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What If

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Epilogue

 

Arthur didn't mean to adopt the cat.

It wasn't like he had planned to get Merlin an engagement ring and a pet in the same week, he was already spoiled enough.

He glared at Gwen. "Stop smirking like that."

"You're so gone for him," she cooed delightedly, dangling the feathery part of her keychain above the kitten’s head as she tried to catch it with tiny paws.

"I’m not!" he lied, then sighed. "What am I supposed to do with her?"

Gwen rolled her eyes at him. "You got her for Merlin, didn't you?"

Arthur huffed, crossing his arms. "I don't know why I got her."

"You got her for Merlin," Gwen told him flatly. “You’re not fooling anyone.”

Arthur conceded. Maybe that was one way to put things. He had been thinking of Merlin when he'd gotten the kitten, but Merlin was always on his mind so that was neither here nor there.

He was supposed to go for lunch with Morgana and had gone over to pick her up. He’d been waiting in the car for the harpy, who was running late, texting him that she’d be “there in five minutes” which he knew meant that she was still lounging in bed with some girl and would take at least twenty more minutes.

He'd sighed, preparing himself for a long wait.

It was then that his eyes fell on an animal shelter some distance away and before he knew what was happening, he was locking the car and heading towards it. It was just supposed to be something he was doing to avoid boredom, to check out cute animals until his witch of a sister decided to grace him with her presence.

He'd declined an offer for help from a worker there, claiming that he was just casually looking when he a litter of kittens had caught his eye and he’d been inexplicably drawn to them. The worker, a kind woman named Freya, had informed him that were just coming up on twelve weeks and were ready to be adopted.

They were all of varying colours, piling on top of each other and playfully fighting. A few of them were meowing loudly, creating a cacophony that wasn’t altogether unpleasant to the ears. In fact, it brought a smile to his face.

They were all adorable but one look at the little white one licking its paws in the back and Arthur felt something tugging at his heart, something clicking into place.

“Can I –” he paused, glancing at Freya uncertainly. “Can I see the white one? In the back? Does it have a name?”

Freya gave him a knowing smile. “No, she doesn’t have a name yet. Are you fond of cats?”

Arthur looked away, flushing. “My boyfriend is, actually.”

Freya's smile widened, amused and she proceeded to gently hand him the white kitten, who was looking at him with wide blue eyes reminiscent of another pair he knew, seemingly confused by the sudden change in environment.

Arthur cradled her in his arms, brushing a hand over her fur and she meowed softly at him. He smiled.

Maybe…maybe he was fond of cats, after all.

Half an hour later, the white kitten was sitting in a basket in the back of his car, along with cat food as well as other supplies and Morgana’s perfectly shaped eyebrows were climbing very high.

She smirked smugly. “Of course, it was about time.”

“Shut up, Morgana,” Arthur grumbled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Morgana mouthed something like “whipped” at him and he ignored her, choosing to believe she was talking about cream and not him.

**

“You’re looking shifty today.” Merlin’s gaze was suspicious as he slipped off his jacket from his shoulders. “Tell me what you did.”

Gwen had left an hour before, making Arthur promise that he’d tell her what Merlin’s reaction was and then reminding him that he wasn’t allowed to plan the proposal without consulting her first.

Arthur had ushered her out, wanting to deal with one situation at a time. Namely, telling Merlin that they suddenly had a kitten in their life to take care of. What if he didn’t want one anymore? He hadn’t badgered Arthur about getting one in quite a while and he was a bit nervous if he’d done the right thing.

“What makes you think I did something?” Arthur asked, half offended and half alarmed that he was this transparent.

Merlin gave him an unimpressed look and Arthur rolled his eyes.

“Fine,” he sighed. “I did something but it’s nothing bad.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Merlin announced with a cheeky grin. “Now, tell me. I’ve had the most boring day. Gaius can really go on about budgets, huh?”

Arthur snickered, silently taking him by the hand and leading him towards the bedroom. “Just say you can’t do maths, Merlin.”

Merlin scowled, following him without protest. “I can do maths,” he objected unconvincingly.

“Sure,” Arthur humoured him, his hand closing over the handle of the bedroom door. “Now, close your eyes.”

Merlin raised his eyebrows, cocking his head to the side. “Is this something to do with –”

Arthur’s cheeks heated, perfectly understanding Merlin’s insinuation. “No, it’s nothing to do with that. Get your mind out the gutter.”

Merlin shrugged. “Okay, just making sure. Because I’d like some advance notice for the other thing, that’s all.”

Arthur shook his head, fighting back a smile. “You talk so much. Just close your eyes, please.”

“Please?” Merlin repeated, surprised. “What’s gotten Arthur Pendragon saying please?”

Merlin.”

“Fine, fine. Here, my eyes are closed.”

Arthur exhaled exasperatedly, taking him by the shoulders and leading him inside.

The kitten was right where he’d left her, running around on the floor chasing the pink toy ball he’d bought her.

Nerves settled in Arthur’s stomach. “Alright,” he whispered in Merlin’s ear, his eyes fixed on the dragon tattoo on his neck. “Open them.”

Arthur could tell the exact moment Merlin saw the kitten from the soft gasp he gave. He shifted around to face Arthur, his jaw slack.

“What’s happening?” he said uncertainly. “That’s a kitten.”

“Excellent deduction skills, Merlin,” Arthur replied sarcastically. “Yes, that’s a kitten.”

Merlin’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. “What’s it doing here? I don’t understand.”

Arthur couldn’t believe how dense Merlin could be sometimes. “What do you think? Do you want me to spell it out for you?”

Merlin stared at him for a few incredulous seconds before his face broke out in a blinding smile. “You got me a cat?”

“Obviously,” Arthur said averting his eyes, feeling warm all of a sudden. “Congratulations, you wore me down.”

“Look at you blushing,” Merlin teased, wounding his arms around Arthur’s neck. “I can’t believe you did this.”

Arthur stared into his eyes, finding such naked affection there that he couldn’t breathe for a second. “Believe it,” he said quietly. “Now, are you going to keep dawdling or are you going to meet your new cat?”

Merlin beamed at him, pressing his lips to Arthur’s cheek firmly before stepping out of the embrace and crouching down on his knees to call out to the kitten.

He glanced at Arthur. “What’s her name?”

Arthur grinned, shrugging. “Up to you.”

“Really?” Merlin asked breathlessly. “I get to name her?”

“Yes, you do –”

“Aithusa.”

“That was fast,” Arthur remarked, taken aback.

Merlin ducked his head bashfully, biting on his lip. “It’s just that –I’ve had the name picked out for quite a while.”

“And if it were male?”

“Kilgharrah,” Merlin answered without missing a beat.

Arthur scrunched up his face in distaste. “Good thing I got a female then.”

Merlin rolled his eyes and directed his attention towards Aithusa, who ambled up to him, rubbing herself against his legs and purring loudly.

Merlin laughed delightedly, picking her up and staring at her fondly. “Oh, you’re absolutely precious, aren’t you Aithusa?”

Aithusa meowed in response, blinking at him with wide eyes.

He smiled up at Arthur happily, gesturing to the spot beside him on the floor. “Come on.”

Arthur suddenly got a very clear vision of the future.

"She's going to be on the bed tonight, isn't she?" Arthur groaned, as he sat down.

Merlin grinned. "You're learning."

**

Arthur didn’t know if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy or an inevitable scenario but Aithusa did end up on the bed between them, making herself right at home.

“I’m so glad this one isn’t leaving in the morning,” Merlin mumbled, his eyes fixed on Aithusa’s small white form, referring to the time they’d found the previous owner’s cat when they’d first moved into their flat and Merlin had still ended up getting attached, despite knowing she couldn’t stay.

Arthur hummed, his eyes on Merlin instead. “Me too.”

Merlin was already besotted with Aithusa and Arthur shuddered to think how much their bond would grow. Merlin’s capacity for love was basically unlimited and Arthur had been on the receiving end of it far too many times to know and be extremely grateful about it.

Merlin drew Aithusa nearer, petting her lightly. “I love her, Arthur,” he said. “Thank you. You didn’t have to do this. I know you weren’t keen on the idea.”

“If I didn’t want her, I wouldn’t have gotten her, Merlin,” Arthur replied, reaching over to brush away a dark curl from his forehead. “The minute I saw Aithusa, I just had to get her.”

Merlin nodded, the light from the bedside lamp casting shadows on his face. “She’s perfect,” he whispered.

Comfortable silence fell upon them, Merlin continuing to play with the kitten and Arthur’s thoughts wandering onto the future, the ring hidden in his sock drawer making a reappearance in his mind.

His eyes were starting to get heavy when the kitten squirmed out of Merlin's hold and padded around the mattress for a bit before walking over to Arthur and climbing on to his chest.

She proceeded to press her tiny paws into the fabric of his shirt to gauge the suitability of the spot before curling up and closing her eyes just over his heart. Arthur stared at her, not daring to breathe too loud. He tentatively brought up a hand and stroked a finger over her back carefully, making sure not to startle her.

She purred appreciatively and settled against him cosily, making Arthur’s heart soar.

He turned his head to see Merlin propped up on an elbow, watching them with soft eyes, something impossibly tender in his stare.

Their eyes met and Merlin smiled.

"Marry me," he whispered.

Arthur's breath got stuck in his throat.

He held Merlin's gaze, unable to look away. "Okay."

Merlin's eyes widened. "Okay?" he breathed.

Arthur nodded, smiling. "Yeah. I’ve told you that you're it for me."

Merlin laughed, happy and relieved and a little teary eyed and wasted no time in leaning down to kiss Arthur firmly on the mouth.

Arthur slid a hand up his neck, tracing the outline of the gorgeous tattoo inked into his skin, before burying it into his hair to bring him closer.

Time stood still, and it seemed to Arthur that nothing else existed in the world other than him and Merlin and Aithusa rumbling on his chest.

The moment was a lot more perfect than any shoddily executed romantic proposal Arthur could've planned and he was suddenly flooded with relief. He should have been annoyed that Merlin had popped the question before him and essentially ruined his plans but for the life of him, Arthur couldn’t think of a better way it could have happened.

As all good things, the moment was promptly broken when Aithusa sunk her claws into his skin after sensing disturbance, and he winced.

Merlin lifted his head and grinned lazily at the kitten meowing softly now. He gently pried her claws off Arthur's shirt and turned to him again. "She seems to like you a lot."

Arthur smirked. "What's not to like? She clearly identified the superior human in the house."

“Superior ass, you mean,” Merlin retorted. "This type of talk won't fly when we're married."

Arthur's stomach dropped and his heart fluttered at the word.

Married.

He was going to marry Merlin.

It was a beautifully overwhelming thought.

Merlin misinterpreted his silence and a worried crease appeared between his eyebrows. “You’re sure about this, right?” he asked in a rush. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. We can wait a bit longer –”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Arthur chided. “Of course I’ll marry you. Who else is going to put up with you for the rest of their life?”

A small smile appeared on Merlin’s lips. “Prat,” he scolded. “I’m sorry I don’t have a ring.”

Arthur’s lips quirked up. “Well, I do.”

Merlin stared at him for a moment, blinking. “What?”

“I have a ring,” Arthur clarified. “It’s in the sock drawer.”

Merlin shook his head in disbelief, looking dazed. “You were going to propose to me?”

“Yeah,” Arthur admitted softly, searching his face. “Until you beat me to it.”

Merlin’s face broke out into a dizzy smile and he gestured to Aithusa, who’d clambered off Arthur’s body after deeming it unsatisfactory for a nap and was now on the edge of the bed, likely debating whether she should jump down.

“Did you get her to soften me up before the proposal?” Merlin teased, taking her place on his chest, Arthur’s arm coming up to curl around his waist.

Arthur snorted. “Of course not. By the looks of things, you didn’t need softening up at all. You’re practically dying to marry me.”

Merlin shrugged, leaning down again to press their lips together. “Taking one for the team,” he whispered into Arthur's mouth.

They didn’t do much talking after that.

When Arthur woke up the next morning, a sharp flash of light seared into his eyes and he moved away from it, squinting to see what had caused it.

He looked to his left, to the sight of Merlin asleep on his stomach with a similarly dozing Aithusa lying on his bare back.

Arthur smiled giddily, his chest filling up with warmth.

Merlin’s hand lay in the way of the thin line of light streaming in through the window, the silver ring on his finger glinting in the sun.

**