It took only two minutes and thirteen seconds.
That's how long he lasted.
Merlin taught Arthur to make a snowman. The prince was something between embarrassed and exited, eyes sparkling with the lost opportunities of his royal childhood.
She gave a murderous smile. -How the mighty have fallen, they say..." she hissed venomously, and brushed her finger sharply on his cheek.
The cheek was cold, lifeless already.
There was no response.
Freya laughed from the bottom of her heart. It was the bubbling, overwhelming feeling of first love.
Arthur pressed his forehead against the cold cobble stones on the floor, hoping he'd sink through.
Gaius shook his head.
Merlin and Arthur laughed, eyes sparkling, wrapping each other's presences around themselves like a blanket. For a moment, it protected them like armor.
Hunith crossed her arms and looked up to the sky. The hard wind made her eyes water, as she begged for rain.
This sorrow infected him like cancer.
Merlin fell on to his knees. Gasping for breath, air knocked out of his lungs, his hands shook uncontrollably. There, he sobbed against Arthur's shoulder so long that it physically hurt to continue and his tears ran dry. He had never been so alone before.
Edwin felt the axe crush his nose and split his other eye before he died.
Gwaine lusted her. He had never loved anyone, truly loved, but he lusted. It was wrong. She wasn't good or acceptable, only thing in common they had was their noble bloodlines. She was the enemy, but he lusted her.
Lancelot pitied Gwen for a fleeting moment before he died.
Balinor hated Arthur Pendragon. He wanted to kill him for revenge, to make Uther feel like he was feeling right now - like his son had been taken away from him. And he hadn't ever even known Merlin existed. It made his heart ache twice more.
Merlin lost his pride and his strength. Everything poured out and spread to the floor while his shaking body drew sharp, mute breaths. In the quiet but crowded room, no one noticed.
Arthur smiled. He had never been so happy in his whole life.
-Are you saying you never cared?"
Hunith never hit anyone. Never had, never will. Except now, she slapped Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot, hard, so hard that his head was thrusted to the other side. Because king or not, he had no right to hurt her son. He had crossed the line, and she stared at him with burning eyes. She would kill him with bare hands if she had to.
He didn't struggle, or even cry out from pain. No, he looked miserable and humble, like he was ready to fall on to his knees and beg. She lifted her chin high. She hoped her own eyes that reminded so much Merlin's, would burn acid-like holes into his soul.
For the first time in four years, Morgana cried.
Gwen closed her eyes when she kissed him. Another man, another lips, it didn't matter who it was. She was so deep in her traitory that it didn't matter anymore. She moaned and pulled him closer.
Arthur hugged Gaius. The old physician didn't move an inch. He stood there like a statue, cold and unmoving, but his breathing got slowly ragged next to the king's ear. Even if Gaius was old, it somehow felt like he was boiling with power inside, like it could crush anyone if it was unleashed.
But Arthur quickly abandoned those odd and ridiculous thoughts.
Uther took Ygraine's hand. She looked up, with a small crown on her blond hair.
Gwen had never imagined giving birth could be this painful. She felt like she wanted to die.
Nimueh had turned into a ghost. She was too bitter to let go.
Merlin didn't move.
-No, Arthur, you need to predict when the spell is casted. If this was a real fight, you'd already be dead."
-Don't be so smug, Merlin. Blocking magical attacks or ducking away from them isn't easy. Now, come on, do it again. I'm starting to get a hang of those fireballs."
Morgana stood in the edge of a cliff. Somewhere far below was a river. She looked down, and saw her younger, innocent version stare back at her with wide, terrified eyes from a reflection.
For once more, Morgana gave a dark, bitter smile, but it faded.
She didn't have even the strength to be angry anymore. And that was one thing Pendragons were good at.
Carelessly, she didn't even bother to turn around, even if she could hear them coming closer. For a moment, she looked down and placed a hand on her stomach. It seemed Pendragon princesses would never have any luck.
Arthur gripped Merlin's wrist and pulled him back, not letting him leave to the forest, angry and hurt.
Merlin flashed fiery eyes at him, something the prince had never seen before. Shocked, his fingers loosened and Merlin vanished to shadows of the trees.
Arthur hugged her. He had always liked his cousin. She was funny and easy-going. He hadn't had much luck with family before, so she was a nice exception.
Merlin hit Arthur once. The first and last time the king went too far. In any other city or kingdom, Merlin would have been beheaded or executed, but now he just rushed away from the room.
Arthur had never reached the limit of Merlin's patience and good heart. King or not, he was the one that later walked slowly - head hung and voice soft - and apologized. He was ready to beg when he saw Merlin already packing his things.
The king had never been so humble and truly sorry in his life. He had then experienced pure panic for the first time in his life - never in battle, but here, in the middle of the physician's chambers, eyes glistening and wide.
They never talked about it later on.
Gaius bowed to Uther and Ygraine. He raised his head, ready to speak up.
Arthur threw bath water over Merlin and laughed.
Lancelot showed Percival how babies are supposed to be held.
After three days in shackles, Merlin's wrists were full of red and purple bruises. And broken skin. Arthur studied them with a slightly disgusted look on his face, being careful not to put pressure on his fingertips and causing any more pain. Without saying a word, the king started to bandage Merlin's wrists, treating them like they were fragile glass. Not once did he look up.
-This is my fault...And I'm sorry."
Merlin got attached to one of Arthur's dogs. The young prince couldn't understand what his servant saw in the small, weak and pitiful black dog that was slower than others, even if it had a good heart. It was no use in hunting trips.
-Thank you for saving my life."
Gwen watched Arthur closely.
-Jump, Merlin. I'll make sure you won't drown."
-You can swim, can't you?"
-Yes, I can, but Arthur..."
-Then jump. I won't let you drown, you hear me? We'll die if we stay here. At least this way we'll have a chance."
Hunith slapped him twice.
-Surely you don't regret your decision, Morgana?"
Gwen could hear the newborn's first cry, and it was the best sound she had ever head in her life.
-Arthur, I trust you with my life. Do anything you want with it, because I won't run or hide from you."
Elyan killed her. With a quick stab, her eyes got glassy.
Leon had lost his bride. He went to see her grave every year, fourth of September or December. Even if he had found someone else later on. No one else could understand this old habit, and he didn't even try to explain.
Merlin's knees gave out. Arthur and Gwaine caught him before he hit the ground.
Arthur had never imagined this would feel so good. Euphoric...it was nothing compared to his expectations.
Nimueh was left wandering in the ruins of the Isle of the Blessed. Haunting. After fourty-eight years, she met someone with blond curls and powerful magic, with a stab wound on her chest.
Uther watched how his little son learnt slowly, step by step, how to walk. The king had never felt so proud before, and clapped his hands while kneeling. The small blond boy gave a sincere laugh and staggered towards his father.
-This is it, Gaius. This is it. It's time."
-Arthur, please don't give up. Please...Not after everything. The Druids will heal you. You gave them peace and freedom, surely they will help you...Merlin will never forgive me if you die now."
Balinor kissed Hunith for the first time.
Arthur and Merlin had met before. Long before Lady Helen or Merlin ending up as the prince's manservant.
Arthur had been five and Merlin had been two. Hunith had visited Gaius and the old physician had taken care of Merlin for a little while. But he had to teach the future king to read, so Arthur was there during the days. The stubborn prince pointed a finger towards the smaller boy.
-I don't like him. Why is he here? Give him to Morgana, Gaius. She can make him play with dolls."
Gaius had just sighed and shook his head. Merlin, eyes wide and innocent, with staggering steps, had hugged Arthur for no particular reason. The prince was confused for a while, before he decided that he liked the other, smaller boy anyway.
-I thought you didn't like him, little prince?" Gaius asked with a teasy voice.
Arthur lifted Merlin to the air, eyeing him with a smile on his face. The smaller boy stared back at him.
-Now I do. He gives hugs. He is small and I'm not sure if he can talk yet, but he gives hugs. Father never gives hugs. Not even when I ask him to. So as a prince and a future king, I have decided that I can keep him as a teddy bear."
-We will take over Camelot, sister. Together."
He shook his head. And then started to laugh. -Gwaine, you're the one that's supposed to be drunk."
-I have lived for many years. Aithusa is much younger, but will learn in time."
Arthur offered his hand to Morgana. She didn't take it.
-What are you afraid of? That he doesn't accept you or forgive you?"
-No. That he will banish me again. I can't take it if it happens again. I betrayed his trust. I have deserved his distrust, believe me. Elyan doesn't even know about any of this. Not even the fact that I'm carrying a child.
-You have to tell Arthur."
-No. I can never do that. This must remain a secret."
-Hasn't there been enough secrets and lies in Arthur's life?"
Merlin didn't say anything. He just watched as Mordred took one final breath and the life faded from his eyes.
Arthur trusted Merlin.
-I'm always here."
Even if Arthur was walking and his back was already turned, he could still feel her angry eyes drilling to his back. If looks could kill...
But he didn't mind. His shoulders were too hunched and his heart was too heavy, a bruise forming to his cheek.
-Wait! I said wait!"
-Well, then, I guess I see you on the other side."
Merlin followed Arthur.