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The Heartbeat

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The end was near. There was no denying. Merlin could feel it with every fibre of his body. Every breath that Arthur took could be his last. After everything that Merlin had done, it was going to end like this, on some godforsaken clearing covered in darkness. So close to the destination, yet so far away.

“Thank you,” Arthur whispered and lost his consciousness.

These words triggered something in Merlin. Something that he almost forgot he had. He called Kilgharrah and ordered him to take them to the Lake of Avalon. The dragon obeyed his lord's will but when they landed by the Lake, he told the warlock that it was already too late.

“You fulfilled your destiny for the time being,” said the Dragon majestically. “Arthur is not just the king. He is the Once and Future King. When the Albion's need is greatest, Arthur will rise again.”

“I value your advice, Kilgharrah. I always have. But now... I need to try one last time. I owe him this much.” He looked at the dragon closely. The create was old and there wasn't much life left in him. “I release you from your duties. I won't call you ever again. You're free, my friend.”

The dragon bowed before Merlin. “Thank you, young warlock. However, before I go, I need to warn you that fighting the destiny is barely possible and may have dire consequences.”

“I know. I've tried to fight it for a long time. I won't give up now.”

“I don't approve it but I know one thing. If there is a human being capable of changing fates, it's you. Goodbye, Merlin.”

The Dragon flew away.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's wrist. The pulse was barely noticeable but it was still there. As long as king's heart was beating, there was hope.

“You have to fight it a while longer, Arthur,” Merlin whispered, although his friend couldn't hear him.

There was a boat at the shore of the Lake of Avalon. Merlin knew that it was no ordinary boat. It could take them to the Isle of the Blessed where everything was possible.

Merlin took Arthur in his arms, put him in the boat and sat by his side. The boat instantly moved. Merlin didn't have to use any spell or even think about it. The mists of Avalon surrounded them and in a moment they were no longer in the mortal world. They were somewhere in between.

“Is anybody here?” Merlin yelled when they reached the shore of what was supposed to be the Isle of the Blessed but didn't look exactly the same as before. “Please?”

He got Arthur out of the boat and laid him on the shore.

“What am I supposed to do now?” he whispered, touching Arthur's face gently. His skin was getting colder and colder under his fingertips. “I'm willing to give my life for his!” he yelled again. “Please, let me do this!”

That's impossible Merlin suddenly heard dozens of whispers around him. They belonged to both men and women but Merlin didn't see anyone and couldn't detect the source of these voices.

“It is possible. I've seen it done before. A life for a life. That's the prize and I'm willing to pay it.”

Your life is different, Emrys, the voices responded in unison. It cannot be taken or given away.

“Why?” Merlin screamed desperately. He looked at Arthur and knew that in a moment or two, the king would be gone. “I cannot lose him. Not like this. It's too early. I... I love him with all my heart,” he said so much softer and for the first time in his life he fully understood what it meant. It was true. There was no one else whom he could love with all his being. “I love you, Arthur.”

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love... the voices repeated after him like an echo.

“If I can't save his life, I will use Excalibur and follow him in death,” said Merlin decisively.

NOOOOOOO! YOU CAN'T!!! The voices screamed so loud that Merlin thought they could make him deaf in a moment. IT WILL DESTROY YOUR DESTINY. IT WILL HAVE IMPACT ON SO MUCH MORE.

“It's not like you can stop me,” Merlin told them. “Arthur and I are like two sides of the same coin. He is my other half. I know it and I'm not going to keep on living without him.”

WAIT! the voices said strongly. If he is indeed your other half, the other side of the coin, there is a way.

Merlin's heart skipped a beat. He didn't want to give himself false hope but he had to give it a chance, whatever it was.

“I'm listening.” He grabbed Excalibur to show them, whoever they were, that he was serious and ready to do what he said.

It is going to be painful.

It is going to be dangerous.

Once it's done, there's no way out.

This time the voices didn't speak all at once.

“I will do whatever it takes to save Arthur,” he said. “Tell me what must be done.”

Arthur's heart is being consumed by the poison this very moment as it was foretold long time ago.

It will take time for his heart to be completely cured.

He was destined to rest here in Avalon until his heart is ready to beat again.

“It's not the answer,” said Merlin. “How can it be cured now?”

It cannot be. It is beyond your power and our powers combined.

Merlin grabbed Arthur's sword tighter. “So what's the way?” he asked. “You said there is a way. You know what I'll do if he's gone.”

Those who are each other's halves share the bond that is both their curse and their blessing.

Arthur's heart cannot be cured but if your bond is as profound as you claim, he can survive with the heart of his other half.

“What? I don't understand...”

If you truly are each other's halves, you can split your heart in two and share it with your other half.

This is the most sacred magic of all.

The most dangerous magic of all.

This is the magic itself.

How can I split my heart in two?” Merlin asked. “How can Arthur survive with only half of my heart?”

He will live as long as you live.

It will bind the two of you forever.

“Is it really going to work? I know he is my other half but am I truly his? He's got Gwen and she may be his other half.” Merlin touched his own chest, being more aware of his heart beating than ever before. “Is it possible that he's my other half but I'm not his?”

This is beyond our knowledge.

“What is going to happen if I'm not his other half?” asked Merlin, though he felt he knew the answer.

You both die.

Merlin nodded. That was what he suspected. He was going to die instead of Arthur or with him anyway. It was an easy choice.

“Tell me how to do it,” said Merlin.

Kneel before your other half.

Merlin did as he was told. Arthur was as good as dead by this moment but Merlin believed that it was reversible. After all, they were no longer in the mortal world. They were in the place where in time all wounds could be healed.

The mist around them thickened but Merlin didn't care. All that mattered to him was Arthur alone and he had him right there. No one could separate them now.

Push your hand into your chest and pull out your beating heart.

Merlin wasn't afraid but surprised when he felt his hand crossing the barrier of his skin and flesh. It was a very odd feeling, as if he was putting his hand in water but more intimate. He grabbed his own heart with a trembling hand and with one swift move, he pulled it out.

He looked at his own heart beating hopefully in his hand. That was the strangest thing that he had experienced in his life. He had to be brave for Arthur and for all the things that were about to unfold.

Do the same with Arthur's heart.

This time Merlin was a little more hesitant but he didn't know any other way. He pushed his hand into Arthur's chest and it went through his skin as smoothly as a moment ago with his own flesh. Merlin had no idea what kind of magic it was but it must have been very powerful.

Arthur's heart was barely beating. Merlin felt the weak pulses when he grabbed the heart, but when he pulled it out, the beating wasn't there any more. The heart itself was darkened and it looked as good as dead.

“What shall I do with my king's heart?” Merlin asked faintly. It was very difficult for him to look at the sickened organ which was once strong and healthy.

Put it in the waters of Avalon.

It may take a long time but its waters will heal it.

Once again Merlin followed the instructions of the voices. He felt very insecure. He didn't know whose instruction he was following but he knew that there was no other choice. Even if the chance of Arthur's survival was the slightest, he had to take the risk. He owed Arthur this much and he didn't care what would happen to himself or to the rest of the world afterwards. That was selfish in a very strange way but there was no such thing in both mortal and immortal worlds that Merlin would not do for Arthur. That was insane but it was the truth. Merlin was completely aware of that.

Arthur's heart was slowly going under the deep waters of the Lake of Avalon. Merlin was watching it until it was swallowed completely by the darkness.

EMRYS, all voices called his name at once.

Split your heart in two.

You cannot hesitate.

You must be certain.

Merlin looked closely at his own heart. It seemed impossible to literary share it with another person. However, it was Arthur. He had been doing the impossible things for his king for years. He was not going to hesitate now.

He put his hands around his heart. Then he took a deep breath and pushed his fingers into his own beating flesh and made a swift move to tear it apart.

To his own surprise it went very smoothly. There was no resistance, only a small pain in his empty chest.

It was final. He was holding two halves of his heart which were still beating strongly.

You have to push both halves at once into your chests, the voices announced.

Then you have to seal the pact and it will be done.

“Seal it how?” Merlin asked. How could he know how to seal a pact like this. There was nothing about this kind of magic in all the books that he had read.

You must kiss your other half.

Both halves of his heart shuddered at these words. Merlin looked at them and then he looked around, searching those who were invisible to him. He didn't expect such answer. However, he was more scared of the shock that it made him experience.

“Is it truly necessary?” he asked, although he already knew the answer. It made a lot of sense but his not so common sense made him fight for what was left of his self preservation.

The pact must be sealed with a kiss.

It's essential.

Otherwise, the heart will not start beating in your other half's chest.

Merlin nodded more to himself than to the others. He tried to convince himself that one little kiss couldn't do much harm. Once it was done, he would be able to forget about it. Arthur was not going to remember it after all. How could he as he was on the edge of dying? At least Merlin hoped that it would end like this.

“I'm doing it for you, Arthur,” Merlin whispered. “Only for you.”

And a bit for yourself,” he thought but decided to dismiss this thought instantly.

Having each half of his heart in different hands, he kneeled by Arthur side. He held his left hand above his own chest and the right hand above Arthur's. There was so many things that crossed his mind this very moment but he didn't dwell on them. He half closed his eyes to separate himself from all the things that surrounded him, to give himself some courage. Then he pushed his hands into his and Arthur's chests and as before, there was no resistance. His magic guided him so he could put the halves in the right places.

It was an incredible thing to feel a half of his own heart beating in Arthur's chest, just under his fingertips. He felt as if he could spend the rest of his life just exploring this amazing sensation. It seemed that his and Arthur's bodies were to remain as one forever. He wished that it could be true.

Merlin pulled his hands out at once, realising that there was no point in dwelling on some fantasies. There was a real world out there that they still could explore.

He looked at Arthur but his chest wasn't moving. The king wasn't breathing. Merlin panicked but then he something. The pact wasn't sealed yet.

He put his hand on Arthur's chest, not feeling any heartbeat at all, and leaned over his friend. There was no denying that he was nervous. He closed his eyes and put his lips on Arthur's in a soft kiss.

Merlin still couldn't feel the beating under his fingertips which made him panic more. He started to fear that perhaps he and Arthur weren't each other's halves. Perhaps all this effort and humiliation were in vain.

However, Merlin didn't want to let go. He put his right hand under Arthur's head, changing his position slightly and pressing his lips harder into Arthur's. He moved his lips forcefully, managing finally to push his tongue into Arthur's mouth. He was desperate and if it was going to be the last thing that he was going to do in his life, he was going to do it properly.

Suddenly, Merlin felt something. For a short moment he thought that he imagined it but then he felt it again. Arthur's half of the heart started beating slowly in his chest and Arthur's tongue started caressing Merlin's tongue back.

Merlin let himself dwell on the joy for a few more seconds, kissing Arthur passionately but then he saw Gwen's face in his mind's eyes and pulled away completely.

He opened his eyes and saw that Arthur was still unconscious but this time his chest was moving steadily. Merlin looked around and realised that the mysterious mist disappeared and that they were on the Isle of the Blessed which looked exactly how he remembered it. They were no longer in Avalon. They were in the mortal world again.

Merlin knelt by Arthur's side and touched his cheek tenderly. It was warm again and had a healthy colour.

“Arthur,” he whispered, caressing his cheek.

The king opened his eyes slightly and smiled “Mer... Merlin...” he said softly.

“Don't say anything,” Merlin told him. “Everything is all right. You need to rest now.”

“Merlin...” Arthur whispered and closed his eyes.

“You need to sleep,” said Merlin. “I'll keep you safe.”

Arthur fell back into sleep. Merlin lay down by his side and grabbed his king's wrist, checking his pulse. He knew that Arthur was safe now but he couldn't help himself. He needed more time to fully believe it.

The sun was shining on them, keeping them warm. Merlin watched Arthur's sleeping form the whole time. To his own surprise, he didn't feel much tired. He knew that he wasn't going to be able to rest properly until they would reach Camelot.

He thought about the kiss and the betrayal he felt when he remembered Gwen's face. He knew that it was necessary and he didn't regret a thing.

In time, everything was going to come back to normal. He truly wanted to believe that.