Merlin met Arthur Pendragon five times. Over the course of a lifetime, five doesn't seem like a large number, but Arthur is more than enough to remember just one meeting.
The first time, they are a king and his manservant. This is the story everyone knows. Or at least the one they think they know.
"Stay with me," Merlin murmured, holding his wounded king close. "Arthur, please."
"I may be king, Merlin," he breaks off to cough, "But not even I can order death away."
They don't have much else to say after that, as Merlin rushes to get his king to Albion. They don't make it, but at least Merlin has hope he'll see Arthur again.
The second time Merlin meets Arthur, it was in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Merlin was crossing the street and locked eyes with a man whose eyes were a brilliant blue he hadn't seen in centuries, but he knew he'd never forget.
"Arthur," he breathed, the word barely a whisper.
He didn't hear the car horn until it was too late, and he felt hands shove him out of the way, followed by a sickening crunch of flesh and bone under an unforgiving surface.
"No!" Merlin screamed, turning to see Arthur laying flat on the pavement beside him. "Arthur, Arthur, stay with me."
"Merlin," Arthur's voice was barely a whisper. "You clot pole, where have you been?"
"I could ask you the same thing prat," Merlin said with a wet laugh.
"You can't talk to your king that way," Arthur coughed, and Arthur Pendragon was no more.
The third time was in the middle of the Great War. Merlin was doing his best to protect the people around him, but bombs could be just as unpredictable as the people who made them.
"You have to get out of here."
Merlin would recognize that voice anywhere.
"So do you," Merlin said, holding close the children he'd been trying to get to safety.
"I can't," Arthur shook his head. "My sister is missing."
"You can't help her if you're dead, Arthur!"
Calling him by his name was a mistake, Arthur didn't trust that Merlin knew his name without introductions.
"Mr. Merlin," the little girl tugs on his shirt. "I'm tired."
"We'll be somewhere safe you can sleep soon, sweetheart," Merlin said, smoothing her hair down. "Arthur? We always have room for one more."
"No. I have to find my sister."
Arthur turned and climbed over the pile of rubble Merlin had just come from.
He didn't see Arthur again, but it wasn't difficult to guess what had happened to him.
The fourth time was the worst.
Arthur barely even looked like himself, wasted away with a disease that nobody had been able to find a cure for.
Those two weeks were the worst of Merlin's life, as he sat by Arthur's bedside and waited for his king to die.
The fifth time they finally got their happily ever after. And it was exactly what Merlin had always hoped for, and more.