After months of negotiating, filling in endless papers and uncountable visits to the Youth Care office, they finally put their last signatures on the last forms.
At the same time, under the surprising effective leadership of Gwaine, their friends redecorated one of Merlin's spare rooms. The result of long cosy autumn evenings around the fire with their friends. Of endless discussions about colours and furniture, cuddly toys and carpets.
Choices and decisions.
The ladies shopped for sheets, duvets, towels and clothes. The boys invented handmade furniture. They never were happier.
Finally, everything was settled. With big smiles on their faces and both a big cuddly bear in their arms, they walked through the hallways of Ealdor Manor.
Their door was open.
Curled up at the bed, the twins were looking at one of their favourite picture books of Winnie the Pooh.
Libraries donated lots of books for the victims.
Their eyes widened by the look of the huge bears, their smiles broadened when they discovered Merlin and Arthur behind them.
The first few minutes it was shouting and hugging and even some tears, although everyone tried to cover that up. When finally they were leaning in on the new bears, maybe their first gift ever, Merlin and Arthur sat on the ridge of the bed.
"We have something to tell you", Arthur started.
Joan and Tommy startled. Their traumas were still present, despite the progress they made in therapy with Gwaine and the horses. Everything new, even something as little as a change in the daily routine, was considered a life threat. Their childhood had been pure horror and the last months in detention by Uther had worsened it. Luckily they were young and Merlin and his staff, including Arthur, were constantly busy with their bonding and basic trust.
"It is good news", Merlin added, " you can trust us."
They both squinted then looked at each other, grabbed each other's hand and nodded firmly.
Brave, Merlin thought, and they are telepathically gifted. He stored that new information for later.
"You are going to live with us, with Merlin and me."
Their eyes widened, they slowly shook their heads in disbelief.
"So, basically, you now have two dads", Merlin added wittily.
"Really, but really?" Tommy shouted and bounced on his bed.
"So, it's true?"
"What is true, sweety?"
She looked at Merlin and said: "Gwennie said I should keep dreaming. She said it every day and now it is true." She sobbed in his arms, for joy, for all that had happened.
"So, when are we going?"
Tommy jumped off the bed and grabbed Arthur's arm.
"Now", Arthur smiled and put the toddler on his shoulders. He shrieked for joy.
Merlin and Joan followed them at a quieter pace. They both carried a big bear and even bigger smiles, walking through the park. Joan held his hand and babbled about all the lovely things they were going to do as a family.
One night, shortly after his recovery, Merlin had found Arthur sitting between Joan and Tommy who fell asleep in his arms while he was reading a story to them. They softly woke them and put them each in their bed and then said goodbye. They had to do it like this, it was still all about gaining trust again. On the way home, arm in arm in the summer night, Arthur said; "Can't you and I give them a home?" Merlin jumped. "Yes. Yes. I would love that." He kissed him on his mouth, hugged him and patted him on his shoulder.
That's how the long and tiresome adoption had begun.
And now their kids slept in their new home, in their own bedroom. For the first time, they clamped to their big cuddly bears instead of each other. Merlin's cat slept at Joan's feet. Little lamps softly lit the walls, the door was left open.
They sat before the fire. November ended cold. Arthur was reading about parenting, Merlin read about bonding for foster kids. But at every sound coming from the children's bedroom, they raised and ran to the door.
Their life and routine changed drastically. They learned children make noises while they sleep and dream. Eventually, they would grow into parenting but that first night they were too happy when the toddlers, hand in hand stood before them and said; "We can't find the bathroom."
Choosing a school for them had been difficult since they didn't want to put the twins far away. One day, Leon offered to home-school them in the mornings, at his little cosy office at the garden. He had so much patience and Joan and Tommy loved him from the first day. So every morning when Merlin walked to the Manor he dropped them at Leon. He taught them letters and numbers in no time, using all of nature around them. The twins spent most of their learning time outside. Learning meant to experience, to Leon. All of his friends offered to help him in one way or another to educate the twins, with their own specialities. Together they had more knowledge than every faraway school.
Summer had passed, Autumn's end already gave harbingers of Winter.
The weeks after Arthur's rescue had been arduous on all of them.
Police interrogated them all. The paparazzi kept trying to get their story out. Things changed slowly when Cenred led the government to the horrible truth. Uther's organisation was disabled in days only and the press was no longer interested in Ealdor Manor. 'Victims are taken care off', was all they wrote about them. Laws were changed back to normal again, members of parliament accused of neglecting and regulations in the government tightened.
When Arthur woke, it wasn't all happiness. First, he couldn't believe he was gone for over two weeks. Then, his body was weakened and needed time to heal. The pain made him grumpy. When he finally got his memory back and his body got stronger, he became his old shining self again.
One night, he said; "I can't believe the risks you took, only to save me."
They were seated on the couch in front of the burning heard. Outside the first storm of November raged.
"I would do anything, really anything to rescue you. I simply can't live without you."
"I know", Arthur said, "I meant to say; Thank you."
He kissed him slowly and intense.
"So, this is love? The hurt we feel when we're not around each other?"
Merlin nodded and smiled. "Yep, the bittersweet pain called love."
Of course, Arthur was so happy to see his brother Mordred again, they both cried and hugged for a long time. They sat for hours, while Mordred talked and Arthur just listened to his horror stories. In a way, for both, these conversations were healing.
It took him a day to understand his little brother was in love with his friend Parceval.
It took him some more days to accept it.
Merlin did nothing to intervene, not between family. Arthur was perfectly capable of choosing his own battles.
To Arthur, it still was his little brother, after all. He was used to taking care of him all of his life. But, him being 19, he was already a young man, capable of making his own decisions.
One night, after they had dinner with the four of them he tried to explain. They were sitting outside in the Indian summer evening. He apologised for being detached and blunt to them.
"I didn't have a problem with you being gay. Of course not. How could I? But you will always be my little brother. I think I acted like a parent, as I am your only family now. Do you know what I mean? Like no one is good enough for you, that old fashioned rubbish."
Mordred only smiled, curled up on Percy's lap. "I know and I love you too."
"And I am more than happy to have you in the family, Perceval."
Perceval nodded calmly. "I might have reacted the same, only I think I might have thrown him out, before the talking." He smiled his own big smile.
The victims in the Manor still needed their daily care.
Merlin, Gaius and Elyan worked closely together to get it all done. A 24-hours staff of well-trained nurses was managed by Parceval and Lance. Gwen and Arthur took care of a daily program for them, besides comforting the victims, reading to them, walk with them or play soccer at the Park. Few of them were reunited with their families, some were on the list for foster parents.
Morgana and Arthur and Mordred sold the company of their father and all the properties they inherited. Together with Merlin's fortune, they build a trust fund for the victims in the Manor and for free psychiatric help in the region. For all their friends when they might need it. Arthur administered it, next to the hours he spent with the victims. To his own surprise, he was quite good at both.
Morgana learned to work with horses from Gwaine and she was a natural. Soon they both worked full-time with the victims and their families, while Merlin did the one on one sessions. Their relationship was strong and steady. So they bought the farm where Gwaine worked, close to Manor Park, together with the land around it. After some permits, the land and the house were added to the Manor Estate.
Morgana didn't tell anyone she had dreams about burning their house.
Gwen and Lance got permission to build a small farmhouse at the edges of the estate, behind the forest. In that way, the trust fund would be able to buy the farmland next to the estate and now they all were dreaming of chickens and pigs and cows.
Only Arthur dreamt of herding sheep.
One of the goals of the trust fund, but more specific Merlin's, was to expand the manor, to claim the area around it, piece by piece and partly giving it back to nature. So the deer and other animals got a wider uninterrupted land as their territory. And maybe inviting other animals like wolves.
Elyan became caretaker of the Manor and took Merlin's unused wing to live in.
Freya and Elena took Gwains apartment.
Hunith sold her house and moved into Elyan's apartment. She wanted to be close to her sons and her grandchildren.
Happy changes and family life, love and friendship, making dreams come true.
Merlin planned to extend the Manor with a big closed veranda, for meetings, parties and dinners. Cenred retired from MI5 and still alive, helped him with the plan and recruited construction workers to build it.
He was one of the many uncles to the twins and became their friend. To Merlin and Arthur, he felt like family and he walked in almost every day. Tommy and Joan learned from him to defend themselves without using a weapon.
He also helped Leon with the garden and repaired things in and around the Manor. Several times a week Cenred instructed small groups of his friends in the use of weapons. Not only guns and knives but also sword fighting and bow and arrow. He had a nice collection of old weaponry and especially the boys loved it. He taught them the art of fighting with your body and mind, endurance. How to cope with pain and still concentrate.
Even Merlin and Iseldir participated in their daily routine of Tai Chi in the park, no matter the weather.
Ealdor Manor became the buzzing centre of inspiration and activity.
In between the work and the plans they made a habit of making special dinners together. Even when the winter started they held them outside. Sometimes with huge campfires and blankets. The twin loved being part of such a big caring family of friends for the first time in their lives. Almost every time, after dinner, with hot coffee and chocolate, Merlin told them stories of old times, of knights and castles, fairies, druids and wizards. From his memory, by heart, from his fantasy and of course with a little help of his magic. Since the stories came from their somehow shared memories, his friends also listened closely and enjoyed it. He lived those stories while telling them, a spectacle was guaranteed.
Merlin was a gifted storyteller.
In their spare time, the boys were building a spacious outside kitchen with an old fashioned stove, running on fire, a grill, a bbq and a real sink with a big working space. Outside it looked like an old wooden house, perfect for Christmas. The walls could easily be lowered in the summertime. The first thing they installed was a huge fridge. "Boys need their beer cold", Gwaine explained smiling, "even in wintertime."
For Christmas, they were already planning a big dinner at the new veranda of the Manor, together with the victims and their real or foster families.
That was the state at Ealdor Manor, mid-December when the story continues.