Arthur couldn’t bring himself to go back to the way things were normally. He wanted nothing more than to laugh and insult Merlin back. But he couldn’t. Not at a time like this.
He stood up, and began pacing around the room. “Merlin. We can’t… I can’t…” He trailed off, remembering once again that this wasn’t a problem like the ones they usually had. The ones that they always beat in the end. This was something new, something they could not fight. Something much worse than anything they had ever encountered.
Then he noticed Merlin, who had been quiet for a while. There were tears in the other man’s face again.
Arthur sighed, falling back into his chair. Everything seemed so different from yesterday. He wished he could go back. And, by the looking at Merlin, he knew they both wanted the same thing.
There were a few minutes of silence, as they listened to the logs crackling in the fire. Eventually Merlin stood up.
“When’s the reaping?” He knew that there was no point trying to change the subject any more. “And how long do the games last? Are they going to hold them every year?” Merlin clamped a hand over his mouth. The questions had begun pouring out unbidden. He didn’t mean to upset Arthur but he wanted - no, needed - to know when life could return to normality, and out of everyone, Arthur would know the answers. But it seemed that Arthur wasn’t in the mood for conversation.
Merlin turned to him, still standing, and noticed just how tired he looked. The blue of his eyes was lighter than normal… transparent, almost. He had dark circles around them and he looked… drained.
It had only been one day.
Merlin wanted nothing more than to pull Arthur into a hug. To reassure him that everything would be fine, don’t worry. But Arthur knew better than that, and would probably shove him off if Merlin tried to touch him now.
Arthur blinked, and slowly, hesitantly, looked up at Merlin. He sighed.
“Tomorrow.” He said simply. As if it didn’t change anything. It didn’t really, because no matter how much time they had left with their loved ones, the dread and fear of the Reaping would hang over them like a dark cloud ready to rain.
He swallowed. “As long as it takes.” He said, answering the second question. He didn’t have to say specifically how long it would take to do what, but he knew Merlin would understand.
“And…” He looked down at his hands.
“Yes. Every… Every year. For who knows how long.” He raised his gaze from his hands and looked at Merlin once again, as if he was hoping Merlin would contradict him, and tell him that this was all a joke. A cruel joke.
But, he knew it wasn’t. He knew this was real. He knew he could not escape it.