Funnily enough, it was easy in the end: Letting go of her.
It wasn't that his feelings for her had changed. He loved her with all his heart. He would have done everything for her, given his live for her, his soul, in a heartbeat.
But when he had felt that pain, the arrow piercing his back, penetrating his chest and sticking out on the other end of his body – looking at the arrowhead oddly – when he had been so sure he would die: he knew there was no going back, no matter how hard he wanted to. He knew he had to leave. In this minute he thought that he had no choice but to leave, that his leaving consisted of dying. It turned out not to be so simple.
But then again – it was.
The ride back was a haze of pain and confusion. Miraculously he survived the whole trip, Guinevere by his side every second. He saw Arthur with a look of wonder and remorse on his face. The man really had gotten the message.
At Camelot Merlin managed to stabilize the bleeding and to lessen the damage. They were alone in a room, Merlin told him to never ever talk about what he had done. Saving Leontes' life cost him a lot, Leontes could see the cost that Merlin had talked about on his face, in the blood running out of his eyes and the deep black lines appearing all over his cheeks. All the time he wondered why Merlin did it. Merlin probably wondered that, too. It could have had something to do with a crying and begging King that clang to his arm a few minutes ago.
Merlin had lost Igraine, one of the very few women that had gotten to him, in over 600 years. And the only woman, he would have given up everything for, had she herself not held him back from doing so. Now he was spending his energy on this man, the most loyal champion of the king. A king who – as a person – probably didn't deserve this sacrifice that Leontes had made. But as an idea, he did. He had to. Leontes felt this, too. But even more so, that was just who he was: If he had the opportunity to save a life of someone who was worth saving, he did it, no matter what.
Merlin didn't have to spend everything on Leontes. He was badly wounded, there was a gaping hole in his chest. But luckily the heart wasn't injured too much. He made sure the man would survive, then left him to heal and dragged himself on the other side of the bed. He needed to regain his strength.
After a few hours he started again. This process was repeated five times. It took them two days and two nights. After that Leontes was fit to walk and Merlin was in need of forty hours of sleep.
That was how Leontes was confronted with a choice he had thought was made for him by an arrow meant for Arthur. And that was when he realized just how simple life could be sometimes, even if the ways of the hearts were so complicated.
When he left his room, finally standing on his legs, his mind was blank. Outside the door they were waiting. Kay who immediately gave him a hug and openly showed his honest relieve. Gawain who slapped him on the shoulder so hard he nearly toppled over.
And then there stood Guinevere against the wall to his left. The first steps she ran towards him, then she slowed down. Finally she stood in front of him with a shy and teary smile on her face. "I am so glad, that you are alive."
He looked at her face and saw it. She really was. Whether he was, too, he had yet to find out. She twined her arms around him, embracing him as hard as she dared with his injury. He was surprised when he realized that he didn't react, didn't hug her back. He just stood there and waited.
When she pulled back, he felt the loss. He paused, his eyes on hers. After only a short moment she turned her head. To Arthur. She looked at him with a lot of questions in her eyes. Only for a second but it was enough. He understood in that moment that it wasn't him, it never could be. Maybe it never had been.
Suddenly he remembered a lot of the times they had spent together. All his life, since he was seven years old, and she was four, they had always been together: as children, as playmates, as friends, as family, as fiancés, as husband and wife. And now that he had come back from the dead, Guinevere didn't keep her eyes on him. Not even for a few seconds.
He touched her arm. She looked up with what he thought was hope. He smiled. No one had ever hurt him like her. But then again, no one had ever had his love like her.
"I wish you all the best. I honestly do."
"What? No, no, no, wait! You are not leaving me. Please, I want to stay with you. I want to be your wife. Forgive me, Leontes, please!"
He cocked his head curiously. "Why are you fighting for me? And now, of all times?"
For a moment she was speechless. Normally it wasn't easy to rid her of words. In the last days though, she had never had satisfying answers to his questions.
"I know I made an unforgiveable mistake." She paused as if she knew her next words were going to hurt him even more. "But I learned to appreciate what I had." She desperately took his arms. She really tried, he had to give her that. He hadn't seen her that open and involved in a very long time.
"What if I don't want to be appreciated?"
Confusion showed on her face. He took a deep breath. And then he made his choice. With the saddest smile anyone had ever seen on his face. But with a conviction that was as definite as the arrow that had pierced his chest, and Guinevere saw it.
"What if I want to be truly loved?"
He didn't give her the time to come up with something to say, any reaction at all. She wouldn't need it.
He stepped away from Guinevere and for a moment contemplated how he should confront Arthur, what he should say as goodbye. Then he lifted his head and walked past him. He didn't need a goodbye. He didn't need anything in this place anymore.