Character(s): Morgana; Morgause, Arthur, Uther, Gwen, Merlin
Word Count: 1,100
Spoilers: All of series 2; series 3 speculation
Summary: For a long time, every breath seems a wonder.
Author's Note: For thisissirius's prompt on the alphabet fic meme, Forgiveness, Merlin/Morgana. Poor Morgana. I need to go listen to some Bat for Lashes now.
Thy drugs are quick
For a long time, every breath seems a wonder. She is weak for awhile, afterward, and for a few days she does nothing but rest on the ground, gazing upward. She finds a peaceful fascination in the contortions of the tree branches and the uninterrupted blue of the sky. She breathes: steadily and deeply, in and out, over and over. When she closes her eyes, she sees Merlin’s face, ancient with guilt, sad-eyed but hard as stone. Her heart flutters, even to think of it; her hand goes to her throat; her eyes sting, and so she opens them. She finds she does not need to sleep much. She is weak, for now, but she is not tired.
Morgause catches her at it once.
“You told me you were feeling better,” she says. It is an accusation, but one fueled by concern and affection, so Morgana cherishes it.
“I was,” Morgana says. “I am.”
“You looked pained, just then.”
“It’s nothing,” Morgana assures her. After so long gazing at trees and sky, Morgause’s face is overwhelming in its closeness, its hard beauty. She wonders why all of the people she loves have faces like that, and whether she does too. “A memory.”
“If you would like,” Morgause says, brushing Morgana’s cheek with her fingers (all her caresses are tentative, as if she is not quite certain she knows how to love right; Morgana, who has lately become the expert on solitude, feels for her), “I could give you something. To make you forget.”
“No,” Morgana says. “I want to remember.”
She returns her gaze to the sky and the trees. The branches move in the wind, a yielding sway. Something in the shape of them reminds Morgana of old fairytales: wrongdoers chastened by being frozen in agony, maids who did not want to marry and were duly punished for their folly. She knows that it’s silly, that it’s the way the branches grow and that’s all, but she still can’t shake the sense that they would scream if they could, bent like that, locked in their moment of dying.
When she returns to Camelot, it has been so long that she feels like someone else entirely. It surprises her that her footfalls sound the same on the old stone steps. She was found by Sir Leon and a few others in the forest; she allows him to lift her onto his horse, the very picture of gallantry, and carry her back to the castle. When she steps into the throne room, Arthur stares at her in disbelief for ten seconds, then speeds over and picks her up, swinging her around like they’re children. She laughs for the first time in ages. It feels good, and nearly true. Uther comes next, walking slower: he holds her tight, drops kisses on her forehead and in her hair, swears in a heavy whisper that he will never let her from his sight again. His eyes are bright with tears and he looks so old and pathetic and dear. She’s spent so long believing that he could never love her enough, not really; now she sees, with vague wonder, that the opposite is true. A pity. She almost wishes she had known it before. Now it is too late for it to matter.
She spouts a tearful story of being held captive, and they are all so happy to see her again that they do not question a thing. She feels as though she is playing a version of herself, a girl whose whole world is banquets, pretty dresses, a default belief that of course she is adored, and so she can push whatever limits she likes. That girl is gone; that girl died on a hard stone floor. She is standing in the exact spot where it happened. She doubts anybody remembers. Let it be her little joke, then. Her little secret.
When Gwen hears the news and comes in, Morgana’s breath hitches. A vast feeling overwhelms her. (It is rather like dying. She would know.) She is the one to cross the room, rather than waiting for the embrace to come to her; she throws her arms around Gwen. The tears in her eyes are an accident. If only- she begins to think, and stops herself. This is a thing that cannot be done by halves. She has no more room for love or weakness.
She does not see Merlin until later. He approaches her in the corridor. She had forgotten how white the walls are, how like a haven this palace fancies itself. In this kingdom even the buildings are liars.
“Morgana,” he says.
She stills. She would like to see how he will attempt to justify what he did. She keeps her expression soft.
“Merlin,” she returns.
“I had to.” There is a shadow of that old sorrow in his eyes, as though he still stands before her and she is still on the floor dying at his feet. She wonders if it is a burden that will always weigh him down. “It was the only way to save Camelot. To save Arthur.”
“I know,” she reassures him, just as she has planned to for a long time. She rests a hand on his arm. He seems all made of bones and hope, and very easy to break.
“I know nothing I say can ever make it better,” he continues, not looking at her, “but Morgana, you have to believe me, if I’d had any other choice—”
“It’s all right,” she interrupts. “Merlin. You have my forgiveness.”
He breathes out. There is a lifetime’s relief in that breath – but there is hesitancy too. A wise reluctance to believe her, as much as he might want to. She will have to tread carefully around him. Fortunately, she had never expected anything less.
“Thank you,” he says at last.
She smiles – a sad, weary smile, one that says she understands the necessity of some sacrifices. “Of course.”
The corner of his mouth curves up, just as wearily. How old they’re all getting. She wonders whether he believes that this atonement is something he deserves.
That night, in her old bed, she dreams. She wakes smiling in the morning.
Gwen is there, attentive as she ever was. Morgana wonders whether she, too, feels like she has stepped back into a pair of old shoes only to find them too small. With Gwen, it has always been impossible to tell.
“You look as though you slept well,” Gwen remarks.
Morgana smiles at her. “I did.”
“The nightmares have gone, then?”
“Oh, yes,” Morgana says.