Title: The Heart of Lessons
Character/s: Merlin, Morgana
Summary: When Morgana met Merlin...
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: #73, attraction
Author's Notes: This takes place twenty years prior to my ficlet for prompt 72. Morgana is 15, Merlin 18 or 19. The entire AU, where Merlin and Morgana are professors and Mordred their student, can be found at AO3.
Fury burned through Morgana’s veins as she glared at Uther across his desk. “This is ridiculous. I don’t need a tutor.”
“Really? Your marks say otherwise.”
“It’s a rubbish subject. Completely pointless.”
For the first time since she’d marched into his office to protest, Uther betrayed a reaction that wasn’t indifference. His jaw firmed, his gaze flinty. “And that attitude is precisely why it’s so important. Success comes only to those who understand the past and don’t repeat the mistakes they find there. You will meet with him, and you will improve your marks so they’re more worthy of your name. Do I make myself clear?”
With her head high, Morgana whirled on her heel and marched out of the room, not bothering to close the door behind her. A nothing accomplishment in the face of Uther’s dictate, but she had to take her victories where she could.
She heard his voice first, drifting from the library as she approached. The spectacle of the tall, lanky boy emptying an endless stream of books from his backpack greeted her. He chattered to Lydia, the housekeeper, as she set out tea for them, but Morgana didn’t get a good look at him until Lydia noticed her hovering in the entrance and stiffened.
Dancing blue eyes locked with hers, his smile wide and open. “Are you Morgana?”
Her thoughts stuttered. She’d expected a peer, not someone clearly already at uni, and certainly not someone who seemed as guileless as this. As she struggled to keep a hold on her anger, her gaze slid behind him. “That’ll be all, Lydia. Thank you.”
“My name’s Merlin,” he said, turning back to the desk. “And lucky for you, history’s my specialty.”
He continued like that while Lydia left, while Morgana took the seat opposite him, while he got out a paper and pen. Sliding the chair to her side so the desk was no longer between them, he paused and glanced at her with a quizzical smile. “You don’t talk very much.”
Because she wasn’t sure what to think of him, and the one lesson she knew better than all the rest was never to display weakness. She said the only thing she could. “I don’t need a tutor.”
“Why don’t we see about that?”
An hour later, she had yet to utter another word. And Merlin left with promises to return as if the lesson had gone off exactly as he’d planned.
A week later, Morgana could count on one hand how many additional words she’d uttered in Merlin’s presence. It wasn’t that difficult to continue the silent act, though. Watching him talk about a subject he was clearly passionate about was almost hypnotic. She’d never known anyone to get so excited about stupid dates and royal lines, but Merlin treated each one as something special, always smiling, never disparaging.
At the end of their fourth meeting, he sat back with a sigh. “Look, let’s get this straight. I know you don’t want me here, but you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I’m not leaving. I need this job, and your father is paying me too much money to just throw it away because you’re mad at him. So how this ends up is really up to you. Do you want to go on like we’ve been, where you end up with the same bad marks he expects you to get? Or would you rather show him how wrong he is blowing those tests away? Because you can, you know. You’re more than smart enough, and I think you’ve proven you can stick to something once you’ve set your mind to it, don’t you?”
That last was said with his customary smile, a joke most definitely, but there was something else there, something softer, that reached through Morgana’s defenses and beckoned her to come free of them. “You don’t know I can do the work,” she said. “You’ve never seen my homework or anything.”
His shoulder lifted in a shrug. “Maybe not. But I still believe it.” His unblinking gaze dared her to look away. “Because sometimes, Morgana, you just know.”
Though she’d been waiting for it, Morgana jumped when the doorbell chimed throughout the house. “I’ve got it, Lydia!” She bolted and then jerked to a halt at the door, pulling herself straight and taking a deep breath before reaching to open it.
If Merlin noticed that she was answering it instead of the housekeeper, he gave no sign. “I hope you’re ready to work,” he said, the same thing he always said when she would appear in the library.
Stiffly, she led the way, hanging back so he would reach the desk first. Her heart thumped as he hesitated, the pack half on his shoulder.
“What’s this?” he said. He opened the slim box slowly, revealing the red silk handkerchief she’d spent hours picking out.
“An apology.” It was more than that, but she’d never tell him. For all her money and looks, Merlin was beyond anything she could actually have. He cared for neither, more interested in the heart of matters rather than the superficial, and when that was all she had to offer… “Please accept it.”
“You didn’t have to—”
“Yes, I did.” She darted to his side before he could put it down, plucking it free so he could see the monogram. “You were right. About everything. I behaved like a child, but I want you to know, not anymore. I’m ready to work.” Her fingers trembled—did he notice?—as she tucked the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his shirt. Something so formal looked a little silly against the casual plaid, but seeing it there gave her a measure of strength.
So did looking up to meet his smile.
“Thank you,” he said.
And that was it. They got to work, and the gift was never mentioned.
Morgana didn’t mind. He was right, after all.
Sometimes, you just know.