Fandom: BBC Merlin
Characters & Pairings: Uther/Catrina, Morgause, Morgana, Arthur, Merlin, Kilgharrah, Gwen, Gaius
Genres: Drama, Humor
Warnings: Violence and character death. So very many character deaths. Also asphyxiation, terminal illness, and mind-wipe.
Spoilers: Through 3x05, “The Crystal Cave”
Summary: Camelot is stuck in a time loop beginning with Merlin’s arrival and ending with Morgana’s kidnapping. Only Uther retains his memories, but is there enough time in the world to fix all his mistakes?
Chapter 9: Ouroboros
From the small room where he'd left his father and sister, Arthur went directly to his chambers to pack. He didn't know exactly where to start; Merlin always handled this kind of thing, and it wasn't as if Merlin was…standing in the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" Arthur said, tossing a pile of clothes on the bed.
"I go where you go," said Merlin.
"Idiot. In case it wasn't clear, I'm renouncing my claim to the throne. I can't pay you."
"As a friend, then."
Merlin reached up to the top of the wardrobe and pulled down a rucksack. He took it over to the bed and began folding shirts matter-of-factly.
Arthur watched him fold clothes, looking completely ridiculous with a deathly serious expression and the sun shining through his enormous ears. He had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.
Yet, he had no idea what to say next. Emotions like he had never felt were tearing him apart and he had no words to explain, for he had been taught that such things were not for sharing. Maybe that was why his grandfather had gone mad, and his father catatonic. What else could you do?
Merlin said, "You shouldn't have stormed out like that, you know. Who knows what he might have confessed to if you'd let him keep going? Maybe he's my father too."
The idea of Merlin as a prince was so comical that Arthur couldn't help but laugh. Then he couldn't stop, and he laughed and laughed until he was on the floor and hadn't enough breath to laugh any more.
"Feel better?" asked Merlin, sitting down on the cold stone next to Arthur.
"No," said Arthur. "Do you have any idea how many people I've killed because they had magic? Or even the potential for magic."
"You can't undo the things you did, but you can always learn from your mistakes and do better next time."
It was exactly what Arthur wanted to hear, so much so that he was suspicious. Nothing in life was that easy.
"Aren't there some things that can't be forgiven? That shouldn't be forgiven?"
Merlin shrugged. "Maybe you're right. Then again, we can't move forward if we're always looking back."
Arthur thought that over.
"My father taught me that sorcerers were evil and must be slaughtered…but why didn't I question? Why didn't I refuse? I can't blame him for that. It's nobody's fault but my own if I followed him blindly." Arthur shook his head. "I can't stay here, Merlin. I have to find my own way."
"Then Morgana will be first in line for the throne. If you ever want to come back, you can't expect her to give that up without a fight."
"I won't hold it against you if you want to stay -"
"Not at all. Just making sure you understand what you're doing."
Arthur extended his hand, and Merlin shook it.
"You are a true friend, Merlin, First Code be damned. If I do return, things will be very, very different."
After his own chambers, the royal garden was Uther's favorite brooding spot. At the western end was a cherry tree that marked his first wife's grave. His second wife's grave was nearby, marked with a moonflower. Uther hadn't known Catrina long enough to find out what her favorite flower might be; the choice was Gaius's suggestion. It was a plain-looking plant that bloomed only at night, producing beautiful flowers that glowed in the moonlight and withered by dawn.
If Uther were to kill himself, as he was contemplating now, here with Ygraine and Catrina was where he would do it. Granted he was almost certain he'd wake up again, he still didn't want his body found someplace awkward, like the garderobe.
As he stood deep in thought, the sky darkened momentarily. He looked up and saw the silhouette of the Great Dragon turn and glide back across the sun. Then the dragon dipped down, settling in the forest outside the town, in the spot where it had met Uther before.
It wasn't exactly a sealed letter, but as the dragon hadn't been seen in Camelot for the past two years, Uther took its appearance there as a message and rode out to see it.
"How well-trained you are, Uther," said the dragon, blowing smoke out of its nose in amused little puffs.
"What do you want?" Uther asked wearily.
"You will be pleased to know that I have solved our mutual dilemma."
"Speak plainly, or I will fall on my sword." Uther reflected on and added, "I may do so regardless, so be quick about it."
The dragon's face twisted in some lizard version of a scowl. "In twelve hours, we will return to the moment when the witch Morgause tore the fabric of time. Only then can the tear be mended. If you fail, we will find ourselves again at Midsummer, two years ago."
That was a highly unappetizing prospect, and Uther did not bother to hide his displeasure. "And if I do as you ask?"
"Then time will proceed as usual, with no further interruptions."
"Time will continue on from here…? No, I can't do that. Not with things how they are."
The dragon's eyes narrowed to slits. "And how are things, exactly?"
"It seems…that Arthur will leave Camelot. For the time being."
The dragon stamped its feet, shaking the ground so hard that flocks of birds abandoned the surrounding trees. "I warned you, Uther!" it roared.
"And I told you I would never give up!" Uther shouted back at the beast. "I can make this right. This time will be different!"
"You may be fool enough to repeat your mistakes for all eternity, but I will not wait forever. You will allow Morgause to cast her spell on Morgana as she intended."
"I'd rather die," said Uther, through his teeth.
"That is not an option. If you do not finish what you started, then you, Uther, will be responsible for trapping everything and everyone you hold dear in purgatory forever."
"But what of Arthur?"
"Arthur has many years to find his way back to the throne of Camelot. You may never see him again, but that is hardly any concern of mine."
Uther wanted to tell the dragon that he would do the opposite of whatever it wanted. Part of him was willing, eager even, to give up another two years just to spite the beast. Another part of him wanted as many tries as it took to unite his warring children. They should not have to pay the price for his mistakes.
But all that was rationalization.
Given the chance to do things properly, Uther had made the same mistakes he'd always made. Again he'd meddled with magic to have the wife he wanted, and again it had resulted in her death. Again he'd managed to hold onto one child while driving the other away. It seemed he would lose his kingdom to one or the other; the only say he had was to which, and in what manner.
Long ago, he had naively thought of the world as a castle that he could travel freely throughout and enjoy as he pleased. Now he saw that even the life of a king was confined to a corridor, and he had barred so many doors along the way that very few were still left open.
Thus, twelve hours after the Great Dragon's pronouncement, he brought Morgana to the waterfall cavern where he had broken time.
"What will we do about Arthur?" Morgana asked, sitting down on the stone slab.
Uther squeezed her hands. "He may return one day. He's still my son, your brother. Promise me you'll never forget that."
Morgana nodded. "I promise."
Morgause silently prepared her spell. Her sister wouldn't look her in the eye. Morgause had tried to explain that Merlin and Uther's betrayal was the reason she had to enchant Morgana, but her sister was too stubborn to listen. She was her father's daughter, through and through.
It was time for the last resort.
The spell Morgause prepared was ever-so-slightly different than the one she had cast two years prior; this one would restore that original timeline, in which Morgana was loyal to Morgause and loathed the Pendragons. No one, not herself, perhaps not even the Great Dragon, would remember what had happened in this timeline. She'd hoped it wouldn't come to this, but one option was better than none. With magic, no door was ever truly locked.
If at first you don't succeed, thought Morgause, and cast the spell.
Author's Notes: Thank you for reading! Comments are much appreciated, too! :)
Many thanks to my beta reader, talesofyesac, without whose insight this story would be two-thirds as long and not even half as good (and make a tenth of the sense).