Pairing/s: side pairing Arthur/Gwen
Summary: Gwen always gives Arthur the perfect Christmas gifts, and Arthur always brags about it to Merlin. This year, Merlin quit and Gwen’s gift is crap. But Arthur still finds the perfect gift under his tree. What’s going on?
Word Count: ~1700
Author's Notes: Well I tried. Happy holidays to amarie! I love your writing (Momo!) and I was glad you were my recipient. And that was a killer prompt – unfortunately the fic sort of ran away from me at a few points.
Also, thanks to jelazakazone for the super-fast beta and all the good advice(a lot of which I couldn't find the time to include in this one, so watch out for a possible sequel!). And finally, thank you mods for a great fest. My first one here, and I loved it!
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 was sitting in his office, looking at the blue and yellow tie in his hand.
Truth be told, he knew it was coming. He knew, because he had been there when Gwen had pretended to go to the ladies' section for a minute and had slipped off to men's formal clothing instead and Arthur had watched from behind some racks as she had proceeded to purchase an awful looking tie. He knew, because he had noticed said tie all Christmas-wrapped and labeled just that morning under the tree in his lobby. (Yes, he had his own lobby. Well, his and his father's, but it would undoubtedly be his alone in a few years.)
Arthur knew it wasn't right, but he couldn't help but be disappointed. He had finally asked Gwen out this year and they had been going out for 3 months now. Gwen had given him gifts twice as thoughtful for the last three Christmases - Arthur's best gifts if he was being honest - and now he was going to get a tie, of which he had a million at home, and it wasn't even a royal Pendragon red one.
It was almost the kind of impersonal gifts his former personal assistant Merlin usually gave him. Last year Gwen had given him a personalized hand-knitted scarf in contrast to a pen from Merlin, which was not even particularly fancy. Arthur fingered the scarf with a fond smile. He had developed a cold and had been forced to take a sick leave two days before Christmas. The scarf had left him feeling warm, inside and out. He had bragged quite vehemently to Merlin about it.
This led him to the tie that he had just unwrapped. He wondered if he had done something wrong, as a boyfriend. Gwen hadn't behaved any differently with him though. He thought back to the last 3 months. It might not have been the best 3 months of his life, but it was very close to it nevertheless.
He was so busy thinking about it that he almost missed the last package under the tree. He only noticed it on his way out, and only because it was not supposed to be there. He stopped to check it out. His father had had Gwen clear out his lot earlier, and Arthur hadn't been expecting another present this year. There had been Merlin's present till last year but Merlin had quit a couple months back, claiming to having had enough of working as someone else's servant and wanting to go back to uni.
He remembered that first year, when Merlin had just joined Camelot, Inc. as a temp, as a result of Gaius having asked Arthur to help his nephew out. Arthur had been reluctant, mostly because there was nothing open at that time, but one meeting with Merlin, and he had been scrambling to make up a position just to look at this curious man every day. And so Merlin had been hired as a "temp" as Arthur had called it, his duty roster including attending to Arthur's coffee-whims, bringing him lunch, getting his dry-cleaning and, on at least four occasions, walking his dog - another of Gwen's Christmas gifts.
Merlin had often wondered aloud whether Arthur had hired him just because he had wanted a personal manservant and was too proud to admit it. Arthur had always said, “shut up.”
Despite their banter, Merlin always seemed to bring out Arthur's unreserved side. They talked about nothing and everything. Arthur had started to look to Merlin for entertainment when he was bored, advice when he was taking decisions and an outlet to hear him rant when his father tried to press impossible responsibilities on his shoulder. He had started to rely on Merlin more than he realized. He had become the closest thing Arthur could call friend.
And then he left.
Arthur had Gwen by his side now, but it was somehow not the same thing. Merlin’s departure had left a hole in his heart which was oddly Merlin sized and he hadn't known Merlin fit in it until after he had left. He had started to think of the man as something of a friend, and it felt like a betrayal that he just picked up and left. He hadn't talked to the guy since, even though Merlin had tried to call him a couple of times.
He was startled out of his thoughts and he looked up when he heard the scratch of keys on the lobby door, his brain too soggy for him to be too alarmed. A few seconds, a muffled curse and finally his door opened to reveal Merlin scrambling in. He stopped when he saw Arthur, his gaze zeroing in on the package now in Arthur's hands. He seemed to run out of energy at the sight, and sagged against the door.
Merlin gave no indication of having heard Arthur, apparently too busy getting his breath back. That made Arthur mad - would Merlin never learn? He stood up. The action seemed to finally draw Merlin's eyes to him.
"And you are here because...?"
"Um. I was... I was in the neighbourhood and--”
This time the sound of his name had the effect of shutting him up. But that did not help Arthur's purpose.
"Merlin?" Arthur tried again.
"I-- Gwen asked me to. To come here and..." he gestured to the tree. Or rather the foot of the tree where the presents had been kept. He didn't go on, and after a few seconds, Arthur prompted him again.
"To get your present." Merlin finished.
"It's like pulling teeth trying to get something useful out of you. Will you just tell me why you are here? You don't owe me a present; you don't work for me anymore. And anyway, I don't see anything in your hands."
"…no, this was not supposed to happen..."
Arthur had had enough. He put the package down and walked up to where Merlin was standing, looking like he was about to bolt. Arthur caught his wrist in a death grip to prevent that possibility, and yanked him inside, shutting the door firmly behind him.
"Okay, okay," Merlin held his hands out in surrender. "I sneaked in earlier to put a gift from me for you under the tree, but um, I might have labeled it as a gift from Gwen...?" he seemed to be asking Arthur rather than telling him. Arthur thought it was for good reason.
"I saw Gwen pick it out herself so try again," he snarled. Or at least, he tried to snarl. He was actually sort of happy Merlin had tried to get him a Christmas gift at all. He imagined he had asked Gwen pick out something for him. The thought made him oddly cheerful.
"Um," Merlin looked like he was thinking too hard. Arthur wondered why. It was hardly a crime that he had committed. "I... The thing is... "
"Oh come on, Merlin," Arthur lost patience. "Admit that you had Gwen pick out something to give me."
"N- YES! Yes. That's what happened. Um, Merry Christmas. I shall get going now."
"Wait a second," Arthur pulled Merlin back by his collar again. "You always were a rotten liar, Merlin."
"You'll be happier if you didn't know, Arthur," said Merlin. He seemed to have given up the act.
"So?" Arthur asked, looking expectant.
Merlin rolled his eyes at him in reply, shrugging out of his hold.
"Fine. Your girlfriend is the worst gift giver and I didn't want you to be disappointed so I got something on her behalf, but I forgot to switch the labels. Happy?"
Arthur stared at him, his brain trying to interpret his words correctly.
"What are you talking about? Gwen gives brilliant..." he trailed off when he saw Merlin's expression.
"Oh," he said instead. "So. So all these years it was you...?"
Merlin didn't reply, simply looked at him guiltily instead. It was answer enough.
Arthur wanted to feel angry, but he couldn't quite manage it.
"You knit, Merlin?" he said tiredly instead. Merlin's cheeks turned pink at that, which made Arthur feel even fonder of this man.
"I guess it's just as well you know now," Merlin said. "I mean about the presents and all. It's not like I could be around forever to switch labels, yeah?"
Those words made Arthur remember his earlier resentment. "That's right. You left."
"I needed to, Arthur. I could hardly be your assistant for the rest of my life," said Merlin, growing serious.
"I know that!" Arthur said, turning away from Merlin. "Doesn't mean you had to run away."
When nothing else was forthcoming, Arthur turned to look at him. Merlin was looking at him with an expression which implied that someone had socked him over the head.
"What?" Arthur asked after a beat.
"I thought... I mean, you were my boss and... Why would you still want to...”
They looked at each other for a second, Arthur looking mutinous, Merlin unsure. Then--
"Ouch," Merlin rubbed his head where Arthur had just smacked him.
"You're an idiot," Arthur declared.
"And I see you're still a prat," Merlin replied promptly, though without any real heat behind his voice. His expression was turning soppy by the second. Arthur found that it was quite satisfying indeed.
"I'm going to have Christmas dinner with my father, so I have to leave now”, Arthur said. "You are meeting me this Saturday for drinks."
"You can't tell me what to do, you're not my boss anymore remember?" Merlin quipped back cheerfully, not looking very upset about the fact.
"At 8, Merlin, at that club near my drycleaners."
" Arthur! "