Arthur knows. This was the only that thought that permeated the haze of terror in Merlin's mind. Good God, Arthur knows.
It wasn't meant to be like this. Merlin had always pictured himself telling Arthur of his secret talents calmly and rationally in a quiet room, and not, as he was now, in danger of dying. He knew, of course, that the idea of Arthur and magic coexisting calmly was hardly reliable, but he liked to dream big.
Arthur was looking at him with a mix of shock, betrayal, and perhaps a little fear. The griffin, who had been the cause of Merlin's spontaneous use of magic, cared very little for the emotional turmoil the young man was currently experiencing and lashed out with razor sharp talons.
"Move," Merlin grunted, shoving his king unceremoniously to the ground.
Merlin tried to jump out of the way of the griffin's attack and nearly made it, but was surprised when he felt claws rip through his shirt and into the flesh beyond. He was batted mercilessly to the dirt and he felt himself gasping for air. He attempted to get to his knees knowing that the griffin would not give him a long reprieve, but fire exploded across his shoulders and down his spine and he was forced down again. At least he had managed to roll over so that he could properly face his impending doom. He tried to think of a spell, but the fire in his back kept wiping any recognizable thought patterns from his mind.
He watched, dazed, as the griffin lifted its claws in what would be, Merlin knew, a killing blow. As death came speeding towards him Merlin accepted his fate and was pleasantly surprised when a bright sword collided with the creatures raised leg.
"Arthur," Merlin coughed out in surprise. "What are you doing?"
"Saving your miserable life," Arthur grunted as he swung his sword once more.
"That's sweet," Merlin replied dreamily, shock beginning to set in.
"Shut up Merlin. I am only doing this so that I can have the pleasure of killing you myself."
Arthur swung again at the creature and connected quite forcefully with its hind leg. The sword didn't do any lasting damage of course, only magic could do that. Merlin found he was rather annoyed that Arthur had refused to bring Excalibur with him. The king had argued that he wouldn't need it on a simple hunting trip and to bring it was only tempting fate to take it away from him. Idiot.
The griffin had backed away, attempting to find a way to deal with this new threat, but both men knew that it would not stay away for long. Merlin was alarmed to find himself drifting and it took nearly all the strength he had to focus once more.
"Arthur," Merlin gasped. "Give me your sword."
"Give me your sword, Arthur. Now!"
"Why on earth would I do that," Arthur asked, turning to look at his servant incredulously while keeping half an eye on the griffin.
"It will take too long to explain. Just do it!"
Merlin could almost see the battle occurring within his king's mind. On the one hand, Arthur wanted desperately to trust in his friend, but the image of the young man's eyes flashing gold as he spoke ancient words with a power and confidence Arthur had never heard before was weighing heavily on him.
"Arthur," Merlin sighed, suddenly very tired. "Do you trust me?"
How could Merlin ask him that? He had used magic, to save their lives he knew, but magic all the same. He stared into Merlin's wide blue eyes and it was at that moment fate decided to blindside him and deal him a devastating blow. Those eyes. The same eyes that had stared at him remorsefully from the old, wizened face of Dragoon, the night his father died. Arthur had always felt he recognized the old man, but it wasn't until this moment, ill timed as it was, that he realized why. Arthur felt a strong urge to throw up.
Merlin could see the shift in Arthur's thoughts and briefly wondered what had caused it to occur. He would have to deal with that later however, for the griffin had decided to try its luck once more and Merlin could feel himself weakening. Black spots danced at the corners of his vision and he found his mind wandering far easier than it should have. It was now or never.
"Arthur, you useless prat," Merlin shouted. "Give me the damn sword or so help me I will take it from you."
Arthur merely stared at him, heedless of the terrible death speeding towards him.
With the last ounce of strength Merlin could muster he pushed himself up from the ground and willed Arthur's sword into his hands. He might have found the sight of Arthur nearly falling over as his sword was ripped from his grip comical, but at the moment it took all of his concentration to merely stand up straight.
The griffin sped towards the men once more, using its large wings to catapult closer feet at a time. Merlin clenched his jaw and spat out the word he had used when handling the griffin with Lancelot. How long ago that seemed. He had been a different person back then. Innocent, trusting, naïve. He was none of those things now.
The sword in his hands flashed a brilliant blue and Merlin had to avert his eyes or be blinded by the light. With a cry of rage and hurt, Merlin sent the sword speeding through the air. Why had Arthur found out this way? After all of Merlin's careful planning it was all crumbling around him and he found despair rising in him like a flood.
The sword connected with the griffin's heart and the creature was blasted off its feet, tumbling over and over until it finally went still, mere inches from where Arthur was cowering in the light of Merlin's power.
How odd this seemed to Merlin. Odd and sad. He never wanted to see Arthur cower like that, especially not from him. How was he going to make the king understand? How was he going to explain that everything he had done, had been for him?
Suddenly, Merlin's wound decided that it would no longer be ignored and the warlock gasped as pain overcame his senses. He could feel the furrows in his skin and knew they were deep, perhaps not life threateningly so, but the amount of blood he could feel sinking into his shirt was alarming.
Merlin had time to turn and meet Arthur's eyes, blackness eating away at his vision. He wanted to try and explain, but he knew unconsciousness would take him long before he could do so. Arthur's expression was unreadable and Merlin took what little hope he could from the fact that the king wasn't staring at him with disgust.
"Arthur," he breathed as his world turned black. "I'm sorry."