Gaius examined Merlin over his spectacles and frowned. "Despite your talents in the realm of magic, Merlin, you have shown absolutely no competence in the area of medicine. Therefore, I trust you will allow me to decide when you are fit to leave your bed."
"I've been lying here for over a week!" Merlin exclaimed. "Besides, Arthur's coronation is tomorrow—I have to be there."
At length, Gaius nodded. "Very well, but only for an hour or two. I expect to see you back here before supper."
"All right, yes, I promise," Merlin said, climbing out of the bed and pulling on his clothes. Raising his arms to put on his tunic did make him wince a little, which he hastily tried to hide from Gaius. He really couldn't stand staying in this room a minute longer.
Not that the room wasn't lovely—magnificent, even. Gaius's chambers had been destroyed, but Arthur had given Merlin rooms of his own in the undamaged portion of the castle. Rooms complete with a canopied bed, a wide fireplace, and tapestries on the walls. The first time Merlin woke up in the room and found himself in the huge bed, he had a panicked moment of thinking he had fallen asleep in Arthur's bed when he was supposed to be cleaning Arthur's armor or shoeing his horse. Then his confusion had cleared, but his panic had increased because the last thing he remembered clearly was Arthur sprawled on the ground, wounded, with the dragon towering over him.
Gaius had opened the door just as Merlin was attempting to extricate himself from the blankets. His legs didn't seem to want to support him, and Merlin ended up in a heap on the stone floor.
"What are you doing, Merlin?" Gaius had exclaimed, hurrying over.
"Arthur—" Merlin had gasped, clinging to the bed and trying to stand.
"Arthur is supervising the rebuilding in the Lower Town, and you are getting right back in that bed before you undo all my hard work." The gentle way in which he had helped Merlin under the covers belied his severe tone.
Slowly, hazy bits of memories had filtered back to Merlin. He recalled Arthur carrying him to the horse, the desperation in Arthur's voice, the blinding pain. He also remembered the dragon's tail smashing into him. Lifting his shirt, he discovered what seemed to be half of Camelot's linen supply covering his stomach and chest. "Ow."
"Yes, that would sum it up nicely," Gaius had said, handing him a potion. "You've been unconscious for three days, and I'm sure you still feel quite weak. But the dragon and Brisen are both dead, Arthur is perfectly fine, and no other dangers are threatening the kingdom. So you will kindly rest and recover."
Merlin had meekly acquiesced. Scarcely fifteen minutes later, the door had banged open again, and Arthur had entered, looking flushed and out of breath.
"Did you run all the way up here from the Lower Town?" Merlin had asked, trying to hide a smile.
Arthur had muttered something unintelligible, and then had walked over, taken Merlin's face in his hands, and given him a long and extremely thorough kiss.
Merlin had flopped back on the pillows after, reaching up to tug Arthur down onto the bed. Arthur sat and leaned over Merlin. "If you ever do that to me again, Merlin, I'll—I'll—"
Arthur settled for kissing him again.
But Arthur had been busy—dealing with repairing the destruction wrought by the dragon, assuming all the duties required of a king, meeting the various delegations from nobles and foreign rulers who had heard of Uther's death and began arriving in Camelot. Gwen and Gaius both had many tasks to see to as well, particularly once Arthur announced that he would hold his coronation in a week, which was when Gaius felt Merlin would be able to get about again.
"We've started rebuilding the castle, of course," Gwen had told Merlin on one of her quick visits, "but the Great Hall is nowhere near ready. So Arthur has decided to hold the ceremony outside the city." Merlin thought that would be perfect. Everyone could come then, not just the few nobles and courtiers who could have fit in the castle.
Merlin had quickly tired of staying in bed doing nothing—enchanting the pillows got boring after an hour. At least he didn't have to worry about getting his head chopped off for it, though. Arthur had already lifted the ban on magic—those who practiced it with the intent to help and heal no longer had anything to fear. Merlin should have been happy—he was happy—and yet…
Merlin tried to blame his anxiety on his new chambers. He had never had such a large space all to himself, and it seemed odd and rather lonely. Arthur did slip quietly in every night, gently tugging Merlin—who was often already asleep—into his arms. But Merlin still felt out of place, as though he were in some stranger's room and would soon be asked to leave and go muck out the stables.
The true problem was that he had never really considered what would happen once Arthur became king. He had been so completely focused on keeping Arthur aliveto get to this point that he hadn't thought about afterwards. Arthur no longer treated Merlin like a servant—Merlin's new quarters signaled quite clearly that he wasn't a servant—and yet Merlin wasn't exactly sure what he was instead. How was he going to spend his time now that he didn't have to scrub floors and carry Arthur's breakfast up from the kitchens? Of course, since magic was no longer outlawed, there were many opportunities available to him. But Merlin wanted to stay by Arthur's side. Arthur was king now, though, and maybe that had…changed things. Changed what Arthur could be to him.
Merlin couldn't escape such thoughts while confined to his bed. He was therefore quite glad when Gaius gave him permission to go outside and walk about for awhile. Gwen went with him. Merlin really felt much better, but having a shoulder to lean on now and then wasn't a bad idea. Gwen showed him the platform that was being constructed in the meadow outside the city. Banners bearing the Pendragon insignia and those of the noble houses surrounded it. A corridor of wooden poles, twined about with greenery and flowers, led from the city gates. Arthur would walk along it to the platform where Geoffrey, the members of the court, and selected knights would be waiting. It all looked quite festive, and Merlin couldn't help smiling. This day had been a long time in coming.
He and Gwen sat in the grass for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and watching the preparations. "We'd better get you back," Gwen said at last. "Gaius said before supper, and it's getting late."
When they got back to the castle, Gaius was indeed waiting for them and with him, Merlin was surprised to see, was Merlin's mother.
Hunith rushed forward and hugged him tightly, then immediately began fussing over him, wanting to know how he was feeling.
"I'm fine. Really, I am," Merlin assured her. "But what are you doing here?"
Hunith sniffed, wiping away tears, and busied herself with straightening his coat. "Arthur asked me to come."
"Yes. He sent a message, requesting that I come to Camelot for the ceremony tomorrow. Gaius has been telling me about what the two of you did—fighting a dragon and a sorceress. And how you almost died." She hugged him close again.
Merlin gave Gaius an exasperated look over his mother's shoulder. "It wasn't that bad. Gaius is exaggerating."
"Whether I am or not," Gaius said, "this is your first day out of bed, and you don't want to overdo it. You don't want to miss the ceremony tomorrow."
Merlin protested, but quickly surrendered under the combined front of Gaius, Gwen, and his mother. Actually, he did feel a bit tired. He was determined to stay awake to talk to Arthur, though.
Arthur finally climbed into the bed with him around midnight, looking exhausted.
"It's called 'delegating authority,'" Merlin murmured, twisting around so that he could see Arthur.
"What do you know about being a king?" Arthur replied. His fingers lightly traced the scar on Merlin's stomach, still raw and tender. "Feeling better?"
"Yes—as I keep telling everyone. Including my mother. Why did you ask her to come to Camelot? She got completely worried for no reason."
"I thought you'd like to see her."
"Of course I do, but I could have gone to Ealdor. She didn't have to come all this way."
"I think it's important for her to be here," Arthur replied. Before Merlin could ask what he meant by that, Arthur continued, "I have a favor to ask of you."
Arthur didn't reply for a moment. "I wondered if you would hold the crown during the ceremony tomorrow," he said at last. "If you want. You don't have to—I'm not ordering you to or anything."
Merlin put his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "It would be an honor."
Arthur smiled and reached up to take Merlin's hand in his. He pulled Merlin closer until they were pressed together. "I heard you were out walking today. I assume that means you're feeling well enough for other things, too."
"I think I could manage," Merlin said and then gasped as Arthur began licking and kissing his way down Merlin's chest. The kisses turned feathery around his scar, then firmer as Arthur proceeded lower. Merlin threaded his fingers in Arthur's hair and held on tightly. Part of him wanted to ask—Will this change after tomorrow?—but he couldn't say it, losing himself in Arthur's touch instead.
The next day burst brightly forth, and the late summer sun shone down on the crowds below. Everyone wore their best feast day attire, and many of the girls had flowers in their hair. Merlin glanced down at Gwen who was standing next to him. She wore a circlet of daisies and blue forget-me-nots.
"Nervous?" she asked.
"I'm not the one who has to repeat the vows of kingship in front of all these people and try not to forget anything," Merlin replied.
"It does look like everyone in the kingdom showed up," Gwen said, looking out over the crowd from their vantage point on the platform.
As they stood there, waiting for Arthur, Merlin realized that quite a few of the people in the crowd were staring at him and whispering among themselves. The sight of a sorcerer walking about in broad daylight, not to mention conversing openly with the knights and their new king was a novel experience for most of Camelot's denizens. Merlin fidgeted under their curious gazes and sought out his mother's face in the crowd.
Hunith gave a little wave when she saw Merlin looking at her. Then she turned, along with everyone else, as a sudden peal of trumpets announced Arthur's arrival. Arthur walked slowly out of the city gates. His armor flashed in the sun and one of his hands rested on Excalibur, hanging at his side. As he passed by, the people pressed close on either side, many of them breaking into smiles.
Merlin was smiling, too—in fact, he had a huge grin on his face and knew he must look like a lovesick idiot but couldn't seem to stop. When Arthur reached them, his eyes met Merlin's, and his solemn demeanor broke for a second as he smiled back. Then he knelt down, looking grave once again. He repeated the vows in a firm, clear voice, swearing to protect Camelot, to exercise justice and mercy. Then Geoffrey took the crown from Merlin and placed it on Arthur's head.
"I give you King Arthur Pendragon," Geoffrey proclaimed as Arthur rose to his feet. The crowd burst into cheers and clapping and then began kneeling, bowing their heads before their new king. Merlin started to kneel, but a hand on his arm stopped him.
He looked up into Arthur's face. "No," Arthur said, drawing Merlin back up. He continued in a loud voice so that all could hear, "Without you, Merlin, this day would not have been possible. You have saved this kingdom not once but many times. My people and I are forever in your debt." Arthur urged Merlin forward and then stepped back, so that Merlin stood alone at the front of the platform.
Cheers broke out again. Merlin blushed furiously. His mother had a proud smile on her face and tears in her eyes. Merlin glanced back at Arthur and tried to speak, to tell him how grateful he was. Words seemed to have deserted him for the moment, but Arthur understood.
The feast carried on well into the night. Arthur was surrounded by visiting nobles eager to profess their allegiance to their new king and by young men anxious for a chance to become a knight of Camelot. Merlin celebrated with Gaius, Gwen, and his mother, contenting himself with frequent glances in Arthur's direction.
As the night went on, though, he felt his good mood ebbing away. At last he excused himself, saying that his injury was paining him, and he thought he would go rest. He started walking up the stairs to his new room but paused. Changing direction, he headed for Arthur's chambers instead, wanting something familiar.
But even though all the furnishings from the heavy chair to the ornate cabinets were just as he remembered them, it felt different. It was strange to be in Arthur's room without being expected to complete some task or wait for Arthur to give him orders. Merlin didn't know what to do with himself. He tried sitting in one of the chairs but felt awkward and finally ended up sitting by the window.
Arthur found him there when he came in perhaps an hour or so later. A servant trailed at Arthur's heels, but Arthur dismissed him. "So this is where you ran off to," Arthur said to Merlin, untying his cape and removing the crown. He set it on the table.
Merlin stared at the crown before dropping his eyes to the floor. "I was feeling a little tired," he muttered.
"At the next feast, Merlin," Arthur said, sitting down to pull off his boots, "you better come up with a few good excuses so we can both leave early. Nothing too drastic, as I doubt we'll want half the knights following us up here."
Merlin tried to smile. "I'll work on it."
"You also aren't going to get away with ignoring the nobles next time, either."
"Um, right," Merlin said, wondering why Arthur would want him to talk to the nobles.
"We'll have to get you something decent to wear as well," Arthur went on. "Can't have my Court Sorcerer looking like a peasant."
"Court Sorcerer?" Merlin repeated.
Arthur shrugged and fiddled with one of the buttons on his jacket. "Well, if you come up with a title you like better, let me know."
Happiness spread through Merlin. "Like Official Sorcerer of a Royal Prat?" he asked innocently.
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Are you ever going to change, Merlin?"
"No. You'd get bored."
They smiled at each other, remembering.
"I'll expect you to advise me on all magical matters," Arthur continued in a more serious tone. "We'll have to put laws in place, dictating exactly what constitutes harmful use of magic. And I don't want you to let half-trained warlocks run around the kingdom. You need to find people who can do magic and teach them enough so that they don't hurt themselves or others unintentionally. And—"
"You're going to make me work just as hard as I did when I was your servant, aren't you?"
"Stop complaining, Merlin. I have to find some way to keep you out of trouble." Arthur shrugged out of his jacket and added, "I've thought of a few other ways as well."
Part of Merlin wanted to strip off Arthur's remaining clothes, tumble him into the bed, and find out exactly what those other ways were. He hesitated, though. "Arthur, now that you're King," he paused and then rushed on, "I understand if you don't want to—if we can't—I mean, if we—"
"Merlin." Arthur stopped him. "Come here."
Merlin came, and Arthur gathered him into his arms. "You're right, I am King now," he said. "But, Merlin—I don't want you to ever leave. I want you to be my advisor," his voice grew softer, "my love, and always—always my friend." He kissed him, a lingering kiss that left Merlin breathless when Arthur drew back. "Is that enough for you?" Arthur whispered, his voice teasing, but also a bit questioning, too.
"Enough for always," Merlin replied.
Note: Thank you to all the readers and reviewers who stuck with me through this story!