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16 May 2010 @ 03:40 pm
LAS Final Challenge Voting  

LAS Challenge Nine Voting

- Read each entry to vote.

- Please cast a vote for only one story. Your pick should be based around quality only: Was the prompt met? Does characterization ring true? How is the spelling, grammar and punctuation? Did the piece hold you attention?

- With a view to being able to give each participant some feedback, reviews of the other stories are very much encouraged. If you liked the story, or noticed room for improvement, please let the author know!

- Use the form in the textbox below to vote. In "general comments", include any feedback for the other stories by indicating the number, followed by your review. A sample vote form is in the comments.

- Participants: do not vote for your own fic, or tell others to vote for it.

Prompt: Episode reboot. Come up with a new take on an episode, either by rewriting the whole ep or particular scenes.
Other characters: OT4

Voting closes Wednesday, May 19 at 5:00 pm EST. The winner of Last Author Standing will be revealed that day.

#1. Unraveled, PG

“She can’t stand it.

The ride to the town was long, and she’s freezing yet she won’t let Arthur give her his jacket – not that it matters, it’s soaked through – but the most important thing is that no one is talking to each other.

Morgana’s glaring at Merlin through her lashes, face downturned as she towels off her hair by the hearth in their room. Arthur’s surly and pouting. And Merlin’s torn between being in a bad mood and staying the hell away from Morgana.

Gwen wants to claw the world apart, tear it asunder. Make it whole again.

It’s not everyday you find out, definitively, that your oldest friend is a sorcerer. That the man you can never have still harbors some sort of hope for the both of you. That your other friend is also a sorcerer and you never had a clue to begin with.

And it’s not everyday you find out that one friend tried to kill the other. That one of them tried to kill the king, although unwittingly. That everybody’s been keeping things from each other.

She’s not immune, she must admit. Gwen had seen the flash of realization, almost gold, in Morgana’s eyes, when she’d spotted the two of them in the hall.

“So,” she says, with false brightness. “Does anyone want a cuppa?”


They find Balinor after Arthur collapses from fever. Gwen watches in the corner of the cave. The last dragonlord instructs Merlin and Morgana on what they must do to heal a person. Morgana listens, head tilted, intrigued. Gwen supposes this is what’s been missing, for her – guidance, comfort. Acceptance.

For Merlin, too. He takes Balinor aside and Gwen does not listen. She just lies down on the bedroll, away from everyone. Watches the moisture drip from the walls, the fire flicker and cast shadows. She sees Morgana lie down, far away from her, and far from Arthur. She wonders, as she hears the soft, lulling voices of Merlin and his father, why they are all at opposite ends in such a small space.


Arthur’s much better in the morning. But Merlin’s made no progress with Balinor.

“Has he even told him he’s his son yet?” Arthur mutters.

“I don’t think so,” Morgana says.

“What’s he bloody waiting for?” he says, jumping off the rock the three of them are perched on.

“You shouldn’t,” Gwen says, reaching out.

Morgana catches her movement, and she shrinks back. Arthur pauses, awkward – she doesn’t know if it’s because she nearly touched him and didn’t, or because Morgana saw it and stopped it. He shrugs, embarrassed, then sits down.

“I feel useless,” he finally grumbles.

“Join the club,” Morgana grumbles back. Gwen agrees, silent, and fiddles with a loose string on her sleeve – it’s coming apart, she realizes.


They’re attacked on the return. Gwen manages to defend herself, despite fear tightening her ribcage – the desperate, and absurd, thought of Hengist! Not again! But Merlin’s weeping tells her it is all for naught.

Arthur curses, throws things. For once during this entire trip, Morgana’s dark look towards Merlin melts, and pinches into sympathy.

Gwen puts a hand on his quaking shoulder. “I am so sorry.”

He grabs hold of her hand, head bowed, and says nothing. She opens her arms and hugs him, lips pressed to his temple.

“We need to go,” Arthur says, gruff. “If what he said was true, you’re the only one now who can stop it.”

Merlin shakes his head, not looking up. “Arthur, I – ”

“Merlin – ”

“For pity’s sake!” Merlin shouts, red-faced as he shrugs out of Gwen’s embrace.

She winces. Arthur takes a step back. He purses his mouth, squats down beside him. “I am sorry,” he says, quiet, truthful. “But Camelot needs you.” He fixes him with a glare, not without kindness – but without compromise.

Merlin looks back at his newly found father’s body. His throat bobs.

Gwen makes the decision for him. “I’ll see him to rest,” she offers, gentle. “You all go on ahead.”

“We can’t just leave you here,” Arthur says, aghast. “More men might still be around.”

“It’s not right to leave him like this.”

Arthur shakes his head. “Guinevere, it’s too dangerous – ”

“I shall stay with her,” Morgana interrupts.

He narrows his eyes. “What?” she asks, droll. She crosses her arms. “Don’t trust me with your lover?”

Gwen’s cheeks heat, and she flinches. Arthur says, snide, “This is hardly the time for jealousy, Morgana.”

“Indeed, that’s why there isn’t any here,” she snaps.

Merlin stands suddenly. “I will go. Gwen and Morgana can stay.”

Morgana gives him a surprised look. “So you trust me, then?”

Merlin shrugs, wipes his eyes. He leans down to brush a strand of hair from Balinor’s forehead. When he looks up, his gaze his clear, though red. “I’m going to have to.”


The grave is shallow. Gwen gathers rocks for the cairn and Morgana digs with her sword and her bare hands. They don’t say anything. But when it’s time to bow their heads in reflection, they hold hands. And Gwen knows that Morgana’s thinking of her father, just as Gwen is thinking of hers.


When they finally return, arms sore and hands blistered, it’s nightfall. Word has spread – Prince Arthur is to lead his men to meet the dragon head-on.

“Are you mad?!” Morgana hisses as the boys arm themselves.

“How else are we to do this without arousing suspicion?” Arthur asks, practical. “If it were just Merlin and I, people would question.”

“You would risk innocent lives – ”

“Like you did?”

There’s another one of those awkward silences again – so familiar now, and yet the thickness of feeling, the heaviness, will never be. Gwen bites her lip, Merlin looks off, and Arthur and Morgana glare at each other, as always.

It is Arthur who folds first. “We have more important things to worry about. And we could use your . . . help.”

Morgana raises her brows. “With?”

“The spell, the one that my . . . that my father used, to heal Arthur.” Merlin pauses, pained, and swallows. “Could you do it again? For those injured. Gwen, did you see the ingredients? I’m sure – ”

“Yes,” she says, immediately. It’s a step, one that she must take. All of them. “I’ll get them now.”

She’s glad to be of some use. As she hurries, she figures she can assist Morgana – distract others from seeing what’s going on. Shouldn’t be too hard. Essentially, that’s what she’s been doing for the past few years, anyway.

She’s in the storehouse, swiping herbs from the shelves into a basket, when the door creak open behind her. The light slants, hits her in the eye, but the silhouette against the whiteness is clear.

“I . . . thought . . .” Arthur starts to mumble.

She sucks in her lips, ducks her head. “I, um, don’t have a token for you, this time.”

“I still have it.” Her head shoots up, and she catches his mortified wince.

“Oh. All right. Th-that’s . . .” He seems close, so close.

“Guinevere, in case I don’t – ”

She reaches up. He presses her against the shelves, she whimpers into his open mouth. The basket drops just as the door clicks shut.


Morgana turns out to be very adept at this. It’s a welcome distraction, in these critical hours where one could easily fall sway to gloomier thoughts, to assist her – to give strength and succor to those who need it. When the knights return victorious – all having being concussed by a lucky tail-swipe, save a prince and his manservant, so that none actually witnessed the slaying of the dragon – the people are there to greet them.

There is no feast, it wouldn’t be appropriate, with so much yet to be done. But when the moon is high and the city quiet, Gwen gathers a tray of food and wine and politely tells – well, orders – all three of them to Morgana’s rooms.

“What’s this?” Merlin asks, waving his hand.

Gwen smiles up at him. She can still see the sadness in him – that will never truly go away. She knows this from experience. But he’ll have help, from now on.

“Amends,” she says, simply.

No one argues. Pleased, she curls up in the chaise, eating grapes – her feet in Merlin’s lap, her back against Arthur’s arm, as Morgana sits in her bed and tries to show them how she’s been practicing levitating things. Goblets are dropped and food goes rolling underneath chairs, but no one minds.

#2. Untitled

Owing to fairytale horses looking like a dream in gallop but having high maintenance lifestyles, by the time the distinctly androgynous knight strides into the court and flings down a gauntlet, the only people left are the the crown prince, the king's ward, and their two servants. The crown prince has been talking at length about the success of his training schemes and knightly escapades, the king's ward has been providing sarcastic ripostes while steadily helping herself to wine, and the servants are sitting by indulging their employers' individual weaknesses.

There's a moment of silence, as everyone stares between the gauntlet and the challenger. And then Gwen, who's been listening to Arthur's all evening and a bit fired up, is filled with a temporary white blip of insanity and gets there first.

"Um," she says, finding herself holding the glove and a lot less eloquent than people in her position conventionally are. "Hello. I accept?"

"Guinevere!" exclaims Arthur, practically on default, "Gwen, no. Hand that here."

Morgana lurches up, and Merlin is fast to lend her a discreet hand. The knight stares at the four of them in wordless but very discernible distaste.

"Are you one whose father was executed by the king?" it asks, voice low.

"Er, yeah," says Gwen, trying to connect the dots. "Are we still fighting?"

The knight removes the helmet, and right, yes, that clears up the weird voice and the undersized gauntlet Gwen's still clutching. The woman's hair is pratically glittering with feminity.

"You'll do," says the knight. "My name is Morgause, and I will await your presence tomorrow by the great gnarled tree. A fight to the death."

The knight turns and leaves the hall, leaving behind four stunned people.

"When I grow up," says Morgana, sounding breathless, "I want to be just like that."


"Swing this shoulder back and then cut forward with a left," says Arthur, guiding Gwen's arms. Morgana watches them with raised eyebrows. "You'll have this Morgause out like a trickless jester."

"You're wrong," Morgana interrupts, almost by force of habit. She comes round and prises Gwen away. "Go for quick -- " she does a slashing movement, thrice, and quite violently. "It's what I'd do."

"I think you should do the twirly thing," offers Merlin, from his place by the window ledge. "These two do it all the time."

"I think that's mostly decorative," says Gwen.

"You mock now," says Arthur haughtily. "When you're being hacked to death by Morgause's nifty sword, you'll wish you used it then."

Gwen thinks: she's got the stuff her dad taught her, the tips random villagers and passing knights confided, and a bit of natural Pendragon-skill imbibement. It surely won't go that badly.

Merlin jumps of the ledge, and sticks an easy arm round Gwen's shoulder. "I won't let you die," he assures her. "Don't worry."

Gwen thinks he's very sweet, but that night as she tosses in bed, reflects that not even Merlin may be able to help her when Morgause's nifty sword is hacking through her relatively unmourned remains.


Turns out, not even the combination of blacksmithing toughness and last-minute twirly ornamentations are enough to beat Morgause, and Gwen finds herself against the rough bark of the tree with a steel blade to her throat.

"Don't!" yelps Morgana. "I'm very fond of her --"

-- as Arthur cries, "Guinevere,"

-- and Merlin opens his mouth and starts to shout out something peculiarly foreign.

There's a moment of silence; Gwen meets her opponent's fierce eyes. Then she relents and relaxes the sword. Gwen tries not to choke with relief.

"You are beloved," says Morgause, "and since I spare your life today, you must come to an agreed spot and do my bidding."

Something about this feels very contrived, but Morgause is retreating and Arthur and Morgana have already surged forward and enveloped Gwen in a many-armed embrace. Someone presses her hand, and she looks up to see Merlin, smiling at her shakily.

"Wait," says Gwen, and Morgause, astride her horse, pauses. "What's the agreed spot? How am I supposed to find it?"

Morgause smiles - it reminds Gwen of uncertain waters - and turns to Morgana. She dips her head once, gracefully, like an honest-to-good courtly knight.

"I hope you will remember me fondly," she tells her, in a tone that seems both formal and embarassingly intimate. Gwen glares at Morgana, who's gone bright pink, and by the time she looks back Morgause has taken off, her blonde hair and white horse a tangled duststorm through the forest's trees.

"That woman," says Arthur admiringly. "Mental, but knows how to stage an exit."

"No idea how we're going to find her appointed spot though," says Merlin, rubbing his nose in concern. "Probably for the best."

"Yeah," says Gwen, trying not to sound too cheerful. "I don't think she's up to much good."

"I think," says Morgana brightly, "it's this way."

"What?" Arthur stares at Morgana. "You gone pyschic or something?"

Morgana starts on a distinct path between the trees. "I just have a feeling," she calls back. "A really good feeling."

"That's just the after-effects of the fight," murmurs Merlin, and with varying degrees of reluctance, they start following her.


"Hey, Merlin," says Arthur conversationally. "I noticed you talk funny sometimes."

"It's a nervous condition," says Merlin, with some immediacy. Gwen hides a grin.


"So, you and Arthur," observes Morgana, in measured tones as she follows her feet on what looks like an instinctive basis. "That been happening long?"

"There's not much happening," assures Gwen. "It mostly involves a lot of looking."

"Racy," says Morgana.


"And how long," asks Arthur, after a polite length of time, "have you been magic enough to sniff out sorceresses?"

Morgana doesn't say anything, but Gwen does a couple of quick calculations and runs them against the barometer that is Merlin's panicked face.

"About as long as you've been drinking, right?" she asks.

Morgana's chin is lifted to lofy heights, and she refuses to answer.

"You know," Gwen ponders aloud to Arthur, "I think I like magicians. Some of them. Hypothetically speaking. Can I still be part of your future kingdom?"

"Of course," says Arthur generously. "I rather suspect some of my best friends are magicians."


That night, as they're falling asleep, Gwen feels someone nudging her knee. She opens her eyes to see Arthur, offering her a rueful, fire-flickery smile.

"I know there's a lot of looking," he says. "And sometimes I say stupid things. But, you know, you pick up gauntlets when no one's expecting it or yell sense into me in packed crowds, and the time in your house is never far from my memory. You honestly never stop surprising me, Gwen, and I somehow don't think I'll ever stop liking that."

Gwen nudges him back, gently, and nestles herself into a long sleep.


"Oh good," says Merlin, the next morning as they approach the edge of a vast lake, "swimming through waterfalls. That's the kind of thing I love doing."

None of them love it, but when they emerge on the other side, sopping wet and shivering and staring at a small castle, they're forced to acknowledge that Morgana's inbuilt sorcery-sniffing skills are pretty good.


The courtyard is terribly pretty. There's ivy growing round the columns, and the darkened stones emanate a sense of living. The sound of the rushing waterfall is distant in their ears, and the stained windows bear a sophisticated sense of colour.

"Nice place," says Morgana.

"You're not moving in," says Gwen, more for her own benefit than Morgana's, who has the decency to look chastened.

"You came." Morgause interrupts them, sweeping up from nowhere in elaborate silk. "I'm so glad." She cuts a coy glance at Morgana, and exasperated, Gwen steps between them.

"Yep," she says firmly. "What's next?"


What's next involves Arthur, Gwen, and Morgana being charged by their respective dead parents to avenge their needless deaths by killing Uther.

Fortunately, there's Merlin. He yells at them till somewhere in their foggy minds they register his words, and then, as the spell comes crashing down, Gwen sees her father's face fade before her. For half a traiterous moment, she thinks she doesn't care even if it is an illusion. Sometimes, she doesn't think she'll ever get used to missing people. But there's a strange absence about her - like all the light and air's been sucked out of her surroundings - and then she finds herself reeling back in the courtyard, quite alone.

"Gwen! I've got you!"

Someone's hands - skinny: Merlin's - are around her.

"You all right?"

Gwen opens her eyes and sees Merlin - then turns to see Arthur and Morgana, looking similarly confused and alone.

"Yeah," she says, and throws her arms about him. "Thank you. Thank you."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," says Morgause.


"You know," says Morgana, as they make their way back, "I'm not actually going to leave you lot."

"Cheers," says Gwen, dryly.

"Well, I'm just saying. I might have gone if there hadn't been any other sorcerers around, but apparently Merlin's quite good at it. Says there's a book he wants to show me."

"Maybe we should have taken this holiday ages ago. Saved you the hangovers."

"...And course, Morgause is sexy, but she plays really dodgy games. Apparently we're related."

Gwen can't keep from laughing. "There I was thinking you were soulmates."

"Nah, not so much." There's long shadows in the canopy of leaves, but Gwen can still make out Morgana's smile. Some knuckles, small and shy, knock into her wrist. "Actually, I've never had another."


There's a lot of stuff Gwen feels she should say: to one of them, probably all. But actually, it's a really pleasant evening, the late spring warmth caught in the forest, and she's content simply to walk in peace, the tread of her friends' feet soft about her in the damp earth.