Arthur feels his legs give way, as he falls on top of Merlin for the final time.
"Not without the horses. It's too late."
He can feel it now. The weight in his limbs, not just from the chainmail. The heaviness in his eyes as he tries his hardest to keep them open. The pain in his side that blossoms from where Mordred's sword had pierced his side. He feels Merlin struggle underneath him as he tries to lift Arthur up, to keep him going. "It's too late." He moves his hand, to rest on top of Merlin's as if he was the only other person left in the world to care about. "It's too late." He says, quieter, almost under his breath, as if to ease himself into the realisation that he would no longer wake up to Merlin's cheery voice as he pulled back the blinds in his chambers. That there would be no more snarky remarks. No more adventures where they would pretend to be commoners in a less than dodgy tavern. No more watching, as Merlin attempted to hide his magic from Arthur, time and time again.
"All your magic, Merlin. You can't save my life."
"I can." Arthur hears the fight not willing to leave Merlin's voice. He can still feel Merlin behind him, mustering all his strength to keep fighting. "I'm not going to lose you."
"Just, just," Arthur says as he feels Merlin's breathing begin to slow. "Just hold me."
"Please," he finishes, as he feels Merlin's body sink under his weight. This is it he thinks. This is the end of my time. And for the first time since they had left Camlaan, he finally senses that Merlin has finally begun to understand that Arthur would not be returning to Camelot. To his home. Not this time.
"There's," he looks up to Merlin, turning his head as best as he can, "something I want to say."
"You're not going to say goodbye," Merlin says, his tone final as Arthur glimpses the glassiness of his eyes, stuck fast in their deep blue, no gold to be seen. Arthur knows it is the last time he will see Merlin's eyes. The happiness that Arthur was used to seeing in them had died in the battle of Camlaan, and Arthur fears he will never see the spark of joy on Merlin's face again. He can't leave Merlin like this.
"No," Arthur says to Merlin, tilting his face up even more as his last final thankyou, final confession to his feelings, leave his mind once and for all. "Do you remember, all those years ago, when we fought that dragon?"
Confusion flashes across Merlin's features as he stares down at the king in his arms. "Arthur?"
"Do you remember, Merlin?"
"Yes," Merlin says, his words barely a whisper.
"You told me to be careful." Arthur says, a glint of past, happier times in his eyes. "Not to force the battle."
"Lot of good that did you." Merlin says, gesturing towards the crimson stained hole in Arthur's chainmail, or the splotches of blood and dirt that were covering the prince from top to bottom. "I couldn't change anything in the end."
"But you saved my life that day. Along with so many other peoples'." Arthur notices the light draining from Merlin's face as his features begin to lose shape. Eyes unable to focus clearly as the edges of his vision are slowly filled in with darkness. "It was also the first time I called you sire."
"The first time?" Merlin remarks back, his instincts not leaving him time to properly react as, he feels himself slip into habits of a happier time. "It only happened once. And I don't think that's fair, to be honest," he continues, noticing a small smile grow on Arthur's lips. "I had to use titles for you all the time." He finishes, eyes still glassy, but now with his trademark smile, one Arthur has been wanting to see for the past week.
"Well then sire, I'll have to make it twice." Arthur continues, as Merlin's smile grows ever so slightly.
"No," he stops Merlin midsentence, cupping Merlin's cheek with one hand as he looks into his eyes. Merlin leans into the touch, smiling down at his king. "That's better. Always remember, Merlin, No man is worth your tears."
He can no longer see Merlin's face. His head filled with white noise, as he feels himself drifting away into the dark. He hears no screams. No one calling his name, begging him to return. Instead, as he drifts into the darkness for countless centuries to come, he swears he can hear three small words, accompanied by a broken sob.
"You are, Arthur."