Title: The Christmas Present - part 3
Character/s: Merlin, Santa Claus, Arthur
Summary: Merlin never gets Christmas cards, but when one shows up on his kitchen counter, he has to open it up.
Or how Santa Claus isn’t always a great guy and dealing with an Arthur reborn isn’t what Merlin thought it would be.
Word Count: 1655
Warning: NOT fluff, angsty as hell, Santa isn’t particularly nice here.
Camelot_drabble Prompt: pt 441: Don't be cruel
Author's Notes: Unbetaed. I wanted this to be done by Christmas so yeah, didn’t happen. Sigh. Also, I've gone over the word count and I'm a bit embarrassed to say I've written more, a lot more. The completed work is up now. https://archiveofourown.org/works/28713768/chapters/70400241
Disclaimer: Merlin characters are the property of Shine and BBC. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Merlin didn’t take lovers. Once, long ago, he had gone through dozens, chasing pleasure when the person he really wanted was dead and gone. The sex was great but there were no connections, and when he finally woke one day covered in fluids he’d rather not think about, he stopped entirely. His hand was quite enough, and at least there, he had no expectations of more.
When he woke up the morning after that odd trip/dream/vision, he was surprised to have an arm flung over his chest and someone breathing in his ear. Twisting away, he fell onto the floor, then as he scrambled up, rubbing his hip, he shouted at the man, “Who the hell are you? I….”
Staring down at the blonde head and half-lidded blue eyes blinking back at him, Merlin stopped breathing altogether.
Oh, the gods were trying to drive him mad.
As Arthur pulled himself up a little, leaning on his elbows, he muttered, “Did you know you’re naked? Honestly, Merlin, no wonder your feet are like ice.”
“Arthur? What… what?” Merlin stammered.
It couldn’t be. Arthur looked like he always did, so alive, so vibrant, so insulting.
“Spit it out, you idiot. You look like a startled stoat.” Turning onto his side, still leaning on one elbow, Arthur smirked, then shook his head. “It’s not a good look.”
“Stoats are cute, unlike a certain king I know,” Merlin said. “Is it really you?” Merlin leaned over, poking at Arthur’s shoulder.
When Arthur shoved back, hard enough that Merlin flailed backward before regaining his balance, Arthur gave a little sigh. Sitting up, arranging the sheets around him, it was clear Merlin wasn’t the only naked one. “Merlin, much as I enjoy our little talks, could you tell me where my clothes are? And why we aren’t in my chambers, although you naked in my chambers and my bed… well that is horror enough but still… you are so….” Arthur looked him up and down, a flash of interest shining in his eyes before he shook it off. “You aren’t eating enough, are you? Honestly, Merlin, if I wasn’t around to hound you into taking care of yourself, I don’t know what you’d do.”
Remembering all the long years and how sometimes he’d not eat for days because why bother, hearing Arthur with worry in his voice no matter how much he tried to disguise it, Merlin let out a little sob.
He couldn’t seem to process that Arthur was really there, not some figment of his imagination or a wonderful dream that he’d wake up from soon enough.
He did what anyone would do. Merlin pinched himself. It hurt so it wasn’t a dream or imagination—unless he was dreaming that it stung. His head was a mess trying to figure out if it was real or not.
“Merlin, have you gone completely nonsensical, hurting yourself like that?” Arthur looked around, frowning as he took it all in. “Whose room is this? It certainly isn’t in Camelot.”
Merlin almost ran over to him to give him a hug. Wanted to with every fibre of his being, but he didn’t think Arthur would appreciate it if it was really him. Instead, shoving himself into yesterday’s clothes, then rummaging through his other cleaner things to find something for Arthur to wear, he said, “What do you remember?”
“I… that’s odd. I don’t know.” Arthur sat there, biting at his lip, looking at the t-shirt Merlin had given him as if he didn’t know what to make of it, then shrugging and putting it on. “I think… the castle, my knights, being crowned king, Gwen, you.” He looked up, gazing at Merlin. “You told me something important but I… why don’t I remember?”
Sitting down next to Arthur, Merlin said, “Do you remember Camlann at all? Or the sorcerer who saved Camelot?”
“There was a battle… a sword thrust… I… I was injured, wasn’t I?” At that, Arthur frowned, pulling up the t-shirt a little to look at his chest. A puckered scar where Mordred’s blade had gone in, and long healed. “I remembered… you… you were afraid of me? Why would you be? I’d never hurt you.”
Merlin wasn’t sure he should say anything, but after all, it really was probably just a dream. What could he lose? It was not as if this Arthur could cut Merlin’s head off or burn him at the stake.
As Merlin handed him underwear and a soft pair of joggers, he said, as casually as he could, “And my magic?”
“You don’t have magic. Don’t be ridiculous.” Arthur looked offended, as if he thought Merlin was lying to him and doing a poor job of it.
But, to Merlin, it meant that Arthur didn’t remember their last few days together. He didn’t remember forgiving Merlin and telling him to never change and especially in those last desperate moments, having Merlin cradle him in his arms.
The most precious memories he had, and this Arthur knew nothing of it.
But he wasn’t going to go through that again, all the pain, all the anger, it didn’t matter. Merlin was dreaming, right?
Shaking off the sudden fury at whatever the fake Santa was playing at, Merlin said, “Are you hungry? I can make you eggs and sausage while you get dressed.”
Arthur nodded, then looked around. “Ah, where’s the chamber pot?”
Well, this should be fun. Merlin said, “Umm… follow me.”
They both trudged into the loo. Merlin explained a bit, then flushed it, just to make sure Arthur understood.
Frowning, Arthur looked around at the loo, the sink with running water, the shower. “Everything just disappears? Isn’t that magic?”
Merlin gave a little chuckle. “Nope, science. It has to do with pipes and water flow and sewage systems. We don’t throw our waste out into the streets anymore, either. A lot of things have changed.” He nodded toward the loo. “Well, I’ll let you get to it. Come into the kitchen when you’re done.”
Wanting to stay, thinking that if he left Arthur alone for a moment, he’d disappear, or worse yet, Merlin would wake up from whatever this was, still he had to clear his head. But cooking the sausages, watching them bubble and burn, didn’t help. He just kept pushing them around in the pan, staring into nothingness, as he thought and thought and came up with a thousand scenarios of what was going on.
Finally, Arthur, his hair wet, looking thoroughly delectable, shuffled into the kitchen and sat down. He looked so very real and Merlin wanted to smash something, anything, to prove that it wasn’t a dream. All the love and longing and fear was swirling around somewhere in his chest and it didn’t help that this Arthur looked a little bit lost.
As Merlin slid the sausages, the non-burnt ones, onto Arthur’s plate, the burnt ones onto his own, and then started cooking eggs, Arthur said, “Where is everyone? Why aren’t we in Camelot?”
Over the sizzle of eggs, Merlin shrugged. He didn’t look at Arthur as he said, “Well, it’s been a while since your death.”
“My what?” The horror in Arthur’s voice made Merlin turn around, eggs be damned.
Trying to keep his tone matter of fact, plain and flat and as dry as possible, Merlin replied, “You died at Camlann and the Sidhe were supposed to take care of you until Albion’s greatest need but…”
Arthur’s eyes were narrowing as he interrupted, “Merlin, you are talking nonsense. I didn’t die. I’m right here.”
Merlin slid the somewhat cooked eggs onto Arthur’s plate, then sat down next to him. He tried to be patient, but all he could feel was growing anger. “I’m not sure you are. Santa Claus said I’d be getting a gift and you… you are all I ever wanted, and it seems a cruel joke, doesn’t it?”
“Merlin, I’m right here. Have you been at the tavern again? I swear I’ll close the damn place. They shouldn’t be serving you if you are as addled as this.” Arthur looked at him as if he were worried about Merlin. He’d seen that look before and it always made Merlin love Arthur more.
Shoving that feeling aside, Merlin said, “Not the tavern. Although maybe I am dreaming. I pinched myself already but maybe I dreamed I pinched myself.” Arthur reached over and clipped Merlin upside the head. “Ow.”
“Serves you right. I’m right here, wherever here is, and you are as real as I am. So, stop talking idiotic nonsense and think about getting us home.” Then staring at Merlin, Arthur bit into the sausage and chewed.
“There is no home, not anymore.” Camelot had turned into ruins long ago.
Merlin did have a car so he could escape when the city got to be too much for him, and drive into the wild countryside to let go of his magic or rage at Arthur for dying. But driving to a tumbled down ruin in the middle of nowhere wasn’t high on Merlin’s to-do list, especially in winter.
The whole thing was guaranteed to be awful. Either Arthur was real and seeing Camelot gone would be devastating to him, or Arthur wasn’t real, and Merlin would rage against his fate yet again. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go through either of them.
“Merlin, stop being a cabbage-head. Of course, there is. Just because we are in some kind of odd dwelling doesn’t mean Camelot is gone. Arrange for horses and we’ll leave after breakfast.”
Horses, oh, dear. Well, at least Merlin could mock Arthur for being a coward. It would be not fun but a new experience seeing how this fake Arthur would react to driving.
“Fine. I’ll find some boots for you and a coat and we’ll be off,” Merlin said. He ate his mostly burnt sausages and tried not to think about the rest.