Character(s): Morgana; Morgause, Uther, Gwen
Spoilers: general season 3
Word Count: 2,055
Summary: One does not recover from being poisoned all at once.
Author's Note: Because apparently no matter how one-dimensionally evil Morgana acts on the show itself, I'm still writin' fanfiction full of angst and feelings! At least season three has provided a whole bunch of fic potential, considering it hasn't really told us ... anything about how Morgana reached her current state of Smirky Smirky Evil.
Title is from Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol, because apparently I really like quoting those zany Victorians!
'But how could she do it -- how could she kill the man she cared for?' I once asked her.
'Because she loved him more than the whole world!' she exclaimed, and rising suddenly from her chair, walked towards the window, covering her face with her hands.
I could see, from the movement of her neck, that she was sobbing. She did not turn round, but motioned me to go away.
'Don't let us talk any more about it,' she said. 'I am ill to-day, and silly.'
-A Phantom Lover by Vernon Lee
One does not recover from being poisoned all at once.
She is feverish for a string of frightening days. (That is how Morgause describes it later, in those very words, and it makes Morgana think of strings of beads. It makes her think just how fond she is of pretty things, just how used to them she is, just how much she has always taken them for granted. Water drip-drip-drips down the walls of the cave, slithering its course, leaving brown stains like old blood. It turns her stomach. Or maybe that is the sickness that's there already.)
In the fever, she doesn't know where she is at first. Whatever is beneath her is too hard to be her bed, but she has never slept anywhere else and so she imagines it there anyway. She is caged carefully by white curtains. There is a devoted weight at her left side. Someone sitting there, stroking her face.
She cries. She knows, she knows she will burn up. There is fire in every inch of her and some things can't be stifled or denied. Never mind how hard you've fought them.
'Shh, shh,' Uther instructs gently, his gloved fingers against her cheek. She feels a mad bright rush of thankfulness for the gloves, for surely if he touched her skin with his he would feel it in her. The jolt. The magic. (It writhes inside her, hating itself, and the feeling fuses with his face, with the way it would surely turn to stone if he knew, with the way his eyes would go dark and furious, finally cleansed of that love that has always lived there when he looked at her, even in his worst rages. But now-- Kill the witch, kill the witch.)
'I'm sorry,' she sobs. How hideous she must look. It registers in some distant, dimly horrified place. 'I'm sorry, forgive me, you'll never forgive me--'
'Shh, child,' Uther orders, kind. He smooths her hair. 'There is nothing that could cut you out of my heart.'
Stupid old man, she thinks for the thousandth time. Liar. She reaches for him. Would cling to him, if she only had the strength.
'Your home is here,' he murmurs. 'Your family is here. You need only to come back, and we will welcome you with open arms.'
'I can't, I can't--'
'Morgana, what nonsense--'
'You must know what I am,' she says, for she knows, she would give anything not to but it lives in her pulse, in her breathing, and she is so tired of hiding. 'Can't you feel it, there?' She means to press his hand to her heart. She wants to subject him to the thunder in her blood; maybe then he'll understand.
'You are beloved to me,' he insists, sounding more the wise just king than he ever has in moments that matter. 'Always.'
'You deluded old fool,' she spits, but it does nothing. He still looks at her steadily, calmly, with such love in his eyes.
'You called Uther's name,' Morgause says, not quite meeting her eyes. 'While you dreamt.'
Morgana understands -- weak though she is -- that this is a test.
'I thought of killing him,' Morgana says. Not quite a lie. (For it would kill him, wouldn't it? To know.) 'I think of it still.'
Morgause smiles, so briefly and faintly Morgana almost misses it. It is a proud little smile. Too quick a thing to cherish, you would think. But Morgana tucks the memory away, adoring it clumsily, hungrily. It's been so long since she had anything like it. Once they all used to smile at her like that. It was so common she barely even noticed.
Morgause's fingers are a surprise, after Morgana has spent her whole life used to Gwen's. Morgause helps her undress and dress. Brushes her hair. Braids it with brisk, meaningful movements that have none of Gwen's slow practiced sweetness -- but she tries. Somehow Morgana can tell. Knowing this is enough to stop her from crying out when Morgause tugs too hard, or violently attacks snarls.
'You are quite a beauty,' Morgause reflects one night, running her fingers through Morgana's hair. 'It's a wonder Uther hadn't married you off to some foul old king already.'
'Sometimes I think he was waiting around for Arthur and I to stop quarreling,' Morgana reflects. The thought -- once such a typical, exasperating one -- seems ancient and strange now. 'So that we might just marry each other. It would have been very neat.'
Morgause snorts. 'A fearsome fate indeed.'
Morgana thinks of Arthur. She misses him, the stupid prat. The wonderful idiot. She wonders whether they've ever spent this long apart before. She wonders how long she has been gone. Whether she is missed. Has he even bothered to search for her?
What would she do if he found her?
The idea nearly stops her heart. She hides it as best she can. Buries it deep.
'He will be a better king than his father,' she says, neutrally as she can. 'A great king, maybe.'
Morgause's fingers still.
Morgana knows she has done something wrong.
'What?' she asks. She sounds childish. Frightened.
'I simply think,' Morgause says smoothly, 'that a Pendragon on the throne has hardly served Camelot well in recent years.'
'Arthur is not his father,' Morgana says. There is some of her old indignation there.
'But the odds are he'll be more like him than most. Don't you think?'
Morgause puts her hands on Morgana's shoulders and turns her round. Morgana looks into her face. It is such a hard, lovely face. It dawns on Morgana in a sudden, peculiar flash that Morgause would make a magnificent king. That is what she thinks -- king, not queen. She cannot see Morgause standing demurely and dutifully at any man's side. She is struck by memory: the moment where the mysterious, formidable knight removed his helmet and blonde curls cascaded down. It made her shiver then, not unpleasantly. It seemed wonderfully right, a woman warrior; not as perverse as it ought to have been. She can still feel the echo of that shiver now.
Her thoughts might as well be crystal. Morgana senses that Morgause can see them plainly. Another of those smiles comes onto her mouth, this one longer and more pleased.
'Uther was right about one thing,' Morgause decides. Her voice is warm and quiet. She puts her hand to Morgana's cheek. 'You would make a good queen.'
Despite herself, Morgana leans into the touch. Morgause obliges her and does not move away.
Her dreams are just dreams now. When she wakes, they blur and ebb away until they're nothing but odd, fuzzy flashes of feeling. It is a relief, for the most part. They're seldom full of things she would like to keep.
Seldom is not never.
She dreams one night of Gwen. They are picking flowers in a field -- the sweet smell, the warm summer's breeze, tucking a daisy into Gwen's dark curls. They chatter about nonsense. Morgana cannot remember the last time she felt so happy and so light. She turns yellow flowers red with a wave of her hand, and Gwen does nothing besides laugh. As if it's the simplest, most pleasant thing in the world. How silly that anyone would fear it.
They weave daisy crowns for one another, after solemnly vowing to do away with the evidence before they return to the castle so Arthur can't mock them. Gwen finishes Morgana's first, having had more practice with her hands. She places it on Morgana's head with the same easy unremarkable grace that accompanies all her movements. When Morgana finishes Gwen's crown (with a bit of surreptitious magical aid), she goes about it with a bit more ceremony.
'Queen Guinevere,' Morgana pronounces. It does not come out sounding as teasing as she'd meant it to.
Gwen only smiles, lowers her eyes, and shakes her head -- which is Gwen for Stop being foolish.
They smile at one another, queens of summer and air and light.
Later, resting in the grass, Morgana says, 'Why haven't we done this in so long?' (In ever, she really means. She loves Gwen fiercely but there has always been that stupid line, masters and servants, commoners and queens. Empty rules.)
'Well,' Gwen says practically, 'it's a bit hard when you've gone away.'
'I didn't want to. I had no choice.'
Gwen laughs shortly.
Morgana props herself up on one elbow, inflicting upon Gwen her sternest of gazes. 'What?'
'Oh, nothing,' Gwen says airily.
Morgana pokes her in the arm. Gwen does not relent. It brings on an impromptu wrestling match of sorts, a festival of laughter and breathlessness and grass stains. At last, they call a wordless truce. Gwen's ankles rest over Morgana's. Their fingers tangle loosely.
'It's only that,' Gwen says, plucking a blade of grass from Morgana's hair, 'you've never been the sort to claim you have no choice, milady.'
Morgana feels a flash of pride. She remembers that girl the way one might think of a beloved child. How grand it is, that she was once so whole and sure.
'I was so tired,' she admits. 'And you were so far away. Even when you stood right there, you were so-- and when the time came, I chose the easiest thing. I didn't have it in me to fight anymore.'
'A miracle,' Gwen teases, but kindly.
'Isn't it?' Morgana agrees, laughing a little.
Gwen squeezes her hand.
'I love you all,' Morgana says. For the first time, she is beginning to make sense of it. 'I love you all so much that I would have died for you a thousand times over.'
'And we love you.'
'You wouldn't. If you knew. It would have killed me to watch that love go out of your eyes. To -- to have you all standing there watching while --' She does not say it, but she sees it plain as day: herself strung up in the square. Arthur watching with a solemn, stony, king-one-day face. Merlin by his side -- young-looking; unreadable; happy, perhaps, that his work is being properly finished. (Merlin. She never would have thought it of Merlin, not ever, and for a second just a second she is choking and he is looking down at her, darkness and sorrow and relentlessness, and if she never trusts a single soul again it is because of him, because she never would have suspected him for a murderer, never, because she trusted him with what she truly was and he killed her for it, him, nothing more than a servant boy.) Uther lowering his hand, steady, without even a flinch.
'I had to go first,' Morgana finishes simply.
Gwen only looks at her. Morgana hopes that she can see the girl she spoke of: the valiant Lady Morgana, certain and furious and loving and boundlessly loyal. Morgana can barely feel that girl inside her bones anymore, but if Gwen can still see her -- dear, good, wise, Gwen -- then she must be there.
Gwen opens her mouth to speak, and Morgana wakes.
'You looked as if you were dreaming,' Morgause says, her hand still on Morgana's shoulder where it lightly shook her. 'I thought it might be best to ... -- in case the nightmares had come back.'
For just an instant, all Morgana can see is Gwen, crowned in flowers. Then it slips away, like any ordinary dream might, and the world is solid around her.
'No,' Morgana says. 'It was nothing.'
'I'm glad,' Morgause says, kissing her forehead. 'I thought today I might teach you a thing or two. If you feel well enough.'
Witch, comes the whisper in her brain, and staring at her now, Morgause does look the part: wild hair, dark-lined eyes, all sureness and so little mercy. The very sight of her calls out to that buried piece of Morgana -- the fire, the poisoned girl, the downward swoop of Uther's hand -- and it yearns to answer.
There is little point in resisting. In spite of everything, she likes that idea. Perhaps giving in doesn't always have to mean weakness.
'I'm well enough,' Morgana says, and sits up tall to prove it.