How to Save a (Love) Life

PART 3

PART THREE: In which all that back-story gets mostly cleared up, there's no law against public displays of affection (no matter what Lance says), and maybe a resolution is hiding somewhere in between the UST part and the snogging-each-other's-brain's-out part. Maybe.

This all started three months ago, right as summer started and Morgana was still pinching herself. Just to make sure sixth form was actually over, that it was truly her last summer before university.

Well, 'this all' meaning Morgana completely avoiding Merlin.

"I don't understand you, Morgana," he starts - skipping forward to these two in the laundry closet, now - with none of the confidence he exhibited in kicking out Vivian. But he hasn't broken off his gaze, and she's really hoping desensitization applies even to things like Merlin's eyes.

"For awhile, we . . . but then you . . ." he breathes out in exasperation, staring at her with furrowed brows. Gaze assessing, once again. "Just tell me what's going on, all right?"

"I - " Morgana shuts her mouth shut, remembering what's most important to say. "I'm sorry."

It doesn't cause the effect she intended - Merlin steps back, expression pained. Like the phrase has physically wounded him. "I'm sorry then, as well," he says finally, and her heart pulses like a smarting thumb when his hand reaches for the doorknob.

"No!" She grabs his hand, stops him just as he touches it. Merlin looks up, face shuttered. "I don't. I don't mean sorry - like that. I mean, I'm sorry this has gotten so messed up and I'm such a vixen and - " she takes a big breath, bracing herself, " - every time I look at you I want to kiss you."

He blinks. Quirks an eyebrow. "What . . . what's a vixen?"

Morgana can't help but laugh out an exasperated sound - that's what his ears caught?

"She-demon, I think. I looked it up once." A corner of his mouth tugs up.

This, as in the way Morgana's heart is currently fluttering like a broken-winged hummingbird, can't be blamed on some pin-pointed summer party. She's always had the slightest of crushes on her brother's best friend, always felt drawn to him even when she blamed it on Merlin being a much better brother than her actual one. The older she's gotten, the more she's realized how very much that is not the case.

For one, she's never wanted to kiss her brother flat on the mouth when he leaned closer to her reaching for something - right in front of Gwaine, too, when they were still together. And she's never craved her brother's laugh like a person craves happiness, like she's craved Merlin. And then Arthur insisted to Uther he brought along Merlin so he and Morgana didn't "rip each others' throats out in Paris," when Spring Break finally rolled around and Merlin had been away so long his presence was like a shock, and Arthur was sick for three days and it was just her and Merlin and them, and all the feelings she's kept casually locked up . . . just tumbled loose.

When they kissed, for the first time. Not below the Eiffel Tower or anything cheesy - right in front of the hotel room's door, Arthur blissfully ignorant just on the other side. Which, funny enough, made it all the more thrilling.

She told him to close his eyes, and when he wouldn't, she said, "Just trust me."

He closed his eyes. They kissed.

Morgana would love to kiss the tiny grin right off Merlin's face right now, and forget all formalities. But he deserves an explanation - no matter how it's going to kill her, to give it.

"When I was talking to Vivian - then, not just now, I mean - she told me it was about Gwaine," Morgana starts, belatedly realizing she hasn't released her hold on his hand. "She started asking me about him, since they started dating just then and I was the ex, and I think she was worried about how much Gwaine still flirts with me."

"Understandable," Merlin nods, face unreadable.

"I tried to convince her of its harmlessness," Morgana continues, "and then . . . she mentioned you. Said Gwaine had commented on me and you, how I was, um, pining after you apparently, since ever. You seemed like you wanted to keep things under wraps - and she seemed to want the inside scoop." Morgana is blushing, she knows she is blushing, but he just keeps looking at her. Like he doesn't know, he didn't hear just outside the door that night, what happens next. "And I lied."

"You lied," he repeats, uncomprehending.

"Yes," Morgana insists, giving his hand a light squeeze. He looks down at it in slight surprise, like he hadn't noticed them joined either.

"You mean everything I heard was you throwing Vivian off the scent, because . . .?"

"Because I'm an insecure idiot," Morgana blurts out, knowing immediately the words are true. "And I-I lie when I feel like I'm losing control. Like what time my break was, a few days ago." She cringes on the memory, on the idiocy she can sometimes (oftentimes) exhibit in the face of uncertainty. So, the face of Merlin, really.

"How was meeting up during your break 'losing control'?" Merlin says in a reproachful tone, letting go of her hand now. There's hurt and vulnerability betrayed in his eyes, and Morgana wants to melt into the wall knowing she's the one who put it there.

"Haven't you noticed?" she laughs, probably hysterically, realizing how hopeless all her hope probably is. "I've been hiding away from you for three months, ever since you drove off from that party. Ashamed of myself."

"If you don't care about me like that, Morgana, all you ever had to do was say so," Merlin says, voice hollow. His face is drawn, consigned. "You didn't have to stay away from me for three months, take off work when you knew I'd be there, lie about your break time just to avoid me. That's just - that's crazy."

And boy is he right.

But of course Merlin can't get it into his thick skull that all that actually means is she's head-over-bleeding-heels in love with him.

"Have you been listening at all?" she snaps, stepping into his space. "Do your ears have some filter that doesn't allow you to hear me?" He looks confused, and Morgana wants to throw something. "When I say every time I look at you I want to snog your face off? That I've been pining for you since forever?"

Maybe she should think before doing, because now that the ranting is over suddenly Morgana realizes how close they are. And she's never been good at the whole unresolved-sexual-tension thing. Close enough that, because he's looking down at her, she feels his breath on her face.

That's incentive enough. Morgana grabs his shirt collar and collides their mouths in what is first an awkward sort of lip maneuvering. Merlin even makes an "mmf!" of surprise. But then she angles her head just so, and her hand is moving to reach at the back of his neck, and their lips slide together in a rather intoxicating way, his taste bitten and lovely and Merlin, and that blue drink has nothing on what this kiss is making her whole body feel . . .

And Merlin pushes her back. Not forcefully, just firmly creating enough space between them, relinquishing her hold on his mouth in a rather gentle way. In a rather heart-breaking way.

"Maybe they do," he whispers, voice low and oh so tempting even in rejection. Morgana takes a moment to realize what it means, though - eventually fitting together that he's actually answering her question.

That he doesn't believe her.

oOoOoOo

Don't go hating on Merlin, now. Remember, no matter his many stupid choices made thanks to misunderstandings and self-sacrificing and sense of inadequacy (like this one), he will never be the bad guy.

Morgana is the bad guy.

So, it goes with no surprise to her, when Merlin gives a very sad, soft smile and leaves the Tiny Laundry Closet of Failed Relationships, that Morgana has no one but herself to blame. Liquid misery is manifesting itself, smearing over her eyes once again, but this time there's no reflection to glare it away by. Its just her and her weepy woman hormones in this damned closet, now.

She trudges out eventually, intent on finding Gwen and getting the hell out of here. The party is over.

But while she makes her journey up the stairs, perhaps it'd help now to divulge exactly what Merlin heard out of Morgana's lips, that fateful night at Arthur's beginning-of-summer-party. To know where Merlin is coming from.

Basically, it was things like:

"Oh, him? Is that what Gwaine said?"

"No, no, not like that. Erm, we're just . . . we're just kind of getting to know each other, you know?"

"No! Me and Merlin don't -!"

"Okay, let me explain. I've known him forever, he's like a brother to me. Whatever crazy tale Gwaine has concocted, I swear . . ."

"I. Don't. Like. Him. I would never in a million years. He's not my type - at all. Can we please change the subject?"

"That's just because I felt bad! Anything Gwaine says he's heard me say, that I'm completely enamored with Merlin Emrys, IS A LIE."

Which all, was a lie.

It was after that last incriminating sentence that Vivian had shrugged, suggested they re-joined the party, and allowed Morgana to open the door herself and find Merlin staring shocked at her from the other side. Vivian smirking next to her, like she'd heard him and said nothing, letting Morgana unknowingly dig her own grave. But that didn't matter - however he had gotten there, no matter that he had eavesdropped, it was on her.

That he can't believe her now, after hearing the proclamation that all she'd ever said to him was a lie, is quite understandable. In fact, its rational.

That doesn't mean it stops bitter, harsh tears from pricking at the corner of her eyes. By the time she's trudging up the stairs, of course, Morgana has managed to withhold water works at least until she and Gwen get to the car, so there's little fear in opening the door at the top and creating a spectacle of herself. But when she does, just at the threshold of the main room, Merlin is standing there blocking the way. His back is to her, completely still in a strange, frigid way.

Then Morgana's ears catch up with her eyes, and she hears a whole crowd of whooping and cat-calling and egging-on.

Her first thought is who is stupid enough to get into a fight at this house, Lance will slay them, but then she sidesteps Merlin and realizes why he froze. Why he's staring at the spectacle everyone else seems to be routing on. Morgana's mouth pops open, eyes bugging practically out of her head as she stares.

At her brother and Gwen.

oOoOoOo

"Yes, I forgive you, No, I will never understand, and NEVER DO I EVER want to hear the details, you're going to have to find a new best friend for all that."

"For what its worth, I am sorry," Gwen says, biting her lip adorably as she pulls out onto the street. Her face is all flushed and happy in a way it hasn't looked since . . . well, since Lance. "I realize how it might have been a tad - "

" - traumatizing?"

" - Awkward, I was going to say," Gwen flushes.

"Oh, of course. Finding your brother and your best friend snogging in front of the whole staff of Magic Geysers - just a tad awkward." Gwen's flush deepens, and Morgana can't help but laugh. "But in all seriousness, Gwen: couldn't you get a room?"

And of course that scandalizes dear Gwen, who gasps in shock and whacks Morgana in the arm. "I would never - !"

"Yes, and that's why its pretty hilarious that you were snogging my brother, the infamous Arthur Pendragon, notorious for having his way in situation more than one."

"Well," Gwen huffed, "I didn't realize people were staring. I was a bit . . . unaware."

"I can only imagine," Morgana grins wickedly, though trying very hard to not do just that. "I'm glad your evening at least turned out to your liking."

"Oh no! It didn't go well with Merlin," Gwen guesses, immediately concerned, and Morgana should feel bad about turning the conversation into about her dreary existence. But its apparently not enough to stop her.

"I wouldn't say so, no," she starts with a sardonic smile. "I mean, I explained best I could, apologized, tried kissing him, the whole shi-bang. And he said he didn't believe me. End of story." End of the sad, sad, pathetic story this whole thing has been. Morgana really should forget about the whole happily-ever-after ideal - start sporting some green eye shadow, grow dreadlocks, and seclude herself in a hovel from this point on.

"But that can't be right," Gwen frowns, "it can't be. When Arthur and I were talking - yes, we were talking most of the time after he arrived, don't give me that look - he said Merlin was far more than willing to forgive you for anything you've done or said. He just didn't think you actually had feelings for him. But if you told him, if you kissed him - "

"Apparently my lips aren't as persuasive as I'd like to think," Morgana jokes. And then sniffles.

To sob or not to sob? That is the question.

This time Gwen is pulling over on the side of the road not to wait out a tantrum, but to hug a crying friend.

oOoOoOo

One of Morgana's favorite quotes about today: "If Monday had a face, I would punch it."

She's with Lance, who for once isn't much his shining, optimistic self, and their bad moods perfectly complement the other. She checks that the idiot park-goers are sitting on their tubes probably, and he waits for the all-clear signal to let them head down the Splash Blaster, the biggest tube slide here. And then the two have a moment to share a look of loathing - about life, Monday, this job, all of the above. Its blistering hot up here, with no canopy or shade besides the sun-visor around her head, and Morgana is ready to leave this place if it means she has to get sacked to do it.

But break is in a half an hour. Real break, not stand-by. She can make it till then, and if she can make it till then, maybe there's hope. Two lifeguards hike up the steps to replace them when the sun's finally dragged far enough across the sky, and Morgana could kiss them for it. (Except its Gwaine and Cedric - so probably not.)

Lancelot follows her down the steps, silent until they've reached the sidewalk back to the main path. "So are they serious, do you think?" he then asks, like he's asking for a death sentence.

"Who?"

He stares at her, his usual Spanish godliness slightly diminishing as he splutters, "Arth - Gwen and, and your brother, of course."

If Morgana had the strength of heart, she'd laugh. "Ahhhh, yes. The two love-birds, not-so-secretly eating each other's faces off the other night." She nods her head a few times, waiting until he looks like he's going to burst from anticipation - and shrugs. "No clue."

"I'm pretty sure people can get fined for showing that big a display of affection, publically." Lance frowns. He keeps frowning, thinks for a bit until it looks like he's hurt himself, and then sighs. "But - good for her, then. I hope . . . I hope they're happy."

This is where Lance lost Gwen - caring about her well-being so much he forgot to care about her, about them. "Me too," Morgana mutters, inwardly rolling her eyes as she tries to imagine Arthur attempting to be good enough for Gwen. They'd be laughable attempts.

Speaking of, Morgana walks out of the locker room ten minutes later only to find Arthur waiting there anxiously, just outside. "Morgana!" he says, clearly relieved, and starts following her out. "Do you know where Gwen is?"

"I really can't believe my ears," Morgana shakes her head and smirks, keeping her eyes trained forward as she walks. "To think not a week ago it'd be 'where's that friend of yours,' not her actual name - though I can't think of a time you've ever even asked that." She's headed back to the wave pool, around which there's exactly three hundred fold-up beach chairs. One of which is calling her name.

"I'd just come to pick up Merlin, and I figured I'd wait till he came up. I swear on my life I didn't intend to seduce your friend," he says, as always the pompous bastard. "It - "

"'It just happened,' I'm sure." Morgana starts walking quicker, hoping to shrug him off before she reaches her destination. Else she'll never be rid of him.

"The funny thing is," Arthur says, easily matching her pace, "it started out with us talking about you two - you and Merlin - and our mutual concern. So, if you think about it, you really only have yourself to blame here."

"I tried." Now she's being serious. "I may be certified to save people, but. Apparently not to save . . . what's between people."

And they've arrived. Gwen is oblivious, laid out on her chair still in the one-piece lifeguard suit like Morgana, reading a book of course, just ahead. In fact, its a book Morgana actually recognizes - one of her friend's absolute favorites (so much so she forced Morgana to read it), cheesily titled "Queen of Hearts," about a haughty blond prince and a kindly brunette maid falling in love. Oh the parallels.

"Gwen, look who tagged along," Morgana says drily, and Arthur's eyes alight on Gwen's just as hers does on him - both with such a bright, happy hopefulness that Morgana has to stop herself from gagging. And/or dying inside. "I guess I'll have to put up with you two flirting this whole time, now."

But Gwen and Arthur have already started talking, and it doesn't die down. After about ten minutes of "What's wrong with my laugh, then? Well?" and "You sound like a puppy, barking," she scoots her chair far enough that their annoyingly cute conversation fades into the roar of the wave pool and its occupants.

Ahh, sweet solitude.

The sun is cooking, beating down on her in thick waves, and maybe just this once she'll get tanned from it. Morgana takes off her sunglasses, trying to relax. Hoping to burn rather than to hurt, hurt, hurt. Rejection is a sting none have been saved the pain from, but that doesn't make it hurt less each time. And for all the horrible instances of rejection in her life - Arthur proclaiming they weren't siblings when she first moved in at twelve years old, a boy in 8th grade who laughed at her proclamation of love, her top university turning her down just last fall - this might actually be the worst.

Because Arthur and her are considerably close compared to then, and the boy from 8th grade was arrested in a drug bust just last year, and there were two other universities just waiting in line to offer her scholarships. But - unless cloning is invented sometime soon - there will always be just one Merlin.

Something tickles her face, bringing Morgana back from her musings. A faint puff of air. At first she discards it as a warm breeze, but then.

Then lips are pressing against hers, ever-so-slightly, and though Morgana's only kissed them a handful of times ever, she immediately knows their owner.

She jerks in surprise, almost bumping her forehead against his chin as she opens her eyes. "Hullo," Merlin says, and she lifts her head to squint up at his upside-down face. Mouth popping open in disbelief.

The sky is bright behind him, sun casting a halo of sorts over his curling, dark hair, and her breath hitches just at the sight. And by an entirely new kind of warmth, there in his eyes.

He leans back, letting her sit up, and Morgana blinks away the brightness before staring at the image before her in shock. Merlin sits on a chair just behind her, wearing swim trunks and nothing else, looking quite ravishing with his soft smile and - as usual - heart-stopping gaze.

"I-I didn't know you were here," Morgana says dumbly, staring at him as she slowly swings her legs over the side of her seat. "You . . . this is a mirage, right?"

He thinks contemplatively for a moment, then grins at her in a way that makes her lungs paralyze. Moving to sit right next to her on the edge of the reclined chair. "You tell me," he says, raising an eyebrow.

Morgana prays and prays this is what she thinks it is. His face keeps leaning closer, and she probably shouldn't be holding her breath. But she is. Daring to lean a bit closer herself.

Merlin stops about halfway there, no longer moving. Just as her spirit begins to sink, however, his hand moves to take hers from her lap. Morgana watches, confused, as he gently but cautiously places one against the side of his face. And then she understands.

Its nice and easy to imagine the privilege of stroking Merlin's face; tracing every sharp line and smooth angle, feeling the smallest of stubble along his jaw, the slightest of dampness along his hairline from the beating sun, the ridiculous line of his cheekbone. But its not so easy - as in try not to swoon easy - to actually be in. the. act. She bites her lip, trying to keep her hand from shaking. Because in a spout of boldness, her fingers start to lower slowly, moving to trace the edge of his lower lip.

It stretches into a smile against her fingertips.

"We need to talk," Morgana says regretfully, echoing his words last Saturday as she withdraws her hand. Merlin nods.

"Yes. Probably not under such scrutiny, though," he smirks, looking pointedly over her shoulder.

Morgana follows his gaze just as Gwen and Arthur whip their heads away, quite horribly bad at acting unassuming.

"Can't blame them - for shipping this, just a little, I mean," she smirks, shrugging. And he laughs because, unlike Arthur and Gwaine and most men in her life, Merlin actually knows what that means.

Fast forward about two minutes into Morgana leading Merlin to a nice, secluded part of the park - the outdoor changing stalls, which practically everyone disregards in favor of the toilet stalls every year - in total and complete, almost awkward silence. For Morgana its jittery nerves and anticipation.

To snog or not to snog? That is the question.

Merlin does really seem like he wants to talk, though, and when they stop he leans against a stall before immediately saying, "I wasn't going to go, Saturday night."

She nods. "Arthur told me."

"Did he tell you why I showed up anyway?" he asks, biting his lip in such an endearing way its almost as cute as when Gwen does it. Morgana gets distracted by that, has to replay his question in her head to answer.

"No. Though Gwaine said something to me - he told me he'd gotten you to agree somehow," Morgana remembers, and Merlin nods in a resigned sort of way.

"Gwaine called me," he confirms, "and told me he invited Freya, his cousin, who I've met a few times. He said - erm, just - he thought maybe that would get you jealous. Seeing as I think Freya might like me, well, quite a bit."

She can feel her eyes bugging out; Merlin looks a bit amused by it, but mostly sheepish. "That's what convinced you?"

He laughs and shakes his head. "No, actually. He said, and I quote: If that's what you're not sure about, with Morgana - here's your chance to find out. People don't get jealous for the fun of it, mate. They only get jealous if they care."

Morgana's eyebrows make a trek up her forehead. "That's some pretty profound shite, coming from Gwaine."

His lips twitch to the side, in a small ironic smile, as he continues, "I thought I was more than sure you didn't care, still. But then you kept throwing Freya death glares over Catch phrase - "

" - they weren't death glares - "

" - They were death glares, don't deny it," Merlin silences her, stepping forward with a poised eyebrow. "And later you seemed all upset over the other game, so I thought maybe Gwaine was right - but then in the closet, when you were explaining everything, I couldn't help but wonder if you just felt sorry for me all over again - "

" - STOP right there." She puts her hands on her hips. "One, I've never felt sorry for you Merlin - though this whole summer I've honestly felt sorry for myself after everything I ruined - and, Two, I would never in a million years lead someone on like that. I'm sorry if you don't trust me, and I know its mostly my fault, but I don't - fake well. At least, not when it comes to . . . this." She gestures between them awkwardly. Something warm is rushing to her cheeks, and Morgana curses her pale skin for making it so obvious. Merlin's eyes are on it, too. Maybe next summer she'll lay out on the roof from 11 to 4 instead of lifeguard, lather oil all over herself, bring some reflective metal -

That train of thought gets quickly cut short as Morgana feels the pads of two fingers, Merlin's fingers, brush across her flushed cheeks. "This?" he repeats in question, voice low and amused, and where did all that space go between them? Surely it was a few steps or two, at least a person's width of distance. Now . . .

Now, when Morgana whispers, "You," and the fingers are replaced by a gentle palm, Merlin is so close all she sees is his chest, all she feels is heat coming off him, warmer than the sun.

She looks up, intending to meet his eyes and see what's in them. But, who can blame her, Morgana's gaze stops at his mouth. Red, from him biting on them, slightly open, a bit chapped. When she finally moves up again, trying to control urges to back them against this wall right now and have her wicked way with him, Merlin's eyes are dark with intent. On her mouth.

A kiss with Merlin Emrys is a highlight for one's biography. A kiss initiated by Merlin Emrys is something for the history books.

An unseen hand has her by the back - the small of her back actually, which is a very important distinction considering it feels like she's been branded - and the one on her cheek moves behind her neck, tugging. In less than a second Merlin has pulled her flush against him. Bodies colliding, even before lips do.

But they do, yes indeed, Merlin's sliding against hers in a skilled fashion, light at first and then much more insistent. She gasps like a damsel into his mouth, desire pooling into her middle as if there's a leak in her heart, while he tilts his head and kisses her, once, twice. Again. Her hands grab for his shoulders like she's drowning, his hips against hers, fingers brushing down her spine in a trail of fire.

And, in case you've forgotten, remember they're in their swimsuits right now.

Morgana finally has to pull back a little, taking in a lungful of air - but it catches in her throat as Merlin's lips don't stop, trailing down her jaw, moving against her neck in a way that makes her pulse pound in her ears. She manages quick, shaky breaths, one hand fisting in his hair and the other clawing at his shoulder enough it probably hurts - but he rumbles a little in approval - and without warning both his hands hoist her up, twist them around so he can brace her against the wall. Her legs wrap around his waist, and Merlin's everywhere, everywhere. Skin against skin, one's inhale the other's exhale.

This is a part of what she was hoping for in the laundry closet. Hands exploring, pressing against his chest, moving across his collarbones, gripping on his arms - one next to her head, against the wall. Speaking with lips in an entirely more efficient way. But, unlike then, now they're outside in broad daylight in a public park. At her workplace. "You - need to - stop," she murmurs against his lips as they press against the corner of hers, and she can feel him smile.

"Why?"

Morgana shivers. Its hard to really come up with an argument when he asks like that, when he pulls back, their eyes level, his face flushed but unembarrassed. She wishes she could say the same. "Erm, I uh, 'm probably going to get fired if anyone sees this," she stutters out, brain almost completely in haywire. Because his eyes are not only boring into hers, they're so close she almost goes cross-eyed looking at them.

Merlin grins; he nods, helping her back onto her feet - only to press Morgana back against the wall for one last hard, lingering kiss. Then, one last soft, press of lips.

"I trust you," he says, and when she looks up at him in confusion he explains, "You said earlier I didn't. I thought I didn't. But since Saturday I kept thinking about it. Thinking about you, and Spring Break when you told me to close my eyes and trust you, and ever since then I had." His mouth twists into an amused smile. "Maybe that's why it was so easy to believe Arthur, when he told me there'd been a misunderstanding, and we should talk. I feel like an idiot, now - I kept telling you we should stay low, for awhile, not tell anyone, and when you lied to do just that - I let you convince even me. I'm sorry. I really am an idiot."

Morgana's smile is so wide it might split her face; she pokes him in the Adam's apple, though, as she shrugs and says, "True. But still, at least you weren't the idiot who avoided the other the whole entire summer, cancelled plans and took time off work even, when one good conversation could have very easily cleared this up. I'm sorry." She pecks him on the lips for good measure, so content she could probably float. She raises an eyebrow, though, when he cocks his head, regarding her.

"Hmmm," Merlin says, squinting his eyes into blue slits. "Well." He puts both hands on her hips, leaning close, "I guess it's decided, then."

"Mmm . . . what's that?" She puts her hands on his shoulders, distracted by his mischievous smile.

He shrugs, leans in, and kisses her, whispering:

"We're both idiots."

To love, or not to love? No question there.

Fin.

A/N:
Work in part inspired by a lifeguard friend, and the song "Merry Go Round" by Fitz and the Tantrums, which became practically my muse by the end of writing this enjoyable tale.

Thanks for reading!

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