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we're all the same (under a different name)

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Tommy Merlyn was Thomas before he was ever Tommy – back when Oliver had heard a great deal about Thomas Merlyn - mostly from his mother, who seemed to regard Thomas Merlyn as a paragon of virtue to which Oliver should aspire.

When Caulden, the latest butler to serve the Queen family, handed in his resignation after a misunderstanding involving Oliver, a slingshot and a stained glass window, Oliver's mother gave him a stern talking to. It seemed that using stained glass windows for target practice was yet another example of something that the saintly Thomas Merlyn would never do.

His father barely looked up from his newspaper, so Oliver couldn't find it in himself to care too much.

If he was honest, the only guilt he experienced came belatedly the following day, when Thea cut herself on some of the broken glass that had not been swept up properly.

He let her play with his remote control car, though, so he considered that they were even.

  

When Oliver finally met Tommy Merlyn, he was distinctly underwhelmed.

Oliver was splashing in the pool when the Merlyn's arrived, ushered in by the latest butler (who Oliver mentally called Not-Caulden, as he hadn't bothered to learn his name yet). 

"Oliver," his mother said, rising from her pool chair. "Won't you come and say hello to our guests?"

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs Queen,” the young boy said politely, and he actually held out his hand for her to shake. Oliver rolled his eyes and swam to the edge of the pool, propping himself up on his elbows to get a closer look at Thomas Merlyn.

“Please,” Oliver's mother said, utterly charmed. “Call me Moira.”

"Hello, Moira," said Mr Merlyn, from where he stood in the doorway. Oliver recognised Mr Merlyn - he'd visited their house a few times throughout the year. This was the first time he'd bought his son, though.

“And this must be young Thea Queen,” said Mr Merlyn, dropping to one knee in front of Thea and looking at her assessingly. 

"Thea," said Oliver's mother, "This is Tommy and his father, Mr Merlyn."

Thea wrinkled her nose. "Merlyn's a funny name," she said.

“Thea,” Oliver's mother said, and there was a note of caution in her voice.

“It’s alright,” Mr Merlyn said, turning to her. "I admire a person who can speak their mind." He turned his attention back to Thea. "Merlyn may sound like a funny name to you, but I assure you, it's a lineage as lofty as your own. What unusual eyes you have, my dear."

“Not that unusual. Robert’s mother had exactly the same eyes,” Oliver's mother cut in sharply.

“They are lovely eyes,” Mr Merlyn said, rising to his feet and dusting off his trousers. 

Thea, bored of the adult's conversation, gave a twirl in her yellow ruffled sundress. "I'm a princess," she announced - unnecessarily, Oliver thought, as the tiara was a bit of a giveaway.

Mr Merlyn smiled. "You certainly are," he said. "And I'm sure your mother will raise you to be a queen." 

"That's enough jokes for one day, Malcolm," Oliver's mother said, and she was still smiling but only with her mouth, not her eyes. Oliver had only recently started to notice this distinction - had seen it in the mirror when preparing for his parent's parties. 

Oliver had had enough of listening to the adults talking.

“C’mon,” said Oliver, hauling himself out of the pool and tugging at Thea’s braid. She poked her tongue out at him and twisted away - and would have overbalanced into the swimming pool, yellow dress and all, if Mr Merlyn hadn't reached out a hand to steady her, his reflexes so quick that Oliver barely registered the motion.

"Careful," he said, warningly.

Tommy had been watching the whole exchange, and he said to Oliver, "You shouldn't tease your sister like that." Oliver sighed, and discarded any illusions he'd had that Thomas Merlyn might be friend-material. 

"I'll do what I want with her," said Oliver. "She's my sister."

“I like you,” Thea said to Tommy, always kind where Oliver was callous. “You can be my brother too,” and out of the corner of his eye Oliver saw his mother watching them, her lips pursed into a frown.

“Isn’t one big brother enough for you?” she asked Thea.

Thea considered this for a moment, her small face scrunched up in concentration.

“Oliver’s not always a very good big brother,” she said.

Oliver shrugged, because it was easier than arguing. He didn’t mind. Sometimes Thea wasn’t always a very good little sister, but you didn’t hear him complaining. 

 

 

At the next party, Oliver snuck under the table after the third time that Mrs Henderson had tried to corner him by the canapés table. Her perfume always smelt like mouldering flowers.

He discovered, much to his displeasure that he was not the only one who had identified the overhanging table cloth as a valid escape route.

“Move over,” he hissed.

“Why?” Tommy asked sullenly. “I was here first.”

“Yes,” conceded Oliver. “But it’s my house.”

Tommy rolled his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “It's your house. Which makes me your guest. You tosspot.”

Oliver sat up in surprise – so fast he hit his head on the table. It made a resounding thud and both boys stilled, guiltily.

“What did you call me?” he asked, after it seemed any immediate danger of discovery had passed.

“I called you a tosspot,” said Tommy, in tones of great satisfaction.

In the squabble that ensued, Oliver and Tommy ended up pulling the entire tablecloth and rained trays of food down upon them

That was the last party they were invited to that year – and it was the first black eye that Oliver ever got.

Every day for the next two weeks, when he first woke up in the morning, he would rush to the mirror and inspect it. 

He was sorry when the bruise eventually faded.

 

He told that story, at Tommy’s 21st birthday party, when they were making speeches. He could have told a lot of stories about Tommy – although not as many as Tommy could have told about him – and he isn’t quite sure why he picked that one. 

Perhaps it was because somehow, that fight sealed their friendship in a way that the polite exchanges they'd had up until that point never could have.

  

 

“Come with me,” he said, and Tommy said he would. They’d been sailing since they were teenagers, Oliver’s dad teaching them everything he knew.

The night before they were due to set sail, Tommy called him.

“My dad’s grounded me,” Tommy said. 

“Seriously?” Oliver said. “Your dad’s never grounded you in your life.”

“I know,” Tommy said. He sounded as incredulous as Oliver felt. "He says he needs my help with Merlyn Global, that he's had enough of me slacking off and jaunting around, that this trip is the last straw. He told me that if I get on that boat with you tomorrow, he’ll disown me.”

“That’s harsh,” said Oliver.

"He's always been a bit dramatic. He'll get over it. But anyway, I'm going to wait until it blows over. You should still go, though, like we planned. Ask Laurel to go with you anyway," said Tommy.

"Nah," Oliver said. "The whole point of this trip was to clear my head, have a break."

"A break from what?" Tommy said. "Laurel?" Then he laughed as if that was a joke, as if Laurel was the most perfect woman in the world and the idea of needing a break from her was just that - laughable. 

Oliver didn't respond, just stayed quiet on his end of the phone. He didn't want to get into this again.

"I mean it," Tommy said, and suddenly he sounded tired. "Oliver. Don't screw this up. It's Laurel.

Oliver shook his head, even though he was on the phone and knew Tommy couldn't see him. For some reason, Tommy's criticism always stung. 

Tommy was supposed to be on his side. He was young, too young to get serious about one girl. Being serious could come later. 

After Tommy hung up, Oliver stared at the phone in his hand 

He scrolled through his contacts – Lance, Laurel – and then, on a sudden impulse, kept scrolling.

By the time Lance, Sara picked up, his fight with Tommy was already receding in his mind, as he stared out at the water. Her tone was just this side of flirting, as they both skirted the elephant in the room. Yes, she was free this weekend. No, she'd never been on a yacht before.

He didn’t tell her not to tell Laurel – he'd leave that up to her. 

Both of them were looking for a way to rebel – he recognised in Sara a kindred spirit.

Maybe a change was just what he needed.