Arthur searched through a sea of bobbing heads for Gwen's unmistakable honey-brown locks. He had plenty of blond's to choose from, most of the bleached variety. It didn't worry him that he couldn't see his girlfriend amongst the faces at the arrival terminal. He didn't expect to. Hell would go on holiday before Gwen was early for anything. He grabbed the nearest luggage cart, not realizing that it had a gimp wheel; it took an annoying amount of effort to straighten it. If he wasn't so damn stubborn, he might have re-considered the wisdom of boarding a flight to Oakland with his entire life packed in two suitcases and an iPhone a blink away from death.
It wasn't until the last of his bags were loaded onto the crippled cart that Arthur noticed the young man with the teal scarf- pretending not to stare at him. He was pale as bone and almost as thin, leaning against a pillar with a cardboard sign. Arthur forced his luggage cart next to the man, wondering what kind of lunatic wears a scarf in August.
Arthur cleared his throat. "That's my name."
The man in the scarf looked down at the sharpie scribbled cardboard and shifted awkwardly, as if he wasn't sure how it had got into his hands in the first place.
"My name, on your sign," Arthur elaborated.
A smile parted pillow lips, blue eyes peering under a tussle of black hair. "I thought so," the young man said, offering his hand.
Arthur shook it automatically. The strangers fingers were slender, his grip surprisingly firm and as warm as his demeanor. When he unrolled from his slouch Arthur was able to get a better feel of how tall he was. The guy had an inch over him. Six foot at least. He couldn't say why but the revelation ticked him off.
"I've heard a lot about you, Arthur." The stranger smiled.
"And...who the hell are you?"
He didn't mean to sound crass. He'd just come off a six hour United Airlines flight, been fed nothing but peanuts and stuffed next to a painfully middle-aged woman. Even a saint can't feign interest in Persian cats for five hours. The flight was purgatory and he was in no mood for a game of 'guess who' at the airport with a nameless hipster.
The stranger grinned, putting down his sign. "I take it you haven't checked your phone in a while?"
Arthur fished his phone from his back pocket, swiped open the lock and prayed for a sliver of battery life. The phone's screen lit, flooding with missed texts from Gwen.
"I'll save you the trouble. Gwen called me this afternoon. Something came up; she's stuck working late tonight at the GAP tonight. 'Chino-gate' she called it. Apparently everyone and their mother wants a pair of chinos, can you believe that? She asked me if I could come pick you instead."
"And you are?"
"Merlin," The raven-haired man said, his low melodic voice cutting through the hum of the airport. "Merlin Emrys."
Finally Arthur was getting somewhere. Merlin? No. Gwen had never mentioned anyone with strange that name before. Part of Arthur wondered if the guy standing in front of him was a scammer, but even if he was there was little need for concern. Whatever height he had over him, Arthur easily outclassed him in weight and muscle. By the look of the waif, he could be brought down with one good punch- but he would hate to make a scene at the airport if he didn't have to.
Merlin, as if sensing Arthur's apprehension, pulled out his own phone, fiddling with the screen and offering it up to Arthur's ear. "Here, listen," he said.
"It doesn't bite," Merlin added smoothly.
Gwen's voice cooed from depths of the speaker. Apparently, she did coin the phrase 'Chino-gate'. The guy was legit; the message on the phone was from his girlfriend. "So Merlin, like, the wizard?" Arthur asked casually. "You do magic tricks or something?"
"You mean cards?" Merlin replied, not caring to elaborate further. "I don't have enough for a cab, are you all right with taking BART?"
Arthur wrinkled his nose. "As in The Simpsons?"
"Ah right, out of Towner, BART's the acronym for 'Bay Public Rapid Transit'. It's the train system over here."
"Gwen didn't let you borrow her car?"
The tips of the pale man's ears reddened to the color of fresh sunburn. "I um... don't drive."
Arthur hooked one hand onto his cart, taking a swig of the stale backwash left in his water bottle. "Train's fine," he muttered.