A/N: Well, guys, this is it – the final chapter! This will be a slightly longer AN than usual because I always have a bit to say at the end of a story. :) First, I want to thank everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited, and/or alerted this story! Next, like I said last chapter, I do plan to eventually do this for the remaining seasons of Merlin but it may be a little while before I can because I've got school and a bunch of other projects going on right now. Would you guys be interested in a continuation? If so, over the next few months, be on the lookout for a new story more than likely called "In the Back of Our Minds II" or something like that. Maybe something more creative, but I doubt it. :P
Also, I want to thank every single one of my reviewers for the whole story by name – I would have never gotten this done without you guys! So a hee-uuuge thank you to: Christina B, BlueEyes444, Whirlwind421, ruby890, Alaia Skyhawk, ArthursCamelot, Tharrow, Eavis, Nimbus Llewelyn, m0untainc1imber, merlincrazy, harprani, CoolCarrot, InheriGirl, Cat, llLethall, general zargon, Kitty O, Kikwoka, lilyplusjamesistotallove, and Suzie! Thanks so much! :)
One more quick note – I'm starting a vlog on youtube, so if you're interested in checking it out, the ink is on my profile. :D Okay, now that all the business and self-promotion is out of the way (LOL), I'll let you get to what you clicked the link for… the final chapter of In the Back of Our Minds! Enjoy and please review – especially since it's the last chapter! :)
In the Back of Our Minds
Chapter Thirteen: Le Morte D'Arthur
Death has never seemed so real to me as it did during the course of the past few days.
I've seen death before, obviously, and I live under the constant threat of execution. I don't know how many times I've saved Arthur's life. I don't even know if I could count the number of times I've almost died since I came to Camelot, most – if not all – of them for Arthur. But when it comes to the potential death of someone you care about, and you find out that someone is deliberately trying to kill, to murder, that someone, it's a whole different story.
And it gets even more complicated when you have a chance to save that person – but the cost of redeeming their life is your own. There was not even a question for me. I'd give my life a thousand times over for those I care about. I'm not trying to be a hero – as Arthur decided to inform me in the Labyrinth of Gedref, it doesn't suit me – but it's just the truth. The people in my life that are close to me… I care about them. A lot. And I would do anything – anything – to prevent their suffering.
In the span of less than three days, I almost lost the three most important people in the world to me – and it very nearly tore me apart.
The first person I almost lost was Arthur.
I knew from the very beginning that it wasn't going to be a good idea to go hunting for the Questing Beast. I could have told Arthur as much but I knew that he wouldn't listen to me. He never listens to me, even though I am proved right again and again – bit annoying, really. I just had this bad feeling that something terrible was going to happen, and when Morgana came running out of the castle, screaming for Arthur to stay, hysterical, convinced something terrible was going to happen to him… my feelings were all but confirmed as truth. Gaius has told me of his suspicions that Morgana is a seer and I've only seen evidence to back up that claim. And to see her so terrified, so utterly convinced that nothing good could come of this trip, scared me.
I foolishly thought that I'd be able to protect Arthur anyway.
I refused to believe that he had been bitten at first. I saw the blood, yes, and the bite mark, but I just couldn't – wouldn't – believe it. Gaius's words kept echoing wildly in my head, taunting me, reminding me – there is no cure…
With that realization, I knew that unless a miracle happened, Arthur would die. And that could NOT happen. I would NOT allow it.
You know, the dragon is always talking about our destiny and all the good we will do someday, but in the moment that I was kneeling beside Arthur, trying without effect to get some sort of response out of him, I couldn't care less about destiny. The prospect of a broken destiny was the furthest thing from my mind. I remember calling blindly for help, the whole time thinking desperately, Damn destiny, damn the prophecies – I'd give them up in a heartbeat if Arthur would just get better! He's my friend and I need him to live!
I knew then that if there was anything – anything at all – that I could do to save Arthur, no matter the cost, I would do it. I found out later that when I said "no matter the cost" that the cost was going to be a lot steeper than I could have ever imagined.
I don't believe I'll ever be able to get that image out of my head completely – the horrifying picture of Arthur lying, bloodied and all but lifeless on Gaius's table, completely unresponsive to any form of magic I tried to use. I knew that Gaius had said that there was no cure for the bite of the Questing Beast but that didn't mean that I wasn't going to try. Arthur was my friend – is my friend – and I wasn't going to just let him die without doing anything to try and save him, even if I knew all the while that all my attempts at using magic to cure him would end in failure.
And then Uther came in, picked him up, carried him away, and I wanted to yell for him to stop. To tell him that he couldn't walk away with my friend, that he couldn't take him away where I couldn't desperately use magic to try and save him. I was angry at Uther for sending Arthur out on this ridiculous quest despite Gaius's warnings and because he was the only person besides myself and Arthur that I had any reason to be angry at.
I recall the all-consuming, burning fire of anger that lit up inside of me when Uther walked into the room. I don't even think I was fully aware of why I was so angry, but I don't believe I have ever hated the king as much as I did in that moment.
My anger melted away unbidden as I watched him struggle to cross the courtyard with a dying Arthur in his arms and I remembered – Uther was grieving just as much, if not more, than I was. Arthur was his son. And who was I? His servant?
And I couldn't let him die. I wouldn't let him die.
The second person I almost lost was my mother.
I should have known that Nimueh was going to trick me. I had absolutely no reason to trust her. She's tried to kill me in the past and left Arthur at the mercy of a pack of giant killer spiders. She's messed with Camelot, killed, and generally wreaked havoc. I probably shouldn't have trusted her. I had no choice, though.
But if I had known that it would be my mother's life she would try to take instead of Arthur's, would I have gone along with it still? I don't think I could. Believe me, I would have done, promised, bargained anything to save Arthur and my mother, but… she's my mother.
I feel like a terrible person just admitting this, but make no mistake: I would trade my life for Arthur's any day. I would trade my life for my mother's in a heartbeat. But would I trade one of their lives for the other? I don't think I could kill Arthur to save my mother and I definitely couldn't kill my mother to save Arthur. Either way, I would never be able to forgive myself. How is one supposed to choose between two of the most important people in their lives, the very people that they don't want anything bad to happen to?
I didn't know that Nimueh was going to go after my mother, though. I thought that she was going to take my life for Arthur's, and for that I was willing.
I can't even begin to describe the horror of finding Gaius hovering over the dying form of my mother the morning after we gave the "miracle cure" to Arthur. I was so happy the night before when Gaius told me that the prince lived. After the initial happiness wore off, though, I had begun to get slightly apprehensive. I was just sure that when I fell asleep, I wouldn't wake up in the morning. I was alright with that, though, if it meant that Arthur would live.
But I did not bargain my mother's life. That was why I returned to the Isle of the Blessed. That was why I assured the dragon he wouldn't be seeing me again. That was why I almost lost someone else that I loved.
Saying goodbye to Gaius – again – was harder than I would have ever expected. Saying goodbye to Arthur was nearly impossible.
I was relieved to see him sitting up, eating (honestly, I don't think there's ever a time when that prat is not eating!). His arm was in a sling and he still looked pale and drained, but other than that, he looked like Arthur. He had been cured. He owed it all to Gaius.
I almost told Arthur everything then. I didn't see why I shouldn't – after all, I was going to return to the Isle so that Nimueh could kill me and save my mother. I was going to die anyway, Arthur might as well know all that I've done for him. But something stopped me.
I didn't want the recognition. That wasn't why I wanted to tell Arthur everything. I just wanted him to know that I was there for him, that I was his friend. Maybe he knows that. I don't know. But I held back. I didn't tell him. I didn't tell him because I was afraid that if I did, he wouldn't take it as friendship that I had risked so much by performing magic in Camelot, but that he would see it as a betrayal. I didn't want to die with Arthur thinking I was a traitor.
The way we went back and forth before I left, with me calling him a prat and Arthur being his normally princely self, I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I sincerely thought this would be the last time I would ever joke with Arthur. I didn't want to leave him, my prince, my friend, but I had to. I had to die for my mother just as I had tried to die for Arthur.
I remember wondering fleetingly, randomly, if Arthur had heard about my mother, that she was dying in Gaius's chambers. I like to think, to hope, that he hadn't because I would like to believe that if he had, he would have said something or been there for me. I suppose no one had told him. Why should they? She was no one to Arthur, at least as far as they knew. But I think Arthur would have responded to her illness differently. He had, after all, met her before, stayed at our house, helped us defend our village despite the ridiculous odds. I think he would have cared, would have been there for me.
Regardless, when I told him goodbye, I felt as if my very being was being ripped into pieces. I had almost lost him once – he was my best friend, even if I would never admit it to him and he would as sure as hell never even think about saying it – and my mother was dying. I was going to die for him, for her, for them.
Little did I know, Gaius was already a few steps ahead of me.
The third person I almost lost was Gaius.
When I read the note he had left me, the note that said he was going to give his life for me so that I wouldn't die for my mother, I was terrified. I'd gone through so much heartache the past few days that I didn't think I'd be able to handle it if Gaius died, even if it did bring back my mother. I was also angry. This was supposed to have been simple. If Nimueh would have just kept to her bargain like she said – or rather, like I said, since I offered my life for Arthur's – my mother never would have gotten ill, Arthur would have lived, and Gaius would have never gone to give his life for mine. This was getting so complicated and infuriating. Nimueh should have just killed me to begin with.
When I saw Gaius lying motionless at the altar on the Isle of the Blessed, I knew what had happened. I was too late. Too late. Gaius was dead – Nimueh had killed him. Murdered him. In my place.
I have never felt a rage so great. I still get angry, even days later, when I think about what she did. And after she killed my mentor, the man who was like a father to me, she tried to get me to join her? How could she be so stupid? She had just tried to take away the three most important people in my life and had succeeded in one such endeavor. Gaius was lying in a heap at her altar. And she wanted to join forces with me? I wasn't about to let that happen.
I don't remember much from when she hit me with that fireball. I remember pain – lots and lots of pain – and the stench of burning flesh. My chest felt like someone was sitting on it while rubbing hot coals into the skin. My clothes were burnt and I knew there was a gaping hole in my chest. I should have been dead. But my rage, my magic, my grief, kept me alive. I was still in horrendous agony when I staggered to my feet and faced Nimueh, who had walked away from my broken body like I was nothing more than a fleeting interest she had grown tired of. My chest screamed in agony but I ignored it. I pretended that I wasn't hurt, broken, and dying from the grief inside of me.
"You should not have killed my friend."
I have never unleashed such a mad stream of power in my life. I didn't even know such power existed, let alone within me. One minute the anger and hatred and grief was pressing at the back of my eyes like a hot poker, searing my soul and heart with unbridled agony. The next, lightning tore from the sky, rain fell from the clouds, and Nimueh was shrieking, flashing in the storm, and then… she was gone.
I didn't feel remorse for what I'd done. I still haven't. I know that I will once the shock wears off. Maybe. I did what I had to, though. In killing Nimueh, I mastered the power of life and death itself, which, as Gaius has informed me, is no small feat. With Nimueh's death, Gaius lived.
I still remember sitting against the alter with my mentor in my arms, rain pelting down on us (I had summoned the rain, yes, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to make it go away), laughing at the sky.
I have never felt so grateful.
Yes, I had been through hell as everyone I was close to nearly died. But the near-tragedies opened my eyes to all that I do have.
A wonderful mother, a wise old guardian, and a best friend and master that's a prat – but a good one.
I suppose the old proverb is right – you never know what you have until it's gone.
I don't remember much about the past few days. Only snippets that continue to float randomly around in my memory. Some of them I can't help but wonder if I imagined them. Others I know are real but I can't place when they could have happened.
I remember getting bitten by the Questing Beast. Pain. Agony. Torment. I thought I was in hell itself, constantly reliving the moment when the ghastly creature sunk its teeth into my shoulder. My mind was plagued with horrendous nightmares, demonic faces, death and chaos.
The worst nightmare I had, though, was, strangely enough, about Merlin.
I dreamed that Merlin was on a small boat, moving swiftly through the too calm waters of a lake.
Merlin came to an island that was covered in the ruins of what must have once been a great temple. An altar stood in the middle and a beautiful woman, somehow familiar, with the most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen stood next to it.
She was eyeing Merlin like he was her prey. The look in her eyes was murderous. Merlin said some words but either they were muffled or I just couldn't understand what they meant. She responded, but I heard her clearly. "You are going to die, Merlin."
Tears spilled down Merlin's face and he nodded. She held out an arm and a hot, inflamed ball of cinders appeared in her hand and she shot it across the grass, where it hit Merlin squarely in the chest.
He was in agony, twisting, screaming, groaning, and she just watched with a smile on her face. Eventually Merlin's open eyes lost their spark and the life left his body. He was dead.
And he just kept dying in even more ghastly and painful ways, over and over again in my mind, until I could stand it no more.
But stand it I had to for there was nowhere I could go. I was stuck in the clutches of the Questing Beast's venom, dying a slow and painful death.
I don't really know what inspired those dreams about Merlin and I'll never tell him that I dreamed them. For several reasons. One, Merlin is never, ever going to know that I've dreamt about him. The idiot might get it in his head that he's actually important enough for a prince to dream about. Two, I don't ever want to speak the dream aloud. Ever. To anyone. For some reason my mind seems to illogically think that if I put the nightmare into words, it might happen. And I don't want to think about anything like that ever happening to Merlin.
I vaguely remember being in the throes of a terrible nightmare. I was hot, too hot, and the pain was burning from my shoulder through my entire body. I know that I was twitching, tossing, and then suddenly I felt a hand on my head, running through my hair. "Sleep, Arthur," said my father's voice and miraculously, I did.
I still wonder if I dreamed that or not. My father has never been one to show affection. He loves me but he never says it, and I believe he's proud of me, but this… this open show of affection, whether I was dying or not, was surprising to me. That's why I still wonder if it was something my subconscious that was fighting the venom made up to try and comfort me.
But I think, deep down, that I know the truth.
It did really happen. The joy on his face when he saw that I was awake and alive was enough to give substantial evidence that I didn't imagine it.
I also remember someone stroking my forehead and holding my hand, practically willing me to live. Words were spoken about how I was going to become a great king. And something about "the man I am inside…"
I know I recognized that voice. It was Guinevere although she won't admit it. I wish she would though. Perhaps if she admitted to saying those encouraging and heartfelt words, I could admit, at least to myself, that I am beginning to see her in an all new light.
What Merlin said when he came to see me after Gaius had cured me really shook me up. He looked sad, beaten, all out depressed. The look in his eyes frightened me and I was almost afraid he was going to try and do something stupid. I assumed that he was this upset because I had almost died but now I have a feeling that there was something more. I may have been giving myself a teensy bit too much credit for Merlin's pain.
It wasn't just the haggard lack of light in his eyes that alarmed me (reminding me of the dead Merlin lying on the turf in my nightmares), but the way that he spoke, like he was saying goodbye.
He wasn't saying goodbye… or was he?
And those final words before he left, "I'm happy to be your servant… until the day I die…" left me with chills. I'm almost positive that he knew more than he was letting on. I almost tried to chase after him but I was too weak. I very nearly called in some guards to collect him and bring him back to me so that I could know he was safe.
I had a terrifying feeling that my dream was going to become a reality.
I didn't see Merlin again until the next morning. I had honestly thought that he had gone and gotten himself killed, and for some reason the prospect made me feel physically ill. When I saw Merlin was alright, my worry for his well-being quickly turned into irritation at making me worry about him, the idiot. So I yelled at him a bit, chucked a bread crust at him, called him an idiot, and was delighted to see his face – lively and happy once more – break into a smile.
I still haven't been able to get him to tell me where he was when he disappeared or why he was so sad that night he came to see me. I've decided to let it go, though. Maybe he'll tell me, maybe he won't. Me, I'm just glad that the idiot is alright. For some reason, the thought of losing him still scares me more than I can say.
Guess that means I'll have to keep an extra close eye on him, then, until I figure out why he affects me like that… it almost makes me think of what it is like to have a true friend. But… nah.
Surely not. I'm a prince, Merlin's a servant. We can't be friends.
Even so, I've got this feeling, this brotherly feel toward the clumsy servant that keep hovering, just out of reach, in the back of my mind…
A/N: Please review and let me know what you thought of this chapter and the story in general! This has been a great ride and wonderful fun and hopefully I'll see you fairly soon with the sequel (season 2). Thanks again for all the support and reviews! You all are fantastic! See you soon! :)