Merlin couldn’t drag Arthur fast enough.
His heart was beating out of his chest. Desperation, it seemed, had such a tight grasp on it that he wasn’t sure if it would ever let go. Even if, by some miracle, they made it back to Camelot, Merlin would lie awake at night remembering this moment.
Arthur, his king, but more importantly, his best friend, was dying, and Merlin couldn’t do anything to help besides offer his shoulder for support and hope that they could reach the lake of Avalon fast enough.
That hope was dashed as Arthur suddenly sagged, his legs unable to support him in any way for another second. No. Merlin thought desperately as they both dropped to the ground, Arthur landing on top of him. No, not now. Not when we’re so close.
“Arthur. Come on, we have to make it to the lake.” Merlin tried to stand again, but Arthur’s limp body resisted. The warlock’s eyes burned with tears that he couldn’t let fall, that he wouldn’t-- tears were reserved for when there was no hope left. Avalon was too close for them to give up now.
“Merlin…” The king sighed, his voice calmer than Merlin could ever dream of feeling in a moment like this. “Not without the horses, we can’t, it’s too late.”
Never had Merlin heard his king give up. In all the years Merlin had known him, Arthur’s determination, his conviction, his resolve, it never wavered. It was-- is, he amended in his mind, what made him the king that Albion needed. That Albion still needed.
“No,” Merlin replied, trying to inject that same determination into his voice as he tried to pull them to their feet again. The man who inspired it shook his head slowly, accepting what Merlin refused.
“All your magic, Merlin, you can’t save my life.”
The magic that Arthur was supposed to despise, what he had spent several days trying to accept, was now thrown by the wayside. There was no longer warlock and mortal, no longer servant and king, only two men collapsed on the grass as one of them lay dying.
“I can,” Merlin insisted, his voice hoarse. “I’m not going to lose you.”
What good was his power if he couldn’t save Arthur now? When it seemed Arthur could finally know him for what he truly was?
Renewed by that thought, he struggled once more to rise. Arthur’s warm hand wasn’t what stopped him. It was the request that fell from Arthur’s lips, soft and pleading, so unlike every order that the king had ever given him, that Merlin couldn’t help but comply.
“Just, just hold me.”
Without a second thought, the younger man pulled his friend close, and let his tears go. No man is worth your tears, he bitterly remembered Arthur saying all those years ago. He had known then and now for that to be a lie.
Arthur was worth so much more than tears.
“There’s something I want to say.”
No. Not now, Arthur. Please.
“You’re not going to say goodbye.”
“No, Merlin.” Arthur struggled for his breath as Merlin’s caught in his chest. “Everything you’ve done… I know now.”
“For me. For Camelot. For the kingdom you helped me build.”
Did any of it matter, if Merlin failed Arthur now?
“You’d have done it without me,” he replied hollowly.
Arthur simply smiled and shook his head. “Maybe.” Merlin started to protest, but his friend kept talking.
“I want to say… something I’ve never said to you before.” Arthur forced out. Merlin again wanted to stop him, to keep him from saying goodbye, but he held back as their eyes connected.
The gaze that they shared spoke more than Arthur or Merlin ever could.
Arthur’s hand moved one final time to rest on the back of Merlin’s head, but Merlin didn’t tear his eyes from Arthur’s. It wasn’t until it fell away that Merlin realized he was staring into closed eyes.
The numbness and denial that had frozen his limbs dissolved to panic. “Arthur?” He asked, wanting nothing more than to hear Arthur’s voice again. Already, he was missing it.
“No! Arthur! Stay with me…” He abandoned asking in favor of begging. In that moment, he would have begged the earth itself if it could bring Arthur back to him.
For one wonderful second, he thought Arthur’s blue eyes were opening, that the king was coming home, that Arthur’s thanks wasn’t his last, but they rolled back once more and closed. “Arthur! Arthur!”
Refusing to let Arthur go, Merlin pulled him closer than ever as he called for his dragon. He didn’t think about the words, only for the man in his arms that he just couldn’t lose. Not today. Not now. Not ever.
Sobbing openly now, he rested Arthur’s head gently on the ground. Though Kilgarrah landed behind him, he only had eyes for his king. For one pure and beautiful moment, he rested his forehead against Arthur’s and made his vow.
I’m not letting you go.
He turned to face the dragon, almost smiling as he finished the swear.
“Kilgharrah. I would not have summoned you if there was any other choice. I have one last favor to ask.”
Arthur’s resolve, the very same that he tried to replicate earlier, returned. Merlin’s tears dried as he helped Arthur onto Kilgharrah’s back. Only when they landed did Kilgharrah speak.
Merlin stopped carrying Arthur towards the boat, the boat that would take him to the Sidhe.
“There is nothing you can do.”
Years ago, Merlin might have accepted that. Accepted that the Sidhe couldn’t help him, given up, admitted to his failure.
Perhaps that there was nothing that Merlin alone could do.
Merlin was only one side of the coin. Arthur was the other. Arthur’s determination, his persistence when all hope seemed lost, gave Merlin’s magic purpose. And so the warlock turned to the dragon, his mind set.
“You’re wrong, Kilgharrah.”
For as long as Merlin had been in Camelot, he had trusted the Great Dragon. He had mentored him, given him advice even when he hadn’t listened, and proved his wisdom many times over. But this time, Merlin knew the truth better than the dragon did.
“You said that Arthur would bring about the time the poets speak of. That Arthur would restore magic to this land. His work…”
He looked back at his friend’s face, pale though it was, and remembered Arthur’s thanks, his dying words. For the kingdom you helped me build.
“... Our work is not yet done.”
Merlin knelt over Arthur’s prone body, placing his hand on his friend’s.
“You said I am the most powerful sorcerer to have ever lived.”
The warlock closed his eyes.
This was it.
“And I say that this isn’t how it ends.”
Merlin opened his eyes and let the magic flow. There were no words, no incantation for what he would do now. The only thing needed was power, and Merlin was the only one who could deliver. Ten years ago, he had mastered life and death itself, and today was the first day since that he had used that power.
The power flowed out of him, slow at first, then faster and faster as Merlin called on the earth itself to work for him. It bent to his will like he knew it would. Merlin had always known he was a creature of magic. And Arthur was one as well, due to the nature of his birth. A conduit was open between them, just waiting to be tapped into.
Destiny itself had led to this very moment, and was calling their names.
With a primal shriek, Merlin’s eyes turned gold, and the world faded around him until it was only Arthur, which it may well have always been. For Arthur, for this was Merlin’s true purpose.
He didn’t know how long he stayed there, hand over Arthur’s, magic travelling between them, soon as easy as breathing. All he knew was his purpose-- the love that Kilgharrah had called the foil to Morgana’s hatred. The love for Arthur, and for their kingdom.
As Arthur had often cried, for the love of Camelot.
As that thought occurred to him, the flow of magic suddenly stopped. Merlin stared down at his friend in trepidation, waiting nervously. It had to have worked, shouldn’t it? Did he lose any of his deathly parlor? All of Merlin’s conviction disappeared as he anxiously watched Arthur’s face for signs of life.
The king’s eyes hadn’t even opened yet when he asked, rather condescendingly, “Always waiting until the last minute to do anything, aren’t you Merlin?”
Merlin’s face broke out into the largest grin he had worn in a year as he hugged Arthur, pulling him closer than he had been before. The king didn’t resist, only let out a laugh of wonder. “What the bloody hell just happened? You’d better have a good explanation for this.”
Merlin didn’t respond as tears fell anew. The two broke apart as Kilgharrah began to chuckle behind them.
“Now this is a future I don’t believe anyone could have foreseen. Yet somehow I am not surprised.”
Arthur looked between Merlin and the dragon, clearly wondering if he should ask the majority of his questions now or later. Merlin supposed he settled on the latter, since his first was, “What do you mean by that?”
“Get used to asking that question,” Merlin muttered under his breath.
“You see, young Pendragon, as I’m sure Merlin has told you, you were destined to die at Camlann, at the hands of Mordred and Morgana. And now you have.”
Merlin faced his friend. “You were also destined to unite the five kingdoms and return magic to the land. For all the things you’ve done…”
“For all the things we did,” Arthur corrected. When Merlin gave him a look of shock, the king shrugged. “Don’t look so surprised. I made sure I meant my dying words.”
Merlin shook his head. “Wonders never cease.”
Arthur’s only response was to punch him in the arm. “So. What now?”
Merlin figured the question was rhetorical, but answered it anyway. “We finish what we started.”
“Yes, young warlock. However, there is one thing I wish you to do, so as to fulfill the prophecy that led us here.” Merlin looked up at the Great Dragon and inclined his head. “Arthur will, as all men eventually do, die someday. When he does, he must be laid to rest here, for when Albion’s need is greatest, he will rise again.”
“No pressure,” The king muttered next to him.
“I ask that the sword forged in the dragon’s breath be placed here, in order to fulfill the prophecy, so that he will be united with it once again when it is needed.”
This time, Arthur interrupted loud enough for Kilgharrah to hear. “What if I am in need of it?”
The Great Dragon looked at the young king in the eye. “The time that you are about to see is not one that will be ruled by the sword. You will have no need of it.”
A peaceful time. Neither Arthur nor Merlin had ever experienced an era of such security. Arthur may have grown up with a sword of his hand, but he had dreamed of a day where such skills would only be needed in skirmishes and tournaments. The two exchanged a glance, in awe of what the dragon promised. That is, until Arthur looked down at the sword.
“Mind if I do the honors?”
Merlin nodded, and on a whim, knelt to present the sword to the king he had been fortunate enough to serve. Arthur smiled slightly, touched by the gesture, but pulled Merlin to his feet wordlessly. Instead, the two clasped arms as Arthur took the blade.
He turned it over in his hands one last time before drawing back his arm and throwing it into the depths of Avalon. A hand reached above the waves and caught its hilt, shocking him, before it sank back down below the waters.
Wanting to ask Merlin what it was, he turned to him, only to have the question fall away as he saw the expression on Merlin’s face. A single tear slid down the warlock’s cheek, though Arthur couldn’t be sure what it was for.
His servant turned to face him wordlessly, and met his eyes again.
“It’s a new day.”
They both smiled slightly and embraced for a final time. “You hungry?” Arthur asked as they broke apart.
“Me too. Come on. You can make us some breakfast.”
“It’s actually about lunchtime, and I’ve got nothing to do it with.”
“Always an excuse, Merlin. By the way, you owe me a proper explanation of everything now. And it better be good, since you made me wait for it.”
“I didn’t make you wait, you were dying.”
As the two departed, bickering as though nothing had ever happened, Kilgharrah looked towards where the sword had sunk below the waves.
No man, no matter how great, can know his destiny.
The Great Dragon shook his head slowly as he rose into the sky, flapping his great wings.
Some lives have been foretold.