“How would you want someone to propose to you?”
The first time Arthur asked him that was when they were four years old and barely knew what engagement was.
“Arthur, boys ask girls to marry them. I'll be doing the asking.”
“Well, if someone was going to ask you, how would you want it?” Merlin thought about if for a long time, then said:
“I would want it to be on TV, so everyone knew. And fireworks! And the ring would be huge.” He threw out his arms to show how big he wanted it.
“Merlin, girls wear the rings.”
“No, the boys wear them too. The wedding ring, remember, Gwen's dad wears one.”
“Yeah, but the girl wears the engagement ring.” Merlin pouted.
“If I'm being proposed to, then I get a ring. Wedding rings are so dull. Just... boring metal. Engagement rings are much prettier. They have diamonds and stuff. Girls get all the good things.” He and Arthur nodded, contemplating the joint suffering of all men and their lack of beautiful jewellery.
The second time Arthur asked him, they were twelve. There was a new girl in Merlin's class. Her name was Freya, and Merlin thought she was wonderful. Arthur, upon finding this out, had of course teased him mercilessly for days. But the teasing was on hold for now. Thank god.
Merlin looked up at him from his maths homework.
“This isn't the first time you've asked me, is it.” Arthur shook his head.
“No, but we were just kids when I first asked. I bet your answer has changed.”
“I guess. I wouldn't want it on TV anymore. But fireworks would still be awesome.” Arthur thought for a moment.
“Do you think you'll marry Freya one day?” Merlin frowned.
“We're not even going out Arthur.”
“Yeah, but you gotta marry someone. It could be Freya.”
“I don't have to marry anyone if I don't want to.” Arthur rolled his eyes and the topic was changed.
The third time Arthur asked him they were twenty three and Arthur had been dating Gwen for almost five years. They lived together, and Merlin could see them spending the rest of their lives with one another. He rather got the feeling that when Arthur asked him how he would want someone to propose, it was a far less personal than it had been in the past.
“I don't know Arthur. After a really amazing night out where I and... whoever was proposing had both had enough alcohol to be enjoying ourselves, but not enough for either of us to be so drunk that it impeded our judgement on what would, and should, be a very serious conversation.” He and Arthur stared, unblinking at each another for a long minute, before Arthur said:
“You got that out of the magazine Gwen left at mine the other night. I knew you read those things.” Merlin looked down at his laptop to hide a smile.
“Yeah, I did. But you recognised the reference. I'm not the only one reading them.” Arthur's face flushed red and he huffed. There were a few minutes of comfortable silence.
“So do you think you'll ever marry Gawain then?” Merlin was surprised by the question. He wrinkled his nose.
“Nah. Gawain's not a long-term thing. I only keep him round cos he's amazing at sex.” Arthur laughed and Merlin grinned. “He is. He really is. Oh! And you know how Percy's been hanging round a lot? That's cos Gawain really likes him. Percy's practically in love with Gawain already. I'm only still in the picture cos they need someone to make the breakfast in the morning. I expect I'll be let down gently within a month. You would have though a professional chef would be able to make bacon and eggs.” Arthur looked at him with a worried expression.
“Merlin. Are you really okay with that kind of relationship.” Merlin rolled his eyes.
“Oh shut up. Just because you've been with Gwen for half your life doesn't make you some sort of relationship guru. I'm not looking for the kind of relationship you have yet. Besides, the three-ways I get with Gawain and Percy are – amazing.” He gained a dreamy expression, Arthur could tell he was going to fall into an M rated fantasy soon. He would need to snap him out of it.
“Merlin. Merlin? Merrrrrliiiiin.”
The fourth, and last time Arthur asked him, Merlin didn't answer for a long, long time. They were lying on the sofa, watching some of their favourite Doctor Who episodes. While Arthur liked Jon Pertwee, Merlin had always preferred David Tennant. Arthur said it was because he liked looking at his arse. Merlin never denied it.
“...I'm not sure Arthur. How would you like someone to propose to you?” Arthur glanced down. Merlin was leaning back against his chest, Arthur's arms wrapped round his middle, their fingers interlocked.
“I... I really don't know. I guess, on a night like this?” It sounded like a question more than an answer. Merlin tilted his head up to look at him in surprise.
“Yeah. Think about it. Spent the whole day either in bed or in the shower.”
“Or in each other.” Arthur grinned.
“We managed to cook supper without burning it, and haven't moved from the sofa since. It's been pretty much a perfect day.” Merlin gazed at him for a long time.
“So, you wouldn't want it in some amazing restaurant then? Or, even in front of our friends?” Arthur chuckled, the vibrations making Merlin shake a little on his chest.
“That was always what you wanted Merls. Fireworks and TV recordings and millions of people watching you as someone got down on one knee. People may believe that I'm the dramatic one, but I've never been interested in making big life decisions in front of a huge crowd.” A beat of silence.
“Good thing you're not the CEO of some huge, multi million company. Someone like that would need to go to big meetings and talks with repoooorters and caaaameras and who knows what else. They could even be in the newspaper. Thank god you just work at a desk in a tiny little company that will never go anywhere.”
“Funny.” Arthur dead panned. Merlin grinned like a Cheshire cat. They fell silent again, and Arthur forgot about the original question. But Merlin didn't. They got through two more Doctor Who episodes before Arthur glanced at Merlin and saw he was frowning. “What is it?”
He didn't take his eyes off the screen as he spoke:
“Just like today?” It took Arthur a second to realise what he meant.
“Uh. Yeah... sure I guess... Just like today, yeah.” Merlin thumbed the small box he had in his pocket. He had spent months agonizing over the perfect time to ask Arthur. He had worried over flowers (too feminine for Arthur's taste), restaurants (mostly too expensive for Merlin) and wording (it all seemed either too cheesy, or not meaningful at all). But, if he said this was the best time then-
It really had been an amazing day. And, now that he thought about it, Arthur had never been one for public displays of affection. He was rather stunted in the romance department, always had been.
And... it really had been an amazing, wonderful day.
Under the guise of reaching to check the oncoming episode, he pulled the small box from his pocket.
“Arthur? I– ”