Title: The Long Night
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin's seriously ill, and Arthur waits.
Word Count: 1122 (oops!)
Prompt: 136 - Oath
Author's Notes: This also fills my hc_bingo square 'major illness' - that's 21/25 done. Not betaed, sorry, and has been written in a bit of a rush so is probably packed full of errors. If you spot any glaring ones, please let me know. Hoping the medical treatment isn't TOO far out.
The Long Night
Merlin was a strong and healthy young man, or so Arthur had thought. He’d thought Merlin was over the flu, had thought it wouldn’t matter too much if he worked late, left a few text messages asking if Merlin needed anything. When there wasn’t a reply, he assumed Merlin was sulking.
It had been the early hours of the morning when Arthur had got home, almost dawn, and he hadn’t wanted to wake Merlin up. He could hear him coughing, and went to make him a hot lemon drink. Small amends for not being there all day and most of the night.
Merlin wasn’t coughing, he was wheezing, taking shallow, rapid little breaths. His skin had taken on a bluish tinge, far worse than his usual pallor.
“Hurts,” he gasped, clutching at his chest. His forehead felt as if it was on fire when Arthur touched it.
Arthur hadn’t hesitated. He took Merlin straight to A&E, breaking speed limits and going through red lights, scraping the side of his shiny BMW on a wall when he mounted the pavement to get around a car waiting to turn. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except Merlin.
And then the hospital staff had taken him, whisked him away and all Arthur could do was sit there in the waiting room drinking coffee and waiting for news. For hours and hours it seemed he waited.
Every now and then a nurse would appear, usually not for him. He asked them over and over for news, but there was nothing. Merlin was still undergoing tests, he could see him soon.
Arthur was going crazy with the waiting. And then finally, a doctor appeared.
It was pneumonia, a result of the severe bout of flu Merlin had suffered. He was dehydrated, and suffering from a lack of oxygen because the infection had been left untreated for too long. Arthur and Merlin had both thought the cough was simply an aftereffect of the flu, nothing serious. These things lingered sometimes. But now the doctors were putting him on anti-biotics, had given him oxygen and were still giving him fluids through a drip. When Arthur was allowed in to see him, late in the afternoon, there were tubes everywhere.
Merlin looked deathly pale, lying there barely conscious. Every now and then his body shook with a wracking cough but aside from that there was little sign that he was even awake. After each coughing session he collapsed back on the bed, exhausted. His shock of dark hair clashed with his pallor, with the clinical white of the hospital.
“You can sit with him,” the doctor had told Arthur. “But don’t disturb any of the equipment. Talk to him, that often helps.”
“He’ll be okay, won’t he?”
The doctor looked down at Merlin’s still figure, then back at Arthur. “He’s young. He stands an excellent chance of pulling through.”
That wasn’t the complete reassurance that Arthur was hoping for but it would have to do.
He sat at Merlin’s bedside, holding his hand.
Arthur wasn’t one for talking, not really. He would sound off at meetings, promote his father’s company, use his voice for things that when it came down to it didn’t really matter. But to sit there and just talk… He didn’t know what to say.
Merlin could have done it easily. There was nobody more able to chatter aimlessly. Arthur loved it, despite his claims otherwise. He could listen to the endless wittering forever. He told Merlin that, haltingly, not liking the sound of his own voice echoing around the silent room.
He tried talking about work, but that was boring even to him. He talked about Merlin’s mother, whom Arthur had called from the waiting room and who was on her way down from Wales to be with her boy. That made him feel guilty, although Hunith hadn’t levelled any blame. Arthur knew where the blame lay.
He fell silent again, listening to the gentle clicks and hums of the machines around them.
“I should’ve been there for you,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, Merlin. This is my fault. I swear, if you get through this, I’ll be better. I won’t work such long hours. I’ll never leave you when you’re ill. I won’t cancel on you at the last minute. If you’ll still put up with me after this, I promise I’ll spend every day trying to make it up to you.”
It was easy then, to talk. All the things he’d done, all the dates he’d missed, the things he was sorry for. A thousand and one things he’d do, a thousand more he’d never do again, if only his lover made it through this.
Merlin just lay there, unresponsive.
“You really need to take a break. You’ve been sitting here for most of the day and all of the night.”
Arthur hadn’t even heard the nurse come in. She was opening the curtains, letting in the morning sunlight. Arthur gazed at the figure lying in the bed, dead to the world.
“His temperature’s gone down, that’s a healthy, healing sleep,” the nurse gently touched his arm. “You won’t do him any good if you get sick too. He’s going to want you sitting here, helping him to feel better when he wakes up. He won’t feel better if he sees you looking as if you haven’t slept in a week.”
“I can’t leave him,” Arthur whispered. “I won’t. If I hadn’t left him alone I’d have realised something was wrong sooner. I could have got help earlier. This is my fault.” He looked up at the woman, terrified. “He’s not going to die, is he?”
“Oh my poor dear. Look,” she pointed at the monitor above Merlin’s head. “He’s slowly going back down to normal. That’s a very good sign. And he’s off the oxygen. It’s early days, but he should pull through. I’d pull through, if I had a boyfriend sitting there saying all those sweet things to me.”
Vaguely Arthur realised he’d not stopped talking when the hospital staff had come in during the night and run their checks. Sometimes water had been put in front of him and he’d drunk, mechanically, careless of anything happening around him.
“Don’t go blaming yourself,” the nurse advised. She was changing the drip, putting a fresh bottle on the stand. “Just concentrate on looking after him when he’s out of here.”
When he’s out of here. That was the first truly hopeful thing he’d heard since he’d found Merlin gasping for air the previous morning.
“I swear I’ll look after you,” he whispered, leaning over to press a kiss to Merlin’s forehead. “I love you.”
And slowly, blinking in the morning light, Merlin opened his eyes.