TITLE: Four Proposals in Search of an Audience
LENGTH: 981 words
SUMMARY: Three times Arthur proposed to Gwen and she said "No" and one time Gwen proposed to Arthur and he said "Yes". Modern AU.
NOTES: Written for the second challenge at the Arthur/Gwen Last Author Standing.
1. “For this assignment, you’ll pick a partner and create a household budget. Then, you’ll present why you chose the model you did.”
Twelve-year-old Arthur grinned. “Kind of like being married.”
“In an ideal world, yes,” the teacher said. “This, however, is not meant to…”
But Arthur had already tuned him out. His gaze swiveled to the girl sitting on the other side of the aisle, locked on the way her dark eyes caught the stray sunlight streaming through the window. Leaning over, he whispered, “Hey, Gwen, wanna marry me?”
Without turning her head, she cast him a sideways glance. “No.”
He pretended to pout. “Why not?”
Her mouth tightened. He was convinced she wanted to smile. She liked him. He knew she did. She just had to admit it.
But then she spoke.
“Because I’d like to get an A.”
2. The circumstances weren’t ideal. It was supposed to be him, Gwen, and a perfect meal followed by the perfect proposal.
Instead, it was him, Gwen, Merlin, and Freya, because Freya had just had her heart broken—again—and Gwen was playing matchmaker and hadn’t actually told Merlin they’d be dining as a foursome. This was far from ideal. This was the other side of the moon. But the ring had been burning a hole in his pocket for a month as he made his plans. He absolutely couldn’t wait any longer.
As soon as the waiter returned with their desserts, Arthur nodded at the maitre d’. He, in turn, whispered something to the waitress at his side, who then scurried around the perimeter of the room to the pianist. Within seconds, the strains of Robbie Williams’ “Angel” filled the room.
At which point, Freya burst into tears.
Arthur froze with the ring in his hand, while Gwen proceeded to put her arm around Freya’s shoulders to comfort her. “What’s wrong?”
“It was their song.” When Gwen glanced up, her eyes locked on the ring. “What’s that?”
The only out was forward. Arthur slid from his chair to kneel at her side. “Will you marry me?”
The last word was drowned out by Freya’s sobs.
With a shake of her head, Gwen rose, guiding Freya to her feet as well. She glared at Arthur. “You’re unbelievable.”
He could only watch in confusion as the pair left the restaurant. “What just happened here?”
Digging into his mousse, Merlin shrugged. “I think she said no.”
3. The ring of his fork tapping against his wineglass was a tad too loud, but the way Arthur figured it, everyone was already well onto their way to being too drunk to care.
“May I have your attention, please!” Arthur surveyed the wedding guests scattered beneath the marquee. “As best man, the first toast is my privilege. I’m supposed to tell stories demonstrating how Merlin and Freya are perfect for each other, but honestly, it’s a little late for that, seeing as they’ve already said their ‘I do’s.’”
Merlin’s foot nudged his beneath the table. “What are you doing?”
Arthur marveled at how he managed to whisper without moving his lips, but ignored him anyway. “So I’ve decided to abuse the time I’ve been given to do something else instead.”
Stepping behind Merlin’s chair, and then Freya’s, he stopped at Gwen’s, seated at Freya’s side as her maid of honor. Her eyes had turned to saucers in the seconds it took him to reach her.
“Gwen…” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the ring he’d carried since that dreadful double date. He’d been so anxious with it, he’d almost given it to Merlin by mistake. “Will you marry me?”
She didn’t move. “Are you mad?”
“No, I’m proposing.”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“It’s hardly appropriate.”
“It seems perfect to me. Today’s about love and commitment—”
“Today’s about Freya and Merlin.” She cast a furtive glance over the other guests. Her cheeks had gone pink. He realized too late that was embarrassment, not excitement, especially when she pushed her chair away from the table and stood, putting the seat between them. “Don’t.”
“But I love you. I want to marry you.”
She shook her head. “Not like this.”
For the second time in his life, he was left holding the ring as she walked away from him. All eyes bored into him. They’d be talking about this for years.
He really had to stop proposing to Gwen when they had an audience.
4. Visiting hours were over, but the hospital staff had yielded to Arthur’s persistent requests that Gwen be allowed extra time to spend at Tom’s side. Only time and rest would heal Tom’s injuries from the accident, but Gwen needed to stay whether he realized she was there or not.
Arthur sat behind her, his arms around her waist, his chin upon her shoulder. She was warm and soft, and the longer he held her, the more relaxed she became. So did he. He was starting to drift when he heard her say, “Let’s get married.”
He did his best not to stiffen, though his eyes shot open. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“I thought I was dreaming.”
“Because I’ve always said no?”
The circle of his embrace broke when she twisted around to face him. “Life’s too short to keep happiness at arm’s length. People leave when you least expect them to. And then it’s too—”
Her breath caught. “Yes?”
“Yes, I’ll marry you. I’ve known I wanted to spend my life with you since you turned me down in second year.” He cupped her face to hold her still long enough to kiss. “And life’s too short to risk you changing your mind.”
She chuckled softly and leaned her brow against his. “What am I going to do with you, Arthur Pendragon?”
“Anything you want. For as long as we both shall live.”