The French Doors
He is peeling potatoes the first night she comes.
Merlin's shaggy head is bent over the colander in his lap, working the peeler rhythmically. His style of dress is as simple as ever, though changed to fit the modern era. The hair may be a little longer and his neck may be bare, but he's still the same gawky, beautiful man.
To Morgana, he looks a thousand miles away. She's self-conscious around him, as always… only he could ever make her feel so small. Suddenly the witch is keenly aware of her tattered black cloak, with its big hood drawn up to shield her face, and the old dress underneath it, now very out of fashion. There was something keenly wrong with this picture, she thought; the peasant preparing to enjoy dinner next to a roaring fire, while the queen haunts the backyard, peeking through the glass doors into his cozy little life.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen. She feels like an intruder in his life now, a relic he's left far behind. It makes her sick to think about.
For an anxious, excited moment, she thinks he's heard her, prepares to vanish into the night the second his head turns. But the moment passes, and he goes back to work; her prayers are answered. After all these millennia, she doesn't think she can take seeing those damnable eyes again…
…even knowing why she's come.
Morgana lets out a shaking breath, watching the way the glass in front of her fogged his image. Funny; he always had seemed blurry to look at, all those eons ago. Like he wasn't quite there, wasn't quite real; like you'd meet a wall the second you tried to touch him. It was just the cold this time; there was nothing more standing in her way than polished wood and glass.
Tremors ripple through her hands, urging her to grab the handles, to tear open the doors. She has to speak to him, he has to know. So why can't she do it? She knew it wasn't fear, or apprehension; Morgana scoffs at the idea, buries it where she buries all the other truths she can't face. There's something more, she knows, some new reason that she can't shatter this quiet moment with him.
A part of her wonders what she'll do when he finally looks up and sees her looming there in his backyard, what they'll say to each other. She imagines telling him that she just wanted to see him again, after eons; it seemed to be a kind of truth as well, seeing as her legs stayed rock-steady, even while she begged for retreat.
She couldn't face those eyes again.
His hands, however…
Minutes passed while they captured her eyes, skilled as ever in the way they moved over the spud's surface. Like a flood, memories of those fingers came to her, of the way her skin would rise under them. His touch was somehow both safe and electric at once, she remembered, and she had craved it even as she drowned in his arms.
But she was not too transfixed to notice he's been working far more methodically than needed, and despite new panic in her gut, her frozen lips twist just so. He's stalling, then; giving her time to look. Of course he knew she was there. And she's been content here, just tracing the way his hair spiraled from the top of his head; but now, an observer might call her expression… hungry.
It has been so long, and her fear was being overpowered by her want. She needs him to look at her again, just for an instant.
Her breath is coming harder, alternately fogging and clearing the glass, as his half-prepared dinner is left on the table, as long arms stretch and push himself to his feet. It's going to happen, he's going to see her, she can feel herself shaking already-
The French doors open of their own accord, and Merlin surveys his empty yard.
After thousands of years of isolation, she had not remembered the kind of effect he had on her. For so long, it had just been her alone in Avalon, fighting to bring her brother's ravaged body back from the brink of death, to finally fix her stupid, stupid mistakes. Merlin had been the only other person on her mind for all that time, the only other one of them left alive. But memories were all she had, and they faded so quickly.
She hadn't been prepared for how hard it would be, to walk into his new life and tell him…
…Well, she couldn't do it, at any rate. He looked happy; or if not that, then at least peaceful. There was lightness in his gait that she'd never seen before. How could she put Camelot's weight back on those shoulders?
And yet, he had to know. He would want to be told.
And that's how Morgana found herself back in his yard under cover of darkness. She doesn't know what she was expecting, but the empty house surprises her. Peeking curiously into the dark room, she chastises herself; there was nothing that said he was always here, that he didn't have a life of his own.
It's a charming little house in the woods, at once modern and vintage. But it looks strangely bare without him in it… more like an inn than a home, and there is no sign that anyone else has ever set foot inside.
That's when Morgana notices the squishy armchair on the patio, and the small table next to it. Waiting there, just for her, is a bowl of cooling mashed potatoes, and a glass of wine with a little yellow note attached to it. The scrawl in the old language is achingly familiar.
Come in next time.
Morgana doesn't quite know how to feel about that, but she chooses to delight in it, for now. Her mission forgotten once more, she nestles into his chair, and dines under the stars.
Not once does she wonder if it's poisoned.
The third time she comes, he is just done bathing, and catches her looking.
Not at all the appropriate time to tell him.
She stays just a second longer than she probably should.
(His smile hurts.)
She makes the fourth time count. Hesitantly, she knocks on the French doors, and waits to be consumed by his gaze.
He comes quietly down the stairs in what she guesses is his sleep wear, rubbing sand from his face and trying to get his bedhead under control. It's all annoyingly adorable, and she hates the way her heavy heart flutters, feather-light, at just the sight of him.
Merlin freezes when he sees her from across the living room, and his eyes- Goddess, how had she forgotten how blue they were? It's all coming back to her, every look from across court, kindred and hateful; the sad light in his eyes when she begged him for help and he wouldn't; the empty pardon given to her with just a glance over Arthur's still body.
She remembers sitting in that boat with her brother, asking him where he'd go, now that Camelot was gone. She remembers how he only spared her a moment before kicking it off towards Avalon, and wandering away into the woods. He had been the picture of a broken man. She knew the only reason he had forgiven her, was because she was shattered too.
Now he's walking towards her, face alive with warmth she hadn't earned, like he's been waiting forever just for her. The cloak was a blessing, she thinks; he couldn't see her sudden bout of the shivers. And then they're inches from each other, separated only by glass, and he looks even more beautiful than she'd thought, and it kills something inside her to know what she's about to do to him.
So when he grasps the doorknobs and starts to pull, she slams her gloved hands around them with a speed that makes him jump, banging them closed before he can open them. He's giving her his best Gaius brow right now, (she'd laugh if she wasn't so desperate) but if she's going to do this then she needs this; this flimsy little wall between them.
And before he can even open his mouth, she lets it fly.
"I've lost Arthur… he's gone."
Morgana doesn't keep track of how long she sits with him in silence, her on the porch and him on his rug. But she's not surprised when the late evening becomes pitch black, and snow starts to fall. He doesn't seem to notice her retreating deeper into her cloak.
Arthur had never been a very great fan of winter, she muses. If you asked him, he'd go ranting on about how much more work there was when the seasons turned, how many of his people ended up starving or dead because of something as fickle as the weather. Ask her, though, and she'd tell you the real reason was because it kept him trapped in that castle, robbing him of the brief reprieves he needed to keep Arthur the man alive, before Arthur the ruler swallowed him whole.
She, however, had quickly learned to brave the cold, to thrive in it, if she wanted to get away from Camelot. It had seemed so important to, then… now she wonders why she ever left.
Merlin catches her eyes, and she remembers all over again.
So she starts to talk.
"…Why did it take so long for you to tell me this?"
It's been hours now that Morgana's been sitting out there in the snow, her back pressed against his through the door, giving him every detail of how Arthur had finally died. Each spell she had used, all the ones she had invented over the ages, just for him. How hard she had fought against the slow ebb of his life, and how none of it had been able to fully turn that tide. How in the end, after all his battles, the Once and Future King had simply just passed away in his sleep.
The whole time, he's just been listening silently, staring into the distance. By the time she finally hears his muffled voice, her own is almost hoarse. On a whim she twists her body around to lean on her side, pressing her hand and forehead against the glass, and is rewarded with the same from him.
"I wanted to tell you." She murmurs, relishing the warmth of his palm through the door, drawing strength from it. Brining back Arthur has been her only reason for living for so long, and now that she's failed she feels emptier than ever. "But, you looked…"
Morgana doesn't want to say it, not now, but then Merlin tilts his head and looks young again, and she's lost. So she swallows the lump in her throat, and tries for some honesty.
"You looked like you had a chance to be happy, Merlin." The confession comes on a sigh, momentarily hiding him behind fogged glass again. "And after everything... how could I take that away from you?"
Merlin doesn't reply, full lips parting soundlessly.
And for one strange moment, they're just looking at each other. As much as Morgana wants to hide, lock up this new vulnerability, she doesn't. It's drawn out a kind of wonder from him that she hasn't seen in ages; since she first caught his eye across the dance floor. This is the first time she's done something, just for him, since Ealdor. The way he's looking at her makes it seem like they never left.
Merlin ruins it with a rueful smile, and a single sentence.
"Funny… that's exactly why I didn't tell you about my magic, all those years ago."
Morgana feels her face harden, along with her heart. Merlin has but a moment to look chagrined before she briskly turns her back on him again.
"That wasn't your decision to make." She tries to snarl. It comes out more like a whimper. She knows how pathetic she must look, tucking her chin under her knees in her oversized cape, but least he can't see how close to tears she was. "You- you had no right!"
There is only silence behind her, for a moment. Merlin's regret is heavy in the air, but then it becomes something harder.
"Yeah, well, you didn't have the right to kill everyone we loved, did you?"
He walks away before he can see her flinch.
Leaving her, once again, alone in the cold…
…But not for long.
Morgana wakes with a jolt, snow falling off her as she sits up to meet the sad eyes on the other side of the glass. She hasn't been asleep for long, judging by the dark skies.
Kneeling down to eye level, he raises a steaming cup into her line of sight with an apologetic grimace. Her parched throat and chattering teeth beg the rest of her to let him open the doors. And yet the thought of being in there, with him, in the warmth, was a thousand times more frightening than freezing out here.
Morgana pulls her cape closer, and declines with a firm shake of her head. Merlin just sighs and slides down to the floor, so that his feet were aligned with her torso. Mirroring his position, she watches him rest his crown against the door like her. It was the closest they could get to sitting across from each other.
She has to screw her eyes shut to get away from this. It wasn't fair, she thought; the way he could still touch her heart after all these lifetimes. The way she knew that he'd still be watching her, with so much tenderness, when she opened her eyes.
It is torture, and she wishes she were back in Avalon again. Back home, where no one was left to hurt her, save a silent brother to listen to her regrets. Except it wasn't her home, hadn't ever been, and the only thing waiting for her there now was a headstone marking her failure.
"I don't want to be here." She whispers, too low for him to catch. He hears anyway.
"Then why haven't you left yet?" He says, gently.
Morgana shrugs, tracing little patterns on the window, unable to admit the truth even as it burns in her stomach.
You're all I have now.
After a moment, the fingers she'd dreamt of joined her. Their hands intertwined through glass, and over them, blue and green met in quiet understanding.
"I'm… I'm relieved he's gone." Merlin sighs suddenly.
Morgana starts. "You're what…?"
"Don't get me wrong." The guilt dripped from his voice, and he couldn't meet her eyes anymore. "I loved him. He was my brother, and I believed in the world he was building, but I can't…"
His hand balls into a fist against her frozen palm.
"I just can't be that again, Morgana. It's not the life I want."
And he looks at her again through old tears, and she understands. She's been Arthur's servant even longer.
'The Once and Future King.' 'The Golden Age.' Such grand promises, such a beautiful future to serve. And what had it gotten them? Everyone they ever loved had died for a prophecy built on madness, and now Arthur, too…
…But then, he'd never had chance, had he? Mordred had killed him ages ago, and she was just too damn stubborn to let him go; too desperate for some kind of redemption, some kind of reward.
"I shouldn't have kept him this long." Morgana said, brokenly. "He didn't deserve to die like that."
"But we didn't deserve to live like this, either." Merlin smiled sadly. "Life isn't fair."
For the first time in centuries, Morgana couldn't stop the tears. Merlin straightened, watching helplessly as she cradled her snowy head in her hands, and screamed. She cried for Arthur, for herself, for Gwen and Morgause and maybe even Uther… for everyone that'd been lost and all that'd been wasted.
"I tried Merlin…" She sobbed. "So damn hard…"
And it all meant nothing.
The French doors opened wide, and Merlin pulled her into the tightest embrace of her life.
Morgana doesn't know how long they cried together, how much of the night they spent not noticing the clock. It feels like they've been actors on a stage, all this time, only just now watching the curtain fall and shedding their masks. It's like they're seeing each other for the first time.
At the first light of dawn, she finally looks up at him.
"Morgana, please…" She's close enough to taste him. "Come inside with me."
And that's when she winds her hands into his hair, and pulls him into a kiss. It's slow, and languid, and everything they've been missing for an aeon. They're smiling when they pull apart, full of life once more, and when he offers her his arm she's a lady all over again.
Morgana leans on Merlin as he leads her inside, to finally begin their life.
The doors close, and lock, behind them.
For everyone looking for someone