an: Just a little snippet of half-formed speculation. This is totally not how it’s gonna happen, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. Title is from “Don’t Pay the Boatman” because of course it is.
“You knew,” he says, and the man bows his head, eyes darting away from Killian’s accusing stare. “All along, you knew this would happen.”
“It was always a possibility.” Even now, he stands, calm and collected, and Killian wants to run him through. Perhaps that’s the darkness talking. Perhaps he’s grown tired of discovering he is the pawn in every scheme.
It matters not. This is the last time he’ll play the fool. It has to be.
Merlin finally turns his gaze back to Killian, and Killian feels the weight of years in his gaze. Living forever takes it’s toll.
Killian knows what must be done. He’s said what goodbyes he could, without causing alarm. He has made his peace with the possibility that no one will come for him. Made his peace with the very real likelihood that all his promises, all his foresworn words, will be made a lie by his next move.
But he cannot let the darkness win. He will not.
And now that he shares the burden of bearing it, well.
He can damn well be a hero and do something about it.
He calls the name without a second thought, a name he hasn’t heard in hundreds of years, a name he’d tried to erase from his memory on that last fateful visit, that visit where he’d nearly committed patricide and instead received the ring Emma now wears ‘round her throat, tucked close to her heart.
The lake bubbles ominously, but the tension bubbling up inside of him is interrupted by a shout. A shout he’d hoped he wouldn’t have to hear, before all was said and done.
“You have to stop her.” Merlin did little more than nod as Emma and her family all came into view.
“I won’t be able to hold her off for long.”
“Just - tell her I’m sorry, will you?”
“She’ll understand. One day.” Killian can’t bite back the snort.
“No, she bloody well won’t.” The wall of magic streams out from Merlin’s fingertips, stopping his pursuers in their tracks. “But at least she’ll be alive and well enough to hate me.”
The boat crosses the lake with barely a whisper of a sound, the cloaked figure standing still and silent, and he watches Merlin struggle as the small vessel glides closer, and closer still. He has to stop himself from fingering the coins that jingle in his pocket as he turns away from the sound of her cries.
He pretends not to hear her pleading, pretends not to care for the distress in her voice. If he closes his eyes, he can almost convince himself she will be fine without him.
He slips aboard the craft just as Merlin’s spell breaks, and the last thing he hears before the water swallows them up is the sound of his name, a promise and a curse all mixed into one, the anguish in the voice of the woman he loves.
They carry on at a steady pace down the flowing river, until finally the boatman lowers his cowl, looking equal parts proud and angry, eyes catching on the curved blade Killian still holds.
“You gave away your mothers ring. Blithering fool.”