Author's Note: Ha almost put Arthur's note :P Anyways, this part is definitely a 180º shift in mood from the first part. It's a tad angsty in parts, but overall this deserves a cavity warning and could most likely be considered fluff (oh jeez I wrote fluff.) Oh and if you have slash goggles on this could definitely be seen as pre-slash, but not anything really big there if you don't slash.
Spoilers: Quick mentions of characters/events from the second and third series so pretty much all episodes.
Disclaimer: again, not mine.
... and the One Time He Wasn't
Merlin bemoaned the fact that he must always start out his new lives as a child. He often drove whatever parents he had been born to mad, as their babe knew far too much too early. It was morbid but he liked the times he awoke to a life where he had already been abandoned by his parents and was content to live self-contained in an orphan's home until he reached the, in his opinion, stupidly high age of majority in these times. This unfettered life gave him the opportunities to re-hone the skills that were necessary to start his search anew each time. The older art of pick-pocketing still required as much practice as his new love of computer hacking. He always tried to erase his previous electronic existence before he became a legal adult, it saved hassle. Another helpful thing about the newer lives was that maybe it was the magic, or maybe it was the people of Avalon themselves, but he recently started to sync up with Arthur in their reincarnations. Their ages became truer reflections of the scant years that had been between them while alive and this made it easier to find the wayward king.
Merlin had decided to relax this incarnation, maybe it was the still fresh pain of Arthur's happy life without him or maybe his laziness rearing it's head again but he wanted a life off. He started this frivolous incarnation by reverting to his old name, bullies be damned. He was Merlin Gaius Emrys this time around, in a nod to his mentor as well as a blatant attempt to hold onto who he truly was. Yeah, he generally went by MG, but that just saved explaining how he got the name (gave it to himself when he showed up at the police station at four years old, hungry and annoyed at being stuck out in the rain.) He went to university again, pissing off the professors by knowing so many things they didn't, but really, it was his sixth or seventh time through and even though a literature major was new, there was bound to be some repeating classes. Celebrating the short-lived freedom from the never-ending hunt for Arthur, Merlin became a somewhat well known author of medieval fantasy novels under the alias M. Emerson. Fame had to be curtailed and he never allowed pictures of himself to be published on his books, that would be impossible to get rid of in his next life. He wondered when he started assuming that he would fail this time around, that he would have a next life, but shook it off with the admonishment that this was his life to relax and be happy. And he was, on the surface at least, it was hard to ignore the burning embers in his head that told him Arthur was indeed in this time but he was unwilling to face possible rejection again, even as he knew it was his choice to allow his friend to live out the last incarnation, happy and with a beautiful family. So, for the first time in a very long time, Merlin stopped searching for Arthur and simply lived.
Maybe this threw off a centuries old balance, maybe the residents of Avalon learned the concept of mercy, but Merlin's cessation of the search for one lifetime caused a shift he could never have imagined.
Arthur Pendragon, yes, that was his name; yes, it was after that old myth; and yes, that's why he named his company The Camelot Agency, was a restless young man. At twenty-seven he was already co-director of the company he had founded with his stepsister Morgana, and their stable of agents presided over everything from actors and authors to stuntmen and models. His top talent agents, besides himself and Morgana of course, were a married couple and his closest friends, Gwen and LJ, whose real name was Lancelot but that was just taking things too far in Arthur's opinion, who the hell named their kid Lancelot? He was well aware of the endless jokes surrounding the suspiciously sounding names of him and his friends and the fact a rival company's CEO was Mordred Denton at times made him wonder if there was something to it. He always laughed at himself when these thoughts surfaced, but he couldn't help wondering.
When he got a little tipsy and started believing the coincidence meant more than the fact their parents all hated them, he reminded himself that if there was some mystical force behind their names, there would be a Merlin. After all, he had always thought Merlin was just as important as Arthur in the legends, in a literature class he had written a paper about the famous ruler and his warlock advisor entitled "Two Sides of the Same Coin" that had garnered him an A in what he fondly remembered as a favorite class. Anyway, just because their names were similar and they were all friends, well he and Morgana weren't exactly friends, and that he and Gwen had kind of had a thing in uni didn't mean anything. Morgana and he weren't sworn enemies and while they sniped at each other, they were very protective of their sibling when outside forces tried to attack. Also, Gwen never cheated on him, having ended their relationship a month before she met the other man, it had hurt when she had ended it yeah but seeing her so happy with LJ meant he could never be angry at his oldest friend.
It was absurd to think some coincidental names meant anything and it was his and Morgana's choice to play off it by naming the newborn company after the legendary kingdom. That had been a mere five years ago, he had just graduated from university and Morgana was already a few years into a successful career as a talent agent. In the last few years their company had expanded more than they could have foreseen.
Even with almost everything he could every imagine within reach, he could still never shake the feeling that something was missing, although he had no idea what. Laughing at his craziness he headed down to the gym in his giant home. He knew it was too big for him but he liked wandering the halls at night, like castles of old it was silent except for the odd sounds that buildings were wont to make as they settled and he loved those noises. Going to a closet in the side of the gym he pulled out his favorite workout gear, few people knew about the man's normal gym routine simply because he knew it would lead to even more ridicule. The shining sword in his hand was heavy and sharp, knights of old would be jealous of the superior blade and he loved the sound it made swinging through the air as he began a practice drill. What had begun as a silly break from his normal workout when LJ got a stuntmen client who was a champion with the sword and eager to impress his new agent's boss by showing him the ropes, had become a serious love affair with the ancient weapon.
Finishing the practice drill with a grunt he turned toward the door. He had heard someone come in during his warmup, but knew that anyone who managed to make it to the gym would be wise enough to wait until he was ready to acknowledge them. Morgana called him his royal highness when he voiced such thoughts but really it was only polite to wait until he was done swinging a live weapon around to bother him with the details of the day. He broke into a grin when he saw it was LJ with his trainer, the stuntmen who had originally taught them both to fight, Gawain. Another old name, but at least his parents had the excuse it was his great grandfather's name or something like that.
"Ready for a bout milord?" Gawain thought their names' similarity to the characters in the legend was hilarious and loved annoying Arthur by referring to him with royal titles. Arthur would never admit that when his friend did this he felt a sense of rightness deep down, he thought even patient Gwen would scoff at how arrogant that made him sound, because he could never describe it properly. It wasn't arrogance, it was familiarity. Shaking off those thoughts again, Arthur responded enthusiastically and hoped the workout would drive those ridiculous ideas out of his head.
Later, with hair still damp from his post-workout shower he sauntered into the agency conference room chatting with his stepsister as they took seats with the others at the conference table. It was round but that was another thing no one joked about, it was supposed to have been oval but an incorrect delivery slip had brought it and Arthur found he couldn't send it back once he saw it and felt that strange jolt of rightness deep in his gut. He really should get his head checked out one of these days.
The group which included the two directors; Gwen; LJ; Leon, Head of Security; and Gregory, in charge of all paperwork and records for the company, settled in to discuss the business of the day.
Leon spoke first, "George is finishing up the last of the yearly physicals for all clients, he says they should be done sometime this afternoon, and that he is sorry he couldn't make the meeting."
Small smirks made their way across everyone's faces, they knew their old friend hated these meetings, said being around so many young people made him feel all of his fifty odd years, ignoring the fact that Gregory was actually his senior by a few years. Arthur paused for the third time that morning, he alone knew that George's real name was Gaius, another medieval coincidence that George had changed out of embarrassment. He really needed to relax, he wasn't sure why today of all days he was dwelling on these silly things. He had to focus, his title as co-director was not honorary, he and Morgana both earned their keep by managing the overall business as well as their select few individual clients.
A secret smirk on Morgana's face made him narrow his gaze, partners or not, everyone better be wary when she was plotting.
"So stepbrother mine, you know how you've been trying to contact that author M. Emerson whatshisface for ages now? I got word that his literary agent is retiring to have a baby or something," the quick look of disgust on Morgana's face made her view on babies clear as well as making her long time on-and-off boyfriend Leon roll his eyes. Glaring at him, she continued, "Anyway, I put out some feelers and managed to get word that he was going to be in town this week. All we need to do is set up a meeting and you can charm his pants off. Not literally, of course!"
Choking sounds around the room made Arthur lean back in his chair with a sigh, date a few people, men and women, and everyone thinks you're a manslut. Sitting up quickly enough to make his stepsister jump, sometimes he really was immature, he spoke.
"One time! That was one time, and I had no idea that she was the stunt women LJ was trying to sign. She signed with us after all so I don't know what you're complaining about," muttering under his breath Arthur debated gagging his stepsister during these meetings, if only she didn't come up with some damn good ideas. "I'll get on that, I heard he had a pretty strong obsession with coffee, get me the hotel he's staying out and I'll have Aredian stake out the closest cafés. Yes, I know we don't know what he looks like but it can't hurt."
Gwen took a breath before jumping in, "It might, actually. We know that M. Emerson has gone to great lengths to protect his privacy, I doubt even Morgana could get his hotel information," Her quick look at her friend, reassured Gwen that comment hadn't offended the woman. "and even if she can, I don't think he would be pleased at having an investigator staking him out if the man ever found out. And Aredian is creepy, sire."
The sarcastic use of the royal title proved that Gwen and Morgana spent a little too much time around each other in Arthur's opinion, but he couldn't deny she was right.
"We could always try, you know, asking the man if he would like to sign with us." Lancelot's direct to the point declaration made the rest of the team turn toward him. "If he really values his privacy wouldn't he rather know we were looking at him and were willing to give him the chance to get to know us on his terms?"
The co-directors looked at each other, each seeing the wisdom in LJ's statement. Nodding, they turned as one to the rest of table and spoke in unison, "That's settled," breaking off they shot the other mock glares before Arthur gestured gallantly to Morgana to continue. Her icy look was pure noble lady, "As I was saying, I will get into contact with his people and put the offer on the table. Any other business we need to discuss?"
After a few more housekeeping duties, Leon started to go over the newest updates to security, some of their talent required protection and the senior staff needed to know at all times who needed what. Leon's comments were interspaced with small hesitations and blushes and Arthur really didn't need to know that his stepsister was playing footsie with her apparently on again boyfriend during a team meeting. Leon thankfully made it through his updates quickly and the group scattered to their respective offices, mostly their own offices.
Arthur settled into his pretty-damn-expensive ergonomically designed chair with a sigh. He was glad that besides Morgana's snide comment, no one had mentioned his overt interest in the author. He honestly could not explain it to anyone, but he had to meet this author, had to sign him to The Camelot Agency. He rubbed his forehead, frustration with this day already surfacing at a little after ten. He needed a vacation, as soon as they signed Emerson, maybe he'd get away for a little bit. God knows, he deserved a break and he knew Morgana was quite capable of managing on her own for a week or two, whether he would still have a job when he got back was another story. He chuckled to himself, his stepsister was ambitious but she loved him and would never go behind his back like that, it was just a running gag in the office as the reason he never left for any kind of vacation.
Concentrating on the mounds of paperwork being at the top entailed was almost impossible as he waited anxiously for news about Morgana's attempts to contact the author. She pinged him on the interoffice messaging system shortly before noon, that she had gotten the reclusive man's contact and thought her dear stepbrother would like to pen the email. Also, she was going to be out of the office for the rest of the day. As soon as he finished reading the message and the contact info she provided he saw Morgana dragging a bright red Leon out of the office, and she called him a slut!
Opening his mail program and filling in the contact email Morgana gave him, Arthur had to grab the edge of his desk to stop his hands from shaking. This was ridiculous! He was a mature and sophisticated, a snort in his head at that description sounded suspiciously like Morgana, he didn't, shouldn't get nervous like this. His company represented over one hundred successful people in various careers. They had other, more famous, authors, some that Arthur had brought in himself. Why did this one seem to matter so much more?
Ignoring the voice in his head that told him that this email was the single most important communication he would draft in his entire life, Arthur started with a simple greeting, introducing himself and the company and mentioning the mutual contact who had given his company the author's information. After Gwen's reminder of the paranoid nature of this client Arthur was careful to word the email as non-threateningly as possible. He felt like he was trying to coax a skittish horse to eat out of his hand, and then wondered when he ever tried to feed a horse.
The letter was completed, professional and informative and all Arthur had to do was send it. Something niggled at the back of his brain and before he could over think it he added a postscript and hit send.
Leaning back in his chair he worried that his addition was a little strange and hoped it didn't chase the author off. At peace for the first time today, and if he was to be honest, in a long time, Arthur went to grab his friends for lunch. Deciding that the sudden urge to write the final bit of the email was just his businessman's instinct and not some outside force guiding him, he smiled before informing them that lunch was his treat. If Gwen and LJ noticed his much better mood they wisely didn't mention it, until he went to restroom at lunch anyway.
"He looks, happy. I mean... not that he wasn't before but..." Gwen's words failed her. As she and her husband looked at each other and back in the direction their friend had walked they both knew exactly what the other meant. It was as if something had always been missing from Arthur's smile and somehow that absent part was returning.
MG just stared at his computer in shock. He had woken up in London for the first time in a long time, drawn by his need for a new agent now that Will, short for Willhemina, was leaving to start a family. He could never be angry with his friend, not when she was so happy, but it presented a problem. He knew his demands for privacy bordered on the ridiculous, his agent had been the only one privy to his real identity, and that it would be next to impossible to set up the same situation when he would have to interview agents to find one he could trust. He thought about using magic, but it had been so long and it was so weak he wasn't willing to risk harm to those he would need to use it on. Frustrated beyond belief, he had blindly accepted Will's invitation to London, ignoring the twinge in his gut that produced. He was taking this set of rotations around the sun off for God's sake!
That is until he read the email. He was sure he had to have heard about The Camelot Agency before now, he knew it seemed like he lived in a cave to most people but he did get out some. Previous knowledge or not, the email had caused a flutter in the embers in the back of his head that he'd banked at the beginning of this life. Well, not the entire email, it was professionally disinterested, eagerness was weakness in this new business world, but that postscript. He read it again:
PS I have no idea why I feel the need to inform you that it was my strong personal desire to sign you to my company that led us to seek out your information like this, but I know that you need to know that, somehow, I can't explain why. Anyway, I hope this doesn't scare you off the agency, you would be an asset and my stepsister always mentions how easy I am to ignore if you need to.
The fire in the back of his skull burned brighter than ever. The roaring in his ears did not subside until he clicked on the link to the company's website the co-director, Arthur Pendragon his mind screamed at him, had provided. The similarities jumped out immediately as soon as he clicked on the Staff profiles. There was Arthur, not just close to the king's original appearance, but identical. The reserved smile and clenched jaw brought tears to the warlocks eyes, he resisted the urge to stare at his friend's face and scrolled down. He almost choked when he saw Morgana's face next before the fire still dancing in the back of his mind calmed him, somehow he knew that this Morgana was not the evil woman who usurped the throne, but the witch as she was before Morgause's pernicious influence corrupted her. Getting past the momentary fear, Merlin smiled imagining the argument about whose picture would go first on the site that would have ensued if these two were anything like their original selves. He couldn't imagine they wouldn't be, not with the names and the faces matching so well.
Scrolling down further he smiled fondly at Gwen and LJ, wondering if the L really stood for Lancelot, before breaking into a wider grin when he saw the matching last names and confirmed from the information in their short bios that they were married. It would have been weird if they were siblings in this incarnation, their passion was legendary even if none of the modern tales got it right. Arthur had sanctioned their affair after the guilt-ridden couple came on bended knee to their king and begged forgiveness for their love. That had been a strained few weeks in the castle as everyone adjusted to the fact the Queen and Arthur's most beloved knight were lovers, with royal permission.
Laughing when he saw the friendly face of Sir Leon in the Head of Security, his chuckles were silenced by a gasp as the face of his mentor appeared before him. Almost identical in age to the Gaius of his time this man's name was apparently George, Merlin rightly had his suspicions whether that was what his parents called him.
It was only when he sat back in his chair that he realized tears were pouring down his face. His joy at seeing his friend's faces once more could not be contained and he shouted out loud, spinning around his hotel room like a crazy man and not caring who could walk in. Coming back to himself he dropped back into his chair and quickly typed out an agreement to meet Arthur himself for dinner tonight, he could wait no longer, double checking reservations with the concierge before sending the information back to the co-director.
It was going to happen tonight, he could feel it in his bones, he knew Arthur would cancel any plans he might have to be at the restaurant exactly when Merlin requested him and he knew that this was, finally, the time when they were reunited.
Cursing his haste as he nursed a knuckle still sore from smacking his hand into the wall in his hurry to get dressed for the dinner tonight, Arthur was again thanking anyone who was listening that Morgana was busy with Leon tonight and wasn't here mocking his nervousness. He'd never admit to anyone that he changed his clothes more times than any girl before settling on a blood red shirt under his suit jacket. Red looked good on him, and this impression was important for reasons he couldn't even fathom.
Checking his pockets for the zillionth time to be sure he had his wallet and keys in the proper places he remembered how he'd almost choked on the water he'd been drinking when his email alerted him to the arrival of a response to his message to M. Emerson. He refused to see his hesitation in opening the email, as cowardice in the face of the strange postscript he'd been unable to stop himself from sending. Mentally smacking himself in the back of the head he clicked to open the missive and almost leapt out of his seat with joy when he realized the short response invited him, only him, to dinner that night at the restaurant in one of the hotels close to his home.
He would arrive early he knew but there was no way he was going to be late to this... this moment, for lack of a better word. He knew that this was just another client but his brain couldn't convince the dragons in his stomach, little kid Arthur had hated butterflies and though dragons were an appropriate substitution, to stop flying in circles. Everything in his life had been drawing him to this night, he could feel it in his bones as he practically jogged to the waiting cab.
Nervously tugging on the too short, again, sleeves of his dinner jacket Merlin regretted his sentimental accessory. He was getting stares from passersby and he knew it just had to be the simple red neckerchief he was wearing in place of a tie. He couldn't help it, he was practically giddy with excitement and the piece of cloth in the back of his closet was screaming to be worn tonight of all nights. When it would finally be recognized for the first time in centuries, recognized by the king who would awaken tonight. Merlin tried to keep a reign on his nerves, thousands of past disappoints rearing their ugly heads every time he imagined the man's face before him once more.
Shoving aside the doubts and ignoring the fact he would be early to the restaurant Merlin headed down to the lobby. Seeing that there was no rain outside, the warlock stepped out the doors to breath deeply the air that to him smelled of promise and relief from his lonely wanderings. The night was beautiful and cloudless, the moon shining proudly as if in witness to the end of this long quest.
Merlin's heart pounded and he glanced through the throngs of people out tonight, knowing Arthur was here.
The two men's gazes met as the crowds parted between them. It was as if the masses could sense the bond between the men reforming as they stepped towards each other. The blond man's steps were long but hesitant, he was not sure exactly why he was being drawn forward to this dark haired stranger. From the other direction the black haired man's steps were quick and restrained, like he was holding himself back from sprinting towards Arhtur.
They met halfway, the light of the moon shining down on their evenly matched heads. Arthur was breathing heavily although he had barely walked ten steps from where the cab had dropped him in front of the hotel. Not sure how he knew but willing to go with it, he had walked toward the man with floppy dark hair, ears a little big but endearingly so, and piercing blue eyes. It was as if he walking to his destiny and Arthur knew his life would change tonight.
The men were close enough to reach out and touch each other but they both froze. Arthur felt as if he was prolonging the moment they had both been waiting for, the other much longer than him, though the time made little difference in the intensity of the bond that was almost visible between them.
Growling suddenly, Arthur lunged forward to grasp the man's forearm, his arm extending at the same time as the other man's as if they were pulled by a string towards each other. The moment their arms clasped each other's wrists, Arthur's brain exploded with memories, it was only because of Merlin's, ohdearoldfriendMerlin, grip on his arm that he didn't fall to his knees with the sheer force of his old and new lives colliding. Barely aware of his surroundings, the king, for he was a king once again, wrenched his head back in unison with his warlock, their gazes drawn upward when lightning flashed across a cloudless sky.
The Bear had awoken, and Camelot would reign again. Panting with exertion, hey remembering a life he lived eons ago wasn't exactly a walk in the park, Arthur looked at his friend and saw the weariness in his eyes. He knew like it had been whispered in his ear that this was not the first new lifetime he had lived, he knew that Merlin had been searching for him across the ages and had only now found his liege. There was time for that later, though Arthur felt it like a blow to his gut that his warlock had been forced to travel through the endless years alone in search of him, now he simply grabbed his dear friend into a bear hug tugging gently on the neckerchief with long suffering affection for the strange accessory. Ignoring his frantically beeping phone, he surmised that his close friends had regained their memories along with him, he buried his head into his old friend's shoulder, comforting the man who had been unable to hold back his emotions at finally reconnecting after so many close calls and tragic losses. Unable to articulate his deep gratitude for a man who was willing to live centuries in search of him, he managed only one word, but it was enough.
AN: Complete for now, but I may branch off this part into a series (new stories, not more chapters here) now that Arthur, Merlin and the gang remember each other!