Title: Drowning In You
Summary: Someone is drowning young women in Camelot. With no motive and no suspects, Morgana must work out who the murderer is before she becomes the next victim…
A strange sense of emptiness woke Arthur.
He stretched his arm out to curl tighter round Morgana's body but his reaching hand found nothing.
His eyes snapped open.
Her side of the bed remained cold, only the barest impression of where she had lain left on the sheets. Refusing to panic unnecessarily he swung himself off the edge of the bed and pushed his boots back on, mentally tallying a list of places she could possibly be.
She was still weak, fragile despite Morgause's healing magic and she couldn't have walked far in her condition. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. How long had he been asleep for?
He opened the door to the Healing Rooms and took off down the corridor, restraining himself from running. After all, she was safe now. Safe in Camelot. With him.
He knocked briskly on her door, and went in without waiting for a reply. Expecting to see Morgana in her bedroom his stomach clenched in panic when he found the room as empty as it had ever been, with no sign she had ever visited it.
Turning on his heel he headed to the Great Hall instead, convinced that perhaps she had managed a visit to the throne room to speak to his Father. To show him how well she was.
His brisk walk had turned into a run and he couldn't deny it anymore. In fact he was running so fast that when he reached the Throne Room he barged straight through the doors and almost slipped on the blood that was spread thickly over the flagstones.
A sea of crimson covered the floor and now the doors were open it kept on flowing out into the corridor, out down the castle steps into the courtyard.
His boots were stained with it, the leather turning black and sticky as he watched it blankly, unable to quite comprehend what he was seeing.
So much blood.
He tried to close his eyes but he couldn't. They seemed to be glued open, forcing him to stare, stare at so much red.
Helplessly his line of sight was drawn towards the two thrones at the end of the room and the figures sat silently on them.
On the King's throne sat his own reflection, a perfect replica of himself wearing his Father's crown and his Father's frowning expression.
And beside him on the Queen's throne sat Morgana, her own face a perfect blank. Her eyes were sealed shut with tears and her head leaning back against the side of the chair was creased in pain, her body curled protectively up into a ball on the seat.
She was wearing a red dress that covered her arms and her neck and her legs completely.
Except Arthur knew the dress had originally been white and it wasn't material that covered her limbs but blood.
Flowing from her, great rivulets of it running down her chair, lapping over the steps to the dais, licking at his boots. More blood than one tiny human body should ever possibly be able to hold.
Beneath him his legs buckled.
Slowly, oh so slowly, he sank down to the floor, feeling the warmth of Morgana's blood seep into his clothes, her life's essence soaking him to the skin. His hands pressed against the fluid slicked floor and her blood ran into the creases in his palms, tracing the lines on his skin, settling in the hollows and dips of his sword roughened hands. Hands that had held her own lovely, soft, white hands only hours earlier.
He was going to be sick.
"You killed her then." The voice of his double rang out in the Hall, quiet but not accusing. It was a voice that simply stated the facts as though commenting on the weather. "Just like your mother."
Something ragged and wet tore in Arthur's chest and he forced out his denial. "No."
"Then why is there a sword in your hand?" replied his reflection calmly.
Arthur glanced down and there indeed was Excalibur clenched in his right fist, sticky black with Morgana's blood. He tried to let go but the sword was wrapped tightly in his locked fingers, like an extra appendage, fused. Part of him. The black red blood on the blade slowly began to creep up towards his fist, defying gravity as it began to trickle in rivulets up the steel.
"I wonder what she thought when you killed her?" his double asked idly. "Do you think she wondered why the man who claimed he loved her was killing her?" His double stood from his chair and leaned over Morgana, his eyes tracing her bleeding form with absent curiosity. "I wonder what hurt more? The wound or the pain caused by your betrayal?"
"Get away from her," Arthur murmured, rising to his knees.
"She can't feel anything, Arthur," his double replied amused. "She's just a corpse, remember?" He lifted Morgana's head up by her hair and then let go. It fell back heavily against the throne as though in slow motion and made a small wet sound as her skull cracked against the wooden arm. "See? You killed her and now she can't feel anything anymore. The damage is already done."
"Leave her alone!" Arthur yelled, struggling to his feet even as the blood sucked at his clothes and shoes. The black blood on the blade had reached his fingers now, and it was hot and thick as it wrapped around his wrist like a shackle.
"Oh, Arthur. Always so valiant. But where is the honour in defending a dead woman?"
"I won't let you hurt her."
His double laughed and picked up Morgana's body carelessly. "No, you already did that well enough all by yourself."
Arthur forced his legs to move through the rising tide of blood. It was creeping up his calves, thick as mud and scalding hot but he had to reach her. "Put her down."
His mirror-self ran a finger down her face calmly. "It's strange isn't it? How you always kill the women who love you? It's almost like you don't want to be loved. Like you don't deserve it. Because you know you're a monster."
"I said. Put. Her. Down."
His reflection blinked slowly and then shrugged his shoulders. "As you wish."
And then he tipped Morgana's body out of his arms.
Arthur lunged for her as she dropped but the blood was rising higher and higher now and it was pulling his legs. He couldn't reach her.
Still she fell.
The room began to collapse in around him, the blood rising higher and higher until it formed walls and he couldn't see Morgana anymore. She was gone and he was cut off from her by a sea of red. The blood was nearly at the Hall ceiling now, poised above his head. Waiting to crash down.
His last thought was of her.
And then the blood swamped him, raining down on his head, covering his body and he was choking, engulfed in a swirling tornado of blood and he was drowning in it. In her.
"Arthur! Arthur, wake up." Morgana was shaking him frantically. "You're having a nightmare."
His eyes snapped open and he realised he was still on her bed. He was still in the clean white space of the Healing Rooms. He hadn't moved.
She hadn't died.
Her cool fingers pressed gently against his face and kissing them he curled into her and clutched her close, shuddering against her body as her dress grew wet where his head lay.
"It's all right," she murmured soothingly. "It wasn't real, it was just a dream." She combed her fingers through his damp hair and pressed her head against his. "I'm here and everything's fine. I'm here, Arthur. I'm here."
But all Arthur could see was the crimson dress and the never ending flow of blood. Wondered just how long she'd be here for.
Arthur was staring out of the window fingering his dagger when Bridget walked into his rooms.
"Thank you for knocking," he said, but his voice lacked the customary teasing note it normally held, almost as though he couldn't really be bothered to battle with her today.
"I've always found that announcing one's presence is highly overrated," she replied airily. "I always hear the most interesting things when no-one thinks I'm there."
Arthur sighed. "Is there a point to this visit?"
"We need to talk," she said seriously, shutting the door behind her. "About you."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"It must be something. You've been like this for a week."
Bridget stamped her foot impatiently. "Silent. Brooding. Restless. Watching Morgana like a hawk but barely speaking to her."
"Morgana is still healing and needs peace and rest. And I have not been brooding and restless. The kingdom has needed calming after the recent turbulence of the past weeks and I've been busy sorting out guard duties and matters of state."
Bridget folded her arms. "And that doesn't sound rehearsed at all."
"Are you accusing me of lying?" Arthur's voice was poised low but he sounded tired more than threatening.
"No, I'm accusing you of avoiding the question. Of avoiding us. I want to know why."
"You're not my Father."
"No," she said pointedly, "I'm your friend. Why won't you tell me what's wrong? We're all worried about you."
Arthur sighed and pressed his head against the cool stone of the window arch. "I-" he hesitated. "It's stupid."
"It's not stupid. Please."
Arthur sank down onto the window ledge, back resting against the glass. He couldn't or wouldn't meet her eyes. "Every night I see her. Morgana. I-I dream that she's dead. There's so much blood. I kill her and she just keeps bleeding," he croaked.
"It's just a dream, Arthur, it isn't real."
"I know that," he snapped angrily, but then reigned in his temper at the sight of her chastened expression. "Sorry. It's just that it did happen. I almost killed her. I stabbed her and she almost died. It's my fault and I see it every time I close my eyes."
"But she didn't die. She's recovering well and missing you-"
"But don't you see?" Arthur interrupted harshly. "The closer I get to Morgana, to anyone, the more in danger they become. I could hurt her just by being with her."
"You're hurting her now with her absence. She thinks she's done something wrong." She lowered her voice. "Morgana thinks you hate her because you've remembered she used magic. That you've changed your mind about how you feel and that's why you've been avoiding her."
"No," he exclaimed loudly. "I would never think that! I don't care that she uses magic, I don't care about her dreams being visions-"
"Because you love her."
Arthur looked at her steadily for a moment. Then he nodded tightly.
"Then don't you think you ought to tell her that?"
When Arthur knocked on Morgana's door it was Uther who answered.
Arthur stuck his head round the door and didn't meet Morgana's eyes. "Father. Could I have a word with Morgana, please? In private?"
"Of course." Uther squeezed her hand and kissed the crown of her head. "I'll see you tomorrow, Morgana. We'll talk more then."
As the bedroom door closed Arthur took the vacant seat beside the fireplace and idly warmed his hands against the roaring blaze. Gwen had banked it high and the room was cosy and warm, though he noticed Morgana was wearing her thickest dress and was surrounded by a mound of brightly stitched blankets.
He realised she was waiting for him to say something. "You've upgraded from the bed to the chair then. Gaius must think you're improving."
What might have been a smile flickered across her face but it was gone before he could be sure. Instead she nodded and gazed at the fire, dark hair sliding forward to veil her face in shadow.
"Yes. Personally I think I'm well enough for a walk outside of my room but Gaius doesn't want me to rush anything and of course Uther frets and agrees." Seeing the unasked question in his eyes Morgana continued. "Your Father was asking me if I remembered anything from being possessed by the Fossegrim." She hesitated. "I thought it best to tell him I don't remember much and that the little I do is blurred and half recalled, almost like I'm floating in a dream or underwater for a very long time."
In the awkward silence that fell, Morgana fiddled with the blankets across her legs. The top one was dyed red with gold stars and dragons embroidered on it and with a stab of recognition he knew it as the one his Mother had stitched whilst she had been pregnant with him.
It had lain over the bed in the unused Queen's apartments ever since he had been born. Arthur had only ever seen it a handful of times and only when he was very sick. His Father would bring it out of his Mother's rooms and tuck it over him and if he breathed very deeply then he imagined he could still catch the very faint scent of his Mother- lilies and star jasmine.
He wondered if Morgana knew who had made the blanket and what it meant. Wondered if she knew how much his Father loved her for him to offer it to her now.
He realised that she was watching him from beneath her lashes.
"I know what you've come to say," she said eventually.
"I'm sorry," they said in unison.
Arthur's brow creased. "Why are you apologising?"
"Because I lied to you - I didn't tell you I was using magic, I didn't tell you my dreams were prophetic," she bit her lip, "though I've wanted to – tried to on several occasions." She met his eye boldly as though she wasn't afraid of his rejection, of his disgust, but he knew her too well to be fooled by her façade of control. "Are you very angry?"
He shook his head and took the hand that rested upon his Mother's blanket. "I understand why you said nothing."
Morgana glanced down at their hands and slowly twined her fingers with his. "Then, what are you apologising for?"
"Bridget made me realise I've been acting like the biggest fool these past few days. I let my fear of losing you almost drive me away."
"Arthur," she interrupted, "you're not going to lose me."
"I almost did and it was my fault," he pointed out impatiently.
"We've been through this, there was nothing else you could have done; you didn't have a choice-"
"But that doesn't change the fact that I still feel the guilt!" he argued, rising from his chair. "For the love of Camelot, Morgana, I'm the reason you almost died!"
Her eyes sparked and she gently pushed his Mother's blanket away as she rose too, unsteady but determined as Arthur watched her carefully, ready to catch her if she wavered.
Her cheeks flushed, she crossed her arms and frowned. "And don't you see that I love you and that I don't care about what happened? You were trying to save your friends; you were trying to protect Camelot and your people- why can't you see that that doesn't make you a monster?"
And suddenly Morgana realised that Arthur was looking at her with an indecipherable expression.
"What did you say?" he whispered.
"I said that I don't care about what happened down by the lake because you were doing your duty-"
"No before that, you said that you love me."
Morgana frowned and took a step back. "No I didn't."
"Yes you did." A slow grin was spreading over his features as he moved forwards to narrow the distance once more. "I distinctly heard you say that you love me before you started to berate me about my position as Prince."
Morgana had gone white. "I…I think you're hearing things, Arthur Pendragon. As if I would ever say that-that…."
"You love me?" he finished gently. "If it helps, I love you too."
Morgana's eyes filled with tears. "I-" she crossed her arms stubbornly. "This is completely ridiculous, as if I would ever say something like that to you. Perhaps I should ask Gaius to examine you; he should be coming by in a few minutes-"
Arthur gave her a knowing smile and tugged her closer to him. "Morgana," he muttered. "Do shut up."
Silencing her outraged protest he kissed her, pressing his lips firmly against her own as his arms slid around her waist. He felt her hands rest across the breadth of his shoulders and she sighed into his mouth as she began to kiss him back. Mindful of her still healing body he kept his touch light; his mouth pressing delightfully unhurried kisses to her mouth even as Morgana moved impatiently against him, sliding her body flush against his. Her fingers curled into his hair, nails raking along his scalp and he shivered. He felt her satisfied smile against his lips and growled, casually trailing one hand up her side, deliberately brushing against her thigh, her hip, her breast, so that she gasped into his mouth as his fingers ran back down to splay into the arch of her back.
She pulled away, one eyebrow arched even as he took in her flushed cheeks and rumpled hair, held as she was within the circle of his arms.
"Well?" he asked lazily, the sly light of victory in his eyes.
"Fine," she admitted petulantly. "I do love you, despite my better judgement and against the advice of our friends."
"Now Morgana, there's no need to sound so sour about it," he chided playfully.
"Then don't sound so smug," she retorted before linking her arms around his neck and pressing her mouth against his, effectively ending any further conversation.
Two days later and Gaius had deemed Morgana fit enough to leave her bedroom and make it down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Uther had greeted her enthusiastically and helped her to her seat and now the two of them sat exchanging pleasantries, even as Arthur watched her with a quiet look of affection on his face.
Bridget watched the two of them shrewdly over her porridge, even as she heaped honey, cream and cinnamon into her bowl. She caught Merlin's eye.
He rolled his and mimed being sick.
Bridget smiled into her breakfast as Arthur noticed what his servant was doing and silently threw a bread roll at his head.
Uther, oblivious as usual, saw nothing.
As Merlin brushed crumbs from his hair Lord Bedworth wandered into the Great Hall and seated himself at the table beside his daughter.
"Last day today then, Bridget. I hope your maid has packed your trunks?"
Bridget's smile dipped and she nodded. "Yes Father, Gwen's exceptionally organised."
"And have you any plans?" he asked, as Merlin placed a steaming bowl of porridge and a rack of toasted bread before him.
Morgana put her spoon down and ran her finger over the grain of table. "I'm sorry Bri, I know I've neglected you this past week and a half. I haven't been a very good friend-"
"You've been ill, it's hardly your fault," Bridget interrupted.
"Still, we should make the most of your last day," she replied determinedly. She cast around for an idea and then brightened. "Why don't we go riding? Camelot looks beautiful from the west and there's a lovely view from one of the hills that looks down into the valley."
Uther balked at the idea, however. "Please tell me you're joking, Morgana. In your condition you wouldn't stay on your mare more than two minutes."
"I hardly think two minutes is fair, Father," said Arthur.
Morgana's brows rose in grateful surprise. "Thank you."
"I give her four," he continued.
"You could share," said Bridget practically, even as Morgana shot him a withering look. "If Arthur sits behind you, you wouldn't fall. We could take a picnic." She shot a knowing look at them. "It would be very romantic."
Uther, however, had other ideas and put his foot down. "It's out of the question. I know you're feeling claustrophobic in the castle, Morgana, but I can't have you risk your health so carelessly. Until Gaius says so you're not to leave the grounds."
"Why don't we have a picnic in the gardens then?" said Bridget before Morgana could argue with the king. "It's a warm day and if we wrap Morgana up and take a knight with us in case we need to fetch Gaius, say Sir Bedivere," she asked innocently, "then surely even the physician can't object to some fresh air?"
Uther considered the proposal thoughtfully before nodding slowly. "As long as Gaius agrees then that is acceptable."
"Excellent," said Bridget, tucking into her breakfast enthusiastically. "I'll go and fetch Bedivere myself then and meet you in the Lily Gardens. I'm sure your cooks can produce something suitably scrumptious in the meantime and we'll have a lovely time."
"You were a long time," observed Morgana, looking up from her book as she leaned back against the broad trunk of an old maple tree.
"We got lost," Bridget replied smoothly as Bedivere followed behind her carrying the picnic hamper.
The knight, Morgana noted, said nothing but looked rather satisfied. They both did she detected wryly.
As he stationed himself a discreet distance from the two women and Bridget unpacked their luncheon, Morgana stretched her arms up above her head and sighed.
"I wish you didn't have to go."
Bridget smiled softly and chuckled. "Darling, you'd get bored of me quickly enough if I was always here. Besides I'd drive Arthur mad." She paused thoughtfully, "though that may be a good reason to stay. I do find such sport in irritating him."
"He enjoys it too, I'm sure," Morgana replied dryly.
"Speaking of Arthur, you two seem to have made up rather well. Anything I should know about? Should I be buying a new dress anytime soon?"
"We're not engaged, so don't start planning our wedding just yet, Bri," she said. "But we have told each other how we feel."
Bridget squealed in excitement. "You mean he told you he loved you? And you told him you loved him too?"
"Huzzah! I was wondering when the L word would finally be mentioned," she confided enthusiastically. "I'm so pleased for you both."
"Why are you pleased and who for?" came Arthur's voice as he wandered over to the picnic spot.
"Morgana's just told me about your mutual declaration of affection for each other. Though she hasn't gone into all the gory details," she shot her friend a look, "but I'll get those later. Anyway," she continued as Arthur and Morgana exchanged slightly worried looks, "this does make this list I've created perhaps a little redundant but nevertheless."
She retrieved a piece of parchment from the picnic basket and handed it to Morgana whose eyes widened as she began to read.
Arthur looked at Bridget suspiciously. "What is this list?"
"Well you were feeling so cut up about hurting Morgana that I thought I'd create a sort of penance sheet to help you out. You could do any or all of the activities I've suggested and ease your guilt, though," she pointed out, "you don't seem to feel much blame anymore since you and Morgana worked things out."
Arthur frowned as Morgana began to laugh at what she was reading. "Why do I know I should I be worried?" He snatched the sheet away from her. "Give me this list."
He scanned down the parchment, his expression growing less and less amused as he went.
"Firstly, I am not dressing up as a woman-"
"But you'd look really sweet," objected Bridget. "I think you'd suit a dress, though you'd have to wear a corset because, let's face it, you have started to pile on the pounds."
"I am not fat!" Arthur glared at her. "And I'm not wearing a dress either," he added. "Neither am I dancing through the Great Hall in just my codpiece-"
Morgana had tears rolling down her cheeks now as she laughed.
"Nor will I let Merlin do that to me-"
Bridget pouted but shrugged. "Your call. He seemed perfectly happy to do it when I mentioned it to him earlier."
"And I'm not going in the stocks and letting you throw fruit at me."
"But you haven't even considered it."
"I don't have to; these ideas are all mad," he argued. "You're mad."
"All the best people are," Bridget smirked. "I'm surprised you haven't made him propose, Morgana."
There was a sudden silence as Morgana and Arthur turned to stare at her.
"What?" said Bridget, shrugging. "If you're going to stab a girl, the least you can do is marry her. Only seems fair."
"I thought we were punishing Arthur, not me," said Morgana dryly, even as she blushed.
Arthur suddenly cleared his throat. "Well, I should see about getting back to the knights training. I left Gwaine in charge which may have been a mistake, so I'd better go."
As he hurried out of the garden Bridget smirked. "Was it something I said?"
There was not a single cloud in the sky the day the House of Dunheny departed from Camelot. As Uther said his final goodbyes to Bedworth in the courtyard Bridget stood with her friends near the keep entrance.
"So if we have a rain of flesh eating manticores then it's all your fault," said Merlin unhappily as they stood on the steps.
"What can I say? I'm a romantic," smirked Bridget and held out her hand. "Pay up."
"More like a mercenary," he grumbled, handing over three silver coins.
"Always a pleasure doing business with you, Merlin."
Morgana crossed her arms from where she stood, leaning against Arthur for support. "Bri, were you betting again? I thought your Father had forbidden you from ever gambling again after that incident with the wine merchant and the naked man."
"What Father doesn't know won't hurt him. Just…don't tell him. Or Bedivere."
Arthur's eyebrows rose as he nodded over to the knight who was making final checks to the horses. "I see Sir Bedivere will be accompanying you back home."
Bridget turned and waved at the knight as he checked the stirrups on her saddle. She turned back with a sly grin on her face. "Well I have to have something pretty to look at on the journey home. It is so very long and boring otherwise."
"I remember the countryside on that journey being very beautiful," Morgana recalled.
"Yes, but who wants to look at a lot of very old, very dull trees passing by when there's a good looking man around?" she replied coyly.
"My Lady, your Father says we're ready to depart," interjected a servant quietly by her elbow.
"Go and tell him I'm coming," she said and as the servant scurried off Morgana hugged her friend tightly.
"I'm going to miss you."
Arthur remained pointedly silent.
"It's been a pleasure as always, Arthur," said Bridget, rolling her eyes good naturedly.
She turned to go but Arthur caught her hand before she left and squeezed it seriously. "Have a safe journey back, Bri and remember you're always welcome at Camelot."
"Why Arthur, I believe that was almost sincere," she re-joined easily, but squeezed his hand back tightly. "Take good care of each other," she said earnestly, casting her gaze over Arthur, Morgana, Merlin and Gwen. "And if you can help it, try not to get into too much trouble while I'm not here." She smiled. "I wouldn't want to miss any of the fun."
And then Bedivere was taking her elbow and steering her over to her horse. As she mounted easily and the group began to move off she turned round on her mount and waved.
"By the way, I fully expect to be a bridesmaid, Morgana!" she called. "And I like June weddings!"
Merlin glanced up from where he'd been folding clothes into the prince's cupboards as Gwen wandered in. He pleated the arm of a shirt sleeve and then fiddled with the buttons.
"I told you, you shouldn't have taken that bet with Lady Bridget," she said quietly as she walked over to give him a hand with the laundry.
"She cheated," was his reply.
"She told Arthur that he was in love in Morgana and that he should tell her." He folded a stubborn white shirt particularly vigorously. "It would have taken him ages to figure that out on his own, or at least the year's time limit anyway. I would have won then."
Gwen smiled gently. "Still, even though you lost it is wonderful, don't you think?"
"Morgana and Arthur. Declaring their love for each other. It's like the stuff of fairy tales," she sighed into the basket of clothes. "I wonder when he'll propose?"
"Hopefully never," Merlin muttered. "It's a disaster as it is."
"Glad to see you're looking on the bright side of things as always."
"Something bad is going to happen," Merlin said seriously. "I told you a catastrophe was coming if they did this-"
"But nothing bad has happened."
"Precisely. We're owed something, and the longer nothing happens the worse it's going to be."
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Everything's going to be fine."
"That's what you always say and look what happens," he pointed out, folding his arms in frustration. "No-one stays happy in Camelot long. Why won't you believe me?"
Gwen smiled softly and kissed his cheek. "Because I am a determined optimist and love conquers all. Arthur and Morgana can defeat anything anyone throws at them. Even your cynicism."
"It's not cynicism, it's reality."
Gwen shook her head gently and smiled. "Well, when you've finished brooding over what next disaster is going to befall Camelot, Cook has made extra scones and it's first come first served, so hurry up and come downstairs."
With one final smile she turned and left, leaving Merlin to muse quietly.
What he hadn't told Gwen was that he could feel it on the periphery of his mental magical vision, something dark and brooding, something biding the time and waiting to strike. Gaius, like Gwen, had dismissed the feeling but it was only growing stronger with the passage of days and Merlin turned back to the window pensively.
"Something is coming."
He ran his fingers over the stones in the walls as though to reassure himself of something solid, of the sure foundations of the castle, but his expression remained foreboding.
"Something very, very bad."
In the highest room in Cenred's castle, Morgause moved away from her scrying pool and smiled.
"Well, Merlin, I'd hate to disappoint you."
She grinned, sharp white teeth flashing and flexed her fingers, magic tingling in the tips.
"This is going to be so much fun."
Please Read and Review!
It's been a pleasure to create and write this story and it's been wonderful reading your responses to it.
This tale is now definitely completed...
though if you ask very, very nicely there may be a sequel or two in me somewhere ;)