The Lives That Weren'tRating:
Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, Morgause/NimuehSummary:
What would have happened in S1, had Nimueh raised Morgause, Morgana and Merlin; in which the Prince of Camelot takes to kissing his laundry maid for no reason and Merlin makes a move. Note:
I actually finished this more than a month ago but have only just got round to proofing/beta-ing it; it's in twelve parts and I'll post one part every couple of days until they're all up. Part one can be found here.
The Lives That Weren't
“What – what are you dreaming about? That makes you call my name like that?"'
Awesome .gif illustration created by wakingworld.
The first time the Prince of Camelot kisses Gwen, they are alone in a corridor outside of his chambers. She has brought him a new sword from her father’s forge, and he takes it from her, and thanks her, and then there is a pause in which Gwen knows quite certainly that he will kiss her within her next breath.
She has no idea what prompts him to do it. She has known Arthur in a vague way since early childhood – like any servant in the castle knows him. It’s a little difficult to miss Prince Arthur Pendgragon blundering around the corridors making impossible demands, being arrogant and boorish and then, very occasionally, actually quite decent.
She’s a laundry maid, and she’s been responsible for washing his shirts and breeches for several years now, and in the process they’ve talked, occasionally. Once he asked her, offhandedly, about which colour of jacket she thought suited him better. He asked whether she could read (she can). He asked after her father when he heard that he was ill. He once confessed to a deep seated frustration about the fact that his knights always let him win at jousting. He makes her laugh.
Sometimes, he gets her to run small errands for him – go into town to fetch something he wants from the market, or find a particular kind of food in the kitchens, for which he pays her quite generously, and she’s grateful for that.
And he has never tried to take advantage of her, which he could have done quite easily – they’ve been alone often enough, and no one would take the word of a laundry maid over that of the Prince of Camelot. For this alone, Gwen thinks him a decent man, even if he is a little spoiled.
Besides which, he is a regular customer of her father’s. He dislikes the royal armourer and he asked her advice about finding a decent one in town, and she suggested he see her father – not just because he is her father, but because she genuinely believes him to be more talented than any other blacksmith in Camelot. She never thought he’d take her seriously, but he turned up the next day, and he’s been coming and going ever since.
And then there’s this strange incident in the corridor outside of his chambers, when she brings him his new sword, and he takes it, and thanks her, and kisses her a split second later.
He looks as shocked as she does when it’s over – and then he says Um, yes, well – and disappears inside his chambers again.
She thinks well that was unusual. She decides it’s quite a grand thing, to be kissed by a prince for no reason, and she goes home feeling a bit light and airy, and convinced that of course, it can never happen again.
At the end of the tournament there’s a feast, and even though Gwen is meant to be serving people she manages to drink just enough wine for the whole world to have a slightly warm, cotton-ish feel to it, and for everything to be shiny and joyful, and Arthur appears at her side at some point, and takes her arm and leads her out of the hall.
They end up lying on their backs in a stone alcove just outside the library, looking up at the night sky through the stained glass window at their heads. Arthur has a flask of wine and they share it in companionable silence.
“Guinevere,” he says, abruptly, “Guinevere. That’s what Gwen’s short for, isn’t it?”
“Mm.” Gwen agrees, rubbing her eyes.
“I heard your father call you it,” Arthur informs her, “it’s a very grand name, for a laundry maid.”
Gwen snorts, “my father has grand ambitions for me.”
Gwen shrugs, noncommittally. “When I was very small, he would tell me that I should grow up and marry a prince and have my own castle and fill it with… fairy dust, or something.”
Arthur laughs. “I like your father.”
“He likes you too. You spend a lot of money in his forge.”
Arthur grins, and pats her leg affectionately – a gesture Gwen is quite sure he wouldn’t be making if he weren’t just as tipsy as she is. The stone floor is cold on her back. She’s seized with a desire to snuggle up to the prince for warmth, but suspects that that really might be a step too far past decorum. Instead, she giggles.
“You’re a very strange prince.”
“How?” He lifts his eyebrows.
She shrugs. “You… only wear grey shirts on Thursdays. You hate soup. And you buy armour from a common blacksmith. And you once kissed me in a corridor for no reason.”
Then all thought stops because Arthur’s mouth is somehow on hers, warm and soft and tasting of honey and wine. She manages to make a slight, surprised little noise in the back of her throat and her eyes flutter closed and for a moment it feels like – nothing – nothing she has ever felt before.
“Well,” he says, when he has stopped kissing her, “now I’ve twice kissed you in a corridor for no reason. What sort of prince does that make me?”
Gwen’s giggle escapes her like a hiccup and she covers her mouth and can’t say anything else.
Morgana and Merlin are running.
They have stumbled across a band of brigands who did not take kindly to the presence of a pair of strangers in their camp and now want to beat them both into a bloody pulp; so Morgana and Merlin are running.
They tumble through a copse and down a slope and over a shallow river and into a network of caves in the hillside. They stagger through the dark and Morgana grabs Merlin’s hand to make sure he stays with her – she is defter and lighter on her feet than he is, seeing as he has always been somewhat clumsy and ungainly, and neither of them dares conjure any light to help them see and she worries that he will trip and fall without her realising.
The caves are full of dust and damp and echoes and shadows, and sometimes they seem to be losing the bandits and sometimes they seem almost caught. Daylight pricks out of the pitch black as they come out the other end of the caves and it becomes apparent that they really are almost caught as Merlin spins round as they exit, blinded by the sunlight, and screams something semi-wordless and terrified at the rock, begging assistance.
The hillside quivers and then slams shut in their wake, the cave mouth they have just left disappearing amongst an abrupt wall of rock rising to separate them from their assailants.
Merlin’s eyes are still fading gold as they both stagger to a halt a few feet away. He is white and trembling with the abrupt wrench of his powers, and Morgana is shaking with exertion and adrenalin and a sudden, hysterical joy. She’s never seen Merlin do anything so fantastic before.
“Merlin!” She gasps, finding herself laughing with shocked affection, “Merlin that was amazing – ”
At which Merlin promptly sweeps her up and kisses her.
It happens so suddenly and her mind is still so frenetic with relief at their escape, left over fright at having been nearly caught and amazement at Merlin’s display of strength, that Morgana finds herself going completely limp in his arms. The act of being kissed is so utterly disjointed from everything else that she’s just experienced that she totally fails to react.
But it’s far too pleasurable a sensation, on top of everything else, for her to think too hard about the situation before she tangles her fists in his hair, tugging his ears, pressing her mouth back against his. He smells like sweat and fear, and the lingering metallic tang of magic, and he huffs in a quick, shallow breath around her lips but doesn’t let her go. The arm he has about her waist feels good and strong and sturdier than she’d have imagined it would be. His other hand is cupping her cheek, and his fingers are calloused.
She’s never once dreamed about this – and somehow that makes it even more precious, more exciting, more terrifying and exhilarating.
Then, just as abruptly as it began, it’s over. They stumble apart, both now even more short of breath than they were when they got out of the cave system. And then they blink at each other, both a little bemused.
Merlin promptly goes a colour seldom seen in nature and his ears look to be so hot with embarrassment that they might be on the verge of melting off the sides of his head. “S-sorry.”
Morgana draws in a shaky breath, now not at all sure whether her heart is racing because she’s still exhausted from their flight across the countryside or because she can still taste him on the back of her tongue. “That’s okay,” she manages, absently wiping her mouth as she speaks.
“I didn’t – I didn’t mean – ”
“It’s okay,” Morgana repeats, more firmly than she feels. “Let’s um – let’s go home.”
They can’t quite look at each other all the way back, Merlin trailing silently behind Morgana, his head down, his hands thrust deep into his pockets. In fact, they don’t look at each other for several days afterward, and whilst Nimueh clearly decides not to get involved, Morgause eyes them both with suspicion and worry.
“He’s not upset you again, has he?” She asks her little sister, as they are ritually cleansing themselves in a spring, before a sacrifice to the Old Gods.
“Mm?” Morgana feigns ignorance, splashing water over her bare arms and chest, easing sweat out from beneath her breasts.
Morgause rolls her eyes – knows very well Morgana understands what she means. They are sisters, after all; though they may only have one parent in common, they have the shared history of a stolen childhood and a massacre under their belts. That tie is enough to make them very well attuned to one another.
“You’ve been acting strangely around Merlin for three days – the two of you have hardly spoken,” she quirks a brow at the younger woman, “you’ve been so close recently – did he do something unkind to you?”
“Unkind? No,” Morgana shakes her head, sweeping up a handful of water to wash down through her thick, dark hair, which has more than grown back since her induction into the priestesshood two years earlier.
“Then did he try to take advantage of you in some way?” Morgause asks, “I know how young men are, sometimes – they get the wrong ideas into their heads – ”
“Take advantage? Morgause, this is Merlin we’re talking about,” Morgana is tempted to laugh, “he couldn’t take advantage of a tree trunk.”
Morgause snorts, put persists. “What, then, my love? Why are you suddenly so distant from one another? I hate to see the two of you when you are not on good terms.”
“It’s – nothing,” Morgana waves a hand, “a silly thing, Morgause. It will pass quickly enough.”
Morgause gazes at her stoically for a second, which Morgana always finds off-putting. Morgause is, in many ways, the polar opposite to her sister in terms of her physicality; she is fair headed where Morgana’s hair is black as a raven’s wing; she is dark eyed where Morgana’s are light as clouded ice in the sunshine. She is short and a little stocky where Morgana is tall and sinewy as a new sapling. Morgause turns brown in summer where Morgana stays bone white, or else burns to the colour of a smack on pale flesh. They look, they both know, like their respective mothers, rather than like the father that they share. But they are unmistakably siblings – if only marked by the ways in which they relate to one another.
For a moment, Morgause’s lips quirk into a teasing smile. “If I didn’t know better I’d have thought you’d taken a fancy to him and been made shy by the attraction.”
Morgana tries very hard not to flush at the accusation. “Don’t be silly.”
Morgause only throws her head back and laughs.
That night, Morgana awakes suddenly from her bed – still the one she once shared with her sister, although Morgause now has her own – unsure whether it is the dream or some external force that has startled her into wakefulness. Like all of their home, their sleeping area is open to the elements and she gazes up at the clear night sky for a moment; then hears the rustling and crackling of someone stoking Nimueh’s cooking fire, and sits up to turn and look for who it is.
Merlin is sat on a stone, in profile to her, using a stick to turn over the embers of the fire.
Morgana yawns. The earlier ritual has taken a great deal of her energy – she is still not as used to them as Nimueh and Morgause are and she is far less functional after them. She fell asleep shortly after dinner when it was still largely daylight.
But a quick scan of her surroundings confirms that she and Merlin are the only ones at home.
“Where are Morgause and Nimueh?” She asks, around another yawn.
Merlin glances at her, and shrugs. “They went off somewhere to collect firewood, I think.”
“You didn’t ask?”
“I don’t think I want to know what they get up to when they’re on their own after dark.” Merlin shrugs and offers her a knowing grin – Morgana rolls her eyes but returns it.
She’s well aware that her relationship with Nimueh is entirely different to the one that Morgause has with her. Morgause once had a mother – one she remembers, still; unlike Morgana, whose mother died shortly after her birth and who can remember no maternal presence in her life aside from Nimueh’s. Morgause was ten when she came into Nimueh’s care, and she didn’t need a mother the way that the two year old Morgana did. Morgause was just beginning to truly enter the first stage of her training as a priestess, a warrior, a sorceress – she needed Nimueh to be her mentor, not her parent.
So no, Nimueh has never been a mother to Morgause. If anything they have been close to equals, partners in their will to raise Morgana and survive that first year wondering Albion together. Morgause was the closest thing that Nimueh had to a reliable adult assistant, even if she was only a child – and they have certainly been equal parents to Merlin and Morgana.
It stands to a certain amount of reason that as Morgause grew to adulthood and matured into her role as Nimueh’s – what? Husband? Wife? – that their relationship would also have taken on more and more of the attributes that the relationship between a working pair of adult partners might be presumed to have.
Morgana is not sure that she really understands how such a thing can happen between two women but she has too much respect for her fellow priestesses to want to pry. Neither she nor Merlin have ever asked and they have no intention of ever doing so.
Morgana slides out of bed and picks her way out of the sleeping area (separated from the rest of the ruins by the remains of a low wall, broken in two by a gap which would once have been a doorway). Her feet are bare and she is wrapped in only an old wool tunic and bear-skin but she does not feel the cold the way that Merlin does.
She sits down on another rock maybe a foot away from him, and gazes into the heat of the dying fire.
“Are you hungry?” Merlin asks, “there’s some dinner left if you want it.”
“No,” Morgana shakes her head, “I just need to sit up for a while.”
“You’re dreaming again.” It’s not a question, but Morgana nods quiet confirmation anyway.
“Nothing awful though – you haven’t woken screaming in a while.”
“No,” Morgana agrees, with a weary smile, “nothing awful. Just – still. Tiring.”
Merlin nods, sympathetically.
Morgana pulls her knees up to her chest. She’s been dreaming about Camelot recently – about the king broken with hatred, and about his naively kind-hearted son; and about a laundry maid called Guinevere. Nothing bad, really. She sees the many ways in which the king might die; she’s sees the flash and fury of the people he has hurt, the lives he has destroyed; she knows they all seek vengeance. She knows that he is responsible for her father’s death, for the death of her first life, in the temple of the Goddess. She knows that he is responsible for her having to live a life in hiding – like so many others of her kind. She knows that she should hate him for it. Except that, looking into his empty, broken, burning heart, she can see his loneliness, his hatred and paranoia, and how they eat at him and how somewhere deep down he hates what he has become – and somehow she can only feel overwhelming pity. Her dreams about him make her indescribably sad.
But so far nothing overwhelmingly frightening is happening there. Just that the prince is inexplicably in love with his laundry maid. Their antics are rather endearing and it makes a nice change from the usual fair of her prophecies. One day they will get married, and have a number of burbling, bouncing babies and Camelot will be peaceful and prosperous under their reign. It’s a pleasant thing to dream of.
Sometimes the prince gets himself into danger and more often than not Morgana has to prod and poke the laundry maid to save him. Guinevere is strong minded and tender hearted and impressing Morgana’s will onto her is not easy – but she’s amenable to subtle suggestion; Morgana murmuring softly to her in her dreams the knight with snakes in his shield is up to no good… he means to kill your lover…
He’s not my lover! Guinevere’s mind will protest, as Morgana presses the sentiment upon her regardless, and finds herself amused.
There is a man called Edwin – he will attempt to poison the prince – the girl Sophia intends to seduce and drown him –
Quiet hints and helpful prompts – all just enough for Gwen always to know, a little ahead of time, what she must do to save the man she will one day marry, and preserve Camelot’s future peace. Without ever knowing how she knows, of course. It pleases Morgana to help them so – she does it more for Guinevere and Arthur than out of real concern for the future of Camelot.
She thinks they deserve their happiness. Too few people have it these days.
“You say my name, sometimes,” Merlin begins, abruptly. “When you’re asleep. I hear you.”
“Are you spying on me as I sleep now, Merlin?” Morgana enquires, just a little mockingly.
“I wake up!” Merlin protests, “I often do – and sometimes when I’m lying awake in the dark I hear you and – and – sometimes you call my name.”
“How odd,” Morgana remarks, primly.
Merlin continues to eye her up – and, though she can see the tips of his ears beginning to flush pink, she knows what he desperately wants to ask. She has already had this conversation with him in her visions, several times, under various different circumstances. But the crux of it is always the same.
“What – what are you dreaming about? That makes you call my name like that?” He manages, after a moment.
Morgana decides that she is going to tease him. “Like what? How exactly do I call your name, Merlin?”
Merlin promptly goes the same colour he went when he kissed her in the forest the week before, and she knows exactly what she must sound like when she says his name in her sleep. She feels a certain amount of blood rush to her cheeks but refuses to look away from him. This is a test – they need to pass through this conversation, in some form or other, or not one of her dreams about him will ever come to pass.
And she still quietly has her heart set on that grey meadow in the rain.
“When you dream about me…” Merlin begins again, gaze fixed on the floor, “what are you – dreaming about?”
“I’m sure I don’t remember,” Morgana informs him, with an evasive smirk. She turns her head away, tugging distractedly at a lock of hair.
“Morgana…” He seems caught between embarrassed laughter and genuine frustration. “You – you can tell me…”
She glances up, meeting his gaze again as neutrally as she can manage. Her fingers twitch, her jaw clenches. She’s not sure she envisaged having this conversation quite yet – but then she didn’t see that he would kiss her last week so it stands to reason that she’s probably not as well-informed about how this is going to go as she had hoped she was.
It may be her turn to take a risk.
So she takes a deep breath and says a silent prayer to the Goddess because for all the things that she has lost in life she so desperately wants this – just this one thing – and gets up and goes and sits next to Merlin.
Then she gently slides an arm about his shoulders and lifts his chin. She can feel his magic skittering nervously just under his flesh – a reflexive, defensive reaction. He blinks at her and she can hear the way his heart is racing and his thoughts are rushing through his head all on top of each other so that he can barely think at all –
It takes a moment of quick, clumsy negotiation about who’s going to tip their head which way and who is going to come furthest to the other but – but – Morgana brushes her lips to his just as gently as a snowflake melts on wet rock, and he puts a shaky hand on her waist a moment later, and they are immediately, unobtainably lost.
His tongue feels soft and tentative, and she presses back against his mouth insistently, feels every instinct in his body turn to a bright, fierce desire as she combs her fingers through his hair.
When they come apart a few moments later they are still clinging to each other. She strokes his cheek as he lays his forehead on her shoulder, his fingers working into the wool of her tunic.
“I’m – ” he manages, and she giggles, softly.
“If you even attempt to apologise I will slap you into next week.”
Merlin gasps a quick, shaky laugh, and nods his head, nestling closer to her. “Okay.”
“Oh, by the Goddess, Merlin,” she kisses his cheek, exasperated. “You’re adorable.”
“No,” he corrects, mutedly, “I think you’ll find that I’m big and strong and terribly manly.”
Morgana laughs, and she feels him pressing his mouth to her neck – her collar bone. It feels good – and, a little off-puttingly, it feels incredibly familiar. That’s just the first time that he’s kissed her there but it’s a gesture she has already felt him repeat countless times in her visions.
She begins to stroke his hair, fingers playing gently at the nape of his neck.
They stay where they are for a long time – until Nimueh and Morgause arrive back, and it really is time to go to sleep.
On to chapter three.