Title: What was, What is, What will be
Warning: Character death, mentions of death, male/male slash, spoilers
Pairings: Merlin/Will, Merlin/Arthur, Merlin/Freya, mention of Merlin/Gwen
Spoilers: For several episodes in both Series 1 and 2 of BBC Merlin
During his whole lifetime, Merlin only ever fell in love with three people.
Will had been Merlin's first.
Will had been Merlin's first ever enemy, after stealing Merlin's favourite toy when they were four. Merlin had refused to speak to the other boy for nearly two years.
Will was the first person to stand up to the older boys in Ealdor who used to tease Merlin endlessly for being smaller than them, skinny and for his prominent ears. After Will stood up for Merlin, the boys had never teased Merlin again. After that, Will quickly stopped being Merlin's enemy and became Merlin's first friend.
He was also Merlin's first best friend.
Will had been the first person, besides Hunith, who had found out about Merlin's magic when Merlin told him when they were seven. Hunith had been angry at first, but always knew Will would never betray Merlin and tell another living soul.
Will didn't even tell his father, who died a year later. Merlin was the first person who saw Will cry after his father was killed. Merlin was the first one there to comfort his best friend and wipe away his tears.
After Will started living with Merlin and Hunith, he then decided it was his duty to make sure that he and Merlin stayed best friends forever. He took a long strip of leather that had previously been tied around some of his father's possessions. He cut the strip in two and tied one half round Merlin's wrist. He then tied the other half around his own. They vowed not to remove each other's wrist bands till the day they died and kept to that oath.
When they were fifteen, Will became the first person Merlin kissed. After Merlin had accidentally used magic and nearly squashed a house in the village with a tree, the pair had sprinted away into the trees to hide. They eventually came to a stop, panting for breath, adrenaline pumping through their veins. In a spur of the moment action, they kissed. Only for a couple of seconds, but it changed their relationship after that. However, they never went further than quick fumbles in the dark, so Will was not the first person to take Merlin's virginity, despite the fact he'd taken most other firsts.
Will was devastated the day that Merlin told him Hunith was sending him away to live with Gaius, the court physician at the castle of King Uther Pendragon in Camelot.
"Do you have to leave?" He had asked quietly, hanging his head sadly.
"I'm sorry, but people here are starting to notice that I'm...well that I'm different."
"You aren't different. You're special."
"They may not see it that way."
Will pursed his lips both in anger and in thought as he tried to make up other excuses as to why Merlin couldn't leave. He gave up soon enough and simply said "Don't leave me."
"I'll come back."
Will looked up at him then, looked him in the eyes. "You promise?"
Will grinned, pretending to look satisfied, but they both knew Merlin wasn't fooled. "Well don't forget about me while you're gone."
"Like I ever could." Merlin smiled, not able to stop the tears welling up in his eyes. "Don't forget about me either."
"Not possible to mate, besides..." Will tugged at the leather band around his wrist. "I'll always have this..."
Merlin laughed, besides the tears that were now escaping his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. He held up his wrist to show his identical wrist band. "Likewise."
Will, not reduced to tears like Merlin, but close, stepped forwards, rubbing the tears from Merlin's cheeks.
"Honestly Merlin, you're such a girl." Will tutted, before pulling Merlin into a tight hug, burying his head into the taller boy's shoulder.
"I'll miss you." Will said, muffled by Merlin's shoulder.
"I'll miss you more." Merlin replied, holding Will tightly to him. Will was his first everything.
"Not possible." Will sniffed, wiping at his eyes angrily, eventually letting go of his friend.
"Never change Will and never leave here either, I want you to be right here when I get back." Merlin smiled, now finding it completely impossible to hold back his tears as his mother appeared at the doorway, ready with Merlin's bag, ready to say her own farewells.
"You know I won't change, but don't you go changing either! And I'll never leave, I'd never leave you and I never will." Will hugged him again, more quickly this time, but he kissed Merlin's left cheek, so Hunith didn't see. "Bye Merlin." Will whispered, before stepping back, taking one long last look at his friend.
And then Will left, leaving a tearful Merlin and a fondly smiling Hunith watching after him.
Six months later and Will was dead.
Merlin sat beside the table on which they had laid Will after he had been shot with an arrow protecting Arthur. Merlin was crying like the day he had left Ealdor, but so much harder and these were tears of pure pain, sadness and anguish. These tears were worse and his sobs hurt like he had been shot by the arrow that had stolen Will's life. Stolen Will from him.
He knew Hunith, Arthur, Morgana and Gwen were probably gathered around outside the door, wanting to give him space and privacy but not wanting to leave him in such a state. He knew they could hear him. He didn't care.
Will had not only taken an arrow for Arthur, the man he disliked for changing Merlin, but he had told Arthur that it had been he who had performed the magic during the fight. He saved Merlin's life by keeping Merlin's magic a secret and taking the blame.
Besides Hunith, Will was everything of Merlin's past. Will had been everything of Merlin's present. Will was supposed to be in Merlin's future too. But those thoughts of the future were torn from him the moment that arrow had torn through Will's flesh.
Merlin grasped Will's cold hand, pressing a kiss to the back of it, running his other hand down Will's lifeless cheek.
"Why did you leave me? You promised you'd never leave." Merlin choked through sobs. He lay his head on Will's stomach, careful to avoid the arrow wound on his friend's chest. "I need you here. You and my mother, you both are my home. You were my first. My first everything." Merlin's hand moved from Will's cheek through his brown hair, watching Will's face, trying to remember every last detail.
The voice made him jump. He hadn't realised the four people he'd predicted to be outside the door had entered the room.
"Just five more minutes." Merlin pleaded, not turning to look at any of them. "Please."
"Merlin, you've said that too many times, it'll be dark soon and the...the funerary pyre is ready." Morgana said softly.
"Oh god..." Merlin choked, frantically clutching Will's hand tighter, with both hands now. "I can't. I can't leave him. I can't."
"Merlin you have to." Arthur's steady voice - that masked all emotions he was really feeling - said sternly. His hand appeared on Merlin's shoulder. "You have to let him go."
Merlin shook his head, "I can't." He whispered.
Arthur had obviously looked at Hunith desperately, as Merlin's mother soon appeared in his eye line.
"Merlin, love, please. Will needs to go now. We will all miss him very much and we'll never forget him, like you promised him all those months ago. Remember?"
Merlin nodded, his tears unchecked and uncontrolled, shaking sobs still wracking his body.
"So are you going to let go of his hand now Merlin?" His mother said softly, tears in her eyes but attempting to keep strong for her son's sake, leaning over to slowly prise Merlin's hand from his friend's. She then looked up at Arthur. "Arthur, would you?" She glanced at the door.
Arthur, who still had strong grasp of Merlin's shoulder, pulled him up and then took his arm more gently, ready to lead him out of the room. But Merlin struggled away and flew back to Will.
"Merlin!" Arthur cried out exasperatedly, his voice now betraying the emotion it had previously being hiding.
"Merlin please." Hunith whispered, crying now.
"Just wait." Merlin snapped, looking down at Will. He smoothed back the boy's hair, ran a hand down his cheek and then leant down to press a kiss to the cold skin and to whisper in Will's ear "All those years ago we vowed to each other not to remove each other's wrist bands till the day we died. I kept that promise and I know you did too. But now, you're gone so it's ok to do this. You kept the oath till the day you died..." Merlin carefully untied the leather strip from Will's wrist. "And I'm going to keep your oath going. I will wear your band, alongside mine till the day I die and that's a promise Will. That's a promise." Merlin pulled off his neck scarf and tied it around the wrist where the strap had previously been, the tan line showing where it was missing. "A piece of me will be with you forever and I will always have a piece of you." He tied Will's strap on his wrist next to his own band and then squeezed Will's hand and looked at his best friend's face one last time, and said "Goodbye William." Before breaking down into crying once again, allowing Arthur to gently lead him away.
He watched the flames flicker and die as the last of the funerary pyre carried Will's spirit away. Arthur had spoken to him harshly about not telling him about Will's magic, making Merlin dread the day that Arthur found out Will hadn't had powers at all and it had been Merlin all along. But Will had been magic to Merlin and Merlin knew that whatever the cost, he would ensure his final promises to Will would be kept, no matter what.
Merlin lay looking up at the stars, avoiding looking at the fire to the right of him. He, Arthur, Gwen and Morgana had stopped to make camp as the sky had gotten darker, intending to make the rest of the journey home the next day. The girls were asleep, and Merlin lay awake, unable to go to sleep, or look at the fire for memories of all the happy times he and Will had shared and how that very afternoon, they had been consumed in flames.
"Merlin, please try and get some sleep." Arthur's quiet voice startled Merlin, who sat up and looked at the Prince, who was looking up at the stars too, an equally haunted expression etched on his face.
"I didn't know you were awake." Merlin stammered, as quietly as possible so not to disturb Gwen and Morgana.
"I couldn't sleep for thinking. Will made a great sacrifice doing what he did and I know he and I did not get off to a good start and I deeply regret that. He saved my life, but I wish I'd died in his place. He wasn't meant to die. And I couldn't bear to see you in so much pain afterward."
Merlin, initially shocked by both Arthur's confession and caring thoughts towards him, suddenly moved angrily until he was kneeling beside Arthur, glaring down at him. "Don't you dare say you wanted to take his place."
Arthur's eyes widened in surprise and he opened his mouth to reply but Merlin hushed him.
"Will sacrificed himself so you could live, he did that for you. Don't take that away from his memory. The future of the kingdom would be nothing without you and his sacrifice was one for the whole of Camelot, the whole of the Kingdom, not just you. I will miss him every day, but as much as I needed him, your people need you. And my feelings can't compete with that. So I have to accept that he's gone and he did so for good reason. You should accept that too. There was nothing either of us could have done and it was his choice..."
Merlin stopped and took one long look at the fire before flinching and looking away again.
Arthur watched the action silently, sympathy and guilt etched on his features.
"I feel so guilty. He was a good man."
"Don't feel guilty or you'll carry it with you forever. He wouldn't want that and I knew him better than anybody."
"He meant so much to you didn't he?"
"He was practically my first everything."
"I heard you say that when we came into the room. What did you mean?" Arthur looked like he had guessed an answer, but was curious anyway. Merlin avoided the Prince's eyes.
"He was my first enemy in the beginning but we overcame differences over the possession of toys." Merlin laughed at the memory, smiling for the first time since Will's death. "He was my first protector and friend, my first best friend, my first confident. I was the first person he opened up to after his father was killed..."
Morgana mumbled in her sleep and turned over. The boys stilled and remained in silence for a minute or two before Merlin shrugged, looking down at Will's wrist strap, touching it, eyes full of affection and memories of times gone by.
"He was so much to me." He concluded, looking up at Arthur with his tear filled eyes.
Arthur hesitated before reaching out to take Merlin's arm, pulling him down beside him. He wrapped his arms around Merlin and hugged him.
"I'm sorry." Arthur whispered into Merlin's hair.
"Me too." Merlin sniffed, eventually pushing gently away from the Prince, feeling like he was betraying Will by having that contact with anyone else and he turned over and attempted to sleep.
Arthur lay awake for the rest of the night.
Freya had been the first person to make Merlin feel that he could love again since Will. Freya hadn't been the first woman Merlin had kissed – as Gwen had kissed him once before, but Freya had been the first woman Merlin fell in love with. Merlin had cried the first time he kissed Freya, memories of Will flooding back, but Freya made him feel alright about loving someone else, Will wouldn't have wanted him to be miserable forever would he? As it turned out, Merlin was punished for it and he was made miserable. Freya was snatched away from him. Like everyone else he seemed to love.
About three months after he became the dragon lord, Merlin caught a fever and grew very ill. Arthur stayed with him throughout most of it and helped Gaius and Gwen nurse Merlin back to health.
Arthur stayed with him. Arthur didn't leave him, and never had. It was during Merlin's time of recovery that the warlock realised that he could never imagine not having Arthur in his life and how much he needed the Prince.
As it turned out, when Merlin was fully recovered and Arthur gathered Merlin into his arms, kissed him and told him never to scare him like that again, it seemed Arthur felt the same way about Merlin.
Arthur was a surprisingly gentle, kind and thoughtful lover, who, although they could not show their relationship outside of their own rooms, was everything Merlin had ever looked for in someone he loved. And Merlin did love Arthur, he told him so one night, about a month into their relationship, and Arthur told him he loved him back.
That night, Arthur became the first person Merlin ever slept with.
When they were both undressed and together on the bed, the only thing that hadn't been removed were the two leather bands on Merlin's wrist. Arthur did not miss this and took Merlin's arm, softly kissing his wrist, touching the straps with gentle fingers. He whispered a thank you to Will for saving his life and that no-one had forgotten him, or what he did.
Will was what was and Arthur was both what is and what will be. Will filled the memories of Merlin's past. Freya was a glimpse of present, but now she was past. Arthur was all of Merlin's present and Merlin's destined future. Two loves had gone, but one was not lost and Merlin was hoping that this love would last. Forever.