Hey again :D
I bet some of you thought that I would leave it there! But you people obviously don't read this bit so I don't know why I just said that xD
Thank you guys so much for your continuous support of this fic, and I apologise for all the tears I caused and as for the death threat I recieved, I dedicate this chapter to you Meyli Vaisyl ;)
I also have to make a special mention for my 100th reviewer on this fic :D Thank you Lientjuhh
I also want to thank everyone who has ever read, reviewed, favourited or followed this. You guys keep me writing :'), all of my reviewers are mentioned on my profile ... or you will be at some point I promise :P
I'm really sad to come to the end of another fic but I know you all deserve the last chapter
It was Percival who eventually lifted Merlin and took him to the horse. He draped Merlin over the saddle gently, saying a final, private goodbye to the boy as he did so. Thanking him for all that he had done, and hoping that he had no worries wherever he was now. Leon helped the emotionless Arthur onto his own horse and Percival took Gwaine, holding him securely as the knight just laid back and cried into his chest. Elyan gathered the reigns for the mare carrying Merlin and rode carefully, keeping a careful eye on him, making sure that he wasn't jostled.
The ride home was silent save for the horses hooves on the earth and Gwaine's sobbing. Elyan was hating himself for his callous thoughts earlier. He knew that his sister would be thankful that Arthur was back; But seeing how he was without Merlin, so lost and alone, despite Leon's arms around him, made him think that Camelot just might fall anyway.
Leon had seen Arthur grieve for his friends before. But never like this. Arthur always did something, whether beating a tree senseless or getting on with his job. He always stayed alert for his own life and others' around him. Now... Leon thought that if he had the urge to throttle his prince right there on the horse then he would be met with no resistance. Leon had not failed to notice how dependent Arthur was on his manservant. Merlin was his conscience, his place to turn when he wasn't sure of the right thing, his comfort when things went wrong, his scapegoat for when he needed to disobey Uther, and apparently, Merlin had also been his strength. And Leon knew that there was no coming back from a loss that huge. Uther had lost Ygraine and it had turned him into a tyrant. Now Arthur had lost Merlin and it had turned him into … nothing; which was a far more terrifying concept.
Percival held Gwaine close, as if trying to block out the man's pain by physically shielding him. He had grown close to Gwaine over the last few years, finding out that the boisterous man was always good for a laugh and a drink. He didn't seem to take offence at anything unless it was directed towards Merlin. Percival always respected his protectiveness, after all someone needed to stick up for him when Arthur was being a 'stupid noble' in Gwaine's words. Gwaine clutched at Percival's chain mail. The poor man was inconsolable. Percival remembered those days after his own family had been cruelly ripped from the world, and he held Gwaine closer. He would miss Merlin too.
Gwaine couldn't stop his tears, nor did he want to. He wanted to show everyone what he was feeling. This was him now, stripped raw. No more jokes, sarcastic remarks or wise cracks could make this okay. This would not be a story to raucously laugh about in the local tavern. This was a grief so deep that he felt it inside his bones, in every muscle he had, and the only way he could express it was through his tears. He clung to Percival like a child, glad that the gentle giant wouldn't judge him for his lapse in control. He couldn't look at Merlin's body, hanging so helplessly from the horse a few feet away, nor could he help the memories that flashed before his eyes; Merlin, giving his room to a complete stranger because he had helped some royal ponce in a bar fight, Merlin, persuading said royal ponce to pay his bill, laughing as he banged his head on the wall, polishing boots without complaint, getting knives thrown at him by some thugs, worrying about Arthur, laughing in the tavern, brooding in silence, eyes dancing with fire, fending off wyven, protecting, happy, clumsy, generous, sarcastic, genial, Merlin, covered with blood, eyes dark pools of pain, saying goodbye.
The happy memories were harder to recall than the bad. At least he could convince himself that Merlin was free of pain and sorrow now. But those good times they had shared, all the feasts and the nights in the tavern and the laughter and the celebration and the joy and the smirks. The comments at Arthur's expense, the shared looks, the eye rolling and the silent grins. They were all gone. And losing that, it was like a sword to the gut. A sword with barbs and tainted with poison that twisted with every thought and spread throughout his entire being. So Gwaine cried for his friend. And he didn't care who saw him.
Arthur felt empty. Hollow. The moment he stopped screaming his pain out to the world it ebbed away. Leaving only numbness. He wasn't sure if he was grateful or not yet. At least the pain had been a physical reminder. This lack of feeling scared him. He thought of Merlin. Nothing around him mattered anymore; perhaps nothing would ever matter to him again. Only Merlin. He felt as if he had lost his armour. Something he took for granted so often that it was only when he couldn't find it did he feel so vulnerable and naked. He felt transparent, he felt invisible. He would have laughed at the irony if he could have mustered enough feeling to care. Merlin would have laughed. He felt Leon behind him, felt the horse beneath him, heard Gwaine beside him but he didn't care about any of it. He couldn't imagine becoming that great king now; the one that Merlin always told him about, always believed in. He couldn't do that without his manservant by his side. It was wrong.
They rode sombrely into the courtyard and were greeted by Uther, who was overjoyed at having his son back, and Gaius, who turned as pale as milk when he saw the still figure behind them, he hurried towards the horse that Elyan was holding and barked orders at the knight to help carry him to his chambers. Elyan tried to explain that it was too late, there was nothing they could do, but Gaius was adamant. He wouldn't believe that until he himself failed. Percival lifted Gwaine off his horse and supported him to the tavern, knowing that drink was the only thing that could even make a dint in the man's pain right now. Leon assisted Arthur back to the ground and guided him behind Elyan because he knew that the Prince would not be able to cope with even more separation. He settled Arthur in a chair in the physician's chambers and left to go and talk to Uther.
All of the knights had seen the kiss between the two men on the forest floor, and none of them thought any the worse of either of them for it. But Leon had the good sense not to mention such a tiny detail to the king. Uther would never understand. However the king already knew that they were close, so he would likely permit Arthur's vigil for a day, or at the very least a few hours. Which should give the prince some comfort at least. And if not … Well. Leon would delay the king as long as he could.
Lilith stared into her enchanted pool, watching the grief unfold. Sir Gwaine was trying to drown his sorrows in the tavern and failing miserably whilst Sir Percival did all he could to help, not letting his own grief show for the sake of his friend; elsewhere, Sir Leon was talking to a confused king, who wasn't understanding that his son was actually feeling emotions. Lilith scowled at the pool and moved swiftly on, Sir Elyan was with his sister, Guinevere, comforting her as she cried, and Gaius was applying a poultice to his ward's cold brow, face pinched, unwilling to accept what he knew to be true. Arthur Pendragon sat on a wooden chair beside the young warlock's cot. Staring blankly at the boy he had begged for. Lilith was surprised. She had expected more anger, a patrol to hunt her down, merciless judgement, a swift death. Instead, the man she saw was broken beyond repair. . . In that moment she realised just who 'Merlin' was... who he must be! The fated Emrys! The one who would help to unite the lands of Albion and fulfil the prophecies of his fate. The last Dragonlord, and the greatest warlock ever known. Lilith almost hit herself in the forehead with her palm. How could she have been so stupid? Without Emrys, Arthur would never become the once and future king. Albion would never be born and magic would never be free in Camelot. That was all she desired. And it was too late.
Without further thought, Lilith's eyes flashed gold and a wrought silver cup appeared. Lilith dipped the cup into her pool to fill it. She then took a deep breath; knowing that truly, there was no other way. But all the same. She selfishly took her time. She thought about her life. Her terror at being ripped from her family, watching her mother burn alive for witchcraft. The screaming, the smell of burning flesh and Uther's grim face above it all, barely visible through the smoke. Years later she learned with the Druids. She had been found outside the kingdom of Camelot, wandering in the woods, crying for her mother, drinking out of streams and eating whatever berries and nuts she could find, the Druids took her in, taught her the meaning of magic, helped her to study it. She found their pity of the Pendragons confusing while looking at them through her veil of hatred. It was only later, as she grew, that she learned to let go of her hate, as she observed just what hatred and resentment could lead to. An endless cycle of persecution for her kind, fuel for Uther to use as an excuse in his vendetta. Strip away his excuse and you were left with a frightened, weak, broken man, lost to his grief and turned into a mask of hatred and tyranny. She began to use the pool, to watch the Pendragons, to watch Uther and Camelot and the attacking sorcerers and magical creatures. Eventually her interest was piqued by the young prince. An arrogant bully though he was, he was different from his father. Although this observation was easily dismissed, Arthur was too concerned with his fathers approval to go against his orders, whether he agreed or not. After she learned of the prophecies she began to watch him more and more, growing angry that the once and future king was an idiot. Then one day, Merlin was there. The physicians assistant saved the life of the 'prat' of a prince who had thrown him in jail, put him in the stocks and beaten him to pulp and from that moment, a friendship flowered, and things changed.
It had all led up to this moment for her. Lilith had spent her life watching, observing, waiting for everything to work out on it's own. But she had had to join in, get involved, participate. And she had almost destroyed it all. Now, she had to fix it. Whatever the cost.
So the said the incantation, her eyes flashed gold as she reversed the effects of the cup. Then, without another hesitation, she drank the liquid inside. She felt no pain as she dropped to the floor, the cup falling with a clang onto the hard stone. She felt only hope.
Gaius stood at the end of the cot, looking down onto the pale boy on top of it, a damp cloth dangling uselessly from his hand. He couldn't even form tears. He had done everything he could think of, potions, poultices, even magic, done quietly with his back to the slumped figure in the chair, with no results. He hadn't really expected any. There had been no pulse when the his ward was pulled from the horse, no change despite his efforts. He couldn't perform direct magic so openly in front of Arthur, no matter how lost the prince seemed to be. There was nothing left to try
'My boy' the old man whispered as he leant heavily upon the bedpost, closing his eyes against the sight of the boy he had considered a son lying so still and quiet. Merlin was never still or quiet. He was forever knocking into things, laughing, moving, even in sleep. It was wrong for him to be any different. He was too old. Too tired to go through this. He had seen his fair share of grief and experienced more than his fair share of loss but nothing like this. This wasn't right. Merlin was a young boy, full of promise and destiny and power, Gaius was an old man, his life drawing to a close, his senses fading, his knowledge limited. He didn't understand how this had happened. He shouldn't have to live through this surely, Merlin shouldn't have died before him. He had seen kings fall, sorcerers die, helped some escape, watched kingdoms rise and boys grow into men. Losing Merlin meant the death of Albion, the loss of destiny; a dimmer world. Without Merlin, Gaius had nothing to live for, nothing to look forward too, no sunrise that would herald the coming of a new age. Nothing. Except a letter to Hunith. Gaius raised a hand to his eyes and wept.
Arthur stirred as Gaius moved away, but he didn't turn and look. It wouldn't be right to witness the old man's grief. And as he couldn't even deal with his own, he would be no help to the physician. Merlin looked so young and innocent lying there, as pale as the bedsheets he was lying on, a mop of dark hair in stark contrast. But black and white weren't the colours he wanted to see. He wanted to see blue, and not the faded blue of the neckerchief but the bright, piercing blue of Merlin's eyes. Those eyes that showed everything he was feeling when he didn't mind people knowing but hid everything when he did. Merlin was so shrouded in mystery and secrets but at the same time he was always honest and direct, especially when people needed it. And by 'people' he meant him. He reached forward and stroked the pale cheek. Those eyes were the first thing he saw when he woke, and usually the last thing he saw before he slept. The very idea that he would never see them again, not even for a moment, was incomprehensible. Arthur bowed his head. Wishing he had told Merlin how he had felt sooner. Wishing he had shown Merlin how he felt more, he wished there had been more touching, more hugs and handshakes and kisses, less insults and more endearments. Merlin was his friend. More than that he was his love, and a hero. He had saved many lives countless times. Even just helping Gaius out he had learned how to cure people or ease their passing. And that was a skill that was revered all over the lower town, where Merlin sometimes went in his spare time or when Gaius was indisposed. He went to save people without complaint, risked his own life without question, but ask him to wash your socks and you had to fight tooth and nail to get it done. Arthur almost cracked a smile at that thought. Then he remembered that He'd no longer have anyone to bounce his insults off of, or drag along on hunting trips, or yell at for no reason when he was in a bad mood, he would never find anyone else so unfalteringly loyal and kind, no one who would understand him as Merlin did, no one else knew exactly what he needed, whether it was silence, a harsh dose of reality, humour or comfort. He would never be that close to anyone again. He couldn't. Now, when he said he'd be going somewhere alone, he'd be going alone. He wouldn't have a very loud and annoying shadow to bail him out of any trouble he managed to find.
Arthur swallowed loudly and clasped Merlin's hand. He didn't want to let go of that yet, he wasn't ready. It was like a safety net had been stripped away, leaving him five hundred feet off the ground on a fraying tightrope.
Suddenly, the hand he was squeezing twitched, Arthur glanced up sharply
'Merlin?' he stood, and leaned over the body of his friend, Gaius heard his change in tone and spun on his feet, hurrying to the side of his ward.
'What happened sire?'
'He moved!', with that, Gaius shook his head sadly
'That happens sire, after … death, sometimes … '
Arthur brought the hand in his own up to his lips
'He's right Gaius, I did move'
Arthur laughed, one of those high pitched, relieved laughs as pale eyelids flickered and he saw blue. He flung himself at his manservant, mindful not to crush him but needing to convey his feelings with an embrace
'I take it you missed me then?' Merlin laughed jovially as he tried to sit up, covered with royal prat. But he brought his hands up to encircle Arthur's back all the same.
'Of course not, I was just thinking of the state of the stables' but despite the sarcastic tone, Arthur clung tighter, inhaling Merlin's comforting smell of woodsmoke, damp earth and mushrooms. Then he brought his mouth to Merlins and he felt whole once again.
Eventually, Gaius coughed and Arthur pulled back, awkwardly flattening his hair and straightening his tunic, expecting the old physician's chastisement. Instead he saw amusement and joy, no judgement at all as he too hugged his ward, just happy to see him alive again. Arthur, satisfied that he had shown enough intimacy for one day, decided to leave, with one last look, and an eye contact filled with feeling, he left the chamber and went to find Gwaine to tell him the news before the grief stricken knight drank himself to death.
Gaius and Merlin were left alone, and a comfortable silence reigned, until Merlin broke it
You don't remember?'
'Yes, I mean, how did you bring me back? And without a wound?' Merlin rolled his shoulder to make a point 'That was shattered beyond repair, what spell did you use? And with Arthur in the room are you mad?'
Gaius looked at his ward fondly, but he was confused too
'Merlin, I didn't use any spell that could have worked to reverse death, you know that there is no such thing. But I did try a combination, almost without hope. I thought I'd lost you my boy, even if Arthur had been conscious enough to understand...'
'What do you mean? Was he hurt?'
'Merlin' Gaius said with a smile, 'I think you underestimate just how much Arthur cares for you.' Merlin blushed and the physician laughed 'But as for how you survived I have no idea. The only thing that I can think of that would have such an effect is the cup of life but we had no time to mount a search for it.'
Merlin's eyes widened
'Lilith' Gaius raised an eyebrow
'The sorceress? Why would she-' Merlin shook his head
'I don't know' he looked sad. He had harboured no resentment towards the woman. She had not seemed evil in any way. And now Merlin was certain that she had given her own life for his. He hoped that he would make her proud. He stood and hugged his guardian again 'Whatever happened, I'm glad to be back' He then left the room with a grin, 'Now I have laundry to do!'
Gaius laughed softly and sat down on the chair. What an extraordinary young man Merlin had grown to be.
So there we go. The end.
I hope you liked it.
Thank you all for reading, please let me know what you thought, any more tears or death threats? ;)
I love you all
Love Tibbins xx