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The Nature of Love (Spells) - 2/2

The sleeping draught worked. Gwen stopped dreaming of Morgana. She stopped worrying that she might return home and find Morgana waiting. She stayed within the castle’s walls, a prisoner, staring out her own window. She didn’t dream of Morgana, but she didn’t stop thinking of her either. She didn’t stop waiting.

No, she wasn’t waiting. She was worrying. Dreading. Sure that that couldn’t have been the end of it.

Merlin came with her to gather her things to bring to the castle. He stood by the table, took the folded dress that she handed to him. He watched as, at the last moment, she went to her bed and pulled out the two metal hearts from beneath it.

“Those are nice,” Merlin said. “Did your father make them?”

“Yes,” Gwen said. “A children’s keepsake.”

Alone in her room within the castle, she slid the two hearts together into a drawer, then changed her mind and pulled Morgana’s back out of the drawer, slid it into another, alone. She awoke later in the middle of the night. She wasn’t dreaming, at least not a dream that she remembered, but she awoke with a start and thought immediately of Morgana’s heart in her drawer.

She would sleep better, she decided, if she returned it to Morgana’s chambers where it belonged.

She felt the presence as soon as she entered Morgana’s rooms.

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

“Gwen,” Morgana sighed and stepped away from a curtain. “You frightened me. I thought perhaps you were a guard.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” Gwen said, surprised.

“It’s strange,” Morgana said. “How much you can miss a place.” She looked around the rooms. “It‘s been so long and yet it looks just the same.”

Morgana was distraught and when she turned toward the window, Gwen slipped the heart into a drawer out of sight. She went to Morgana, took Morgana’s hand and folded it between her own.

“Why are you awake?” Morgana asked. “Do you often roam the halls of Camelot in the middle of the night? Why did you come here?”

Gwen didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want to explain about the dreams, about the heart, about the fact that she couldn’t stop worrying about Morgana, couldn’t stop thinking about her. Gwen stopped at these rooms often, opened the door and looked inside before continuing on her way. She did it even before Uther’s death, before Morgana started coming to see her again. Gwen didn’t want to try to explain all of that, so when Morgana leaned in and kissed her, Gwen was grateful for the distraction and kissed Morgana back immediately.

Morgana’s hand tightened in Gwen’s. After a moment Morgana pulled back and Gwen leaned in to kiss her again. Morgana smiled and turned away.

“What is it?” Gwen asked.

“It went differently the last time I kissed you in these rooms,” Morgana said.

“Morgana,” Gwen started, and then reached for Morgana. Morgana came easily and Gwen felt herself smile when their lips met a third time, felt herself longing to be kissed, missing Morgana‘s mouth in the brief moment when it wasn‘t matched to hers. Morgana’s hand slipped from hers and she rested her hands at Morgana’s waist instead, then Morgana’s shoulders. She touched her fingers to Morgana’s smooth cheeks at they kissed, tangled them in Morgana’s dark hair. Morgana led her back toward the bed, and then they were sitting together, clinging to one another, kissing in the dark as they had done all those years ago.

Morgana leaned into Gwen, kissed her until Gwen was lying breathless against the pillows. When Morgana pushed Gwen’s sleeping gown off her shoulder to kiss the skin there, Gwen sighed beneath her lips. When Morgana pressed her mouth to Gwen’s breasts, Gwen gasped.

They’d never done this before. They’d never moved past those innocent midnight kisses. Gwen remembered her dreams and she ached for Morgana, longed for Morgana’s touch. She reached for Morgana, and Morgana moved over her. Gwen lifted her knees and Morgana settled between them, kissing Gwen’s mouth open. The weight of her was warm and arousing and Gwen held Morgana close and moved against her. Morgana’s cloak cascaded down from her shoulders, covering them in a dark blanket, hiding them from the sleeping world.

Gwen reached up, fumbled with the clasp at Morgana’s neck, unfastened it and let the cloak slide from Morgana’s shoulders, the heavy fabric pooling into a pile on the floor. Morgana smiled against Gwen’s mouth. She shifted and Gwen felt Morgana’s hand, warm between her legs. It was just like her dream and Gwen rose off the bed at Morgana’s touch. Morgana’s fingers teased and Gwen moved beneath her, pulled Morgana close to kiss the tops of her breast where they spilled out the neckline of her dress.

All the nights they spent together in this bed, Gwen had never dreamed that it could have been like this. She wondered if Morgana had known. If Morgana had kissed Gwen then and thought of them like this. She wondered if Morgana had spent the hours afterward dreaming of this until morning.

Gwen wrapped her arms around Morgana. She clung to her, pressed her face to the dusty black of Morgana’s gown, muffled the choked sounds of pleasure she couldn’t keep hidden in her throat. Morgana’s fingers continued their movement, sliding against her, driving her mad. Gwen lifted her head and Morgana’s mouth found hers instantly, tongues and fingers and gasps coming together at once until Gwen’s heart exploded with it and she pulled away from Morgana, her body shaking as she folded back against the bed.

Morgana leaned over her and kissed her once more, gentle and wet. Her hand slipped from between Gwen’s legs and Gwen felt cold and alone without Morgana there, without Morgana pressed to her. She stared up at the ceiling and tried to catch her breath. She was back in the present now. A present where the woman beside her wasn’t her best friend, wasn’t to be trusted or loved.

Gwen turned to look at Morgana and her heart told her lies.

“This is sorcery,” Gwen said, more to convince herself than anything else.

“No,” Morgana countered, her voice soft. “I think this is love.”

But 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.

“This can’t be love,” Gwen said. “You must be doing this. You‘re a sorceress. You‘re a witch.”

“I’m -”

“What?” Gwen pressed. She expected Morgana to deny it, but how could she when Gwen’s words were so completely and entirely true.

“I’m yours,” Morgana said, her eyes low.

Gwen felt it then. She felt it in her stomach and her chest. An ache that reached straight for her heart. No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. It was trickery, a spell.

“No,” she said aloud. “Don’t say that.”

“I have to,” Morgana said. “I know that it’s true, just as I know that you’ve always been mine.”

Gwen sat up from the bed, moved away from Morgana, stood. She couldn’t imagine how she must look, her hair disheveled, her gown open, hanging from her shoulders. She felt so naked and she hugged herself as she stood there.

Morgana sat up as well and she looked so dark, so beautiful against the white linens of the bed. Gwen looked at Morgana and thought that everything made so much sense, that Morgana’s words must be true, that everything fit, but when she looked away she saw the lies, saw that there had to be more, that Morgana must have some other reason for it all.

“Someone might find us here,” Gwen said then. “I should get back to my room.”

She left without another word.

**

The alarm sounded shortly after Gwen had returned to her room.

She paced, caught herself holding her breath, hoping that Morgana made it out of Camelot safely. She couldn’t bear the thought of Morgana locked in a dungeon beneath the castle, couldn’t imagine what might happen to her. But Arthur was king now. Uther was dead. Surely Arthur would not kill his own sister, no matter what she’d done.

Gwen moved to the window, looked out at the knights running across the square.

There was a knock at her door and then Arthur burst into her room, his clothes disheveled, sword in hand.

“Gwen,” he sighed. “I was worried.”

She rushed to him, let him wrap her in his arms. When he kissed her she relaxed into it, closed her eyes and tried to lose herself in him the way she’d done in Morgana. She didn’t want to admit to herself that it no longer felt quite the same.

**

“Gaius?” Gwen called, knocking before she stepped into his chambers. There was no answer and she looked around once before calling him again. When no one answered, Gwen stepped into the room, looked around. If Gaius wasn’t here, perhaps she could find a book that might help her in his stead. She’d just stepped up to a stack, haphazardly piled on the edge of a table, when the door creaked behind her and Merlin walked into the room.

“Gwen,” Merlin said, surprised.

“I was looking for Gaius,” she explained.

“Gaius isn’t here,” Merlin said, stating the obvious.

“Will he be back soon?”

“He’s tending to a sick family in the village,” Merlin said. “It may be a while. Maybe - Is it something I can help with? Are you feeling ill?”

Gwen shook her head and turned to go, then changed her mind and rushed to Merlin.

“You’re going to think me mad,” Gwen said. “But I think I’ve been put under some sort of enchantment.”

“An enchantment?” Merlin repeated.

“I think - I think it’s a love spell.”

Merlin laughed.

“It’s hardly funny.”

“A love spell, Gwen?” Merlin asked. “Who are you in love with other than -” His eyes widened a little and he said. “Arthur? You don’t think it’s a love spell that has caused you and - “

“No, no, of course not,” Gwen said immediately, shook her head. “What Arthur and I have, I know there is no spell there.” What she shared with Arthur felt logical, rational. She could examine her feelings and knew why she loved. What she felt for Morgana made little sense to her, and yet she felt it anyway and couldn’t change her heart. It was magic, surely.

“It’s a love spell,” Gwen said. “It has to be. There is no other explanation. You have to help me, Merlin. If Arthur found out - ”

Merlin was staring at her strangely. He didn’t move when she asked for his help so Gwen returned to the table on her own and began flipping through Gaius’s books.

“I don’t think this is a love spell,” Merlin said, eventually, his voice doubtful.

“It has to be,” Gwen insisted again, shook her head, resolute.

“I’ve seen love spells,” he insisted. “I’ve seen what they do to people. Well, what they did to Arthur and the Lady Vivian anyway, and you’re not - if it was a love spell, you wouldn’t be questioning if it was a love spell. You would be sure that this person was the love of your life. Undeniably sure.“

Gwen shook her head. “It has to be a spell.“

“All right,” Merlin said. He took a seat beside her at the table. He knew exactly which of Gaius’s books to check, flipped directly to a section. He showed her spell after spell, but each time she shook her head. None of the descriptions matched what she felt at all.

“Gwen,” Merlin said, eventually. “I really don’t think - whatever is happening to you, there is no love spell involved.”

“But surely there must be different types of love spells,” Gwen reasoned. “Maybe I’ve been enchanted by one that doesn’t make a person blind to another’s faults. Maybe it’s a spell that allows you to see how crazy it all seems, how ridiculous, but makes you powerless to stop caring. It makes you powerless not to continue the affair regardless of the warnings in your heart.”

Merlin was still flipping through Gaius’s books, but he stopped now and looked up.

“I -” Merlin started, and then he screwed up his face and looked away.

“What?” Gwen pressed. “Merlin, what?”

“I think that might just be love,” Merlin said.

They were both quiet for a long time after that. Eventually Merlin spoke.

“The other night when the alarm was sounded,” Merlin said. “One of the knights said he saw a cloaked woman rushing through the halls. Was it Morgana, Gwen? Did she come to see you?”

Gwen shook her head, but then she looked down at her hands and said, “Yes. It was Morgana.”

Merlin stood, began pacing the room, agitated.

“She didn’t mean any harm,” Gwen insisted. “She didn’t come to hurt us. I think - I think maybe she’s ready to change.”

“You can’t trust Morgana. Not anymore.”

“You don’t know that.”

Merlin looked at her like he felt sorry for her then, but he didn’t say anything else. He didn‘t need to.

“You think I should tell Arthur,” Gwen guessed.

“You don’t want to?” Merlin asked, surprised.

“I don’t know,” Gwen said. “I don’t know what I should do. I miss her, Merlin. I want to help her.”

Merlin came and sat back beside her. “How can you be sure she doesn’t have another reason for being in Camelot, Gwen? How can you be sure this isn’t part of a new plan to take the throne from Arthur.”

“You didn’t see her,” Gwen said. She shook her head. “You weren’t there.”

“You love her,” Merlin guessed then. “The love spell. You think Morgana’s enchanted you.”

“I don’t know,” Gwen said, but even just hearing someone else say the words filled her with that same helpless joy and dread that she felt when she was with Morgana the night before. “I don’t - Merlin, now that you‘ve guessed. Now that you see why I‘m here - now do you think it‘s a spell?”

“Maybe,” Merlin said, but his face told her that his answer was still no.

“I have to go,” Gwen said then, stood and backed away from Merlin.

“You don’t want to wait for Gaius?” Merlin asked. “He might - he might know.”

“No,” Gwen said. “No, I’m fine. It’s okay. I just overreacted, that’s all. The next time I see Morgana within the castle, of course I’ll raise the alarm. Of course I’ll warn Arthur. It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Merlin agreed. “I think it probably is.”

**

Gwen knew the message was from Morgana before she opened it. The paper was left on her windowsill, rolled into a scroll and tied with a green ribbon. Green, Gwen noted. Not black. Gwen told herself that she would ignore Morgana‘s request, that it was crazy to do anything else, but when the appointed time arrived, she found herself making her way through hallways and corridors, standing back against walls as she waited for guards to pass her unnoticed. When she arrived in the empty room, Morgana was already there.

This was magic, Gwen thought. Merlin had to be wrong. Surely this was magic that had her moving toward Morgana, dropping to her knees before her. It couldn’t be anything else.

“What are you doing to me?” Gwen asked.

“Nothing,” Morgana promised, falling to the ground beside Gwen. “Nothing. It isn’t me.”

Lies, Gwen thought. It had to be lies. She reached for Morgana, pushed up on her knees until she could lean in and press their mouths together. Morgana’s lips were soft on hers. Morgana’s tongue was sweet. The kiss was soft, so unlike the kisses she’d shared with Arthur, hot and sour and sharp. This kiss felt round and smooth and full against her lips. It didn’t feel like magic. It felt real enough and Gwen pulled away.

“You can’t stay here,” she said, took Morgana‘s hands in hers. “You can’t come here again.”

“Gwen - “

“No,” Gwen said. “I don’t want you to come again.“

“Someone knows,“ Morgana guessed. “You told Arthur.“

“No,“ Gwen shook her head. “Not since the first time. Someone saw you.“

Morgana frowned. “Merlin.“

“No, no. A knight, but Merlin knows. He - I promised.”

“Merlin meddles where he doesn‘t belong,” Morgana said, and the words were sharp, they had a bite, and Gwen flinched.

“Merlin is just worried about Arthur,” Gwen said, standing up for her friend. “Merlin is worried for me. After all that’s happened you must understand everyone’s concern.”

Morgana nodded and smiled, pulled away from Gwen. “Of course,“ she said. “Of course I know. Merlin always means well.“

“Of course,“ Gwen echoed. She didn’t like the tone the conversation had taken. She didn’t understand the bitterness in Morgana’s voice. “What’s wrong?“

“Nothing,“ Morgana said. She leaned in and kissed Gwen once more and then she sat back and said. “Did you know he tried to kill me?”

“Kill you?”

“He poisoned me,” Morgana said. “Years ago. He poisoned me with hemlock. If Morgause hadn’t saved me I would be dead.”

Gwen shook her head. “Merlin wouldn’t.”

“You don’t know Merlin as well as you think that you do,” Morgana said. “I don’t think anyone does.”

“There must have been a reason,” Gwen insisted. She pulled away from Morgana, no longer in the mood for kissing, for the butterflies that alighted in her stomach when they were close. “Merlin wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t have a reason.”

“You’ve always had such a soft spot for him,” Morgana said coldly.

“He’s my friend,” Gwen snapped. She stood and moved away from Morgana, moved to stand at the dusty table. She was stupid to come here. She was stupid to indulge Morgana in this again and again. Merlin was right. Gwen should have gone to Arthur as soon as she received the correspondence. She couldn‘t trust Morgana.

“Merlin is my friend,” Gwen said. “Just as you were once. I saw you smile that day, Morgana. The day that Uther sentenced me to death for enchanting Arthur. I know that you were jealous and I saw you smile. I think you would have been glad to see me burn at the stake. Don’t sit here and seduce me now and talk as though you’re any better than Merlin. Merlin must have had a reason, just as I’m sure that you had yours. What was it Morgana? Jealousy? Revenge?”

Morgana turned away. “That was a long time ago.”

“Not so long,” Gwen said. It had been over a year since Uther’s outrage at Arthur’s love for Gwen, yes, but it hadn’t been long at all since Morgana made her journey to the Isle of the Blessed, since her actions resulted in Lancelot’s death. It hadn’t been long at all.

Morgana said nothing, had no words now in her own defense.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Gwen pressed. “Why did you come? To hurt Arthur?”

Morgana was quiet for a long time. Finally she looked up at Gwen and said, “Yes.”

The truth hurt more than she’d expected. Gwen’s hand flew to her mouth and she looked away. She’d known this all along, hadn’t she? To hurt Arthur. To hurt Camelot. It could be the only reason. But Morgana had said I’m yours, and Gwen had wanted so badly to believe that that could be true, that Morgana could be saved.

“Get out,” Gwen said as she backed to the door, ready to flee into the hall, ready to shout, to raise the alarms as she should have done weeks ago. “Don’t ever come back here.’

“Wait,” Morgana said. She was still sitting there on the floor, but she raised up on her knees now, held out her hands to stop Gwen’s anger.

Gwen’s hand was on the latch, but she paused and waited for Morgana to continue.

“It is true that that is initially why I came to you,” Morgana said. Her voice was pleading her defence, begging Gwen‘s forgiveness. “Arthur takes everything. He takes it without questioning whether it should be his. I suppose it isn’t his fault. He’s only doing what he was taught. He’s just like Uther. But you were already taken, Gwen. You and I - even as children you must have felt it. Those kisses in the dark. I wanted to say something to you so many times, but I was afraid that you might think differently of me, that you might hate me. And then it was too late. Arthur had already stolen you away. But you were mine, Gwen. You were mine first.”

Gwen shook her head. “I’m not yours. I never was.”

Morgana‘s eyes were wet, her voice on the verge of a sob. “I don’t care about Arthur anymore. It isn’t why I’m here now. I missed you. I miss what we had.”

“Why?”

“I’m in love with you. Don’t you know that? I’ve always been in love with you.”

“Morgana -”

“Please don’t turn your back on me again,” Morgana pleaded. “I couldn’t bear it, Gwen. I couldn’t bear to have you side against me now.”

Morgana had seemed so hard to Gwen. So dark and powerful and in control. She looked fractured now, broken and sad, and Gwen felt her heart soften again despite her resolve.

She went to Morgana, reached for her, helped her to her feet. Morgana’s fingers were tight on Gwen’s arms, as though she thought she might fall if she let go.

“I don’t believe you,” Gwen said, and Morgana’s hands held her tighter, her eyes squeezed shut at the words. “I don’t know if I can believe you.”

Morgana rested her forehead on Gwen’s shoulder and Gwen held her, let her have this moment.

“You have no idea what it’s been like,” Morgana whispered against her. “You have no idea what it’s been like for me.”

“No,” Gwen agreed. “I don’t.”

Morgana looked up. “Do you remember, when we were children and I made you sneak into the village?”

“Yes,” Gwen said.

“We went to visit your father and he made us those matching metal hearts.”

Gwen nodded.

“I thought it was magic,” Morgana said. “I thought it was magic, making something so beautiful from an ugly scrap of metal. Later that night I showed the heart to Uther. I told him and he laughed.”

“You can’t come here again,” Gwen said. She pulled away from Morgana, pulled Morgana‘s hands from her arms. Morgana tried to pull her back, leaned in and kissed the side of her mouth, but Gwen shook her head and disengaged, stepped back. Morgana did not fall.

Gwen moved to the door, opened it, looked back. “If I see you here again I will go to Arthur.”

“And what will Arthur be able to do?” Morgana asked, but there was no threat in her voice, only resignation, and Gwen stepped into the hallway and shut the door.

**

Morgana had told her everything. She’d come to hurt Arthur. She’d enchanted Gwen, planned to use her to get close, or to pull her away, Gwen wasn’t sure. Gwen remembered the spells in Gaius’s books. Many of them involved an object that once enchanted would cloud the victim’s judgement, cause their heart to beat for their intended alone. Gwen’s heart wasn’t as sure as the books suggested, but she knew now, she knew what objects were at the root of Morgana’s spell.

“It’s the hearts,” Gwen said, setting them before Merlin and Gaius. “They’ve been enchanted.”

“Gwen - “ Gaius started.

“Gaius, I’m sure of it,” Gwen said, her voice unwavering, her gaze strong. She was as sure as she’d ever been of anything. She’d been unable to stop thinking of them since this whole thing began. She’d been obsessed, remembering how things used to be, and those hearts were a symbol of that. “I have to destroy them.”

Merlin looked to Gaius, and then turned to Gwen and said, “I’ll help you.”

She nodded, had known that he would.

Gaius turned the hearts over in his hand. “Fire should do it,” he said. “Melting them down should dispel whatever magic has been used on them.”

“We’ll take them to Richard,” Gwen resolved.

**

When Gwen’s father died, Richard took over as the village blacksmith. Richard had been her father’s apprentice, a kind and smiling man who had always enjoyed Gwen‘s company. He wasn’t smiling, however, when Gwen and Merlin came to him with Gwen’s request.

“Are you sure?” he asked, turning them over in his hand. “They’re a wonderful keepsake. Your father was a talented man.”

“I’m sure,” Gwen insisted. “Please, Richard.”

“It seems a shame,” Richard stalled, but when he realised that Gwen did not intend to change her mind, he finally gave in, set the hearts in the heavy stone basin and placed it in the fire.

Gwen and Merlin sat down to wait.

“What if this doesn’t work?” Merlin asked when Richard left them to get back to his work. Merlin‘s voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.

“It will,” Gwen said. She stared into the fire. She wondered if she would feel it, the moment the spell stopped working, the moment she was set free. She wondered what Morgana would do when she realised. She wondered if Morgana would feel it too. She remembered her conversation with Morgana the night before and she looked over at Merlin, studied the sharp lines of his profile. It didn’t seem possible. Merlin didn’t seem capable of hurting anyone. He felt Gwen watching him and turned to smile at her.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” Merlin said.

She took a deep breath, and then asked the question in a rush before she could second guess herself.

“Did you poison Morgana? Did you try to kill her?”

Merlin smile disappeared and he looked down at the dirt floor. When he looked up again his face was sad, pained. “I had to. It was the sleeping spell. Morgause was attacking and Morgana was the root of it. It was the only way to save Camelot.”

Gwen nodded.

“I didn’t want to,” Merlin said. Gwen reached over and took his hand, held it in hers.

“Did you ever think -” Gwen asked. “that maybe Morgana is the way she is because of the things we’ve done? Did you ever think that perhaps we caused this?”

“Yes,” Merlin said. “Yes, I’ve thought it many times.”

Richard returned then and Gwen released Merlin, stood and waited as Richard peered into the fire.

“It’s done,” Richard said. He held up the stone basin, the glowing red liquid that used to be the twin hearts.

Gwen sighed.

“Well?” Merlin asked. “How do you feel?”

She felt the same. She searched her heart and she felt exactly the same. But the spell had been subtle, hadn’t it? She’d seen how love spells could be, and this had never been those spells. This spell wasn’t crude or heavy handed. It was intricate and nuanced. Perhaps the release from it would feel subtle too.

“I feel good,” Gwen said, smiled. “I feel better.”

Merlin searched her face and then he smiled too.

“I guess I was wrong,” Merlin said. “It was a spell after all.”

“Yes,” Gwen agreed. “Yes, you were wrong.”

**

Gwen refused Gaius’s sleeping draught that night. It had never made much of a difference anyway, and now that she was no longer under Morgana’s spell, she felt certain that it wasn’t necessary.

It had worked, she thought. Her head felt clear, her heart less confused. If Morgana came to her now, Gwen felt sure she could turn Morgana away, felt sure that she could do what was necessary for the safety of Camelot.

It had been a spell and destroying the hearts had ended it. That was what Morgana did these days. Spells. That was what she’d done to Gwen.

**

The note arrived on her windowsill a week later. It was tied in the same green ribbon. Gwen’s heart skipped when she found the note and she untied the ribbon with shaking fingers.

It was short, succinct. Morgana asked Gwen to meet with her, but not within the castle this time and not at Gwen’s home in the village. Gwen was to meet Morgana at the edge of the stream that ran through the forest east of the village. Morgana would be waiting for her there an hour after the sun set.

Gwen folded the piece of paper. She stared out her window, wondered if Morgana might be watching her from the trees. Gwen wouldn’t go. The spell was broken. She was free. She certainly wasn’t stupid enough to meet an evil sorceress in the woods alone at night. It was almost laughable. If Morgana was here, Gwen would have laughed, would have asked if Morgana was serious or if the note was intended as a joke.

Gwen held the edge of the note above a candle, watched as the paper lit, as the note burned and disappeared.

Morgana could wait there forever. Gwen would not go to her.

**

Arthur was busy all afternoon. There was a problem in one of the outlying villages. Arthur had agreed to ride out in the morning with some of the knights to determine the cause and settle things. Gwen helped Merlin gather provisions, make preparations and the sun was setting by the time they’d finished their work and Gwen sat down to dinner with Arthur. Merlin stood by and when he smiled at Gwen, Gwen nodded and smiled in return. Merlin hadn’t asked, had pointedly spent the entire afternoon not asking her if she still believed the spell had been broken, but Gwen understood the question in his smile and Merlin seemed to understand her unspoken response.

Arthur talked of a dispute between the knights, of plans for the winter ahead and Gwen nodded, listened. Eventually Arthur looked up and frowned at Gwen.

“You seem distracted,” Arthur said. “Is everything all right?”

Gwen smiled, reached out to place a hand on Arthur’s arm. “Yes,” she said. “Everything is fine.”

Arthur smiled back and returned to his meal.

“I’m thinking of moving back home,” Gwen said after another moment. Merlin raised his eyebrows.

“Home?” Arthur cut in. “I thought - “

“I told you I only meant to stay temporarily,” Gwen said. “My dreams have stopped. I feel quite safe now.”

Arthur nodded, looked down at the table again, but didn’t resume eating.

“Morgana used to sit where you’re sitting,” Arthur said. “We’d have silent conversations across the table while my father prattled on in this seat.”

“I remember,” Gwen said.

“Of course,” Arthur said, rolled his eyes at himself. He smiled though it looked a little sad. “You were often there.”

“You used to try to make her laugh,” Gwen smiled.

“It usually worked,” Arthur agreed. “Sometimes it made you laugh as well.”

Behind Arthur it was Merlin‘s turn to roll his eyes, but he was smiling too. Arthur caught Gwen looking at Merlin and turned in his seat. “Is Merlin making faces behind my back again?”

“Of course not,” Merlin said. He tried to wrestle the smile from his face, but failed and shrugged when Arthur shook his head.

This was Gwen’s family. These were her best friends.

She thought of Morgana, standing alone by the stream in the forest, waiting for her. Morgana used to sit here. She used to laugh with them. She used to love them as her own. Gwen remembered the conversation she’d had with Merlin the week before. Maybe it was their fault that Morgana stood alone by that stream. Maybe it was their fault that Morgana had turned against them.

“Do you think,” Gwen started, pulling Arthur and Merlin‘s attention back to her. “If we’d known what Morgana was going through, do you think we would have been able to help her? Do you think she would be sitting here with us now?”

Merlin frowned and Arthur thought carefully about his answer and then said, “I don’t know. I don’t think there was anything we could have done.”

Merlin was watching Gwen. Gwen wasn’t looking at him, but she could feel it, and when she looked up, he turned his eyes to the floor, wouldn’t meet her gaze. Gwen turned back to Arthur.

“What if we could bring Morgana back?” Gwen asked. “What if she wanted forgiveness? What if she was loyal to you and used her magic only for the good of Camelot?”

Arthur shook his head. “I’m not sure that magic can be used for the good of Camelot.”

“Is that what you really believe?” Gwen asked.

Arthur narrowed his eyes as he thought this over. “My father - “ he started, then stopped and turned away from her, wiped a hand across his face before coming back to her again. “Both of my parents were killed by magic, Gwen. How can there be any good in it?”

“But if there was -” Gwen pressed.

Arthur’s frown was tight and Gwen felt sure he would refuse to entertain the idea. Finally, Arthur settled on an answer.

“If there was a way, yes, I would have Morgana here at this table with us.”

**

It was nearly midnight. Gwen had not slept, could not sleep, could think of nothing but Morgana alone by the stream. If they’d only done things differently. If Uther hadn’t been so quick to condemn. If Gwen had only listened more, if she’d realised what the nightmares meant, what the kisses meant. If Arthur hadn’t come to stay with Gwen, if he hadn‘t pretended to make her that dinner. If Merlin hadn’t poisoned Morgana to save Camelot. What would have happened? Where would they be?

If there was a way, Arthur would have Morgana back at his side. Gwen would have Morgana back at her side.

Hours had passed since the meeting time that Morgana had proposed in her note. Morgana would be gone. She would have left long ago, abandoned the stream and Gwen and returned to her home, wherever that might be now. Morgana wasn’t in love with Gwen. She’d been using Gwen and when Gwen didn’t arrive there would be no reason for Morgana to stay. She told herself that the note was a test. Morgana sensed that her spell was broken. She needed to test Gwen to confirm that it was true. Gwen had passed and Morgana had moved on.

But what if Morgana was still there? What if Morgana was in love with her? What if there was still a way to change things? A way to help Morgana, to change her mind?

It was nonsense, it was crazy, but Gwen couldn’t stop wondering. She couldn’t stop thinking of Morgana alone by the stream, heartbroken, betrayed.

Gwen rose from her bed, dressed quickly and reached for her cloak.

The village was quiet, asleep, and Gwen slipped unseen through the narrow streets. She took a torch from one of the posts at the edge of town, made her way into the forest. The stream wasn’t far, but in the dark it took some time to make her way there. Finally she came out on the rocky eastern bank.

Gwen was alone.

There was no one there. Of course there was no one there.

She was scared suddenly, alone in the forest in the middle of the night. She turned to go and as she did, the light from her torch caught movement to her left and she swung around and gasped. Morgana was there, sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree.

“Morgana?” Gwen whispered.

Morgana stood. “I didn’t think you were coming.”

Gwen rushed to her, reached for her. “You’ve been out here this whole time?”

Morgana shrugged beneath her heavy cloak, reached up to brush her cool fingers to Gwen’s cheek. Gwen took Morgana’s hand from her face, curled Morgana’s fingers in hers, lifted Morgana’s hand to her lips. Morgana looked up then, turned her face toward the dark trees, her body still.

“I wasn’t followed,” Gwen promised. “I was careful.”

Morgana held Gwen close as she scanned the forest. There was no sound but the water rushing behind them, the sound of their breathing. They stood like that for a long time, just listening. Gwen wondered if Morgana could hear things that Gwen couldn’t. She wondered if magic worked that way. Perhaps if she asked, Morgana would tell her.

Gwen’s heart was beating so fast. She found she was terrified, sure now that there was no spell, that perhaps she’d been wrong all along, perhaps she‘d destroyed the hearts for nothing. Here in Morgana’s arms, it didn‘t feel like magic, but yet it felt the same as it had before. Morgana didn’t say anything, just held Gwen to her, reached up to stroke Gwen’s hair.

Eventually Morgana relaxed against her, convinced at last that they were alone.

“I’m glad that you came,” Morgana said.

Gwen responded with a kiss. Gwen kissed Morgana because she wanted to, because she was sorry for all that had happened between them, for Morgana‘s fate. It wasn’t magic that governed the kiss, it wasn’t some trick of the heart. She kissed Morgana because she craved Morgana’s mouth on hers. No one kissed her like Morgana did, not Arthur, not Lancelot. She didn’t know what it might mean for them. She was terrified of what it might mean, but she wanted it. She wanted Morgana.

“Come with me,” Morgana said. She held tight to Gwen‘s hand, stepped back toward the trees and pulled Gwen after her. Gwen followed for a moment, a few steps, before she remembered the time and she stopped.

“I can’t,” Gwen resisted. “It’s after midnight. I‘ll be missed if I‘m not back at morning.”

Morgana nodded, released Gwen’s hand and took a step back from her.

“You’ll have to break one of our hearts,” Morgana said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Not yet,” Gwen said. She couldn‘t bear to break Morgana‘s heart a second time. Not now. Not tonight. And she couldn’t imagine what might happen if she broke Arthur’s instead.

“But you will meet with me again?” Morgana asked. Her expression betrayed the hope in the words, the fear that she might be met with rejection.

“Yes,” Gwen said. Arthur would be in the outlying villages for a fortnight. Gwen wouldn’t be missed. “I’ll meet with you here. Every day.”

Morgana smiled. It was a smile that reached her eyes and reminded Gwen of sunny afternoons in Camelot even as they stood alone together in the dark forest.

Once Morgana had loved Gwen above everyone else. Once Morgana had been her best friend. She’d defended her, protected her. Morgana had fought for her. Morgana had slain invisible dragons, called Gwen a princess and kissed Gwen awake.

Morgana could change. Morgana would change for Gwen. Gwen was sure of it. Morgause had turned Morgana by winning her heart. Gwen would win Morgana back.

Date: 2011-12-06 09:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] atraphoenix.livejournal.com
This was perfect. Seriously.

Your characterisation of Morgana was very well done. Her sense of abandonment was palpable and it worked very well alongside Gwen realising both her feelings and her own role in Morgana's fall.

I wish this was canon. Thank you for sharing it.

Date: 2011-12-10 04:30 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I love this story, it's very well written. I hope you write more for this pairing.

Date: 2011-12-10 05:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bluemagicrose.livejournal.com
What a beautiful story. Just beautiful.

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