A/N: Whew! Well, this was only supposed to be two chapters. I have no idea where those extra twelve came from, but I sincerely hope you enjoyed the ride! This is basically an epilogue-ish chapter to tie everything together and fill in some gaps I haven't gotten to.
Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed. I really do love hearing your thoughts! Special thanks to Catindahat, Kizzia, MegElemental, Mnemosyne77, Rashaka, Terapsina, WinterStorrm - all of whom reviewed every chapter, most chapters, or more than one chapter. (If I missed anyone, I apologize.) And double thanks to Mnem, who participated in this prompt fic challenge with me. I'm still amazed that our stories turned out so differently (although I admit to losing the prompt way back in chapter four on this one, haha.) Do go check out her epic, I Love to Serve, if you haven't already.
Now that this story's done, I do have a few more ideas floating around in my head. I have plans for three very different one-shots, all with a Merlin/Morgana bent. With the end of the semester right around the corner, I'm not sure when I'm going to have time to write them, but be sure to keep an eye out for them!
For me it's a glance, and the smile on your face
The touch of your hands, and an honest embrace
For where I lay, it's you I keep,
This changing world I fall asleep
With you, all I know is
I'm coming home.
- "Home," Vanessa Carlton
Morgana leans against the archway, arms crossed and a smile on her face as she watches her husband chase their newly-crawling daughter around their chambers.
"You spoil her, you know."
Without looking up or pausing in his pursuit, Merlin grins and answers, "I know. But she's our first-born daughter. She is healthy, intelligent, and beautiful. It is my God-given duty to spoil her."
She laughs. "Yes, but among you, your mother, Gwen, Morgause, even Arthur, this poor child will grow up to be like me."
Merlin turns his head. "What? Beautiful and passionate? With a noble heart? Then I welcome it! Let's spoil her rotten!"
"I'm serious, Merlin," Morgana protests feebly as she uncrosses her arms and walks inside the room.
Merlin, still smiling, catches Hunydd in his arms and spins her about, and the little girl giggles in delight.
"So am I," he says, walking over to Morgana. "We already know she's inherited your beauty. If she grows up and also has your heart, your spirit, then I will feel more than blessed. Although," he adds as an afterthought, "if your alarming tendency to act before thinking happens to skip a generation, I can't say I'll be disappointed."
Rolling her eyes, she pushes him gently on the shoulder.
"You better watch it, my love," she says with a smirk as she makes to move past him, "or you'll be back in your old quarters tonight."
Unfazed by the threat, Merlin shifts Hunydd to one arm, catches her about the waist, and presses a soft kiss to her lips.
"Mmm," Morgana murmurs, eyes closed in contentment, "apology accepted."
The first time Hunydd does magic is when she's three days old, and the toy horse Mordred's carved for her starts to rock on its own.
The first time Hunydd does magic on purpose (they think; it's still hard to tell) is when she's just over a year old. She's sitting in a chair Merlin's commissioned from the carpenter, watching curiously as her parents squabble.
"Honestly, Merlin," Morgana fumes quietly, refusing to look at her husband as she twists her hair onto her head, "I haven't seen you in four days and you choose to spend your afternoon off reading?"
She scowls, and not even the sight of the beautiful spring day through the window can lighten her expression. He's been off on some fool's errand with Arthur and Mordred for the past four days, and the only thing he wants to do is bury his nose in some damn book.
Merlin, lying on the bed with his head propped up against a pillow, doesn't even look up. "We've been riding all morning and half the night. I'm sorry if I'd just like to relax."
"It used to be that you'd relax in my presence, not need to ignore me in order to do so."
His brow knots. "Morgana . . ."
Rolling her eyes, she gathers up the plans for the new village school that are spread out over the table. She'd been planning to ask his opinion and finalize them before showing Arthur, but, as Merlin has no interest in talking to her, she can work on them just as well in the library. There, it will be quiet, and she will at least be out of his hair.
"I hope you and your books are very happy together," she tells him, her voice colder than she means it to be.
"Come, Morgana. You are overreacting," he protests weakly. "I don't object to you being here. In fact, why don't you come read with me?"
"I need to finish these plans. At least Arthur pays attention to me," she replies with pursed lips.
She moves to leave the room, but her attention is caught when the book Merlin's been reading floats past her eye line. She turns to regard him curiously, but he's already sitting up in bed, a tinge of anger etched into his features.
"You didn't . . . ?" she trails off.
"Well, you didn't have to take my book," he complains.
"I didn't take your book!"
Understanding dawns on his face, and, simultaneously, they turn their bewildered gazes upon Hunydd, sitting neglected in the middle of the room. She's giggling, her eyes wide and her fingers waggling as she follows the tome's progress until it finally drops onto the floor with a thud.
Morgana's eyebrows shoot up as she watches her daughter. "Did you teach her that?" she asks Merlin.
"No!" he shakes his head with a smile. "But did she just do what I think she did? On purpose?"
"I think so."
Scrambling to his feet, he lets out a peal of laughter, sweeps Hunydd into his arms, and bestows a kiss on her forehead.
"Well, my little fay," he says, "it looks like you take after me after all!"
Morgana crosses her arms. "Wait a minute. We don't know that she doesn't take after me yet. We simply have to wait a little longer to find out.'
"Well, I think you'd agree, love, that since this ability manifested first, it will obviously be her strongest. Therefore, she takes after me."
"That's absurd. Her strongest abilities will need time to develop, which means that the first ability she shows will be her weakest."
"No, that's just . . . silly," Merlin stammers. Looking down at Hunydd, he says, "Tell your mother she's being ridiculous. You obviously inherited my magic."
With a roll of her eyes, Morgana stretches her hand out to brush Hunydd's hair back from her forehead and opens her mouth to continue the argument.
Down the corridor, a queen is celebrating her king's return with a warm embrace. Only here, in this room, in this marriage, is a quarrel a testament to affection. Only here can a wife express differing opinions than that of her husband and still draw a smile from him.
But a relationship where both parties agree all the time quickly grows stale, boring.
Watching Merlin turn red as he tries to defend his position, Morgana grins.
After all, what's life without a little spice?
There's a balance they're still learning to achieve.
Their advising duties are important. After all, Arthur's trying to carve out a kingdom, built on truth and justice, and he needs their help. But sometimes they're so busy that they barely see Hunydd all day.
Even knowing that Hunith is looking after her little girl doesn't stop the ache in her heart when she's away all day – or for days at a time – on royal business. At the least, she and Merlin try to take turns running back to their chambers for a mid-day visit.
Tonight, Merlin's sneaked out of a state dinner to spend more time with their daughter, and Morgana is finding it difficult to concentrate on the conversation taking place around her.
Gwen clears her throat and gently pokes her in the arm. "Are you feeling all right, Morgana?"
Morgana offers a smile. "Just a little tired, that's all."
"No one will be offended if you retire early. Why don't you go get some rest?"
"Thank you, my Queen."
As she rises, so does Arthur. He takes her by the arm and, leaning in, says quietly, "Will you check on Thomas for me?"
"Of course. Good night."
"Sleep well, Morgana."
She makes her way through the castle, up the stairs, and down the corridor to the set of rooms she and her husband share. Exhausted by the day, by the dinner, she's not prepared for the sight that greets her.
Merlin, apparently worn out as well, is already sleeping, and curled up against his chest is Hunydd, her face buried in his shirt, her small hand latching on to his finger.
Her heart swelling, Morgana tiptoes across the room and leans down to plant a kiss on each of their foreheads. Tenderly, she scoops the child into her arms. Hunydd whimpers softly, stirring into a more comfortable position her chest, but she doesn't wake.
"Hush, now," Morgana whispers, her breath teasing Hunydd's soft dark locks.
She carries her down the hall to the nursery, places her gently in her crib, and tucks the blankets around her. Thomas is already sleeping soundly in the neighboring crib, his nurse keeping watch from a rocking chair in the corner.
A smile tugging at her lips, she leans over the crib and reaches down to run a thumb across Hunydd's pale cheek.
"Daddy's mine tonight, okay, love?" she murmurs. "But in a few days, King Iwan and Queen Eleanor will be gone, and you, Daddy, and I will go for a picnic. How does that sound?"
She lets out a tired sigh before bending down to kiss her cheek.
"Sweet dreams, my fay."
Quietly, she tiptoes from the room, bidding Alethea good night on the way out. Back in her room, she quickly strips out of her dress, dons a nightgown, and slips into bed. Merlin's still fast asleep, and she settles comfortably against him, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he breathes. Instinctively, Merlin shifts and winds an arm around her.
She sighs contentedly, amazed at how his touch can make the exhaustion seep out her bones, glad to simply be back in his arms.
The late-February day is unseasonably warm, and, as Arthur is busy training with his knights and Merlin is off teaching Mordred the ways of a sorcerer, Morgana and Hunydd decide to take advantage of the good weather and the leisure time. Hunydd, who is just a couple months shy of her second birthday, latches onto Morgana's hand and toddles her way through the forest on chubby legs that are becoming steadier with each passing day.
Mother and child have donned matching green cloaks for their morning excursion, the color blending in with the evergreens surrounding them. Morgana, a smile on her fair face, carries a picnic basket in one hand and guides her daughter with the other.
For one so young, Hunydd has taken a surprisingly-quick liking to the forest. She snatches at the insects that flit past her face, giggles in delight when Morgana offers a new flower to sniff, and insists on running her tiny hands and fingers over the bark and leaves of the trees and plants whenever they happen upon a new species – all with a dazzling look of wonder on her face.
Yes, Morgana decides, this is one thing in which she definitely takes after Merlin. And so they head toward the lake, Merlin's favorite spot and a spot that Hunydd has yet to know.
As they approach the bank, Morgana hears a pair of familiar voices.
Is that . . . Mordred? And Merlin?
Morgana stops walking abruptly, and Hunydd looks up in surprise. Holding a finger to her lips, she crouches down next to the toddler as they spy through the trees.
Sure enough, her husband is reclining against a tree, his eyes closed and face tilted toward the sun as he peels an apple with a knife. A few feet in front of him, Mordred sits cross-legged on a rock, lazily dangling a fishing line into the water. He's eighteen now, grown into a strapping young man, with pale features, intense grey eyes, and dark hair. Though he's less lanky and angular than Merlin, he could nearly pass as his brother.
Since Merlin began mentoring Mordred, the tension between them seems to have cooled slightly. They're still formal, not as good friends as Merlin and Arthur are, but still, it's progress. And Mordred's been happier than she's ever seen him.
Morgana narrows her eyes. "He's supposed to be teaching him magic," she whispers, more to herself than to Hunydd.
Hunydd simply giggles quietly, and Morgana goes back to watching the scene.
"Do you like it?" Mordred asks curiously.
"Like what?" Merlin responds without even opening his eyes. He pops a slice of apple into his mouth.
Merlin opens one eye to peer at his apprentice before quickly returning to his nonchalant bearing. "'Course I like it. Why?"
Mordred shrugs. "No reason."
Merlin sits up and glances suspiciously at the youth. Twisting his lips thoughtfully, he says, "You know that feeling you get after a battle, when you've beaten incredible odds and you're incredibly exhausted, but you can't rest because you're just running on energy and exhilaration?" When Mordred nods, Merlin grins and continues, "It's way better than that."
Mordred rearranges his fishing line before asking, "Does it matter to you? That she has magic?"
Merlin frowns, looking puzzled. "No. I mean, we share a connection because of magic, but that's not why I love her. I wouldn't love her any less if she had no magic."
Mordred finally turns around to look at his mentor. "So you don't think it matters if one person has magic and the other doesn't?"
"Is this about a girl?" Merlin asks with a smirk. A blush rises to Mordred's pale cheeks. Merlin chuckles. "Well, give it up," he says. "Who is it, then?"
Mordred smiles, and Morgana marvels at the sight. She's never seen them so relaxed together. She's never even seen them tease each other like this.
"You're not going to make me guess, are you?" Merlin complains.
Mordred lets out an exaggerated sigh. Hesitantly, he prompts, "Do you know Allison?"
Mordred nods, and Merlin's grin grows.
"Well, what's the matter?" Merlin asks. "Why don't you go talk to her?"
"She won't take me seriously," he shrugs.
"Mordred, you're a junior apprentice to the king. How can she not take you seriously?"
"I'm only eighteen. She's older than I."
"Trust me," Merlin says, waving his knife to emphasize his point, "just talk to her, get to know her. She'll listen."
"Is that how it happened with you and Morgana?"
Merlin tilts his head. "Er . . ."
"You were just a servant, I mean. How did you get her to notice you?"
"I didn't do anything," Merlin shrugs. "We just kind of came together, almost like we had to. Look," he continues, swiping a hand over his face as he struggles to explain, "maybe you shouldn't take us as examples. We're not exactly normal."
Mordred pulls his line from the lake and turns to look at his teacher. Even with his back to her, Morgana can imagine the intensity of his steely gaze.
"But, I see the way you act around each other, and it makes me wonder whether that's possible for everyone."
Morgana's heart nearly breaks at the confession. Mordred's always been an old soul, wise beyond his years, and that's isolated him. But even as she and Merlin and Gaius have struggled to show him that he has a family, if not a natural one, she's underestimated the importance of that kind of companionship that only stems from true affection between two people. She hopes he'll get to experience that soon, whether with Allison or with a woman who understands him. And she fervently hopes Merlin will help him with his crush on Allison.
After all, no one's meant to be alone.
"Yeah," Merlin answers, his voice low, "it's possible. But if you like this girl, you should show her."
"Bring her flowers. Or, if she likes to read, find a book she hasn't read yet, and tell her you think she'd like it. Just, show her you think about her."
Mordred nods, contemplating, and Morgana sees her chance as the boys sink into thoughtful silence.
"Hunydd," she whispers, "do you see that apple Daddy's eating?"
The girl nods, a mischievous smile on her face that she's inherited from her mother. "I take it?" she suggests, looking more excited at the prospect of playing a prank on her father than any twenty-two-month-old should.
"Exactly," Morgana grins. "Do you think you can?"
"Uh-huh," giggles Hunydd.
She stretches out a small hand and scrunches up her face in concentration, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. In a blink, the apple flies from Merlin's loose grip to Hunydd's outstretched hand, and the men's attention snaps toward the brush they're hiding behind.
"Very good," Morgana praises as her daughter laughs. Lifting Hunydd into her arms and standing up, she calls, "Don't worry. It's just us. We were passing by on our way for a picnic when we heard your voices, and Hunydd here decided to play a little trick on you. Isn't that right, love?"
Hunydd, beaming, holds up the half-eaten fruit and laughs, "I magicked your apple, Daddy."
"I see that," he says with a smile, standing and meeting them by the bank of the lake. Teasingly, he tweaks her nose and adds, "But if you were that hungry, my fay, all you had to do was ask!"
Hunydd laughs again as she shifts into her father's arms.
Merlin glances at Morgana suspiciously. "Were you spying on us?"
"Of course not. We were just passing by," Morgana scoffs with a gleam in her eye as she takes a seat beside Mordred. Turning to him, she asks, "Isn't he supposed to be teaching you magic?"
Before Mordred can respond, Merlin plops down beside her, Hunydd on his lap, and says, "Ah, but sometimes teaching is the absence of a lesson."
Morgana chuckles. "Of course. Well, Hunydd and I were about to have a picnic. We have enough food to share if you'd like," she offers, gesturing to the basket she's brought along. "That is, if you aren't already full from all the fish you've caught."
This time it's Mordred who pipes up. "It is not the number of fish caught," he tells her with mock sagacity, "but the amount of wisdom gained."
"Do you teach him things like this?" Morgana asks her husband with a laugh.
"Maybe," he replies with a smirk. "Maybe it's just the ancient knowledge inherently passed down from male to male in the traditional act of fishing."
"Please," she teases, "you don't even like fishing."
"That's why he does the fishing," Merlin chuckles, nodding to Mordred.
Mordred laughs. "And he does the sitting under a tree and watching."
Morgana shakes her head with a smile. They definitely have a strange mentor-student relationship, but it works for them. And no matter how ridiculous they are some times, they're her boys.
She wouldn't trade them for all the gold in the kingdom.
Morgana laughs softly as she watches Hunydd chase Thomas around the courtyard. The children are so young, so innocent. She sometimes wonders whether Hunydd has any idea of the implications behind the power she possesses.
But then, as Merlin would remind her, she's two.
She hears her husband making his way down the corridor, can tell from the soft tread of his footsteps, and something in the air shifts as he slips into the alcove.
"I thought you might be here," he says softly, sidling up next to her at the window and placing a hand on her back. "I only have a few moments, though. Arthur and I are supposed to take the princess's knights on a tour of the kingdom."
"Yes," she replies quietly, "and Gwen and I are to entertain the princess."
Visiting royals . . .
"What's the matter?" he asks. "I mean, besides that you have to act like a proper lady for a few days," he teases.
Keeping her gaze on the courtyard, Morgana asks, "Do you ever stop to think about it? I don't think I've quite understood what she's going to be until I've really stopped and actually tried to comprehend it."
"Think about what?"
"Hunydd, Merlin," she answers, looking up into his sea-blue eyes. "She's going to be more powerful than either of us."
His brow furrows slightly. "Does that worry you?"
She pauses thoughtfully and rests a hand on his chest. "I think it would have . . . ten years ago, before Uther was gone, before I had you."
"Morgana," he murmurs, sliding a hand to her cheek, "I never would have let your power destroy you, just as we will not let it change our daughter."
She smiles, marveling at how he can calm her heart with just a few words, and presses a soft kiss to his lips. "And I know you always keep your promises."
"That I do," he chuckles. He kisses her briefly again before pulling away. "I'm sorry, but I'm due at the stables. I'll see you at supper, though."
She nods. Smiling, he kisses her once more, a lingering goodbye kiss this time.
Sometimes all they have is a stolen moment in an alcove, but sometimes a moment is enough.
Morgana, letting out a soft sigh, settles into a more comfortable position. At the crest of a small hill, Merlin sits against a tree with her head pillowed in his lap, one hand of his resting on her stomach, swollen with child.
It's a beautiful late summer day – a gentle breeze wafts through the trees, the grass is soft against her skin, and the warm afternoon air provokes the most contented feeling of exhaustion. Her eyelids feeling heavier by the moment, she curls up and closes her eyes.
"Mmm . . ." she murmurs softly.
This, she thinks idly as she begins to drift into a lazy slumber, this is what bliss must feel like.
Merlin absentmindedly curls a lock of her hair around his finger.
"What's the matter?" she asks sleepily, her eyes still closed.
"Liar," Morgana accuses gently. "You only twist my hair like that when you're thinking deeply about something."
He lets out a soft snort of laughter. "Am I that easy to read?"
"Only to me."
With a sigh, she sits up and scoots beside him, slipping her hand into his and giving it an affectionate squeeze.
"I was just thinking about how far we've come," he tells her.
"And?" she prompts, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Without Arthur, I would still be a lowly servant, pining for you from afar. I just . . . it's hard to believe that, after all we've been through, we lead a life like this. We can sit here without a care in the world." He lets out a deep breath, smiling. "And we have a beautiful daughter."
"With another child on the way," she adds happily, resting her hands on top of his over her stomach. She lifts her head and adds, "But you're being too hard on yourself. Arthur would not be the king he is today without you."
"But we wouldn't be the family we are without him."
"Two sides of the same coin," Morgana murmurs contemplatively.
Before Merlin has a chance to respond, the sound of laughter fills the air. They turn in time to see three-year-old Hunydd racing up the hill, closely pursued by Thomas and his nurse, Alethea, who carries Arthur and Gwen's younger son William, still just an infant.
Hunydd, with a playful battle cry, launches herself upon her mother and shouts, "Mama! We're going to be late for the Michaelmas festival!"
"Nonsense, love, we still have lots of time," Morgana assures her.
Merlin tweaks his daughter's nose. "Don't worry. Arthur wouldn't dream of letting it start without you."
Hunydd giggles, settling onto Morgana's lap as Thomas toddles over to Merlin and looks up at him with wide eyes.
"All right," Merlin laughs, "you, too. Come here."
And he scoops the boy up in his arms.
"Maybe we should start heading back," he tells his wife.
She nods, and the six set off toward the castle again.
Hunydd, walking between her parents and swinging Morgana's hand, queries, "Is Aunt Morgause going to come with us to the festival?"
"She is," Morgana answers.
In fact, Morgana can't think of one person who won't be at the festival. The king and queen of course, because they're the type of rulers admired by the people, the type of rulers who take part in what matters to the common people. Gaius and Hunith will be there, as well as Alice, Caleb, and their children. She's even had word from Regulus that he means to attend.
The entire kingdom will be at the celebration, and there's excitement in the air as the party strolls through the streets on their return to the castle. As they walk, Morgana turns to look at Merlin, catching the gleam in his eye in the afternoon sun.
He's right. This isn't the life she would have pictured for herself all those years ago. They'd both been scared, been confused, been looking for a place to belong.
She smiles, feeling a familiar sense of peace suffuse her heart.
She's finally found it in him.