“Thank you,” Arthur said brokenly, staring up at Merlin. The gloved hand that had been weakly caressing the back of Merlin’s head fell, and Merlin watched his King’s blue eyes give way to a distant stare, then roll back slightly as he went limp in Merlin’s arms.
Shaking, tears streaming down his face, feeling as though he were collapsing in on himself, Merlin pleaded, “No, Arthur, no—Arthur!”.
Merlin put a trembling hand on Arthur’s neck, desperately feeling for the smallest trace of a pulse, but none came.
“No—” Merlin whimpered, his voice cracking with emotion. Taking Arthur up in his arms, Merlin held his King close. Closing his eyes from the horror before him, Merlin pressed his forehead to Arthur’s, which was clammy and growing chill with death.
Merlin’s body shook as he held Arthur to him. He could barely muster any words as he sniffled and gasped, his heart feeling as though it were being pulled apart. “Stay with me” he whispered.
He received no response. This broke down the last bit of Merlin’s composure. Throwing his head back, he wailed in sorrow, and clutched Arthur’s graying face.
Thoughts flew about in Merlin’s mind as he was overcome with despair. He felt nothing else, he knew nothing else. There was nothing else. He cried and cried, heaving and moaning, unable to stop himself.
Merlin had failed. Everything anyone had ever told him about his destiny—his and Arthur’s destiny—was wrong. He had been led along for ten years to this. This state of unfinished-ness. It was wrong. All Merlin could delineate in the darkness of his sorrow was this thought. This is wrong—wrong—wrong—wrong. Merlin and Arthur had not done what they did to others and to themselves for this end—a measly few years of Arthur’s reign followed by his death was just wrong. The triple goddess, the fates—they were wrong.
Forcing slow, deep inhalation to fill his lungs in the midst of his shallow, shaky breaths, Merlin’s brows furrowed. From his closed eyes, rivulets of hot tears still trailed down his cheeks, dripping onto his arms, his hands, Arthur’s armor. Arthur’s cold armor. Cold as Arthur now was. Cold as Merlin’s hands had become from holding his King so close. First the darkness, now the cold. Now abyss.
But Merlin’s deep breaths gradually became rapid as, in his mind’s eye, he recalled the crystal cave, and how not even the darkest of magic could overtake what was his—what he was. The abyss he had let himself descend into was breaking into pieces. The pieces were falling away.
Merlin’s arms and legs began to burn, and his face contorted with rage. His feet grew hot, as did his neck. His ears became heated, and his face flushed. Merlin’s body was sweltering. His hands were sweating, clouding the metal of Arthur’s armor with heat. His fingers released Arthur from their grasp, prickling and twitching as Merlin’s whole person shook.
Leaning slowly away from Arthur’s corpse, Merlin felt the source of the warmth; a boiling, burning inferno of rage, of passion, of power—of magic. It was searing. It was rising. It was going to make him explode—
Merlin’s head snapped back, and he eyes were wide. He was consumed by light, shooting it forth from his unseeing eyes—a light that was golden and burning and bright and pure. White hot energy blast outward from every pore of Merlin’s skin and from every atom of his being—to every inch of the earth, through every layer of the sky, beyond the shattering stars and rotating celestial bodies—outward, ever expanding. Out into incomprehensible, unending vastness. This was who Merlin was. This was everything.
Lips moving, Merlin spoke words he did not know, failed to understand, and could not hear. He called to anything and everything. To all nothing and to all the void. Time yielded to him, universes quelled their growth, creators of infinities turned their attention and stopped their crafting to Merlin—Magic Incarnate. His words flowed forth into the quiet, and finally ceased. Then, in an instant, the light, the heat, the power—the magic was rushing back, passing again all that was imaginable and all that was not, passing all that was and all that was not, passing everything and nothing, returning to flesh.
* * *
Merlin’s eyes opened. Whiteness receded, revealing pale blueness dotted with white shapes, and to pointed greenness. The sky, the clouds, the trees. Merlin knew them. He blinked to focus his eyes. He breathed deeply, to smell the wet soil and pines. Then he recalled, through a misty veil of uncertainty and incomprehension, the vastness. The magic. Merlin’s mind was swimming with confusion, yet somehow felt so clear. Sitting up, his body felt stiff, as though he had been sleeping for a thousand years, or dead.
With a jolt, Merlin remembered where he was, and why he was there. His eyes scanned the grassy area and lake shore before him. Arthur—where was Arthur? Twisting around, Merlin found the King where he had left him.
Crawling up to him, Merlin did not feel sadness or grief. He extended a hand to flick away the stray hairs from Arthur’s proud face, pushing them back to his golden locks. This reminded Merlin of what had happened to him—what he had done—just moments ago. He wished he knew.
Sighing, Merlin looked at Arthur, silent, kingly, and beautiful, even in death. Merlin started to feel something. He smiled, gazing at his King. His heart beat harder as he felt a strong emotion. Merlin knew what it was. It was the same sentiment he felt when Gaius was proud of him, when Gwen laughed with him, when his mother hugged him, and when Arthur looked at him.
Bowing forward, closer to his King, Merlin pressed a kiss to his soft hair. Then, Merlin realized that he wanted to do something that he had never dared; to let something leave the depths of his heart.
Putting his mouth mere inches away from Arthur’s ear, Merlin murmured a secret more serious than being a sorcerer, “I love you, Arthur Pendragon”.
Leaning back, Merlin sighed and reached to caress Arthur’s cheek. He felt the stubble of his cheek, the warmth of his skin—
Merlin snatched back his hand. Arthur’s face should not be warm, it should be cold and dead. His king was dead. Merlin had seen it. And yet, his skin was warm. Maybe he had imagined it. Maybe it was just the sunlight on Arthur’s skin.
Reaching forth again, Merlin once again placed his hand upon Arthur’s cheek. The skin was warm, not clammy and cold as it had been before Merlin had… Heart pounding, Merlin tried to make sense of what he just had experienced, but he couldn’t say for sure. Instead, he put his fingers to Arthur’s neck to check for a pulse. Whatever had happened, though, there was no mistaking that it was significant, and that it was an expression of Merlin’s magic. Or maybe magic itself, because it had made Merlin feel infinite.
Focusing all of his concentration on the skin under his fingertips, Merlin waited. He looked at Arthur’s peaceful face and started to think that it may indeed have just been the sun warming his skin. But he held his fingers there for a bit longer, just to be sure. Merlin just had to. He closed his eyes as the seconds passed painfully slowly.
“Please, Arthur,” he whispered. “I need you. You’re my other half.” Merlin’s voice rose above a whisper, as if Arthur were asleep in his bed and Merlin was struggling to wake him, “We have so much to do. You need to continue your reign. You are the greatest King Albion has ever known.”
Merlin paused, his shoulders slouching, feeling foolish. Why would Arthur be alive? Did he think he had reversed death? But…if that hadn’t been what Merlin had done, then what was it he did?
His hope died down until Merlin sat there, frowning, tears threatening to begin flowing once more. Finally, Merlin spoke to His King one last time, “Goodbye, Arthur. I will always love you”.
However, just as Merlin was about to withdraw his fingers from Arthur’s neck, he felt it. A bump beneath his fingertips. With a gasp, Merlin pressed harder against Arthur’s skin. He felt another. Then another. Then another!
Mouth agape in disbelief, Merlin allowed himself to think it: Arthur was alive.
Keeping his fingers on Arthur’s neck, Merlin called to him, “Arthur? Arthur, are you there? Arthur?”
Suddenly, Arthur’s body shifted slightly, and Merlin’s hand instead found its way to Arthur’s cheek. Cradling his face, Merlin stared desperately, holding his breath as he anxiously waited for his King to open his eyes.
A groan sounded from Arthur’s body, and he shifted once again, his head rolling in Merlin’s direction, pushing against his hand. Then slowly, ever so terribly slowly, long blonde eyelashes fluttered, and eyelids opened to reveal familiar blue irises, whose pupils shrunk in the bright sunlight. Arthur blinked repeatedly and squinted, then breathed deeply. Merlin loved the sound of air filling his once-dead king’s lungs.
Arthur’s eyes settled on Merlin, who was beaming ear to over-sized ear at the sight before him. He did not speak, but reached a gloved hand up to Merlin’s face, thumbing away tears that Merlin hadn’t even noticed begin to fall. Grasping Arthur’s hand with his free one, Merlin pressed his face into it, feeling and smelling the rough leather against his cheek. Merlin’s thumb rubbed against Arthur’s face gently.
With a small, toothy grin, Arthur rasped softly, “I thought I told you that no man was worth your tears.”
Merlin laughed and sniffled, and then cried more openly into Arthur’s glove.
“Arthur,” he wept, struggling to speak evenly, “I thought I’d lost you.”
“You did,” Arthur responded plainly.
“Then how are you here?” Merlin asked, trying to stifle his sobs.
Arthur stared intently up at Merlin, thumb still caressing Merlin’s cheek. After a moment, he answered, “It was you.”
Immediately, Merlin ceased his sputtering. “Me?” he asked in bewilderment, “How do you know that?”
Arthur seemed to be boring holes into Merlin’s face with his intense stare, but finally spoke, “I heard you—I felt you. You were calling me back.”
Merlin’s eyes were wide, “What—what do you mean?”
Shaking his head weakly, Arthur responded, “I just know that you did something, Merlin. Things changed around me, and everything was so bright, I was blind. You were everywhere. I felt you everywhere.”
Merlin sat in stunned silence, speaking up after a long moment, “I didn’t know I could do… whatever I did,” he told Arthur, “I felt everything, I knew everything—I saw everything. I don’t even understand, I can’t explain it…” he trailed off.
Arthur withdrew his hand from Merlin’s face. “Can you please help me up?” he asked.
“So, you do know how to say please,” Merlin joked as he helped Arthur to sit up.
Righting himself, Arthur turned to Merlin, grabbing him by the forearm. “I should have been saying it all along,” he said sincerely, “I have everything to thank you for. Everything.”
Merlin gave a small smile, “I would do it all over again, Arthur. I was born to serve you.”
Arthur stared at Merlin for a long moment, his gaze soft. “You keep saying that. That to do that was your destiny. And that I was—or I guess, am—your destiny.”
“Yes…?” Merlin responded questioningly. He wasn’t certain what Arthur was getting at.
“Merlin,” Arthur started, looking down at his armor, “What do you mean when you say all that?”
Raising an eyebrow, Merlin answered, “Well, I mean exactly that.”
“Merlin,” Arthur said, meeting his gaze, “I think there’s more to it than that.”
Merlin was silent. His heart thudded in his chest. Why would Arthur think what he said was more complicated than that?
“It may be your destiny and your duty to serve me, to protect me, to with me by my side like the two halves of a coin, but…” Arthur trailed off, still staring into Merlin’s eyes. Merlin held his breath.
“…But I can’t help feeling that there is more to all of this—too us—than that,” Arthur pressed.
Not sure of what to say, Merlin looked at his King quizzically, almost nervously.
A moment passed between them as they regarded one another until Arthur broke the silence, “I heard what you said, Merlin.”
Merlin’s heart nearly stopped. “Wha—what do you mean?” he asked tentatively, trembling ever so slightly. Arthur didn’t overhear what Merlin never wanted to tell him… did he?
Arthur put his gloved hand on Merlin’s arm. “You know,” he said quietly. “The knights have a deep, loyal devotion to one another, and especially to me, and we of course become friends. We form strong bonds, and are all very close,” Arthur explained, “But those relationships have never become as… well, personal as ours.”
Merlin couldn’t believe his ears. Arthur knew how he felt?
“I—” he started, at a loss for words. Arthur shushed him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice it sooner,” he confessed, cupping Merlin’s cheek with his hand. Merlin struggled for breath as his King pulled him close—so close that their noses nearly touched.
“Merlin,” Arthur murmured, his breath soft against Merlin’s skin, his eyes filled with an emotion Merlin felt every single day he spent with his King.
Then Arthur said the one thing Merlin never thought, in all the years of the world, he would ever hear Arthur say.
“I love you,” Arthur breathed, then paused for an instant, allowing himself a small smile—before pressed his lips against Merlin’s.
Holding Arthur’s face in his hands, Merlin kissed back, slowly, passionately, desperately trying to show Arthur just how much he loved him, how much he adored him. Merlin and Arthur opened their mouths as they kissed one another, their breath hot between them as they let their tongues meet.
Merlin pulled away from the kiss first, and whispered, “How can we do this, Arthur?”
Arthur was pensive for a moment, never taking his eyes off of Merlin’s plump lips. His own lip curled as he smiled, exposing his charmingly crooked teeth. “Guinevere is no fool, Merlin. She knows. When we parted the night before battle, she told me that she knew you need me, and that I need you.”
“She is so knowing,” Merlin said softly, with a small smile. Arthur nodded, eyeing Merlin with lowered eyelids.
Crawling closer to Merlin, searing him with a desire-filled gaze, and finally climbing atop him so that he was pushed into the wet grass, Arthur purred, “So, don’t you worry, great warlock…”
He planted a wet kiss on Merlin’s neck, making circles with his tongue and letting his teeth drag against Merlin’s skin.
“…I will make you whole again…” Arthur whispered, kissing Merlin slowly on the cheek.
Then Arthur brushed his lips against Merlin’s, lingering just above them.
“…I will always love you,” he breathed, almost inaudibly, closing the distance between them once again, and kissing Merlin like his life depended on it.