The sick did not stop being sick whenever Gaius was going through a personal crisis. He had learned long ago to put his feelings aside in order to tend to all who needed him. Still, there was nothing he had been through that had drained him quite like this.
Because of his duties, he did not get to sit with Merlin as often as he would have liked. He had not even gotten the chance to talk to him privately as of yet. Gaius awoke early this morning. Gwaine was vigilant by Merlin’s bedside when he went back to see how Merlin was doing. He greeted Gaius with a simple nod. Normally a cheerful “Good morning” would slip out easily from the habitually pleasant knight, but as each day dawned, those closest to Merlin found the morning bleaker and bleaker.
“Has he awoken at all?” Gaius asked.
“Once.” Gwaine’s voice was heavy with sorrow.
Gaius had been through his fair share of such incidents, though never one so close to his heart. He understood that if someone was really determined to take their own life that, as a rule, eventually they would succeed. You could only fight a person so long, and in many of their minds and hearts, Merlin’s friends were slowly giving up hope and beginning to mourn. However, it became apparent that Gwaine had not given up just yet.
“I think he’s been brainwashed.” Gwaine stated, causing Gaius to look up at him in surprise. The words brought a sense of promise with them. If Merlin had not really seen a true prophecy, if he had just been convinced that he had, then there was hope. Maybe they could find a way to talk Merlin out of the delusion. Still Gaius was cautious not to be too ambitious.
“What makes you think that?” Gaius asked.
“When I asked him about the prophecy, he claimed to have seen it with his own eyes, but he couldn’t tell me what he saw. He just kept insisting that he would be the cause of Arthur’s death. When I continued to ask, he had some sort of… attack.” Gaius looked worried at this.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” he demanded.
“I gave him some of the sedative you left, and he fell asleep again. I knew you hadn’t slept the night before, except for a few hours before his last… attempt.” Gwaine looked away for a moment and then leaned closer to Gaius, Merlin still between them.
“Is it possible that he’s been brainwashed in a way that, when he tries to remember, his body… rebels against him?” Gwaine said pausing to try and think how to best describe his theory.
Gaius thought about this.
“It is very possible, and not the first time I have seen something like this. If this is true, then maybe there is some hope.” Gaius said. “We must find out what Garlock did to him there. There may be some answers where you found the both of them.”
Gwaine’s eyes widened. “Return to that stink-hole?” he asked. “Arthur’s not going to like that.”
Gaius frowned. “The king is in no state to be leaving the castle.”
Gwaine laughed. “Try keeping him here when it’s Merlin’s life at stake.”
Gaius frowned but did not argue any further. “You should get some rest. Arthur will be up in a few hours. We will want to leave as soon as possible.”
Gwaine frowned. “I’m not going. Try making me leave when it’s Merlin’s life at stake.” He stated strongly.
Gaius smiled and nodded knowingly. “I figured as much but you should get your rest while there’s someone else to watch him.” Gwaine nodded and went to sit on the floor.
“You can sleep in my bed,” Gaius offered. “I’d… like some time alone.”
Gwaine hesitated, looking back and forth between them.
“There is no door so you will not be locked out, you can come running in if there’s any trouble.” Gaius assured him.
Gwaine finally nodded, more out of respect for the older man than the actual desire to sleep in a real bed.
It was only an hour later that Merlin awoke again. Merlin’s eyes met Gaius’ as soon as they opened, tears pooling in both sets. Merlin was the first to look away.
“It was the one thing I couldn’t do. Face you.” he stated quietly.
“You thought it would be better for me to find the person I care for most in this world dead on the floor with no explanation?” Gaius accused.
Merlin looked up at him, sorrow in his eyes that did not quite hide the conflict in his soul.
“I thought about writing a note,” he said weakly, “but even that was too hard.”
Gaius brought a hand to Merlin’s head and brushed his fingertips through his hair.
“Oh my boy…” he whispered, his voice cracking. “I can’t lose you. Not like this, none of us can, can’t you see that?” he asked.
Merlin looked away, moving his head out Gaius’ reach.
“It’s my duty.” he said.
Gaius pulled back and stared at him. They were silent for a long while. Gaius knew that if Merlin truly was brainwashed, then arguing with him wasn’t going to do anything but upset the young man even more.
Finally Gaius turned and grabbed a bundle of food.
“I brought you something to eat.” Gaius said.
“Not hungry.” Merlin replied.
Gaius examined the young man laying before him. He was just skin and bones. It would be a huge surprise if Merlin could stand and walk at all at this point. He had lost so much blood, and while Gaius had tried to give him potions to restore the nutrients he needed, he knew that would only go so far. The young man needed food, and come to think of it, who knew when Merlin had eaten last? Perhaps before Arthur even awoke. A normal healthy person could go weeks without food, but for Merlin, after first combating the poison and then the extensive amount of blood loss, Gaius was afraid he had only days left, if that.
Merlin knew this, and in his own weak way this was another attempt at bringing about his own demise. Gaius knew now that saving Merlin was a race against time.