AN: Hello! This is my first fanfiction ever, so be gentle with me! But constructive criticism is appreciated! I've always thought it was kind of harsh how Arthur chastises Merlin about magic at Will's funeral/pyre burning in 1x10 The Moment of Truth. I wanted to explore how that one comment could have affected Merlin and how all the stuff he had to do so far to protect Arthur could have caught up with him, since we never really see him recognize that he's killed a bunch of people by this point... Anyway, hope you enjoy and please review! Thanks!
"You know how dangerous magic is. You shouldn't have kept this from me, Merlin."
As Arthur walked away from Merlin, he didn't notice the tears slipping silently down his face. He didn't see how his shoulders slumped in response to his words, looking more broken than he had even at the side of his dying friend.
The crowd around the burning pyre slowly dispersed, leaving Merlin alone to watch the fire slowly consume his best friend's body. Only those who thought to look would see Merlin fall to his knees, weeping in his grief, not only for the death of his friend, but for himself and the death of the innocent boy that he had once been.
But Hunith saw.
She watched as Arthur spoke to him, and watched as his face fell as Arthur walked away. She didn't know what the prince had said to her son, but she knew something was terribly wrong. Merlin looked like he had been punched in the stomach, and all hope drained from his eyes. She hurried over to comfort her son. As she knelt beside him, she could hear him whispering through his tears, "It has all been for nothing."
Hunith stroked Merlin's back, hugging his kneeling form to her. "I know it hurts, Merlin, but you had better be going."
"I can't, Mother! I can't keep doing this any longer!" Merlin sounded almost hysterical.
"I know it feels that way right now. Losses will always hit you the hardest, but Will did what he did to protect your future. He was a great man, and a great friend to you. You need to honor his sacrifice."
"You mean like Arthur just did?!" Merlin seemed caught between anger and grief now, and Hunith wasn't sure that was a better place for him to be. "Do you know what he was saying to me just now?"
Hunith shook her head.
"He told me that I shouldn't have kept the fact Will was a sorcerer from him, that I know how dangerous magic is! Will just died for him, and the only thing he can say to me is that I should've known better! But we both know Will isn't the sorcerer, I am! Everything I hoped about Arthur, every sacrifice I've made for him…it's all been for nothing!"
Hunith didn't know what to say. How could she comfort her son as his dreams fell apart? To her horror, Merlin wasn't finished.
"I've killed for him, Mother." It came out almost as a whisper, but Hunith could hear every word, could hear his voice break, and her heart broke for her son. "And not just like today, where they were bad people that we fought on equal ground. I've destroyed people, reduced them dust, one by one. "
"You were protecting Arthur. They were going to hurt him, and it's your job to keep him safe. I understand that, darling. There is nothing to be sorry for!"
"Yes, they were trying to sacrifice Arthur, but, Mother, I made them explode! Nobody deserves that! They didn't even have a chance to fight back. What kind of person have I become, that I could do something like that?" Merlin had fallen back, deep into his grief, with a bone deep weariness reflected in every line of his body. Hunith was lost for words. She knew her son was a good man, with a good heart, and that everything he had done had been to protect Arthur. But his conscience was laden with the acts he had committed, and now, with the death of his best friend on his conscience, she knew nothing she could say would penetrate a grief so deep. So she said nothing, and just held him as he struggled with the losses that had hit him today.
As he pulled himself together, Hunith saw a renewed strength in his eyes. She knew he had come to terms with his actions and the death of his friend, and believed he was ready to return to Camelot. But she couldn't have been more wrong.
Merlin had pulled himself together, that's true, and he had come to a decision on what to do next, but returning to Camelot was not it.
He couldn't do it.
Arthur had proved that he was not the friend Merlin had hoped he was. Merlin had lost so much trying to protect Arthur, so much that he could never get back. Will was dead, and even more than that, Merlin was dead. The boy he had been when he had arrived in Camelot was gone. All the hiding, the lying, the killing… it was slowly tearing him apart, and it appeared all his sacrifices had been for nothing.
Screw destiny, and screw the prophecies. People misinterpreted prophecies all the time. The Dragon got it wrong, and he was done being that giant lizard's puppet.
Without another word, Merlin hugged his mother tightly in gratitude as they got to their feet. He kissed her cheek, and slowly turned to return to their house to pack. With his small pack strapped to his back, he hugged his mother goodbye, and walked over to where Morgana, Gwen, and Arthur were waiting to return to Camelot. He gave a confused Gwen and Morgana a hug, before stepping back slightly. The three travelers looked at him in confusion.
"Merlin, let's go. If we want to reach Camelot by tomorrow night, we need to leave now," Arthur said impatiently, wondering what on earth could be going through Merlin's mind now.
Gwen looked questioningly at Merlin. "Merlin, are you sure you're alright?"
Merlin gave a small, sad smile, "No, not really, but I will be. But I'm not going back with you."
Morgana and Gwen exchanged looks, and Arthur looked on in puzzlement. Morgana exclaimed, "But why not? When will you be coming back?"
Merlin looked at her sadly, "I'm not going back to Camelot. Too much has happened, and I just can't go back. I'm really sorry." He avoided Arthur's gaze, and instead focused on the two girls who had volunteered to come all this way for him. He couldn't look at the man who had reduced all his hopes, all his dreams, to dust with two simple sentences. "I am really so grateful to you for your help, but I can't, I'm sorry."
With tears in his eyes, he turned away from his friends, and walked into the nearby forest, away from Camelot, pointedly ignoring their calls for him to wait, to explain. Then he was gone from sight, leaving three bewildered friends staring after him, and his mother looking sadly on from the doorway of his childhood home.