Gwen was babbling to herself as she got ready for the day – little snatches of song and idle thoughts about the day ahead and her clothes and whether or not she was going to pass her quiz.
Morgana buried her head under her pillow. "Gwen, please, a little quiet."
The vague sounds from the other side of their suite stopped, although the litany went on. I didn't think Morgana had that much to drink, but maybe that cocktail leaves a nasty hangover. Was I being loud? I don't think I was being loud. Maybe I should offer her coffee? What's a good hangover cure, raw egg? I never liked the sound of that, it's gross.
Morgana moaned and sat up. "Coffee would be great, thanks," she called.
There was a moment of astounded silence, then the door to Morgana's room opened and Gwen's head appeared. "Pardon?"
Morgana blinked at her. "Coffee would be lovely, thanks."
But I didn't say that out loud, did I?
Then it was Morgana's turn to stare, because Gwen had said that without moving her lips.
"Actually," said Morgana, somehow managing to keep her voice level, "I think I'll get up."
"Are you all right, Morgana?" said Gwen, biting her lip. "You look very pale."
Morgana put her hand to her temple and didn't even need to feign a wince. "I have a headache. I think some fresh air will do me good."
Morgana is acting very strangely, Gwen was saying, although her voice was still silent. Could it be... oh no, not another sorcerer.
Morgana looked pointedly at the door, and Gwen disappeared back into their shared study. She threw some clothes on, doing her best to ignore Gwen's litany of confusion, and swept through the door into the main corridor.
Once Morgana was outside the dorm building, she had to stop and prop herself up against the wall for a moment. There weren't many other people around this early on a Saturday, but there were enough to prove that it wasn't just Gwen's thoughts she was hearing.
If this was another curse... Arthur had probably been targeted as well. She turned resolutely in the direction of Arthur's dorm.
Morgana seethed the entire way up the endless stairs to Arthur's room. A curse on top of a monster hangover was the last thing she needed. Damn Uther Pendragon and his draconic ideas on magic that made his children a target for every disgruntled sorcerer in the nation. Damn the magazines for reporting that media magnate Uther Pendragon's son and adopted daughter were both studying at the university to which he had donated an entire building. And damn the school administration for insisting that even being the children of Uther Pendragon didn't excuse them from mandatory shared first year accommodation, and particularly damn them for not providing lifts.
Arthur's suite-mate Merlin was in the dorm lounge as she swept by, fiddling with the coffee machine. She ignored him, and then stopped dead in her tracks because Merlin was thinking I hope she didn't just see me using magic.
Morgana's first thought was that this explained a lot about Merlin, but her most resounding reaction was, "You! You did this to me!"
Merlin's eyes widened. His thoughts were a jumbled mess of confusion. "Morgana? What do you mean?"
"I heard your thoughts," she hissed at him. "You're a sorcerer."
Merlin's mind abruptly fell silent, like he'd slammed up a wall between them. He held his hands up in surrender. "I don't know what you—"
"And I don't appreciate being made a pawn in whatever your little plot is against my father—"
"I'm not plotting anything against Uther, I don't even want to be here," Merlin squeaked.
That part rang true, at least. Merlin had never really bothered to hide the fact that he thought Arthur was a giant prat.
"You can read minds?" Merlin ventured, just as their staring was starting to get awkward.
"I woke up like this." Morgana rubbed her temples. "It must be another idiot trying to get to Father through his children. By giving me sorcerous powers they think that he will—"
"Morgana, you have prophetic dreams," Merlin interjected, gentler this time. "You've always been a sorcerer."
She felt her mouth drop open in astonishment. "How do you know that?"
Merlin glanced away. "Um. Gaius may have mentioned it."
"Why would Gaius—" She shook her head as she sensed Arthur come awake nearby. "We can come back that later. So this isn't a curse?"
Merlin's eyes glowed gold for a split second. If she hadn't been looking for it, she didn't think she would have noticed. "Not that I'm sensing, but I'm not an expert in this. You're glowing a lot more than you usually do, though." He drummed his fingers on the counter for a moment. "Gaius would know."
"Dean of Medicine, Gaius? My father's best friend, that Gaius?"
"He knows I have magic," said Merlin impatiently. "And he knows a lot about magic, even if he doesn't practice anymore because of your father."
Morgana took a deep breath. "Can you read minds?"
"I've never tried," said Merlin absently. "I suppose I could, if I wanted to." He didn't sound very happy about it.
That wasn't helpful. "I can't hear your thoughts now. Can you teach me how to do that in reverse?"
Merlin looked sheepish. "I just used the same kind of magic shielding I use to block curses. I think Gaius should be able to help with that, too."
"Then let's go," snapped Morgana. Arthur was awake, wondering what all the voices were and she did not want to deal with him right now.
Merlin tripped over his own feet trying to get to his shoes.
"Telepathy?" said Gaius, peering at her over his glasses. Morgana shrank back, feeling like a particularly interesting insect. Gaius was thinking that Morgana had always shown a talent for magic, but it had thus far only manifested in the way of cryptic prophetic dreams.
"Yes," said Morgana, taking refuge in irritability. "I'm a sorcerer. My father will be thrilled. Now fix this."
Gaius blinked slowly at her. "I've never encountered spontaneous telepathy before. How did it happen?"
"It was my birthday party last night. I drank a lot, but instead of waking with a hangover I woke up reading people's minds."
"That's not an effect of excess alcohol I'm familiar with, I must admit," said Gaius. He walked to the bookshelf and pulled some kind of lever that caused it to swing out and reveal another shelf behind it.
Merlin sat down at Gaius' computer and pulled up Google. At Morgana's look, he explained, "This computer has a direct connection to the internet so there's no chance of it being intercepted by the school network. It's how Gaius and I have been dealing with all of Arthur's curses. Not that he ever realises."
Gaius winced. "Please, Merlin, a little propriety." Just because Morgana knows she's a sorcerer now doesn't mean she won't tell her father about you.
Morgana felt a little offended. When had she ever given the slightest indication that she gave a rat's arse what Uther Pendragon thought?
"If you have magic, why are you even rooming with Arthur?" she asked Merlin. "Don't you hate him?"
"I had him set up as Arthur's roommate because I was worried about magical threats being levelled at Arthur to get to his father," said Gaius. "I thought with Merlin on the inside we could counter the threats before Arthur even noticed."
She looked back and forth between them. "But why would you even care?"
"Personally, I think teaching Arthur to be afraid of magic is just going to make certain that when he takes over Pendragon Media he will take exactly the same approach as his father," said Merlin. He closed the tab he was looking at and opened a new one.
Gaius was thinking about how long he'd known Uther, and how when he'd been younger Uther hadn't been so distrustful of magic. That had come later, with Arthur's birth and the death of his wife. Gaius deeply regretted not having been able to change Uther's mind on that front.
Morgana dug her nails into her palms, focusing on the pain instead of the flow of thoughts around her.
"I've found some forum posts on how to control telepathy," said Merlin, after a while. "Nothing on what causes it. This one says telepathic abilities can be dimmed with a standard magic dulling potion, although in general the magic community is against those potions."
"I don't blame them. They're highly addictive and far too easy for a malicious party to abuse." Gaius was thinking about the government introducing it into the water system. Morgana shuddered.
"They only recommend using it if the abilities have onset suddenly," Merlin added. "Start with the full dose, then gradually reduce it and practise the control techniques. It's the magical equivalent of reducing the swelling so that the body can begin to heal on its own."
Gaius took a book off the shelf. "This one says it's about magic of the mind." He dropped the book on the table and opened it to the index before flipping forward a number of pages, then sighed. "Ordinarily I would be hesitant to trust the wisdom of the internet, but in this case it seems it's backed up by research." He handed the book to Morgana. "Read this."
The book had yellowed pages and smelt old and a little musty, the print small and old-fashioned. It felt comforting, somehow.
"Do you want to verify the ingredients for this potion?" Merlin asked Gaius. "The comments are just full of people flaming them for posting it in the first place, nothing to say if it actually works."
The words on the page were less comforting. The description of telepathy was identical to her experience. It went on to say that untrained and uncontrolled telepathy invariably resulted in insanity. If it manifested late and too powerfully, it could be impossible to control effectively.
She shuddered. Her stomach ached with horror at the thought that there could be no escape from this.
"Keep reading," Gaius advised her.
In a very clinical fashion, the book went on to describe the effects and potential side-effects of magic-dimming potions as a method for controlling telepathy. It could take up to five days before the effects completely wore off, but the potion would cease to be completely effective after the first day. Each subsequent day would see a decrease in the effectiveness of the potion, and as such it could be used to introduce control to a student at lower risk.
"I'll do it," said Morgana.
Gaius peered at her. "Are you sure? There's a reason these potions are forbidden."
"Whatever it does to me, it can't be worse than this," said Morgana.
It was another few hours of agony before the potion was ready. She'd tried leaving Gaius' lab to buy some food from the cafeteria, but only made it as far as the corridor before she retreated.
"This lab is shielded from outside magical influence," said Merlin. "That's probably why it's better in here. I'll fetch you a sandwich, shall I?"
Once the potion was finally in front of her, Morgana started to have second thoughts. It was an ugly greenish brown colour, and smelt faintly of sulphur.
"Drink it all at once," Gaius advised. "Hold your nose if you have to."
It seemed like sensible advice. She picked up the bowl, watching in fascination as the liquid swirled inside it, coating the side with a green film.
She swallowed, then put the bowl down again. She took deep breaths until the nausea passed and picked up the bowl a second time.
The potion didn't taste any better than it smelled, even through her blocked nose. It felt like an eternity before the bowl was empty.
Merlin handed her a glass of milk, which she downed in one long gulp.
"How long will it take?"
"You should start to feel the effects any moment now," said Gaius. "Although it will take some time to reach full effectiveness."
Morgana stared at the table in front of her. It was cheap particle-board. Not what one expected to find in a sorcerer's laboratory at all.
The world seemed to be slowing down around her. She moved her hand in front of her face in fascination.
"Morgana? How are you feeling?"
"Weird," she said. "I think I'll go back to my room. I need to lie down."
Gaius and Merlin exchanged glances. "Let me check your blood pressure," said Gaius.
It wasn't worth arguing. Morgana sat patiently while Gaius measured her blood pressure, heart-rate and listened to her lungs. "Everything sounds normal," he said.
"I just feel tired, that's all," said Morgana. She got to her feet unsteadily.
"Do you need me to walk you there?" asked Merlin.
Morgana shook her head. "No. I'll be fine."
"Call me immediately if you start having difficulty breathing," said Gaius. "Or if your heart-rate starts to change."
Morgana promised she would and walked carefully back towards her dorm.
She felt strangely empty in her own head. Either she'd grown used to other people's consciousnesses encroaching on her own in the last twelve hours, or... Merlin was right and she'd always had magic.
Morgana rubbed at her temples. The world seemed sluggish around her, dull and grey. She made her way back up the stairs in a daze and collapsed face down on the bed.
When she woke again, the sun was long set. She peered blearily at the clock next to her bed. 11:30?
Morgana sat up. All she wanted to do was go back to sleep, but biological needs were not to be ignored.
When she returned to their shared study, she noticed the door to Gwen's bedroom was still open. Morgana blinked blearily at it, then looked inside the room. The bed was empty.
She dug around in the blankets on her own bed until she found her phone. There were a couple of concerned seeming messages from Merlin, and one from Arthur, but nothing from Gwen.
Gwen? Are you all right? she sent. She'd never known Gwen to be out past ten without letting Morgana know.
She had a reply in less than a minute. Out with Lance. Sorry I forgot to tell you.
Morgana frowned. If Gwen had finally confessed her feelings to Arthur last night why was she out with Lance?
She really didn't see what Gwen saw in Arthur – because Gwen had had a crush on him since she was a teenager - when it was clear that Arthur was going to grow up just like his father and he was just stupid enough to think that was a good thing. But she was trying to be a good, supportive best friend.
She flopped back on the bed. Surely Arthur hadn't rejected Gwen. Morgana couldn't see how anyone could reject Gwen. Everything about her was adorable.
Morgana's skirt band was digging into her waist. She sat up again and changed into her night clothes, then crawled under the blankets. She shivered, and pulled the blankets as tightly around her as she could.
She felt very cold and very alone.
When Morgana woke in the morning, she was still alone in the suite. Sleeping twelve hours straight hadn't hurt, but it also didn't make the world feel less slow.
She hadn't dreamt at all. It was a pity that didn't seem to have made her night any more restful. Morgana pulled the top book from her reading pile and tried to concentrate on it. The words kept slipping away from her, refusing to come into focus...
She woke up around midday to find she had a text from her half-sister inviting her to coffee.
Morgana tapped out a reply, suggesting the afternoon instead of the morning, and contemplated getting up. Instead, she curled her knees up to her chest and texted Merlin.
I feel like hell. Is it supposed to be like this?
Merlin replied momentarily. I don't know, I've never done it. Did you want me to fetch Gaius for you?
No, I'll try to muddle through. Thanks. She didn't want to deal with Gaius right now. That he could be friends with Uther and still claim to support sorcerers made her sick to the stomach.
I'll bring you notes from Hendrick's, Merlin replied.
When Morgause replied saying she would be at Morgana's building in thirty minutes, Morgana finally levered herself out of bed and began the laborious process of getting dressed.
She somehow managed to stumble down the stairs to the bottom of the building, finding Morgause leaning against the wall, brow lined in thought.
Morgana waved at her. "Hi."
Morgause grabbed Morgana's shoulders and shook her. "What have you done?"
Morgana blinked at her blearily. "Morgause?"
"What have you done to yourself?" Morgause took a step backward in horror. "Your magic. It's gone!"
"You—" Some of the other students were starting to look in their direction. Morgana quickly ushered Morgause back upstairs into her dorm room. "You knew I had magic?" she hissed.
"Of course I knew you had magic. Our family always has magic. We're descended from the line of greatest sorcerers to ever live."
"Then—" Morgana shook her head quickly. "You did something, at the party."
"It was an enhancement potion," said Morgause, folding her arms. "You've spent so long suppressing your true abilities. I had no idea that you would stoop so low as to—"
Morgana flung her arms into the air. "I almost went insane! Gaius said the only way I stood any chance of gaining control of my abilities was to damp them completely and let them come back gradually."
"Gaius? Who is 'Gaius'?" demanded Morgause.
"I don't really think that's relevant right now," said Morgana, putting as much ice in her tone as possibly. "You gave me an enhancement potion?"
Morgause's expression said that she wasn't going to just let the issue of Gaius go, but she answered the question. "It was the only way—"
"It didn't occur to you to, say, tell me that my dreams were real?"
"Uther Pendragon has so poisoned your brain you couldn't see the truth when it was right in front of you."
"That's not the point! The point is that you could have caused me permanent damage!" Morgana glared at her. "I needed to mute them until I could learn to control them."
Morgause let out a relieved sigh. "So you aren't planning on staying like this, then."
"Of course not. I feel like my brain is stuffed with cotton wool."
Morgause narrowed her eyes and looked at Morgana closely. "You look like crap."
"I feel worse now than my hangover yesterday," Morgana admitted.
Morgause gave her a self-satisfied smile. "I am not surprised."
Morgana rubbed at her temples. "I told you. My powers were out of control. This was the only way."
Morgause wasn't listening to her. "Of course, you'll have to leave the university once you get control of your powers."
Morgause spluttered for a moment. "You can't just keep living on Uther Pendragon's blood money!"
Morgana folded her arms. "I hate Uther Pendragon. He is a bigot and a fascist, I think what he's done to this country is a tragedy, and nothing would make me more happy than if his sodding private jet were to crash into the ocean tomorrow."
Morgause snapped her mouth shut.
"But I'm perfectly happy to let him pay for my university degree. Why steal a scholarship from some student who needs it? Then I'll use my degree and experience to bring down Pendragon Media."
"That's why you're doing journalism and media studies?" asked Morgause, fascinated.
"Precisely. And I don't see how I'm going to achieve any of that when I'm constantly under assault by other people's thoughts."
"I thought you were planning to spend the rest of the life denying your destiny," said Morgause. "You've never told anybody about your dreams."
"I was scared, all right?" Morgana snapped. "Wouldn't you be?"
"They should be afraid of us. We shouldn't be afraid of them."
"I prefer not to deny reality." Morgana shook her head. "I promise, this is just temporary. In a week I'll have control over my powers, and you can tell me about our family. For now, I need some peace."
"A week," said Morgause. "I'll hold you to that."
There was still no sign of Gwen when Morgause finally left. Morgana frowned and pulled out her phone.
You're not going to miss Game of Thrones night, she sent, hoping the text didn't sound as injured as it did in her head.
!! Gwen sent back. No. I'll be there.
True to her word, Gwen showed up about fifteen minutes before the show was supposed to start, sporting a sheepish and somewhat nervous smile.
Morgana settled her laptop on the bed and curled up against the wall in a nest of blankets. Gwen sat gingerly next to her, her shoulders tight with tension. Morgana reached for the bowl of popcorn she'd prepared earlier and settled it between them.
"How's Lance?" she asked lightly.
"Good!" Gwen squeaked. "He thinks the team might make the finals this year."
"That's great," said Morgana.
Gears began to roll across the screen, and Gwen relaxed minutely.
Morgana found it hard to concentrate on the episode. She kept being distracted by Gwen sitting beside her, stiff and silent as a board. Usually they would be taking turns in talking back at the screen, giving the characters advice and trying to predict upcoming plot twists. But tonight there was none of that.
Had Morgana done something at the party to make Gwen uncomfortable? Did Gwen – had Gwen noticed something? Morgana had been so careful...
She didn't care who Gwen dated as long as they got to remain friends. But the way things were now, she might as well not have her friend beside her at all.
"You look like hell," said Gwen, when Morgana poked her head into their shared living space.
"I feel like hell," Morgana moaned. She didn't know how it was possible that day two was worse than day one. Her dreams had been vague and frustrating, full of details she couldn't make out no matter how close she got.
"You should see a doctor."
"I did," said Morgana, perfectly truthfully. "I have a note to get me out of classes today, if I need it. And I think I need it."
Gwen bit her lip and looked worried. "Did they have any idea what's wrong?"
"It's some kind of bug, but don't worry, it's not contagious."
"I don't have classes this morning, did you want me to get you anything?"
Morgana smiled, touched. "Well, if you're going downstairs for coffee at any point…"
"I'll bring some up," Gwen promised.
They fell into awkward silence. Usually Gwen would be filling the air with chatter, but now she was quiet, twisting her hands nervously.
"Did you get the chance to talk to Arthur yesterday?" asked Morgana.
There was a sharp spike of anxiety from Gwen and she stood abruptly. "I think I'll go get that coffee now."
She was up and out the door before Morgana had the chance to react.
Morgana took the brief respite from the press of Gwen's concern to take stock of her head. It ached, and she still felt it was stuffed with cotton wool, but the intensity was lessening. And unless she'd been imagining things, she was starting to pick up people's emotions again. It was like she was getting a poor signal and her brain kept trying to clarify it, the mental equivalent of squinting. It was probably the source of her headache.
It was a lot less overwhelming than it had been on Saturday, but she was definitely picking up something from Gwen.
She fumbled for her phone on her bedside table.
I think you're going to have to teach me shielding as soon as possible.
She had a reply from Merlin almost immediately, which indicated to her that Merlin needed to spend a little less time checking his phone and more studying.
I'll come by this afternoon. Let me know when you have some privacy.
I will. Thanks.
Gwen returned with two takeaway cups of coffee. She hadn't even grabbed their reusable mugs, and Morgana considered gently ribbing her for failing the environment once again.
The cloud of distress surrounding Gwen made her decide to bite her tongue. "Thanks," she said instead, smiling.
Gwen gave her a wan smile in return.
They worked in silence at their desk for some time, although Morgana was finding it very difficult to concentrate. Gwen's constant stream of low level anxiety was hard on her nerves.
"Gwen, look, about Arthur—" Morgana began.
Gwen knocked her water glass off her desk, soaking her skirt and the floor. She swore and fumbled for the box of tissues.
Morgana got up. "I'll go get some paper towels." She hurried to the bathroom.
Gwen's skirt wasn't completely soaked, just spotted a bit around the knees.
"At least it wasn't your coffee," Morgana said, dabbing at the skirt to take the worst of it off.
Gwen made a strangled noise. "I'm so clumsy, I'm sorry Morgana."
Morgana gave her a reassuring smile. "It's fine, it happens."
Gwen got to her feet as soon as the floor was mostly dry and her skirt was merely damp. "I just remembered, I need to get to the library." She hesitated at the door. "I do hope you feel better soon, Morgana."
Then she was gone.
Morgana sat back on the bed and rubbed her temples. Embarrassment was one thing, but the abject humiliation and terror Gwen had been projecting was baffling.
Maybe she wasn't as good at this telepathy thing as she thought. Or was she interpreting things badly?
Sighing, she pulled the top item from her reading pile and opened it on her lap. It was a case study of magical integration attempts in Swedish secondary education. They definitely had some interesting ideas, although Morgana was still fundamentally against mandatory registration. She had five pages of notes before she was even done with the third chapter.
Midday arrived without Gwen making a reappearance.
Morgana texted Merlin to let him know it was safe to come up. Gwen would be in class by now. He responded immediately.
She sensed Merlin before he knocked on her door, but not that long before.
"Shouldn't I have had to come down and let you in?" she asked.
Merlin looked sheepish. "I thought you were feeling sick."
"I am, but..." She lowered her voice. "You magicked yourself up here?"
"I followed another student in." He paused. "Using magic, though, yes."
"They'll expel you if they find out."
Merlin looked at her incredulously.
"But of course you knew that. I hate this university."
Merlin looked at her carefully, and she felt him decide not to ask. "You're sensing things again?"
She nodded. "Emotions, mostly, and only when the person is close to me. Which means just Gwen, basically."
"Are you sensing me now?"
She nodded again. "It's faint, but there's something there."
Merlin's eyes flashed gold for a split second. "How about now?"
She closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "Nothing."
"Gaius says he doesn't know any spells for controlling telepathy, and I've only managed to find a few references in his books. But if it works in this direction, it probably works in the other as well." He hesitated. "Have you ever learned magic before?"
"No," said Morgana. "No, Uther Pendragon would not allow his children to learn magic."
"Then you won't have anything to unlearn." Merlin grinned. "Gaius always freaks out when I do magic without any chants or potions."
Morgana felt her mouth drop open. "That's possible?"
"You're doing it right now, aren't you?"
"But I thought magic required chants and spells."
"It's easier to get the expected result consistently with formal spells," Merlin admitted. He gave her a lopsided smile. "But when I'm in a hurry, I get lazy. And in your case, I think we're going to have to rely on instinct."
"Is that why you're my teacher, not Gaius?"
"I think I've just been insulted," said Merlin.
"You're an undergraduate student!" said Morgana.
"I'm told I'm the most powerful sorcerer Britain has known for centuries," said Merlin. It was a significant feat of his personality that he managed to make the statement self-deprecating. "Er. Don't tell your father that."
Morgana gave him an incredulous look.
"Shall we begin?" said Merlin hurriedly.
"Please," said Morgana.
Morgana decided to practise her shielding on the cafeteria at dinner time.
The experiment did not entirely go to plan. She thought the hall would be still mostly deserted at quarter to six, but she'd hadn't thought about how "mostly deserted" in a room of this size still meant a very large group of people.
She was getting twitchy and distracted just standing in line, when she could only sense ten metres around her. She didn't want to think about what this would be like when the rest of the potion wore off.
She closed her eyes and thought about what Merlin had taught her. Breathe deeply, bring your senses in...
"Hey, Morgana," said Merlin, popping up next to her. He tugged at his neckerchief and lowered his voice. "Relax. Remember what I told you earlier."
"I'm trying," she pointed out, teeth clenched. "It's not working."
Merlin bit his lip, like he was about to say something he knew he would regret. "You could try practising in a less busy area?"
"I need to eat. I need to learn to eat here."
Merlin reached out to touch her forehead and the world fell away.
"How did you—"
"Just remember how that feels," he said. "And try to replicate it." He drew back his hand and the cacophony of thoughts started again.
Morgana had slightly more success in blocking it this time. "I'm supposed to be learning, not—"
"Shh," said Merlin. "Arthur's coming."
Arthur was indeed striding across the hall. He pushed into line in front of Merlin and looked back and forth between them. "What's going on?" he demanded.
"Nothing!" said Merlin.
Arthur gave him a suspicious look, then appeared to forget all about it. "I hope they don't have lamb again. I hate lamb."
Merlin rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "I know. You don't have to have it."
"Father makes him eat if when we're at home," said Morgana. "It's probably force of habit by now."
She felt a spike of some kind of emotion from Arthur at that and lost control of the shield in surprise. Yesterday she wouldn't have thought Arthur was even capable of hurt feelings over something as simple as a mention of his father.
"My mother always forces me to eat pumpkin, even though I hate it," Merlin offered in sympathy.
Finding her centre again was trickier to manage now that Morgana had to maintain a conversation with Arthur and Merlin. The girl in line in front of them was worrying about her law class. The boy two people back was thinking about breaking up with his girlfriend.
Merlin caught her eye, then deliberately tripped over his own feet. While Arthur was needling him and helping him gather his fallen belongings, Morgana turned away and closed her eyes again. Centre, breathe, pull your thoughts in...
"This is the worst," she muttered under her breath. "Goddamnit, Morgause."
"Happy actual birthday," said Gwen. Morgana's desk was decorated with streamers, and there was a perfectly-wrapped box sitting in the middle of her economics papers.
"Aww," said Morgana. "You didn't have to. Can I open it now?"
Gwen nodded. "It isn't much, but."
Morgana unwrapped the gift carefully, while Gwen teased her about never ripping the paper. "Gwen, this is perfect," she said, shaking out the scarf. It was knitted from some kind of ruffled yarn and so soft it caught on her fingernails.
Gwen blushed. "The colours reminded me of you."
"They're beautiful," Morgana reassured her. She put the scarf aside. "Thank you so, so much. Nothing I get from my family could possibly top this."
Gwen smiled tentatively at her. "You're welcome."
"Oh god," said Morgana suddenly. "This means I have dinner with father tonight."
Gwen hesitated a moment. "Arthur, too?"
Morgana glanced away, disappointment clouding the moment. "Of course. We're all one happy family in the Pendragon household."
"Maybe he can keep Mr Pendragon distracted," Gwen suggested hopefully.
"You can call him Uther in front of me," Morgana reminded her. "He'll never know, and I don't care."
"Morgana!" Gwen protested, scandalised. "I could never do that."
"He doesn't deserve your respect," Morgana insisted.
"Why do you keep seeing him if you hate him so much?" Of course, Gwen had her own reasons to hate Uther Pendragon.
Morgana sighed. "My feelings are very complicated, but for the moment I need to toe his line." It was hard to reconcile the man who had shown such kindness in her youth with the ruthless media mogul she knew Uther Pendragon to be.
Gwen's mood darkened with disappointment, but Morgana couldn't quite tell what it was in reaction to. "Well, I hope you have a happy birthday all the same. I'm sorry, I have to dash out now."
"Thanks again for the present," said Morgana.
Once she was sure Gwen was gone, Morgana closed her eyes and concentrated on her new senses. It felt like everything had an energy to it today. Her range seemed a lot shorter than it had been on Saturday, but longer than yesterday. She could sense another student on the floor below her – a small, vague cloud of worry.
Morgana picked up her phone and called Merlin.
"I had a dream last night."
Merlin made a squeaking noise. "I'll call you back."
Morgana waited impatiently until her phone rang in her hand and she almost dropped it. "Yes?"
"Sorry, I was with Arthur. We should be safe now. You had a dream?"
"It was… indistinct, hard to tell what was going on. I think the potion is affecting my dreams too. But I saw somebody planting something in Arthur's room, and I saw him get sick."
"Do you always have visions like that when someone attacks Arthur?"
"Not every time. I did, the time with Sophia—"
"I know. I mean, Gaius told me."
Morgana rubbed her temples with her free hand. "Does everybody know about my dreams?"
"Just Gaius and I," said Merlin, in a tone he probably thought was reassuring.
"I cannot believe that Gaius knew I had magic and prescribed sleeping pills instead of just telling me I have magic," said Morgana.
"Um," said Merlin. "Well, your father…"
Somehow it always came back to that, didn't it? "Uther Pendragon does not dictate my life."
"Good," said Merlin emphatically. "I'm glad one of you feels that way."
"I'm having dinner with Arthur tonight," said Morgana. "See what you can do about checking his room."
She hung up while Merlin was trying to come up with a response.
The limousine dropped them in front of an Italian restaurant. Morgana had to hand it to her adoptive father, he had at least remembered her cuisine preferences. This place was a little outside her usual budget and the food was incredible.
The waiter showed them to a table towards the back of the restaurant. Uther rose to greet them warmly as they approached.
Uther took care of ordering for them, as was usual. Time spent perusing menus was not the way Uther Pendragon conducted business.
"Your studies are proceeding well, I presume?" said Uther.
Arthur bristled, as he always did at any implication that he might not be living up to his father's standards. "Of course. I sent you through my last lot of results."
Morgana smiled sweetly at Uther. "My current course is on journalistic integrity and ethics," she gushed. "It's really very interesting. It's about journalism as a social responsibility, and how the media shapes the way society thinks about issues. Have you ever studied it?"
Arthur gave her a look of mingled horror and respect.
Uther raised his eyebrows. "I can't say I have."
"I can make some recommendations for books to read. I think you would find them very enlightening."
She debated mentioning a specific case study, one that had been about magic. The glimmer of intense discomfort she was picking up from Arthur made her decide to let the topic drop.
"I'm sure I would," said Uther, with no sign of any interest whatsoever. "Arthur, have you changed your classes around yet, like I asked?"
"Father, I told you, the deadline has passed."
"I should think they'd be willing to bend that for the son of Uther Pendragon," said Uther.
"Father, I promise I'll take Business Management next semester. I'm quite enjoying Intro to Political Science right now. If I switch now I'll be ridiculously behind."
"You're wasting your time, son."
Arthur fell silent, fuming. Morgana silently willed him to say that it was his own time to waste, or otherwise talk back, but Arthur held his tongue like the obedient son Uther wanted. It made her sick.
Morgana decided to change the subject. "I saw your team made the finals." Pendragon Media owned the Camelot football team.
"We'll see how they go," said Uther. "I may have to talk to management about firing the coach if they don't up their game. That's not the kind of performance I expect out of a team I back."
Uther felt like pure arrogance to Morgana. She couldn't sense anything like affection or even pride as he talked to them.
Most of her training with Merlin so far had been about keeping other people out of Morgana's head. She wondered if she could use this power to get into Uther's.
If keeping people out involved pulling in, maybe reading someone else required pushing out.
At first, she just picked up more of the same arrogance from Uther. As she dug deeper, actual thoughts began to flicker across his mind – echoes of what he was saying out loud, discarded thoughts and reactions.
Arthur reminded him too much of Ygraine. His guilt over her death made him determined to push Arthur into being successful, even when the boy couldn't see what the good of it was.
Morgana reminded him of his guilt over her father's death. And there was something deeper there, something...
"Morgana?" said Arthur suddenly.
She came back to herself with a start. "Pardon?"
He smirked at her. "Daydreaming, were we?"
"I haven't been well," said Morgana primly. "Didn't Gaius tell you?"
Uther leaned closer, concerned. "He didn't. Is everything all right?"
"I'm— well, I'm not fine, but I will be. I just shouldn't stay out very late."
Uther peered at her for a moment. "Make sure you don't get behind on your studies," he said, at last.
Morgana clenched her fists under the table and nodded. "I will."
Uther nodded in return and turned back to Arthur. "But you can't seriously expect that—"
Morgana returned to contemplating the plate of half-eaten food in front of her. She hated sprouts.
It felt like hours before Uther waved the waiter over and asked for the bill.
Morgana could feel Arthur's mood in the limousine on the way home – shame and resentment rolling off him in waves.
She didn't want to heal the rift between Arthur and his father because when the time came and the battle lines were drawn, she didn't want Arthur to side with Uther. But... Arthur was hurting, and he was her brother.
Morgana cleared her throat. "I'm sure he means well."
Arthur snorted. "He always means well. He 'wants the best of me', he wants me to 'reach my full potential'. He wants a little clone of himself, and nothing I do is ever good enough because he has a massively inflated ego."
"You're already better than him," she said, because whatever Arthur's issues, that much was true. "And he'll never tell you that, so I'm telling you now. You're going to take Pendragon Media and make it great, and nobody will ever remember your father after he dies."
Arthur just stared at her, wide-eyed.
"Trust me, I'm your sister." She paused for a moment. "But just so you know," she told him archly. "I don't care that you're my brother, if you hurt Gwen, I'm hurting you."
Arthur's expression turned confused.
"Do you understand?"
"I understand, I'm not sure I believe it. You think there's something on between Gwen and me?"
"Isn't there?" asked Morgana.
"But I thought, on Friday… You and she were..."
"You really ought to talk to Gwen about this," said Arthur. He shook his head. "But while we're talking about people stealing other people's roommates, what have you been doing with Merlin? I've barely seen him since the party."
Morgana thought quickly. "We've been working on a uni assignment."
"I didn't realise you two even had a class together," said Arthur.
As a matter of fact, Morgana and Merlin did share a class, so Morgana felt perfectly justified in saying, in her haughtiest tone, "Well, if you ever bothered to pay the slightest attention to what's going on around you, you would."
Arthur rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the window.
Morgana contemplated trying out her new powers to let Merlin know about their fictional assignment. Then she reached for her phone and typed out a quick text.
Told Arthur about our assignment for Econ. Don't know why you didn't tell him earlier. He was wondering where you've been.
Oops, Merlin sent back.
Morgana rolled her eyes.
Her phone vibrated as another text arrived. You were right about Arthur's room. I took care of it.
Morgana put her phone aside and stared out the limousine windows until they arrived back at campus.
Morgana managed to wake up before Gwen for once. She took stock of her head and decided she could probably bear to face the coffee line.
At this time of morning, outwardly all the other patrons looked like zombies. With her new senses, she could pick up a little more depth than that – some hangovers, a general miasma of sleepiness, vague worry about exams or assignments, and the occasional bright spark of a morning person.
When she got back to their room, Gwen was awake, although she hadn't made it out of bed yet.
"I brought you coffee," said Morgana.
"Oh!" said Gwen. "You didn't have to do that."
"After you've been looking after me so well all week, it's the least I could do," said Morgana lightly.
Gwen's mood darkened and her hands tightened around the cup. "Really, it's nothing."
Morgana somehow managed to keep from sighing out loud. Everything she did seemed to depress Gwen at the moment, and none of it made sense.
"I thought we could go down to the cafeteria for breakfast once we've caffeinated," said Morgana. "You don't have classes this morning, do you?"
"Not until ten," said Gwen.
"Plenty of time, then."
Gwen gave her a tentative smile.
Morgana picked up the closest book to her and opened it to her bookmark, feeling Gwen relax instantly. She closed her eyes and pulled her senses in until she could no longer sense Gwen. Any more of this and she'd be tempted to start digging deeper into Gwen's emotions, and she didn't want to be that person.
Two chapters had gone by when Gwen cleared her throat. "I'm ready for breakfast now?"
They shuffled down to the cafeteria and picked out their food without a lot of discussion, settling opposite each other at the end of one of the long tables.
"So, um... How was dinner?" asked Gwen, picking her bagel apart with delicate fingers.
Morgana gave her a wry smile. "The usual. Uther ignored everything I said in favour of subtly criticising Arthur." She watched carefully, but Gwen didn't react to Arthur's name this time. "Arthur didn't say a word in his own defence."
Gwen bit her lip. "Is it really that bad?"
Morgana slumped down onto the table. "I don't even know anymore." Telepathy hadn't made anything any easier with her family – if anything, it had made things more complicated. "People are complex," she complained.
Gwen laughed. "That I can agree with."
Someone caught Morgana by the elbow as they were leaving the cafeteria. "Morgana, can I have a word?" said Lance, meeting her eyes with a concerned expression.
Morgana glanced ahead at Gwen, who was quickly disappearing up the corridor. Well, that was weird. She smiled at Lance. "Of course."
Lance glowed with sincerity and concern with an edge of discomfort. "Listen, Morgana, I know you and Gwen are very close."
"She's my best friend," said Morgana. "I don't know what I'd do without her."
"I know, and I know you want to stay friends, but you have to give her some time."
Lance looked frustrated. "Haven't you ever been rejected before? You don't just go straight back into friendship afterwards."
Morgana drew in a sharp breath. Lance didn't feel like he was lying at all, and she couldn't resist the slightest touch on his mind to find out whether she was misunderstanding what he was saying. "I didn't reject Gwen!"
Lance stared at her. "Gwen was going to ask you out at your party on Friday. She said you turned her down."
An incident from Friday night was starting to come to mind. "Gwen did tell me she had something to ask me, and... I told her she had my blessing to ask out Arthur."
Lance groaned. "And she just left?"
"I was trying to do that 'if you love someone, set them free' thing!" she protested. "I was drunk, she'd been hanging out with Arthur all night..."
"Because he... Look you shouldn't be having this conversation with me. Talk to Gwen. Please."
"I don't know where she is," said Morgana, but that wasn't entirely true. She wasn't entirely sure how, but she was fairly certain Gwen was in their room.
Lance gave her a look full of pity. "Go find her, Morgana. For the sake of my sanity."
Morgana put her handbag on the side table and sat on the bed awkwardly. Gwen looked like she wasn't sure whether to flee again.
She took a deep breath. "Gwen, can I ask you something?"
"Of course," Gwen murmured. She sounded calm, but terror rolled off her in waves.
"On Friday, you told me you had something to ask me, and I interrupted you."
"I remember," said Gwen.
"Could you... maybe finish what you were going to say? I think I misinterpreted it."
Gwen just felt like humiliation and shame now. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it. Why are you bringing it up now?"
"I'm hoping you were going to ask me out."
Gwen's mouth dropped open.
"Because I'd say yes. If that's what you were going to ask."
"You told me to date Arthur instead!"
"I thought you were asking me permission to date Arthur," Morgana retorted. "Which, you'd spent half the evening chatting to him, it didn't seem unreasonable."
Gwen blinked. "You were jealous."
"I was trying to be noble and put what you wanted above my own desires."
"Well, that's just silly," said Gwen. "I don't want to date Arthur."
"You did when we first met," Morgana reminded her, because she hadn't been imagining that. Gwen had admired Arthur long before she ever met him.
"And then I got to know him, and you, and I realised who I would prefer."
Morgana supposed she ought to feel offended on Arthur's behalf, but really, it was his own fault people thought he was a prat. "I'm sorry."
"You don't need to apologise for Arthur, it's pretty obvious you also think he's—"
Morgana held up a hand. "For not realising how you felt sooner."
Gwen snapped her mouth shut.
"I was pretty determined to be a martyr about it," said Morgana. "And I'm sorry."
"Everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion," Gwen admitted, with the shy hint of a smile. "Nobody believed me when I told them you'd just sent me away."
Morgana put her hand on her forehead. "Who is 'everybody'?"
"Lance, Merlin... even Arthur, I think. Gwaine, Percy..."
Morgana rubbed her temples. "Please stop."
Gwen smiled wickedly. "Don't think I'm going to let this go anytime soon. The last few days have been awful."
"Mine, too," said Morgana. "Although for a slightly different reason."
"I want to ask, but I don't want to get distracted," said Gwen. She still felt embarrassed, but less humiliated now. "Can I kiss you?"
Morgana thought of and discarded several teasing protests, and gave the suggestion the consideration it was due. "Please do."
They bumped noses, of course, which led Gwen into a giggle fit that ended with them tussling on Gwen's bed. Morgana was leaning over Gwen, curls spread out over the pillow, and suddenly kissing seemed easy and natural.
"Did you two want to grab a pint?" asked Arthur.
"Not tonight, it's Game of Thrones night," said Gwen. "Morgana and I have a standing date."
Morgana squeezed her hand tightly, while their friends made various unimpressed faces.
"Game of Thrones?" said Lance. "I still haven't forgiven them for killing off—"
"SPOILERS!" yelled Merlin.
"IF YOU REALLY CARED YOU WOULD HAVE CAUGHT UP BY NOW," Morgana yelled back.