Arthur stared down at the body in his arms, reassuring himself by the rapid rising and falling of Merlin’s chest that the man was indeed alive.
He never saw this coming.
After his memories returning and being reunited with his friends, it didn’t take long for Arthur to realise Merlin wasn’t just going to reappear. After some digging, Arthur found himself chasing up lead after lead all across the country, most of them dead ends. He didn’t know if Merlin was exactly how he had been, or like the rest of them – physically resembling the same person but having lived most of their lives with no idea who they were.
It meant he didn’t know who he was looking for.
So when he found a lead that led him straight to an institute, he was dubious. Gwen had persuaded him they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by looking into it. But Arthur knew Merlin; the man wouldn’t draw attention to everything that had happened and result in himself being locked up. He would want to live quietly.
Arthur still hadn’t believed it even when he stepped through the door. He wasn’t sure he believed it now, watching Merlin.
There was no denying he looked awful, and the fact he had passed out over the smallest of movements meant Arthur knew this had been going on for a long time. Anger flooded his veins and it took every ounce of self-control not to lash out at those nearest and demand to know why Merlin was such a mess.
To see his love looking so frail and weak was one of the greatest evils Arthur thought existed. It was just wrong, wicked and cruel for Merlin to have given up hope. But right now, Arthur knew he shouldn’t focus on that. He should think about the fact he had found the warlock, and now had every intention of getting him out.
Shifting position so he could hold Merlin closer, Arthur dug his phone out of his pocket and dialled.
“It’s him,” his voice sounded as shaken to him as no doubt it did to Gwen. “But… it’s worse. Worse than anywhere we imagined finding him.”
Arthur had seen the signature on the door. He had understood that Merlin had signed himself in, even if it now wasn’t his choice to sign out again. Merlin had done this to himself; there wasn’t some evil monster that Arthur could hunt down and make pay for hurting the man he loved. It also meant he knew it was going to take far longer to help Merlin recover from this than if there had been a third party involved.
“Just bring him home,” Gwen’s voice sounded upset; she knew where Arthur had gone. Arthur nodded, forgetting she couldn’t see him and slipped the phone away again. Sliding his arms around Merlin, he lifted him easily into his arms and unsteadily rose to his feet. Merlin was still out cold, but Arthur was sure it wasn’t his imagination that the man moved closer to the warmth of his chest. The frown crossing Merlin’s face and the slight mumble just reinforced it.
“It’s okay, love,” Arthur whispered, brushing his lips across Merlin’s forehead. “I’m here, I’m going to look after you the way you looked after me all those years ago.”
Striding for the door, Arthur made it almost to the exit before security caught up with him.
“What do you think you are doing?” One demanded, looking as if he wanted to grab Arthur’s arm but was unwilling to do so in case he dropped Merlin.
“I’m taking him home,” Arthur retorted, aware that other members of staff were coming out to witness the commotion now. He needed to move, and fast. “And if any of you try to stop me you can expect my lawyers to be taking you straight to court for neglect of a patient. No one under your care should collapse the second after standing up.”
The security man glanced to someone for help. It was obvious this was some sort of management, for the suited figure nodded and Arthur knew he wouldn’t be stopped. He also knew they weren’t really letting it go that easily and would no doubt be onto the police for kidnap the second he stepped out of the door.
Still, that was why he had called Gwen. The Knights of the Round Table might not fight with swords any more, but they still knew how to fight. They knew how to fight for each other and do whatever it took to survive. Arthur wasn’t worried about any sort of pursuit.
Marching out to his car, he awkwardly got the door open and slid Merlin in. It was a fight to get the seat belt on him and Merlin moaned in distress. It made Arthur curse, wondering if they had ever restrained him. But as he drew back, he jumped to see Merlin’s eyes were open. They were barely focused, but they were open.
“Ar’tur?” He murmured, frowning in confusion as he forced himself to stare at Arthur. Arthur gently smiled, cupping his cheek to help steady Merlin.
“It’s me, love. Get some sleep, I’m taking you home.” Arthur hadn’t noticed Merlin had reached out and latched onto the bottom of his shirt until he tried to draw away. But he was forced to slide free.
“It’s okay, I promise. This is over.”
Merlin simply didn’t have the strength to keep holding on and Arthur pulled free, shutting the door and rounding the car. Merlin was asleep (or unconscious, Arthur wasn’t sure which) before he had started the engine and Arthur let his anger consume him for a moment, thudding his head on the steering wheel.
He felt like such a failure for not managing to find Merlin before now. But now he had found him and it was time to make up for the wickedness that had been Merlin’s existence up until now.