Wordcount: Around 5k
Summary: Merlin starts to receive lovely gifts (and less-lovely flowers) from a secret admirer.
A/N: Written for this prompt at kinkme_merlin . Quotes, in order, are from:
1. Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Lover's Walk"
3. W.H. Auden's "Lullaby"
4. The Beatles' "Golden Slumbers"
5. Robert Louis Stevenson's "Winter-time"
I am pondering doing a short Arthur-POV prequel for this at some point. Interest?
Disclaimer: I do not own Merlin.
Merlin is pretty sure that in every uni’s promotional material, there’s a picture of a kid walking across the campus with headphones on, oblivious to everything. He is equally sure that his is the face in that picture on Camelot University’s website. He’s known for tugging his friends to a stop on their way to classes so they can hear a piece of whatever he’s listening to, and for not answering his phone because he never hears it (unless Gwen or Will reminds him to put it on vibrate, for once).
That is why it’s huge problem when, three weeks into the first semester of his second year, his mp3 player stops working. It’s old and clunky, so it’s not actually a surprise, but he’s been keeping it alive through a combination of begging and prodding and injudicious use of magic for months, so when even his powers won’t bring it back when his bank account is at its lowest, it’s really upsetting. He’s still broke from paying tuition for the semester and barely has enough left for rent, and any paychecks he gets need to get used for textbooks, so there isn’t a chance of his replacing it for at least a month.
He isn’t sure if it’s more funny or embarrassing when several acquaintances don’t actually recognize him when he waves to them on his way to class, especially when they invariably stare because they’re getting the full effect of The Ears for the first time without the huge headphones he favors distracting from them. It’s definitely funny, though, when Gwen double-takes the second he walks into their Medieval History lecture the morning after it happens. “Merlin,” she says in the hushed tones of one speaking to the bereaved at a funeral, “where are your headphones?”
“My player broke,” he replies, glum, and she pats his arm consolingly. “Can’t replace it till Christmas, most likely, if I’m going to be responsible. That way Mum and I can help each other out with it.”
The Blond Dick chooses this moment to enter the classroom. Merlin knows his name, of course--even if he weren’t Dean Pendragon’s son, he’s another Uni Promotional Material sort of person, only he’s the one kicking a football around the quad with his mates--but he makes a point of not calling him by it because he seems to have taken an inexplicable dislike to Merlin and Merlin is more than willing to return it. Especially because The Blond Dick seems to have a fondness for tossing bits of paper from his seat directly behind Merlin and seeing how many stick in his hair before he notices and gets annoyed. “Morning, Guinevere,” he says, and then turns a raised eyebrow on Merlin. “Merlin.”
“Arthur,” says Gwen, a greeting and a reproof, and Merlin is predictably whacked in the head with The Blond Dick’s bag when he slings it off and slumps into his usual seat. He valiantly resists the urge to take his bad mood out in a shouting match, but keeps his eyes on Gwen instead, who returns to looking sympathetic. “Maybe you could pick up a couple of extra shifts at the bookshop? Gaius knows you’re his best worker, and--”
“With what free time, Gwen?” Merlin shakes his head. “I’ll just listen to music on my laptop until Christmas, that’s all.”
Gwen looks as if she wants to object again, but Professor Killian sweeps in and cuts off all conversation, and Merlin opens his notebook and sighs as a bit of paper hits the back of his neck.
Two unnervingly silent days later, Merlin drags himself up the stairs to his flat after a long day of lectures and homework and work at the bookshop to find a bag in front of his door. There’s an extremely ugly yellow carnation sticking out of it, so he assumes that it’s meant to go to Mrs. Mora next door, but when he leans close, his name is scrawled across the tag in handwriting he doesn’t recognize.
Merlin brings the bag inside and eyes it for a few moments, wondering what sort of prank Will has cooked up now, before giving into temptation and pushing aside the badly-crumpled tissue paper (and the terrible wrapping job assures him that the gift isn’t Gwen’s handiwork). When he gets to the inside, he gapes. There, resting on top of an instruction manual, is the nicest mp3 player he’s ever seen, with a screen big enough to watch videos and probably enough memory that he won’t need to use magic to fit all his music on it. He grabs for it, half-afraid it will disappear, and discovers that it’s been engraved in looping cursive on the back: If music be the food of love, play on.
He does the only sensible thing and calls Gwen. “Gwen, did you send me an mp3 player?”
He can almost hear her blink. “No, Merlin, I didn’t. I mean, I was thinking about it, because we all know you can’t function without background music, but--not that you can’t cope, of course, it’s only that we’ve never seen you actually--”
“Do you--do you know if Will or my mum or someone else did?”
“Not that I know of. We’re all nearly as broke as you are … why?”
“I found one in a bag on my doorstep, and it’s state-of-the-art, but my name was on the package.” He pauses. “It--it was engraved. With a Shakespeare quote. ‘If music be the food of love--’”
“Play on,” Gwen finishes. “No note besides that, or anything?”
“Just my name on the package.” Merlin winces. “And a flower. A yellow carnation. A really ugly one, actually.”
There is a sound that can only be Gwen using the Power of Google. “... Yellow?” she asks a second later. “Are you sure?”
“Not color-blind, Gwen,” he says as patiently as he can.
“Apparently that signals rejection. Or disdain. But … whoever it was gave you an mp3 player with a quote that’s ridiculously romantic given the context.”
“Maybe they don’t know the meaning of flowers, Gwen. I sure don’t.” He stares at the player and powers it up, only to find that there’s already a playlist on it. He opens it, and finds about ten songs, half of which he already has. “There’s music on here. And the playlist is called ‘Songs That Remind me of You.’” Nothing too sappy, or really romantic at all, just a few peppy things, a few older songs, a Mozart quartet, and for some reason, “Stairway to Heaven.” “Gwen, what the hell? Still no note, the songs make no sense … I don’t know anyone who can afford this!”
“Maybe you’ve got a secret admirer,” Gwen offers, and he snorts. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Merlin. I know you haven’t dated anyone since Freya, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t attractive.”
“So what do I do?”
“Use the player, and hopefully that will count as a thank-you to whoever it is. And then wait and see if there’s any further moves.”
Two weeks later, Merlin is still marveling at the wonders of his new player and there are fingerprints on the shiny back from where he’s constantly rubbing his fingers over the engraving, and he gets to Medieval History in an excellent mood, a few minutes after Gwen and right behind the Blond Dick, who’s looking particularly pleased with himself. “Gwen,” he says seriously the second he sits down, and she looks up expectantly. “There’s a showing of the Buffy musical on Friday. It’s been at least a year since I saw any of it, especially now I can’t afford cable, so we are going. No excuses. Drag Lance along if you must.”
She laughs. “Fine, fine. I can’t resist, after all. Mind if I bring Morgana along too? I know, you’re terrified of her, but she’s at the outs with her stepfather and she could use some cheering up--”
“I am not terrified of her,” mutters Merlin, and he’s not. He just prefers if she’s across the room most of the time, because she is gorgeous and intimidating and looks at him like she has x-ray vision and has used it to look through his skull instead of his pants. “But yeah, sure, bring her. Will might be up at the weekend, too, so we’ll make a party of it.”
“What, Merlin, no invitation for me?”
Merlin rolls his eyes and refuses to acknowledge the Blond Dick. He may have an unhealthy appreciation for Spike, who is a similarly tow-headed arsehole, but that’s another thing entirely. Gwen pats his arm, and he’s rescued from further harassment by the professor walking in to rage about witch hunts. Again. Merlin sighs.
The next day, when he gets back from his morning lecture planning to take a nap, Merlin finds another package with his name, this one with a few pansies attached and a slip of paper on the top with the same bold scrawl across it: I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.
Merlin blinks at the package a few times and drags it inside his apartment. This time, he Googles the flower himself, before calling Gwen, and discovers that it means “thoughtful recollection,” which only supports his secret-admirer-does-not-know-the-languag
He calls Gwen again. “Okay, just checking, but … you didn’t send me Buffy, did you?”
“What? Like, an action figure?”
“No, I mean a boxed set with every season of it. And a couple of pansies. And a note with a quote from Spike written on it.”
Gwen squeals a bit. “You really do have a secret admirer!” She pauses to think, and then there’s the click of a keyboard while she once again looks up the flowers. “It must be a man,” she concludes after a few minutes. “A woman would have sent you roses, not whatever was on sale at the grocery.”
“I don’t know why they’re sending me anything at all!”
She hums, like she’s thinking very hard about something. “You said there was a quote from Spike. Which one was it?”
He reads it aloud. She’s still laughing when he hangs up.
The next week, Gwen is miserably sick, so Merlin goes to Medieval History alone, exhausted from taking on an extra shift at work and from the sheer amount of school work he has ahead of him over the next few weeks. It was not his smartest idea to take an extra class, but he’s too interested in all of them to quit any of them now.
“You look awful,” the Blond Dick pronounces when Merlin collapses into his seat and prepares to take notes, hoping that they’ll be legible when he hands them off to Gwen. “And where’s Guinevere?”
“She’s sick. And I’m tired and don’t want to deal with you right now.”
“Tired?” The Blond Dick leers at him, and Merlin resists the urge to turn on his mp3 player in the middle of the conversation. “What, big night last night?”
“Lots of work, is all.” Merlin makes a show of rummaging in his bag for a writing utensil, hoping it will end the conversation, but a minute later there’s a tap on his shoulder, and he sits back up. “What?”
“Just wanted to know if I could borrow a pencil, is all. My pen seems to be out of ink.”
Merlin passes him a pencil without comment, and ignores him even when there’s a disbelieving snort at the pencil, which is printed with unicorns. Will gave it to him, but he is not about to explain that.
When the class ends, the Blond Dick leaves without returning his pencil.
“You really ought to stop calling him that,” Gwen admonishes, voice thick from her cold, when he calls her after a day of lectures and another shift at work, climbing the stairs to his flat. “I know he can be a bit of an arse, but he’s not that bad.”
“I found a dozen bits of paper in my hair after class,” responds Merlin. “That’s a new record. Oh, there’s another one!” he adds, since he’s in front of his flat and there’s an envelope with a red tulip attached to it. He picks it up and brings it inside while Gwen pesters him for details. His name and a scrap of poetry are written across the front in the same handwriting. “But in my arms till break of day/ Let the living creature lie,/ Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful,” he reads when Gwen keeps pestering him. “Auden, it says.” Gwen sighs. “And the flower’s a tulip this time.”
“What’s inside the envelope?”
Merlin obediently opens it, only to find a voucher for a night in a suite at the Castle Hotel, definitely the nicest in town, along with a certificate for a massage at their spa. “That’s so romantic!” Gwen says, and he can almost see her clasp her hands to her chest. “Do you think he’ll meet you there?”
“It’s not for any particular night,” he says, shaking his head. “So he wouldn’t know. I think I might use it this weekend. Excuse for a good night’s sleep, yeah?”
He and Gwen talk about who his admirer might be for twenty minutes before she has a coughing fit and he makes her go take a nap. Once he’s hung up, he checks to make sure nobody’s around before trying a tracking spell on all his gifts. It doesn’t turn anything up, but then again, he’s always been rubbish at tracking spells.
Merlin feels like an actual human being the next week, so he deigns to smile at the Blond Dick when he walks into Medieval History, and it’s a bonus when he looks thoroughly unnerved at Merlin’s good mood. “Did you get laid or something?” he asks the second Merlin has greeted Gwen, who’s on the mend from her cold but still sniffling.
“Had a really good rest the other night,” says Merlin, determined not to let even Arthur Pendragon ruin his mood. “I need to get myself a new mattress or something. Or possibly steal one from Castle.” It had quite possibly been the best sleep of his life.
“You’re looking blissed-out over a mattress?” asks the Blond Dick, sounding unsure. “What the hell do you sleep on?”
“Futon on the floor.” Merlin shrugs. “Didn’t know what I was missing, clearly.”
The other man smirks. “Clearly.” He actually looks thoughtful, an expression Merlin isn’t used to seeing on his face (although rumor has it that his marks are always excellent, so clearly he must think occasionally). “Well, I’m glad to hear it. You looked miserable last week.”
Gwen elbows Merlin as Professor Killian comes in, but he doesn’t need that to say “Thank you” before turning around and getting ready to take notes.
Three days later, he returns to his flat to find a pair of pink roses taped to a large box that barely fits through his door, and a note that reads Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles awake you when you rise. The box is filled with massive down pillows, which is the next best thing to a new mattress, so he calls Gwen with the only possible conclusion: “I have some sort of fairy godmother or something.”
“The secret admirer sent you something else?”
“Pillows. Gwen, they’re amazing. I am going to make a nest and sleep on them, forget about my futon. How is it that every time I mention wanting something I immediately receive it?” He raises his voice. “I’d like a million dollars. And perhaps a pony.”
Gwen giggles. “It just means that your secret admirer pays a lot of attention to you.” She ponders. “And has a lot of money. If I didn’t know better, I would say it was Morgana. And don’t make that face.”
“I am not making that face.”
“You know what face I am talking about, ergo, you are making it.”
Merlin can’t think of a proper answer for that, so he decides to change the subject. “But it’s not Morgana. She would be sending me orchids or something very poisonous and pretty, not drug store flowers. Have you got any other ideas?”
“Gwaine’s idea of wooing me is trying to get me drunk. Which, you know, I’m okay with. But it doesn’t exactly go along with all these amazing gifts.”
Gwen hums. “I’ll think about it some more. But for now, it’s not like he’s asking you for anything, so you can just enjoy the gifts, yeah?”
“I guess so. But I want to meet him, too. If only to thank him.”
“Nobody gives gifts that thoughtful with quotes that pointed unless they have something in mind. So at the very worst, you’ll just have to wait and see.”
Merlin casts another tracking spell on the pillows, but all he gets is that the note was written somewhere in town, and that doesn’t narrow things down very much.
A few days later, he finds himself behind the Blond Dick in line at the campus coffee shop, and skulks a bit in hopes that he won’t be noticed before his hopes are dashed when they reach the counter, because Arthur turns around and raises his eyebrows. “What’ll you have, Merlin?”
“You--um, I’m fine, really, to pay for myself.”
“Call it my good deed for the week, Emrys, and stop objecting, you’re holding up the queue.”
“Really, I can’t--”
“Don’t be such a girl, Merlin. What are you having?”
Merlin blinks at him, wondering what the joke is, before snapping his attention to the barista, who is rolling her eyes at them. “Um, medium coffee, with some room for milk.”
Arthur goes through the rest of the transaction and hands over money before giving Merlin his drink. “You looked tired again,” he says when Merlin just stares at him, wondering what he’s supposed to say to him acting so completely out of character.
“Well, thanks. Looks like everyone is on a crusade to see me better-rested this semester. Gwen fusses and Gaius refuses to give me more than four shifts a week and someone sent me pillows and then sodding you buy me coffee--sorry, I mean, it’s just …”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Don’t hurt yourself there, Emrys. It’s probably because you’re like--a kitten, or a bunny, or something.”
Merlin stares at him in utter confusion. “I’m a what?”
“A bunny, probably, with the ears.” Arthur waves his hand irritably. “Some fuzzy little animal, anyway, and it’s actually a bit painful seeing you look exhausted because of it, so no wonder people are sending you pillows. Who’s sending you pillows?”
Merlin continues staring, wondering when he dropped into an alternate dimension where Arthur Pendragon converses with him and buys him coffee and is a bit of a twat but sort of an endearing one instead of just the Blond Dick. “I … don’t actually know. Someone keeps sending me gifts, and they’re always amazing. With notes and flowers, although the flowers are …”
“The flowers are what?”
“Well, sort of like the flowers you can get at the grocery if you’ve forgotten your anniversary. Gwen thought maybe there was some meaning-of-flowers thing involved, but that got disproved pretty fast. Like, with the first flower, where apparently I was disdained and rejected.” Arthur chokes on his coffee. “I know, right?”
“Yeah, sounds to me like this admirer of yours just maybe thought flowers were a good idea. Or something. The gifts are nice, though? You don’t know who it is?”
“The gifts are great, and as for who it is …” Merlin shrugs. “Gwen thought it might be Morgana.” Arthur chokes again. “Oh, right, she’s your stepsister or something, isn’t she? Don’t worry, she wouldn’t lower herself. And she still claims I poisoned her that one time, though seriously, who goes to a Pina Colada party if they’re allergic to coconut? Nobody, that’s who.”
Now Arthur is laughing. “I always thought you were quiet.”
“I always thought you were an arse,” Merlin returns, and feels instantly guilty when Arthur actually winces. “Sorry. Just …”
“You’re entitled to your opinion.”
“Not if it loses me my scholarship,” Merlin blurts, which luckily makes Arthur laugh again instead of pissing him off. “Seriously, sorry about that, just, with the throwing things at me and all that …”
“No worries, Merlin. I’ve got to go, though. It’s been … interesting talking with you. Perhaps we ought to talk again.” He raises his coffee cup in a silent toast and goes to walk out of the shop before turning around and giving Merlin a blinding grin right as he’s about to go find a table so he can take advantage of the free wireless. “Good luck with your secret admirer, by the way. Maybe the flowers will be better the next time.”
The next time it’s a bouquet of daisies, which is a bit ridiculous but cracks Merlin up nonetheless. The note reads Close by the jolly fire I sit/ To warm my frozen bones a bit, and the box contains a warm winter coat far better than the castoff of Will’s he’s been using the past few winters, as well as a cashmere scarf and a pair of mittens, which Merlin hasn’t worn since he was about five.
“There is no way I will be able to thank whoever this is for all these gifts,” Merlin says to Gwen before class the next morning, feeling a bit bewildered but remarkably warm--it’s still too warm outside for the coat, but the scarf feels amazing.
Arthur comes in and sits down just as Gwen answers. “You’ll just owe him a lot of blowjobs,” she whispers, apparently just loud enough for Arthur to hear, because Arthur chokes and Gwen splutters and Merlin dissolves into laughter.
“Talking about this secret admirer of yours?” Arthur inquires a few seconds later, sounding a bit strangled. Gwen has her face buried in her hands. “You’ve figured it’s a man, then?”
“We figured that ages ago, with the flowers,” says Merlin, and Gwen lifts her head enough to stare at him, probably because he forgot to mention the coffee shop incident to her.
“So you’ve had another gift?”
Merlin brandishes the scarf. “I’m starting to feel a bit guilty that I can’t begin to repay whoever it is for all of this.” He’s been sending out little spells into the world, for everything from good parking spaces to cancelled lectures on a miserable day, but he doesn’t know if they’re getting to the right person. Hopefully his magic can find his secret admirer, even if the tracking spells aren’t working.
“Well, if they’re sending them anonymously, it’s quite likely they don’t want anything in return, isn’t it?” Arthur points out. “That’s sort of the point. Besides, this bloke could be a real creep.”
Gwen is always quick to defend anyone, even people she’s never met. “He sends the loveliest gifts, with the sweetest quotes attached. He couldn’t be, really.”
Arthur beams at her. “Well, if you say so, Guinevere, I suppose I’ll have to trust you.”
“What, you wouldn’t trust me if I said it?” asks Merlin.
Arthur actually ruffles his hair, because he’s an arse like that. “You’re a bunny, remember? You would probably think Jack the Ripper was sweet if he gave you an mp3 player.”
“I would not,” says Merlin. “He’s … sweet, whoever he is. And I just wish I could thank him.”
“I’m sure he knows you appreciate it. The gifts wouldn’t keep coming, else.” Arthur clears his throat, like he’s about to say something else, but Professor Killian chooses that moment to come in and Merlin turns around to face front so they can get a fascinating lecture on the invention of the plough. However, that’s shot all to hell when Arthur leans forward right before the lecture begins and whispers right in Merlin’s ear: “I agree with Gwen about the blowjobs, by the way.”
Merlin doesn’t hear a word of the lecture.
A few days later, Merlin is wearing his new coat for the first time, and he catches sight of Arthur walking alone across campus and grabs him by the sleeve to shove his headphones at him. “Seriously, you’ve got to listen to this, it’s amazing,” he says, and gets only a bemused look in return. “Listen,” he insists.
Arthur takes the headphones with a roll of his eyes and blinks when he realizes what he’s listening to. “Opera, Merlin? What the hell? I mean, everyone wonders what you listen to on this thing all the time, but opera?”
Merlin thumbs the pause button, feeling his cheeks go bright red. “It’s not usually. But I discovered Barber of Seville yesterday, and I just thought it was really cool. Sorry. I’ll let you get to class.”
“I’m not on my way to class, actually. Just going to get some coffee. Want to join?”
“Are you going to mock me about liking opera the whole time?”
“No, honestly. I was just surprised. I was expecting something obscure and indie. You always seemed that type.” He starts walking, and since Merlin’s headphones are still around Arthur’s neck, he follows, the feeling of bewilderment that is becoming increasingly common around Arthur rising, especially when half the student body seems to be staring at them. Merlin can’t blame them; Arthur seems completely unconcerned that with arrangements as they are, they can’t walk more than two feet apart.
Merlin retrieves his headphones when they reach the coffee shop and shoulders Arthur out of the way when they get to the head of the queue. “You paid last time, and I’m not completely broke,” he says when Arthur objects, and manages to pay the girl first.
They spend an hour in the coffee shop talking first about music and then about mutual acquaintances and then about how Professor Killian is clearly insane and writes the most cryptic comments on their assignments before Merlin has to go to work.
The next day, Merlin finds an envelope with a red rose taped to it on his doorstep. He opens it and finds two tickets to an opera, and a note: Roses are red/ Violets are blue/ Merlin, you idiot, if you haven’t figured this out by now there’s really no hope for you.
Suddenly, a whole lot of things start making sense that certainly didn’t before. “Holy shit,” says Merlin, and decides that perhaps he shouldn’t call Gwen just yet.
As luck would have it, they have a Medieval History lecture the next day, and Merlin ignores Gwen afterwards to drag Arthur out away from prying eyes and stare at him. “It’s you,” he manages eventually, because Arthur looks just as awkward as he does and one of them has to say something eventually. “You were sending me all those gifts. Why?”
“Honestly, Merlin. One would think you could figure that out.” Merlin just stares. “Look, you don’t have to get all awkward about this. I have plenty of money, and I wanted to do it.”
“Do you--would you like to come to the opera? I mean, I’m assuming that’s why there were two tickets, along with that particular note.”
Arthur flushes. “Only if you’d like.”
Merlin nods, probably enough times to make him look daft. “Yes, yes, I definitely would like. Have I--have I said thank you yet? Because really, thank you.”
“No need. You’ve thanked me indirectly enough times.”
Without quite meaning to, Merlin has swayed quite close to Arthur, who doesn’t seem to object to their proximity. Because it’s only sensible, he puts a hand on Arthur’s arm, and Arthur immediately responds by grabbing onto Merlin’s scarf and leaning closer and Arthur fucking Pendragon is going to kiss him in the middle of campus in the middle of the day and he doesn’t mind in the least. “You are going to get amazing parking spots forever,” he blurts before he can stop himself.
Arthur blinks at him. “What?” he asks, but doesn’t seem to expect an answer, considering that’s the point where he hauls Merlin over and snogs him until someone near catcalls, at which point he releases him, looking a little dazed. Merlin suspects his expression is similar. “Well,” he says, voice a little unsteady, “would you perhaps like to go somewhere a bit more private and continue this … conversation?”
Merlin grins. “Sounds like a great idea.” Arthur slings an arm around his shoulders and steers him away.
And if they’re looking like a picture from the university’s promotional material, Merlin certainly doesn’t mind.
There is now a prequel to this fic, which can be found here.