Title: A Toast and a Vow
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin,
Summary: After Lancelot's death, Merlin just needed a drink.
Word Count: 1000
Author's Notes: Blimey, this is depressing - sorry!
Merlin stared into the tankard in front of him before reaching for the jug and splashing more ale into his cup. Half of it sloshed over the table, but he didn’t care.
This was all his fault.
If only he had fulfilled his destiny and protected Arthur, then Lancelot would still be here. It wasn’t up to the knight, regardless of his vows to the kingdom or his promise to Gwen. Merlin was the one who was supposed to keep Arthur safe and he had hesitated, too busy judging his opponent. That pause had taken Lancelot from them.
Merlin took another swig. Even on his third cup, the taste was still making him grimace. Despite Arthur’s teasing and Gaius’ less than helpful alibis, Merlin rarely drank. He just didn’t have time between his job and his destiny, plus he was always serving at feasts, not joining in with the fun.
The last time he could remember was when Lancelot had been knighted the first time. That had been a night of cheer and laughter and their heads had paid the price the next day. But that merriment hadn’t lasted long, with their deception discovered merely hours after Lancelot had been sworn into the knighthood.
Everything Merlin had done to try and help his friend had only resulted in Lancelot being hurt.
He took another gulp, then lifted the cup again and was surprised to find it empty. He knew he was going to regret this in the morning, but right now, he didn’t care. He wanted to stop feeling, just for a few hours. He needed something to ease the guilt.
It wasn’t just the fact that Lancelot had died that made Merlin feel guilty. He thought he had been prepared to step through that veil if that meant saving Arthur. But deep down, he had wanted to live and that was why he had been prepared to barter with the old hag rather than walking straight through. He knew that should he die, Arthur was vulnerable to any new threats and as of yet, the man wasn’t king. Merlin’s job wasn’t done.
He didn’t just feel guilty that Lancelot was dead while he was alive. He felt guilty because, deep down, regardless of how much it hurt, he was grateful to still be breathing.
Scowling, Merlin reached for the jug. But as he made to pour, a hand covered the top of his cup before pulling it away entirely.
“I think you’ve had enough,” Arthur said sternly. He sniffed Merlin’s cup then put it to one side. “And cheap ale is worse.”
“It’s not like I can afford more and you should know, you pay me,” Merlin said bitterly. He wanted to be left alone, it was why he had come to the place where he never normally ventured. Now, however, he realised his mistake. Arthur thought he was in here the entire time – it would be the first place he thought to look.
“You need to get back to Gaius and sober up,” Arthur said. He took Merlin’s arm. “Come on. I’ll escort you back.”
“I don’t need your help!” Merlin snapped, pulling away. “You need mine, not the other way around.”
“Leave me alone, Arthur. I’m off duty, you can’t tell me what to do.”
This time, Merlin couldn’t shake off Arthur’s grip as he was led outside. The cold air hit him like a punch and he blinked, instantly coming to his senses a little more. He hadn’t drunk that much, not really, he just wasn’t used to it and his emotions were getting the better of him.
“You’re grieving, we all are,” Arthur said in a low voice. “But that means we have to stick together, not skulk off and try and deal with everything on your own. He was your friend, I get that. But you should honour his sacrifice, not drink yourself into a stupor.”
Merlin bit his tongue. What did Arthur know about sacrifice? But then he looked at the prince and saw that, despite his words, Arthur was struggling to deal with Lancelot’s death as much as Merlin. He looked exhausted and drawn. He had been the one to order the expedition, he had led them all there. Lancelot’s death was sitting just as heavily on Arthur’s shoulders as his servant’s.
Looking at his master in the moonlight, the mead making him say things he wouldn’t normally, Merlin frowned.
“How do you give the orders, knowing what the outcome might be?” He knew this wasn’t the first mission that Arthur had sanctioned that had led to the death of knights, of his friends. Although it was not Arthur’s fault, Merlin knew that each and every one of them affected him badly.
“By focusing on the good they have done the kingdom and the threat they have saved us from. Lancelot sacrificed himself for Camelot, Merlin. Don’t dishonour him by being bitter about it.”
Arthur’s words touched something this time. Merlin shouldn’t be angry, he should be grateful. Thanks to Lancelot, he still had the chance to make Arthur king. He still had the chance to fulfil his destiny.
But right now, staring at the stars with Arthur by his side and the sound of laughter from the tavern behind him, Merlin realised that Arthur was right about something. He had had enough. He had had enough of losing, of living in fear of what threat was going to come their way next. And he had had enough of losing those he loved to the evil that stalked the land.
Next time a threat reared its head, Merlin wouldn’t hesitate. He would be ready. He wouldn’t fail again.
Catching Arthur’s eye, he managed an apologetic smile.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Don’t be,” Arthur said. Merlin grew concerned over the grin that spread over the prince’s face. “I’m going to make you regret it so much in the morning.”
Merlin wondered if he could ask Gaius for a hang-over cure tonight.