Summary: Morgana gets Arthur a cat for Christmas. Because nothing brings people together like bickering over cat toys.
Warnings: Modern AU, puns
Word Count: 2,306
Author's Notes: Happy holidays brunettepet! I really enjoyed your prompt from the moment I read it. I hope this was the kind of banter you were looking for and I hope you like it. Many thanks to my beta and the wonderful tracionn for sharing her cat owner insights with me! Also, thank you to the mods and this very lovely community.
Disclaimer: Merlin is owned by the BBC and Shine. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made. Don't send us to the dungeons.
Message from Arthur Pendragon: Cancelled my morning teleconference. Come by whenever. Bring tuna.
Message from Arthur Pendragon: A few tins at least. In water, not oil.
Merlin regretted forgetting his gloves.
He stood among a few other people on the corner of the last intersection separating him from Arthur’s building waiting patiently for the signal to cross. His feet were warm and dry in the new boots his mum had given him for Christmas. His head was covered and his neck was snug and warm but his gloveless hands were starting to go numb.
The shop being out of bags hadn’t seemed like a big deal five blocks ago.
He hurried across the street when the signal changed to walk, trying to hold six tins of tuna fish while simultaneously making as little contact with them as possible. It was a strange request – Arthur wasn’t particularly fond of tuna – but Merlin’s hands were too cold to wonder why or for what reason the request had been made. If Merlin had learned anything in the two years he’d been working as Arthur’s personal assistant, it was that only a fraction of what Arthur asked for made sense.
He took long strides through the building lobby and fumbled with his key card in the lift. He was forced to balance all of the tins in one hand while he let himself into Arthur’s flat, hoping they wouldn’t fall over in the time it took him to get through the door.
Merlin set the tins down on the entryway table and breathed a sigh of relief. He rubbed his hands together, working warmth and feeling back into his fingers as he listened for signs of life in the flat. He could smell coffee, which sounded very good at the moment, and set about unlacing his boots and shedding his warmer outerwear. He took the tins of tuna with him into the kitchen where he found Arthur…
… and a cat.
“What is that?”
Arthur, sitting on the opposite side of the kitchen island, didn’t bother to look up from the papers.
“It’s a cat, Merlin.”
“I can see that it’s a cat,” Merlin replied automatically.
Most of his responses around Arthur were automatic; Arthur had a unique way of pushing his buttons and Merlin always felt the need to push back.
Arthur took a sip of his coffee, still focused on the papers. “You asked.”
“I meant, why is there a cat here?” Merlin frowned as the obvious answer crossed his mind. “Is it yours?”
Arthur set his coffee down and turned his attention to the cat. It was large, fluffy, orange, and a little unkempt. Its heavy lidded eyes gave it a bit of a scowl and it looked perfectly content in the scruffy, ruffled nature of its fur. It hadn’t done anything since Merlin came in but stare at Merlin as if he was the foreign one in the situation. Arthur, on the other hand, looked as if he was just noticing the situation for the first time; he looked at the cat in a way that suggested he hadn’t really considered it or its place in his life until just now.
“I suppose so. Morgana gave him to me.” Arthur extended his hand to pet the cat’s back. To Merlin’s surprise the cat moved towards the touch. “As a Christmas present,” Arthur continued, gesturing towards the card on the island and the box of cat paraphernalia against the kitchen wall that Merlin just noticed. “She said I needed companionship and thought it would be best to start with something that couldn’t talk back.”
Merlin titled the card open with one finger. It featured a similar orange cat wearing a Santa hat and had Morgana’s handwriting on the inside. He caught the end of one sentence - since you refuse to tell him - before Arthur slapped the card shut and pulled it across the island.
“Did you bring the tuna?” he asked abruptly.
Merlin sighed. “Yes, I brought the tuna.”
He pushed the stack of tins in Arthur’s direction. The purpose of the tuna quickly became clear as Arthur retrieved a shallow bowl from the cupboard. After a quick turn under the electric tin opener, Arthur served one tin of tuna into the bowl for the cat. He left the other tins on the counter and took his seat again, watching the cat lie down and nibble from the bowl.
“We’re going to have to buy food for him.”
“You’re actually going to keep him?”
“Why not?” Arthur said with a shrug. “He was a gift from Morgana. She’ll be insulted if I got rid of him. Besides,” Arthur smiled at him, looking smugger than Merlin preferred, "how hard can it be to take care of a cat?”
Merlin could only imagine.
“Merlin! Look at this!”
Merlin turned in a full circle on the pavement, trying to locate where Arthur was shouting at him from.
Momentum from the bag of groceries hanging off his shoulder pushed Merlin's turn from a full circle to a circle and a half. He widened his stance to steady himself, stilling the bag of groceries with both hands. It was rare for either Merlin or Arthur to be doing Arthur’s weekly shopping; Merlin usually had Arthur’s groceries delivered to his flat. However with the office closed for the holidays, working solely from home was giving Arthur cabin fever.
For Merlin’s sanity more than Arthur’s, Merlin had deemed it necessary to go out.
He crossed the street in the middle of the block and found Arthur standing outside a storefront. The shops on the street were all relatively new, products of shifting real estate holdings and commercial rezoning. Their exterior designs all seemed to be the same: painted white stone walls with black trim and awnings.
Merlin looked up at the shop sign as he adjusted the bag on his shoulder.
“Purr-suits?” he read aloud.
“I’ve never seen these shops before,” Arthur said, peering into the shop windows. “Let’s go inside.”
Arthur disappeared into the shop before Merlin could remind him of the perishable goods he was carrying. Merlin followed almost without choice, pushing open the black wooden shop door. He nearly bumped into Arthur, who had stopped only a few steps inside.
“Hello! Welcome to Purr-suits, your source for all your feline needs, from everyday to specialty items. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
The saleswoman matched the aesthetic of the shop: small, bright, and dressed only in black and white.
“I have a cat,” Arthur stated.
Merlin rolled his eyes behind Arthur’s back. “That’s helpful.”
“Shut up, Merlin.” Arthur moved towards the woman and pulled out his phone. He surprised Merlin by showing her a picture of his cat. “This is my cat, Sir Bors. It’s a new arrangement.”
“Congratulations!” The woman clapped her hands together. She seemed genuinely excited about Arthur's new pet. "How long have you had him?”
“Less than a week,” Arthur answered. “My sister gave him to me for Christmas. He has all the basics: food, dishes to eat and drink from, a bed. But he doesn’t have any toys. Is that bad?”
“It depends on the cat,” said the woman. “Some prefer more play stimulation than others. Have you noticed him playing with anything you already have at home?”
Arthur thought about it for a moment then turned to Merlin. “I can’t really think of anything. Have you seen him playing at home, Merlin?”
The shift in the saleswoman’s smile distracted Merlin from answering. She followed Arthur’s line of sight and questioning to Merlin and Merlin could see her drawing the wrong conclusions. It didn't upset Merlin when people made those assumptions. It disappointed him more than anything; it was as if everyone could see the potential except for Arthur. It wasn't the first time someone had mistaken them for a couple and it wouldn't be the last.
Arthur’s bark forced Merlin out of his thoughts.
“I don’t think I’ve seen him do anything other than sleep, eat, and lounge,” Merlin said.
Arthur nodded. “He’s not very active.”
“He’s retired,” Arthur corrected for the woman. “He used to be a show cat. Do you think he needs more stimulation?”
“He might,” the woman said thoughtfully. “Cats are natural predators. They can spend a lot of their time sleeping but it’s not good for them to do nothing at all. I can show you some simple, low activity toys and we can always work our way up to other things if he responds well.”
Arthur looked pleased with the suggestion. He always worked best when the plan of attack was clear to him.
“Okay,” he agreed. “It couldn’t hurt to try out a few things.”
Merlin knew even before the first product was brought out that his shoulders would likely think otherwise.
"What do you think of this one, Merlin?"
They were at Purr-suits. Again. For the third time in two weeks.
Purr-suits wasn't a large shop. The sales floor was smaller than the total square footage of Arthur's flat and Merlin was told that their supply room was too small to keep very much back stock. However, despite its size, the shelves and stacks were plentiful and there seemed to always be something new for Arthur to browse through.
This time it was a plush toy in the shape of a football. Arthur held it up for Merlin to see.
Merlin crossed his arms over his chest. "I think you bought two very similar toys the other day, along with £40 worth of other things I've barely seen him touch."
"But this has catnip in it," Arthur argued, ignoring Merlin's perfectly valid points. He kneaded the toy with his fingers. "We haven't gotten him anything to do with catnip yet. He might like it."
"You want to drug your cat?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You say that like it's a bad thing." He looked up, frowning instantly when he saw Merlin's posture. "It won't hurt him! I looked it up! It's not like I'm suggesting we drop him in a field of the stuff like in the Wizard of Oz."
"Those were poppies."
"It was a figurative comparison, Merlin, not a literal one."
"At least get this one," Merlin said, pushing past Arthur to reach into the box of all-natural, handmade catnip toys. He pulled out one in the shape of a turkey leg. "Sir Bors seems to think he's as legendary as his namesake. He wouldn't be interested in something like football."
Arthur looked between the two toys a few times. He squeezed the football once more before dropping it back into the box. He plucked the turkey leg from Merlin's hand.
"All right," he said with a nod. "Good choice."
It was just a toy for his cat but Merlin was not prepared for Arthur to agree with him so quickly and with so little fight. He stared as Arthur stepped around him, picking up the basket of other things he intended to purchase.
"You're really going to get that one instead?" Merlin asked.
Arthur turned and smiled, the expression small but sincere.
"I respect your opinion, Merlin."
Merlin could only stare and watch and wonder.
"What do you think of this, Merlin?"
Merlin looked up from his laptop where he was finalizing the arrangements for Arthur's next business trip. Sir Bors sat between them on the couch, resting on a pillow Arthur had embroidered with his name. Arthur pointed at his laptop where he had the website for a restaurant up on his screen.
"Is that Pacifico?" Merlin asked, leaning over but not too close to Sir Bors. Arthur nodded and tilted the screen so Merlin could see better. "That's a nice restaurant. It's only been open a few months. I heard Gwaine talking about it and I think there was a write up about it in the paper." Merlin cracked a smile as they both settled on their sides of Sir Bors again. "Why are you looking at that? Do they do cat luncheons or something?"
Arthur stared at his laptop. The only movement was his finger sliding along the trackpad. "I was thinking we could go."
"You and Sir Bors?"
"No, you and I, you idiot."
Merlin's smile fell away when he heard the forceful nervousness of Arthur's voice. Arthur had many tones Merlin was well versed in but he was almost never nervous and certainly never around Merlin. His head was still bent, his gaze fixed to the screen; it might have been wishful thinking but Merlin thought he saw an uncertain tension in Arthur's jaw.
"I wanted..." Arthur took a deep breath, his hands closing into fists atop his keyboard. "I want to thank you for all that you've done to help me with Sir Bors."
Merlin tried to act casual even though watching Arthur was making him nervous.
"It's part of my job," he pointed out.
"I'd still like to take you." Arthur turned to look at him, radiating a quiet, steady hope that washed over Merlin in waves. "If you wanted to go."
Merlin reached over Sir Bors and put his hand over Arthur's tightly clenched fist.
"I'd like that, Arthur."
"Me too," Arthur said quickly. He laughed, breathed, and smiled all at once. Merlin could feel his tension melt away as Arthur's hand relaxed under his touch. "You know," Arthur tilted his laptop again with his free hand, "they do also have an open air terrace where they allow pets."
Merlin shook his head even as Arthur pouted. "I'd prefer if Sir Bors stayed home."
Arthur relented with a shrug of his shoulders. His soft smile seemed to convey that he didn't mind at all.
"Whatever you say, Merlin. I'll make the reservations. Does Saturday sound good to you?"
Merlin could only agree.