Merlin disappeared over the edge, and Arthur was too frozen to move. Luckily, Gwaine was not. He was at the wall faster than seemed possible. From where Arthur was standing he could not tell if Gwaine had caught Merlin but guessed that he had by the way his shoulders strained with the weight.
Gwaine had in fact caught Merlin by one hand with both of his. Merlin’s voice was panicked as he fought against Gwaine’s grip.
“Let go!” he shouted. “Gwaine, please, let go!”
Arthur was still frozen.
“I told you Merlin! Friends never let go!” Gwaine shouted back angrily. He threw a glance over his shoulder at Arthur. “Help me!” he shouted.
Arthur snapped out of his reverie and was by Gwaine’s side in a second. He reached down and grabbed Merlin’s other hand which was at the moment trying to pry Gwaine’s grip loose from his wrist. Arthur yanked it away and began to pull Merlin up.
“NO!” Merlin’s voice sounded broken, and he suddenly stopped struggling as they pulled his limp body up. As soon as he was over the side of the wall though, Merlin began to thrash and kick. Gwaine grabbed him the same way he had during Merlin’s last attempt and began to force him down the stairs, away from the edge. Arthur was in front of him, because with the way Merlin was thrashing and screaming, even as weak as he was, he was likely to make them both trip and break their necks. It eventually just got ridiculous and Arthur stopped. He wrenched Merlin from Gwaine’s hands by the shoulders and held him in front of him.
“Merlin… STOP!” Arthur shouted. He had not expected it to work; he was really just too overwhelmed and desperate to try anything else, but to his surprise Merlin stopped thrashing and stared at him with wide, tear filled eyes. An inner battle was raging inside him, but he no longer fought Arthur.
Suddenly Merlin collapsed like a rag doll on the stairs. Arthur lowered him down gently. He was not unconscious but just sat on the step gasping for breath. Arthur and Gwaine sat as well, both snatching this chance to rest. They remained there in silence for awhile.
Arthur had one hand wrapped around Merlin’s arm with a grip that said “Don’t even try to get away.” He suddenly realized his shoulder hurt, a lot, and he groaned as he looked at the blood seeping through his chain mail. “Gaius is going to kill me.” he said as he realized he had torn his shoulder wound again when he had grabbed Merlin from the edge.
He heard a huffed laugh and was surprised when he realized it came from Merlin.
“I think he’ll forgive you.” he said with a smile. Arthur couldn’t help but smile back, because it was such a normal response and because Merlin felt so relaxed in his grip. Merlin shifted and winced as Arthur watched him closely.
“Is he talking to you?” Arthur asked.
Merlin shook his head. “He always… hides… for a little, after each attempt…” Merlin admitted. “But he returns stronger each time, whereas I feel weaker.” He turned desperate eyes to Arthur. “Arthur, I can’t do this anymore.” he stated, tears pouring down his cheeks and creating tracks through the dirt that had coated his skin. “I can’t fight him.”
Arthur squeezed Merlin’s arm tightly in comfort. “We’re going to figure this out, Merlin.” he assured him. “I promise.”
Merlin didn’t look comforted but was stopped from saying anything by Gwaine’s loud voice.
“No offense or anything, but what the hell are you two talking about?” he barked.
Arthur almost smiled… almost. He looked over at Merlin, “I’m not entirely sure how to explain it. I don’t think I even fully know myself.”
Merlin lay there for a moment. “Garlock was using a magical amulet to get into my head.”
“Our heads.” Arthur put in. “He used it on me as well.”
Merlin stared at Arthur a moment, processing this information and sending Arthur a look of sympathy and understanding. “He was trying to turn me against you.” Merlin said, looking at Arthur with a loyalty Arthur wasn’t sure he deserved. “He was hoping by the time he was finished with both of us that I would be the one to kill you.”
Arthur didn’t say anything, just stared at Merlin waiting for him to continue. Here Merlin shifted awkwardly as though he was trying to think about how to explain the next part of the story, but Arthur got the sneaking suspicion that he was trying to hide something. “Something went wrong with the amulet and it killed him…” He hesitated. “Well… it killed his body, but his mind joined mine.” Merlin let his head rest against the wall wearily. “He’s been trying to make me kill you ever since.”
Arthur frowned. “Why didn’t you say anything? We could have tried to help you.”
Merlin grimaced. “He can…” Merlin hesitated and swallowed, “hurt me.”
Arthur felt anger rise up in him at those words.
“He doesn’t try to stop me from killing myself because he doesn’t really care. He thinks I’m going to die anyway if he talks me into killing you, and he seems to believe that you will be crushed at my death.” Merlin laughed uncomfortably at this, but Arthur and Gwaine just watched him gravely.
“He’s right.” Arthur stated. He didn’t normally display his emotions or feelings so openly, but Merlin needed to hear this. “Gwaine was right on the rooftop, Merlin. You know how I feel about others sacrificing themselves for me, but this would be even worse.” He let go of Merlin’s arm to squeeze his shoulder tightly. “You are one of the bravest and strongest men I know, Merlin. You may act like a fool a lot of the time, but don’t think I haven’t seen your true courage.” Arthur stared into Merlin’s eyes. Merlin stared back, drinking in the words Arthur was saying as though he had longed to hear them for so long. Arthur now regretted never saying them before. “From the day you drank from the poisoned chalice to this day, I have not doubted your loyalty. I need friends like you that I can trust in my life, and I couldn’t bear to lose you like this.”
Merlin’s eyes were now so full of tears that Arthur doubted he could see, he blinked and they immediately dripped down his cheeks to join the others. Arthur moved his hand to the back of Merlin’s neck and pulled him into an awkward embrace from where they sat on the stairs.
“You’re like a brother, Merlin.” Arthur said quietly. “An annoying brother…” he heard a choked laugh that sounded more like a sob on his shoulder, “but a brother nonetheless… Do not give up.”
Arthur looked towards Gwaine who was sitting quietly but whose eyes still swam with emotion. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Arthur pulled away.
“Look at us, sitting around like a bunch of girls sharing our feelings.” he said, but even he turned away to wipe at the corner of his eye.
Merlin’s smile was weak but genuine. He seemed very tired and Arthur now noticed that both of his wrists were bleeding again. “Let’s get you back to your chambers and patch you up.”
Merlin didn’t respond, but when he tried to stand he collapsed again on shaky legs. Gwaine pulled his arm over his shoulders and led him down the stairs more slowly. Guinevere was waiting at the bottom with tears in her eyes. When she saw Merlin, he gave her a sad smile and she pulled him close. She didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. She just wanted to show him that she was there and that she cared for him.
When they got back to Merlin and Gaius’ chambers she patched both Merlin and her husband up, and they forced Merlin to eat something. Arthur could tell that while he was still scared, there was finally some hope returning to Merlin’s dulled eyes, enough for him to eat at least. Arthur wanted to try to figure out how to get Garlock out of Merlin’s head, but Merlin was obviously exhausted from the ordeal and fell asleep quickly. Arthur decided to let him rest for what little time he had without the sorcerer in his head.
“What happened?” Arthur asked Gwaine.
Gwaine didn’t look at him but just stared at Merlin with a guilty expression.
“I… I don’t know.” he said. He sounded scared, and that in itself terrified Arthur. “He seemed to be doing better. I hoped… but didn’t really believe, that you guys had broken the curse or whatever was affecting him. He ate some food and asked to go for a walk. I was helping him, and the next thing I knew I was out cold, and Merlin was nowhere to be seen.”
Arthur frowned. “He knocked you out?” he asked.
Gwaine shrugged and met Arthur’s eyes, a look of shame and guilt there, so strong that Arthur couldn’t even think of reprimanding the knight. He was beating himself up enough as it was.
Gwaine shifted in his seat and did not meet Arthur’s eyes. He laughed nervously. “I guess so.” Arthur got the distinct feeling that Gwaine was hiding something, but decided not to question Gwaine further as he continued his story.
“I asked people if they had seen him and was able to catch up to Merlin right as he climbed onto the wall of the tower. You ran up shortly after that.”
Arthur nodded knowing the rest of the story and not eager to relive it. He desperately wanted to figure this out, wanted to get the cowardly sorcerer, Garlock, out of Merlin’s head. He knew what it was like to have that man whispering in your head, tormenting you. He didn’t think he had ever hated someone so much in his life. When he slept, he still had nightmares. When he closed his eyes, he could still hear his voice. Arthur couldn’t even imagine the agony Merlin was going through.
They would have to wait for Gaius. He had more knowledge in magical matters, and hopefully he would be able to help.