I'm so very sorry that it has been so long since an update. You've all been so wonderful and I feel like I've let you down. But the truth is that the first two drafts I wrote of this sucked beyond belief. Plus, I've gotten sick and been in weird writing moods, and I've been focusing on my other story more because I'm so close to being done. Anyway, I feel like this is a remotely acceptable chapter so I think I can give it to you. I don't know why this has been so hard to write.

Now, you should know that this is the last chapter of this story. Originally I planned on writing one more chappy, but I just ended up conbining the two because there was no place to seperate. Enjoy and don't forget to review!

Arthur scowled. Merlin had finally returned to work after being gone for nearly a month. Gaius said that that was how long it took to heal broken bones. Arthur was just glad that he no longer had to put up with the bootlicking servant who had taken over for Merlin in the boy's absence. The prince never thought that anyone could be more annoying than Merlin. Well, he was wrong, someone who said 'yes, Prince Arthur' fifty times in one day and who bowed every two minutes is far more annoying than Merlin could ever be. He would take Merlin's stubbornness over the other servant's spinelessness any day.

He smiled as he thought about that. He had gone to check up on Merlin one more time before the feast, expecting him to be unconscious, but instead the boy and been awake and trading insults. Though, Arthur hadn't missed the look of pain and a haziness, (the latter caused by Gaius' drugs,) in the boy's eyes.

When he had asked Gaius why he was awake the old man had said that when he'd given him the sleeping potion he hadn't accounted for stubbornness. Arthur had laughed at that while Merlin pouted slightly. The prince had to agree with the physician there: Merlin's stubbornness could rival that of even Uther's.

Through the boy's convalescence Arthur had visited him as often as he could without looking like he cared, and even then the prince had the feeling that Merlin saw right through him. But now that he was back to work—though Gaius had stressed that it was to be 'light' work—Merlin had mentioned for the first time something that Arthur could only assume was a suicidal wish. Merlin wanted to go and see the guards that had beaten him.

Needless to say Arthur had completely refused to let him do anything of the sort. Without allowing him to get so much as a word in Arthur had ranted that he wasn't to so much as look at the men under any circumstances. He ordered him to stay away from them. He had then told him to get his newly-washed clothes, dismissing the topic entirely.

In retrospect it may have not been a very wise thing to do, seeing as how Merlin never seemed to obey any orders out of a rebellious principle. Still, Merlin just couldn't search out people who would like nothing better than to beat him to a pulp.

Though, Arthur had to admit that he was a bit curious as to why even someone with Merlin's forgiving nature would want to do something so obviously foolish.

Shaking his head, Arthur realized that he had been staring at the reports he should be working on instead of wondering about an idiotic servant. The prince inwardly chastised himself for wasting his time on useless thoughts. He went back to his work.

Michael sighed. It had been like this for three weeks now and nothing had changed. If anything, things were getting worse. He had never wanted to yell so much in his life, but didn't because he no longer felt like he deserved the position of diplomat. Especially when considering what all these desperately bored men were arguing about.

Every night all the guards who were off duty would gather together under the pretense of gambling and drinking away their boredom. But it was usually only a few minutes into the current game of dice that someone would bring the subject up and the fighting would start again.

Ever since they had learned about Michael's and the other three guards' impromptu beating of the servant Merlin they had all been arguing about it. Some, like George who Michael remembered had stood up for the boy, said what they had done was wrong and they were lucky not to get a far worse punishment then some time in the stocks.

Others said that Merlin had gotten just what he deserved and that, in the long run, what they had done was a good thing. They even seemed convinced that Prince Arthur himself would one day thank them for their service in subduing a cocky servant.

Some would even go as far as to say that they hadn't hurt the boy enough and that should have done something that left an eternal scar or mark on him. Michael never could help the shudders of revulsion that ran through him when he heard some of the ideas like 'branding' and 'flogging' and 'cutting off fingers.'

And still others would just yell and say ridiculous things just for the sake of saying something. These were the people who had no real opinion but didn't want that to get in the way of their fun.

Michael was just getting sick of it. He looked over to where Tymund normally sat and was surprised to see him there. Like him, the guard seemed to have realized that these gatherings were becoming increasingly pointless since everyone said exactly the same things and no one ever acted on their threats. Lately he had stopped coming to most of the nightly events.

And the man wouldn't look at anyone these days and when he did it was only to answer the short question that had been posed to him. He especially avoided looking at Michael.

Michael wondered why that was. Maybe it was just because he had been the most against the beating of any of them, and therefore the young man felt ashamed whenever he looked at him. Which, of course, was ridiculous since that hadn't stopped either of them from joining in the beating. Michael still felt horrible about what he had done and knew that if he could take it back he would in an instant.

Gerald had left the room the second the arguing had started the first time. No one had seen him among their gatherings since. But he had been seen in the street helping people and lifting heavy things for the old or weak. Michael vaguely wondered how long Gerald's self-imposed penance would last.

And then there was Hemlock. Hemlock still attended all of the nightly fights like him but refused to talk to anyone. If someone looked at him for too long or they asked him a question he would simply stare at them with a look of hate and anger until they ran away. Michael was curious how much of that hate and anger was directed towards himself, or if maybe he didn't blame himself at all and secretly harbored desires to hurt Merlin again. He had always been pretty good at reading Hemlock, but ever since Prince Arthur had punched him the scary man had remained silent for some unknown reason. He didn't know what to think of the quiet man.

Michael sighed again as another particularly loud shout rose up from the crowd of fighting men who would be better described as children. This had gone far enough, he decided.

Michael quickly rose to his feet and briskly walked through the throng of guards towards the table in the center of the room. He then jumped up on it and yelled at the top of his lungs, "SHUT UP!"

All the men in the room quieted out of shock, and perhaps fear. This was the first time anyone had heard Michael raise his voice. Normally he was known as the calm one. In the corner of his eye Michael noticed Hemlock stand up from where he had been reclining in a wooden chair and brooding.

His anger was alive now. For three weeks these men had done nothing but argue pointlessly. No more. No longer yelling, but still speaking loudly Michael continued. "Shut up all of you. You don't get to decide whether or not what we did was right. It happened, we did it. And I don't care if you think he deserved much worse because what we did was wrong. And if any of you are foolish enough to act upon your stupidity then Prince Arthur will have your head." He glared menacingly at all the men.

Then the anger left his voice and features. He sighed and rubbed a hand through his dark blond hair. "I know what I did, and I am ashamed of it. I know it was wrong yet I let my arrogance and anger get the best of me. We beat an innocent man; there should be no argument about the wrongness of that. If anyone thinks that that is okay then he shouldn't be in the business of protecting and guarding people."

That really got their attention. Guards liked to believe that they weren't only guarding valuable inanimate objects, but that they also protected the people of the palace. That idea gave them a sense of purpose.

"They are going to be no more fights or discussions about this. I, for one, am going to go and apologize to Merlin tomorrow," Michael was surprised at his own words, not sure where they came from but realizing that they were right. "And I am officially declaring Merlin to be deserving of the respect of a prince. No one is going to talk about harming him. No one is going to protest when he insults Arthur. There will be no more debates. And if anyone tries to repeat our mistakes then he will have to go through me and Prince Arthur."

All the men in the room started yelling and clamoring at once. They all protested Michael's order. They didn't like having their prime topic for discussion taken away from them. And many were still angry at the manservant's impudence.

Suddenly Hemlock jumped up onto the table next to Michael and yelled, "Silence!" Quiet fell immediately once more. Michael had to admit that Hemlock was far more intimidating and his yell had sounded way cooler than his own.

"Michael is right. If you wish to talk of Merlin's disrespect then do it someplace else. But know this: if anyone hurts Merlin it will be over my dead body and the bodies of everyone else who cares about him. Michael called you idiots and he was right. The four of us were idiots to do what we did, and now you would all have to be the stupidest creatures on this earth to follow in our footsteps. We are men, not cruel and vicious animals. I suggest you learn the difference. I surely have."

The room was a deadly quiet. This was the first time Hemlock had spoken in weeks. No one in their right mind would ignore a threat made either by him or a Pendragon. And both were now protecting Merlin. As was Michael, who wasn't someone anyone would enjoy hurting.

Hemlock leapt down and held out his hand to Michael is a friendly gesture and the young man could almost have sworn that he could see a smile on the older man's lips. He grasped his hand and used it to jump down himself.

Hemlock lowered his voice a little, indicating that he was talking to Michael alone, and said, "Tomorrow I will join you in apologizing to Merlin. I'm sorry, I know I pushed you. I never should have incited any of this."

They walked through the exiting doors together and Michael felt a surprising realization come over him. Hemlock was feeling guilty; maybe that is why he had stayed silent. He had never thought of Hemlock as a bad or cruel person, but he had never expected him to be capable of showing the kind of humility as to say he was wrong. Maybe all it took was a single punch from a pissed off royal.

Merlin was cleaning out Gaius' leech tank. Normally it was a job he despised, but right now he was just grateful that the old man had assigned it to him rather than tell him to relax and eat while slipping him a sedative. He had always thought that people helping you was a good sign, it meant that people cared, but now he was realizing that having Gaius care about you could be quite bothersome.

Then again, the physician was probably just getting back at him for scaring him. Merlin wasn't entirely sure how being unconscious and bleeding had been his fault, but he could swear that Gaius treated it that way. Merlin had been getting so restless lately that he had felt like he was going to explode. And he had to admit that that had been the worse part of getting beaten up. Not the pain or the fear, but rather the boredom.

Merlin was startled out of his sulking thoughts by the sound of the door opening behind him. He turned around and saw four men enter and stand awkwardly near the door. He immediately recognized the men and was surprised at the lack of fear in himself. He felt a bit jumpy, but other than that he felt no terror at being near them.

"Ah," he said, smiling, "Do I have this right? Michael, Tymund, Gerald, and Hemlock? Is that correct?" he asked. When he had spoken their names he had nodded to each of them.

The men looked shocked. "How do you know our names?" the one he believed was Gerald asked.

Merlin gently smiled again. He had a feeling he knew why they were here. It was why he had wanted to see them. "Until given a reason I believe that everyone is a potential friend. And you can't be friends with someone whose name you don't know, can you?" he explained. The guards looked even more stunned.

Merlin took his hands out of the tank and washed them in a basin, drying them as he sat down at a table. "Please sit down." They shuffled forward and did as they were asked, the big one, Hemlock, choosing to sit on a nearby stool because there wasn't enough room for everyone.

Merlin had to admit that he felt a bit weird. He knew all that he wanted to say, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was some sort of teacher who was giving the men a lesson on the ways of the world. Or perhaps just his own ways.

"Um," Michael said and Merlin immediately thought that he seemed like the leader of the group since no one else seemed willing to talk. "How are you feeling?"

Merlin's mind flashed back to those moments in the hallway and the injuries that had been inflicted. He was well aware that some of the bruises had not yet left his face. He was just glad that he wore his jacket or long-sleeved shirts most of the time, because otherwise everyone would see the rest of them. He subconsciously moved his hand to protect his still-sensitive ribs. "I am healing, one of the benefits of living with a physician." He wasn't going to prompt them. He knew that they needed to say this themselves. Helping them with it would only make everything more awkward.

"So," the big one huffed, "I guess you know who we are?" Merlin nodded. "And you're not afraid?"

Merlin could detect a hint of admiration in his voice. This was obviously a man who valued bravery. Merlin decided that maybe a little prompt was needed, just of a different kind. He could say what he needed to say first. "No, just because you got angry at me doesn't mean that I no longer think of you all as potential friends. Arthur gets angry with me all the time. I have that effect on people." He smiled and a few of them looked like they wanted to.

"But Arthur had never hurt you like we did," Michael stated.

Merlin shook his head. "I can't say I'm glad that you beat me, but I think that there is already too much bitterness in this world. I don't need to add any more to it. Besides, I know why you did what you did. People make mistake so that they can learn from them, that's what they're for."

His tone changed slightly as he dredged up emotions that he had barely admitted to himself , let alone anyone else. "You thought I was being disrespectful and mocking to a prince. You would have a right to be offended if that was the case.

"But that's not what I was doing. Arthur may be a prat, but he is a good one and deserving of my respect. And I show it to him, but not in the way you think.

"The whole world sees Arthur as a prince and future king. People become his friends, not because they like him, but because they wish to gain something out of it. A lot of people who show him respect don't really mean it. None of Arthur's friends are real. Everyone treats him like a title, nothing more. But I treat him like a person. And that's what he needs. Someone who is not afraid to tell him what he thinks, someone who insults and jokes with him so that when Arthur does something really amazing he knows that the respect in genuine."

Merlin took a breath, bringing himself out of his speech. "At least that's what I believe. But Arthur hasn't killed me yet, so I think that means I'm right." He grinned.

There was silence for a long moment. Finally Michael said, "I'm sorry for what I did to you, it was wrong." And within seconds the rest of them had offered up their apologies.

"I forgive you." Every guard looked up sharply at him; it was something they hadn't expected. Merlin continued, "Maybe we can still be friends. That is why I learned your names in the first place, because I knew you were all great people."

Present day

Michael finished speaking and gazed at Claude to gauge his reaction. The young man looked confused and conflicted, which the guard supposed was normal.

"That all really happened?" the boy asked at last.

"Yes," Michael replied. He glanced at Hemlock who was still sitting still as a stone, but a gleam of amusement was apparent in his eyes. Michael well knew that look; it was the one he got whenever anything to do with Merlin cropped up.

The big man leaned forward and looked directly at Claude. "Michael and I managed to persuade Tymund and Gerald to come with us to see Merlin, and it seems that not a month goes by when one of them doesn't thank me for it. Almost every guard in this castle is friends with Merlin. And they all know the value of that.

"After we went to see Merlin we told the rest of our fellow guards what Merlin had said to us."

Michael chuckled. "Yeah, if they weren't intimidated by Hemlock's speech then they certainly were when they heard our tale. I don't know about where you come from, but around here forgiveness is not something easily offered. Merlin is a unique man. Everything he does he does for Arthur, and yet he never shows him any more respect than he deserves. He is one of the few people, and definitely the first of such a low position, to treat Arthur like a person.

"You know," Michael said as if he was returning to some earlier thought, "it took us a while, but eventually we got to a point where we were no longer awkward around him. And it was all his doing. He'd bring us food and drink during the really long shifts. He'd help us carry things and would assist with taking care of our armor. He'd always know when one of us was sick before even the ill person did and he would rush and get his guardian.

"Merlin is such a kind soul. There isn't a guard in Camelot that doesn't owe him something, not that he'd ever come collecting. And that's the main reason, you know."

"Main reason for what?" Claude asked.

All the guards in the room shared a knowing smile. Some even remembered when they'd been told the very same thing when they had first gotten the job of guard.

"Why you don't mess with Merlin. There are a lot of reasons. Like: if you ever do Arthur will kill you," Michael said. He looked like he was going to continue but Hemlock beat him to it.

"Or: if you ever harm him all of us guards will hunt you down and rip your guts out." He smiled menacingly.

"Or," Michael said, giving his friend a pointed look. "Or the fact that Merlin has helped saved Camelot and literally saved Arthur's life more times than you ever will. Or that someday a certain physician might just slip a poison into your drink. Or because the boy has a kind of guts that are hard to come by."

"But the biggest reason," Hemlock prompted, "Is…."

"But the main reason is that Merlin is perhaps the most wonderful friend anyone can hope for. He and Arthur, though you might not think it at first, have a friendship that many envy because of its deep bond. He will always give help to those who need it and without anyone even asking for it. He doesn't judge you, he only sees the good stuff unless you hurt someone, in which case he'll probably scold you and leave at that. He hates to see anyone hurt or unhappy.

"Forgiveness wasn't very common in Camelot until Merlin arrived. He has helped a lot of people. So the real reason you shouldn't mess with or hurt Merlin is because he is one of the best and kindest people alive. And because you will be missing out on a very good friendship."

Michael and Hemlock reclined in their chairs and the rest of the guards seemed to relax a bit too. "Here endth the lesson," Hemlock said, his strange and scary grin lighting up his face.

"What lesson, did I miss out on anything?" a voice from the door asked. All in the room turned to see Merlin standing in the doorway holding a big basket of something.

"Merlin!" Hemlock exclaimed as he got up and strode over to him, giving him a bone-crushing hug when he got there.

Claude, for his part, was massively confused about not only the story, but about Hemlock as well. One moment the man seemed frightening, the next he seemed jovial and kind.

Hemlock and Merlin walked over to the table. Merlin set the basket down in the middle and opened it up. Inside were loaves and buns of fresh-smelling bread. "It helps to have a cook as a friend every now and again. Especially since she thinks that I need to eat more," Merlin said and smiled. Immediately all the men began digging in to the bread, apparently it was really good.

"Here, Claude," Merlin said, handing him a wonderful-looking bun.

"H-how do you know my name?" Claude asked, quite shaken.

The young man looked like he was about to answer when Hemlock clapped him hard on the back and the boy coughed and threatened to fall over from the force of it. "Oi! I'm delicate!" he said when he regained his breath. Everyone in the room laughed; apparently no one seemed to believe that to be the truth.

"What lesson?" Merlin asked Michael quietly. The two shared a long look and then Merlin nodded as if he understood.

Claude wondered if this strange boy, who he wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to punch, knew what they had been talking about.

His suspicions were practically confirmed when Merlin said, "You know, I don't really like getting beat to a bloody pulp, but I have to admit that something good came out of all of that."

"What is it?" Claude asked, even though he was sure that the boy would say it was all the new friendships.

"To this day, unless he's too busy or has his arms full himself, Arthur always helps me carry his armor." Merlin smiled.

Now, in case you have forgotten Merlin and Arthur had a little fight a few chapters back and it was about Merlin having to carry all his armor. This is the same argument that incited his whole beating thing.

I know! It's over! But don't worry, I've got a one or two chapter sequel planned and it's gonna have some more stuff with Claude and Merlin. I'm probably going to call it "Why Merlin Doesn't Mess With You" so yeah, it's not entirely over. This story, however, is completed. I really hope you liked it and remember that it was supposed to be cheesy. Please review, I want to know what you think of this chappy and this story as a whole.

Oh, and didn't you all LOVE the Merlin episode "Wicked Day" ?

"For I have overcome the World."