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27 December 2020 @ 08:35 am
The Secret of Giving for ajsrandom.  
Title: The Secret of Giving
Author: schweet_heart
Rating: G
Pairing/s: Gwen/Lancelot, one-sided Gwen/Arthur.
Summary: When Lancelot draws Gwen’s name for the office Secret Santa, he is equal parts thrilled and terrified. He’s been half way in love with Gwen ever since she started working at Pendragon Consulting, and what better way to show her how he feels than by giving her the perfect gift? The only problem is that Gwen also got her crush for the Secret Santa—and she’s asked Lancelot to help her pick out a present for them, too…
Warnings: None.
Word Count: 4905 words.
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, ajsrandom! Gwencelot is a bit outside of my usual wheelhouse, but I had a lot of fun trying something new, so I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it! With many thanks to the mods for running the fest, and to this wonderful community for creating so much fabulous Merlin content all year round—I hope you all have a safe and happy new year ❤️
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.

The Secret of Giving

“So, speaking entirely hypothetically, what kind of a gift do you think Arthur would most like to get for Christmas?”

Lancelot looked up as Gwen slid into the seat across from him, raising one eyebrow when she favoured him with her most engaging grin.

“Let me guess,” he said drily. “You got his name in the office Secret Santa.”

Gwen’s crush on Arthur Pendragon—aka their boss and CEO of the firm—was a thing of legend. She’d taken one look at him the day she started working at Pendragon Consulting and fallen head over heels, despite the fact that their first meeting had been less than ideal. Gwen had been running late when she’d tripped on her way into the building, spilling iced coffee all over the expensive parquet floor. According to the way she told the story, Arthur had helped her to her feet, courteously checked that she was all right, and then gone right on yelling at whoever he was talking to on the phone, which was both hilarious and completely in character. Lancelot had known Arthur since the two of them were in university together, and while he loved the man like a brother and considered him to be one of his dearest friends, even he had to admit that Arthur could be a bit of a prat.

Gwen didn’t seem to agree with him, however, if the little shimmy of excitement she was doing was any indication. “I can’t tell you that,” she said, although her beaming smile had already more or less answered the question. She’d been dwelling on this possibility for years. “It’s a secret, Lance! But supposing I had been lucky enough to pull out his name—what do you think I should buy him?”

She looked at him with a pleading expression, and Lancelot stifled a sigh. He could never resist Gwen’s puppy-dog eyes, but the unfortunate fact was, she hadn’t been the only one who’d fallen head over heels the day she’d walked into the office. The only difference was that at least there was still a distant possibility that Gwen’s crush liked her back.

“That depends,” he said, giving in. “Do you want him to know you’ve been pining after him for three years, or do you want to play it cool?”

“Lance!” She smacked his shoulder playfully. “Obviously, I’m going to play it cool. But if he did happen to get the idea that I like him and decided to ask me out on a date, I wouldn’t say no…”

“So you want to get him something romantic, but not romantic romantic. Got it,” Lance teased, and she laughed. “I don’t know, Gwen. I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask—I usually just buy him a new tie and have done with it.”

“But you’ve known him since forever!” Gwen said, sounding aghast. “Don’t you ever buy each other more personal gifts?”

Lancelot could only shrug apologetically. Much as he hated to disappoint her, he was also a tiny bit relieved that he couldn’t be of much use. “Arthur’s never been that keen on Christmas,” he said, glancing at the break room’s open door for a moment before lowering his voice. “He’s always had more than enough money to buy whatever he wanted, and besides—Christmas was when his mother died. I don’t think he likes to be reminded.”

“Oh! Oh, of course, that’s completely understandable,” Gwen said. She leaned back in her chair and sighed, deflated. “All right. I guess I’ll just have to come up with something on my own, then. Something that will make him happy in spite of the occasion.” She glanced over at him, and something of the sparkle came back into her eyes. “Are you going to tell me who you got, then?”

Lancelot flushed under her direct attention, somehow still caught off-guard by how pretty she was. Clearly, whoever had been responsible for the Secret Santa draw this year had had a terrible sense of humour, since Gwen had ended up with her longtime crush, and Lance had ended up with…well. Her.

“Someone difficult to buy for,” he admitted at last, figuring it was safe to tell her at least that much. Gwen was a good friend and a lovely person, and the perfect gift for expressing his feelings for her probably didn’t exist, but that wouldn’t stop him from trying anyway. “I can’t tell you her name, but she’s someone you know well.”

“That’s perfect, though!” Gwen said, clapping her hands together. When Lancelot looked at her askance, she coloured and rushed on, “I just mean—if we’re both finding it difficult to think of something, maybe we could go shopping together? I can help you find something for your Secret Santa, and you can help me find the perfect gift for Arthur. Only if you want to, of course,” she added hastily, apparently realising he might not be so keen on the idea. “I didn’t mean—you don’t have to—”

“Of course I want to,” Lancelot assured her, smiling in spite of himself. Gift shopping wasn’t exactly high on his list of favourite activities, but spending time with Gwen definitely was. “Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”

“You’re a lifesaver.” Gwen beamed at him, then leaned across the table to kiss his cheek. Lancelot caught a hint of her favourite perfume—lily of the valley—and his heart skipped a beat. “I’ll text tonight to sort out the details, all right?”

They agreed to meet in the shopping district on their next day off, outside a cafe that Gwen told him made the best hot chocolate in the city.

“And I should know,” she’d said, dimpling, “since I’m pretty sure I’ve tried them all.”

Accordingly, the following weekend found Lance standing outside the shop in question with two cups of steaming hot chocolate in hand, watching as Gwen hurried towards him down the busy street. She was dressed for the season in a green wool jacket and white scarf, a red beret perched atop her dark curls, and as soon as she saw Lance her whole face lit up.

“For you,” he said, handing her a cup. “Since you talked about it so much, I decided to try it, and you were right—it’s delicious.”

“Oh, Lance, thank you!” Gwen said, taking it from him with both hands. She took a deep, appreciative sniff before taking a sip and letting out a pleased sigh. “God, it’s even better than I remember.”

She hooked her free arm through his and gave it a squeeze, turning to look up and down the street.

“Where shall we start, then?” she asked. “Jewellery? Ornaments? What do you think your giftee would like?”

“I’m not sure,” Lance admitted honestly. He had bought Gwen presents before, of course, but while she’d always appreciated them, this time he wanted to buy her something truly special. “Why don’t you decide? Pick the place that most appeals to you, and we’ll start there.”

Gwen’s eyebrows went up, but after a moment she just shrugged. “All right, then. I think we should start there,” she said, pointing to a nearby antiques shop. “It’s probably completely out of our price range, but I’ve always wanted to see inside. And you never know, we might find something on sale!”

“Gorlois’ Antiques it is, then,” Lancelot agreed cheerfully. He bowed and swept out an arm in front of her, giving an exaggerated flourish that made Gwen giggle. “After you, my lady.”

“Thank you, my good sir,” she said, curtseying.

They spent the morning traipsing from one shop to another, examining the brightly-lit holiday displays and scouring the shelves for anything that might be suitable for a Secret Santa gift. There were plenty of items that might have been gift-worthy, save for the minor flaw of being too expensive, but while Gwen found something for her brother in one of the hobby stores, and Lance bought a new set of paints for his younger sister, neither of them came across anything that seemed remotely suitable for a work friend-turned-hopeless crush.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Gwen said, when they finally stopped for lunch. “We’ve been to so many shops, but neither of us has even come close to buying anything. How can something that seems so simple turn out to be so difficult?”

“Choosing a gift for someone you care about is always tricky,” Lance said sagely. “You want to get them something you know they’ll love, but not so perfect that it will make them feel uncomfortable. It’s a difficult line to walk, especially when you’re not sure how they feel about you in return.”

Something about the way he said it made Gwen look over at him, her head tilted to one side.

“You must really like your giftee, huh,” she said, the hint of a sympathetic smile on her face. “Are you ever going to tell me who it is? I might be able to help, you know.” She waggled her eyebrows. “I could put in a good word for you—or try to find out if she likes you back!”

“Don’t be silly,” Lance said, though he was only too aware of the heat that now suffused his cheeks. “I was talking about you and Arthur. Not that I don’t like my giftee,” he added, since he didn’t want her to look back on this conversation and wonder. “But you’re the one who’s been talking about yours non-stop all week.”

“I have not,” Gwen said, laughing. “But all right, fine. Keep your secrets. I’ll find out who she is at the Christmas party anyway. You can’t evade my questions forever!”

Lancelot only smiled and shrugged, keeping his mouth shut. Hopefully, by the time Gwen found out who his giftee really was, she’d be too busy dancing the night away with Arthur to think about anything else.

By late afternoon, they had finally a breakthrough.

“This is perfect,” Gwen enthused, clutching the neatly wrapped parcel close to her chest. “Exactly the sort of thing that I was looking for. I can’t wait to give it to Arthur.”

“I can’t wait to see the look on his face when you do,” Lancelot agreed. It had been a long time since he’d seen his friend truly happy, especially during the holiday season, but hopefully Gwen’s present would do the trick. “He’s going to love it.”

“Do you really think so?” Gwen gave a little hop in her excitement, then almost went over backwards as her boots slipped on a patch of ice. “Oh—!”

Lancelot caught her just in time, wrapping an arm securely around her waist to keep her from falling before gently setting her back on her feet. “Are you all right?” he asked, brushing a curl out of her eyes as she dusted herself off. “You aren’t hurt, are you?”

“No, I’m fine,” she said, flashing a smile. There were two spots of colour high on her cheeks, and though as beautiful as ever, she looked a trifle flustered. “You caught me before I could do any damage, thankfully.”

“The honour was all mine,” Lancelot said, grinning, and for some reason that seemed to make her relax. “You have to watch out for the pavements at this time of year. They can be very slippery.”

“So I noticed,” Gwen said, rueful. She gave the patch of ice a wide berth, then looked back over her shoulder when she noticed Lance wasn’t following. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I just—well.” Lance rubbed at the back of his head, feeling guilty. Having in her arms like that had driven the sense clean out of his head. “I was just thinking, since we’ve already found a gift for Arthur…I don’t want to take up all of your time, so if you’d rather I look for my Secret Santa gift on my own—”

“Of course not,” Gwen said, looking surprised. “I promised to help you, didn’t I? Besides, I’m having too much fun to give up now.”

“I’m having a lot of fun, too,” Lancelot said honestly, which was kind of the problem: the longer he spent with her, the more it started to feel like an actual date, and the more he ached to just blurt out his feelings and be done with it. “But if it’s an inconvenience…”

“Not even slightly,” Gwen said, sounding firm, and Lance couldn’t find it in himself to argue.

“Then by all means,” he said, stepping forward to take her arm again. “On with our quest!”

How did you buy a surprise gift for someone who was standing right next to you? It didn’t seem like the sort of thing that he could reliably Google, especially since Gwen was standing, well, right next to him, but Lance knew he had to come up with something soon or she might start to get suspicious. She was going to figure it out eventually, of course—namely, when he was standing before her, holding out her gift—but they’d been having such a lovely time, and he was afraid if he confessed everything now it would only end up making things awkward.

“Are you sure you don’t want to get her some perfume?” Gwen asked, as they left the fifth shop in a row empty handed. “That’s always a wonderful gift to give, especially at Christmas.”

“Maybe.” Lance had considered it, especially when she’d lingered over the lily-of-the-valley bottles in one of the aisles, but he couldn’t decide whether it was too personal (he thought she smelled nice!) or not personal enough (he thought she didn’t smell nice enough?). “I’ll definitely keep it in mind, but I want to keep looking a little bit more before I decide.”

“Okay.” Gwen shrugged, lacing her gloved fingers through his and swinging their arms for a moment. “But do you mind if we stop for something to eat, first? I’m starving.”

They had dinner at an outdoor restaurant, at Gwen’s insistence; even though it was a cold night, she wanted to dine out under the stars, and once again, Lancelot couldn’t bring himself to refuse. The tables were lit with tiny votive candles and decorated with holly, sheltered from the weather by awnings that had been laced with tiny fairy lights, and the whole setting was so romantic that Lancelot half expected his heart to burst with all the unspoken feelings he was fighting not to share. Gwen, however, either didn’t notice the décor or didn’t mind it, laughing and talking over their shared dessert as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. It probably wasn’t. He was probably only seeing what he wanted to see, imagining things that weren’t really there—but God, Lance had never wanted to kiss her more.

After dinner, they went to a few more shops, hoping to find something perfect that they’d missed the first time around. By this time, however, it was becoming clear that even Gwen’s unflagging energy had its limits. She was leaning a touch more heavily on Lance’s arm, no longer as keen to examine every item they passed, and occasionally he would catch her yawning behind her hand when she thought he couldn’t see her. Finally, when he spotted her smothering a yawn for the third time, Lance suggested they should call it a night.

“We can try again another day, if you want,” he said. “There’s still plenty of time before Christmas.”

Gwen protested a little, saying it wasn’t fair that she’d gotten her gift for Arthur and he hadn’t bought anything, but eventually she had to agree that it was getting late.

“One more stop, then,” she said, giving in. “There’s a night market a couple of streets over; even if you don’t find anything for your Secret Santa, the whole place is so lovely that you really need to see it before we leave.”

Lancelot allowed himself to be steered in the direction she indicated, happy to postpone saying goodbye for a while longer, and when they reached the area where the market had been set up, he had to admit that it was worth the extra effort. The whole place was lit up with Christmas lights, the booths overflowing with hot food and spiced wine and various handmade trinkets that sparkled and caught the eye.

“Oh, look!” Gwen said, tugging Lancelot towards one of the tables selling Christmas ornaments. She picked up one in the very centre, a tiny little sugarplum fairy complete with filigree wings, and held it out to him. “Isn’t it stunning?”

It was made of wood, Lancelot realised as he took it from her; carved very fine and sanded smooth before being painted and finished with glossy varnish. It was very light in his hands, the dark grain of the wood contrasting vibrantly with the pale pink of the dancer’s dress and the gold of her wings, and its dark, curly hair reminded him of Gwen’s.

“It’s lovely,” Lance said. He looked at the old man running the booth. “Did you make these yourself?”

“That’s right.” The old man smiled, revealing several missing teeth. “Would you and your girlfriend like to buy one?”

“Oh, we’re not—” Lancelot started, but Gwen spoke over him.

“How much for this one?” she asked, holding up the ballerina. “It would look just perfect hanging on my tree at home.”

The vendor named his price, and Gwen’s face fell. “Oh,” she said, putting it back on the table with obvious reluctance. “It really is exquisite work, but I can’t—I mean. Maybe some other time.”

She thanked the seller politely and moved on, so Lance did the same, not wanting to prolong her discomfort by drawing attention to it. But he didn’t miss the way she glanced over her shoulder one last time before they rounded the corner, as though reluctant to bid the ornament farewell; nor could he fail to notice how much quieter she was for the rest of the evening.

“I used to do ballet when I was a kid,” Gwen said, when at last they left the market behind and began to walk side by side towards the nearest tube station. “Did I ever tell you? The Nutcracker was one of the last recitals my dad came to see before he died, and after that, well.” Her mouth twisted a little. “Without his salary, we didn’t have the money for things like dance class—my mum had to work two jobs just to keep us afloat—but I always regretted never going back. It felt like one more thing that had been taken away from me, you know?”

She shrugged one shoulder, looking embarrassed, but Lancelot understood what she was saying. He had grown up in a single-parent household as well, where things like extracurriculars and school trips were luxuries that only other people got to afford. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out and squeezing her hand. “That must have been hard.”

“I think it was harder for my mum than me,” Gwen confessed. “When Elyan ran away, it was like she thought it was her fault—because she didn’t provide for us enough, or something. When really, it was just Elyan being Elyan.”

She gave a little laugh, then seemed to shake herself, stopping in front of the station entrance.

“Anyway. Enough sad stories,” she said, turning to face him. “It’s Christmas! And I had such a lovely time today, I hope you know. I’m just sorry we didn’t manage to find your Secret Santa gift.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lance said, smiling. “Actually, I already have a good idea of what I’m going to buy her.”

“You do?” Gwen’s face brightened a little. “Oh, I’m so glad. Did you decide to go with the perfume after all?”

“Something like that.”

Lance took a step towards her, and in a moment of impulsiveness caught her other hand in his. A light dusting of snow had begun to fall, catching in Gwen’s hair and in her lashes, and when she looked up at him the Christmas lights reflected in her eyes like tiny stars.

He knew she probably didn’t think of him that way; that she only had eyes for Arthur, and the whole thing was hopeless anyway. But the their time together had been so special—so intimate—and the way Gwen was looking at him so open and expectant, almost as if she wanted him to kiss her…

He leaned in. He heard her sudden intake of breath, her lips parting, and he could have sworn she swayed towards him for just a moment, her lips brushing his for the barest instant before she pulled back with a gasp.

“I’m sorry,” Lancelot said immediately, letting her go. “I’m so sorry, Gwen, I shouldn’t have—“

“It’s fine,” Gwen said, putting up a hand to stop him, though she was obviously forcing a smile. “I’m not—I mean…I know you weren’t trying to—“ She stopped and took a deep breath, then straightened her shoulders and said more formally, “Obviously, we’re both tired, and it’s really getting late. Can we look for your gift another time?”

“Of course,” Lancelot said, mortified. “But—Gwen—I really—”

“Good night, Lance,” Gwen said firmly, before turning on her heel and walking away into the crowd.

Lance didn’t see Gwen much over the following week. The next morning, he texted her to apologise again for the almost-kiss, blaming himself for reading too much into things and assuring her that it wouldn’t happen again. He knew she’d seen his messages, because he had the read notifications to prove it, but by the time Monday rolled around she still had not replied, and when he entered the break room that afternoon for lunch, she was already sitting with someone else.

Which was fine, obviously. She was in love with Arthur, and he had either wildly misinterpreted the situation or overstepped or both, and she was well within her rights to want to put some distance between them. He could only hope that he hadn’t ruined their friendship for good by getting so carried away; romantic evenings together aside, Gwen was still one of his favourite people, and it hurt to think that he might have lost her trust.

All too soon, the night of the office Christmas party arrived. Lancelot wrapped Gwen’s present up carefully in gold paper and tied it with silver ribbon, curling the ends with a pair of scissors. The end result didn’t look too bad, if he did say so himself—he only hoped that she would be willing to accept it.

As was the company's tradition, the party was held on the top floor of the Pendragon building, a conference room that was decked out with gold and white garlands for the occasion. By the time Lancelot arrived, it was already full of people, some of them dancing to the Christmas music while others clustered around the open bar that had been set up at one end of the room.

It took several minutes before he was able to find Gwen, but he finally caught sight of her at the edge of the dance floor, talking to Arthur. As he watched, Arthur held up the gift that she had given him—a first edition copy of his mother’s favourite novel they had bought for a song—and said something that made her smile and duck her head, then reached out and gave her a fierce hug and a kiss on the cheek that turned Gwen pink all over. It wasn’t exactly an intimate moment, per se, but it still made Lance feel as though he were intruding on something by watching it, so he averted his gaze and stared at the musicians for a while instead, waiting until they had finished their song before he sought out Gwen again.

This time, she was alone. As Lancelot headed towards her, he could just make out Arthur’s back disappearing into the crowd beyond, and Gwen was still staring in his direction with a thoughtful expression when Lance finally made it to her side.

“I take it that went well,” he said. Gwen spun around, the hem of her dark red cocktail dress flaring as she turned, then put one hand to her heart as she realised who it was.

“Lance, you scared me,” she said, before glancing back over her shoulder to where Arthur was disappearing into the crowd. “And—yes. Yes, I think it did go well, actually.”

“Congratulations,” Lancelot said, and he meant it, even though the thought made his stomach sink. “Listen, can we talk? Not necessarily in private, just—somewhere a little bit quieter.”

“Yes, of course.” Gwen smiled at him, and although she seemed a little bit nervous, she didn’t look as though she were planning to turn around and run away, either. Something in Lancelot’s chest relaxed; he hadn’t realised just how afraid he’d been that she wouldn’t want to talk to him, but of course, he needn’t have worried—Gwen was nothing if not generous when it came to second chances.

He led her over to a corner by the refreshments table, far enough away from the dance floor that they could hear one another over the noise of the music.

“So, about the other day…” he began, just as she said,

“I wanted to apologise—”

They both stopped, and Gwen giggled nervously for a moment before saying, “You go first.”

“Are you sure? I mean—”

Lance.” She was properly laughing now. “Just spit it out. Please.”

“Right.” Lancelot smiled sheepishly. “Well—first of all, I wanted to say Merry Christmas. From your Secret Santa.”

He pulled out the parcel he had tucked into his jacket pocket and held it out to her, and after a second of wide-eyed surprise, she took it.

“I went back to the market after you’d left,” Lance said, as she unwrapped it. “I remembered how much you liked it, so I thought…Well. I thought you should have it.”

“Lance…” Gwen was staring at the delicate figurine in her hand, nestled in its bed of tissue paper, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. “Lance, it’s beautiful—but—it was so expensive—”

“It reminded me of you,” Lancelot said quietly. That made Gwen look up at him, her eyes round, and he hurried to go on before she could say anything. “I know you don’t feel the same way, because you’re in love with Arthur and honestly, I’m fine with that; as his best friend, I truly hope the two of you are very happy together. But since it’s probably my last chance to say it, I just had to—I just wanted you to know—” He swallowed hard, then forced the words out. “I wanted you to know, I think you’re wonderful. And I’m sorry I made things awkward between us. If I promise never to do it again, can we go back to being friends?”

For a long moment, there was silence. Even the tinny Christmas carols that had been pouring out of the speakers seemed to have gone quiet, the noise drowned out by the rushing in his ears, and as the seconds dragged on, Lancelot braced himself for her rejection. He had known it was coming the whole time, of course, but somehow that didn’t make him feel any more prepared.

Then, with a little cry, Gwen flung her arms around him, almost knocking the air from his lungs as she hugged him tight.

“I think you’re wonderful, too,” she said, her voice muffled by Lance’s jacket. “I really, really—that night, when you almost kissed me, I was so confused, because I thought—but we were friends—and then—when I gave Arthur his present, he was so nice to me, but there was no—no spark and I didn’t even—”

“Breathe, Gwen,” Lance said, unable to keep from smiling. He disentangled her arms gently from around his neck and set her back on her feet, searching her face. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I think maybe I got it wrong,” she said, and although her cheeks were scarlet, he had never seen her look quite so determined. “I think Arthur’s not the one I have feelings for, after all.”

Lancelot’s heartbeat sped up, his breath catching at the implication of her words; but he’d been guilty of making assumptions before, and he was resolved not to screw things up again.

“He isn’t?” he asked, and was grateful when his voice came out steady. “Then who is?”

Gwen took a step forward, closing the distance between them, and reached up to settle a sprig of holly in Lance’s buttonhole.

“You are,” she said softly, looking up. “I mean—if you still want—that is…I’m sorry I haven’t been a very good friend to you this week; I needed some space to try and sort out my feelings, and I wasn’t sure—”

“Apology accepted,” Lancelot assured her, catching her hand. Her fingers were small and warm in his, and she was close enough that the scent of lilies once more filled the air. “Provided you accept mine. I shouldn’t have tried to kiss you without asking first.”

“Well.” Gwen smiled up at him, a dimple appearing in one cheek. “If you had asked…I don’t think I would have minded.”

“No?” Lancelot raised his eyebrows, unable to keep from smiling back. “So, if I were to kiss you now, under all this mistletoe, are you saying you wouldn’t object?”

“No,” she said, standing up on tiptoe as he leaned down to meet her. “What I’m saying is, I might even enjoy it.”
ajsrandomajsrandom on December 26th, 2020 09:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was so sweet! I really enjoyed their shopping together and their almost-kiss. I knew he'd go back to the market for the ornament! Thank you so much for this lovely gift. :)
schweet_heartschweet_heart on December 26th, 2020 09:21 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)
archaeologist_darchaeologist_d on December 26th, 2020 11:39 pm (UTC)
That was adorable. I loved that Lance went around with Gwen helping her pick out Arthur's gift. The gift he gave her was lovely.
schweet_heartschweet_heart on December 27th, 2020 02:45 am (UTC)
Thank you!