You Cannot Leave Me Behind
Warnings: attempted suicide, and other issues relating therein
Arthur/Merlin preslash (least slashiest thing I've written in this fandom so far o_0).
Written for the kinkme_merlin prompt, "Merlin/Other (can be anyone or no one), Merlin's failed suicide attempt"
It had started while Merlin was reorganizing Gaius' stores of various medicines and other useful concoctions when he had come across the last two bottles of hemlock - the very poison he'd used on Morgana.
For a while, he stared at them, Morgana's face, betrayed and terrified and in pain as Merlin looked on regretfully, hating his magic and the dragon and Morgause for all leading up to this. Hating himself most of all, for being able to kill a friend after having already hurt her so much by keeping his secret - even if it was for Arthur.
He put both bottles in their allotted spots and returned this task numbly.
Arthur watched from his seat by the window as Merlin made his bed, reminiscing a time when Merlin would chat about the castle gossip or would talk with Arthur about the happenings of the kingdom or would natter on about Gaius' latest tasks for him...when Merlin would talk.
After so long of Merlin's service, the silence unnerved him.
Merlin never looked up from his tasks, anymore. He was focused. Deferent. Submissive. Quiet...silent.
These didn't just unnerve Arthur - they terrified him.
But whenever he asked anything, anything at all-
"What's wrong, Merlin?"
"Nothing, sire," Merlin would say calmly without looking up. "I'm perfectly fine."
Arthur knew he wasn't.
There was nothing he could do about it.
Merlin next thought of the hemlock when two months after the overgrown lizard's attack on Camelot, Uther had finally, reluctantly, declared that the searches were fruitless - Morgana was dead.
Merlin knew she wasn't - Morgause, for whatever reason, liked Morgana, was willing to sacrifice her much desired murder of Uther for Morgana. There was no way Morgana would be dead after all that, of this he was certain.
But the misery and grief on the royal family's face stayed with him, especially for Arthur. When he collapsed on the bench at the end of the day, he found himself staring at the bottles on the shelf again. Unbidden, a tear trailed down his face as he remembered the day he nearly killed Morgana. The few moments would not stop replaying in his head, along with all his other mistakes. The damage from the dragon attack confronted him every day, reminding him just how much he messed up and what it cost him.
His hand shaking, he gingerly reached up and grasped the bottle, bringing it down to study. It was the same as the other, the sharp Hemlock written on the front, with the skull and crossbones on the front Gaius kept so even those who could not read would know not to drink it.
With tight fingers curling around it, Merlin slipped into his bedroom, sat on the bed, and stared at it.
He wondered what he would look like dead.
He went to sleep.
The vial he kept under his pillow.
He never put it back.
And soon, he started clutching it in his hand under his pillow while he slept. It was comforting in a way Merlin knew it shouldn't be...but remembering his friend's face twisted with so many emotions, seeing the seemingly never ending damage from the dragon...
... it was comforting.
Arthur continued to watch Merlin carefully.
And he could admit to himself in his heart that he was scared.
The snapping point had come when less than a month later, Morgana's birthday came around.
Uther held only the barest of duties necessary to keep the kingdom in order. Arthur gave the knights a day off and sequestered himself to his rooms.
Merlin looked out over the city from Arthur's window. There was a particularly big patch of damage in his sight from where the Dragon had just landed on the houses, crushing them all instantly and destroying an entire part of the city.
There were corpses covered in blankets surrounding the buildings.
Merlin watched as a woman stood over four of them, three small and one large, and cried, alone with everyone around her sidestepping her, too invested in their own problems to care about hers.
Merlin shut his eyes and turned away. His fingers curled aimlessly for a vial that wasn't there.
When Merlin turned around, he shut his eyes but for the barest crack left open.
But he watched. He could see something had changed in Merlin.
When a little over and hour after Merlin left, when Arthur spied him flitting across the courtyard nervously, he followed.
Merlin spent almost an hour traversing the forest. He had no particular direction - it wasn't like he was going to come back - but simply kept going forward, farther and farther and farther, as far as he could manage.
Finally, simple exhaustion won out, and he stopped, collapsing onto the ground near a nice tree.
It was a good place to die - lots of trees, forming a nice canopy, shading him from the sunlight as he lay there for a moment, staring up.
Propping himself up, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the vial of poison, glancing at the label on the front.
With the way Gaius made this extraction, Merlin knew it would only take a few spoonfuls of the stuff to work. However, he also knew from Gaius that ordinary, mundane poisons didn't work as well on him, not without magic, of which this had none. So it would probably take the whole damn thing to work. Merlin hoped so.
A gentle smile graced his face, before he uncapped the vial, threw his head back, and drained it all in one go.
Just a few dozen yards away, Arthur watched in confusion as Merlin ingested something out of a potion bottle.
Then he watched in horror as Merlin's eyes fluttered shut and he fell to the ground.
And then his chest stopped moving.
Leaping forward, secrecy came second as he scrambled and dropped at Merlin's side, picking up the bottle and frantically turning it in his hands.
He went cold when he saw it. Even without the foreboding skull and crossbones on the front, the hemlock served well enough to drive fear into his heart.
As the prince, he was familiar with poisons. All it would take was a few spoonfuls of this to work, and Merlin had just drained the whole bottle, and...and...
"Why?!" he cried out to Merlin's body hoarsely.
And then...he saw it...
It was a fractional movement, barely there, and if Arthur hadn't been so focused on studying Merlin, he would have missed it.
But his chest moved - he had breathed in.
Merlin was alive.
The following hours were the most excruciating of Arthur's life. He knew the power of the poison Merlin had used, and it was only a miracle, an impossible miracle, that Merlin was not dead already.
As it was, his heart and stomach clenched up every time Merlin stopped breathing, and all he could do was sit there with Merlin in his arms, praying desperately for Merlin to wake up.
A few hours after, he did.
Arthur watched in something close to amazement when a few hours later, Merlin started groaning and snuffling, eyes fluttering open.
Looking down at the bottle, at just how much Merlin had consumed, Arthur knew that this was impossible.
Merlin's eyes opened fully, and looked around above him. He propped himself up again, and turned his head, freezing in shock when he saw Arthur.
Lifting up the bottle, he held it so the label faced Merlin, and said only one word:
Merlin, for his part, felt simple dread drift through him, eyes locked on the bottle in Arthur's hand.
He didn't answer.
Arthur shut his eyes, and said, "If you won't answer that, then I have a better question - how? I'm familiar with poisons, Merlin - as the prince, I have to be. I know how much of this is lethal - and that for consuming all this" – here, he shook the bottle and opened his eyes to glare at Merlin – "you should have died several times over."
Merlin swallowed, curling in his legs, sitting up properly. This was wrong, all wrong, why couldn't he even get his own damn death right-
"Don't move!" Arthur suddenly cried out. "Don't you dare run away!"
Merlin actually hadn't been planning to. He sat stiffly, anyway, knees almost to his chest, Arthur looking much the same against the tree beside them.
"Well?" he asked. "Do you have an explanation? For any of this?"
He blinked, and Arthur growled.
"Answer me!" he yelled.
"...no..." Merlin said weakly. Okay, now he had to run, definitely, because if he stayed too long-
"No?!" Arthur yelled. He dropped the vial onto the glass and sprung up, towering over Merlin. "You just tried to end your life and survived enough poison to kill my horse twice over and you don't have an explanation for this?"
Merlin didn't answer, instead taking a deep breath in a desperate attempt to steady himself.
"How did you...find me?" he asked.
Arthur glared, crossing his arms. "You're not getting out of answering me."
Merlin nodded meekly. Maybe if he just stayed silent long enough, Arthur would get tired of this and he could leave...
He looked up. It had been midday when he'd taken the poison, and yet it was nearing sunset now...
Sometimes, he wished Arthur would be more patient.
This was not one of those times.
"Well?" Arthur demanded. When Merlin continued to simply stare, Arthur sighed and crouched down. "Are you just not answering, or has all the poison gone to your brain and killed that?"
Merlin blinked at him. He'd forgotten - Arthur was quite persistent when he wanted to be.
"Merlin," Arthur said, voice suddenly weak. "Just...what is...why did you..."
With a sharp cry, something between a shout of anger and a sob, he turned away, apparently rubbing his face in frustration.
Slowly, silently, Merlin stood, starting to back away.
"What is going on with you?" Arthur asked the air in front of him, addressing Merlin. "What's so horrible that you can't tell me about it and you have to kill yourself over it?"
Merlin didn't answer, managing a few more feet of space in complete silence as Arthur ranted.
"Well?!" Arthur raged, before turning back towards Merlin.
And seeing him gone.
Upon seeing him, Merlin turned and ran as fast as he could, ignoring Arthur's shouts at him to stop.
His head was jerking back and forth, front and behind, because he needed to get away, finish this properly, do some good for Camelot for once-
Merlin was incredibly fast, always had been, but he'd also always been incredibly clumsy.
So when rabbit hole ended up tripping him, Merlin sailed several yards forward on momentum and inertia alone before planting face-first into the ground.
He didn't have time to recover, though, for this trip meant distance Arthur could cover, and get to him, and Merlin couldn't, couldn't, couldn't-
Merlin only managed two steps upon righting himself before he was grabbed by Arthur again. First a hand to his arm, and when he tried to yank away, it was only to fall into a full embrace of iron-gripped arms around him.
"Let me go!" Merlin shouted, pleading.
"No," Arthur growled. "Never."
Merlin flailed against Arthur, trying to push against him so he could escape, get out of here, get away, get away get away getawaygetaway-
Arthur tightened his grip. "What's wrong?" he pleaded into Merlin's ear, the warm breath against cold skin making Merlin shiver even as he continued to struggle.
"Let...me...go..." he said, desperately, still struggling, and trying to think of away to do this without magic, because he doesn't want to die with Arthur hating him, anything but that, because he's selfish and even after all he's done-
"Are you deaf?!" Arthur yelled. "I'm not letting you go! Now tell me what's wrong."
Merlin stopped struggling, even halfheartedly, and simply collapsed, chest heaving with exertion, silent tears down his face that Arthur saw. Merlin could see his face softening.
There was only one way this could end.
"You...want to know...what's wrong?" he managed between breaths.
It seems even for death, he would not get his wish.
Well, it wasn't like anything else was going to plan.
"Fine," he said, defeated, and looked up as magic surged through his veins.
Arthur watched in shock as Merlin's eyes turned from blue to gold, and suddenly, his arms were being pushed off, by what felt like moving walls, and Merlin was just standing there as Arthur was pushed away by invisible forces, by magic, by- by-
-by Merlin's magic.
"That," Merlin said, as the magic was released, his eyes turning to their blue shade. "Is what's wrong."
For a moment, he stared mournfully at Arthur, before he turned to run again.
Reaching out his hand and grasping onto Merlin's collar, Arthur refused to let him.
Merlin fell back and nearly collapsed to the ground, staring in shock at Arthur.
"You," he ground out. "Have a lot of explaining to do. Now."
Merlin only stared in confusion at him, before shutting his eyes and shaking his head.
"No, no, no. This is-"
"Yes, yes, yes, you're going to talk to me, right now!" Arthur yelled. "You haven't talked in weeks!"
"I..." Merlin trailed off, eyes still shut, head still shaking, refusing to answer.
"Look at me!" he yelled.
Merlin has been drifting, not being a part of the life he was in.
No more - Arthur would not allow it.
Eyes slowly blinking open, Merlin looked up at Arthur apprehensively.
Arthur sighed. He didn't let go of Merlin, just moved his tight grip from one hand on Merlin's collar to a hand on each shoulder.
"You have no reason to fear me."
And here, Merlin started shaking his head again hysterically. "Yes you do, Arthur...yes you do..."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Merlin, whatever you have done with your magic-"
"Morgana," Merlin said hoarsely. "She...Morgause cast that spell on Camelot and was using Morgana to anchor and I had to kill her to end it and I poisoned her and she was there and she saw and I didn't mean to I swear but you were going to die and Morgause came in and took the poison and Morgana away and Morgana is fine but she's a sorceress and I was supposed to tell her and I never did and now she hates everyone and I made a deal with the dragon and he was just supposed to leave and I freed him but he didn't leave and he stayed and so many people died, I didn't mean for them to die, they weren't supposed to die, I didn't want them to die, and not Balinor, Gaius said he was my father and I only got to know him for a few hours and he died for me and it was supposed to be me, Arthur, please, I should have died, it was supposed to be me, and he died and then I had to stop the dragon and I couldn't and he's still alive and he's gone and gone and I'm sorry, so sorry-"
"Merlin!" Arthur shouted, horrified by what he was hearing. Merlin had to- "Stop!"
Merlin's mouth shut with a click of his teeth, and he just stared, eyes vacant but for begging, pleading, for something Arthur could neither fathom nor give.
Arthur curled his fingers to dig them into Merlin's shoulder and keep him close as he closed his eyes, taking in everything Merlin had done.
"That was all...this was all you?" he said, hoarsely. Because no, this was Merlin, the idiot who picked herbs on a regular basis and laughed with the children who threw food at him in the stocks and found a disproportionate pleasure at just lying about in the sun doing nothing and complained about hunts while secretly enjoying them and gave flowers to anyone and everyone who remotely appeared to need them and...and...and...
Opening his eyes, he felt his chest, his lungs, his heart tighten when Merlin, tears streaming down his face, nodded.
But somehow, he didn't see Camelot ravaged. He didn't see Morgana, missing and dear. He didn't see his father's face when he was sure his son was to die. He didn't see the bodies of all the dead.
All he saw was Merlin crying right before him.
With a sigh, he said, "You're coming with me."
Merlin's eyes widened in fear. "Please, no, please, I don't want to die in the middle of the courtyard, please, please-"
"Good thing you're not going to," Arthur said gruffly, dragging Merlin back in the direction they'd come from. Merlin wasn't fighting to get away, but neither was he particularly helping, either.
They reached the spot where Merlin had tried to kill himself and Arthur picked up the hemlock bottle from the ground, before turning for the long walk back to Camelot. "We are going to go home. Dinner will be sent up to my chambers, enough for the both of us. And that is when you are going to explain everything..." he turned his head, still grasping Merlin's arm, and held up the bottle. "Including this. Especially this."
Merlin didn't respond at first, but then he slowly nodded.
Arthur took a deep breath, letting go of Merlin's arm, before he thought better of it and grabbed Merlin's hand in his own again.
Merlin looked confused.
"I'm not going to let you run, Merlin."
Looking up, Merlin bit his lip and said, "I...I wasn't...going to."
"Well, forgive me for having my doubts," Arthur said curtly.
Merlin didn't respond, head lowered to stare at the ground again - and it looked so wrong, this was the idiot servant who never lowered his head in deference for those of a higher station than he, because he was just that stupid.
Arthur turned and started walking, never letting go of Merlin.
It was a long walk back to Camelot, much longer than the one away from it – likely because rather than just walking blindly in a particular direction, they were headed towards somewhere.
Merlin had pondered trying to talk on the way back. But Arthur had a fierce look of determination on his face, with touches of sadness and anger in his eyes, and so Merlin didn't press. Besides, their brisk pace would have made talking difficult, despite the fact that Merlin was always right by Arthur's side.
With the way Arthur never let go of his hand, not even for a moment, it wasn't like he could go anywhere else.
But eventually, they made it back to the city. Only then did Arthur let go of Merlin's hand, though he still kept a warning hand on Merlin's neck, and made Merlin walk in front of him.
The guards passed them through, and Arthur kept Merlin close through various degrees of physical contact. At the castle entrance, Arthur had someone send for dinner from the kitchens, enough for two, and with that, they made their way up to Arthur's chambers.
They got there only just before dinner. Arthur had Merlin take it from the serving maid and bring it inside to set on the table.
Once he closed to door, he turned to Merlin and, pointing at the table, commanded, "Sit."
Merlin sat, not quite sure what else to do. The dinner platter was mostly Arthur's, but there was another plate for him which Arthur filled and pushed towards him.
He just stared at it as Arthur sat down.
"Now," Arthur said. "You are going to tell me everything. When did you start using magic?"
"...I was born with it."
Arthur shut his eyes. "You've had magic all your life, so you decided to come to Camelot of all places?"
"My mother sent me here," Merlin said. "So I could meet..."
Arthur's eyes narrowed. "You said your mother sent you here to apprentice under Gaius...so am I safe in assuming he's related to your magic?"
Biting his lip, Merlin said, "He...he studied magic before the Great Purge. My mother sent me here to see if he could help my with my magic."
"What did you need help with?" Arthur asked, sounding like he did in Court - wording everything carefully, stiffly, and with an air of detachment.
"Just...I had so much magic and nothing to do with it," he said. "I...she..." Merlin sighed, wanting to just curl up into a little ball and die, but apparently his stupid magic wouldn't let him. "So I came here."
Arthur sighed. "Tell me from the beginning - everything you have ever done with your magic. Everything magical you've ever encountered. And what you have to do with Morgana and the Dragon." His voice cracked several times towards the end, and he never looked up from the goblet of water before him.
"Um...it's a long story. Really long."
"Tell me over dinner," Arthur said succinctly. He tore off a piece of bread, bit some off and chewed and swallowed, then said, "Talk."
He talked about coming to Camelot and seeing the man killed for sorcery, the woman transporting away in the middle of the courtyard. He mentioned saving Gaius, the letter.
He mentioned running into a total prat in the courtyard and winning a fight with only a touch of magic, here and there, and considering the man had been trained since birth to kill and Merlin had barely even ever fought, he didn't feel remotely bad for cheating.
Arthur smiled, just a flash, but suppressed it quickly, gesturing for Merlin to continue.
He talked about the voice in his head, going down to see the dragon. Attending a feast and covering his ears as everyone around him fell asleep. Making a chandelier fall on her. Time slowing down as he pushed the prince aside without even thinking. The king's very odd reward.
He talked of learning to do chores with magic, how he learned to be able to get away with it publicly and still look like he was doing it himself.
He talked of the shield with snakes, of the knight Valiant, of bringing first the dog then the snakes to life.
He talked of the disease and the Afanc and Gwen and he hadn't meant to get her arrested, oh god, he just wanted to help, to help, that was all-
"Stop," Arthur commanded. Merlin closed his jaw with a click of teeth.
Arthur sighed, and stood up and walked to his desk, picking up a wineskin. Returning, he poured the water from Merlin's goblet back into the pitcher, filled it a third of the way up with water, and handed it to Merlin. "Drink. All of it."
No question, no argument - Merlin drained it in two gulps.
"Breathe in," Arthur said, a hand on Merlin's back, just below his neck, flexing his fingers into Merlin's flesh through the scratchy shirt. "Hold. Breathe out. Hold."
He did that two more times.
Arthur studied Merlin for a moment, then he nodded, satisfied, and sat back down. "Continue."
Arthur listened to Merlin's account of his life in Camelot, listening as Merlin quietly told of his version of events over that stupid poisoned cup, how according to Gaius, he'd conjured up a ball of light that Arthur had described as what saved him in the cavern. How Lancelot had saved him, how Merlin then saved Lancelot, who found out and refused to take the credit. How he had been wary of Edwin, then starstruck while learning magic, then devastated once Gaius was affected by it.
Merlin became hesitant for a moment. Then, "Sophia and her father were Sidhe - they'd enchanted you. You weren't eloping."
Arthur blinked. "So you never did hit me with a block of wood?"
"No," Merlin said. "Just pulled you out of a lake."
Arthur nodded. "Keep going."
Merlin did. He explained how Mordred spoke to him in his head when in Camelot, how he'd saved him and brought him to Morgana. How the dragon had told him about Mordred's destiny...and how Merlin saved him, anyway.
"And now he's with Alvarr and the other hostile Druids," Merlin said bitterly. "He no longer feels gratitude for saving you, and he pretty much wants to kill me, now."
Arthur frowned at the thought of that little boy having murder in his heart - and towards Merlin, of all people. The idiot who gave out his heart to help anyone who needed it without a second thought...and suffered for it...and still kept doing so, anyway. The thought of anyone having murderous intent for someone as gentle and loving as Merlin...
"Keep going," he said stiffly, relying on years of training in the machinations of Court to keep his voice steady enough for this request.
So Merlin continued, onto the Black Knight, who was his Uncle Tristan who he'd heard of and never met...until he apparently had. How Merlin had a sword forged from dragon fire, only for Uther to end up using it, and how the dragon had ordered Merlin to get rid of the sword once that happened.
"He said it was because it was only meant for you," Merlin muttered. "But I think now he was just pissed that Uther had gotten his hands on it."
Arthur had no idea what Merlin was feeling, and considering Merlin was normally an open book when it came to his heart, it was very disconcerting. But Merlin's voice was blank. And he hadn't looked up from his lap since Arthur made him drink the wine.
Merlin explained that the whirlwinds in Elador had been him, and Will had only taken the blame as he had already been dying. Merlin explained how he had felt the damn unicorn or something like that in the forest, how he'd tried to get rid of it before Arthur could shoot it, and how he had followed Arthur to, and through, the labyrinth.
Then, Merlin mentioned how he had felt some form of powerful magic being used one night, waking him from his sleep, how the next day, Tom had been accused of sorcery. How he wanted so desperately to help, and couldn't. How he had grieved with Gwen, and how he had followed Morgana after her imprisonment when she went out to meet Tauren. How he'd felt torn apart at her plans to kill Arthur's father.
How he had decided to save his father's life anyway.
How Morgana had decided that, too.
Then the Questing Beast. How he'd tried desperately to fight against it. How he had gone to the Isle of the Blessed and made a deal with Nimueh of all people, a deal to-
"-trade in my life for yours."
"You were willing to just die, just like that?" Arthur cut in, sitting up straight, the thought of Merlin dying so long ago making him more fearful than it should have. "Why the hell are you so vested in your own death?"
"I...I'm not," Merlin said.
Arthur sighed, not believing that for a second. Leaning back in his chair, he said, "Well, I assume something changed, considering you're still here."
Merlin nodded. "She tried to take my mother..." Then Gaius, and Merlin finally snapped, perfectly willing to sacrifice himself and let others mourn him but unwilling to lose someone he loved in his own turn.
Merlin, the walking twig before him who could never wield a sword and tripped over his own feet and clumsily walked into something at least once a week, had killed the most powerful sorceress in Albion.
"Just how powerful are you?" he asked when Merlin finished that part of his tale.
"I...I don't know," Merlin said softly. His head jerked, about to look up, but he aborted, keeping his eyes on his lap. "I don't want to know."
Arthur was scared to find out, too, how much power could really be inside his walking twig.
So instead he said simply, "Keep going."
Merlin explained how the spirit of Cornelius Sigan had possessed "that bootlicking thief" Cedric, and how Merlin came to defeat him using a powerful enchantment. How he had snapped the saddle strap of the assassin he'd jousted against. How Morgana's power started to go beyond her control, and how he had tracked down the woman suspected of Druid connections, how he had led Morgana there, and then back, to help her, all without telling her about his own magic - because while he no longer completely trusted the dragon, he couldn't deny that the dragon had been right more often than not and he'd done it just to be safe.
"I think that was my biggest mistake," Merlin said. His voice sounded wet, but his face seemed dry.
There was a long pause, before Arthur prodded again with, "Merlin?"
Merlin's head snapped, but not up. He nodded feebly, and let out a shaky breath.
He talked about how he had realized Catrina was a troll and how he had fought her, and how he came to know the way to break the curse on Uther. Arthur, remembering half-dying in his own room and the fight with the troll, urged Merlin forward quickly.
Merlin talked about how as a child, he'd made animals out of anything he could - sparks, water, steam, smoke - to comfort himself when he felt low. How after recent events and having to hide his magic had worn down on him, and he had only made a simple pony out of smoke - except that the woman had seen, and Camelot erupted when Uther called Aredian in.
"He went after Gaius, though," Merlin said. "I think they knew each other before, somehow. Gaius won't say. But...Aredian...he knew...he was the best of all witchfinders, and he knew that Morgana and I were magic almost instantly, and told Gaius he would go after us if Gaius didn't confess, and, and, Gaius nearly died because of me-"
And here, Merlin did cry. A single tear went down his cheek, dropping off his chin, and made Merlin start when it landed on his hand. He ducked his face even lower and brought his hand up to scrub his face.
This time, Arthur didn't press, remembering all too easily Gwen's urgency, how Gaius had looked just before being nearly burned, how harrowed and stricken Merlin had been.
Voice still too-quiet and wavering, Merlin explained how he had exaggerated that Aredian had framed Gaius and how he'd done it, and how in the end, he had framed the man as vengeance for what he had done to Gaius.
"He still gets nervous whenever he sees a cagecart, even though most of them are for animals," Merlin said softly.
This time, there was another long pause.
Merlin took in a deep breath, and said simply, "Then came Morgause."
And with Merlin's magic suddenly in light, Arthur felt his blood freeze at the memories.
Merlin paused again, head tilted, as if waiting for something.
"What about her?" he asked.
"Um...that...that night...with your mother..."
His eyes widened. "Was it...it was just an illusion."
Merlin shook his head. "That was...that really was your mother. She had been lied to, though, mostly by Morgause - Uther hadn't betrayed her, because he hadn't known what would happen. But yeah, she..."
"...she gave her life for mine," Arthur said hoarsely, sitting back in his chair. "My mother..."
"Loved you," Merlin said. "I had...I had asked Gaius. You were born of magic. And your mother hadn't known that it would cost her life. But, that she would willingly give up her life for you, that she was proud of you, that she loved you - those were all her. Those were all true."
Arthur shut his eyes, leaning his face in his hands, his elbows on the table on either side of the forgotten dinner.
"Why did you stop me?" Arthur asked. "When I was about to kill my father. You could have just let me die. You should have."
Because he remembered what he had said to his father that night, and realized, he had been right. His father had hunted down sorcerers, hunted down Merlin's kin, and butchered them - like animals.
"Because you would have been devastated if you had killed him," Merlin said. "I couldn't do that to you. Or to Camelot."
Arthur raised his head.
"...thank you," he said, quietly, shamefully - because he was the Crown Prince of Camelot and shouldn't be thanking sorcerers. And yet he is. Because he wasn't thanking a sorcerer, he was thanking Merlin.
There was another long pause, before Arthur said, "Continue."
"The next thing was...the Bastet," Merlin said. Arthur looked up at the tone of Merlin's voice, frowned when he saw the tears streaming down his face. "The Druid girl that came in with Halig, she was cursed to turn into a Bastet at night...her name was Freya. And...well, I was trying to help her, to escape where she could live in peace and where I might be able to help her, but...she died."
Arthur frowned at the brash way Merlin went over this part. "There's something you're not telling me."
"...I was going to go with her," Merlin said. "I was...tired, of being hunted, and so was she. We were going to find some place nice and secluded. She could control her form around me, and my magic..."
Arthur's heart fell to pieces as he realized the look in Merlin's eyes. "You loved her?"
"...then," Merlin agreed. "I did."
"So..." Arthur remembered that night. "You..." His eyes suddenly widened. "I killed her, didn't I?"
A pause. Then a slow, single nod.
Arthur shut his eyes, wondering how the hell Merlin could still remain so doggedly loyal to the man who killed the woman he loved.
Merlin briefly went into discovering that he and Vivienne had been enchanted to love each other (and suddenly that hazy week made much more sense), and how a kiss with his true love, Gwen, would fix it.
"Wait," Arthur said. "True love..."
"Yeah," Merlin said. "The enchantment reversed itself once Gwen kissed you."
"...Gwen isn't my true love," Arthur said. "I mean...she and I..."
"You love her, and it's real, regardless of whatever else you feel," Merlin said, laughing hoarsely and without joy. "If it's one thing I've learned, it's that love is complicated."
Arthur sighed and nodded. "Then...go on..."
Arthur listened as Merlin explained that the voices he heard were actually in his head, and how he was now sure that Morgana had hidden Mordred and Alvarr. How Morgana had stolen the crystal. How Merlin had really tracked down the camp. How he had betrayed Mordred by helping the knights to capture him, however unsuccessful, and sparking the killer instinct.
"The crystal...it...it's got...well..."
"I told you to watch it that night," Arthur said slowly.
Merlin nodded. "I never handed it over to the guards or went to sleep like I was supposed to. It was calling to me. Screaming at me. And I couldn't help it, I swear, I didn't mean to, but I pulled it out of the bag, I touched it, and..."
"And?" Arthur prompted.
Merlin sighed. "The most powerful weapon of the crystal is knowledge - past, present...and future. And...the future it showed would only ever be a possibility - until it came to pass, but then it was the present, or past, not future, and-"
"What did you see?"
"...the dragon attacking Camelot," Merlin admitted softly.
Arthur's jaw clenched. "Continue."
And Merlin did. He talked about how, when they came to the sleeping city, he went down to see the dragon - but this time, it made Merlin swear to free him. How he tried to go without killing Morgana. How he did so, anyway - with the very poison he just tried to use on himself.
Arthur slipped a hand into his pocket, where the vial for the poison lay.
It was excruciating to listen to Merlin's account of events - of Morgana as she drank the poison, as she started to choke, of how Merlin turned to glance and she knew it was him and how he bent down to hold her, wanting to give her this much in her last moments of life, of her trying to struggle, then being too weak to fight and laying there, anguish in her eyes as she realized she was going to die. How she lost consciousness just as Morgause barged in. The bargain he made with Morgause...
Merlin stopped, and Arthur couldn't be more grateful.
Merlin was still crying.
"She's probably alive," Merlin said, after a long pause. He did sound relieved about it. His tears stopped. His voice, now practically a whisper, still wavered.
"...and Balinor?" Arthur asked.
Merlin swallowed. "The day we left, Gaius told me...Balinor was my father."
As the truth of that hit home, Merlin's actions started to make so much more sense, his quietness on the trip, the way he acted with the man...
...the way he acted when Balinor...when his father died.
The realization that Merlin had been grieving for his father, who sacrificed his life for Merlin's, hit Arthur home in the same spot as the thought that he killed his own mother, and suddenly, he didn't give a damn, anymore.
He got up, rounded the table corner, and pulled Merlin up and into his embrace, a hand curling around Merlin's head and pressing Merlin close to him, pressing Merlin's face down to his neck.
"I won't let you be alone," Arthur said in Merlin's ear.
"Yes, you will," Merlin said, voice louder now that they were close. "I was the one to take on the dragon - and I let him live. He's still alive, out there, somewhere-"
Involuntarily, Arthur felt himself stiffen, and Merlin, sensing this, pulled away.
"...we're the last of our kinds," Merlin said softly. "If he's gone, the balance of magic may reach a tipping point that could...I couldn't kill him."
And Arthur couldn't kill Merlin.
Merlin trembled from his admission, and likely exhaustion as well, and fear, and...Arthur could think of a bunch of reasons for Merlin shaking worse than a leaf in the wind.
Pulling Merlin close again, he said, "You are an idiot - I'm still here."
That was Merlin's breaking point.
When he was pressed flush against Arthur's front, his neck bent, his face in Arthur's shoulder, and Arthur's in his, a great, wracking sob escaped him, and then another, and another, and-
He didn't know how long they stood there. He could feel Arthur, his mouth pressed against Merlin's neck as he sobbed, because Freya and Morgana and Gaius and his father were innocent and Merlin wasn't and the dragon was hurt and everything, everything, everything was just...
Arthur never said a word, and neither did Merlin. They held each other tightly, needing simply to feel that they weren't alone.
He managed to get his sobs down, eventually, to dry shaking in Arthur's arms. When that happened, Arthur simply pulled Merlin with him, landing sideways on the bed, both men still clutching onto each other - for after everything they have been through, they were anything but boys.
Arthur reached into his pocket when Merlin finally calmed down, and Merlin's eyes drifted down to see his vial in Arthur's hand.
"Promise me you will never hold any more secrets, hold anything else, inside yourself? Promise me this won't happen again?" Arthur pleaded against the top of Merlin's head.
Merlin knew he was shaking again. Reaching a hand down, he curled his fingers around the vial, lifting it up, before wrapping his arms around Arthur again.
He pressed his own lips to Arthur's neck and said simply, "Yeah."
He didn't let go of the vial.
But neither did he didn't let go of Arthur.
A/N: One day, KMM won't own me...
Anyway, sorry if this was particularly triggering for anyone - I was using some of my own experiences of being suicidal to write this. And yes, the ending is meant to be confusing and ambiguous, because that is how the suicidal drive works. Despite what the movies and stories will tell you, it does not come overnight, and it does not go away overnight.