He's getting increasingly restless as he keeps fidgeting in his seat, trying not to think about the little box shoved in his pocket, even though it feels a thousand pounds heavy. Pretty weird things have been happening lately – he's still having trouble adjusting to the strangeness of it all.
Out of the corner of his eye he notices a beautiful woman talking to a customer from behind the counter of the cafeteria.
Her cute smile suddenly turns into a horrid, decomposing grimace before changing back to normal.
Arthur's palms prickle with sweat and he rubs them forcefully against the fabric of his outworn jeans. He's not going to get used to it any time soon, that's for sure. By this point Merlin is probably the only normal, sane thing left in his life, and no matter what opinion Morgana has about it, he's not going to leave him (her words still ring in his ears, 'You have to break up with him, for his and your own sake. It's for the best') – well, thank you very much, but he's not leaving the love of his life just because his sister is a paranoid croaker. He can keep him safe from all the weird stuff, keep him happy.
Merlin, bless him, is finally coming back home from his three weeks long convention – and Arthur is waiting for him in the crowded hallway of the airport, the box getting heavier and heavier any minute that ticks forward. He's not following Morgana's advice. Quite the opposite, in fact. No time like the present, and so on.
He spots Merlin moving in the crowd, his favorite hoodie in place and a messenger bag draped on a bony shoulder.
He looks a bit tanned and God, Arthur has missed those cheekbones. He had a couple of nice fantasies about them too.
He grins, standing up. When Merlin sees him, his grin instantly matches Arthur's, eyes lighting up.
The next moment Merlin is launching himself in his arms, and it's only thanks to Arthur's Spider-Man reflexes that he manages to catch all his flailing limbs in time. He makes sure to have a secure grip on Merlin's legs, wrapped tight around his waist, before he lets himself be dragged into a kiss. Merlin's palms cradle his face, his mouth opening eager against his own, their tongues tangling in a warm, blissful mess.
Usually he isn't very big on PDA, but he hasn't seen his crazy, adorable boyfriend in weeks and so he feels justified to act a little touch-starved.
Merlin draws back and their lips do a happy smacking sound when they part.
'Missed me?' he murmurs cheekily, nuzzling his nose against Arthur's, and Arthur is about to drop in a clever line, when Merlin's face starts morphing in a way that is already too familiar to Arthur for his own good. Suddenly there's fur everywhere.
Arthur freezes on the spot, his arms going immediately slack.
Merlin gives a loud yelp and flails as he's dropped unceremoniously to the floor.
He looks up at him, confused, and then panic fills his features.
Strangely enough, the very first thing Arthur's brain processes are the eyes. Bigger than human ones, of a yellow so bright it almost looks golden, a glowing quality to it. Then everything else registers as well. His nose, a black spot among a thick layer of dark-brown fur with some splotches of white. And his ears. And his... fangs.
Merlin gets over his shock faster than he does, at any rate.
Growling, he scrambles up from the floor. His face returns human in the space of a heartbeat – and to see him like this, wide-eyed and terrified is just plainly wrong. It doesn't really help his case the fact that Arthur had pulled out his gun, out of reflex more than anything else.
He hastily lowers it, but it doesn't improve Merlin's expression at all. People around them are starting to get agitated.
Merlin turns on his heels and sprints away.
He finds him.
He knows him too well, and knows exactly where Merlin would go if he was feeling upset, or scared, or (Arthur winces internally) threatened by his boyfriend. They had actually met for the first time in a Starbucks - that's why the place has a sort of sentimental value for both of them.
(Arthur had been minding his own business, waiting for his turn in the queue like any civil person when this crazy bloke had come out of nowhere and bumped into him in the haste to get to the door. 'Oh, shit. Sorry, mate' he had said with a sheepish smile, regaining his footing with some difficulty. 'Maybe you should learn to watch where you're going. And I'm not your mate' Arthur had replied, irritated, and Merlin had frowned at him, 'Yeah, and maybe you should learn to be less of a prat. Mate.')
And perhaps – well, okay, quite certainly - it sounds ridiculous, but Arthur had known it right there and then, that Merlin was the one.
He spots him at once, huddled up in a chair in the far corner of the shop, a mug of hot chocolate mocha cupped in his hands as if it were his life-line, dried strands of tears still visible on his pale cheeks. His eyes are hollow, and Arthur doesn't like the look on his face, not even one bit.
'So. I understand my boyfriend is a Fuchsbau' he says pleasantly enough as he sits down across from him.
Merlin jumps in his seat, his eyes widening like the ones of a trapped animal, searching for the nearest escape route, but Arthur reaches over and grabs one of his hands. Merlin lifts fearful eyes on him, and Arthur is getting really pissed of being on the receiving end of that look.
'I am not going to hurt you' he says very slowly.
'You were pointing a gun at me' Merlin replies equally slowly, but he seems to be marginally more relaxed, some of the tension leaving his shoulders.
'That' Arthur grimaces 'was a mistake. You caught me by surprise, you know, with the eyes and... everything else.'
'Well, you surprised me too. Since when- I mean, you- I think I would have noticed if...' he stammers, falling silent.
'Do you remember my half-sister, Morgana? Vivian, her mother, died two weeks ago. She and Ygraine were cousins, and she was a sort of aunt to me, I guess. We've never been really close. Anyway, Morgana came to visit me, just about when I started seeing... things. She explained to me what was happening. Brutally, granted, but she explained. It was damn weird at first, I thought I was going crazy. And all the while I kept thinking, thank God I still have Merlin, he's the only normal thing in my life. So. I was a bit overwhelmed, back then.'
Merlin gives him a bitter smile in return, shrugging.
'Uhm. Surprise?' he says in a small voice, not quite looking at him.
Arthur huffs out a laugh, his thumb drawing a soothing circle on Merlin's skin.
'Why are you here?' Merlin asks, his blue eyes trained diffidently on their joined hands, as if they were something inexplicable.
Arthur reaches into his pocket, his fingers closing around the velvety surface of the box. Merlin tenses again, studying him wearily.
Arthur places the box between them on the table, watching as Merlin's eyes widen comically, his hand starting to shake in his grip.
For a second Arthur thinks he will woge (that was the right word, according to Morgana) again, but he doesn't, he just takes a very deep breath and keeps looking at the box as if it could blow up in his face at any moment, then finally lifts his shocked gaze on Arthur, who's still clasping his hand and has no intention whatsoever of letting go.
'You're kidding, right? Is that what I think it is?' he says, his voice louder now but shaky nevertheless.
'Why don't you find out for yourself?' Arthur replies gently.
The lid of the box opens with a soft click, and Merlin touches the light silver band with the tip of a finger, cautiously.
He looks up at Arthur again, seeming at a loss for words.
'I can't marry a Grimm' he says, keeping his voice carefully low, but he says it like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
'I'm not asking you to marry a Grimm. I'm asking you to marry me.'
'But that's who you are' Merlin whispers forcefully, shaking his head 'This isn't how it works. It was bad enough that you were human, but this? This really cannot happen. It just can't.'
'Do you love me?' Arthur asks then.
Merlin glances away.
'That's not the point' he mutters, but his eyes are turning suspiciously wet and that's Arthur's cue to press forward.
'If I weren't what I am, would you say yes?'
'Arthur, don't-' Merlin says pleadingly, trying in vain to disentangle his hand.
'Because it doesn't change a single thing. So you'll lose your hair on the couch and howl at the moon, I don't care. I still love you. I still want to marry you. That's the only way it works for me. Anything else is just bullshit.' Merlin has quit struggling, and is now frowning at him.
'I am not a Blutbad, you know. I do not howl. And I do not lose hair. Not much, anyway' he snorts, trying to suppress a smile.
'See?' Arthur laughs, elated 'We can make it work. I can be a Grimm and do... Grimm things, and you can be a Fuchsbau and do Fuchsbau things. And we can still have a nice house with a picket fence, and six... puppies, I guess' this time Merlin does laugh, and it's a joyous sound that fills Arthur's heart to the core. He sobers quickly, though, and risks another hesitant glance at the ring.
'Can I think about it?' he murmurs after a long pause.
Arthur leans forward a bit, smile still in place.
'Can I have my hand back now?'
'Nope' Arthur grins.
Merlin rolls his eyes and finally seems to remember his chocolate. He reaches for the cup – which unsurprisingly has gone cold in the meanwhile – and takes a small sip. Arthur sits back in his chair, satisfied, and enjoys the sight of Merlin's cheekbones steadily suffusing with pink.