a/n: yes, I'm aware it's incest. If you don't like it, don't read it. If you know you dislike this pairing, and then you read regardless and find your morals offended you have only yourself to blame.
if you held me forever
salvation and damnation are the same thing. – Stephen King
She finds him at the window of the tallest tower in Camelot. The fires have yet to burn out, the bodies to cool, and when he turns to face her there is a long wicked slice down the curve of his soot-blackened cheek.
Before she realises she's done it the magic is rushing out of her and the wound on his face is sealed as though it never existed. She watches one gloved hand creep towards it, fingers seeking and recoiling as they do not find.
The unasked why is screaming from his eyes as he lowers the hand again and just looks at her, mute with the horror and confusion of it all. She doesn't like seeing him like this. He is subdued and introverted and exhausted and there's none of that artless, guileless shine that usually pours from him more naturally than air.
He never asks the why, and she hates him. She hates him because he's Arthur and he's fighting her and he's in the way of her crown; but mostly she hates him because all he does again and again is make her love him.
They look and look and look at each other, gazing and wondering and remembering and when she finally speaks she doesn't mean to sound so genuinely pitying, "I suppose you've realised now that your queen is no longer faithful?"
He gazes at her a little more and behind the lines in his face she tries to find the boy she used to know, back in another lifetime.
"I knew it after Gwaine," he says, and she gets a glimpse of the Arthur she grew up with as a helpless, humourless smile lifts the left corner of his lips, "When it came to Lancelot it felt too inevitable to stop."
She wonders at that and hates him for not trying and, and, why does she even care, "Why haven't you thrown her out?"
He shrugs and turns back to the window, "She's got nowhere else to go."
Morgana hates him, she really does, but she crosses the room anyway and stands next to him at the window and she doesn't know why but when his arm wraps around her waist she lets her head fall onto his shoulder and wonders when she'll kill him.
His lips are at her hair, suddenly, and some treacherous part of her whispers, never, you'll never be able to kill him, and the fires of Camelot reflect in the grassy green of her eyes as she watches the place she used to call home burn as his people try to piece it back together again.
"You can't hear the screams from here," she observes, and the girl that she was when Arthur was the way she remembers him most fondly would have recoiled and gone down and hurried among the wounded and the dying and the mourning and done anything, anything at all to help. But the woman she's become just stands here and watches the desolation she's created spread until her heart is singing with the savage, sick joy of it all.
"Where did we go wrong, Morgana?" Arthur asks softly, and her hair catches in the links of his chain mail as she turns her head. He is staring out into the dark night sky and she realises somewhere between hating him and loving him that the angle of his jaw is just the same as the angle of hers.
"We didn't," she tells him, and she hates him because she can lie better than anyone, ever, but she can't lie to him. So she doesn't, and she gives up, and she just shrugs and corrects herself, "Everywhere."
"What I don't get, right," he says, and he's still not looking at her and she doesn't know why that bothers her so, "What I don't get is that whole time with Dad and the balls and the arguing and the flirting – he just looked proud, like he was so keen for us to marry. And the whole time, the whole time he knew."
He looks at her suddenly, and he looks through her, and the screaming in his eyes makes her want to cry.
"We would have been good together," she says, because she likes telling the truth to him, "You and me, Arthur and Morgana. We've always fought, but that's what makes us great. We bring out the best in each other with the worst. He saw that."
The next question looks as though it has been torn from somewhere it should never have even been formed, and behind the mask of indifference there's agony as he demands, "Was he honourable, when you killed him?"
She smiles slightly, moves closer to the cold hard metal of his armour-encased body, and rests her cheek against his chest as she smiles slightly.
"He was magnificent."
"Good," Arthur replies, and the sound could be a sob if you tilted your head to the side and squinted a little, "Good. I'm glad. I'd hate to think of him ending like a coward."
Morgana remembers the steel in Uther's eye, the courage in the raised chin, the acceptance in the lowered hands, "Yes, yes, he was magnificent."
She loves Arthur, suddenly, for not asking why. For just accepting her path, as she has accepted his. Yes, she killed his – their – father, for gains he cannot begin to understand. She has killed so many of his friends, destroyed so many of his most treasured possessions – and yet he can stand here with his arms around her like none of it matters to him at all. She knows it does and she knows this won't stop him letting Merlin kill her when the time comes but as she stands there with his arms around her she thinks, we could still be good together.
She puts this to him and he stiffens suddenly, almost imperceptibly, and then he's relaxing and she can feel his smile against the top of her head as his other arm crushes her to him and he hugs her, tightly and comfortingly as though they are children again.
"No, sister," he says, and she'd believe him if he didn't sound so mocking, "We wouldn't."
She feels a smile forming and pulling at the corner of her mouth and she hasn't laughed in so long but she wants to suddenly. So she does, and after a brief surprised silence he does too, and there in each others arms they laugh until they are breathless and their sides ache from the effort of it.
"It's not even funny," he tells her helplessly once their chuckles have begun to die down, and she tilts her head back and rests her chin thoughtfully against his chest, examining his face as he looks down at her, his expression fond and exhausted in the firelight.
"Nothing's funny any more," she replies, raising her eyebrows up at him in a challenge or something, "Nothing ever."
His face turns abruptly serious, and he looks genuinely regretful as he says gently, "I heard – Merlin told me about Mordred, that little druid boy you were so fond of. It's good for us, but… I know what he meant to you. I'm sorry."
Morgana screws her eyes shut and for some reason she feels like she is taking comfort from him as she presses her face into his chest and breathes and sees behind her eyelids the graceful broken curve of Mordred's body as he arced to the ground, life shattered by the terrible and magnificent power of Merlin.
"He hasn't been a little boy for years now," she murmurs finally, and when she draws her face back there are no tears to stain it. She cried her last tears over her sister years and years ago and she has none left to cry. So now she just looks up at Arthur, and he looks down at her, and something in the atmosphere leaves her gasping as his expression turns gentle, an unbearable tenderness in his eyes as his gloved hands tighten on her waist and pull her closer into him.
His armour presses hard against the soft curves of her body and she doesn't want to break the spell of it all but she's Morgana, she's good at breaking spells, and so she pulls back and taps the dragon on his breastplate with every layer of cynicism pulled firmly back into place.
"Always the Pendragon to stand in the way," she says with a steely mocking tone to her voice, and she's gathering the tattered green of her skirts to whirl away into darkness and safety now. She takes several steps away from him, and she's feeling the restless churning burn of the magic in her veins as she begins to gather power when suddenly a bare hand wraps around hers and in desperation he's tugging her towards him with one hand as he fights with the fastenings of his armour with the other, gloves torn from his palms lying discarded behind him.
"Please," he says, and are those tears in his eyes or, "Please, please, I can't lose you, not again, Morgana. Please. Stay with me."
"Stay with you," she repeats, and it should be a question but she could swear it sounded like a promise, "I – Arthur, I can't."
"You can," he pleads, and she can see fire reflected in the gathering tears in his eyes, "You can stay. We'd be good together, you said it yourself, we could –"
"I'm your sister," she reminds him, and there's magic thrumming through her and turning her skin hot and her emotions awry as all she can think is, magic makes us different, we could work, we wouldn't be –
He kisses her then, suddenly and desperately, breastplate clattering to the floor behind him as he gathers her close, her hair catching once more in the links of his chain mail as he crushes her against the solid warmth of his body, greedy and lonely and loving.
"I can stay," she whispers against his mouth, and as her fingers work nimbly at the belt around his middle all she can feel is his lips at her neck, his hands on her waist, the drag of skin against skin enticing and compelling and exciting.
She leaves in the morning without a goodbye, the way it was always supposed to be. She wriggles out from the protective cage of his arms – it's always cages here in Camelot, for her – and she stands in front of him for long moments and tries to imprint on her memory his sleeping naked form, golden and glorious on the hard stone floor. She bunches up the tattered remains of her singed green dress under his head to give him a little comfort, and then she wriggles into his red tunic with the golden dragon on the front, the symbol of everything that stands between them, and then she blows a kiss to him and steals away into the dawn.
He cries when he wakes and finds her gone, but she never knows that.
She disappears for a time, so long that Merlin grows twitchier and tetchier and searches more fiercely. She's always waging war, Morgana, and it's when she's silent that you need to be most afraid. Merlin has learnt from her in the past, understood her tactics, countered them and stood against them and ferreted her out all across the kingdom.
He rides out daily, now, to search for her. He takes a company of guards because Arthur flies off the handle if he doesn't. He likes the search, the quiet gloom of the forest and the thrill of contesting against an equal in skill and a woman infinitely superior in cunning – but he also likes the search because it gives him an excuse to get away from the tensions of the court, from the agony on Arthur's face when he catches Guinevere smiling radiantly at Lancelot.
He's riding out one day, right on the far border of what was Cenred's kingdom before Arthur took control. He's left his guards in a tavern – he's not searching now, just reminiscing. He wanders the hidden trails of the forest on his old bay gelding and watches the sky and the patterns of the leaves and remembers all those splendid, adrenaline-fuelled days when he and Arthur were inches from death, bickering endlessly and sharing looks that lingered a little too long for propriety and surviving, always surviving.
Arthur's trouble, Merlin muses as he pushes a branch out of his face, is that he loves far too hard. For all the magnificent king he's turned out to be, he's so free and easy with his emotions that Merlin wonders he doesn't snap from the weight of it all. He loves Guinevere, he loves Merlin, he loves his knights – he loves Lancelot, even, though the man is tearing his marriage apart. And he loved Morgana, Merlin remembers, loved her through it all.
You can't love that hard and not bow under the weight of it, Merlin has come to realise, as the lines in Arthur's face deepen and the screaming in his eyes fails to quiet.
He's feeling a little like there's a tragedy in the making in the court of Camelot when he suddenly bursts through a feeble barrier of bushes, his horse snorting impatiently, and stops in wonder as the ruins of a castle appear suddenly to tower over him.
He recognises it without knowing how, something in the line of a half-destroyed wall, maybe, or the angle of a turret. Cenred's fortress, he realises, what was dark and dank once now full of light, for there are few thick walls left to stand. Wonderingly, he leaves his horse under the eaves of the forest and picks his way among ruined rooms, tracing the jagged edges of broken stones and crunching broken glass under his feet.
He is knocked sideways by the beauty, suddenly, of a tiny little garden he discovers contained within what might have been an armoury or something once upon a time. It is riotous with colour, flowers bursting from every bed and a heady scent hanging in the air. He gazes around, stupefied, trying to work out where it's come from.
He's still staring, perplexed, when a familiar, amused voice sounds from one sunny corner that he hasn't examined yet, "Don't get too excited, Merlin, they're all poisonous."
He whips around, taking a leap backwards from the shock as Morgana struggles up from a chair, hands folded around a distended pregnant belly as she half-smiles at him, the expression wicked and glittering and mocking.
"What, no hello for an old friend?" she inquires, letting one hand drop to fist in the short hem of the faded red tunic with the gold dragon on front, stretched out with magic, "I'm disappointed in you, Merlin. I remember you with better manners than that."
Merlin is lost for words, gaping and mouthing in a manner Arthur would have certainly poked fun at, had he been present, "I, you – that… what?" is all he can manage finally, and Morgana giggles like a delighted teenager as she approaches him, bare feet sinking into the long green grass.
"You thought I was busy cooking up some mischief, didn't you?" she asks as she reaches him, prowling around him with a grace in no way lessened by the new size of her, "I'm sorry to disappoint, but I promise I'm not plotting right now. It's hard to plot and sneak and spy when your stomach appears around a corner five minutes before the rest of you."
Merlin feels the smile wanting to grow and controls it, but only just, and forms the question without knowing how, "But… who?"
He's frowning, now, the magic in his veins tugging at him slightly, whispering to him quietly that the child she's carrying, it's wrongwrongwrong, it's dark and it's dangerous and it's Pendragon twice over but it is so loved and it will be beautiful, he knows that now though it'll be two months at least before there's physical proof of that.
She smiles, perfect white teeth catching at red lower lip as she dimples across at him, expression merry and teasing as she peeks up through her eyelashes and asks, "Don't you know?"
He does, and he feels the blow like a knife to the stomach, "But – but how could Arthur? He's so, it's you, you tried to…"
"This isn't one of my plots," she says suddenly, laying all games aside, "I would never try something like that. This is just… luck, happenstance, whatever." There's a tender, private smile on her face suddenly as she gazes down at the swell of the child inside her and caresses her belly with one elegant hand, "I'm going to call him Mordred. After my friend," she adds, and suddenly there's fury twisting her expression as her gaze snaps to Merlin, smile consumed inside a ferocious scowl and any hint of mercy vanished from her icy green eyes, "My friend whom you murdered, Merlin, like you murdered my sister. Like you murdered me."
Merlin doesn't bother to try to make the excuses this time. She's heard them before and she won't listen now any more than she did then. He does the sensible thing, the thing he never has a chance to do when Arthur's around, and runs for his life.
She doesn't chase him. She knows he won't tell Arthur. He never could stand to hurt his king. She watches him hare away back towards his horse and then she returns to her chair and picks up her book again, voice low and fond as she reads aloud to her child. Merlin does not matter. All that matters is that her child grows up healthy, and bold, and loved.
And then there will be war.