Word Count: 2,722
Summary: Arthur pays Morgana a late night visit. (Set after 2x04 – Lancelot and Guinevere.)
Author's Note: I totally had this idea months ago -- maybe as long ago as right after this episode aired? -- and decided today, Why not bring it into the world! And I am quasi-cheating and saying that this counts as a response to ladysophiekitty's prompt 'Arthur/Morgana, royalty.' Ye gods, I am devious.
But in a goodbye bed
With my arms around your neck
Into our mouths the tears crept
Just kids in the eye of the storm
(Bat for Lashes, Daniel)
When there is a knock on her chamber door Morgana opens it and lets her visitor in, even though it is late and she ought to be sleeping. Sleep has chosen not to come tonight. She has spent the past few hours sitting on her bed, the blankets still tucked neatly in; she still wears her green dress. She cannot quite summon the energy to change, and Gwen isn’t here to cheerfully force her. Even though their reunion had been happy (she cannot remember the last time she felt such happiness; in that flurry of limbs and smiles, she felt young for the first time in ages – and, of course, young is what she is supposed to be), Gwen had quickly sunk into quiet and stayed there all day. Quiet is not so unusual, for Gwen, but this kind lacked her usual sweetness; she seemed weary, and as close to bitter as Guinevere can come. Morgana had tried to coax her out of the mood (“God, what a nightmare, all of it – and to be rescued by Arthur on top of all that! Perhaps you ought to be knighted! I’ll put in a request to Uther, shall I?”) but Gwen had managed no response better than a weak smile or two. Finally, by the time the night came, Morgana could not stand it any longer, and ordered quite firmly that Gwen go home and get some rest, rather than hanging about waiting on Morgana. Gwen had protested a bit, but weakly, and she’d given in without much of a battle. Morgana still hasn’t quite been able to shake the hollow disappointment that had filled her at the sight of Gwen turning away from her and walking out.
She doesn’t know what she had been hoping for.
(Yes she does. My lady, I would rather be with you. You are all the rest and the comfort that I need.
Arthur’s steps lack their usual briskness as he comes in and shuts the door behind him. Once he’s done it he pauses, as though he’s accomplished some grand achievement. He simply stares at Morgana. His eyes do not quite focus. They seem very wet, shining in the candlelight.
“You’re drunk,” Morgana accuses.
“I’ve had a bit to drink,” he counters, but with none of his usual infuriating, endearing bite. “It was a long day, and I figured I’d earned it. Why?” He makes one of his faces at her, but it isn’t much of a comfort: he seems a parody of himself, more than anything. “Would you like me to go?”
“No,” she grumbles. “Stay.”
She crosses the room to sit down on her bed again, resting her back against the pillows. He follows her. His steps are slow, carefully chosen. He sinks down at the foot of the bed, where Gwen sits sometimes to wish her sweet dreams. Morgana pulls her legs up and wraps her arms around them, as if she’d like to make herself as small as possible; she feels absurdly shy. Her toes had brushed his thigh. It’s the sort of thing she would normally pay no mind to. It is this that makes her realize that she hasn’t been alone with Arthur in a long time.
“Thank you,” she says after a long, odd silence. “For bringing her back to me.”
She regrets the to me as soon as she says it: it seems to reveal too much, somehow, and she has lately been so aware of the importance of well-kept secrets. And of course, it’s an absolute invitation for his mockery. To you? To you, specifically? My, my, Morgana, I wasn’t aware you were quite so important.
He says none of that.
“I could not leave her there,” is all he says. He stares down at his hands.
“You’re a good man,” Morgana tells him. She has always thought – more so in the past few years, as he’s gotten older – that it is something he needs to hear. In the shadow of Uther’s reign, he needs to be reminded as often as possible, because he is good but he is obedient too. The last thing she wants for Camelot (for herself) is for Arthur to learn to be king from his father.
He scoffs. “Does it matter?”
“I’d say so, yes,” she answers sardonically. “A bit.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he replies. His mouth, she has often thought, was made for smirking, but the one he wears now is crueler and wearier than any of his expressions ought to be. “After all, one can – can work hard to be honorable. To be a good knight and a good prince and a good man. But what does it matter if you can never get what you want, if this damned kingdom forbids it, if someone else has gotten there already—”
“Arthur,” she interrupts, chastising. It surprises her to hear the shock in her tone, its genuineness. How many times has she inwardly damned this kingdom herself? But it’s different when it’s Arthur.
“Sometimes I wonder,” he concludes, his words nudging into one another a little, “why I bother.”
“Well, don’t,” Morgana says shortly. “You bother because you will be a good king, and Camelot needs a good king.”
“But am I to be happy?”
“If the kingdom is prosperous—”
“There’s – there’s something.” He is looking at her feet now. She curls her toes. “Something I’ve told no one. Well, almost no one. Something I absolutely cannot … – and yet I don’t know how to be rid of it. I can’t be. It’s become such – such a part of me already, and yet my father would never – this kingdom would never – You wouldn’t understand.”
He is so pathetic and so convinced of the uniqueness of his misery. Part of her wants to laugh. She feels so old; he is such a child. Still, at the same time, it is rare to see him so despondent, and her heart aches for him just a little. She wonders what this unfathomable secret may be. For a split-second, a foolish second, she wonders whether it might be Merlin: having been the first and most seasoned recipient of Arthur’s flirtations, all variations on literal and figurative pigtail-pulling, she cannot help suspecting that that much bullying could have a bit more behind it. And besides, cruel as it may be, there is a part of her that hopes wildly at the notion: that way, she would not be the only of Uther’s children to come out so dreadfully wrong.
Really, she suspects it is nothing more than a quick unsuitable passion for one of the chambermaids. It wouldn’t be the first time.
How sweet, to see how grave he thinks it is, how much he thinks it matters.
“Wouldn’t I,” she answers flatly.
He snorts. “Please. You’re beautiful. You – shine. Wherever you walk, you shine. People forget their names when they look at you. You can shout at my father all you like, go into rages over whatever he does that you find unsuitable, and he may not listen but he’ll never punish you, not really.” She thinks of that night spent in the dungeon, her wrists rubbed raw. How much there is that Arthur Pendragon can stare right at and still not see. “You’re the princess he never had. You can do anything. You’re a beauty and you’re quick-witted and don’t get me wrong—” He laughs, “—you’re the actual biggest pain in the ass I could ever possibly imagine, and yes, that does include Merlin. But you—you’ll have a good life, with your dresses and your jewels and your righteous indignation and – and whatever poor nobleman gets saddled with you. You’ll boss him around ‘til he throws himself off a tower, and then you’ll be free and rich and powerful and you’ll do whatever you bloody well please. The fair Lady Morgana. Cross her and perish.”
It isn’t an unfamiliar picture he paints. It is the life she’d expected once, give or take the widowhood. But now—
“You’re wrong,” she says, and it comes out darker and angrier than she had meant it to.
Arthur doesn’t like that.
“Am I?” he sneers. “Pray tell, Morgana, why is that exactly? Difficult day today, was it? Why? Get a snarl in your hair? My God, I hope not—”
“My dearest friend was taken and nearly killed,” she reminds him furiously. “My life, my existence is a danger to everyone I care about. There—” She swallows, and reasons he will not know what she means, not really, and she doubts he will remember any of this in the morning besides, “—there are people who would have me killed just for being what I am. What I cannot help being.”
“They didn’t give a damn about killing you,” Arthur says dismissively. “They wanted the ransom, was all. So don’t read so much into it. I doubt your life’s suddenly become the pinnacle of misery and despair.”
“And yours has?” she retorts.
“Hey, you’ve got no idea—”
“Here we are,” she interjects with a harsh laugh. (What she really means is: here you are.) “A pair of spoiled little royals, complaining about our sorry lot in life when Gwen was nearly murdered for being in my service and Merlin lives in agony washing your socks on a daily basis.”
She watches carefully. Just in case. Nothing passes over his face at the mention of Merlin’s name.
“I think Guinevere,” he says bitterly after a long while, “had a perfectly fine time.”
“How can you say that?” Morgana demands, frustrated. “She could have died.”
Arthur considers her. She feels a bit of her anger ebb away under the solemnity of his gaze. Damn him.
“You really care for her, don’t you?” he says at last, softly.
She holds her head up a bit higher. “More than anyone else.”
Arthur seems to contemplate this.
“She’s your servant,” he says at last in that tone of voice she hates the most, the one he uses most often around Uther. “Not your friend. You’d do well to remember that.”
“Speak for yourself!” she erupts. She will not be told that Gwen is anything less than her friend. She won’t. “Just because you kick poor Merlin around like a dog—”
“Morgana,” he says, putting his fingers to the bridge of his nose in annoyance, “do you ever stop talking.”
“Please!” she rages. “You’re the one who just—”
He slams his lips against hers and kisses her into silence. He’s too drunk for it to be a good kiss. His mouth is hot and clumsy, and he tastes sourly of spirits. Still, she has felt so utterly apart from everything lately that her body responds at once. She has not been kissed in years – and never by anyone but him. The last time it was stupid: he was drunk then, too, but so was she, and it had all seemed like very merry wicked business. They had both been laughing, she remembers.
“Arthur, don’t,” she orders against his mouth, even as she digs her fingernails like claws into his shirt. She feels his steady heartbeat underneath her right palm. She wishes it would quicken for her. She wishes anything she did could make any of these people start or sigh.
“God,” he pants, pushing her back against the headboard so she is left without space ahead and behind, and left with no choice but him, “God, I wish I still loved you.”
Tears sting in her eyes very suddenly. She blinks, and then closes her eyes, and the heat and the pressure of him is all she feels or wants to. For a second, she decides she will do anything. She will happily abandon honor, dignity, virtue, if it means that she can stay this close to him. This tethered to the world around her. If I were to marry him, if I were to make him love me, if I were his wife surely he would not let Uther do away with me if I was discovered, would not do it himself either. If I made him love me enough. I could, I think. I could make him— In the deep of her there is a mean strong sublime bolt of feeling, like fire lashing up. She realizes what it must be. Fear surges through her, drowning that other feeling, and she comes to her senses.
“Get off of me,” she says, shoving him back.
He doesn’t protest.
They sit in silence for awhile, a foot of space between them. Eventually, their breathing slows. She looks down: the blankets have been mussed. What a mess they’ve made of Gwen’s handiwork.
And then, as if he has read her mind:
“I did it for you. Saving Guinevere. Gwen. I did it because you asked me. There was no other reason.”
He sounds so hard, as though he’s trying desperately to believe the words. What a terrible liar he’s always been.
She hopes it will make him a good king.
“I know,” she says mercifully.
They settle down side by side in bed, the way they used to sometimes when they were children. It feels like that now, like childhood; whatever desire had sparked up between them disappeared just as quickly. It’s for the best. She doesn’t want him for the right reasons, and he doesn’t want her at all. She wonders who it might be, this girl he loves instead of her. More than he’d ever loved her. (It is sweet that he seems to think he’d loved her at all; to her, it had never come that far. Then again, men are so dense and so simple, and he has always been one of the densest.) An idea of who glints dimly in the back of her mind. She doesn’t want to examine it any closer.
He rests against her shoulder. She allows her head to drop on top of his. Before long, he’s fallen asleep. She moves up and down slightly with each of his breaths; she feels (absurdly) as though she has no breath of her own. The sky has begun to lighten by the time she drifts off herself. She is all but asleep when Arthur murmurs something. A name she knows. She is too far gone to think on it much.
She dreams of walking in a forest by Arthur’s side. The leaves have all gone golden and the air is crisp with cold. Gwen walks far beyond them in quick unearthly steps: she is only a glimpse of dark hair, a flash of purple and blue. Arthur’s brow furrows, his eyes deep and sad; Morgana reaches for his hand and tells him not to worry, that they will catch up. Another hand, this one with cold bony fingers, circles her free wrist. She turns and it is Merlin, and his eyes glow amber, and he tells her, You can’t go with them, remember? You’re meant to go alone. She can’t feel Arthur’s hand anymore; all she has are Merlin’s fingers, shackling her. She knows somehow that he will take her place by Arthur’s side. She wonders where this path is that she’s meant to walk alone.
In the morning, she wakes to discover she is by herself. When she goes down to breakfast, Arthur avoids her eyes, then comes up to her after Uther has gone and apologizes for the intrusion. She wants to tease him – to make fun of his snoring, his messy hair, anything – but his eyes are so contrite and so serious that all she can do is murmur, “Of course. You are forgiven.” He nods, clears his throat. She can tell that he’s pleased that he doesn’t have her to worry about anymore. She doesn’t speak to him for the rest of the day, or the day after that.
He must remember, she thinks sometimes, eyeing him on Uther’s other side. That’s why he can’t stand to speak to me now. Other times (on the days she wakes up shaking and sick and not even Gwen’s dutiful hands on her face can bring her back to the world all the way) she supposes the truer-seeming thing: he does not much care.