This time, Merlin waits in an alcove to pull Morgana in.
She doesn't look surprised, arching her eyebrows at him, the beginnings of that infuriating smirk beginning to play on her face. "Something you want to say to me, Merlin?"
Merlin is smiling just a little, half-disbelieving. He has been since Uther announced Morgana as their "savior" in the throne room – when Merlin couldn't take his eyes off her – because like so many of the things that happen in his life, this seems too ironic to be real.
But it is.
"I am going to stop you," he vows softly. "No matter what it takes."
Her eyes flicker with anger. Now she looks haughty and determined, like – well, like Morgana's always been, ready to face a challenge just because it's there. "You presume so much," she says, her voice growing cool rather than teasing. "I have the king's favor, and there's nothing you can do about that. You, Merlin, are entirely at my mercy."
Merlin plans to say something to that, he really does – but for some absurd reason, his mouth goes dry at the sound of Morgana's lips pronouncing mercy as if it's something filthy – insidious, perilous, yet still somehow still desirable.
He stares at her, unable to say anything, and slowly the corners of her mouth lift again. She gives him a considering look before pulling her arm easily away from his grasp and sliding away. It's not fair, Merlin thinks, that after defeating her last night, after making such threats, after looming over her with all his certainty in his eyes, he should find it so hard to catch his breath, yet again.
He spends the rest of the day at Arthur's side, picking up after the city, only able to use his magic to help when no one else is looking. But for once, Arthur has the harder job – visiting the townspeople who lost loved ones or houses in the needless battle, paying his condolences and promising that things will get better. That he, Arthur, Crown Prince of Camelot, will make them better.
"You will," Merlin reassures him when he returns from another bereaved family, looking as if he felt that the promises were lies even as he said them.
The look Arthur gives him is so bleak that Merlin's heart aches, burning for Arthur to trust in both of them, and knowing that he doesn't.
Merlin's completely exhausted by the time he returns to Gaius' rooms that evening, neither of them speaking much as they pick at their dinner. Merlin is just about ready to excuse himself and go to bed when a servant comes in to tell him that the Lady Morgana has summoned him to her chambers.
He exchanges a glance with Gaius, who looks about as worried as Merlin feels. But the servant – George, Merlin thinks his name is – is waiting expectantly, and Merlin can't even argue about the impropriety of it when Morgana's the darling and hero of the court, and anyone is willing to overlook her indiscretions right now.
He makes his way slowly down to Morgana's chambers and knocks softly on the door. "Come in," she calls, and he pushes the door open and walks inside.
Merlin stops short at the sight of Morgana, stretched out on her bed wearing nothing at all but a wicked smile on her face.
"Ah, Merlin," she says, and waves a careless hand, her eyes flaring gold for a brief moment. Merlin hears a thud and knows that she's set the bolt on the door, and his stomach drops. She crooks a finger at him, imperious, and somehow he finds himself walking towards the bed, his feet moving without his brain giving them any known order.
She looks him up and down languorously. "You know," she says, her voice husky, "today, in the throne room, when you were watching me – smiling as if you actually have a chance of stopping anything I might care to do – all I could think of was that it's a shame, because your pretty mouth could be used for such better things."
There are so many things Merlin wants to say to that – to argue that hey, he's thwarted her before, he can certainly do it again. Or to refuse, protect himself – he could absolutely try to leave, even use his magic should he need to, because he knows that he's more powerful that she is.
But everything he's done – everything he's regretted – it seems like such a folly to give up his secrets now merely to keep from debasing himself. And Morgana's legs have fallen open, and Merlin can't keep his eyes away from them, swallowing hard.
"On the bed," she tells him. Merlin moves as if an automaton, toeing his boots off and crawling on to the bed, then nestling into the space between her legs. "Put your hands behind your back," she continues, and he stares at her, hoping his gaze is defiant, but obeying anyway.
Her smile grows wider. "Good boy. Let's see if those rumors about country boys are true, shall we? I want you to use your mouth, and nothing else." And she lifts one leg to hook around his neck, drawing him in.
It feels like hours that he's there, hours of licking and sucking and tasting her, and growing achingly hard despite himself, until he brings her off with a long, breathy moan that goes straight to his cock. But regardless of the time, Gaius is still waiting up for him when he stumbles back in. Merlin can't meet his eyes.
For a moment neither of them say anything. "Oh, my boy," Gaius says finally, and Merlin flushes at the break in his voice.
"G'night," is all he says before shutting himself in his room to wank furiously, one hand on his dick and the other a fist in his mouth, biting hard to keep from thinking about how good this feels.
She calls for him the next night as well. And the next. And the next after that.
They start to meet in one of the empty guest chambers to not get caught, but the only other constant is Morgana being in control. Sometimes she lets him touch her more freely, hands moving up to squeeze her breasts and tongue flicking at her nipples. Sometimes she lets him get off. Sometimes she's even the one doing everything, making Merlin lie back and take it, whatever she chooses to do.
The only time he almost protests is the first time she tells him to fuck her.
She laughs harshly as he stumbles over his words. "Oh, so you have no qualms about killing me, but you're afraid of getting me with child? Such a gentleman."
Merlin flushes at that because – he'd forgotten, briefly, what they were doing here. Forgotten that he wasn't supposed to want or enjoy this, that the Morgana beneath him is not the same woman he'd admired when he first came to Camelot, not even the one he'd jerked off to after knowing her a few months, when the prospect of picturing another face felt too hopeless. This is not even the Morgana who choked in his arms at tears streamed down his face; this is Morgana a year later and a year darker.
He keeps repeating these things, but it's hard to keep listening even to himself.
"You needn't worry," Morgana continues, her voice disdainful. "As you very well know, I can take care of myself." She doesn't elaborate, but Merlin's can feel the magic on the surface of her skin, and it's hard to keep his own from reaching out to meet her.
The nights weigh on him even during the day, he knows, and Morgana too, sleepy-eyed and tired no matter how hard they try to hide it.
"I think Morgana's having trouble sleeping again," says Gwen.
"I can't believe this is even possible, but you look worse than usual, Merlin," says Arthur.
Gaius doesn't say very much at all.
The hardest part, though, is not reacting the wrong way to anything Morgana says or does in front of other people. Now that he has two entirely different secrets to keep – a thousand, more like – it's confusing as hell, and he worries constantly that he will slip up and reveal one or all of them just one false look or word.
Mostly he just watches her and tries to stay silent, because it's no use even attempting anything else when Uther or Arthur are around. Gwen, he's not so sure about – Merlin thinks that she suspects something, or at the very least, worries about Morgana more than she ever has before. But that's where the other plethora of secrets stop him up, and he's alone with his thoughts again.
It does give him the chance to watch Morgana in moments when she's unaware of his gaze. He watches as she smiles to herself secretly, and tries to ignore how that curve of her lips now makes lust flare up unwillingly in his stomach. He watches as she looks at Gwen with just the smallest tinge of longing and misery, mostly hidden but not all, and tries not to think of the old Morgana. He watches as she argues with Arthur, and tries not to feel hopeful at the flickers of surprise and doubt he sees in her expression when Arthur says something too good or too right for her expectations.
All he can do right now is watch, and fuck, and pleasure her, and not think about it as hard as he fucking can.
The next time she tries to kill Uther, Merlin barely manages to keep his magic secret when he stops her. He's pretty sure she's too smart to believe another convenient rock-induced concussion, so it's just luck when she looks away long enough for him to cast a spell from where he's hiding behind a pillar.
Of course, she manages to explain it away and come out the hero in the end anyway, but this time when Uther is singing her praises to the court, she gives Merlin a speculative look that makes him shiver.
That night Morgana binds him magically to the bed, hands above his head and body splayed out for her like a prize, and she rides him, starting out slow and infuriating, barely moving her hips, skating her fingers over his body in a way that makes him shiver and moan and try to buck up but failing entirely against the constraints. She sets up a rhythm sliding up and down his cock, still unhurried and deliberate, still too slow, and for the first time Merlin is tempted to use his magic to stop this – no, not stop it, take control, to try not to be at her mercy while he falls apart beneath her. The shifting of her weight on him is surprisingly arousing in a way that he never would have imagined, and when he growls a little she reaches out to pinch a nipple, hard, and the rough sound turns into a whine in his throat. He feels like he's going mad at the waiting and the helplessness of this, and it's just getting to be too much when Morgana's breath hitches and she makes an incoherent sound –
- and then suddenly she's moving, yes, fucking herself faster on his cock, hands braced on either side of his body and leaning forward to hit some angle previously unexplored, so deliciously wet. Merlin groans and struggles against his bonds, trying still to move with her, but now that she's riding him with abandon there's something almost…exciting about being, well, at her mercy. It's terrifying and infuriating and so fucking hot, and the wash of shame that runs though him doesn't feel all that different from desire anymore.
Finally she shudders around his cock, clenching so tight and hot that Merlin comes almost immediately after her, one of them crying out or maybe both, Merlin can't quite tell, and collapsing together.
They lay there for a few minutes, Merlin waiting for the stars to clear from his vision. When he opens his eyes again he looks up at Morgana. She hasn't moved, leaning over him with her head slightly bowed, panting, her hair flung out wild and beautiful, leaving feather-soft touches on his skin. Merlin is still breathing hard as well, her weight still pressing down on him, his cock softening inside her.
And then she tilts her head up and meets his gaze, and Merlin has no idea what to make of the expression in her eyes. Truly, he has no idea what he's feeling either because it's not revulsion, or lust, or suspicion – it's something else entirely. And she's so beautiful – she's the most beautiful woman Merlin's ever known, of course, but even more like this, when he can't see her anger or motives on her face no matter how hard he looks, just…Morgana.
Before he quite knows what he's doing Merlin leans up, in the space of a breath, to press his mouth to hers.
It's barely a kiss, soft and dry, and for a moment she doesn't react. Merlin strains against the forces keeping him tied down to stretch up a little higher, deepening the kiss and making it just a little wetter – and then, her lips part just the tiniest bit.
They stay like that for a startled moment, softly breathing the same air – and then suddenly she's climbing off him, brushing her hair away from her face, her expression shadowed.
He watches from the bed as she puts her dress back on silently, and Morgana throws him one last unreadable glance before she leaves him alone in the room, still out of breath and bound magically to the bed, and more than a little stunned.
Morgana doesn't seem at all surprised to see him by Arthur's side in the morning – she must know that he wasn't caught last night because in the off-chance that a servant were ever caught naked and bound magically to a bed in a noble's room, the Camelot rumor mill certainly wouldn't leave it alone. But despite the fact that she must suspect something about his powers, she only gives him a measuring look from across her seat at Uther's side, then turns her attention back to the matters of the court and doesn't look at him again.
She stops calling for him after that.
Merlin should be relieved, he knows, going out of his way to avoid her even in his daily routine, but no matter how he tries, he finds himself tossing and turning in his bed each night, something clawing inside of him that he can't get out.
And then –
And then comes the day when Morgana saves Arthur's life.
Afterwards, when the immediate shock of the battle has worn away, after Gaius has attended to Merlin's few wounds with his usual diligent care, he has to leave the workshop because the memory of Morgana standing in front of Arthur's unconscious body, sword in hand and skirts swirling around her feet, slashing furiously at the attackers, is replaying over and over in Merlin's head.
His feet are taking him towards Morgana's chambers, and it's fine, because Merlin knows for a fact that Gwen has gone to Arthur so there will be no one else there. And even that, even the thought of Arthur coming so close to death yet again doesn't make Merlin want to change directions because he knows, somehow, that Arthur's alright, and that everything inside him is burning for someone in a way that it never has for Arthur.
Merlin pounds on the door and yet is somehow still surprised when it opens, and Morgana is right in front of him, shocked, her face still white and drawn from the burdens of the day. It occurs to Merlin that this is the first – only – time he's ever come to her.
They stare at each other for an agonizing moment, everything flashing again in Merlin's mind – the lies and the threats, the nights of fury and passion, the inescapable fact that when it came down to it, Morgana loved Arthur more than she loved her vengeance. He has no idea what she's thinking, as usual, except that there's a vulnerable look in her eyes he hasn't seen for ages, and also something like relief – or pleasure –at seeing Merlin standing there in her doorway.
He doesn't know who moves first. But suddenly his mouth is on hers and they're kissing furiously, Morgana's hands bunched in his shirt and tugging him down towards her, desperate and urgent.
They stumble back into the room and Merlin manages to kick the door closed behind him before he has his arms around Morgana, holding her close. He can't get enough of her mouth, fresh and surprisingly sweet, and everything is a strange mix of shiny-new and shockingly familiar as they learn each others' bodies again, differently.
Morgana makes an impatient sound and then her hands are running up his chest, pushing off his shirt until he's forced to let her go long enough to pull it over his head. She hums with approval and draws him back into the kiss again. One of her hands rakes through his hair and the other winds around his neck, pulling him closer, and Merlin is almost content to stay there, just kissing the daylights out of each other until they're completely out of breath.
But her waist is pressed flush against Merlin's cock, the friction through their layers almost too much to bear, and Merlin wants to take everything he can out of this moment, everything he's been wanting and coming on the brink of having for weeks, and he groans a little.
He begins scrabbling at the ties of the dirt-hemmed gown Morgana still hasn't changed out of. She breaks off to give him a look and he murmurs, "I want to see you," and, "It's only fair," which surprises a laugh out of her, genuine and so natural that Merlin has to kiss her again before trying to get on with his task. She's having none of it, though, refusing to let go of him long enough to help undo the lacings, and Merlin makes a frustrated noise.
He's not entirely sure what he's done until suddenly, Morgana's dress is gone entirely, almost as if it were never there, and Morgana is looking at him wide-eyed. He can feel the sparks of his magic and he knows, somehow, that it was not completely instinctive – that he'd been waiting for the opportunity to show Morgana what he could do.
"Er," says Merlin, as her grip tightens on the nape of his neck.
But she says nothing expect to exhale, "Merlin,", and he can't tell if the tone of her voice is angry, or resigned, or even satisfied. It's none of those things but possibly a little of all of them, and a hundred meanings more, and instead of figure it out all he can do is taste her mouth again and let her lead him back towards her bed.
"This doesn't change anything," Morgana says, afterwards.
Merlin's pressing little kisses into the hollow of her neck, lazy and warm in the afterglow, just enjoying the feel of his lips on her skin. He stills for a moment at her words. They don't sound terribly convincing.
"Right," he agrees anyway, lifting his head to say something entirely different with his eyes before he drops another kiss on her mouth.
In truth, Merlin has no idea what it does or does not change. They're still the people they've been for the past year – enemies, or something like – at completely different purposes right now. And they've both hurt each other too much for one day, one night to make all the difference. But the prospect of considering either the past or the future right now seems impossible and somehow wrong, and all he can do is live in this moment.
It's terrifying, the uncertainty. But terror is something he's almost become accustomed to when it comes to Morgana.
She's wrong, though, because at least one thing changes that night itself: they lie there silently, wrapped around each other, until the sun peeks over the horizon.