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Down in the Deep (The Index of Refraction)

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They weren't the same, not then, no matter how much Merlin had wanted his words to be true. His magic came from within, a manifestation of his soul. Hers was imposed from without, a net to catch and torment. A gift can feel like a curse when it goes unacknowledged, but a curse can never be a gift. Not when the price is death, night after night until Freya thought her very breath must turn to blood.

Now her breath is water.

And they are still not the same.

Merlin is a creature of sun and wind, fire and lightning -- a dazzle of burnished gold to beat back the darkness. He is all motion, all change. He is alive.

Freya is dead. And the water of the lake holds her in its forgiving depths, where shadows grant her the illusion of freedom.

She laughs with Merlin where water meets air, hungry for the glimpses of her lost humanity that he gives her, unknowing how she values these scraps of everyday toil. Down in the deep, where she breathes water into his lungs and he transmutes it to air, she is silent. In the darkness, he tells her his secrets, all the hidden ugly things that burn out of him in the light of day, but gather strength in the guilty space between them.

Freya kisses them from his mouth, hungry for even this echo of life.

Here in the cool embrace of water, she twines into Merlin's arms like vapor giving herself to the mercy of the wind, like a current bending to the will of the sun. She slips her hands under his shirt, slides them down, down, down, until he gasps and forgets to breathe. Her lake rushes into his mouth, stopping his whispered words, but he does not drown. How could he?

She is the lady of the lake, the goddess foretold in druid lore, but he is the one who bound her.

He finds new breath as his own hands clutch at her skin, vanishing under the lace of her dress like a conjurer's trick. Remember when I told you I loved you because of who you let me be? he whispers, as he always does, as if his words are a condemnation.

Yes, Freya thinks as she sets her teeth in his lips, as she drinks his words like blood. Yes, and yes, and a thousand times yes. We make and remake each other, as the sun and wind lift mist into the air, and the storm brings water back to the sea.

Because they are not the same, but now her magic too is a reflection of her soul.

And in death as in life, a gift can never truly be a curse.