Coda to 4x01. Arthur's heart stopped the moment he saw Merlin's open, sightless eyes. This couldn't be true. Focus on Lancelot, Arthur, Gwaine, with a bit of Percival, after Merlin is dead.
Pairings could include Lancelot/Merlin, but it's more friendshippy. There's also possible hinted Gwaine/Merlin and definitely at least unfulfilled/unrequited Arthur/Merlin.
I'm aware that it's a 2 part episode and that this is very much not how it will likely happen….but I couldn't help myself. It was 2 am, I couldn't sleep, and I wanted angst from these boys!
Arthur's heart stopped the moment he saw the ice over Merlin's skin and his open, sightless eyes.
The word came from Lancelot beside him, but it was echoed in Arthur's heart. Gwaine pushed himself forward.
"What? Merlin's alright, right?" the chivalrous knight asked, worry tainting his usually carefree tone.
Lancelot ripped off his glove and touched Merlin's neck. He hissed at the cold but kept his hand there for several seconds, confirming what he'd already known to be true. "No." It didn't sound like he was answering Gwaine at all. Grabbing Merlin by the shoulders, Lancelot shook him gently, as one might rouse a small child from slumber. "No, Merlin. This isn't how it's supposed to be," he said forcefully.
Arthur's eyes were still riveted on Merlin's. His mind flashed back over the last few moments, and he let out a soft gasp of a breath. "He saved my life."
Lancelot spared Arthur a brief glance. "As ever." Then he turned back to Merlin again. "Come on, Merlin!"
Arthur barely took notice of Gwaine's shaking, or the way he threw himself against the nearby wall, punching and kicking it and throwing his whole body against it, as if the force would reverse time and bring Merlin back. "No!" he shouted at the unyielding stone, like it was at fault. "Dammit!"
No one spoke for a long time, except Lancelot's ever quieter pleas for Merlin to blink, to speak, to breathe. Lancelot finally quieted and simply laid his head on Merlin's chest. His back heaved, but he was silent, and no one asked if he was crying. Gwaine sniffed noisily and covered his face with his sword arm, leaning against the stone to further hide his sorrow.
Arthur felt a pressure upon his breast, crushing his lungs. This couldn't be true. It simply couldn't be true.
'Together,' Merlin had said. 'We'll defeat them together.'
At length, Lancelot sat upright again. He squeezed Merlin's shoulders in an almost reassuring manner, like a promise to the corpse that was his friend. Without turning his head, he said, "Percival."
Percival stepped forward haltingly. He'd only known Merlin for a year, much shorter than most others in this room. Still, Merlin was a good man, a loyal man, and this fate should not have been given to him. Not like this.
"Please….," Lancelot faltered briefly. "Carry him. We need to leave this place. It's not safe…..But I will not leave him here." He turned his head to Arthur, whose eyes were wide but vacant. It was a look Lancelot had seen only one other place: the king. "Arthur?"
Percival was already kneeling beside Lancelot and gathering Merlin into his arms as gently as he could. He too glanced at Arthur as he worked. Arthur visibly shook with the breath he let out. "He…"
Lancelot's gaze turned soft, and more sorrow crept into his eyes. "Come, my lord," he said gently, and lifted both himself and Arthur from the ground. He nodded to the others, and they walked out in silence and slowness. Percival was in front with Merlin, Elyan held the torch, and Lancelot brought up the rear with Arthur, except for…. "Gwaine?"
Gwaine was still against the wall. He cleared his throat gruffly and Lancelot heard the harsh breath he took in the silence. It seemed Merlin's passing had quieted even the voices of the dead. Pushing away from the wall, Gwaine gave a failing smile to his comrade and shook his head.
"Mer-" He stopped briefly, then nodded. "Let's go."
He stepped out of the room ahead of Lancelot and Arthur, and they all made their silent way out of this fortress.
Arthur had said nothing since they'd left that room. Lancelot had taken charge, despite the pain in his chest, and ordered a return to Camelot. They had no supplies left, and no means of completing their goal. In Camelot, they would regroup, resupply, and go forth once more as soon as possible.
And they would give Merlin a proper burial.
Lancelot knew Merlin deserved a king's funeral, but he wondered if he would be granted one. Uther would never allow it, but Arthur just might. Looking at his prince, staring at the fire of their camp blindly, Lancelot wondered about revealing Merlin's secret. He knew how much telling Arthur had meant to Merlin, how he'd hated the secrets. It wasn't Lancelot's place to tell that secret, but the one who had that right….
Looking away from Arthur, Lancelot shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he looked to Merlin; Merlin who had been laid next to the fire and looked simply asleep. They'd shut his eyes, and the fire had melted the ice. A small part of Lancelot was hoping that this truly was simply sleep, that Merlin would open his eyes and everything would be alright. Most of Lancelot knew it wasn't true, it would never happen, and his chest ached all the more. Merlin was a true friend. Lancelot wasn't sure if the kingdom would survive his passing.
Arthur didn't speak that night. He didn't eat. Gwaine refused to sleep, and so took guard duty. In the morning, he said Arthur had barely slept, and glanced often between the fire and Merlin's still form.
"I am sorry," Lancelot said quietly to Gwaine as the others packed their things. "I know…how important he was," he managed.
Gwaine's eyebrows came together in an obvious effort to not let himself cry. He looked skywards and took a deep breath, let it out, before looking back at Lancelot. "Best friend I'll ever have."
When it came time to depart, when Elyan was dousing the last of their fire, Percival knelt to lift Merlin back into his arms. The largest knight had barely grazed Merlin with his fingertips when suddenly there was a loud "No!" and he jumped back.
All eyes turned to Arthur. There was a light in his eyes once more. He stood from his seat on a log.
"No," he repeated with a shake of his head, much quieter this time. They all watched him as he walked slowly over to where Percival and Merlin were and knelt on the ground as well. "I will carry him."
"But, my lord," Percival tried, "I-"
Arthur shot him a look that was only a mite less commanding than a glare. "I will carry him," he repeated in a deadly serious tone.
Percival nodded, accepting the prince's request, and backed away before standing. No one moved otherwise. Arthur stared at Merlin's calm face for several long moments. Then he reached down and cupped the back of his neck hesitantly. His eyes trailed down Merlin's body to his knees, where he slid his other arm. Then, with effort, he lifted Merlin from the ground. Once standing, it was easier to hold Merlin's weight.
Elyan stepped over to Arthur and carefully lifted Merlin's arms, setting them on his chest so they wouldn't hang down, and then stepped back again. Arthur nodded to him in thanks.
"To Camelot," Arthur said solemnly.
The knights all nodded, grabbed their gear, and turned to leave. Percival took Arthur's pack. Lancelot, only a step behind his prince, his king, heard Arthur speak in a quiet breath of a whisper. "Together, Merlin. We'll do it together. Like we always do."
Arthur carried Merlin most of the day. They stopped to rest that night and Arthur laid him on the ground as gently as he had ever done anything. And in the morning he took him up again, despite the obvious signs that he had not slept yet again.
When Camelot came into view over the hill, every heart sank. They came back defeated, with one casualty too many. The party stood there, just before the crest of the hill, in silence, none moving forward.
And then Arthur's legs bent, and he fell to his knees in the dirt. Every knight moved forward, but they all stopped short. Arthur clutched Merlin to him tightly, his whole body shaking. Percival frowned and knelt by the prince. Arthur's eyes were dry, but it was clear that he was weeping. Placing a hand on Arthur's shoulder, Percival spoke softly.
"Let me take him, my lord," he half-begged. "Do not carry this burden alone. We are all here with you."
It was obvious that Percival's words did little to sooth Arthur, but they worked well enough that Arthur finally gave up his hold on his manservant. His first few steps after that were shaky at best, but no one mentioned it.
They were knights of Camelot; Arthur's knights, and they all knew that this was the deepest wound the prince would ever feel. They would save Camelot, because that was what Merlin had wanted, probably more than any of them. Lancelot silently vowed to sacrifice himself so that Arthur would live on once the kingdom was saved. But once the kingdom was saved…no one could predict what Arthur would do then.
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