Author Note; It feels kinda strange for me to write these pairings, usually its slash all round, but I suddenly had the idea for this in my head and it wouldn't go away. So here is the finished result. There is a lot of different variations of Arthurian legends so I've tried to sort them out so they seem like parallel universes. And the distant future Merlin sees is a reference to original Merlin's powers of prophecy, just in case it is a bit confusing. Anyway, hope you all like. :-)
Pairings: Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, (implied AU Gwen/Lancelot)
Spoilers: Mentions of original Arthurian legend, including Battle of Camlann and references to 'Gawain and the Green Knight'. No real spoilers for BBC Merlin.
Summary: AU. In his dreams Merlin sees echoes of what has not been, of lives he could have had and of who Morgana could have become. And this only makes him hold onto her all the more tighter. M/M, A/G
"There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits"
Robert Southey (1774-1843)
At night, Merlin dreams. All men dream, he knows this already, but it's the dreams that come unbidden into his sleeping mind that he knows are different from the norm. His dreams aren't the abstract visions they should be, but are real in his mind as though he was really living them. He can feel the air on his skin and the magic in his veins and that is enough to convince him every time. He may be a warlock, and can confess to no such inkling of the powers of a seer like Morgana, who sees what will be in the near future in such intensity that she wakes up screaming from what she sees. He may be blessed with powers beyond all what should be possible; can slow down time or create mirages from the tips of his fingers, but hers is a much rarer power altogether, especially considering the strength of it. Morgana no longer wakes like that now Merlin shares her bed, for whenever the nightmare gets too much for her to bear, she calls out to Merlin in her head, knowing that he'll be there to give her strength to escape. And he takes her hand in the dream, suddenly there as a reassuring presence as he helps her back to the real world. They stick together now as they did then, when the world was not so kind to people like them, and when they had to hide who they were from even those closest from them.
But it is Merlin who is dreaming now.
They are not like Morgana's dreams. He doesn't see the future to come in such detail as she, but he knows that some of the things he sees have not yet come to pass, and that some of the things have happened, but in another time, another place. His dreams broach space and time, and although one night he may be dreaming of a knight who will not die though his head is severed, his skin the green of Mother Nature's tender kisses and his voice loud like thunder as he challenges the knights surrounding a circular table, another night he dreams of things not yet existing in his world, buildings reaching up to the sky in slabs of iron grey and of mechanical birds of the air, featureless and fearsome, that take people on journeys that take mere hours compared to the days and weeks it would take Merlin even on horseback. His dreams are unbounded, uncontrolled, his consciousness stretching through the barriers this world holds to other places in his mind, and although they are not frequent, they come with enough consistency for him to be wary of them.
Tonight, his dreams morph into nightmares. He's seen glimpses of worlds like his own before, the things-that-could-have-been if even the smallest decision had been changed. He's seen worlds that have him trapped in a tree for a million years, bound by sorcery and the destruction of love, has seen Arthur fall to the hands of Mordred so many times his heart has begun to fear the Druid boy, even though he has no need. He's seen Guinevere succumb to Lancelot, despite the loyalty in both their hearts, and that one hurts him almost as much as watching Arthur fall at Camlann, because this is Gwen he is dreaming of, Arthur's bride, who would never have it in her pure heart to betray him. Some dreams he sees repeatedly , like Arthur's fall, watching Excalibur return to the Lady of the Lake, as the young King- not so young in the dream, his face more worn, with the signs of age in the wrinkles on his brow- dies, being carried in a boat that holds no mortal men to Avalon, where Excalibur was once forged so many moons ago and where Arthur now goes to sleep his final rest. These dreams frighten him, because although Arthur isn't dead, not explicitly, it feels that way to Merlin. Arthur is his friend, his closest friend, and watching him die in his head, wounded and bleeding to death after the battle of Camlann, causes him to wake up with tears rolling down his face and Arthur's deathly pale face still a vision that haunts him many moments after the dream has ended.
But this dream is different.
This dream is about Morgana Le Fay.
He watches the echoes of her come to him like wisps of smoke before they become solid, tangible to his senses. In this vision, she isn't Morgana. Not the woman he knows, not the woman he loves. This Morgana is twisted by the life handed to her, married to a man she does not love, and bearing him a son she did not want. Her heart is in pain, and it calls out to him though he cannot answer. He sees her with many lovers- each image like a knife curling into Merlin's gut, painful and violent, because how dare they touch her like that, how dare they be allowed - sees her expelled from court by Guinevere- not Gwen, this isn't his Gwen, it can't be his Gwen- to become bitter and vengeful. He sees her downward spiral into the anger consuming her in broken moments that assault his senses so much that he wants to scream. The Magic Drinking Horn delivered to the castle, designed to expose Guinevere's infidelity. Helping Accolon to obtain Excalibur, to beat Arthur, to bring the Golden Age of Camelot crashing down. The child called Mordred at her side during the final battle, son of Arthur and the trickster Morguase, bringing down his own father with a sword blessed by magic against the might of Excalibur. And Morgana stands by and does nothing as Arthur falls, Mordred dead on the battlefield from Excalibur's blade as the Once and Future King is borne away to Avalon, never to return.
These images terrify him more than anything else he has seen, to see the twisted hate in Morgana's eyes, to see the flash of magic in her eyes that does not help to illuminate the blackness of her heart. And in the dream, she reaches out to his dream-self, and he can take in the regal cloth she wears, the deep purple making the paleness of her face stand prominent, her eyes triumphant yet beckoning to him, tempting him to join her. Her cruel brown eyes lock with the fearsome blue of his own, and she holds out her hand for him to take. In his mind he is screaming to his dream-self, telling him not to do it, not to take her hand because this isn't his Morgana, it can't be, but he stands helpless- as trapped as he is in that other world, a thousand years of sleeping because he fell for the devious Nimueh- as he watches him reach out to her, sacrificing everything he stands for- she's responsible for Arthur's death, she did nothing, and yet he didn't seem to do anything either- simply for the touch of her cold pale hand…
He does not wake up screaming like Morgana does, but he still jolts awake, a small cry tearing itself from his lips as reality rushes to greet him. For a moment he still sees the echoes of how it could have been, the vengeful yet inviting Morgana from his nightmares still beckoning to him with a twisted smile on her lips, and Merlin forces himself to close his eyes, to try and will the images away. His own Morgana stirs as the other one fades before his vision, the eyes of the Kings Ward opening as he lays back down, exhausted from the experience and his hands trembling and heart racing as though he has been running for his life.
"What is it, Merlin?" she asks, and Merlin can do nothing for a moment, but move in to hold her tightly in his arms like he'll lose her any second, reassuring himself that the woman in the dream is not her, will never be her. He can't quite bring himself to tell her of the dream, not yet, it's too fresh, but she understands enough to hold him all the more tighter, giving him the comfort he sorely needs at the moment.
"Nothing…" he whispers back, his voice hoarse even though he has not been shouting- but in the dream he was, in the dream he was screaming Arthur's name as he died, screaming Morgana's name as he begged her to stop this madness- "Just…don't ever feel the world has abandoned you, ok? Because you'll always have me, no matter what"
Morgana doesn't understand what he's trying to say, but the emotions behind his statements are real enough, and for the moment, she doesn't have to. Being there for Merlin is enough.
"Of course, Merlin" she replies, her hand moving to stroke his face, and although in his still dream-addled mind he sees her hand, reaching out to him, inviting him to join her, he knows that this is his Morgana now and so doesn't flinch at her touch, holding her hand for a second against his cheek before they settle down again, holding each other close as they wait for sleep to come again.
Merlin turns his head slightly, away from the dark curtain of Morgana's black hair, and he is so sure he can still see the other Morgana, her hand outstretched for him to take. He turns away again, squeezing his eyes shut, holding the woman he loves next to him even tighter.
Because he knows if that had been his universe, his reality, he would not have hesitated.