Spoilers: through 3x07 - "The Castle of Fyrien"
Word Count: 2,393
Summary: She likes Merlin knowing. Like most beautiful girls, she has always enjoyed an audience.
Author's Note: Written for the Freaks and Geeks Comment Ficathon for zombie_boogie's prompt 'Merlin/Morgana, No wealth, no ruin, no silver, no gold / Nothing satisfies me but your soul'. Because while this series is pretty damn painful in the Morgana department, MAN, am I loving the Morgana/Merlin interaction!
She likes Merlin knowing. Like most beautiful girls, she has always enjoyed an audience. She likes feeling his eyes on her. She likes the anger in his gaze, dark and poorly suppressed. He is such a nice boy, if a little hapless, a little ridiculous. To think that Arthur's faithful pup is capable of such menace--
Well. No one knows more about that than Morgana.
He will die in time, along with the rest of them. She looks forward to it. How dull it is to wear this mask day in and day out: to smile at Gwen in the morning, to tease Arthur, to let Uther clasp her hands in his. She is not that foolish girl any longer, and she yearns to tell them so. She takes to imagining their faces -- how stricken, how afraid they would look if they knew. If she were to kill any of them, she suspects the others would not go a day for the rest of their lives without thinking of her.
No one pays attention to her relationship with Merlin. Why should they? So she lets the mask slip around him. The triumph lights her face in those stolen moments, and he can do nothing but watch her. Just as he did while she gasped and choked and cried, looking up at him in pathetic and desperate silence. Please, please, please.
She never allows him to fill her goblet. Arthur and Uther don't notice. She feels him looming behind her, the dutiful fool, as she moves her hand over the brim of the cup. His finger brushes hers as he pulls his hand back. The slightest touch, and yet she feels it keenly. Perhaps it is all his hatred, alive in that touch, and all of hers pushing back; she can't imagine what else could summon a feeling so strong and kindred.
Arthur falls ill with a fever -- the most mysterious thing, for he was perfectly well only a day ago. When she steps into his chambers, every bit the caring sister, he is asleep, thrashing against his nightmares, and Merlin is looking under the bed for mandrakes. She laughs.
'Surely you must expect me to do better than that,' she murmurs. She stands close to him so that no one will overhear.
'I don't know,' Merlin replies, not without a touch of mockery. It sounds strange: his voice is pleasant as ever, and carefully light, but sharper too. Like he is suddenly made up of his own dark corners. 'Another Pendragon tormented and bedridden -- a bit repetitive, if you ask me.'
'And yet Arthur is dying and Camelot is days away from needing a new heir,' Morgana answers smoothly, tilting her head. His eyes shift briefly to the curve of her neck. She realizes only as it happens that this is just the reaction she'd wanted. She moves in. 'I think things are going perfectly well. And no one here seems the wiser. Well,' she amends, 'no one important.'
'It's only their love for you that stops them from seeing who you really are,' he tells her, his breath warm in her ear. 'You aren't as good a liar as you think.'
She is irritated, but, to her surprise, a little amused as well. 'There's something about you, Merlin,' she decides, turning her head so their eyes can meet. There are mere inches between them. They could be a pair of lovers hiding in the shadows.
'Arthur's said as much before.'
'Arthur is a blind fool. He'll never see you for what you truly are. Whatever that might be.'
'At least he's not a blind fool and a deranged, bloodthirsty murderer,' Merlin mutters innocently, and annoyance prickles in her, for oh, she would like to make him pay for that--
Gwen steps in with a fresh jug of water and a face full of quiet despair. Merlin makes to move away from her; Morgana catches his arm and buries her head in his shoulder, as if she's been weeping there for comfort. Gwen will think nothing of it, and it will drive Merlin mad. Really, she begins to suspect she's nearly too good at this.
'Has there been any change?' Gwen asks, anxious, never mind ladies embracing servants.
'No,' Morgana says, filling the word with as much torment as she can. She squeezes Merlin's hand, digging her fingernails in deep.
'Not yet,' Merlin counters. He squeezes her hand, harder. Hard enough, almost, to snap her bones.
She bites back a smile.
'The boy is a risk,' Morgause says, the forest whispering around her, her hands cool and steady in Morgana's. 'It is plain to see that Arthur holds him in higher esteem than he admits. At some point in the future, he may be able to make a case against you that the prince will actually believe. There is no sense in letting him live any longer.'
'Leave him to me,' Morgana implores.
Morgause narrows her eyes. It is a look Morgana detests in spite of herself. She cares for no one in the world but her sister, and yet that look, that damnable look: it is the sort that ought to be given to a child or a simpleton, a look that asks, And you truly believe you are prepared for this?
She hates that she has not done enough yet to get rid of that look once and for all. She has given up everything. She has cast everyone aside and made it plain that she would happily let them rot. Sometimes she wonders if she is so cursed that even Morgause can't save her, if she was doomed at birth to a life where no one will ever truly see her for what is in her heart.
'All right,' her sister says at last. 'For now.'
Morgana kisses her, grateful. Morgause's cheek is smooth as stone.
There is an antidote that will save the prince. Water from an enchanted spring that Morgause had promised her no one in Camelot knew existed. Merlin disappears in the dead of night. As dawn breaks, Morgana sets off after him. The journey is a hard one. She rides the same mare she always has, but the creature is all shudders and protests. It bothers her. She wonders whether she can really be that changed.
When she finds him, he is rising from the spring, a tiny vial in his hand. He looks gaunt and exhausted and so noble that it sickens her. She fixes her eyes on the vial and it explodes. The glass makes his hand bleed. A bloody scratch mars his cheek. His eyes are cold and almost cruel as they fall on her.
'Come now, Merlin,' she taunts. 'You didn't think it would be that easy, surely.'
'It's never easy.' He sounds so old. It brings up some remembered feeling in her, a sense of being tired and impossibly hollow. Of having tried and tried and tried, and failed and failed and failed. Of having no one to tell.
'I don't know why I haven't killed you yet,' she says. She means it mockingly. It sounds more earnest than she would have liked.
'Because you know me,' he says. He sinks down onto a rock, and she thinks he would bury his face in his hands if she weren't here to watch. The defeated slump of his shoulders makes her want to laugh and cry all at once. 'I'm not some nameless guard on the ramparts. We fought side by side once. We were friends.'
'And is that so important?' she demands, inching in. 'Do you truly think that knowing anyone matters to me at all? Uther, Arthur -- they've been the closest thing to family I've had since I was a child, and I've taken every chance to end their lives. Gwen is-- was the dearest friend I've ever had, and believe me, I didn't pause when it came time to orchestrate her kidnapping. I didn't care if she lived or died.'
'You didn't tell them about your magic,' Merlin says simply. 'You told me.'
She feels the words like a blow, and can't speak. The spring rushes innocuously, filling the air with a sound like laughter. Birds begin to call to one another in the trees.
'Yes, I told you,' she says at last, willing her voice not to shake. 'And you killed me.'
'I had to.'
'You could have found another way.'
'If I could have found another way, Morgana, I would have done it.' She believes him in spite of herself; he sounds too angry not to, and she wonders whether it is her or himself he is angry at. 'And besides, you telling me, about the magic --' Her breath still stops at the word, in spite of all that's happened. '--it didn't change anything.'
The words take a moment to register in her mind. She feels every bit as ill as Arthur, being eaten away by nightmares in that faraway bed. She remembers Merlin standing in her room that night, a thousand ages ago; remembers how desperately she wanted him to help her. How it hurt to watch him walk away.
'What do you mean?' she says, laughing shortly. 'It changed everything.'
He looks up at her. He truly has no idea. That much is spelled out plainly on his face. 'How?'
'If you had only -- only talked to me, or acted as if I wasn't some weak, mad, idiotic girl -- if you hadn't sent me back to Gaius and let him drug me and told me that was the only solution, if you had even bothered to imagine what I was going through, perhaps I would still be--'
She chokes the words back, her heart thudding. The look on his face silences her even better than her own good sense. He looks guilty. Almost heartbroken. His eyes are shining.
How good he is, she realizes dimly. How earnestly he carries the weight of her soul.
She thinks of Morgause. Of a jeweled crown bright against her hair. She does not think of Arthur twitching as he sleeps, of the horse twitching beneath her. She smirks and says, 'I should be thanking you, really.'
She hopes for a good retort. He stays silent. He stares at her, openly. To think a servant boy, any servant boy, could have the gall to look at the king's ward (the king's daughter) like that. As if she is no better and he is no worse, as if he sees clear into her.
'Really, Merlin?' she says, the curve of her mouth almost painful. 'Is that it? You've given up? You can't even fight me in words now? I must admit, I'm disappointed.'
He exhales shakily. He keeps watching her. The blood is horribly dark against his pale skin. She goes to him and sinks to her knees in front of him, and he says nothing even as she lifts her hand to his face. With the sleeve of her tunic, she wipes the blood away. He flinches. She continues at it anyhow, slowly and gently, distantly thinking that this must be what it feels like to be Gwen. Merlin watches her steadily.
When she is finished, blood still streaks his cheek, and the cut starts up bleeding all over again. (This is why she is not Gwen and never will be, no soft sweet soul, no prince to stare at her as if she brings beauty to the whole world.) It's futile to keep trying, so instead she kisses the bleeding place. The pressure must sting, but this time Merlin doesn't move. There is the hint of his blood on her tongue. When she pulls away, she lingers. Her forehead nearly rests against his. He breathes slowly in and out, and the breathing is almost like words, and for some odd reason she can hear his voice in her head, shaping the words of the old religion with the kind of ease she dreams of possessing. Join me, she wants to say, absurdly, to this boy who is nothing but a devoted fool, Join me and stand by my side and we'll show them all.
She closes her eyes. Her mouth finds his, barely, and at the faintest brush her insides leap. She wants to kiss him hard, to disappear so wholly into him that she finds that maddening place where they connect, the place that flames that feeling she has always carefully ignored in his presence, the place that is the reason he is the one she told.
She thinks of Morgause and tears herself away.
They stare at one another like reflections gone wrong: dark haired and pale and sad-eyed, breathing heavy. Each on their own side, divided forever by the unforgiving glass.
She stands. His eyes don't follow her up.
'Arthur will be dead by the time you return anyhow,' she spits. 'It's too late.'
'There's something you don't quite seem to understand about Arthur: he's a bit extraordinary.'
'Oh, I'm beginning to think he's perfectly ordinary. He's just got you. That's his only advantage.'
He looks up at her. He's smiling a little. 'Then I suppose it'd be wise of you to kill me.'
'Losing him will kill you just fine, I think,' she says crisply, and turns to go.
She casts one last glance over her shoulder before she rides away. Merlin is carefully filling a new vial at the spring.
She shakes her head and laughs to herself, not quite sure if it's in disgust. Then she digs in her heels, coaxing her mare into a gallop. The horse is calmer now; it is as if, for the first time in awhile, she recognizes her mistress.
The next morning Arthur awakens, good as new.
At the breakfast table Uther is all smiles and Morgana makes cheerful jests about the state of Arthur's hair and Arthur is weak but happy and it is so clear how much he loves them both. Merlin dishes out the food and pours the drink. When he reaches Morgana's side, she glances up at him. He smirks at her for a split-second before reassuming his blankly humble expression. She shakes her head demurely, lifting a hand that grazes his wrist, and her cup remains empty.