Last chapter, but will carry onthe theme of it. The next story is a little bit of a twist, but might work out okay.
The day after the dramatic raid that reclaimed the kingdom, Uther was reinstated as the King of Camelot in front of the knights and members of the court. In the same ceremony Arthur was crowned as Prince Regent, to rule in his father's stead until Uther recovered. Many people thought that day would never come and that Arthur should have taken the throne as king, but Arthur was adamant, he would never be king until his father died.
In the same ceremony Arthur officially knighted Gwaine, Lancelot, Percival and Elyan. There were distinct rumblings about that occurrence, and even more so as Arthur's personal guard was chosen. People understood why the nine knights in question were picked for that prestigious duty, but people didn't have to like it. Uther didn't object to anything his son did. He just sat passively in his throne, his eyes on Arthur and the proceedings as if he understood what was happening but felt again, utterly helpless to stop them.
After that Arthur was bound up in controlling Morgana's damage, hearing more information about things than he wanted to and frustrated by the fact he could no longer do what he wanted. It was bad enough as Crown Prince, now it seemed ten times worse. What he was doing was necessary. Making sure messages were sent off to the neighbouring kingdoms telling them that despite rumours, Camelot was fine and strong. Arthur had taken control and suppressed the coup that had threatened. He also started the identification of the dead, where Morgana had killed so many. They were to be buried decently and none of the families were to worry over the cost.
Once he had fought his way through that quagmire, he got some time to himself. Arthur had one more thing to do. The one thing he actually wanted to do. He opened the door and greeted the man in the room.
"Sire." Gaius stood to bow.
"Don't do that," Arthur warned him.
"You may have to get used to it."
"Not with friends. Is Merlin up there?" Arthur pointed at the door to Merlin's room. Gaius nodded. Arthur headed that way.
With a death sentence still hanging over him, Arthur had thought it wise to keep Merlin under wraps. Gwaine actually thought, and had told him, that Merlin would be better off with peace and quiet. When Gwaine had returned with Merlin yesterday he had brought him to Gaius' chambers and they had kept him there. If Gaius couldn't be there, Gwaine stayed in his stead, and even Lancelot sat there, leg propped up, the one time he was needed. Merlin didn't pay much attention to any of them, he stayed in his room, waiting. All of them knew what he was waiting for.
Arthur opened the door and looked around. It was something Merlin was used to, people kept coming in to check on him, so he didn't immediately react. He stayed reading the magic book for a moment before looking up. Then he sat up, put the book aside and pulled his legs up towards his chest.
"Hello, Merlin." Arthur closed the door almost shut behind him and lifted the sheet of paper he was holding. "Brought you this, official pardon, regarding all your crimes. No more death sentence."
"What am I meant to do with that?" Merlin asked, waving a hand at the piece of paper. Arthur looked at it.
"Pin it on the wall," he suggested, and then looked around, reaching to open the nearby cupboard. "It could be the one item you actually put away in your cupboard."
"Just in case I need it again."
"You won't," Arthur said moving to the bed and sitting on the edge. "You are officially under my protection, and you are safe within Camelot, as long as you adhere to the rulings of its Regent."
"You know I will."
"Acts of sorcery are still banned in the city and throughout the kingdom, but the people capable of it are no longer under automatic sentence of death."
"It's a start," Merlin said. Arthur smiled.
"Best I could do in a day," Arthur said. "There are so many other things to do as well. I didn't get a chance to see you, until now."
"How's your father?" Merlin asked. Arthur shrugged.
"All this has hit him hard. What I did was bad enough but then Morgana doing this. I don't think he's ever going to get over it. Between us we've destroyed him. In a way Morgana's won, she has what she wanted."
"Always be careful what you wish for," Merlin said.
"Are you all right Merlin?" Arthur asked. Merlin nodded. "Gwaine said the sword was safe, but he said he couldn't tell me more than that, he promised you."
"Olwen is fine, better than fine. He wanted to come and see you, but I told him it was best to leave it for now. You saved his life."
"At the expense of another."
"I won't lie, Merlin, I'm glad you did it, a lot of people are."
"I don't have the right to make that choice," Merlin said flatly. Arthur blinked.
"You did it once before, for me."
"When I did that, I offered my own life, not someone else's. There's a difference."
"Maybe," Arthur said, not willing to get into a moral debate about it. "But you know what would have happened, if you hadn't done it. At least you put her death to good use."
"That doesn't make it right," Merlin snapped, tension quivered in his voice. Arthur flinched. He felt bad. The prince could understand Merlin's point of view, but many wouldn't. Merlin had taken someone that had nearly torn the kingdom apart and used what he could to save someone who in their eyes, deserved to live. Many others might think that Morgause deserved to live her life, that she was the one in the right. It was hard to judge. They were just on opposite sides and their side just happened to win. That however, did not make it any easier for Merlin. Arthur did the only thing he could to break the last of Merlin's defences. He put an arm out, sliding it between Merlin's drawn up legs and his chest and he wrapped his arm around Merlin's waist. One tug was enough to pull Merlin to him. Arthur felt Merlin shudder and as Merlin buried his face in Arthur's shoulder the first sob burst out of him.
It was the first of many. Merlin's body heaved as he cried onto Arthur's shoulder. Arthur held him gently, letting Merlin lean on him and he rubbed a hand up and down Merlin's back.
From the far room Gaius looked up, at the sudden dramatic sounds. For a moment his heart tensed, wondering what was going on between the pair, and he felt a fleeting panic at what Arthur might do. He crept a little closer, moving silently up the steps, listening, but all he could hear was the sound of Merlin's sobbing. Gaius looked up carefully. Arthur hadn't latched the door properly so he pushed it open a crack and peered around, wondering what was happening. Gaius winced as he watched them for a brief moment. Merlin rested against Arthur, crying with great heaving gasps. Arthur did nothing, he merely let Merlin get on with it, while he held him gently, rocking him as if his servant was a child.
Gaius felt a surge of pity for Merlin. He had been through so much. Many people would have argued that so had Arthur, but their perspectives had been entirely different. Gaius backed up, putting the door back into its previous position and he left them alone. There was nothing he could do for Merlin, except be there for him.
Merlin had spent so long arguing that Arthur wasn't ready to be king, taking such a burden onto himself, protecting Arthur while he tried to do what was right. Gaius didn't doubt that Arthur was ready now, and it made Gaius wonder if Merlin had been entirely prepared for the responsibility he had given himself. Maybe it was time Arthur took a little of Merlin's burdens off him. By the look of it the prince seemed very prepared to do that.
In the far room Merlin continued to cry, his entire body shaking with grief. Arthur held on, saying nothing in particular. Instead he just let Merlin release the pent up emotion, his face pressed into Arthur's shoulder. It took a good few minutes but Merlin exhausted himself, the odd hiccup interrupting the deep gasps of breath as he recovered. At some point during the incident Arthur's hand on Merlin's back had made its way up to his hair. Merlin turned his head, resting his cheek on Arthur's shoulder, eyes fixing on the parchment that Arthur had left in the cupboard, the door still open. After he got his breath back Merlin broke the silence.
"What for?" Arthur said.
"I'm fairly certain it's not appropriate to be sobbing all over the Prince Regent."
"Don't worry, I have no intention of telling anyone," Arthur informed him. Merlin giggled, the sound verging on hysteria. He tried to lift his head but Arthur kept his hand in place, keeping Merlin's head down, stroking his head, soothing him as he would a nervous horse.
"Merlin, it's all right. Jonas apparently sobbed all over Olwen as well."
"He was dying."
"And now he's not," Arthur said.
"Where's the cup now?" Merlin asked, although he already guessed the answer.
"The vault, double locked away, and under guard. I don't doubt it's something that a lot of people would like to get their hands on. It's just a shame that we apparently can't destroy it."
"We can't use it again."
"I have no intention of using it Merlin. Or letting anyone else do so."
"People still might try," Merlin said.
"That's why I need you do deal with it, fix the locks somehow, so they can't be opened."
"Can I ask what you did with the sword?" Arthur asked.
Merlin paused. Gwaine had kept his promise. He hadn't even told Arthur what direction they took when they went to dispose of it. The new knight had looked a little apologetic, but steely eyed as he told Arthur he couldn't reveal what Merlin had done, at his request. Arthur let that go, knowing he could probably get an answer from the source.
There was a short pause, while Merlin's breath still hitched as he breathed, before he eventually said.
"I locked it in stone."
"No one can remove it then," Arthur surmised.
"Just one person."
"Well, you're not likely to be randomly pulling it out every five minutes."
"Not me," Merlin said. Arthur shifted, turning his head a little, and frowning in confusion.
"Well, who then?"
Merlin snorted and started to laugh. Arthur sighed and rolled his eyes as he got the hint.
"Oh, I see."
"It was forged for you anyway, and what I said to Morgause made me think."
He felt Arthur nod, clearly everything that happened in the throne room had been told to him.
"I'm sorry about Morgana, I didn't know what else to do."
"You couldn't have just knocked her out?" Arthur asked.
"And then what?" Merlin asked. "I don't think locking her up would do any good now. I'm not sure it would hold her, and I didn't want to have to fight her. I couldn't face it."
Arthur debated that. "Maybe when things have settled down, we can consider it then. She's fine in there, isn't she, she's just asleep?"
"What about her dreams?" Arthur asked.
"The sleep is too deep, plus she has the bracelet on, she's well protected."
They were silent again for a moment.
"Does Uther know what I did?" Merlin asked, in a very quiet voice.
"He's been in the room, but I don't think he can cope with thinking about her at the moment. The throne room has been set up to accommodate her now, I've put guards on the door and there are orders that only certain people can enter."
"My father, me, you and Gwen."
"She went into to tidy up, and she asked me if she could maintain it, clean up, replace the candles. She looked at bit lost, so I said yes."
"Is she all right?"
"Yeah, she's been with my father most of the time. He's going to need looking after. I don't want him left on his own."
"Gwen will look after him," Merlin said.
"Yeah, that reminds me," Arthur said, his tone of voice lightening. "Have you seen the state of my boots?"
"No," Merlin said, not even tempted to look.
"Well, they need cleaning, my chambers are a mess, so are my clothes, my horses need new shoes and the stables are going to take a day to clean out!"
Merlin started to laugh. "I can get started straight away, your royal Pratness. OW!"
Arthur clipped Merlin lightly on the back of the head, laughing as he did so.
"Tomorrow will be fine, bring me my breakfast and wake me up with one of those bright, inane sayings you are so fond of at that time of the morning."
"I'm not going to be fired then?"
"I would never fire you, Merlin."
"You did once."
"And I said I was wrong. I think we need to get back to normal. You more than anyone."
"So you say," Arthur said. "Things are not going to be as they were, but we need to get back to something close to it."
"I'm sorry, if it wasn't for me, you would have been here all those months."
"I could have been Merlin, but I chose not to, it was my decision. I could have seen the rest of you safe and stayed to face the consequences. To be honest, I was a little scared to. Don't start blaming yourself for it, we've been through this. Everyone knew I would return, even my father, why else would he have kept me as heir to the kingdom."
"You've become a bit of a legend," Merlin said.
"So have you, I think we just need to be normal for a bit."
"You're just saying that because you want your boots cleaned."
"Yes," Arthur said.
They faded into silence again for a moment. Merlin was starting to feel that it was a little inappropriate to still be huddled up in Arthur's arms, but Arthur didn't seem to mind. Merlin lifted his head and wiped his damp face. Arthur pulled back a fraction but his arm stayed around Merlin's waist, to keep him steady.
"Okay?" Arthur asked. Merlin nodded.
"Stay with Gaius for a bit today, and go and see Olwen as well, and maybe Gwen, except not when she's with my father. I think you are another person he doesn't want to face yet."
"I guess," Merlin said.
"I'm escaping off on a hunt with the others later on. They'll probably want you to come along."
Merlin smirked. "Am I almost getting an afternoon off here?"
"Maybe," Arthur said smirking back. Merlin put his head down and sniggered.
Arthur snorted, he didn't think that was just about an afternoon off. "Yeah, well…" he paused, Merlin blinked knowing Arthur was on the brink of replying, and then he hitched Merlin in his arms, rocking him and eventually drawled.
"Don't get used to it."