Some Kind of Mental Affliction
A/N1: I'm sitting here in Pierrefonds, drinking tea in the gardens of a café, looking up at the castle, and imagining, so, naturally, a fanfic was born.
A/N2: I must give many, many thanks to Ragepruprock from writing Drastically Redefining Protocol, where the idea of Arthur as Prince of modern England, as well as for the idea of creating pictures to accompany the story.
Warnings: This fic features graphic descriptions of abuse, self harm, eating disorders, attempted suicide, and all of the associated issues. It's pretty much as angsty as it gets. Some of the pictures accompanying the fic may also be disturbing or triggering, so don't look at them if you're particularly sensitive to that kind of thing. Also, it's Merlin/Arthur. Need I say any more??? Anyway… on with the fic!!
Chapter 1 – The Royal Visit
Prince Arthur James William Uther Pendragon, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of Great Britain followed his father quietly down the corridors of Marshworth Centre for the Treatment of Mental Illness, silent and barely listening as his father, King Uther, praised the staff emphatically for ensuring that the patients were well cared for, and that they posed no danger to themselves or others.
The prince, however, saw little cause for praise. He saw all that his father was blind to. People here were not cared for, and they were certainly not patients. They were inmates; inmates locked in a prison, hidden from the eyes of the more desirable members of British society. Anger welled up in Arthur's chest as he peered through small windows in thick iron doors to see inmate after inmate lying on hard, plain metal beds, their wrist and ankles strapped down, kept sedated so that they could not disturb the royal visit with their cries of anguish, pain and misery.
Breathing deeply through his nose, Arthur forced himself to regain his composure before speaking.
"Father?" He said, bracing himself against the King's steely gaze, no down furious with his son for his interruption. "Pardon me for interrupting, but would it be possible for me to walk by myself for a while? I need a few moments alone to properly absorb and appreciate the work here."
Uther hesitated for a moment before glancing enquiringly at the hospital manager, who nodded, before nodding coldly himself.
As Arthur turned as started to walk back down the corridor, he heard his father speak.
"I do apologise for my son." Uther said formally. "He has a rather weak stomach where hospitals are concerned. I'm afraid he found the media's illicit footage of his mother's death when he was nine years old and was severely traumatised. He has been unable to abide with any exposure to hospital environments ever since."
Arthur froze briefly mid-step, forcing down the unwelcome images of his mother crying and moaning on blood-soaked sheets, her newborn son clutched desperately to her chest. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the nausea that rose up within him, Arthur resumed his firm, authoritative exit from the corridor.
Arthur burst violently out of the door into the gardens, running as fast as he could across the grass before vomiting repeatedly into a bush on the other side of the lawn. After several minutes of retching and vomiting until his stomach was completely empty, the prince straightened up, ghostly pale and trembling, and wiped his mouth shakily on a handkerchief from his pocket.
"Something wrong, sire?" Arthur span around on the spot, searching nervously for the man who had emphasised the 'sire' in such as exaggerated way he had managed to make the ordinarily respectful address sound like an insult. After a moment, his eyes fell upon a pale, skinny young man, sitting on a bench underneath a nearby tree.
"Excuse me?" He asked, approaching the stranger slowly, appraising him quickly as he walked.
He was a very frail looking young man, with dark brown, almost black, hair and startling blue eyes, both of which contrasted strikingly with his extremely pale, white skin. He had prominent, sharp cheekbones, and, to Arthur's amusement, slightly large ears which he appeared to have failed to grow into. Oddly, Arthur found himself thinking, these odd features all combined to look, actually, quite attractive.
"Cigarette?" Arthur stared blankly at his new companion for a moment, before reaching out and taking the cigarette and the accompanying lighter from him with a numb, stunned nod of thanks and sitting down on the bench next to him.
"I'm Arthur." The young prince said, lighting the cigarette and returning the lighter.
"Fucking hell, I know who you are." The stranger snorted. "I'm Merlin."
Arthur stared at him for a moment, searching for any hint that the stranger was joking. Seeing no hint of humour in his eyes, however, Arthur simply shrugged his shoulders, rolling his eyes at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. Prince Arthur sitting in a mental institution's garden having a quick smoke with Merlin? It was like something from a Ricky Gervais show.
"So, Your Worship." Merlin asked, peering curiously at the prince through his thick, dark eyelashes. "What exactly crawled up your arse?"
Arthur could only gape. In his whole life, nobody, except perhaps his father and Morgana, had ever spoken to him with anything but absolute respect. "Merlin," he said, with a hint of shocked humour in his voice. "You can't speak to me like that!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Merlin replied, with an overdramatic roll of his eyes and a mocking bow. "What exactly crawled up your arse, my lord?"
Arthur could hardly contain a disbelieving snort, staring at Merlin with incredulous amusement. After a moment, though, he answered Merlin's question.
"Is this the kind of country I'm going to inherit?" He asked sombrely. "A country where the sick are locked away like criminals and treated like animals, so that they don't bother the healthy?"
The pair were silent for several minutes, looking around the bright, sunlit garden, smoking their cigarettes and contemplating Arthur's words.
"Who are you, anyway?" Arthur asked after a while, clearing his throat. "Staff? Visitor?"
"There are never visitors here." Merlin replied with a wry smile. "I'm a patient. The sedatives don't work on me and I have an arrangement with one of the nurses so he makes sure I don't get restrained in my room that much."
"Patient?" Arthur repeated, shocked. "But you're so…"
"Normal?" Merlin finished his sentence. "Maybe. But I'm also a depressed, self-harming, bulimic, formerly suicidal ex-anorexic." Merlin hesitated for one moment. "I'm not the kind of person they want in your country, Arthur."
Arthur stared, unable to think of any appropriate response.
"Your Highness?" Arthur looked up, secretly relieved to see one of his big, bulky minders interrupting the suddenly suffocating, awkward silence. "It's time to leave, sire."