Summary: Merlin is late for class but needs his coffee, Arthur is the prat he runs into . . . and recognizes from . . . somehwere? (I couldn't help it, this drabble is based on lillybells' final Merlin chibi gifset).
Prompt: #13: Time
Warnings: Implied character death (reincarnation).
Word Count: 987
[A Chance Meeting]
The queue at his usual Starbucks was halfway out the door, strange for a Wednesday; when he huffed and crossed his arms a middle-aged woman with a child in tow gave him a sympathetic smile and explained, Eggnog Latte season, love. Merlin frowned, chancing a glimpse at the clock on the wall as he debated what to do. It was either suffer the wrath of his stodgy English lecturer or go the morning without caffeine and thus endure the inevitable headache that came along with ignoring his addiction.
Decision made, he fell in behind a blond man wearing an expensive sport coat to wait his turn at the counter. The queue moved quickly until a woman with an office-wide order began rattling off drink after drink. In front of him, the blond bloke sighed with exasperation and glanced at the clock. Merlin smiled to himself, feeling the secret commiseration of annoyed and harried adults when routines are thwarted. He spent the next few minutes staring at the back of the bloke’s tan-for-December in England neck, wondering where he worked, what kind of coffee he’d order. Black, Venti. No frills. In and out, easy.
When Merlin’s turn finally came, he greeted Gwen the barista and ordered a small Eggnog Latte because why the hell not, it was the holidays after all, ferreting around in his pockets for loose change.
“Nice jumper,” Gwen said, giving him a wide smile.
“Thanks.” He felt a blush heat his face. “Actually my mum made it.”
Normally Merlin didn’t make a habit out of wearing clothing that featured reindeers frolicking, but it was cold enough to freeze bollocks and the rest of his wardrobe was dirty—it was far past time he did laundry.
Gwen laughed. “She’s very talented. And you wear it with such beautiful irony.”
“Er, I guess that’s a good thing?” He pushed up the frames of his thick-rimmed glasses.
“Yeah, it is. Cheers, Merlin.”
“Cheers.” Merlin smiled back and accepted his change, tossing it into the tip jar, then stood to the side to wait for his coffee. Fuck, now he was really going to be late, but at last his order was called and he grabbed his drink from the counter and whirled around towards the exit, running smack dab into the blond man from the queue, sending both of their hot coffees flying into the air—and down the front of the bloke himself.
“Watch where you’re going, you complete idiot!”
“Shite! Sorry, sorry,” Merlin said, swiping at the ruined jacket with a napkin, a fruitless action which only served to spread the mess of his foamy latte.
“Give me that!” the blond yelled. “Do you have any idea how expensive this jacket is? It’s a bloody Tom Ford.” His blue eyes narrowed as he considered Merlin’s ridiculous-as-of-now Christmas jumper.
“Well you don’t have to be such a prat about it!” Merlin said, blindly groping for more napkins, which he thrust against the man’s rather broad chest. “I apologised. It was an accident.”
“An accident that’s going to make me late for a very, very important meeting.” Despite his imperious tone, Merlin couldn’t help noticing the prat was fit. He had the kind of jaw one could spend an entire day contemplating (or biting) and his lips were full and rosy, slightly chapped from the cold. And they were frowning at him.
Merlin cringed as he regarded the ruined suit jacket and the fine silk shirt beneath it. “I’m really, really sorry. Look, I . . . I’ll pay for it.” He reached into his pockets and gathered the rest of his loose change, holding it out with the hand he wasn’t using to dab at the mess.
“Are you kidding me? Two pounds twenty?”
“It’s all I have, all right? This coffee was fucking expensive.” He stared morosely at the floor and the puddle of delicious goodness gone to waste. Maybe Gwen would take pity on him and give him another.
The blond snorted. “What the hell is it, anyway? Smells like—” He sniffed, wrinkling his nose with disdain. “Holiday cheer.”
Merlin leaned a bit closer and inhaled, catching a whiff of the latte mingled with whatever cologne the prat wore, something woodsy and intense.
“That’s the, er, cinnamon. It’s eggnog.”
“I abhor eggnog.”
All of a sudden Merlin, completely overcome with the ridiculousness of the situation, snorted, and his snort immediately morphed into a laugh. It was horrible—before long he had a case of the church-laughs and couldn’t stop, could barely get a breath, and the prat was looking at him like he was completely mental, mouth slightly ajar. And that only made Merlin laugh harder. The prat had adorably crooked top teeth.
“What’s so funny?”
“You!” Merlin howled, clutching his sides. “Who abhors eggnog? I mean, you can dislike it, sure, but abhor is a strong word for such an innocuous beverage.”
“Innocuous?” The prat was glaring at him now, though the corners of his mouth seemed to be debating whether to smile or frown. “You and your eggnog are a menace to society, clearly.” The smile finally won.
Their eyes met again, and Merlin nearly gasped as the strangest sense of déjà vu he’d ever felt washed over him. There was something so familiar about this man, something he couldn’t put his finger on, and the harder he wracked his brain the more confused he grew.
The prat’s smile became confused, too.
They spoke simultaneously:
“—know you from somewhere?”
“—seem so familiar.”
All around them people were getting their coffee, hurrying to work or to school or to loaf, and Merlin couldn’t stop staring because right then, for no reason at all, he was going mad. There was a field and a bright red flag waving, not victorious, and the fading embers of the eyes of the man he loved as the life drained from his body.