Merlin sat on the wooden bench, looking at the lying figure in front of him. He had always known that this day would come. But it was too soon. It was supposed to happen in the future, when he was older, and wiser. It was supposed to happen then, and Merlin would have been able to accept it. But now… what was he supposed to do now? How was he supposed to go on alone?
"Merlin…" said the old man, having just woken up from his sleep.
"Gaius" answered Merlin, standing up from the bench, and kneeling next to Gaius' bed "Do you need something?"
"No, no" answered Gaius, his voice even weaker than it had been a few hours ago "I just wanted to talk to you."
"Talk about what?" asked Merlin. His voice was normal, almost cheerful. He smiled with his goofy grin, making it look like everything was fine.
"You know what" answered Gaius.
"I really have no idea, Gaius" answered the warlock. This was rewarded with Gaius' infamous raising of the eyebrow, and despite all, Merlin couldn't stop himself from smiling.
"My boy…" started Gaius, his voice low and soft. Merlin held his old hand tightly in his hands, but he refused to look at him.
"Look at me, Merlin" said Gaius, his voice now a bit louder. When Merlin continued to stare at the suddenly very interesting hole in the bedsheet, Gaius gave a gentle squeeze with his hand.
At his plea, Merlin finally looked at him.
It had been twelve long years since Gaius had first laid eyes on Merlin. Gaius' memory was failing him more and more every day, but he could still remember the day when this naïve, young boy had first entered his chambers. He had watched the boy grow and change before his eyes, and he had spent the better part of those twelve years worrying about him. Gaius' old heart would ache every time that he had to watch Merlin suffer, and to his dismay, that had happened a lot through the years. He had watched Merlin become wiser, braver, and less doubtful of himself. The young boy had transformed into a brave man, and a powerful sorcerer, and Gaius couldn't be more proud of him.
And yet, when Merlin finally looked at him, the only thing Gaius saw was that lost, young boy that he had met all those years ago. Merlin's big, blue eyes were filled with tears, and Gaius could see that Merlin was barely managing to stop himself from crying.
"It's all right…" started Gaius. Merlin started shaking his head, denying Gaius' words.
"Merlin…" said Gaius, looking sadly at Merlin. The warlock was now on the brink of tears, shaking his head slightly, and clutching Gaius' hand tightly into his own.
"What good is this power" said Merlin, his voice low "when I cannot save you?"
"Listen to me, Merlin" said Gaius "You cannot fix everything. I am very old, and this is just nature's way. Even Emrys cannot defy nature itself. Not always, at least" he added, a small smile forming on his face.
Merlin didn't say anything in response. His body tensed, and it looked as if he was struggling to compose himself. But it was all too much, and suddenly his cheeks were wet with tears.
"Oh my boy…" said Gaius, and at that moment, Merlin felt like everything inside him came crashing down. He hugged the old man, maybe a bit too tight, and he buried his face in Gaius' shoulder.
Gaius hugged Merlin back. The boy was now shaking in his arms, and Gaius' old heart could almost break with sadness. Not for himself. He had come to terms with his passing, and he didn't fear it at all. But Merlin… he had already suffered so much, and now, he wouldn't be there to help him.
A few tears rolled down Gaius' cheeks. They sat there for a while, both crying in each other's arms. After a while, Merlin's sobbing slowed down, and the tight grip in which he held Gaius slowly loosened. After a while, Merlin fell asleep. Gaius was glad that Merlin was able to calm down. He could feel Merlin's steady breathing near him, and the slow rhythm of Merlin's breathing was making Gaius sleepy as well.
Gaius wanted to stay in this moment for as long as he can. Hugging Merlin, who was now safe and by his side, brought him so much joy. He didn't want to leave his boy, and he didn't want to fall asleep, not now… But his old body couldn't take it, and slowly, but surely, Gaius drifted off to sleep
A few hours later, Merlin awoke from his sleep. He remembered crying in Gaius' shoulder, as the old man slowly patted him on the back, trying to comfort him. The last thing he remembered was how safe he felt as Gaius hugged him… A huge wave of sadness flooded over him then, as he looked at the old man before him. Gaius was sleeping. His breathing was slow, too slow… but he looked peaceful. Merlin knew that it wasn't long now…
It had been an hour? Two? Or maybe more? Merlin wasn't sure, and frankly, he didn't care. It didn't matter anyway, if it had been an hour, a day, or even a week. All that mattered was that Gaius was gone. And after crying and sitting with Gaius for what felt like eternity, Merlin now felt almost numb. What was he supposed to do now? It seemed as if the world had stopped, and everything was stuck in this moment. He felt like this horrible moment was all there was now, because how could he move on? Nothing would ever be the same again, and Merlin didn't know how to go on knowing that.
He stood up and headed to the door, not really knowing where he was headed.
He quickly opened the door, but he was surprised at the sight that greeted him.
Arthur was in the hallway, sitting down, resting his head against the wall. Judging by the position he was sitting in, it looked as if Arthur had been sitting there for a long time.
As soon as Arthur saw Merlin, he rose up to his feet. He just stood there now, looking at Merlin, not saying anything.
"You've been here all night?" asked Merlin, his voice a little hoarse.
"I didn't want to feel that you were alone" Arthur answered slowly.
Merlin looked at him, feeling like he was about to cry again. But it was a new day. And Arthur was there. That thought made him feel a little better at the moment, and it was enough to keep the tears at bay, at least for now.
"I'm starving" he said.
"So am I" said Arthur, his tone now a little more upbeat. "Come on, let's get something to eat."
They headed down the hallway, towards the kitchen. It was pretty early in the morning, so they didn't meet anyone else. After a few minutes, they reached the kitchen's door. Merlin stopped in front of the door, composing himself for all the concerned look of pity, and all the condolences. He wasn't ready for that, not yet anyway… He needed a few more moments to process this…
"I'll get the food" said Arthur, walking past him. He put his hand on the door's handle, but he paused before turning it. He looked at Merlin for a few moments.
"I'm sorry, Merlin" he said, looking straight into Merlin's eyes. Arthur's voice was low, and although it was calm and controlled, Merlin could sense the sadness hiding behind the calm exterior
Merlin looked at him, and gave a small nod, again struggling to control his tears. Arthur looked on for a moment longer, before opening the kitchen's door. He came back out a few minutes later, holding a big tray full of food.
"We'll eat in my room" he said "No one will disturb us there."
"Thank you, Arthur." said Merlin.
Arthur just gave him a small smile.
"Come on now" he said, starting to walk towards his room. "The food will get cold. "
Merlin nodded his head in agreement. They made their way to Arthur's room, where they ate in silence. Merlin felt nowhere near good. He felt Gaius' absence, and that hurt him more than any physical wound ever did. But as he sat there, in Arthur's room, eating something delicious under the watchful eye of the King, Merlin felt that someday, he would feel all right again. And that thought was enough for now.