“Can you believe that it's Christmas time again? It feels like we just celebrated it yesterday.” Gwen stated eagerly.
“I know, I'm smelling the spiced egg nog already and I'm ready for the Christmas dinner.” Lance squeezed her hand in agreement.
“We just had Thanksgiving Dinner a few days ago.” Arthur chided.
“There's always time and room for more food.” Percival cut in while drinking his beer and making a grab for some chips.
Gwaine looked at the mugs around their table at the pub and called that he was getting the next round.
“How are we going to do presents this year guys?” Freya asked.
“I was thinking that we could do a secret Santa where we could exchange gifts.” Mithian said excitedly. “We're doing it at the hospital and I thought that it would be a good idea to do with us if we all agreed.”
Morgana looked thoughtful, “It would be a first for us and easier to shop for everyone.”
“I never thought you would look for the easy way out for shopping sis.” Arthur smiled.
“Oh hush, I wasn't thinking of me but of the rest of you lazy arses who don't like to shop or have time to. It might just work Mithian.” Morgana smiled back at Arthur before nodding in Mithian's direction.
“Well, who's missing? We need everyone present to call it for a vote.” Gwen asked.
Gwaine arrived at that moment passing out the drinks. “Merlin is the only one missing. He's probably out on another date.”
“Who's he dating this time?” Leon asked, looking to Arthur.
“Hell if I know.” Arthur responded.
“You live with him.” Elyan commented. “How could you not know?”
“He changes blokes like he changes his underwear, I have no idea who he's dating or who's coming or going out of our flat unless Merlin introduces us. And even then it's makes no sense to remember their names.” Arthur commented dryly, almost bitterly, and turned to his drink trying not to notice the eyes of those who were turned on him.
“Well, speak of the devil...” Vivian said, while nodding her head and looking towards the doorway.
Everyone watched a disheveled Merlin walk in and towards their table. Normal bright eyes dimmed and shoulders slumped as he seated himself beside Arthur.
“What happened?” Elena asked. “You look like your puppy died.”
“He doesn't have a puppy Elena.” Mithian commented while taking a drink of her beer.
“It's a figure of speech.” Elena responded. “But seriously, what happened lovely?”
“Henry and I broke up.” Merlin responded and placed his head on the table.
“Henry. I thought you dated him a while back. What happened to Matthew?” Morgana asked.
“Matthew is old news. I've been dating Henry for the past few weeks.” Merlin responded sourly. Gwaine gave Merlin his drink before going to the bar to get some more. “Thanks Gwaine.” Merlin said gratefully before continuing. “Henry didn't think I was taking our relationship seriously.”
“Well how could you. You just started dating.” Morgana responded.
“Not helping Morgana.” Merlin snapped.
“Merlin, you can't deny that you've been through a lot of relationships this year -” Gwen stated.
“And the year before last -” Elyan added.
“And the years before that -” Freya added.
“And that you haven't been satisfied with any of them -” Lance added.
“Not for long-term -” Elena added.
“And that this has been happening for years -” Leon added.
“And no one has measured up -” Mithian added.
“And it's always at Christmas time when you think about it and go into this funk.” Vivian finished.
“Is it so much that I want to find the one and to be happy?” Merlin asked.
“Maybe if you weren't so blind you would have found Mr. Right already.” Morgana muttered and Arthur's eyes widened in horror at her.
“What was that?” Merlin asked looking straight at Morgana.
Gwaine interjected. “She said maybe if you pay close attention you may find that he is closer to your reach than you think.” Gwaine went in for the save while looking at his wife. Morgana only shrugged in response. She meant what she said. Gwaine knew this and could only roll his eyes.
“I do pay attention. There is no one within my reach that is the one for me.” Merlin responded sharply.
And Arthur just wanted to die at that moment. He wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole because his heart broke a little bit more. He didn't know that it could be broken anymore. He jumped up out of his seat. “Excuse me, I have to go to the loo.” And he was gone in two seconds flat. Leon, Gwaine, Lance, and Morgana were all in the process of standing at the same time to follow him but it was Gwaine that did the honors instead.
“What's the matter with Arthur? Is he sick?” Merlin asked concerned. He missed the looks that he received when he asked that question.
“He's fine. I think he ate something that disagreed with him. Gwaine's checking on him now.” Morgana responded.
“I just want to find the one for me. The one to spend my holidays with. To sit beside the fire, to drink egg nog, and to watch the holiday movies on the telly. I want to find my other half. I'm tired of always dating and coming back empty.” Merlin whined while drinking his drink in one go. Elyan gave him his and went to the bar for another one adding that he would get the next round.
“Merlin, have you ever considered that you are looking at the wrong people?” Gwen asked carefully. “You never thought about anyone that you already know?”
Merlin ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his chin in thought. “Well...” And everyone leaned towards the table to hear. “There's Bradley at work.” And everyone sat back in their seats. “He's been trying to ask me out at the hospital for months now. You've seen him, right Mithian?”
“Yes, Mithian sighed heavily, I've seen him. But is there anyone else who is... oh, I don't know, gay and available that you might know?” And everyone at the table nodded in agreement to Mithian's question like she gave the right question for an answer on Jeopardy.
Merlin looked like he was in thought before responding, “No, with a shake of his head, not that I know of.” And Morgana wanted to drop her head on the table. It was only her dignity as a Pendragon that stopped her.
Arthur was looking at his reflection in the bathroom mirror wondering what has become of his life. He doesn't know how it got this bad. How he let it get this bad. He's been in love with his best friend for the past seven years but has never told him. Hell, if Arthur was honest with himself he loved Merlin even before that. Every time he's thought about it Merlin was in a relationship with some other bloke that was most certainly - not him. He doesn't know why he offered his flat out to Merlin for them to be flat mates. Because nothing is worse than hearing Merlin have sex with someone else. Or watching him fresh out of the shower with his hair tousled and his towel draped around his narrow hips just waiting to slide down. Nothing is worse than watching the water slide down Merlin's body and wishing that he could lick every drop of it from Merlin's skin. Well something is worse. Listening to Merlin having sex with some other man that is most certainly – not him. Merlin is extremely loud in the sack. He'd think about asking Merlin to move out if he wasn't so afraid of losing his friendship with him. It was all that Arthur had left. But now he couldn't help but wonder if separation would help help the big hole that lodged in his heart. Because that was exactly what it felt like, a big hole.
“Is everything alright mate?” Gwaine asked from behind Arthur. Arthur was too numb to be startled but was shocked that he didn't notice Gwaine entering the loo. Who knows how long he was standing there.
“No.” Was Arthur's only response. Arthur couldn't lie to Gwaine. They were friends for as long as Arthur could remember along with Leon and Lance. Merlin and Will came around next, then Gwen, Elyan, and Elena. The rest of the gang came during their first year of uni and the group has been as close as any family could be. No, there was little that Gwaine did not know and Gwaine was with him when he had a drunken meltdown the first time and spilled his guts talking about unrequited love and Merlin. Come to mention it, so was the rest of the gang. Merlin was the only one missing that night. He was on a date.
“You know, there's a way to put yourself out of this misery.” Gwaine stated gently.
“What kill myself? Can't say I haven't thought of that one.” Arthur responded quietly.
“That's nothing to joke about.” Gwaine responded while watching Arthur carefully.
“Who said I was joking?”
“Do I need to get your sister?” Gwaine asked. He wasn't afraid to call in reinforcements if he felt he was up against a battle that he couldn't win. Pride had no place in that.
“For what. There's nothing any of you can do. You don't have to worry Gwaine. I said I thought of it. I didn't say that I tried anything or that I would. Because I won't.” Arthur said looking at Gwaine in the mirror giving eye contact along with the honesty of his words.
“See that you don't.” Gwaine responded seriously. Arthur was the closest thing to a brother for Gwaine, and then he married Morgana and they became family anyway. It was a win win where Gwaine was concerned and he told Arthur so the moment he and Morgana exchanged their vows and he kissed his bride. “But Arthur, you could tell him.”
“Why would I do that, you heard him. There's no one he knows that's the one for him. He knows me. That tells me that he doesn't want me. That he doesn't think of me in that way. Why would I tell him for him to laugh in my face or to tell me that he doesn't love me back. I've had enough embarrassing moments to add that to the list.” Arthur was nearly shouting before he got to the end of his tirade. He ran a hand through his hair and tugged before going to the sink and putting some water on his face. He dried his hands and face on a towel before turning back to Gwaine. “He doesn't want me.” Arthur finished before heading out of the loo. He did not go back to the table, instead he grabbed his jacket off the hook and left into the night.
Gwaine walked back to the table but Morgana was already getting up. “What happened?” She asked urgently.
“He needed to clear his head.” Gwaine responded in answer to Morgana's question but Gwaine's wounded expression under his tough one told Morgana all that she needed to know.
“Do you need me to go and check on him?” Merlin asked. “I can make sure that he's alright.”
“No, Merlin, you should enjoy yourself. I'll take care of my brother. You need to find out what we talked about regarding gift exchanging this year.” Morgana answered smoothly before giving Gwaine a kiss, telling him that she would see him at home, and waving good-bye to the rest of the gang. She was gone in a flash, nothing but the sound of four inch heels in her wake. Gwaine's eyes followed her until she went out the door.
“You look at her the same way that you did when you first got together.” Vivian commented with a smile.
“Can you blame me. It took me years to wear her down and now that I have her I am going to relish every moment of it.” Gwaine said with a wink. The women awed at the table.
“But you had all of those other women before her.” Vivian commented again.
“Those other women were child's play when it comes to Morgana. I knew that and I knew that the minute she would have me would be the minute that I would settle down and I was right. Never looked back since.” Gwaine responded while taking a swig of his drink.” The women awed again.
“Better watch out Lance,” Leon stated, “You may have some competition on who shows the most affection.”
“No competition. There's no competing on how much you love the one your with.” Lance responded quickly before giving Gwen a kiss on her forehead.
“Get a room.” Elyan said disgustingly.
“We've already got one, yours.” Gwen said in retaliation.
“And the rest of you lot are one to talk. Percy and Freya, Leon and Elena, Elyan and Vivian, and if Will and Sophia were here they would be just as bad.” Lance stated with in a 'you know that I'm right' matter-of-fact tone.
“Yeah, I need to get a move on it too if I want to have a children before I reach the age of thirty.” Mithian stated. “Half of you are already ahead of me.
Gwen and Lance have two children. Geraint was four and Galahad two. Gwaine and Morgana had their daughter Autumn who just celebrated her third birthday. Will and Sophia's daughter Aries, the oldest of the lot of children, was six. Percy and Freya had Lucan one year ago, and Vivian was six months pregnant with Elyan's child. Mithian was more than right.
“Has anyone noticed that something has been off with Arthur lately?” Merlin asked. Vivian, Freya, Gwen, and Mithian rolled their eyes discreetly.
“No more off than normal.” Was Leon's response.
“Still, I'm worried about him.” Merlin responded.
“You could always ask him, Merlin.” Lance commented.
“Don't you think I have? I asked and he keeps telling me that he's fine or that he's busy at work, but I know something is off.” Merlin responded.
“Well, maybe you should think about what could be getting Arthur down.” Gwaine added slyly while drinking down his beer. If it weren't for Arthur making them all swear to secrecy Gwaine would have been the first to tell Merlin. Gwaine could only curse himself for agreeing. “I'm going for some whiskey. Anyone else wants some?” Five hands went up. “I guessed as much.” Gwaine muttered to himself before going back to the bar.
Arthur wasn't in his flat for five minutes before he heard knocking at his door.
“Arthur, Arthur open the door.” Morgana called out while she continued her knocking.
Arthur figured if he stayed completely still there was still a chance that Morgana would think that he wasn't home.
“Arthur, I can hear you breathing in there. Open this door now or I will be forced to use my key!” Morgana called out, this time more loudly.
And damn. Because Arthur always forgot that he gave Morgana a key for emergencies. He sighed and walked over to the door.
“Morgana, do come in why don't you.” Arthur stated and with a flair for the dramatic did a hand sweeping gesture to welcome her in like royalty. Morgana paid him no mind and walked in.
“Arthur what are you doing?” Morgana asked quietly while taking off her jacket, scarf, and gloves.
“I thought it was clear.” Arthur responded knowing where this was going and attempting to avoid it. “I just got home and I'm getting ready to-”
“That's not what I meant and you know it.” Morgana snapped. “Why are continuing to do this to yourself? And for how long are you planning to. Why don't you just ask Merlin to move out?”
Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed heavily. “You know why I haven't-”
“That was while Merlin was in med school. He is a full fledged doctor now and can afford to live in his own flat. Why do you keep torturing yourself?”
“I don't want him to go and be left with nothing, alright.” Arthur shouted in response while running a hand through his hair. “What if he moves out and finds someone else?”
“Someone else?” Morgana was at a loss. “Someone else would require that Merlin was yours to begin with Arthur.” She raised her hands in the air as a plea before continuing. “Now hear me out. You know what I mean and you know that I am not trying to hurt you but you know this already Arthur. Either you need to tell Merlin how you feel or you need to let him go but you can't keep doing this to yourself, it's not healthy, and don't even think that I haven't notice that you've lost weight.”
Arthur closed his eyes tight. He turned away with his back to Morgana clinching the back of his sofa hard. He knew that she was right but was trying very hard not to admit these truths to himself. He'd been hiding those truths from himself for far too long.
Morgana sighed, walked closer to Arthur and wrapped her arms around him from behind. Arthur felt warmth in the gesture and raised his hands to meet those circled around him. “Just promise me that you will think about it, yeah? Maybe even use some time over the holidays to get away. Hell, father's even worried about you. I'm sure that he would give you some time off to get away.” Morgana chuckled. “Just promise me that you will think about it?”
Arthur felt a single tear falling from his cheek and the same time that he responded, “I promise.”