Title: Like a Fine Wine (8)
Pairing/s: eventual Merlin/Arthur
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur, Mordred
Summary: When the door opened, however, the smile dropped abruptly off his face. “You’re not Merlin.”
[ 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: 378 Paradox
Author's Notes: Dun dun dun...
Finally, on Wednesday night, the doorbell rang. It was just before 7pm, and Arthur almost dropped his spoon into the pasta sauce in his haste to answer. He wiped his hands on his trousers—he had chosen his most flattering pair specifically for this occasion—and buzzed Merlin in, then quickly set about clearing away some of the detritus that had accumulated while he was cooking. Merlin was earlier than he’d expected, but that was fine; the sauce still had a while to go, and they could always talk while he cooked. It would give them a chance to get to know one another better.
He was just setting the pasta onto the stovetop when he heard footsteps in the hallway, followed by a knock at the door.
“It’s unlocked!” he called, turning to greet his guest. When the door opened, however, the smile dropped abruptly off his face. “You’re not Merlin.”
He looked like Merlin: he had the same dark hair, though curlier, the same piercing stare and haunting blue eyes. When their gazes met, Arthur felt the same frisson of familiarity that had struck him when he’d seen Merlin across the bar.
But that was where the similarities ended. The warmth that Merlin exuded was entirely absent in this man, whose gaze was hard and angry, his expression grim. He took a step into the room, and as Arthur watched in astonishment, he moved the dining table out of the way with a flick of his fingers, his eyes glowing gold.
“No,” he said. “I’m not Merlin.”
Arthur had only seconds to react. Groping blindly, he reached for the pot he’d just set on the stove and caught it by the handle, then braced himself and let fly, hurling it directly into the man's face as he stalked towards him.
It didn’t even make contact. The man batted the pot away with the same casual gesture that he had used on the table, sending it careening into the wall. Then, before Arthur could move, an unseen hand seized him by the throat and he, too, was flung against the plaster, knocking the wind out of him. Instead of falling to the floor, however, he just hung there, gasping, his feet dangling several inches from the ground.
“I’ve been looking for you for quite some time,” the man said, conversationally. He stepped over the mess on the linoleum and stared up at Arthur with a curious expression on his face, part satisfaction and part distaste. “Admittedly, it was more difficult this time—he’s obviously getting cannier in his old age. Or more desperate. He doesn’t seem to understand that he just. Can’t. Win.”
With each word, the invisible noose around Arthur’s neck tightened still further, cutting off his oxygen supply. His hands scrabbled at nothing. One of his feet kicked out and struck the top of the rubbish bin, knocking it over, and Arthur had a sudden vision of Merlin finding him here, lying dead amidst the potato peelings and other refuse. He couldn’t let it end like this. Not now. Not when he was finally on the verge of—something…
There was movement in the doorway. As though Arthur’s thoughts had summoned him, Merlin appeared, cheeks flushed as if he had been running. He took one look at Arthur, pinned and struggling against the wall, and flung out an arm towards him, bellowing,
Arthur dropped. His feet hit the floor first, then his legs buckled, sending him crashing to his knees. Catching himself with both hands, he dragged in a great lungful of air, inhaling the acrid smell of burning tomatoes. Spots clouded his vision.
“I should have known you wouldn’t be far away,” the man spat. The two began to circle each other, looking like a pair of tom cats in the midst of a territorial dispute. If they’d had tails, they’d have been bristling. “You never could bear to let him out of your sight for long.”
“I don’t understand,” Merlin said. Arthur could tell he was trying to stay calm, but his whole body was trembling, one hand still upraised in a quelling gesture. “Who are you? How do you know me?”
“How do I know you?” The man let out an incredulous laugh. “Oh, that's rich. Even I never dreamed you could be this stupid.”
Neither of them seemed to be paying any attention to Arthur. As quietly as he could, he crawled forward and picked up the empty saucepan, hefting it with both hands.
“What a paradox you are,” the intruder said softly. He stepped closer to Merlin, and Arthur used the distraction to get to his feet, leaning against the bench-top. “So much power, and yet so little control. I wasn’t expecting it to be difficult, but you’ve made it so easy, it’s almost—”
Arthur swung. This time, the saucepan hit its target, striking the man’s skull with a solid thwack. He dropped to the floor like a stone.
Merlin and Arthur stared at one another, eyes wide. Then, as the shrill siren of Arthur’s smoke alarm began to wail, Arthur let go of the pan and grabbed Merlin’s hand.
“Run," was all he said.
The two of them bolted from Arthur’s flat and fled for the nearest tube station, not stopping or letting go of one another until they were safely aboard an outbound train. Arthur had no idea where they were headed, but it didn’t really matter much, as long as it was away from here.
“Who was he?” Merlin asked finally, huddling into his seat. He looked awful. “And why was he trying to kill you?”
“I don’t know.” Arthur’s voice was a low rasp, his throat burning. Now that they were safe—or as safe as they were likely to get—a few crucial facts had started to sink in, and he didn’t like what they were adding up to. “But apparently he has magic.” He looked into Merlin’s terrified blue eyes. “And, apparently, so do you.”