Morgana feels the cool water rushing over her hands turn from gentle to painful as her palms tighten, too much dampness drawing lines on her skin to accompany those formed with age and time. Black tatters of fabric fall from her sleeves over her hands, gossamer like lace but far less delicate.
Finally she gets to her feet, her posture as regal as ever, though the dirt that clings a bit too tightly to her skin and the premature weathering of her face make her look nothing like the lady she once was when she catches her reflection in the stream. She looks far more mother than maiden now, with no children to show for it. She has never had a family—she had never really had one at all, she had decided too long ago to remember.
She wrings water from the purple garment in her hands once more and sees that the blood has finally been washed clean, and she neatly carries it back toward the dry, warmer shelter of the cavern. She hasn't lived in so much as a hovel for a long while, now.
As she walks, her own blood alone begins to warm her hands. Wind blows, but she doesn't tense against it or shiver. Instead she inhales, far more familiar with the calm of the wild than she'd ever managed to be in the confines of palace walls during the first years of her life.
There's a temptation, sometimes, to be simply too tired to continue her struggle. She cannot remember all the reasons it started anymore—minutia and detail lost in the dust—but she knows that there is still no place for her kind in Camelot, and every effort she has made at changing that with violence has come to naught. Her bloodlust has tempered now, lost with the exuberance of youth and idealism long dead, replaced by a simple, opportunistic waiting. The winds of uprising had blown once, in her youth—in their youth, and they would come again. All she needs to do is wait. She thinks, perhaps, that she'll wait out the rest of her life, though.
Back in Camelot, she is a fairy tale now—or a nightmare, depending on how the story is told. She isn't sure she doesn't deserve some of that. No matter how much blood she washes out, she will still have blood on her hands.
Back in the cavern, she sees him. Awake now, dressed in the black garments she'd given him after she had dressed his wounds with simple herbs, not magic. He is reclined near the fire, staring into the flames, their warm glow briefly playing tricks on her eyes until she thinks he might be using magic. Then she realizes it was simply an illusion.
Moving forward silently, her footing sure against the earthen floor, Morgana watches him and wonders if he even knows she's there. His gaze remains fixed until she is half-worried it will hurt his eyes, but then she wonders if it would even matter to him. She doesn't have to ask to know what—or whom—he has been thinking about. Arthur and his queen are away in their palace, grieving too to be sure. And yet there is still no place for magic in Camelot.
There had been a time when Morgana had all but stopped using Merlin's name. She had called him “the boy,” as easily as anything, but looking at him now that seemed absurd. He is far less worn than she is, his skin soft for a servant's, his body leaner and stronger than it had been years ago and yet still slight and pale. He isn't a boy any longer, though. He is a man, and he has been for a long time.
Morgana can't remember when she first knew that Merlin was like her, that he had magic. It seems like an afterthought now, but when he finally looks at her, she wonders if she should reaffirm this by using her own. She thinks better of it, though, because somehow she knows it probably wouldn't be welcome.
“Are you feeling any better?” she asks, settling down opposite him next to the fire.
“Why are you helping me, Morgana?” he asks a little sharply in turn, looking at her as if he's hoping for a particular answer, but she doesn't know which one he wants her to give.
“... Because I understand what it's like,” she supplies eventually, pressing her lips together before trying to offer a smile and then realizing she hardly remembers how.
“It isn't the same, Morgana.”
“... You're right, it isn't. You'll go back one day,” she replies, finding herself staring into the fire as she feels a strong wave of regret rush over her. Arthur won't leave Merlin out here to die, or worse. He can't. Merlin has a home to go to, and then she'll be alone again.
“I was meant to, but now I'm not so sure,” Merlin confides in her, drawing her gaze back up to him.
“... Do you remember me, Merlin?” she asks, feeling his name on her tongue and remembering acutely when they were little more than children. She remembers a bunch of flowers he left for her once, seeing them as if they had been picked yesterday when she closes her eyes.
Merlin looks up at her curiously and she catches his gaze, seeing the thoughts play out on his face—at war with one another.
“... I remember all of you,” he says, swallowing hard and leaning back, staring up at the roof of the dry cavern as if he expected to see stars. When he doesn't, he closes his eyes and sighs heavily.