Summary: Arthur's gets a temporary roommate for Christmas, but it leads to something even better.
Word Count: 2036
Author's Notes: None
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 didn't look up when the door opened, but when he heard cursing, he chanced a look. This cafe after all was known for being quiet which was why Arthur preferred it. It was more familiar to him than his own bedroom since he was here more often than there. It was hidden away on a side street, accessable only by foot, and not within walking distance of any school. He'd found it by accident, when he'd gotten turned around to get to a business meeting. It had good coffee, good food, and was very quiet. It was a perfect place to escape the office which he needed tonight when Uther had been bellowing about Arthur's office about how many of their employees wanted the holiday off.
He took a longer look when he saw someone unfamiliar dragging what looked liked all that he owned through the small front door.
"Merlin?" Gwen asked, puzzled. She was running the counter on her own tonight to cover for Lance while he was in class. Arthur prided himself on introducing Gwen to Lance--he'd brought her here when she'd been his assistant and she'd fallen in love with Lance at first sight and vis versa.
The stranger--Merlin--half smiled. "Sorry, sorry. Cenred kicked me out."
Gwen hurried over to help Merlin, shaking her head. "Over what? I know you're on time with your rent and you make far less noise than that idiot down the hall."
"Who knows?" Merlin grumbled. "He never liked me much anyway. I don't know what I'm going to do, but maybe I'll get lucky and some Christmas magic will happen."
Gwen half smiled. "I wish Lance and I had some room, but Lance's mum is currently sleeping on our sofa."
"Her or you and Lance?" Merlin teased.
Gwen raised her eyebrows. "Do you really need me to answer that? Come on. You can put your bags against the wall. I'll get you a cup of tea and a sandwich."
"Ta," Merlin muttered.
Arthur returned to his paperwork and was quietly working through the latest proposal from accounting--something to save the company money which Arthur suspected meant cutting some charity donation or firing someone--when Gwen wandered by with a new cup.
"So that's Merlin," Arthur inquired, looking across the shop where Merlin was curled around his cup. Gwen talked about him here and there, an old friend from uni. He'd been invited to her and Lance's wedding, but had to miss it because he'd been helping his uncle recover from a stroke.
"That's Merlin," she agreed. "Did you want anything else from the kitchen? Otherwise I'm going to start cleaning up."
He waved her off and started wrapping up his work. As he thought, the proposal involved firing three low level employees and foisting their work off onto unpaid interns. He marked it as to be sent back, knowing it was likely going to then be sent to his father who would no doubt approve it. He closed his laptop and started putting his papers into his briefcase.
Arthur needed to find a new job.
"Sorry, Merlin, but we're closing up. Did you want to use the computer real quick to look up a shelter?"
"No, thanks. I think there's a train heading north in an hour. I'll stay with my mum for now."
"Well, good luck."
Athur stormed out of the office, fuming. It was noon on Christmas Day and he'd just left a meeting with his father which involved a proposal to cut back the hours of those who had asked for the day off. He failed to understand how asking for one day off to celebrate a holiday with family didn't mean that one wasn't fit to work. Or wasn't was dedicated to the job.
As he turned the corner to get on the subway for home, he bumped into someone else going the other way.
"Sorry, sorry!" the person hurriedly muttered. "I couldn't see where I was going."
Looking around at the bags at their feet, Arthur smirked. "With all of these, it's a wonder you--Merlin?"
Merlin, looking rumpled and in need of a good sleep, blinked. "Arthur? Right? Gwen's friend?"
"Yeah," Arthur told him. "I thought you were going to see your mum?"
Merlin sighed. "I was, but I guessed wrong about the train so I spent all night traveling the subway. Getting off here and there to pay again. I think I'm down to my last pound until the banks open tomorrow so I have no idea what I'm going to do."
"No friends to take you in?" Arthur asked.
Merlin started counting off his fingers. "Lance and Gwen have Lance's mum over. Gwaine is the loud person in my old apartment building and I'm not going back there. And Freya is... in Germany. I think."
"You think?" Arthur shook his head. "So what's your plan?"
Merlin shrugged. "Dunno. Wander around?"
Arthur looked down at Merlin's luggage and boxes. "With your stuff?"
"I know," Merlin muttered. "But what else am I supposed to do?"
"Come home with me?" Arthur answered, without thinking. When he looked up however, Merlin's face was lighting up with hope and gratefulness and Arthur couldn't take it back. Not now.
"Wow," Merlin whispered, looking up at the eight foot tree. "I mean. Wow."
Arthur raised his eyebrows and sipped his coffee. "It's hideous."
Merlin looked at him like he was crazy. "Are you kidding me? We have a little four foot plastic tree circa 1970 when I was growing up. I think Mum still puts it up."
"My father insists on it," Arthur told him, waving his hand at the tree. "I mean, it's a farce. He expects his employees to work on the holiday, but he says we have an image to maintain of upholding tradition."
"You could say no?" Merlin offered, sounding puzzled.
"And get myself fired?" Arthur countered. When Merlin only stared at him, Arthur sighed. "I know. I'm trying to find another job. It's just... then I'd loose this place. It was my mother's. I can't afford the mortgage payments on it unless I've got a decent job."
Merlin hummed and drank his coffee. "Shitty luck."
Arthur raised his cup. "For all of our shitty luck."
Smirking, Merlin clinked his cup against Arthur's. "To shitty luck."
They laughed and Arthur sat back against the sofa. They were sitting on the floor in front of the fire with the tree off to the side. They had put Merlin's stuff in the basement for now and had put together a decent Christmas dinner of sandwiches and cookies. Well, at least it was dinner.
"It needs presents though," Merlin pointed out.
Arthur knew that. He knew when they put the tree up three years ago. He'd received a few gifts--from his father and Morgana, from Gwen and Lance, one from Leon--and they were under the tree, but given its size, the presents looked pathetic.
"Well, then how about another toast?" Arthur proposed. "Because don't think I failed to see a single gift with your luggage or a box fit for a plastic tree."
"My tree was real," Merlin explained. "It's probably on the curb right now, lonely."
"Can trees get lonely?" Arthur mused.
Merlin laughed. "Can, too. Or at least that's what Uncle Gaius says."
Shaking his head, Arthur raised his cup. "To missing presents and lonely trees."
Another sip. Merlin looked at the tree and then back. "And to the luck of having a home on Christmas and making new friends?"
Arthur tilted his head. "Friends?"
Merlin blushed. "Sure. Friends. Right?"
There was only one answer to that. "Friends."
"Well, it beats us eating sandwiches in front of a huge tree with no presents!" Merlin pointed out where they're huddled in a corner with drinks.
Gwen and Lance always hosted a New Year's party, but usually Arthur had to miss it because of work. This year, though, he had found himself a new job that started right away and he had gladly quit his job at his father's firm. He'd agreed to go to the party when Merlin had suggested it yesterday because he deserved to celebrate a little. He didn't anticipate how loud or busy it would be. He'd grown used to having just Merlin's company since Merlin had yet to find a new place within his budget. It rather felt like going from the kiddie pool to the deep end since Arthur hadn't had much of a social life these last few years.
It was good though. He was catching up with everyone here and had made plans for the next few weeks.
"I liked our Christmas," Arthur argued.
Merlin giggled. He'd had a few drinks and he looked happy. Arthur was thoroughly enjoying it--perhaps a bit too much--but Merlin happy was better than his moping around the house. His mum had told him to stay in London to save money for a new flat. "I did, too," Merlin announced. "Though there weren't any snogs and do you know how much I enjoy a good Christmas snog?"
Arthur propped his chin on his hand, amused. "You get many Christmas snogs?"
Merlin pouted. "No. I'm pathetically single, Arthur! I haven't had Christmas snogs in...two years! Ever since Will dumped me."
Well, that was new, but good new. It made Arthur that much more determined to end their night back at his place in bed. Merlin was handsy and flirty when he was a little tipsy and Arthur was thoroughly enjoying it. "Maybe you'll get a New Year's kiss."
Merlin's face lit up. "You're going to kiss me at midnight?"
"Did I hear this right?" Gwaine interrupted, stumbling into them. He had a girl under each arm and he looked thoroughly drunk. "Merlin is finally getting laid?"
"By Arthur!" Merlin crowed, hands flying up.
Arthur blushed when a few people looked over and he pushed Merlin's arms down. Merlin grinned. "Kiss now?"
"If it'll shut you up?" Arthur offered.
Merlin nodded so hard his hat fell off. Shaking his head, Arthur kissed him and Merlin hummed into it. "Almost a Christmas snog."
"I'll make sure you get plenty of Christmas snogs next year," Arthur promised. "Okay?"
Merlin considered that. "From you?"
"They'd better all be from me," Arthur groused.
"Then I accept," Merlin agreed.
Arthur breathed deep when he woke up. Merlin was still asleep, curled into Arthur's side. It'd been quite the year, but Arthur wouldn't have changed any of it. Though he'd gotten a new job, he'd lost it by February due to downsizing; he'd found another, but then, the day before he was supposed to start, he gotten a call that there had been a mix up and someone else had been hired. He'd finally started a freelance gig, taking on clients who saw his advertisement. It didn't pay much, but it was enough. Especially since Merlin hadn't moved out and he'd been promoted at his job. There had been fights and once Merlin had stayed a week at Gwen's flat. Once Arthur had gone to stay with Leon for a day, but they worked through their arguments always.
They'd put up a real tree, in a pot; it was small, only two feet, but Merlin said it would continue to grow so long as they nourished it. As much as Merlin might claim that his uncle was the druid in the family, Arthur suspected otherwise. (Especially when Merlin insisted they celebrate Yule.) There were several more presents under the tree this year and Merlin's mum and uncle had come down to stay for the week.
It was the best year and Christmas that Arthur had had in a long time.
He gently pulled his arm out from under Merlin's head and rolled onto his side. He started with a kiss on Merlin's forehead, then on each eyelid, and then his nose. When he kissed Merlin's mouth, he felt Merlin's eyelashes flutter open. "Mmph. Morning."
Arthur smiled. "Morning." He kissed Merlin again.
"Christmas snogs," Merlin muttered. "You remembered."
"Yep. As many as you want," Arthur pointed out.
Merlin sighed happily. "Happy Christmas, Arthur."
"Happy Christmas, Merlin."