Word Count: 1,802
Spoilers: Small ones for season two thus far
Summary: She tells herself she does not know how deep his love runs; that it must be shallower than it seems. Too shallow to withstand the truth of her.
Author's Note: When I got up this morning, it was to find that firthgal made A REALLY REALLY AWESOME UTHER/MORGANA VID, which everybody should watch if they're fond of things like, I don't know, beauty, and awesomeness. All you haters of beauty and awesome should probably best step back, however. Anyway! That kinda got my brain into the appropriate mindset, and I also had the 'Uther/Morgana - winter' prompt (courtesy of firthgal!) to write, and, well, check it out! I actually wrote something!
And, er, spent my prime homework time frolicking in Camelot, but whatevz.
Also, whatever, they never actually show the seasons change on this show (angst! I want zany Merlin Christmas adventures! With the Green Knight!), so I'm just setting this after 2x04 because that's the last episode that happened. INSERT WINTER HERE.
For some reason writing this made me think about "Winter" by Tori Amos A LOT. Ergo title. And epigraph. It's a theme! Roll with it.
‘cause things are gonna change so fast
all the white horses are still in bed
i tell you that i'll always want you near
you say that things change my dear
-Tori Amos, ‘Winter’
Winter settles gently over Camelot. It leaves a wonderful feeling in the air, one crisp and pure and sweet. Morgana almost feels like a child again, hastening across the floor of her bedchamber, feet freezing against the stone, to join Gwen in pulling the curtains aside; they share their first glimpse of the outdoors blanketed in perfect, new-fallen snow. Cold feet and shoulders brushing and the view through the frosty glass: it’s a feeling she would live in if she could.
All the rigidity of life within the castle walls seems to retire for the day, slipping off with the promise to return when the novelty of winter wears off and it becomes nothing besides an unending burden. The Pendragons have few family traditions, but somehow, a walk on the day of the first snowfall has become one of them. Morgana thinks she may cherish it more now than she did when she was a girl and every flake seemed a tiny miracle. Things are so hard between the three of them. They have never been easy, but now it’s different – fiercer, the gaps between them far-spanning, refusing to be breached. Arthur becomes more a king and less a prince with each day that passes; he grows more serious, so staunch in his devotion. He still delights in treating Merlin appallingly, still knows just what to say to make Morgana want nothing more than to silence him with a good hard slap, but there is something less light about him now. She supposes it’s destiny weighing him down.
When she knocks on his door, ready to usher him outside, he declines. She means to wheedle a bit, give him a hard time about it, but there’s something that stops her, a something that she cannot pinpoint. Is it in his eyes? The set of his shoulders? It’s all the more troubling that she can’t quite spot the source this time. She’s always found him easy to read. In any case, she doesn’t press it, and leaves him on his own.
(She wonders whether it is just the looming future that makes him this way. Gwen, too, has her new silences. Out of love for both of them, Morgana tries not to put the pieces together.)
It is only her and Uther, then.
They walk as far as the forest; Morgana loves the look of the bare trees lined with white. They remind her of women, and she likes their complexity: they are spindly wizened old crones and demurely drooping maidens all at once, or some odd ageless cross of the two. Lovely and hideous.
They both wear heavy cloaks, she and Uther, and she accepts his arm when he offers it. The thing she expects – some tension, some crackle in the silence – does not come, for once, and she’s thankful for that. She is tired for so many reasons, but she thinks her relationship with Uther exhausts her most of all. To love someone and hate them all at once – God, it wears on her. Sometimes she feels it ought to leave visible traces, some mark or scar, lines around her eyes or streaks of gray in her hair. You’d think she’d be used to it, this kind of feeling for someone; she’s grown up with Arthur after all. But at the root of it, she loves him, with an unquestioning tenderness. He drives her mad; he disappoints her; still, she loves him, of course she loves him.
She cannot quite know Uther’s place in her heart. Her hatred for him has burned so bright it scared her with its threat to scorch, to devour. He is bigoted, blind, ruined by his own hate and fear – a madman, she has thought at times. Inside of him lives everything that she knows – knows bone-deep and sure – is wrong. Each day that he draws breath, Camelot inches closer to crumbling. It stings of treason when the thought whispers through her, but still she knows.
And yet all it takes is the touch of his hand, his voice to soften as he calls her friend and means it. Gone, then, is the tyrant king, replaced by a man who is much better. A man she wishes she could know. He loves her and in times of struggle he has never hidden it. He loves her more, perhaps, than anyone else in the world does; how freeing it would be, to know that and not melt in the face of it, but Morgana, for all her principles and well-kept secrets, doesn’t quite know yet how to be that strong. She has Gwen, of course; she hopes she will always have Gwen, but sometimes (in morning hours so early the sky is still black, waking up from vibrant flashes of some ugly nearing hell, screaming and shaking and all but shattered with fear, choking on sobs and Gwen’s weight on the bed the only anchor to a world that is not mad and mean, Gwen’s posture dutifully straight and her hands cool and her eyes so tired) she wonders how much of that love is true and how much is knotted with obligation. She hates it, thinking this, but at the same time, she is too hard to allow herself the mercy of pretending the possibility isn’t there.
Uther’s love of her is a living thing, and she knows it; it may be bound to guilt, to a promise given to a dead man, but even so it is real. Sometimes she thinks it is the love he would give Arthur if he could, if duty were not the more important thing. Still, she does not feel quite a daughter to him, and does not want him for a father besides. She remembers her own father, with an adoration that is certainly naïve. She does not try to check it, in this one circumstance; she remembers his kind voice and the weightless cherished creature she became when he picked her up and spun her round. The world a happy blur of color, his laugh the only constant thing: this is how she likes to remember her father, to think of any father. Uther will never be that for her; she’s thankful that he seems to understand this, that it exists as a kind of unspoken promise between them.
She does not know what she is to him, besides maddening and beloved. She tells herself she does not know how deep his love runs; that it must be shallower than it seems. Too shallow to withstand the truth of her. There is no questioning that. Her fingers twitch involuntarily against his arm.
“What are you thinking of?” Uther asks. It’s the first time either of them has spoken in a quarter of an hour at least. His voice is soft, gentler than usual, an instinct against disrupting the morning’s purity.
“Nothing in particular,” she lies smoothly. “Enjoying the peace and quiet.”
He nods. She thinks that is to be all, but then: “Igraine loved the winter.”
“Did she?” Morgana tries not to show her surprise. Uther almost never speaks of his wife. She’s always pitied Arthur for this; the fact that he does not even have the bits of his mother that are found in stories, in fond memories. Thanks to her father, Morgana has countless pieces of the mother she’d never gotten to know. She has always kept them close to her heart.
“Yes,” Uther says. He does not look at her as he speaks. His eyes are trained forward; she wonders what ghosts he sees there. “Unwisely, you could say. Her constitution certainly wasn’t made to bear it. She was always so terribly, beautifully delicate. Still. She would drag me out on walks like these.”
Morgana fully understands, for the first time, his willingness to maintain this particular tradition.
“She loved it so,” he continues. Feeling hints into his words. “She would catch the snowflakes on her tongue. Bring crumbs for the birds. Carry on conversations with them. She had a way with animals; you could have sworn they understood her. Talked back.” Morgana looks over at him. There’s a faint smile on his face, and it is suddenly so easy to imagine away the lines, to see him young and handsome and in love. “I have few happier memories than the ones of my walks with her.”
Damn him, she wants to think. She tries to call up her own memories: his hand hard and angry around her neck, her wrists rubbed bright red by shackles. They seem so far away – all belonging to a world that is dark and hungry. It’s so hard to find fury when the sky is pearly gray, the ground and trees all white, the snow falling around them with a kind of steadiness and calm that makes her think of sinking into warm water, or Gwen’s laughter, or Arthur offering his arm to her with a smile on his face. The only sounds are distant birdsong and the mingling of their breathing, hers with Uther’s.
“I have few happier memories than the ones like these,” she says, meaning it. How like surrender it feels to mean it; weak, welcome.
He stops. His hands are careful against her shoulders as he turns her to face him.
“You are a joy to me, Morgana.” He brushes one gloved hand lightly against her cheek. “I know I don’t say it enough.”
“My Lord—” The words bubble out of her, an accidental protest. He draws his hand back. There is a flicker of hurt on his face, and a kind of resignation, as though he’d expected it. To think that she has this power over this man, whose fear has turned to fire and swept through and charred this kingdom, whose hands are so red with blood. She doesn’t want it. If only she could use it to make him better, to summon the good man out. It seems a kind of torture, to know he is in there and to know that it does not matter.
Her voice goes softer of its own accord, and she is gentle as she tells him, “It doesn’t need saying.”
She watches as something seems to soften, to rest in him.
“I thought it mightn’t,” he says fondly. Even his eyes are kinder. The corner of his mouth twitches. Slightly, she smiles at him.
They walk on, quiet again. She brings her other arm around and rests her fingers on his forearm. The surrounding cold does not quite reach the places where they touch. Just for now, she allows herself the warmth.