Title: Dóchas

Author: phys_nut

Beta: dwarfandelf

Summary: [this chapter] Arthur comes out to Merlin, and Christmas shenanigans are had.

Word Count: 2,872

Pairings: Arthur/Merlin, Uther/Morgana

Warnings: religious themes, but nothing preachy or anything like that. Age differences (Arthur/Merlin – 18/24, Uther/Morgana – 39/26)

Disclaimer: none of this is mine, it all belongs to the BBC and Arthurian Legend.

A/N: howayis! Here's the next chapter. Please read and enjoy! :D

"Arthur, what's wrong?" Merlin asks worriedly, as he takes a seat beside him, their hands brushing.

Arthur inwardly flinches and tries not to lean into the dark-haired man. Merlin had suggested swimming for their Friday activity, as Gaius had given him the morning off, and Arthur had been all for it, looking forward to the exercise. Instead though, he had ended up unable to concentrate, and took to sulking in the sauna, until Merlin had come to find him.

"Things are kind of tense at home," he explains. "Morgana keeps trying to talk to Uther about religion, he's having none of it, and they keep screaming at one another."

"Oh. Does Uther know that you're siding with Morgana?"

"No no, I'm just tired of being in the middle of the two of them. Uther would never think I was into religion at all," Arthur snorts, "not only because I never talk about it, but also because-" He stops short, not believing what he was about to give away.

"Because what?" Merlin asks curiously.

"Because…" This is not the time to be telling Merlin this, when they're practically naked and alone, all hot and sweaty, but Arthur can't keep it from him anymore, so he closes his eyes and plunges bravely onwards. "Because I'm gay."

Merlin is silent, and Arthur opens his eyes to see him frowning down at his hands. Arthur feels far too terrified to say any more, and simply sits there: waiting for Merlin to speak.

"So, I guess when I said that tomboy was your type, it was just the boy part that was really true eh?" Merlin eventually jokes weakly.

Arthur breathes a sigh of relief, and chuckles slightly hysterically.

"Yes that it is."

Merlin laughs and then asks in a serious and slightly hurt tone, "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"Oh, well, you're religious and training to be a priest, and I thought that if you knew, you might, you know, hate me," Arthur replies in a small voice.

"Oh Arthur, I could never hate you," Merlin smiles gently, "and besides, all God and Jesus want is for us to be good to each other, and love one another. God will always love you."

"But it says in Leviticus that it's an abomination to be gay."

"It also says it's an abomination to eat shellfish, and grow different crops beside one another. They are a bunch of out-dated laws that don't apply to modern day society. When you get on to the New Testament, you'll find that those sorts of things aren't mentioned."

"But…isn't the church against homosexuality?"

"The older members of the church are, yes," Merlin answers carefully, "but I believe that if we are to keep up interest in church and mass among people today, we will have to throw off old, discriminating attitudes. And it's happening – there are gay churches, gay priests, gay marriage. As long as there's love in the world, God's happy."

Arthur smiles, feeling uplifted. "Good to know."

He's silent then, his mind at war. He knows he shouldn't ask; even if Merlin is, there would be no point because he's training to be a bloody priest, but Arthur has to know, can't help but torture himself, and so his mouth opens and –

"So, are you, um…?"

"Oh! Um, I guess, asexual is the word?" Merlin tries to explain. "I've never fancied anyone."

"What, really?" Arthur asks, shocked. "No one? Ever?"

"Nope."

"You've never even noticed if someone's attractive?"

"I've only ever been devoted to God."

"But, but… surely there's someone!" Arthur splutters.

"No, there's no one." Merlin frowns. "Why is this so important to you?"

"Because! It's a little strange – Everyone should have at least one person they fancy!"

"Well I don't."

"Not even a lit-"

"Christ Arthur, I already told you I don't fancy anyone, would you just drop it?" Merlin yells.

Arthur stares at Merlin, unable to believe that the usually good-tempered man had just gotten so angry with him. Merlin's eyes widen, and then his face drops into his hands as he mutters, "Great, Father Gaius is going to have such fun at confession."

The two men leave the sauna very soon after that. Their conversation is stilted and awkward, and remains so for the next few days, until Merlin impulsively hugs Arthur and whispers, "Sorry."

Arthur grabs the opportunity and hugs him tightly back.

"I'm sorry too," he whispers, trying not to nose his way along Merlin's jaw line.

Things get much better after that, and soon they're as close as they ever were. Both of them make sure though, never to mention liking someone again.

"Father, what do you think about all the rules in Leviticus?" Merlin asks timidly during one of his lesson.

"Claptrap and hogwash," is Father Gaius' prompt response. "They are something ignorant people use to spread hatred, while failing to recognize or acknowledge any of the other non-sensical rules."

"Oh, so you don't have a problem with homosexuality?"

"My boy, I can hardly believe that a kind and loving God who would give up his only son for us, would be so petty as to deny people love simply because of the gender they love. My views aren't very popular, and few priests agree with them, but I stick by them."

Merlin smiles brightly and says, "I'm very glad to hear that, and please know that I agree with you."

"I'm glad to hear that," Father Gaius smiles back.

"Gwen, do you think it's strange that I've never fancied anyone?" Merlin asks at his and Gwen's next session.

"Oh, um, well, I mean, I guess everyone's got someone that they find attractive, so maybe… but there's no point for you – not that you're not a great catch, just that you're going to be a priest so it's a good thing! Um… look, do you think it's strange?"

"Not really," Merlin replies, and then adds sourly, "Everyone else seems to think it is though."

"Well… look there's no such thing as normal," Gwen tells him. "All that matters if how you feel, and as long as you're content in yourself, then you're all good."

"Thanks Gwen," Merlin grins.

She may babble quite a lot, but when push comes to shove, Merlin finds that she knows exactly what to say.

"Hello Father," Arthur grins cheekily as Father Gaius opens the door, "can Merlin come out to play?"

Father Gaius arches an eyebrow, gives him a look, and then replies, "I highly doubt 'playing' is the right term for what you plan to drag my student out to do."

"All part of the festive fun."

Father Gaius gives a wry grin and says, "Indeed."

He steps back into the hallway, gesturing for Arthur to follow, and as Arthur walks in the door, Merlin comes barrelling down the stairs. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes sparkling, his grin lights up the room, and Arthur's stomach bottoms out at how gorgeous he looks in his dark cord trousers and blue woollen jumper.

"Ready to go?" He asks, pleased at how steady his voice is.

"Yup," Merlin nods excitedly, grabbing his coat and scarf and pulling them on.

"Be careful Merlin," Father Gaius warns, "I've been warned about you: one whiff of a barmaid's apron and you're dancing on the tables."

Merlin blushes and nods obediently, then shoves Arthur out the door while calling hasty goodbyes.

Arthur manages to walk three steps before he smirks and says, "Better keep you away from those pesky barmaids and their aprons, lord knows what you'll get up to."

Merlin scowls and half-heartedly shoves Arthur.

"I should start bringing you to confession the amount of times you've taken the Lord's name in vain."

"Can't do, I'm not a Catholic."

"You're not a Catholic YET."

"Promises promises," Arthur singsongs.

He's giddy with joy and excitement for the night to come – Morgana's stories of her wild pub crawls still echoes in his memory, and he's looking forward to his very first one. He and Merlin banter as they walk down the road, until they reach their first destination, The Laughing Ass, where Morgana, Gwen and Lance are waiting.

"Happy Christmas!" Gwen cheers as they walk up to the table.

Everyone hugs and exchanges seasonal greeting, and then settles down around the table as Morgana lays down the rules.

"Okay, the theme of this pub crawl is The 12 Days of Christmas," she tells them with a wicked smile. "I've made a list of all the drinks and the day they are associated with."

With that, she puts the list down on the table:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: Pear Cider

2 Turtle Doves: Grouse Whiskey Shot

3 French hens: French Flag Shot

4 Calling Birds: Aftershock Shot

5 Gold Rings: Goldschlager Shot

6 Geese-a-Laying: Jager Bomb

7 Swans-a-Swimming: Silver Bullet Shot

8 Maids-a-Milking: Mudslide Cocktail

9 Drummers Drumming: Mohito

10 Pipers Piping: Jazz Vodka

11 Ladies Dancing: Fat Frog

12 Lords-a-Leaping: Vodka and Redbull

"And afterwards, we're going to Viper for karaoke and dancing," Morgana finishes.

Merlin makes a faint choking noise and says, "Um, Morgana, I'm not too sure if I'll be able to handle all this…"

"I'm not even sure a horse could handle all this," Arthur adds dubiously.

"Nonsense, it's easily done," Morgana scoffs. "Right Gwen?"

Gwen eyes the list thoughtfully, and then declares, "Seems reasonable."

And that's that. There's no way Arthur's backing down from a challenge against girls, especially Morgana, so he sets his jaw and nods.

"Fine, let's do it," he says defiantly.

Merlin makes another choking noise, while Lance eyes him as though he's a brave king leading his men into battle.

"Let the games begin," Morgana announces.

As it turns out, Father Gaius is right; by the time they hit the fourth pub, Merlin's swaying slightly as he walks, his speech has sped up, and his English accent is becoming thicker. By the eighth pub, the accent has become near incomprehensible, and by the time they make it to Viper, Merlin's leaning heavily on Arthur, slurring words into his ear.

"Thur's s'mthin 'bout you Arfur. 'S like… 's like it's my DESTINY or summat to help you. Also… you're like… MY BEST FRIEND, only don' tell Will, he'll cry, cry like a babay."

Arthur's not much better off than Merlin at this point, and he leans against Merlin in wonton delight.

Turning his face against Merlin's neck, he slurs in his ear, "'S cool Merlin, you're my best friend too. I love you, ya know that?"

Arthur and Merlin exchange a manly hug, nearly falling off their bar stools, while Lance, who's nearly as bad, slumps beside them, sipping on a pint of water. What's truly terrifying is that Morgana and Gwen are totally fine – they're at the bar downing shots of tequila like they're water. Once they're done, they run off to the stage to belt out, "Ain't no Mountain High Enough," in true diva style.

As the night progresses, Arthur and Merlin sober up enough for the girls to drag them off dancing, and if Arthur happens to brush against Merlin every now and then, he tells himself it's nothing, in spite of the goofy grin Merlin sends him every time he does. When the club is closed, the group stumbles down to Supermacs for much needed refuelling, before piling into a taxi and heading for home.

Arthur wakes up early in the morning, still fully clothed, on top of his bed, his mouth dry and head stuffy. As he pulls his clothes off, hazy memories filter back into his mind. As he remembers telling Merlin he loves him, Arthur groans and falls back into bed. He pulls the duvet over his head and vows never to drink again.

"So, how long are you gone for?" Arthur asks, as he and Merlin share their last lunch of the year.

"Till a bit after New Years," Merlin replies.

"Cool, uh, tell your mam I said hi."

"Will do. Do you think you'll be able to make it to Christmas mass?"

"Hopefully, there's supposed to be a big choir and re-enactment and everything," Arthur tells him with an excited smile.

"Sounds like fun," Merlin grins. "Mass at home is quiet, very solemn."

"That's not really full of Christmas cheer," Arthur says, nose wrinkling.

"No, but afterwards mam and I go home, make some mulled wine, put on the Christmas classics record and dance around the sitting room."

Arthur smiles at the image he has in his head of this – it's wonderful and homey and so very different to Christmases at home, especially when Morgana harps on about Jesus. Which she definitely will do this year.

The two friends linger over finishing their lunches, but eventually they have to move. As they turn to say goodbye, Arthur pulls a package out of his pocket and thrusts it into Merlin's hands.

"Happy Christmas," he says nonchalantly.

"Thanks Arthur," Merlin smiles.

He opens the package and laughs when he sees his present – a clock, with only two settings: 'praying time' and 'party time'. He then reaches into his bag and pulls out a present for Arthur. Arthur opens it and his face softens when he sees the framed poster of the story of the Footprints in the Sand.

"Thank you," he says appreciatively. "It's… I love it."

"Good," Merlin smiles, and then grabs Arthur in a fierce hug. "I'll see you in two weeks."

"See you, happy Christmas," Arthur replies, hugging him back.

They part and wave each other off, and if Arthur ends up sulking in his room for the next few days, well, he isn't admitting that to anyone.

A few days later, Arthur receives a letter from Merlin, telling him about his journey home (sheep blocked the train line, and an old man started Irish dancing for everyone's amusement), seeing his mam and Will again (Will literally clung to him for an hour) and putting up the Christmas decorations. Excited, Arthur wrote back, telling him about Gwen and Lance getting engaged, Uther and Morgana still arguing, and getting tinsel in his eye from trying to decorate the tree himself. Merlin and Arthur continue to exchange letters throughout the holiday, and for Arthur, they are a sweet respite from the tension at home. Morgana has decided to take it upon herself to remind Uther of the true meaning of Christmas, from bringing a manger into the house, to playing CDs of religious carols, to putting up pictures of the Holy Family. Uther viciously tears down and burns every single thing, and he and Morgana scream at each other for hours. Arthur is immensely glad when Pell and the guys come home, and he spends his days hanging with them, playing video games, having a few beers, listening to their college stories. The look of shock on their faces when he tells them he's attending mass is hilarious, and naturally he endures a few days of good-natured slagging in return. He ends up going to Christmas Eve mass with them, sits in the back row and prays while laughing silently at their jokes and antics. He goes home that night feeling cheerful and certain that he has the greatest friends ever.

Christmas Day is sombre at best: a stony silence sits between Morgan and Uther, who refuse to even look at each other. Arthur spends most of the day outside with his hurl and sliotar, moving mostly just to keep warm, and in the evening, he jumps at his phone when it rings.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Arthur?"

"Merlin?"

"Yeah, hey, happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas to you too. How's your day going?"

"Great, Will came over and we spent most of the day playing Marvel vs. DC."

"Oh cool, I love that game."

"Yeah, it's great. So… how's things at home?"

"Not the best," Arthur sighs. "Morgana put a crib up in her room a few days ago; Uther took it outside and burned it so she slapped him. They had a huge fight and haven't spoken since."

"Oh Arthur, that's not fair on you at all."

"It's not so bad, my friends came back from college so I've been able to escape with them when needs be.

"Good. Look, I was wondering, would you like to come up to mine for New Years? We're having a huge party. Ask Morgana, Gwen and Lance too."

"Yeah, that sounds brilliant! I'll ask them asap."

"Great, let me know and I'll give you details on how to get here."

"Will do, talk to you later."

"Bye."

Arthur hangs up and heads into Morgana's room, where he finds said woman arranging another crib on her desk, a butcher knife beside it.

"Um, Morgana, what's up with the knife?"

"If Uther tries to touch this one, I'll stab him," she informs him calmly, her eyes focused on her task.

"You know, you're only – ugh, I am not getting involved. Merlin just rang; he wants to know if we'd like to go to his for New Years."

"Oh! Okay," Morgana smiles for the first time in days.

"Great, can you ask Gwen and Lance?"

"Sure thing."

Right-oh! Only two more chapters to go! I'd really appreciate it if you fine people took the time to leave me a little review and let me know if you're enjoying this or not, it really means the world to me!

Sláinte!