Summary: You only hate someone like that when you loved them once. Merlin/Morgana. Spoilers through Seasons 3 and 4, and some post-Show speculation.
equilibrium (n): A state in which two opposing forces or influences are balanced.
"She is the darkness to your light, the hatred to your love."
"The one they call Emrys will ever walk in your shadow. He is your destiny and he is your doom."
"I fear that your futures are now joined forever."
~ e q u i l i b r i u m ~
He sees her, crystal clear, as though through an unveiled mirror. They both pause, in tandem. Oh, but they are so alike. Merlin and Morgana. Her beloved opposite. His beautiful negative. Her face leans in close to his. Anger, scorn, hurt and contempt chasing like fleeting shadows across her features. He sees what she has become and doesn't understand (understands all too well). She is frozen. All love and compassion locked out of her heart. Merlin wonders if there is even a glimpse of humanity left in her. When did she change? Why did she change? But he knows. He understands better than anyone; he led her here. He can feel her magic has grown in the time she has been away, can smell it on her skin, and it sends a strange evocative thrill rippling through him. And he knows he should have been there to see it, but the past can't be changed and fate can't be fought. At least that is what he has been told. But it doesn't ease the terrible sense of guilt. He has seen her wild with fear. He has seen her shatter like glass. But she doesn't shatter anymore. There is a new, unsettling confidence about her as she stands gleaming in sword and mail, a misguided savior who believes spilling innocent blood is a fair price to pay for the restoration of magic. And the fault of it is all his. A smirk dances on her red lips. Twin golden flames leaping within emerald eyes. Fires of vengeance. Of madness. When she swings the sword at his heart, a part of him doesn't want to resist.
He's trembling, dirt-streaked, his body far too slight and slender for the ungainly sword he wields. He's just a boy. She could use magic and strike him down in an instant. But she doesn't. It isn't a fair fight if only one of them is magical… Morgana almost screams a bitter laugh at her own sentimentality. He showed no such mercy to her. For a moment, she is lost in a dark haze of memory; reliving the sensation of burning ice in her chest and throat as he lowered her slowly to the ground, leaning over her as the world faded to grey and her sight dimmed to those dark blue eyes. His thin face is transformed, defiance in every set line as he dares her to kill him. Her heart is beating hatefully and she despises herself for the weakness. Another curving arc of her sword. Betrayer. Slash. Liar. Thrust. Merlin staggers backwards, breathing harshly. They both know he is no match for her, yet still he continues to fight, will fight her until his very last breath. Oh yes, he will fight for Arthur. Yet all he offered her were empty words and false promises and a skin of poisoned water. She cannot bear the accusation in his eyes, to be condemned by her own murderer. His gaze cuts through her like a knife. Blue eyes. Dark lashes. Narrowed with ruthless intent. Later, she will think about how his fingers curled around the sword were long.
They live like this, in an uneasy coexistence. Balancing on a knife's edge. Watching one another; flashing secret, sidelong glances from hidden corners and shadowed alcoves. Not so much has changed. He finds himself caught in this strange game of hunter and hunted, thinking of her, following her. She is becoming an obsession. The maddening proximity of her as she shoves him to the wall, knocking the breath from him while he struggles to remain stoic and aloof, forcing his body not to respond to her harshly breathed words or the searing warmth of her hand curled around his hotly thudding wrist. If you breathe a word of what you saw, I will make your life a very short and painful one. Her mouth is a slanting cut of crimson as she moves through the corridors in a sweep of silk and velvet, supreme and magnificent and untouchable. She knows he cannot speak out, though the weight and burden of his secrets is becoming unbearable. Inside, Merlin burns to tell Arthur, to make him understand, even though it would cause him unspeakable pain… But Arthur's greatest strength – his heart – is also his greatest weakness; he could never conceive of betrayal in anyone he loves. Merlin wonders how they don't see it. The bracelet dangles from her wrist, glinting in the lamplight, the evidence of her betrayal hidden in plain sight. A hint of spite in her laugh, cynicism in the curve of a raised brow. Cruelty in the smiles that used to be teasing. Her porcelain face is an exquisite mask, acting out a shadow-play that only he is aware of. Her gown brushes against his arm, smooth as the light fingers across his throat. Don't you ever betray me. And he doesn't. So they continue to enact this dance of death, step by step, shadow by shadow. One false step could bring about his destruction.
He's a liar. It seems incredible that she never noticed it before – that the clumsiness, the awkwardness, the gawky mannerisms are all an elaborate pretence. But she has seen through the deception – seen the angular white face harden with resolve, the bones standing visible against the skin, seen his blue eyes blaze colder than ice. Nothing clumsy or awkward in the lithe and fluid frame that had clashed swords with her in the vaults of Camelot. Beneath the purity and innocence of the guileless smile and bright eyes, Morgana senses a darkness inside him that turns him into a ruthless stranger. She wonders how they don't notice that it's all an act. How long has he played them all like this, treated them as fools, all these years? There is something unshakeable and terrifying in him that makes her heart thud and her pulse beat ever at an accelerated pace. He blends so easily into the shadows, sees too much, knows too much. There, at the back of everything, always. Servant by day, and by night…? But she does not let herself imagine him at night. Denial is all that keeps her sane. He must never know how weak she is. She will see Camelot drown in blood before she lets Merlin know how vulnerable she truly is. He is watchful and condemning, reproving her with a hypocrisy that makes her inwardly rage. In return she is disdainful and spiteful, venom dripping from her courteously polite words. Both dual personalities, they play the roles assigned to them. How little it would take to tip the balance. How little it would take for the façade to shatter.
He bursts through the door, breathless and frantic. Red-cloaked and slender, looking at her is like gazing into the heart of a flame. The dagger gleams sharply at her waist. A dagger he has seen dipped in Uther's heart's blood. Her hood falls back, ebony curls spilling loose, kissing the exposed flesh of her throat. Morgana turns and pales, gazes straight into his face. Her eyes cut to his, sharp and livid. The icy grey-green irises troubled with sudden fire that darts through him, right to the core. Merlin's breathing comes quickly and he realizes he is trembling. He grips her arm. Stares at the passionate curve of her lips. Tension flares like a fever pitch. Her magic blasts him like lightning and for a moment the world goes black. Black and burning. Fire. Pain… oh, it hurts… his head throbbing. Or his heart. Merlin's eyes open a fraction, a blinding line of gold consuming his vision. The stone blurs, unnaturally hot against his palms. Revolving. All solidity gone. Move. Slowly, on his knees. The inferno rages around him. Gold and red, dancing endlessly. Too bright. Too hot. Almost beautiful. He strains to see through the smoke, gulping down air like a man drowning. The heat burns his lungs and he coughs, retching violently. Through a blur of tears he can see (he already knew) that Morgana is gone. She has left him in the flames to die. But he can't hate her for it. After all, he tried to kill her first.
She sees the way Arthur looks at Gwen, and the way Gwen opens like a sunflower under the bright warmth of his gaze. Arthur has always worn his heart on his sleeve and any fool can tell they're in love. But there is only seething anger in her heart. It's another betrayal – the two people who once confided everything to her have closed her out, left her in the dark. But she has felt like this her whole life, alone, even when she is surrounded by so many people she feels she is suffocating and wants to scream to shatter the facade. So she plays out this mummer's farce (but she lies to survive – what is Merlin's excuse?). She brushes and curls and pins and adorns, flashing beautiful, blinding smiles at Uther (he will never be father) and her brother whom she can never call brother, while hatred burns like a white-hot flame in her heart. Meanwhile, Arthur and Gwen glow, they radiate a simple happiness that she will never know, and Morgana defiantly tells herself she has no wish to, for all love ends in betrayal (and poison, always poison). So she sneers at the naivety of Arthur and the fickleness of Gwen – she has not forgotten Lancelot – while refusing to look at a serving boy who watches her every movement. She will not dwell on pain and regret. There is no love (but the love of a sister, enduring and endless). No love. Only hatred.
They are in love, and it is the brightest, most beautiful thing in this world of deception and fear he lives in. Just the thought of it fills him with a warmth and joy, and Merlin wants to shout it for all of Camelot to hear. Who Arthur is around Gwen – who he has become – is a silent miracle to Merlin, a testament to Arthur's ability to see a noble heart beneath a humble exterior. He loves and trusts Arthur blindingly, ceaselessly, unendingly. All these years of secrecy and fear, and he has endured it all for Arthur. You taught me what it was to believe in someone, not because of destiny or fate, but because of friendship and loyalty and trust, and never giving up on me. You followed me through darkness, would follow me into death, if that was what was required, as I would for you. What binds them together is much greater than themselves, and that bond can never be cut, never be severed. He cannot imagine a world without Arthur; it would be blinding, incomplete, a devastating wilderness. He will never lose faith in Arthur, never stop believing in him. Not like he lost faith in Morgana. Closed his eyes and ignored her silent cries for help – just like that. The question haunts him every time her glass-hard eyes flash at him from across the hall. What had made him turn away? He tries to think back, tries to remember what made her different, what made her someone he could not (refused to) help when his help until then had always been undemanding, uncompromising. Whispers, prophecies, strange fears that made him close his heart. He has always been trapped, caught in the struggle between instinctive truths and necessary lies. He is just so tired, worn out by this uncertainty. Nothing has easy answers anymore. The unbearable pressure is pushing against his chest and throat, threatening to burst from him in a violent convulsion. He can see how easily Morgana could embrace a means of escape, a way out of this loneliness and fear, to create her own destiny. He cannot blame her for turning away from a dark world of night so full of loneliness and secrets. Sometimes he envies her single-minded certainty.
It is easy to summon the haughty disdain to her face when she looks regally upon him, to let the scorn ring heavy in her clear voice – he is, after all, only a servant, while she is a daughter of kings, the Pendragon blood running through her veins – but the turbulent emotions within her cannot be so easily suppressed. She hates him, but does not despise him. She wants to feel nothing but contempt, telling herself again (and again and again and again) that he is merely a skinny, unhandsome serving boy, who is eccentric and clumsy and idiotic… yet in her heart, she knows he is also courageous, intelligent, quick-thinking and ruthless. His quicksilver face haunts her thoughts. She sees wisdom in his eyes, sadness, and unimaginable guilt. Morgana hardens her heart. Good. He should feel guilt. He should be dying of guilt. She vows to herself that one day he will weep the same tears and know the same darkness of despair.
The silken air caresses his face like the touch of cool, soft fingers. But the face that leans over his in those muddled dreams of memory and longing is blurred and indistinct. Freya is a distant remembrance, though that old grief touches him still in odd, unguarded moments. No, it is another face that haunts him in the nocturnal hours. Old longings, old regrets. Morgana and Freya, the two people he couldn't save. Yet it is Morgana that hurts like an old wound. The thought of her creeps in, like a dark temptation. The passionate pain, the forbidden yearning. Her touch, smooth as silk and icy cold. Her eyes glowing deeply in the shadow, mocking and cruel. Lips the colour of wine (the colour of poison). Yet it wasn't always like this. He remembers a night (so long ago, it seems another life now) her eyes wild with agitation, dark hair falling in disarray over her shoulders, tears glinting on her cheeks. You can trust me, Morgana. You know you can. His heart twists. She had confided in him, opened up her soul, entrusted him with her deepest, darkest fears, let him touch the sore places she had shown him, and he… If he could turn back time, undo the lies and evasions, all the cruelties that had followed… That secrecy has cast a dark shadow between them, severing their paths forever. Now he wears the garb of a simple servant while her hands drip blood. She seeks to ruin and not to save. Together they might have rebuilt the world, but now she wishes only to destroy it. There is no way to bring her out of the dark. He wonders again why fate made them enemies.
He's no mere serving boy, no matter how she tries so contemptuously to believe it. He knows her weaknesses. She remembers his narrowed, wary eyes following her with suspicion, the chilling ruthlessness with which he forced that death's elixir upon her, cradling her dying body in his arms even as she gasped in burning agony while the searing poison flared in her blood. Never again will she trust him; never again will she fall for his coaxing lies and pretended well-meaning innocence. Morgana forces down the deceptive image of his face that swims before her, wide-eyed and guileless, an endearing crooked smile pulling at his mouth. All angles and bones and lively energy, the awkward figure never matching up to her bitter-learned knowledge of what he really is (what he's done). It's far easier to hate him than… the alternative. The hatred is easier to endure than the feelings that simmer below it. Because the only thing worse than hating Merlin is trusting Merlin, though both have led her to the same place. Betrayed, deceived, forsaken. Then the anger flares, bright and burning. A fire smouldering unseen. Passion consumes. She tells herself that things will be different when Camelot is under her rule, when she sits on the throne that is hers by blood and birthright. Perhaps then, with Morgause at her side (standing by her, loving her when no one else would) when she is the liberator of the persecuted people gifted (cursed) with magic, when the Old Religion is restored to its rightful place, then she can be free of him at last.
The last possible chance at Morgana's redemption dies in a spill of gold hair and a body lying broken on the stone floor. Morgana sees it all in an instant as she enters the room in the mantle of her stolen Queenhood, red as blood and fire, red as vengeance. She is irredeemable, inconsolable, devastatingly mad. Hair falling around her face in inky waves as she drops to her knees. Merlin watches, pale and silent, as her body shakes with convulsive screams that turn into an unbearable howl of agony. It is something a world away from despair. The tears are still fresh and wet on the face that is raised to his. Tears that burn but don't fall. He has never seen such hatred, never imagined it could exist. He wraps his arms around his chest, trying to hold himself together, so her grief doesn't tear him apart. Forces himself to speak, cruel and cold. It's over, Morgana. And wonders, when did he become so ruthless? It all goes back to a cold chamber of stone walls and a tremulous smile raised to his as he handed over a skin of water. She had let him hold her then. Even when betrayed and dying, she had let him hold her in his arms. Even now, a part of him wants to reach out to her. But all can think is, If it were Arthur… would you forgive…? Her scream rises to a crescendo. The world shatters in a rain of glass.
The spirits are gone, but to Morgana, the world is still a howling abyss, a grey wasteland. Crouched in the darkness of the wretched hovel she is forced to call home, the silence presses around her, thick and suffocating. Reminding her of what she has lost, what reduced her to this. Morgause, her beloved sister, her sweet saviour, dead and gone. The edges of her rage and grief are still sharp, and she wonders if the pain of that loss will ever leave her. Some nights she dreams of gold hair clinging to a decaying skull and almost screams with the fury and anguish of it. Because of Merlin. It all comes back to Merlin. She is forced to sit and wither in the bitterness and scars and swears vengeance, thousands of different ways. Continuing to forge her own chains, unable to rest until Camelot is hers. What comes after does not matter; she is consumed in the wanting. The loneliness creeps into her soul. Her life is one long nightmare, the tedium of it barely broken by the visits of her uncle whom she cannot bring herself to love. She endures his crawling touches with cold indifference, as one turned to stone. She wonders if she would like him any better if his eyes were blue.
Lancelot, Uther… he is surrounded by death. As he keeps that lonely, agonised vigil, while Arthur is closed away from him, blinded by agony, Merlin vows to himself this cannot go on. If the truth of Morgana's actions ever comes to light… He knows she cannot be forgiven. Not for this. They will want to hunt her down, force her to pay for her crimes… and he must watch it all. He cannot bear any more death and suffering, and he knows more death and suffering will come. Too much has happened already. A torn veil between worlds. A crossroads of fate. A enchanted chain around the neck of a dead king. There can be no forgiveness, no second chances. And when the end comes, Merlin knows it will come to a confrontation between them. They cannot escape one another, bound together by anger, hatred, forgiveness, compassion, sadness, jealousy, empathy, betrayal, despair and longing. He is forced to bury that cherished memory of who she once was; vivacious and high-spirited, pale cheeks softened by their frame of sleek black waves, lips full with laughter instead of sneers. The image fades and he is left with a cold, ruthless enemy, far, so far from the tempestuous and compassionate young woman he had once been hopelessly, desperately… willing to help. Now he has to bear the burden of his own mistakes; she is the cross he will forever have to bear, shackled to him until the end of time. Haunting him, hurting him. A strange current lingers between them that binds them inexorably together. And the thought of what he will do (how he will live) when that cord is severed, is perhaps the worst thing of all.
Emrys. The name whispers to her through the long middle-nights. Ancient and immeasurably strange, yet somehow familiar, like a dream half-forgotten on waking. The name is a ghost in her mind, haunting her in every shadow, glimmering in the dark, refusing to leave her be. Restless, she dreams, dreams as she has ever since Morgause left her, dreams as she used to in those still-remembered nights of loneliness and terror, Gwen's hands firm and steady on her burning brow. They seize her mind and plague her senses. Strange scenes, images flash across her inner vision. Blood and grief, a kingdom destroyed, and days of glory withered to ash and grey mist. Soft fingers accustomed to silken sheets now clutch blankets of rough wool, hard enough to tear the material to shreds while gold glimmers from beneath roving closed lids. She tosses and turns in agitation. She wishes she had answers, wishes things had been different, wishes that wicked things didn't live in the dark, and that this were all a bad dream. But there is no comfort in bracelets (sweet sister) or opiates (old fool). She shivers beneath rags and tries not to dream of blue eyes.
She is more beautiful than ever. Removed from all her courtly trappings and jewels, her beauty blazes through the dark rags like a flare of lightning, brilliant and blinding. Merlin wonders half-wildly how he can think this at such a time, when his voice is harsh and raw, his wrists screaming with pain from the laceration of the chains cutting into his flesh. Yet still he finds himself painfully aware of her presence, her marble-pale face leaning into his, the dark tendrils of her hair brushing his throat. She is too close (she has always been too close). Beating heart and throbbing pulse. His breathing comes fast (from fear, please let it be from fear…) and he wonders if this moment is when it will finally happen, knowing what it is, though he's barely acknowledged it to himself. Slender fingers tear his tunic aside, pressing against his wounded flesh, burning with an icy heat. Merlin groans, letting her think it's from pain. She could never guess the alternative. Ancient words breathed against his mouth, and forbidden longing gathers so thick in his throat, he almost chokes on it. When oblivion comes, he almost welcomes the blackness.
She wants him dead. Morgana realises this now. He has meddled in her affairs too many times, thwarted her too often. He is always there, a shadow in her thoughts. His blind, clinging, foolish loyalty to Arthur is maddening, infuriating… and strangely devastating. Could she imagine it? To be loved so intensely? Once, she had half-imagined… but no. Only one person in this world has ever remained true to her. She thinks with an aching heart of Morgause's hand in hers, the warmth of sisterly affection, but something is lacking. No fire thrills through her veins. Suddenly, she remembers an alcove within the castle walls where she once slammed a serving boy against the stone, pressed face-to-face, his thin body a line of heat against her. Midnight blue eyes gazing into her soul, perilously close to stripping away the layers of anger and cynicism that she clings to for comfort (warmth). Her skin touched with glowing shivers beneath the voluminous silks. Sometimes in her lowest moods, she considers welcoming Agravaine's repulsive advances just to purge the treacherous memories from her mind, but the thought of her uncle fills her with nothing but contempt, and pride is still too strong in her heart to succumb to such a degradation. But she needs someone, anyone. King, sorcerer, warlord, or pawn. It doesn't matter. Better to love Alvarr, better to love Helios than to maintain even a shred of sympathy for a servant who would see her dead without a moment's regret. He has tried to kill her once and will not hesitate do so again. Unless she destroys him first.
When they do meet again, it isn't fifty years later, or even twenty. Arthur is still king, strong and magnificent in his youth and power, and Camelot blazes in its full zenith of the splendour of his reign. His magic is revealed to Arthur and Gwen, and the three of them are united, bound in love and joy and the glory of Albion unveiled in all its brilliance. Yet still the memory of Morgana lingers, a dark shadow casting a cloud over their self-made circle of bliss and harmony. He had not meant to seek her out, but they can never stay away from one another for long. And so Merlin sees her at last, a black-robed figure standing alone on the rock-strewn plains, still devastatingly beautiful. Between them stretch miles and years of blood. A history between them he can't bear to touch. A storm rages above them. He no longer tries to reach out for what remains of her humanity, but still there is a fierce pain in his chest when he thinks she might once have shared in the world they have built. But the past can't be changed and destiny cannot be fought, and so he braces himself for her inevitable attack, seeing his own death flicker in the molten gold depths of her eyes. His reaction is instinctive, the magic flaring through his blood, his lips shaping the words of an ancient command, blue irises transformed to orbs that blaze brighter than the sun. And so his great secret is no longer a secret, and Merlin realises (with a bitter irony) that revealing his magic was a surprisingly easy thing, after all.
When his eyes flash gold, suddenly everything falls into place. It's as though a wind has dissolved the mist that's been before her eyes all these years, and all is startlingly, blindingly clear. Morgana reels, clutching at the cliff-face, the wind tearing through her hair and clothes. The fire dies in her eyes and voice. She thought she had gone beyond feeling any more betrayal where Merlin is concerned, but apparently, she's wrong. It is his last secret, and the most devastating one of all. Until he speaks. Emrys. At the one name, her world finally shatters. The heavens roar and convulse. Her body is shaking as though in a strong wind, wild emotions passing through and through her. Fury. Betrayal. Howling despair. Time slows to a stasis. He stands before her, a mythical figure with the wisdom of ages on his young shoulders and the power of worlds held in the palm of his hand… a reverberation shudders through her heart… she should have known… should have heeded the unspoken warnings in those moments he filled her with nameless dread, the echoes of past and future suffering in his eyes, but she had been so consumed by vengeance, so distracted by her feelings of… love…? His spell whirls past her, striking a rock off the cliff near her, shattering it into a thousand shards. Morgana does not flinch. She is numb, yet at the same time, acutely aware of every sensation. Then resolve hardens her heart, cold fury straightening her spine as she faces him. She draws a shuddering breath, a white hand upraised. His destruction will be her salvation. The time has come. Should she feel joy? Pain? Regret? This is the moment she has dreamed of, to be free of him at last. The moment she will kill him. She moves forward – wild, intent, trembling – grabs his scarf and pulls him towards her, pressing her mouth to his.
Skin burning, nails scraping down his flash. Pulses racing. Merlin wonders dimly, from a far-away place, whether this is simply more manipulation on her part, but she's shaking beyond control, tears of fury glinting in her eyes as her mouth fuses desperately onto his, as though by doing so, she can burn away all the years of love and hatred and guilt and vengeance and missed opportunities. Their lips and teeth clash together, the metallic tang of blood hitting the inside of his cheek. Merlin wants to push her away, knows all the reasons why this is wrong, but he realises that he's tired, tired of all the years of deception; this is one lie he is not willing to tell. It might be the one way he can save her. It might be the one way he can save himself. Hands gripping her shoulders, he pulls her roughly to him, hips banging against hips. Once, his touch might have been awkward and sensitive and tender, he would have held her with gentle affection, not like this – raw and hungry and hurting, fuelled by hatred and betrayal and the cursed, consuming magic that has made them what they are (and will always be). And he finds himself kissing her back, hard and fiercely (how long has he needed this, a hidden want so long denied and suppressed?) startled to feel her trembling, her body pushing against his, cruel fingers locked behind his head, almost punishing, refusing to release him even for a moment. Her heart isn't so frozen after all. A web of dark hair tumbling over his throat, the scent of blood and an ancient isle. Her touch a burning brand against his skin. Holding the nape of his neck with insistent fingers, her ice-cold cheek pressed against his. She whispers that she hates him, whispers that she loves him, whispers that she will hurt him. His mind reels, all sense of reality utterly consumed in a heady blur of desire and magic. This cannot be happening. He has dreamed it enough times, envisioned it enough times, locked away in the darkest recesses of his heart (even before everything that happened, she was always forbidden to him), but he remembers all the reasons why it is impossible, why things are the way they are, and why some desires can never be realised. Too late, he tells himself. Too late, too late, too late. He wrenches his mouth from hers, taking deep, gasping breaths.
His pale cheeks are flushed, his mouth swollen, dark hair curling damply on his brow. There is something almost innocent and childlike about his bewilderment for a moment, but they both lost their innocence a long time ago (were they ever innocent?) Then his expression hardens, turning him into the man – the warlock - he now is. She watches him wrestle internally with himself, caught in a conflict she feels a vindictive satisfaction in knowing she is the cause of. Fate and destiny hang in the balance, but he moves towards her again, hands running through her tangled hair, over the severe planes of her face. His touch brands her, thaws her, melting the ice in her veins. A fatal glow steals through her, witching and warming. He bears down on her like a force of nature, kisses like a storm. They tumble to the ground, a tangled mass of pale limbs and torn silks. The stone is hard under her bared shoulders, bruising, and he is all bones and elbows and sharp angles, holding her so tightly she hisses in pain. Merlin stammers an unsteady apology and she almost laughs in his face – is she supposed to believe that he cares? She leans over him, long hair falling over his chest, but he is stronger than he looks, pushing her onto her back, sliding over her with a fluid ease she would have questioned at any other time. Then a fight for dominance ensues; Morgana hisses the beginnings of a spell –she has not forgiven him yet, will never forgive him, never, never - but the gold light in her eyes betrays her, and his long fingers over her mouth force her into silence. She attempts a sneer, mocking, but the feel of him pressed against her, rigid and intent, sends a bolt of lightning through her blood. There is nothing awkward or clumsy about him now, as he grips her wrists, his face taut with longing and an ethereal pain she does not understand. It occurs to her that if she had known this before, she could have used it against him, but she's caught just as hopelessly in the same cruel snare, and all coherent thought flees from her mind when his mouth moves hotly against hers, burning like a fever. She tries to remember who she is, who he is (traitor, traitor) and seeks to inflict pain (he hurt her, abandoned her, betrayed her, and he has to know it) fingers entwining in his hair, pulling sharply. His blue eyes turn impossibly dark, hands clamping around her hips, shackling her to him (not that she wants to escape, not that she could) and when he pushes into her and her world is consumed in fire, she dimly realises the Cailleach's prophecy has come true at last.
Rippling black hair spills across his shoulders, the pale flesh engraved with the marks of her nails (of her teeth). Arms white and bare, warm against his waist. Merlin gingerly rotates a shoulder, the fog gradually dissipating from his mind. He feels bruised, battered, unsure which way is up. Even as he lies still, taking in deep, shallow breaths, cold despair slowly creeps back into his heart, despair that had been burned away in those moments she had convulsed in his arms, whispering his name against his mouth, MerlinMerlinMerlin. Nothing has changed. There had been a chance, perhaps once, long ago, but too much has happened, too many years, too many lives. And still he does not hate her. He cannot. Morgana's hair tumbles wildly over her shoulders and Merlin swallows hard, wondering if he hurt her. It seems a stupid thing to be concerned about, considering all they've done to one another, but she seems so vulnerable like this, so human. Something like longing flashes through her eyes, fever-bright. Her hand tightens on his briefly, her palm cold, nails scoring the tender flesh. Perhaps it is madness, this flicker of hope that awakens in him, but still he waits for a hint of compassion, of something, even though he knows that nothing can undo the threads of destiny that have been woven so irrevocably together. She will never ask for forgiveness, though he would always grant it. He understands everything she is, everything she has done, feels her sins as his own. Merlin closes his eyes, pressing a kiss to her brow, swift and searing. But she snatches herself away as though burned. Her voice flashes through his mind, bitter and mocking once more, You betrayed me first. Emrys. The name is a contemptuous hiss. A tight agony is spreading through his veins, the realisation that fate has moved too fast for them, that their chance had been and gone long ago and is lost to them. He gropes his way awkwardly to his feet, staring at her all the while, hating her, hating what she has become, the question ever on his lips; what happened to you. But he says nothing. Words of farewell are futile and threats are meaningless. He already knows he will see her again.
It is all exactly as she had dreamed, yet no foresight or prophecy could have prepared her for this. The battlefield is awash with rain and blood, mist stealing over the corpses that litter the ground. But there is only body that matters. She sees the gold hair matted with blood, the tarnished armour, and over his unmoving body… there, rain streaming over his face and shoulders, Merlin, Emrys, her doom, on his knees beside the fallen king, clinging to him desperately, shaking him, weeping in a way she could never have imagined, a raw, wild, uncontrollable grief that shakes her to the core. She cannot bear to watch. His tear-streaked face gazes at her blindly, unseeing and maddened, and for a moment, he is the boy he once was, lonely and lost in a world that condemned them both as outcasts. Is this really what you wanted, Morgana? She tries to summon the old hatred and envy that have sustained her these long years (has she not also known such agonising, harrowing loss?) but there is only a great weariness in her heart. She knows this is the end, the end of Camelot, the end of their world, and it hardly seems worth lying now. I could have loved you once. The way you loved him. But even now, pride halts the words, and she does the only thing she can do, for what little it might be worth. Gently, she tries to prise the broken body of the king from the desperate grip of Merlin's fingers. But he won't let go. He's muttering broken words, over and over again. I'm sorry, I should have saved you from this, it was my destiny to protect you, and I failed… I failed… I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please come back… please… Morgana stands over them both, king and sorcerer, and feels the tears she has not shed for half a century falling down her cheeks in burning, fiery trails. She cannot bring him back, but at the very least, she can give him honour in death. She will take him to Avalon. There at least lies the hope of resurrection. To relive all the things that could never be in this lifetime. Merlin looks at her, eyes full of pain and despair, love and compassion and too much feeling to bear, and everything shatters again. Arthur's body before them, she takes Merlin's hands, whispers a spell through the tight rawness in her throat. The world blurs around her in a swirl of grey mist, her vision clearing to reveal the towers of an island that exists beyond place or time. There she will remain, bound to a king trapped in eternity, haunted by a love that will follow her through the centuries. It is her destiny and curse to know the future, yet she could never see her own. Left alone to think, alone to remember. And to wonder, perhaps, in another life...
It's all she has.