Title: Being and Everything
Character/s: Merlin, Mordred, Morgana
Summary: Merlin accepts responsibility for his actions.
Word Count: 798
Prompt: #72, acceptance
Author's Notes: This takes place after my ficlet for prompt 71. The entire AU, where Merlin and Morgana are professors and Mordred their student, can be found at AO3.
No matter how old he got or how much life experience he could claim, Merlin always felt clumsy when he walked around John Lewis. It was all a bit silly, really. It was just a department store. A nice one, surely, but still, just a store. It sold housewares, clothing, gifts, just like any other shop. London certainly had more exclusive options.
But something about the bright lighting cast him into his childhood, when everything looked breakable and the prices far beyond his meager means. His ties with the Pendragons might have exposed him to more luxurious elements, but he never forgot about value. Especially now that he was on a university salary.
Still, it seemed right to try John Lewis first. The gift needed to be simple yet sincere, elegant yet effortless. In a lot of ways, the store seemed an appropriate compromise, so he wandered through the crystal and glassware before heading toward the women's department, hoping something would leap out and demand he purchase it. He was out of practice. He hadn't bought a gift for a woman unrelated to him since before Arthur had died.
Funny that it would be Morgana yet again he would surprise.
He hadn't spoken to her since that fateful night he'd gone to her office. Though he knew Gaius prayed for otherwise, he'd been too ashamed of his behavior, too shocked she had accepted it, to face her again. Better to bury himself in classes and focus on his students. He saw her from a distance, when she would hurry to her car at the end of the day or arrive so early she believed nobody else was around, and though the urge to go to her sometimes consumed him, he held strong.
Until yesterday in his ethics class, when an unexpected voice had chimed in on a student discussion regarding incompatibilism and how neuroscience should be utilized in determining future welfare of the guilty rather than their punishments.
"That's the coward's path." All heads turned to look at Mordred, who normally sat silently in the far corner of the hall. Not once in the time since he'd requested permission to audit the course had he spoken up during a lecture, let alone done so without permission. He remained steady under their gazes, but rather than direct his comment to the young man in the front who'd initiated the opinion, he regarded Merlin, solemn as ever.
"And why do you say that?" Merlin prompted.
"I didn't. Sartre did. I just agree with what he said, that 'we are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if this freedom weighs upon us or if we need an excuse.'"
When he noticed others in the class didn't recognize the quote, Merlin offered, "Being and Nothingness. Very good."
"Don't you agree, Dr. Emrys? Or do you think we lack the free will necessary to take responsibility for our own actions? Haven't you been teaching us that it's our moral requirement to do so rather than heave it upon the victims of our behaviors?"
Others had chimed in at that, leaving Merlin's opinion unvoiced. But as he guided the rest of the discussion, the weight of Mordred's questions directed his thoughts elsewhere, to the way he'd avoided Morgana, to the words he'd used to convince her to lower her guard. Merlin had been the one to make the choice. He'd been the first to bridge the chasm. It was time he accepted the direction he'd steered them and stopped running away from its potential consequences.
His first step forward would be a gift.
He found it in women's accessories, a silk scarf in a lavender and coral feather print that weighed less than air. Though Morgana chose bolder hues these days, the colors reminded him of the first time he'd met her, how ethereal she'd been, how seemingly untouchable. She'd challenged his preconceptions almost from the start, he realized with a smile. The scarf cost more than he'd paid for both pairs of shoes he currently owned, but he considered this a price worth paying. He wanted her to think of happier times when she saw it, to smile with joy rather than sneer with disdain at a cheap offering.
The next morning, he made sure to arrive before everyone else, letting himself into her office and placing the silver-wrapped present atop her desk. While he would have loved to stick around and see how she reacted, he slipped away and headed to his first class.
The card would say what he wished. And then Morgana could decide for herself how the next step would be taken. He hadn't bothered to hide behind words she'd see straight through, anyway. He'd kept it short, simple, true.
Happy Birthday, Morgana