My dear, I am terribly sorry this took me so long to write. Thank you so much for your donation - you are clearly awesome, and I hope the fic was worth the wait!
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Characters/Pairings: slight Merlin/Morgana
Summary: A chance meeting, after disaster strikes and the dust has settled... [Post Season 3]
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Silvery leaves stirred in the brisk night breeze, almost glowing in the dim moonlight. Merlin stared up at the sky and watched as the leaves danced, whispering against each other in a gentle susurrus that would on any other occasion already have lulled him to sleep. He glanced to his left and saw that his traveling companions – Gawain and Arthur – were apparently already fast asleep. A quick glance to his right revealed Elyan keeping watch a short distance away, his dark face illumined by the fire in front of him, looking calm and maybe a bit bored.
Merlin rolled over onto his side in his bedroll. A rock dug into his ribs and a bug crawled over his neck, making him twitch and swipe at the offending insect. It was already the third night on patrol and sleep remained elusive, despite the bone-weary exhaustion that came from days of constant traveling. Merlin forced his eyes closed and tried to turn off his brain, but that only made him think about whether or not it was actually possible to turn off his brain, and then he started to wonder if anyone had ever turned off their brain so thoroughly that they were thought dead, and how unfortunate that would be.
Obviously that tactic was not working.
Frustrated, Merlin threw off his blankets and got to his feet, brushing dried leaves from his clothes. He grabbed his jacket and trudged over to where Elyan was sitting.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll take next watch when I get back.”
“All right,” Elyan said with a nod. “Be careful.” Merlin smiled.
“Aren’t I always?”
A disbelieving snort may have come from the vicinity of Arthur’s bedroll, but Merlin chose to ignore it.
“I’ll be back soon,” he said, and headed off into the forest.
Silvery streaks of moonlight broke through the swaying canopy of leaves to light the forest floor in an ethereal glow, and Merlin felt like he was walking through some sort of faerie land. He looked behind him briefly, just to make sure he could still see the campsite, and the gentle orange glow of Elyan’s fire made him feel a little better. He turned back to his path.
The lack of sleep was taking its toll, Merlin could tell. His feet dragged through the fallen leaves and more than once he stumbled on a root. His body was ready to collapse, but his mind was restless. Something was bothering him, something elusive and awful. He could not put his finger on the problem but it was obviously enough to keep him from sleeping. The kingdom was restored. The Knights were doing well. Arthur was as safe as he ever was, and there was no immediate threat to Camelot. So what was it…?
Something rustled in the bushes ahead and Merlin stopped, his drowsy body suddenly on alert. He reached slowly for the knife at his belt (thrust upon him at Gawain’s insistence) and took up a defensive stance.
“Who’s there?” he called, just loud enough for his voice to carry on the breeze.
A stranger stumbled forward into Merlin’s path, swathed in a voluminous dark cloak, face shadowed in a hood. It startled slightly when it caught sight of him, one hand going to its chest.
“Oh,” said a soft voice, and Merlin’s heart leapt into his throat.
“M-Morgana?” he said, and the cloaked figure backed away.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she said, and was about to turn away when Merlin lunged forward and grabbed one of her billowing sleeves.
“Wait! I'm not going to hurt you,” he said. “I just… could we... talk?”
Morgana paused, hooded face turned away from him. She said nothing, made no movement. Merlin cleared his throat awkwardly.
“So,” he said. “How… how are you?”
“How do you think?” The question was clearly meant to have venom to it, but Morgana’s voice was weak, carrying only a shade of its past elegance. She jerked her sleeve from Merlin’s grip and raised pale hands to her hood, drawing it back from her face. Dark hair tumbled in messy curls around her ashen face, and her eyes – normally so vibrant – were sunken, ringed with bruise-like shadows.
“My sister is dead,” she said. “Arthur has seen fit to wrest my kingdom from me and now I am an outcast, alone and without hope. Does that answer your question, Merlin?”
“I – I don't know. I’m sorry,” Merlin said, simply because there was nothing else to say. Morgana lifted one eyebrow, managing to look imperious despite her haggard state.
“Do you really think an apology means anything to me now?” she asked, her voice almost a hiss. “You’ve taken everything from me.”
“Morgana, I didn’t mean, I… I’m sorry, I wish… ” Merlin trailed off with a sigh, his shoulders slumping. “It’s no use, is it?”
“This,” Merlin said, waving a hand between them. “Trying to fix this. We used to be friends, Morgana. Do you remember that?”
“I do,” Morgana said. “And then you poisoned me. Do you remember that?”
Rage and anguish boiled in Merlin's gut and he could not help a defiant glare. “You know my hand was forced. I had to do that!”
“Don’t give me your excuses!” Morgana growled, taking a furious step toward him. “It doesn't change the fact that you almost killed me, Merlin. And you know damn well that if it had been Arthur in my place you would never have gone through with it!” She struck his chest with one pale hand for emphasis as she spoke, her blows surprisingly strong, and all Merlin could think of – dazedly – was how thin her wrist was. “But I,” she continued, shoving him backward, glaring up at him with bright eyes, “I was disposable. I could die for the sake of the kingdom, so you appointed yourself my executioner, and then – let go of me!”
Merlin had caught her wrist, his hand fitting all too easily around it, and she struggled against his grip, pounding his chest with bruising force.
“Morgana, I’m so sorry,” Merlin said, his voice soft.
“Oh, don’t even –”
Merlin caught her other hand. She refused to look at him, staring instead into the mid-distance over his right shoulder.
“I’m sorry I can’t say any more than that," Merlin said, "and I know that there is nothing I can do to fix what has gone on between us, but… I am truly sorry. For everything.”
Morgana closed her eyes. She looked impossibly weary. “Let go of me, Merlin.”
Slowly, gently, he pulled her toward him, letting her wrists go so he could wrap his arms around her slim form. She remained stiff in his grasp, arms at her sides, one cheek pressed to his shoulder, but she did not fight him off. It did little in the way of making Merlin feel better, but it was something.
“I do miss you, you know,” Merlin said, his lips just barely brushing her hair. “I miss talking to you. Laughing with you. Perhaps… perhaps you could come home to Camelot someday. Maybe even someday soon.”
“I’m sure Arthur would listen to reason. We could figure something out, some arrangement so you wouldn't have to be in exile forever. You could come home –“
“No, Merlin.” Morgana pushed away from him. She met his eyes and for a single, fleeting moment, a desolate smile graced her lips. “I can never go home. It’s over.”
Merlin opened his mouth to argue, but Morgana pressed one cold hand to his cheek, still smiling slightly.
"You can't change the past, Merlin. Just go back to Arthur, and forget this." Her smile faded. "We're through." She leaned up for a moment, touched her lips briefly to the corner of his mouth, then tugged her hood back over her head and disappeared into the shadows without another word.
Merlin stared after her for a minute, then two, feeling utterly helpless and thoroughly alone. A night bird cried out in the darkness. The moon disappeared momentarily behind a cloud, and Merlin realized he could finally put a name to the sickening feeling that had been keeping him up at night.
He made his trudging way back to the campsite. Elyan, taking in his weary expression, told him to get another hour’s sleep before taking over the watch, and Merlin had not the heart or voice to argue. He stepped over to his bedroll and saw Arthur watching him through heavy-lidded eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Arthur asked, voice muzzy with sleep. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I sort of did,” Merlin said. He lowered himself slowly to the ground, tugging his bedroll around his legs. “It’s okay, though,” he said when Arthur frowned and looked about ready to rise. “I was probably just seeing things. It’s gone now, anyway.”
Arthur hmphed and flipped over, muttering, “Go to sleep, Merlin.”
Merlin laid his head down, staring into the silver-lit darkness beyond their camp.
“It’s definitely gone,” he whispered. And he did not sleep.
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I'm so sorry it turned out angsty and not nearly as fluffy as I had originally planned, but the relationship between these two is just so screwed up at this point that I couldn't make anything else work. I hope this is at least slightly what you were looking for, B!
Thanks again to dionebacchus for her wonderful donation - I hope you enjoyed the story! :D