The morning had been nothing unusual. Elena started her usual rounds, sorting breakfast for the residents. Since two of them were up and about by the time she arrived to relieve Lancelot, who had been on night duty, and she went to Merlin last, carrying in his breakfast tray to get him fed and then dressed.
"Hello Merlin!" she announced brightly as she opened the door and stared at the empty bed. For a brief second panic set in, then her gaze moved to the seat by the window. Her eyes widened as she looked at Merlin, dressed in jeans, his blue shirt and red neckerchief, his eyes staring directly at her. She froze, wondering for a moment who had got him up and dressed him. Lancelot hadn't said anything to her, or she supposed it might have been Percival.
She got the answer as Merlin lifted his right hand.
The tray crashed to the floor as Elena gave a yelp of shock. Lancelot, who was in earshot, came running. Then so did Percival, then Gaius, and Hunith arrived twenty minutes later. Ten minutes after that, it occurred to Lancelot to call Arthur.
For what seemed like hours they didn't do anything but stare at each other. However, Arthur, in reality, knew it was nothing more than seconds. Merlin tensed against him, and Arthur tightened his grip on Merlin's wrist.
Hunith appeared, skidding to a halt as she looked at Arthur, who had contained Merlin. A quivering, shocked Merlin. Merlin turned to his mother but bumped against Arthur, getting as close as he could to him.
"Merlin, it's all right," Arthur soothed. He felt a strong level of calm descend on him. Merlin was up, and moving, and talking. Arthur hadn't broken him in some way, in any way. He was right there, stood up, moving on his own. Lancelot popped his head out of the door, relaxing as he saw Arthur. Arthur felt Merlin press against him, turning his head away from the crowd of people.
"All right," Arthur murmured to him before turning to Lancelot. "I presume that was the phone message you left me?"
Arthur looked around for his phone, spotting it on the carpet. He couldn't really retrieve it without letting go of Merlin. As long as nobody stood on it he supposed it didn't really matter, he had no intention of letting Merlin's wrist go.
"Merlin?" Hunith asked in concern. Arthur frowned, wondering how many people had been in Merlin's room.
"Give me a minute," Arthur advised backing up a step. The room next door, where Percival was staying, in case of another media invasion, lay currently empty. Arthur guessed Percival was part of the crowd in Merlin's room. Arthur drew Merlin into it, instinct telling him that too many people had probably freaked Merlin out. Merlin shuffled along with him, relaxing so that when Arthur sat him on the end of the bed he remained utterly compliant. Crouching down Arthur assessed him again, Merlin's blue eyes stared back, thankfully still with him. The last thing the situation needed was Merlin retreating back into himself, overwhelmed with the shock of other people's reactions.
Arthur wondered if his assessment was his own or something Merlin was telling him.
Merlin's arm squirmed in his grip but Arthur didn't let go, he relaxed a little and Merlin eased his arm back so his hand slid into Arthur's, they twined their fingers together and Merlin's grip increased.
"All right, it's okay. Take deep breaths."
Merlin took one, holding it for a moment before exhaling heavily and doing the same thing again.
"Better?" Arthur asked. Merlin nodded, taking another excessive breath. Arthur used the grip he had on Merlin's hand to turn his wrist and pressing down started to check his pulse. Merlin tensed, in a very familiar way, although this time the reaction was stronger.
"I'm just trying to check your pulse," Arthur said. Merlin squirmed slightly but stopped trying to remove his hand from Arthur's. After feeling the fast thud of Merlin's heart Arthur turned his head.
"Yep," Lancelot's head appeared around the door, which Arthur had closed slightly.
"Can you fetch my medical kit? I presume it's still in my consultation room where I left it."
"Sure, I'll find it."
He disappeared again. Arthur looked up watching as Merlin blinked rapidly.
"What?" Arthur asked. There was no point asking if Merlin was all right, he clearly wasn't. Then again he had just woken up from months in a catatonic stupor, feeling overwhelmed probably wasn't that bizarre for the situation. Arthur rubbed Merlin's wrist, and Merlin took another breath.
"I feel a bit light-headed."
Arthur shifted his weight to one knee, his good one, so he could kneel up and he put a hand to the back of Merlin's head.
"Put your head down a minute."
Arthur felt Merlin resist him for a moment before dropping his head down between his knees. He felt Merlin take several deep breaths and he rubbed the back of Merlin's head, feeling the thick but soft hair. In response Merlin rested his forehead on Arthur's collar bone.
"All right, just calm down, I think you over did yourself a little."
"I couldn't help it, with all of them in there. They weren't doing anything, it's just…."
Arthur carried on stroking Merlin's hair, and holding his hand.
"Who was in there?" Arthur asked, it occurred to him that Merlin hadn't had much of a crowd around him, since he had moved into the hospital, only one or two people at any one time, and he probably shouldn't be running around, even if he had only gone out of the door. He wondered if anyone had tried to contain him, which probably would have set Merlin off even further.
"My mum, Percival, Elena, Gaius and Lancelot," Merlin said rattling off the names with easy familiarity. Aside from Hunith, they were all people Merlin had met while catatonic, which at least proved to Arthur that Merlin had been aware of what was around him.
"Too many in one go?" Arthur murmured.
Merlin took several more breaths, closing his eyes as Arthur's fingers ran through his hair. He heard Arthur's low, steady tone of voice saying general and soothing reassurances. Merlin didn't pay too much attention to the words but let the low steady sound of Arthur's voice soothe his mind, as if often had done.
"Better?" Arthur eventually asked. Merlin didn't speak but his head moved against Arthur's shoulder as he nodded. Arthur carried on rubbing the back of his neck as the door brushed against the carpet, the sound light, but in the quiet room Merlin heard it and Arthur felt his shoulders tense. Lancelot quietly tip-toed into the room and placed Arthur's bag down on the floor a short distance away from him before backing out of the room. The same light sound of the door brushing the carpet occurred as Lancelot pulled it shut again. Reaching behind him Arthur picked up the bag, as his shoulders twisted Merlin lifted his head, blinking rapidly as he opened his eyes.
"Let's just take a look at you," Arthur said.
He ran through the usual tests, checking Merlin's breathing, his heart and his blood pressure. Merlin compliantly allowed him to do so. Arthur remembered the first day he had done this, that first morning he had encountered Merlin. The only difference this time was Merlin's eyes remaining steadily on him throughout, watching what Arthur did with mild interest.
"You're all right Merlin. Fit and well. One at a time maybe?"
"Hunith?" Arthur called.