My dearest readers,
This was originally supposed to be a parody!story to Merlin but it didn't turn out that way.
I am a student athletic trainer at my school, and we just finished learning about concussions, and the whole time was I was thinking HOW DOES ARTHUR NOT SUFFER FROM SECOND-IMPACT SYNDROME OR SOMETHING? Anyway, I started writing this, and my plot bunnies attacked it. You can all thank the chatroom at The Heart of Camelot for aiding me in this idea. My style of writing overtook the parody!story and turned it into this! Warning though, there is a major character death.
Personally, I love this story, and I recommend listening to some sad music for full effect: such as Stay or Somebody to Die For by Hurts; Stand by Britt Nicole; and any others. Please enjoy the story and tell me what you think of it!
Oh! And thanks to Captain Ozone for being my beta, again. She's brilliant, guys!
Alright, Fine, and Other Words of Wellness
"When you feel like giving up,
When my heart has hurt too much,
Feels like I've reached the end."
-"Stand" by Britt Nicole
"He's taken a heavy blow to the head… He should be fine, sire, but there's no telling when he'll regain consciousness."
Merlin was always alright, but this time he wasn't.
Arthur was unable to move, and each thought seemed to take more strength than necessary to process. His eyes flickered to the frail form of his servant, who laid sprawled out over the latter's wooden cot, and winced upon noting the crusted blood staining his temple
"But he woke up," was the only response the King of Camelot could manage.
The court physician hovered over the fragile body of his ward, unshed tears refusing to fall. He stretched out a shaky hand and gestured towards the back of Merlin's skull. "He was hit in the back of the head as well, sire. Both were severe, and in such a short amount of time… I'm sorry."
"No, Gaius," Arthur argued, pushing himself to his feet, "There must be something we can do, some way to save him."
"There's nothing I can do, Arthur," Gaius said, shaking his head as he stroked Merlin's dark hair away from his forehead. "Believe me, if there was a way—"
The physician didn't finish before Arthur was bolting out of the small bedroom, unable to face the possibility that after everything they had been through, a simple blow from the hilt of a sword could end his servant's life.
This was Merlin. He was always alright.
Guinevere was waiting for her husband when he returned to their shared chambers, doe brown eyes wide with fear. She rushed towards him, and he opened his arms instinctively, embracing his wife tightly. They stand there for some time, and Arthur buried his face in her dark ringlets, inhaling the familiar scent of cherry blossoms and peppermint.
After a moment, Gwen pulled away. "What did he say?"
Arthur bit the bottom of his lip. "There's no telling when he'll regain consciousness," he said, well aware that the half-truth would satisfy her for now.
"That's good," the Queen said with a wide smile, icy tremors still traveling down her spine. "It's Merlin. He's always fine."
"I hope so," Arthur said, releasing a soft breath.
Ambling over to the window, Arthur gazed out over the courtyard, and after a heartbeat of silence, he felt Gwen's gentle hand on his shoulder. "Do you want to tell me what happened?" she asked.'
At this time of day, one would almost always see Merlin traipsing his way into the castle. Arthur's heart clenched in his chest at the thought of his manservant never clambering up the castle stairs to come to his aid again. For the past ten years, the younger man had become a constant presence in Arthur's life, and the possibility of losing such a person caused him more pain than he cared to admit.
"We were coming back from Nemeth," Arthur explained, lowering his gaze. "Mithian and Rodor returned home, and Odin turned back to his kingdom… We were making our way through the Valley of the Fallen Kings when bandits attacked… Merlin… There were so many people, fighting and dying…"
Gwen caressed his face gently, running her thumb over his cheekbone in circles. "Did Merlin get hit?"
"Defending me," Arthur answered, stepping away from her, attempting to regain his bearings. "Of all things he could have done…. The idiot took a blow meant for me!"
Gwen smiled, her eyes bright with hope. "He's a very loyal friend, Arthur."
The King didn't deny it. Against all odds, his servant had become such a close friend that to lose him would throw Arthur's world out of orbit.
"I know," Arthur said, his face softening. "I just hope he'll be alright."
Arthur pulled his wife into a tight hold, refusing to let go of the hope that still burned in his heart. He wouldn't give up on his friend.
"There's nothing I can do," Gaius had said, so Arthur vowed to find someone who could help Merlin.
Merlin would be fine. He always was.
Arthur wiped the sweat from his brow, sword dropping to his side, as he stepped away from the training dummy. Stalking over to the side, a nameless servant handed him a goblet full of water, and he quickly drained it before tossing it back wordlessly. He had no time for pleasantries; he needed an outlet to express his wild emotions.
They churned beneath his skin like a powerful tidal wave, crashing over him with each racing thought he had as he turned his attention to Merlin. He didn't know how to process them all at once, so he had chosen to spend a few hours out on the training field with his knights.
Fighting brought him to an instinctive state. He couldn't think about anything except his opponent's next move, his mind's eyes flickering through numerous strategies and counter-attacks. He needed something - anything that would distract him from Merlin's situation. He couldn't handle the possibility that he could lose his friend.
He couldn't deal with it right now.
Arthur turned back to the field only to have a firm hand clasp down on his shoulder. He whirled around, weapon poised to attack, only to find Sir Gwaine standing there with a stoic expression.
"Can I talk to you?" the knight seethed through gritted teeth, his brown eyes flashing wildly.
Arthur was momentarily puzzled by his appearance but followed Gwaine to a spot away from the rest of the knights. "What's going on?"
"Merlin," Gwaine announced, his voice cracking like a whip. "He's dying." Arthur turned his head, unable to face Gwaine's anger. "And you aren't doing anything about it?"
"What am I supposed to do?"
"What you normally do," Gwaine responded, narrowing his eyes in concentration, "Get a patrol together and head out to find some way to save him."
"He'll pull through on his own," Arthur said to reassure the older man, but his voice sounded hollow to his own ears.
"He's bleeding inside his head, Arthur!" Gwaine bellowed, his cry echoing across the training field, startling a handful of knights in the process. The drunk paid no heed to any of their reactions, ignoring them as he continued. "Gaius said the cranium was broken. He can't do anything, so you need to find a way to help him!"
"I… I don't know what I can do," Arthur confessed in a strained voice.
"He's dying. Merlin's dying," Gwaine retorted, shaking his head. "Don't you get it, Pendragon? He will die if you don't know something."
Reality had yet to touch Arthur, so the moment it did, it stole his breath away. The prospect of Merlin dying hadn't registered as a possibility, and the idea that his friend wouldn't recover scared him. Arthur could barely remember a time when Merlin wasn't such a huge part of his life; the memories of the time before the scrawny servant inserted himself into his everyday life were blurred and unobtainable.
Merlin was always there. He was the first face Arthur would see when he awoke, that wide smile against the morning's blinding light pulling him from his deep slumber. He was the one at Arthur's side whenever the King rode out into danger, coming out of every incident unscathed and grinning from ear-to-ear.
Arthur knew that Merlin was his servant, but he also hoped that Merlin knew he was his best friend. It didn't matter that Arthur teased him endlessly or belittled him daily – what mattered was the loyalty Merlin showed and the trust Arthur gave. Merlin was one of the few people that Arthur trusted with his life, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
The thought that such a kind and brave man could die was such a shock to Arthur. He couldn't imagine a world where Merlin wasn't at his side.
"I'll talk to Gaius," Arthur said, casting a fleeting glance in the direction of the castle. "I'll… We'll save him, Gwaine."
"That's all I ask, Princess." Gwaine managed a wry smile and turned on his heel, but before he retreated, he faced his king one last time. "Just so you know… If Merlin… goes… I'm leaving too."
Arthur sighed. It would be alright, he told himself.
Merlin was always alright.
"I want you to use magic."
Gaius's eyes widened to a certain degree that Arthur wondered what their true limits were. "I beg your pardon, Sire?"
"I can't let him die, Gaius," Arthur said, watching the steady rise and fall of Merlin's chest. He crept forward, placing a tender hand on his friend's shoulder. "You don't understand. I can't lose him. No matter what happens, he can't die."
Gaius cast him a pitiful look. "Sire… I can't."
"Please, Gaius…" Arthur pleaded, staring at the physician with wide eyes. "I'll legalize magic if I have to… Just use sorcery to heal him."
Gaius paused, inhaling deeply, and Arthur could see the faint tremors shaking his body. "I… I have already tried, my Lord." The confession caused Arthur to step back in utter shock, unable to process the idea of the older man practicing magic under his nose. "I will face whatever consequences you set for me, but I had to try to save him – even if I had to commit treason." A single tear fell from the corner of Gaius's eye. "However, he is dying, Sire, and neither medicine nor magic can change that."
Arthur shook his head, incapable of realizing the full extent of the current situation. He leaned forward so that his forehead was pressed against Merlin's, blowing out a breath. He heard Gaius push himself to his feet and amble slowly out of the room, leaving the King with his manservant.
It took a few gasps before Arthur broke down. He squeezed his eyes shut, and his face scrunched up as if he was in physical pain. His breaths came out in half sobs, and tears glistened as they rolled down his cheeks. He felt so lost and confused and so very much afraid.
Merlin was always alright. This time he wasn't.
Gaius said that he had a few more days until his body stopped functioning, but he wouldn't regain consciousness. After his breakdown, Arthur remained in Merlin's chambers until Gwen pulled him away a few hours later, taking him to their shared ones. When they reached their shared chambers, it was his turn to hold her as she sobbed against his chest.
For the rest of the day, Arthur confined himself to his bed, choosing to let his mind wander. After awhile, Gwen left him alone with his thoughts, occasionally sending the guards in to check on him. Knowing that Merlin would never have that luxury again, Arthur felt cheated to have people care about his wellbeing.
Leon came by at one point and asked whether they were supposed to begin plans for a funeral. Arthur nearly came undone at the thought and merely shook his head, saying that he would take care of it all when the time came. After his knight left, the King knew what type of funeral his friend would have.
For the bravest and most loyal of them all - there was no other way than to send Merlin off with a knight's funeral.
The thought of Merlin's funeral caused a wave of nausea to crash over Arthur.
He barely made it to the chamber pot in time.
Merlin was never going to be alright.
It was nearly midnight when Arthur came crashing into the physician's chambers, startling Gaius from his late-night watch over Merlin. The King rushed into the bedroom, eyes wide and a veil of hope clouding them. "Use magic," he said softly. "Use magic to wake him up."
"Arthur, it's not that simple," Gaius remarked tiredly. The physician blew out the candle atop the bedside table, turning to face the younger man. "I already told you; I don't have that power."
Gaius pushed himself to his feet, gesturing towards his ward with a shaky hand. "Even with a magically-induced consciousness, he doesn't have the strength to sustain such a spell."
Arthur sent him a quizzical look. "What do you mean?"
Gaius sighed and closed his eyes. "In spells such as the one you wish to use, something or someone must have the necessary power to sustain the magic. Merlin wouldn't have the power to be a source for the spell to act upon." Arthur could feel his heart breaking at the words. "Unless…"
Arthur raised his head hesitantly, afraid to be fed false hope. "Unless what?"
Gaius frowned. "You two… You have a close bond, Arthur." The king nodded in understanding. "One might even say you are two halves of the same coin."
Arthur knew immediately what Gaius was implying, so he paused a moment to consider his options. It was as though they were negotiating a treaty between two kingdoms, magic as their pen. The entire situation was too calm and organized. Arthur was having trouble processing the suggestion, but he nodded his head nonetheless.
If Merlin was going to die, Arthur decided, at least he'd know how much Arthur truly owed him.
It'd all be fine.
An hour later, Gaius had the necessary supplies spread out across the floor of Merlin's bedroom. Arthur stared warily at his friend's still form; the servant's breathing became shallower as the minutes ticked on.
"Are you sure this will work, Gaius?" Arthur whispered, his voice quivering. "How long will it last if it does?"
Gaius exhaled slowly. "If it does, it will quicken his passing, Sire."
"How long would he last without it?" Arthur asked. "What if I set out to find the Cup of Life?"
"The Cup of Life went missing after Morgause and Morgana overtook Camelot," Gaius said, lowering his gaze. "You'd never be able to locate it in time. I… I estimate his time among us to be over sometime tomorrow evening."
Arthur swallowed thickly. "And how long if this spell works?"
"A few hours – no more and no less."
"Have the others said their goodbyes?" Arthur questioned, his eyes flashing briefly with an emotion akin to misery.
"Earlier today," Gaius replied, a sad smile dancing across his face. "But if this works, they'll want to come by…"
Arthur nodded. He understood. As soon as Merlin awoke (because Arthur just knew that the gods would allow this one spell to work), Gaius would seek out their friends and bring them around, one-by-one. Then it would be Arthur's turn.
Arthur grasped Merlin's cold hand, knuckles white from the sheer pressure he held it with. Gaius mumbled some nonsense words Arthur associated with magic, and he held his breath as the physician's eyes flashed the familiar molten gold. A stab of fear struck him, but he choked it down as he watched Merlin's face for any signs of consciousness.
Suddenly, a wave of exhaustion rolled over Arthur, and he fought to stay awake. He could feel the strength draining into the frail body beside him, and he let it. He had agreed to this.
It was a short moment later that Merlin's eyelashes fluttered against the pale skin.
"I'll go get everyone," Gaius said at once and disappeared.
Arthur clenched his friend's hand tighter, tears clouding his vision. Merlin's cobalt blues were glazed over in mystification as he opened them and met Arthur's gaze. He licked his dry lips and said in a hoarse voice, "What happened?"
He wouldn't be alright, Arthur knew, but for now, Merlin was fine.
The minutes ticked by, and Merlin became well aware of his predicament. Arthur had cautiously told him the events leading up to it all, and the servant was taking it surprisingly well. At first, he had a faraway look in his eyes, but he quickly came back to reality at Arthur's insistence.
"…Are you alright?" Arthur had asked cautiously.
"I will be," Merlin had admitted. "I always said I'd protect you or die at your side. Guess I was right."
Gaius was the first to visit in case the spell wore off before he got a chance later. Arthur stepped out of the room to join the others while the physician entered to be with his ward for the last time. They all sat in melancholy silence as they heard the older man weeping and Merlin's constant reassurances that he wasn't in pain. The door was cracked a bit, and, although Arthur felt like he was intruding, he watched as Gaius clung to the young man, the tears slipping down his face never-ending. The scene was enough to make Arthur turn away.
It hurt too much.
Gwen was next, and Arthur joined her, though he resided in the far corner of the room in order to give the two some form of privacy. Gwen had promised herself to be strong and upbeat, but she was unable to keep up the façade. As soon as she met Merlin's tired eyes, she leaned over him and sobbed into his chest.
"I can't lose you," she said.
Merlin weakly raised his hand to stroke Gwen's fringe away from her face. "It'll be alright," he said. "Just remember that I'll always watch over you and the gods'll take care of me."
"Will you be alright?" she asked between sniffles.
Merlin tried to hold back his own tears. "Aren't I always?"
Gwen nodded and slowly stood up when she saw Gwaine at the entrance of the bedroom. "I guess… I guess this is goodbye."
Merlin managed a soft smile. "You have such a good heart, Gwen. Never lose that."
Gwen nodded in his direction, muffling a sob, and turned on her heel and fled the room. Merlin's eyes turned sad, but they brightened slightly when they met Gwaine's. "Gwaine," he welcomed.
The older man bypassed the greeting and wrapped his arms gently around his friend. Merlin tried to return the embrace but was too weak to do so. He lay back against the mound of pillow, beaming up at the knight.
"Thank you, Merlin," Gwaine muttered lowly. "Thank you for everything you've ever done for me."
Gwaine put up the same cheerful charade he did every day and asked, "So, since you are leaving us soon, Merlin, you want to tell me that secret of yours now?" It was unnerving as to how normal Gwaine could be in the face of death.
Fear crawled over Merlin's expression, but regardless, he sent the knight a small grin. "Maybe next time." Gwaine nodded in understanding, but Arthur could see the tears glistening at the front of it all. "Look… Look after yourself, Gwaine."
The knight swallowed a lump in his throat, cocking his head to the side. "You too, Merlin."
The two were drowning with the words they both wanted to say, but they knew they never could. Gwaine heaved a sigh and made a move to leave, but before he could turn, Merlin reached out and caught his wrist. "Promise me that you'll look after Arthur, and Gwen, and Camelot."
Arthur snorted, but Gwaine ignored his reaction, choosing to narrow his eyes in concentration and whispered under his breath. "I will." His vow echoed through the room.
It was the last time Merlin would ever see his friend, and Arthur saw the servant draw in a deep breath, shoulders heaving forward with the effort, and collect his emotions. Merlin stole one last look at Gwaine's retreating figure before collapsing against his bed, a small tear making its way down his cheek.
The next hour was filled with tearful goodbyes from the rest of the knights before it was Arthur's turn. He was at a loss at what to say, so he just stared at Merlin with large eyes. He could tell that the spell was wearing thin. For one, he was regaining his strength, and his friend was losing his.
Merlin licked his lips. "Will… Will you stay with me?" he asked, his voice quaking slightly. "I… I don't want to be alone."
Arthur was at a loss for words. He simply stared at his friend, watching the rise and fall of his chest that signaled he was still alive. Arthur couldn't look away with the knowledge that their time was numbered; in a few hours or minutes – whenever Merlin gave in – he would never see those blue eyes sparkling with laughter or his wide-tooth grin welcoming him in the morning. A life without Merlin by his side simply wasn't imaginable, but it was coming sooner than he had ever thought possible.
"Of course," Arthur said quietly. "…Do you want to talk about it?"
"The fact that you're going to die," Arthur emphasized, throwing his hands into the air with exasperation. "You may have accepted it – everyone else may have accepted it but…"
"You haven't?" Merlin prompted. Arthur nodded, and Merlin lowered his gaze. "I've made my peace with it because there's nothing I can change about it, Arthur." Arthur ducked his head from view, shaking it in denial. "I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth. Hey—" Merlin tugged on Arthur's sleeve lightly "—at least I got a noble death. This would've been you if I hadn't taken that blow for you."
Arthur chuckled wetly. "I had no idea you were so keen on dying for me."
Merlin cracked a smile. "Trust me; I can hardly believe it myself."
Arthur quickly sobered. "Merlin… You've always been there for me… You've always fought by my side… I know I don't say it much, but you are my closest friend, Merlin, and I want you to always remember that." Arthur leaned closer to the servant, attempting to memorize every detail of his face. "There's something I've never said to you before, Merlin, and it's about time you heard it."
"Thank you," Arthur said, his voice strong as he held Merlin's gaze. "For everything you've ever done. You are... All those jokes about you being a coward… I never really meant them. You are the bravest person I have ever met, and the most loyal servant I've ever had… Beyond the line of duty." An idea quickly erupted in Arthur's head and sparked the first true smile in days. "There's something I need to do."
Arthur stood up, and Merlin watched him warily. "What are you—?"
"For once in your life, will you shut up, Merlin?" Arthur teased fondly.
With practiced movements, Arthur unsheathed his sword and held it high in the air. He smiled warmly, and his friend flashed him a hesitant one back. Arthur lowered the sword, lightly tapping each of Merlin's shoulders with its tip. More tears trickled from the corners of Merlin's eyes, and he ducked his head as a sign of respect.
"Arise," Arthur said, withdrawing his sword, "Sir Merlin, Knight of Camelot."
With what little strength he had remaining, Merlin propped himself up on trembling arms, meeting Arthur's gaze with determined expression. Both smiled like idiots, the King and his servant, now knight. It was only when a flash of panic overcame Merlin, and the younger man collapsed back against the bed, succumbing to gravity's pull. Arthur leaned closer to his friend, holding his hand with a death grip, begging for a just a few more moments.
"You lied to me," Merlin said weakly. "You know that?"
"You once told me that… I'd be called a hero if I died," Merlin admitted, wincing as he moved, "That I'd get the glory when I wasn't around to appreciate it." Arthur choked back a sob that had forced its way to the surface. "Well… What's this?" Arthur's breath caught in his throat, but Merlin continued. "I'm still here, aren't I, Arthur? This sounds like appreciation to me."
"I'm sorry," Arthur whispered under his breath, placing his head against his fists, Merlin's hand still grasped tightly between them. "I'm so sorry…"
"For what, Arthur?"
"For how I treated you," Arthur rambled, "For—"
"Shut up, you prat," Merlin groaned, eyes fluttering close. "Honestly, I don't want to listen to your apologies on my deathbed."
"I'm the king, Merlin," Arthur responded, sending his friend a mocking grin. "You can't tell me what to do."
"I always have," Merlin whispered. "I'm not going to change now."
"I don't want you to change," Arthur admitted, more tears building up. "I want you to always be you."
There was a short beat of silence before Merlin said, "Go ahead and say goodbye, Arthur. I'll be alright."
Arthur lost it.
His body wracked with sobs, tremors traveling up and down his spine as he wept. He felt helpless, scared, and alone. His strength was slowly returning to him, and he knew it was leaving Merlin. Soon, there would be nothing left of the dark-haired, bright-eyed man who had saved his life too many times to remember, worming his way into the arrogant royal's heart. Merlin had changed Arthur for the better, and the king could never repay him in full.
"You're not alright, though, and I'm sorry," Arthur mumbled through the waterfall of tears. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you. I'm sorry you're dying for me. I'm so sorry, Merlin… I wish I could do something. I wish there was some way to fix this, but I can't… I can't…"
Merlin reached up with his free hand and placed it atop Arthur's head, smiling weakly. "I'll miss you, Arthur." Arthur clenched his hand tighter, burying it against his forehead, just so that he could have something to hold onto. "I want you to remember that… You're destined to be Albion's greatest king."
"There's something else you need to know…" the dark-haired man began to say, "Something I should have told you a long time ago but…" Arthur raised his head, staring into the azure orbs that held a hint of fear. At the last second, Merlin reigned in his fear. "Gaius… I asked Gaius to tell you something and I…"
"What is it?"
"Promise me," Merlin pleaded, "That when you find out the truth, you'll forgive me."
"Why can't you tell me now?"
Merlin deliberately avoided Arthur's piercing stare. "Because I don't want you to think of me any differently right now. I want you… I want you to remember me… like this. As your friend… Just me. Just Merlin." Arthur opened his mouth to respond, but his friend interrupted him. "Promise me, Arthur."
"Merlin, whatever you've done… The good will always outweigh the bad."
"Of course," Arthur stammered, "I'll forgive you for… Whatever it is."
Merlin lay back in his bed, still grasping Arthur's hand feebly. Sweat trickled down his brow, and his complexion was paling ever so slightly. "Arthur?" Merlin's voice was small, and his eyelashes began to flutter. "Arthur, I'm scared."
Arthur didn't give it a second thought. He engulfed Merlin's limp body into his arms and pulled his friend close to his chest. Arthur could feel the shaky, hot breaths dancing over his skin as Merlin buried his head into the crook of the King's neck. "It's alright," Arthur murmured against the raven hair. "You'll be fine."
No, he wasn't. Merlin was dying. Merlin was going to die.
Nothing would ever be alright again.
Merlin's breathing turned shallower, and Arthur pulled him closer. "I… I don't want… to leave," Merlin slurred, his eyes rolling in their sockets. "I… It's hard." Arthur rubbed soothing circles on his friend's back, and though he would deny it to anyone who ever said otherwise, he was glad that he was the one comforting Merlin in his friend's final moments. Merlin would know peace before he died, and when he finally would pass, it would be like falling into a deep sleep, relaxing the muscles and slowing the breathing rate. It was a serene death, Arthur reckoned, and it was exactly what Merlin deserved.
Merlin's heartbeat slowed under Arthur's hands, and the king knew it was coming. His friend was going to die in his arms, and there was nothing he could do to change fate. The same power that had so blessed his life with Merlin's presence was now dragging him away, albeit the metaphorical kicking and screaming.
Arthur's thoughts slowed as reality crashed over him, drowning him in a sea of comprehension. Here he sat, in the cold chambers of his servant (no, knight), holding the pitiful form of a once brave and strong man, losing his best friend. He desperately wished for a few more moments – there was so much he wanted to say; they hadn't done everything they were meant to yet!
Merlin's grasp loosened. "Arthur…"
Arthur turned his attention to his friend, wondering how he himself could even see while his eyes were glazed over with so many emotions. Merlin struggled to meet his king's gaze, and when he did, Arthur noted the dark shadows under his eyes. The younger man was dying, and they were both so very, very close to the end now.
A single tear dripped down Merlin's face. "Goodbye, Arthur." He swallowed thickly. "Thank you." He clenched his eyes shut, wincing at a stab of pain, before letting them flicker open once more.
It was the last time Arthur would ever see those blue eyes.
Merlin just stared up at the king, the seconds ticking by ever so slowly. There was a short pause, the span of a single heartbeat, and Merlin inhaled as deep as he could and slowly exhaled.
Arthur took a few breathes of his own to steady himself before licking his dry lips. He would not let go of Merlin's body though. Arthur tightened his grasp, pulling the man closer, breathing in everything that made him Merlin. Suddenly, a hand was placed on Arthur's shoulder, pulling him away from Merlin's corpse.
"Arthur," Gaius said, his voice choked with tears, "It's over. He's gone."
"No," Arthur whispered, tears slipping down his inflamed cheeks. "He's alright. He's fine."
Merlin had said he would be alright. He had said he'd be fine.
Gaius had requested that Merlin's funeral be held at the same lake where Lancelot had been laid to rest. Arthur thought it was fitting, letting his most loyal knight go beside his most noble one. Merlin had been placed in a boat filled with plants that grew in the area. He had been dressed in his normal attire; however, before setting him adrift, Arthur had placed his own cloak over his friend.
The golden dragon of the Pendragon crest had never looked so majestic.
The entire ordeal had a small gathering, a silence memorial for someone who had touched so many lives, composed of the King and Queen, a few knights, Gaius, and Merlin's mother, whom he had personally escorted from Ealdor after bring the news of her son's passing. Arthur had set out to Ealdor to tell Hunith of her son's death the morning after Merlin's passing.
When he had arrived in Ealdor... There were no words to describe what had occurred.
When he had knocked on the door, Hunith's cheerful smile had greeted him, but it had quickly retreated when Arthur had returned the welcome with a solemn expression. Wordlessly, he had handed her a blue neckerchief, Merlin's favorite one that he had worn to both Arthur and Gwen's coronations. Hunith had known the moment she had seen the king at her doorstep that her son was gone, and Arthur had watched as the woman collapsed into his arms, tears streaming down her face like candle wax, thick and slow.
Arthur had brought her back to Camelot, and Merlin's funeral followed the next day.
When the boat was no longer visible to the mourners, people began to amble back to their horses, heading back to the castle to continue on with their lives. Arthur stood like a statue on the shore, his boots discarded and trousers rolled up, the water crashing over his bare feet. He kept wishing that, if he stood here long enough, Merlin would row back and see his king like a beacon of light in the darkest hour.
Eventually, Arthur was forced to leave the lake and return to Camelot. Hunith came with them, choosing to move to Camelot for the remainder of her life. Arthur offered her a job in the castle, and she accepted without a second thought.
When he was back in his chambers, Gwen in his arms, he closed his eyes and thought of everything he had never told Merlin. He hoped that Merlin knew how lucky Arthur had been to have him in his life for nine years, how much Arthur relied on his servant for support, how he was his rock in troubling times. He hoped that Merlin knew that Arthur trusted him wholeheartedly, that Arthur knew that there would never be another like his friend, and that Merlin was not only his best friend but his brother.
Arthur's biggest regret, though, was that he never told Merlin how much he cared for him.
He wished that Merlin was still alright, still fine.
Just so he could tell him one last time.
It was the first day after Merlin's death that Arthur managed to pull himself from his bed and move on with his life when it happened.
Arthur felt different that morning, as if something was stirring beneath his skin and searching for a way out. It was a tangible warmth on the surface of his mind that moved with his thoughts. It felt alive and familiar. Whatever it was, Arthur knew he had felt it before.
While he prepared himself for the day, the warmth grew until it was crystal-clear, sharp, and defined – something that was atypical in the grand scheme of things. Arthur thought nothing of it though, merely a curious wonder as to what this mysterious feeling was.
He chalked it up to a beginning of some illness.
As he reached for his shirt on his bed, the warmth flared to life, and Arthur felt his flood his chest, embracing the very core of who he was. The warmth gave a tangible pull in the direction of the shirt and overcame any other thought the king held. He tugged back on the warmth, and something sparked.
The shirt flew into Arthur's outstretched hand.
Arthur gasped, the air escaping his lungs fast enough that he had to grab his chest in panic, fearing that he had lost his right to even breathe. When he regulated his breathing pattern, he inhaled the oxygen like it was an antidote to whatever poison he had been tainted with, the only thing he knew to be real.
It had been magic. He had used magic.
He suffered in a stunned silence before turning on his heel and fleeing to the court physician's chambers. Gaius would help him, and Arthur needed it.
He wasn't alright. He wasn't fine.
"Magic?" Gaius questioned, raising an eyebrow in mystification. "Are you sure, Sire?"
For the second time that morning, Arthur summoned the warmth to the forefront of his mind. A glass vial whizzed across the room and into his open and waiting palm. Gaius let out a gasp of surprise, and his eyes widened to a point Arthur wasn't sure was natural.
"H-How?" the physician asked.
"I don't know!" Arthur was at a loss for words, his thoughts flowing so fast that he couldn't process them. "I… It happened this morning! I just woke up and…" Horror struck him. "Gaius, am I becoming like Morgana? Am I turning evil?"
Gaius sighed. "No, Arthur."
"Then—"Arthur had no time to form a coherent sentence when Gaius tipped over a goblet of water, the mess cascading towards the ground. The king reached out on instinct, and he felt the warmth surge through his chest.
The water froze mid-air.
Arthur opened his mouth in shock, and Gaius shook his head in disbelief. "How is this…?"
"I am like Morgana, aren't I?"
Gaius sighed and seated himself across from Arthur on the wooden bench. "You are not like Morgana; her magic isn't like this… In fact… I've only ever seen one case like yours." Tears pricked in the corners of Gaiu's eyes. "Your magic is intuitive… It comes naturally to you, like you were born with it."
Arthur struggled to make sense of the older man's words. "But I wasn't born with it, Gaius. I was born of it." The king paused. "Could that be why…?"
Gaius ignored him. "Did this start before or after Merlin's death?"
The question was so sudden, and Arthur couldn't keep up with Gaius's mindset. "After. I told you – it just started now… What does M-Merlin have to do with this anyway?"
Gaius disappeared into M-Merlin's old chambers and came out with a leather-bound book, its pages crinkled and yellowed with age. He handed it to Arthur who took it gently into his arms. He opened it and studied a random page with interest.
"Can you read the language?"
"Yes…" Arthur raised his eyes to meet Gaius's curious gaze. "What is it?"
"It is the tongue of the Old Religion; all sorcerers are born with the Old Religion as a part of them," Gaius explained, placing a hand atop Arthur's shaky ones. "They are born with the knowledge, Arthur."
"They aren't born with magic, though," Arthur said, "That's not possible."
"All sorcerers are born with the potential to study and practice magic, Sire," Gaius confessed. "But there is only one person who has ever been born with magic."
"I… I don't believe you can be born evil," Arthur said after a short pause. "They'd have no choice about the matter… They didn't choose to be born with magic. How… Does it just corrupt them, then?"
"It proves that magic isn't inherently evil." Gaius sighed, and Arthur could see the faint gleam of tears covering his eyes. "It shows that it isn't the power that is evil, Arthur, but the person who uses it."
"B-But…" Arthur's world had become slippery. This was contradicting everything he had ever been taught about magic.
"I think you'd understand if you listened to a certain story that is long overdue."
"No offense, Gaius," Arthur responded, raising an eyebrow in confusion, "But I don't think a story will help my situation at all."
"It will if you know who it's about. The Druids call this person Emrys."
"What does this Emrys have to do with me?"
"You have his magic."
"How do I have Emrys' magic?" Arthur asked in shock.
Gaius chuckled. "Because, my boy, you both are two halves of the same coin. His magic had to go somewhere; it's the only logical explanation."
Arthur was afraid to ask, but he did so nonetheless. "…Who is Emrys?"
"Merlin, my Lord, and it's about time you heard the truth."
Arthur learned his first spell that night. He had resigned himself to his chambers, Gwen at his side with Merlin's magic book between them. Arthur had found a particular spell he wished to experiment with, and so, with Gwen's nod of encouragement, he held his hand out, palm up, and extended his fingers.
Amidst the confusion and emotions swirling through his head, Arthur took a deep breath, feeling the magic tingling beneath his skin, and said with a strong voice, "Forbærnen."
A single flame arose in his hand, and Arthur nearly fell off the bed in surprise. He could feel its warmth; it felt safe and protected. Gwen smiled in awe as she watched her husband inspect his first act of magic. Arthur just stared at it. He was trembling – from excitement or exhaustion, he wasn't sure – but he knew that what he had just witnessed had changed his entire outlook in life.
Magic wasn't evil.
Magic was good.
For the first time since Merlin died, everything was as it should be.
By the end of the week, Arthur had repealed the ban on magic.
Everything was alright.
He never heard a word from Morgana again.
Everything would be fine.
Nine months after first discovering he had inherited Merlin's magic, Arthur found himself perched on the edge of the battlements overlooking Camelot. He had left Gwen sleeping soundly in their chambers with their newborn son, Amhar, curled up beside her.
He watched the golden sun slowly fall down the cloudless blue sky, seeming to immerse itself behind the Darkling Woods. The atmosphere around him started to darken as the sky was stained a navy blue. A cool breeze ruffled his golden fringe, and Arthur smiled to himself. Glancing out at the sky – he shook his head and chuckled.
"I know you're here, Merlin," Arthur announced to the world. "I'm sorry it took me so long to notice it… You can't blame me. I had to deal with getting your bloody magic and repealing the ban as well as watching out for any sign of Morgana… Then Guinevere got pregnant and…" He sighed. "I have a son, Merlin… Can you believe it? Me, a father!"
Arthur took a deep breath before continuing. "You know… When I first realized what you had done, leaving me your magic and everything… All I could think was 'how dare you? How dare you do this to me...?' I didn't understand anything anymore, Merlin… All I knew was that you were an idiot… Practicing magic to protect me… In Camelot of all places!" Arthur threw his hands up with exasperation.
He laughed lightly to himself before exhaling heavily. "You asked me… You made me promise to forgive you for whatever it was that you thought was so bad that it would ruin the bond between us… That it'd be alright, no matter what it was. I said I would, and I stand by that, Merlin. You have to realize something, though. You were wrong. I wasn't angry about the magic, Merlin; it was the lies… The years and years of lies!" Arthur lowered his gaze to his hands. "Then you had the nerve to die on me before you could tell me the truth yourself!
"I-I never said you could die, Merlin. Remember, I'm the King. You have to do what I tell you. I… I never said you could die, but then again… You never listened to me… And on top of everything, you left me with your magic! Magic, Merlin!" He buried his face in his hands. "I was so scared those first few weeks; I didn't know which way was up and which way was down. But, Gaius… Gaius helped me, like he helped you.
"You… There's something I really need to tell you. After everything I've been through, I know now. Everything you've done – I know now – for me, for Camelot, for the kingdom you helped me build. I want to say something I've never said to you before." Arthur took a deep breath and looked up at the dark canvas above him, sparkling with millions of stars. "Thank you."
Arthur made a move to leave but paused. "And Merlin, for what it's worth, I forgive you – for the lies – even though there never really was anything to forgive. I just… I need you to promise me something now. That… That it'll be alright. That everything'll be fine."
With that said, Arthur turned on his heel and walked away, having said everything he had needed.
He never saw the way the stars brightened, as if they were smiling down upon him.
Everything would be alright. Everything would be fine.
The years passed.
Albion was united, and the land entered its Golden Age. Magic flourished, and sorcerers were accepted rather than hunted.
As time passed, however, Arthur discovered that he never aged. He stayed the young and strong warrior he was in the prime years of his kingship. After a tentative talk on Gaius's deathbed, Arthur learned that Emrys meant immortal. Merlin was Emrys. Emrys was magic itself. Arthur had Merlin's magic.
Arthur was immortal.
So, as time passed, Arthur used spells to change his appearance to appear a little older and a little more frayed. When Guinevere passed, Arthur handed Camelot over to Amhar and stepped into the shadows. The Pendragon lineage continued, and the centuries took their toll on the once beautiful kingdom. Wars tore her apart, and the bloodstains became a permanent fixture. Arthur watched civilizations rise and fall, technology advance at an alarming rate, and people survive and die.
The years passed, and Arthur waited.
He knew what he was waiting for – the return of the Golden Age – the age of the Once and Future King. Arthur was well aware of the fact that he was the Once and Future King, but Arthur also knew he was nothing without Emrys.
And Emrys was nothing without his magic, so, for now, Arthur was safeguarding it for him – until Merlin returned.
Occasionally, Arthur would grow bitter, such as when he saw a pair of eyes that were exactly the same shade as his old friend. He would become angered and shout to the sky, "You left me! You left me alone! You need to come back! I need you! I… I can't do this. I'm scared, Merlin. I need you." Eventually, his tone would soften until it became more of a plea instead of a demand. "I need you, Merlin."
Every day, Arthur would remember the dark-haired servant who had wormed his way into the life of an arrogant and supercilious Prince. The same person who had come his closest friend, the brother he never had. He would remember those bright, blue eyes that always sparkled when Merlin laughed. He would remember that contagious full-tooth grin that made him smile no matter what the situation.
Sometimes, Arthur could swear he wasn't just remembering. Sometimes, he swore that his friend was right beside him, remembering along with him.
"You've been gone for so long," Arthur would muse, "You died in my arms, but you never really left, did you? It's like you told Guinevere. You've been with me all this time. You never really… went away…"
During those times, the wind would ruffle Arthur's hair, imitating Merlin's laugh.
It reminded Arthur that, while everything wasn't alright then, it would be fine later on.
Arthur waited a thousand and a half years.
Two figures watched from the lake as Arthur strolled aimlessly down the street, noticing that he had switched back to his younger self. The younger man smiled to himself, wishing that that his friend could see him, but, alas, no one could.
The two figures stood side-by-side – obviously related. The younger one was around the same age as Arthur. He was taller than his companion with shorter hair and bright, azure eyes. The older man had longer, raven-colored hair and a pale complexion. The younger man gazed up at the elder one with unbridled excitement; his father placed a firm hand on his son's shoulder and nodded in understanding.
"It's almost time, Merlin," he said, eyes still following the path that Arthur had traveled.
"That's why he changed back," Merlin announced, smiling brightly. His eyes danced with a renewed youth that he had lost after the many burdens he carried back in Camelot. "Arthur's not always an idiot. He knows it. He can feel it."
Balinor nodded and ruffled his son's dark hair. "Two sides of the same coin."
"Do you think he knows that we're all coming back?" Merlin questioned. "So he doesn't have to be alone anymore?" Merlin looked at his father with the innocence only a child could manage.
Balinor grinned. "We'll just have to surprise him, won't we?"
"I think he knows," Merlin said, his voice trailing off. "He knows that it's almost time. He won't have to be alone anymore."
When they could no longer see Arthur, Balinor slung an arm around his son, and they faded away in the mists of the Lake of Avalon. As quick as they had come, like ghosts in the night, the father and son disappeared, but before Merlin vanished, he cast a fleeting glance over his shoulder.
Arthur was a speck in the distance, but Merlin knew he'd see his friend very soon.
Everything would be alright.
Everything would be fine.
"No, I won't turn and run.
This battle will be won.
When I've done all I can."