Pairing: Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen, Morgause/Nimueh
Summary: What would have happened in S1, had Nimueh raised Morgause, Morgana and Merlin; in which Morgana considers matrimony and Arthur has already decided that he is going to marry his laundry maid.
Note: This is the final part, folks! I'm very grateful to all of those who have read it all and especially grateful for all the kind comments I've receieved. Fragile-ego possessing writer that I am it's always reassuring to hear from people who've enjoyed reading - it means a lot, you guys, so thanks!
The Lives That Weren't
They sleep all around Nimueh, her bed pulled wide with magic to accommodate them all; Morgause on one side of her, Mordred, Morgana and Merlin the other. The day is beginning to dawn and Morgana is still awake, mind whirling, even as her body deadens, the strength entirely sapped from it by the effort of holding the dragon still earlier.
Mordred is sound asleep against her chest, Merlin’s mind drowning in soft dreams at her back, and Nimueh has drifted into a fitful slumber at last – only Morgause continues to linger in wakefulness. Morgana can feel her watchful presence across the bodies between them, alert.
Morgause? She speaks into Morgause’s head, not wanting to rouse the others, and feel’s Morgause respond with an ascent to her consciousness and willingness to answer a question.
Merlin is beginning to snore into the nape of Morgana’s neck – she finds herself amused by the sensation.
Why don’t you marry Nimueh?
A ripple of bemusement – amused, confused, sleepy affection. What?
You could – if you love her – there’s nothing that says two women couldn’t…
She feels something in her sister flush with self-consciousness about the issue and realises, abruptly, that she has never had a frank discussion with Morgause about her romantic life. It’s always gone respectfully unsaid. It’s only because so much has happened, and she’s so tired, that she’s abandoned the old notion that it’s not for her to bring up. She flounders a moment, unsure of how to proceed – then decides that it’s best to push forward, having come this far. It’s not as if she means anything but to be supportive.
You could, she insists, you could marry her –
I’m – not sure that she would want to…
Of course she’d want to! She loves you!
She feels her sister’s hesitation. Why… is it important?
It’s not – important – just…it might be nice…Morgana struggles again, now as wrong-footed as Morgause apparently is. She’s tired! She doesn’t know why she suggested marriage either! I – didn’t mean anything by it, Morgause, forgive me…
I think…Morgause’s thoughts have begun to soften with her exhaustion, that we are already married. I think we have been married for years…
And she sounds so satisfied with this conclusion that Morgana decides that there is nothing more to say.
But perhaps it’s that fragment of sleep-ridden conversation that plants something in her over the next few days. Perhaps watching Morgause tend to Nimueh with a new awareness, brightened by the idea that she is watching not just her sister and her mentor but – really – a marriage. A couple. A union; two souls pressed together with a delicacy and an intimacy she is beginning to think that she understands (when she thinks about Merlin, she understands).
The blisters in Nimueh’s mouth and gullet make it almost impossible for her to talk, let alone swallow food – she barely manages water for a few days – and it is Morgause who sits with her and spoon-feeds her thimblefuls of tepid liquid.
Morgana and Merlin are left to run the household between them, and they do so with relative ease. Merlin keeps the kitchen scrupulously clean and prepares all their meals. Morgana ventures out for supplies – gathers firewood, hunts (an activity which Merlin has never had the stomach for), collects the herbs and roots that keep their medicine cabinet so well-stocked. They divide Mordred’s care between them, trying to make sure that the boy gets enough exercise to keep him quiet and untroublesome, eats well, and continues to study.
“Would you want more of them?” Merlin asks, abruptly, as they are supervising Mordred from afar – the boy exploring the rocks in the middle of a stream, his guardians sitting upon a fallen tree a few yards from the bank.
“More,” Merlin nods at Mordred, “more – children – would you want more? One day?”
Morgana shrugs, feeling the weight of the question heating her face, “one day. Maybe. It – might be nice to… have one from infancy…”
“Yes,” Merlin swallows though he looks pleased (if hesitantly so), “yes it might be – nice. An infant. A baby.”
Another silence – the soft chatter of the stream, and Mordred turning over rocks.
Merlin clears his throat. “…when, exactly? Um – might you want – ”
“Well – Mordred needs,” Morgana glances away uncertainly, “a great deal of attention and – I… mean we wouldn’t want to unsettle him and… he – he would need to be older – much older – maybe not until he’s grown – properly – eighteen; twenty – even – ”
“Oh, yes,” Merlin nods, hastily, flushing and awkward, “I mean, obviously I wasn’t trying to say we – we – we should – now – I mean – ”
“Do you want to marry me, Merlin?” Morgana cuts him off, reaching to clasp his wrist although she still can’t quite make herself look at him.
She feels the air between them tighten at the question, because they have never before had a conversation so explicit about their intentions towards one another. Though it has never crossed her mind that things between them should sputter and fail within the immediate future (though she knows she will lose him – she will lose him one day – that day is far, far away still and she refuses to contemplate it); it’s still hard to be sure.
He lifts her chin, though, cocks his head to meet her gaze, then says, softly, “yes – very much.”
Which is enough, for now.
In two months, as Nimueh is close to a full recovery, (though she still tires easily and is only just now beginning to manage solid food after several weeks surviving on cold soup), Morgana approaches her in the kitchen, drawing Merlin in behind her.
“Nimueh,” she begins, and Nimueh, seated at the table with a stack of books from which she is copying notes, glances up, and leans back in her chair, expectantly.
“We were wondering,” Merlin adds, trailing his knuckles against Morgana’s open palm, “if you would…”
“Would you marry us?” The last part comes out in a rush, Morgana anxious to see the request over so that they might hear the response.
Nimueh’s mouth quirks, her eyes lighting briefly with amusement. “That’s very flattering, Morgana, but I don’t think your bed will accommodate myself alongside the pair of you and Mordred.”
The joke is almost a relief – Morgana colours. “Nimueh…”
Nimueh spreads her hands, smile still tender, though her eyes grow a little more serious. “I can conduct such a ceremony, if that is truly what you want for yourselves. But you must wait a year and a day from today – that’s the rule and… frankly, it’s sensible. I have no doubt that you adore each other but you are both very young and you have not been romantically involved for particularly long, no matter that you’ve known each other most of your lives. You must be sure that this is what you want.”
“It – it is,” Merlin takes Morgana’s hand, abruptly, as if to cement the statement, “it’s what we want.”
“Good,” Nimueh says, mildly, “that’s terribly romantic of you. I trust you’re regularly sexually active? It’s important, you know – in determining compatibility – not, if you are having difficulties in that department, that you should feel disheartened – practice always helps.”
She smiles, roguishly, and gets up from the table to busy herself at the cooking fire before either of her young charges can blush the flesh from their faces, sputtering their embarrassment.
Though, as Morgana later points out, whilst undressing Merlin under a waterfall (their newest favourite place to steal time together), they do now essentially have permission to ‘practice’ whenever they want.
“It’s important,” she tells Merlin, “for the continued strengthening of our relationship and future marital life.”
“Yes,” Merlin agrees, trapping the word against her collarbone, “important. Very.”
“You know that there are rumours that the prince is trying to talk Uther into repealing the magic ban?” Morgause tells Nimueh, over lunch one morning – Morgana and Merlin are off somewhere, and Mordred is at the table, studying. “There’s talk of it in all the boarder villages.”
Nimueh snorts, “wont happen.”
“Good of the boy to try, though.”
“He’ll be a great king.”
That Arthur is happy is something of an understatement.
His life is all on its head – his shoulder constantly throbs and he is tired a great deal, for as it turns out coming as close to death as he did is not something one bounces back from particularly quickly. He cannot perform drills and he spends too much time in bed. He argues with his father constantly. He spends too much time in court. He can’t go hunting or even walk about the town.
He ought to be miserable.
But instead he’s riding on bubbles of soap-clean contentment; thinking about his mother, and about what kind of king he wants to be.
And yes it perhaps has a little to do with his laundry maid, who still comes in every morning, to change his sheets, collect his clothes from the night before and deliver fresh ones.
She kisses him, now – hello and goodbye, every time she enters his chambers. She’s talking to him again, properly, and laughing at his clumsy attempts to be suave and amusing, and wrapping her arms about him. She gets a look in her eyes, sometimes, when she’s lingering in the court to hear him argue with his father. Arthur suspects she rather likes it when he gets all blustery and worked up. Something about it appeals to her.
She tells him it just makes him sound so noble and opinionated, although she usually follows such a statement up with some gentle reprimand about the current state of his socks, as if to stop him growing too full of himself.
Arthur has decided that he is going to marry her.
Maybe not soon. Maybe not whilst his father is alive (since he is quite certain that the declaration that, on top of now almost openly opposing his father’s views on magic, he intends to marry a laundry maid, would cause his father to spontaneously combust with rage). But one day, he is certain, he will manage it.
This certainty fills him with an odd tranquillity which he finds mirrored in Gwen, who will not tell him why she suddenly seems so certain of the stability of their relationship. He thinks it may be something one of the priestesses said to her whilst they were present, and thinks distractedly that Nimueh ought to be invited to the wedding. She did not only create his life but preserve it quite recently as well, after all – it seems only proper.
So Arthur is quite happy. And Gwen, who sometimes (very, very occasionally, if he has managed to be exceptionally charming) will lie down next to him on his bed in the mornings, is happy too – and tells him so. Just before she takes his hand and tells him what a terrible state his socks are in.