Title: Like a Fine Wine (6)
Pairing/s: eventual Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin shot him a wry smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “Oh, no,” he said. “I run into eerie look-alikes in my favourite bar all the time.”
[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | AO3 ]
Word Count: 1000w
Prompt: 332 Contest.
Author's Notes: I swear I had this prompt in mind while I was writing this chapter...it just ended up being a little subtler than originally intended.
Merlin was already waiting for him when Arthur arrived at The Dragoon a few hours later. He was sitting in the exact same spot as he had been when Arthur first saw him, his hands wrapped thoughtfully around a cup of steaming coffee, although the frown on his face all but melted away when he caught sight of Arthur in the doorway.
“I wasn’t sure you were going to show,” he said as Arthur sat down across from him. “You seemed pretty freaked out the other day.”
“You’d just shown me scientific proof that doppelgängers exist,” Arthur said drily. “Of course I was a little freaked out. Weren’t you?
Merlin shot him a wry smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle. “Oh, no,” he said. “I run into eerie look-alikes in my favourite bar all the time.”
Arthur grinned. “And here I was thinking I was special,” he said. “I bet you have hundred-year-old photographs of all the boys you meet.”
Merlin ducked his head as though to contain his laughter, glancing up at Arthur through his lashes. “Only the interesting ones,” he said, and yeah, he was definitely flirting. Arthur’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you going to order something, or what?”
Arthur ordered a hamburger and chips, since that was the only vaguely lunch-like meal the pub offered, and when he returned to his seat, Merlin scooted forward in his chair and lowered his voice. “So, what’s your theory?”
“About the photograph!” Merlin gestured with one hand. “Personally, I’m leaning towards reincarnation.”
“As in, being born again?” Arthur was unable to hide the scepticism in his voice. “That’s a myth.”
“Not necessarily. There are lots of cases where children have talked about things they remember from past lives—people, places, events. Some of them have even been verified.”
Arthur snorted. “By whom?”
“Scientists. Doctors.” Merlin’s jaw set in a manner Arthur recognised as a precursor to stubbornness. “It’s not completely crazy, you know. How else do you explain the fact that we’re identical to the men in that photo?”
“Genetics,” Arthur said flatly. “Obviously, the four of us are related.” He shook his head when Merlin’s face fell. “I’m sorry, but you can’t seriously believe that we used to be them in another life, can you? That’s ridiculous.”
“Maybe. But what about—I mean…” Merlin hesitated, his gaze flicking down to Arthur’s mouth then back up again. “Genetics doesn’t explain everything, does it?”
No, it didn’t explain everything. It didn’t explain why both of them had somehow been born looking like two men who must have been at best their great, great grand-somethings, nor could it account for whatever series of unlikely events had led to them both being in the same bar at the same time. And it certainly didn’t explain why, sitting here staring into Merlin’s handsome, earnest face, Arthur felt the same tug of visceral attraction as he had that first night, the same uncomfortable certainty that he knew this man better than he had any right to.
“Maybe not,” Arthur admitted finally. “But you have to agree, it’s a lot more plausible than the idea that we somehow were them in a previous life.”
“Says you,” Merlin contested, but he was smiling again. “In any case, if we want to know what’s really going on, I think we need to find out more about them. Who they were, how they knew each other…whether we’re related in any way.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Arthur agreed. He pulled out his phone, and after a few swipes offered it across the table so that Merlin could see the screen. “And I know exactly where we should start.”
“Arthur Edmund Kaye,” Merlin read out loud. “Born December 22, 1990. What is this?”
“My birth certificate,” Arthur explained, taking the phone back from him. “Or rather, my adoption certificate. I was adopted when I was only a few months old.”
“Oh!” Merlin’s eyes widened with realisation. “So you think this might have something to do with your birth family?”
Arthur shrugged one shoulder. “It’s possible, right? I asked my parents who they were, but they claim to have no idea. So I thought, maybe we could start by finding out their names and see if we can track them down.”
Something in his voice must have given away how uncomfortable he felt at this prospect, because Merlin frowned a little and reached over to lay a hand on his arm. “Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked. “I mean, I’m guessing since you haven’t looked them up after all this time, that it wasn’t something you were really planning on doing until I dropped that photograph into your lap.”
“It wasn’t,” Arthur said. He frowned down at Merlin’s hand, considering. “In fact, I've never really thought about it all that much. My parents have never hidden the fact that I was adopted, but my dad always said I was better off leaving well enough alone, and so I did. Half the time it never even occurred to me that I’m not their biological son.”
Merlin tilted his head. “Not even in the throes of teenage rebellion?”
“Nope. Not even then.” Arthur half-smiled, feeling a little uneasy as he remembered his father’s earlier anger. “Plus, when I asked them about it this morning…it was really weird. I could swear they know more than they’re saying, but I can’t think of any reason why they might want to cover up the truth. It’s not as if I’m going to un-adopt myself or something and run away to live with the people who abandoned me.”
“Maybe they’re trying to protect you,” Merlin suggested. “Maybe they think you’ll be disappointed if your family aren’t who you want them to be.”
“Maybe.” Arthur shrugged. “Either way, I want to find out what’s going on.”
Merlin studied his face for a moment longer, then nodded firmly. “Okay,” he said. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”