Title: Downpour (for such as we)
Pairing: Merlin/Morgana (mentions of Arthur/Gwen)
Word count: 3,800
Summary: ‘You came,’ she says, and he has nothing with which to reply; they both know it could never have happened any other way.
A/N: Written for otempora42
's prompt 'good!Merlin/evil!Morgana'
from the drabble meme (yes, yes I do realise that was all the way back in April; I'm working on them, er, slowly? In a slightly-longer-than-drabbles kind of way? *cough*). Apparently I can no longer write a scene that is shorter than 3,000 words. This perplexes me. Hopefully this came out okay anyway, despite my verbose tendencies.
She calls him out one night, eighteen years to the day since Arthur’s coronation; Merlin wonders if the date was chosen out of sympathy or spite or if it simply means nothing to her anymore. He goes, though, unresisting, and doesn’t think too hard about it for reasons of his own.
She waits for him in a grove an hour’s ride from the camp where Arthur and his men are still drinking in celebration, the entire army toasting the name of their king to the heavens. Merlin slips out like a shadow between the campfires, leaving Arthur far enough from sober that he just smiles in that fond, warm way that means he’s thinking of Gwen back at home, remembering their wedding amidst the apple-strewn grasses of the orchard or perhaps just recalling the curve of her smile or the sound of her voice, the dark curl of her hair against her neck – the usual stories he turns to only when well into his cups, voice slurring at the edges and husky in a way that makes Merlin uncomfortable; Merlin hears it in him now and knows he won’t be missed this night. He’s tipsy himself with wine and revelry, swaying a little in the saddle when he first mounts up, but the cold air sobers him quickly and the sound of her voice – the voice of her magic, siren-rich and endlessly deep – sets spurs to his heart, cutting jagged through the haze of complacent merriment.
That hour’s distance blurs by in a smear of moonlit darkness – flat fields and black trees and his horse’s hooves thudding dully against the hard soil – and all the while the current of her magic ebbs and flows in his mind, cool and smooth as the touch of water, making his thoughts turn in circles that spiral ever inwards to the same conclusion, the same word, soft as an incantation and just as dangerous: Morgana.
He’s jogging through the trees before he can even remember reaching them, his horse left tethered behind. The boughs of rowan arch high above him in a wild latticework of broken angles and disjointed spars of wood, and below the earth crunches under his feet, thick with drifts of fallen leaves and smelling of decay. The trees loom on and on ahead, thick and twisted trunks melting blackly into one another in the darkness, hemming close all round.
Merlin ducks past the jut of a low branch, fingers careful on the rough bark as he tries not to stumble. He can feel the living sorcery twining all around, worming into the earth alongside the gnarled roots of the trees; it feels off somehow, wrong, and it only gets worse the deeper he goes, a constant ache behinds his eyes, a pressure that makes his bones creak. The land looks level as far as he can tell, but it doesn’t feel it – it feels like a descent, unsettling, passing down into the bowels of the earth through ring after ring of magic – old magic, saturated and dense with the passing of time; he has to keep glancing up just to make sure he can still see the sky.
Merlin’s instinct is to fight, to push through the skein of illusion binding him in, but he doesn’t. Patient, he holds his tongue even when his spine prickles with the unease of it and his own magic is all but burning against his closed lips; he knows Morgana’s watching, her regard slithering under his skin as she draws it out, draws him on, lays down pathways and makes him run until he’s panting for breath. There’s a capricious taste to it – fickle, just a whim – but Merlin knows better than to trust appearances, especially where Morgana’s involved; he can just about sense the measured deliberation in the complex, ever-shifting patterns of magic layering around him and can read the shape of her intent as though written in words: a meeting on her terms, she’s telling him, and he acquiesces.
True to form, Morgana does not let herself be found – she reveals herself with a flourish just as soon as she’s good and ready. One moment there are trees crowding everywhere and Merlin can barely see where he’s going, and the next he stumbles into sudden open space, blinking at the impossibly perfect circle of grass before him, twilit and laid out sharply beneath the moon in monochrome relief.
Morgana’s there, at last, waiting as though to receive him at court. Her throne is a bower of young willow, its trunk adorned with primrose and trailing ivy. She sits beneath the swaying fronds, singing softly to herself and plaiting her hair with snowdrops, body sheathed in a dusky gown and a circlet on her brow spun from the gossamer threads of a spider’s web and set with jewels of morning dew.
She looks up at Merlin’s arrival and smiles warmly as though surprised and pleased to find him there, as though she hasn’t been toying with him for the last half hour. Her brow is smooth and unlined and she looks not a day older than when she left, back in the blushing spring of Arthur’s reign when they were all of them hopeful and alive, drunk on the sweet cordial of their own naivety. She’s steeped in magic now though, and that’s different, soaked with it through and through, filling her lungs in place of air and throbbing alongside her pulse; the illusory flicker of will-o’-the-wisps weaving in between the trees paints her in tones of silver and blue and sets unnatural fires in her pale, pale eyes.
‘Morgana,’ Merlin says and his voice croaks as though he hasn’t spoken in years, the word tripping splintered and unformed on his tongue.
‘Merlin,’ she greets him – smoothly, graceful and gracious as she rises, so effortless, so easy in appearance that Merlin’s never quite sure of his ground around her and never has been. ‘You came,’ she says, and he has nothing with which to reply; they both know it could never have happened any other way.
She cants her head, inquisitive, assessing. ‘Arthur?’
Merlin looks aside, throat dry. ‘Doesn’t know,’ he says quietly and feels sickly guilty, treacherous just for being there.
Morgana looks surprised – honestly this time – and it only makes Merlin feel worse; he can see the exact moment she finds her opening, and the mood turns.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asks, too-sweet and razor-edged. ‘Is Arthur not the shining beacon you always dreamed he’d be?’ The playful, ironic lilt to her voice that was always part of her charm is sharpened now and cutting with the wear of time and distance. ‘The golden king?’ she says and her lip curls. ‘Is he a disappointment, your ‘destiny’?’
Merlin’s stomach twists, painful and angry. ‘Arthur is a great king,’ he says hotly, stung again after all these years.
‘Of course he is,’ Morgana snorts dismissively, ‘he took the throne after Uther. Crown a stableboy and the people would still fall at his feet in awe.’ That’s not fair
, Merlin thinks and bites back the vitriol that wants to spring to his tongue. ‘Arthur has united half of Albion already,’ he says instead, ‘and brought peace and prosperity with him-’
‘By conquest, in a storm of blood.’
‘For a good cause
‘There’s always a good cause,’ Morgana returns coldly. Her lips are drawn and pursed, her face tight with resentment, and Merlin knows she’s thinking about Uther, about the fires of torches borne through the night, witch-hunts and pyres built higher than the houses of the lower town, the roaring heart of the Second Purge. Merlin remembers those long winter nights, waiting restlessly at the window of Arthur’s chambers for his return, for any news, any latest victims. He can still see the bitterness in Arthur’s eyes, livid and raw, hunting a human quarry at his father’s side; he can still feel the strength of Arthur’s grip on his arm, the low urgency of his voice – ‘be careful, both of you’ – and the stab of surprise at finding out that Arthur knew, had known perhaps for a long time.
Merlin bites his lip and winces, thinking of good intentions, and it thrums between them, a common burden. Morgana softens and her mouth turns up a little at the corners; they’re still more alike than they are different. Merlin can almost taste the way it used to be – Arthur and Merlin, Morgana and Gwen, the four of them stood together, easy with laughter and shared friendship, back when everything felt new, before they began to fracture and split, drifting into new roles and new alliances.
‘Arthur’s a good man,’ Morgana says, conciliatory, ‘and I love him dearly. He’s a good king. But he isn’t what we’d hoped for.’
Merlin stiffens. ‘Speak for yourself.’
‘Don’t play that game with me Merlin; we understand each other too well for that.’ Morgana takes a step forwards and Merlin resists the urge to take one back. She reaches out and her fingers curl softly round his hand, preternaturally cool and smooth against his callused palm. She looks up at him, commands his gaze and holds it easily.
‘The ban on sorcery is gone, but where are the magicians of Camelot?’ she asks, the same old righteous fire burning under her skin, the same low heat building in her voice. ‘Where are the soothsayers and alchemists, the hedge- wizards and healers and arcane scholars? What happened to that fabulous court of wonders that we used to dream of? Where is it, Merlin? Where is our home?’ She searches his face, earnest and pleading, and he can already feel himself slipping under, taken in by the weave of her words and the honest emotion behind them.
‘I can tell you now that it is not in Camelot,’ she continues, voice dropping. ‘That place is stained deep with the blood of our kind, and so is every king who reigns from that seat.’
‘Arthur will change that-’
change that. Admit it, Merlin - the magic is dying from his kingdom just as it did from Uther’s.’ She moves in closer, reaches up to touch his cheek. ‘Aren’t you tired of being alone?’ she asks, and he recoils, swallows hard. ‘Arthur is just a mortal man,’ she says.
‘And you’re just a mortal woman,’ he reminds her, an awful suspicion pricking at his thoughts.
‘Perhaps,’ Morgana allows, her smile turning enigmatic. Her fingers are light on his face, stroking over his cheekbones and the line of his jaw, gentle and too intimate. ‘This is your last chance, Merlin,’ she cautions. ‘He will never understand all that you are, and he cannot help you.’
‘You don’t know what I want,’ Merlin whispers, and knows it for the lie it is; Morgana leans up to lick the falsehood from his lips.
Her grip is forceful and insistent at the back of his neck as she pulls him down, turning her face to find his mouth, and her kiss is almost mocking, a bold invasion of tongue and full lips and the harsh nip of teeth. Merlin’s hands find her hips automatically, second nature, and he feels Morgana smile into his neck, fingers trailing down the line of his spine as she directs him closer, taking control just to prove that she can.
The seductive lull of a familiar pattern, a familiar partner, is hard to resist; Merlin tilts Morgana’s head, his palm splayed wide against her delicate jaw, and kisses back, relearning the shape of her mouth and the taste of it, the curve of her lips; she tastes of frost and brimstone, and Merlin wonders where she’s been, how far the magic has taken her into the Hesperidean faerie vales. The scent of the North is on her – the hot press of her mouth and the cool slide of her magic conjure visions for him, stretches of evergreen and tundra and cliffs of blue ice, a trail of footprints in the deep snow: places he has never been and will never see, all the distant roads she’s travelled in the long years of her self-imposed exile.
He shudders at the sudden strangeness of it, of her, and tangles a hand in the lush thickness of her dark hair, feeling the softness of it coil and slip through his fingers and crushing the tiny white flowers woven there. The curve of her hips fits perfectly beneath his hands – the line of her back, her throat, her mouth, the full, rich swell of her breasts – he touches it all with restless fingers and urgent lips, sucking kisses into her unmarked skin, never settling in one place for long.
Morgana moves into him, taking as she gives, but even so, much as he wants to, Merlin doesn’t forget: she’s Arthur’s enemy now, his enemy, and no matter how sweet her gasps sound as they break against his lips, the biting dig of her nails at top of his spine reminds him of what she’s here for. He tests her, even as he kisses her, longs after her, probing at the edges of her strength and wondering how powerful she is, whether he could still defeat her. He slips his tongue into her mouth and thinks about killing her and spilling her shattered body across the dark grass, knows she’s thinking the same thing about him. It makes it better somehow, sharper and more real, to feel the frenzied adrenaline of the fight in his system, a fear that twins with the overpowering want, and to know from the daredevil gleam of Morgana’s eyes that she feels it too.
He palms her breast, thumb rubbing at her stiff nipple, and she moans, sucks on his tongue like she wants to swallow it and presses the heel of her hand against his erection through his clothes. Merlin pulls her closer, hips pushing forward, and bites back a groan; he thinks in a moment of giddy disorientation that he’s going to say that he loves her, but the words get caught against her teeth on his lips. It’s a ridiculous thought, though he doesn’t know whether it would have been a lie – whatever it is, this twisted, tangled knot of feeling, it’s too exhilarating, too cruel and brutal to be love; surely this isn’t the fever and the violence that Arthur feels when he takes Gwen to his bed.
Morgana bites at Merlin’s jaw then, frantic, and he opens his eyes, stiffening under her hands as he realises that they are not alone: three women stand behind her, silent and watching – dark-haired and tawny-eyed, one dressed in wolf-hide, lupine and grinning, and the other two crowned with woven bands of crow-black feathers, daggers and obsidian axes in their pale hands. Their sly regard is dread with the weight of centuries and Merlin can feel the blood soaked into their skin from the other side of the clearing, smell the iron stench of it, heady and curdling in his nostrils.
‘It’s alright,’ Morgana murmurs, dragging her lips up his neck, her hands lightly framing his face as though gentling a startled horse, trying to guide him back down to her mouth. ‘They’re friends,’ she whispers breathlessly, feathering kisses across his face and throat. Merlin’s blood runs cold – old deities, goddesses of blood and battle, and Morgana walks among them, calls them ‘friend’, hoists her standards in their names.
He pushes her away, violent, and then moves to tug her back, hands curling tight around her arms and holding, a fine tension between push and pull, the entire span of their relationship in microcosm, that careful distance and careful set of rules that he’s placed for himself; careful and neat as the bruises he’s pressing into her skin.
‘They are not your friends,’ he tells her, willing her to listen.
Morgana raises a brow and her lip curls challengingly, baring her teeth. Her hair is a mess, dishevelled from the mark of Merlin’s hands running through it, and she looks wild. ‘Don’t patronise me, Merlin, I know what they are.’
‘No, you don’t – you don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Don’t I?’ Morgana presses forward against his hold, trying to break that tiny distance, that last, paltry guard. Her head tilts, mouth open on the faintest incantation, and a flare of light, ephemeral and fleeting, sparks in her eyes, lighting a sudden depth that draws Merlin down.
In that refracted fragment of magic he catches a glimpse of her, of the force that sways through her, moves her, powers the steady beat of her heart: dreams given only in the gift of night – lunar, lunatic, the hounds baying for the moon, the cycle of months drawing in the ocean and stirring blood in the body of woman; he sees the turn of centuries beneath the undying wheel of the sun and the rise and fall of cities, entire civilisations crumbling to dust and decay and creeping weeds, and then she blinks and all he can see is her eyes, wide and vision-drunk.
His breath stalls cold in his lungs.
‘Come with us, Merlin,’ she urges, wrapping her hands round his arms, the pulse at her wrist fluttering hotly against his forearm. ‘Why fight the wars of men when there are greater things for the taking?’
‘I thought you said there’d been blood enough.’
Morgana smiles, ironic. ‘I said there was always a good cause.’
Merlin looks at the goddesses, their pale skin and the bright gleam of their teeth; he swallows, steels himself, a sick disappointment dragging like a lead weight at his chest. ‘I won’t join you.’
‘I know.’ Morgana sighs and backs down, stepping out and away, her hands dropping from Merlin’s arms and leaving only a faint and fading impression of warmth.
‘Why did you come?’ he asks her, morbidly curious even though he thinks he might not like the answer.
‘No reason,’ she says wistfully, ‘just a dream.’ There’s a lull then, a moment of peace and almost understanding, before Morgana’s spine straightens and the iron comes back into her easy grace. ‘I don’t want to do this Merlin,’ she warns him, ‘but I will not regret it.’
Merlin can’t help pushing back, a small measure of vindictive satisfaction for all the wounds they’ve inflicted on each other over the years, both intended and accidental, wounds he can never quite let alone. ‘Not even Gwen?’ he asks, pointed and rough.
Morgana stills at the name, expression closed and icy. Her chin lifts haughtily; a thin defence. ‘That has nothing to do with you,’ she states coldly.
‘Of course not,’ Merlin says, taking his turn to bear a bitter smile.
Morgana watches him, assessing, mouth tight and sour. ‘You’ve made your choice then,’ she says at last.
‘Alright,’ she says, softly and mostly to herself, ‘alright.’
She doesn’t move, but it suddenly seems that she’s all the way on the other side of the clearing, an unbreachable league of space opening up between them. She tips back her head and lets out a long breath, eyes closed. She doesn’t speak, but Merlin hears the words all the same, a soft susurration rising on a new-born wind, a whispering that feels as though it could be echoing up from the depths of the earth. The three goddess are smiling still, feral and exultant, and there’s an undertone to the magic that he knows must be them – a thick and oppressive force bearing it up, a stark counterpoint to the careful finesse of Morgana’s spells; he realises that he couldn’t break this working even if he tried, and it makes his skin crawl.
The noise builds and subsides, washing back and forth like the waves of the ocean against the shore, rhythmic, restless, rocking back and forth over and over while Merlin stands by, powerless and uncomprehending, until all at once it surges in a sudden rush and dissipates instantly to nothing.
The ensuing silence is anticlimactic until Merlin registers the taste of moisture on the air and the heavens open, a curtain of rain falling swift and certain as the headsman’s axe. It pelts down on Merlin and Morgana, melting the wisp-thin crown from Morgana’s head and plastering her gown tight to her body and her pebbled nipples, running down her face and beading in her dark lashes. Merlin is soaked at once, cold seeping right through his clothes and settling into his very bones, his breath coming short with the shock of it and his teeth chattering helplessly. He rubs at his arms and blinks water from his eyes, heart thundering with sudden dread.
Morgana does not flinch under the downpour. She looks at him, eyes solemn and oracle-grave.
‘The rain has started Emrys, and it will not stop until the end of days.’
The pronouncement is resonant, saturated with magic, and she names him with his true name, the one only the druids and the dragons know to call him. The naming roots him to the spot, jars him out of place and paralyses him, stilling his heart for a beat; when the world starts moving again he finds himself gasping for air, heaving in great lungfuls as though he hasn’t been breathing for far too long. He finds, too, that he’s no longer in the grove, and that there is no grove, nothing in sight but empty fields and low hillsides. His horse whickers from behind him, tethered to the same stunted hawthorn at which he’d left it maybe an hour ago.
The rain is unrelenting; Morgana is nowhere to be seen.
Merlin rests a hand on his mare’s flank, the heat and solidity of her body anchoring him in his disorientation. He curses softly; he should have expected this – it’s been a long time since Morgana ever gave anything easily.
Merlin turns to looks back at the road that lies behind him, the road that leads back to the camp. It stretches back for miles, dark and empty; he knows that Morgana’s foretelling will haunt him for every step of it. He is cold and wet and far from warmth, far from Arthur and his army and any hope of camaraderie – he will have to slink back to them in silence with his secrets, the rain beating a punishing tempo on his bowed shoulders. He wonders if they feel the rain there as well, if a solid bank of cloud has descended to coat the entire kingdom, the entire world, whether they will ever see the sun again.
Merlin shivers under the wet, piercing downpour and looks up to see the moon riding full-bellied and swollen with baleful light in an utterly clear and cloudless sky.