Warnings: Very angsty, character death, bereavement, spoilers for Series 4

A/N: This is utterly self-indulgent therapy, but I needed to get the angst out after a dream about my mother that made me wake up sobbing. Normal porny/happy service will be resumed shortly.

In the days after Uther's death, Arthur carries the knowledge of it curled tight in his chest. The weight of it lies heavy, squeezing his lungs, making it hard to breathe.

He gets through the days. Being King, being strong for his people, making decisions, giving orders. But the pain is constant, a dull ache, lodged like a cold stone next to his heart.

The last words he spoke to his father as he lay, bleeding in his arms, replay on a loop in his head.

I'm not ready

I need you

What child is ever ready to lose a parent?

But Arthur is a man, not a child and he has responsibilities. He can't allow himself the self-indulgence of grief.

He had his one night of mourning; sitting beside his father's cooling body - wishing that he could believe that Uther's soul lived on somewhere. He found it hard to equate this frail body in front of him with the man that he had known. In death Uther looked older, frailer than he ever had in life. A mighty king reduced to an empty shell, his spirit gone.

When the light of dawn stole through the high windows, Arthur whispered his final goodbye and kissed his father's cheek, cold under his lips. He felt hot tears track down his cheeks and brushed them away angrily as he walked away without looking back.

He feels Merlin's eyes on him constantly, concern etched on his features. He says little to Arthur, attending to his needs with unusual gentleness. Merlin himself looks haunted, his face shadowed by secret pain that Arthur doesn't understand.

The nights are the hardest. Despite the constant, overwhelming exhaustion that he feels, Arthur finds sleep elusive. He lies awake for hours reliving his last memories of Uther.

Saving his son.

Bleeding in Arthur's arms, telling him that he loved him.

Lying, broken and dying before his eyes.

Arthur tortures himself with that fleeting moment of hope – when he believed that magic might save Uther – and imagines how different things would be if it had. Then he's flooded once more with the crushing pain and horrifying helplessness that he felt when it failed. When he failed to save his father.

One night when he finally sleeps, he dreams. He dreams that the magic works, that the colour returns to his father's face. Arthur is filled with joy and relief and he takes his father's hand and they smile at each other.

But Uther shakes his head.

"I appreciate all that you have done for me, Arthur. But you need to let me go." His voice is calm and his eyes are gentle.

"No, father," Arthur shakes his head, gripping his hands tighter.

"It's my time," the words echo in Arthur's head and make his chest clench tight. "I know you will make me proud."

"I'm not ready," Arthur's voice cracks in his throat and he feels the tears burning behind his eyes. "I need you."

He wakes, his face wet with tears. He can't breathe for the sobs that wrack his body. He lies, disorientated in the dark, shuddering and gasping for air. The bed dips behind him and he feels warm arms wrap around him, soothing, holding him together as he falls apart. He loses all track of time as he weeps, letting himself feel the pain he's been trying so hard to suppress. And when he finally stops he feels a sense of lightness, the lifting of a burden.

"Merlin?" His voice is hoarse and shaky.

"I didn't want you to feel that you were alone." Merlin's breath lifts the hairs on Arthur's neck.

He pulls Arthur impossibly closer, his skinny arms surprisingly strong.

"Thank you," Arthur whispers. "You're a loyal friend Merlin."