Mithian paced in her room, unsure of what she should do, or even how she should feel.
There were so many ways she couldn't compete with Morgana, not that she wanted to. What kind of fool would get between Morgana and something she wanted? But then, Mithian doubted Morgana even wanted Merlin.
If she did she would probably already have him.
Morgana wouldn't let duty or "acting like a lady" or any other nonsense stop her.
But Mithian did have a duty to her people, and she was hardly going to start seeing Morgana as a role model at this point in her life.
Morgana had escaped punishment, again.
Merlin had been forced to choose between his loyalty to magical beings and his king, again.
And now Merln was banished, again.
Was she the only one who had learned anything? And why had her hard lesson been that her kingdom needed her, at least a few years more? Why couldn't it have been all about letting love in or learning the value of relaxation?
And what had possessed Merlin to let Morgana go? If he wanted to help the dragon so much, why not help him himself? Why release Morgana so that she could? She supposed he hadn't wanted to fight Camelot's people, but in the long run, letting Morgana loose would surely cause more harm than fighting some knights.
She could only conclude that some part of Merlin wanted to let Morgana go, and that Arthur was glad that he had.
How could she respond, as regent? She had trusted Arthur to punish his sister, and he had failed to do so. However, she could hardly complain, because Arthur had been very understanding about her country's breach of Camelot's sovereignty.
She supposed all she could do was make Morgana an official enemy of Nemeth, not that Nemeth needed any more enemies.
And how could she respond as someone who loved Merlin? As someone who had thought he had some feelings along that line himself?
And why, why, why, had Morgana kissed him?
At first she barely heard the knock on the door, but then definitely heard Merlin's softly spoken "Mithian?"
She looked up, and smiled in spite of herself. Even though she knew it wasn't true, even though she knew he'd done things that marked him as a dangerous man and that he was capable of so much worse, he looked like a nervous boy.
There was something bittersweet twisting at her heart, and in a moment she realized what she was feeling. She was disappointed in him. She'd had such faith in him. It didn't mean she loved him any less, but she wasn't just seeing the hero who'd helped her with all her problems anymore.
He'd tried to tell her he was flawed; he'd tried to tell her he was just a man who made mistakes like everyone else. Now she knew she'd idolized him.
"You're packing up then, are you?" she asked.
"You as well, I imagine. I bet you've had enough of Camelot," Merlin said. He sat down at the chair opposite hers in front of the fire.
Mithian grimaced. "Can we not waste time on pleasantries? I must know, Merlin. Why did you do it? You must know there were other ways to help the dragon."
"It's hard to explain," Merlin said, looking at his hands.
"I know you've never really reciprocated my feelings and I shouldn't feel that you owe me an explanation, but I thought we at least were friends. We have one night left in this castle together. I want to know why you did it," Mithian said.
Merlin looked uncomfortable. "I didn't mean that I didn't owe you an explanation. I think I do. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't want to tell you everything."
Mithian didn't say anything and Merlin took the hint and continued with his explanation. "Aithusa—that's the dragon—he was prepared to die to show me that he supports Morgana. It was like—a soldier falling on his sword to protest the orders of his general. I had taken away his choice to fight for her, and he was telling me how much he resented it. Enough to die for what he believed in. I brought him into the world. Dragons—they have to be called into being by a dragonlord. I wanted him to be a friend to me. Dragons are these amazing beings of pure magic…I wanted to bring more magic into the world. Kilgharrah is this amazing creature and it was such a shame he was the last. I suppose I understood his loneliness and I wanted to be a friend to him. To make him the last no longer. It's funny because Kilgharrah would be the first to tell me to kill Aithusa. In fact he already has told me that."
"You never mentioned Morgana. Why not simply help the dragon? Why have Morgana do it?"
"I'm sorry. I'm babbling…not being clear…He was saying he'd die if she did. It was strategic, and if I had helped him he'd have found another way to fall on his sword. I had to let her go or see him die. I wasn't prepared to see him die. Morgana…I've readied myself for her death so many times I could have watched her die without any problem. I would have been sad, but at this point I could kill her myself. I couldn't watch Aithusa die. Not today. I'm sure I will do one day, but I couldn't do it today when I knew how to stop it."
"So it had nothing to do with you having feelings for Morgana?" Mithian asked.
"No. Nothing. I admit that I will always feel conflicted about our dealings with each other, and I will always feel that something different—some other way—was possible if only we'd thwarted fate…she was my friend and although I hate her a part of me will always pity her. No one helped her but the very worse of us. Magic users in Morgana's life left her with a wrongheaded impression about the reality of magic…the best lacked all conviction and the worst were full of passionate intensity."*
Mithian was satisfied. Regret she could live with. "What will you do now?" she asked.
"I have to leave. I am going into voluntary exile. And you? Do you return to Nemeth to be regent after all?"
"Yes, despite all my protestations I think I do. I don't know why I should. Probably I'll make even worse mistakes than the current regents. Yet my nephew trusts me."
"The people trust you, too. And they love you," Merlin said.
"And I love them, which is why I go to this fate I so despise," she said.
"For how long?" Merlin asked.
Mithian noticed for the first time how close together they had somehow become. Their noses were inches apart. "Will you wait for me?" she asked.
"I will marry no other. But I'm sure you will," Merlin said.
Mithian felt a stab of pain somewhere in the region of her chest. "You think I will betray you?"
Merlin smiled, somehow in the space of the smile going from a young boy to an old man. "I think you will grow up, and realize that the bastard son of a dragonlord promised in service to a king you can never swear allegiance to, who swears he has a great destiny to restore magic to the land, is a terrible choice for a husband. And when that happens, you must go and marry some nice man from your kingdom who wants the same things you do. Has the same values."
"I value honour, and loyalty, and love. I think thus far we are compatible," Mithian said.
"I value those things, too. But I don't personify them."
"I don't expect you to!" Mithian exclaimed.
"I have neither the skills nor the inclination to be a knight or a king. I have the skills to be a politician, a councillor, an assassin…everything shadowy and illusory, nothing glorious and noble like you seem to think I am. And, you see, it's not that I'm not your courtly love that makes me draw back. It's the fact that it's not your king I serve. You could forgive my trickery for your own country, but not for Arthur's."
Mithian gave a shaky laugh. "I don't think I've ever heard you talk so much at one stretch."
Merlin leaned back in his chair, nearly looking defeated. "You won't be convinced."
"You can't convince love away," Mithian said simply.
"You see…I didn't want to say this, but I was going to confess my love for you before this thing with Morgana. But when we were tied together, I found out something I'd never known."
Mithian felt tears in her eyes. "You loved her."
"Once. I loved her once. It was such a childish and fleeting thing and she was so high above my station in life I never really acknowledged it to myself. But I found out, being tied to her…it's the things I loved about her then that I hate now. Her playful archness, her passion, her commitment to the things she believes in…they haven't changed, but my feelings towards them have. She makes me sick for the very reasons I was once drawn to her. I couldn't bear it if you felt one day that my loyalty to Arthur and to magic and my willingness to do anything, even alter the laws of nature for those two things, were disgusting. And I may be foolish sometimes, but I know you would feel this one day. In some things I count myself wise. I can see into the hearts of men. I know any union between us would fail."
"I see I cannot alter your opinion. I do find it hard that you're blaming me," she said stiffly.
"No! Mithian, no! I love you. I honestly do, and if it would do you any good at all to be with me I would go to you with open arms and a clear conscience. But I can't. You deserve a man who would make you his whole world. A man you could understand. I'm not for you…I don't think I'm for anyone. I was…made…for Camelot. I was not made to fall in love," Merlin said.
The tears in his eyes made them all the bluer, and Mithian found her anger weakening. He loved her. Truly. She could tell. The most powerful, beautiful man in all the world, with his impish smile and his terrible destiny…and he loved her. She suddenly wondered if that was all she had wanted, all along—simply that he return her affection—because now he had, she felt the bare futility of any shared future between them.
"The fates should have given you a colder heart," she said, with a smile through her tears.
"I wish they had," Merlin said.
Author's Note: I think this might be the end, unless I've left some horrible loose end that is tormenting anyone (let me know). Sorry for making you wait this long for a final chapter. I may write more in this world, but if I do it will likely be after the new season so might turn weird and even more AU than it already is—so I might just say I like writing Merlin a lot and these two stories got me through the hiatus, and I could be back with a post season five story or two. Sorry if I made a Mithian/Merlin shipper out of anyone and then dashed their hopes. I didn't really intend for this ending to be as definitive as it turned out. I didn't intend to spend so much time and energy on Morgana, either, but she's so fun to write and the history between her and Merlin is so rich it's pretty hard to resist.
*Paraphrasing Yeats' "The Second Coming" in the last line even though it's a total anachronism. Couldn't resist. Too perfect.