Summary: Arthur plans on being home for Christmas.
Warnings: Modern AU
Word Count: ~1900
Author's Notes: I got inspired by some Christmas songs and used one of your prompts and nudged to the other one. I hope you like it, alafaye, and I wish you a very lovely happy holidays!
Also thank you to everyone who made this fest possible. Thank you and happy holidays!
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.
Arthur would not slip.
A suitcase clenched in each stinging hand, a briefcase sandwiched under one arm, and a laptop bag strung around his shoulders, he trudged down his snow-covered drive. His red scarf hung low, dangerously close to unravelling under his feet and sealing his fate to land in the slurry of slush.
If not his scarf, maybe his shoes would do it—not snow boots with high tops and traction on the bottoms, but business oxfords. The very same he’d used when he’d dashed out of a meeting half-way across the world, hopped on a plane, and rode a taxi straight home.
The driver had refused to make the trip up their driveway. The recent storm left the entire drive covered with snow, the mess reaching all the way up to Arthur’s knees. “I don’t want to get stuck,” the short man had said. “Lucky you got a ride at all.” And that was that.
Arthur’s knee-high socks were soaked, which were not as formal as his shoes. Little cacti wrapped in multi-coloured lights spotted his socks, which hid comfortably under his pressed trousers. Where his bespoke suit was a predictable situation each day, his socks were typically a ridiculous study of twenty colours with cats dressed up as fish and waffles with enormous, shining eyes.
In the distance, like a beacon, shined the lights Merlin had strung out on the eaves. A glowing Christmas tree stood in the window to the right of the door. A Christmas wreath of silver leaves, red berries, and pinecones hung on their door, so large it could almost fit around a horse’s neck.
Arthur had truly thought he’d only be home for Christmas in his dreams, but he didn’t give his imagination enough credit to account for the taste of bile in his throat after eating only a bran muffin in the past forty-eight hours, or the way the sweat poured down the back of his neck and chilled his skin in the gap between his pea coat and the scarf. Even the way his heart pounded with exertion and delight as he knew each step forward was another step closer to Merlin seemed too real to be a dream.
It just so happened this year they’d finally bought a house, and Merlin insisted they decorate it to the nines, complete with light-up candy canes and reindeer made out of lights that moved their heads, which Arthur thought excessive. When Merlin sent him pictures of little sprigs of mistletoe which hung on every doorway however, Arthur knew he couldn’t complain. Unfortunately, Arthur hadn’t had enough time at home enjoy any of the Christmas decorations since he’d been away since early November for a business deal in California.
It was true—the Christmas decorations may have all been over-the-top, and some of the Christmas ornaments cheesy, but with each day away from home, Arthur was beginning to realise that was the whole point. He couldn’t wait to see the cheddar cheese wedge ornament or the silver, glittery cow that Merlin mysteriously named Lola, both of which they’d bought on holiday to a dairy farm in America.
Arthur wouldn’t trade this Christmas for anything, even it did look bad that he hadn’t properly completed the meeting and he hadn’t yet sent the files over to his assistant on the upcoming projects. But when he’d looked down at his Christmas cactus socks under the long faux-wood meeting table in an uncomfortable chair, he knew he couldn’t be anywhere but home for Christmas.
All Arthur had sent to Merlin was a hasty email saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” It appeared he’d be able to keep his promise as he glanced down at his watch with droplets of melted snow running down its face.
Eight minutes and Christmas would be over.
Just as Arthur passed the third light-up candy cane, the door burst open, the wreath bounced off its hook before slamming back down, and Merlin appeared. He wore a giant gingerbread apron and was covered from head to toe in what looked like flour or sugar, chunks of butter, and some green and red food dye that stained his hands and chin. To Arthur’s surprise, Merlin dashed back into the house with the door wide open. Arthur stood frozen.
“Sod it,” Arthur muttered and dropped all his bags. He rushed up the icy sidewalk and up the three cobble-stone steps, and then suddenly, he felt himself slipping backward.
Thankfully, Merlin threw his arms around him before he hit the ground. “Hello,” he said. He set Arthur right and re-tied Arthur’s scarf. “It looks like the scarf I knitted you has kept you warm.”
Arthur felt warm from the inside out, but not from the scarf.
Merlin looked down at the snow, turning his head this way and that. He appeared to be searching for something. “Where did it fall…ah.” He reached down and picked up a small, green shortbread biscuit. He wiped the snow off and grinned sheepishly at Arthur. He dropped it into Arthur’s open hand. “Happy Christmas.”
Arthur didn’t hesitate and popped it into his mouth. Merlin’s face scrunched up in anticipation as he said, “You know I can’t bake. Or cook. Unless it’s Gaius’ potato soup with the little bits of parsley.”
When Arthur finally bit into the biscuit, it crumbled like a sand castle in his mouth. It almost tasted like sand, too. After he managed to swallow—he couldn’t help a small cough afterward—he looked to Merlin.
“They’re good,” he said. “If one’s in the mood for a taste of the Sahara.”
Merlin made a face and then sighed. “I know I cooked it too long. But I wanted it to be done. I looked on a blog that says you should let them finish in the oven and—”
Arthur couldn’t help it. He pulled Merlin in a bone-crushing hug and nuzzled his face deep in the crook of Merlin’s neck, which smelt like spices and butter. “Why don’t we bake those chocolate spice biscuits together? The recipe was from my mum, remember?”
“Of course I remember!” Merlin said and let out an indignation bark of laughter. “You’d never let me live it down if I didn’t.”
“I don’t know if I have it in me to make them at one in the morning, though.”
“Hold on,” Merlin said. He planted a quick kiss on Arthur’s forehead. “This means you can make it to my mum’s tomorrow afternoon for her fruit cake biscuits and embarrassing stories about me and Will.” He grabbed each of Arthur’s hands in his own and squeezed them.
“And the Pendragon Christmas is still on tomorrow night?”
“I’m afraid that even if the world were tearing apart at the very seams, Morgana and my father would find a way to salvage a table and pile liquor on it.”
“You’re really here,” Merlin said. His eyes grew wide and he bit his lip. “I got you a present.”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. Merlin’s presents were either a burst of ingenuity or a train wreck. The scarf was in the former category…but the burning flambé cake was the latter.
They had to replace their dining room table.
“As long as it doesn’t involve fire or anything remotely hazardous, I’m happy.” Arthur looked back at his luggage and groaned inwardly.
“Er…it might be?”
“Merlin…” Arthur trekked back down the steps. Merlin followed in his slippers. Once they finally made it into the house and flung all of Arthur’s belongings into their bedroom, Arthur collapsed on the overstuffed green chair by the Christmas tree and heaved a sigh.
Before Arthur could shut his eyes for too long, Merlin shot out from the kitchen with a pair of mugs filled with hot cocoa and set them on the table. He climbed into the chair and curled into Arthur’s arms. Christmas music filled the sitting room with songs of mistletoe and holly, and Arthur could feel himself grinning like a loon.
“Do you remember,” Merlin began, “how we found that one small book at the bookshop with the Queen on it? And you said it looked kind of good?”
“No,” Arthur said. “How long ago was this?”
“Three years ago? Back when I was still trying to impress you by pretending I could cook.”
“Ah.” Arthur recalled those memories fondly. At the time, he had fished Gwen for information and figured out early on Merlin was a horrific baker, but watching Merlin try to cook a chicken easily went down as one of the most unforgettable moments of his life.
The mutual food poisoning was almost worth it.
“Of course I remember,” Arthur said. “You asked me out to a movie after you got sick on my favourite jumper.”
Merlin groaned and ran both hands through his hair. “Then you got sick on my jumper. That’s all besides the point. I got you a surprise regarding that book.”
“You got me the book.”
“No.” Merlin shook his head and laughed. “That would be too easy.”
“Oh god. Merlin, did you steal the Queen?”
“No. Let me show you.” Merlin hopped off of Arthur’s lap and plucked a small present out from under the tree. “The whole story talks about the power of books. How they can give us things that nothing else can. And it reminded me of something.”
Merlin settled the gift into Arthur’s lap and kneeled down beside him.
“It’s a book,” Arthur insisted.
Merlin hummed in agreement. “Though it is a bit left field and then some.”
Arthur shook it by his ear. “Yep. Sounds like a book.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “Open it?”
Arthur let his hands travel down the stripes of glittering gold and silver wrapping paper. A messy ribbon was tied loosely around the package, with a giant green bow placed on top. “I have something for you too, you know.”
“Good. You can give it to me tomorrow. Now open it.” Merlin nudged Arthur and met his gaze. “Please?”
Arthur swallowed. He pulled off the bow and stuck it on his head. Merlin snorted. Arthur pulled the ribbons off and carefully teared the wrapping away.
The book looked like a forbidden text from long ago, like it should be under glass in a museum and not in Arthur’s hands. Covered in flaking, dark leather, the book had no title. Inside the pages were yellow, crinkled beyond repair. Arthur looked over to Merlin who made a gesture with his chin to go on, his eyes shining.
Arthur opened it to the first page and looked at the title written in a clean script on parchment, which was speckled with age.
The Chronicles of the Once and Future King, Arthur Pendragon
“I did.” Merlin said quickly. He buried his head against Arthur’s arm. “I never showed you. Never talked about it. I left it at Camelot all those years ago with Geoffrey. It was absolute hell to get it back, despite my magic. I could make it look like new, but…I thought it meant something—to us—about the passage of time, about our journey.”
Arthur wanted to say something. Like, ‘Brilliant, Merlin’ or ‘Thank you’, but he couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak. He bit his lip and tried to hold back a sob, but failed spectacularly.
After a minute, Arthur closed his eyes. “Oh, Merlin,” he whispered and threaded his shaky fingers through Merlin’s hair and kissed the top of Merlin’s head.
Merlin lifted his head up and beamed. It was that one smile that Arthur had looked back on all his life, from Camelot when he’d first met Merlin to every cherished moment after. When he’d returned and Merlin had been there waiting for him, it was that smile that had never failed to fill him with warmth, and his heart clenched in his chest with an unshakable feeling of home.
“I’m glad I’m with you,” Arthur said and brushed his nose against Merlin’s, their foreheads together. After all they’d been through, every moment he spent with Merlin felt like a miracle.
Merlin sighed, like he was thinking the same thing. “I am, too, Arthur. With all that I am.”
When they went to the kitchen, empty mugs in their hands, Arthur said, “We are going to be busy tomorrow.”
“I’m deliriously tired.”
“I can see that,” Merlin said and set his and Arthur’s mugs in the sink.
Arthur rolled his shoulders. “I say we should read a bit from The Prat Annals before bedtime.”
Merlin blinked. “So you’ve heard the unofficial title.” He narrowed his eyes. “From Gwen?”
Arthur nodded. “I made the connection. I’d heard about it many, many years ago. I suppose I can appreciate the humour.” He leaned against the counter. “In the morning, we’ll bake the cookies and drink peppermint tea. Now, though, I suggest we test out all this mistletoe before we go to bed. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. It’s Christmas, and I say we should put it to good use.” He waggled his eyebrows, knowing how ridiculous he looked with a giant bow still stuck to his head.
Merlin laughed and intertwined his fingers with Arthur’s and pulled him through the first doorway.