So could I just attend college at Barnes & Noble? All the knowledge I will ever need is in those four walls, and there's also a media section and a Starbucks right in the middle.
For reasons that are just horribly ridiculous and only increase my desire to GET THE FLYING MONKEYS OF OZ OUT OF THIS TOWN ASAP, I had to stay two nights in a hotel fifteen minutes away from where my bed is. Please don't ask. My life is a soap opera. Anyway, there was a B&N not five minutes from the hotel, so all day Thursday, that's where I was. And it was great. Davis, the really tall guy with the chill personality who works in the media section, guarantees that they don't do a thorough sweep of the back room before closing; he thinks that if I can't bribe and/or blackmail the higher-ups to let me refurbish it into my room, I could hide on top of the refrigerator until after everyone leaves. I think Davis is brilliant.
Also, I went to Chicago AND Myrtle Beach within the space of two weeks, and let me just say that big city+ocean=where I belong. Honolulu, here I come. (Someday. Hopefully.) So that's why updates have been slow. Plus my laptop is slowly giving up the ghost, I think.
Sorry about all the babbling. It's been...weird. And this chapter brings up so many feels that I almost cried while writing it. Listening to "Time of Our Lives" by Tyrone Wells probably didn't help the situation any. (Seriously, that guy is such a talented music artist! Why is he not more popular?)
Right. On to the story. Thanks for sticking with me so far, everybody! :)
The fifth time, he did it because Arthur asked.
"Just hold me, please."
The words were whispered into the thick air around them, and they were so soft and so feeble, but they cut Merlin deeper than the first crash of close lightning that had frightened him as a child, deeper than the first scream of terror he'd heard after coming to Camelot, deeper than even the feel of his own magic in this moment, desperate and wild as it was, coursing through his veins like it was grieving.
It was, he realized. It felt the sense of loss immersing them both.
He was finding it harder and harder to breathe, though this—sitting here on the soft grass—was the first real reprieve he'd had in over a day of constant movement and being aware of enemies; he was so very tired, and his body so numb from everything, and he was slowing realizing now that there was no reason to go on. Arthur wasn't even trembling anymore. He was still, so still, and his skin was getting colder every second, and Merlin was struggling just to think rationally beyond the sorrow that was beginning in his soul and spreading.
A gloved hand was patting his own with weak yet frantic assurance, but it wasn't enough to ease the tight pain in his chest. Nothing would ever be enough, after this.
Arthur was breathing slower. His body was relaxing against Merlin. He was getting paler every moment, much like the miserable sky above them. He was letting go.
"There's…something I want to say."
"No." It was too hard to catch his breath; he was exhausted, his strength gone, and yet he was willing to do anything, whatever it took, to stop this from happening, if only it were possible, if only he could make it possible. "You're not going to say goodbye."
"No…Merlin." Two eyes, so blue, weary beyond understanding but somehow still so bright, locked with his and he could not look away or speak at the vibrancy of them in the pale, pale face. "Everything you've done—I know now—for me, for Camelot…for the kingdom you helped me build."
"You'd have done it without me."
The words slipped out with almost humorous irony. How he'd longed for so many years to hear Arthur say it, to acknowledge Merlin's value in just a few words at least, but now that he had, all Merlin wanted was for his king to remember his own strength. He needed him just to survive now—nothing else, not to become a great king, or to learn to accept magic, or to live up to the man Merlin knew he could be. All of that was gone and passed. He didn't need any of it anymore.
He only needed Arthur. That was all. Just Arthur, alive and happy and with him.
Arthur was smiling up at him, his small, choking laugh echoing in Merlin's mind, and something told him to hold onto that sound, because he would need it later and this was the last chance he would have to remember it—Arthur's laugh.
"Maybe," was the king's only answer, neutral and smiling, like it was a joke and they both knew better.
Then those striking blue eyes started to dim, distracted gaze sliding past his Merlin's face into the endless sky above, and he wondered what Arthur was seeing there, what lit up his face with such a strange look. His heart knew the answer already, though. He had glimpsed the gates of Avalon himself, once.
Something shattered inside him as that thought struck, the shards cutting through him as he—or was it his magic?—was still pleading brokenly and desperately for him to stay, in a silent voice deep within him.
"I want to say…something I've never said to you before."
Arthur pulled his eyes away. How? How could he have managed to do that, with the end of his own life reflecting on his face? But Merlin knew the answer to that as well. If he were dying in Arthur's arms, he would find the clarity to keep his attention with him; he would watch him until he could not any longer.
A look of something pure passed across the handsome face as his clear eyes locked on Merlin's once more. That look chased away every shadow of pain, every haunted memory from Camlann and beyond, and even the weariness of unspoken fear that had been marring Arthur's features this past day. It took Merlin all of a moment's time to recognize it for what it was, for all of his own foolish secrets had kept it from Arthur's face before.
He would never forget how it felt to see perfect love, Arthur's perfect love—love for him, for the insignificant little manservant who had lied and hidden so much from him for so long, who had unwillingly abused his king's wholehearted trust by sneaking around him for sometimes-selfish reasons and assuring him otherwise…who had stolen his supper and cheated him out of his money and polished his armor and wrapped his wounds….Merlin, who was also Dragoon and Emrys and so much more…who Arthur recognized now for all that he was. It was him, all of him, that Arthur was seeing in the dim sunlight near Avalon's shore, and he loved him. All of him.
For the first time, they were looking at each other with no pretenses. It was just them, open and unguarded, and for a moment, it was perfect.
He had said it before, so many times, but never like this…never for all the things he did not know as well as those that he did.
A gloved hand touched his raven hair and blue eyes watched just long enough to be certain Merlin understood.
Then Arthur was gone.
The gods—or nature, or destiny, or whatever it was; he did not care now—ensured that he was granted one more look into those stunning eyes…(beautiful eyes, why had he never told Arthur how beautiful his eyes were? Why had he never told Arthur a lot of things…?)…as he begged a near-silent, "Stay with me," but that was all he got—a flutter of pale lashes, a glimpse of fading life—and then the body he held was just that…a body, empty and cold and no longer his warm, vibrant, young king.
He kept his arms tight, never relenting his hold, until Kilgharrah's words sank into his heart when they finally reached Avalon. It seemed, unlike what he had believed such a short time ago, something could tear them apart after all. For all his magic, he really couldn't save him.
He let the body slip out of his arms to the green earth.
I AM still working on more TVITD fics, for you guys who have asked or haven't and are curious. I've been feeling a bit low lately (like everyone does, sometimes, I think), but I'm starting to "wake up" again. :) I hope you're all doing well, and don't forget to look up that song by Tyrone Wells. Next chapter soon!