Arthur was walking back through the lower town when he passed a boy carrying a box.
This would have been wholly unremarkable had the box not been squeaking.
On impulse he held out a hand and said sternly, “Stop,”
He was wearing the blue hooded cloak that Merlin had given him (sometimes it was nice to go about anonymously) so the boy did not recognise him at first. Then he saw his face and he paled.
“It’s ok,” he reassured him.
He peered into the box and saw two kittens lying at the bottom. One was grey and stripy, the other jet black.
“What are you doing with these?” he asked.
“My father said I had to drown them,” the boy said quietly.
The kid looked only about twelve, and thoroughly miserable. Arthur took pity on him at once.
“Here,” he said, taking the box. “Go home to your father and tell him you did as he asked. If there’s any problem I will take care of it.”
The boy nodded, wide eyed “But what about-“
“I will see they come to no harm, you have my word.” Arthur told him earnestly. “Now go home.”
The boy looked thoroughly nonplussed but happier.
“Thank you, your Majesty!” he said and left, leaving the king of Camelot standing alone holding a box of kittens.
Gwen opened the door almost as soon as he knocked, confused as he had just left, but nevertheless smiling.
Her face lit up as she peered into the box.
They sat on her bed with the box between. They’d lined it with one of Guinevere’s blankets and now they just sat watching the tiny blind creatures crawling around on the soft fabric.
"They're tiny!" Guinevere breathed. Then she sighed. “They’re too young to be away from their mother.”
“Well they can’t go back,” Arthur said sadly.
“I know,” she said. “We’ll have to make do.”
“You’ll keep them then?” he said hopefully
She raised her eyebrows. “Two kittens?”
“I could help,” he offered. He knew nothing about cats, but he was sure he could learn.
“Or…” He fidgeted. He was not blushing. “It is Merlin’s birthday tomorrow…”
Guinevere’s smile was strangely knowing. “Oh, he’d love one!”
“And,” Arthur continued, “It was yours last week…”
Guinevere laughed and clutched her chest in mock outrage. “Arthur Pendragon, are you trying to get extra credit in?”
“Hey! If I’d rescued a box of kittens last week I’d’ve given you one then!” he protested.
Guinevere laughed and kissed his cheek. “You’re adorable, you know that?”
He screwed up his face. “I am not adorable.“
“Besides,” he pointed out, “I did give you a present.” He indicated the necklace of amethysts round her neck.
She beamed. “You did, and I love it.”
“And you look beautiful,” He melted as he gazed at her, at her deep brown eyes, her smile that could outshine the sun. He reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, then leaned over and kissed her.
She leaned forward and wrapped her arms round him, and his hands tangled in her sweet smelling hair, and the two of them might’ve got lost entirely were it not for the round of mewing that started up between them.
Guinevere pulled away reluctantly and looked into the box.
“They must be hungry,” she said, lifting the black kitten out and handing it to Arthur, cradling the little grey one lovingly against her chest. “Come on, let’s go see what we can feed them.”
The next evening, Gwen and Arthur went to the physician’s chambers to see Merlin. Gaius had been called away earlier on an urgent call.
They knocked on the door and entered, but Gwen nearly walked straight into Arthur as he stopped dead and stood frozen, staring.
Curious, Gwen peered round him.
Merlin was sitting engrossed in a small, ancient looking book that Gaius had probably given him. He was wearing a beautifully made dark green shirt that she had seen Lancelot purchasing at the market the previous week. Tied round his neck was a neckerchief made from luxurious purple silk – from Gwaine, definitely.
The intricately plaited leather bracelet Elyan had told her Percival was making was now round Merlin’s wrist. The dagger her brother hogged the forge a whole week to perfect lay on the table. A crossbow made of highly polished ash leaned gleaming against his chair (goddammit, Leon).
But despite all these lavish gifts it was the slim circlet of silver inlaid with sapphires resting in his dark hair that was making Arthur gape at him like a fish.
Merlin had looked up with a bright smile when they had arrived and was about to speak when Arthur beat him to it.
“Is that Morgana’s?” he spluttered.
“It was a present! She said I could have it!” Merlin defended.
Gwen laid a calming hand on her betrothed’s arm, noting with affectionate amusement that he was now completely speechless, gazing transfixed at Merlin (the sapphires really did bring out his eyes).
“You look handsome!” she teased Merlin.
Merlin blushed a little and tilted his head on one side, considering, “Morgana said pretty,” he said doubtfully.
“Morgana’s getting as bad as Gwaine,” she mused, eyeing the silk neckerchief.
“She doesn’t like me” he protested, face now resembling the colour of a beetroot.
Gwen grinned. “No she doesn’t, or I’ve missed a memo somewhere along the line,”
“Although,” she continued, waggling her eyebrows “one would think it, the amount of time you two spend shut up in her room…” she trailed off teasingly.
“Guinevere!” Arthur protested, having regained verbal function.
“I’m kidding!” she replied over her shoulder, giggling at the outrage back on the king’s face.
She turned back to Merlin, who seemed painfully torn between scowling at her and laughing at Arthur.
“Presents?” she said briskly, deciding to take pity on him.
“You didn’t have to get me anything-” he began to object.
She rolled her eyes “I’m not going to let my brother out-gift me when it comes to my best friend,” She eyed the dagger’s perfectly balanced handle darkly.
Gwen took the little box out of her apron pocket and handed it to him.
He opened it and gasped as he drew out the necklace. The metal pendant was in the shape of a delicate flower, engraved with intricate patterns. In the centre was set an emerald.
“You made this?”
She beamed and shrugged bashfully “I can get pretty jewels now, but I still wanted to make you something. Took me ages to get the mould right.”
“It’s beautiful! Thank you” He put it round his neck at once and hugged her tightly.
She hugged him back then let go to look expectantly at Arthur.
“Mine is… kind of from both of us” he stumbled, glancing at Gwen. “ and kind of… for both of you… Shut your eyes and hold out your hand” he instructed.
Merlin looked at him with some alarm, but after an encouraging nod from Gwen, did as he was told.
“Arthur if this is some kind of trick I swear I can and will make your life hell.”
“That’s no way to speak to your king, Merlin” Arthur shot back with significant amusement at the threat before darting out to the box they had left just outside the door.
He returned beaming with the two bundles of fluff and gave Gwen’s grey tabby to her with a kiss on her nose that made her giggle. She cradled the little thing against her chest as he mewed in protest.
The black kitten Arthur placed in Merlin’s hand.
Merlin opened his eyes and gazed wonderingly at the tiny, blind creature lying there mewing on his palm.
He reached out a finger to stroke its head, seemingly entranced.
“Do you like it?” Arthur asked with an adorable nervousness.
“’Her’,” Gwen supplied.
Arthur grinned. “Her.”
“Oh Arthur,” Merlin breathed. “She’s beautiful. Is she really for me?”
Arthur laughed “Yes, you sappy idiot.”
Gwen carried her kitten over to him. “This is her brother,” she said smiling. “They’ll have to stay together for now, but we can take it in turns looking after them.”
He looked delighted at the sight of the second fluffball and reached up to stroke it gently, cradling his kitten to his chest. Gwen had to laugh at the dazed joy on his face.
"Good birthday?" she asked.
He nodded breathlessly, face split into a grin so wide it looked painful. He hugged her again, careful not to squash either kitten then turned to Arthur.
"Don't you d-" He didn't even have time to finish his protest before Merlin rushed at him and wrapped his free arm round his waist, hanging on giggling as the king tried in vain to extricate himself.