Pairing/s: Merlin/Morgana, Arthur/Gwen
Summary: Morgana seems to be an ice queen who dislikes everything about Christmas. But Merlin is not easily fooled, and discovers the truth behind her chilly attitude. He melts the ice and wins her heart, so that this year, they can celebrate light, love, and real Christmas magic.
Warnings: No warnings. Content tags include; modern royal AU, fluff, humour, light angst, holiday cheer, friends to lovers, friendship, banter, surprises, magic reveal.
Word Count: 4.6K
Author's Notes: Dear AJsRandom, thank you for the inspiring prompt! I will be happy if you enjoy reading this even half as much as I enjoyed writing it. A very, very merry Christmas to you!
A big thank you goes to the mods for organizing this charming fest, and also to my wonderful beta, Gwyllion.
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. Certain lyric lines quoted are the property of Walt Disney Records. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Let It Glow
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly
'Tis the season to be jolly..."
The children's voices rose into the crisp, cold air of the inner courtyard, filling the words of the old carol with joy and excitement.
From her appointed place next to Arthur and Uther on the grand hall's balcony, Morgana looked down on the bright and merry scene. She adjusted her gloves and smiled her most professional princess smile. She was cold.
The children's choir had been chosen among many hopefuls from across Britain, eager to experience the official lighting of the royal Christmas tree. Afterwards, the children would be treated to hot cocoa and cookies in the smaller dining hall, which had been decorated especially for the occasion. Wreaths of holly, Beatrix Potter figures, red ribbons and golden lights everywhere.
Finally the caroling ended. Morgana applauded dutifully.
Beside her, Arthur was beaming with genuine good cheer. "Thank you all for the lovely carols," he said, his loud voice carrying in the cold air. "You sing beautifully, and you have brought the true Christmas spirit to us here at the palace. Now there's only one thing missing. Do you know what that is?"
The group of children could hardly contain themselves. "The lights! The Christmas lights!" they called, jumping with anticipation.
"That's right. It's time for the lights." Arthur smiled and reached for the switch, which had been mounted at the balcony parapet. "On behalf of the king, myself, and Princess Morgana, we thank you, and wish you every possible joy of the season. Let the celebrations begin!"
In that moment, the courtyard filled with Christmas magic. Glorious lights banished the winter evening gloom. The courtyard's big tree shimmered in all the colours of the rainbow, and thousands of tiny lights on near-invisible strings formed starry patterns on the walls and in the air. The Pendragon crest glowed on the high wall behind the royal family, a golden dragon on a fiery field of crimson. Flakes of artificial snow started drifting down from the tower above, glittering as they fell towards earth. The courtyard had been transformed into a wonderland.
The children went wild, and the palace staff joined them in cheering loudly.
"Have a merry Christmas, everyone!" Arthur called. He waved enthusiastically, and Morgana and King Uther joined him, although they were more restrained. Waving to the people was a royal necessity— taught as soon as a prince or princess was out of the cradle— but there was no need to go overboard.
Morgana sighed with relief, letting the polite smile drop off her face. The official programme for the day was finally over. She could return to her warm rooms, slip into something comfortable, and let a good book or possibly a movie carry her far away from her constant Christmas cares.
"Are you sure you don't want to come with me after all?" Arthur asked, joining her on the walk through the long corridor to the royal family's private rooms. The many mirrors and gilt wall ornaments threw their reflections back at them as they walked, making it look as if the two of them were made of fractured light, magical like the ones outside. Morgana hurriedly averted her eyes.
She shook her head. "I'm very certain, Arthur. All this forced cheer wearies me, you know, and the Gawants' December Ball is the epitome of Christmas cheesiness. Santas and angels in an unholy mix of tinsel, and I suppose Elena will actually be bobbing for apples again? Do you remember that year she nearly drowned?"
"She's very dedicated," Arthur laughed.
"And everyone still has to join in decorating their tree?"
"It's harmless, happy fun, Morgana. I enjoy it," Arthur said. "Especially now, when father has finally given up on marrying me off to poor Elena."
"Uther is blind. Everyone else knows that you love Gwen with all your heart." Morgana frowned. She had every reason to be grateful for Uther's partial blindness when it came to realizing truths about his own children.
It was Arthur's turn to sigh. "I let it slip that Elena has been known to cavort with suspected magic-users. A white lie, of course, but I was desperate. That was why father gave up on her as my bride-to-be. But even so, he would never accept me marrying Gwen. Still, one day, perhaps..."
"Don't give up. Royals should be allowed to follow their hearts, just like everyone else," Morgana said firmly. "I'll support you two lovebirds to the ends of the earth. And I know that Merlin will, too."
They had reached their destination. Arthur pulled open the door to his room. He glanced inside, and grimaced. "Well, Merlin's not supporting me and Gwen right now. He's barely supporting himself."
Morgana stepped closer to have a look. She saw Merlin, perching precariously on a tilted chair that balanced on only two legs, his own feet propped up on a side table. Merlin had his head back, his eyes closed, and his mouth half open. He appeared to be fast asleep.
The Pendragon siblings exchanged a look, and rolled their eyes in unison. Arthur let the door hit the wall with a loud bang. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead!"
Merlin's eyes opened wide. His body twitched, and he lost his equilibrium. The chair crashed to the floor. Merlin fell hard, rolled across the carpet, and sat up, looking confused. His hair was an unruly mop, and his blue shirt was creased beyond redemption, but his guileless smile was huge.
"Arthur. Morgana. Back already? That was quick!"
Morgana relaxed at the sight of him. Merlin was a bit strange, and just now he looked incredibly weird, but he was charming and kind, and a true friend to both her and Arthur. It was impossible to be annoyed at him for more than a few seconds.
Arthur had met Merlin at uni. Morgana wasn't sure what had happened, exactly, but despite their very different social standing, the Prince of Wales and the young man from a modest village background had become close friends. Since Merlin was neither noble nor rich, and King Uther would disapprove of him keeping the prince's company at all times, Arthur had offered Merlin the position as his personal manservant. That way they could be thick as thieves, and the king none the wiser. Of course, it also meant that Arthur was in constant danger of dressing inappropriately.
"You're the worst manservant in the history of Britain," Arthur declared now, walking into his chambers and looking around. "Are my clothes ready? Or at least marginally usable?"
"I've laid them out on the bed," Merlin said, yawning.
Arthur took a look, his expression turning aghast. "You expect me to go to a Christmas ball wearing that? You must have gotten it for free at a thrift store!"
"Something like that, yes. As far as I understood, there will be vigorous games, and possibly also tree-climbing."
"It's a society ball!"
"Where you will have to dunk your head and probably do handstands. Wouldn't want to ruin a good tux."
"Yes, most lofty Grace."
Their constant bickering always amused Morgana. She saw that Merlin's eyes glinted with glee.
"Just put on any old thing, Arthur," she said, supporting Merlin. "Elena wouldn't notice it if you wore a potato sack."
"No, but the noble guests might. Not to mention the pap photographers waiting outside," Arthur grumbled. "I have the family honour to uphold."
Morgana grinned, and followed Merlin as he left the room. She closed the door to let Arthur deal with his botched party dressing in peace.
She looked at Merlin. "You enjoyed that too much for your own good. One day, you'll go too far."
"Maybe," Merlin conceded. "Don't you think he should be brought down a peg or two, though? He can be a bit full of himself."
"Oh, so that is why you do it. Character building. All for his own good, then?"
"Yes. I try to help where I can, and wherever it's needed," Merlin replied piously and shrugged. His tone turned earnest. "I'd like to help you, too."
Morgana stiffened, her face freezing in her usual cautious and cold expression. "I don't need any help. Especially not your crazy-clumsy kind."
"I think that maybe you do. What is it with you and Christmas traditions, Morgana? Why do you dislike everything about them so intensely? There must be something more to it than once having binged on too much eggnog and Christmas pudding."
"I'm going to bed, Merlin. Good night," Morgana said. Her heart hammered unpleasantly, and her hands were shaking. She hurried into her room, shutting the door with a firm thud.
"Good night, Morgana," she heard Merlin's voice from the other side. "See you tomorrow."
She didn't reply.
The royal Christmas duties continued apace, with the annual Diplomatic Ball the very next day. It was a white tie and tiaras event, and there would be costly Christmas baubles and designer bowls of holly and ivy from floor to lofty ceiling. All the guests would be dressed to the nines.
Gwen spent a long time getting Morgana ready for the evening. The royals' arrival and the king's speech would be televised live. A thousand journalists and style bloggers had sharpened their wits and their pens to eviscerate the ball guests' looks, Morgana's foremost among them. She wanted to look perfect.
As Morgana descended the main staircase to join her father and brother, Merlin was loitering about, looking useless. She swept past him without stopping, and reached the safety of the downstairs anteroom. Arthur and Uther weren't there yet. So much for women always being late!
After a moment, Merlin stuck his head into the room, and smiled at her. "Morgana, you look gorgeous."
Morgana appreciated the compliment. She wore an ice-blue gown with flowing layers of chiffon, strewn with tiny pearls and silver sequins. Queen Victoria's fabled sapphire and diamond tiara glittered on her beautifully-coiffed head. Many more diamonds sparkled at her throat, ears and wrists.
"Sadly, you also do look like cold midwinter personified," Merlin said, inviting himself into the room. "The only thing missing is an icicle dangling from your nose."
Morgana wasn't in the mood for banter. "Don't you have a prince to attend to?"
"He's dressed and ready. More or less," Merlin replied, undeterred. "So, Morgana, you really decided to channel your inner Elsa today?"
"If so, what does that make you? Olaf the goofy snowman, I suppose," Morgana countered. She didn't like being compared to Disney's ice queen. It hit too close to home.
"Far from it," Merlin replied, unperturbed. He never seemed to be bothered by Morgana's occasionally chilly attitude. "In fact— give me a minute..."
Turning away from her and leaning forwards, he was fiddling with some sort of gear he'd kept hidden behind his back. Then he turned again, facing her with a flourish. "I'm Sven the reindeer!"
Taken by surprise, Morgana burst out laughing. Merlin had donned fake reindeer horns and a bright red bulb of a nose.
"Just look," Merlin chirped, and started galloping in place, panting, his eyes bright and his hands held in front like paws. He looked incredibly silly, but joyfully so, and then he neighed. Loudly and repeatedly.
Morgana laughed so hard she nearly cried. "Don't do that," she managed to gasp at last. "You'll ruin my eye makeup, and I am about to leave for the ball."
"Admit it," Merlin grinned. "All I need is some bright lights and gold stars decorating my antlers, and I'll be the most handsome Christmas creature you've ever seen in your life."
"You look like a mix between Rudolf and Uther's favourite corgi," Morgana chortled, feeling a warm glow in her heart. "I'd have to go with silly, rather than handsome. But you're certainly one of a kind!"
Someone walked along the hallway outside, the steps barely audible on the thick antique carpet, but no one entered or knocked on the door. Merlin and Morgana were still alone.
"We have to hurry, I suppose. Let us have those antler-lights right here and now," Merlin said, and gestured.
Many flickering flames appeared out of nowhere, forming the shapes of stars and hearts that danced in the air, circling Merlin's antlers. Merlin's eyes glowed golden, just like the flames. He did not seem goofy now, but alien and powerful, and he looked her straight in the eye.
Morgana gasped, and felt the blood draining from her face. She made an involuntary step backwards, raising her gloved hand as if to ward off evil. For a moment she was speechless.
Hurried steps could be heard outside. Merlin's lights winked out of existence at the very moment when Arthur tore the door open.
"Morgana, there you are. The limousine is waiting. We're late, father will be displeased. Please hurry."
Morgana nodded. She rushed from the room as if fleeing from a ghost. Behind her, she heard Arthur admonishing Merlin; "Someone seems to have mislaid all the furs for the charity sleigh ride tomorrow. I hope that same someone locates those furs tonight, or father will be angry."
If Merlin replied, Morgana couldn't hear it. She'd reached the safety of the gate to the courtyard.
A few moments later, Arthur joined her and King Uther in the limousine, and they pulled out of the palace gates, their security detail in front and behind. There was a group of spectators waiting there, eager for a glimpse of the royals in their finery. Morgana completely forgot to wave.
Her world had just turned upside-down.
During the next days, Morgana threw herself into her Christmas princess duties with frenzied vigour. She was out and about early and late on official engagements, visiting schools and various charities that she championed, admiring Christmas craft projects and electric decorations, listening to carols. She took Christmas tea at the Ritz with Lady Mithian, and there were several formal dinners to attend, not to mention the outrageous palace panto. She pressed more hands than she could count, tasted any number of mulled wines, and applauded until her palms hurt.
For once she saw a purpose to the many Christmas events and traditions. They helped her avoid Merlin.
She struggled to come to terms with his big revelation. Merlin had magic! But why had he decided to let her know? Had he seen something in her that made him do it? What did he want from her? He had shown her immense trust, that was certain. King Uther would never accept a magic-user among the royal staff. Although the law had recently been altered so that the use of magic wasn't a criminal offense anymore, sorcery was widely considered a dangerous mental affliction, and magic users were hated and feared by many. In private, King Uther had spoken at length about his objections to the de-criminalization of sorcery.
Morgana needed time to think, but was afraid of where her reflections might take her. Her constant Christmas duties kept her both distracted and on edge, and wearied her so much that she managed to sleep at night.
It wasn't until the royal family moved to Camelot Castle, where they always celebrated Christmas, that the hectic pace slowed down.
Morgana loved Camelot. The ancient castle had a fairytale look, and was situated in the middle of an immense and beautiful park, part of which was private to the royal family. Staying there was simultaneously restful and uplifting. Arriving at Camelot felt like coming home to both Morgana and Arthur.
It snowed on Christmas eve. In the afternoon, Morgana sat by the window in her chambers, watching the park turning white. It was a peaceful sight that helped her rediscover her inner calm and rebuild her frayed courage.
She went to find Merlin.
As dusk fell, and the snowfall had lessened to a light shimmering drizzle, Merlin and Morgana walked into the park together. They followed an ancient path among old and sturdy oaks, away from the groomed parts of the park. Out here, they would be truly alone, far from prying eyes.
At first, they walked in silence. The snow muted every sound, and the air was cold and fresh. Everything looked clean and new under the pristine cover of white. Being with Merlin in the ancient and untamed part of the Camelot park was surprisingly pleasant. Morgana relaxed. She felt as if she could finally breathe freely.
It was unusual for Merlin to stay quiet for this long. Morgana realized that he was waiting for her to speak. He had laid his cards on the table back in London. It was her turn now.
She stopped and turned towards him. "You have magic. Why did you reveal it to me?"
Merlin blinked. His cheeks and nose were blushing with the cold, complementing the red woolen scarf around his neck. He looked endearing, and far from dangerous.
"I wanted to let you know you aren't alone," he said. "And I was tired of hiding from you who I really am. You deserve more than that."
Morgana didn't try to deny anything. She was tired of hiding, too. It took so much effort.
"How did you know about me?" she asked.
"I have suspected it for some time. Then I saw you, last Christmas, as you admired the lit tree in the Grand Hall. Your eyes glowed, and golden sparks leaped from your fingers. You believed yourself to be alone, I think."
Morgana bit her lip. Her defenses would always come down at Camelot, and her magic would find ways to break free, however much she tried to rein it in.
"We are friends, Morgana. I have been waiting for the right time to be honest with you, and hoped you would trust me with the truth in return."
Her exhale escaped in a white puff of air. She had been holding her breath. "Yes, Merlin. It's true. I have magic too. And it's growing stronger."
She had never spoken those words out loud before. It felt strange, but right. Here among the silent trees, in the dusk and snow, looking into Merlin's kind eyes, she felt safe revealing her big secret at last.
"Is that why you pretend to dislike Christmas?"
Morgana nodded. "My magic reacts to flames, and lights, and everything that glitters and shines. I think it wants to come out and play. I could light every Christmas tree in London by myself if I wanted to, and make the winter darkness glow."
"That would be beautiful."
"It scares me. This power inside me that I can't completely control, I never asked for it. I don't want it."
"Don't say that, Morgana. Your magic is a gift. It makes you unique. It should be used for good."
"The magical Christmas princess," Morgana said bitterly. "Ready to go up in flames! Is it any wonder I work so hard to be an ice queen instead?"
"They say having magic drives you mad—"
"It doesn't. But having to constantly hide your true self just might. Don't listen to bigots and prejudice. It's only fear of the unknown speaking."
They stood for a moment without speaking. Morgana realized that she felt an immense relief. A heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
"What about you?" she asked. "What is your magic like?"
"I'm very powerful," Merlin replied, matter-of-factly. "Probably the most powerful sorcerer you'll meet. But my main affinity lies with nature, with earth, plants and animals."
"When did you know?"
"When I was a small boy. I used to make foxes and rabbits come to sit with me so I could tell them stories. My mother struggled to hide my magical antics from the villagers. I was too young to be secretive."
"She accepted you?"
"Yes. I have always had her unconditional love and support. She was my rock as I grew up."
"How lucky you are, "Morgana sighed, envy fighting with bitterness in her voice.
"It must have been very difficult for you, and very hard, growing up with King Uther's opinions on magic."
"Yes," Morgana said and shuddered, although she was warmly dressed. "More difficult than you would think. I suppose you know that my mother died when I was a baby, and I lost the man I believed to be my father when I was seven years old. I loved Duke Gorlois with all my heart, and I still miss him. To learn that my real father was the king— it completely tore the ground from under me. I was desperate for belonging, and for my new father's affection, but Uther has always been distant and cold. And yet, he did acknowledge me as his daughter and made me the Princess Royal, and weathered the big scandal of my illegitimacy. In his way, he does love me."
"And then you discovered your magic?"
"I was in denial for the longest time. I knew Uther would regret having accepted me as his daughter if I was found out. I was afraid Arthur would reject me too. I've been fighting my magic with all my might. But I'm tired now."
"You're not alone anymore," Merlin said, his voice warm and gentle. He moved closer, looking her in the eyes. "You will have my support, for as long as you want it. And my love, too."
Morgana felt joy welling up, her magic igniting and bubbling with delight right under her skin. "Truly?" she whispered, uncertain that she had understood him correctly.
"Truly. I love you, Morgana."
Irrepressible light burst from her fingers, penetrating her mittens to create a nimbus of soft, golden light around the two of them.
"And I love you, Merlin. How blind I have been!"
She took a step forward, bringing them together, and leaned in for a kiss. Merlin's lips were cold. They embraced, and their kiss deepened. The glow around them grew stronger as Merlin's light joined Morgana's. They stood together in the white woods, illuminated as if in a magical Christmas snow globe.
At long last Morgana tore herself away, dizzy with joy. Merlin's lips were anything but cold now, and she wanted a thousand more kisses. But they had to start on the walk back, or Security would be searching for them.
They retraced their steps through the snowy woods, hand in hand, smiling at each other as they walked. This evening had changed so much for Morgana. It had turned darkness into light, loneliness into love, fear to optimism. She felt as if she could fly.
"Look!" Merlin suddenly said, and pointed.
A magnificent stag stood under the nearest oak tree, looking at them with calm curiosity.
"Oh, it's beautiful," Morgana whispered, her sense of having entered a fairytale intensifying.
Merlin reached out a hand to the animal. "Come," he said.
Without hesitation, the majestic animal walked right up to Merlin, nuzzling his hand. Merlin stuck a hand in the pocket of his baggy trousers, and brought out a large carrot.
Morgana laughed. "So that's why your pockets are bulging!"
"Did you think I was just that happy to see you?" Merlin grinned, delivering the cheesy line with just the right sass.
The stag chomped down on the carrot. Merlin patted its neck, and scratched between the big antlers. "Now go back into the forest, my friend," he said. The stag tossed its head and did as told.
Merlin and Morgana walked on, and soon reached the castle grounds, where they reluctantly parted ways with a kiss.
Morgana knew that they would face many obstacles. There were so many things they needed to talk about, plan, and agree on, but there would be time enough for ordinary days and serious discussions. For now, she just wanted to bask in happiness and love and lights.
It was Christmas at last.
Arthur and Morgana dined with the king. The traditional royal dinner used to be a rather stiff affair, with Arthur and Morgana joining King Uther at a table that could comfortably have seated fifty more people. This year nothing could quench Morgana's good mood. It even proved infectious, and both Arthur and Uther enjoyed themselves. It was long since the Pendragons had laughed and talked so easily and freely.
It was late when the king withdrew. Morgana and Arthur hurried to their rooms, saying a hasty goodnight in the corridor.
A few minutes later there was a soft knock on Morgana's door. Her heart gave a delighted jolt, and her hands sparkled. Merlin had arrived, just as they'd agreed.
In between kisses and caresses under the strategically placed sprig of mistletoe that Morgana had swiped downstairs, many laughs, and sips of the iced Norwegian Christmas aquavit that Merlin had brought along, they were soon enjoying themselves immensely.
"You know," Merlin said, looking deep into Morgana's eyes. "I think it's time for our song."
"Hmmm?" Morgana murmured, stealing a kiss. "We have a song?"
"The snow glows white on the mountain tonight," Merlin belted out.
"Why, of course!" Morgana hiccoughed and joined in.
"I'm never going back, the past is in the past!" She threw both her arms in the air, making lights dance all around them. The room turned bright as day.
Merlin's magic burst forth to greet hers. A herd of deer made of pure light cavorted through the room, and red roses dropped into Morgana's lap from thin air.
"Let it go, let it go," they sang, loudly and proudly. "Won't hold it back any more! Let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door—"
The door to Morgana's room burst open. Merlin and Morgana jumped. The lights died, and the deer dissolved.
"What on earth?" Arthur said, looking from one of them to the other in exasperation. "Have you taken leave of your senses? This racket could wake every dead king in his crypt!"
"I think they are celebrating," Gwen said, appearing next to Arthur and taking his hand. "Just like us. But more loudly."
Morgana gathered herself. The shock had brought back a modicum of sobriety and sense.
"Arthur, Gwen, come in. We have something to tell you."
"Actually, several things," Merlin pointed out, getting up to stand next to her.
"We're in love," Morgana said. "We're a couple."
"Congratulations!" Arthur said, pulling Gwen close. "That makes for two happy couples."
"Two secretly happy couples," Gwen corrected him gently.
"Not for much longer, I hope," Arthur said.
"In this day and age, royals should be allowed to follow their hearts," Morgana agreed.
She and Arthur looked at each other and burst out laughing. If only it were that easy! Uther would not approve, even if the rest of the world did. But Uther was only one man, although he was their king and their father.
"Love will conquer in the end," Morgana stated with conviction, planting a big kiss on Merlin's cheek.
"Yes, it will," Arthur said. "Now was there something more you wanted to tell us?"
"I have magic," Morgana replied, feeling bold, hoping that Arthur would not recoil.
"So do I," Merlin added.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Oh, I know that," he said.
Gwen nodded. "We both do. You're our best friends, do you think we are blind?"
Morgana exchanged a very sheepish look with Merlin.
"Apparently they did", Arthur grinned, looking smug.
"Never mind," Merlin said. "We can talk all this through later."
"Join us in a toast?" Morgana asked.
"To new beginnings," Merlin said.
"To loving couples," Gwen smiled.
"To magic!" Arthur said, leaning in to give Morgana a hug.
"And to Christmas," Morgana finished, and meant it with all of her happy heart.