Title: By Your Side
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Gwen, Lancelot
Summary: Arthur didn't know what he had to do to help Merlin.
Word Count: 1000
Prompt: I'm Here
Author's Notes: A follow on from Haze and Vision (although they were written ages ago!)
It took days before Merlin stopped turning his back on Arthur. It hurt until Gwen had been close enough to understand the whimper that slipped from his lips every time he did so. Arthur didn’t know what the man had been through, but Merlin had utterly convinced himself that none of them were real and Arthur didn’t know what to do in order to make him believe.
Merlin was more accepting of Gwen, although he refused to acknowledge that she was the same Gwen he had always known. Arthur supposed it was because he hadn’t been so close to her at the end. But Arthur – the one who he had spent every waking moment with – was left sitting helplessly by the bed. Gwen was the one who encouraged him to get up. Gwen was the one to make him eat. And when the tears started to fall, Gwen was the one to wipe them away. Arthur could see the guilt in her expression, but he shook his head. As long as someone was there for Merlin, he was just going to have to wait.
But even when Merlin stopped rolling over every time he saw the ex-king, it didn’t mean he was ready to talk to Arthur. Gwen gnawed on her lip nervously as she peered into the room.
“I don’t want to leave him…”
“You said it yourself, he can’t just depend on you.” Arthur said, wrapping a scarf around her neck and tucking it in. “If there is anything he needs, I’m capable of getting it. If he refused to let himself be helped by anyone other than you, then that is his fault for being so stubborn.”
“Arthur!” Gwen’s voice was scandalised, but she softened as she looked at him. Gently, she touched his arm. “We don’t know what they did to him in there.”
“Or how he even ended up there,” Lancelot said. He moved closer, drawing Gwen’s coat around her shoulders and holding her close. “He was in a mental institution, Arthur. Drugged into oblivion. Either someone forced him in there or he checked himself in. Either way, it’s going to take him time.”
“He’s had time. He’s been here a week and he won’t even talk to me…”
“You realise he’s been alive this whole time. What is a week in comparison to that?”
“I can’t just sit on the side-lines and watch him suffer!” Arthur exclaimed. He knew he was being irrational. Merlin needed time, love and care. But every time he looked at him, Arthur felt his heart break. He wanted – needed – to be able to help and Merlin wasn’t letting him. He knew while Gwen was around, Merlin wasn’t going to let anyone get close. It seemed all these years of being alone had done little to soften his stubbornness. Lancelot opened his mouth to argue, but Gwen saw the desperation in Arthur’s face.
“We’ll only be an hour. Gwaine and Leon are downstairs if you need anything. They won’t disturb you though.”
Arthur nodded his gratitude. He watched silently as Gwen and Lancelot disappeared from sight before moving back to sit by Merlin’s bed-side. The man’s body was rigid with tension and Arthur knew that he was awake. For a moment, Arthur nearly panicked. What was he thinking sending Gwen out? Merlin needed her! He half-rose in order to call her back and then realised he was being foolish.
Forcing himself to relax, he propped his feet on the end of Merlin’s bed and began talking. He didn’t pay attention to what he was saying. He told Merlin about how he had come back and Leon had found him wandering the streets. How he had helped him to adjust and gradually, all their friends had arrived before they realised they didn’t know where Merlin was. Then Arthur told him about what they had gone through to track Merlin down.
“And now I don’t know what to do.” Arthur finished, his voice cracking and he quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. At least if Merlin wouldn’t look at him, then he wouldn’t see the tears. But as Arthur’s hand dropped back by his side, trembling fingers touched the back of it tentatively. Arthur forgot to breathe as he carefully looked at Merlin, making sure he didn’t move suddenly. Merlin was looking at his body, a frown on his face as he slowly lifted his gaze to look at Arthur’s face.
Arthur tried to smile, but he was frozen. Merlin had an intense expression of concentration on his face as he stared at Arthur.
“A’thur?” His voice was hoarse and weak. But Arthur felt a beaming smile shoot over his face as he gently folded his fingers around Merlin’s. He slipped from the chair, kneeling by the bed as his free hand lifted. Very softly, he traced his finger down Merlin’s cheek and felt emotion constrict his throat when Merlin didn’t pull away.
“Yes, love,” Arthur said softly. “I’m here. I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Merlin continued to stare at him, almost as if he was having to convince himself Arthur was real. Then again, it had taken them a couple of days to get the drugs out of Merlin’s system. There was every chance he had suffered more than his fair share of hallucinations throughout his time in the institution.
“I’m here, Merlin. You’re safe.” Arthur kept up his mantra of reassurances. But he kept repeating that he was here, hoping it would be enough to get it into Merlin’s head. After almost ten minutes, Arthur felt the grip on his fingers return. It was only weak and Arthur barely could feel it. But there was no denying what Merlin was doing.
“Good,” Merlin breathed. His eyes shut as he fell into the same fitful doze that occupied most of his time. Arthur smiled, stroking his hair soothingly as he slept. It seemed Merlin finally knew he was real. Arthur couldn’t ask for more.