Rating: PG-13 for language
Summary: Arthur and Merlin have an annual competition for who has found the ugliest Christmas sweater. This year they both think they've got it in the bag.
Word Count: 3210
Author's Notes: Thanks so much to my fabulous beta, gwylliondream. All mistakes are mine. Also, my apologies to Love, Actually fans. I do love that movie and thought it fit right in!
Disclaimer: I do not own the BBC version of Merlin; BBC and Shine do. I am very respectfully borrowing them with no intent to profit. No money has changed hands. No copyright infringement is intended.
It was perfect. Partially hidden on one side of the store’s Christmas window display, a hideous blend of kitsch and eye-popping colour, the jumper was absolutely perfect. The ugliest one he’d ever seen, and in his admittedly short life – although twenty-two could be seen as long enough by some, he’d seen a few truly repulsive ones.
In fact, the jumper was hard to look at. The lights in the window seemed to make it vibrate, the green and red plaid, vomit-worthy in its own right, popping in and out as he stared at it. Worse, scattered up both sleeves were several reindeer heads in all their 3-D glory, antlers at the ready, and they appeared to be chewing on black boots. Santa’s black boots. At least, Merlin hoped they were boots.
But worst of all, the tinsel-scarred Christmas tree on the jumper’s front was decorated in, what Merlin initially thought was almost tasteful enough, candles and ornamental balls. But on closer inspection, the swollen balls were hairy and large and there was one on each side of the oddly- shaped Christmas candles, also bulging, overfull at the tip, and well, the combination was a little bit pornographic.
Merlin couldn’t have asked for a more absurd, hideous jumper if he tried.
And the best part, it was only £13.50, well within his limited budget.
Arthur would lose this time for sure.
The shop girl wasn’t impressed. She kept staring at him, then harrumphed a bit, and walked over to take the jumper – his jumper – out of the window. "Ugly, innit?"
Merlin had to grin. Oh, yes, it was. "Just what I’m looking for."
Shaking her head, picking up the jumper with two fingers and looking as though she might catch something by holding it too long, she dropped it onto the counter.
It was just as hideous from the back. Santa’s sleigh was tilted over, presents spilled onto the ground, and there was very little left to the imagination. Grinning broadly, Santa was naked, all that pale hairy flesh embroidered lovingly in fuzzy yarn. There was one large luridly-wrapped present placed in just the right spot, hiding Santa’s family jewels but he was definitely hairy. And naked. And Rudolph was licking his left foot. Across the back, in large piss-yellow letters, were the words, Ho, Ho, Ho!
She reached out, waiting for Merlin to give her the money, then said, "You want batteries with that?"
"I need batteries?" It seemed a bit unexpected. After all, it was just a jumper.
"Yeah." She rolled her eyes, then turned it over, pointed down at the tree on the front. It looked even more garish close up. "For the candles. They light up. It’s fucking mental, you know." She gave a little shudder. "And Santa… you want ‘em?"
After another long stare, she pulled a couple of small batteries and shoved them into the slots underneath the hem. "No refunds once you leave the shop."
As if he’d ever bring it back. "Don’t worry. It’s perfect. Arthur will never find one this crazy and I’ll win for once."
"You and your boyfriend have a contest?"
Now that was a bloody brilliant thought, Arthur Pendragon as his boyfriend. Exploring all that golden skin. Watching his face change as Merlin pulled him higher and higher into orgasm. Better yet, feeling him deep inside as he pounded into Merlin, that white pleasure-pain made all the more spectacular knowing it was Arthur, Arthur, Arthur doing it. Waking up every morning to mussed hair and hot breath and bodies so tightly entwined Merlin didn’t know where he stopped and Arthur began. Boyfriends.
If only it were true.
They’d been mates for years, and Merlin had loved him for almost as long. But Arthur wasn’t interested. He had never shown the slightest inkling of wanting him in that way, and no matter how much Merlin wished for something more, it just wasn’t in the cards.
"Not my boyfriend, but yeah, he always manages to find the ugliest jumper in London. My mum would knit me one every year. She was pretty good, too, once she got the hang of it. Although growing up having to wear them was kind of embarrassing. But this time, she broke her wrist, and while she offered, I wasn’t going to let her try. I’ve been to every shop in the East End trying to find the perfect one." He brushed one hand over the green tinsel, letting it flutter under his touch. It was almost pretty in the light. "This is it."
"Yeah, well, just wait."
He wasn’t prepared for what happened next. With the flip of a switch, the candles began to glow a bit and then seemed to spurt up, long lines of white light pulsing out of the tips and then dying down again before repeating it again and again. Reindeer nodded, their creepy doll-eyes moving, and from behind the jumper, Merlin could hear a ‘ho, ho, ho’ as the theme from Love Actually started to play.
The jumper really was perfect.
That was Merlin’s favourite Christmas movie. He’d sit down in his little flat right before Christmas and watch it, tissues at the ready. Arthur, mocking him, calling him a girl, and a daffodil, and a hundred other insults, but he would stay with Merlin until the last scene was done before going home.
And that movie was also everything wrong with his life, because Arthur would go home and Merlin would be alone with his heart broken and the love of his life oblivious to how he felt.
He wished he had the courage. He was sick of lying, sick of looking at Arthur and not being able to touch him or even tell him. Not that it was going to happen, but it would have been the best Christmas present ever.
Giving another annoyed sigh, the shop girl turned the jumper over.
Apparently Santa was having a great time. Something underneath was swelling and dying back, making it look as if the present hiding Santa’s manly bits was moving in time to the music. Someone was humping the box and it wasn’t Rudolph.
Merlin started to laugh. Whoever had designed it certainly had a theme in mind.
And maybe, just maybe, Arthur might get the idea.
The party was in full swing when Merlin arrived. Morgana, Arthur’s big sister, had pulled out all the stops and even now, Merlin had a hard time hearing what anyone was saying. It looked like another success, well until the coppers came and broke things up, but that wouldn’t be for hours yet.
He knew Arthur was there, but as always, he liked to make an entrance, liked to rub his triumph of having the ugliest Christmas jumper in Merlin’s face. It was just a thing between them and all their friends knew it, encouraged it.
But this year, it would be Merlin’s turn; he was sure of it. He’d even brought extra batteries, just in case.
Looking for Arthur proved harder than he thought, though. His friends had taken one look at the jumper and burst out laughing – which was a good thing, although a little puzzling. Gwaine shook his head, his eyes dancing, and nodded toward the back. And when Merlin turned in that direction, he’d followed him.
In fact, Merlin had quite an entourage in his wake as he made his way through the crowds.
It was a little quieter in the kitchen, the music a little softer. Through the half-opened outer door, Merlin could hear Arthur in the back garden, grumbling about something but he wasn’t sure what exactly. Instead his own heartbeat was thumping in his head, as he stood by the door and turned the jumper on.
The moment of truth and Merlin’s triumph.
'Ho, ho, ho!'
There was a loud crash outside and Arthur came barreling in, stopping short as he looked first at Merlin and then at his jumper.
It was only then, as the Love Actually music started and the lyrics 'all I want for Christmas is you' pounding in Merlin’s head, that he realised something.
Arthur had on the same fucking jumper as Merlin. The exact same fucking jumper. Down to the orgasming candles and idiotic reindeer and Santa humping the presents. And the music, now out of sync, and the 'ho, ho, hos' battling for domination.
There was giggling behind him and Merlin turned to glare at the collective them, a white-hot, don’t-dare-fuck-with-me glare that in other circumstances would have set the house alight.
At least his friends knew when to beat a hasty retreat.
And suddenly, Arthur and he were alone.
As always, Arthur had to get in the first word. "Nice jumper."
It was all Merlin could do not to roll his eyes. Weeks of hunting for just the right one, going to flea markets and Christmas villages and dodgy back-street shops and this was the result. With Merlin's luck, Arthur probably got it out of some posh catalogue for ugly jumpers and hadn't put any effort into it at all, probably had it fall right into his lap, like always. Bloody git.
The worst part was that the appalling red and green plaid set off Arthur's blue eyes and bright hair. It made Merlin want him all the more, and wasn't that just how his life had been going lately.
The reindeer seemed to agree, nodding their heads and munching on whatever the hell they were eating.
Still, Merlin had to put on his happy face, pretend that he wasn't exhausted by it all. "I thought I had you this time. I mean who in their right mind would buy something so revolting?"
At that, Arthur grinned. "You, apparently."
"Har, har, har." Scowling at him, Merlin shook his head, then throwing up his hands in surrender, he said, "I searched for weeks to find it."
Stepping closer, Arthur reached out and petted one of the larger reindeer on Merlin's jumper, then brushed his hand across his own hair, mussing it into chaos. It was a good look on him but then what wasn't.
"I must admit I thought of you when I bought it," Arthur said. He gave another knowing smirk, then a theatrical leer as he thrust his face close enough for Merlin to smell the beer on him. Apparently, Arthur had been drinking just a bit before he'd arrived. "The humping Santa, the jizzing candles. The dreadful colours."
"Great. So I remind you of jizz and naked hairy old men. Wonderful."
Merlin would have stepped away, would have let Arthur regain a bit of equilibrium, but the worktop was right there, the edge jabbing at his back. He hadn't remembered retreating that far but then Arthur had always been in Merlin's personal space, pushing his boundaries. Not that Merlin usually minded.
Nodding at the jumper, Arthur gave a little laugh. "Don’t forget the reindeer sucking on the dildos."
"I thought they were boots." Merlin couldn't keep the horror out of his voice. Surely, Arthur had to be mistaken.
But instead, Arthur grabbed Merlin's arm, shoved it closer to his face, and with his other hand, pointed to the evidence. "Look closer, Merlin. At the shape. Unless you don’t know what a dildo looks like."
It was. They were. Fuck, it really was the ugliest jumper in England - maybe the whole world. And more perversely, it was still playing 'All I want for Christmas'.
Pulling his arm out of Arthur's grasp, Merlin sputtered out, "I know what they look like, you arse. Mine is… never mind." Luckily, his brain caught up with his mouth in time. It could have got ugly or embarrassing or both. "Okay, I need a drink, a large one."
But it would seem that Arthur wasn't about to let it go. He leaned in, bracketing Merlin's body with his own, his hands resting on either side of the worktop, reindeer antlers on his jumper wiggling as he did so.
Arthur's eyes were bright, boring down into Merlin's, but he only seemed half-joking when, low and throaty, he said, "Do you think maybe Santa uses those dildos? Takes it up the arse? He certainly seems to be enjoying himself."
Merlin couldn't believe that Arthur was saying such things. It didn't help that Merlin could feel the heat between them, smell the combination of beer and Arthur, knowing that he only had to move ever so slightly, and they'd be rubbing against more than just jumper yarn and tinsely Christmas trees.
It must have been the drink. Trying to keep it as light as he could, Merlin said, "I don’t want to talk about old blokes taking anything up their arse, thank you very much. Especially Santa."
His face strangely intent, Arthur said, "Do you? Take it up the arse?"
Okay, that was enough. For some reason, Arthur was toying with him, probably setting him up for a trick or something equally grotesque. He didn't know what it was, but however as much as he wanted Arthur close, he wasn't about to just take it. He surged up, shoving Arthur aside, putting some distance between them.
Waving his hands in a frantic annoyed kind of whirlwind, Merlin said, "I can’t believe I’m having this conversation. How pissed are you?"
"Enough…I needed a bit of liquid courage, Merlin." For a moment, Arthur just stood there, staring at him, his face unreadable. Then he twisted aside, put both hands on the worktop, and with one of his thumbs busy on the granite, Arthur said, "I thought of you when I bought the jumper."
Merlin felt off-kilter again. Arthur was in the strangest mood, one he'd not seen before. Trying to keep it light, he gave Arthur a half-smile. "To mock me yet again, I’m sure. Ho… ho… ho."
But Arthur wasn't looking at him, was still pushing at the veining in the stone top. "No, Love Actually." When Merlin didn't say anything else, too confused to even reply, Arthur explained, "The movie. The one you love so much." Arthur looked up at that, watched Merlin with wary hesitation. "Remember the one bloke who loved and wasn't loved in return? Loved his best friend's wife?"
"Yeah." Okay, now Merlin was thoroughly lost. What was Arthur getting at?
"At least he told her how he felt."
The way Arthur said it, Merlin just wanted to hold him and never let him go. He seemed so resigned. But Arthur could have anyone.
And then it hit him. Arthur was in love. With a woman. With someone who didn't know, and it wasn't him. It never would be. Because love wasn't always returned.
And he knew that after he'd comforted Arthur, given him everything that was in his heart, he'd go and get so thoroughly pissed that maybe, just maybe he'd forget about love all together.
In a pig's eye. He was fucked.
Fighting tears and the agonizing bottomless pain in his chest, trying to be a good friend, he patted Arthur's back, just below where hairy Santa was still humping the box. "Shit, Arthur, is there someone you aren't telling? Because I'm sure she'd say yes."
Letting out a soft sound, pained and hopeless, still not looking at Merlin, Arthur said, "Not a girl. Not this time." At least he stopped trying to wear the granite out with his thumbs. Instead, shrugging off Merlin's hand, he stood up, turned around and crossed his arms over his chest. Staring down at his feet, then glancing up again, he gave another long drawn-out sigh. "I've been waiting for a while now. Hoping he'd see me."
Merlin thought about all the men Arthur knew, trying to figure out which one was too stupid not to notice Arthur's interest. Never mind that he was still dying a little inside. He knew, too, that when he saw Arthur and his new boyfriend, it would kill him, finally and forever.
"Are you sure he's not waiting for you to say something? You can be pretty intimidating when you want to be." It hurt to say it, never mind think it. But Merlin would be less than a friend if he didn't try to help.
"Am I? Would that have stopped you?" Arthur was staring at him, blue eyes intense, almost as if he was trying to say something without actually saying it.
"Nah, you don't scare me." Arthur's face fell at that. But then he started to smile when Merlin said, "But you'd be worth waiting for. I'm sure whoever it is would want you. I mean you're… you."
"And you're you." Arthur gave a little laugh, shaking his head as he gazed at Merlin. "And we are a pair of bloody idiots."
"Wearing the ugliest jumpers in London." Merlin tried to match Arthur's smile but it was hard. At least he had to offer his help, even if it would kill him to try. "Do you want me to talk to the bloke for you? Maybe find out if he's interested?"
Arthur must have come to a decision because he pushed off, reaching out and curling his hands around Merlin's reindeer and giving them a tug. Merlin stumbled right into Arthur's arms. "No, I think I'm done waiting. I just hope our friendship will survive if things don't work out."
Then, as Merlin was trying to process everything, to ignore the heat and bulging trousers rubbing up against Merlin's own excitement, he said, "Friendship? I… ummm... Arthur?"
There was a flash of teeth, and with his mouth hovering over Merlin's, Arthur said, "Shut up, Merlin." And then he dove in.
A kiss can sometimes be just a brush of lips, the lightest touch, as chaste as chapel bells. But Arthur was not going down that path. Instead, his mouth was messy and wet and an oh so very hot, tongue seeking pleasure and giving it, too, and Merlin's head was spinning with sensation, his trousers growing tighter by the moment, the desire spiraling up, like the candles on his jumper, pulsing, pulsing, until he could barely breathe.
Not that he'd ever want to come up for air, but in the distance, he could hear whistles and a few catcalls, Gwaine, he thought from the volume, a curious mixture of 'ho, ho, ho' and 'all I want' and Arthur's hurried breathing.
And it was brilliant.
When they finally did stop, Arthur lifted his head, yelled out, "Out of here, you lot. I'm busy snogging my boyfriend." And there were more whistles and laughter but their friends must have listened because the sound muted suddenly as the door closed.
Merlin was over the moon, but he wanted to make sure. "But what about the guy you've been waiting for?"
"You idiot. Haven't you been listening?" Arthur bent him down again, started to nibble at Merlin's throat, sucking marks into him. His hands were busy with trousers and jumpers and Merlin's skin was lighting up with the sensation of it. "All I want for Christmas is you."
And with that, Merlin knew. It would be the best Christmas ever, and all due to the ugliest jumper in London - maybe the world.
Dildo-munching reindeer and naked Santa and all.
'Ho, ho, ho!'