AN: As much as I like to write Merlin fanfics, I don't own this.
So, I've been writing a few drabbles lately. This one's longer, but still kinda short...Hope you like it! Also, I apologize in advance...
The cell seemed to reflect Merlin's feelings of utter despair. No light shone across the grimy gray stone. It was cold and lonely and empty.
Everything he felt.
Sure, Gaius had come to see him and given him one last gift. Merlin had begged the physician not to let Uther know he had known his ward had magic, that he would feign ignorance so that Gaius would not join him on the pyre. But otherwise his night had been devoid of human contact. Even the guards, who had guarded him on multiple occasions, pointedly ignored them. Merlin wondered if they felt made a fool of or even - all the times he had been "falsely" accused of sorcery, which they had laughed with him about, for how could clumsy, kind Merlin be a sorcerer? - now that they knew the truth.
Not even Arthur. Even thinking about the prince made the pain in his chest spike painfully. The image of Arthur's face after he had stopped the dagger meant for the prince with magic in the middle of the feast hall filled his mind with painful clarity. The details were still sharp as glass, he'd been unable to banish them from his mind. How Uther's face had contorted with hate and fury, how Arthur's face had been one of absolute betrayal before his twisted in anger as well and he ordered for Merlin's arrest. And then, of course, Uther's declaration that he would be burnt at the stake.
Apparently, this was what Merlin's destiny had amounted to. For him to be executed in the square and for Arthur to become another Uther.
The warlock wondered if the prince would feel even the slightest bit guilty in the morning and realized what had happened.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps approaching. His head snapped up, and his heart pounded with equal parts anticipation and apprehension. What if it was Gwen, coming to say goodbye despite his magic? What if it was Morgana, coming to revel in his imminent death?
It was Arthur.
The warlock's breathing hitched at the sight of the prince. There was no emotion on his face as he spoke quietly to the guards. They nodded and left.
They were alone.
Merlin suddenly realized that he was trembling. Why was Arthur here? Had he come for an explanation? Had he come just to tell Merlin how much he hated him now?
For a moment, none of them spoke. Then Arthur whispered urgently in a low voice through the bars.
Confused, Merlin looked down at the prince's hand and his eyes widened. The prince was holding the keys to his cell.
"Well?" the prince said impatiently when the warlock didn't respond.
The question came out as a stutter. He suddenly realized Arthur was being quiet and wondered if the king was unaware of what his son was doing. Slowly, he stood from his corner and walked over to the cell door.
He dared to look into the prince's face.
He didn't know what to expect. Hate? Anger? There was none of that. Sure, there was a trace of wariness there, which was understandable. But there was also...concern?
Arthur looked over his shoulder, checking that the guards were still out of hearing range. "I managed to snag these off of one of them, better hurry and take it before they realize."
The warlock felt his throat constrict. "You're...not angry?"
The prince shot him his trademark you idiot look. "Of course I am. But not angry enough to watch you burn. Besides, how are you supposed to answer all my questions if you're dead?"
Merlin was vaguely aware of a burning sensation in his eyes and the weakening in his knees. He was also feeling slightly lightheaded. Arthur didn't hate him.
His face contorted in pain and he leaned his face against the bars.
The warlock sucked in a shaky breath, feeling a sob fighting to escape.
"Merlin, this is no time to get emotional. I'm serious, they might come back any minute."
Merlin shook his head miserably. "Arthur..." His voice was hoarse and filled with pain, both physical and emotional. "I've made a mistake."
"How shocking." The prince's tone was light and somewhat gentler, it was obvious he sensed his former servant's distress. "But you can dwell on it later. C'mon, let's get you out of here."
"Gwen's waiting outside. She's been getting you some supplies, because you'll probably have to stay on the run. My father's convinced you're evil, he doesn't care that you saved my life. If I put in a word for you he'll just write it off as me being enchanted by you. That's why I had to order you to be arrested back there. There's little chance we can change his mind, but...well, we'll figure something out."
He was rambling. Merlin swallowed.
"I thought you'd all hate me...I didn't want to burn..." His voice was pleading, silently asking Arthur to accept this explanation for something he hadn't even realized yet...
Arthur paused in trying to discreetly hand Merlin the keys and wrapped his hands around the bars below Merlin's. His eyes were soft, apparently this blatant display of emotion from the younger man had banished most of his wariness about his magic.
"Don't worry. You won't have to burn. Not if I can help it."
No, Merlin would not burn. This he was already aware of. But Arthur still didn't understand...
The whisper was barely audible, but carried enough urgency to stop the prince looking once more over his shoulder and look at the warlock with even more worry.
Merlin reached out a trembling hand and opened his palm. The object it held made Arthur stagger back in horror, and his eyes flicked upward to the warlock's face.
There was a small smudge at the corner of Merlin's mouth he hadn't noticed before. It matched the black smudges on his hand, which matched the residue in the bottle in it.
The recently emptied bottle of one of Gaius' best, most lethal, incurable poisons.
When the guards returned, they found the prince had slid onto the grimy stone floor, staring blankly at the sightless eyes of the prisoner.