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This Life or the Next

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Merlin walked in the door, slamming it behind his back. He closed his eyes in relief as he heard the guards rush past unknowingly. The moonlight filtering through Arthur’s plate-glass windows cast vague splotches of colour across the stone floor. Merlin stepped away from the door quietly, the uneven sounds of Arthur’s labored breathing reverberated in the dark room. The sounds of the earlier warning bell continued to echo in Merlin’s mind.

Gaius would be sleeping in his chambers by now, but Uther was likely pacing in his great hall as usual. Merlin crossed the room, ever drawn to his golden prince. Not ad golden as he once was, his fair face tinged in red as the fever held tight.

“Arthur...” it comes out a whimper and Merlin snaps a hand over his traitorous mouth. By Uther’s command, the guards would not rest until the boy sorcerer was found.

“I’m so sorry.” Merlin whispers to the man near death, laying wounded on the bed. The gash in Arthur’s shoulder had been too deep for Gaius to clean properly, it had begun to fester.

Arthur had been defending Merlin’s word as usual- taking up the gauntlet again. But this time Arthur was wrong to do so. Merlin was the accused sorcerer. There was irrefutable proof, and he was magic itself.

Merlin pressed a cool hand to Arthurs damp brow. a low moan escaped unconscious lips, making Merlin jump, pulling his hand back reflexively.

“Goodbye Arthur,” Merlin lightly clasped his friend’s neck one last time.

“Dal houth enss a laei,” a flash of gold and Arthur’s breathing eased ever so slightly. Merlin pressed his lips to the crown of the prince’s blonde head, the clatter of men running in mail continued outside Arthur’s chamber door. Melrin puled away, his eyes lingered on the fluttering fgold lashes.

“We’ll meet again... In this life or the next.” Arthur rolled his head toward the sound of Merlin’s voice.

It happens all at once. A last brush of hands, a crash of steel and wood, a groan of pain barely felt, a smash of delicate paned glass. And he’s gone.

When Arthur awakened, a cloth still lay on his forehead. He grabbed is off unawares of what had caused his awakening. Looking around, he sees his own chamber door has been bashed in and there is broken glass on the floor near his bed.

“Merl-” Arthur coughed, attempting to speak with a painfully dry throat. Gaius rushes into his room before he could try again.

“Let me get you some water, sire.” the physician busied himself. Arthur accepted it gratefully, and Uther entered the room looking haggard. After Arthur had downed the whole cup, he tried to speak again.

“Where the bloody hell is Merlin?” Uther’s eyes flared in response, his mouth became a thin line. Gaius backed away looking morose in the peripheral.

“Father.” Arthur says demanding.

“The.. boy. He has disappeared. We have search parties out but I fear he may have slipped through our grasp.” Arthur’s brow furrowed angrily.

“what on earth are you talking about father?”

“The boy-sorcerer... We will catch him soon, I’m sure and he will be brought to justice. He will answer for his crimes.”

“Merlin is not a sorcerer. The only crime he’s guilty of is saving my life. Where is he?” Arthur asks, incredulous. This must be a joke.

Arthur was about to protest further but the somber air of the family physician was enough to give him pause.

“Gaius? This can’t be true.” Gaius hesitated.

“It has been proven, my lord,” he sighs out in defeat.

“I need a yes or no, Gaius.” Their eyes met for a long moment.

“Yes, sire. He is one of the most powerful sorcerers to ever live.” Gaius bowed and exited as if burdened by a heavy weight.

“We will find him Arthur. He will be brought to justice and all will be made right.”

“Good, good.” It’s all Arthur can manage in his weak,befuddled state.

Mere hours later and Arthur is back on his feet albeit a tad wobbly, but having made a miraculous recovery nonetheless. Uther had briefed him on the current search to find Merlin but Arthur could not believe what he had heard. Arthur paced in his lonely chambers only pausing to trail a hand over his gleaming armor or his mended boots, all traces of a man gone. Arthur exhausted himself pacing and before he can realize anything is amiss, he finds himself panting on his back on the floor. In the haze of fainting Arthur hears a voice in his head.

“Don’t ruin all my hard work, you prat.” He can’t help it, Arthur finds himself smiling.

His moment is interrupted rudely by the wrong manservant hoisting him to his feet. As Arthur got his bearing once again, the boy had already fled. Arthur tutted his disapproval but the grin plastered to his face would not disappear so easily.

Sorcerer or not, his friend was alive. Arthur knows. The boy he cares about most in the world will live. His chambers seem empty without the bumbling idiot he has come to love. Despite himself Arthur finds word bidden on his lips. He speaks them softly, they are not for anyone else’s ears.

“We will meet again. In this life, or the next.”