Story 24: I'm Sorry
Arthur avoided Morgana for weeks after that. He knew that if he saw her, he would not be able to control his words and this was most definitely a conversation he needed to remain calm for. If only to prevent Merlin from turning him into a toad. Arthur almost felt bad for Merlin. They had yet to discover a way to stop the nightmares that Morgause had cursed him with. It had gotten so bad that Morgana refused to let him help her look for a cure. This resulted in Merlin spending much of his time moping around Arthur's chambers.
Arthur didn't mind. After everything Merlin had done for him, he knew he had no right to complain. It was almost nice to have Merlin around. It gave him the chance to learn more about his magic and to understand him better. Arthur hadn't realized how much Merlin had sacrificed for him and the more he learned, the more he made strides towards being worthy of Merlin's sacrifices.
Merlin had been endlessly patient with Arthur. He hadn't mentioned Morgana or Uther in nearly six weeks. Arthur had known that his patience would thin out eventually, so when he returned from training to see Merlin sitting at his table with a neutral expression on his face, he knew that time had come.
That didn't mean he was going to be an adult about it. He may be the King of Camelot, but behind closed doors he was just Arthur. He could behave in any manner he wished. Arthur began to cross his chambers, ignoring Merlin's stony expression.
"Stop," Merlin said quietly. His voice was barely a whisper, but he had a way of making Arthur feel like he was shouting at him.
Arthur closed his eyes, but didn't move further away from Merlin.
"I know that you are still in a strange place, but you need to at least speak with Morgana. I'm not going to tell you to forgive her, because only you have the right to make that decision. What I will tell you is that I wish to marry her and I cannot ask her when she spends every minute of every day obsessing over another man. So please, talk to her," Merlin said to him.
Arthur slowly turned to face Merlin. He was shocked. He had known that they had kissed that one time, but he had spent the time since avoiding any mention of Morgana. He hadn't realized that their relationship had continued to bloom. He didn't know how to feel about this. He felt like Merlin could do so much better, but at the same time he thought Merlin and Morgana were a match made in heaven.
"Marry her," Arthur said breathlessly.
"I love her," Merlin told him seriously. "I tried not to. After everything she's done, I really tried not to, but I can't help it. She understands me better than anyone. And despite what she did, she tries every day to be better. I haven't spoken to her about this, because I don't think she'd hear me."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked confused.
"I mean that she's rather preoccupied. Between trying to find a way to stop these nightmares and fretting over you, she doesn't have room for me," Merlin told him.
"I'm sure that's not true," Arhtur argued. "Have you tried talking to her about this?"
"Yes," Merlin said honestly. "And every single time she redirects to you. I swear, if you weren't her half-brother, I'd be worried. Not that she knows that yet."
Arthur wished he could tell Merlin he was being foolish, but he knew he wasn't. He had witnessed how stubborn Morgana could be. If she set her mind to something, she noticed little else. "I don't know that I'm pleased about your relationship with her, but I'll speak with her. I owe it to you," Arthur said quietly. He was dreading this conversation. He had no idea what he would say. One look at Merlin and Arthur began to walk towards the door. "Right now. I'll speak with her right now."
"She's with Gaius," Merlin told him.
Arthur sighed as he stepped out into the corridor. It wasn't fair that he had to do this. He wished he could have just one more day to think about this, but he knew he owed it to Merlin. He practically dragged his feet as he made the familiar walk to Gaius' chambers.
Arthur took a deep breath before he entered Gaius' chambers. The last time he had been here, it was while Gaius was preparing his father for burial. Arthur had known that Uther would not have wanted to his people to see him bloody and beaten. He would have wanted to appear strong and intimidating even in death. Arthur wasn't going to deny him that.
He was almost a little surprised to see Gaius dozing off at the table while Morgana was intently reading a book. "If you're going to try to help, I've made my opinion of the matter quite clear," Morgana said without looking up.
"I'm not so sure you have," Arthur said softly.
He watched as Morgana stiffened. She didn't turn to face him, but he could picture how her pale face would become even paler and the uncertainty that would twist her features. "What are you doing here?" Morgana asked. She sounded as if every word were difficult to get out.
"I need to talk to you," Arthur told her. He wasn't sure who was more uncomfortable in that moment.
"About?" Morgana asked.
"Everything," Arthur said seriously. "You, my father, Merlin. This conversation is long overdue."
"Perhaps," Morgana agreed. She turned to face Arthur for the first time. She looked different than Arthur had imagined. He didn't know what he had expected. Maybe he thought he would see guilt that was physically eating away at her or the same haunted look in her eyes that he had seen in Merlin's.
Instead, he saw a strong woman with determination etched into her every contour. He was almost envious of her. He wished he could feel that at peace with himself. "You look good," Arthur commented.
Morgana shrugged. "It's amazing what weight is lifted off of your shoulders when you stop pretending to be something you're not," Morgana told him.
Arthur wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but he almost felt as if Morgana were talking about him. He chewed his lip a little bit as he considered the words he needed to say. "I wish to feel that free, I just don't know how," he admitted. He hated to make himself vulnerable to her.
"One thing that I found was immensely helpful was Merlin," Morgana told him. "When I was feeling overwhelmed, he was always there. He's wiser and more sympathetic than you give him credit for."
"It's not Merlin that's causing this," Arthur said bluntly. "He did not take my father from me. He did not turn his back on me. He did not betray me."
"Neither did I," Morgana said evenly. "I know what you think of me and I understand why, but I did not betray you. I made a mistake."
"One that cost my father his life!" Arthur said outraged. Gaius snored and for a second, Arthur feared he had woken him. He wasn't so sure that it would have been a bad thing. Gaius was old and couldn't possibly be comfortable sleeping hunched over like that.
"Leave him," Morgana said tiredly. "He's barely slept since your father died. I try not to wake him when he's finally sleeping."
Arthur nodded, accepting that Morgana was probably right. "We should probably speak in Merlin's chambers," Arthur suggested. Unlike Morgana, Gaius' fatigue was obvious even as he slept. He almost looked like he didn't have the energy to sleep. It was frightening.
"And get rid of my only witness? I think not," Morgana warned him.
"What exactly is it that you think I'm going to do?" Arthur asked her.
"You blame me for the death of your father and you really have to ask me that question?" Morgana voice quivered a little, the only sign that she was even remotely frightened.
"You're right. Shall I go fetch one of my knights to supervise this conversation? Let's see how long it takes them to run you through." Morgana winced at Arthur's blunt words. Arthur took a breath to calm himself down. He couldn't take his frustrations out on her. He had promised Merlin he would sincerely talk to her. "Sorry… I just... I don't…"
Morgana nodded. "I understand," she said softly. And she truly could. She had spent weeks obsessing over this. She had put herself in Arthur's shoes so many times to try to understand him. "Let's speak out in the corridor." She didn't give Arthur a chance to object. There weren't any people outside of Gaius' chambers, but at least she would be able to run away if she needed to.
Once Arthur had closed the door behind him, Morgana turned to him. "You said you wanted to talk, so talk. But I'm not about to stand here and listen to you yell at me," Morgana warned him.
Perhaps it was because they were out in the cool corridor or that they had been removed from the last place Arthur had ever seen his father's body, but Arthur suddenly felt capable of having a calm conversation with Morgana. "I need to know why you helped Morgause," Arthur said quietly.
"Because she said she wanted to help me and I believed her. She was my sister, my only family. If I couldn't trust her, who else could I trust? I didn't realize that she was using me for her own gain. She wanted your father dead and I could understand why. He never loved his people and if they studied magic he despised them. We needed his support, but instead he hunted down my people and killed them. You cannot blame Morgause for wanting him dead, nor me for supporting her," Morgana told him. "I learned much about the history of magic and the more I learned, the more I realized just how evil Uther was. I know you loved him dearly, but he was not a good man." Morgana closed her eyes briefly. "If it helps at all, I wish he were still alive just to spare you the pain you are feeling."
Arthur looked away from Morgana. He wished that that changed things, but it wouldn't bring his father back. "I'm sorry. I just don't know how to forgive you," Arthur told her. Part of him sincerely wanted to forgive her, he just didn't know how to.
"Then don't," Morgana suggested. "You cannot forgive me for the death of your father, so don't. I don't expect you to. Heaven knows I never forgave Uther for the death of my father, but there are ways to move past this."
Arthur squirmed uncomfortably. He should have told her. He should have told her weeks ago. She had a right to this information as much as he had, but he hadn't been able to do it. Right after his father died didn't seem like the right time, but he should have told her all the same. "Morgana…" Arthur started to say.
"Don't you dare tell me that this is different Arthur Pendragon," Morgana warned. "Your father sent my father to battle, promising reinforcements. He knew they didn't stand a chance without them, yet he sent none. He might as well have dealt the fatal blow himself."
"My father did not kill your father," Arthur said. He wasn't sure he could say the words out loud. He could feel the strangest burning sensation in his throat and he realized he was close to crying.
"How can you defend him?" Morgana asked. "I understand he was your father, but that doesn't mean he was perfect."
"That's not what I meant," Arthur told her. He could barely hear himself speak, he wasn't sure Morgana could actually hear him. "I know for a fact that my father didn't kill your father."
"And what makes you so certain?" Morgana asked angrily.
"My father is your father," Arthur told her. He finally brought his eyes up to meet hers just in time to watch the fight leave her body. Clearly whatever she had been expecting, it hadn't been that.
"Y-you are certain?" Morgana asked. Her voice was shaking.
"I am. He told me himself. Right after you stayed with Morgause. 'No daughter of mine can have magic.' That's what he told me," Arthur told her.
"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" Morgana asked. Arthur raised his eyebrow at her and Morgana nodded. "I suppose that was a stupid question. I can't believe this."
"I could hardly believe it myself," Arthur told her. He sighed. "You were right when you said I cannot forgive you and I may never forgive you, but I understand. Uther destroyed the only life you had knowledge of and lied to you your entire life. I understand why you might have hated him. For a long time after I found out, I think I hated him a little too."
"Where does that leave us?" Morgana asked him.
"I don't want to start over," Arthur told her seriously. "But I would like to start. We've never really been good to each other. We've always been family, but we've never really acted like it. And now, we're the only family we've got."
"We've got Merlin," Morgana pointed out. "You know he'll never leave us."
"God help us," Arthur joked.
Morgana chuckled. "I agree though," Morgana told him. "I would like to start as well."
"It won't be easy," Arthur warned her.
"Nothing about us ever is," Morgana pointed out. A tear fell down her cheek. "Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me."
Arthur didn't know what to say, so he coughed uncomfortably and changed the subject. "What were you working on when I got here?" He asked.
"The same thing I've been working on," Morgana said. She reentered Gaius' chambers with Arthur on her heels. "Whatever Morgause did to Merlin didn't wear off when she died. We don't know why or how such magic is possible."
"What do you mean?" Arthur asked confused.
"Well, magic needs a source to keep working, especially a spell like the one that was put on Merlin. At first we believe that it was feeding off of Merlin, but magic like that leaves a mark and Merlin wasn't marked," Morgana explained. "If we cannot find the source of the magic, then we cannot stop it and nothing has worked to alleviate the nightmares. Believe me, we've tried everything."
"So if it's not feeding off of Merlin then who is it feeding off of?" Arthur asked confused.
"That's what we've been trying to figure out. It has to be someone that Merlin is always close to, someone that Morgause would have had access to. We tested Gaius, but it wasn't him," Morgana explained.
Arthur studied her for a moment, wondering how she hadn't come to the same realization he had. "It's me," he told her. He didn't know how he knew, but he had never been more certain of anything in his life. "The one person that Morgause knows Merlin would never leave is me."
Morgana's eyes widened. "Sit," she ordered abruptly. She began bustling around Gaius' chambers chopping up random things and grinding others. She threw everything together and Arthur could see no order behind anything she was doing. While Morgana was moving about, she knocked over a tin bowl and it clattered loudly to the ground.
Gaius startled awake and looked around confused. Morgana offered him no explanation. "Good, you're awake. I need your help," Morgana told him abruptly.
Arthur was almost surprised to see that Gaius immediately jumped into the fray, taking orders from Morgana like it was second nature to him. He supposed that this must have been how they have been working together these past several weeks.
Within minutes, they had prepared a really foul smelling potion that Arthur hoped he would not have to drink. Luck was not on his side. "You have to drink the entire thing," Morgana warned him. "If you leave too much behind, the spell will not work and we'll have to start all over again."
Arthur nodded. He closed his eyes, prepared to down the entire potion in one gulp when the door to Gaius' chambers opened. He almost felt a little guilty at the relief he felt. At least he could prolong this moment.
"What are you doing here?" Morgana asked. "I won't let you help if it means you're going to have nightmares."
"Arthur's been gone awhile. I just wanted to check on things," Merlin told her sincerely. "What's happening?"
"We think that maybe Arthur is the source that Morgause used," Morgana told him nervously. She knew Merlin wasn't going to be happy.
Merlin sighed. "I figured as much," he said grumpily.
"You knew?" Morgana and Arthur said at the same time.
"I figured it out a long time ago," Merlin admitted. "Morgause wanted to hurt me. This was the best way for her to do that."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Morgana asked angrily.
"You know perfectly well why. If it is him, it doesn't change anything," Merlin warned her.
"I can't watch you go on like this. If he's willing…" Morgana started to say.
"He can't possibly understand what we're asking of him," Merlin cut her off.
"He is sitting right here and would like to know what the hell you are talking about," Arthur said.
"It's dangerous. If it is you that is the source, stopping that power flow from you is risky. We would have to bring you to the brink of death. I'll not risk your life like that," Merlin warned him.
"I don't care what you have to do. I trust you. I know you won't let any harm come to me," Arthur told him.
"You could die," Merlin pointed out.
"You've saved my life enough times for me to know my time was up a long time ago. If this kills me then so be it. At least I'll die knowing that I saved a good man," Arthur told him.
"I can't…" Merlin started to say.
"This isn't your decision to make," Arthur told him. Arthur held his breath and downed the potion in one gulp. The moment the liquid was gone, Arthur felt the strangest sensation as if he were weightless.
"You were right," Morgana whispered. "It is you."
"How can you tell?" Arthur asked curiously.
"Look up," Morgana told him. Arthur looked up to see what looked like a cloud of wispy, black smoke above his head. "The smoke symbolizes fire. You are the fire that is fueling the spell."
Arthur nodded. He would be lying if he said he wasn't terrified. The fact that he had to almost die was frightening, but he also knew Merlin would never intentionally let harm come to him. "What now?"
"We're going to use the same potion we used when your father married that troll," Gaius told him. "It will bring you to the brink of death and when this mark fades, we'll give you the antidote."
Arthur suddenly understood what Merlin had meant when he said that Arthur could die. "How long will it take for the mark to go away?" Arhtur asked.
"We do not know," Gaius admitted. "We only know that when the mark is gone, you have gotten close enough to death for the spell to be broken. It could be seconds, but it could be minutes."
"It could also be there until you truly pass over," Merlin told him. "You don't have to do this."
"I know," Arthur told him. "But I want to do this. You've suffered so much because of me. It's the least I can do. Is the potion prepared?"
"It has been for some time my lord," Gaius told him. "Are you certain you wish to do this?"
"Yes," Arthur said confidently.
Gaius nodded. "Morgana, get Merlin away from here. Stay with him until I come for you," Gaius told her.
"What?" Merlin asked outraged. "No! I'm staying right here!"
"You two have much to talk about and I'll not have you interfering with my work," Gaius warned him. "I promise you Merlin, if time is running out and the mark has not faded I will give Arthur the antidote. I will not let him die."
"But," Merlin started to object.
"Gaius is right," Morgana said. "Let him work in peace. There's nothing more you can do right now."
"But," Merlin tried again.
"Merlin," Arthur said threateningly. "Don't forget why I came here."
Merlin look up at Arthur surprised. He sighed, knowing this was one argument he didn't have a chance of winning. "Don't think this means I won't be able to see you," Merlin warned.
"I would expect nothing less from you my boy," Gaius said with a small, affectionate smile.
Morgana ushered Merlin out of Gaius' chambers just as Arthur drank the liquid that would bring him to the brink of death. Gaius laid Arthur down comfortably and stared at the black smoke, hoping beyond hope that this would work.
Merlin followed Morgana back to her chambers. He had spent many nights there, simply because Morgana refused to allow him in Gaius' chambers when she was working. "What did Arthur mean?" Morgana asked him.
"I asked him to talk to you because there was something I needed to do and I couldn't do it until he had made peace with you," Merlin told her. His heart was beating in his ears and he wasn't entirely sure he would be able to ask her the question he had been dying to ask her.
"Which was?" Morgana asked uncertainly.
"How did your conversation go?" Merlin asked her, ignoring her question.
"Really well," Morgana told him. "Honestly, better than I had any right to expect. I think we're going to be okay." She couldn't help the relieved laugh that left her. "I really think that me and Arthur are going to be okay."
Merlin smiled at her. "I'm glad to hear that," he told her sincerely.
"Will we be?" Morgana asked him. All traces of her earlier amusement were gone.
"Will we be what?" Merlin asked her confused.
"Will we be alright?" Morgana asked him. Something felt heavy in her throat as she spoke.
"Morgana," Merlin started to say.
"Don't," Morgana told him. "Let me say what I need to say. You've been so distant lately and I understand that what I did was wrong, so if it was too much for you just tell me. I'll understand, I will."
"It wasn't too much for me," Merlin assured her. "If I've seemed distant lately, it's merely because that's what I needed to do to remove myself from temptation."
"I'm not following you," Morgana said, her eyebrows knitting together with confusion.
"You've had an incredible amount of stress put in front of you lately. I needed to wait for you and that was something I was willing to do," Merlin assured her.
"Do you remember how many times you've complained about the great dragon refusing to out-right say anything?" Morgana asked him. "You're doing that."
"That's because I don't know how to say it," Merlin explained. "I've never been trained in this." He looked up at her and studied her soft features and the endless blue in her eyes that he frequently lost himself in. It was there that he found the courage to say what he needed to say. He may not have the words, but he has the courage to try to find them. "I love you so much, more than I've ever loved anyone. I honestly believe that you remind me why I am here. You showed me that there is more to my life than Arthur and I would have gone mad long ago if it weren't for that."
"That's not true," Morgana argued.
"Believe me. It is," Merlin told her. "But more than that, you loved me when I believed no one would be able to do that. There is something I've wanted to ask you, but I wanted to wait until I knew your attention wouldn't be divided. It's the reason I've been so distant, because I'm still a man and the temptation to do something dishonorable was very strong."
"Are you saying that… That you want to…" Morgana started to ask. Her cheeks flushed a deep pink and she was unable to finish her thought.
"Yes," Merlin said honestly.
"But that would mean that you want to…" Morgana said. She
"Yes," Merlin repeated. "But in order to do that, I need an answer from you."
"I will give you an answer once you actually ask me the question," Morgana told him.
"Do you two ever get tired of this?" A new voice asked. "I've been listening for a while and you haven't said much of anything."
Merlin and Morgana both turned to see Arthur standing in the entrance. "You're alive," Merlin whispered.
Arthur nodded. "And curse free," he said with a smile. "The smoke disappeared before Gaius gave me the antidote. Now get on with it. Ask her."
"Morgana, will you…" Merlin started to say.
"Yes!" Morgana said eagerly. She wrapped her arms around Merlin and Arthur turned his back on them. He didn't need to see this.
He couldn't help but chuckle to himself. He didn't know how he had missed it before. The love they shared shone brighter than anything he had ever seen.
For the first time in weeks, Arthur felt something. It took him a long time to find a word for his feeling, because even when his father had been alive, he hadn't experienced it often. He felt hopeful.
He didn't know what the future would bring. Perhaps Merlin and Morgana would have children that would run around the halls of the castle one day. Perhaps Arthur would find love one day and have a child to call his own. Perhaps his people would come to see magic the way he saw it – as a force for good, not evil.
He wasn't sure what the future would bring, but for the first time he had reason to look forward to it.