Fandom: Merlin: Modern Day
Summary: Written for schmoop_bingo. Arthur is determined to find out why his best friend has been avoiding him and gets more than he bargained for.
Prompt: Finding The Perfect Gift
Disclaimer: I don’t even own my own teeth (that’s a lie, so far I’m false teeth free)
Part One| Part Two
It had only been a year since Arthur and Merlin first met; a year to the day to be precise. The realisation of that shocked Arthur because he felt like he and Merlin had been friends for years. He wasn’t super girly or anything, knowing the exact date of when he had first met Merlin, but it just so happened to coincide with Gwen’s birthday.
Morgana and Gwen had already been together for nine months and been living together for four when they threw their birthday party/house warming party a year ago.
Arthur had been dating a girl called Viviane who, to be quite honest, was something of a twit. He had liked her company because he never really needed to pay attention or contribute to their conversations as she found it hard to shut up for more than five seconds.
It should have been annoying but in fact Arthur found peace in it. He could zone out completely, her drone becoming no more than background noise.
“Oh, what a quaint little house,” Viviane had declared with a slightly turned up nose upon their arrival.
Morgana met them at the door, wearing an off the shoulder silk red dress and a smile that said, I can out bitch you so don’t even try.
“Arthur, so glad you came,” His sister told him, taking the present out of his hands. “And you brought a date, isn’t that nice.”
Arthur was already pretty good at judging Morgana’s moods but anyone could see she wasn’t happy about him bringing Viviane.
“I’ll be your total slave for a day if you can tell me what this is,” Morgana told him with a snarky grin, holing up the prettily decorated birthday gift.
Arthur opened his mouth but then closed it again, knowing it was useless. “My secretary is just better at that sort of thing; I wouldn’t know what to get Gwen for her birthday.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” came a strange voice from behind Morgana. Arthur looked around his sister at the boy standing behind her. He was just that too, a boy. He looked like he was barely out of school and looked very much out of place with a wine glass in his hand.
“Yes, exactly,” Arthur agreed, nodding to the kid.
“Not that much thought went into it,” the boy finished with a grin, forcing Arthur to have to resist the urge to throw something at him.
“I’m sorry but this is a private conversation, perhaps you should run home before you miss your curfew,” Arthur retorted snidely, making Viviane giggle and shrug out of her baby blue suede coat.
The boy just grinned back at him, genuinely entertained by their exchange. Morgana rolled her eyes and motioned towards the skinny boy.
“Arthur, my brother, meet Merlin, Gwen’s friend.”
“Hi,” Merlin said, coming forward with a big smile and sticking his hand out to Arthur.
Arthur just frowned down at the offending appendage and walked right past him toward the living room, smirking when he heard Merlin call him a prat.
A little later in the evening Arthur had slipped outside to play Tetris on his phone and escape Viviane’s shrill laugh. Merlin came out not long after him, whether it was coincidence or he had been looking for Arthur, he wasn’t sure.
“You’re girlfriend is an absolute delight,” Merlin said sarcastically, making Arthur want to hit him for thinking he even had the right to start a conversation with him. “She’s in there now telling Gwen, the birthday girl, how she can’t really pull off yellow, as she isn’t a summer, and in case you haven’t noticed, Gwen is wearing a yellow dress tonight.”
Arthur cringed, knowing he was going to get it in the neck from Morgana tomorrow for upsetting her girlfriend.
“She’s lovely you know, Gwen?” Merlin told him, annoying Arthur even more for thinking that he was such an arse that he didn’t already know that.
“I know she is. I like Gwen a lot,” he told Merlin, feeling the need to defend himself.
Merlin nodded and moved closer to him, his pleasant smile never once leaving despite what they were talking about. He made Arthur think of a stray cat, looking for attention, that wouldn’t leave him alone. “Well, if you’re coming out with us for my birthday drinks next week then maybe you could leave the girlfriend at home.”
Arthur spun round to stare at him completely stunned. How on earth had they gotten to firing snide comments at each other to being invited out for drinks. “Why on earth would I be coming out with you for your birthday?”
Merlin shrugged and smiled at him nicely. “I dunno, I thought you might want to. I’ve been friends with Morgana since she and Gwen first met and this is the first I’ve seen of you. I just thought Morgana would be happy to see you more often.”
“Is it your mission tonight to make me feel guilty about everything?” Arthur asked, even more annoyed when Merlin chuckled like they were sharing a joke. He realised then that this entire conversation and the brief one they had shared earlier was actually Merlin’s way of making friends. Merlin was jibbing at him to get a rise out of him on purpose.
“You are really odd,” he accused, watching as Merlin tipped his head back and laughed even harder.
“That’s a shame ‘cos I was starting to quite like you. It’s the twenty-fourth by the way, my birthday,” Merlin told him with an easy shrug.
Not really knowing what was wrong with the boy or how to react to his persistency Arthur tucked his phone away in his pocket. “I can’t anyway, I’ve got a meeting the next morning with my dad, who’s also my boss,” he added.
“Wow, what’s it like getting to work with your dad,” Merlin enquired eagerly.
Arthur snorted at the boy’s enthusiasm over the idea. “It’s awful. My dad isn’t the easiest person to please, I’m sure Morgana’s talked about him, they fight like cat and dog. He’s kind of a hard arse; you know how dads can be?”
Merlin’s smile changed to a sadder one. “No, not really, my dad died when I was little.”
Arthur turned to look at him again, feeling as though, just like that, a slight bond had been formed. It was as though they had both flashed their secret society rings declaring that they were both members of the My Parent Died When I Was Young club.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Arthur told him, pleased that his sympathies made Merlin smile again. “My mum died giving birth to me,” he confessed quietly. He didn’t know if Morgana had mentioned that to him before, but his shocked face told Arthur that she hadn’t.
“That’s awful,” Merlin told him. “At least I have a few good memories of my dad.”
Arthur nodded, not really sure why he was suddenly opening up to this strange boy but now that he had started he couldn’t stop. “I think it’s a part of why my dad and I aren’t close, a part of him blames me.”
“You’ve got survivors guilt,” Merlin pointed out. Arthur went to deny it straight away but hearing it from Merlin made him realise that he was right.
“Yeah. She died because of me.”
Merlin looked like he wanted to reach out and touch him in some way and Arthur was glad that he found it in him to resist the urge. Instead Merlin found a way to comfort him with his words.
“You know the doctors told my mum she should have me terminated,” Merlin told him easily as though he were used to discussing his personal life and intimate feelings with other people. “She had been quite ill for a few years before hand and when she got pregnant they didn’t think her body was strong enough for all the strain I was going to put her through. She wouldn’t listen though,” Merlin continued with a grin as he thought fondly of his mother. “I asked her why once and she told me it was because she already felt like my mother, even though we had never met. She said that when given a choice between her life and mine she would choose mine every time because that’s just what a mother does.”
He didn’t add the, even if your mother had known there was a risk to her life she still would have chosen to have you, and Arthur was grateful as it might have been too much for him to actually hear it out loud, but he got the message none the less and it made his heart lift thinking of the motherly love he had missed out on and realising that it had probably still always been there just the same.
He didn’t thank Merlin because he couldn’t, it wasn’t how he was. Instead he took his phone out again and went to his date book application. “So where are we meeting for your birthday?”
Merlin’s face had lit up so quick that Arthur found he was pleased he had that kind of power over Merlin’s happiness. Only now that he was stroking the stray behind the ears he was certain he was never going to get rid of him.
They had certainly come a long way since that night that was for sure. This year Arthur wasn’t showing up with Viviane, or indeed Sophia, but with Merlin.
Merlin had insisted that instead of having Arthur’s secretary pick out the gift this year they would get one together. In theory it was a great idea, because presumably Merlin would go traipsing around the crowded London high streets on a Saturday morning and Arthur could just give him the money, but in reality Merlin had insisted on dragging Arthur around with him. Arthur suspected it was less about wanting Arthur’s input and more about misery loving company.
They had eventually decided on a certificate for the two girls to have professional photos taken of them which they had both loved.
“There is no way you had any part in this, Arthur,” Morgana insisted as their little group sat around the patio table. It was noisy and stuffy inside with a good thirty people at the party, so Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Morgana, Lance and Will had snuck outside.
Merlin, bless him, came to Arthur’s defence straight away. “Actually, we went shopping together today. We spent hours walking around looking for the perfect gift.”
Morgana’s perfectly manicured eyebrows rose and her long French tipped finger nails drummed softly on the stem of her wine glass. Arthur noted that whenever the two of them spoke she had a constant air about her, like that of a cat toying with a mouse. “Really? You know, Arthur, I think Merlin has been a very good influence on you.”
Arthur snorted and decided to change the subject quickly. “So, Will, how’s it going round at what’s her face’s?”
Will took a large swallow from his beer can before answering. “Well, it’s actually pretty good. She cleans up after me, cooks me dinner and then let’s me shag her. If this is domestic bliss then I’m not sure why I’ve been trying to avoid it for so long.”
Gwen pushed Will’s shoulder gently. “That isn’t domestic bliss, it’s having a slave.”
“Yeah, and she can’t possibly be as much of a joy to live with as I was,” Merlin insisted with a cheeky smile.
“Well,” Will began. “Once again, mate, she lets me shag her and you never did.”
Everyone around the table laughed except for Arthur, who just frowned down at his bottle of beer.
“How long have you known he’s gay?” Arthur asked, putting a quick stop to the merriment.
Will shrugged as though it were no big deal. “I dunno. Forever I guess.”
“Forever?” Arthur questioned with a look of horror on his face. “You can’t possibly have known forever, not even Merlin has known forever.”
Lance reached his arm around Merlin’s shoulders, in silent support. “I have to admit, I did suspect.”
“What?” Arthur demanded, completely outraged now. “Was I the last to know?”
“Well you are the most self-centred,” Morgana felt the need to point out. “Even Gwen and I had talked about the possibility but we wouldn’t have ever said anything unless Merlin told us himself.”
Arthur felt like a complete idiot. Was he really so self-involved that he was the only one to have never even suspected.
“If it makes you feel better, you’re the first one I actually told,” Merlin said with a reassuring smile. It actually did make Arthur feel better. He didn’t like the idea that the others might know Merlin better than he did, but at least he was the one Merlin confided in, or more like shouted at.
“So now that the subject of Merlin’s sexuality has been ever so delicately broached,” Lance said, shooting a disapproving look at Arthur. “There’s someone you should met.”
Merlin looked over at Lance like he was just told they were all cannibals and were going to eat him alive. “You want to set me up with someone?”
Arthur bristled and sat up straight in his chair. “Give the poor boy a chance; he’s only just come out. He needs at least a year to get used to it before you start throwing men at him.”
Even Merlin looked at him strangely then. “I’m not sure, Lance. I mean, I’ve never...”
“He’s never fucked anyone in his life,” Will helpfully supplied, causing Merlin’s face to flush with embarrassment. “So whoever this bloke is he’ll have to take it slow, no funny business, no thinking he’ll get some on the first date.”
This was one of those rare moments when Arthur was actually in agreement with Will but he didn’t dwell on it for too long because of the shocking announcement that had just be made.
“You’re a virgin?” Arthur accused.
Merlin turned in towards Lance and hid his face in his friend’s shoulder. “Oh god. Why am I friends with either of you?” he asked, clearly meaning Arthur and Will, who just shared a confused look.
“Well, he’s done some stuff, but only with girls. Though he’s never gotten his wick wet, if you know what I mean. Never gone spelunking or deep sea diving,” Will continued, making Merlin turn his face further into Lance’s armpit.
“Don’t worry, Merlin,” Lance assured him with a gentle squeeze. “Leon is a really nice guy. He’s not one of those who just want to sleep around. In fact he was with the same guy for about four years.”
Arthur listened as Lance talked about this man, hearing his description for a few minutes before he finally realised who Lance was talking about.
“You don’t mean Leon from work?” Arthur asked, appalled.
“Yes, he’s been single for about a year now and has been dating but no one has really stuck. I think you two could be good together,” Lance finished, smiling at Merlin who had emerged from Lance’s arm like a frightened hamster being coaxed out with treats.
“Are you insane?” Arthur demanded, gesturing wilding with his beer bottle. “Leon is old. Like way too old for Merlin, and he is so boring.”
Lance laughed and shook his head. “Leon isn’t old, he’s thirty.”
“That’s eight years older than Merlin,” Arthur pointed out, though apparently he was the only one who seemed to have a problem with that.
“That’s not that big of an age difference, and I’ll be twenty-three next week,” Merlin told him. “And I guess if he’s more experienced it would help me.”
“Did you not hear the part about him being boring?” Arthur demanded. “Merlin, trust me, you can do a lot better. Leon isn’t even that good looking. And, if I’m remembering rightly, he’s ginger.”
Everyone at the table laughed, including Merlin who threw his head back. “Do you honestly think I’d care about that?”
Arthur wanted to point out that it wasn’t very nice going out with someone when you claimed to be in love with someone else, but he didn’t, because not even he was a big enough prat to announce that secret to everyone. He supposed in a way it might be good for Merlin, that it might help him get over Arthur, but Arthur was honest enough with himself to admit his selfishness. He didn’t want Merlin to get over him; he liked being the centre of Merlin’s attention. Of course he didn’t like that Merlin was hurting over it, and if he were honest he supposed that Merlin’s feelings came before his own, for once in his life.
“Okay fine,” He conceded, as though Merlin needed his permission. “But we’re making it a double date. I’ve never really given him much time at work, what with him being so appallingly dull and all, so I want to make sure he isn’t a psycho.”
Both Merlin and Lance opened their mouths to protest but Arthur cut them off. “If he’s okay then me and Sophia will make up an excuse to leave, and that way you can give me the nod if you want to get out of there and I’ll fake a call pretending Morgana’s broken her neck or something.”
He turned expecting to be greeted by a Morgana glare but instead she was looking at him with amusement, her eyes curious as though she were trying to work something out. It made him uncomfortable though he couldn’t say why.