended too much on alcohol to feel better. She drained another bottle.
This had been two lifetimes where she’d lost Arthur. Two lifetimes and two long-suffering, dysfunctional relationships. The more she thought back on her marriage with Arthur, the worse she felt. They’d been married for less than five years, and barely saw each other. They were in love, but they were torn apart from each other over and over again. When they did find the time for each other, they were too exhausted and paranoid to be in love. She found herself wondering how much of Arthur’s love was attached to the seal he gave her on his deathbed, or if it was only the power he gave her? How much of their marriage was out of love? Is it even possible for love to exist between a king and his queen?
Gwen seemed doomed to a life of tragedy and heartache once more. Only this time around, she was the reason her life was falling apart. She was the one who couldn’t marry Arthur, because his face represented so much tragedy in her life. There hadn’t been joy in her life in a long time. Not since Elyan never remembered his past life, since her parents died in this world, since Merlin will never trust her the same way as before. She no longer had a home in Arthur, her solace was gone and she was empty. Just as Merlin was destined to save Arthur, Guinevere was destined to lose him every time.
Before Will called, Gwen was ready for it all to be over. She just couldn’t stand to live like this for another day. She wished her memories were wiped, or that she’d never been born into this life. She wanted it to stop and she didn’t care how it happened. But then Will was calling to tell her Gwaine was in an ambulance with alcohol poisoning.
It was easy to forget about Gwaine. Because in this world, he only spoke to Merlin and acted the exact same as he had before. Gwen rarely had reason to speak to him. She assumed that if he suddenly remembered everything, he would call her, just as Will had. But she couldn’t bare to see Gwaine die again. His funeral was fresh in her mind, with golden flames dancing around his body and the word “Strength” engraved on his headstone. She remembered too much from that day. She remembered the way her voice broke when she gave the speech. She remembered washing Merlin’s blood out of his sheets the day after.
The thought of Gwaine drinking himself to death was somehow worse than his death in a past life. Because that’s how they would all joke about it, back when Morgana was at bay and there was time to joke. They would mess around at the tavern and make jokes about how Gwaine’s life would be lost to his habits rather than an enemy’s sword. To face the reality of it, though, was much more gruesome. She found herself throwing up as soon Will ended the call. She threw up all the alcohol she’d carelessly drunk that night on an empty stomach. And with trembling hands, she called Arthur for the first time in months.
“Oh, Gwaine.” Gwen said softly, desperately, laying her hand gently against his. “You’re such a fucking idiot. I was right here, ready for you to remember. I was ready to tell you what happened and what’s going to happen. But you just had to do it on your own.”
He was too tired to be offended, but Gwen could see that he was trying. She felt awful, looking at him splayed out on the hospital bed. He was pale, with red-rimmed eyes, and Gwen could hear the slow, drawn-out beeping of his heart echoing through the room. She felt awful for not realizing what he was going through sooner. She understood how lonely he must have felt when the memories came back, how haunted he must’ve been by the recollection of his death. She should’ve been there for him. She was so obsessed with her own problems that she couldn’t see how Gwaine was struggling.
“You were always hanging around with Mordred . Why should I have trusted you? Any of you? He betrayed us all.” Gwaine’s voice was raspy, but full of rage. His heart monitor began to quicken with his words.
“Mordred was a child. He was caught up in the wrong side of a war he lost so much to. But he’s trying so hard to make it better, Gwaine. You don’t know all that he’s done for Merlin. You couldn’t even begin to imagine what he’s been through for Merlin.” If Gwen found herself getting angry, it wasn’t her fault. Mordred was starting to feel like her responsibility. She felt an innate need to protect him, even if he had ruined her life before. She knew that the pain and the loss Mordred carried far outweighed her own and Gwaine’s.
“You need to pull yourself together, Gwaine.” Will spoke now, for the first time since they entered the room. Will had never met Gwaine in the past. They were only mutual friends of Merlin’s in this life, even if they had hung out together once or twice. “I don’t know, obviously, about all the shit that happened, but I know that it’s going to kill Merlin once he remembers.” Gwen felt queasy at that, because Will would assume Merlin only had one lifetime of memories to destroy his sanity. He didn’t know the truth about Merlin’s mind, none of them did. “Do you know how hard it would be for him to remember you after you’ve already died in this life? It’s not fair to him. Nothing about the way you treat him is fair.”
Gwen remembered vaguely that Will was quick tempered and passionate from their brief meeting, but to hear him speak so vehemently in this life was comforting. She liked knowing that some of them hadn’t lost their personalities in the translation between two lives, as she had.
“It’s not fair to me.” Gwaine whispered in a broken, beaten voice. It was foreign to Gwen’s ears, to hear Gwaine sound so passive and defeated. “It’s not fair to me that I have to fall in love with him twice , knowing, just knowing that he will never actually love me back.”
They fell silent. None of this was adding up. There was no way Gwaine could honestly be in love with Merlin. Gwaine didn’t fall in love, Gwen wasn’t sure he even knew what those words meant. Gwaine was a flirt, a womanizer. He made lewd and suggestive comments at everyone he met. There wasn’t any way he could possibly be in love, let alone with Merlin.
“I can’t go through it again, Gwen. I can’t listen to him pretend to love me when I’ll always be second to Arthur. Everything and everyone is second to Arthur. I can’t do it again.” He didn’t sound defeated, Gwen realized. He was pleading. He was begging her to save him from his own horrible loop of heartache.
It was a strange thought. Gwaine loving Merlin but feeling that Merlin could never love him as much as Arthur. Gwen, after learning of the prophecies and destiny they shared, understood the unique bond between Merlin and her husband. But she also couldn’t help but remember feeling alone, even after they married. She remembered wondering why Merlin was the one who learned all of Arthur’s secrets first. Why Merlin was the one who received Ygraine’s sigil.
Gwen understood that friendship can be powerful. She knows that all the romance in the world pales in comparison to having your best friend by your side through everything. Merlin was her best friend, too. In her twenty years of ruling, she would’ve killed herself a hundred times over if Merlin hadn’t been there. It wasn’t until then that she understood why Arthur trusted him more than her. Merlin was trustworthy, sure. But it was mostly the fact that Merlin was a good friend. Merlin was loyal and loving to a fault. She knows that that kind of friendship matters more than any romance.
But still. Gwaine and her shared something new now. They both were intimately acquainted with the nuances of love. They both had people they were in love with, people who should’ve loved them the same. But they both knew that they would always be second to a love reinforced by destiny and golden thread and a bond neither of them could hope to understand.
She squeezed Gwaine’s hand in compassion. Maybe she could get him out of this. She could save him from the heartache she’s already been through twice. Gwen vowed to focus all of her energy into being a good friend. She was going to heal Gwaine, Mordred, Arthur, and eventually Merlin. Maybe, just maybe, she could be the kind of friend Merlin needs.
Gwen knew that she needed to shape up. Because there were more friends out there. Percy and Elyan back home, Gaius and Leon somewhere, all of them were going to remember some day. She wanted to be there to help them through it. And if a part of Gwen is hoping that Lancelot is out there too, then maybe she’ll finally be able to repay him for saving her life all those years ago.