Next was Lancelot.
A good, long-time friend. Really, Merlin regretted it, but there was no other way to keep himself and his secret safe. If Albion was to come about, if destiny was to be fulfilled—there had to be sacrifices. Hard choices had to be made.
This had become Merlin's silent mantra, his obsession. He repeated it to himself over and over as he stood unnoticed by Arthur's side and as he fought threats to the kingdom, still unnoticed. Destiny must be fulfilled. That's why he killed Morgana. That's why he killed Leon.
That's why he killed Lancelot.
For good measure, he should have done the same to Gaius, but he couldn't quite bring himself to that. He owed Gaius too much, and his mother owed Gaius just as much as he did. So even though he was sure the old doctor worked it out soon after Leon's regrettable death, Merlin took no action. But he was cautious still, worried that perhaps Gaius would feel he was going too far by killing people (even though Merlin had been protecting Camelot!) and do something that everyone would regret.
…Like telling Uther. Gaius would regret that in the long run. And Merlin would quite positively regret it.
So Merlin watched Gaius. Which is how he found out about Lancelot.
Lancelot had dropped by to see him, which of course was rather suspicious in itself, as he was banished and could be killed for even being in Camelot. When he saw Merlin, he claimed that he was on some sort of personal quest… Just had to pick up a few supplies and medicines from Gaius, he claimed, and then he'd leave as soon as he could.
How stupid do they think I am? Merlin wondered, for of course Gaius had called him in order to tell Lancelot his concerns about Merlin.
But Merlin didn't react; he just kept on that idiotic smile he was so used to wearing and wished Lancelot luck. And then he requested that Lancelot meet him in the tavern for a drink afterwards.
Lancelot shook his head and looked sorry. "It's going to be pretty late, you know, Merlin, and it's probably not the best of ideas for me to be showing my face all over Camelot."
Merlin kept his voice light and friendly as he replied, "Come on, it's been so long since I've seen you!" When the would-be knight still looked unsure, he continued, "You know it isn't as if they'll recognize you so easily; it has been more than a year."
Finally he gave in, and then he went to see Gaius, leaving Merlin standing behind him with a quickly fading smile and a listening spell already on his lips.
For a few minutes Merlin stood in the darkened hallway and heard nothing but the sound of chairs being dragged around a room and mumbles of greeting, perhaps even a tinkling sound that he strongly suspected was tea pouring into a cup.
"Gaius," said Lancelot at last, "what you said in your message… You weren't serious?"
Gaius shushed him. "Did Merlin seem suspicious when you came in?"
"No, he seemed just the same as always. Happy, friendly… You know Merlin."
"I thought I did." Gaius's voice was dry but angry.
"Then the message was for real?"
"Merlin has been acting different, Lancelot. Even Arthur commented on it to me. He's so much more serious than usual, and colder… And, though I hate to say it, it is suspicious."
"Lady Morgana was killed a few weeks ago."
"I'm sorry about that." He sounded like he was. "I remember her…"
"She changed, Lancelot. Morgana came to hate Camelot and Uther. She even plotted its downfall multiple times."
Merlin heard Lancelot's stunned silence, and at last he gasped out, "Well then maybe it wasn't so bad… Hold on, you don't suspect Merlin?"
"She was stabbed. Who else could get so close to her without her using magic to stop them?"
Lancelot didn't want to believe it, thought Merlin with a chuckle as the man said, "Maybe she was caught unaware?"
"And he acted strangely guilty. And then they found Sir Leon shortly after, dead. In these chambers."
Voice strangled, Lancelot asked, "How?"
"A knife thrown through the throat. But whoever it was must've been a way back, because Sir Leon had his sword out but obviously never got a chance to use it. This makes me wonder if he was taken by surprise or if he wasn't expecting an attack. And if he had his sword out to face a sorcerer, wouldn't he be expecting an attack?"
"But perhaps he didn't know it was a sorcerer, or perhaps it wasn't a sorcerer, just a stranger who snuck in here? That would explain everything!"
"Including why Merlin is acting strange? Why he carries a knife around now, but he thinks I don't see? Why he was supposed to be in here eating lunch at the time Leon came by, yet he claimed he had been cleaning armor all day?"
Of course Lancelot argued, but Merlin barely paid attention, just seethed to himself. He already knew Gaius was going to win the debate, and that he and Lancelot would then have to decide what to do about it.
But Merlin didn't want them deciding his fate. His fate was already pre-written, after all.
After a while and an exhausting quarrel, Lancelot gave in. "Alright, Gaius. I will admit that it is possible… Maybe even likely. But we can't be sure. Not yet."
"I know. That's why I called you. Merlin never tells me anything anymore, but you are his friend. I think you could convince him to confess if he's up to anything. And… talk him out of it."
"What if I can't? He's set in is ways, you know, especially when he's sure that he is right."
Gaius's voice sounded worn as he asked, "What do you think we should do, then, if he won't be dissuaded?"
Lancelot sounded pained but resolute as he answered, "Go to Arthur."
That's when Merlin called off the listening spell and rushed to the tavern. Arthur couldn't get involved. Arthur couldn't know, not yet.
When Lancelot met Merlin in the tavern, he looked a lot more haggard than he had when he came into Camelot, and began not-so-subtly questioning Merlin about the deaths around Camelot. They sat at the bar and talked in low voices.
"No one seems to think Uther will catch whoever it was."
"Of course not. He rarely does. But Morgana was his ward; he can't just stop looking."
Lancelot looked confused at the bitterness in his tone, but pressed on, "I'm sorry, she was a friend of yours, wasn't she?"
"Oh." Lancelot looked alarmed at this news, though he had been expecting it. It was just that he had hoped that Merlin's voice would show some sorrow for her demise, not just coldness. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Merlin cut him off.
"Just ask me, Lancelot."
Lancelot met Merlin's suddenly frightening eyes. Was it his imagination, or had they grown a darker blue? "You know what I want to ask?"
Merlin nodded. Lancelot looked away.
"Then I guess I don't have to ask."
"And I guess," said Merlin softly, "that I don't have to answer."
For a moment they locked gazes, and then Lancelot looked down, saddened. "You don't sound sorry."
"It is regrettable that those things happened."
"Then why don't you regret it?"
"Lancelot," sighed Merlin, and for a moment he sounded like his old self. "I have a destiny." His voice dropped lower and he whispered, "A destiny that is greater than any I could have planned myself. With Arthur's help, I will unite Albion!"
"What does that have to do with…?" Lancelot trailed off.
"They were threats. But you, Lancelot, you are a friend. So I am giving you a choice. Leave now."
Lancelot stood and fingered his sword. "I'm going to Arthur."
"I won't let you. Just leave while you can."
"How will you stop me?"
"You have very little time. Will you leave?"
Lancelot shook his head stubbornly. "I will not."
"Very well. I told the guards you were here. You know the punishment for coming back after you were banished."
Lancelot's rhetorical question was answered when the door burst open and guards, wearing armor, shuffled in. They saw Lancelot at once – the commoner with the sword – and raised their blades. When they arrested him, the would-be knight was too stunned to even fight back. Then, before his eyes, Merlin got up and walked out, leaving him alone and to his fate.
Lancelot tried to talk; his lips moved but he said nothing. He was in shock. Merlin left him to his fate.
Fate. It was a word very similar to 'destiny'. Lancelot detested it.
Merlin, meanwhile, looking very sorry indeed, went to Arthur like a dutiful servant. Arthur was at that moment arguing in vain that Lancelot should not be executed, but Uther was not in a listening mood.
The next morning, at the beheading, he looked properly aghast, and it wasn't just for Gaius's benefit. The tears that welled up in his eyes as the axe came down were real enough, too.
But he couldn't avoid the relief. He was safe again.
Lancelot was next.
Last was to be Uther.
A month passed and Merlin could no longer take it. He had been waiting patiently for his destiny for years. He'd fought and shed sweat and tears to achieve it, even making some progress despite Uther's constant 'magic is evil' drivel and some near-death experiences.
But Merlin wanted the wait to be over and he wanted it badly. If Arthur could just be king, then he could work a little more openly into convincing him that magic wasn't the evil he needed to fight.
But Uther was in perfect health, and Arthur was too fond of the brainwashing tyrant to want anything to happen to him.
But what happened with Morgana and Leon and Lancelot… That gave Merlin an idea. Naturally, he was a little nervous. He'd never flat-out killed without the least provocation or threat. Morgana had been trying to bring down Camelot, and Leon and Lancelot both threatened to expose him. Sure, Uther would kill him if he knew, and sure, Uther had killed others like him. But still, it felt different.
Then, after a bit, he realized that he just didn't give a damn anymore. Uther was in the way. Uther had to go. There was no two ways about it.
So Merlin waited until one night, a peaceful night, after a feast. Uther had a bit more to drink than was wise, and so had many guards and knights, including Arthur, to make his move.
He slipped out his room, liking the comfortable way that the dagger pressed against his hip in its covering. At first, he remembered, it had been so uncomfortable to wear it hidden all the time.
He couldn't remember the exact time when that changed.
Then he strode down the halls of the palace, hind lingering near his side on his way to Uther's chambers. For once he'd dropped his façade; he walked with confidence and his head was up, his fists clenched and shoulders set. Anyone who knew him – or used to know him – could tell that this version of Merlin wasn't even remotely akin to the one that had entered Camelot all those years ago.
As far as Merlin could tell, the real problem would be the guards outside of Uther's room. It would be child's play to knock them out, and even easier to kill them, though he wasn't going to do that. (He was only there after Uther, after all.) But it would be much harder to accomplish this without magic, and that was simply out of the question. Magic was just a tool, neither good nor bad, but Arthur was prejudiced against it and Merlin did not wish to give him more evidence to support this theory. So Merlin's idea was just to take a medium sized rock (easy to find, as they weren't exactly rare in Camelot) and throw it with very good aim at the guards' heads. Admittedly it was a very simple plan, but perhaps that was why it would work.
Except Merlin had forgotten one detail.
Merlin thought that the physician had stopped being so suspicious when Merlin began to act normally and cried over Lancelot a little. And even if Gaius did suspect, surely he was too frightened by what happened to the others to do anything about it. Unfortunately, it turned out that Merlin was not the only one who knew how to pretend. And Gaius planned to stop him in a way that Merlin did not foresee.
Gaius told Arthur.
Arthur met Merlin in the hall, his blade drawn.
Merlin skidded to a stop when he saw the prince, really and truly startled to see him. He'd been under the impression that Arthur was in his chambers, sleeping off the one-too-many drinks that he'd had. "Arthur." They stood in the second story hall, five feet apart. Arthur's feet were apart and his shoulders set, as though he expected to find a fight.
Arthur's face was cold, something that made Merlin cock his head to the side in puzzlement. That look did not bode well.
"Merlin." His voice was angry and his sword was in the air.
Merlin cast about his thoughts trying to find an explanation and came up empty. Apparently Arthur had found out one of his secrets…
"You killed Morgana?" said Arthur, as though he couldn't quite believe it. And he couldn't, because this was his useless servant of many years standing in front of him, eyeing him like a total stranger. "And who else? And now…"
Then it clicked. "Gaius," said Merlin softly, cursing in his head but not out loud. He knew he should have been more careful, but he thought it was enough to just take care of Lancelot…
"Arthur," he hemmed and hawed, trying to salvage the damage. He wasn't really worried though, because destiny said that they would unite Albion together, and prophecies don't lie. "I don't know what you mean. What did Gaius tell you? He's…"
Arthur wasn't interested in more lies from Merlin. He lifted his sword so it was pointing at Merlin's throat, and Merlin's thoughts flew back to Sir Leon… That was so long ago…
"Now you're after my father."
Merlin tried to deny it. But his expression slipped into one of guilt, just for a second, and Arthur saw it.
"I ought to run you through." It wasn't a threat. It was a fact.
And, just like that, it all fell apart. All Merlin's plans. His thoughts. His hopes and… and…
But they couldn't! It wasn't possible! Anyone else's dreams and plans, yes, but not these; these were destiny… Arthur couldn't be pointing a sword at his trusted advisor's throat, could he? That wasn't in the plan, and besides, Merlin didn't want to die.
Wait! Merlin's eyes lit up as the thought hit him. It was destiny, and that couldn't fall apart! Somehow it would all work out, then. Maybe if Merlin told Arthur about the destiny, and about his father…
Merlin felt his face go red and eyes narrow as he shouted, "Your father isn't even worth being run through for!"
Arthur looked confused at this outburst, but Merlin was just getting started.
"He's a tyrant! And he blames all his own mistakes on something else, or haven't you noticed? King Uther tries to destroy magic because he refuses to admit he made a mistake, and would rather just say that magic is the evil! But you, Arthur! You were – are – destined to be better than that! You are destined to be a great king, to bring magic back, and you can't do that with him hindering you!"
That was unbelievable. Arthur gawked and said, "You are going to try and say you were committing treason for me?"
"I was to be there, beside you, helping you unite the land! Arthur, why are you throwing that away? He is the reason all the magic you see is evil, anyway; he creates his own enemies!"
"So what was your excuse when you killed Leon?" asked Arthur coldly.
It wasn't working. After several deep breaths, Merlin continued, "This is not going to end here, Arthur. This is destiny and you can't fight it." Merlin's face had returned to its normal color, and Arthur could see everything had been an act. The quiet, loyal servant bit had been an act too.
Merlin shook his head. Destiny did declare that they would work together again, but for now he had a job to do.
Merlin barreled past Arthur, taking him by surprise, and without thinking, Arthur rammed the blade into his abdomen.
As Merlin had stabbed Morgana.
Merlin froze, his legs stopped running forward, and he took a few steps back. His hands went to his middle. His eyes were wide with shock, and his lips were moving and stuttering, but he wasn't forming words.
As Lancelot had done.
Arthur pulled the sword out through force of habit, barely even noticing the red-stained blade as he stared at his servant. Arthur couldn't believe that had just happened. Merlin couldn't either, it seemed, and he put his blood-covered hands in front of his eyes, staring as though they were something alien. Everything was silent.
And then he fell, onto his back, blood pouring out of his body.
As Leon had fallen.
But… His thoughts were like his breaths, short and staccato. But… This was destiny… Can destiny fail? The dragon said. Lies?
I can't breathe. My middle, it hurts…
But it was destiny.
Destiny is lies?
Destiny failed. It failed me.
Maybe I failed. I failed destiny.
"Merlin?" Arthur croaked, eyes wide enough to pop from his head. His sword fell to the ground with a clatter and he didn't notice.
The servant's – the warlock's – eyes snapped to Arthur's, and the prince still couldn't believe it. They weren't the same blue eyes he had looked into every day for years. They were darker, meaner, harder, crazier…
Merlin was crazy, Arthur realized.
And then, the former manservant put his head back, closed his eyes, and shrieked. It was a high-pitched, ear-splitting scream, with no control behind it, full of insanity and hatred. Arthur reflexively covered his ears and winced. Through out the castle, people started awake.
The screech stretched on until Arthur thought his head would explode because that sound was inside of it, until Arthur thought the ringing in his ears would never cease…
Half-way through the yell, there was a gurgling sound, and then one of gagging. Blood spewed from Merlin's mouth, choking off the last of his furious cry.
Then his face relaxed, the lines disappeared from his forehead, and he didn't move again.
That's when Uther arrived, in his nightclothes and quite mussed-up from his hair to his trousers. Gaius had alerted him, as he promised Arthur that he would.
Uther stared down at the dead servant with a disapproving face. Arthur knew it wasn't the blood that upset him, or the fact that a young man just died, but he couldn't place where the white-faced rage came from.
… King Uther tries to destroy magic because he refuses to admit he made a mistake, and would rather just say that magic is the evil…
"Ah, he's dead."
Arthur didn't like how he said that, but held his tongue. What was wrong with the prince? Perhaps he was in shock… Killing your allegedly loyal servant is pretty shocking, after all.
Uther continued, "I shall have his body burned."
"I beg your pardon?" Uther looked up.
"I said no. I will send the body to his mother for burial, along with my condolences." Arthur's voice brooked no argument, but Uther tried to give one.
"But Arthur, this is a sorcerer. Made evil by magic. Traditionally—"
"I wonder," said Arthur softly, his eyes on the floor, and Uther stopped to listen, "if it will ever occur to you that maybe magic isn't what drove him to this?" He looked back at his father, his gaze steady, and said, "We will send the body to the mother for burial."
This time Uther just nodded, more from disbelief than anything.
Prince Arthur picked up his sword and turned his back on the cadaver. The Once and Future King walked away, and he left another rouge magic-user behind him.
Morgana was first.
Sir Leon was second.
Lancelot was next.
Uther was to be last.
But he wasn't.
Merlin was last, and that particular destiny died with him.
A/N: Okay, done. I hope you liked it. That was a lot of fun to write, except I used a 'bad word' for the first time… I don't like doing that, really, but it just seemed to flow and I couldn't help it. Hey, the rating is T! Please please please review and tell me how you hated/loved/felt indifference towards it! Personally I don't think Merlin would ever become this (I mean, he's Merlin! Synonym for AWESOME!) but a lot of people tell me they can see it happening. (Also, notie that this is like the fourth time I've killed Merlin. I need to stop doing that, huh?)