Arthur couldn’t sleep.
Arthur couldn’t sleep because he was so full of excitement. Racked with anticipation even, and wasn’t that a fantastic change of pace?
A year ago, when the dreams started, he would be sitting up on the edge of his bed at three in the morning exhausted, greasy and sweaty. They were entirely unlike any dreams he had before. And honestly, they weren’t the regular dreams he had the rest of the time either. Those were all flying through the clouds and his teeth falling out and waking up back in a lecture hall in the Walker Science Building, his astronomy professor just as forgettable a decade later even in his subconscious.
These dreams, these memories, were of another time, another place. A different Arthur, British and blond and, dare he say it, buff. (He might have started going to the gym once the dreams really got going and Arthur realized *he* was meant to be the hot and handsome one and not the lanky and angular one.) The dreams were so clear, clear as day, and as elusive as the memories he had of his childhood. He only vaguely remembered static images from various places, and that seemed the way he’d have to remember these ancient memories too, heavily disjointed, mostly faces, mostly...one face.
At first, he tried to make sense of them, and his dream diary filled up with the attempts. But even the best of the entries were full of modern day memes and common knowledge, and none of the symbology books helped. In the bright light of day, the dreams left him with a longing he didn’t want to name, and an inability to articulate himself to his therapist. But then he realized he was getting a version of ‘This is Your Life’ previous incarnation edition, and he just. Let them play out, learn from the reflection of actions long removed, and let the rest fade into impressions.
Every dream Arthur had of him was brighter than the rest, cut deeper and sharper into his regrets, and was utterly embarrassing in retrospect. Arthur couldn’t tell if past him didn’t know or didn’t want to know about the man, and at first, it felt utterly futile to be longing for a man whose name he could never remember in the morning. But as time progressed and he saw more and more, he decided he was done feeling sorry for himself.
So what if past him had done stupid things? Those silly decisions were long gone, and nothing about that mattered, and the beauty of the dreams was he could go and do everything differently. He was empty, longing for the other half of him, actively aching now that he could put a name to the feeling. Missing the man he’d left all alone. But Arthur promised himself that he’d seize the day, and let destiny take him where it would.
Well, maybe he’d start smaller than boldly going forth and dating. Arthur lived alone, quite accidentally, and everything his coworkers and friends suggested to him sounded meh. His neighbor was especially insistent on gardening, his friends on knitting, his cousin on a book club. The alumni association director and one of his closest friends kept offering to take him to games, any of Southern’s games, wouldn’t it be nice? He didn’t *want* to say no to any of them, but the uncomfortable look on his face probably gave his feelings away. The games were uninteresting, and nothing about knitting or a book club called to him, and he’d be damned before anyone got him outside pruning his own azalea bushes in the hot Mississippi sun, cottonmouths and humidity and the height of piney pollen season.
But one of the suggestions that kept popping up, in thoughtfully forwarded emails, in casual conversation, on daily talk shows, was getting a cat. Arthur’d always wanted to once he got his own place, and now that he had settled into his house, completely unpacked and the ink on his mortgage dry, he found himself disappointed that he didn’t have a cat to come home to each night.
He’d never had a pet as a child, but Arthur had grown to love cats as an adult, helping his poli sci teacher with the feral cat population on campus, feeding them and helping her take the cats to the vet to get them neutered. He hadn’t been able to even think about a cat in his old apartment, not with the extra charges for pets, and had to tide himself over with cat videos and Neko Atsume.
Now that Arthur really thought about it, it felt like it was the right time to be putting down roots and looking into adopting a cat. Dare he even considers it loudly, that the feeling could be destiny? Okay, that was overly dramatic, just a bit. (There was a bit of a something he wanted to label a calling though.)
All jokes aside, there was a place inside him that was now full and genuinely content. Arthur was on the path he was meant to be settled on, and everything was going to be alright. Arthur didn’t know what he was doing precisely, or what he needed to be doing, because he was going to work out each day as it came. And get a cat.
And he was finally tired enough to lie back down, and drift off back to sleep. He’d made arrangements to go to the shelter tomorrow.
Merlin was barely awake.
Merlin was barely awake, running on the faint fumes of the four cups of coffee he’d had at a Waffle House at three in the morning, and the remains of the twelve pack of five-hour energy shots that he’d hidden away in his glove compartment. In this lifetime, there was so much to do, so much to prepare, and not nearly enough hours in the day. Merlin had been busily working to narrow down and pinpoint the exact stretch of time he could guarantee his path could safely intersect with Arthur’s.
It had taken him so long to realize that Arthur was being continuously reborn, and then to narrow down his search, that he’d missed all of Arthur’s previous incarnations. Merlin had gotten lucky enough about two hundred years ago to glimpse Arthur as he’d passed by in a carriage. He had been so disappointed that he’d sworn right then and there that’d they’d meet again, and be together that entire life through. Fuck waiting for the prophesied time when Arthur once again was needed to be the king; Merlin was going to be there for him, each time and every time for now on.
Last night he’d rechecked the stars carefully, and cast the little future-forward tracking spell that was all he could manage after he’d de-aged himself. It would take Merlin a lifetime or two to regain his full strength, but it didn’t matter because of *this.* Finding Arthur was why Merlin had his magic. He couldn’t have done it if Arthur had needed him for casting spells, he’d told himself at the time when he’d deliberately sacrificed his strength for the youth spell. For the last year, he’d held tight onto the faint reassurance he could feel in his blood that destiny was guiding his path.
Arthur was nearly there, all the portents proclaimed, and nothing would stop Merlin from being there. Not...even his inability to remember which days he’d promised to come into the shelter, oops. As much as Merlin wanted to stay at home and continuously cast about trying to find Arthur, he had learned better over the years. It was far better to go and do and lose yourself in work or play and let destiny do the rest. Thankfully, there were a lot of other volunteers today, and he’d been relegated to the front desk and making sure Macavity didn’t escape again.
Their escapee cat luckily hadn’t been lost in the remnants of the old creosote plant now overgrown field behind the shelter. Even more fortunately, he’d never managed to go too far, either into the woods with all the things that liked to eat cats or into the street out front. That poor cat had ended up at the humane society because his chip hadn’t worked and no one had come to claim him. Macavity needed to be adopted soon, but black cats rarely got to go to forever homes, especially when they wanted to run away more than they liked people; they couldn’t even get a picture of Macavity up on their website.
A Mr. Dawson was coming in to look at the cats, and he’d already been approved as an adopter, having volunteered with the organization while he’d been in college. Secretly, Merlin was hoping since he’d worked so closely with the feral cats, Macavity would take to him, to be honest. In any case, he’d learned to dread opening the cat playroom to let the prospective cat owners meet with the cats since that was prime escaping time. During the past week, they’d figured out a set up to keep Macavity confined to the entrance space, but it still made for a hectic afternoon.
During his musings, Merlin had practically nodded off, and the front door opened, chiming loudly and startling him right out of the chair and onto the floor. He levered himself back onto the chair very badly, wobbling from the complete lack of caffeine and the built-up tiredness. A snort of laughter echoed above him and Merlin looked up into the face of a man who found his behavior funny but looked terribly shocked to have emoted at all.
“The straightlaced Mr. Dawson, I presume?” Merlin smiled his customer relations smile and hoped to make it genuine. Dawson nodded, and shifted uncertainly, and oh shit, he was adorable and Merlin did not need this sort of complication in his life, not now.
Dawson straightened up and settled into a resting fatuous, prattish, look, and welp, Merlin was a sucker for that look every single time. He was doomed and ever since Arthur his standards were too low. He both wanted to smack the customer and wish that he’d met them outside of volunteering.
Dawson popped the fantasy by clearing his throat and drawling, “It’s Arthur, and I hope you haven’t lost my paperwork since you’re calling me by my last name only?”
Well then. Merlin was officially done with this man at this point and only smiled more, stretching his face into a menacing, mean smile. He sweetly replied, “Of course not, it’s merely written Dawson on my schedule.” He stood up and said, “Can I show you to the cat playroom?”
Dawson, excuse him, Arthur, swallowed slowly and backed up a bit, but readily agreed to follow Merlin down the hallway. Merlin glanced back and relented a bit, and explained as he tried to carefully open the door, “There are already volunteers playing with our cats right now, and you’ll be able to interact with them, and hopefully take one home.”
Merlin turned forward to pay more attention to what he was doing, but it was too late, and like a bat out of hell, Macavity flew out and *bounced* off Merlin’s head and landed smack-dab onto Arthur’s chest. Merlin tripped, kicking the door closed, and also fell right on Arthur’s chest. Macavity wiggled out from under both flailing men, and bounded off into the front office, leaving Merlin braced against Arthur Dawson, and hoping he could get out of this with his volunteer position, if not his dignity intact.
“Excuse me for this, but I can’t see a way off of you otherwise,” Merlin said, and braced himself around Arthur’s head and tried to push himself up without making eye contact. He was unsuccessful, and--
And, well, he couldn’t stop looking into Arthur’s eyes until that great prat had the nerve to *roll them at him* and say, “Merlin, why don’t you let me get up and let your nice coworkers open the door?”
(Arthur deserved both Macavity, who refused to leave Arthur’s lap once herded back into the cat playroom and Merlin, who sputtered indignantly into his face and accidentally elbowed him in the stomach getting up. And refused to leave Arthur’s side ever after.)