[identity profile] zoicite.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] z_fic
Title: The Nature of Love (Spells)
Fandom: Merlin
Pairing: Gwen/Morgana, a little Gwen/Arthur
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~16,000
Spoilers: Mid-Series 4. Takes place sometime prior to 4.09 (or perhaps instead of 4.09)
Summary: “This is sorcery,” Gwen said, more to convince herself than anything else.
“No,” Morgana countered, her voice soft. “I think this is love.”
It couldn’t be true. Love was what she felt for Arthur. Love was that ache in her heart. Any love she’d felt for Morgana had died long ago. This was a memory, an echo, nothing more.




The Nature of Love (Spells)

One afternoon when they were young, less than a year after Morgana had come to live as Uther’s ward, Morgana convinced Gwen to sneak into the village with her unescorted.

“I’ve never been alone,” Morgana said, her eyes gleaming behind the dark hair that fell into her face.

Morgana had a nurse, of course. A stern woman who frowned at Morgana’s friendship with Gwen. She would never agree to such an outing. Morgana didn’t care. Morgana didn’t care about any of the rules that Uther set for her, defied them on purpose again and again.

“We’ll wear cloaks and I’ll bring my sword. We will be safe, won’t we?” Morgana asked, but anyone who heard the question would have been able to add in the unspoken second half. Safe, but not too safe. Not so safe as to be boring.

They were ten years old. Morgana’s sword was wooden and she wouldn‘t need it, but Gwen laughed anyway. “We’ll be safe,” she said, her voice sure. “It’s where I live.”

Morgana pulled on her green cloak and then wrapped Gwen in her purple one, though Gwen insisted she didn’t need it.

“It’s a secret,” Morgana said. “Don’t you want to be in on the secret?”

Of course Gwen wanted in on the secret. She wanted in on anything that Morgana offered her. In a few years they’d be thirteen, too old to play like this. Morgana would start to become a lady and, though she already held the title, Gwen would officially begin her duties as Morgana‘s personal maidservant. But they weren’t thirteen yet, they were only ten, and so Gwen hugged the purple cloak around herself and then said, “Follow me.”

Gwen always walked into the castle through the main entrance. She had no reason to hide. She started to head back there, but Morgana caught on quickly, stopped her and said, “Not that way. Are you crazy? They’ll see us.”

Morgana was in charge now and she led them through corridors that Gwen had never been down, rushing down steps and pushing through doors until they emerged in a part of the town that Gwen recognised.

“My father works near here,” she said. “He’s right down this path. Let’s go, shall we?”

Morgana shrugged. Gwen’s father’s blacksmith shop wasn’t the sort of excitement that Morgana had in mind but she followed Gwen anyway, let Gwen lead the way past stalls and booths until they arrived at the fires and furnaces.

“Guinevere,” her father said, surprised. “What are you doing here? And with the Lady Morgana!”

“Please don’t tell,” Morgana said immediately, her face flushed at the exciting thought that they might be caught. This was more like what she’d had in mind.

Gwen’s father shook his head, then smiled warmly at them both. “I won’t tell,” he said. “But you can’t stay long. Someone will miss you.”

He sat them on a bench by the fire and they watched as he took a slender piece of metal from the furnace, glowing red and bright. He went to work hammering away. The sound was loud and Morgana covered her ears, but she kept watching, her eyes big with wonder. Gwen knew that the display was for show. What her father was making was small, delicate. It didn’t require the force used on a blade. He almost didn’t need a hammer at all, but he banged it against a piece of scrap metal, wanted to make sure he wasn’t wasting Morgana’s time. Finally, he dropped the two finished pieces into the tub of cool water. They sizzled and smoked and he pulled them back from the depths and dropped them onto a cloth to wipe them down. Then he was done, and he presented the girls with their gifts.

Two small hearts, crudely shaped but beautiful.

Morgana gasped and reached out to take one, turning it over in her fingers. The metal was still warm and she pressed it to her cheek.

“Now let’s get you home before the king notices that you’ve gone missing,” Gwen’s father said. He escorted them back to the front gate and the girls rushed past the guards, stopping in the courtyard to turn and wave to Gwen’s father.

“You’re so lucky,” Morgana said once they were back in her chambers. She’d attached the heart to a belt, secured around her waist. Gwen’s heart she slid onto a cord and tied it around Gwen’s neck. It was too heavy for a pendant, but Gwen felt more beautiful wearing it than she’d ever felt before.

“Why am I lucky?” Gwen asked, plucking up the pendant to get a look at it again.

“You have a father,” Morgana shrugged.

“But so do you,” Gwen said. She hardly knew the difference at that age. “You have the King.”

**

Uther had been dead for a week when Gwen returned home to find Morgana standing alone in her cottage. It had been over a year since she’d seen Morgana. Not since Gwen had fled the castle with Sir Leon. Not since she’d chosen a side.

“Morgana,” Gwen gasped now and grabbed for the nearest weapon, a broom, sure that Morgana could only mean to do her harm.

Morgana raised her eyebrows, then her hands to indicate that she was unarmed. As though Gwen was so stupid. Morgana was as far from unarmed as a sorceress could get. Gwen held the broom higher.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” Morgana said. Her voice caught a little on the words. A trick, Gwen thought, to make her sound more sincere.

Gwen‘s eyes narrowed. She didn’t believe Morgana, not for a second, and she backed away, glanced back toward her bed, into the corners of her home. If Morgana was here, Morgause must be close.

“Morgause is dead,” Morgana said then, plucking the thought from Gwen’s head. Gwen had always been easy to read. She and Morgana had always known each other so well.

Not anymore. Gwen didn’t know Morgana at all now. Sometimes she wondered if she ever had. Had it always been an act for Morgana or had something changed? What had happened? What had happened that had turned Morgana into this - this witch? Morgana was crazy, was lying and dangerous, but when she began to cry, slumped into a chair at Gwen’s table, Gwen forgot all of that and lowered her weapon.

“I’m scared, Gwen,” Morgana said. “I’m alone and I’m scared.”

“You chose to be alone,” Gwen told her, matter of fact. “You chose that when you turned your back on Camelot.”

“Camelot turned its back on me,” Morgana snapped, anger flashing in her eyes for a moment before it dissolved once more into sadness. “I had no choice.”

Gwen shook her head, refused to believe it. Of course Morgana had a choice. Of course she did. No one forced Morgana to side with Morgause. No one forced her to try to kill Uther, to break him, to claim Camelot as her own. It was Morgana’s own fault that she was alone.

“What else could I have done?” Morgana asked.

“You could have resisted,” Gwen said. “You could have let us help you. You could have proven Uther wrong. Shown the world that magic doesn’t have to corrupt, that someone as beautiful and as good as you were could rise above it.”

“He would have killed me,” Morgana said and shook her head.

“He loved you,” Gwen insisted. “You were his daughter, Morgana.”

Morgana laughed then.

“We could still change this,” Gwen insisted. Perhaps there was still a chance to save the woman that used to be such a good friend to her. She stood from the table without thinking, rushed to Morgana and knelt beside her, took Morgana’s hands in hers. “You could turn yourself in. Arthur wouldn’t harm you. He couldn’t. You‘re his sister. You‘re the only family that he has left.”

Morgana stared at her hands in Gwen’s. She slid her right hand from Gwen’s grasp, reached up to brush the hair away from Gwen’s face.

“You could make amends,” Gwen said.

Morgana’s left hand tightened around Gwen’s. Her right curled around the back of Gwen’s neck. It was only then that Gwen remembered who they were now, what they were, and she pulled back, panicked. Morgana’s grip was tight though and she held Gwen there, leaned forward, her face close to Gwen‘s.

“Stop,” Gwen pleaded. “Morgana, please.”

Morgana wasn’t hurting her, not yet, but she wasn’t letting her go either. Gwen was so stupid. She was so stupid to let her guard down. She knew what Morgana was capable of. She’d seen it, hadn’t she? And yet she’d gone to Morgana willingly. Morgana’s face was pale against the black of her gown, behind the waves of her hair, but her eyes were so dark in the dim light.

“Gwen,” Morgana said. Her voice was nearly a whisper and Gwen’s name sounded like a sob. Gwen relaxed in Morgana’s grip, came easily when Morgana pulled her in, and then Morgana’s mouth was on hers, kissing her, lips soft and pleading. Gwen kissed her back, but only for a moment, only for one tiny moment before she pulled herself together. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head, slid back on the floor and kicked away from Morgana with her feet. Morgana released her and Gwen scrambled until she was standing, until she was at the opposite wall.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” Morgana said. She was looking at her hands, but once she‘d said the words she looked up at Gwen and her eyes seemed to plead for Gwen to come back. It was just a kiss after all. It was just a simple kiss.

“No,” Gwen agreed. She turned her back, folded her arms across her breast and refused to look at Morgana again. “You shouldn’t have.”

**

She went straight to Arthur. Of course. What else could she do? Morgana had cut her ties to Gwen, had severed any relationship they might have had when she’d betrayed them again and again. There was only one thing that Morgana could possibly want from Gwen now. She wasn’t lonely. She wasn’t scared. Morgana was plotting. She was going to use Gwen to get to Arthur. To get to Camelot. That had to be it. Arthur had to know.

“Morgana was in your home,” Arthur repeated, eyes narrowed, hand on his sword. Merlin stood behind him, his mouth set in a thin line.

“Yes,” Gwen said. “She - “

Arthur reached for her, gripped her shoulders as he continued. “Did she hurt you? Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Gwen said again. Arthur’s hold was tight. His fingers pressed hard against her arms. She reached up to touch his wrist and he seemed to come to his senses, let her go. He guided her to a chair at the table. She went easily, sat down when he pressed.

“She didn’t hurt me. She didn’t - “ Gwen trailed off. Morgana hadn’t hurt her. Not this time. Morgana had hardly even touched her. It was just the one kiss.

“What did she want?” Merlin asked then. He looked hard. He looked so much harder than he had when he’d first arrived in Camelot.

Gwen shook her head. “She seemed only to want company. She said that she was scared, that she was lonely, but of course that couldn’t be the truth, could it?”

“No,” Merlin said, but Gwen saw hope light itself in Arthur’s eyes at the suggestion.

“Maybe it is,” Arthur said.

Merlin didn’t say anything, just reached for a pitcher and poured Gwen a glass of water.

“But we can’t take that chance. I will have guards at your door day and night,” Arthur resolved. He turned to Merlin and then spun back toward Gwen. “Wait, no. We should move you into the castle. We should - “

“I’ll be all right,” Gwen assured him. “I don’t want to move and I don’t need the guards. I was only worried for you.”

Arthur smiled, the smile that he seemed to reserve just for her. He sat in the chair beside her and took her hand. “You don’t need to worry about me,” he promised.

**

She was stupid to insist that she didn’t need to sleep in the castle. She was stupid to come back here alone. She lay awake in her bed, stared at the ceiling, jumped at every small sound. Finally, utterly exhausted, she fell into a restless sleep. And she dreamed of Morgana.

Morgana was there, sitting on the edge of Gwen’s bed. She leaned over Gwen, their faces close.

“It’s just a kiss,” Morgana assured her, her hand caressing Gwen’s cheek. She was so close. Gwen could feel the warmth of Morgana’s words on her skin.

“Just a kiss,” Gwen echoed. She reached up, her hand drawing Morgana down, pulling her in until Morgana‘s mouth pressed down against hers. What harm could be found in a kiss, after all? What harm? Her hands cupped Morgana’s face, held her close as their lips moved against each other.

Just a kiss. Just a simple kiss.

She felt something brush against her chest and she broke away from Morgana, reached up to catch it. It was the metal heart that her father had made all those years ago. It hung on a black cord, swinging from Morgana’s neck. Gwen turned it in her fingers, then dropped it and felt the point of it brush her chest once more.

Morgana looked down at her and smiled.

Gwen awoke and sat up in her bed with a start. The first rays of the morning sun were just beginning to peak through the windows. It was morning and Gwen was alone.

**

Two weeks passed. Two weeks of Gwen dreaming of Morgana. Not every night, thankfully. Days would pass with nothing, but then the dreams would come again. She dreamed of the time they spent together as children. She dreamed of the people that they were before magic poisoned Morgana, before Morgause turned her heart. She dreamed of the kisses they’d shared.

Everything had seemed so simple to Gwen before Morgana disappeared for a year. Gwen knew her place in the grand scheme of the kingdom and she was happy. She served the Lady Morgana. She dressed her, brought her breakfast, helped her bathe and combed her hair. Gwen knew her place and Morgana was good to her. Morgana even liked her. They were friends.

When things started to go wrong, Gwen refused to see it for the longest time. It was Morgana‘s nightmares, she told herself. Gaius would fix it, Gaius would finally find a cure. And until Gaius did, Gwen would be there, Morgana‘s most trusted servant, her closest friend.

She cried when they lost Morgana. She cried for weeks. She felt that she was lost too. Arthur comforted her, found her crying in Morgana’s chambers and pulled her against him, held her there and kissed her hair. Nothing would happen between them, nothing could happen, not while Uther was king, but Arthur came to her all the same, held her, promised her that he would find Morgana, that Morgana would be all right. He smoothed her hair and kissed her mouth.

When Morgana returned she wasn’t the same. She no longer confided in Gwen. She no longer sought her out. She didn’t need companionship. Morgana sat alone at her desk or at her window. She snapped when Gwen came near her. She slipped out of the castle in the middle of the night and it wasn’t until much later that Gwen was able to put it all together. It was only much later that Gwen was introduced to Morgause.

With Morgana gone, Gwen had no clear place at Camelot. Arthur seemed reluctant to give her orders, and though it warmed her heart, it also left her feeling lost, like she was floating alone at sea. She helped Gaius when she could. She tended to Arthur, but only when Merlin was sent to other tasks. She didn’t think Merlin would appreciate it if she stepped on his toes. It wasn’t her place to bring Arthur breakfast or to make his bed for him. It wasn’t appropriate.

She spent her time with Uther, more time than she had ever spent before. Deep down she blamed him still for her father’s death, but she saw the way his heart broke for Morgana, she saw the way that Arthur’s heart broke for his father, and she couldn’t help but feel pity for Uther’s fall. And it was what Arthur would have wanted of her, she was sure. He never said it, he never asked for her help, but he seemed pleased each time that he came to see his father and found Gwen there. He seemed comforted to know that Gwen cared for Uther, that Uther wasn’t alone.

With Uther dead, Gwen had even less to do now, even less purpose. Arthur was busy. Everyone was so busy. She spent a lot of time walking the corridors, looking for someone who needed her.

She’d seen Arthur ride off that morning, Merlin at his side. She didn’t know where he was going. He would tell her when he returned, she was sure. She watched them go from a window in the kitchen. She went up to Gaius, asked if he needed her help. He gave her a draught to deliver to an ailing knight. She stayed by the knight’s side for an hour, but when he fell asleep she was again left with no purpose. She walked the halls until eventually she found herself standing outside the door to Morgana’s chambers. Gwen glanced up and down the corridor to ensure that she was alone and then she slipped inside and shut the door.

Morgana’s chambers were as she left them. Uther hadn’t wanted anything disturbed, and even with his father gone now, Arthur wouldn’t dare go against his wishes. Not that Arthur would have wanted anything different, Gwen was sure of it. She‘d seen the hope in Arthur‘s eyes the night that Morgana had visited Gwen. A part of him still believed that he’d wake up one morning and Morgana would be there, his beloved sister once more.

Gwen went straight to the bureau. She knew exactly where to look. The third drawer from the top. She slid it open and pushed aside the contents until she found what she’d come for. The metal heart. She held it in her hand, let her fingers curl around it and felt the tip press into her palm. Morgana hadn’t taken it with her. She’d most likely forgotten she had it at all. It was so long ago that they’d snuck into the village, visited with Gwen’s father as he worked. It had been years since they were friends.

Gwen heard a noise in the hall and she gripped the heart, a weapon now, as she crept back toward the door. Who would be coming here? Who would be visiting these empty chambers? The footsteps stopped outside and Gwen waited, held her breath.

She was allowed to be here, she told herself. She had every reason to be here. She was Lady Morgana’s maid. She was tending to the lady’s chambers in her absence. Never mind that Morgana was never coming back. Never mind that she was a traitor and a sorceress. Gwen was merely keeping to her duties as a loyal maidservant.

The latch clicked and Gwen readied herself, prepared herself to fight or to explain, whichever the situation required. And then, just as quickly as they had arrived, the person beyond the door released their grip on the latch. She heard the footsteps walking away, retreating quickly down the corridor.

Had she made a noise? Had they sensed her presence? Curiosity got the best of her and Gwen flung open the door and stepped out into the hall in time to see the edge of a black cloak as it disappeared around the corner.

“Morgana,” Gwen breathed aloud, as sure of it as she’d ever been of anything before this. She raced down the corridor, determined to catch the figure, but not quite sure what she might do if she did. Should she call for the guards? Sound the alarms? Surely she should. She couldn’t hope to restrain Morgana on her own. But Gwen didn’t shout, didn’t say a word, merely ran after the distant figure.

She raced down the stairs, hurried into the courtyard, but Morgana was gone as though vanished into thin air. The yard was busy, knights and villagers milling around, going about their day’s work. Gwen turned in a circle. Her hand hurt and she looked down to find that her palm was bleeding. She was still holding the metal heart, gripping it so hard that it had torn into her palm.

“Gwen,” a voice said and she turned to see Gwaine approaching. “Are you all right? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

Gwen shook her head, scanned the yard once more and then smiled at Gwaine.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’m just - I’m feeling a little under the weather. I think it would be best if I just went home.”

Gwaine nodded. “I’ll walk you,” he offered.

“No,” she said. “No, thank you. It isn’t far.”

She hurried away before Gwaine could insist.

**

It had started with the nightmares. Morgana woke screaming night after night. She rarely told Gwen what she saw in her dreams, would only say that they were horrible things. She didn‘t want to burden Gwen. Gaius prepared sleeping draught after sleeping draught but none of them seemed to work for long. When the nightmares came frequently, Gwen stayed at the castle, slept on a cot in Morgana’s chambers so that she was there when Morgana awoke in terror.

Gwen rushed to Morgana’s side as soon as the screaming began. She wrapped Morgana in her arms, whispered soothing words into her hair. “Shh,” she said. “Shh, you’re awake now. You’re fine.”

Yet still, the following night, Morgana would cry out, wrenching screams that tore at Gwen’s heart.

Gwen calmed her, settled her back against her pillows and wrapped the blankets tightly around her. She leaned in to kiss Morgana’s forehead, the way she remembered her mother doing for her when she was very young. She moved to place a second kiss to Morgana’s tear stained cheek, but Morgana turned and Gwen’s kiss fell on Morgana’s mouth instead.

“Gwen,” Morgana whispered. “Stay with me. Please.”

Gwen nodded, climbed beneath the blankets beside Morgana, curled up on the soft mattress. Morgana turned to her, brought her fingers up to touch Gwen’s lips.

“I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here,” Morgana admitted, her voice quiet in the dark of the room.

Gwen smiled and reached up to take Morgana’s hand in her own. When Morgana leaned in and kissed her again, Gwen kissed back, quiet chaste kisses, comfort when Morgana needed it most.

It happened again and again after that, nightmares that woke Morgana with a scream, kisses that soothed her back against her sheets. Gwen could see that it helped Morgana. They were only kisses. Only chaste innocent kisses. Gwen had only wanted to help.

**

Gwen dreamed that Morgana was there, sitting on the edge of her bed once more.

“You’re hurt,” Morgana said. She picked up Gwen’s hand, wrapped where she’d cut herself on the metal heart that afternoon.

“It’s nothing,” Gwen said, but in the dream she didn’t try to pull her hand away. She smiled when Morgana raised Gwen’s hand to her lips and kissed the bandage at her palm. Morgana went to work, untying the fabric, unwrapping the wound. When she was done, when the scrape was exposed, she touched her finger to it and Gwen sighed.

“It’s just a scratch,” Gwen told her. “It will heal.”

“Let me help you,” Morgana said, and then she closed her eyes, held Gwen’s hand close, Gwen’s fingers curling around Morgana’s palm. Morgana said words that Gwen couldn’t understand, words she’d never heard, and when she opened her eyes again they flashed a brilliant yellow and Gwen gasped. Her palm felt hot, so hot for just a moment, and then it cooled and the skin felt tight and itchy. And then she felt nothing at all. She pulled her hand free, turned to look at it. Her palm was smooth, the wound had healed.

She reached for Morgana, wanted to thank her. Morgana pulled her in, pulled Gwen up on the bed until she was sitting beside Morgana, the blankets pooled around her waist. Morgana’s kiss was hot against her mouth, hot like the magic that had touched her hand. Her tongue burned Gwen and lit a fire within her.

“Morgana,” she whispered, her lips moving against Morgana’s mouth.

“I’m here,” Morgana said.

**

Gwen’s hand was still wrapped in the bandage when she awoke. She stared at it, pressed her fingers against it. Did it hurt? She couldn’t tell, wasn’t sure, and was suddenly completely terrified to remove the bandage here, alone in her own home. She rushed to the castle, went straight to the physician’s chambers, calling for Gaius while she was still on the stairs.

It was early, most of Camelot was still asleep, and Gaius and Merlin were sitting down to their breakfast.

“Gwen,” Gaius said, surprised at her arrival. She was distraught and Merlin rushed to her, helped her to a chair.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Gwen said, immediately.

“It’s no bother,” Gaius assured her. “Here, sit down. What’s happened?”

“It’s - it might be nothing,” she said, feeling silly now that she must voice her fears aloud. “I cut myself yesterday.” She held up her bandaged hand.

Gaius took her palm and began removing the bandages. “Do you think it may be infected?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Gwen said. “I just woke up with the worst feeling, that’s all.”

Merlin peered over Gwen’s shoulder. Gwen couldn’t look at her hand, waited for the verdict.

“It doesn’t look infected,” Merlin said, then looked to Gaius.

“No,” Gaius agreed. “It should heal nicely.”

Gwen pulled her hand away from them, stared down at her palm. The scratch was still there, red and scabbed and healing, but still there. She sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought -”

“Let me prepare an ointment for you,” Gaius offered. “It will help with the pain.”

“Are you all right, Gwen?” Merlin asked, sitting down beside her as Gaius began gathering the ingredients for the ointment.

“Yes,” Gwen said, rubbed at her palm. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“You seem upset,” Merlin pressed.

“It’s nothing,” Gwen insisted. “It’s just these dreams I’ve been having.”

“What sort of dreams?” Gaius asked, his eyebrow raised as he looked up from his work.

“I’ve been dreaming of Morgana,” Gwen admitted, hoped they didn’t ask her for more. She looked away from Merlin, down at her hands, but not quickly enough to miss the way that Merlin and Gaius glanced quickly at each other when they heard Gwen’s confession.

“It’s natural to dream of someone who used to be so important to you,” Gaius said after a moment. “Surely you miss the woman that Morgana used to be.”

“Yes,” Gwen agreed.

“You haven’t seen Morgana again, have you?” Merlin asked. “You haven’t seen her in Camelot?”

“No,” Gwen said. “I thought I saw her. I thought I saw her in the halls of the castle yesterday, but when I followed there was no one there. I think I must have imagined it.”

“Perhaps,” Gaius agreed. “If you’ve been dreaming of her, if you’ve been missing her, you may have hoped to see her where she couldn’t possibly be.”

Gwen nodded. “I dreamed that she was in my home, that she’d healed my hand with magic. It felt so real, I awoke terrified that she’d really been there.” She held up her hand now.

“But the wound hasn’t been healed,” Merlin finished for her.

“No,” Gwen agreed. “It was only a dream.”

“If the dreams are troubling you, I can give you a draught to help you sleep,” Gaius suggested.

“Yes,” Gwen said. “I think that would help.”

Gaius nodded and pulled a few more bottles from the shelf.

**

When they were children Gwen and Morgana used to play in the courtyards, weave flowers into crowns and travel to distant lands on imaginary adventures. They’d build castles of hay in the stables, hide in them all afternoon.

“I could build it taller,” Arthur would offer, finding them at their games. “I could be your King.” He sounded so hopeful, so ready to please. Gwen could never dream of denying him, couldn’t imagine what would happen if she did. She’d never be allowed into the courtyards again. She‘d be banished. She‘d never be the maidservant that her mother had been. Her dreams would fall at her feet.

Gwen never would have turned Arthur away, but Morgana always said no.

“No boys allowed,” she would shout. Sometimes Arthur would sulk and walk off. Other times he’d rage and knock their castle to the ground. He’d leave Morgana crying and she’d run to Uther, throw herself in his arms and sob about the injustice of it all.

“We don’t need him,” Morgana insisted when Gwen voiced her concern, worried that she might somehow be blamed for Morgana‘s refusals. “Let Arthur build his own castle.”

At the age of eleven Morgana could beat Arthur in most fights, with the sword or with the tongue, and she never let him forget it.

Sometimes Morgana was Queen and Gwen was her ladies’ maid, catering to her every whim. Gwen liked this game. She thought of it as practise and she couldn’t wait until she really was helping Morgana into beautiful gowns, combing out her shining hair. Other times they took their cues from the stories that Morgana remembered hearing as a child.

“Lie here,” Morgana would say, pointing to a bed she’d created on the floor from the pillows and blankets of her bed. Gwen was loyal even then, always did what she was told.

“You’re a princess,” Morgana informed her. “And you’ve been put under a spell.”

“A princess,” Gwen breathed, imagined her gown shining and white, her hair curling just so and her cheeks rosy. Her. A princess.

“Yes,” Morgana said, didn‘t seem to think it was anything special. “And I’m a prince.” She held up her small sword as though it proved her declaration. Uther had always doted on her. When she’d asked to learn the sword it hadn’t even occurred to him to refuse.

“An evil queen from a neighbouring kingdom had her sorcerer cast a spell on you,” Morgana explained. “Only true love’s kiss can save you from death, but first I must slay the dragon that guards your tomb.”

Gwen laid there on a bed of pillows as Morgana attacked a pillar that served as their dragon. She dodged its fiery breath and knocked her sword against it with a clang. Once she stopped and, thoughtful, said, “Perhaps we could get Arthur to play the dragon.”

Finding Arthur and convincing him that he should be a dragon and not the prince was too much work, however, and soon Morgana was back in her role, slaying the stone pillar and falling to the floor at Gwen’s side.

“Beautiful Princess Guinevere,” she announced dramatically. “I have travelled though dangerous lands, I have come to set you free.”

Gwen laughed, but when Morgana slapped her arm, she suppressed her giggles and closed her eyes, waiting for her prince’s kiss.

**


Gwen sat at the edge of her bed and turned the jar holding the sleeping draught in her fingers. Surely Gaius was right. It was natural for her to dream of better times with Morgana. It was natural for her to miss the way that it used to be. But the dreams she was having weren’t of times that were lost to them, not always. Many of the dreams were of Morgana as she was now, dark and bitter and so changed. What could it possibly mean?

Perhaps, Gwen thought, it meant that Morgana missed what they’d had as well, what they’d all had. Perhaps it meant that Morgana really was ready to be helped, ready to change.

There was a sound at the back door and Gwen stood, set the jar on the table.

“Hello?” she asked. “Is someone there?”

It was late, too late for visitors. She waited, but the noise didn’t come again. She picked up a pan from the hearth and reached for the latch. She pulled the door open and leaned outside. It was dark and Gwen glanced to either side, the pan held high in her hands. The handle pressed against her palm hurt, even with the ointment that Gaius had prepared for her.

There was no one there. Gwen was jumpy, hearing things. She lowered the pan and stepped back into her home, felt the presence behind her too late, the door already shut and latched when arms came around her. A hand pressed warm over her mouth as a voice whispered close to her ear.

“Shh, I mean you no harm.”

Morgana.

Gwen’s eyes were wide and she stumbled back when Morgana released her.

“I will shout,” Gwen said defiantly. “I will scream.”

“Please don’t,” Morgana begged, held out her hands and took a step back away from Gwen. “I didn‘t mean to frighten you.”

“This is the second time you’ve slipped into my home at night,” Gwen said. “How can you say that you do not mean to frighten me? What do you want? Why are you here?”

“I thought Arthur would have set you up with guards,” Morgana said, turning away from her, ignoring her questions. “The most well guarded maidservant in the kingdom. I didn’t think I would find you here again.”

“Why are you here?” Gwen asked again, refusing to back down.

“I don’t know,” Morgana said, and when she looked up at Gwen her eyes were lost, confused, and Gwen believed her. She moved past Morgana, sat down with her back the table, set her face in her hands. Morgana didn’t move, didn’t come toward Gwen.

“I should turn you in,” Gwen said. “I should call for someone.”

“But you won’t?” Morgana guessed, taking a step forward now, standing at the other side of the table, behind Gwen. Gwen turned so that she could see Morgana, make sure that Morgana wasn’t planning to take her unawares, go back on her word.

“I can’t,” Gwen said. “Not if you’re telling the truth.”

Morgana nodded, reached for the jar that Gwen had discarded on the table.

“Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“No,” Gwen lied.

Morgana stared at her. “I am,” she admitted. She sat down on the edge of Gwen’s bed. Gwen remembered her dreams and turned away.

“If Uther was alive, he would execute me for this,” Gwen said.

“Uther is not alive,” Morgana pointed out, her voice stony now. “Arthur is king. And you’re - what are you to him, Gwen? His mistress? His lover? His queen?”

“Nothing,” Gwen said, wasn’t sure why it seemed so important now to lie. “His friend, nothing more.”

“Of course,” Morgana smiled. Now it was her turn to look away. Eventually she said, “I miss you.”

Lies, Gwen tried to remind herself. All of it was most likely lies. She wanted it to be true though. She missed Morgana as well.

“I miss the way you were,” Gwen said. “I miss the way you were when you still cared about us.”

“I care,” Morgana said, quietly.

Gwen shook her head. “No, you don’t. Don’t pretend that you do. I saw what you’re capable of. You would have killed me, Morgana, if Morgause had wanted you to. You still might. You would kill Arthur as well. All in the name of what? Revenge? You betrayed Uther, broke him, and he‘s dead. Isn‘t that enough?”

“He was ashamed of me,” Morgana said.

“He wasn’t ashamed of you,” Gwen insisted. “Uther had many faults. There were many reasons to hate him. But he loved you, Morgana. How can you not see that?”

“He hid me,” Morgana insisted. “I’m older than Arthur. I have as much claim to the thrown. But Uther was ashamed. If he’d known, he would have turned his back on me entirely. He would have executed me without a second thought. I had to do it. All of it.”

Gwen shook her head. “I don’t believe that.”

“How can you not? He killed your father, didn’t he? He sentenced you to death, more than once! Have you forgotten? Has love for Arthur blinded you to how things were, to how things will be again with Arthur as king?”

Gwen squeezed her eyes shut. “Morgause has poisoned you. She turned your heart until it became as black as the dresses you choose to hide yourself in now.”

“No,” Morgana said with conviction. “Morgause loved me. She opened my eyes to how the world truly is. She showed me how it should be, what Uther spent years to destroy. She showed me how my friends betrayed me, even you. She showed me how quickly you pushed me aside for Arthur’s favour. You did it to Lancelot and then you did it to me.”

“I didn’t,” Gwen said, but Morgana wasn’t finished.

“My heart isn’t black. It is merely bruised. It can be mended.“

“How?“

“Once I’ve righted Uther’s wrongs. When the old religion is restored.”

Gwen couldn’t look at Morgana. She didn’t understand her, couldn’t understand how Morgana could be so completely changed. She remembered Morgana’s screams in the night, the kisses they’d shared while huddled beneath thick blankets.

What had Morgause done to her? What had she been to Morgana? More than a sister, surely. Had Morgause been for Morgana what Gwen had refused to be? Was that how she’d turned Morgana against them, by winning her heart?

“Remember the way it was between us, Gwen?” Morgana asked then. “Remember how close we were? The closest of friends.”

“I remember,” Gwen said.

“I often wish we could go back there,” Morgana said as she stood from the bed and approached Gwen. Gwen stood too, not willing to let Morgana have the advantage.

“I miss it, don’t you?” Morgana pressed. She was still approaching Gwen and Gwen continued to back away until she was in a corner, nowhere else to go.

“Yes,” Gwen said, her heart beating rapidly in her throat. “Yes, I‘ve already said that I do.” She’d agree with anything Morgana said at this moment, but this was the truth. Gwen did miss it. She missed Morgana more than anything. She missed the time when she was proud to call Morgana her mistress, when being around Morgana was a comfort to her and didn’t fill her with the fear that she felt now.

“Do you remember the nightmares I used to have?” Morgana asked. She was so close now. Gwen could smell the forest clinging to her cloak. There was a stray leaf caught in the tangles of Morgana’s dark hair and without thinking, heart still rushing loudly in her chest, Gwen reached up to pluck the leaf free. Morgana started, surprised, and then smiled when she saw the leaf in Gwen’s fingers, watched it fall to the floor between them.

“You remember the nightmares,” Morgana said again.

“Yes,” Gwen agreed. She couldn’t believe now that she had done that, reached out to groom Morgana as she was now. It had broken the spell somewhat, stomped out some of the threat. Morgana seemed real again, not some dark enchantress looming in her home. Morgana was real and talking of their shared past, of better times between them.

“Do you remember how you used to sleep on that uncomfortable cot in my chambers?” Morgana asked. “How you used to come running when I screamed?”

“The cot wasn’t all that bad,” Gwen said. It wasn’t any worse than Gwen’s own bed.

Morgana frowned, her eyebrows coming together as she regarded Gwen, clearly not believing Gwen’s opinion of the offending cot. “You held me in the dark. Sometimes we’d lie in my bed, you and I. You kissed me until I sighed, calm, no longer frightened by the thoughts inside my own head.”

“I remember,” Gwen said. She stared at the floor, at the leaf that she’d dropped. She couldn’t bear to look at Morgana.

“I’ve been having dreams again,” Morgana said, finally getting to the point.

Gwen looked up. “Dreams?”

“I dream of those nights in my chambers,” Morgana said. “I dream of your face as you lean over me, your lips pressed to mine in the dark.”

“Morgana,” Gwen gasped.

“Gaius has given you a sleeping draught,” Morgana said. “Why?”

“It isn’t a sleeping draught,” Gwen lied. “He gave it to me to - I wounded my hand. The draught is to help with the pain.” She lifted her hand to show Morgana the bandage, couldn’t bear to share her dreams with Morgana, couldn’t bear to think on what it might all mean.

Morgana reached for Gwen’s hand and Gwen let Morgana take it, let her unwrap the bandage from her palm.

“It’s only a scrape,” Morgana said once the wound was exposed.

“It hurt,” Gwen countered with a shrug.

Morgana’s mouth pouted in sympathy and then she raised Gwen’s hand to her lips and kissed her palm. Gwen closed her eyes at the kiss, felt Morgana move closer until Morgana’s body was pressed to hers. Morgana still held her hand, pressed it back against the wall as she leaned in and claimed Gwen’s lips. It was a surprise to Gwen, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Still, it was a surprise and Gwen’s eyes flew open only to find that Morgana’s were now shut, her eyelashes dark against her pale skin.

Gwen kissed her back, held her close, drew Morgana in when all rational thought told her to push Morgana away.

She couldn’t. She couldn’t.

Morgana missed how things used to be. Gwen missed it as well. She didn’t want to fear Morgana. She didn’t want to have to hurt her, and so she kissed her back, the way she had those years ago in Morgana’s chambers, kissed her back and hoped it was a comfort to Morgana in her grief and her confusion.

Morgana kissed open Gwen’s mouth, her tongue soft between Gwen’s lips. Gwen let her fingers curl, intertwined with Morgana’s. She let Morgana kiss her, kisses that were not as innocent as those they used to share, kisses that were wetter, deeper, more dangerous. Gwen let the kisses come, encouraged them. This will help, she told herself. It could only help Morgana to let this happen.

Morgana’s free hand slid between them, curled and pressed at the front of Gwen’s skirts.

“What are you doing?” Gwen asked, breaking the kiss with a gasp. The pressure of Morgana’s hand was warm and Gwen felt herself leaning into it, even as she questioned, even as the beating up her heart quickened once more with uncertainty.

Morgana kissed her neck, her face buried against Gwen‘s shoulder. Gwen released Morgana’s hand to hold her close, to comfort and assure.

Morgana froze then, her breathing slow and ragged against Gwen’s neck, her hand still in Gwen’s skirts.

“What is it?” Gwen asked.

“I thought I heard something,” Morgana whispered. She released Gwen and took a step away.

Gwen looked down at herself, smoothed her skirts and felt relief at the intrusion that had pulled Morgana away. “The guards patrol at night,” she said.

“I know that,” Morgana snapped. She stepped to the window, looked out.

“I will check,” Gwen offered. She opened the front door despite Morgana’s protest behind her. The fresh air hit her face and Gwen felt more like herself, felt more in control than she had with Morgana so close. She took a deep breath, looked up and down the road. There was no one there.

She turned back to tell Morgana so, but Morgana was gone. The back door stood open.

**

She dreamed of Morgana.

“Kiss me,” Morgana said and Gwen did, parted her lips to Morgana’s wet tongue.

“Touch me,” Morgana said and Gwen did, pressed the palm of her hand to the bodice of Morgana’s dress, felt the warm swell of her breast.

“We don’t need magic for this,” Morgana said, whispered it into Gwen’s mouth. “This has always had magic all on its own.”

Gwen gasped and thought, of course. Of course, Morgana was right. They’d always had this magic between them.

“Part your legs for me, Gwen,” Morgana said and Gwen said, “Yes,” and let Morgana push her knees apart. Morgana kissed her again and Gwen closed her eyes, tasted love on Morgana’s lips. She felt Morgana’s hand high on her thigh, cool against her skin. Morgana’s fingers touched her as they had hours before, her hand pressed against the layers of Gwen’s skirt. It was different now without the layers of fabric, more intense, and Gwen gasped and opened her eyes.

The room was dark and she was alone. The only sound was the sound of her own breath, the thumping of her heart. Witchcraft, she thought. How stupid she had been. It was the only explanation for Morgana‘s presence. Morgana wasn‘t dreaming of Gwen. She was checking to make sure the enchantment was working. She was checking to make sure that Gwen was caught, snared, seduced. Gwen stared at the beams above her bed. She thought of Morgana’s fingers on her and she blushed and pressed her thighs together. And then, curious, Gwen reached beneath her blanket, pulled up the edge of her skirt and slipped her hand beneath.

She gasped when her fingers came away wet.

**

She found Arthur in his chambers, alone.

“Where’s Merlin?” Gwen asked, standing in the doorway and glancing about.

“He isn’t here,” Arthur said. His brow was furrowed, confused.

“Good,” Gwen said. She closed the distance between them quickly, pulling Arthur to her, her mouth pressed tight to his. He reached for her almost immediately, his mouth engaging hers, kissing her back. She kissed him as Morgana had kissed her, teasing his mouth open, tasting his lips with the tip of her tongue. His answering moan was muffled by the crush of their mouths and he gripped her tighter, pressed his body to hers, and then caught himself and pulled away. He held her at arms length. His mouth was red and his gaze was hot as he regarded her.

“Guinevere,” he said, finally. He was breathless and his laugh was nervous. “You act as though we’ve been parted for a year.”

“Yes,” Gwen agreed. “Sometimes it feels as though we have.”

“I know that I’ve been busy,” Arthur started, frowned, “but -”

“No,” Gwen shook her head. “I didn’t mean for you to apologise. Of course I understand. Sometimes I just need to - I just need to remind myself. That is all.”

Something in her face must have alarmed Arthur because he placed a hand on her arm and led her to a chair. He kneeled beside her and enfolded her hand between his own.

“Is this about Morgana?” Arthur asked and Gwen looked up alarmed.

“Why would you think so?” Gwen asked, panicked. Arthur knew. Arthur knew that she was hiding their encounter. The noise outside the night before, maybe one of Arthur’s men had -

“Merlin told me about your dreams,” Arthur said after a moment.

Gwen frowned. Of course Merlin had told Arthur. Gwen hadn’t asked for the information to be kept from him. Merlin had no reason to think that it should be a secret. At the time she had believed them to be merely dreams. Now though, now she couldn’t help but think there was more to it all.

“It’s all right, Gwen,” Arthur assured her. “I miss Morgana too. And perhaps someday she will realise that she misses us as well. Perhaps someday she will break free of the hold that magic has over her.”

“You say it like it would be so easy,” Gwen said and shook her head. “You say it as though it is even possible. You father never believed that it was.”

“I don‘t believe that it would be easy,“ Arthur corrected. He continued, his voice adamant. “But I have to believe that it can happen. She’s my sister. She’s the only family I have left. I can‘t just give up on her. Even after everything, I know that my father wouldn‘t want that. I don‘t want it.”

“Arthur,” Gwen started, then stopped herself.

What if Morgana wanted Gwen to go to Arthur with this? What if she was using Gwen to get to Arthur? But then, Morgana hadn’t harmed her, hadn’t threatened her. There must be a reason. Morgana had given indications of remorse, even regret, during her encounters with Gwen. If Gwen brought Camelot down on Morgana, she might ruin the steps that Morgana had begun to take.

Or, Gwen thought. Or this was all the result witchcraft. Morgana had cast a spell on Gwen. A spell to make her feel what she was feeling. A spell that caused her dreams, that stopped her from telling Arthur the truth about their encounters.

“What is it Gwen?” Arthur prodded.

Gwen sighed and squeezed Arthur’s hand in hers. “That night that Morgana came to me, you offered to let me stay here in the castle.”

“Yes,” Arthur said. “That offer still stands.”

“I think I would like to accept it then,” Gwen said. She held up her hand to stop Arthur from speaking. “Not permanently, just until this - this feeling has passed.”

“Of course,” Arthur said and stood. “I will have Merlin prepare you a room.”

Gwen shook her head and stood as well. “You will do no such thing,” Gwen said. “I can prepare the room myself.”

“Merlin doesn’t mind,” Arthur pressed.

“I mind,” Gwen said, maybe a bit too harshly. Arthur raised his eyebrows and turned away for a moment before walking to the door and gesturing for Gwen to step into the hall.

Gwen, worried that she’d angered him, opened her mouth to apologise, but stopped when Arthur smiled and said, “Let me show you to your room.”

He set her up in an empty room down the hall from his own chambers.

“It’s small,” he sniffed, looking around.

“It’s perfectly fine,” Gwen countered. “Thank you, Arthur.”

Arthur nodded, self conscious suddenly, his hands folded behind his back. “I hope you sleep better here, Guinevere.”

“I’m sure that I will, Sire” Gwen agreed.

“And I’ll sleep better,” Arthur admitted, “knowing that you’re close.”

**

The sun was streaming in through the windows of Morgana’s chambers the day that Morgana kissed Gwen and everything started to change. It was late morning and Gwen was combing through Morgana’s hair.

“I had the honour of dressing the Lady Vivian this morning,” Gwen said, conversationally.

Morgana seemed distracted, but she looked up at Gwen now and smiled. “You seem in good spirits though I’ve certainly heard enough stories of her rudeness.”

“Yes,” Gwen smiled. “She was very rude.” Vivian had snapped at her and insulted her, had thrown her breakfast on the ground, but none of it mattered. Gwen had passed Arthur in the hall afterward and he’d smiled at her and all of Vivian’s insults had been washed away.

“It makes you appreciate what you have,” Gwen concluded.

Morgana turned to her, no longer distracted.

“Really?” Morgana asked.

“Of course,” Gwen said, smiled, and hoped she hadn’t blushed.

She moved to resume combing Morgana’s hair, but Morgana reached for her, grabbed her wrist and pulled her down into a kiss. The kiss was warm, pleasant, but Gwen pulled away, stunned as she stumbled back.

“M’lady?” she asked, surprised. “What are you doing?”

“It’s only a kiss, Gwen,” Morgana said, tried to laugh away Gwen’s shock. Her face betrayed her confusion. “I thought - we’ve kissed so many times. Is it such a surprise?”

A kiss in the daylight was different. A kiss with no excuses, no way to explain it away. It was entirely different, entirely a surprise that Morgana might try such a thing.

“It is,” Gwen said, brought her fingers up to touch her lips. “It is a surprise.”

It was impossible. It was just as impossible as the flirtation she shared with Arthur. Perhaps more so.

“But you want this?” Morgana turning in her chair to face Gwen. Her hand was pressed in a fist to her chest. “You must want this just as I do.”

“I can‘t,” Gwen said, shook her head.

“Is there someone else?” Morgana asked suddenly, the distraught wrinkles of her forehead smoothing at the realisation. “You’ve become so secretive these past months. I thought - there must be someone else.”

Gwen remembered the way that Arthur had kissed her, remembered the way he’d spoken to her, the warmth in her eyes. It was just as impossible. She and Arthur were just as impossible as she and Morgana. And, yet -

“Yes,” she admitted. “There is someone else.”

Morgana looked down, nodded, and when she looked up again her eyes looked colder, more detached than they had a moment before. “Who?” she asked.

Gwen opened her mouth, then stopped herself. The answer sounded so ridiculous when spoken aloud. So impossible. Morgana would laugh at her, mock her. Morgana would think Gwen was lying just to hurt her. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hurting Morgana was the last thing that Gwen had ever wanted to do.

“I‘d rather not say,” Gwen said, her voice quiet. She moved away, busied herself smoothing the blankets on Morgana‘s bed.

“You can tell me,” Morgana insisted. She stood and crossed the room to stand by Gwen. Her fingers pressed Gwen‘s shoulder, a gesture of reassurance. When Gwen turned Morgana was smiling, but it didn‘t quite reach her eyes. “Gwen, I just want you to be happy. It’s Merlin, isn’t it? Is it Merlin?”

“No,” Gwen smiled and shook her head. If only it was Merlin. How simple everything would seem. “No, it’s not Merlin.”

“Who then?” Morgana pressed.

Gwen took Morgana’s hands in hers. She kissed Morgana’s knuckles and then held Morgana’s hands close to her own chest. “It doesn’t matter,” Gwen said. “It won’t change anything.”

“It changes everything,” Morgana countered.

“I’m your servant,” Gwen insisted. “You will always come first for me.”

“I’m not worried about this interfering with your work, Gwen,” Morgana laughed and the tone of it chilled Gwen. She could hear the rest of the accusation in Morgana’s voice, though the words remained unsaid. Morgana hadn’t realised that the kisses had been part of Gwen’s work. She hadn’t realised that Gwen was merely doing her job.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Gwen said, stumbled over the words in an attempt to assure Morgana. Of course she’d come to Morgana as a friend. She cared for Morgana as a friend. She loved her. Of course she loved Morgana.

Morgana pulled her hands away from Gwen and turned back toward her mirror.

“That will be all, Gwen,” she said. “Leave me, please. I would like to be alone.”

Gwen opened her mouth to refuse, to continue the conversation, but when Morgana turned to look at her, her eyes were cold, her face closed off, and Gwen did the only thing she could do. Gwen did as she was told.

It was a few weeks later that Morgana disappeared. Gwen cried, couldn’t help but think it was somehow her fault. She sat on the edge of Morgana‘s bed, her hands pressed to her face. Arthur found her there. He took her in his arms, held her, and she cried against his shoulder.

**

She’d done this to Morgana, Gwen thought now. She was the one that had bruised Morgana’s heart. Uther, yes, but Gwen as well. She’d turned her back on Morgana that day in her chambers. Morgana felt nothing but rejection all around her. But how was Gwen to know? How was Gwen to know then what Morgana was really struggling with? Morgana hadn’t confided in her. Nightmares, yes, but there was so much more.

Gwen hadn’t known. She would have been more delicate, she would have been more careful with Morgana, more understanding. By the time she realised it was too late. Morgana was vulnerable, searching for someone to understand her, all of her. Morgause filled that void for Morgana, showed Morgana that there were people who understood, people who understood her enough to twist her, to turn all of the good in her, to cause her to curdle, to sour, to hate.

No, Gwen wasn’t really to blame for this at all, was she? It was Morgause. What had it been like, that year that Morgana was gone with Morgause? What had it been like for Morgana? What lies had Morgause told her? About Uther, about Arthur and about Gwen?

Gwen stood at the window to her room within the castle, looked down upon the town. She wondered if Morgana would try to seek her there once more. She wondered what might have happened if she had stayed, if Morgana had appeared again.

Gwen shook her head, shut the window and moved away. There was a knock at the door and Gwen called for the visitor to enter.

It was Merlin.

He looked around the room, then grinned at Gwen and said, “I like it.”

“I’m not staying,” Gwen said, more to assure herself than anything else.

“Gaius has prepared you another sleeping draught,” Merlin explained. He set the bottle on the table beside the door.

“Thank you,” Gwen smiled.

Merlin nodded in return. He looked like he wanted to say something else, then changed his mind at the last moment, shook his head and said, “G’night Gwen.”

“Good night,” Gwen said.

Alone in the room once more, Gwen picked up the sleeping draught from the table. This time she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t pause to think of Morgana. She pulled the stopper from the bottle and drank the liquid, set the empty bottle back on the table.

She climbed into the bed, softer, better quality than her own. She closed her eyes and wished to dream of Arthur. Only Arthur.

Part 2
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