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Fly Away, Little Bird

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~Five Years Old~

Arthur doesn’t like her.

He doesn’t like her at all.

She takes up all of his father’s attention, and she cries a lot. She misses her mother and her father and Arthur sometimes tries to tell her he misses his mother too, but she only shouts at him to go away.

Arthur wants to shout back, and he does, but that only makes her cry more and it makes Arthur’s chest feel heavy like it does when he’s playing with his hound, Ailred, and he sits on him. He feels crushed and it makes him want to cry too.

But Arthur is five, and a prince, and five year old princes do not cry.

Arthur doesn’t like her at all.

 

~Seven Years Old~

The storm rages outside his window and Arthur scrambles from his bed. There is a secret passage between his room and Morgana’s and he runs toward it. Even though it is dark and scary inside he knows Morgana is at the end of it.

When he crawls into bed beside her she wakes and holds his hand as she tells him stories about fairies and goblins and a wizard who will one day save Camelot.

Her stories thrill Arthur, filled as they are with magical, forbidden things, but the shivers that run down his spine delight him instead of frighten him.

Morgana can always chase the storms away.

And she never makes him feel ashamed.

 

~Eight Years Old~

Morgana is the best at stealing tarts from Cook. She’s like a ghost and Arthur watches in awe from the doorway as she slips inside the kitchen and shoves tarts down the front of her dress, one after another.

Arthur tells her she’s like a little bird swooping in and whisking away crumbs of food, too quickly to be seen, and it makes Morgana laugh when he starts calling her Birdie.

They always eat so much they get sick from the sweetness.

But it doesn’t stop them from doing it again.

 

~Ten Years Old~

Arthur pretends to be outraged whenever Morgana beats him on horseback, which is always, but secretly he feels proud. Proud of her, and proud of himself, because he’s the one who taught her to ride like a man when Uther insisted she ride like a lady.

Uther doesn’t know her like Arthur does.

Uther thinks he can control her; make her meek and mild.

Arthur knows she is fierce and wild, and that no one will ever control her unless she wants them to do so.

Arthur knows Morgana, just as she knows him.

They are of the same mind, and the same heart.

 

~Thirteen Years Old~

Arthur keeps hearing rumblings of matches and weddings and it makes a fury grow inside him he didn’t know was there.

Morgana has nearly grown into her beauty, and Arthur finds it almost unbearable at times.

Her face is almost that of a woman, now, and her breasts, small and perfect, make him think thoughts that make him burn as if with a fever.

And Morgana is careless of it. She still leaps into ponds in nothing but her white linen shift and when she emerges she could just as well be naked. It embarrasses and thrills Arthur in equal measure, and he thinks, sometimes, that she does it on purpose, that she knows exactly what she’s doing.

When he huffs, Put some clothes on, Birdie, she always laughs, loud and clear and beautiful.

 

~Fourteen Years Old~

The rumblings of a year ago have turned into actual negotiations.

Morgana screams at Uther and Arthur becomes silent, sullen.

She runs away on the day she makes such an unholy scene that the delegates leave in horror, a marriage contract left abandoned in their retreat.

Uther is livid.

Arthur is euphoric.

And he knows exactly where to find her, because she doesn’t run away so much as she runs to their place, to their pond.

He finds her knelt in the tall grasses at the pond’s north side. He kneels down in front of her and smiles.

You’ve done it now, Birdie.

She smiles back, and it is blinding.

I belong to no one.

And you never will.

Her hair is blowing around her and her beauty makes Arthur feel light-headed.

I may, one day. She says quietly. If there were such a man who knew he belonged to me as much as I belonged to him.

Something crackles in Arthur’s chest; alive and aflame.

You and he would belong to each other.

As if we were always meant to find one another.

Morgana presses her lips to his then, and all of Arthur’s doubt settles into knowledge. They belong to one another as surely as the moon belongs to the night sky, and the sun to the daylight.

When he unlaces her bodice, touches her breasts for the first time he becomes harder than he’s ever been.

And possessive. No one will ever touch her like this, no one but him.

Her nipples harden, peak like raspberries, and he can’t stop himself from taking them into his mouth, from tasting them. Morgana’s gasp sends heat shooting through him.

Of course they still argue, as they always do, when Morgana laughs at him after he undoes the laces of his breeches and she sees him for the first time.

It’s so small.

It grows larger.

Arthur is red-faced and angry.

How? With magic?

He’s about to say something more, but she takes him in hand and he forgets all thoughts. She teases him more, but as he starts to grow in her hand she becomes fascinated. When he releases his seed all over her hand in an embarrassing display of quickness a look comes over her face: pride mixed with power, and Arthur knows he will forever belong to her, even if she never fully belongs to him.

Because he knows her.

He knows that even though she says she could one day belong to another, he also knows that it will never be entirely. Not as entirely as he belongs to her. And it isn’t willfulness on her part--he knows, too, that she would, and will, give him everything--it’s simply who she is. There will always be a small part of her that is hers alone. She will try to let it go into Arthur’s hands, but it is stubborn and dark and will never let go no matter how hard she tries.

But none of that matters to Arthur, because she will give him all the best parts of herself, and those will be enough.

 

~Sixteen Years Old~

She bucks and writhes on the bed, bursts around his mouth. Her hands grasp at his hair and the inside of her thighs brush along the sides of his face as she pushes down against the bed and up into him until he can touch, smell, taste nothing but her.

He knows she will soon pull him up on top of her, take him inside her body, as hungry and ferocious as she always is at first.

Later they will be slow, quiet, as they fade into each other.

 

~Nineteen Years Old~

Sometimes he hates how she and Merlin join forces against him, how they laugh and tease at his expense, but then they smile at him and he can’t help but do the same in return.

She thinks it’s sweet he has a friend, one who won’t give into him or grovel at his feet. He tells her Merlin is his servant, not his friend. She only looks at him knowingly, or glances at Gwen if she is in the room with them.

See, she says without saying, a servant and a friend.

Arthur doesn’t give in to her only to be stubborn, because secretly, in his heart, he knows she’s right.

Merlin is his friend.

And that is something dear.

 

~Twenty Years Old~

When the four of them leave the confines of Camelot it’s like a weight is lifted. Morgana laughs louder, longer. Merlin and Gwen share more, hold back less.

It feels like it’s the four of them against the world.

When Arthur was small he knew only that family meant his father, now, at twenty, he is happy to know that family means those you love and who love you in return.

At night Morgana sleeps curled up beside him, head on his shoulder, not worried about getting up in the morning and sneaking back to her bed before anyone else arises. Not that it matters since most days Merlin or Gwen are the ones to wake them, willing participants in their conspiracy.

Sometimes Arthur worries when it will all come crashing down around them. He wonders when Uther will finally insist Morgana marry and leave Camelot. He doesn’t want to disobey his father, nor go against his wishes, but he will for Morgana. Although he often thinks he won’t have to because when he voices his worries to Morgana her face becomes hard, determined, absolute.

No one will ever take you from me.

Arthur never corrects her, never tells her it is the other way around.

 

~Twenty-three Years Old~

When Arthur used to worry in the past he never dreamed it would come to this.

He longs for the days when he only had to worry about a marriage contract stealing Morgana away from him.

He longs for the days before she started to pull away from him, unwillingly it felt to him, pulled by a magic Arthur couldn’t fight, but fading away just the same.

He longs most of all for the days when they were still lovers instead of siblings; damaged and unclean.

 

~Twenty-five Years Old~

Uther is dead, and so they fight for the throne.

Morgana is only a ghost of herself, so faded and far away he can hardly see her.

When they battle they are equally matched. Arthur taught her everything she knows, after all, and she knows exactly where to strike. But in the middle of it there is a moment when he gets the upperhand, when he grabs her and pulls her close.

When he says, This can all go away. Just stop and let us go back.

Her laugh is brittle and unkind, but she is crying, uncontrollably, and her tears are full of sorrow and pain and longing.

We can never go back.

Arthur presses his forehead to hers and insists, it’s possible, they’re neither one too far gone. His words only make her sob harder, and when she kisses him, long and deep, her taste--the one he believed he would always remember, the taste that would be on his lips as he died--was mixed with her tears turning it into something unknown.

I have failed you, my love. I’m sorry, I’m too far gone. There’s no going back for me.

Arthur kisses her one last time, grips her to his chest so tightly he’s certain she can no longer breathe.

You’re never too far from me that I cannot find you, little bird.

She disappears then, in a burst of ashes and broken sobs.

 

~Twenty-Eight Years Old~

When his time comes Arthur isn’t surprised it’s Mordred’s blade that pierces him instead of Morgana’s. For all of her fierceness and strength she would never have the power to lift a blade to Arthur’s heart. She would never be strong enough to part him from this world.

Merlin is at his side, as he has always been. Merlin thinks he can save him, and his determination, his unfailing belief in him, makes Arthur’s dying less painful. He doesn’t want to leave Merlin, to disappoint him, but having Merlin beside him gives him a kind of peace.

When Morgana comes upon them he watches as Merlin does to Morgana what was done to him. Merlin knows as well as Morgana ever did that Arthur doesn’t have the strength either, doesn’t have the power to draw a blade against a heart that belongs to him, one that still beats in time with his own.

Merlin picks her up and carries her over to him, lays her beside him when he reaches out for her.

I couldn’t leave her there. Alone.

Arthur knows. And he knows what Merlin is also saying.

I couldn’t bear not to give this one last gift to you.

Arthur holds her close, brings her head to his shoulder. She’s so pale and beautiful he finally cries for her. He never did before, but now he can’t stop himself. It’s finally the end.

Bury us together. Cover us up and let the ground wipe us away until we’re nothing but a forgotten memory.

Merlin refuses, as Arthur knew he would. He still insists that there is hope for Arthur. There’s Avalon, there is life, and Arthur’s name will never be forgotten.

Arthur knows he won’t rest beside Morgana, but he has her now.

Merlin touches Morgana’s cheek and Arthur wants to apologize because he knows Merlin loved her too. Taking her life took more than a piece of his. He is empty and hollow now too. But Merlin looks at Arthur and shakes his head, no words are needed, Merlin knows. He always knows.

Everything is quiet and still around them as Merlin moves closer until all three of them are together, foreheads touching, and Arthur only mourns for the loss of Guinevere to complete them in his final memory.

After a time Merlin leaves them, although Arthur knows it’s reluctantly. He wants to get moving again, Arthur is fading and Merlin is panicked, but he gives Arthur this.

Arthur watches Merlin walk away and he pulls Morgana to him until the blood of their wounds mixes.

Tell me a story, little bird. The storm rages.

 

~End