Title: I'll Show You Hurricanes
Characters/Pairing: Merlin, Morgana; M/M
Summary: Merlin walks back into Morgana's life after a millennium, and she's not quite sure what to make of it, or how to open her heart again.
Disclaimer: I barely own anything these days, much less a successful show.
A/N: I began this as a companion piece to Hardest of Hearts, and then it sort of took on a life of its own. It's the same basic premise, except from Morgana's POV this time, and then the plot ended up changing a bit after I began writing.
Big thanks to my good friend wickedinsanity for giving this a look over, keeping me sane, and being my posting proxy! Because my internet access is so horrendous, she has kindly agreed to help me post my stories.
As always, please don't favorite without leaving a review. I'm not one to beg, but I am quite lonely over here, and a little hello would be pleasant!
I spent days, stupid, nailed to your floor
And I spent nights pushed against you, trying to keep warm
But you don't know me at all . . .
Show me where the sun comes through the sky
I'll show you where the rain gets in, and I'll show you hurricanes
The way that summer fades
You can lift me up to put me down again
Underneath the weight of it all
- "The Weight of It All," Matt Nathanson
They've been through this all before, and she's not particularly inclined to do it again, not when the last time ended in so much heartache.
Immediately following the Battle of Camlann, after her duty to Arthur was fulfilled, she'd left Albion for a time. War has a funny way of giving one perspective, and she'd taken off to find out who she wanted to be and how she wanted to live her long, long existence. 1300 years and she's still figuring it out, but at least she's got a life now, has a decent flat and a cat named Locksley and a job she actually enjoys.
That's not far from the truth, anyways. She works part-time at a little café down the street from her flat. It's not the most glamorous job she's ever had, but it keeps her from going broke and the owner has become something like a father to her, or as close to one as she's ever known. What she loves best about it, though, is that it allows her the free time to pursue her art, a passion she's developed over the years.
And it's maybe the first time she's starting to feel free of the chains that have bound her for so long. So she doesn't need him showing up after all these years and screwing that up. He messes with her head, spins her about, and she's spent over a millennium running from that influence. She doesn't need him walking into her café, that familiar face lighting up in a grin at the sight of her, because she knows what this means now. She can tell from the sparkle in his eyes as he sits down in a corner table that he doesn't intend to let her slip out of his life again.
With a frown, she turns away, wipes her hands on her apron, and snags her friend April by the elbow. "A bloke just walked in and sat at table 12. Will you do me a favor and take care of him for me?"
April eyes her suspiciously. "Why? Do you know him?"
Morgana, leaning on the inside of the counter and staring at the kitchen, gives a half-hearted shrug.
With a grin, April looks over at the customer in question. "You do, don't you? What was it? A love affair gone awry? You know, he's rather handsome, in a lanky sort of way."
"April," Morgana prods gently, "will you just go over there and get his coffee order please?"
"Fine, fine," replies April breezily. Walking around the counter, a cheeky smile still on her lips, she adds, "You won't mind if I ask for his number, then?"
She takes the opportunity to fulfill more orders, being careful to avoid his gaze. Even so, he stays through her entire shift, waits patiently as she ignores him in favor of other patrons. She clocks out at 3:04, in the brief lull between lunch and dinner, but he's waiting for her on the sidewalk when she leaves the café. He's there, perched on a low stone wall, looking at her with that adorably lopsided grin she'd forgotten, like this is the most normal thing in the world instead of the first time they've seen each other in over a thousand years.
He stands, shifts from foot to foot a bit nervously, wipes his hands on his jeans. He's wearing sneakers and a dark jacket covering his t-shirt, which she supposes, based on the quote, is from some science fiction television series. The late spring sun shines brightly on him, letting her see that he's just the same as ever – same gangly frame, same pale skin, same untidy mop of dark hair. He gulps, and she nearly runs into his arms right there. There's still a part of her, though, a gigantic part, that remembers him as the man who loved her wrong, the man who ruined love for her entirely.
"Morgana," he says quietly.
She holds his gaze firmly. "Merlin."
She turns to go, because she doesn't need this, doesn't want it. She knows how this will go, how it will twist and wind until it will eventually end, and she doesn't want the agony that inevitably follows the ecstasy. She moves to walk past him, to head home, but he stops her, his lean fingers curling around her wrist.
"Wait?" he says, the request coming out as more of a question than a command.
But then, he never could get her to do what he asked. With one last look at him, she reclaims her arm and begins her walk home.
He comes to the café every day after that. Her friends think she's playing hard-to-get, think she's keeping him at arm's length just to determine his level of interest. But they don't know the history they share. They don't know how much she associates his name with betrayal, his smile with distrust, his tongue with untruths. They grin when he asks about her, moon when he stays for hours just to see her even though she never spares him a moment.
Even with all the emotions battling within her at every sight of him, she never turns him away, never simply asks him to leave. It could be so easy. She could ask, and he would obey because of the guilt that she knows still lives in the deepest recesses of his heart.
She doesn't though, because there are moments when she observes him, sitting at that corner table, drinking his tea and reading a paperback novel, his eyes surreptitiously following her, that her heart longs for some semblance of normalcy with him. There are moments when she can imagine him slotting into this life she's created, imagine how incredibly ordinary they could make their second chance. She sees his sneakers by the front door, his toothbrush on the bathroom sink. But she refuses to make a move, refuses to let him have that satisfaction of knowing he's wormed his way back into her heart.
So he comes every day, and then one day he brings flowers, and she knows today is different. Instead of sitting down in his usual spot, he waltzes right up to the counter, where she's on duty, and lays the bouquet down with a flourish. They're gardenias, pure white, gorgeous. It's just like him to forsake roses, the universal flower of love, and remember her favorite.
When the customers nearby stop in the middle of their meals to watch, she's suddenly aware that all the regulars, as well as her fellow waitresses, have been following this story and are eager for a romantic outcome.
"These, uh, these are for you," he begins hesitantly. "You loved gardenias once."
She pours a cup of coffee and slides it across to a customer before answering. "That was a long time ago."
He places his palms on the counter and leans forward. Quietly, he entreats, "I know that, Morgana, but so was everything you still blame me for."
Frowning, she sets down the coffee carafe and hisses, "Do you honestly want to have this conversation right here?"
"Yes," he answers with a matter-of-fact nod. "I've brought you flowers and I want to talk to you here and now because it's harder to avoid me when there are witnesses."
An older gentleman, a regular, says from his perch at the end of the counter, "Aww, give the kid a chance, Morgana."
She swivels to glare at him, torn between shock and outrage. "Howard! You're supposed to be on my side."
The old man smiles and lifts up his coffee mug to emphasize his words. "Darling, I've been on your side for a month now, but he had me with the gardenias."
She turns back to Merlin to find him grinning triumphantly. "Oh, hush," she mutters, "they're not all on your side."
"Look," Merlin implores, still unable to stifle his grin, "all I'm asking is for one night, one dinner. I think you can give me that."
The customers around them murmur in agreement, and her frown deepens. Hands on her hips, she looks around. All eyes are on them; everyone's hoping for her to say 'yes.' April stands at the other side of the café, shooting her a thumbs-up and an exaggerated smile while nodding her head eagerly.
"If I have this dinner with you," she begins cautiously, holding up a finger in warning, "if, and then I tell you I never want to see you again, then –"
"Then I'll go," he promises. "I'll leave and you'll never see me again."
She stares at him for a long moment, searches those cobalt eyes for any trace of remorse. They flicker with something she doesn't quite recognize, and her willpower wavers. Lips pursed, she says, "Fine. One dinner. But that's all I'm agreeing to."
Howard and the other nearby patrons begin to whoop and clap, but she silences them with a steely glare.
"Of course, of course," Merlin says, his happiness spilling out in his relived laughter. "Tomorrow, then? I'll meet you here at 7 o'clock."
She nods and watches him turn to leave. As he reaches for the door handle, she calls, "You're paying!"
He shoots her one last cheeky grin before disappearing, and she wonders what she's gotten herself into.
He's exactly the same as she remembers. She remembers sinewy arms that wrap around her protectively, remembers supple lips eager to kiss away her pain. She remembers how easily her fingers tangle into that shock of raven-black hair, remembers how effortlessly her hands run over that smooth, pale skin.
But he's different somehow as well. There's a difference lurking just below the surface that she can detect but not yet identify. It's not immediately noticeable, but the more time she spends with him, the more she can see it. It flickers through in his easy smile, in the words he uses. It makes her believe he's changed, makes her want to drop the defenses she's spent so long fortifying.
Yet there's still a nagging in the back of her heart that keeps her from trusting him completely.
He knows all this, knows that she agrees to each and every date nearly against her will, but all he does is amplify his charm and soften his smile. As time goes on, as the days wind unexpectedly into weeks, she finds that she's grateful for his silence, grateful for the way he never brings up their past feuds, only works harder every day to help her forget.
It's not long, though, before that gratitude evolves into something else, something she's not quite prepared to name.
He waits for her outside the restaurant, showing up an hour or two or even three before her shift ends. He often comes inside and orders tea and dessert, but occasionally he sits outside on that stone wall, reading or simply watching the people walking to and fro on the cobblestoned street, always waiting for her.
She can't decide how she feels about this constant presence of his, so she decides not to think about it at all. Today, she breezes out of the cafe, barely sparing him a glance as she walks by.
"Coming?" she calls belatedly in a tone that he will no doubt understand means that she doesn't care one way or the other if he comes or not.
Merlin takes this in stride, quickly shutting his book and scrambling to his feet to follow her. He's smiling cheerfully when he catches up to her. "So, uh, what are we up to tonight?" he asks.
She purses her lips thoughtfully. "Well, there's a good Lebanese restaurant a few blocks away."
"Lebanese, huh? Sounds good, sure."
It's always this way. She decides and he follows. Idly, as she strolls down the sidewalk, she wonders if he'll ever tire of her callousness, and if so, if he'll ever actually call her out on it. Tonight, though, he simply smiles and falls into step beside her, as if he'll follow her to the ends of the earth.
He adores the idea of her as a starving artist, "the ultimate free spirit" is what he calls her, and she teases him when he admits that he's working as a docent at the castle just outside of town. It may be cheating when the tour guide at a historical site actually lived through those times.
It's nearly seven weeks all told, full of entreaties and supplication on Merlin's part, before she even lets him up to her flat. As much as she hates the fact that her heart drops its defenses so easily after a simple look or smile, she's powerless to build them up again. All she can do is curse her traitorous heart and let him come up anyways.
His mouth hangs open slightly when he steps over the threshold. Her work is littered about the entire place, both hanging on the wall or merely sitting around waiting for her to pick it up again. Charcoal sketches, photographs, oil paintings . . . He's quiet as he examines each and every piece, and she feels laid bare under his open, captivated gaze. But she stifles that vulnerability and watches him in silence, watches his eyes sparkle each time he unexpectedly recognizes an old comrade.
He wanders over to the far wall, in the middle of which hangs a sketch depicting a fair-haired man, clothed in the armor of a warrior, lying on his back on a circular table, as if asleep.
"Arthur . . ." Merlin murmurs, and for a moment, Morgana believes he will come between them yet again, come between them even from a place that knows nothing of distance.
But then he turns, points to a painting lying sideways on the sofa. "And there's Gwen." His eyes roam about until they fall on another painting in the corner. – "And Lancelot." – and two side-by-side sketches on the coffee table. – "And Mordred and Morgause."
When he finally faces her, it's with a question in his eyes.
She shrugs uncomfortably. "I couldn't erase the images from my mind, so I drew them."
He strolls over to where she's standing uncertainly by the kitchen counter. "Do you still have nightmares?"
Yes. She has nightmares frequently, always seeing the faces of those she hurt, of those who hurt her.
She shakes her head. "Not like that. Not anymore."
"I do sometimes," he tells her somberly, winding an arm around her waist. Without waiting for a response, he says, "Morgana, these are fantastic. Really, really amazing."
"Thank you," she murmurs, truly touched.
A tiny frown tugging at his lips, he says, "I do have a question though. There are a lot of Arthur, a lot of Mordred, Morgause, Gwen. I've seen Lancelot, Gwaine, Yvaine, all the Knights of the Round Table, even Uther. So . . . how come you've never drawn me?"
With a sigh, she leans against the counter and tilts her head to look up at him. "I couldn't," she admits quietly. "Putting my memories into pictures . . . it makes them real again, and I didn't want to relive all that had passed between us."
He is quiet, his brow furrowed with unspoken thoughts. Finally, he asks, "Will you sketch me now?"
An amused smile stretches across her lips. "Why? Fancy modeling?"
"Maybe I feel left out," he shrugs.
"I think you just want to pose. Shall we dress you in a toga? Or give you a lion's hide and a rifle for props?"
"Fine," he laughs, "it was only a suggestion."
Excessively diverted, she pulls him closer. "If you really want to model, I've got some friends looking for new faces."
"Why can't it be you? Don't you ever use models?" he whines, and the way he says it clues her into his motives.
"When I can afford it. Models are expensive, you know, and generally quiet needy. More trouble than they're worth, really."
A gleam jumps into his eyes. "Oh, I'm sure we can work out some sort of deal."
She swats at his shoulder. "You're impossible."
Inclining his head, he prompts, "Impossible to resist?"
With a light scoff and a roll of her eyes, she answers, "More like impossible to tolerate."
He inches his face ever closer, and she can't grasp the willpower to pull away. His eyes are still dancing when he teases, "Then why keep me around?"
He's close now, his lips mere millimeters from hers. She can feel the warm puff of his breath on her skin, the gentle touch sending sparks shooting through her. Curling a hand into his hair, she sighs, "I really can't recall," and those startling blue eyes are the last things she focuses on before he kisses her and drives all coherent thought from her mind.
That night, she has only pleasant dreams.
Morgana can feel April's teasing gaze on her as she makes her coffee rounds. Loath to return to her mischievous comrade, she goes about refilling mugs as slowly as humanly possible, stopping to engage the regulars in conversation at each opportunity. Eventually, though, she must go back to the counter, where April's waiting with a sly, perceptive grin.
Still, Morgana keeps silent and goes about her work even as her friend studies her intently.
"You, my friend," April begins, that grin still playing over her appealing features, "disturb me."
Morgana, in spite of herself, chuckles softly. An eyebrow raised in amusement, she says, "Excuse me?"
April lets out a soft growl of frustration. "Come on, Morgana! Your life is going so well right now. Why is it you can't seem to find any happiness in it?"
Morgana pauses in the middle of wiping down the counter. She swallows self-consciously, her brow furrowing. "What are you talking about?"
"You've got an amazing guy out there, Morgana," April says matter-of-factly, tilting her head toward the street, where Merlin sits on that low stone wall he occupies so often. "He's obviously nuts about you, and yet you come into work every day with this look on your face like . . . like . . ."
"Like what?" prompts Morgana with intense curiosity.
"Like you just take it all for granted," April finishes with a sigh.
Morgana shakes her head and protests shakily, "I don't . . . I don't take Merlin for granted."
"Then why," April queries, "are you constantly trying to find something wrong with your relationship?"
Morgana lets out a sigh and leans against the counter. She considers denying it but knows, faced with April, that there's really no point. She glances out the window to catch sight of Merlin, his slight frame illuminated by the late afternoon sun as he sits and reads on the wall, and she feels a small smile tug at her lips. She really doesn't deserve a friend like April. Still, there's something hovering between her and Merlin that she feels will never go away, will never cease to haunt them.
"April," she sighs, "Merlin and I have a past you don't know about. It's, it's really hard for me to trust him."
A frown furrows April's brow. She sidles up next to Morgana and nudges her in the shoulder. "That's my point, isn't it? You're absolutely right, I don't know what happened before, but he seems pretty devoted now. He seems quite willing to try to make up for whatever he's done. And if I were you, my friend, I would be savoring my time with him, not bracing myself for the moment it ends, which, I feel the need to remind you, it may not even do."
Morgana, arms crossed over her abdomen, sinks down a bit, directs her gaze out the window at Merlin again, and asks in a low voice, "But what if it does? What if I open up only for him to hurt me all over again? It took me . . . so long to piece my heart back together from the first time. I fear it would never recover if he, if it happened once more."
April slides an arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. "Morg, I don't know what to tell you, except what I see when I see you two together."
"And what's that?"
"Epic love," April smiles, "the kind that only exists in tales of heroes and daring deeds and sacrifice. I see a man who is trying his damndest to make up for all his past mistakes, and a woman who wants so badly to believe but doesn't quite know how to let herself. I see two people who should be reveling in each other, but who instead are punishing themselves for things they can't control. And you know what?"
April drops a quick kiss on Morgana's forehead, making her smile, and tells her, "It makes my heart break to watch you two."
She realizes the truth in this with a sudden jolt. She's spent a long time, lifetimes, in the shadows. Maybe it's time to step out into the sunlight, even if that means taking a risk and potentially getting her heart shattered again. There's a part of her, a part that grows with each passing day, that longs to reach out to him and forgive him for all their past torment. Like April said, they've been punishing themselves for things beyond their control. Destiny, by one name.
And, this go around, she's ready to throw destiny out the window.
Morgana wiggles out of her friend's embrace and offers her a warm smile. "Thanks, April. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"I do," April laughs, pushing her playfully away as they get back to work. "You and Merlin would still be pining away inconsolably forever."
Morgana's gaze once again slides to the window. "Well," she says, feeling a burst of new, uncertain happiness in her chest, "then I'll be forever indebted to you, won't I?"
She's still smiling an hour later when she strips off her apron and heads out for the day, squinting into the bright evening sun.
Merlin's face lights up when she walks out into the street. He closes his book, stands, and brushes off his jeans. "Ready?" he asks.
Morgana regards him wonderingly for a moment, during which he tilts his head and an embarrassed blush rises to his cheeks.
"Morgana?" he enquires uncertainly. "Are you ready? Want to stop at your place before we go?"
Smiling gently, she fists his t-shirt, drags him toward her, and presses her lips against his. "Hi," she greets in a low hum.
"Uh, hi?" he replies, confusion splashed across his face as he raises a hand to scratch the back of his head.
She ignores his puzzled look and begins walking down the sidewalk. "Thanks for waiting."
"It was, it was nothing," he tells her with a chuckle, still looking quite nonplussed at her unusually affectionate greeting. But then a wide grin spreads over his face, and, catching up with her, he winds an arm around her waist to pull her close. He presses a swift kiss to her temple. "So, Italian? Indian? Chinese? What are you in the mood for tonight?"
Morgana's spirits are lifting higher with each step they take in-sync. She suddenly wants nothing more than to cry out, You!, and kiss away the astonished look on his face, but she's also very much looking forward to spending the evening with him, especially now that she's decided to risk the consequences by opening her heart to him.
So she simply shrugs and leans into him a bit more. "Whatever you feel like."
His eyebrows lift slightly at her sudden agreeability, but, after countless weeks of fighting this, she doesn't have the energy to explain it all to him at the moment. He stays quiet, seemingly content to revel in her new attitude instead of questioning it, but his thumb flits along her hip, and she realizes that, with barely a word, he's already guessed at the change within her.
Early morning light streams in through the blinds, and Morgana lets out a long, quiet sigh. Despite his thousand years, Merlin looks incredibly young while he's sleeping, like the boy who first came to the castle, bursting with magic and spirit and adventure. Swallowing deeply, she props herself up by an elbow to get a good look at him. His shaggy dark hair falls across his forehead, nearly in his eyes, and she has to fight the urge to run her fingers through it. He'll need a haircut soon, certainly. He's lying on his back, his chest rising and falling rhythmically with each breath. His face is turned slightly away from her, toward the sunlight, his mouth hanging open slightly.
There's a tranquility about him that radiates through his sleeping form, and it in turn inspires a calm within her. She's felt this before, felt the intense pulse of love beating within her breast, but it's different now. The first time, she had hidden it, secreted it away until it could no longer be concealed, and even then had guarded it in frightened jealousy.
Now, though, now she sees things quite differently. Love is instinctual, elemental, born of the earth and of the air, meant to be shouted from the highest mountain tops, unable to be contained within something so base as a human body. Her love claws its way out of her, and she is powerless to keep it confined. She no longer wants to try.
Instead, flipping onto her back beside him, she lets it burst from her, lets it radiate from every pore, and the weight she's been carrying for so long suddenly lightens and lifts from her completely.
With another contented sigh, she slips from under the sheets and traipses across the room to grab a sketch pad and pencil from her desk. Quietly, carefully, so as not to wake him, she lays a pillow against the foot of the bed, slides back under the covers, props the sketch pad on her knees. He stirs at the movement, but she freezes and he simply turns his head and settles down again.
She studies him for a moment, lets her gaze roam over the curve of his jaw, the angle of his cheek, the turn of his brow. A sudden, intense desire to memorize his every feature wells up in her. But she calms as she remembers that they have their entire lifetimes for that. For now, she will content herself with the unadulterated freedom to drink him in whenever and for however long she wishes.
Locksley pads into the bedroom and springs gracefully onto the bed. She welcomes him with a thorough scratching behind the ears, and he settles in besides her, purring contentedly. She turns her gaze back toward Merlin, and, feeling a smile touch her lips, sets pencil to paper.
She hides in the corner, a glass of wine in her hand, a fluttering in her heart. She takes another sip of wine as bits of conversation float toward her, none of which she pays much heed. It's silly to be hiding on such an important day, she knows, but she likes the vantage point from here. April is chatting with their boss in front of another artist's exhibit, and Merlin is strolling around the gallery in wonder. He looks more handsome than ever, in grey slacks and a black button-down, pressed and tucked-in even, with ridiculous sneakers to complete the outfit. She could watch him all day, simply erase the rest of the world from her mind. He glances around curiously, probably looking for her.
With a sigh and a smile, she sets down her wine and decides it's finally time to emerge from her corner. As she strolls across the room, Merlin spots her and meets her halfway. Grinning, he loops an arm around her back and presses a kiss to her cheek.
"This is fantastic, Morgana," he tells her with a grin. "I'm so happy for you."
She stops and turns in his arms. "And I," she says, "am happy that I get to share it with you."
Still grinning goofily, he plants a kiss on her lips and pulls her over toward her display, which is beginning to attract more attention. Two women stand in front of one piece in particular, excitedly admiring the first drawing she'd ever done of the man standing beside her.
"Yep," one of the women nods definitively. "I'm going to do it. I've got to have it. I'm going to buy this piece!"
Merlin, beaming, squeezes her waist, and a fuzzy pride wells in her.
"Ooh, where can I find the gallery owner?" the woman squees as she looks around for the man in question.
Merlin gives her a little shove forward. "You don't need the owner. The artist is right here."
The woman lets out a soft gasp of shock. "Oh, my. Oh, wow, um, it's an honor, a real honor. Your work is simply wonderful."
Morgana laughs quietly. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Morgana. Thank you so much for the compliment."
"No, I think you're brilliant, obviously. And I would love to purchase this piece."
"That's kind, very kind. Unfortunately, this particular piece is not for sale."
"What? Are you sure?" she asks, distressed.
Her friend shakes her head. "Of course she's sure. She's the one who drew it!"
Morgana gives her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, really. Anything else, except for that one. It was lovely to meet you."
"Oh, yes, of course," the woman stammers disappointedly.
Grabbing Merlin's hand, Morgana drags him off to the other side of the gallery toward April.
As they go, Merlin questions, "Why wouldn't you sell it? I bet she would have upped her offer after your first refusal."
"Probably," she concedes with a shrug, "but no matter how much she would have offered, I'm not interested in selling that drawing."
He runs his thumb over the back of her hand. "You can draw me any time you like, you know."
They sidle up beside April, and she rests her head on his shoulder with a sigh. "I know that, and I will," she tells him, and indeed, since the first drawing three months ago, at least a hundred or two more drawing, paintings, and photographs of him have followed fast upon its heels. "Until you get sick of it maybe. But that one, I will never consent to part with."
"Whatever you say," he nods, rubbing her arm.
A shy smile burgeoning on her lips, she snakes her arms around his waist and snuggles into him, not caring who sees. "And you know what else I won't ever consent to part with?"
She leans up to whisper in his ear, "You."
Merlin lets out a soft, breathy chuckle and drops a kiss in her hair. "Have I told you yet today how beautiful you are?"
"Not today," she laughs.
He murmurs, "Well, you are. Beautiful, and brilliant, and . . ." He pauses, staring at her as he trails off. His expression grows serious when he adds, "And completely and utterly more than I deserve."
She looks up at him in surprise, slides a warm hand over his heart. "Not true," she whispers, shaking her head, "most definitely not true."
Morgana watches lazily as Merlin traipses around the bedroom in nothing but his boxer shorts, flinging clothes and articles about like a madman. Her sketchpad lies on her lap, but her pencil roams idly. Her eyes flick up with every tossed shirt, every overturned object, and an amused smile lights her eyes.
"Have you seen my work shirt?" he eventually asks, distressed.
She sets down her pencil and looks up to regard him properly. "You mean the one with the little jousting knight on it?" she chuckles.
He tosses a balled-up t-shirt at her. It lands splayed across her head, one arm falling down in over her eye.
"Stop teasing me," he frowns. "I really need it. I've gotta go to work soon."
"Don't you need some pants as well?" she retorts, tossing the t-shirt right back at him.
He rolls his eyes in exasperation, though he can't stifle his smile. "I'm serious, Morgana. I can find my Star Wars t-shirt, and my nice jeans and my slumming jeans, and my running shorts, and that shirt I like to wear to the theatre, but where the hell's my work polo?"
She slides out from beneath the covers and joins him in his search. "Well, geeze, Merlin, you've got so much crap here already, why don't you just move in?"
He freezes, poised to dive into the closet, and she doesn't even have to look up to know there's astonishment on his face. In a stroke of well-timed luck, though, she notices the shirt peeking out from beneath the end table, a tiny splotch of crimson just visible below the bottom shelf of books.
"Ah!" she exclaims in delight, reaching down to retrieve the shirt. "Found it!" It comes out a bit dusty, but it looks decent after a little brushing off, and she holds it up for him to examine. "There, good as new!"
Merlin, though, is still staring at her, his mouth hanging open. Smiling fondly, she traipses over to him, pulls the shirt over his head, and turns around to find him some pants. As she locates his nice jeans, she says with a shrug, "Or, you know, you can think about it while you're at work, doesn't matter . . ."
He quickly steps into the pants, obeys silently as she hands him socks and his sneakers as well.
Just as she's ushering him out into the living room, he says, "Wait."
He turns to face her, and she lifts her eyes expectantly.
A grin spreads over his face. "I don't need a whole shift at work to think about it. I mean, yeah, I needed a minute or two to get over the surprise, but . . ."
His arms twine around her waist, and she lets him pull her closer, feeling a pleasant warmth flutter in her chest. She would have been scared of it once, would have turned away for fear of losing herself. It's different now though. The warmth is unadulterated by their perceptions of duty, untouched by the outside world. It exists for him and him alone. When he leans down to capture her lips sweetly, she feels a surge of heady happiness, and, unlike so many times before, she allows herself the indulgence of him, of his lean arms, of his spicy tongue.
"Do you mean it?" he asks quietly when they part.
Unwilling to trust her voice, she merely nods. After a lengthy gaze into her eyes, he slips away from her and picks up his jacket that's hanging behind the front door.
"It's warm today," she tells him, rocking onto her tiptoes. "I don't think you need your jacket."
"No, probably not," he agrees, rehanging it on the hook. When he turns back to her, those deep blue eyes of his are dancing. "But I need what's in it."
And suddenly he's in front of her again, not on one knee as contemporary custom suggests because they are not made for customs, but merely standing in front of her, holding the leather jewelry bag in one palm and the ring in the other, offering his heart right along with his hand.
"Merlin . . ." she murmurs uncertainly.
He offers a hesitant shrug even as an affectionate smile pulls at his lips. "The way I figure, whenever you let me get a foot in the door, I need to jump at it and just go for broke, even if that means . . . even if it means terrifying you by moving at the speed of light when you're still barely ready to let me cook you dinner, or meet your friends, or even buy you gifts just because it's Thursday and I feel like it."
She chuckles lightly and takes the ring out of his hand, rolling it around in her palm. It's small but substantial, made of well-formed, intertwined ropes of silver and decorated with an oval emerald.
"How old is this anyway?" she asks, but what she really means is, How long have you had this?
A pensive frown furrows his brow. "I can't remember."
She lifts a disbelieving eyebrow. "You can't remember?"
Blushing, he rubs at the back of his neck. "Fine. Well, uh, the truth is I found it in this tiny market. I was just passing through, and I was looking to purchase only some supplies for a journey, food mostly, a new cloak. This old woman was selling jewelry, though, and she caught me with her eyes. Thought I had a sadness about me, and wouldn't let me go even though I said I wasn't interested. In the end, she gave me this, said to keep it until I had need of it."
"She gave it to you?" Merlin nods. A smirk twisting her lips, she asks, "So when was this, exactly?"
He shakes his head. He narrows his eyes playfully at her and asks, "Do you take more delight in knowing that you've been the mistress of my heart for over a millennium, or in keeping me hanging for a proper answer?" A sudden fear comes into his eyes. "Or do you want to think about it while I'm at work?"
"You didn't even ask me a question!" she teases with a laugh.
Before he can respond though, she wraps her arms around his neck and drags him down for another heart-stopping kiss. She's melting into him, losing herself and not even minding it because he feels so, so good. He feels like a fireplace on a winter evening, like sunshine in the morning, like the rippling breeze on a hot summer day. He feels like home, and she feels safe with him, safe for the first time in so very long. The laughter is still on her tongue when they break apart. It seems like laugh is all she does nowadays, because he's funny and amazing and undeniably hers.
"That answer good enough for you?" she smiles.
He nods and sneaks another short kiss, before she pushes him playfully away and shepherds him toward the front door. He grabs his sunglasses and keys from the table before standing obediently in front of her as she straightens his collar and brushes invisible lint from his shoulder. She gives him a once over and gives him a smile of approval.
"Okay," she pronounces, "go and wow them with your historical knowledge."
"Want me to pick up some dinner on my way home?" he asks, dipping his head for yet another peck on the lips.
She hums thoughtfully before replying, "Why don't we go out tonight instead?"
He studies her for a few seconds before breaking out into a grin. "Fantastic. See you later then."
Smiling affectionately, she stands in the doorway to see him off down the hallway until he disappears into the stairwell, then moves to the living room window to watch him stroll down the street, a spring in his step. Her heart floats at the sight, at the thought of joining her future to his, the way they should have long ago.
Before he walked into her life for the second time, this would have been point where she would cut and run. Before, she knew that simply the promise of happiness was sure to bring misery. But she is no longer the naïve, vengeful girl who allows her rage to overtake her sense, who distrusts happiness, the girl who runs from love. And she believes that he is no longer the idealistic boy who chases contentment only to be discouraged by wrong steps and heart-hearted girls.
The thing is, they've been through this all before, and she's inclined to do it right this time.