Harlequin's Slash Fic

The Heart that Made a Family

Title: The Heart that Made a Family
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Merlin
Characters featured: Gaius/Geoffrey
Category, Word count: Short story; 2,740 words
Rating: PG13
Summary: Gaius and Geoffrey have been together for decades, and have long been set in their own wonderful ways. But perhaps it’s not entirely unexpected that the festive season brings them more than one surprise?
Notes: Written for the WinterKnights 2018 fest.
Thank you to the prompter tari_sue for such a delightful prompt! I hope I’ve done you proud.

The Heart that Made a Family

#

It was only ever the two of them on Christmas Day, but even then they only focused on each other for a short while in the morning. They were both old men now, and over the decades had achieved all their modest wants, so there were only two presents that bore their names waiting under the tree. Geoffrey, a dealer in rare books and manuscripts, had sourced a first edition of an old herbal for which Gaius had yearned – and Gaius had knitted Geoffrey a scarf and a pair of fingerless mittens to help him keep warm in his shop, which must always be kept cool for the sake of the merchandise. Neither present was a surprise, of course, but they’d each wrapped up their gift in festive red and gold paper, and then exchanged them with sincere good wishes as soon as breakfast was done.

“Thank you, Geoffrey,” Gaius murmured, leafing carefully through the herbal’s illustrated pages. “It’s even more beautiful than I’d imagined! And it will be useful, too. You are very kind to indulge me.”

“You are kinder still,” Geoffrey responded. “All I did was order a book. Nothing compared to the hours you devoted to creating these! Both beautiful and useful, as you say. I will think of your efforts every time I wear them.”

Gaius smiled at the man. “It wasn’t a chore, but a pleasure. I’m glad I took up knitting. It gives me something to do with my hands while we watch television in the evenings.”

Geoffrey’s eyes twinkled with a wicked humour. “Next time your hands are too idle, let me know. I’m sure I can come up with alternatives to knitting.”

They shared a happy laugh, and a long familiar hunger stirred within Gaius. All the pleasures that he had shared with Geoffrey over the years … Their means and methods had evolved over time, but Geoffrey’s generosity to and delight in Gaius had remained forever constant. Perhaps they deserved an extra indulgence that day. In fact, no doubt they deserved it! Not that they had time now, but perhaps later that afternoon, after the Queen’s speech …

“Don’t start tempting me with distractions,” Gaius said in the grumbling tones he knew that Geoffrey knew he didn’t mean. “Or not yet, anyway! We have baking to do.”

“Indeed,” Geoffrey smoothly replied – and with a friendly wink, he was up and clearing the breakfast gear, so that they could make a start on the day’s work.

For, in this household, the true family celebrations occurred on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. It was on Boxing Day that all of Geoffrey and Gaius’s foster children visited – or as many as possible, anyway – after having spent Christmas with their new families. The house would be full and overflowing with good cheer on the morrow. Which meant that, right now, there was no time at all for dilly-dallying.

#

It had all begun, as things often did, with Merlin. Gaius’s godchild Hunith had been offered her dream job, but as a single mother felt she must turn it down due to it involving a great deal of global travel. Merlin was twelve years old at the time, just starting at a local secondary school as a day pupil, and there had been talk of him perhaps boarding at the school, to allow Hunith a measure of freedom. But then Merlin himself asked if he could live with Geoffrey and Gaius instead, sweetening the deal with an ardently expressed desire to learn herbology from Gaius. The decision was made. Hunith accepted the job, rented out her own home, and would stay with Gaius, Geoffrey and Merlin when she was in England.

Hearing of this, Geoffrey and Gaius’s old friend Uther asked that his son Arthur – who was attending the same secondary school as Merlin and was the same age – could also live with them rather than at the school. A few dark mutterings from Uther about his own long-ago years as a boarding student soon had Gaius and Geoffrey agreeing wholeheartedly.

When Merlin’s friend Will was orphaned a year or so later, the fostering became official. Gaius had known well enough at the time that an older gay couple would hardly be considered “appropriate” foster parents by the authorities. However, Merlin and Arthur were obviously doing well under their care, so Will’s express wishes along with Hunith’s nominal presence in the household led to a sympathetic social worker officially listing Geoffrey and Gaius as a pair of bachelors and glossing over anything that might be thought “untoward”.

Not that it was always easy. Merlin and Arthur were at odds with each other as often as not, and made a great deal of noise about it, despite or perhaps even because a deep and unshakeable bond was slowly forming between them. Worse than that, Arthur and Will had never liked each other, and Gaius thought never would, and the two young men had felt obliged to express their dislike at every opportunity.

Over the years, the household evolved, though it had remained Merlin’s home the longest, until he’d finally given in to his love and moved out to live with Arthur.

In the early days, Morris had joined them – a decent young lad, though quiet and always overwhelmed by the larger personalities of his foster brothers. Then Lance arrived – a gentle soul, mature beyond his years, with a strong yet humble faith in humanity’s capacity for good. Everyone adored him, though he never seemed quite aware of that fact. He was the first of the foster children to marry, which surprised no one – he’d fallen in love with Elyan’s sister Gwen at first sight, and was devoted to her from that day on.

Elyan himself had been quite a handful at first, full of resentment and rebellion. Eventually he’d found a useful and fulfilling vocation in metalwork on which to focus his energies, and he had calmed down somewhat, though he would always be intense. Gaius and Geoffrey had been given the credit for this success story, though to be honest Gaius wasn’t sure Elyan wouldn’t have found his own way through, with or without their guidance. They had, after all, had a failure or two – especially Valiant, one of their earlier foster children, who remained deeply unhappy and hostile despite all they tried.

Gaius still grieved for Valiant, but eventually they had had to acknowledge his needs and let him go. They’d never heard from him again. Luckily – or, rather, blessedly – their other foster children had each tended to increase Geoffrey and Gaius’s family rather than not. Boxing Day became a day to celebrate new loves and long-term partners, and to welcome extended family as well.

#

Merlin and Arthur were always the first to arrive on Boxing Day morning, this time bringing with them Arthur’s half-sister Morgana and her half-sister Morgause. The two young men were smiling broadly, and even holding hands much of the time despite not usually being given to public displays of affection. They appeared to have a delicious secret of some kind bubbling away just below the surface.

Gaius regarded them, as he had done so often before, with a suspicion that was half mock and half real. “What mischief are you two up to now?”

“Nothing, Gaius,” Merlin assured him, and Arthur chimed in with, “No mischief at all.” Merlin let go of Arthur and swooped in with a hearty hug for Gaius, and then the two of them headed off to help Geoffrey – who was setting and decorating the three dining tables, which were already arranged end-to-end across the open-plan living and dining rooms.

Morgana leaned in to press a surprisingly fond kiss to Gaius’s cheek, and then danced off hand-in-hand with Morgause. Gaius watched them for a long moment, concluding as he’d often done that the two of them seemed steeped in trouble and yet were strangely endearing together. Well, neither of them had ever found much joy in life with anyone else, so he was grateful they had each other.

The next to arrive were Lance and Gwen – and their mutual radiance announced their news just as surely as did Gwen’s little baby bump.

“Oh, how marvellous!” Gaius exclaimed. When Gwen closed in for a hug, he enveloped her gently in his arms and pressed a kiss to her hair. “I couldn’t be happier for you both.”

“We couldn’t be happier, either!” Gwen exclaimed as she stepped back.

Gaius shook Lance’s hand in congratulations, and then reeled him in for a hug, too. “Well done, my dear fellow. Jolly well done. I couldn’t be prouder!”

“Thank you,” Lance earnestly replied, “though Gwen is the one burdened with all the hard work!” He returned to Gwen’s side and took her hand. “If he’s a boy, we’ll be naming him Thomas Gaius.”

After Gwen’s father, and one of Lance’s foster fathers. Tears sprang to Gaius’s eyes. “You are far too kind. What an honour to share with Tom!” He was too grateful and embarrassed to say more, so instead he called, “Geoffrey! Come and hear Gwen and Lance’s marvellous news!”

Geoffrey was just as delighted, of course. Soon he and Lance had enthroned Gwen in the comfiest chair in the living room with her feet up, and were making her a pot of tea despite her eye-rolling and her amused protests about not suddenly being made of fine china.

In the midst of all that, Mordred arrived with his girlfriend Kara. They didn’t have any particular news to share, but Gaius suspected it wouldn’t be long before they married, too, now that Mordred had completed his studies and settled into work. It was all beyond Gaius, but apparently Mordred had such instinctive skills in computer programming that it was quite uncanny. Kara had studied law and was already on the fast-track to make partner at her firm. She was one of the most fiercely independent people Gaius knew, but Mordred respected that, and the two of them made a pair as strong as any Gaius had seen.

Deagal arrived with a new young friend named Drea, then Ewan on his own, and Gilli with his girlfriend Sefa. Elyan and Percival arrived together – and Gaius wondered if Elyan was at all aware of how beatifically Percival smiled whenever he looked at his companion.

Once they’d each greeted their friends and family, everyone set to helping. Bowls of steaming hot vegetables and roast potatoes were now being conveyed from the kitchen to the tables, along with platters of carved turkey and ham, fish for those who preferred it, a nut loaf for the vegetarians, and various jugs of sauce and gravy. Gaius’s stomach rumbled in anticipation.

Last – though not quite as horribly late as usual – Gwaine arrived, looking oddly bashful. “Hello, Gaius,” he said, before indicating the man following close behind him. “Remember I said I’d met someone far too good for me?”

“I do remember,” Gaius confirmed, looking curiously up at a man almost as tall as Percival, though rather slimmer, and with a head of curly, light brown hair that was almost as magnificent as Gwaine’s. “Hello and welcome!” he said, offering his hand. “I’m Gaius.”

“Leon,” the man introduced himself. “I hope you don’t mind me showing up uninvited. Gwaine seemed to think it would be all right.”

“Of course it’s all right,” Gaius reassured Leon. “You’re very welcome indeed – and if you can put up with us all being rather inquisitive for a while about someone who’s finally good enough for Gwaine, I’m sure you’ll find you fit right in.”

Gwaine, to Gaius’s surprise and amusement, was almost blushing. “No, he’s too good for me,” Gwaine muttered in rough tones. “Gaius, come on now. I’m the one who’s not good enough here.”

“I brought this,” Leon smoothly interjected, handing a festively wrapped bottle over to Gaius, “just in case I needed to plead my case.”

The shape of the bottle was already familiar to sight and touch, but Gaius held his appreciative smile until he got through the wrappings to the bottle’s label. “Pothecary Gin from Dorset,” Gaius declared: “my favourite! You are very kind indeed.”

“My pleasure,” Leon replied, his hand settling in the small of Gwaine’s back as if already very familiar with it and sure of his welcome. Gwaine’s cheeks bloomed and his eyelids drooped in response.

Gaius tactfully turned away. “It looks as if dinner is almost ready for us. I’ve completely lost count of who’s here now! Let’s see if we can figure out whether we need an extra chair and place setting for Leon or not.”

#

There was an inevitable break between the savoury and sweet courses, as the remaining food was cleared and the crockery and cutlery was loaded into the two dishwashers. Everyone set to work with a good will, and despite the appearance of chaos all was efficiently achieved within a short time.

Once the puddings, cakes and pies had been set out with jugs of cream and custard, Gaius was surprised to find that everyone paused. He waited a moment, expecting them to dig in enthusiastically, but no one did. “Are you all full already? Merlin, come on, set the example for us. I’ve never known you not to be hungry!”

No one made a move to eat – and Gaius quailed inside, wondering if something had gone very wrong with the food.

But then Geoffrey stood from his seat at the far end of the long table. “My apologies, Gaius. This is my fault. I asked them all to give me a moment in which to say something that needed saying.”

“Ah,” said Gaius. “Very well. Thank you, Geoffrey.”

He waited for a sentimental speech or an announcement, and was surprised all over again when instead Geoffrey left his chair and began pacing down the length of the table. The young people watched in quiet anticipation, obviously having a far better idea of what was happening than Gaius did. Merlin was grinning with delight already, and Arthur seemed both pleased and proud.

“What a wonderful family we’ve been blessed with, Gaius,” Geoffrey reflected as he approached. “I never expected that my life would turn out like this, I never even guessed that it was possible – but I have loved every moment of it, so very much. And none of it could have happened without you.”

Geoffrey was standing near Gaius now, who managed to mumble something about how he’d loved it, too.

“Gaius, you have been the biggest blessing in my life. You have the kindest heart I’ve ever known. And I’m sure no one here will take it amiss if I say I have loved you the most; I always have and I always will.”

Strands of fear and wonder twisted in his belly as Gaius began to understand where this was going.

“We have been together for so many decades that the world has changed around us. I can now ask you, as I would have asked you half a century ago if I could –” Geoffrey, despite the inevitable creaking stiffness of old age, got down on one knee. “Would you do me the great honour of marrying me, Gaius?”

Surely the answer shone from him, but it took Gaius a moment or two before he could force his voice to say in rusty yet heartfelt tones, “Yes. My dear Geoffrey, yes, of course. Oh, I couldn’t be any happier!”

The table erupted in cheers and applause, but Gaius only had eyes for his love, his life’s partner, now his husband-to-be. Geoffrey had even bought a pair of rings – simple gold bands set with a deep red stone – which they each slid onto the other’s ring finger, “On our right hands for now,” Geoffrey prompted, “until the ceremony itself.” Then Geoffrey, on both knees now, pressed close to wind his arms around Gaius’s waist and tuck his head against Gaius’s chest, and Gaius bent over him to hug him in return.

Their children’s joy rang in Gaius’s ears – but then everyone else must have decided to let them have a moment together alone, as the celebrations turned into a great buzz of conversation and a clattering of serving implements.

Gaius briefly tightened his arms around Geoffrey before lifting up again. “Thank you, my love,” he murmured. “Thank you for everything.”

“Dearest Gaius … it has always been and will always be my pleasure to be yours. You have brought me riches beyond compare.”

#

Posted in: Merlin, Slash fic

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