Tainted Love (Part 2)

Gwen closed her eyes and exhaled deeply. She was standing in the foyer of the Pendragon mansion directly in front of the main entryway, her arms folded across her chest. Her foot tapped softly against the marble floor, a conduit for her nervous energy.

"Relax, Gwen."

Before she could turn around, Arthur wrapped his arms around her waist. Gwen took a deep breath, taking comfort in his embrace.

"I don't think anyone is going to show up," she said with a resigned sigh. "You were right – it was too optimistic of me."

Arthur kissed the crown of her head. "It wasn't too optimistic," he reassured her. "There's nothing wrong about being hopeful. I think everyone just needs their space."

He was right, of course. No matter how much Gwen tried, she could not resurrect the spirit of Christmas. It had, understandably, flat lined after Freya's death.

He pulled her closer. "You'll just have to be okay with a very Pendragon Christmas this year."

She giggled as he pressed another kiss to her cheek. "I guess that'll do."

"Don't worry," Arthur reassured her. "I'll definitely make it worth your while."

His breath was hot against her neck as he pressed a kiss to her collarbone. She blushed and the heat seemed to spread across her body.

"Christmas is a wholesome holiday, Mr. Pendragon," she admonished, turning around in his arms to face him. "Santa's watching, remember?"

"Mmhmm," Arthur murmured, gently cupping her cheek in his hand. "You think I give a damn about Santa?"

He leaned in and kissed her, his lips pressing gently against hers. Her eyes fluttered shut and she grabbed a fistful of his sweater to keep her balance. A small moan escaped her lips as his tongue traced her bottom lip, seeking entry.

The sound of Mordred's thunderous footsteps caused the two to reluctantly pull away from each other. Within seconds, the boy rounded the corner, excitement written all over his face.

"Can we open presents now, daddy?"

Mordred tugged at his father's shirt, a pout on his face that would bring even the staunchest of fathers to heel.

Arthur chuckled and leaned forward to ruffle his son's hair affectionately. "We should wait until the guests arrive, Mor. You're already getting to open your presents a day early, you can wait a few more minutes."

Mordred exhaled dramatically.

"Arthur," said Gwen, placing a hand on his upper arm. "It's okay, really. I don't think the others are coming."

She knelt down until she was eye to eye with Mordred. "Have at it, Mordred."

"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Mordred grabbed his father's hand and dragged him in the direction of the living room. Arthur looked back at Gwen, adorably helpless against the pull of his son's small hands.

When they reached the living room, Arthur and Gwen plopped down next to each other on the leather couch.

"All right, kiddo," Arthur said. "Which present do you want to open first?"

Mordred furrowed his brow, thinking hard. "The red one!" He exclaimed, grabbing a medium sized box from the corner of the tree.

"That's from me," Gwen said with a small smile. "I hope you like it."

Mordred carefully lifted the top of the gift box. Inside was a bright red folded piece of fabric. He looked at it for a moment, confused, before he reached into the box and unraveled the neatly folded mound.

"It's a cape," Gwen said, a little nervously, "for your prince costume. I remember you saying you still needed one…"

Mordred held the cape in front of him in silence, his eyes focusing on the bright gold and green Pendragon logo stitched in the center.

"Uh… I made this one on my own but, if you don't like it, I can take you to the store to get you another one - "

"No!" Mordred shouted.

He stood up and looked more lost than Gwen had ever seen him. He stared at the cape intensely for a moment, before he approached her with a shy and uncertain expression.

He then all but shoved the fabric into her lap.

Gwen turned to Arthur for a moment, confused, then looked back at the fabric in her lap. Then, suddenly, she understood.

"You… want me to help you put it on?"

Mordred nodded, turning around quickly to avoid her gaze.

Gwen tied the cape around his neck in a neat bow and then smoothed the fabric down around his shoulders. "There you go-"

His tiny arms around her waist stopped her words in her throat. Gwen stilled for a moment, her arms suspended in surprise above the boy's head.

"Thank you," Mordred mumbled against her chest. "It's…really… I really like it."

She smiled and pulled him close, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "Happy Christmas, Mordred," she said warmly.

He wriggled out of her arms after a few moments and excitedly returned to his presents as thought the moment had never occurred. If it wasn't for the red cape around his neck, Gwen would have thought she imagined it.

"He's never taking that thing off," Arthur whispered to Gwen. "It'll be like his Spiderman Halloween costume from last year. He refused to wear anything else until Christmas."

Gwen giggled. "It's a good thing I didn't opt for the Spiderman onesie, then."

It took Mordred a mere 5 minutes to tear through the rest of his presents. Much to Arthur's dismay, Morgana and Merlin gifted Mordred a terrifyingly large jumbo box of Skittles, which Gwen discreetly hid this behind the couch when the boy wasn't looking. Arthur had opted for a less headache inducing present for his son – a large crayon full of Legos.

"Thanks, Daddy!"

"No problem, kiddo," Arthur said, ruffling his son's hair. "You were due for some new toys."

Gwen suppressed her urge to snort. She was certain Mordred had enough toys to supply a small country.

She suddenly felt a weight in her lap, pulling her from her thoughts. She looked down to find a small white box, outfitted with a large silver bow.

"Your turn," Arthur said, winking at her.

"Oh gosh," she said, feeling the heat rise to her face. "I haven't even opened it and I can tell it's expensive."

Arthur shook his head. "I promise you, I didn't spend a single penny on this."

"Good," she said, unraveling the ribbon around the box. "$50 dollar limit, remember? Even that's on the high end-"

She gasped.

Inside the box, sitting on a cloud of cotton, was the most stunning piece of jewelry Gwen had ever seen. It was inlaid with a garnet stone surrounded by tiny diamonds. The silver band was slightly weathered with age, which did little to damage its splendor.

The ring was so foreign to her in its opulence and, yet, eerily familiar at the same time.

"Now," Arthur said slowly, "technically, I didn't spend any money on this. My great-great-great-great grandfather did. This ring has been passed down in my family for generations. It even has the family crest on the band."

"Cheater," she mumbled.

"I like to call it bending the rules."

Gwen shook her head. "You're unbelievable."

"Do you like it?"

"Are you crazy? If course I do. It's… amazing," Gwen said. "I just… are you sure you want me to have this? It's so beautiful… I bet it's worth a fortune."

"It's not for sale." He pulled the ring out the box, gesturing for her hand. "May I?"

She nodded.

"It used to be a Pendragon promise ring," he explained as he slipped the ring onto her finger. "But don't worry about all of that old fashioned traditional nonsense. I just wanted you to have something of mine…something to remind you how much I love you."

Gwen blushed as she splayed her fingers in front of her eyes. "I…wow…thank you, Arthur. It's gorgeous."

He grasped her fingers, pressing a light kiss to the backs of her knuckles. "It suits you."

"You know," Gwen said, still looking in disbelief at the sizable ring now adorning her finger, "this is just downright unfair. My gift…it's not nearly as impressive. It's pretty basic compared to this."

She retrieved a rectangular package from underneath the couch and stared down at it in embarrassment. "On second thought, maybe I should just get you something else instead."

"Guinevere," Arthur said, almost sternly.

"Fine," she conceded, handing over the package. "It's just…don't laugh at it, okay."

"I would never," Arthur said, chuckling as he peeled away the carefully taped wrapping paper. "I'm sure it's-"

He paused and felt his breath catch in his throat as the wrapping paper fluttered to the floor.

It was a painting of a blonde woman in a crisp white dress and sunhat. She was standing below a bright pink cherry tree beside a glistening lake, holding a blonde little boy in her arms. They were both grinning ear to ear as they watched the sunset in the distance.

"It's you and your mother," Gwen said, watching him carefully. "I noticed… you didn't have very many photos of her around the house."

Arthur stared at the painting, running his fingers gently along the gold frame. "Where did you… how did you get this?"

"I found the photo lodged in one of the cookbooks downstairs," she explained. "I thought it would make a beautiful painting. Morgana did most of the work – but I can definitely take credit for the tree. Took me hours to get those leaves right…"

"You… have no idea what this means to me," Arthur said, finally looking away from the painting to look at her. "To this day, it's still hard to look at photos of her without remembering what my family has lost. But this… this is how she should be remembered."

Arthur gingerly placed the painting against the empty seat cushion. "Come here," he said, pulling her into his lap.

Gwen closed her eyes as she felt Arthur's lips against her forehead. "You're amazing, did you know that?" he whispered against her skin.

The light pressure of his hand against her hip sent pleasant shivers down her spine. "Can't say I've heard that before," she said, her voice sounding more breathy than she originally intended.

"I'm serious," he said, staring at her intently. "You bring so much joy to my life… to all of our lives. You have a way of bringing out the best in people, helping them shine brighter. You're like…"

"Sunshine," Gwen said, her mouth curving into a sad smile.

"Yeah," Arthur agreed, his eyebrows furrowing at her expression. "That's exactly it."

"That's… what my dad used to call me when I was little," Gwen said, staring back down at her lap.

She closed her eyes and she could picture his face, clear as day. His skin, the color of warm clay, was rough and weathered from years of working in the sun. Wide set eyes almond eyes, a broad nose, and thick lips made up his handsome face. And when he smiled, she always felt warmth spreading from the top of her hair to the tips of her toes.

She felt Arthur's fingers brush against her eyes, wiping her tears away. "Sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to dredge up bad memories."

Gwen shook her head. "No… thank you," she said, sincerely. "I just…this is the first time in a while that I've recalled a happy memory of my father since the accident. It's…nice."

Arthur opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by the sound of the doorbell. Gwen quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.


She stood up, a plastic grin on her face. "Coming!" she yelled as she made her way over to the foyer.

Gwen stood in front of the threshold for a few moments, collecting herself before she opened the door.

"Morgana!" Gwen said, leaning over to hug her friend. "I'm so glad you could make it!"

"You look beautiful," Morgana said, placing a kiss on Gwen's cheek. "Red is definitely your color."

Gwen felt her face grow warm at the compliment. "Thank you, Morgana. You look stunning, but that's a given."

Morgana had opted for a dark green dress that seemed to be molded to her slender frame. Elegant pearls adorned her ears and a single diamond pendant glistened right below her collarbone.

"Her ego is already as wide as this house, no need to encourage her."

Merlin stood behind Morgana, his shoulders hunched slightly forward as though his body would fold in on itself at any moment. Gwen had always known Merlin as a thin man, but he now looked gaunt, his eyes lacking their characteristic mirth.

"Merlin," Gwen said, as she wrapped her arms around his lanky frame. "So happy to see you – Arthur will be over the moon. He's missed you these last few weeks."

"I've missed him too, if you can believe it," Merlin said, returning the hug. "I missed his annoyingly loud voice, his horrible sense of fashion – "

"Is it your mission in life to constantly insult me?"

Arthur now stood behind Gwen, his arms crossed indignantly over his chest.

"No, that's strictly Morgana's domain," Merlin said, with a wry smile.

"Damn straight!" Morgana piped in.

"Good to see you, Merlin," Arthur said, leaning forward to hug his friend. "I'm glad you were able to make it. Christmas Eve wouldn't have been the same without you."

"It's not Christmas Eve without the Pendragons," Mordred said, grinning. "Besides, can you imagine what Morgana and I would have done without you? Get drunk and wallow in misery?"

Pain flickered in Morgana's eyes, but it was gone so quickly that Gwen thought she imagined it.

Arthur seemed to sense the tension. "We've already started to open presents," Arthur said, deftly changing the subject. "I promise I didn't get you a gag gift this year."

The two friends walked over to the living room while Gwen and Morgana made their way to the kitchen.

"How are you doing, really?" Gwen asked Morgana once they were out of earshot.

Morgana sighed as she grabbed one of the open wine bottles on the counter. "Like I seriously need a drink."

Gwen looked on in horror as Morgana knocked back nearly half the bottle, barely pausing to take a breath.

"I think that's enough for now," Gwen said, grabbing the bottle from her and setting it on the counter.

Morgana tilted her head towards the ceiling, closing her eyes for a few moments.

"It's like my own personal nightmare," Morgana said finally. "There's nothing worse than watching the person you love in pain. I feel so helpless sometimes and wonder if I'm doing him any good or just making it worse."

Gwen placed her hand on Morgana's shoulder. "He's definitely doing much better than he was a month ago. Remember when he wouldn't even leave his room? If it wasn't for you, he'd still be there."

Morgana gave Gwen a weak smile. "I know it's selfish of me – I mean, for God's sake, he just lost the love of his life. I can't expect him to bounce back immediately and be the same Merlin that I… that we know and love."

"You also can't be his caretaker forever," said Gwen, pointedly. "I'm sure he doesn't want you to throw your life away for him. It's not healthy for either of you."

"I know, I know." Morgana said, shutting her eyes. "It's so selfish of me. After everything I put that man through, after he lost Freya… I still have hope that we could…"

Morgana sighed.

"I still love him," she said, wistfully. "Can you believe that? After all these years, I still love him. My timing couldn't be any worse."

Gwen placed a comforting hand on Morgana's back. "Have you ever told him how you feel? I don't know what happened between you two in the past, but it might be better to talk through it -"

"I cheated on him, Gwen," Morgana said, cutting her off.


Morgana grabbed the bottle behind her before she Gwen could stop her and downed a quarter of the remaining wine.

"Guess the cat's out of the bag," said Morgana, looking down at the wine bottle with sad eyes.

They stood in silence for a few moments, neither of them knowing how to follow Morgana's explosive comment.

"Everyone makes mistakes," Gwen said, finally. "I'm sure it's been years – I doubt it's an open wound."

"It'll never not be an issue for us," Morgana continued, as though Gwen had not spoken at all. "I've accepted that whatever we had is broken irrevocably. But the least I can do is be there for him in the face of this heartbreak, since I wasn't there to pick up the pieces last time."

Gwen took Morgana's hands in her own and urged her friend to look at her. "Merlin loves you, Morgana, anyone who is around the two of you can see it. And someone who loves you doesn't want to see you in pain either. It's okay to share the burden sometimes, too. As much as you might think so, Merlin is not your responsibility. He needs to seek help in addition to your support."

Gwen squeezed Morgana's hands in reassurance. "I still have the number of the therapist I used when my dad died – she's very good at helping people work through their grief."

Morgana squeezed Gwen's fingers in return, "I'll… look into it," she said smiling weakly. "I appreciate you looking out for-"

She gasped as her eyes landed on the ring on Gwen's finger. "No way! Did he… did Arthur… are you two engaged?"

Gwen furrowed her brow. "No? Not unless you know something I don't?"

"That's the Pendragon family engagement ring," Morgana said, her eyes never leaving Gwen's fingers. "My idiot brother has never been one to remember these little details. He probably thought it was just another family heirloom."

Gwen's heart sank. "Engagement ring? Are you sure?"

Morgana nodded. "Absolutely. Though, if I remember correctly, Uther opted for a different ring for Arthur's mother. Which is strange because he's usually unnervingly traditional."

Realization dawned on Gwen's face as she remembered, with dread, where she had seen the ring before.

Her eyes landed on the nearly empty bottle.

"Pass me the rest of that wine, will you?"

"Alright, Viv, what gives?"

Leon glanced over at Vivian, who was sitting in the passenger seat. They were sitting in the car, parked outside of the Pendragon mansion.

"What do you mean?"

Vivian pressed her against the fogging glass of the window, turning away from him completely.

Leon crossed his arms. "You said you didn't want to go to the party and now, all of a sudden, you have the sudden urge to go?"

"I didn't want to go," she said after a beat. "But, as much as I loathe Gwen, I've never been one to pass up free booze."

"Uh huh," said Leon, unconvinced. "You know, as much as I try to understand you Vivian, I always seem to come up short."

"Maybe you should stop trying," she countered, still refusing to look in his direction.

I know you're ignoring me, sweet daughter of mine.

"I don't get it," he mused. "Just talk to me, Viv. I'm not an idiot – I can tell something's up."

That boy toy of yours won't last. Once I get my hands on him, he'll never look at you the same way again. Maybe I'll add him to my collection.

"Daddy, can we go inside now?"

Leon glanced at the rearview mirror and smiled at Annie who was squirming impatiently in the back seat. "Yes, honey, just a few more minutes."

"I want to give Mordred his present," she said, smiling down at the clumsily wrapped package in her lap. "I hope he likes it."

"Of course he will," Leon said, his eyes returning to the road. "I'm sure he'd love anything you picked out for him."

Annie's smile grew wider. "Do you think he'll like it, Auntie Vivian?" she asked, turning to the morose blond.

"Its just Vivian, kid," she said through gritted teeth.

"Oh," she said, looking crestfallen. "I didn't mean to make you mad."

Vivian eyes softened despite herself. "Sorry, kiddo, don't mind me," she said, finally straightening up. "I'm sure he'll be really happy when he sees it."

The smile returned to the young girl's face in an instant. "Can we go now, Daddy? Please?"

Leon chuckled. "Alright, love."

Vivian closed her eyes, reclining a little in her chair. Leon deserves to know the truth, she thought. If I tell him the truth, she'll lose her power over me.

"Hey," Leon said, wrapping his fingers around hers. "It's okay, if you're not ready to tell me. Just know that, whatever it is, I'm here for you."

She wanted to cry.

Instead, she made her way to the front of the Pendragon Mansion, Leon and Annie in tow.

In all her years of pursuing Arthur Pendragon, she had never once stepped foot in his home. While she wasn't at all from a humble background, even she had to step back and marvel at the grandeur of the place. She had dreamt of this moment for years and wondered what it would feel like to be welcomed to Arthur's home.

It felt hollow.

"Leon!" Arthur said, hugging his friend. "I thought you said you couldn't make it!"

"Our plans changed last minute," Leon said, sheepishly. "Hope you guys don't mind."

"Not at all!" Arthur said genially. "Come in and make yourselves at home."

"Hi Mr. Pendragon," Annie said, cheerfully.

Arthur grinned. "Hi there, princess. What's that you've got there?"

Annie blushed. "It's for Mordred. I hope that's okay.

"That's so sweet of you," Arthur said. "I'm sure he'll love it."

Vivian stood awkwardly in the doorway, eyes glued to her feet.

"You okay, Viv?"

Vivian lifted her head and met the concerned eyes of Arthur Pendragon. It was moments like these when she realized why she fell in love with him in the first place. He was a beautiful man, and she could still feel the embers of lust at her core when he looked at her. At one time in her life, she would have done anything to get him to look at her as he was now.

"I'm great," she said, flashing him a small smile, and stepping inside after him. "I hope this isn't a dry kind of event?"

Arthur chuckled, grabbing her coat. "Not at all. There is enough liquor to drink until your heart's content. Though, now I kind of wish we'd gone easier on the alcohol."

Vivian furrowed her brows. "Why's that?"


Arthur winced. "Let's just say some of us are really feeling the Christmas spirit."

Vivian, Leon, and Annie followed Arthur to the living room, where quite a bizarre scene was taking place.

Morgana, Gwen, and Mordred were in the middle of the room singing – no— passionately screaming the lyrics to Jingle Bell Rock while dancing in a manner that could charitably be described as tragically offbeat.

Merlin was trying valiantly to accompany them on the piano, but was failing miserably to underscore the atonal screams the trio was emitting.

"Hey, guys?" Arthur all but screamed. "Looks like we've got more company!"

The "music" stopped.

"Welcome, everyone!" Gwen said, nearly tripping over herself to get to them.

Arthur was quick to put an arm around her waist to steady her, and she smiled gratefully at him.

Even though Gwen was clearly drunk out of her mind, she and Arthur somehow still looked like the very picture of happiness. Vivian felt her lip curl in disgust.

She quickly scanned the wretched girl had to admit that she looked decent. She was wearing a red lace dress that hugged her curves modestly, and she had managed to tame her wayward curls into a neat bun, with a gold ribbon.

When Vivian's eyes landed on the garnet ring on Gwen's finger, she felt something snap within her.

"The party's barely started and the hostess is already wasted." Vivian said, sniffing disdainfully. "Classy."

She felt Leon's eyes on her, but she couldn't bear to look at him. This was not how the evening was supposed to go, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. It was just so unfair that this girl could be drunk off her ass and yet be treated like she was God's gift to man freaking kind.

This was the so-called face that launched a thousands ships? This was the girl her mother seemed to love more than her own daughter? It was laughable.

She watched with relish as Gwen's face crumpled in confusion.

"Oh, um, sorry. The wine was…a bit stronger than I thought."

"Hey, no worries," Leon said, cutting through the tension like a pro. "We're in your home and you're amongst friends. Nothing wrong with letting your hair down a little, love."

Gwen beamed at him and quite literally reached up and pulled her hair out of its bun, like a freaking L'Oreal commercial.

Arthur was gaping unabashedly at her like a fish on dry land. Leon looked on in amusement. It was all Vivian could stand.

She excused herself, angrily made her way over to the makeshift bar in the kitchen, and poured herself a glass of wine.

And another. And another. And another…

At this moment, there were two things Merlin knew for certain. One – Morgana was drunk out of her freaking mind, and giggle snorting like a banshee. Two – he was going to kill Arthur very slowly and painfully when he got out of this mess.

This mess being the monstrosity that was hanging over his and Morgana's heads


"Hey Merlin," Arthur had said casually. "We have some more Christmas piano music upstairs in the cabinet next to Mordred's room. Would you mind grabbing it for me?"

Why don't you grab it yourself? He'd wanted to say. Instead, he decided to be a Good Samaritan and party guest.

Being a Good Samaritan, as it turned out, was for the birds. When he arrived at the closet in question, Morgana was on her knees digging drunkenly through the bottom shelf.

"Hey," Merlin said whispered. "Need some help?"


Morgana emerged from the closet, rubbing the top of her head vigorously.

"Ack, sorry," Merlin said. "I wasn't trying not to startle you."

"Of course you startled me, you moron," Morgana said, scowling. "You have the loudest whisper I've ever heard. You might as well be screaming."

It was almost refreshing to hear her insult him. He hadn't heard so much of an insult from her lips since…

Freya. Since Freya. He could say that now.

"What are you doing up here?"

"Arthur wanted me to look for…some books. Though I can't seem to remember what kind of books he asked for…"

Merlin chuckled, and offered his hand to help her up, which she gladly took.

"I'm not sure why he sent us up here to find the same thing," Merlin said, "Something's fishy here…"

"Mistletoe," Morgana said, breathily.

"Bless you," Merlin said.

"No, silly," Morgana said giggling and pointing upwards right above the closet door. "Look."

Merlin followed the path of her finger and cursed under his breath.

"I'm going to kill your brother," Merlin said through gritted teeth. "In fact, let's kill him together. We don't have to participate in this silly ritual."

Morgana looked up at him, her eyes wide. "Would it really be that bad?"

Merlin paused for a moment, confused. "What do you mean?"

"Kissing me," she said. "Would kissing me…really be that bad?"

She placed her arms loosely around his neck, but kept the distance between them, as though seeking permission.

She's drunk, Merlin thought. She doesn't mean it… she couldn't possibly mean it.

"This is a bad idea," he said, more to himself than to Morgana. Nevertheless, he snaked his arms loosely around her waist and pulled her close to his chest.

He'd avoided looking at her in this dress all night, knowing what it would do to him. Now that every inch of her body was pressed tightly to his own, he could barely stand to look away. She was gorgeous. She had always been so impossibly gorgeous.

And he had always been at her mercy.

So when she stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips firmly to his, he didn't resist. It had been nearly a decade since he had tasted her lips – he'd forgotten how good she felt, how well their bodies fit together.

He pushed her into the wall adjacent the closet, parting her lips with his tongue with one swift movement. She let out a soft moan, clinging tightly to his neck to keep herself steady. He was relearning her body after all these years, sliding his arms up her sides, feeling the curve of her body beneath her dress.

His hands stopped just beneath the curve of her breasts, itching to slide beneath the deep V of her gown.

"Merlin," Morgana said breathily against his lips.

Everything came crashing down at the sound of her voice. He pulled away from her, dropping his hands to rest lightly on her waist and pressing his forehead to hers.

"I shouldn't have done that," he whispered. "I really shouldn't have done that. God I'm such a fucking mess."

Morgana reached up to cup his cheek in his hand, forcing him to look at her.

"I love you," she slurred.

Merlin felt his breath catch in his throat. The whole world stopped for a moment. He couldn't think. Couldn't breathe.

When he was a boy, there was nothing he wanted more in the world than to hear her say those words. But he had never imagined it like this... not now. Not when she could barely strong two words together. Not now, when he was still paralyzed by grief, drowning in loss. It was like some cruel joke.

He looked into her eyes, searching for an ounce of deceit in their depths. They were bleary and unfocused – he could tell she was exerting a lot of effort to keep her eyes trained on his face.

"You're drunk," was all he said after a few moments. "You don't know what you're saying."

She let out a noise that was halfway between a groan and a gurgle. "I get it," she said breaking their gaze. "You don't love me. It's o-okay. You don't have to love me back," she said, breaking their gaze. "I just wanted… I needed you to know."


She shook her head vigorously and backed away from him. "You're right. I'm totally drunk. I have no idea what I'm saying. Let's just…forget this ever happened, okay?"

"Hey," Merlin said, grabbing her wrist before she could leave. He spun her around so that she was flush against his chest for the second time that evening. "I've waited all my life for you to say that. Do you think I'd let you get away that easily?"

She looked up at him, her eyes shinning with tears. "Really?"

"Really," Merlin said, wiping her tears away with his thumb. "I've never stopped loving you, not once."

She laid her head on his shoulder. "But I ruined everything," she said, her voice uncharacteristically small.

"We were both at fault for what happened," Merlin said, rubbing a calming hand down her back. "You were going through so much back then and, as much as I tried, I couldn't help you. You found someone that could. What you did…broke me. I wanted to hate you for it, but I knew I couldn't do that. Because…. you were suffering too. And the thought of losing you forever was more than I could bear."

He pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

"I won't lose you again," he said, resting his cheek atop her head. "I just need time. Freya…it still hurts. It'll always hurt. But, if you'll wait for me… if you'll still have me-"

Morgana gripped him even tighter, as though afraid that he would slip away at any moment. "You're such an idiot," she said, choking back sobs. "Of course, I'll still have you."

He let out a sigh of relief he didn't realize he was holding. "Thank god," he whispered. "Because I've missed you, my impossible girl."

He felt her laughter against his chest as he closed his eyes, holding onto to her, not ever wanting the moment to end.

He suddenly saw Freya's smiling face flash in his mind and, for the first time since her passing, he didn't feel crippling guilt and sadness as he thought of her. The pain was still there, but it was less acute, duller somehow.

I will always be with you. Always.

He smiled.

Everything was going to be okay.

Hey guys! So sorry it took me so long to get this up… I had a chapter on my computer for a while and I just never got around to putting the finishing touches on it. It's still very much my goal to finish this story, however long it takes me…

I broke this up into two chapters because it was way too much drama for just one part. Tons of confrontations next chapter, including a scene I've been looking forward to writing since I first posted this story.

I hope people are still interested in reading this story… I've enjoyed engaging with all the reviewers over the years and am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.