Arthur could see the headline now:
FUTURE PRINCE CONSORT ABSCONDS! ARTHUR INCONSOLABLE!
And the sad, sad truth was, no matter how much the tabloids might mock him for it, he really would be inconsolable should Merlin decide to leave him alone anywhere near the altar. Completely and utterly and embarrassingly inconsolable. There would be tears and, with his luck, horrible made-for-television films depicting his heartbreak.
At this point in the proceedings, however, he'd just been left on his own to make the final decision for the font on the reception place cards. Not, Arthur supposed, that there was much consolation in that. Part of him couldn't blame Merlin -- if Arthur had a meeting at work that he could use to get out of having to review dozens of samples, he most certainly would. In fact, he'd probably volunteer to attend Merlin's faculty meeting for him, never mind he knew next to nothing about plant sciences. He'd been to all the royal gardens, with Merlin in tow for most of those visits from age seven on, wittering on about various bits of flora that grew in the them. So, really, Arthur could invent something to talk about. He'd been listening to that variety of Merlin-witter for more than twenty years now; he must've absorbed useful information listening to Merlin go on like that.
The part of him that had spent the whole afternoon being shown quite possibly the world's largest selection of paper weights and grades (though he and Merlin had already chosen some fine, heavy, recycled paper), inks (again, they'd already chosen something appropriately silver-grey and eco-friendly), and fonts wanted to drag Merlin back from his meeting and force him to examine each and every elegant script and decide which fit both their own and their guests' names best. Arthur had tried to enlist both his father's and Morgana's assistance, but both of them had just looked on rather indulgently and had only offered a modicum of help to narrow down the options. As if having eighty-five font choices was that much better than a hundred and twelve.
Before Arthur could surrender and opt for the script with the most absurd, pretentious name, he received two messages on his mobile. The first was a text that read "pick something plain." The second was a picture of some lush, green, leafy plants, the sort that wouldn’t typically be growing in London this early in the year.
Arthur shook his head and felt some of the tension ease from his body. He texted back a quick thank you and turned to the wedding planner. "We'll take the Lyonesse," he said and stood from his chair, "and now I really need to go hunt down some sandwiches and tea."
"You're hiding, aren't you?" Arthur pushed a few fronds out of his face and made his way down to the end of the path.
"Of course I'm not." Merlin was folded up on one of the settees, a book on his lap, his red scarf wrapped around his neck and his corduroy jacket pulled over his shoulders. "My meeting ended early."
Arthur sat down next to Merlin and leaned in close enough to nuzzle into the soft hair that curled behind Merlin's ear. He'd been in the greenhouse long enough to smell of warm, damp earth and fresh greenery and the scent was as familiar to Arthur as the soap and shampoo that Merlin used. It was all just Merlin to Arthur -- plants and herbal soap and warm skin. Burying his nose into Merlin's hair, closing his eyes, and imagining that the world around them was as calm as they both wished it could be, helped dissolve a little more of the day's tension. The thought of Merlin hiding in the greenhouse, curled up here after his meeting and waiting for Arthur to come look for him, made Arthur smile more than he had expected it would when he had first received Merlin's text and picture message.
"Of course you're not," Arthur murmured and pressed a kiss behind Merlin's ear. "I brought tea."
That coaxed a smile from Merlin, too, and he put his book aside before curling in against Arthur. "Hot tea?"
"Hot tea. And sandwiches. Which I didn't make myself, so you don't need to look so worried. No odd flavor combinations." Arthur rumpled Merlin's hair before Merlin could deny such a suspicion and reached for the thermos.
There was the tea, still quite hot and strong, and roast vegetable and chicken salad sandwiches, which Merlin split so they each got half of both sorts. He ate quietly for a while, feeding Arthur the mushrooms from his veg sandwich when he got tired of them and nibbling on the leftover bits of chicken salad from Arthur's meal.
When they were left with just tea and biscuits, and Merlin had nestled Arthur's head onto his shoulder and his scarf over the back of Arthur's neck, Arthur gave Merlin a little nudge. "The next time you abscond, can you take me with you?"
"I wasn't not absconding. Or hiding. Or… anything like that. Not really." Merlin took a sip of tea. "Well. Maybe a bit. Just the hiding, though."
Arthur finished his tea so he could wrap an arm around Merlin and snug himself in closer to his partner. "We can not abscond and hide together, then."
"We can have a secret wedding. A secret greenhouse picnic wedding."
"With the tiny cakes that you like," Arthur added, smiling into Merlin's shoulder until the thought of a secret wedding made his chest ache with longing.
"Tiny cakes and hand-made invites. You know it would be perfect." Merlin's voice creaked a little on the last word and he cleared his throat. "I just meant, all the publicity and ceremony and --"
"-- I know. And it would." Arthur pressed his face into Merlin's jumper for another moment of quiet yearning, then pulled away and felt Merlin's scarf slip from his neck to his shoulder. "Maybe we could. You know, I would --"
"-- I know. I know you would. Which is why I'm going to marry you in front of the whole country." The odd, creaky sound crept back into Merlin's voice and he ducked his head away from Arthur. His hair was still rumpled and he looked a little worn out, but when he looked back at Arthur, he was smiling, and his eyes were blue and bright in the evening light that filtered through the greenhouse. "Are you nervous?"
Arthur touched his forehead to Merlin's. "Incredibly."
"All right, then. We'll be all right. Tiny cakes and fancy invites and proper wedding attire included." Merlin brushed his nose over Arthur's, then leaned in to kiss him. "Can we go back to mine tonight?"
"We can do that. We can absolutely do that."
When Arthur woke up the next morning, bed sheets and Merlin's limbs all tangled up around him in, there were at least a dozen messages waiting for him on his mobile. Four about the food for the wedding reception, four about his opinion on the rehearsal schedule, two from Morgana and/or Gwen asking him where he was and why he was the one doing the absconding, and two from Merlin, both short and soppy and very, very secret.
Arthur put his phone aside as soon as he'd flicked through the messages and saved the ones from Merlin. He burrowed down deeper into the blankets on Merlin's bed, dozing until the sun was bright enough to wake Merlin.
Who, when he did wake, blinked sleepily at Arthur a few times before nuzzling into Arthur's chest and mumbling something barely coherent about the plans for the day.
"Hm. Breakfast. Tailor. Thing at the uni you said I have to attend with you," Arthur replied.
Merlin mumbled something else Arthur couldn't understand. After some encouragement, he looked up at Arthur, tousled and flushed warm with sleep, and smiled. "I just said, that sounds all right. Good day, yeah?"
"Yeah." Arthur returned the smile and, because they had a couple hours, pulled Merlin back in against him. His hand slid from the nape of Merlin's neck to the small of his back, found the space where Merlin's skin was warm and soft and sensitive, and settled there to stroke gently until Merlin moved against him with a sigh. The months would turn to weeks, and the weeks to days and hours and minutes, and their quiet early morning hours in Merlin's tiny flat would be rare. This morning, though, Arthur decided could stretch out a little longer. "But we have some time before it actually starts."