“You could get a cat?” Merlin suggests.
Gwen looks up from the handful of tissues she’s currently sniffling into and glares at him.
“Some best friend you are,” she mutters. “Lancelot’s just left me –”
“Again,” Merlin interjects.
“Again,” Gwen agrees, “and your solution is that I become a cat lady? I’m twenty-six!”
“I just said one cat,” Merlin pouts. “They’re excellent pets, great company.”
Gwen looks at him. He looks very earnest, and he always has been an animal lover, like Lancelot. It’s just possible that he genuinely thinks this is the most amazing idea ever, like a toddler who thinks their mum or dad will be delighted with a toy car.
Arthur nudges Merlin with his elbow.
“Or, you could advertise for a flatmate,” he suggests. “At least then you’ll be able to afford the rent.”
Trust Arthur to think in purely practical terms. Between the two of them, he and Merlin probably do alright together. This thought only reminds Gwen of the fact that she is alone, with nobody to be the other side of her coin, and she sobs into the wad of tissues once more. She can hear the scuffle going on from the other sofa as Merlin and Arthur bicker as silently as possible over how to cheer her up.
Then Merlin’s arm is around her, patting her consolingly on the shoulder.
“Arthur’s going to get ice-cream,” he tells her. “Chocolate chip,” he adds in a louder voice, for Arthur’s benefit.
One look at her bank statement is enough to persuade Gwen that Arthur is right. She needs a flatmate.
She gets several answers to her advertisement. Gwen turns down three blatant perverts, two chain smokers, one bagpipe player, and a girl in a Celine Dion t-shirt before settling on Morgana. Morgana appears sane at first glance, does not play any loud instruments or plan to put up any posters of Canadian pop stars in her house, and crucially pays the first month’s rent in advance in cash.
Gwen offers her a three month trial period on the spot.
When she has to rinse out Morgana’s dirty cups for the third morning in a row, Gwen starts to have some misgivings. There is hair down the plughole, wet towels on the bathroom floor and some kind of flimsy see-through underwear hanging from the shower curtain. Gwen doesn’t even try to fetch it down.
She wonders whether Morgana had a maid wherever she lived before.
“Morgana,” she tries, catching her on the way out of the kitchen with a cup of tea.
“Yes?” Morgana looks a little startled, as if surprised to be addressed by her. Gwen reminds herself to be assertive, even in the face of Morgana’s unexpectedly wide, bright eyes.
“I was just wondering if you wouldn’t mind helping a little bit with the housework.”
“Housework?” Morgana repeats, almost as though the shape of the word is new and strange on her lips.
“Yes. You know, washing, tidying, ironing, that sort of thing,” Gwen prompts.
“Ironing. Of course,” Morgana says, nodding seriously.
The next day Gwen comes home to find the hoover broken, the washing-up liquid bottle lying empty on the kitchen counter and the iron burning a hole in one of her shirts. Gwen hurriedly unplugs it and shakes the shirt out to see if it can be saved. The burn mark aside, it seems to be even more creased than it ever was before. Morgana appears, looking shifty, bandage wrapped around her hand.
“I don’t think I quite got the hang of ironing,” Morgana says quietly.
“No,” Gwen says. “I can see that.” It takes her half an hour to fix the mess Morgana has made attempting to do the housework before she can begin on the housework herself.
“How’s the new flatmate working out?” Arthur asks when she meets him and Merlin for coffee.
“A bit odd,” Gwen admits.
“You can learn to live with that,” Arthur says conspiratorially, “I have.”
“Hey!” Merlin protests, jabbing his boyfriend in the side with one bony finger. “Odd in what way?”
“Messy,” Gwen admits. “Doesn’t seem to understand the concept of housework.”
“Oh well,” Merlin says with a bit of a smirk, “you can learn to live with that. I have.”
Arthur returns his jab with interest.
“She doesn’t seem to leave her room much,” Gwen says. “Come to think of it, I don’t think she leaves the house much all day.”
“Does she work nights?” Merlin asks.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Sometimes I hear her at night, moving around the house. I’m not sure she works at all.”
“Well,” Merlin says, “she’s pale, doesn’t go out in the daytime, up all night, doesn’t eat…”
“My flatmate is not a vampire,” Gwen says firmly.
“Have you tried putting garlic in her tea?”
“Nobody drinks garlic in their tea, Merlin, that’s disgusting.”
“I’m just saying.”
She ends up going back to their house for pizza and a film. Merlin makes her watch Fright Night followed by Re-Animator.
“I hate you,” Gwen says as the credits roll. “You’re the worst gay best friend ever. Why couldn’t we watch a musical?”
For the next two nights Gwen is kept awake by noises in the flat. She blames Merlin and his stupid horror films about killer flatmates and vampire neighbours. But mostly she blames Morgana, since she’s the one actually making noises at – Gwen checks her phone – half past two in the morning. This is ridiculous, she decides, as she throws on a dressing gown. She’s got an early start in the morning. Even bagpipes would have been better than vampires. Not that Morgana is a vampire, of course, that would be ridiculous.
Morgana is in the kitchen, sweeping up some broken glass. She hasn’t even got anything on her feet, the daft mare, and Gwen is torn between annoyance at having her sleep broken yet again and concern.
“Here,” she says, crouching down to help. Morgana squeaks, as if she hadn’t noticed her come in. “Sorry, didn’t meant to startle – ow!” Gwen finds she’s cut her hand on one of the shards.
“Let me help,” Morgana says, taking her hand. Gwen freezes. It’s the middle of the night, there’s blood trickling over her hand and Morgana’s grip on her wrist is cold and tight. Her heart seizes. Is Morgana staring at the blood? This can’t be happening. Is she leaning in to lick it?
She squeezes her eyes shut tight as she feels something cold and wet on her hand. But when she opens them again a fraction of a second later she sees it’s only a piece of wet kitchen towel. Morgana smiles at her ruefully as she bathes the wound and hands Gwen a plaster.
“I’m so sorry,” she says, in that same slightly strained, very posh voice. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Don’t you ever sleep?” Gwen says, a little snidely, snatching the plaster and ripping off the plastic wrapper.
“Not much,” Morgana says sadly. Her eyes are wide again, like a puppy, or like the cat Merlin wanted her to get. It’s almost impossible to be cross with her, when she looks at her like that, Gwen decides.
Morgana pays the next month’s rent in cash again, and even takes to leaving Gwen a mug of tea in the mornings. Of course Gwen and Morgana’s definition of morning differs slightly, so it’s usually cold by the time Gwen has to get up for work and Morgana is snoring softly in her own room. She has seen her leave the house a couple of times, now, in broad daylight, so the vampire theory has been soundly disproved.
But there’s still something undeniably odd about her. How does she have so much cash when she doesn’t appear to have a job? Why does she have such trouble sleeping? If vampires are out of the question, then what?
“The mafia,” Merlin suggests. “Or the yakuza.”
“Arthur,” Gwen says, ignoring him, “I think it’s about time you cancel Merlin’s subscription to Netflix.”
“Cyber crime,” Merlin persists, following her into the kitchen. “She could be some kind of master hacker, breaking into bank accounts all over the world.”
Gwen pauses, hand half way to the bowl of Doritos. That is the most plausible theory yet. Morgana doesn’t really look like an evil criminal mastermind, but then again who does?
On the other hand, would a criminal mastermind really forget to take saucepans off the hob or leave the washing in the machine overnight?
“If she really was an international cyber-criminal,” Gwen says, taking a handful of crisps, “why would she be staying in my house?”
“Even master criminals must get lonely sometimes,” Merlin says.
“Of course there is one way you could solve the conundrum,” Arthur says, shaking his head at the two of them.
“Hire a private detective,” Merlin suggests. “Or set up a spy camera in –”
“You could always just ask her,” Arthur says.
It’s nearly midnight when Gwen gets home from Merlin and Arthur’s. Morgana is sitting up at the kitchen table, dark circles around her eyes.
“Can’t sleep again, huh?” Gwen says sympathetically. Morgana shakes her head mournfully. “I’ll make you some Ovaltine,” Gwen says, “it always helped my dad when he had trouble sleeping.”
For a time, the whistle of the kettle is the only sound. Gwen pours out two mugs full and sits at the table opposite Morgana. It occurs to her that it’s been nearly three months and they’ve barely spent any time in each other’s company. She wonders if Morgana really is lonely, and whether she has any other friends. Perhaps, if she’s not a vampire or a cyber-criminal or a Mafioso, Gwen should invite her along the next time she goes to Merlin and Arthurs for movie nights.
“So what is it keeping you awake?” she ventures. Even if it’s not nocturnal bloodlust or cooking up criminal schemes, it must be something. Morgana looks shifty and not inclined to answer, taking a long sip of her drink. Eventually she looks up, eyes softening.
“I have dreams,” she says with a sigh.
“Nightmares?” Gwen suggests gently.
“No. Well, sometimes. The thing is, Gwen, sometimes –” she breaks off, biting her lip. Gwen finds her eyes drawn irresistibly to the movement. Morgana grimaces and carries on, “Sometimes my dreams come true.”
“Your dreams. Come true.” Gwen echoes flatly.
“I suppose you could say I’m psychic,” Morgana says. “I can see things, things that haven’t happened yet.”
For all that she had vampires on the brain just the other week, this seems just a little too far-fetched. Gwen wonders whether Morgana knows, somehow, about her speculation with Merlin and is winding her up.
“Could you tell me Wednesday’s winning lottery numbers?” Gwen asks, sceptically.
The next morning, there is a yellow post it note with six numbers scribbled on it in handwriting which is simultaneously elegant and untidy, much like Morgana herself.
When the three months’ trial period is up, Gwen finds she can’t bring herself to kick Morgana out. It’s less the winning lottery numbers and ready cash, and more what she’s come to think of as Morgana’s puppy dog eyes. And possibly the way her hair curls softly around her shoulders.
Now that the whole psychic thing is out in the open and they’ve called a truce on the housework side of things, Gwen and Morgana have become friends. After months of wondering about it, Gwen finally gets to stroke Morgana’s hair. Or rather, brush it for her, when Morgana asks her to one evening. The difference is negligible.
“So, you live together,” Arthur says, with a sly look at Merlin, “you cuddle up together on the sofa and you braid each other’s hair?”
“I wouldn’t put it exactly like that,” Gwen huffs. “We shared a blanket once, when the heating broke down.”
“M-hmmm.” Merlin can barely keep from sniggering. Gwen glares at him.
“Nothing,” he says innocently.
“Is she still mad?” Arthur asks.
“I wouldn’t call it mad. More… eccentric. I’ve got used to it. It’s sort of charming, really.”
“Charming?” Arthur seems to be afflicted with a sudden coughing fit. “Right.”
“Hey, remember when I first met Arthur?” Merlin says.
“Yes. I thought you were going to kill each other. Until you seemed to have a sudden change of heart and started shagging each other’s brains out on every available surface. Gwaine had to move out. It was a very disturbing time.”
Merlin and Arthur, however, are giving each other misty eyed looks and Gwen starts to wonder whether the surfaces are safe, even now.
“We’re just so glad you’re feeling better, after Lancelot and everything,” Arthur says significantly.
“It’s not like that,” Gwen says.
When she gets home, Morgana is in a cropped vest and very short shorts, doing yoga on the lounge floor.
“Oh,” she says.
Okay, so it might be a bit like that.
She hates it when Arthur is right.
Distracted as she is by the very short shorts, Gwen doesn’t notice immediately the even more surprising revelation that there is actually space on the floor for Morgana to do yoga, which there most decidedly wasn’t yesterday.
“Did you tidy up?” she asks.
Morgana beams at her.
“I cooked, too,” she offers eagerly. “Just let me get changed and we’ll eat.”
Gwen bites her tongue to stop from saying that’s not necessary.
The food is delicious, and Morgana seems particularly animated. Yoga, it seems, is her newest method for trying to relax enough to get a dreamless sleep. Gwen is sympathetic, knowing it isn’t always lottery numbers and football wins, that sometimes Morgana sees horrible things, accidents and disasters, and is tormented by her inability to prevent them.
As they eat she can’t help wondering how Morgana achieved the sparkling look of the kitchen surfaces, or the fact that the carpet now looks beige again instead of the dusty grey it’s been since Morgana moved in. She wonder whether Morgana has magic powers that extend beyond dreams of the future, and if so why she hasn’t just used them before.
The mystery is cleared up when she finds the takeaway containers and the leaflet for the cleaning service in the kitchen, of course, but it’s the thought that counts.
“So what’s all this in aid of?” Gwen asks, as Morgana serves dessert.
“I just wanted to thank you for letting me stay. I know I’m not the easiest person to live with.”
“Stay as long as you want,” Gwen says. “Stay forever.” She busies herself scraping the bowl so she doesn’t have to deal with just how much she means that. Because she doesn’t know what she’s going to do if Morgana leaves, like Lancelot always did.
“I got a postcard today,” Merlin says.
“Oh. Where from?” Gwen asks. The cautious tone of his voice tells her she doesn’t need to ask who it’s from.
“Peru,” he says, a little apologetically.
“How’s he doing?”
“Busy saving the orang-utans, or whatever?”
“I don’t think they have orang-utans in Peru.”
“Bears, then. Lesser Spotted Guinea Pigs, I don’t know.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Do you know what, actually I am fine.”
She finds she means it. She has barely thought of Lancelot for weeks.
“Good,” Merlin chinks his coffee mug against hers in a toast.
“Morning Gwen,” Arthur says. “How’s the mad flatmate? Are you shagging yet?”
“No we are not,” Gwen says, her attempts at sounding severe belied by the guilty squeak in her voice as she remembers a particularly filthy dream she’d had just the night before.
“Thinking about it, though, aren’t you?” Arthur says smugly. “That’s lesbians for you,” he says, shaking his head, “move in first, shag later.” Merlin smacks him hard on the arm. “Ow,” Arthur says, rubbing the spot.
“We don’t all share your boundless enthusiasm for reckless exhibitionism, Arthur,” Gwen says. “Anyway, I don’t know if she is.”
“Gwen, you have terrible gaydar. You tried to snog me when we first met at uni,” Merlin reminds her.
“And you swore to never mention it again,” Gwen says pointedly, as Arthur smirks.
“Anyway, as far as she’s concerned, you’re the one still pining for an ex-boyfriend, right?”
“I’m not pining,” Gwen insists.
“Maybe you’d better show her that, then.”
Gwen decides the best way to exorcise the ghost of Lancelot and make Morgana want to stay forever is to paint what used to be the spare room and is now Morgana’s room. Morgana dons a pair of dungarees and the two of them spend Sunday afternoon in B&Q, dashing around with a trolley until they’re quite giddy. Morgana can’t make up her mind between purple haze, sunshine yellow and sky blue and ends up buying all three.
When she gets home from work on Monday, Morgana has already made a start. Gwen’s glad she had the presence of mind to leave old sheets to cover the furniture and the carpet, because there’s paint splattered everywhere. One wall is almost covered in bright yellow paint while the adjacent wall resembles a Jackson Pollock painting.
“I might just keep it like this,” Morgana says, “what do you think?” She wrinkles her nose, and Morgana notices there’s a smudge of purple on the tip of it.
“Adorable,” Gwen says, without thinking. Something shifts in Morgana’s expression, her eyes narrowing in something like satisfaction. “You’ve got, um,” Gwen reaches up to swipe the paint away from Morgana’s nose, but Morgana catches her hand and presses her lips to the inside of her wrist. Gwen’s reminded again of the time she half believed Morgana might be a vampire, as her tongue flickers over her pulse point.
“Oh,” Gwen says. “Really?”
Morgana pulls her into a kiss, nudging her nose against Gwen’s cheek and smearing purple paint all over her skin. Gwen laughs, breathless.
“Oh, I’ve got paint on your blouse,” Morgana says when they pull back, not looking in the slightest bit regretful. “I suppose I’ll just have to…” She reaches for the top button, one eyebrow arched as she rolls the button between her fingers. Gwen thinks about her doing something similar without the barrier of clothes and swallows hard.
“Oh,” she says again. “Yes. Please.”
Half an hour later, Gwen’s covered in paint and bite marks and finds herself reassessing whether her flatmate might just be a vampire after all.
“You sound post-coital,” Arthur says, when Gwen phones him later.
“I don’t want to know how you could possibly tell,” Gwen replies, mortified.
“I suppose you’re phoning to tell me I was right.”
“You are an unbearably smug human being,” Gwen tells him. “I’m calling to tell you I’m bringing a plus one to movie night. Tell Merlin she does not under any circumstances want to watch The Evil Dead trilogy.”
“Also I can’t believe he suggested I get a cat. A flatmate has so many more advantages.”
“I’ve always thought so,” Arthur agrees, sounding worryingly post-coital himself.
“I just thought you should know,” Morgana says later that night, as they lie tangled up in the sheets. “I had a dream last night. About us. We were old and grey and we were happy. So, you know, you can believe me when I say I’m not going anywhere.”
Gwen smiles and snuggles closer to her. Morgana purrs contentedly.