Title: Stone Hearts
Characters: Morgana, Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Morgana's relationship with Merlin places her on the path to her destiny.
Spoilers: For S1 and S2, then AU.
Disclaimer: Never mine. Never has been, never will be. The song "Stone Hearts" is sung by Leona Lewis.
A/N: Once again, huge thanks to ! I don't know what I'd do without her. I've been rewatching a lot of S1 and S2 eps (I unfortunately do not have S3), and this story was inspired by a quote from Morgana in 1.03. I ended up only using one line really, but here is the full quote, for your perusing pleasure:
"Poor Merlin. He offered to give up his life to save Gwen's. I certainly can't imagine any man loving me so much. . . . He's a lover. Sadly, the age of gallantry seems to be dead. You look around and all you see if small men, not big enough to fill their armor. There's not one of them who's able to stand up for what's right."
There's a lot of strength in weakness
There's a lot of truth in lies
But in the end we're just two people
Destined to collide
Like stone hearts and hand grenades
You and I are not the same
There is nothing I would change
We're stone hearts and hand grenades
– "Stone Hearts," Leona Lewis
I certainly can't imagine any man loving me so much . . .
Her own words resound in her ears, echo in her heart as his lips touch hers once more, hesitant and searching and yet burning with a desire that's fighting its way to the surface. Her breath comes in ragged gasps, and she's lightheaded from the lack of air, or maybe from the shock of his skin on hers, but she's finding it hard to care because his lean body is a comforting weight above hers, and his tongue is claiming hers with a selfishness she hadn't known he'd possessed, and his palm running down her bare stomach is enough to drive all sensible thought from her mind. He gasps her name between kisses, and all she can think about is how much she wants him.
He kindles the spark within her chest, sets it burning until the heat rises up and the flames threaten to scald her. She should be terrified right now, terrified of such an intensity raging between them, of the possibility of being consumed in the blaze. She should be terrified, because the blanket of warmth that wraps around her with each of his caresses feels so much like the surge of magic in her veins. Instead, her longing merely intensifies, like flames begetting more flames, and she twines an arm round his neck to pull him closer, his torso flush against hers now.
The rays of the setting sun stream in through the open window, the orange glow catching in and playing through his dark hair. They're bathed in the fading light, and the fierce radiance of the sky is as a blessing to the irrepressible passion radiating through her. She knows how wrong this is, knows they're risking much more than one night. Dusk, though, is their time, a time when the boundaries crash down and all that exists is the strange connection they've never been able to explain away and now will no longer try to.
Her heart pounds at his breath on her neck, already damp with sweat and stuck with wavy tendrils of hair. Just his hands on her body inspire a rapturous instability, and she wonders if it's possible to die of ecstasy, if they will discover her in the morning with a smile on her lips and his scent on her skin. The thought is driven from her mind by a flickering stab of pain. Her eyes fill with tears and a soft, involuntary cry escapes her, and he stops, poised above her, her nails digging into his shoulders. Staring down at her, clear blue eyes meeting pale green ones, he kisses her, and the pain dissolves as quickly as it'd come, melting into a bliss she's never before known existed.
Her magic swells within her, triggered by him maybe, by their intimacy, and this act of passion that is so akin to the instincts from which her powers arise. After a moment of pure, selfish indulgence in the feel of him, she recovers her senses enough to move her hips in time with his, until their bodies and souls and psyches are indistinguishable. He is of her, and she of him, and they are richer for the intermingling. Her magic responds to his touch, flares up when his lips ghost over her ear, when he moves within her, when his thumb traces her breast, but even when her magic floods through her and explodes in a burst of sensations, colliding with his and leaving her shuddering and shaking, she can't quite understand what it's trying to tell her.
The sun has gone down when he collapses onto the pillows beside her, chest heaving and a sheen of sweat on his pale, bare skin. The sun has disappeared below the horizon, but its remnants linger, casting an amber glow over his figure.
Despite the warmth of the summer evening, an unsettling coldness sweeps over her. She may be inexperienced, but she is not naïve. She has lived at one court or another her entire life, and she's paid attention to courtly gossip long enough to hear about the sorts of things men do, the way they use women for the satisfaction of their own desires, the way they promise and whisper sweet words only to leave them with nothing. The majority have broken, wiser hearts and sad stories to tell. The most unfortunate have fatherless children to show for their gullibility.
She stares at him as he swipes a hand through his sweaty hair, watches him gulp down a breath as he tries to recover himself, takes an unabashed look at his exposed body, and she knows he is not like those other men. He is just the same as he's always been – clumsy and honest and generous, too trusting for his own good and completely vulnerable in this moment. A thump of affection swoops into her heart, and she swallows hard in surprise, because this isn't the way it goes.
What she just experienced with him, what she's still having a tough time solidifying as real, falls somewhere between what she'd always imagined happened between two people truly in love and what she pictured when listened to the women at court chatter about their rendezvouses. This was intense, visceral, primitive, so how is it possible that simply gazing at him makes this stirring fondness spread through her?
This cannot be love.
But then he catches her eye, and she sees, beneath the affection and wonderment in his gaze, a hint of fear that reflects her own. He's just as terrified as she is, of this consuming them, of this not lasting. That fondness intensifies under his gaze, and she rolls onto her side to press a hand to his chest, right over his heart. When he slides his hand on top of hers, there's a moment when a future flashes before her eyes, a future full of security. Even after completely unraveling herself for him, no one's made her feel this safe, not even her father.
She scoots nearer, her body shifting comfortably against his, and he curls his arms around her and holds her tenderly. And she somehow knows that no one will ever love her more than he does in this moment.
He runs his fingers up and down her arm, a contented smile on his lips, and she wonders if he feels her slipping away from him, feels them drifting apart as acutely as she does. His arms are just as comforting and safe as they always were, but she somehow feels as if she's falling out of his embrace, sliding from his grip and off the precipice into the unknown, darkened abyss. Only no one is there to save her this time, because he's looking in the opposite direction, too focused on how to bring about his new Albion.
She stifles a scoff at the thought that she needs a savior. She's always been strong and independent and quite able to take care of herself. Why should she need to be looked after by a silly serving boy with ears much too large for their own good? Although she does so love brushing her lips against those ears, and whispering her secrets into them.
Maybe she is the empty one nowadays. She's just a shell, standing in court with her lying tongue and her vacant eyes. She keeps her magic hidden, locked away inside her like a sin, and all it does is tear away at her until she cannot breathe.
But then, at night, his kisses breathe a new life into her, and she feels as if her daytime unhappiness is merely an illusion, something she can vanquish on her own. She's alive with him, her heart beats vibrantly and, with him beside her, she wants nothing more than to take in the world, to see it and smell it and live it all.
She sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night to feel him beside her, feel his warm breath and his gentle arms, and such a well of love bubbles up in her that she can do nothing more than stare at him in the moonlight. And then she slides a hand to his chest, wakes him with a gentle kiss, and shows him just how deep that love runs.
When the dawn comes, the thin light illuminates his cheekbones, and it occurs to her that he's scared of this new, desperate possessiveness of him. It scares her, too. But then she murmurs against his neck, and he strokes her hair, and everything is all right again for a moment. Gone is the fraught uncertainty within her that constantly fights to get out. Gone is the emptiness within her when he leaves her alone to chase after his prince and save him from some mythical beast or magical threat. Gone is the hollowness when she catches a glimpse of the fondness simmering between her brother and her handmaiden, when she recalls that never once has her handmaiden spoken of it. Gone are the feelings of insecurity and unworthiness. All that's left is love.
The coming of night may protect her from her demons, his touch may drive out her doubt, but the sun always rises to bring a new day.
He stumbles in, bloody and broken and exhausted, and it takes all her willpower to keep from crying out at the sight of him. Instead, she runs to him, captures him in a fierce embrace, sprinkles gentle kisses over his bruised face. He's quiet as she leads him to the bed and wraps him up in the blankets, quiet as she takes the uneaten supper on the table and brings it over to him, quiet as she presses an entire cup of wine on him. She takes a damp cloth to his face to wipe away the blood and grime, her hand trembling, but he sits through all her ministrations patiently, silently.
She stands, and he reaches out to catch her arm. Setting the cloth on the bedside table, she climbs into the bed beside him, lets him curl against her and wrap his arms around her, lets him bury his face in her neck. Because of all the comforts he needs right now, what he needs most is just the familiar feel of her.
An ache settles in her chest. This is not how it should be. She shouldn't be left to comfort him after the battle. She should be fighting beside him, should be out there to protect him from the evils that he witnesses out there.
It's dark when he finally speaks, his tongue twisting as he tells the story. He speaks of how the source of the attack was a great sorcerer, how his prince needed to be defended, how he had no choice. Ice runs through her veins, because there is always a choice. Isn't that what he's taught her? Always a choice between good and evil, between life and death. And yet he chose death. He condemned one of their own kind. She looks for remorse in his eyes, listens for it in his words, but all she hears is fatigue, and relief that his precious prince has been spared once more. She is glad of this fact as well, glad that her brother lives to see another day, lives to love even though her handmaiden deserves much more, but she doesn't understand why it had to end this way.
They have a duty to protect magic users, to protect their kin. His goal is to restore magic to the kingdom, and yet he does so little to convince the prince of its worth, does so little to prevent the unnecessary deaths of fellow sorcerers. He should know that better than anyone. She has half a mind to chastise him, half a mind to scream at him until he understands that.
But he is weary right now, his limbs heavy with exhaustion, and he doesn't need a lecture, not at this moment, not from her. So she lets him settle against her, his arms tight and protective like he doesn't ever want to let go, lets him press soft kisses to her neck until he drops into a dreamless sleep.
She closes her eyes as well, comfortable in his embrace, but her mind won't let her rest. A shadow hangs over them, threatening the happiness they are trying so hard to build. A shadow that will always influence him, poison his mind, no matter how much he tries to resist. They will never be free to build their new Albion until they are free of it. She thinks he does not see it, does not see the harm that comes from their current path. But that is why they are the way they are. They protect one another, look out for the things the other cannot see. He shields her when she becomes too reckless, when she needs an outlet for her powers. And she does the same when he falls prey to his frustrations, when his present concerns cloud his future achievements.
Opening her eyes, she brushes his hair back from his forehead, paler than usual. He does so much for her – keeping her secret, defending her brother, fighting for this kingdom even though he will get no recognition. Now, when she sees clearly how he is falling into this trap, it is time she returns the favor. He may be the most powerful sorcerer this kingdom will ever know, but he cannot protect himself constantly, and she will do whatever it takes to save him.
He throws open the throne room doors and bursts in even before the king's last breath leaves his body. The look he gives her is full of anguish, but his face only reflects her own. Even in her haze of anger, she knows how he found her so quickly, knows he merely followed the agony in her heart crying out to his.
With a last heave of strength, she pulls the sword from the king's chest, its blade smeared red. He's beside her now, his warmth filling up the cold, cold room and expelling the pain inside of her. He lays a hand on her shoulder, draws her to him, and her fingers uncurl. The sword falls to the floor with a clatter.
The world returns to her in a rush. She is no longer isolated inside her own revenge, her own thirst for justice. The clang of steel on stone opens her ears, and she hears the hastening boot steps of soldiers in the corridors. She hears him in her mind: Hide.
She's behind a pillar, concealed in the shadows, when they come. She's frozen, unable to move or even to call out for him, unsure if it's from fear or if he's spelled her. They come like a summer storm, sudden and fierce, and she bites her lip so hard she can taste the blood. She watches, horrified, as they force him roughly to his knees, a soldier holding each of his arms. He offers no protest, no explanation, no fight, yet they treat him as if he is worthless, too dirty to be touched and yet the order must be endured.
The prince strides in, sword drawn, but stops when he sees his manservant and best friend on his knees, a bloody sword at his feet, sees his father dead in his throne. She's never seen her brother's eyes full of such grief, and the sight staggers her. A shock of guilt runs through her heart, because she had meant to draw the kingdom into a new age, and perhaps all she has achieved is to set the only family member she has ever cared about against her.
When the new day dawns, her lover is locked in the dungeon, awaiting judgment from the uncrowned king. Her brother paces the torch-lit hallway, silenced by his heartache. She stands in the corner, her back against the cold stone wall, watching the two men she cares for most as they refuse to speak about what has passed this night.
He sits on the straw, arms resting on his knees, face pale and unreadable in the dawn light that streams in through the barred window. Her heart nearly bursts at the sight of him, at the misery, the confusion in his eyes. She feels dizzy, wants to collapse onto the floor. All she wanted to do was hasten his destiny. Instead she has killed a king and betrayed a brother and set the man she loves, the man Albion needs, on a path to execution. Why is it that everything she touches turns to ash?
No, she thinks, not everything.
Because here he is, in front of her, caged and judged and innocent, and yet shining with love. She has not managed to destroy that yet. Despite all her flaws, all her faults, all her mistakes, he has loved her so devotedly, so much more faithfully than she has deserved.
He lifts his gaze to hers, stunning cobalt piercing into watery emerald, and she suddenly knows what she must do. She strides over to the cell, and he stands to meet her at the bars. Reaching through to take his face in her palms, she presses a deep kiss to his lips. He responds hungrily, his tongue sliding through her parted lips, his lean fingers gripping her waist, as if terrified he will never have the chance to kiss her again. But she will not let that happen. She cannot endure such a separation. Merely the thought of it sends her heart into spasms. Her breathing is ragged when they pull apart, and she rests her forehead against his until she recovers herself enough to speak. She runs her thumb over his cheekbone, reveling in the warmth of his skin, but the moment cannot last. She lets her fingers trail over his cheek, over his jaw, as she draws back and turns to face her brother and king, whose sorrow has temporarily been replaced by shock.
And that's when she confesses all – her love for them both, however different it may be, as well as her unfortunate role as their father's murderer.
The new king drops to his knees, buries his face in his hands. His shoulders shake violently. She longs to reach out to him, but her touch would only burn. Instead, she turns to the man who has stayed silent throughout the entire confession. He clutches the bars of his cell, his grief-soaked eyes weighing down on her.
Why? comes his voice in her mind.
He knows why. Because she has made an unspeakable error that she must make right. Because he has a destiny and she is determined to get him to it. Because she has the best of intentions and they always seem to go awry.
Because I never imagined loving any man so much.
The word had tasted so bitter when first spoken, but she quickly adjusts to the situation. Focusing on surviving keeps her busy and takes her mind away from all other cares, but it cannot fully banish the ache in her heart that comes from leaving him. She feels as if her chest has been opened up and a cavity left where her heart once was. And each day, the longing for him only grows stronger.
Her only saving grace is that she has much to distract her. What she must do is clear to her, but how she is to accomplish it is not. She is grateful for the warm summer weather, because she spends weeks on her own, living in the forest or taking rooms at remote inns when she feels she can chance it. It's September when she winds her way into Cenred's kingdom. An idea has been sitting in the back of her mind, a notion of traveling to Ealdor and making an appeal to his mother. They had met once before, years ago when they'd gone to the villagers' aid, and perhaps he had mentioned their relationship. Even if he hadn't, his mother is a kind, generous woman. She would welcome her with open arms, even with the knowledge of her background and the circumstances surrounding her exile.
She is still a day's travel away from Ealdor when her path changes. Instead of finding, she is the one who is found, and not by a mother, but by a sister. She is beautiful and fierce, a woman she can admire and learn from, everything she could have wished for in a sister. And she is gifted. She takes her back to the dilapidated castle in which she lives, gives her a home, teaches her the secrets of her abilities, teaches her how to control the power she's spent so long running from.
And even though the sting of separation is nigh unbearable, even though she misses him as a lamed hawk misses the bliss and the freedom of soaring flight, she takes comfort in knowing that this is her destiny, and that what she does from here on out will only serve to set him on his. Destiny is not the two-sided coin that he always used to speak of. Rather, it is a triangle. The king at the pinnacle, with his vision and his strength and his charisma. The sorcerer and advisor at one side of the base, with his support and his wisdom and his friendship. And the adversary at the other, with her passion and her determination and her sacrifice. Because she sees the truth of it now. Just as a sword must be forged in flame, so must a great king be tested in fire. She would have been happier at his side, at their side, undoubtedly, but she has given up trying to fight fate.
Nearly two years pass before they meet again, after her reputation as le Fey spreads throughout the kingdoms. He is a bit older, his face a bit more mature, but just the same as he ever was really. Just the same as the image she carried of him in her mind all this time. They catch sight of one another across the courtyard, flames from the attack blazing between them in the night, and his face goes shockingly white, as if he believed her to be dead and saw her come back to life before his eyes.
She freezes, allows herself a moment to drink in the sight of him, to remember his piercing eyes, his beautiful cheekbones, his goofy ears, his perfect lips. Her fingers tingle at the memory of him, her limbs aching to wrap themselves around him. It seems as if her very heart is reaching out to him, crying out against how destiny has treated them.
The clash of steel brings her back to her senses. This is not the time. She has a mission to complete. She tears her eyes away and takes off at a sprint down the corridor.
But he finds her, appearing two days later as if no time has passed at all. He tries to act normally at first, informing her of news from home, telling her of the despair he'd felt when she'd gone, of the tentative hope that he'd allowed to grow when the rumors of le Fey began to take seed in the countryside. And her sister is a generous hostess, offering a sumptuous supper after his travels.
But when dusk comes, she can no longer hold back the flood of feelings that his appearance causes. After all, night has always been their time. His hand shakes as she slides her fingers through his, pulls him to his feet, and leads him to her chambers. The room is cold when they arrive, having been unoccupied for the majority of the day, but she lights a fire without a word and feels it begin to warm immediately.
He stands guardedly across the room, staring at her with those vulnerable, penetrating eyes of his, and for a moment she worries she's made the wrong move bringing him up here. But then he steps toward her, and he's close enough for her to inhale his scent. He still smells the same – like parchment and herbs and hay and the faintest hint of smoke. He places his hands on her hips, cautious, testing, and dips his head toward her as if he cannot quite believe she stands before him after so many seasons apart.
She reaches her hands up to his face, assuring him that her touch is real. And then his lips are on hers, soft and searching but conforming to hers as easily as they did during those secret nights in the castle. There's desperation in his kiss, dormant until unleashed by her, and his hands grip her hips tightly to pull her closer.
As the moonlight begins to peek in through the window, he lifts her up and carries her over to the bed. He slides his hands under her tunic and lifts it over her head, his hands unable to get their fill of her, roaming through her hair, down her spine, over her thighs. Everything about him feels familiar, as if there had been no separation between their souls. Even her magic, so much more powerful now, responds to his as before, as a protégé greeting his master.
No truer word has ever been applied to him. He is the master of her heart, the master of her body. No one else could ever make her feel the way he does. No one could draw these sensations from her. No one could make her heart race at simply the press of his body on hers, no one could make her toes curl at the flick of his tongue on her skin, no one could make her completely unravel at the feel of him within her. No one but him. And if he wants to stay with her forever, keeping her in indescribable ecstasy, then she has no objection.
When the moon is risen, shining her light upon them, making his pale skin seem almost translucent, he slides his arms around her and holds her like he used to. He trembles, even with the fire blazing in the hearth, and the flames blazing in their hearts. As she settles against him, she feels as if the only place she truly belongs is in his arms, and she understands the sudden desperation in his touch, the protectiveness in his embrace. She understands the fear that had clouded his eyes earlier in the day. She understands that no one will ever love her more than he does.
He curls closer, his nose buried in her neck. She strokes his hair and murmurs to him.
"Don't worry," she whispers, pressing soft kisses to his brow, "I've found you now."