When Merlin swears to protect him or die at his side, Arthur swallows the lump in his throat, feeling a peculiar warmth curl through him. “You can’t say things like that,” he murmurs wondrously, looking at Merlin next to him, determined and brave and golden in the darkness. “You can’t just. I don’t want anyone to die for me, you idiot.”
They lapse into silence, and the cold winds are howling in their ears. Merlin doesn’t tell him to shut up, doesn’t elbow him roughly and playfully as he might have done on a summer’s day, like it’s another one of his jokes. He knows more than anything else in the world that Merlin means it this time, if the way he straightens to really look at Arthur in the eye is any indication.
“No,” Merlin says finally. “No. You are the King, you are our future.” His eyes look like they’re glowing, fire-bright. “I will die fighting for you, with you.”
Magic swirls about them, a gentle song, and the thrum of Merlin’s power beats steadily like drums, like a requiem. If it were not for the blood on his hands, shadows in the tight line of his smile and Merlin’s great secret open between them now, he would look nothing more than the manservant he is. Harmless Merlin, sweet Merlin, who always meant well and tripped over nothing at all.
But Arthur can sense it now, the way Excalibur roars in answer to the call of Merlin’s magic, the way they both fit against one another like they were made to fight together, warrior and warlock both. It’s unbelievable, Arthur thinks, watching as Merlin stands, unfolding his long limbs shakily. When Merlin thrusts his hands out and calls flames from the air, pulling the wind around them into a maelstrom, it’s clear it’s not the first time he’s done this, and that his power is beyond imagining.
“I am Emrys,” Merlin shouts now to the silence, to their enemies, a taunt and an invitation. Arthur feels a fierce pride flare within him, moved by the passion and loyalty in Merlin’s voice. “Face me, face my king, and know that you will fall!”