A/N: If there is one thing I really hate, it's all that destiny malarkey. Half of the prophecies that dragon shoves down Merlin's throat wouldn't have happened unless he knew about them in the first place and pursued them. So this is a little oneshot where Merlin gets just as mad at destiny and the future as I am and tries to do something about it. The ending section, by the way, is optional. I don't like that ending, but if you like the kind of future they show in s3e5, the one you can't escape from, then it's for you. Okay, warning now, this story is a bit of a downer. Read on. Please review.
Spoilers for the legend… but a bit of my own spin. And warnings for suicide. And a bit of violence.
Cutting the Strings of Destiny
Merlin began acting differently when he gained the power to tell the future. His trademark goofy smile slipped off his face like water through a sieve; he quit talking, and he quit laughing. Merlin shut himself away in that old tower and sat, hunched over, for days, muttering to himself and shaking his head like someone crazy.
Arthur didn't like it. He wanted to go and shake Merlin, figure out what was wrong. Find out what was so horrible and overwhelming that Merlin abandoned his friends and brooded over it. Only his wife stopped him from charging up the twisting steps (all one hundred and eleven of them) and demanding to know what it was that Merlin was having trouble with.
"Arthur," Guinevere crooned, "don't. Remember, Merlin has suddenly had all of this thrust upon him… He just needs time to learn to cope with it. He needs to explore it, learn to control it—and accept it. Merlin has suddenly had a world of information thrust on him…" She stopped for a second, not wanting to be morbid, but pressed on. "What if he saw our deaths? Or his? Or some horrible natural disaster a hundred years from now?" She shook her head. "Give him time."
Grudgingly, Arthur did.
But after a few more days, no one could stand it anymore, and Gwen volunteered to talk to Merlin. So she climbed the steps (all one hundred and eleven of them) and walked into Merlin's room, catching sight of him at once. His head was bowed, and he sat on an uncomfortable seat with his back towards her.
"Hello, Gwen," he said without turning around. "Come to check on me?"
"What have you been doing with yourself?" she asked, sitting next to him.
"Yes, and trying to see more of the future. It's all very shifty and fluid, you know." His voice was flat, not light like Merlin's should be. "I want to see what my options are, if I have any. I want to see what I can avoid. I want to…" His voice broke, and he shook his head, looking up to meet her concerned eyes. "Am I worrying you?"
"Yes, Merlin. Is the future bad, then?" Her voice shook.
"Not all of it. Some of it is very good. But then it's very bad again… Like a circle. A cycle. Gwen, no man should have to know the future." His voice shook too. "It kills hope if you know what will happen."
Gwen put her arm around him in a half-hug. She didn't like melancholy Merlin. "I'm sorry," she offered, but it sounded hollow. Inside, she was dying of curiosity—what was killing his hope? What shouldn't he know?
"Destiny is cruel, Gwen. Arthur, the great king of Camelot. Me, his famous Court Sorcerer. You, a great queen... All fulfilled promises."
"Will something go wrong?"
"Gwen, eventually everything goes wrong. That is how life works… But most people just don't have to know about it." He straightened suddenly, his eyes flashing like the old Merlin's. "Gwen," he said again, "I'm not going to let this web of the future – because that's what it is: a web. Sticky and everywhere, hard to escape. I'm not going to let it crush my hope."
She felt her heart lift when he gave a tiny smile. Because as long as Merlin smiled, she had hope. And Merlin was right; everyone needed hope.
"That plan you were talking about?" she asked, scooting away from him so she could look at him better.
He looked suddenly grim and stood up, striding for the door.
Gwen was left sitting alone, surprised. "Wait!" she called, a little offended, and Merlin paused at the door. "Where are you going?"
"To talk to Lancelot." To cut a few strings of the web, but he didn't say that out loud.
Lancelot was dying, and everyone knew it. He would probably not even wake up before he passed, and the physician said so. What still had everyone's head spinning was how.
People had been a little surprised to see Merlin approach Lancelot in the square, mostly because they'd heard that he had locked himself away recently. The knight was overjoyed to see his friend, but Merlin pushed his friend's welcoming hand away with a solemn face. And then they began to talk. No one was near enough to hear them converse, but they could see their facial expressions and neither looked overwhelmingly angry.
Yet Lancelot must have been. Because, though the next part came as a shock, it did happen. Many people witnessed it.
Lancelot suddenly drew his sword and attacked the sorcerer. Witnesses stood still, too flabbergasted to move, and the knight tried to cut his closest friend's head off, his face strangely blank. Merlin stepped out of the way. Instead of retaliating with magic, as would be expected, he drew a small dagger from his clothes and lunged at Lancelot.
Bar magic, Lancelot, with the better weapon, reflexes, and training, should have skewered Merlin then and there. But somehow it didn't end that way, and in the span of a blink or a heartbeat, Lancelot lay on the ground, choking. Blood spewed from his stomach as Merlin stood over him, minus one knife.
The sorcerer breathed a word. Just one, and no one heard it, but his eyes flashed gold. Lancelot's bleeding began to slow.
Before the crowd of people, half screaming for help and half from fear, but all surprised, could reach them, Merlin turned and ran.
And when Lancelot was taken to help, the story was told to the king. Guards had gone looking for the sorcerer, but no one could find him. He wasn't in Camelot.
The king raged. He raged at the guards, at the knights. He raged at the absent Merlin's stupidity and the unconscious Lancelot's apparent death wish. He wanted to know what the devil had happened. Since when had his friends become so determined to destroy each other?
No one, least of all Lancelot, had an explanation to offer.
"Don't bother packing," Merlin had told his new apprentice, a stocky boy with brown hair, "and don't ask any questions. Just come with me. We're going on a trip."
The apprentice dropped everything and followed his master. They donned cloaks, obscuring their faces, and left Camelot with nary a word spoken between them.
But the youth was, after all, young, and he couldn't wait too long to talk again. That was why Merlin had taken him on in the first place, actually; he reminded the sorcerer of himself when he was just a bit younger. Before he started having to play-act being wise in front of everyone (with very little success, however, as his mouth still ran a mile a minute).
So, in the forest, on his horse, the boy asked, "Can I at least know where we are going?"
Merlin nodded, his eyes staring ahead. "The Isle of the Blessed." He leaned forward and took the reins of his horse more tightly in hand. The apprentice noticed, with a wave of horror, that Merlin's hands were bloodstained.
What had his master done now? If it was too bad, the king might never forgive him.
"Can I ask why?" questioned the boy.
"To save Lancelot," said Merlin. "And to save me."
Magic hung thick in the air of the Isle, and the apprentice liked it. He'd always liked magic, though. That was why he was being trained by the great Emyrs. That was why he managed to get along with the great (and slightly eccentric) Emyrs. It was all magical.
But when his master went to an altar in the center of the Isle and picked up a gold cup sitting there, he wasn't quite sure he liked it. Merlin's face made him nervous.
"Ah," said Merlin softly. "The Cup of Life. Back where it belongs at last." He smiled slightly and glanced back at his apprentice. "The Cup and I have a long history. Did you know?"
"Of course, I forgot. Everyone knows about my life. But luckily not my secrets. Those are just mine."
The apprentice tilted his head and wondered if his master had gone mad. Why else would he be holding the cup in his hands, stroking it with his bloody fingers, looking inside and beaming at the water the Cup contained?
Merlin reached into his clothes and pulled out a small vial. The apprentice was not surprised; Merlin carried everything in those baggy clothes. People suspected a summoning charm. But the apprentice knew that, actually, unbelievably, it wasn't.
The dark-haired man poured water into the vial, his eyes flashing gold, and then turned and offered the glass vial to the apprentice. His other hand turned the cup upside down and emptied it onto the ground.
"Take it," Merlin said, and the boy did.
"Does this… does this…" stuttered the boy, for he was very frightened all of the sudden. "Does this have to do with destiny?"
"It always does," said Merlin, and he smirked. "But you know what? To hell with destiny. It may always be right, but then I'd rather be wrong." His blue eyes flashed, and the boy took a step backward. "If it can try to spurn me, I can do the same to it."
The boy couldn't answer that.
Merlin turned and began to run his hand up and down the altar, sighting. "Go, give the water to Lancelot. Let him drink it. And then, if I don't come back within a few days, I want you to tell Arthur that I have given you the order to protect Camelot as I do."
"Me?" squeaked the apprentice with horror.
"Yes," said Merlin unsympathetically. "I've taught you what you need to know to start off. The rest you have to learn through experience. Except this—don't drink too much. I nearly destroyed the lower town that way." He chuckled without mirth.
The apprentice said nothing, but stared at his master's back. And then he turned and began to leave. He'd never been one to question his master. Especially when he knew Merlin wouldn't change his mind.
"Wait," said Merlin.
The apprentice turned.
"One last thing before you go. Remember, if anyone ever offers you the chance to live forever, turn them down." His voice caught. "I would do anything to avoid immortality in this world."
With that, the apprentice left, thoroughly confused.
The minute he was gone, Merlin pulled another, darker vial from his clothes.
He stared at it for a moment. Then he shook his head.
"It makes it easier," he confided to the clouds, "when it's for someone else. Then your common sense is already in so deep that it's drowned, and so it doesn't give you any trouble." He grinned, and it was a real, goofy, tooth-showing, Merlin grin, and he was thinking of a certain woman and a ragged dress that he had missed. "Ready, Avalon?"
He uncorked the bottle and downed the contents.
That night could find the cold body of one greatest sorcerer ever lying by the altar of the Isle of the Blessed, curled around itself and hands wrapped around its knees, like a child sleeping.
The minute the water touched Lancelot's lips, he began to improve. The physician was amazed – and in a professional way, scandalized – at this turn of events. Everyone else was overjoyed.
Except for Arthur. He saw the vial in the hands of Merlin's apprentice, without Merlin, and he remembered a story that Merlin had told him… A story that made him sick to his stomach with fear. Arthur felt scared.
Lancelot wasn't quite out of the woods yet; he went on trial for attacking Merlin with the intent of killing him.
The knight was truly horrified. He insisted that he hadn't meant to do it, but some strange magic had seemed to take over him. His sword had leapt out of its sheath as though under its own power, he said.
Some people believed him. Some didn't. In the end, he got off because Merlin had survived, but wasn't around to testify, and because the king believed his story.
After a while, the excitement over this story for the gossip-mongers died down, but Merlin didn't come back to Camelot. No one knew where he went or why he'd gone there. They just knew he wasn't in Camelot.
In the end, only those closest to Merlin still felt his absence. The apprentice, now the master, kept the people safe; what else did they care about?
But Arthur still missed him, though he never told his suspicions about the vial. He just cursed Merlin and his self-giving nature.
Lancelot still missed him, feeling inexplicably guilty for his absence. That didn't make sense, though. He hadn't driven the man away.
As for Guinevere, she knew it was silly, but she couldn't help but blame Lancelot. The way Merlin had spoken to her before he left her in the tower… It was as though he tried to tell Lancelot something about the future and the man hadn't listened. It was as though Lancelot had made Merlin leave in order to try and fix what was wrong with the future. She never could speak to Lancelot again, and that was a shame, for she'd always been rather fond of him.
It was as though destiny had shriveled into an old, unfulfilled crone and died right there. Camelot, great though it was, would still have to come to an end eventually. But not that way. Not right then. It didn't have to end with betrayal and heartbreak quite the way or the time that Merlin had seen it.
Destiny was finished when the one who had always followed it stopped listening. But the only person who knew what happened, who had long since floated away to Avalon, didn't care. Perhaps he even laughed.
Optional \-_-BREAK-_-/ Optional
That's the way it all ended.
Unless it didn't end at all.
Unless someone, a powerful but rather green sorcerer, came onto the sight of the dead Emyrs the same day that he had taken the poison that ended his life.
That sorcerer could have worked a spell, trading his own life for that of Emyrs's, because Emyrs should live. Because Emyrs was important.
And the spell, never having been done by that sorcerer, but quite powerful, could not have just brought Merlin back to life… It could have kept him in life. Forever. Immortal.
And it was just possible that Merlin could have wandered for years around Albion, not knowing where he was going, but telling the future and frequently visiting a Crystal Cave, getting well acquainted with trees and wondering if being a tree was so bad. Perhaps, if this had happened, he could have eventually, perhaps by accident, have appeared in Camelot.
And if that had happened, Camelot would have been overjoyed.
Arthur would have had a feast, maybe even cried, and Gwen would have been beside herself. So beside herself that she might have run through the halls, sputtering with joy, and hugged the first person she saw.
The first person she saw might have been Lancelot.
And that hug might have ended her coldness towards him, and she might have realized as she threw her arms around him that Lancelot's body felt rather… nice… against her own.
It could have happened. It was just possible.
But it didn't happen.
That never came to pass, and destiny did not bloom once more, a poisonous flower that just wouldn't wilt.
… Did it?
A/N: Sorry for any typos… The longer the section, the harder it is for me to spot them. Well, that was rather… interesting, wasn't it? I don't like the last section, personally. Anyway, what did you think? Please let me know!