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“Love is always the answer. …However, while you’re waiting for the answer. Sex raises some very interesting questions.” –Woody Allen

“Call me Ishmael,” said Morgan solemnly as she sauntered into ‘That Shop’ wearing men’s trousers with a baggy button up shirt. Her long hair was in a ponytail and she drew a five o’clock shadow on her pretty face. She grinned enjoying one the establishment’s random dress up days. Everyone took advantage of them to have fun.

“What’s up Ishmael?!” shouted several of the other employees dressed in varying degrees of cross dressing and outrageous-ness.

Morgan (or Ishmael rather) stopped when she caught sight of a pair of long, pale, smooth legs. She quirked an eyebrow as she took in the outfit in front of her: red and black checked mini skirt, black fishnets, a white shirt and a black cashmere jumper; a pair of red Converse trainers adorned the feet.

“So it was you who stole my skirt, huh?”

Emerson’s eyes, bright and perfectly made up, peered at her from the top of Attitude.

“It wasn’t stealing, per say, I was just borrowing it with the intent of giving it back after dry cleaning it.”

Morgan eyed the skirt and then looked at Emerson.

“Keep it.”

“That’s what I would’ve said,” stated Merlin with a wise nod from his mirror.

“Did you wear dresses frequently when you were alive?”

“You have my memories, Emerson,” said Merlin with a wink and an out of place leer, “You tell me.”

Emerson froze as if searching for something in his mind, frozen for several moments before turning several shades of red and hiding his face behind the magazine. Merlin could only grin wickedly, looking as if he were going to burst out in an evil cackle any moment. Morgan shook her head before taking her place at the open register.

“So did we get the mula, lovely?”

“Galahad’s all for it,” said Emerson with a flush to his face, “Apparently he’s getting some sort of twisted, sexual pleasure from the numbers we’re generating.”

“Gross,” stated Morgan dryly, “Continue.”

“His boss, Arthur, wants to discuss it.”

“Well that’s not bad. You just charm him into giving you the cash. You can be very charming.”

“Morgan,” said Emerson slowly as if he explaining something to a particularly slow child, “Galahad’s boss is that Arthur.”

Morgan’s head snapped up at the statement. She and Emerson had been friends since university, and while she didn’t know the whole story (like Lawrence did) by any stretch of the imagination, she knew enough, “…You don’t mean…”

“Mmm,” said Emerson with a determined sort of nod, “Afraid so.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“Well I’m assuming this is some sort of half-assed attempt to get me on a date with him. I will prove decidedly elusive to catch. If he wants me in bed, then he’s going to have to work for it. I want to be…”

“Courted? Wooed?”

“Is there any other way to say it?”

“Not really.”

“Fine,” pouted Emerson, “If he wants me so bad, then he’s going to have to work for it.”

Morgan took his hand in her beautifully manicured one and squeezed it, “It will all work itself out in the end.”

With that sentiment, she walked off. Emerson watched her go before turning back to his magazine.

“Why do you think people say that?” asked Merlin leaning against the mirror frame with his arms crossed, “They always say that. ‘It will all work out in the end.’ But what if it doesn’t?”

“Oh don’t be cynical, Merlin. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Still…”

Emerson closed his magazine and placed it on the side. He looked at his former self, “Well it’s not like anyone here knows how to deal with this situation. So they say ‘it will all work out in the end’ because there’s a good chance that it will. And if it doesn’t, well, we certainly can’t blame them because there hasn’t been a situation like this. Ever. So everyone who knows about this offers platitudes and encouragement because they aren’t sure how to deal with it.”

“But that’s stupid to do.”

“No one said people were smart when it came to matters of the heart. They’re to worry about their own lives. Just because yours and mine are screwed up doesn’t mean we’re getting any special treatment.”

“It’s your love life more than it’s mine.”

Emerson gave Merlin a funny sort of look and sighed. Blue-gold eyes met an identical set.

“But we have the same soul, Merlin,” stated Emerson as if it was the most important reason in all the world.

“True,” said Merlin with a nod, “But your heart is your own. Don’t love Arthur because of me. Love him because you want to.”

They sat in silence for a couple minutes. Emerson made idle small-talk to the regular patrons who came up to him. Merlin watched the world go by from the mirror he was currently residing in. Once Emerson was alone, he stared into the mirror again.

“The problem is,” stated the cross-dressed man as he brushed a stray thread from his skirt, “that I’m not sure if he’s looking at me or for some resemblance of you.”

Merlin chuckled, “Is that all?”

Emerson glared, “Yes that’s all, Merlin. Don’t treat this like some minor thing. These are my emotions.”

Merlin held up his hands in a placating manner, “My apologies. But I remember all my past incarnations. You have vague recollections. Granted, Arthur didn’t court them properly but…he loved each of them for who they were. He knew the difference between me and them, but he still fell in love with them.”

Emerson rubbed his hand over his face, “I think this is too heavy to discuss before my not-date with Arthur.”

“Just a bit.”

“Well he should be here soon? Think I’ll make an impression?”

“You should probably reapply your lipstick there, Emerson. You’re smudging.”

“Bloody make-up. How does my skirt look?”

“It’s very you,” said Merlin amusedly as he watched Emerson reapply his makeup. He could only smirk though, thinking about Arthur’s expression of seeing Emerson. He just hoped Arthur realize how Emerson would never make his life boring.

“Good Lord, they did it. They actually did it. Those crazy nerds blew up the Buy More!” –Big Mike ‘Chuck’

“Hello Mister Penbrook,” said Emerson breezily with a grin playing on his red painted lips.

Arthur could only stare at Emerson, dressed in women’s clothing, looking as calm as can be. He opened and closed his mouth several times unsure how to proceed. Emerson happily made the decision for him.

“So where are you taking me?” asked the man as he jokingly batted his eyes.

“I was hoping you would show me.”

“Of course, Mister Penbrook, come on.”

“Arthur, please,” said the blond suddenly, “Call me Arthur.”

Emerson could only smile mysteriously. They walked shoulder to shoulder as a light drizzle descended upon Camden. Their shoulders almost touched. Arthur vaguely thought that anyone who could see them would think they were a couple. However, Arthur felt like there was a deep chasm between them. He had never been so intimidated or intrigued in his life.

“What’s with the get up?”

Emerson grinned fondly at that. He made quite a fetching girl with his long legs and lean body, even turned a couple of heads as they walked down the street together.

“We have dress up days at ‘That Shop’. I enjoy and the employees enjoy it. It was Drag Day today. Women dress like the boys. Men dress like the girls. People who don’t want to participate or are uncomfortable with theme let me know and I’ll schedule around it. However, if someone agrees and forgets…,” he grinned evilly.

“What?”

“We have a kinky S&M bondage suit. And they must wear it as their punishment.”

Arthur stared at the other man, unsure if he was joking or not. Emerson only smiled mysteriously.

“So how old are you anyway? You look really young to be running Excalibur.”

Arthur startled at that and sighed. He was over a millennia and half years old. He had seen civilizations grow and technology developed. But he still looked like he did when he was a Prince of Camelot. He still remembered having an older body: of how his knee would act it when it was about to rain or how Merlin had to conjure up those balls of light so he could get work done at night. He was forcibly pulled out of his musing by someone pinching his ass. He yelped and glared at the offender, Emerson looked at him with bemused eyes.

“Firm,” purred the cross-dressed man as he winked, “Not what I would expect from a C.E.O. sir.”

“I could sue you for harassment.”

“It’s only harassment if you don’t enjoy it,” clarified Emerson, “Besides we’re here.”

‘Here’ was a small, sandwich shop. Arthur sniffed the air and his stomach growled; it smelled of meat and vegetables. It made his mouth water at the thought of it.

“So I was thinking for dessert you would like to try the café at my shop.”

“Sounds good, Emerson,” said Arthur, “So now that you’ve asked my age…”

“A question that you never answered, but since your company wants to give me a shitload of cash then I’m in no position to complain,” stated Emerson dryly as he wandered up to order his food, “I’m twenty-one.”

Arthur’s eyebrow went up at that, “And your shop has been opened for two years. You were nineteen when you opened it?”

“Apparently I’m a genius,” said Emerson with a shrug of his shoulders, “I skipped two grades and took my A-levels at sixteen. Then I just went to Uni on a full ride, graduated, and decided to give running a shop a try.”

“What do your parents say?”

Emerson paused to give the clerk behind the counter his order before addressing Arthur’s question.

“They don’t do a lot of speaking. They died when I was a baby. I imagine that they would be proud of me, but truth be told, I have no idea what they would think of me.”

Arthur’s throat went dry at the revelation, “Oh…Emerson I’m…”

“Please don’t say that you’re sorry,” said Emerson with a quirk of an eyebrow looking as comfortable as can be in the skirt and women’s jumper, “It’s ridiculous to apologize for something that I barely remember happening. Shit like that happens. I was left on the doorsteps of an orphanage. I grew up, went to school, and was hailed as a prodigy. Moment I turned sixteen; I went to University and graduated three years later with two degrees. Then I hounded loan officers until they gave me the money that I needed to start up my shop.”

“It’s still terrible about your parents,” said Arthur stubbornly as he went to order his own meal. Emerson only smiled in a sad sort of way.

“Life often can be. You just pick yourself up and give yourself a way out.”

Arthur watched Emerson as he waited for his meal. He looked totally calm in his surroundings, even smiling and blowing kisses to a few people who gave him dirty looks. Arthur heard his number and went to get his lunch.

“So,” said Emerson as he sat down at the table with his meal, “What is your age?”

“I’m twenty-four,” lied Arthur easily with a grin.

“And your one of the richest men in United Kingdom,” said Emerson bemusedly, “What? You didn’t think I would research you, Arthur? I wanted to know if Excalibur was the real thing.”

“You’re very cautious, Emerson.”

“Only in a couple matters,” stated the multi-colored haired man with a girl, “Most of the time I tend to step off the ledge and hope that I land in a mattress truck.”

Arthur chuckled at this.

“So why the not-date, Arthur?” asked Emerson bluntly. Arthur choked on his lunch.

“W-what?” he spluttered staring at the other man.

“Please don’t take me for an idiot, Arthur. You pay for my lunch, pick me up from work, and Galahad talked with me about my business yesterday. You easily could’ve gotten it from a report. So why the not-date?”

Arthur felt the back his neck flush with that statement, “You intrigue me.”

“I intrigue a lot of people, Arthur,” stated Emerson with a grin full of teeth, “But I get the idea. So if I intrigue you so much. Perhaps you want to ask me on a proper date?”

“Why are you assuming that I’m gay?”

“Are you?”

“Well…yes…but…”

Emerson shrugged as he bit into his sandwich, “Well my life philosophy is everyone is bi until I’m told otherwise. I never really understood the differences between the sexes.”

Arthur looked pointedly at Emerson’s get up with a raised eyebrow. No, he wouldn’t understand it easily at all. But he wisely kept his mouth shut rather than risk making Emerson angry with him. It was something that Merlin’s incarnations always seemed to not understand: why some taboos were in place, why people acted the way they did. Sometimes Arthur wanted to see what they (and by they he means those special, wonderful, beautiful men who have the most beautiful soul in existence) saw, just for a moment.

“Alright then,” said Arthur with a grin, “Let’s date.”

“Why would you assume that I want to date you?”

“Because you’re here on our not-date.”

“But you’re assuming, Mister Penbrook,” said Emerson as he stood up, “And I’m the type of guy that wants to be romanced first.”

“A-are you saying that I should court you?!” blustered Arthur, his face flushed.

Emerson laughed: a light, airy sound that reminded Arthur of a summer breeze. He leaned in so close that Arthur could smell the scent of old books, vinyl polish, and biscuits. Slowly Emerson kissed Arthur, who shuddered at the sure contact. Emerson pulled away and whispered to him.

“Catch me if you can, Mister Penbrook.”

Arthur looked up, but Emerson was out the door in a flurry of long fishnet covered legs and black cashmere. He sat at the table for a really long time. His heart pounded in his ears and slowly Arthur touched his lips.

He was just kissed by Merlin’s reincarnation who was dressed in drag and, apparently, had a genius I.Q. that wanted Arthur to court him. The former king slowly let out a loud, deep belly laugh that startled most in the shop before leaving with a crazed grin on his face.

This was going to be the most fun he has had in a long time.

“Do you wanna come with me? ‘Cause if you do I should warn you, you’re gonna see all sorts of things. Ghosts from the past. Aliens from the future. The day the Earth died in a ball of flame. It won’t be quiet, it won’t be safe, and it won’t be calm. But I’ll tell you what it will be: a trip of a lifetime!” –Ninth Doctor

“So what do we do?” asked Leon knocking back as shot after they left Arthur in the apartment planning to ‘court’ Emerson.

“I can’t believe Arthur’s going to court him. It’s not going to end well. Arthur is about as subtle as getting run over by a lorry and Emerson isn’t going to appreciate the normal romantic gestures.”

“So you’re saying that you want Emerson to court Arthur, Percival?”

Percival paused. He could only imagine what Emerson’s idea of courting someone involved. He shuddered at the thought.

“So we’re going to have to do the work,” said Gawain with a sigh, “When did we become Cupid?”

“When that lazy bastard went on holiday in Turkey and fell in love with that dancer,” grumbled Leon as he knocked back another shot, “There’s no way I’m talking about this whole mess sober.”

“Try the blue stuff!” called Galahad cheerfully as he sipped some sort of bright blue drink that had some kind of fruit in it, “It’s delicious.”

“It’s in the glass they serve cosmos.”

“I’m secure enough in my masculinity. Besides I already take it up the ass from Gawain, so I don’t see any reason to care.”

Gawain flushed, “Galahad! Time and place.”

“Our room at midnight?” purred Galahad drunkenly.

“Oh gods,” said Percival as he clapped his hands over his ears, “I don’t think I’m old enough to hear this conversation.”

“So we’re going to have to get Emerson and Arthur together…or you know intercept Arthur’s attempts at romance and replace it with ones less likely to anger Emerson.”

“Exactly,” said Galahad nodding.

The four fell silent each lost in their thoughts of how to do this. Leon slammed back two more shots before surveying the other men before: men that he had fought with, almost died with, lived with, friends with for over fifteen hundred years. He sighed and tentatively stated.

“Does anyone remember the days when we weren’t interested in Arthur and Merlin’s epic homoerotic romance? Because I kind of miss those days.”

“Here here!!” called Percival as he raised his own glass. Galahad and Gawain raised their glasses as well and the quartet bowed their heads as one.

Galahad paused after the moment of silence, “So I know a good florist.”

Leon knocked back another shot with Percival and Gawain. They were going to have to be very, very drunk to do this thing properly.

Honestly, the things they did for their king.

They couldn’t say that life was ever boring though.

“A legal kiss is never as good as a stolen one.” –Unknown

“Huh,” said Emerson with a bemused expression as he walked into ‘That Shop’ a little two weeks after his not-date with Arthur. Sporadically, he has been getting gifts from the smitten C.E.O. A shiny new iPhone, several rare books, and a new laptop were sent to him. However, the iPhone was given to Lawrence (who broke his old cell phone). The books were placed within his store. And the laptop was given to a scholarship university student who frequented That Shop.

Rather than getting angry that Arthur was trying to buy him, Emerson was getting amused. It was almost endearing to him the way Arthur was going about it like a kid with his first crush. The shop owner chuckled as he looked at the newest and loveliest gift. Flowers. Hundreds upon hundreds of flowers were placed all around his shop. They were tucked in with the books, wrapped around the headphones, vases of flowers placed on the tables in the café. It was colorful and beautiful and Emerson was more than touched at the gesture. He looked at the roses placed were he sat every day.

Beautiful, snow white roses rested there. Emerson picked one up and smiled a little fingering the satiny flower petal.

“It’s beautiful,” murmured Merlin from his mirror.

“Yeah it is…,” said Emerson as he smelled it.

“I take it you know who’s behind this?” asked Morgan with a grin, a fistful of wildflowers was held close to her chest.

“Arthur Penbrook,” said Emerson laughingly.

“Oh that Arthur,” murmured Morgan.

“I take it you like it?” asked another voice. Merlin ducked from view as Emerson turned.

“Oh hello Arthur,” said Emerson, “Yes they’re quite lovely.”

Arthur smiled and Emerson tried not to notice how the smile lit up his entire face. He turned away. Alright, Emerson could admit that Arthur was possibly the most handsome man he had ever seen. He straightened his back determined not to let Arthur buy him or charm him.

“Did you like my other gifts?”

“They were nice, but I gave them to other people who needed them more than me.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow, “Oh really?”

Emerson nodded, “I don’t need to be bought, Mister Penbrook.”

Arthur flushed at that, “My friends told me that as well. I hope that you like flowers.”

“Lucky for you. I do.”

“Emerson spent many a day studying in Royal Botanical Gardens,” said Lawrence as he walked in with a shipment of teas and coffees for the café.

“Hey Lawrence!” called Emerson cheerfully, “This is Arthur Penbrook.”

Lawrence’s eyebrow went up, “I suppose you’re who I have to thank for my new phone, then. Lawrence Gray, pleasure to meet you.”

“Gray?”

“The nun who found us was named Harriet Gray,” said Emerson with a shy smile, “We only had our first names, so she gave us her last.”

“So Arthur,” said Lawrence as he cracked his back, “What’re your intentions toward Emerson?”

Lawrence stood to his full height, which allowed him to tower menacingly over Arthur. While Lawrence was an easy going generally sweet natured guy, much like a big puppy. He could turn Cujo in a second if Emerson’s happiness and well-being were on the line. Only years of training as a knight, being a King, and several centuries of life had allowed Arthur not to cower under the intense glare.

“Oh this is going to be good,” muttered Emerson to Morgan, who nodded in agreement. A bag of jelly babies were opened between them.

Arthur cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, “I wish to court Emerson.”

Morgan let out a giggle at that, “Court? Like some over dramatic bodice ripper?”

The blond flushed at that but nodded, “Yes I want to court him. And as someone Emerson considers family, than I would like to tell of my intention to court him.”

Emerson could tell that Lawrence was trying very hard not to smile. The taller man nodded thoughtfully at that statement.

“And why do you think you’re worthy of such an honor?”

“Because I…,” Arthur began and paused before standing up straighter, “I admire him.”

Now that made Emerson blush.

Seriously? The man who was once the King of Camelot admired him? He was just some orphan. Sure he could be considered a genius, but he had never done anything noteworthy. The only thin interesting about him was his smarts and who he was reincarnated from. He was just Emerson.

Lawrence stared at Arthur’s face, seemingly searching for something. He evidently found what he was looking for in Arthur’s face because Lawrence grinned.

“Permission granted, Arthur Penbrook.”

Arthur smiled before turning to Emerson, who was staring at Arthur a little dazedly.

“Would you care to accompany me to dinner next Friday night?”

Emerson’s throat constricted at the sight of those blue eyes focused on him. He could only nod.

“I guess that would be fine.”

Arthur’s face brightened immediately, “Fantastic! I’ll call you with the details.”

Emerson could only stare dumbly as Arthur left to go to his car.

“Well that was different,” said Morgan.

“Just a tad strange,” agreed Emerson.

“So…,” began Lawrence as he hoisted himself up next to Emerson, “Does this make me your dad?”

Emerson snorted, “God I hope not.”

“Good. I don’t think I could handle standing menacingly while going on about the nice set of cooking knives we have.”

“Pssh you don’t have a menacing bone in your body. What do you think, Merlin? …Merlin?”

Merlin was looking at something from his mirror.

“What is it?” asked Emerson.

“I forgot how good Arthur was with children.”

Emerson looked out the window where Merlin was positioned toward. His heart melted a little at the sight of Arthur calming a distraught little girl, who had lost one of her parents. He watched as a woman ran over and picked up the little girl in relief before thanking Arthur profusely. The man looked uncomfortable but accepted her thanks before disappearing into his limo.

Emerson smiled a little to himself before going back to his work.

“Heroes. Giants. Villains. Wizards. True Love. Not just your basic, average, every day, run of the mill fairytale.” –The Princess Bride

“Emerson don’t you think you’re being a little cruel to Arthur?” asked Merlin from his position in the mirror. Emerson paused in his ritual of getting ready for bed. His long dexterous fingers fisted the black tank top in his hands. The normally cheerful man looked oddly somber.

“Merlin,” said Emerson not looking into the mirror, “You loved Arthur. You still do.”

“Always,” confirmed his past life. Merlin was confused. He could count on one hand the times that Emerson had even a remotely serious look on his face.

“I’m your reincarnation, Merlin,” pointed out Emerson quietly, “I look like you. I can do magic. I have your memories. I have the memories of our past couple lives. But…I’m still myself. I’m still M. Emerson Gray: the kid no one paid attention to in school. I’m the guy that doesn’t get swept off his feet by immortal princes with promises of destiny and immortality. In our last few lives, Merlin, it wasn’t okay to be homosexual. We thought that it wasn’t right to demand Arthur commit to us and only to us. We were too frightened of getting him into trouble and having magic be revealed.”

Merlin nodded accepting this. Even in Camelot, which under Arthur’s rule had flourished into a more tolerant place, being in love with someone of the same gender was looked upon with distrust and hostility. While it killed Arthur that he couldn’t publically be with Merlin; he had to think of the kingdom before his own heart. In every life subsequent, there was still a stigma attached to being homosexual. Merlin had to stand quietly by as Arthur was preyed upon by beautiful, buxom women.

Even after all these lifetimes, he still had trouble believing that Arthur had fallen in love with him of all people. Emerson glanced up meeting his past life’s eyes.

“Perhaps I am being cruel to Arthur,” said Emerson with a nod, “But I am the life that may be made immortal as well. If I am going to spend literally eternity with one man, then I demand some romance first. I want the whole package deal, Merlin. I don’t want him to think just because I am your reincarnation that I will immediately fall into his arms and we will live happily ever after. This isn’t a romantic comedy or a fairy-tale, despite the magic. This is real life. This is my life. Truth be told, I don’t know Arthur that well. He’s someone from my dreams and storybooks. I want to know the man. I want to go out in public with him knowing that people won’t lock us up. Please, Merlin, just trust me on this. I think we both need this. Arthur didn’t have to work for it the first time around. We fell in love quietly. This time I want to make some noise.”

“I can understand where you’re coming from, Emerson,” said Merlin gently, “Just don’t string him along.”

“I won’t,” promised the multi-colored hair man, “Not intentionally at least. I just want to like him on my own terms. Instead of feeling forced because I am the newest body to house our soul.”

“He is a good man.”

Emerson thought of Arthur gently calming the girl who lost her mother on the street outside his shop. The corners of his lips tipped up just the slightest bit.

“That he is, Merlin,” agreed Emerson softly, “That he is.”

PART FOUR
 

 


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