Summary: Written for this prompt at kinkme_merlin
Notes/Warnings: I know about as much about gardening as Merlin does, so apologies for any errors. Some slight changes from the original.
Merlin stared around the yard in dismay. He had never expected Uncle Gaius to leave his house to him. I mean, sure he’d never married and didn’t have any children of his own, but Merlin had never expected this.
Merlin had been living in the dormitories at uni, and had seen no reason to move (and, truthfully, hadn’t felt comfortable in a place like this), but he was in his final year and needed a place to live, so he’d finally gone to take a look at the house, and start moving his stuff over.
He’d dragged Will along, bitching and complaining the whole while. (“What’s the use of being friends with you if you won’t help me move house?”)
The old staff was gone. He would have to put out an advert in the paper for a cook and a housekeeper.
And a gardener.
He remembered the garden from when he’d come over: huge, gnarled trees planted near the walls, trellises covered with ivy and climbing roses, pools full of fish and flowerbeds everywhere. It had been a point of pride for his uncle that he took care of the garden himself, but the house had been vacant for a year, and before that he’d been too sick to keep up with it, so the pools were sludgy, the trellises a mass of dead twigs, and the flowerbeds overgrown with weeds.
Even if it had still been fairly well-kept, even if he wasn’t busy with his studies, Merlin couldn’t deal with it. The few times he’d had a potted plant it had died within two weeks, either through over- or underwatering. There was no way he could take care of this.
He went inside to compose the adverts.
He got a housekeeper and cook fairly quickly, making his own meals in the meantime, but he couldn’t find a gardener. All of the candidates either took one look at the state of the garden and said, “No way!” or lasted a week before he fired them for being rude or lazy, or for knowing even less than he did about plants.
He was beginning to despair when there was a knock at the door. He opened it to find a blond man standing on the doorstep with a newspaper clipping.
“Are you Merlin Emrys?” he asked.
“I’m here about the gardening job. I’m Arthur Pendleton.”
“Well, come take a look,” he said, moving away from the door.
As they walked through the paneled hallways Merlin asked, “So what qualifications do you have?”
“I have my General Certificate in Horticulture. And I helped my stepsister with her garden for years.”
Arthur’s reaction when they got to the garden told him more about him than anything else. The other candidates had looked at it impassively, or paled at the state it was in. Arthur, on the other hand, gazed around him raptly, mouth slightly open. “This is fantastic!”
“It’s a mess,” Merlin said wryly.
“No! I mean, yes it is now, but once it’s put to rights…” Arthur trailed off, looking around the garden as though seeing it already.
“Do you want to start now?” Merlin asked him.
“You mean I got the job?”
Merlin shrugged. “Let’s say a week’s trial period, see how you do.” After all, people weren’t going to be answering the advert forever.
Arthur smiled then, a slow grin that lit up his face and did disturbing things to Merlin’s stomach. “I think there’s tools in the shed,” he said, and retreated back to the house.
He watched Arthur work, telling himself he just wanted to see how he was doing. Arthur pulled the dead vines down from the trellises, the muscles shifting under his thin shirt, then when he was done with that, he started weeding the flowerbeds.
After Arthur had been working for half an hour, Merlin took a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses outside and set them on the weathered stone table. “Hey, take a break.”
Arthur came gratefully over, wiping his forehead with a cloth, and flopped down on the bench. “It looks better,” Merlin said, trying to look at the garden rather than Arthur’s sweaty chest.
Arthur poured a glass of lemonade and downed half of it before answering. “Thanks. For this too,” he said, lifting his glass slightly.
Merlin poured himself his own glass. “Well, I don’t want you to keel over from heatstroke.”
Arthur grinned again, and Merlin sternly told his stomach to behave.
“So why do you need a gardener anyway?”
Merlin grimaced. “My uncle gave me this house in his will, and I have no clue what to do with it. Even if I weren’t still at university, I’m hopeless at gardening.”
“What are you studying?” Arthur asked.
“Ah.” Arthur nodded, but it looked like he wanted to say something else.
“Well, it’s just…what are you going to do with a degree like that?”
Merlin shrugged. “No idea. I’ll figure something out.”
“Look, you were right, there’s tools in the shed, but they’re all rusted. I’ll have to bring over mine tomorrow.”
Merlin nodded. “If you need anything, like…oh, I don’t know, fertiliser, or weed-killer or whatever, let me know.”
Arthur nodded. “I will.”
Over the next two weeks, Arthur cleaned out the garden. Merlin brought out drinks every so often for the first week, and by the next week he was helping Arthur. He might not know anything about plants, but he could skim the pond or pull out dead flowers just fine.
Sometimes he thought Arthur was looking at him as he knelt in the flower beds pulling weeds, but he convinced himself he was imagining things.
He dreaded the end of the day, when Arthur would leave and he’d have to write a paper on the representation of women in Macbeth or wade through Malory. He still managed to get all his assignments in on time, but he’d be glad when break came.
He considered asking Arthur to stay at the house; there was more than enough room, after all, and the housekeeper and cook both lived with him, but he couldn’t find a way to ask without sounding creepy.
When the flower beds were cleared out, Arthur said, “So what do you want in here?”
“Oh, right, sorry, you don’t know plants. OK if I pick something?”
Arthur trained climbing roses and English ivy on the trellises, and bought azalea plants to put in some of the flowerbeds. He bought daffodil and snowdrop bulbs and planted them in the rest. “You have to plant them in the fall so they’ll come up in the spring.”
He was always telling Merlin things about the garden: what type of plants grew best in the type of soil he had, when to plant, how to care for various kinds of flowers. Merlin was learning more about gardening from Arthur than he ever had in his life, and was surprised to find it was interesting.
“Want to help me plant the bulbs?”
Merlin was dubious. “Should I? I mean I don’t want to mess them up.”
“It’s fine, come here.”
And so Merlin knelt in the flowerbed, getting the knees of his trousers all dirty, as Arthur handed him a trowel and showed him how far down to put the bulbs so they’d sprout. Merlin concentrated on not putting the bulbs too deep or too close together, covering them over and just dampening the soil, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
He looked up suddenly to find Arthur staring at him, a bulb forgotten in his hand.
Arthur jumped. “Nothing! You’ve just got a bit of dirt on your cheek,” and he reached out with his thumb and wiped it away.
Merlin was going to point out that Arthur’s hands were far dirtier than his face was, but Arthur’s thumb lingered, stroking over his cheekbone, and then he leaned in and kissed him and Merlin forgot to think.
Arthur pressed him down into the dirt of the flowerbed, and he was going to have to throw out these clothes, not that they were that nice anyway, he knew he’d get dirty and Arthur was mouthing along his throat and pushing his shirt up and he decided he really did like gardening after all.