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“Life-and I don’t suppose I’m the first to make this comparison-is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.” –Neil Gaiman Death Talks About Life

“I hope you realize that this has disaster written all over it,” stated Merlin dryly as Emerson stretched on his bed with his laptop in front of him and a homemade quilt (made by the girls and some of the more effeminate guys at the shop) messily made underneath him. His black and multi-colored streaked hair was wet and mussed signaling his earlier shower. He was dressed in his rattiest pajama pants and a t-shirt that was four sizes too big. On Emerson’s night stand was a snack of cookies and diet soda with entirely too much ice.

Merlin took a moment to appraise his latest incarnation. He was so young. Sometimes Merlin couldn’t get over how young Emerson was and how much he accomplished: graduating university at nineteen with two degrees, starting a business a couple months later, and making a niche in the world for himself at age twenty. He was the incarnation that reminded Merlin most of himself, hiding knowledge behind an easy smile and a bright laugh except that Emerson was more open in everything then Merlin could ever hope to be. His head snapped up as his incarnation began to speak.

“You are so negative. So the knights found me. It wasn’t like I was hiding or anything,” pointed out Emerson as he took a bite of a cookie.

“They think you don’t know who they are.”

“Well technically you know who they are; I just have your memories of them. I want to make my own impressions of them. Separate people, Merlin, same memories but separate people.”

It wasn’t like Merlin didn’t agree with Emerson’s plan. Merlin would be the first to say that he wasn’t a big fan of destiny either, but Arthur had loyally waited through the centuries and Merlin didn’t want anyone to toy with Arthur’s heart (even himself). However, Emerson was one who checked the shallow end before diving into relationships fully. He only had one or two serious relationships over time and a string of one night stands.

Merlin nodded and sighed rubbing a hand over his face, “I know, Emerson, I know. I just…”

“Need to have a little faith in me,” finished Emerson firmly with a mischievous smile on his face, “Trust me when I say that I do have a plan for this.”

“You never plan for anything.”

It was true. Minus relationships, Emerson jumped into most things with his eyes closed and arms wide open hoping to land into water instead of hitting rocks. It amused and frustrated those around him to no end.

But Merlin knew why Emerson did it because he did the same thing. He would never bring it up though, this banter between him and Emerson was familiar and comforting. Merlin wouldn’t want to give it up.

“Would it make you feel better hearing that I’m running in blindly with only the vaguest idea of what I want to do?” inquired Emerson cheekily. Mirth danced in his eyes.

“Not really,” answered Merlin as similar emotions swirled in his.

Emerson grinned wide and manic, “Then I have a brilliant plan.”

Merlin allowed the slightest smile to overtake his face, “I’m sure it is.”

“That’s the spirit!” cheered Emerson happily as he opened his laptop, “Now I need to do some research.”

“The eternal hermaphrodite question again?”

“No the one about the transgender identical twins,” answered Emerson as he opened a search engine.

“You do realize that Arthur will think you as insane?”

Arthur would. Merlin knew that. However, Merlin knew that Arthur would adore Emerson to pieces. Arthur was too serious without someone to pull him into the clouds and Emerson was just the person to do that. Emerson needed someone to pull him back from flights of fancy and Arthur could do that easily.

Two sides of the same coin…Merlin chuckled.

Maybe that crazy old dragon was right.

“Insane or Idiot? Which one’s better?” teased Emerson with a smile.

“I think insanity excuses you for a lot more than idiocy,” stated Merlin dryly.

“I prefer to think of it as eccentricity.”

“Think of it as whatever you want to,” said a voice from the doorway, “You’re just one of a kind.”

Emerson grinned at his oldest friend, “You love it though right Lawrence?”

The other man chuckled, “Wouldn’t have stuck by you this long if I didn’t, Em. How’s it going Merlin?”

“As well as it can be when you’re trapped in mirrors and shadows,” stated Merlin dryly. Lawrence laughed wandering in the room. His hair had been pulled back loosely, also wet from his own very recent shower. A pair of pajama pants hung loosely around his hips. There was a thin strip of tanned, muscled skin shown between the pajama pants and his loose tank-top.

Lawrence plopped on Emerson’s bed without an invite. He peered at the computer screen raising an eyebrow. His chin was perched on Emerson’s shoulder. Most would call the scene intimate, though it spoke more of two people who had only each for so long being totally comfortable around each other.

“I take it this search has to do with the two blokes that popped into the shop today?”

“Galahad and Gawain,” piped up Merlin from his mirror.

“The immortal knights?” asked Lawrence with his eyebrows rising into his hairline. He had known Emerson since they were both practically in diapers. He was the only one who knew the whole story about Merlin and Arthur and Emerson’s role in it.

 “Two of them anyway,” said Emerson with a tired smile.

“That means you’re going to meet Prince Charming soon.”

“Yeah,” said Emerson as he tugged on a red streak of hair, “I will…”

“Nervous?” murmured Lawrence as he gave his longest friend as hug.

“Not until you started talking about it,” replied Emerson as he took comfort in the warmth from Lawrence. His gaze fell on the computer as he looked at the website for Excalibur Incorporated with Arthur’s face staring coolly out at him.

“He’s handsome,” commented Emerson as his eyes traced Arthur’s face with his eyes.

“Wouldn’t know,” said Lawrence as he gently pressed a kiss to Emerson’s temple. He knew that Emerson was scared and nervous even if he wouldn’t want to show it to anyone else, “I like girls.”

“I’ve heard your midnight escapades through the walls enough times to know that.”

Lawrence smiled fondly, “It will all work out in the end Emerson.”

Emerson turned and quirked an elegant eyebrow, “And how would you know that?”

“Because I know your heart.”

Emerson laughed brightly, “You’re full of it Lawrence! I don’t know what…but it’s a good thing.”

The pair shared a smile. Lawrence stood and stretched.

“Well if that’s it then I’m turning in for the night.”

“Good night, mate.”

“Night.”

Merlin, who was quietly watching the scene, glanced at Emerson.

“What’re you planning?”

Emerson glanced at his first life and grinned devilishly.

“I have a meeting with Galahad tomorrow at their office. It looks very posh.”

Merlin knew where this was going. He buried his head in his hands.

“And?”

“I’m making an impression.”

Merlin tried to hide his smile. This was going to be interesting to watch and he had unlimited front-row access.

“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

“We found him,” blurted out Galahad over dinner of takeaway in Arthur’s top floor office. After an intense game of rock, paper, scissors, it was decided that Galahad would tell Arthur.

Gawain forgot that Galahad lacked a little thing called ‘tact’.

Gawain stared at his lover for several beats before sighing and turning back to his food; fully preparing to finish eating before Arthur’s inevitably blow-up. Everyone else in the office had froze. Leon and Percival looked to Arthur then back at Galahad then back to Arthur again. Arthur cleared his throat and stared at Galahad.

“Beg pardon?”

“We found him,” said Galahad in the same tone, “This morning when we went to That Shop. He owns it. He’s nice and brilliant and a little eccentric.”

Gawain held back a snort at that. He already knew that calling M. Emerson Gray a little eccentric was like calling Liberace a little flamboyant.

Arthur sat back in his chair, food out in front of him.

“Are you certain it’s him?”

Gawain pulled out his phone one of those terribly expensive ones that seemed to do a lot without getting any decent service. He brought up the picture he secretly took of Emerson, smiling and in the middle of speaking with Galahad, with his black and rainbow streaked hair and his eyes outlined in eyeliner and his powder blue fedora. He slowly stood and handed the phone to Arthur, who could only stare at it with an expression full of so much hope that it made Gawain want to look away to give him a private moment.

“His name is Emerson now?” whispered Arthur thickly.

“Mmmhmm M. Emerson Gray actually. What the M stands for? No clue,” stated Galahad with a shrug. Slowly, he stared down Arthur with his deep green eyes, “He’s coming here tomorrow to talk about us backing his business.”

“Here?”

“Yes. He’s coming in a little after one for us to talk. You’re more than welcomed to meet him.”

Arthur went back to looking at the phone for several seconds. He drank every detail of Emerson’s face in: the hair, the cheekbones, the smile, the earrings. He couldn’t help but stare at the eyes…sky blue with a swirl of gold in them exactly like Merlin’s. Emerson could pass as Merlin’s twin.

Arthur’s heart clenched at the thought in a painful and longing way.

The former King slowly ran his thumb over an ancient band on his right pointer finger: made three centuries ago when he and Merlin’s fifth reincarnation exchanged rings under the moon in the colonies. Merlin’s name was Martin then with deep red hair and green-gold eyes. He was short and bulky instead of long and lean, but he had the same passion that Merlin had and the same thirst for experiencing life freely. Arthur spent about five years with Martin until he was killed in action during the American Revolution.

He kept his ring. Martin’s was buried with him, under a weeping willow tree in Pennsylvania.

“Arthur?” asked Leon tentatively shocking Arthur out of his thoughts.

“Yes,” murmured Arthur decisively as he ran over the worn metal, “I would like to meet Emerson.”

Arthur slowly brought his legs up in the expensively soft desk chair as he gently thumbed the image one last time.

He was tired of being alone.

Jack: Oh yeah, I love that office-y feel. I always get excited in these places. To me they’re exotic. Office romances…photocopying your butt, well maybe not your butt, although whilst we’re here why don’t we photo-
Ianto: (interrupting) The Rift was active at these coordinates, approximately two hundred feet above ground. This means this floor or the roof.
Jack: How are you Ianto?
Ianto: All the better for having your back sir.
Jack: Can we drop the ‘Sir’ now? I mean, while I was away, I was thinking, maybe we could..You know when this all done...(deep breath) Dinner…movie?
Ianto: Are you asking me out on a date?
Jack: Interested?
–Torchwood

Emerson took a look around The City. He never goes to the financial district of London if he couldn’t help it. The brightness of the glass and chrome moderately frightened him as a child when he and Lawrence took the wrong Tube home. It still scared him a little bit.

It was all too damn…shiny.

Emerson didn’t trust shiny things. He liked them worn and well-loved because shiny things were usually fake and flashy with no personal connection. Emerson loved to feel connected with the greater world.

Looking around when he got off the bus, he knew that he stuck out like a sore thumb in the shiny-ness that surrounded him. He didn’t own a suit, never needed one before, so he wore his nicest pair of jeans (black with no holes but fraying at the bottom) with a loose button up shirt (pattern of some sort that he got at a thrift shop) and a light blue skinny tie. He did own a suit jacket, which he was wearing at the moment, that fit his lanky frame: pinstriped with fraying cuffs and there were buttons on the lapels. Some people shot him funny or filthy looks while most ignored him.

He looked around at all the people in some form of suit walking briskly with cell phones to most of their ears. Some were chatting idly while others were red in the face in anger to those coming back from a lunch break with co-workers.

It almost made Emerson want to forgo the bus or walking and teleport his ass back to the safety of That Shop in Camden. However, he glanced at his reflection and saw Merlin with his arms crossed an eyebrow raised before pointing toward the general direction of Excalibur Incorporated mouthing, “Go”.

Heaving a great sigh, Emerson began to walk briefly consulting his own phone with the directions that Galahad sent him last night. He found himself, about ten minutes later, standing in front of shiniest building of the lot. He shook his head almost fondly at the sight of the building. Of course, Arthur would want the shiniest building them all. It made far too much sense to him.

Emerson straightened his suit jacket before walking into the building. He couldn’t help but let out an impressed whistle. It was the height modernity and technology. It had a very posh feel to it and Emerson knew that it was worth about a million of his little shops. He glanced around the steel and marble area, going back to the second reason for his distrust of shiny things: it never felt personal.

If someone came into That Shop, Emerson could tell you a billion and one stories about each and every little nick and dent in the walls, on the shelves, or what had been hidden with skill and time. He could tell you about the various dress-up days he had with his employees where they got to be silly and childish and had fun. The various nights he hosted where he reveled in the talent of those around him.

He loved That Shop because it was tiny and warm, made of old brick that he had paint crews drench in splashes of paint. It was vibrant and bold and always made an impression. Most patrons would come in a smell the coffee and tea brewing mingled with the scent of cookies, books, and vinyls and say they were home.

He began to walk to the security desk with his driver’s license, he never drove in London but it was always good to have one just in case, to present to the guard. Several people walking past him gave him a variety of curious or disparaging looks as if he didn’t belong there.

Yeah, Emerson knew that he didn’t quite fit in with the picture here. They didn’t really need to look at him like that. Still he made sure to grin and nod his head, and for good measure he blew a few flirty kisses at both genders.

No one said that he wasn’t allowed to have a little fun. If he was going to be uncomfortable…well misery loves company after all.

“Emerson!” shouted Galahad cheerfully.

Emerson turned looking at the other man before smiling.

“Hey Galahad. What’s crack-a-lackin?”

A brief, confused look passed over the immortal knight’s faces. Emerson mentally sniggered at the look before clarifying, “What I’m saying is how’s it going?”

“Oh!” a brief look of comprehension passed over the other’s face, “Well! Thank you for asking. I was just coming back from my lunch break and saw you. Are you ready to talk about numbers?”

“Not really,” admitted Emerson sheepishly, “Maths weren’t my strongest school subject.”

“Eh it’s not for anyone. But your numbers are fantastic. No lie, I almost came at my desk from seeing your estimated projections.”

“I had no idea they were that good.”

“You paid off your bank loan in a year. It’s unheard of.”

“I tend to do what most people consider unheard of. It tends to throw off my enemies.”

Galahad looked a cross between amused and moderately frightened, which was the look Emerson got from your average folk. Though getting that look from an immortal knight did make him feel rather special.

“Can I ask you a couple questions?” inquired Galahad as the two stepped onto an elevator.

“Fire away,” answered Emerson with a shrug.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two. I’ll be twenty-three in October.”

“Really? But your shop profile says…”

“I started my business when I was nineteen, a couple months after I graduated from Uni.”

Galahad looked confused at that statement. Emerson sighed and began to explain.

“I skipped two years. I sat for my GCSE’s at fourteen and my A-levels at sixteen. People kept on calling me a genius. I think most people were disappointed when I opened up my business.”

“Your parents must be proud.”

Emerson blinked and flashed Galahad a funny sort of smile, “I would like to think so.”

“So how’s the work environment there?”

“Oh well everyone seems happy,” answered Emerson with a shrug, “We all get along fairly well. And I know that if someone was unhappy in any way then they would smack me around the head to pay attention to their complaint.”

“Has it happened before?”

“We’ve got a special pillow for it.”

Galahad stared at Emerson for several beats unsure of how to react, “I…see.”

“Oh yeah, we also have a paddle for spankings. Y’know the fun kind, little bit of a love tap really if someone is being way out of line or they just asked for it. Morgan and Lawrence have shared control over the paddle though. Most people in the shop go for it really or some are just too stoned to care, but we haven’t been sued yet. I was thinking of getting an Indiana Jones type whip in order for me to get people’s attention. Or maybe something a dominatrix would use. Personally I feel like I would get a little bit more respect for it as a boss. I found a greatcoat once and wore it to work in order to get some respect, but apparently only John Barrowman makes that look work.”

“This is one of the strangest conversations that I have ever participated in,” Galahad informed Emerson (well he wasn’t sure about that…the sixties/seventies were a bit of blur really) with a grin on his face. Emerson shrugged.

“You want to back That Shop. You have to get used to it. Our weirdness makes us so much better in comparison to all the other edgier combination record store and bookshop and café.”

Galahad snorted and Emerson shared a bright smile as they walked to his office.

“This place is very…shiny,” commented Emerson.

“Oh really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Must be me then. I really don’t like shiny things.”

“Why not?”

“Too new I suppose. I love places with a lot of history in them, memories to share, stories to tell. The flat I rent with Lawrence is supposedly haunted.”

Uh-oh. That could be a problem if Emerson was already involve with someone.

“Is Lawrence your boyfriend?” blurted out Galahad.

Emerson looked briefly taken aback before he started laughing in such a carefree way that it made Galahad smile.

“Ah bless him; I don’t think it’s ever even occurred to him to think of another boy that way. Besides it would be weird. He’s the closest thing to a brother that I’ve got.”

Galahad nodded in understanding, making mental notes of their conversation to share with the other knights later. As they turned the corner to Galahad’s office, the C.F.O. spotted Arthur walking toward them. Emerson paused, staring at the once King with no emotion coming across his face before his (what Galahad assumed was) normal expression of happiness settled over his face.

Quickly the former knight checked to make sure they were in a hall with a video camera, the rest would love to see this later. And Galahad had a front row seat.

“Since you are having a near Death experience then I am, logically, having a near-Vimes experience. Don’t worry about me. I’ve brought a book.”-Death Thud! By Terry Prachett

Galahad looked amused, realized Arthur as he walked down the hallway. He was probably going to go and gossip with the others about this later. Honestly, some days those men were worse then a bunch of gossipy teenage girls over the latest tabloid rag.

“Arthur!” greeted Galahad with a knowing smile on his face, “This is my newest discovery, M. Emerson Gray. He runs That Shop over in Camden.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Emerson with a grin as he held out his hand.

Arthur stared at the face before him, so like Merlin’s it was scary. The grainy camera phone image didn’t do him justice. Arthur hungrily drank in the contours of Emerson’s face, the fullness of his lips, and the brightness in his eyes. He had Merlin’s lanky, boyish frame and was dressed in clothes that seemed ratty and out of place in Excalibur Incorporated.

Arthur hadn’t even had a full conversation with Emerson, but he was pretty sure that he was in love. Everything about his clothing and posture screamed true to his lifelong (so very, very long) romance.

“You as well,” said Arthur as he shook Emerson’s hand, “My name is Arthur Penbrook. May I ask what the M stands for?”

“Mythopoeic.”

“But really…”

“Oh Mister Penbrook,” began Emerson with a wicked grin on his face, “What’s the fun in life without a mystery? Besides Mythopoeic could very well be my first name. My mother could have been a cruel woman for all you know.”

“Is that even a word?” asked Arthur huffily which seemed to amuse Emerson greatly. In turn, it made Arthur a little bit more annoyed. It had been awhile since someone yanked his chain, somewhere in fifties if his memory served him right.

“It means ‘giving rise to myths’, sir,” said Emerson giving Arthur an almost knowing look.

Arthur could feel himself stiffen just a little bit under the look. Could he…? No. It was impossible for one of Merlin’s reincarnations to know before he met them. For all six lives before Emerson, it went as follows: find Merlin’s latest incarnation, incarnation remembers, runs into Arthur’s arms, and live together until incarnation dies. Except it could be different with Emerson, he was the life that could become immortal and cure Arthur’s loneliness.

“It was nice meeting you, Mister Penbrook,” said Emerson with another grin, “But Galahad and I have to discuss the shitload of cash your company wants to give me.”

“Shitload?” asked Arthur with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m censoring my dialogue enough as it is. You’re a big boy, Mister Penbrook. I imagine that you wipe yourself and everything. I think you can handle a spot of foul language.”

“You do realize that I’m in charge here right?” asked Arthur, who should have acted appalled by Emerson’s lack of social graces, but was instead grinning like a loon. Merlin’s latest rebirth or not, he liked this kid, he had fire.

“I’m quaking in my five pound trainers,” stated Emerson dryly not looking intimidated in the slightest. Arthur liked that. He wanted someone to not be intimidated by him, or hide the intimidation extremely well if they were.

Arthur seemed to surprise Emerson when he laughed. He grinned at the slightly shorter man, “Well Mister Gray, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Galahad here. But I would like to discuss your business with you personally.”

Now it was Emerson’s turn to look surprise, “Of course. When do you want me back here?”

Arthur’s grin widened at that, “I think I would like to visit you, Mister Gray. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Camden. How about I visit your shop tomorrow and we can discuss this over dinner?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Believe me, Mister Gray, you would know if I was asking you on a date,” stated Arthur as he winked and strolled away.

“He doesn’t usually act like that,” he heard Galahad say to Emerson.

“Like what? A prat? Funny I would have bet it was his default setting.”

At those words, Arthur let out a booming laugh. Yes it would be fun to get to know this one.

He had fire.

Arthur liked fire.

River Song: I have questions, but number one is this: What in the name of sanity have you got on your head?
Eleventh Doctor: It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.
Amy: (grabs fez and tosses it into the air)
River Song: (blasts it to smithereens)
–The Big Bang

In a meeting room of some swank bar later that night, a group of four men congregated together.

“Were you followed?” hissed one dressed in pressed khakis and an Oxford shirt.

“No,” said the other in nice jeans and an untucked button down shirt, “Of course not. I doubled back twice and…”

“Oh for God’s sake,” cried out Percival as he banged his head against the table, “This isn’t some bloody spy movie!”

Galahad and Leon shot Percival twin filthy looks while Gawain just looked bemused by it.

“You should control him,” stated Percival to Gawain, who shrugged.

“He’ll withhold sex.”

“Did not need to picture that.”

“Funny I thought from the thirties you would have a fairly accurate picture of our sex life.”

“…And that’s another trip to the therapist’s office for me. I’ll be billing you for it, mate.”

“Will that be before or after the inevitable trip to the sanitarium when you tell your psychiatrist about the Fisher King incident?”

“Should we stop them?” whispered Leon to Galahad.

“I don’t know. Whenever Percival riles Gawain up it means sexy funtimes for me that night.”

“I could have gone the rest of my considerably long existence without knowing that Galahad.”

Galahad could only grin at that comment watching Percival and Gawain banter back and forth. He took a drink of the extremely expensive lager in front of him.

“I suppose that we should break them up and discuss what we came here to discuss.”

“Gawain riled up enough for you?”

“Oh yes. This is why I’m glad we have tinted windows in the Jag.”

“And now I’m never driving the Jag again, Galahad.”

“We clean it afterwards.”

“Not getting in there without a full body detail of some sort. Followed by a replacing of the interior.”

“That sounds like too much work. We could just shag over the reception desk again.”

Leon snorted at this. The receptionist for them all was a terrible person. They all hated him but he was good at his job and they really couldn’t be arsed to find a replacement. They figured the best plan was to wait him out until he was sued for something then kick him out on his ass.

“Good for you mate.”

Galahad could only smirk wickedly in response.

“We should break this up.”

“Go for it, Leon.”

Using his experience as a knight (though at this point he feels like a baby sitter), he let out a sharp whistle that had the arguing pair standing to attention.

“Amazing how long Arthur’s training lasts,” he commented to Galahad.

“Mmm,” hummed the shorter man in agreement.

“Alright,” began Leon, “We’re here to make sure that Emerson, Merlin’s current incarnation, and Arthur get together. Because if we don’t then we’ll have to deal with a mopey Arthur for millennia intervals until centuries. And no one here wants that.”

“Here here!” called Percival in agreement.

“So we want them together. Because if Arthur starts pouting like a little bitch over the next several millennia then I will start pushing him off roofs that he likes to brood on.”

“What is it with immortals and brooding on roofs anyway,” wondered Galahad aloud.

“Fuck if I know,” said Percival, “It must have something to do with waiting or whatever. We should get him a long coat though, and then it would be a better picture.”

“That’s quite true,” said Galahad as he thought it over.

Gawain cleared his throat pointedly shocking the two out of their side conversation. The pair shrugged in apology.

“Alright so what should we do?”

“Stalk ‘em,” called Galahad, “We should probably bring in one of Emerson’s friends as well. It would give an insight on his…unique perspective.”

“How insane is he?”

“No more insane then the rest of us.”

The knights went quiet at that. They consisted of a cracked out math genius, a sarcastic moody bastard, a horny narcissistic bastard, and Leon (who perhaps was the only sane person there).

“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” asked Gawain to the room.

No one was certain how to respond to that. Percival sighed and stood.

“I’ll call the therapist. This is going to end in group therapy for all involved.”

No one questioned him.


PART THREE

 


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