Pairing/s: Merlin/Arthur, Leon/Morgana
Summary: Modern AU. In search of the perfect gift for Morgana, Arthur just might find something perfect for himself, too.
Word Count: 3052
Author's Notes: I ended up incorporating a little of each of your prompts, slantedknitting, which ended up being so much fun. Thank you for the inspiration, and I hope you enjoy it! Happy holidays!
On a more story-related note, the title is a quote from "Locksley Hall" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
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.
“This place?” Arthur stared at the narrow edifice in disbelief. It was practically invisible from the street, years of wear visible in the stonework framing the store’s display window, with a door in full shadow because of how deeply it was recessed. “Are you certain?”
“Positive.” Leon clapped Arthur on the shoulder, though Arthur felt nothing like reassurance from the gesture. “Morgana’s been obsessed with this shop ever since she discovered it. Anything you buy from here will go down a right treat, I promise.”
As much as he wanted to call Leon out for pulling his leg, Arthur could think of no reason why his friend would lead him astray. Leon and Morgana had been together for nearly three years now. Arthur might’ve considered them an odd pairing at the start, but Leon’s even temper and ready smile had brought balance to Morgana’s quick moods and sometimes too impulsive nature. They were as solid a couple as he’d ever known. That was why he’d gone to Leon for help on Morgana’s Christmas gift this year. If anyone would know what Arthur’s picky sister might want, it would be Leon.
He peered into the window. The display itself was minimal—a few candles sitting atop a draped dais with various pieces of jewelry scattered around it. “What do they even sell?”
“It’s a holistic shop.”
Arthur straightened with a frown. “I have no idea what that means.”
Leon laughed. “I didn’t, either, until Morgana explained it to me. It’s all spiritual stuff. Crystals, aromatherapy, that sort of thing.”
“New Age kack, you mean,” Arthur muttered.
“Now you sound like Uther.”
“Take that back.” His offense was real, though he feigned a stronger reaction in order to lighten the mood. The truth was, on the surface, he had more in common with their father than Morgana ever had, but that was out of sheer determination on his part rather than anything genuine. Though Uther had never said so, Arthur had known since he was very small that Uther blamed him for his mother’s death. He’d overcompensated in his youth to get Uther to accept him. Now, he was stuck in a role that no longer fit, wearing a suit that acted as chainmail to keep him shackled to his father’s side.
Leon’s phone buzzed, prompting him to pull it out of his coat pocket. He scowled at the screen. “Bugger. I’ve got to go.”
“What? Now? You’re supposed to help me here. I’m not sitting through another of Morgana’s tirades about how rubbish I am at picking out gifts.”
“You won’t have to,” Leon assured. “I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong here. There’s literally nothing you could walk out of there with that won’t make Morgana happy.”
With a wave of his hand, he was off, whistling as he jogged across the street for the tube station.
And just like that, Arthur was alone again, wondering why he was even bothering so much about a stupid holiday that only served as yet another reminder of how wrongly he fit into his world.
A bell tinkled over the door when he pulled it open. At its surprising airiness, he glanced upward. It wasn’t a bell, after all, but a windchime of sorts, made up of deep blue agate slices hanging in a soft spiral. Not his usual cup of tea, but its charm was undeniable and thoroughly in the spirit of the shop itself. Oddly enough, he could see something like that hanging in Morgana’s window, swaying gently on a summer breeze.
Perhaps Leon had been right about the store’s potential. Arthur needed to apologize for doubting him once the holiday was past. Provided Morgana wasn’t thoroughly annoyed at his gift, anyway.
In spite of its slim façade, the store felt surprisingly spacious, with tiny, covered tables dotting the worn wooden floor and shelves crammed full of crystals and bottles stretching all the way to the ceiling. A single counter bisected the rear of the space, an open doorway behind it exposing a dark-haired man bent over an office desk.
“Hello?” Arthur called out and immediately was annoyed. Wasn’t that what the chimes were for? To announce his presence so he didn’t have to call for help on his own? With his hands balled into fists in his pockets, he waited for the man to respond, but nothing happened. The man hadn’t even flinched at the sound of his voice. How in the world was a shop with such poor customer service one of Morgana’s favorites? Even at the best of times, she was still demanding.
Arthur cleared his throat and ventured deeper into the store. “My apologies if you’re not actually open, but the door was unlocked. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s usually a sign you’d like some customers, isn’t it?”
He knew he was sniping unnecessarily, but he couldn’t help it. Something about the whole situation was rubbing him the wrong way. Especially when it took another fifteen seconds for the man to react.
It started with a slow tilt of his head, his gaze sliding from whatever consumed his interest on the desk to Arthur’s stance in front of the counter. Piercing blue eyes locked Arthur in place, keen and assessing, while his dark hair fell unkempt across his brow. Stubble shaded his angular jaw, but it did nothing to hide the full mouth currently tightening into a frown.
“You’re not Gaius,” the man said.
“If it means getting some help out here, I’ll be whoever you want me to be,” Arthur shot back without thinking.
The lips twitched, but the frown was gone. “Some might say that’s a generous offer.”
Arthur blinked. What kind of shopkeeper spoke like that to a customer? It was almost…flirtatious. But he was frozen even more from replying when the man finally stepped away from the desk and came through the doorway.
He was tall and slim, younger than Arthur would’ve assumed, with a dimple playing in his cheek as he leaned forward and rested his forearms against the counter. The pose made his shoulders seem even broader and afforded a peek down his denim button-down. Not that Arthur looked. Very long, anyway. He wasn’t here for that. No matter how attractive the man was.
“So, Not-Gaius, what can I do for you?” the man said.
“I’m looking for someone—something,” he hastily corrected. Damn it, he needed to pull himself together. It wasn’t like he had the privilege of even being able to act on his desires, let alone have the luxury to appreciate some flirting. This was completely unlike him to get this flustered around a good-looking man. “A gift. For my sister.”
“Well, it’s that time of year. What did you have in mind?”
Arthur let out a whoosh of air that did little to ease the tension in his shoulders. “I literally have no idea.”
The man cocked his head. “And you came into my shop to browse? Did something in the window catch your eye?”
No, but you have, Arthur almost said. “According to her boyfriend, this is her latest obsession.”
“You know. This.” Arthur gestured toward the walls. “This…” Don’t call it kack, don’t call it kack. “…stuff,” he finished lamely.
Now, a twinkle appeared in those damnable blue eyes. “That’s still quite broad. Do you mean candles? Crystals? Incense?”
He had no idea what the man meant, but he didn’t want to sound like an even bigger idiot than he already did. “She’s very spiritual,” he said, latching onto Leon’s explanation. The word choice was much kinder than anything he could’ve come up with. “I’d like to get something that…respects that.” He remembered the display and brightened. “Like jewelry, perhaps?”
“That would work,” the man agreed. “Does she prefer silver or gold?”
This one, he knew. “Silver.”
“Does she have a specific totem?”
Bugger. He was lost again. “I don’t know.” He sighed. “Morgana doesn’t really share any of this with me.”
At the mention of her name, the man straightened. “Wait. Morgana? As in, Morgana Pendragon?”
“Yes.” He felt foolish. If this was Morgana’s favorite store, of course its owner would know who she was.
“That means you’re Arthur.”
It should not, however, mean the owner should know who he was. “How’d you know that?”
The man ignored his query and stuck his hand out. “I’m Merlin.”
Arthur took the offering, though he was still a bit confused as to why Morgana would’ve ever mentioned him to a near-stranger. “If you’re that familiar with my sister, you’re probably in a better position to choose something for her than I am.” Better to get back on track than allow distraction from how warm Merlin’s grip was. “What would you suggest?”
“That’s easy.” Bending beneath the counter, Merlin slid open a door out of view. He emerged with a purple silk bag. “I think this will be perfect.”
Arthur loosened the drawstring and tipped the contents onto his palm. A fine silver chain obscured its pendant, and he had to nudge it aside with his fingertip to expose the etched dragon sitting astride a crescent moon. The workmanship was excellent, the details delicate and still crystal-clear. Without understanding why, Arthur knew it was the right choice.
“The dragon symbolizes power,” Merlin explained. “And the crescent moon is all about new beginnings and rebirth.”
Arthur wasn’t sure how the latter applied to Morgana, but Merlin seemed to know what he was talking about. “It’s a beautiful pendant.”
“Thanks. It’s mine.”
His gaze jerked up. “You made this?”
A faint pink stained Merlin’s cheeks. “Well, no, my friend Gwen made it. But it’s my design. See?”
Arthur watched as Merlin’s nimble fingers undid his cuff and rolled up his right sleeve. There, etched in the most brilliant greens, golds, and silvers he’d ever seen in a tattoo, was the same silvery dragon and moon, coiled around Merlin’s forearm.
“Wow,” Arthur said. He itched to run his fingers along the colorful scales, feel the muscle twitch beneath his touch. He had to settle for caressing the silver pendant with soft strokes of his thumb. “It’s almost lifelike.”
“That was the goal.” Merlin’s smile was wistful as he gazed down at the tattoo. “When I was little, I used to pretend I had a pet dragon. I always imagined this was what Aithusa looked like.”
Merlin shrugged. “That’s what I called it. I read somewhere it meant ‘light of the sun.’ I thought it was fitting, because I used to imagine Aithusa swooping in and saving me.”
A soft chuckle. “I was an artistic kid who liked boys instead of girls, growing up in a tiny village. I needed saving from just about everybody.”
Merlin said it so matter-of-factly, Arthur almost didn’t believe he’d heard him right. Nobody he knew was so casual about coming out to strangers. Discretion and privacy were everything in his world.
The Pendragon world, he meant. The one where Uther looked askance at anything deviating from the norm.
And here was Merlin, so confident in his sexuality he could talk about his past with a customer. Arthur was pretty sure he’d never been more jealous of anyone in his life.
“Their loss is London’s gain,” Arthur said. “Though I think you’ve wasted your talent by running a shop.”
“Talent doesn’t always pay the bills.”
Arthur smiled. “No, I guess it doesn’t.” On a whim, he added, “Do you have any other pieces you’ve designed? I’d love to take a look at them.”
He would’ve sworn he caught another blush on Merlin’s cheeks before he bent out of sight again, though he had to admit he rather liked having that effect on him. Having Merlin busy also gave him the freedom to drink him in without fear of being caught, to savor the strong shoulders, to wonder what it would be like to get tangled up with those long, lithe limbs. He was more than a little flushed himself when Merlin straightened, this time with a dark box cradled in his hands.
“These are some of my custom orders,” Merlin explained, setting the box between them. He lifted the lid to expose a tray of various pendants and rings, all done in silver. “I keep copies to show new customers who might want to commission something specific so they can see examples of my work.”
Though he loved to see it on other people—especially the dark-haired hook-up with the most delicious piercings he’d ever encountered when he was at uni—Arthur had never worn jewelry. Uther found it too common for men to do so. Unless it was a wedding ring, of course, but Arthur was putting off that nightmare for as long as humanly possible. These, however, made him hunger to change all that. They were as stunning as the dragon pendant, elegant and provocative, but his eye kept returning to a single ring at the end of the bottom row.
“May I?” he asked, gesturing toward the piece.
When Merlin nodded, he carefully picked it up to peer at it closer. It was composed of two intersecting rings, with a sword cutting down their centers and filigree around their edges. Though the circles were fine, the ring itself clearly belonged on a man’s finger.
“That one’s called the Chalice Well,” Merlin said. “So not very original, I’m afraid.”
“Because that’s a real well in Glastonbury. I saw it on holiday once. It was too pretty not to recreate.”
“It’s still brilliant,” Arthur said. “Would you ever consider selling it?”
“To the right customer.”
“For the right price, you mean.” Arthur reached for his wallet. “How much?”
Merlin shook his head. “No, I truly meant to the right customer. I can’t let you buy it.”
For a moment, he didn’t think Merlin was going to respond. Then, he muttered, “Morgana’s going to kill me.” A little louder, he said, “Because you’ll have one exactly like it in a week, unless you and Morgana don’t actually exchange gifts on Christmas Day.” He jabbed a finger in Arthur’s face. “So you better act surprised when you unwrap it, or I’m never letting you in my shop again.”
His initial shock at Merlin’s confession was quickly supplanted by delight. Of all the gifts Morgana could’ve chosen, the ring was more perfect than anything he might’ve asked for. And he wasn’t even bothered by the prospect of Uther’s reaction, either. He loved the ring too much for that.
“You have my word,” he vowed. “Though I must admit, I’m a little shocked that Morgana thought of it. Rings aren’t usually my thing.”
“I might’ve prodded her in that direction,” Merlin said. “After everything she’s said about you, the design seemed like it would suit you.”
There it was again, that admission of foreknowledge. In light of Morgana’s obvious friendship with Merlin, Arthur was almost embarrassed he hadn’t even known of the shop’s existence. But what had she said about Arthur that had painted him in such a light that Merlin would come up with the perfect design for him?
“You’ve missed your calling twice over, it would seem,” Arthur said.
Merlin shook his head. “I’m just good at reading people.”
“But we’d never met before today.”
“Sometimes, that’s not necessary.”
Not in Arthur’s world, where money and power reigned over people and needs.
He sighed and returned the ring to the box. “No wonder Morgana’s so obsessed with you and your shop. I think you’ve got pixie dust in the air here that makes the outside world completely irrelevant.”
“Nah,” Merlin said with a wink. “That’s just the bergamot incense.”
Arthur laughed. “Listen…” A lump formed in his throat as soon as the idea took root. He shouldn’t. Except he wanted to. Desperately. And it suddenly felt like if he didn’t take this chance now, he’d forever wonder what he’d let slip away. “Would you like to get a coffee?”
Merlin’s smile didn’t fade. “Are you asking me out?”
He swallowed down the lump and, with it, his fear. “Yes.”
“Yes.” Before he lost his nerve.
“I’m sorry, I can’t just close up in the middle of the day, not a week before Christmas.” When Arthur jerked backward, Merlin reached forward and caught his arm to stop him from retreating farther. “But if you come back at six, I’d love it if we could catch some dinner instead. There’s a pub around the corner that does the best fish and chips you’ll ever have.”
Dinner. That was a date. A real date. Not an anonymous hook-up to vent some steam. It would be sitting down, in public, with a man he found not only sexy but fascinating as well. Someone he could see spending hours with, in and out of bed if he got the chance.
Could he do it?
How could he not?
“Six, it is, then.” Impulsively, he covered Merlin’s hand on his arm with his, his fingers stretching to stroke the back of Merlin’s wrist. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As was their ritual, Leon and Morgana sat together on the couch after supper, her bare feet propped up on his lap as he massaged away her daily aches. “I still say it’s a dangerous game you’re playing,” he said.
“Hardly,” Morgana replied. “Arthur is long overdue for a life of his own, and if he’s too scared to do anything about it, I have no other choice but to give him a good kick in the pants.”
“Except you made me do the kicking.”
“Oh, please. You’ve been whingeing for years that Arthur needs a boyfriend. And Merlin’s perfect for him. I knew that the second he showed me the ring design.”
“And you really think one meeting will do the trick?”
Morgana’s eyes drifted shut. If anybody deserved a spot of happiness, it was Arthur. He’d sacrificed everything to be Uther’s model son. Her heart ached at seeing how alone he was. And the more time she’d spent with Merlin, the more she’d come to realize he was the ideal man to show Arthur how magical life could be with the right partner at your side. Leon had taught her the same thing. Now, it was Arthur’s turn.
“I really do.”