Disclaimer: Don't own, not profiting.
Rewritten and reposted 3/4/12, because the original was almost pretentious in its solemnity, and because I never had the time to edit it that I wanted. This version is longer, but digs a little deeper, I hope. This edit brings it more into line with the rest of the series, which I like better.
"When words are both true and kind, they can change the world." -Buddha
"I just need to hear someone say it, so I don't have to keep feeling like I'm imagining it." Morgana is wide-eyed and frightened. Her eyes are pleading, desparate.
I'm an idiot. I'm an idiot. It's not safe. She's dangerous. She tried to kill the king.
But I know exactly what she needs. I remember exactly how that feels.
I can't tell her. I can't. The dragon said not to tell her.
"I believe you, Morgana. It's magic." Shut up, Merlin! Stupid!
She looks at him, wide-eyed. Merlin sees gratitude and fear fighting for supremacy.
"What am I going to do? If Uther finds out, he'll have me killed."
"Then don't let him find out." It's worked all right for me.
"No one hides magic for long, Merlin. They're always caught and—" She chokes and falls silent, unable or unwilling to finish. Terrified. Desperate.
Well… In for a penny…
"They aren't always caught."
It's a small enough thing to flick his hand at the candelabra in the corner, mutter the words, watch the flames spring up.
It's small enough, but it changes everything. All of a sudden, they are sharing a secret. Her eyes widen in wonder.
"You—? All this time? Does Arthur know?"
He shakes his head, grinning with glee because it feels so good to tell the truth to someone, even though this is still a terrible idea.
"Wouldn't believe it if I told him to his face. Actually, I've tried."
The fear in her eyes recedes, replaced by laughter.
"Of course not." She squares her shoulders and produces a fair imitation of Arthur's most self-assured tone. "Merlin? Merlin wouldn't recognize magic if it bit him in the rear!"
They both collapse in helpless laughter.
"Gaius is the only one who knows about me…" He bites his lip in sudden memory, "He told me not to tell you. He'll be angry."
"Best he doesn't find out, then," Morgana says, and laughs again.
"Maybe that's best," he agrees, and the conspiracy is born.
She tells him about her dreams, and Gwen remarks at how much more peaceful her mistress suddenly appears. After the witchfinder's defeat, he's the only person in whom she can confide her rage.
"We could kill him," she says, and he doesn't need to ask her to whom she's referring, "There must be something in Gaius' books. Some spell or potion that he won't notice until it's too late. Then Arthur could be king."
Merlin just shakes his head.
"You're scared, Morgana. You're scared, and that makes you angry."
There's a long pause as she just looks at him.
"Why don't you hate him? You have so much reason to want him dead, but…"
There's a long, silent moment.
"Some days I do," he says, "But I can't be like him."
She sits for a moment, taking this in.
"I suppose," he says thoughtfully, "it's because of Arthur, really. I know that he's going to be king someday, and he'll set it all right. Don't you see it in him, already? Most of the time, he's a prat, and you think that's all there is to him…and then he'll do something incredible in spite of himself, and you realize that underneath there's this king trying to get out. When he takes the throne, it'll be like nothing Albion's ever seen before."
"How do you stand Arthur?" she asks, another day, when she catches him nursing a bruise from a day helping Arthur in the training fields, "Prince or not, he treats you like you're dirt, and yet you never seem to tire of trailing after him."
"I don't trail."
"Yes, Merlin, you do." She laughs, eyes sparkling at him, and he finds he doesn't mind as much as he'd thought.
"Well… You know the Great Dragon?"
"He speaks to me," he says, with just a touch of dramatic seriousness. Then he realizes how daft the whole idea sounds and goes on in a more normal tone. "About the future."
"The Great Dragon…speaks to you."
"Yes. Don't sound so surprised."
"And… what does he say?" Her tone is somewhere between amusement and skepticism. Mostly amusement.
"He says…that Arthur will be a great king, and that he'll unite all of Albion."
"And that I have to be by Arthur's side, protecting him, until he's ready to be king."
"And that that's my destiny."
"I see," she says, and there's definite amusement now, though he can read her well enough to know that it's mostly feigned. She's teasing him because the idea is too big to take seriously. It's laugh or be swamped, and Morgana hates being overwhelmed. "And, when the Great Dragon speaks to you, does he say anything about how the Lady Morgana fits into this destiny of yours?"
"He…" Merlin trails off into silence, realizing his position too late. He curses the way that he's let his barriers down where Morgana is concerned. His biggest secret is already in her hands, and it's easy to forget that he has others, ones she really shouldn't know. "Nothing much."
"Merlin," she says, "You're a terrible liar. Tell me."
He shakes his head.
"I can't, Morgana."
He sees the idea occur to her, watches her turn pale and terrified.
"If…if it's my death, Merlin, if Uther's going to burn me…I have a right to the truth."
"No! No, it's not that." It's even worse, Morgana. Please don't ask.
But she does. Of course she does.
"Then what?" Her eyes search his, looking for clues to the truth that he's frightened to tell her. He opens his mouth to lie, say something kind and funny and false and put a smile back on her face.
"Don't lie to me, Merlin," she says, and her tone is harsh, almost imperious, "It's something terrible, and I have a right to know."
He squirms, tries not to meet her eyes, but there's no way out.
"He said…that you'll kill Arthur. That you and Mordred will destroy Camelot. He told me that it would be best if you never knew you had magic."
Silence for a moment. He can't read her expression, but it doesn't look like surprise. He wonders whether, on some level, she expected that.
"But you were honest with me anyway. You told me your secret. Why?" Her voice is soft, but there's a trace of something sharp. He can't tell whether she's hurting, or simply overwhelmed, or...he chokes that thought. It's too late for doubts.
"Because?" Her eyes are distant and cold. She isn't looking at him at all.
This could be it.
This could be the moment that pushes her away. This could be the moment that makes the dragon's prophecies come true. The weight of kingdoms rests on what he says now, and he has no pretty words to say it. The best he can do is to say it simply, with conviction, and pray that it'll reach her.
"Because I don't believe it."
"And why not? I told you that I wished Uther were dead."
"Because you aren't a murderer. You have a good heart, Morgana."
"Do you really believe that?"
He's surprised to find that he does. In his mind, between the prophecies and the dragon's words and Gaius' warnings, everything is confused. When he says the words out loud, however, he finds that he means them.
"Merlin?" He looks straight into her eyes, willing her to believe him.
"Yes, I do."
He sits with an arm around her shoulders as she sobs into his neckerchief.
When Morgause comes to Camelot, Morgana is spellbound. Merlin is not.
"She wants to fight Arthur! What if she kills him?"
"I feel as if she knows me, Merlin. It's as if…as if we're somehow the same."
"She's evil. Don't trust her, Morgana."
He knows as soon as he's said it that it's a mistake.
"I'll do as I please, Merlin, and I'll thank you to mind your own business."
She flaunts Morgause's bracelet at dinner that night and lets haughty amusement curl her lips when she catches him watching her.
I don't obey you, Merlin, she says without words.
He tells her Uther's secret a week later and nearly fractures their shaky reconciliation.
"And you saved his life!? Knowing what he'd done, you lied to Arthur!"
"I don't know if it was right to lie," he says softly, "I'm sick to death of lying, you know that. I just didn't want to see Arthur become a murderer. What sort of king could he be, if he'd killed his father?"
She lets it go, but he can see that she isn't sure about that.
He begins to doubt, just a little.
He doesn't understand why Morgana will help him smuggle food to Freya but won't return to visit her after the first time she sees them together. He doesn't understand why she keeps trying to remind him of his destiny in Camelot when he tells her that he and Freya are running away.
He forgets what it is to be afraid of loneliness, and that Morgana is too proud to ask him to stay.
"I thought we weren't listening to the dragon anymore," he says. "Do you think you could let Freya have one of your dresses for the trip?"
She catches him as he returns from his journey to the lake and says "I'm sorry, Merlin," in a tone that sets the tears flowing again. Arthur, coming upon them suddenly some time later, jumps to entirely the wrong conclusion as to why his manservant is in an alcove, sitting so close alongside his foster sister, and as to why said manservant has his head on said sister's shoulder. He's thoroughly affronted when they answer his accusations with laughter, although, really, it's exactly what Merlin needs.
They cling together, learn to trust one another, come to know each other very well. He sees even more of the courage at her core, and even more of the edge. She is good, and he believes that, but she is ruthless, too, especially when she's frightened.
Sometimes he wonders what would happen if he ever pushed her away.
He sneaks into Morgana's room after the crystal is stolen, hoping to reason with her.
"I've already told you that that druid boy wants to bring down Camelot," he says, "Don't deny it, Morgana."
"Do you listen to the dragon all the time?" she asks. "No, you don't. If you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now, because you would still be lying to me. We already threw out his advice, Merlin. Besides, they're seeking justice, that's all. Do you honestly believe that having Uther Pendragon on the throne is good for the kingdom?"
"They're going about it all wrong," he says, "Do you really think that Arthur will ever accept magic if it kills his father? If magic users declare war on Camelot? Or should they kill him, too?"
She doesn't answer, and her expression hardens.
"And you're helping them." There's more disgust in his voice than he'd intended, and he sees the flinch she tries to hide.
"Are you going to tell Uther?" she asks coldly.
He shakes his head.
"No. He'd kill you."
"Then why are we still discussing it? My mind is made up."
"You're better than this," he says. He leaves before she can think of a response.
When Gaius tells the king his careful fiction about the bandits' camp, Merlin takes great care not to glance at Morgana. He isn't sure whether it's to protect her, or because he doesn't want to meet her eyes.
He offers to help her smuggle Alvarr out of Camelot (now that the damage has been undone), but she refuses.
"You've betrayed me once, Merlin. Don't think that I'll let it happen again."
He doesn't want to fear her, but he's given her too many weapons. He's thrown out the dragon's advice, and now he isn't sure what destiny will do about it.
When they find her, the only one awake in an eerily quiet castle, he knows that something is very wrong. It must be her magic protecting her, he tells himself, and he makes himself believe it until he himself begins to sicken.
There's something triumphant in the dragon's smirk.
"The witch is the spell's vessel, young warlock."
Merlin swallows. Oh, Morgana…what have you gone and done?
"How can I free her?"
The dragon's amusement is apparent.
"Free her? To break the spell, you must kill her. I tried to warn you, but…" he trails off into a dry chuckle.
"You're enjoying this!"
"You didn't heed my warning, young warlock. Besides, the witch knows too much. She knows of your power, and that makes her dangerous."
Merlin fights for control of his rage, trying to clear his mind and think. He could do it. She still trusts him. He could kill her. His magic is stronger than hers, but he wouldn't even need it. She would probably take poison from his hand if he offered it.
Could I offer it?
The idea sets him reeling, horrified and frightened, because he knows that he could. There has to be another way. There has to be. If she helped me…
"Can…can the person who cast the spell reverse it?"
The dragon stops laughing.
"You must kill her. She is dangerous!"
"I know, yes, murder my friend. Right. But is there even a chance that I can stop the spell another way?"
"Can the person who cast the spell reverse it?"
The dragon sighs.
"Yes. Morgause could undo the spell, if she wished. But what could possibly make her wish to do so?"
Merlin turns on his heel and leaves without a word.
He finds her alone when he returns.
"Yes?" There's a note of defiance under her innocent, fearful tone, and her eyes can't lie to him. They've gotten to know each other too well. He can read in her face that she's afraid, and angry, and doubtful. All three are things she hates, things that make her unpredictable.
"Did you…have you…did Morgause…"
"Did I what, Merlin?" Her tone is icy.
"Something's protecting you, Morgana. Something that's not protecting me. D'you know what it is?"
Arthur opens the door before she has to think of an answer.
When she stumbles in the corridor and cries out for his help, he's shocked by the strength of his response. The knight flies backward down the corridor and strikes the floor an instant before Arthur arrives on the scene.
"What happened?" Arthur looks from the fallen knight to the fallen Lady Morgana, obviously puzzled.
Merlin hurriedly lowers his outstretched hand. What was that, Merlin? Wordless magic? She's a traitor. She isn't your friend anymore.
"Morgana tripped," he lies smoothly, "And the knight was gaining on us. You knocked him out with the door when you opened it." Arthur looks at him oddly for a moment, and then shrugs in acceptance.
"All right. Let's keep moving; there are bound to be more of them around somewhere."
Morgana catches his eye as they follow Arthur down the corridor, and for just an instant they're laughing at Arthur together and everything is like it used to be.
She's not your friend, he tells himself, and turns away. If she refuses to help, you know what you have to do.
He bids farewell to his prince as bravely as he can, in the knowledge that Arthur is planning to die for them. He will die, alone and thanklessly, if Merlin cannot end this. He rounds on Morgana.
"Why did you do it?"
She doesn't answer.
"I thought you were better than this!" He's never shouted at her before. He breathes deeply, trying to calm himself.
There's a long, long moment of silence. She breaks it first.
"I don't know how to break the spell, Merlin, and even if I did—"
"Morgause does." Still not calm. Still angry. Easy, Merlin.
"She won't do it. Why should she? She's right, Merlin."
"She's willing to kill Arthur to get to his father. Is that right?"
"You don't understand! No one understands!"
She sounds like she's at the edge of hysteria. She sounds like a frightened child. She sounds like she did that night in Gaius' chambers: scared of herself.
He takes a long moment to breathe. She's frightened, Merlin, he tells himself. She's already frightened, and you're making it worse, and she doesn't handle fear well. You know that. She hates being afraid. That's when she makes her worst mistakes.
The anger recedes a little.
"I do understand," he says gently, and she looks up in surprise at the change in his tone.
"I know what it's like to be hunted, milady. I know what it's like to lie about who you are. I know what it's like to live in secret. I understand. You know I do, Morgana."
She's listening, at least. He can't tell whether she's taking his words to heart or not, but at least she's taking him seriously.
"But I don't want to murder Uther Pendragon. I have hope that someday things will be better. I have faith in Arthur. And I have people who love me no matter what, people I can trust with anything."
He glances away, almost shyly, and then looks her straight in the eyes, "You have that, too. You don't have to be alone in Camelot, Morgana. Not ever." He hesitates a moment. "Not while I'm here."
There's an eternal moment when every back-and-forth of distrust and longing shows on her features like ripples on water. His voice is very gentle.
"If you help me, we can find another way. Please." Don't make me do it. Don't. Please.
Her face settles.
"What do we do?"
He grins, and she smiles weakly back, and he realizes how much he's missed this, plotting together to save Arthur and never letting him know.
But there's no time for that now, not when so much else is at stake.
"I have a plan."
She's magnificent, striding out to defy fate.
"Morgause!" Her voice rings out like a knight offering challenge.
"Have you found Uther Pendragon, sister?"
"I won't do this, Morgause."
Morgause is nonplussed, but she laughs.
"Why ever not? Our victory is assured. Uther Pendragon will die."
"This is evil. Will you remove the spell?"
"Are you well, sister?"
"I won't murder a sleeping man."
"Really? Uther has murdered hundreds of our kind."
"I am not Uther Pendragon." This, at least, she says with her head high.
"Someone's gotten to you," Morgause muses. "Who was it?"
Morgana keeps her silence.
"No matter," Morgause says, shrugging, "You needn't spill his blood to maintain the spell. Wait here if you're squeamish."
She pushes past Morgana, striding toward the council chamber.
Morgana speaks calmly, quietly, not even turning around, but her words are very, very clear. "I need to be alive to maintain the spell."
The emphasis on the word "alive" is almost inaudible. Almost.
"What did you say?"
There's just a trace of a smirk tugging at Morgana's lips. When she speaks, she sounds as if she's addressing a particularly slow child.
"I must be living to maintain the spell. It will collapse if my soul departs my body."
"What are you saying, sister?"
The smirk is obvious now, as is the cold pleasure in Morgana's voice. Merlin, peering through the cracked door, is amazed at the authority in her bearing.
She looks like a queen, he thinks. She's beautiful. And scary, very scary.
He is suddenly very, very glad that she is on his side; a woman like that could be a terrifying enemy.
"I am saying that, if you do not remove the spell and leave Camelot, I will drink this."
She stretches out her closed hand, slowly opens her fingers to reveal the little bottle on her palm, making sure the death's-head on the label is plainly visible.
"That's all well and good, Morgana," Morgause coos, trying for sisterly condescension. Though she isn't half as good an actress as Morgana, Merlin thinks, then shakes himself for the irrelevance of the thought.
"But it's no great matter to heal poison, once I know that it's only hemlock. You may do as you like, of course, it's no trouble to me."
Merlin bites back despair. They've failed. There's nothing left to try. Camelot will fall.
Morgana only smiles, cold and sharp as crystal.
"What if I told you that this was hemlock to Gaius' special recipe? A little drop of something…extra. He uses it on the rats, I believe. Painful, and quite unpleasant to watch." She smiles a little and uncorks the bottle with a flick of her thumb, cocking her head to one side to gauge Morgause's reaction.
She's lying! Isn't she?
"Maybe. But I tell you that I'm not. Would you like to risk it? See me dead at your feet?" She raises the vial to her lips.
"No!" The word bursts out before Morgause realizes that she has betrayed herself. Morgana smiles a little wider over the lip of the vial, mocking.
"Then raise the spell and go, Morgause."
She hesitates. Morgana begins to tip the little bottle, the poison slipping toward her lips. Like a dam breaking, Morgause yields.
"And proud of it, Morgause."
"You'll see me again, sister! Don't think that I'll forget this treachery."
"I look forward to it," says Morgana, and smiles in triumph.
As soon as Morgause has said the words and vanished, he's down the stairs and by Morgana's side.
"That was brilliant! You were brilliant! How did you know it wasn't just hemlock in the vial?"
"I was bluffing, Merlin," she says. Her tone is still mocking, but, for him, there's a smile in her eyes, "I had to, when your plan went wrong. Thank the fates that I'm a good liar."
"An amazing liar. You were incredible." He's clutching her shoulders in his excitement, smiling down into her eyes. She's smiling back up at him, just as overjoyed, and he can't remember ever feeling happier than at this moment.
And then he realizes what he's doing, remembers that she's the king's ward and he's the prince's manservant, and that, really, they shouldn't even be friends at all. He releases her, tries to step back.
She catches his arm and hugs him for a long moment.
"Thank you, Merlin. For everything."
She stands on tiptoe to kiss his cheek and then lets him go.
"Come on," she says, "Let's go and find Arthur. If he's going to be High King, he can't be sleeping on the job."
She moves swiftly towards the door. He stands for a second, one hand to his cheek. A wide grin spreads across his face, and he dashes after her and into a bright future.
For some of the future of this world, see Badgering Arthur and Appalling Arthur. I'm working on a few pieces to fill up the space in between, too.
What say you? Plausible, unlikely, too short, too long? Did I overdo the italics?