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Merlin, gen

Nola riding (hustle & flow)
The Falcon Cannot Hear The Falconer
By Zee

Summary: This is how Merlin is trapped. Futurefic, gen, PG. 2,622 words.
Notes: Warning for sadness. Thanks to tricksterquinn and miss_saigon for audiencing and betaing.


*

Merlin had thought this through.

A few days before Morgana lost her sight and a year before she went mad, they talked. Morgana came to him in the middle of the night, her fists clenched and her hair matted, and called him a traitor.

"You'll let him down, in the end," she said. "You think all your magic is worth anything? You will be helpless."

Morgana's voice had grown low and cracked from the years of dreaming and the magic that was destroying her, just as Merlin's was strengthening him. Her eyes were always bloodshot and after she'd turned down marriage proposals from most knights in the kingdom, the rest stopped asking. Merlin had never asked her what she saw in her own future that made her so driven to spend it alone, and he won't ask now.

He stood up from his bed, walking to stand next to her by the window. She acted like she hadn't just addressed him, staring out the window without blinking. "Morgana?"

"It's all going to end in blood. That's his great destiny, that's what his rule will be. It's already in motion."

Merlin swallowed hard. Uther's death was still fresh on all their minds, and Arthur's coronation was in a few days. Nothing is inevitable, he reminded himself. "What is it? What's in motion, exactly?"

He didn't expect Morgana to tell him everything. When he looked back on it later, he thought that perhaps she foresaw her own blindness and subsequent mental collapse, and had decided to confess all the details she'd held back for years before she lost the ability to coherently do so.

Morgana told him about the round table, about the years of betrayal Arthur would face from his two most trusted companions, about the friends he would lose to the Grail. She told him about what the four of them started when they rescued that druid boy. She told him about Arthur dying alone and Albion thrown back into chaos once again after his death.

Merlin listened and kept his hand on her shoulder, giving her as much comfort as he could. When Morgana had first found out how powerful he was, the first thing she did was ask him if he could take her dreams away. He'd refused, but when she asked again a year later (she had been asleep for days, screaming, and when she awoke she cried so hard her eyes welled with blood at the corners), he had tried and failed.

That was then. He was stronger now, and when she turned to him with dread in her eyes, he thought that perhaps he could try again. He opened his mouth to offer, but she shook her head.

"I can't escape this," she said. "I've known that for years now. I'm sorry that I spilled it all to you."

"Don't be. I'm sorry, Morgana, I..." It felt so strange to still be talking, after everything she had just told him, everything he now knew. He could see Arthur's death when he blinked, as clear as if he'd dreamed it himself.

She bowed her head and stepped away from him. She didn't need to tell him that she had nothing more to say--what else could there possibly be, now that she had told him of Arthur's doom? Merlin thought that he should maybe embrace her or invite her to cry on his shoulder or attempt to give some kind of comfort, but instead he let the moment pass. He was already distracted, consumed by the future, and Morgana knew it.

"Goodnight," Merlin called after her as she left the room, and she paused and inclined her head towards him.

"He will be so beautiful," she said. "You're going to be so proud of him."

But Arthur was already beautiful and Merlin was already proud, and he couldn't see why Arthur had to go down this path just to become more beautiful and more betrayed.

Merlin thought it through. He attended Arthur's coronation, just a ceremony but quite a pretty one, and Arthur looked young and kingly and noble and bright. He drew Excalibur and pointed it up towards the ceiling and sky, and Merlin felt the magic settle over everyone watching. Arthur held his chin high and swore allegiance to Camelot and Merlin loved him. Merlin felt that he loved Arthur enough to protect him and deny fate's hand for as long as it took--surely all his love was big enough for that, surely it was that powerful, surely it was enough. It had to be.

Merlin thought about it while he watched Guinevere. She loved Arthur too, he knew that, and Arthur loved her. Killing her now might be enough to stave off what was coming, but Merlin knew he couldn't bring himself to that, not even for Arthur.

He hoped that Morgana hadn't told her anything of her future. Even as he hated Gwen for what she would do, he hated to think of her tormented by knowledge of what was coming.

Merlin wasn't as familiar with the workings of time as Morgana or the old Dragon were, but he had studied enough to know that he couldn't alter the course of history by toying with small pieces of it. Evidence was less conclusive on what happened if you gripped the course of history by the throat and wrenched it off the map completely, but Merlin suspected that this was because none before him had the power to try.

Merlin began preparing the spell the next day. There wasn't much to prepare, actually, as this had never been done before and thus it would largely be just his power and his will. But he could improve the odds by preparing a circle of yew to bind Arthur to him, as well as belladonna to augment his own power and wolfsbane to encourage the fluidity of time and fate.

When Morgana woke up blind, no one could give her an explanation why. Arthur immediately asked Merlin to start searching for the sorcerer behind it, and Merlin complied, but halfheartedly: he suspected that it was Morgana herself, albeit unconsciously. Wasn't this what she wanted, after all, to no longer see?

Gwen stayed with her in her room for days, weeping as if her tears could bring Morgana's sight back. When Merlin tried and failed to bring her vision back with magic, Morgana laughed at him.

"If you can't perform a miracle this small, what makes you think you can stop time?"

Merlin stopped in the middle of uttering his spell for her. Her gaze was fixed somewhere over his left shoulder, and he wasn't sure how much she knew of his plans and how much she was just guessing at.

"I'm not trying to stop time," he said eventually. "I'm just trying to save him."

"Call it what you will." Her voice was cold and detached, as if she didn't care what happened to him or Arthur or any of them. He wondered if all of her affection for them had been rung out of her, through dream after dream after dream.

"The only reason I might not be able to bring your sight back would be if you didn't want me to," Merlin said. "And you don't, do you?"

Morgana shrugged and turned her head toward the open window to feel the breeze on her face. "Then go be a god, Emrys. I certainly can't stop you."

"No," he said. "You can't."

Now that Merlin was paying closer attention, he could feel the threads of fate like a tangible thing all around him. He could feel how they tried to tighten around him with every step he took, and he could see how tightly they wound themselves around Arthur, settling into a grim web that wouldn't be easy to break.

He decided that if he were going to take Arthur away from here, he would have to take himself as well. Not solely because the thought of existence without Arthur held no joy, but becuase he didn't know a way to do this if he didn't do it by transporting himself first and then dragging Arthur in his wake.

And where to? There were other worlds, Merlin knew, but it seemed to be a safer bet to try and keep them in this one, and just take them far enough from this timeline to break the hold that Arthur's fate had on him. Merlin knew that it was likely that Arthur would never forgive him, but that was something he could live with, if he had to.

If Gaius were still around, Merlin knew that he would find a way to stop this. In fact, he suspected that what he was planning to do might be an excellent example of why Uther and Gaius sought to exterminate magic in the first place. He didn't particularly care.

Arthur thought nothing of it when Merlin asked him to take a walk in the forest. Why should he? He was king and Merlin was his most trusted friend and once lover, and they were the two most powerful men in Albion and there was nothing to fear. Merlin felt guilt gnaw at him at the deceit as he and Arthur walked, Arthur musing about the latest knights to grace his table and Morgana's predicament and other concerns of his kingdom. The death of his father still clearly weighed on him, but Arthur was already a good king: he was putting his grief from his mind to focus on his duty.

Merlin felt sorry to take that duty from him, but if Arthur's destiny was to rule greatly but tragically, then destiny simply wasn't enough.

Merlin stopped when they got to a clearing. This would do.

"Hang on a moment," he said, and Arthur stopped walking, shrugged and smiled. "Can you give me Excalibur? I want to look at something."

Arthur laughed, already drawing his sword and handing it over, hilt-first. "As if you don't know this thing inside and out by now?"

When Merlin held Excalibur he felt the scream of old magic as clearly as he'd felt it when the sword was first forged. When Arthur wielded this, he didn't really have any idea of how powerful it was--there was no way he could have.

"I'm sorry," Merlin said, looking up from the sword at Arthur's bemused face.

"Sorry for what?" Arthur asked as Merlin cast out his hand, calling up the string of enchanted yew. It flew from his fingers to the ground, slithering through the grass to encircle Arthur's feet, trapping him. Arthur's face changed to alarm, "Merlin, what are you--"

Merlin yelled the words and brought all his power to bear, and the circles of belladonna and wolfsbane at his throat blazed in response. Every thread of fate shone white around himself and around Arthur, and Merlin could feel exactly where he needed to take them, and for a few heartbeats it seemed like it was really going to work.

And then Merlin felt his reach fail. He was suspended, and he could see Arthur and himself and Morgana and Camelot and the ocean beyond; he could see every person and town and city in the time he was trying to take them to; he could see every possible outcome of Arthur's life and his own, each fragile thread that was now twisting and snarling and breaking because of him; he could see all of his power, great and red and terrible, howling with his own fury and heartbreak and determination to keep Arthur from his fate.

He could see it all, and he realized that this was just one more thing that was always meant to happen.

He felt something rip into his chest, and he heard Arthur scream with similar pain. He made himself let go, refusing to damn them both, and as he felt his spirit get dragged down by his own power he thought he felt Arthur trying to take hold of him again.

There was a tower--no, there was air--no, there was rock and tree and water--no, there was just air, all around him--

He was trapped. He watched as his surroundings shifted, never staying one thing long enough for him to get his bearings and find a way out. These were walls woven with his own power, reflecting the golden light of his own eyes back at him, and when Merlin tried to probe with magic he only felt the walls grow thicker.

He couldn't see Arthur from here. He couldn't see everything that was happening and everything that was going to happen, but he still knew.

***

Arthur fell to his knees, then collapsed on the ground, all the breath gone from his body. He'd felt--who knew what the hell had just happened, it had lasted only a second and it had lasted forever and it was the most painful thing he'd ever experienced.

He shut his eyes and tried to ignore the ringing in his ears, the lingering pain in his chest. He had no idea where the ringing or the pain had come from--one moment he was holding Merlin's hand, the next--

Merlin.

Arthur scrambled to his feet, shouting Merlin's name and whirling to try and catch a glimpse of him anywhere, but he already knew it was useless. He wasn't here, and Arthur had felt Merlin slip away even as Arthur had clung to him.

Arthur felt tears prick at his eyes, even though most of him was pragmatically insisting that he send out search parties, summon other sorcerers to track Merlin down, find a way to solve this somehow. He's probably transported himself off to the Far East or something, he told himself. He does that sometimes, it's one of the dangers of being able to teleport yourself any damn place you please. He's probably facing down one of those elophaunt things right now, scratching his head all bewildered.

Arthur took a step forward into the clearing, looking down as his shoe stepped on the circle of yew on the ground. He crouched down and brushed his fingers over it, and it gave him no answer. He looked up, and there was Excalibur, lying in the grass and pointing right at him.

Arthur had a sudden vivid image of throwing that damned sword back into the lake Merlin got it from in the first place. If he didn't have the sword, then maybe he couldn't be the king after all, and maybe he could devote the rest of his life to finding Merlin again--or maybe Merlin would come back if he weren't king anymore, maybe it could be that simple--

Arthur grasped Excalibur's hilt and stood, sheathing it. Part of his mind was already trying to push Merlin's sudden absence into the same place as his father's death, a gaping wound to be covered up with numbness and duty. Arthur hated that he did that, hated it very much, but there was nothing for it.

He lived with these holes in his life, and if Merlin was truly gone (no he can't be not for good we can find him again how can you think this), then he could live with that too, even if it broke him completely at first.

He wiped his eyes and started walking back to Camelot.


*



Note: In many versions of the legend, Nimueh uses Merlin's own magic against him and traps him for centuries. Versions vary--sometimes he's trapped in a magic cave, sometimes a room with invisible walls, sometimes a tower of air. This was my idea of how Merlin's imprisonment might happen in this version of the story, with Nimueh out of the picture.

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
rainchild
Jan. 17th, 2009 06:49 am (UTC)
First of all, I AM IN LOVE WITH YOUR TITLE. I think that's my favorite poem ever. And, umm... more relevantly, awesome fic! It's so sad that Merlin tries to change destiny and only fulfills it instead. :(
ficbyzee
Jan. 18th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I feel sort of lame and pretentious for using a line from that specific poem, but I just felt like it fit. I'm so glad the story worked for you!
visbranndrage
Jan. 17th, 2009 08:13 am (UTC)
Ahh this was so beautifully done. :( Poor boys, but excellent story.

Also, I second rainchild in saying that I love that poem.
ficbyzee
Jan. 18th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! Yeah, this was really a bummer for me to write, because geez poor them. :(
outofivanhoe
Jan. 17th, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC)
That was so tragic, Merlin being all hubristic and foolishly thinking he can be more powerful than fate, but all with the best of intentions. Lovely!
ficbyzee
Jan. 18th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad it worked for you.
stungunbilly
Jan. 18th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
I don't think Merlin would really do this, but you convinced me for the course of your story. It was lovely, and very sad. I felt so much for poor Morgana, especially, since she knew but couldn't escape her fate. I keep thinking about the wider au here, wondering about Merlin's escape and whether Arthur rises again when he is most needed. How did Arthur and Merlin love each other so devotedly yet stop being lovers? Would it all have played out differently if Merlin hadn't been fooled?

I especially love the image of Merlin as his namesake.
tmelange
Jan. 25th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Well done. Bravo!
roga
Feb. 23rd, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Tragic, and beautiful, and you really made it work. And now I am sad.
tucuxi
Apr. 10th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
Ouch. I really like the way you've woven this together, and (like earlier commenters, it seems) I quite like the title - it seems very appropriate.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )