Title: No Going Back
Summary: Post S5. Without the men who made Camelot home, Percival has no reason to stay.
Word Count: 1033
Prompt: #114, hiraeth
After the funeral, Leon asked him to stay. “Gwen needs us.”
“So did Arthur and Gwaine.”
Percival stared at the few items laid out carefully on his bed. A fresh tunic. The blade Arthur had given him for a birthday he’d thought nobody had known about. The worn leather book Merlin had been using to help him strengthen his weak reading. In his pocket, his fingers curled around the necklace he’d taken from Gwaine’s body before returning him to Camelot. This was it. The few threads of his life threatening to unravel with more meaningless death.
The hand Leon rested on his shoulder was warm and heavy. “I can’t stop you from going,” he said. “But remember, Camelot will always open her arms to you.”
Percival knew that was true, but without the men who’d made Camelot home, her embrace was an empty one.
He left under the cloak of night, riding the horse that was the only gift he would accept from Leon. The sun would rise on a new day, a new kingdom, one bereft of its king and so many of the men who’d willingly followed him. Though Percival ached from the lost opportunity to see Camelot over his shoulder one more time, the cleanliness of the break appealed to him. Nothing to drag it out and make the wounds fester. For any of them.
His path meandered across the countryside, a leisure he’d never truly been granted before. For days, he spoke to no one. What would he say even if he stumbled across a traveler? Those who had never known his friends wouldn’t understand the depths of his loss, and he couldn’t stomach false sympathy and blank smiles.
By the ninth day, however, the solitude began to wear. He found his head turning toward the sun, seeking out signs of Camelot in the distance. Perhaps he’d made a mistake. He was not the only one to mourn, and at least within the citadel, he had purpose. He could return, like Leon had said, and go on with the life he’d created for himself, taking strength from the remnants of what Arthur and Gwaine and Merlin had left behind.
But they were not the only ones who were gone. Elyan was dead. Lancelot had sacrificed himself for the greater good. The circle was broken, irreparable no matter who attempted to fill its holes.
Camelot was a part of his past. Before he could stop himself, he turned his mount to another part.
He reached Myrefall less than forty-eight hours later, the result of pushing through the nights, stopping only when he was ready to topple off his horse. Dusk turned the trees to ashy shadows, and his heart stuttered as echoes of Myrefall’s destruction consumed his senses.
The smell of smoke as Cenred burned his village to the ground.
The heat blistering his skin as he fought against the ropes that bound him beyond his home’s borders.
The flames that seared his eyeballs as he refused to look away, praying until the very last second that he would get free and stop the carnage.
His eyes burned now from unshed tears as he slowly dismounted and led his horse through the barren fields. The last time he’d seen Myrefall, everything had been black and skeletal, bony tendrils reaching up to a god that had forsaken them. Though the building carcasses remained, time had nursed the land to a bright new green. Spindly branches sprouted from trees. Tiny flowers poked their heads through the charred grass. Weeds burst through broken furrows, eager to supplant the vegetation that had once sustained a thriving village.
Lancelot had rescued him that day. He’d been the one to come along and cut Percival down after Cenred’s men had left him to die. He’d been the one to coax Percival away when he’d stood on the threshold of his old home and wept.
There was no going back, then or now.
There was only going forward.
One foot in front of the other. The weight of his memories around his neck, strapped to his back, in the special pouch he wore at his waist. Seeing Myrefall gave him renewed direction, and he turned toward the kingdom of Gwaine’s birth, a secret he’d sworn to keep to his grave. He had no desire to stay, simply to witness the place that had spawned such a tremendous friend. What he found was cold and joyless, such a sterile environment he couldn’t imagine Gwaine staying on even if his family had retained its status.
He left before it could taint the image of the man he’d loved and admired. Gwaine was not this place. Gwaine had been of the world.
The same could not be said of Merlin, however. Percival knew long before he reached Ealdor what he would find, a warm welcome in spite of the travails the village had suffered. In Hunith, he would be able to see the spirit of her son and finally make the valediction he’d been denied when Merlin disappeared.
Dust and flower pollen danced in the sunbeams when he crested the hill. He paused, gazing down at the tiny cluster of cottages, only to have his eye caught by a golden flash to his left. He turned his head in time to see a slim hand emerge from the tall grass and turn a translucent dragon into a spray of sparks that fell to the earth.
His breath caught. He’d seen that hand too many times not to recognize its master.
Slowly, he climbed down and walked closer. Merlin’s profile came into view first, his blue eyes locked on the sky above. He didn’t even look away when Percival sat at his side.
“I’m not going back,” Merlin said in lieu of a greeting.
“Neither am I.”
He stretched out next to Merlin, their arms brushing against each other. He had a million questions, about Merlin having magic, about Arthur’s final hours, about what he thought their futures might bring without Camelot and their king to guide them.
But those could wait.
For the first time since his world had splintered, he closed his eyes and smiled.
He was home again.