Ok. Wow. Everybody, this is it. The final chapter of Come Join the Circus of Sorcery. It's kind of crazy actually; it feels like I've been writing this forever, and I've loved writing it, and I think a few of you have been enjoying it too, which is wonderful.
Thank you everyone for being so amazing, you have all helped me get this written, seriously. Your reviews are gorgeous, and all the favourites and alerts are just sd,jfhdgsf
There are things that I never managed to fit into the story- like, there were meant to be more sarah/merlin moments, but there didn't seem to be a good place to put them and, besides, this story has been much more about the merlin/arthur and merlin/gwaine bromances anyway.
I don't know if this ending will be anywhere near satisfactory for you but I just reached the last sentence, and realised that there really wasn't anything more to say. Please enjoy, and if you could drop a review just to tell me how you found this chapter, or the whole story in general, that would be lovely :)
Uther was awake. Or, at least, he thought he might be. Shapes flitted behind his eyelids, deep shadows which penetrated his already darkening mind. He must still be on the battle field, he thought, the ground was so hard, and his fingers jerked as he tried to get up, his eyes suddenly flying open, and a cry falling from his lips.
"Father," the word was so loud, Uther felt like his skull had splintered beneath his skin, and he gasped, chest heaving, eyes streaming.
Arthur stared at his father in shock. He had pulled himself up from Merlin's side, at a sign of movement from the king, and now here he was crying. And Arthur had no idea what to do. His own throat felt constrained.
"Gaius..." he choked, turning to the physician, "what... what's wrong with him?"
"Morgause's spell is leaving him, I think," Gaius cast a worried glance down at Merlin, whose eyes were wide with fear, flicking between Arthur and Uther. Arthur looked at him too, and almost asked what was wrong, when it hit him like a blow to the stomach.
"Can he hear us, Gaius?" he asked,
"I... probably, sire," Gaius was now peering into Uther's eyes, which were wild with shock and pain.
Merlin shuddered on the floor, suddenly cold, thin arms wrapping around himself, as he stared at Arthur, terrified. This was the moment when Arthur would tell Uther all, would tear away the string holding Merlin to life. Tear away his destiny. Blue eyes filled with tears as he imagined it, fire engulfing his body, while Arthur watched on. Would he care, Merlin wondered, would he feel anything to see the man who had, perhaps, been his closest friend, be reduced to burnt flesh and ash before his very eyes? Or would he only see a sorcerer, a thing of evil, being destroyed, as was right?
"We will talk about this Merlin. And you will explain everything to me," Arthur said, trying to be stern, but it was difficult to be hard on a man who was cowering on the floor, after killing a powerful sorceress to save his life, and who had very recently been through hell. Merlin nodded, looking a little confused, and Arthur crouched down once more, "I won't let anything else happen to you, Merlin." Arthur told him, softly, and Merlin's relief surged up inside him so fast, that he couldn't breathe. He gasped, eyes streaming, before collapsing fully onto his back, curling up, and falling asleep.
When Merlin first woke, he wasn't quite sure where he was. His back ached horribly and, when he tried to sit up, there was a bar across his chest, forcing him back down.
"Ow," he mumbled, lifting his arms to push at the strange bar, his eyes opening a crack.
"Merlin, will you please, stop it? You're going to make yourself even more injured!" Merlin forced his eyes a little further open, and saw that it was an arm, pressing heavily against him. He followed the skin of it, up and up, till the creases on the inside of the elbow, and then up further still, till his eyes rested on Arthur's face, which wore a strange confession that Merlin, if he didn't know better, might have linked with concern.
"Arthur, what...?" He croaked, slumping backwards, deciding there was no point in trying to move with Arthur's arm pinning him down.
"You are to stay in bed," Arthur informed him, firmly, before removing his arm, and sitting back in a chair he had placed beside the bed. Merlin simply stared at him, wondering why his head felt so empty.
"But what's going on?" he asked, desperately struggling to keep a grip on what seemed to be reality, but surely it couldn't be? Memories were beginning to return to him now, and Merlin found he couldn't keep still, never mind Arthur's instructions.
He bolted upright, gasping as pain shot right the way through his body, and then swung his legs over the bed, getting hastily to his feet, only to cry out as his knees suddenly buckled. Arthur was there in an instant, catching him before he fell, and forcing him back down.
"What the hell Merlin," he said, and his tone was angry, not just annoyed or exasperated, but angry.
"Arthur," Merlin was horrified by how the name came out as something like a squeak, "the battle! Your father! Where's Gwen? And Morgana? Arthur, what are we doing here? Morgause, Arthur, she... she..." and suddenly Merlin was shaking, and Arthur was reaching forwards, fingers twisting gently around Merlin's wrists,
"Everything's... well, I wouldn't say fine, exactly, but it's better, Merlin. Will you please just stay still?" He added, as Merlin twisted his wrists in agitation.
"But Arthur," and Merlin screwed up his eyes as he fought against tears because this wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that he should be crying. It was embarrassing, when Arthur was managing just fine, because Arthur never cried for anyone.
Arthur expected to feel embarrassed, as Merlin's shoulders shook with a hundred repressed emotions, expected his mouth to run away with him, to blurt something about it being stupid to cry. But it didn't happen. Arthur was still learning, but he could read Merlin better than most people, and he knew enough about the slight young man he had come to call his friend, to realise that when Merlin shed tears it meant something. And it was important.
Arthur moved from his chair to sit awkwardly on the edge of the bed, reaching out to place a comforting hand on Merlin's trembling forearm. The other man managed to hold it together for all of a second longer, before pale fingers flew to his mouth as he choked on his own sobs.
They stayed like that for a while, and Arthur thought as he clung onto Merlin.
The kingdom was still being cleared of corpses, and some of the streets that were further away still ran with blood. Morgause's body had vanished, the same day it had fallen. Arthur had heard rumours that Morgana had been seen, carrying the witch in her arms, before disappearing into thin air. Arthur didn't know what to make of this yet; all he knew was that Morgana had not returned, and it had been two days since the battle.
Uther was recovering, being kept in his chambers, and attended to by Gaius, and Gwen. Gwen wandered around like a ghost, and Arthur watched as she was drawn to Morgana's empty chambers, how she would hover with her hand on the doorknob... he never stayed long enough to see if she went inside or not.
There had not yet been any word from Gwaine, but he had taken Godfrey and Sarah's body, and Arthur guessed she was buried by now, and hoped that the two men were getting as far from Camelot as possible. Then, hopefully they would get a message to him, and Arthur would arrange for the girl's grave to be blessed.
Merlin had slept fitfully, and so deeply that Arthur had several times entered his little room, only to feel cold and sick, thinking that his servant had died.
And Merlin would have to tell Arthur everything. Arthur felt he deserved to know exactly what Merlin having magic meant, what he could do, what he couldn't, how many people he'd saved, how many he'd killed...
That thought made Arthur shiver. Now he knew what Merlin was capable of... it would have been a truly terrifying thought, had he not trusted Merlin with everything.
Merlin took a deep breath, which shuddered through his lungs, before pulling away from Arthur's hand and lying back down. He winced as his back pressed against the thin mattress. Arthur frowned down at the bed, which could only be described as inadequate after the injuries Merlin had sustained, but everywhere else in the castle was full. The sick and cursed and wounded were in every room, taking up every available space, but there were still more.
Arthur had been the one to instruct the knights to bring anyone who needed help into the castle, and Gaius was working overtime trying to get to them all, but it needed to be done, and before Uther fully recovered, because after that they would no doubt be turned out.
It was impossible to say what was going to happen next, though. The world wasn't the same, and it was difficult to say whether it would ever get back to normal again. And all that Arthur could bring himself to care about, at this point, was Merlin. Merlin was alive.
Things would be sorted, things would be discussed, and there would be arguments. Arthur would yell at Merlin for not telling him sooner, and Merlin would heatedly remind him of all the sorcerers he'd allowed to die, had stood back and watched burn. They would both cry, with their backs turned to each other, tears of anger and confusion, and then Merlin would threaten to run away. He would go as far as packing up his things, and standing at the castle doors, looking out, before Arthur would drag him back inside, telling him to stop being such an idiot, telling him that he would learn, that things would get better.
And then, after that, they would begin to sink back into old routine. Merlin would serve him, and jokingly insult him, perhaps letting his eyes light up and magic do his chores a bit more often, but by this point Arthur would have stopped caring, and started appreciating how useful having a warlock around could be.
Uther would remain oblivious in his chambers, weighted down beneath the loss of Morgana, and Merlin would build up the courage to tell Arthur who she really was, why she had really left. That was if Arthur didn't already know, in his heart of hearts, that the girl he had grown up with had turned against them all.
But that was all to come. For now, it was just Arthur and Merlin, a Prince and his Warlock. The past was too heavy to be forgotten but it could, for the moment, be ignored. The present was light, and easy, and the pair of them revelled in it, even as they felt the uncertainties of the future wrap grey fingers around their destiny, perhaps about to pull it to breaking point, or maybe to just hold it all together.