TRIGGER WARNING: Depictions of self-harm. DO NOT READ if this will trigger you. Morgana is extremely confused, believes she's going insane, and basically is spiraling down a very dark path.
NOTE: 'Emrys' is the Welsh version of the name 'Ambrose', which is why I'm using it here.
Mirrors in Amber
by Shu of the Wind
Morgana shoots awake with a scream. She can't help it. Even though this is the twelfth night in a row, and she knows that Gwen must be well and truly sick of her by now, she can't help the cold sweats and the shaking and the images of fire that linger behind her eyes when she shoots awake and hides her face in her knees, struggling to remember how to breathe. She's almost positive that she's the worst roommate in the history of the university, and that Gwen has the patience of a saint to have tolerated her this long. If it had been Morgana, she would have filed for a room change months ago, or, at the very least, a psychiatric appointment for her schizo roommate who keeps waking up shrieking from nightmares she can't even remember. But Gwen is brilliant and kind and so very not Morgana, so she doesn't. She gets Morgana tea, and lets her cry into her shoulder, and Morgana feels awful because she doesn't deserve a friend like this. She really, really doesn't.
Tonight is a little different though, because there's an outline of a face she can barely remember. One she shouldn't remember. A voice whispers in her ear, but it's in a language she doesn't understand, and when Morgana finally calms down enough to reach for a notebook to write it down, the sounds slip away into the mists of dreams.
She tosses and turns for the rest of the night, and doesn't sleep.
She can't remember when the dreams started. Her first real memory – and her last memory of her mother – is of soft speech and late-night cocoa after she woke up crying from a nightmare of fire and blood and an old, old man who watched as she screamed. She'd been curled into the crook of her mother's arms, and Vivan had whispered in her ear, "They're only dreams, my darling. Only dreams." But her arms had tightened around Morgana in a way that, to a child, meant protection. To an adult, meant fear.
She'd never stopped dreaming. Nothing had ever stopped it. Nothing will, she thinks, as she pulls her sweater over her head and buttons her jeans. Gwen is gone; she has a morning lab that lasts from seven AM to twelve noon, and again Morgana feels so terribly guilty. I kept her up for hours last night. Nothing she's ever taken has ever worked. No sleep medication has stopped it; no syrup, no brain chemical inhibitor or brain chemical stimulator, no therapy, nothing. Her uncle had tried everything, and Morgana has tried more. There's nothing she can do except ride the dream out, and if she wakes screaming, then try to remember how to breathe.
She hasn't woken screaming in years before the last two weeks. Now it's every night, and it's driving her mad.
Her morning class goes appallingly – there's only so much astrophysics you can stand when you're half-asleep and running on coffee fumes, after all – so when Morgana heads to the school café for the third time in three hours to collect yet another cup of pure caffeine, she can't stand it anymore. She skives off mathematics, borrows Gwen's car (Gwen, of course, says yes, no matter how nervous she looks at the idea) and goes for a drive. Caerleon is a small town, built around Ealdor University; there's nothing much to see, and this late in the year, it's difficult to do anything more than be bombarded with the Christmas decorations. Morgana draws a breath and turns down Mercer Street, holding the steering wheel tight in her gloved hands.
She dreams, and her nightmares drive her to tears. They drive her to terror that carries with her in the waking world, and it's come to the point where she isn't sure what is real and what is not. Under her sleeves and long, fingerless gloves, the scars on her arms burn, and Morgana squeezes the wheel even tighter. The worlds – her worlds, because which one is real? – are breaking down, and she's caught between them, being wrenched apart like the baby in the story about Solomon. The real world and the dream world (she's no longer sure which is which) are ripping her apart between them, and there's nothing she can do to stop it.
She feels the tears start, and wipes them away before they can freeze against her skin.
She's never been to this part of Caerleon before, and the snow is stacking higher and higher on the sides of the roads. It's part of the shopping district, she's certain. Morgana pulls into one of the nearest parking spaces and lets out a long breath; she leans forward and rests her forehead on the steering wheel and begins to recite Russian verbs, her lips moving silently as she goes through the list in the back of her mind. To walk. To run. To eat. To sleep. To dream. No, not to dream. To live. To speak. To remember. It's only once she's gone through the entire list twice that she feels real enough to step out of the car, and face the cold.
It's the bookstore that attracts her eye. She can't say why – it's quiet and small, and there's no café attached but she's never liked cafés in bookstores anyway, they always end up noisy and distracting – but there's something in the unassuming Christmas lights wrapped around the door and the small stack of books, some old, some new, in the shop window. She only loves it more when the door clinks shut behind her and she realizes that not only is it small, but no one else is in here, aside from the old man sitting at the counter with his nose in a book. He glances at her and offers her a small smile behind his half-moon glasses before he turns and heads into the back to collect something, and Morgana is alone in the shop.
There are clocks everywhere, she realizes, as she wavers between history and science. Clocks and paintings and ticking things that are somehow reassuring even though they should be nagging on her nerves. It's less of a bookshop than an odds-and-ends boutique, and even then, 'boutique' would be stretching it. In the back, she sees a glint of metal, and realizes to her shock that someone's hung a sword on the wall. She runs her fingers over an old-fashioned clockwork toy, and then turns to the books. There isn't a single one that's been published in the last five years. She loves it immediately.
"May I help you?"
It's the old man, the one with the half-moon glasses and his copy of A Tale of Two Cities held close against his chest. As she watches, his fingers stroke the binding gently, as though he's reassuring himself that the book is still there, and she relaxes ever so slightly. "I'm fine, thank you."
"If you need any help, please let me know." He says, in a soft, formal voice, and retreats behind the counter again to read. He's returned with a mug of coffee, and Morgana wonders if there's a kitchen in the back room or if he lives on the second floor above the shop. If he does, it would be just like something out of a novel, and she's oddly enchanted with the idea.
"It doesn't have to be like this."
It's an echo from a dream. Morgana puts a hand to her temple, and lets out a long breath before heading to the history section and losing herself in tales of spies in the Great War.
That night, she still dreams, but she doesn't wake screaming. Instead, she lays and watches the ceiling and as the dawn light dapples over the posters Gwen has pasted to the roof, she decides to go back. Because really, there's no harm in a little Christmas shopping.
It takes a week before she finally learns the name of the old man behind the counter – Jerry Martin, but his middle name is Gaius, and he's gone by it for as long as he or anyone else can remember. A few days later he invites her to have tea with him, and Morgana says yes. She learns that Gaius studied medicine; that he used to be the town doctor, but now he's been usurped by a younger man with fancier machines and he's content to run his bookstore. It's partially why the scientific section is so big; he's given up much of his own medical collection, something Morgana could never imagine doing with her astrophysics books, but it's something that doesn't seem to bother him in the least. He's studying herbs in his old age now, and when she asks he waxes near poetic about sage and pansies and foxglove and wolfsbane. Soon it's routine, and even through Christmas break – because she's not going home; her uncle Ethan's house isn't home – Morgana visits the bookstore every afternoon at around three to have a cup of tea. Eventually she persuades Gaius to let her help organize the books, and she cleans up a bit when she knows he isn't looking. As beautiful as this place is, the dust in the air is so thick just walking inside could induce an asthma attack.
With the spring comes a new semester, and Gaius grumps at her sometimes for visiting the bookstore when she should be out having fun, but Morgana chides him and tells him that this is fun. And then the old man pinks up a little bit, and gruffs away to make more tea, and Morgana smiles and tends the bookshelves that have been mixed up through Gaius's well-intentioned assistance.
The dreams keep coming, but there's something about the bookstore that calms them, makes them easier to handle. That, or she's finally breaking. She likes to think that it's the former.
They're coming through clearer now, too. She can almost see faces. She can almost hear names. On Gwen's recommendation, she starts to write every single detail she can remember down in a black notebook. She's not much of an artist, but she's good enough to sketch shadowy faces, so she draws those too, and soon they're as familiar to her as her own reflection. There's the bald king and his thin crown, and the corn-haired prince with his strong jawline and sharp blue eyes that gleam at her through the fogginess of dreams, and the loyal friend with curly hair that she thinks looks rather like Gwen if her profile is in the right light. It means that her worlds are becoming more meshed than other, but somehow she can't bring herself to care. It's not Gwen's doppelgänger's face that frightens her, anyway. No; it's the king, and the old, old man who watches her writhing in pain and in terror and does nothing to help her.
There's another face, too, and she feels like it should be the clearest, but instead it's nothing more than a shadow and a few words whispered in her ear in a language she can't understand. Sometimes she catches a glint of gold. Once, she reaches out to him, and he takes her hand as her lungs constrict and poison pounds through her veins. Morgana wakes up with the feeling that someone's holding her, even though there's no one in her bed but her, and the mixture of betrayal and comfort confuses her.
One morning Gaius catches her going through her dream notebook, sketching idly with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows. He sees the scars, she knows he does, but all he says is, "That looks like a project," and waits for her to respond. Morgana bites her lip and shrugs.
She waits until he's turned away before she yanks her sleeves back down. She knows Gaius won't say anything, but it doesn't keep her from skipping a few visits. She claims too much homework. Morgana isn't sure, but she thinks Gaius knows she's lying.
It's a hailing afternoon in March when Gaius leaves a stack of books on the desk that she's taken over and says, "My nephew will be coming to stay with me in a few days."
She blinks up at him. Somehow, she's never imagined that Gaius had family. He's always at the bookshop, a widower, every aspect of his life before Mercer Street wrapped up in fog, just like her dreams. After a moment, she says, "Oh?" and collects the stack of books. "For how long?"
"Until the summer." A flicker of affection races over his old face, and for a second, Morgana is horrendously jealous of this boy she's never even met. "He's managed to get himself into trouble down in Cardiff. Nothing bad, really, but it'd do him good to come out here for a few months."
She can see him now – a surly teenager that will stomp through the bookshop and probably graffiti the walls of the train station. Morgana forces a smile onto her face. "That's wonderful, Gaius. What's his name?"
"Ambrose." He says. The name means nothing to her. She feels like it should. "And if he's anything like his mother, he'll be tripping over cracks in the floor. He's probably around your age, Morgana, maybe a year younger; he doesn't have the patience to be in university is all."
"I see." She plasters on another smile. "I'm looking forward to meeting him."
He sees right through her. She knows it. Gaius gives her a look, and then says, "If you want to start on the mythology section, that one's probably the worst. I keep meaning to get all those old books out of the attic and put them out for sale, but my back's been getting worse lately. I haven't been able to manage it."
Morgana has to process that – he's letting me stay, he's not making me leave, even with his nephew coming – before she beams. "All right."
She makes sure to kiss Gaius's cheek before she leaves that afternoon, and his laughter means more to her than anything her uncle has ever done.
Still, she's almost forgotten about Gaius's news when she finally meets him. Ambrose. She's teetering down the stairs with a heavy box of books when the hairs stand up on the back of her neck and someone – someone foreign – asks, "Do you need help with those?"
Morgana shrieks, and nearly drops the box. She would have dropped it, if it isn't for the fact that someone else grabs it from the other side, and holds it steady. His eyes are a vivid, brilliant blue, and something in her reacts as the boy – man – blinks at her in confusion. She knows this face from somewhere. She knows himfrom somewhere. She knows she does.
Something sparks, and the dreams spiral through her mind again. Merlin.
"What?" The boy says, and Morgana shakes her head fiercely a few times.
"Nothing. Just – hi. You're Gaius's nephew, aren't you?"
"Gaius?" He echoes, and his eyes are dancing with humor as he steals the box from her. "You mean Uncle Jerry?"
Morgana can't help it. She blushes pink. She's almost forgotten Gaius's real name. "Right. Um. Jerry." It tastes wrong on her tongue. "You're Ambrose."
"Well, that's what my mother calls me." He has a soft Cardiff lilt to his words, and despite being dressed all in black with a pentacle hung around his neck on a thin leather cord, she's never met anyone less assuming in her life. "Among other things. Depends on who you're talking to."
"I can take the box." Morgana says, but he shakes his head.
"Nah. I'm good. Where do you want it?"
He stands there with the box, watching her with a lifted eyebrow, and that he definitely inherited from Gaius, because the old man has looked at her that way so many times that she can't help a smile. It's only a small one, though. She doesn't like sharing her smiles. "Downstairs in the mythology section."
"Right." He smiles at her. "Nice to meet you, Morgana."
He's already vanished downstairs by the time she realizes she never gave him her name.
"She doesn't remember."
Morgana pauses outside the kitchen door, and her hand clenches reflexively against the wall when she hears Ambrose's voice. It's been two weeks since he came to Caerleon, and the dreams have been getting clearer every night. She can almost see faces now. She can feel a sword in her hand, not a foil like she uses in fencing but an actual sword; she whispers words she never understands, and watches as worlds burn. And always, always, always there's the old man with the robes and the staff, who watches her as she screams, and the king who leads her to the chopping block with tears running down his cheeks. The blonde-haired man is in a crown now. And the one that's always wrapped in mist, the one she feels like she should remember, just gets foggier every day.
"She doesn't remember." Ambrose says again, and for the first time since she met him two weeks ago he doesn't sound cheerful. He sounds….hurt, almost. Confused. "I don't think she remembers anything."
"Not all of us are prodigies at this, Mer – Amrbose." Gaius says, and it's gentle, but it's definitely a reprimand. Morgana holds very still. She's never been more thankful that she doesn't stomp up and down stairs. "The fact that you remembered so early is a miracle. You know that."
Ambrose makes a soft sound that could be classified as a grunt, she supposes, if it hadn't been for the fact that it sounded so…sad. "She called me Merlin, Gaius."
There's a long pause, and Morgana can feel the agony in the air. There's hope there too, but mostly pain, andoh my God, they have to be talking about me. She'd thought she'd imagined that.
After a moment, Ambrose clears his throat. "We can't lose her again, Gaius. I can't lose her again."
Something shatters on the floor, and Gaius groans. "That's good china, boy!"
"Sorry, sorry, sorry—" Something prickles at the back of her mind, and somehow, she knows precisely what's going to happen. She knows just what he's going to say, she can mouth it along with him, and something tears and burns inside her. "Hálnes."
"Are you mad?" Gaius hisses, and Ambrose squawks; a cup hits the sink, and the sink begins to run. "Don't do that in here!"
Ambrose goes back to apologizing, but Morgana can't hear anything else. There's only the word, pounding through her blood, and the tear inside her is bleeding, something working its way free, but she doesn't care, because whatever Ambrose said, she's only heard in dreams.
Morgana turns and runs back down the stairs, and this time she doesn't care if they hear her. Because all she can do is run, and hope they won't catch her.
The one they call Emrys will walk in your shadow. He is your destiny….and he is your doom.
Poison, burning down her throat. A sword clasped tight in her hand as she prepares to run him through. Words in the Old Language stinging on her lips as she throws her hand out, and the hate pulses through her so fierce and strong that it makes the world explode. And that old man watching her scream, but this time, when he turns, those blue, blue eyes pierce her, and the face is finally clear as the shadowy figure steps out of the shadows, and reaches for her.
Pain, hate, fear, glory, and Morgana wakes up with a gasp, staring at the ceiling above her bed, and tears pour down her cheeks.
I'm finally going mad.
She goes home for Easter break. She can't help it. She needs to get away from Caerleon, and if that means going to Uncle Ethan's, and suffering through living in Dublin when really all she wants to go is go home to Rhondda, and walk among the standing stones, then go to Dublin she will.
Uncle Ethan is glad to see her. Morgana can't really say the same, but she goes through the motions – she kisses his cheek when he puts his arms around her and smiles and answers his questions and as soon as she can escape up to the attic, she does. The room she grew up in seems oddly empty, but she isn't surprised; everything of value, she's left at school. She doesn't want Ethan touching it. Ethan is her mother's brother, and even though she's never liked him, this is as much her home as any place.
She refuses to think of the bookshop on Mercer Lane as she unpacks her suitcase.
There are people coming to visit for Easter, Ethan tells her, when she sits down to dinner that night and pretends to eat. Her father's old friend from the military. He's into politics now, and for some reason Ethan won't shut up about him. He's bringing his son with him, too – "he's also on Easter break, you know, but he goes to Cambridge, brilliant lad, Uther talks the world of him" – and Morgana can only wonder how Ethan has never mentioned her father's old friend before as in the back of her mind, the tear that opened up when Ambrose spoke that one word rips wider.
When she dreams that night, the old crying king leads her to the chopping block, and as the axe descends, she screams, "Only a madman hears the truth as treason!"
When she wakes up, the vase at the end of her bed explodes, and Morgana curls around her pillows and trembles until dawn.
Her world is still disintegrating, but it's moving faster now. When she wanders down the stairs on Easter morning to find the blonde-haired, blue-eyed warrior from her dreams sitting at the counter eating cornflakes, she doesn't even scream. He means her no harm, not according to her dreams; in fact, despite a prattish streak, he's almost likeable. He's been taking fencing almost as long as she has, and they're talking about tournaments when his father comes into the room, and Morgana drops her coffee cup onto the linoleum.
The king stares back at her from across the kitchen table, and as Ethan bobs around them, asking questions she can't hear, Morgana clenches her fists and excuses herself.
I should never have come home.
She's mad. She knows it now, and there's no point in checking into a psychiatrist's office. She's mad enough to be committed. She should be in Bedlam. Her world is fragmenting around her, spiraling away into dreams, and she's ready to cry because she's only nineteen, she shouldn't be going this mad at only nineteen, she has so much she wants to do but she can't because she's as mad as an old witch from a fairy story, and there's nothing she can do about it. And unlike when she was fifteen and lonely, the razor doesn't help; she only cuts once before she realizes the blood is dancing on her arm, and Morgana stifles a scream before thrusting her wrist under the tap. Sometimes when Arthur crops up unexpectedly she thinks she sees him wrapped in metal – in chain mail, her history classes remind her – with a sword in his hand, but then she blinks and he's just in a rugby jersey asking if there's a pub nearby, because if he has to tolerate his father any longer he's going to scream.
"I'll take you there." Morgana says without thinking, because if she's losing her mind, she might as well get good and pissed because of it.
It's been a long time since she's visited the King's Arms. The last time she was here, it was her seventeenth birthday, and she came out of the night with a triskelion tramp stamp that Uncle Ethan stilldoesn't know about. Now she's two years older, and not a speck wiser; she orders a pint and two shots, and downs them without caring that she hasn't eaten at all today and she'll probably make herself sick. Arthur watches her do it with raised eyebrows, and then vanishes to find his own drinks, and despite the fact that she should be keeping an eye on him, Morgana doesn't have the energy to give a damn.
She takes another shot, and the dark-eyed Spaniard in the corner shifts a little, watching her. When she blinks, he's wearing armor, just like Arthur was earlier, and Morgana laughs because of course he is, of course her hallucinations are getting worse while the alcohol is coursing through her blood. She's being ridiculous thinking anything can numb her down now. She looks away from him. The air is close and hot and thick; it's like moving through foam. The alcohol burns in her throat and stomach. Morgana closes her eyes, watching her dreams play like an out of control black-and-white film, and figures in tunics and long dresses stare back at her from the mirror behind the bar. She's in one too. It's long and forest green, and the sleeves stretch down to the floor. When she looks down, though, it's gone, and she's in her torn jeans and the brown coat she stole from her first upperclassman boyfriend. She shrugs it off, and leaves it on the chair. She doesn't want any memories with her now.
She drinks, and dreams, and drinks again. When she turns around, Arthur has a curly-haired girl on his lap that looks like Gwen's twin in the dim light of the pub, and Morgana watches them lazily as the lights begin to dance around her, bobbing like hummingbirds. Once or twice she thinks they might be fairies, especially when one lands on her shoulder, bites her earlobe hard enough for her to yelp, and whispers he's coming, he's coming, he's coming. She blows it away, and wishes she were at a club instead. At least in a club the lights don't have teeth.
Morgana takes another shot and the room is spinning around her. When she leans forward to set down the shot glass, she nearly falls out of her chair. Arthur clasps her shoulder and helps her sit up straight, and he's laughing with his new tart about how she can't hold her alcohol, but Morgana ignores them; she wrenches away, and the movement makes her stomach roll. She's going to vomit, but she doesn't care, because she keeps seeing a crown on Arthur's head and a sword on his hip, and the girl beside him is wrong, because it's not Gwen and it should be. She waves him away, stumbling, and takes one of the empty tables, resting her head against the wall and closing her eyes and wishing for the world to end.
The voice echoes in her head. Soft, young, fragile.Morgana.
"I'm mad." She moans it, and covers her face with her hands, rocking back and forth, back and forth. "I'm mad, I'm mad, I'm mad."
Morgana. A different voice. Stay there, all right? We'll come and get you.
You're not mad.
"I'm hearing voices in my head—"
Well, that's obvious—
"—and I'm seeing things and it hurts." Her chest hurts. Her head hurts. Oh, God, how her head hurts. "I just want it to be over."
"It will be." Ambrose says, and when she lifts her head from the table, he's sitting next to her, and Arthur is behind him looking concerned. Ambrose looks up at him, grins a little bit – "Evening, Arthur. Been a while." – and Arthur looks at him like he's crazy.
"You." Morgana says.
"Me." Ambrose says, and for a moment she sees him in the old world, in the dream world, and his hair is shorter then but his smile is just as sweet. He reaches forward and sets a hand to her forehead, and it's not her imagination when his eyes flare gold. "Slǽp, Morgana. Everything will be better when you wake up."
No it won't, she tries to say, because when I wake up, I'll still be mad, but darkness closes in on her, and the very last thing she sees are his very blue eyes.
This is a modern AU three-shot inspired by two GIFs on Tumblr bv absolutely amazing accio-goldentrio. She's brilliant, and her GIFs have infected me with plot bunnies. There's also a video by the fabulous Nyah86Production on Youtube: /watch?v=ZlAl_JN4KgM in order to see it.
Here are the GIFs:
And yes, before we even get the next chapter, I already know Mordred will be in it. I don't know how he'll show up, but I know he'll be there.