A/N: Oh my god, why would I write this. I was fine after the episode but I am now actually sobbing from this. I am so sorry. I just ruined Christmas for myself.
Immortality is Worse
Merlin did not leave the lakeside. He stood on the banks and watched the boat, and his king, disappear.
As dusk came and passed, bringing on the night, he sat on the shore, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. He watched the mist and smoke and the isle mocking him beyond.
The moon came out accompanied by the voices of birds and the wings of bats. He was still but for his body shuddering from his sobs.
Finally, and without realizing it, he fell asleep.
He knew he was asleep when he looked up and Arthur was standing before him against a blurred, blue world.
Shaking, he pulled himself up to his feet, hardly daring to breathe, afraid that every blink might see him disappear.
He smiled, and it was the same sad, knowing smile that Balinor and Freya had. The look of the dead who pitied the living.
Merlin took cautious steps towards him- he wasn't in his armor, but the loose clothes he would wear about the castle. He looked more like Arthur, less like a warrior. A friend more than a king.
"You can't keep crying over me, you know that. You will need to move on." Arthur said, but there was that slight light-hearted edge to his voice, the one he would use to tease him or when he was trying to fool himself that he actually cared about his foolish servant.
"I'm sorry." Merlin said, catching himself by surprise. "I thought I could protect you. There was so much for us to do still, I didn't want to believe that... that it might be over."
"I'm good now Merlin. You kept me safe." He smiled, and it warmed Merlin's heart, and gods did it hurt to see that smile now. "I know the truth. Everything that you've done, all that you've suffered. What I've done." He looked away, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry. I've hurt you more than I ever realized." He looked up and Merlin saw the bright blue of his eyes. "You are more amazing than I could ever imagine, Emrys."
Merlin started, hearing that strange name on a familiar tongue. He gasped out, "No, it's Merlin. I'm Merlin."
That same sad smile. "You will always be Merlin to me. Truly. But you are Emrys, so it really will be always."
"What, what do you mean?"
"Emrys- it means immortal. The world of the dead is no place for you. Not now- not for a long, long time, if ever."
"Wh… n-no. What do you mean? I, I'm not immortal." He felt panic rising in his chest. "No, no… NO!" He felt himself crying again, scared beyond anything else.
"Merlin?" Arthur said, shocked by the outburst, looking more human, more alive, since Merlin saw him.
"No, you can't do this to me, please. Please, tell me it's not true. I'm not immortal."
"You won't die Merlin. You'll live longer than any man. I thought you would have been happy."
"Happy?" Merlin let out a sob and put a hand over his mouth, feeling like when he watched Arthur's life leave his body. "How the hell can I be happy. Gods, no."
"Why? You won't die Merlin, you won't have to go through that pain."
Merlin gasped at him. "The pain? I can't. I can't stand by and keep living and watch everyone I care for die. You're saying I'm going to have to watch Gauis and Gwen die. My mother. I'll have to watch everyone else leave me behind and I can't even follow them! I'll watch the rest of the round table die- Gwaine and Percival."
"Gwaine… is already with us."
He choked as more hot tears fell down his cheeks. "No…"
It already started. Merlin looked away from Arthur, gripping his hands tight as another realization hit him. They had all gone before him. So many people he cared about. And he couldn't die. He couldn't pass through the barrier between the living and the dead. And Arthur…
"I'll never see you again." Merlin whispered, gazing at Arthur through his tears. "You're dead and I can't follow you. Arthur, I can't. I don't want to be alone. I can't bear the thought of losing you forever. Please."
"Merlin…" Arthur said. "It's going to be all right."
Merlin cupped his hands over his mouth, pulling in on himself, pressing his arms tight against his body as he trembled like he would collapse. He couldn't do this, how could Arthur ask this of him- how could he leave him and Merlin couldn't go where he was.
"No, no I can't do this. I can't do this all alone. Please!" He couldn't get enough air, he felt like he was choking on it, and he couldn't stop shaking.
He felt arms around him, and for a second was startled out of his tears and his own tightly-wound body, but then there was Arthur around him, holding him tightly as he fell apart and cried more than he ever had before. When he felt more impossibly alone than ever before. And Arthur was there, holding him, his face buried in the crook of his neck. After everything, he was here.
"I want to die." Merlin whispered. "Some day, I want to die. I don't want to live forever. Not without you. Not alone. Please."
"You won't be alone. All this time you never abandoned me. Everything we've overcome, all our quests and adventures, even when I thought you were just my useless servant, you were always with me. You gave me strength. I will never abandon you, Merlin. I'll always be with you. And one day you'll see me again. I promise. I won't leave you."
"You aren't alone." Another familiar voice said. Merlin pulled away from Arthur to look up at the new figure coming from the mist. A young and beautiful girl with dark hair.
"We are all here for you." Another voice, his father, and Balinor appeared before him as he had done in the Crystal Cave.
More figures rose before his eyes. Each brought a new ache in his heart, but it also filled with the love he felt. He held onto Arthur's hand like a lifeline, afraid to let go.
Many were silent, but each gave a similar sense of comfort and love. They were all smiling at him. Will. Lancelot. Gwaine.
Even more came forth, and Merlin noticed that he was almost breathing normally again. Some surprised him, but gave him the same feeling of love and support. Alator gave a short bow as he stood beside Finna, and there was Daegel beside him. But there were many more who he did not know- many children, many men and women. Behind them even loomed the huge shapes of dragons, their wings morphing in and out of the mist.
"I'm not strong enough."
"You are. You are the bravest man I have ever known. You are kind and good and true and I have never been prouder to call you my friend."
Merlin turned at this, looking away from the mist and finding Arthur's blue eyes. He felt Arthur's hand in his, from when he had gripped it in his desperation, and that touch and that look grounded him, brought him back to himself. Who he was. All that he is.
"You always gave me strength. Now it's my turn. It'll be hard, Merlin. It's hard to say goodbye. It'll be painful. But you will make it through. And you'll be able to smile again, even if it doesn't always seem like it."
Everything seemed to fade away. There was only Arthur- the feel of his arms gripping him all the more tightly against his shaking. Merlin pulled away just enough to look into his eyes again, the last looking into that bright blue of his eyes, the lines around his mouth and eyes, the fringe of gold hair. He laid his head against Arthur's, just as he had done on the shore.
"Until next time, Merlin." Merlin held onto Arthur tighter than he ever had but still felt him fall away from him, taking away the warmth and light, the gold and blue, the comfort and love. It was all fading to black.
Birdsong greeted him, and sunlight filled his vision as he woke on the shore of Avalon. Lifting himself off the ground, he gazed about him and then to the isle amidst the morning mist. It still hurt, and it may never stop hurting entirely. But he was filled with a new strength of heart. One day. One day he would see him again, in life or death.
Until then, stay with me, Arthur.