Arthur could feel it- that piece of metal. Each breath made it dig just a little bit more into his heart- pushing him slowly towards death.
Merlin was still desperately trying to keep Arthur on his feet. Ironic that Arthur had spent his whole life being told that magic was evil, and here was a sorcerer attempting to save it.
… How many times had he, already?
Distantly, Merlin was rambling. Was it rambling? Or was it legitimate words, and death was starting to steal the King’s understanding of language, and the feeling from his limbs, and the love from his breast, and- and-
And his legs were giving out on him.
“Merlin...” he managed, “not without the horses. We can't, it's too late,” Arthur was leaning on his friend, pointlessly attempting to remain standing, “It's too late,”
Through gritted teeth, his servant hissed, “No-”
“All your magic, Merlin,” Arthur said, attempting to comfort himself just as much, “can't save my life,”
“I can,” Merlin practically begged, “I'm not going to loose you,”
Arthur opened his mouth to retort, but his legs had finally given up on him. He collapsed, half falling into Merlin. The sorcerer was attempting to pull him up again, but Arthur just gripped his friend's hand, “Just...” he said, leaning his head onto Merlin's arm, “Just hold me... Please. There's something I want to say,”
And Merlin- godforsaken, stupid, stubborn, wonderful Merlin hisseed, “You're not going to say goodbye-”
“No, Merlin... Everything you've done. I know now- For me, for Camelot, for the kingdom you helped me build...” he was losing feeling in everything, darkness enveloping his world. Arthur was glad that he was withMerlin in his last moments.
Merlin looked ready to burst into tears. He was remarkably beautiful with the sunlight in his hair. He was remarkably beautiful all the time, actually. How had it taken Arthur this long to notice it? Had he always noticed it, but never been willing to say it, even to himself? “You'd have done it without me,”
“Maybe...” Arthur muttered, then looked up at his friend, “I want to say something I've never said to you before...” the king reached up, putting his hand on the side of Merlin's face. It caused every muscle in his body to burn with the excursion, “Thank you...” he said softly, letting his body give way, and fell into the darkness.
It was like falling through water. His cloak surrounded him, and he fell.
Wasn’t he supposed to be going the other way?
Oh God, was this Purgatory?
Panic had begun to set in when Arthur felt something around his ankle. He kicked at it, at his ankle, and realized he was underwater. He could see light above him, and he was on the bottom of a lake. (Lake Avalon?) And his lungs were beginning to burn. Placing his foot on the bottom of this body of water, Arthur pushed off with all his strength. Whatever had been wrapped around his ankle gave way easily, and the King burst through the surface of the water. He hacked and coughed, swimming to shore.
Lying face up on the bank, half hysteric, Arthur shouted, “You did it, Merlin! I should never have doubted you!” his laughter rang off the trees, and Arthur looked to where Merlin would have been.
There was no one.
This was not Lake Avalon.
And Arthur was alone.
The fact that they weren't near Lake Avalon anymore wasn't unthinkable. Perhaps Merlin had magicked them somewhere safe? Or, safe-er? Did it work like that? Could Merlin do that? If he could, why hadn’t he done that earlier?
Arthur pulled himself to his feet. If this was a different spot, then where Morgana’s forces were was an unknowable quantity. Near lake Avalon or not, Morgana's army was huge, and he was still the King and the General.
Arthur pulled out Excalibur, which glowed softly in the darkness. Had it done that before? It occurred to him that this blade had been forged before the Purge, and was most likely forged in magic. Had Merlin been hiding the glow from him? Was the blade enchanted?
Okay, he needed to focus.
Moving as quietly as possible, Arthur noted that there were less stars than usual.
So many less. An omen, or more to his theory that this was Purgatory? Oh, God, what had he done to deserve such a fate?
And then Arthur broke through the trees, where there was a road.
Well, it was like a road. Sort of, only it was made out of black rock, and much wider than any other road he'd ever seen. Yellow paint- surprisingly bright- was painted along the middle in straight lines. Arthur moved across it hesitantly, and placed the edge of his sword on it.
Whatever he'd intended to do disappeared in a moment, though, as a steel beast screeched to a stop in front of him. Arthur leaped back, raising his blade. But a door opened on the side of the- the thing, and a familiar voice said, “Sorry 'bout that, mate, you alright?”
Arthur sighed in relief, lowering his blade, “Merlin! You can't just wander off li-”
Sounding horrified, as if he hadn’t wandered off like the idiot he was, Merlin whispered, “Arthur?”