Author's Note: Bet you thought I was dead, didn't you? Well, nope! Not that I have a good excuse for not finally finishing this in a reasonable amount of time, but I am still totally blaming season 5 (and part of season 4). So, in the interest of not making this ridiculously long and possibly NEVER finished, THIS is how I would've ended season 3, and how I would've made the story continue on. Anyway...sorry, sorry, SO SORRY about the delay BUT - IT'S DONE.
Merlin knew he was dying. Knew, and could do nothing. He didn't know how. It felt like when he'd drunk from the poisoned chalice – not really here or there, but caught in some horrible in between. Able to watch, but unable to do anything except try and force his heart to keep beating, his lungs to keep working through sheer will.
He stood in two places, unsure of which one was real. One was a clearing with Arthur and Kilgharrah, and the other an empty battlefield, covered in corpses.
He didn't remember being in a battle – at least, he didn't think the battle took place in reality. In the same memory he could picture the battle that destroyed Camelot, he could clearly remember Arthur telling him it was a lie. That the castle still stood, and that they were alive and whole and together.
But the battle seemed so much more plausible than the meadow with Arthur arguing semantics of magic with a dragon while he could see himself unconscious between the two.
Well, arguing seemed believable, because Arthur always argued. With everyone. All the time. Over everything. So maybe him railing against a three and a half ton winged lizard wasn't that much of a stretch. It was the subject that gave him pause, because Arthur wasn't arguing that magic was bad, he was arguing that he had no idea how to do what Kilgharrah was asking.
Which was to save him. With magic. And Arthur was accepting it.
The fact that magic wasn't all bad, anyway. He was most certainly not accepting of the idea that Kilgharrah was trying to convince him of, which was that he had it too. Perhaps not in the same way that Merlin did, but a much subtler magic.
Merlin wished he could talk to Arthur, because he was pretty sure he knew exactly what the dragon meant, but Kilgharrah was doing a terrible job explaining it. Arthur needed pointed statements. Riddles and artistically crafted sentences weren't his favorite thing on a good day, but Arthur was in a rush – and honestly, so was Merlin.
The battlefield and clearing were starting to edge in darkness, his vision tunneling as he felt his own heart laboring in his chest.
He didn't want to die. He didn't. But at the same time, trying to make himself keep living was getting harder and harder. He felt his knees give out, his hand clutching at his chest as if it would somehow force his heart to keep beating. He'd seen enough men die. He'd been here himself often enough. The beat was getting slower, more arrhythmic.
Simple magic, Merlin thought. Teach Arthur simple magic.
Because from here, he could see just how much of Arthur was alive with it. Like a grounded tether to the rest of Albion, a beacon of light in the rapidly encroaching darkness that threatened to devour them whole.
And it would be both of them, because Merlin could see just how much of him was wrapped up in Arthur. Two halves of the same coin.
Two halves of the same soul.
And one half could never be whole.
"I'm not arguing whether or not it's possible," Arthur growled. "I'm arguing that I don't know how. It's not like I'm well versed in magic. What do I do, just…wave my hand in the air and spout off a bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo and poof – Merlin will be fine?"
The dragon flexed its claws in irritation, digging great, deep furrows into the earth. "If that was all it took, believe me, Prince, I would've had you do it already. But you cannot do what is needed if you don't understand what it is you're trying to do. You are Merlin's anchor here. You are a tether to the rest of Albion. You must connect to it just as you must connect with Merlin to unite the two of them."
"HOW?" Arthur shouted, throwing his arms up in the air. "You can tell me what to do until you're blue in the face, but unless you start telling me how, Merlin's going to die. Now, do you know how? Or are you just spouting off mysticism bull–" Arthur stopped abruptly, his hand going to his chest above his heart, mouth clamping shut as he felt it stutter.
Kilgharrah frowned, dipping his enormous head close enough to Arthur's that Arthur could feel the heat radiating off of his scales. "You're more closely connected to Merlin than I would've hoped," the dragon rumbled. "Perhaps because Merlin has given the last of what he has to you. Perhaps because I didn't give enough credit to you in the prophecy."
Arthur gasped, putting one hand out to balance himself as his vision started to fade. "What…does that mean?"
The dragon grumbled. "It means if he dies, young prince, you die too."
That's a pleasant notion, Arthur thought grimly. At least if they survived, it would guarantee Merlin's survival if his father ever found out. "Is this because he saved me?"
"It's because he's currently sustaining you. He's overexerted himself to the point that he can't control his own magic anymore. Anything he could've used to save himself is just leaching into you. But he's dying, and therefore the magic is dying too, and that means it's going to start taking from you. You must figure out a way to connect with Albion. You are a beacon for magic, young prince. The land knows it. Merlin knows it. You're never going to wield it like he does, but you can be a conduit. Haven't you noticed how you connect with it? With Albion, and its people? Merlin is the heart of magic. And you, Once and Future King, are the heart of Albion. Two halves. One whole."
Arthur's head spun with possibilities for one simple statement, though maybe it was because he could now feel himself starting to slip.
Crash course in magic be damned. He didn't need to know magic to save Merlin. He needed to understand Camelot. And no one knew Camelot better than he did. He grew up in the woods outside the castle. He spent his youth in the streets of the city. He knew the people, he knew the land, he knew the heart of it. This wasn't about waving a magic wand and muttering ancient tongues. He wasn't trying to make anything the way that Merlin could – pulling magic from the air around him.
He was trying to ground Merlin. If Merlin's magic could save him than Camelot could save Merlin.
Because dammit all, it owed him.
The dragon was still speaking, but Arthur couldn't hear the words. He imagined the life he knew of Camelot – because it did have life. Maybe others could sense it too, and that was why they were always after it for themselves. Why Morgause and Cenred and Morgana were willing to die to possess it.
As long as Camelot had life, so would he.
And so would Merlin.
Without a second thought, Arthur reached out for Merlin's hand, clasping the icy fingers between his own. He could feel something spark and ignite, like an unpleasant crawling sensation just beneath his skin where it touched Merlin's. He could imagine it was Merlin's magic trying to return to him, but it needed a push. It was too weak to do anything more than trickle down between them.
Morgause's poison still held Merlin, and Arthur could picture the darkness trying to eat away at Merlin's soul, a black shadow slowly engulfing him even as Arthur could see him trying to fight it back. But the light in Merlin was growing dimmer, darker, feebler as it flickered like a candle about to be snuffed.
Maybe it was delirium. Maybe it was madness. Maybe it was magic.
Arthur's hand other hand moved before he could think about what he was doing, as if something else was acting through him and he placed it on the ground, and there was a spark. But he needed more than a spark. He needed lightning.
Help, he thought wildly. Help him. Help me. Help us.
And the world exploded around him. Suddenly everything seemed brighter, lighter, intense to the point he felt his skin tingle
Albion – Camelot – rushed forwards, like a tidal wave upon the ocean, surging through Arthur's connection to Merlin like a storm, so powerful it took his breath away.
Morgause's lingering affect had no chance as the storm surge of Camelot flooded every corner of Merlin's being, igniting his magic like a match touched to oil and turning the two of them incandescent against the threatening darkness.
Merlin sat bolt upright as if struck by lightning himself, gasping as magic and life came flooding back. He could feel the sheer, raw power of Albion recharging his own magic, and he reached a hand out to Arthur's arm.
It was almost unnerving to see the golden glow in Arthur's eyes, even as it receded and Merlin could feel their connection sever. Not entirely – he could still sense Arthur the way he always could, but they were no longer sustaining each other.
"Are you going to live now?" Arthur asked bluntly, his cheeks flushed pink from whatever connection he created to Albion.
Well, at least magic hadn't changed Arthur's personality.
Merlin nodded, words not quite coming forth like they usually did.
Arthur nodded, before allowing himself to fall straight backwards onto the grass, staring up at the sky. "Good. Because I will not be doing that again any time soon."
Merlin couldn't help the bark of laughter, and he quickly put a hand to his mouth to smother it. Nope. Hadn't changed Arthur one bit.
Arthur pushed himself up on one elbow, swaying drunkenly and Merlin had a flash of pity for what it must have felt like to wield something like the entirety of Albion even for a few moments. He felt like he'd been struck by lightning, and he was used to powerful magic.
"And just so we're clear, if you ever make me do that again, I will kill you. And now that I know I can bring you back from the brink of death, that's an entirely realistic threat. That was not fun. Also –" he pointed upwards to Kilgharrah who was smiling patiently down at the two. "Your dragon is an awful teacher."
"You figured it out on your own, didn't you?" the dragon pointed out. "Magic learned is magic retained. Magic given is easily lost."
"Oh, shut up. You didn't even know what I was supposed to do," Arthur argued. "At least now I know my father didn't keep you locked under the castle for advising purposes."
Before Kilgharrah could retort, Merlin interrupted.
"What are you going to tell Uther?" he asked quietly.
Arthur turned back towards him, brow crinkling in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Merlin waved around him, gesturing to nothing in particular but encompassing everything that had happened.
Morgana. Morgause. Magic. Not just his, but Arthur's own.
Arthur gave a dismissive shrug. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing." He paused, sitting upright. "At least…at least not for now. Don't go making any obvious displays in the kingdom, and I'll try and find a way to figure out what the bloody hell happened when I was born. If Morgause's version of events was true, and if there's something in my mother's family that explains…this." He made the same vague sweeping motion Merlin had.
"Break the news to him gently?" Merlin said, smirking.
Arthur scoffed. "Are you kidding? I might take so long mentioning any of this to him, he'll be dead from old age before I get the chance." He frowned slightly. "Even if your magic is tied to me, or whatever I seem to be to you, I can't guarantee my father wouldn't try and break it just so he could execute you. I won't take the risk, Merlin. Not with you. Not with this."
Merlin nodded, not speaking. He was grateful, really he was. Arthur chose to trust him, to trust magic, even after everything he'd seen people do with it. But that was still an enormous secret he would be keeping from his father. He'd carried the weight of it for years, and it never got any easier.
"Don't look so down, Merlin," Arthur said, giving Merlin a push with the end of his foot and offering a wry smirk. "It won't be the first time I've kept something from my father. And now that you don't have to worry about me finding out about it, I'd like to think it won't be too terrible for you."
Merlin returned the smirk with a shy smile of his own. "You know, I could probably teach you how to use it a little better."
Arthur immediately put up a hand. "No, thank you. Once is enough. And I don't think it works that way. Not the way yours does. Which is fine by me. No hocus pocus and glowing eyes for me. I think…I think it's just a connection. It saved you, not me, because I asked it to. But that's alright. I can handle that. Camelot just feels more…alive, now."
Merlin considered the comparison. Just as he was magic, Arthur was Albion. It made sense, he supposed. He looked up at Kilgharrah, who was rising to his feet. "I don't suppose you want to give us a ride home?"
Arthur jumped up before the dragon could answer. "No. Absolutely not. I am not going up in the air with that thing."
"Thing?" Kilgharrah bristled.
Merlin burst out laughing, because of all outcomes he imagined telling Arthur about who and what he was, none of them involved sarcastic battle of insults with a dragon. "I was joking," he said, staving off further argument between them. "We can both walk. We have…a lot to talk about."
Kilgharrah bowed his head slightly. "As you wish, young warlock." The dragon turned to Arthur, scowling. "Arthur."
As he took to the skies, Arthur offered a parting gift – blowing a raspberry at the departing dragon when he knew he was too far off to hear him.
The prince looked down at Merlin, offering a hand to help him to stand. "It'll be a long walk without the horses," he said apologetically. "You sure you can make it?"
"Shut up, dollop head. I've saved you more than once. I think I can handle a walk in the woods."
Arthur snorted. "Said the bean pole. At least I won't have to carry you anymore." He glanced down at his feet, before back at Merlin. "Thanks for that, by the way. All of it."
Merlin shrugged. "Magic or not. You're still the prince. Camelot is still home. I would've done it all anyway."
Arthur looked genuine grateful when he capped a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "I know, Merlin. And that's what makes the difference."
Author's note: Ta da! Yep. It's done. Totally kinda sappy at the end, but I felt so bad for Arthur and Merlin in the show, I felt like I owed them a happy, campy and cheesy ending where everything would eventually work out. I feel like there were so many storylines they could've gone with instead of EVERY season being "who's trying to kill Arthur now?". They built up this huge 'two halves of the same coin' and 'Once and Future King' where magic would be accepted and how awesome a king Arthur would be with Merlin at his side that they just crushed me when they tried to round it out in like 20 minutes. And for being such a dorky show at the beginning, it got so dark towards the last season that this became super hard to write with the level of levity that I wanted. So. Hopefully it still works, and I hope this is a slightly more upbeat ending than the actual show. If you stayed with me this whole time, THANK YOU, it means the world. If you're just finding this, welcome. Read and review!