Title: Before the Sun Breaks Another Day
Authors: accordingtomel & adelagia
Summary: Three months after her disappearance, Morgana returns to Camelot with a hidden agenda, but she's not the only one keeping secrets, and a series of unintended revelations forces her, Merlin and Arthur on an intertwined journey of revenge, redemption and love.
Pairings: Merlin/Arthur (elements of Leon/Morgana, Uther/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen)
Rating: PG-13 (eventual M)
Spoilers/Warnings: Everything up to and including 2x13
Word Count: 5,900
Disclaimer: Not ours. No money is being made. Please don't sue.
Authors' Note: A huge thank you to our beta/Brit-picker ravenflight21. Title comes from a line in Kris Allen's song Before We Come Undone. My co-author in this fic does not have a Fanfiction dot net account, but rest assured, I will pass along to her any comments you may have :). Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!
Before the Sun Breaks Another Day
It was the last lucid thought Morgana had, ridiculous and tiny, but there all the same, cresting helplessly like foam over the waves of her panic as ice etched its way up her throat and seized the breath from her lungs.
It hurt and it burned, and the world withered away.
Death, however, had more pressing engagements, and when Morgana came to, it was to a skyward view of a starlit canopy and soft, honey-brown eyes.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice the strike of flint on stone.
And Morgause told her the truth.
While Morgana cheated death, Arthur discovered what it meant to be king. He watched Uther bend under the weight of the crown, shrivelled as if he'd gained a hundred years with each minute that ticked by.
When the order came, it was uttered barely above a whisper, but reverberated across the stone walls as though a hundred executioners' axes had gone down at once. The knights were to be recalled from the search for the Lady Morgana; as a full force, they had barely enough manpower to defend the castle against a relentless dragon, and it would be of little use if there was nothing and no one left standing for her to come home to.
Arthur remained silent; now was not the time to fight for Morgana, not when Camelot's thousands remained in danger. And now was not the time to contest his father's will, not when Uther was only holding himself together by the minuscule shreds of necessity.
Morgana was more than just a promise kept to an old friend, more than a ward, more than family. She was loved, deeply and fiercely, and if she was still alive (and Arthur had to believe that she was), she would understand.
With long, heavy footsteps, Arthur left his father's side to join his ragged knights in the courtyard, and welcomed the distraction of Gwen's sweet, sad smile.
Relentless and overwhelming, sucking Merlin deeper and deeper into the dark recesses of his mind as tragedy assaulted his life like a steady barrage of arrows in a hunt, where he was the wild game.
Never before had he experienced such agony, such unadulterated anguish. At times he dreamt of horrors beyond his imagination, beyond his ability to repair, waking to panic thrumming through his veins, and he feared this nightmare might never end. While the world carried on in ignorant bliss, Merlin fought to keep his head above water, grasping desperately at anything and everything he could if only it would help him make it through another day.
After a while, Arthur unintentionally became his lifeline, a pillar of unexpected strength in a sea of misery and despair. Merlin clung unwaveringly to his destiny, one that he'd gladly and freely embraced; yet even knowing his life's purpose and duty, every step still felt like an exercise in futility.
And then, one day, things slowly began to look up. Merlin could wake up in the morning without crying, could breathe without sorrow wrapping his throat in a chokehold, could smile and actually feel the emotion sink into his bones. He carried out his duties for Arthur, continued to study under Gaius, started spending time with Gwen once again. He lived again.
A white expanse of skin lay before him, spread like a feast. Arthur tasted the jut of Merlin's hip, dragged his tongue over the range of his ribcage, licked into the valley of his collarbone. His palms flattened across the bed linen, cool and luxurious, as Merlin curled in around him; their bodies pressed together and they moved as one, in his ears nothing but the thunder of his own pulse and Merlin's ragged breath struggling to make itself clear, "Arthur, Arthur."
He startled awake with a low grunt, kicking a tangle of sheets, and nearly tumbled off the bed when Merlin swam like an apparition into view. There was a candle in one hand, not yet aflame long enough to dribble the wax Merlin tended to get all over the floor despite the pricket; its dim flicker scattered over Merlin's face, and Arthur could see that he had only just woken himself, nightshirt unlaced and askew, hair like a madman's. But his eyes were clear of sleep.
"What is it?" Arthur croaked, the last wisps of his dream snatched away into oblivion, where they belonged.
"The king wants you. It's - Morgana," Merlin said, with some difficulty. "She's come back."
"What?" Arthur nearly shouted, and launched himself from the bed. "When? Is she all right? My coat, Merlin!"
Merlin plucked his long coat from a pile in the corner, creased with wear and Merlin's aversion to clean laundry, and guided Arthur into it. "She's fine. She's back," he said shortly, voice tightening as though it was being restrung.
The chaos whirring in Arthur's mind ground momentarily to a halt, focusing singly on his manservant. "You're not getting emotional, are you?" he asked, and as Merlin rolled his eyes, Arthur gave him a light shove out the door, suppressing the urge to reach for the wild nest of dark hair desperately in need of renovation.
The sconces were low, sputtering in tune with Arthur and Merlin's footsteps as they hastened through the corridors to the throne room. Arthur drove forward, only to stop short at the sight of Morgana, in tatters but for Uther's cloak wrapped carefully round her shoulders. She was assuring him that she was fine, really, in that set of jaw Arthur recognised instantly from their childhood whenever she had got hurt and refused to let anyone see her cry.
It knocked him back a step; in truth, he'd given her up for dead after months of fruitless searches and useless leads, but he ought to have known better, should have trusted that Morgana, who was more resilient than the hardiest oak, would find her way back even when he'd failed her.
He spoke her name, or perhaps only thought it loudly in his own head, for Morgana didn't register his presence. Her gaze rested only on Uther, one hand grazing his cheek soothingly as though it was he who had suffered ill care away from hearth and home for so long. Which wasn't far from the truth; even the most ruthless war campaigns brought to Camelot's doors had not shattered Uther half as much as Morgana's disappearance had, and the grey pallor that had stained his cheeks these many months rapidly vanished now that she was returned to them.
Morgana turned, then, and upon sighting Arthur, gave him a watery smile. It pushed his feet forward where his thoughts could not, and they brought him to rest crouched next to her. He mustered and discarded a jumble of words that seemed flat and stupid in the face of the circumstances.
"How -?" was all he managed.
Her pale eyes sparked briefly and she raised her chin. "Haven't I always told you that I'm the one with the brains in this family?"
A bark of laughter flew from Arthur's throat, and he gripped her hand for a moment. "I'm glad you're back."
"So am I," she said quietly, and the light blinked out of her eyes.
"Arthur," said Uther, the fight in him yawning wide awake, "the scoundrels who took her. She knows where they are. No doubt they will have raised the alarm by now and come after her. You will ride out at first light and bring them to me. Alive."
"Of course, Father. I'll have the horses packed now," Arthur said, and turned to give Merlin the orders, but the man was nowhere in sight.
When Gaius scurried in a moment later, porting a large basket of salves and ointments and potions that clinked in symphony with each footfall, Arthur supposed that Merlin must have gone to fetch the physician.
Assured that Morgana was in good hands, Arthur took his leave and went in search of Merlin. Not only did Arthur need Merlin to help him get ready for the journey, he wanted Merlin to ride out with him as well. Merlin was terrible at fighting, talked too much on the road and was occasionally given to bouts of whingeing - his horse was too tall, his seat was too lumpy, are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet - but Arthur wanted him by his side all the same. In spite of whatever dangers they faced, things always seemed to work out when Merlin was with him. He was like a good luck charm. Or something more, perhaps.
It felt like panic, welling up within his gut and coiling tightly in his chest, crawling up to wrap around his neck and strangling the very breath from his lungs. Fear filled his mind at the thought of coming face to face with Morgana once again.
By sheer strength of will, he pushed forward, trailing feebly behind Arthur the closer they got to their destination, who either didn't notice or simply didn't care that Merlin was barely able to keep up with his quickened pace. Merlin watched surreptitiously, eyes darting every which way, as Arthur burst into the throne room unceremoniously and came to an abrupt halt. Mostly shielded by Arthur's rigid body, Merlin peered cautiously through the open doorway into the room, both anticipating and fearing the sight that would greet him.
His first view of Morgana, pale, with strips of cloth that had once resembled clothing hanging limply from her petite frame, tore at his heart for reasons he couldn't fully comprehend or explain. But she was alive, no thanks to him, and not for the first time Merlin wondered whether he'd truly made the right decision. Had she not simply been a pawn in the sorcerer's sordid plot to rid the world of Uther Pendragon, an unwilling victim of circumstance? No, he quickly reminded himself, remembering a time not so long ago when Morgana had nearly made an attempt on Uther's life. Surely she had known something this time around, been aware of the choice she'd made, even if Morgause hadn't provided her with the necessary details.
Merlin swallowed heavily, tongue thick and throat dry, burning as if on fire from within. A million questions swam through his mind at that moment - where had she gone? what had happened to her? where was Morgause? did she remember what Merlin had done? - but the only real thought that drummed like a steady pulse through his veins was that he had to get away. He was not ready for this confrontation just yet, nor was he prepared to do so under the suspicious glare of Uther.
Somehow Merlin's legs managed to take over from where his brain appeared to shut down, and he found himself standing in front of Gaius' workshop without truly knowing how he'd ended up there in the first place.
"Gaius," Merlin called stiffly, pushing gently on the door.
Stepping past the threshold, he released a breath he'd not realised he'd been holding. A quick scan of the room confirmed what Merlin already knew to be true - Gaius was nowhere to be seen. Logic would dictate that he was likely bustling to the throne room, or perhaps was already tending to Morgana. In fact, it was not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Merlin had passed his mentor in the hall and had simply missed him as he'd hurried in a frenzied haze down corridors and as far away from Morgana as he could get.
Letting out a shaky breath, Merlin sank onto a stool and rested his forehead against the table in front of him, hands moving to press against his knees. He remained motionless for several moments, focusing solely on steadying his breathing, calming his anxiety, sorting through the jumbled thoughts that were racing around in his mind. Morgana was alive, and she was back in Camelot. But how? And more importantly - why?
"My lord," Morgana said, effusing her sweetest smile. "If it's not too much trouble, perhaps I could have a bath drawn up?"
Still holding onto her hand, Uther unseated himself hastily. "Of course; I should have thought of it before. I'll see to it myself that everything's made ready for you in your chambers. We've - kept everything the way it was," he said, uncharacteristically hesitant with his words, and then drew himself up as Gaius approached. "Gaius, you will look after her?"
"Certainly, sire," said the physician. He turned a passive gaze onto Morgana and bowed, stiff. "My lady."
As Gaius set to work treating the bruises and scratches that marred her skin, Uther strode out of the hall, stopping at the door to instruct the guards not to let Morgana out of their sight.
Morgana suppressed a tight frown. The order, she knew, was given because he cared for her and feared that she might vanish again, but being under Uther's roof once more and playing by his rules felt stifling beyond all reason. She could almost feel the chafe of cold, heavy iron around her wrists, shackling her to this man and to this place that would offer her nothing but hateful condemnation, if he only knew.
She pulled her focus away from Uther, and let it rest instead on the man applying no end of strange concoctions to her wounds, and who had done so for years, whether she was suffering from a skinned knee after racing Arthur across the tiltyards or from practicing her swordplay in secret. He'd never let on to Uther that she was doing man's work, even the time she'd nearly sliced Arthur's arm off. "Gaius," she said softly, "it's good to see you."
He lifted his head briefly to meet her eyes, and instead of the fatherly affection that usually cradled his gaze whenever they spoke, there was nothing there. "And you, my lady," he said, returning to work with clinical detachment.
"Is there something the matter?" Morgana asked, slightly taken aback. "You seem... preoccupied."
"Oh, no," Gaius said, and smiled. At least, it would have been a smile if it hadn't borne such a striking resemblance to a grimace. "It's the shock of seeing you returned to us, I'm sure."
A thrill of panic skittered down Morgana's spine. The wariness clouding his face was something she would never have expected, and she hadn't any idea why he was acting like this, or what he knew. In spite of his advanced age, Gaius still had a mind that was uncommonly sharp; all her careful planning would come to nothing if he could see right through her.
"Has everyone been well?" she asked.
"Yes, a few setbacks here and there, but I think you'll find that this kingdom is stronger than ever," Gaius replied, and whether the warning tones were imagined or not, she could not be certain.
Morgana smiled benignly at him. "I'm glad to hear it. I -" She let her expression falter, allowed a hitch into her breath and a quaver into her voice. "You don't know how wretched it's been. Some days the only thing keeping me going was the thought of coming home."
Gaius looked up, a flicker of surprise lighting through the clouds.
"I was lost for so long..." she ploughed on, tears willed into her eyes. "I thought of you everyday, all of you; I imagined your faces and your voices so I wouldn't forget, so I'd have something to hold onto even when I didn't have hope anymore."
"Morgana..." he began.
"I was so afraid I'd never see any of you again," she cried.
Gaius abandoned his bottles and vials, and wrapped a comforting arm around her, just the way he used to. "It's all right. You'll be all right. You're safe now," he said. "You're home."
Several minutes passed uneventfully, and then several more. At some point in time Merlin stood up, began pacing, but he honestly couldn't remember when or how it'd happened. After another couple of minutes, Merlin finally stopped, eyes studying the door in front of him. Maybe if he willed it hard enough, it would open to a new world - one in which he didn't have to deal with endless questions, relentless nightmares, or the inevitable consequences of his actions. Every time Merlin thought that his life couldn't possibly get any more miserable, fate had a way of intervening and throwing him off kilter yet again.
Inevitably Arthur would come knocking, Merlin knew, and he would ask all sorts of questions that Merlin was neither willing nor prepared to answer at the present time (or ever, his mind quickly supplied, though it was unreasonable to think that the conversation could forever be avoided). Hiding here was a coward's way out and offered temporary reprieve from the matter at best. Arthur would eventually come bursting in, hollering Merlin's name until he was discovered, grab Merlin by the ear or scruff of the neck and bodily haul him back to Arthur's chambers where an uncomfortable round of inquisition would begin. Even if Merlin managed to escape Arthur's clutches for the night, he would always have Gaius to contest with, prodding and poking and digging. The thought was less than appealing.
With a resigned sigh, Merlin gathered his wits about him, physically shaking the tension from his legs and arms, and pulled open the door.
He wandered carefully down the halls, each step calculated as Merlin traced the familiar route to Arthur's chambers with a sense of weary trepidation. The soft glow of flames, radiating from candles ensconced on the castle walls, cast sober shadows at each and every turn. Merlin mentally berated himself for leaving his own candle back in Gaius' chambers, but was equally grateful for the relative obscurity it afforded him. Merlin became lost in his thoughts as he took the route so familiar to him that he could follow it in his sleep, and likely had on more than one occasion.
Something was amiss about Morgana's unexpected reappearance in Camelot, that much was clear. No one would keep someone successfully imprisoned for more than three months and then suddenly allow them to escape. It simply didn't make any sense. Merlin assumed that she'd been with Morgause all this time; which, if true, would indicate something more sinister at work. Then again, was it not equally likely that she'd been taken against her will and had merely finally found a way out of the clutches of her captors? There was one fact that Merlin knew with absolute certainty - he had tried to poison Morgana, and she had been more than aware of it. Which also meant that Merlin's life was now in danger, by extension. If she chose to share this information with the king, Merlin doubted that there would be anything even Arthur could do to prevent his head from being placed on the chopping block - assuming Arthur's affection for him remained once he'd learned the truth of his manservant's recent actions.
It was with these images rolling through his mind that Merlin rounded a bend and was jolted back into reality in the harshest of manners.
Merlin froze mid-step, blood running cold as his body instantly tensed at the sight of Morgana's ashen profile outside her chamber. Two guards were stationed on either side of her doors, stoic and imposing. The small, barely rational part of his brain that was still functioning at near capacity shouted at him to turn back, retreat the way he'd come, don't just stand there, you idiot. He made to move - it was quite easy really; one simply placed one foot in front of the other, heel to toe, and propelled oneself forward - but he quickly discovered that this task was far more complex than he'd originally estimated. Merlin's legs remained firmly rooted to the ground while his brain continued to defy logic, suddenly throwing into his mind's eye the memory of struggling to carry all of Arthur's armour at once while Arthur looked on in mocking amusement. Except that this time around it felt as though the weight from two individual sets of armour had somehow magically implanted themselves onto each leg, rendering him essentially immobile. The realisation that he needed to move, to act right now before she saw him drummed at the corner of his mind, tapping insistently against his skull, but gravity apparently had other plans for him.
In the next moment, the battle was lost, as Morgana's head instantly whipped around at the sound of Merlin's footfall. Her gaze roamed the hall until it firmly settled on Merlin, lips curling tightly into a hollow smile at the sight of him. Their eyes locked and something unspoken passed between them in that instant.
At once Merlin's mind was flooded with a hundred different thoughts, unique and yet connected in their fervency - where have you been; are you all right; I'm sorry, but you have to understand; if there had been any other way; it's my destiny to protect Arthur; can you ever forgive me - but he found he was unable to give voice to any of them. Instead, they remained in a tense deadlock, stares heated with unparalleled intensity.
"Morgana," he rasped out finally, desperately, unsure of what he even hoped to say to her, what he could possibly say at this moment.
But perhaps someone from above was still watching out for him after all, bringing a slight reprieve to the disaster currently known as Merlin's life, as another individual made his presence known in the hall.
"Merlin!" Arthur's familiar voice pierced through the mental fog clouding his mind, and Merlin faintly wondered when the prince had arrived on the scene. But he could not react, dared not break eye contact with the woman standing before him.
Morgana blinked rapidly, twice, eyes cold and steely, the only outward acknowledgement of Arthur's presence the slight flare of her nostrils. Silence hung heavily in the air, the tension so palpable that Merlin wondered if he would feel its icy tendrils on his fingers if he reached a hand forward.
"Merlin, come on!" Arthur asserted once again, voice distinctly less patient and tinged with frustration. "Some time today would be nice."
Merlin chanced a quick glance in Arthur's direction, barely a flick of the eyes and a slight tilt of his head. But even in that split second, a single moment when he'd averted his gaze from Morgana, something changed in her demeanour - the way she held her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the line of her lips pressed together. There was nothing in particular, and yet even in its subtlety, the difference was obvious; striking, even. It filled Merlin with a sense of great unease, and something like fear crept up his spine, unexpectedly sending a wave of chills through his body.
"He's waiting," she said softly, coolly, no hint of emotion readable in her tone or expression. And without another word, she turned from him, pushing open the chamber door and stepping inside.
Merlin expelled a tense breath through his nose, hands idly playing with the frayed fabric at the cuff of his sleeves, until his legs finally agreed to begin functioning once again. With one last fleeting glance in the direction of Morgana's door, Merlin turned on his heel and trotted off obediently after Arthur.
Morgana leaned heavily against the wooden door, back rigid and eyes fluttering shut, feeling it give slightly beneath her weight until it finally closed with a gentle click. She sucked air into her lungs, fighting the wave of nausea and rage that was slowly bubbling in her gut. Merlin. A name she had once associated with kindness, loyalty and friendship now elicited nothing but disgust, violent and uncompromising. Morgana had thought he was a friend, a confidant, someone she could trust - but clearly that had all been an elaborate fantasy. Merlin had attempted to take her life, for reasons that were still unclear to her, and it was not something that she could forgive so easily, if at all. The betrayal hurt, like the cold edge of a blade slashing through flesh, burning and draining her simultaneously, in equal parts.
A soft gasp interrupted her reverie, and Morgana's eyes blinked open to the sight of Gwen rushing towards her.
"My lady," Gwen cried out, voice like smooth silk on a sunburn, soothing Morgana's fury with a few simple words. "I'd heard you were back, but I could barely believe it."
In the next instant, Gwen was wrapped in her arms, clutching Morgana tightly to her breast as if she never planned to let go. Morgana revelled in the embrace, her heart clenching unexpectedly as a feeling of warmth washed over her like a light breeze. When they finally pulled apart, it was with great reluctance on both their parts.
"Gwen," Morgana breathed out, almost reverently, as her hand found its way to her maidservant's cheek, cupping it gently. A wave of affection for Gwen surged through her, and for the first time since her arrival back in Camelot, Morgana felt an air of peacefulness surround her. Gwen - her sweet, loyal, dedicated, beautiful friend Gwen - stood before her, smiling shyly, worry lines still lightly creasing her forehead. In that instant Morgana was reminded of just how much she'd missed the woman standing before her, and the emotion that hit her felt like a physical blow. She had never known a more genuine soul, a more loving person than Guinevere.
A million thoughts immediately took shape in her mind, twisting and turning into something concrete and comprehensible, but what came out instead was, "Why are you here?"
Soft laughter flittered from Gwen's throat. "Arthur petitioned Uther to allow me to stay on here at the castle for the time being. I think he believed that by keeping me around, it would seem as though you were only gone temporarily, and would eventually return. I'm not sure if he truly believed it would ever happen though." A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth then, brown eyes darting uncomfortably to the floor.
"Hey," Morgana chided gently, breath ghosting across Gwen's cheek. "I did return, and I'm here now."
Guilt, sudden and unexpected, swept over Morgana when she considered the single reason for her return to Camelot. The world would not mourn the loss of Uther Pendragon. No trumpets would sound, no candles would be lit in his honour, no one would fall to the ground weeping with sorrow at news of his death. Uther deserved what was coming to him; a fitting end to a lifetime of tyranny and unjust persecution. Arthur would be hurt by his father's death, she knew, but he was strong. He would make it through in the end, like she'd always known he would. But Gwen, upon learning of the true reason for Morgana's sudden arrival at the castle once again - how would she react? Would she feel betrayal... anger... fear...? Gwen had already suffered too much at the hands of Uther; Morgana felt glad she now held within her hands the power to avenge Tom's death in a way that Gwen never could. Would Gwen see it the same way, though, or would it simply cause her friend more anguish?
"I'm glad you're back," Gwen warmly broke the silence, hand reaching over to squeeze Morgana's arm, as she grinned at her mistress, eyes alight with a joy Morgana had not seen in quite some time.
"As am I," Morgana responded genuinely. While it may not have been the entire truth, when in the presence of Gwen, Morgana absolutely meant every word.
"I have so many questions for you." She paused, head tilting thoughtfully to one side. "But I imagine you must be exhausted. They can wait. Your bath, however, can't," she said, smiling, and ushered Morgana towards a large tub, steam drifting over the edges.
Morgana undressed and stepped into the water, warmed to the core, a luxury she'd forgone for months in the wild with Morgause and the motley assemblage who came and went with the downfall of Uther Pendragon foremost on their minds. As Gwen bustled about, making the final preparations for the night, Morgana took a few moments to reacquaint herself with the room that she had spent over half of her life thinking of as home. Funny how it had all changed in the blink of an eye.
It felt nearly as foreign as the first day she'd arrived in Camelot, sick with grief and anger at her father's death, stripped from her home and shunted into the care of a man she'd barely known. From the bath, she could see the notches she'd struck into the wall that day out of desperate fury, handy with a sword even then. The governess tasked to look after her had fled, leaving Uther to sort out the child intent on hacking the castle to pieces, and he'd simply stridden in, plucked the sword from her grip and sat her down on the bed, hands resting firmly, albeit gently, on her shoulders. 'You're the lady of this house now,' he'd told her, gaze stern yet still exuding warmth. 'You will have responsibilities and appearances to maintain, and I can't have you destroying your chambers.' He'd continued to lecture her for several more minutes on proper behaviour now that she was the lady of the castle before concluding with, 'Your father was a strong man and a dear friend who will be greatly missed. The only comfort I can provide you is that I will honour his dying request in the same way I honoured his life. You will always have a home in Camelot.' There had been no empty platitudes, no hollow reassurances, just his strength enveloping her in the only way he knew how at the time. But it had been enough, somehow.
Morgana blinked, surprised to find her throat tightening with emotion and the inexplicable thought that if only she leaned forward a little, the comforting scent of that soft leather doublet she'd pressed her face into would come back to her.
She shook her head to clear the cobwebs of memories that still clung at the corners of her mind. Nostalgia was useless.
The water was beginning to cool; Morgana removed herself from the bath, slipping into the nightdress Gwen had lain out for her. She was tired all of a sudden, though the journey back hadn't been half as arduous as she had been letting everyone think.
As she climbed into bed, settling comfortably against the pile of plush pillows at her back, Gwen approached, solicitous.
"Would you like me to stay in the antechamber tonight?"
Morgana smiled. "No, I'll be fine. I've kept you too late already. Go on home, Gwen; it's all right."
"If you're sure..."
Gwen hesitated, but at Morgana's insistence, took her leave just as Uther came knocking softly at the door. She bowed to him, and with one last look at Morgana, left the room.
Uther stood near the doorway, seemingly unsure of himself, unused to asking for leave when a king could take anything he wanted. "I just thought to look in on you and see if you were all right; of course, it's late, and you must be tired," he said, talking as much to himself as to Morgana.
"No, not at all," she said quickly. "Come and sit with me a while. I will be glad for the company."
He shut the door behind him and drew a chair next to the bed, the laugh lines around his eyes deepening as he smiled gently at her. Under the glow of the candle at her bedside, he looked somehow younger, softened, as though all the jagged, icy edges of his character had been daubed away.
"You look well," Morgana said to the face made to look kind by some trick of light.
"I must confess, it's your return that has invigorated my spirits. It's been - difficult without you. We searched for you for days, weeks. I should not have given up. That you might have come home that much sooner had I not recalled the search, had I - had I not lost faith," Uther said, his gaze sweeping downward, as though the words were hard to come by.
It was rare to see him struggle - he had the natural flair of an orator, with a voice that could command a room with a single word and a tongue that spun lies into gold and a faked sincerity so potent it might bend steel, but none of that was present now; all that sat in front of her was a weathered man who'd lost love once and had let the rest of his life give in to the utter terror of losing anything again.
Morgana felt her heart clench for him, once, and she allowed it only out of pity. Uther Pendragon was a small man with a heart that had long ago shut its doors to the world; his actions were guided by fear, and he used that same fear to take from others what had been taken from him. He deserved no more or less than the same mercy he had shown them.
She clasped his hand with a tenderness that belied the contempt simmering underneath her skin. "I'm sure you did all you could."
"I promised your father I would protect you."
"You have always treated me as your own; I could not ask for more," Morgana said, though she remembered her wrists bound in iron and her throat in his grip.
Uther's eyes sought hers, a sheen of guilt and regret displacing the cruelty she'd so often seen there. "Forgive me, Morgana."
"There is nothing to forgive," she lied, smiling as she did so, and stroked his hand soothingly.
A silence slipped in between them, settling comfortably, as of friends who have no need to fill the room with desultory chatter to enjoy each other's company in full. Morgana kept a small smile on her face, thinking of destruction.
In time, Uther rose from his chair. "I should let you get some rest."
"Oh. Yes, I suppose it will do me some good," said Morgana. She rubbed a palm over the bed linen. "It feels so different, after - everything."
Worry creased Uther's brow for a moment. He leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Try to get some sleep," he said. "The guards are just outside if you need anything at all."
She nodded, bravely, and let him get as far as the door, his fingers just closing around the handle.
"Please, my lord," Morgana called out, careful to make her voice tremble.
Uther was back by her side in less than a second, concern written all across his face. "Yes?"
Morgana bit her bottom lip in apparent distress, which had the added effect of making her eyes water slightly. She grasped his hand. "I'm sorry, I - I know I must sound so silly," she laughed pathetically. "I just can't bear the thought of being all alone again and - Will you stay with me? At least until I fall asleep?"
"Of course," said Uther. "Of course."