Title: Moving On
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: 'As the veil closed, did you look back?'
Warnings: Spoilers for 5.03, character death
Word Count: 794
Author's Notes: Sorry for the angstiness! I had to...
Merlin had thought that Uther was bad enough. The threat of his ghost wherever he stepped in Camelot, just waiting for him to find out enough about the current leadership of Camelot to realise that Merlin has magic, and to turn every ounce of force he had against Merlin, to destroy him in ways that he had no hope to defend against. Eventually one axe, one crossbow bolt would get through his defences, or he’d fall asleep and he’d miss something-
But they beat him, they sent him back, and just in time, just soon enough to avoid him telling Arthur everything. And while it would have been easier that way, to have the revelation forced upon him, Merlin was glad that Arthur was fast enough with the horn to stop Uther in his tracks. Because he needed to find the right moment to lessen the betrayal, to soften the blow, so that perhaps Arthur could learn to trust him again after everything he thought he knew about Merlin had been torn down.
And he did, he did find the right time, and Arthur did continue to keep him close and to trust him. But this is not a story about that time.
This is, instead, a story about afterwards. After Camlann, when the very land turned red with blood that echoed in the sky, when Mordred turned his sword on those who had loved him, who had protected him; when he and Arthur plunged their swords and found their marks, together, mirrored endlessly, tragically perfect. After Merlin held Arthur’s near lifeless body and promised him to find a way. A way to be with him, in life or in death. To hold him once more and to never make the same mistakes again.
He takes up the Horn of Cathbhadh, like he promised himself he would never do, and he goes to Arthur. He promises life, again, or at least love. Eventually. He tells him not to give up hope, that however long it takes Merlin will come for him, will find him and will save him, whatever it takes.
Arthur only smiles at him, and tells him I know.
When Merlin leaves, Arthur stays silent. There is no sound, no movement to tempt Merlin to look back. And yet he does, anyway. He has to see Arthur. Has to watch his beloved features and sear them onto his memory, to keep Arthur with him forever. He has to drink the sight of him, pure and glowing and beautiful, in while he has the chance, to recall it whenever he wants in the years to come.
But then, of course, Arthur has no choice but to follow him.
It’s comforting, in a way. Arthur barely ever makes his presence known. A cool breeze when Merlin works too late to tempt him into bed, the feeling of eyes watching over him sometimes, longing and protective. Merlin wants to believe he’s there in a stronger sense than just in spirit. Keeps expecting him to walk around the corner and start ordering him about. But he doesn’t. He just watches.
Of course, Merlin could brew the potion to allow him to see Arthur. But he never does. It would be too painful to see but not to touch, for always. It would distract Merlin from his work trying to bring Arthur back for good. And, in the back of his mind, he knows that Arthur cannot stay like this forever. His spirit will weaken in this world, and that’s the last thing Merlin needs.
Arthur begins to grow impatient. Merlin suspects he just wants him to move on. After all, all this pining, this refusal to believe that Arthur is gone, does look unhealthy to anyone who is not Merlin and therefore firm in the knowledge that he is right; Arthur can come back.
Still, the horn on the table rattles whenever Merlin nears it, like a reminder. There’s a cold touch on the back of his hand, running through his hair. An attempt at a goodbye. And still Merlin doesn’t give in.
Not until the west tower collapses. A not-so-subtle reminder that Merlin is ignoring the kingdom in favour of the King. That he’s letting it fall to ruin.
Merlin doesn’t know if it was Arthur who caused the death of three servants and the injury of a further two for life. He hopes not. But what he knows is how Arthur would wish him to take the news.
Finally, slowly, he lifts the horn. He fits it to his lips and he blows, softly at first, but harder as his confidence grows.
When Arthur leaves the world of the living for the second time, Merlin swears he can hear a soft sigh of relief.