WARNING: Fluff. So much fluff. The fluff-monster attacked me while I was doing Japanese homework. Curses...
Tidings of Comfort and Joy
by Shu of the Wind
He's not entirely sure what wakes him, except for the fact that someone's set off his magical tripwire in the living room, and it's not Hunith. Merlin – he blames his wonderful, loving, over-the-top nerdy mother for the name, though he supposes it's his own fault for going and shattering windows at three weeks old just by looking at them – stays perfectly still in bed, listening very hard and stretching out coils of magic to see if he can catch anything else. The Christmas lights are dappling against his face, creating strange patterns in the darkness behind his eyelids, and faking a groan, he rolls over so he's facing the door to the main room instead.
At first he feels nothing, because whoever it is has a magical cloak on, but then there's a shift, and pine trees and winter forests ripple in his mind. Merlin lets out a breath and relaxes, though not as much as he could, before grabbing a sweater and slipping out of bed.
She's sitting in the living room, staring at the Christmas tree that he helped Hunith bring in yesterday morning so they could let it sit overnight before decorating it on Christmas Eve. He's not sure how she managed to get inside – though he supposes his magical barriers are keyed to accept people he's invited in before, and Morgana is definitely one of them – but she's wrapped up in so many layers she could be a walking advertisement for the people who designed skiing jackets. She must hear the creak of the floor or something, because she looks over her shoulder at him and smiles. "Good evening."
"When did you get here?" He asks mildly, even though he's more than a little nervous at the sight of her. He hasn't seen Morgana in months, not since her foster father sent her off to a boarding school in France. She must be home for the Christmas holidays. Even though she's just the same as before, though, there's something…different. In her magic. In her voice. He can't tell. Just the sight of her is a little exotic. Merlin takes a deep breath. "You could have called."
"I've been trying." She says, in her soft, musical voice. "Your phone lines were cut off."
He winces. Blizzard. And then frowns. "How did you get here anyway?"
She waggles her fingers, and red sparks flare off the ends of her gloves. "I'm not entirely ignorant, Merlin. I wasn't about to wander through that thicket." Her hand falls back to her knees, and she tilts her head at him, curiously. "You look tired."
"Your brother isn't exactly low maintenance." He snipes at her, but he's hiding a smile, and Morgana knows it, and he knows she knows it by the way she throws her head back and laughs, uproariously, in a way he hasn't seen since…years.
"That he isn't." She says, and gets up in a single fluid moment. Raising her eyebrows in a challenge, she clasps her hands together and whispers something under her breath, and he can't help it; when her eyes flare gold, he feels something kindle in his chest. He remembers the first time he realized that Morgana was a sorcerer, not the first or the second or the fifth time he'd been dragged into some absolutely mad scheme of Arthur's, but four years after he'd first met her, when he'd been fifteen and she'd been thirteen and she'd shattered a vase after waking from a nightmare. Thankfully, Arthur hadn't woken up. Merlin had, and it had taken a full pot of coffee (or something, he couldn't remember) and a four-hour discussion of magic before she was convinced she hadn't been hallucinating and that it was perfectly safe and he understood. And he still remembers his teenage delight at the idea that there was someone else out there who understood. That there was and is someone out there who knows what it means to keep a secret so close that it scalds.
Morgana opens her cupped palms, and there's an ornament in her gloved hands. It's small and glimmers in the firelight. She holds it out to him. "Here."
"You came here just for this?" He echoes, and it takes him a long moment before he reaches out to take it. It's made of glass, whatever it is. Merlin turns it over in his fingers as Morgana shimmies out of her first jacket, and then the second one, and leaves them on the floor of the living rom. She's in one of her slightly obnoxious, mostly endearing Christmas sweaters, white and green with a reindeer pattern.
"Not just anything, saucebox." She pokes her tongue out at him. It's everything he can do not to pull her forward into a hug right now. "I wanted to spend Christmas at home. It's not my fault Uther didn't bother to send me a plane ticket back."
"And before you say anything, the House isn't home." Her eyes go sad in the firelight, and she steps up to the tree, running her fingers over its fronds. "It never was."
"I know that." The ornament is delicate in his hands, but when he clasps it in one fist, it's strong enough to fight back. He has no idea what she made it out of, only that it's tough; magic stings against his palm. "What is this?"
A smile cracks her face open again, and it's beautiful. "Here." She says, and steps forward. She's taller than he remembers. Morgana clasps her hands around his, and says, "Léohtfæt."
There's nothing, for a moment, only the surprising warmth of her hands against his cold ones; her hair smells like smoke and the blizzard wind. Then the ornament twitches, and starts sparking, and in its depths he can see revolving pictures. There's Arthur, twelve years old and wrapped up in Hunith's wool blanket after falling in the pond at the base of Pendragon Manor; Gwen, giving Arthur a sound lashing at his best sport, fencing, and then falling down and kissing him when he grinned at her from the mats; Hunith, laughing; Gaius asleep by the fire. The images revolve inside the tiny crystal ball, and as they do it, he can feel the pure magic encased in this glass, and he looks at her with wide eyes.
"What have they been teaching you in France anyway?"
"Don't be cheeky. This one took me eight straight months." She smiles at him, and even though it's not the bright wide smile of the Morgana he sees reflected in the crystal ornament, it's beautiful nonetheless. She squeezes his wrists for a moment, and then pulls away, and she's filched the ornament; without a word, she hangs it on one of the higher branches, to make sure Hunith's cat doesn't shatter it, but not too high either, so it's not all that noticeable. "The only ones who will see the images are the ones with magical talent, so Arthur won't be asking any questions."
"It's beautiful." He says, and moves the orb to a different branch, so that when the firelight hits it just right, it dapples the room with speckles of light. He has to step close to her to do it. Morgana stays very still, but despite her tight control he can feel magic rippling behind her shields. Merlin turns the ornament so that the flickers of silver light dapple the wall in just the right way, and then lets his arm fall back to his side. He doesn't step away from her. After a long moment, she turns, and smiles at him, and says, "I don't have to go until morning."
"How did you even get here?"
"You're the one who taught me that transfiguration spell last summer." She shakes herself, and for a moment there's a flash in his mind's eye of a raven shaking its feathers clean of dew. Or snow. "As soon as I caught the hang of it, then it was easy. And it's not that far from the Big House to here."
No, not as a bird would fly, no. Merlin gives her a frank look. "You realize that I'll probably be skinned alive if Uther finds you here."
"Damn that." She says cheerfully. Morgana settles on the couch, tucks her knees up against her chest, and looks at the tree. "They can have their tree. I like this one better."
"This one's smaller." He says. Morgana gives him a glance that could have scorched if he hadn't been expecting it.
"Yes, but this one is real. And it means more." She tilts her head again, and then reaches up. "Sit with me."
There's something slightly different in her voice, how she says the words he must have heard from her a thousand times before now, and Merlin gives her a long look before he says, "Is that the best idea?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Merlin." She says, and seizes his hand before pulling him down on the couch. The feel of her magic leaves a tingling inside his skin. "You really are such an old fuddy-duddy sometimes."
The last time he sat this close to her, things hadn't gone as planned. Merlin shifts, awkwardly. "Morgana—"
"I wanted to tell you something." She says suddenly, and when he turns to look at her, her eyes are gleaming gold, and her homemade Christmas ornament is flashing red and white and green, dappling the walls with color. She doesn't seem to be able to look at him anymore. "And…I knew I wouldn't be able to come here without Arthur tomorrow, so I wanted to come and tell you now."
He can't help it. His stomach turns a full flip. Merlin looks at her, this girl-woman, fresh off of her first quarter in a French university so far away from the North Country, wrapped up in her damn Christmas sweater, and her soft Irish accent fills his ears. "I wanted to say thank you. You…helped me. A lot. And…I couldn't remember ever thanking you."
"You don't have to thank me." Merlin starts, but Morgana takes a breath and turns and there's something in her face that makes him stop.
"Of course I do." She bites her lip, and he has to fight the urge to reach out and brush her cheek with his fingers. "You have no idea, Merlin, how bad it could have been. After everything with Uther and Morgause, you have no idea how much you….how much I have to thank you for."
Morgause. He remembers Morgause. He also remembers Morgana stumbling to the cottage in the middle of a balmy June night, shaking like a leaf and refusing to tell him precisely what had happened, even with her mascara running in clumps down her cheeks and her long dark hair filled with twigs. He'd only learned later that Morgause had tried to take Morgana back with her back to Cornwall, and Morgana had fought back. Not even Uther or Arthur knew. Only Merlin and Gaius.
"So I wanted to get you a present." She says, and for the first time in a long time, he catches her stumbling over her own words. "So I thought I'd bring the ornament—"
"It's beautiful." He says again, but he has a feeling this is the wrong thing to say, because Morgana shakes her head.
"But that's for everyone. I wanted to get something for you." Her pale green eyes flicker in the firelight, like the glass ornament at the top of the tree. "And I couldn't think of anything."
"Oh, that's nice." Merlin says, in a teasing voice. Morgana's lips twitch; she smacks at him.
"Don't! I'm trying to be serious here and you're not helping."
"Right. Serious face. On."
"Oh, for God's sake—"
"I'm serious now." He says, and he actually is being serious, because if he wasn't he wouldn't be able to stop himself. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are sparking and she looks more like herself than she'd been in months before Uther sent her away to school, and he remembers when she'd turned sixteen and turned and kissed him, because she'd wanted her first kiss to be with someone she trusted absolutely. And he hates himself for remembering that, because that was almost three years ago now. Get. Over. It. "What is it you wanted to say?"
Something ticks. They both turn as the grandfather clock begins to toll out midnight. They wait until the last bong rings out before Morgana speaks.
"I wanted to say I missed you."
The balloon in him that appeared at the sight of her laughing face deflates. "Right."
"And I wanted to give you this." She says, and with that, Morgana Pendragon leans forward and presses her lips to his.
Merlin goes absolutely still for a long moment. He's too shocked to do anything else. It's like he's eighteen all over again, and she's sixteen, and he has no idea how to react. Morgana pulls back, and looks at him, and in that moment she looks more vulnerable than he's ever seen her, even when she woke up wailing and breaking vases with her out-of-control magic. She hesitates, and then begins to pull back. Her face is going pinker and pinker, and she looks as though she might cry. "That's—I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed—"
Merlin reaches forward, cups her face in his hands, and pulls her back. They kiss for an agreeably long time, and when they finally pull apart, the ornaments are spinning and sending off flares of light that make the room look exactly like a disco club. It takes a long moment of breathing and closed eyes before the tree settles back to normal. Morgana pulls away, and looks at him with big eyes, but there's a smile tugging at her lips that he hasn't seen in a very long time.
"Well." He mimics, and then grins. "That was a nice Christmas present."
She smacks him, her ears going pink. "Shut up."
"I'm serious." And he is. "Brilliant idea. I liked it."
"Just shut up, Merlin." She hesitates. "I missed you."
He can't help it. Merlin reaches out, and tucks a strand of curly hair behind her ear. "You say that like I didn't miss you."
That pulls a smile out of her. Morgana takes a breath, and stands. "I should go back to the house before Uther wakes up and figures out I'm not there."
"Nope." He says, and pulls her back down. This time when he kisses her, she's half laughing. "Sorry. It's Christmas. I get to enjoy my present for a little while longer."
So. This originally had a plot, I swear. But the fluff took over. I can't help it. I need some good old fashioned fluff sometimes. I know I'm an angst-whore, but...AGH.
Happy Early Christmas. I know it's only November, but I was listening to Christmas music. Also, this GIF on Tumblr inspired me:
It's adorable and I loved it and...agh, the fluff-rabbits.