Summary:Merlin was playing Santa in a shopping center and that day looked like any other end till a little boy shattered Merlin's heart and a drunk guy came in.
Author's Notes:Happy holidays kitsuneshadow47! I hope this sticks to your prompt and that you'll like it! I had fun writing it! Thanks to derenai for the first beta! And to brunettepet for the thorough beta! (I really should stop writing so late in the night).
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.
“Just five more for today, Merlin! “ Julia the Elf told him.
“Ok… But I think I need a break. That beard is damn itchy!”
Julia smiled and went back to the kids queuing outside the little chalet that had been built in the middle of the shopping center.
Merlin stood and went behind the fake wall separating Santa’s chair from their little private space. He took off his hat and his beard and grabbed a bottle of water. This job was fun and rewarding but, on the last weekend before Christmas, it was also exhausting.
Merlin had been playing Santa in this mall for five years now. He had taken the job on a whim like all the other things he had done during his very long life. It was like he was driven by instinct to make people around him happier. For a long time, he had used Gaius’s teaching to heal people. He had also worked as a wandering minstrel, relaying the stories of the great King Arthur and his Knights. For some years he had also been a teacher in a small village. Before that, he had travelled south and helped the poor in a convent. More recently, he had been a volunteer in Africa, vaccinating infants or children
All of this, Merlin had done to bring joy and happiness but, behind this also lay a more personal purpose. It was his way to make the wait bearable, to forget about Arthur’s death and his own failure for a while, to feel useful.
For the last few months though, Merlin wondered if he would be able to continue like this… He had waited for so long, had so many hopes shattered into nothing, lost so many friends, and travelled so much… Of course, he had helped people but now, he realized he needed someone to help him, too.
Merlin took a gulp of water and closed his eyes. He thought about the little boy that had sat on his knees earlier that day. He was a little chubby boy, full of life. He had been chatting restlessly when waiting in the queue with a woman who looked like she was his mother. When he sat on Merlin’s knees he had looked at him with his big eyes and asked, “Santa can I ask for a special gift this year? I’ve been really nice!”
“Of course, little one. Tell me what you’d like for Christmas?” Merlin had asked with his big Santa’s voice.
“I… I would like my mommy to smile again.”
Surprised by that demand, Merlin had looked towards the lady waiting next to them. She wasn’t looking at her son but her eyes wandered in the queue, where families were waiting their turn.
“I… I’m sure you can make her smile!” Merlin had reassured.
“No…” The boy had shaken his head vigorously. “Not since Daddy has left us…”
“Oh… And… What happened?” Merlin asked gently, rubbing the little one’s back.
“He… He was sick… For a long time… And now he’s with Dougie and Granny in the sky, playing with the clouds.”
Merlin was left speechless. Not only by the sad story of this family but by the strength of this little boy who wanted nothing more than to see his mum happy again.
“You know, I’m sure your Mom will smile again soon! Try to hug her every day, tell her your love her very much and you’ll see, she’ll smile!” Merlin advised.
The boy looked at him very seriously and nodded.
“So, now, tell me, what else do you want for Christmas?”
“Mmm… I’ve seen that electrical train…”
“An electrical train is it, then!”
And with that, the young boy jumped from Merlin’s lap to join his mother. He was smiling brightly and when Merlin looked at his mother, he saw a faint smile on her lips.
After that, Merlin had been lost in his thoughts. That family’s loss had strongly reminded him of his own loss… And even centuries later, it still hurt like the first day. When Merlin closed his eyes at night, he still saw Mordred’s sword penetrating Arthur’s side, he still smelled the blood on the metal, he still felt Arthur’s weight in his arms, and he still heard his own cry when Arthur had died.
Most of the time, it was bearable. Merlin kept himself occupied to keep from thinking too much about it. But when something like this little boy’s story reminded him of Arthur’s death, it was like being drawn into an endless pit of pain.
He had asked Julia for a little break after that and isolated himself long enough to hide his pain behind a mask of joyfulness.
“Merlin? Are you alright?” Julia asked, drawing him out of his thoughts. “We need to let the last one come in.”
“Ok… I’m coming.”
Merlin took another gulp of water, breathed deeply and came back to sit on his chair.
When finally all the children were gone, Merlin sighed and leaned in his chair.
“It was a busy day,” Julia noted.
“Yeah, it’s always the same on the last weekend before Christmas!”
“Only two days to go!”
Two days and then it would be Christmas. The day everyone was looking for, happy to spend time with their families and loved one. For Merlin, it was another lonely day in his lonely life. The year before, he had decided to spend it helping an association that fed the homeless. This year, he would be more selfish. He wanted to be alone. He needed it.
“So, I I’ll see you tomorrow! Have a nice evening!” Julia said before kissing Merlin on the cheek and leaving. They had agreed to take turns setting things up and tonight was Merlin’s turn.
Merlin was still wearing his Santa outfit minus the beard and sat on his chair for a moment. He felt exhausted. It had been a very long day and he couldn’t stop thinking about the little boy who had lost his father and his mother who had lost a husband.
More than once, Merlin had thought about Gwen. He knew that Arthur and she had married more for duty than for love but he had often wondered how she had spent the rest of her life. After Arthur’s death, Merlin hadn’t been able to go back to Camelot and hearing from his friends even from far away was too hard. He had travelled for a long time, putting as many miles as he could between himself and Camelot. He had never discovered how life had been in Camelot after Arthur’s death. Had Gwen found someone else to help her rule Camelot? Had she had children? Arthur hadn’t left any heir. That had always been hard for Merlin to accept. Arthur didn’t deserve to die without leaving a part of him behind. He should have died after a long and prosperous life, surrounded by old friends, children and grandchildren, proud of the beautiful realm he had created… Not killed by a boy he had saved, not alone with Merlin…
Merlin wiped the tears that were dampening his face when he heard some commotion outside the chalet. As the mall was still open for an hour, Merlin thought it was another kid who had tried to touch one of the plastic reindeer and had fallen in the set. But then, the door of the chalet opened. Julia must have forgotten to lock it once again.
“We’re closed!” Merlin warned.
“But I want to see Santa” a slurred voice answered. A voice that was strangely familiar. Merlin turned to face the intruder and froze.
It was like his legs were reduced to jelly, his heart nearly stopped then started to beat faster than ever. He grabbed the armrest of the chair.
“A…Arthur?” he whispered.
It wasn’t possible, it was a trick of the light, of his mind… Merlin looked more intently at the man leaning on the door frame. The blue eyes were foggy but they were the exact same color. The blond hair was still shiny and soft.
The man looked at Merlin and smiled dopily.
“Oh! You’re Santa!”
With that, he straightened and walked toward Merlin. He was swaying slightly and laughed when he banged into a pile of fake presents. He was clearly drunk.
Merlin was still shocked. He couldn’t believe that Arthur was in front of him. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this! Merlin had always believed he would feel Arthur coming back… He had imagined going to the lake to see him rise from the water. Or, one day, feel something amiss and learn that a little boy was born. Then he would have watched over him as he grew up.
“Can I sit in your lap?”
Arthur was now just next to Merlin, looking at him with pleading eyes.
“I want to tell you what I want for Christmas!”
“That’s just for the kids,” Merlin answered automatically. He was having a hard time trying not to take Arthur in his arms and hug him tight.
“My father never let me do it when I was a kid,” Arthur replied with an adorable pout.
Seeing that expression on his face sent Merlin fifteen centuries in the past. It was the same pout that Arthur had when the cook didn’t put the honeyed cakes on his
breakfast tray or when Gaius didn’t allow him to train after he had caught a cold. If Merlin had had any doubt about the man being Arthur, they were cleared.
Merlin sat on his chair, too weak to stay up.
“You… You’re really Arthur?”
“Oh! You know my name! You’re really Santa!”
With an excited squeal Arthur jumped and landed in Merlin’s lap.
“But you don’t have a beard….” Arthur added, looking intently at Merlin’s face. “Santa must have a beard!” Another pout appeared on Arthur’s face. This time Merlin didn’t find it cute, though. He had suddenly realized that Arthur wasn’t recognizing him.
“Arthur… You… You don’t recognize me, do you?”
“Of course! You’re Santa!”
A fit of giggles resonated in the chalet. But after that, Arthur yawned and let his head fall on Merlin’s shoulder.
Merlin froze. Arthur… His Arthur was back and was nearly in his arms. But the fact that he was clearly drunk and that he seemed not to know him was like an ice wall between them. What should have been the best day of Merlin’s life was turning into a disaster.
“Arthur… You… You should go. The mall is going to close soon.”
“But I haven’t told you what I wanted for Christmas!”
Merlin sighed. It was hard to reject Arthur like that but it wasn’t how their reunion should have happened. Perhaps it wasn’t time now… Perhaps they weren’t meant to meet now…
“Arthur… You’re drunk.”
“Yep!” Arthur confirmed, laughing again.
“You should go back home and sleep.”
“Can’t!” Another fit of laughter.
“Forgot my keys… I can sleep here! In Santa’s house!”
“No you can’t! We need to leave now!”
“But…I haven’t told you…”
“What you want for Christmas…” Merlin finished with a sigh. “So tell me and then you’ll leave.”
“I want a new car! A red one! A Farrrrr… A Firrr… A Frara…”
“A Ferrari?” Merlin supplied.
It seemed that Arthur was a pompous prat in this life, too.
“Oh and a dog! You never brought me the dog I asked for when I was a kid!”
“A Ferrari and a dog. It’s duly noted.”
But Arthur didn’t move from Merlin’s lap.
“Arthur… We need to go!”
“Oh? Where are we going?”
Merlin sighed again. This was going to be complicated.
“You need to go back to your house… Can’t you phone someone?”
“Don’t have my phone.”
Merlin pondered his options. Arthur was clearly too drunk to take care of himself. The mall would close soon. And, if he was totally honest with himself, Merlin had to admit he wasn’t ready to see Arthur leave so soon.
Tired and still a little shocked by Arthur‘s return, Merlin didn’t think anymore and made the only decision that seemed right.
“Would you like to see Santa’s house?” he asked, looking at Arthur.
His face was immediately split by a big grin.
“Your house? Your real one?”
“Yep… But if you want to see it, you need to follow me, okay? And do what you’re told.”
Arthur nodded and finally left Merlin’s lap.
“Ok… Now you wait for me here. I need to get changed.”
Arthur seemed disappointed so Merlin added: “People must not know I’m Santa when I’m in town, you know.”
“Oh… Of course!” Arthur nodded enthusiastically.
“Now, sit here and don’t move, okay?”
“Here?” Arthur asked, pointing to Santa’s chair.
“On Santa’s chair? Really? I can?”
“I’m giving you my permission.”
Arthur squealed and sat on the chair. He looked like a child. Merlin had never seen him so innocent and happy in his previous life. It was overwhelming. Merlin
disappeared in the private space. He closed the door behind him, leaned against it and took a deep breath.
Then he changed into his street clothes as fast as possible, hoping that Arthur would wait for him obediently.
When he came back, Arthur was still sitting on the chair, looking around him with his big blue eyes.
“You’re ready to go?”
Arthur jumped to his feet and nodded.
Merlin came closer and gently took his hand. Feeling Arthur’s skin on his was overwhelming but it wasn’t the moment to linger on this feeling. They had to leave.
“Follow me, ok?”
Another nod and Merlin guided them to the service lift.
“Do you have a puppy reindeer at home?” Arthur asked when the sliding doors closed behind them.
“A baby reindeer! You should have one! To replace the older one on your sleigh!”
“Oh… Hmm… No… But I’ll think about it.”
They reached the ground floor and Merlin took Arthur’s hand again to guide him to the employee’s exit. Fortunately, they didn’t see anybody and Merlin managed to convince Arthur to sit in his car and fasten his seat belt.
Predictably, Arthur fell asleep during the ride. As he waited at a stoplight, Merlin watched his passenger. Arthur’s head was resting against the window. He seemed relaxed, probably due to all the alcohol he had drunk. Merlin was mesmerized by the sight. For centuries he had dreamed of seeing this face again and now his dream had come true. Whatever the future would be, knowing that Arthur was alive was such a relief. For the first time since Arthur’s death, Merlin felt free. His wait had ended, finally.
The light became green and Merlin focused on the road again, starting up the car.
They arrived at Merlin’s flat fifteen minutes later. Merlin parked the car and turned to look at Arthur who was still asleep.
He gently shook him.
“Arthur! Wake up! We’ve arrived.”
Arthur groaned and turned his head.
“You can’t sleep here! Come inside and you can crash on my couch, ok?”
Another groan but this time, Arthur opened his eyes. He looked a little lost when he saw Merlin.
“You need to wake up, I can’t carry you to the second floor.”
“Oh… You… You’re…”
Arthur looked at him. Merlin heart stopped beating.
It hurt but Merlin tried not to let it show.
“Yeah… So you still want to see my house?”
And with that, Arthur exited the car and wobbled to the building’s entrance.
The climb to Merlin’s flat was hard and more than once, Merlin had to catch Arthur to prevent him from falling but they finally reached the second floor, safe and sound.
Merlin opened the door and let Arthur go in first.
Of course, Arthur was disappointed by the decor. It was a very normal flat, not Christmassy at all. Merlin hadn’t even bothered with a Christmas tree this year.
“It’s not Santa’s house!” Arthur pouted, sitting on the couch, his arms crossed.
“It’s for my cover! People must not knew who I really am, you understand?”
Arthur looked puzzled so Merlin continued.
“During the rest of the year, I live as a normal person! If people know I’m Santa, they would ask for gifts all year!”
“Oooooh! So you’re like a secret agent then!”
“If… You can say it like that.”
“A gift secret agent! You’re working for the SIA! Santa intelligence agency!” Arthur giggled.
Merlin was laughing too. This Arthur was different from the King he had known but it was great to see him like this, so carefree.
A big yawn interrupted Arthur’s giggles.
“Arthur, you should sleep.”
“Don’t want to!” he protested between two more yawns.
“I’ll give you a pillow and a blanket! Wait.”
Arthur was smiling dopily, looking at the ceiling. Merlin went to fetch a blanket and a pillow. When he came back to the living room, Arthur was asleep.
Merlin put the blanket around him and sat on the edge of the couch to watch Arthur.
Emotions were overwhelming Merlin when he realized that his King was back, was there with him. Arthur shifted in his sleep and Merlin gently put his hand on his arms, calming him instantly.
“I’m here Arthur… You don’t remember me but it doesn’t matter. I’ll stay with you. I’ll not let you go this time.”
Merlin didn’t sleep that night. He stayed next to Arthur and watched him. When Arthur started to toss and turn, muttering incomprehensible things, Merlin calmed him down with gentle caresses to his hair. When he snored, Merlin smiled, remembering the same sound from centuries away. When he rolled on his side and curled like an infant, Merlin saw the Prince, still asleep when he came early enough to bring him his breakfast in that big royal bed of his.
As the sun rose, Merlin finally moved from Arthur’s side. Merlin wanted to be ready when Arthur woke up so he went to take a shower then made some tea.
He came back, nursing a steaming mug and sat on the armchair next to the couch. Arthur was still sleeping. Merlin thought that waiting an hour or two would not kill him after all.
Arthur’s eyelids fluttered as he stretched under the blanket. Merlin was watching him, eager and nervous.
Finally, Arthur opened his eyes, looking around him, clearly lost. Then, he buried his head in the pillow, probably feeling hung-over. Merlin didn’t move, not wanting to
It took Arthur some more minutes to awake and be able to open his eyes for more than a few seconds. That’s when he spotted Merlin watching him.
“Oh my God…” He sighed. “It wasn’t a dream, then?”
“If you’re talking about you believing I was Santa and wanting to see my pet reindeer; then no, it wasn’t a dream,” Merlin answered with a cheeky smile.
“Oh my God, “Arthur repeated as he extricated himself from the couch. “I’m so confused! You must have thought I was a complete idiot…”
“Only a drunken idiot.”
Arthur groaned and looked around for his shoes. He spotted them and put them on hastily.
“I’m really sorry. I… Ok… I’ll leave now and… Thanks for letting a drunken stranger sleep on your couch…”
“But you can stay!” Merlin interrupted. “I’ve made tea!”
“It’s really nice but I don’t want to bother you more than I already have.”
And with that, Arthur walked to the door. Merlin didn’t move but followed him with his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. Arthur couldn’t leave now! Not just when he had finally found him!
“But… It’s… You don’t bother me, really!”
“No need to be polite with me… I know that I made a fool of myself yesterday and I’m very grateful for what you’ve done… I need to go now. Thanks again!”
And Arthur left.
Merlin was so shocked he didn’t run after him. So, was that his destiny? Find Arthur only to lose him? Would it happen again and again?
He didn’t hold back the tears that were running down his cheeks. He didn’t have the energy to do it.
It was Christmas Eve. Merlin had managed to go to work in the morning. That day, he was allowed to finish early to spend the evening with his family and friends.
Of course, nobody knew that Merlin would be alone that night. He always lied about having family that lived far away. He never had friends close enough that they would like to meet his family so it was perfect.
For the past century, Merlin had grown more solitary than before. He was tired of seeing his friends and loved ones die or leave him.
But it seemed that he still wasn’t immune to rejection. For the past two days, he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Arthur. He had spent all his free time wandering the mall, hoping to cross Arthur’s path again. He had barely slept. He had even thought about taking the whiskey he had bought one day and drinking it, alone in his flat. He had already tried to drown his sorrows in alcohol in the past and he knew that the relief it brought was only short-lived.
For the first time, he felt really useless. What had kept him going for fifteen centuries had been the conviction that, one day, Arthur would rise again, that they would find each other and live happily again. He had hoped they could share what their stations and destiny hadn’t allowed in the past, that they could be together, like lovers, like friends, like the two sides of the coin they were meant to be.
Never, even in his gloomier moments, had he thought that Arthur wouldn’t recognize him and would leave him. Never.
But here he was. Alone. Definitely.
A knock on the door made him jump. He wasn’t waiting for someone and just a few people knew where he lived. All his colleagues and friends were spending the evening with their relatives.
For a moment, he thought about not answering when another knock came. He didn’t want to see anybody.
A shiver ran down Merlin’s spine when he heard his name in that unmistakable tone. He stood up and nearly ran to the door. When he opened it, he was faced with a disheveled and breathless Arthur.
Merlin was engulfed in a tight hug.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” Arthur repeated as he held Merlin in his arms.
Merlin’s arms circled Arthur’s waist, too. He didn’t really understand what was going on but Arthur was there and that was all that mattered.
They stayed there, on the threshold, for a very long time. They moved only when the silence got too thick. Merlin took Arthur’s hand in his, unable to let him go. They went for the couch. Arthur sat first and, when Merlin went to sit next to him, he dragged him in his lap.
“I’ve been too far away from you for too long,” he explained as he circled Merlin’s waist to keep him there.
“Arthur… I don’t understand,” Merlin asked, now calm enough to try to grasp the situation. “Two days ago you… You talked to me like I was a stranger…”
“You were, “Arthur interrupted, “Two days ago, I didn’t remember anything about you… About us…”
Merlin felt Arthur’s hand on his jaw, cradling his face.
“For years, I’ve dreamt of you. But… You were a faceless man. It was like I knew you but I was never able to see you. It drove me mad, Merlin. I felt you were important. When I dreamt of you, I felt safe and happier…”
Merlin held his breath, waiting for Arthur to continue.
“And then… Tonight, I dreamt again but this time, I saw you… When I woke up, I remembered everything. You… Camelot… Morgana… Mordred… Everything.”
Merlin leaned and let his forehead touch Arthur’s.
“It took me all day to find your flat, you know.”
A small laugh escaped Merlin.
“But I needed to see you… Because I’ve remembered that there was something I hadn’t had time to tell you.”
Arthur stopped and Merlin nearly died of frustration before he finally murmured: “I love you.”
It was Merlin who kissed Arthur then, and when their lips touched Merlin felt happy and relieved. For the first time in fifteen centuries, he felt whole again. His wait was finally over.