Disclaimer: I am not the BBC. Therefore, by default, I do not own Merlin.

Pair of Fools

Depraved work of Valeria H

The poison lay before him, awaiting consumption. As Arthur stared at the goblets that contained either his or Merlin's demise he could not see their pristine silver forms. Instead he could see every reason why he had to be the one to die today, and Merlin the one to continue living.

This was all his fault. His people were suffering and slowly dying, all for his pride. The Unicorn was dead because of that pride, a need to impress his father and have his skills acknowledged. How better than against a mythical creature refusing to fight back that he could proceed to present as a trophy to the court. All for the sake of arrogance. Why could he not leave an insult unchallenged? He let Merlin cripple his ego all the time with little retaliation but someone he'd never met before and probably would never encounter again insults him and Arthur snaps. Was an ignorant outsider's opinion of him so important?

Merlin had a life waiting for him, one that would no doubt involve him doing great deeds. And in that life he would be free, not bound to a predetermined fate. As long as he learnt not to rush headlong into curing all the worlds evils and fixing the problems of everyone he met then he might even live long enough to do those great deeds. And what did Arthur have waiting in the future? He thought of one day ruling Camelot. If their crown prince could bring this fate upon them with his arrogance then he hated to consider what they would suffer with him as their king. No, he wasn't ready to be king.

Father. Should he die here then Uther would most likely be disappointed that his son had failed to sacrifice the lowly servant to survive, but there would be no all consuming grief, not like for Merlin. Should Merlin die here then Gaius would never recover, not from the loss of a charge he regarded as his own child. And Hunith, she would weep endless tears for the loss of her greatest treasure. He should be jealous that his servant would have people waiting for his return, while the only one who would be waiting for him was sitting opposite from him now, so preoccupied with thoughts of how to escape this dilemma that he failed to notice his liege's stare and resolve.

"I've got it. Right, we pour all the liquid into one goblet and then we can be sure it's poisoned. Then all the liquid can be drunk and it will be from a single goblet."

"You never cease to surprise me. You're a lot smarter than you look." Though perhaps he'd always known that from the start. How Merlin was the first to know of any sorcery in Camelot, and tended to be present for whatever confrontation there was. No, that wasn't intelligent, just really bad timing. And seeking to sacrifice himself for Arthur, that wasn't a sign of intelligence either. The idiot was really just making this easier for Arthur to sacrifice himself.

"Is that actually a compliment?" Hah, you'd think he'd never received a compliment in his life with the way he was taking the praise. But that unsuspecting gaze was on him, and right now he needed it elsewhere. Despite his incompetence as a manservant, Merlin would stop him drinking the poison and then proceed to down it himself. Fool. Glancing to his left, Arthur was struck by the beauty of the setting that would be his grave. With the waves crashing against the shore it seemed too tranquil for any kind of danger...

"Look out!" My God, it actually worked! His gullible servant turned to what could be a source of danger but merely yielded distraction. When Arthur faced those eyes again he had possession of the poison and the attention of a misguided fool.

"No, I will drink it."

"As if I'd let you." As if he could be demanded to relinquish his destiny.

"You can't die, this isn't your destiny."

"Seems you're wrong again."

"Listen to me..."

"You know me Merlin, I never listen to you."

And he lifted that chalice to his lips and accepted his end. As his eyes slid shut and Merlin's panicked expression faded to a blur, Arthur knew that he'd done the right thing. Payment for his sacrifice would be Camelot's safety, his duty as their prince fulfilled. But at present it seemed more important that the only true friend he'd ever had would live. So maybe in the end the outsider's opinion of him had the same value as his Father's. But they didn't have the same value as his most faithful servant. With that knowledge, Arthur could die happy.

AN. You see that lovely green button? I wish I could say there were pictures of Colin Morgan at the end of it, but they just haven't got around to setting up that kind of incentive to reveiw yet. There is my eternal gratitude for feedback however.