Innocence and Instinct

Chapter 6

Arthur hit the door several times with no effect. Merlin had been alone in there for several minutes now, and Arthur knew he couldn’t break down the door on his own. Even though he had been hitting the door with his good shoulder, he could feel both his knee and other shoulder starting to throb with the effort. Despite that knowledge, he kept ramming into it and shouting, “MERLIN! OPEN THIS DOOR!”

“Get out of the way!” Arthur turned to see Gwaine barreling towards the door, not even having to ask what was going on. He had just enough time to move out of the way before Gwaine hit the door full force. It didn’t budge. He backed up and hit it again. Still nothing.

Arthur could feel the pain of all his unhealed wounds after repeatedly ramming into the door, but he wasn’t about to give up on his friend. He pulled Gwaine back so they could work together, and they both prepared themselves. When Arthur nodded they ran at the door simultaneously hitting it with their shoulders. The door toppled in, the heavy wardrobe in front of it fell forward onto the end of Merlin’s bed causing it to break and splinter.

Arthur and Gwaine looked up from their position on top of the fallen door and wardrobe searching the room wildly. In the corner Arthur spotted Merlin, a piece of sharp glass clutched in his hand so tightly his fingers were bleeding, but there was more blood coming from somewhere else on his body. More glass was scattered around the window right next to him, and a breeze hit Arthur from the now exposed window. It was obvious where Merlin had gotten the shard.

“No.” Merlin said desperately, his voice pleading, his eyes widening in fear and confusion. “Please... don’t...” Gwaine jumped up and ran over to Merlin, but stopped short, his eyes widening in shock at what he saw. Arthur was right behind him, staggering painfully, and his breath hitched in his throat at what he saw. Two long red lines streaked both of Merlin’s wrists. Arthur had witnessed more than one suicidal man, but this method was foreign to him. At first he wondered how severe the damage could be, but Merlin was losing blood quicker than Arthur expected. It was coming out so fast! Arthur swallowed, feeling sick to his stomach, before kneeling down and looking back at Gaius who watched from the door, ready to act if need be.

“Get some bandages!” he shouted. The physician turned around quickly.

Arthur reached for Merlin’s wrists, but Merlin jerked his hands away. “NO!” he shouted and swung the sharp glass at Arthur’s hands clumsily. Arthur could tell he wasn’t really trying and that the movement was more of a plea than a warning. Merlin stood up trying to inch away from Arthur, but he was bleeding fast and already unsteady on his feet. His eyes were wide and wild staring at Arthur, so he didn’t see when Gwaine suddenly appeared from the side, practically tackling Merlin. He wrapped his arms around the suicidal man’s upper torso and clamping Merlin’s arms to his chest and holding him still. Arthur was up in seconds yanking the glass from Merlin’s hand, cutting his own as he did so, but not caring at the moment.

Gaius appeared, climbing over the door and wardrobe with the bandages. Despite knowing what he would find, Gaius couldn’t help but gasp. Arthur held Merlin’s wrists in his hands trying to stem the blood flow with his bare fingers, but he let go and helped Gwaine hold Merlin down while Gaius tried to bandage the wounds.

Even with the blood loss, Merlin kept fighting and shouting and making it very difficult for Gaius to help him.

“Merlin, friend, stop!” Gwaine pleaded. “Either you let us help you now or you pass out and we’ll help you then.”

Merlin hesitated only a moment longer before admitting defeat, and went slack in Gwaine’s arms. They slumped to the ground together, Merlin’s back pressed up against Gwaine’s chest as he sobbed, but he held still as Gaius bandaged his wounds.

“Sire,” Gaius’ voice trembled, “there’s a potion on the table with a yellow lid. Please bring it to me.”

Arthur nodded and stood up, feeling dizzy. He braced himself on the wall before pushing off, climbing over the wardrobe. He was back a few moments later and collapsed at Gaius’ side, the whole ordeal exhausting him more than a full day of training would. His hands were covered in Merlin’s blood. He looked at the young man. The bandages around his wrists and hands were already soaked through.

Merlin silently sobbed into one of Gwaine’s knees, and Arthur could hear the slightly older man whispering calming words to his younger friend, which he doubted were having any effect. Merlin was more determined to attain his goal than any man Arthur had ever met, even going so far as to break a promise to Arthur, something he had never known Merlin to do. Arthur felt the guilt rising up in him. Merlin was manic to end his life for Arthur, how could he not feel responsible for that?

"Please," the heart wrenching cry caused Arthur to look Merlin straight in the eyes. "Please just let me go." His eyes looked up at Arthur's with such pleading that Arthur almost felt guilty at refusing him. Those eyes made his heart fill with sorrow. “I can’t… I can’t do this…”

Merlin was a broken man in front of him. What Garlock had done was worse than killing him; it was like he had crushed his soul. The memory of Merlin’s nightmarish scream haunted Arthur once again and he couldn’t find the words to speak.

It was Gwaine that responded. "Friends never give up, Merlin, and they never let go."

Merlin slumped even further into Gwaine's arms, and Arthur knew that the words had not been comforting at all.

Gaius helped Merlin drink the sedative and the boy was soon asleep again. For a moment they all just sat there, on the floor, silent except for the panting breaths. Gwaine looked towards the ruined bed and then towards the wardrobe in front of the door, seemingly trying to figure out what to do with the unconscious Merlin. He didn’t say anything though, and Arthur had a feeling he was perfectly content to sit there and hold his friend.

“What happened?” Gwaine asked. There was no discernible emotion in his voice yet his face was swimming with a variety of them.

Arthur sighed. “Merlin woke up. We talked. I made him promise not to try again… He promised...” The hurt at this broken promise caused Arthur’s voice to catch ever so slightly before finishing his story. “I was only gone for a few seconds...” Arthur went to drop his head in his hands only to stop when he saw they were still covered in blood.

“Come on,” Gaius said, “We can put Merlin in my bed again, and you can both clean yourselves up while I tend further to his injuries.”

Gwaine lifted the slight frame of Merlin, seeming even slighter now in his frail state. They climbed back through the door, and did as Gaius said. It wasn’t until Arthur had begun washing his hands that he remembered the cut on his palm. He hissed as the cool water seeped in.

That was all that was needed before the skilled healer was right next to him, twisting his hand around. He pulled Arthur over to his bench and proceeded to bandage the injury. Arthur stared at the still form of Merlin the whole time.

“Take off your shirt Arthur.” Gaius instructed. Arthur frowned at him in confusion.

The physician pointed to the wound on Arthur’s shoulder, which he now realized had reopened and was bleeding through his shirt. He obediently slipped the shirt off and felt Gwaine’s eyes on him, inspecting every cut on his torso, every scar that had once been a wound, each black bruise that was slowly turning yellow. Gwaine met his eyes for only a moment. Arthur could see guilt and regret there before he turned his face back to Merlin.

“None of this is your fault, Gwaine. No one could have predicted the ambush,” Arthur told him quietly as Gaius redressed his wound. Gwaine knew it was pointless to argue, so he simply nodded his head and turned his attention back to Merlin.

When Arthur stood back up to sit down next to Merlin, he almost collapsed. Gwaine, who was standing nearby, caught him before his knees could hit the floor.

“Sire, I must insist you return to your chambers and rest. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have even let you out of bed yet.” Gaius chastised.

“I have to tell you a few things first.” Arthur said, and with the help of Gwaine he sat down next to Merlin again. Gaius and Gwaine took positions around the pale man on the bed but focused their attention on Arthur.

He took a deep breath before telling them about the prophecy. Gwaine and Gaius watched him intently. “Merlin claims that the only way to keep this prophecy from happening is to kill himself.”

Arthur’s gaze dropped to his folded hands. Guilt wracked his soul even as he wanted to blame Merlin and his stupid sense of loyalty and self-sacrifice. Merlin was only in this condition because of him.

“Did you find out anything else?” Gaius asked.

“No.” Arthur said. “I planned to ask more but… I didn’t get the chance.”

They were silent for awhile and then it was Gwaine who spoke. “Why did he wait?” he asked, and his tone was a mixture of curiosity and confusion.

Arthur frowned and looked up at the knight. Gaius too stared at him as if asking him to elaborate.

Gwaine continued. “We rescued you a full week ago, why did he wait till now to start doing… this?” Gwaine asked gesturing to the still form in between the three of them.

Arthur and Gaius looked at each other as if both wondering the same thing, but neither of them had an answer. Arthur pushed a hand wearily through his hair. It seemed like the more they tried to get to the bottom of this, the more questions they discovered, and the less answers they had. How do you keep a man alive who is hell bent on destroying himself? Especially when that man is as stubborn and determined as Merlin…

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