Merlin shivered from where he was curled up on the floor. There was a bed barely a few paces away, freshly made up with neat, laundered blankets the same as it was every day. But the idea of pulling himself up and moving across to it was more effort than he wanted to spend right now. That tended to be what happened when he hadn’t slept for three days straight now.
He knew he should try. He knew the doctor would come in this afternoon, take one look at him and prescribe sleeping pills again. If Merlin refused to take them, they would inject him. He didn’t know why he still fought it. As they liked to remind him, he had checked himself in.
But dreaming meant seeing him.
Merlin had checked himself in to stop that from happening.
He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t face seeing the perfect face smiling at him, hair slightly too long falling into eyes that sparkled with mirth. Merlin was the only one to ever get to see that expression on his face, and now he was the only one that was continuing to see it. They told him it was grief; Merlin knew they were right. But then they looked at the records and realised he hadn’t lost anyone. That had baffled them.
They were wrong though. He might not have lost anyone in this lifetime, or even the last. But the one time he had lost someone was enough to haunt him forever. He didn’t want to roam the streets, double taking every time a blond man walked past. He didn’t want to find Arthur in this lifetime, for he knew he would only lose him again and Merlin couldn’t take that.
The sound of the door opening made him blink sluggishly. They had taken to locking it recently. Merlin knew that also was his fault. Once he had realised the hospital wasn’t going to help him, he had tried to release himself. But by that point, they had realised something was seriously plaguing him and he was a danger to himself if allowed to wander. Raising exhausted eyes, Merlin could only stare as the nurse came in.
She tutted, moving across. Reaching down, she took his arm.
“You’re freezing,” she scolded, drawing him to his feet. Merlin hated her. Some said she had a motherly nature, but she was forceful and never took no for an answer. Even now, Merlin tried to pull away, preferring the floor, but she yanked him up harshly and pushed him towards the bed.
“You’ll get ill if you stay down there. Now, did you eat all your breakfast?” Her condescending tone made Merlin drop his eyes. He was exhausted and he was torn apart from demons of a past. He hadn’t, however, lost any of his stubbornness. She wanted stupid answers – his empty plate was sitting right there. He wasn’t going to say a word.
“So we’re going for the silent treatment are we, young man? I don’t know what you think you are smirking at.”
The smile remained on his face as he allowed her to take his blood pressure. She thought she was being smart trying to be motherly on him, hoping it would make him want to look after himself. Merlin wondered what she would say if he told her there was only two people who had ever been able to treat him like that. One was his own mother. And the other had been the Queen of Camelot and one of his dearest friends.
His continued silence clearly wound the nurse up, for she was frowning when she left. Merlin knew that wouldn’t end well for him, she would send the therapist in who in turn would get the doctor who would order him to be drugged again. He seemed to be spending more and more of his days in a stupor now. It left him trapped, watching Arthur’s face swimming before his consciousness, wanting to reach out to his golden king and not being able to. It made everything worse.
And there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t stop it and they had made it quite clearly he wouldn’t be released any time soon.
Merlin wasn’t ready when he heard the door open again. He usually could prepare himself for the therapist, rehearsed answers that wouldn’t give anything away. But it was too soon this time and Merlin gulped hard when he realised there were tears in his eyes. He couldn’t do this, he just couldn’t…
“Merlin?” It wasn’t the usual man.
It was a voice Merlin had been craving to hear and yet been dreading, determined not to.
It couldn’t be happening. Maybe he had fallen asleep after all…
“Oh my god, Merlin…”
This time, he slowly looked up, red-rimmed eyes framed in an ashen complexion. Then he blinked. But his hallucination didn’t go away. Instead, it was looking at him in a mixture of horror and pity, a look Merlin never wanted to see on that beautiful face. He frowned, distressed that his king could look like that. He had to make it better.
Awkwardly, Merlin pushed himself to his feet. He wobbled as he did so, knowing the exhaustion was making itself known. He welcomed it. He knew as soon as he reached out, the figure would vanish because it was all just a trick of his mind. With any luck, he would hit the floor hard enough to pass out and they would have to cancel both the therapy and the doctor, meaning they wouldn’t be able to drug him. It was his way out.
Merlin forced himself to take a step. Predictably, his legs buckled underneath him and he was falling. Merlin braced himself for impact…
…and Arthur’s strong arms caught him easily, holding him close.
“Not real…” Merlin muttered, his eyes rolling back in his head. A figure ran gently down his cheek, the touch so familiar.
“Yes, I am.”