I had a little break from school and I was feeling particularly inspired, so I managed to write one of the stories I was planning.
This one-shot is an AU to 4x06. The mercenaries don't find Merlin and Arthur, and they're not separated by the rock fall. But Morgana doesn't capture Merlin and doesn't heal his wound.
Rated T for character deaths. Reveal!fic. No slash. Some Arthur/Gwen and Merlin/Freya. Mentions of Gilli/Sefa (blame Adelina Le Morte March for this new ship!)
Thanks to my beta Lolaangelbunn. She's amazing.
Thanks to AlxM for her support, too. She helped me a lot!
Thanks to Turnabout Writer for being always there for me when I need her. That girl is fantastic.
DISCLAIMER: Merlin belongs to BBC Network. I only own my ideas and my stupid brain.
I hope you'll like it!
"A night's rest and you'll be polishing my armor. They could definitely do with a scrub," Arthur joked, panting from the fatigue of having to support a half-limp and injured Merlin.
He eased Merlin down against a fallen log and took off his glove to check Merlin's wound. The young servant looked at his chest and up at Arthur, his eyes asking a silent question to which he already knew the answer.
Arthur looked up at the sky, trying to hide his wet eyes. The left half of Merlin's chest was covered in a big purple bruise, with five puncture wounds in the center, blood oozing out slowly, but constantly. "I've seen worse. I've definitely seen worse."
It wasn't a lie. Merlin's wound wasn't necessarily fatal, but it could be if not treated soon.
"On a dead man?" the warlock joked. After many years of being the physician's ward, he had seen a fair amount of wounds, and he understood the severity of his condition.
Arthur carefully covered the wound. "You're not going to die, Merlin. Don't be such a coward."
The real danger wasn't the blood loss, and it wouldn't be for some time, but the king feared that the wound might get infected if kept without treatment. And he knew that Merlin had some bruised ribs-maybe broken ones, too.
And that wasn't good.
That wasn't good at all.
Merlin wasn't stupid. He understood his master's fear, for he had felt the same weight on his stomach every time the king got hurt. He tried with all his might to cover the pain he was feeling with their usual banter.
"If I do die, will you call me a hero?"
How could Arthur admit that he thought of his manservant as a hero already?
The young man scowled. "But whilst I'm still alive, I'm a coward?"
Arthur hid the fear he was feeling under his mockingly serious tone. "That's the way these things work, I'm afraid. You get the glory when you're not around to appreciate it."
Merlin feigned annoyance, casting a sideways glance to the blonde knight. "Well... Unless you're the king..."
"Come on, it's got to have some advantages," Arthur replied, trying not to roll his eyes at his servant's antics.
"You have a very good servant," the warlock joked, almost laughing. But his smile fell when the movement caused his wound to throb painfully, and he tried to calm down his racing heart by inhaling and exhaling slowly.
His movements didn't pass unnoticed by the king, who sobered quickly. "You're right, I do. A servant who's extremely brave. And incredibly loyal, to be honest. Not at all cowardly," he said, diverting his eyes soon after.
They shared a look that seemed to communicate everything they couldn't say. Merlin knew how hard it must have been for Arthur to open his heart, but he also understood that the king didn't regret doing it.
"Thank you for saving my life," he said quickly, trying to interrupt the tension.
The blonde swallowed. "You'd do the same for me", he said. "Come on, we need to rest. We have to leave for Camelot at first dawn."
Arthur woke up to the sound of birds chirping and to the light of the dawning sun. He looked over at Merlin, still lying on the ground in pain. He took a moment to listen to any eventual sign of bandits in their surroundings, and once sure that the way was clear, he got up. He helped Merlin on his feet, draping the servant's right arm over his shoulders to support his weight.
"Come on. We need to keep going."
They walked for what seemed like years, when Arthur heard a twig snapping and ducked behind a bush, covering Merlin's mouth with his hand, while the other appendage flew to his sword's hilt. The sound of heavy footsteps neared and they both stiffened in tension.
The mercenaries were still searching for them, most likely obeying to Morgana's orders. One of the burly men stabbed his sword in the bush where Arthur and Merlin were hiding. It scraped the king's arm, but they managed to stay silent and the mercenaries, disappointed, went away to continue their research.
Arthur waited until the only noise heard was his and Merlin's heavy breathing, and he relaxed, removing his hand from Merlin's mouth.
The servant looked at his master's arm, where a tiny patch of blood was visible. "Are you alright?"
The king scoffed. "It's just a scratch."
Yeah, leave it to Merlin to be concerned about someone else when he himself was severely injured. "Can you walk?"
Merlin shifted, hissing when the movement jostled his wound. "Yeah, I think so. But you'll have to help me."
The king got up, gently helping the servant on his feet. "You do realize that I'm the king and that I shouldn't have to help you, don't you?"
Merlin grinned. "If you want to leave me here, no one's stopping you. Just remember that my ghost will come back to haunt you until the end of your days," he joked, leaning on his master's shoulder.
"Well, we better arrive in Camelot soon, then. Wouldn't want an idiot's ghost to annoy my people to death," the king said, shifting to better hold the young man, and beginning to walk.
Merlin let out an overly dramatic sigh, shaking his head in mock sadness. "I was sure you were fond of my lovely chatter."
"I'm fond of your 'lovely' chatter as I'm fond of a stomach bug," Arthur replied, the angles of his mouth twitching, trying not to laugh.
Merlin smirked. "Oh, you really must love stomach bugs, then."
The king rolled his eyes. "You're delusional, Merlin. As your master, I order you to..."
"...Shut up?" the warlock continued, grinning.
Arthur had a smug smile, but his eyes were far away. "See? You're learning."
It had been so easy to fall into their old banter, that he had almost forgotten his friend's condition. He just hoped they would make it to Camelot in time.
They had been walking for hours without stopping, when Merlin fell. Arthur would have laughed, if it wasn't that the servant hadn't tripped. His legs couldn't handle his weight anymore. The warlock was weakening fast, and they both knew it.
"Should we stop, Merlin? Are you tired?"
Merlin raised himself unsteadily on his feet, shaking his head. "Not here. There's a place, not far away, where we can rest. There's a lake and we can refresh ourselves, it's safe and it will keep us hidden."
Arthur nodded and, following his manservant's indications, he found himself in a big clearing with a beautiful lake in the the middle. The tall mountains in the background framed the crystal clear water, giving a sacred air to the place.
His reverie was interrupted by Merlin's weak but slightly perky voice. "You should close your mouth, sire. You'll catch flies."
"How did you know this place?" the king asked, arranging Merlin against a tree in the most comfortable way possible.
"It was a very important place to someone I once knew. It's stunning, isn't it?" the warlock answered with a reminiscent smile and faraway eyes.
"Yeah," the blonde murmured, replenishing his almost empty water flask. He took a handful of water in his hands and splashed it on his face, trying to gather his thoughts.
Just how many things did he not know about his servant?
About his friend?
It was useless not to admit their friendship now, even to himself. But how could a friendship as strong as theirs be based on so many secrets? He had always known that Merlin was hiding something, since the first time they had met. He had just taken for granted that one day his young servant would open up to him. He had been wrong, and now it could be too late.
He removed his armor to be more at ease, and sat down near Merlin, still musing. He glanced at his friend, who had his eyes closed and was panting slightly. He was pale and shivering, and Arthur hadn't missed the increasing heat of his skin or the rattling sound of his breathing. He was ill, probably due to an infection. The king removed his cloak and covered the trembling man with it. Merlin opened his eyes, startled, and looked at him with questioning eyes, glassy with fever.
"There's something about you, Merlin. I just can't quite put my finger on it," he said. How many times had he said that?
"You never fathomed me out?" the warlock replied tentatively.
"No. There's something more. What are you hiding, Merlin?" the king asked, more to himself than anyone else.
He didn't expect an answer. Seriously, he didn't. That's why he was so surprised when Merlin, more focused now and with an air of determination around him, raised his head and locked eyes with him, the calm blue of the sky meeting the tempestuous one of the sea. "Do you really want to know that, Arthur Pendragon?"
The seriousness of the question scared him. But he had to take advantage of the moment, or he might never have the chance to know this strange man's secret. He nodded slowly, making his decision known.
Merlin lowered his gaze and sighed, resigned. He took a heavy breath and met the king's eyes again.
"Do you ever wonder about what would have happened had you done something differently in your past? I mean... Would your life be better or worse than how it's now?", he began. "Every time I ask myself that question, I always end up with the same answer: it's no use, those things have already happened. But sometimes, at night, when I can't sleep, I find myself thinking about my wrong choices and where they led me."
He sighed again. "What I... What I want to say is... It's hard. All my life, I've had to hide my true self. I've been treated as an unworthy, incapable and mindless fool. I've had to live between people who would call themselves my friends and yet, if they knew what I was hiding, they could choose to betray me at any moment. I don't easily give myself away, or give someone my complete trust. And then there are those who I trust with my life, and yet they don't know my secret. You are one of them, Arthur."
The king shook his head. "I'm not following you. What is this all about, Merlin?"
The warlock diverted his eyes. "I want to know if I can trust you with my secret. It's not that I'm scared of what might happen to me. I'm afraid of what you would think of me."
"Nothing could change the opinion I have of you, Merlin. You're the bravest man I've met in my whole life," Arthur replied, his heart holding no doubts.
"And that's where you're wrong, Arthur. I'm nothing but a coward. Always hiding behind the mask of someone who isn't me. Right now I want you to think about me not as a servant, not as a friend, not as a coward. I want you to see me as what I am. I'm just a man who's scared of losing everything just because of who he truly is. I want you to see me as who I really am," Merlin said. He looked at the sky closing his eyes.
"Arthur... I am a sorcerer," he finished, opening his golden eyes and creating a tiny flame in his hand. "I have magic."
The king gasped, backing away. He stared at the newly-discovered warlock, studying him. The young man was playing with fire, both literally and metaphorically.
"Why?" he asked, his voice breaking.
The servant locked eyes with him, gold turning back into blue, his hand closing itself in a fist.
"I was born like this, Arthur. Magic is part of me, as I'm a part of magic. I haven't chosen to be like this, I'm not that stupid. Who would ever want to be a sorcerer in a place where magic is outlawed? I always thought that my abilities were a curse, but now I know that they're a gift. I've been gifted with something wonderful, a power I can't even begin to understand. I can create and destroy things as I wish. I've been given a choice, and I've chosen to use my gifts for good, to protect what I hold dear. I chose to protect Camelot, my home, and my king. You, Arthur. You're the reason why I haven't left Camelot," Merlin explained, his expression showing the utmost seriousness.
Arthur was confused, shocked, but not angry or scared. This man was still Merlin, after all. "Me? Why me?"
The warlock chuckled and then winced.
"Destiny," he answered simply.
"Destiny? So if Camelot fell, it wouldn't mean anything to you?" Arthur asked, frowning.
Merlin shook his head, a soft smile forming on his lips. "I meant that it started with destiny and prophecies. And see where it's brought me. See where it's brought us. Camelot has become my home, where I have a family and friends. I've never been as happy as I am since I live in Camelot."
"I... I understand. You said you were... protecting Camelot. Protecting me. How is that?" the blonde inquired, still keeping his distance, but letting himself relax slightly.
Merlin tilted his head to the side and grinned, before launching himself in a tale of destinies and prophecies, warlocks and witches, kings and queens, dragons and wyverns, joy and sorrow, smiles and tears.
The king listened carefully, his mind overflowing with informations and his heart throbbing for the man in front of him, who had vowed his whole life to help him to become the long prophesied king of Albion. How could he get angry? Merlin was half-dead, leaning heavily on a tree, and still he obeyed his orders of telling him everything.
At the end of the longest story he had ever heard, Arthur closed the gap between him and the man that now, more than ever, was his brother, enveloping him in a hug. "I'm sorry, Merlin. For everything I've said, everything I've done. I hope you'll forgive me, one day."
Merlin freed himself gently. "There's nothing to forgive. A wise friend of mine once told me that 'a half cannot truly hate what makes it whole'. I have never heard truer words," the warlock said chuckling, but stopped when he felt his chest throb.
"I guess this friend of yours was right. I wish to thank you for everything you've done for me and for Camelot. For the kingdom you helped me build," the king continued, not missing his friend's pained expression.
"You could have done without me," the servant joked, fighting to keep his eyes open.
Arthur put a hand on Merlin's chest, feeling his heart beating unevenly under his fingers, fluttering like the wings of a newborn bird. "Maybe... But I'm glad that you helped me. I'm glad that I got to know you."
Merlin leaned on Arthur, his head falling on the king's shoulder while his eyes slipped close. "I'm glad, too. Thank you."
The king glanced down at his friend's ashen face, while silent tears streamed down his face. He tried to keep Merlin awake. "Why did you chose this place?"
"I told you. This place was dear to someone I loved," the servant answered.
"Who?" the king asked, even if he already had an idea, after hearing the warlock's story.
"Freya. She's waiting for me, in Avalon. I can finally be with her," Merlin said softly, a dreamy smile on his bloodless face.
"You're... You're not going to die, Merlin. I forbid it," Arthur ordered, his voice shaking, betraying him.
"I'm sorry, Arthur. I never do as I'm told," the servant replied, grinning weakly. He opened his eyes, blinking tiredly, and murmured something.
Arthur watched in awe as his friend's eyes flashed gold and a familiar-looking ball of light appeared in front of them, floating just above the lake's waters.
"Don't I know it?" he said, voice thick with tears.
Merlin smiled, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. His chest stilled, and his slight frame relaxed against the warm body of his king.
The blue light faded and Arthur's breath hitched as he took in what just happened: Merlin was gone. Forever.
He embraced his young friend's body and sobbed quietly, stroking the dark mop of hair in a brotherly fashion. He stayed like that for what felt like centuries, before getting up and wiping away his tears. He looked at Merlin's face: he seemed so young. He reminded him of a sleeping child.
The king gathered his servant in his arms and walked towards the lake, placing the young man in a boat he found near the shore. Merlin was still covered in the king's red cloak. Arthur adjusted the body in a more comfortable position, even if Merlin couldn't feel it.
He placed a hand on his friend's forehead and sobbed, looking up at the sky.
He hadn't noticed that the night had fallen. It wasn't dark, though, for the sun was beginning to dawn. He stepped back, and he was about to push the boat towards the center of the lake when an unfamiliar hand placed itself on his shoulder. He glanced at the new arrival, startled, and was surprised when he met the warm brown eyes of a beautiful young woman dressed in white.
She looked down at Merlin, a loving yet sad smile finding its way to her face.
"You'd think he was sleeping, seeing him like this. I haven't seen him so peaceful in a long time," she said, caressing the warlock's cheek tenderly.
Arthur swallowed the lump in his throat. "You'll take care of him, won't you?"
The Lady of the Lake looked up at him again and smiled. "Of course I will. I promised him one day I'd repay him. He saved me, making me feel loved for the first time in years. Now it's my turn to take care of him."
He gave her a watery smile. "I know he'll be in good hands."
She nodded and turned away, but Arthur stopped her, taking grasp her arm. "I'm sorry, Freya. I... I killed you, I'm sorry."
The young woman smiled and shook her head. "You have nothing to be sorry for, my king. It is I who should be sorry: I caused the death of many people. You just freed me of my curse. Thank you."
He kissed her hand and bowed. She curtsied in return and turned away. With a flash of her eyes, Merlin's boat was pushed gently towards the center of the lake. Just as the sun was rising above the mountains, she followed her lover.
Arthur had to protect his eyes from the blinding light of the rising sun, and when he was able to open them again, all he could see was the beautiful landscape of a lake surrounded by tall mountains. He smiled and exited the waters, making his way to Camelot.
To his home.
It had taken less than five hours for him to reach Camelot. The king was met by the cheers of his people and the concerned glances of his guards. He ignored them, and walked straight towards the two figures waiting for him in front of the castle's doors.
Gaius knew, as soon as he saw him, that his beloved ward, his son, wasn't anymore in the world of the living. He bowed quickly and walked as fast as he could towards his chambers, to grieve in solitude.
Guinevere was a completely different matter. She understood that something bad had happened, what with the king's red and puffy eyes and the physician's quick retreat. She probably knew even what had happened, but she just didn't want to acknowledge it.
He took her hands in his and met her scared eyes. "Guinevere... I'm sorry. I failed you. I failed him. Merlin's gone."
He saw tears gather in her beautiful eyes and he felt her hands leave his as they came up to cover her mouth, trying to stifle away the sobs that wracked her petite frame. She shook her head in denial, her eyes wide. "No... Not him. Why him?"
And he had to be the strong one, even if he felt as strong as a withering leaf. He hugged her tightly.
"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry," he whispered, trying to hide his tears into her hair.
They didn't care if people were staring and pointing at them. They didn't care about anything. It was just them and their grief. Nothing else existed.
Arthur had climbed slowly the stairs that led to his chambers. He had thrown himself on the bed after getting rid of his armor and he had fallen asleep with tear-stained cheeks soon after.
He woke up at the voice of his new servant, George, who was announcing him his breakfast's arrival. For a moment there, Arthur had thought that those sticking-out ears and that red neckerchief were indicators of his friend's presence and wellness. His hope had been short-lived, though, because Merlin would have never made a joke about brass.
Arthur reached the council chambers where he had planned a meeting with the original Round Table, and sat down, trying not to look at the vacant seat near him.
They were all staring at him. Gwaine was probably hopelessly drunk, but his eyes held a certain angered glint that didn't please the king. At all.
He inhaled slowly. "As most of you already know, a few days ago our secret patrol was surprised by Morgana's mercenaries. We managed to hold them off, but we suffered some casualties," he began.
"And today I'm here to honor the life of the man who has lived and died for Camelot with a constant smile in his face. In his honor, I want to repeal the ban on magic. I want magic to be free as it was before the Great Purge."
Every occupant of the room gasped in surprise. The king raised his hand, not wanting to be interrupted.
"I've always been led to believe that magic was evil and dangerous, but I was wrong. There is nothing in this world that is inherently good or evil, aside from the very nature of men. And magic is not different: it's just a tool in the hands of men, and it's their choice if they want to use it for good or not. Today, I want to announce that every magic user will not have to be afraid of anything, as they will be considered equals to everyone else. I have gathered this meeting to know your opinions, but by no means I will change my choice. Tell me, what do you think?"
Everyone sat stunned for a couple of minutes, but then Gaius stood up. "Sire, I believe yours to be a wise choice. I have lived in a time when magic was considered as a gift, and I myself used to practice it. The persecution against the magical community has led to suffering and losses on both parts."
He paused, his gaze intense. "Arthur, I'm proud of calling you my king. I'm sure that Merlin would be, too," he said, bowing, with a soft smile on his face.
Gwen was next, and took the king's hand in hers while speaking. "I've seen the evils of magic many times already. I grew up fearing it, and I continue to fear it now. But I know that if someone has a good heart, no matter what abilities they have, they would do no harm. I believe in you, Arthur. If you think that repealing the ban won't harm us or Camelot, I trust your judgement."
One by one, they all stood up.
Elyan said that he trusted his king's and future queen's judgement, not to mention that they were his friend and sister and he would have followed them to the gates of hell itself.
Percival explained that, having lived near a Druid's camp, he had grown to admire magic and to accept it.
Leon, who grew up in Camelot, said that he always feared magic, but after being healed by the Druids with the Cup of Life, he had begun to have doubts.
Gwaine, who no longer seemed to be on the verge of killing him, smiled slightly and explained that, having travelled a lot, he had seen both the goods and evils of magic and considered it no more than a tool.
Arthur smiled, his heart warming at their words. They all agreed with him and had sworn their loyalty to him. And while he tightened his grip on Guinevere's hand, his smile got wider, knowing that a certain friend of his would be overjoyed could he be there.
After the repeal of the ban on magic, Arthur had been busier than ever. He had to send messages to his allies and he had to explain to the rest of his people his motives, and he hadn't had the chance to stop for a minute.
That was why, after an overtiring week of work, he was alone near the balcony of the tallest tower in Camelot, admiring his kingdom's beauty. The calm of the moment was interrupted by a strong hand on his shoulder. He had to stop himself from jumping, turning to face the new arrival. "Gwaine," he greeted.
The tavern-loving knight grinned. "Hello, princess. Enjoining the view, are we?"
He turned again, smiling. "Camelot is in its greatest days."
"Yeah, it is. And that is thanks to you and Merlin. You know, he would be proud of you," he said, seriously, but then a grin found its way on his face. "And then you'd act like the princess you are and he'd call you 'a prat'," he joked, laughing. But he sobered quickly. "You know what? I miss him. Sometimes I see something he would have found funny, and when I think about telling him, I remember he no longer is with us," he continued, sighing. "And I know you miss him, too. You may act as strong as you like, but I know you're the one who misses him the most. Am I wrong?"
Arthur nodded, his eyes far away. "No, you're right. I do miss him. Every day I wake up, waiting to hear the noise of someone tripping over their own feet; waiting to be blinded by the sudden light coming from the window; waiting to hear someone shouting 'rise and shine!' or 'let's have you lazy daisy!'. And every day, I have to bear with the disappointment of not seeing him shuffling around in my chambers. It's really hard. But then I think that he's fine, that he's happy, that he's been reunited with everyone he loved, and I can't help but feel selfish. And then I smile, thinking that, as you said, he'd have called me 'a prat' could he hear me."
He sighed, shaking his head. "It's been just a week. A week, and the world already seems to have lost all its colors. Will this... weight at the pit of my stomach ever go away?"
"That's called grief, princess," Gwaine joked, as if he was explaining something to a child.
Arthur scowled, throwing his hands in the air. "Yes, thank you, Gwaine," he said, shaking his head. "I meant... After my father's death I was broken and depressed, but this is different. Gaius says it's because we're 'two sides of the same coin', because our souls are bound. Is that so? Or am I just grieving for the friend I lost, the constant companion of my happiest days?"
Gwaine thought about it for a moment, and then he gripped the king's shoulder.
"I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff. That's why the pain never goes away, because friendship is the strongest bond. Stronger than the one you have with your family, because you have the chance to choose your friends. Stronger than love, because a lover may betray you, while a friend will always stay by your side. The pain will never go away, but you'll learn to live with it," he explained. They stayed there, watching Camelot,until Gwaine turned back. "C'mon, princess. We have some knights to train. Wouldn't want you to get fatter than you already are."
Arthur laughed, chasing after his friend. "I'm not fat!"
A year had passed, and it seemed that Camelot really was in its happiest days.
Morgana had disappeared short after the return of magic back to Camelot. Someone said she was trying to bring the Isle of the Blessed back to its old greatness. And someone said that the witch, seeing the people's happiness, had given up on 'her rightful place on the throne'. And someone said she had died saving a child from a Questing Beast. But those were just rumors. Camelot didn't hear of the last High Priestess ever again.
Arthur had appointed as the Court Sorcerer a young man, whose name was Gilli, an old friend of Merlin's. Someone said he was in a relationship with the queen's maidservant, Sefa. But those were just rumors.
Agravaine had escaped, and the king hadn't bothered with following his treacherous uncle.
Gaius had contacted the Great Dragon, Kilgharrah, and the young one, Aithusa, and he had referred that the creatures had pledged their loyalty to Camelot and to its king.
Five months after Morgana's disappearance, and almost six months after the lifting of the ban on magic, the great King Arthur had married the Lady Guinevere, a beautiful and clever young woman who used to be a lowly servant. Not soon after, the kingdom was blessed with the birth of the heir to the throne, Prince Amhar, who was the joy of the two royals.
The news of a newborn dragon had reached Camelot, and Arthur had been overjoyed at seeing the little and clumsy blue creature learning to fly and to breathe fire. The king himself had acted as a catalyst for the dragon to be born, being the other side of the late dragonlord's soul. Someone said that the prince, Amhar, had inherited his father's friend's powers as a dragonlord. But those, too, were just rumors.
Many years had passed since the Great Purge, and now, sorcerers and Druids alike lived in harmony with peasants and nobles. Albion was reunited, and someone called it the 'United Kingdoms'. The long-prophesied Golden Age had become reality, thanks to the incessant work of a young clumsy warlock and his king.
The latter of whom, the great king Arthur, was now lying in his bed, in his late fifties, with a soft smile on his face. Queen Guinevere was holding his right hand, sobbing her heart out. Alongside her was the Crown Prince, who was crying silent tears. Arthur's faithful knights were standing at the foot of his bed, their eyes wet and their expression a mix of respect and sorrow.
The new physician, a young woman he had appointed after Gaius' death, had diagnosed him with pneumonia, and his old body hadn't had the strength to fight it.
He was dying, and they all knew it. But he wasn't sad, because he knew he had accomplished everything he had to, and that his wife and his son would reign over Camelot with wisdom and kindness.
He smiled at all of them for the last time. His eyes grew heavy and slipped close, while his rattling breaths stopped.
His vision was blinded by a bright light, and he found himself in a huge clearing, surrounded by trees. He raised a hand to his face, not finding the wrinkles signaling his old age, but smooth skin. He felt a renewed strength he hadn't felt in ages and smiled at himself.
A voice startled him. "Are you going to stand there, smiling like an idiot to God knows what, for a long time?"
Arthur's head whipped up at the familiar tone, and his gaze was met by the smiling face of his friend. Merlin was dressed with dark blue pants, a white shirt and a red neckerchief (the last particular made him smile). The Lady of the Lake, Freya, was standing on his right side, holding his hand. And behind them were Gaius and Alice, Balinor and Hunith, Will, Ygraine and... was that his father? Uther was smiling, looking happier than ever. And on Merlin's left side was Morgana. The old Morgana, the one he had grown up with. His sister, who was smiling at him.
They were all waiting for him, and Merlin extended his free hand. Arthur took it with tears in his eyes, and hugged his friend tightly. Merlin returned the embrace with the same eagerness, laughing. They released each other, standing the one in front of the other.
"So this is the end, then?" Arthur asked, giving the warlock a watery smile.
Merlin shook his head. "No, you prat," he said fondly, turning away and motioning for him to follow. He turned his head towards him, his grin widening.
"This is just the beginning."
"There is no real ending. It's just the place where you stop the story."