|The Magic Comes But Doesn't Go
Author: Jessica Mitch PM
Arthur visits Le Cirque des Rêves and stumbles upon the tent of the circus illusionist Merlin. After the initial meeting, they somehow found themselves twined together tightly. Unfortunately, the circus traveled frequently. How's THAT going to work?Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Fantasy - Arthur & Merlin - Words: 10,600 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 69 - Follows: 8 - Published: 02-13-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7830412
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hi so... I know that I haven't updated on Magic yet but this idea wouldn't leave me alone since I started watching Merlin so I went with it. I posted this on my personal tumblr but I wanted to post this here too so yeah. 11 days to Chapter 4! I promise... At least... I hope I can make it. Anyway, this was supposed to be a crossover but they wouldn't let me put Merlin and Arthur as the pair so I wasn't having any of that. The concept of the circus is by Erin Morgenstern, "The Night Circus" which is a really, REALLY good book so if you have the time, you should TOTALLY read it or you'll miss out big time.
Let's go with the preliminary I DON'T OWN ANYTHING. Enjoy!
Birmingham, May 2000
The circus came without warning. No announcements. No tell-tale arrival. It just appeared. Some people around town came to see it that morning and by afternoon everyone's heard of it. From its black and white tents, to the clock right up front, to the sign that said Opens at Nightfall, Closes at Dawn the circus wasn't something that usually came by to their lives, at least, not for a long time now. It was certainly something new. Something to look forward to that night. It was a long wait, especially to those who found the circus that morning, and most especially to the children who so longed for the gates to open. And there were the ones who followed the circus around, the rêveurs as they called themselves who almost devoted their lives to the circus, wearing black, white, or grey, with a splash of bright red. Finally, there were the ones who hadn't seen the circus since they were teenagers.
The air around the circus was tense with excitement.
But it did open as soon as the sun set. It opened like it did every time it opened for the first time in an area. With the lights flickering on with the sound of something like a kettle ready to boil, everyone watched with anticipation as the lights began shining right in front of them, giving the circus the life they all knew it would have. The lights up front formed the sign. The light bulbs crackled and sizzled as they came alive, forming bits and pieces of the letters until finally, it was complete. Le Cirque des Rêves – The Circus of Dreams
The gates shuddered and unlocked, seemingly on their own, letting the crowd in. They needn't have to be told twice.
The circus stayed for a while, when asked, the rêveurs had no reply as to when and where the circus would be back. They didn't know when it would leave either though they did estimate that in two weeks' time the circus would disappear. No one took the circus for granted and everyone tried to visit as many tents as possible.
It was his first time being alone at the circus. None of his friends, not even Gwen or Morgana had the time to visit the circus with him. But he didn't mind, they were missing out on all the fun. They were the ones who'll eventually regret not going to the circus more. Arthur thought and he felt rather pleased of himself. He had just gotten out The Cloud Maze, a marvellous tent where people climbed up at clouds, finding a way up and finding a way down, which is why it was called a maze. People did have the choice of jumping off and falling down but that was their choice to make. It was perfectly safe and he even did backflips off it.
After all, what's a sixteen year old got to do when he's given a chance to do something as reckless and jumping off a height and not get injured?
As he was walking around, he spied a tent he hadn't seemed to have noticed before. He squinted at the sign that was adorned with black and white, as usual, and fancy calligraphy that read: Feats of Magical Means. The rêveurs around him muttered their excitement. Saying things like "I haven't seen this one before" and "they must've gotten a new illusionist" and "I wonder what happened to the last one, she was my favourite". All of these conversations fuelled the flames of Arthur's curiosity and though he knew it was just sleight of hand and mirrors and all that sort, if they were super excited about it, why can't he?
He followed the patrons inside to the small, circular tent. There were black iron scones lighting the area and only twenty wooden chairs surrounding the empty centre. He took the seat up the front and the place quickly filled up. There was silence. Everyone waited and waited. The rêveurs smiled, knowing something would come up even if it took a little bit of time. They turned to the door, each of them, and their smiles grew prominent. Arthur followed their gaze and noticed that the entrance cannot be seen.
He started to panic just a little bit but then something else caught his eye – a bird. A tiny bright blue bird flitting around the tent, filling it with its musical chirps. Everyone eyed it curiously. Slowly, the bird grew bigger and wider, flying near the ground, causing dust to float into the air. Its flaps grew louder as more dust flew into the air. Finally, with a loud chirp, it flew to the ceiling of the tent and burst into a thousand feathers.
The dust and the feathers floated in mid-air, pausing for a couple of seconds, long enough for everyone to notice that nothing was moving. Then they came together to the centre, the dust and feathers formed a shape, a body.
Arthur could tell it was just a boy, a skinny one to say the least, and once the body was formed, it moved. The feathers and dust drifted to the floor to reveal the illusionist. His suit was exquisitely black, the kind of black that reflected the lights that came on it. He wore white gloves adorned with silver for that added effect. He picked up a feather that was completely covered with dust. The boy brushed it off with a gloved hand and flicked it, turning it into a sleek, white bowler hat. He was immediately met with astounded applause He bowed and as he leaned up and opened his eyes, Arthur nearly stopped breathing. His eyes were a beautiful shade of blue. Eyes that caught Arthur's for a second longer than the others. And for the first time in a long time, Arthur was completely and utterly speechless.
There was a smile for him.
Suddenly there was a draft around Arthur and the illusionist smiled wider. His arm moved and he was holding something, a jacket – not just anyone's jacket, Arthur's jacket. He looked down and his arms were bare. He looked up at the illusionist just as the boy turned around in a full circle, showing the audience the jacket. Arthur crossed his arms, fighting the slight breeze, watching intently. He didn't know how that happened but he intended to see what the illusionist was going to do next.
The boy held the jacket up and with a snap of his fingers, it caught fire. People gasped and a few even screamed just a little bit. The boy whirled the flaming jacket in his hand over his head and after the third rotation, the flames burst into doves. Jaws dropped and it was amazing how everyone managed to clap their hands a second after. The doves flew down to Arthur, covering him. They cooed nonstop and they wouldn't go away even if he flailed his arms around. The audience laughed, and so did the illusionist. Arthur glared playfully, knowing this was all part of a trick and the illusionist winked at him.
The rest of the performances went on without a hitch or any way to know how the illusionist was doing it. And Arthur spent it with doves on his shoulders. It was spectacular, the things the illusionist did. It was trick after trick after trick. There was hardly any time to blink before he jumped into his next piece. It was only when the doves disappeared in a puff of feathers that Arthur got his jacket back.
This was the illusionist's second to the last trick.
He took off his hat and leaned down for a bow, accepting the applause in silence. He turned around the stage, bowing to everyone before he turned to dust when he reached the end of his circle and vanished. The entrance was unblocked and everyone started to file out. Everyone, that is, except Arthur. He leaned on the hands, looking at the stage. How did he do it? He wondered to himself.
"You know," Arthur jumped at the sudden voice behind him, "people usually leave when the performance is over." There he was, standing with his blazer, hat, and gloves off, looking more like a boy than a performer. He smiled and Arthur smiled back. At this close a distance, Arthur could safely say that they were of the same age.
"I –" Arthur couldn't find the right words to use. "I'm sorry I didn't mean – I mean, if –"
The boy just laughed and shook his head. He walked toward Arthur, his face showing kindness and amusement. He stuck his hand out. "Hello, I'm Merlin."
"Like the wizard?" Arthur couldn't help but chuckle.
Merlin shrugged as they shook hands, not entirely ignoring the shiver that passed through his spine when their skin touched each other's. "What can I say? My parents were probably psychic." Arthur laughed and what a handsome laugh it was.
"I'm Arthur." He said, still grinning, still holding Merlin's hand. They looked down at their clasped hands and immediately pulled away, blushing already. But they were smiling, goofily. It wasn't every day they meet an attractive boy who seemed to already reciprocate.
"Are you staying long? I'm done for a while." Merlin asked quite suddenly. He didn't want him to go just yet. He hoped that he would.
Arthur nodded, reinforcing Merlin's hopes. The illusionist smiled. "It's not like there's school tomorrow, right?"
Merlin chuckled. "Right… I'll go change and I'll meet you up front by the bonfire, yeah?"
"Yeah." They smiled at each other again, blushing quite profusely. Merlin jumped over the railing and walked briskly to the concealed entrance. Arthur, still smiling, walked out of the tent and toward the bonfire that burned white instead of the usual colour of red and orange. Arthur went to get some cinnamon twists – layers of pastry, cinnamon, and sugar rolled in a twist and covered in icing – while he waited for Merlin by the bonfire. All around, people just stared at it, wondering how it was doing that, being white, going with the colours of the circus. He supposed Merlin would know… But he wasn't sure Merlin would tell him.
"Hello again." Merlin called from a short distance, wearing something else now, some jeans, sneakers, a blue long sleeved shirt, and a red scarf. Arthur couldn't help but smile. "I hope I didn't leave you waiting for too long."
"Nah, it's fine, really." Arthur replied. "Cinnamon twist?"
Merlin moaned with delight. "I love these things, thanks!" He put his hand into the bag and took one of the last pastries. He took a big bite of the snack and he closed his eyes, clearly enjoying it thoroughly. "You know," he said with a full mouth, which was really adorable if you asked Arthur, "I should really get to asking how these are made, so I won't have to wait until the circus opens or for work to be over to get them."
"Couldn't you just wring it out of thin air or something?" Arthur asked in a sort of challenging tone. Merlin just shook his head.
"You think too highly of me." They shared a laugh, giving a sense of established camaraderie. "C'mon, let's go visit some tents. Have you been to the Cloud Maze?"
"Of course," Arthur answered. "It's one of my favourite tents."
"We're not going there then." Merlin said, mouth still full, dusting his fingers of any stray pastry granules. He grabbed Arthur's wrist and led them away to another direction.
"Why not?" The blond asked.
"Well, you've been there enough times to think it your favourite, let's go somewhere you haven't been yet." Merlin replied, craning his neck over the crowds, looking for the perfect tent. "Been to the tent with the paper animals? It's really quite interesting." Merlin turned his head toward Arthur and he could already sense the "no" before the other boy could say it. "Say no more, we are going there." The situation seemed strange, Arthur being dragged around by someone he barely knew and a circus performer at that, but he wanted to laugh. It was the good kind of strange. It was the kind of strange we had when we're younger and everyone was a friend, everyone came to play and then they're gone. He hoped that Merlin wouldn't be one of those people who you meet once, have fun with, and then he'll disappear forever.
He didn't want that at all.
He was surprised by the amount of tents and features the circus had even if he'd been there for a good chunk of a week. "That's okay," Merlin said, "most of these people have been following the circus for ages now and they're still finding new things…Speaking of new things." Merlin showed him all the different places that were always more exciting than the rest and for the rest of the night, Arthur had done nothing but smile and laugh. They didn't even notice how they didn't let go anymore after Merlin had dragged him somewhere. So far, his favourite was the Labyrinth. A staggering tent that was way too big on the inside that it was in the outside with its numerous chambers, hallways, and doors, all of which were mismatched and always brought you someplace else. Merlin seemed to know where he was going and Arthur found that as an excuse to hold his hand though he would then proceed to defend that he just didn't want to get lost when Merlin would tease him about it.
The Labyrinth was Merlin's favourite as well, there was this room made entirely of books and smelled of ink on pages. Arthur never did see the appeal of books to the youth but Merlin walked around touching the spines and smiling to himself. Arthur found himself staring and looked away before the beautiful boy turned to face him again. "What time do you need to go home?"
Arthur's eyes grew in size, making Merlin laugh. "You, my friend, are monumentally in trouble then."
Arthur scoffed. "No, I'm not. I can sneak in…" But somehow, he seemed unsure; he didn't even bring a watch so he didn't know how much time passed since Merlin's performance. "Besides, my dad always sleeps at the other side of the house, he wouldn't notice."
Merlin just laughed and grabbed Arthur's hand; it was almost second nature now. "C'mon, I know a short cut." That short cut turned out to be a long one. Arthur teased that Merlin just wanted him around longer and that he couldn't bear to let him leave. It wasn't entirely false but Merlin shot him down anyway. However, Arthur wouldn't let it die down and even as they walked out of the tent through a door from a temple guarded by an albino sphinx, they were still bickering.
Merlin led them outside and they both looked at the clock. Two-Fifty. Arthur hissed, sorely wishing that there wasn't anyone waiting for him. The other boy laughed at his expense. "At least you had fun." Arthur couldn't – wouldn't – disagree. "And just in time for my next performance."
Arthur turned to him, incredulous. "I thought you were done with your performances tonight?"
"I'm quite sure I said for a while." Merlin grinned. "And I didn't want to tell you three-thirty because c'mon, where's the surprise in that?"
Arthur nodded and shoved his hands down his pockets. "I had a nice night."
Merlin blushed and looked down at his sneakers bashfully. "Me too." When he looked back up, he snapped his fingers and a rose appeared in his hand, a perfect little rose. He offered it to Arthur. "Thank you."
The boy laughed. "I'm not really a rose type of guy." Merlin bit his lips into a tight smile, like he was hiding his laughter, and turned the rose in his fingers. When it came up again, it was a lily. He couldn't help but be impressed. "Not really lily either." Merlin rolled his eyes and twisted the flower in his hands again. "Now we're talking." Arthur picked the pure white gardenia from Merlin's hands.
"You're a very demanding guy." Merlin said. "If I didn't like you, I'd say you're a prat."
"Don't worry," Arthur leaned closer like he was going to tell Merlin a secret. The sudden closeness made the illusionist blush brighter but thankfully it wasn't as pronounced in the dark night. "I get that a lot."
"That doesn't surprise me."
They teetered silently, not wanting to go just yet but they were outside and Arthur was going to get in more trouble if he didn't leave now. He smiled at Merlin and the black haired boy smiled back. "I'll see you tomorrow…?"
Merlin just continued to smile as he backed away. "We'll see, Arthur." He turned around and disappeared back into the circus. Arthur allowed himself a sniff of the gardenia and it smelled incredibly fresh. That circus is amazing. He thought as he walked away leisurely, keeping the night as his own for as long as he could.
The next few nights were almost similar though sometimes Merlin would take some time before he would meet Arthur, having a different number of performances every night. But at the end, they always had a better time than last night. By Thursday morning, Merlin congratulated Arthur for having visited every available-to-the-public inch of the circus and he even fashioned the blond a little crown out of thin air and paraded him everywhere. Arthur was unable to take the crown off until he went out of the circus. Though he had school, he hardly cared because Merlin was worth sleeping in class and getting into trouble. He kept the illusionist a secret; he didn't want anyone else knowing about them. It wasn't that Arthur was ashamed of Merlin, no. He just didn't want anyone else to spoil that they had, which was a precarious sort of friendship that was tipping toward something deeper than that.
That Friday night, Merlin was free and without so much as a bow to the audience. He was Arthur's the whole night. They held hands openly, walking to their favourite spots and eating their favourite treats. They visited the Labyrinth, the Ice Garden, the Cloud Maze, the Bedtime Stories tent, rode the carousel whose animals flew around and probably breathed, and watched the trapeze act. It was one of the best nights ever. They ended it with a visit to the Stargazer, the tent that was only open when it was a clear night. They joined the line that curved up on a stairway circling the perimeter. The walls were covered with diagrams of white circles and lines against a black interior – constellations.
"I'm so glad the Stargazer was open for three times while we're here." Merlin said to Arthur as they moved up and through the black curtains that separated the ride from the outside. "I like to go here, especially when I'm alone, though sometimes Widget or Poppet joins me." Arthur remembered the Murray twins who did a cat show right next to their parents' tent. They were really pleasant and they didn't stay long when Arthur was around, casting knowing smiles at Merlin. "But I like it alone, I love watching the stars. It's my second favourite tent next to the Labyrinth."
Arthur just smiled and nodded, unable to take his eyes away from Merlin's face. They reach a black platform with a circus worker in white leading the patrons through it all. Merlin nodded at the worker and he just smiled back. They were led to a carriage. Or was it a sleigh? Merlin and Arthur sat down on the cushioned seats and the blond scooted closer, making the other boy grin madly. They leaned their backs on the high back of the carriage. The doors clicked to a close and the ride started moving. There wasn't much to see but black until other clicks began, the carriage tilted backward. They were gazing at the night sky, the tent having no top. The stars were out tonight, like someone threw glitter into the sky. They saw nothing but the endless starlit sky, no clouds and no trees to block their view as they moved in a slow circle.
Merlin was being uncharacteristically quiet, making Arthur turn his head toward him. The illusionist gazed intently at the stars, his face illuminated very slightly by what little light they had to share. He could only see the outline of his face. "You're being quiet." Arthur whispered.
"Huh?" Merlin turned his gaze toward the silhouette of the boy beside him. "I'm sorry."
"No need to be sorry." Arthur replied, lacing his fingers into Merlin's. "Care to share what you're thinking about?"
He saw Merlin turn his gaze back to the stars, making him do the same. "Nothing much, honestly." He started to say. "I'm just thinking of space and what stars are like up close and the circus and just watching the stars." And you, you idiot. He wanted to add but he figured it was hardly appropriate and he just didn't want to say it. But Arthur's hand in his was very encouraging. He fell silent again, looking at the stars when he felt something press against his cheek. He gulped and turned to Arthur's silhouette, eyes wide with shock.
Arthur was still near; he could feel his breath touch his face and his nose brushing against his. With a snap, a small ball of light appeared on his finger, just enough for them to see each other and not enough to distract the other patrons of the ride. Their eyes gazed into each other. After a few blinks, Arthur leaned close again, heart racing fast. Their lips touched for the first time making Merlin gasp at the sensation. Arthur took advantage of that, closing what little distance they had. Arthur's hand rested on Merlin's cheek, tracing small circles on his skin. Merlin wrapped his free arm around Arthur's waist. They kissed for a long time and without so much of a breather. The taste of hot cocoa and cinnamon twists mingled in their mouths, creating a whole different flavour. It was only when the ride stopped that they stopped. Arthur pressed his lips against Merlin's quickly and the other boy replied with two kisses of his own.
They got out of the tent totally different from when they came in. They walked around the circus one last time before Merlin called it a night (day) and asked Arthur to go home. Of course, they walked out together, hand in hand. It was a chilly night when they got out. They faced each other, still blushing. "I'll see you tomorrow…?" It was like their thing now and he knew what Merlin would do. But then, the boy surprised him with a tight hug, he hugged back. The wind blew at them and the tent behind them swayed and rippled slightly. Merlin pressed their lips together once more and he was met with an eager reply.
Merlin pulled away with a smile. "We'll see." He chuckled and he showed Arthur another gardenia. Arthur almost plucked it out of Merlin's hand immediately but something happened. The flower slowly turned shinier and immediately looked more solid. The illusionist opened his palm to reveal a porcelain potted gardenia.
"I still don't know how you do that." Arthur said with awe as he took the item off of Merlin's hand, cradling it carefully. He had entertained the idea of magic – real live magic – but he found that preposterous and crazy but then he found it was the only explanation. He never told Merlin about it, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer. He wanted to keep some allure for himself.
"Well, a good magician never exposes his secrets." Merlin winked.
"One day you will, you can't resist me for so long." Arthur laughed and Merlin smacked his arm. They hugged again and said goodbye. Not knowing that the circus would be leaving town that morning once everyone was gone. Not knowing when they would come back and when Merlin would see the blond boy again. But as Arthur slumbered through the weekend morning with thoughts of another visit to the circus and as Merlin helped pack up, the porcelain gardenia's porcelain pot started to get something engraved.
I'll miss you, Arthur.
London, November 2005
Whatever resentment or anger Arthur had for Merlin was long gone and was replaced with longing. He understood why the illusionist never told him, he didn't want to spoil the night and what a beautiful night it was. It wasn't easy the first month but he got through it. The porcelain gardenia was one of his most prized possessions and the engraving never changed. He would look at it from time to time, remembering the boy that caught his eye at the circus. An amazing boy with amazing talent for illusions. He often wondered when they would meet again.
It wasn't long now.
One night while Arthur slumbered in his bed in his quiet flat covered with his college papers that needed to be done, the engraving changed. But the message wouldn't be heeded until after Arthur had his morning tea. He staggered back into his room, groaning at the amount of work he needed to do. When he sat down on his bed, taking a nice long sip of tea, he noticed the change when he glanced at the figurine. He placed the cup on his bedside table and picked the figurine up, holding it near his face. A sudden shiver of delight passed through him and a smile that spread so wide it almost hurt.
He didn't need to be told twice. He showered and got dressed and ate a quick breakfast of cereal before exiting the building and ran to his car. It took him a good hour to find the circus right on the outskirts of the city. He didn't think he'd see it again this early from the towering black and white tents to the clock. He could hardly contain himself. People passed by, looking up at it with wonder. He beheld it for a number of minutes before driving away again, hoping to pass the day with homework and other things. He needed to do something to pass the time or he would surely go insane.
His friends phoned and made plans though he was very reluctant. He'd have to escape them once they were inside. But, after five years, he'd think that Merlin would love to meet his friends. There would be some explaining to do but he'll think of something. Or Merlin would think of something. God, I miss Merlin so much.
The night didn't come fast enough.
He was there before sunset, standing near the gates with his friends. He wore what the rêveurs wore; everything he had on was pitch black though his gloves were the brightest of reds. His friends talked about how excited they were to go in and they turned to Arthur who they knew spent most of his time in the circus when he was younger. Morgana shot him a knowing look; she was the only one who knew about Merlin. When the gates finally opened and the people started filing in, there was a growing feeling in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't stand still and he bounced on the balls of his feet. He wandered away from his friends, making up some stupid excuse that he himself couldn't remember.
He needed to find Merlin's tent.
He entered immediately when he found it. He waited impatiently as the people began to walk into the tent. Nothing changed, from the stairs to the scones. It was like he hadn't left. He fidgeted in his seat and he was afraid that the show didn't start because there was a chair empty – the one beside him. But the entrance was sealed, signalling the beginning. Arthur couldn't wait for the first trick.
There was a gust of wind and the scones were extinguished, plunging the tent into sudden darkness. There were a few distressed cries but no one dared to move out of the tent. Suddenly, the tent brightened with a flame in the middle of the stage. That wasn't all; someone was holding the huge flame in his hands – Merlin. The boy he met five years ago certainly grew up quite nicely. He wore a different outfit, a bright white button up and pants that was missing a blazer, with shiny black and white brogues, and black gloves. He smiled into the fire and threw it in the air. It flickered and it was dark for once second then it illuminated the tent afterward, the illusionist nowhere to be seen. There was, however, a man cowering beside Arthur. "Harold?" A woman's voice shouted from the other side. "Oh my God! Harold!" Everyone's heads turned to the far back where a woman was standing up and the illusionist sitting beside her. Everyone started to clap. Arthur caught Merlin's eye and the other man winked. The fire flickered again and it was dark.
The light came back and Harold was back with his wife, the illusionist nowhere to be seen. When the tent fell into darkness the third time, Arthur felt it, a kiss on his cheek. He chuckled and felt a hand slip into his with a piece of paper. "Don't open it until after the performance." Merlin whispered into his ear and then disappeared. Arthur began to hold in his laughter. The fire above them began to move in a circle and the illusionist was at the centre again.
The fire lit the scones and flew down, hitting Merlin in the chest. A few people screamed but the fire died and the illusionist was wearing an impeccable white blazer. A tongue of flame stayed on his hand and he flicked it out, turning into a black bowler hat. He did his first bow and was met with applause.
When Arthur thought he was incredible already, Merlin improved. His tricks and illusions found new heights while they were separated. He was better than Arthur remembered and he didn't think that was possible. He couldn't bear to look away for even a second as Merlin moved around with such grace and power. He held tightly to the note that was left in his hand, scared that he might lose it. After one last breath taking trick and thunderous applause, Merlin raised his hands over his head and bowed. He flipped into the air and disappeared, leaving only his blazer fluttering in the air. The blazer turned into doves that flew out of the newly opened entrance. People were buzzing with left over adrenaline as they walked out, chattering continuously about the performance they just witnessed.
Arthur uncurled his hand to reveal a crumpled piece of paper that had words in Merlin's handwriting.
Meet me at Bedtime Stories, midnight.
Arthur immediately looked at his watch and sighed. "That's hours from now." He said, leaning back on his chair. After five years, you would've thought that they would come running into each other's arms. When he looked back at the note, the words changed.
It's not fun for me too, mate.
The blond laughed, shaking his head. "What do you expect me to do until then? Hmm?" He watched as the words disappeared from the paper and new words formed in their place. There was no denying that what Merlin was doing wasn't the kind of tricks that cheap magicians did at birthday parties.
Well, your friends are here so I guess it's a safe bet to show your face to them.
"Fine." Arthur stood up and walked out of the entrance. The paper wiggled in his hand, making him stop walking. He opened it again and laughed out loud, not caring that people were looking. After all, stranger things have happened.
What? No "I miss you, Merlin" or "Glad to be seeing you again, Merlin"?
"You're the one who left without saying goodbye."
That's not true, I said goodbye and I'm sure my memory is better than yours.
Arthur just rolled his eyes, threw the paper in the nearest bin and set off to find his friends. He found himself playing tour guide, bringing them to the more obscure and more interesting tents, especially the Cloud Maze. They climbed up, clearly enjoying themselves but Arthur hung back, trying to take as long a time as he could, willing it to be midnight already. Morgana climbed with him.
"So? Any news from the illusionist?" She said, making kissy sounds in an attempt to annoy Arthur. But he just smiled and nodded as they climbed up another cloud. Morgana was the only person who knew and the first time Arthur told her about Merlin, she flipped and got more excited than he was about the whole thing. During the first month, she constantly berated him with never ending questions that never ceased to irritate Arthur. But he appreciated her. He liked having someone to talk to about those nights five years ago. Morgana was just so open about everything and genuinely thought that they should be together forever, even though they knew that was a little bleak. "What the bloody hell does that mean?"
"So ladylike, Morrie." Arthur chuckled as he helped her onto another cloud. She sneered at him. "And we're meeting at midnight at Bedtime Stories." He sat down on the fluffy white substance, making his friend sit beside him.
"I better meet him this time." She teased, nudging his arm.
"I will hunt you down."
"I'd like to see you try." Arthur looked at his watch and there was only an hour left. "I feel like eating some chocolate mice, wanna come?"
She nodded. "Last one who gets to the bottom buys!" She rolled off and Arthur scrambled to the edge but Morgana got to the floor faster, taking his money easily. The hour almost seemed bearable then. He was actually having a great time with his friends but when it was eleven-fifty he escaped them once again. His friends were excitable and funny and fell in love with the circus as easily as he did but being with Merlin was a whole different experience. He can't wait to see him again.
He wandered to the passageway that lacked doors and was endless stripes of black and white. Of course, that wasn't the case. He found the uneven spot that blemished the seemingly continuous stripes. There it was… the split in the fabric, like a part of the tent that the circus members forgot to lace tight enough. There was a tag as big as a postcard, indicating that this was the right attraction. Unlike all the other tents with the big, showy signs, this was one of the quieter attractions.
Arthur ran his fingers across the postcard, from the clouds to the sleeping boy in the checkered quilt under the star-speckled sky, also in black and white. He flipped the card and saw the words he recognized, almost recalling it immediately when he saw the first word. He walked into the room without a second of hesitation.
Anthologies of Memory
Please enter cautiously
and feel free to open what is closed
Inside was nearly dark with only sparse twinkling lights to light the way. There was some furniture, the most prominent one was the long table that stretched along the length of the tent, covered in bottles and jars of different shapes and sizes and material – some were ceramic and glass and metal while some was made out of what seemed to be clay and wood. The bottles and jars covered the room, on the floor and on the shelves. He knew what was inside those containers, memories, both good and bad. Five year ago, he and Merlin spent a good half hour in this place, just opening jars and letting the memories attack their senses. And they might've shared a jar once or twice.
He walked carefully, hoping not to tip anything over or step on anything. From the table, he picked a tall bottle which was probably used for wine before it arrived to this tent. He pulled the cork and wisps of smoke escaped it. Then he smelled it, clear as day, the saltwater from the beach. He could smell the grill cooking something succulent and that scent mingled with the sea breeze. Arthur's mouth watered. He could feel the happiness radiating from the bottle, as well as the hunger. He could almost hear the waves crashing into the shore. He put the cork back in and he smiled. It was so nice to be back. He tried a few more bottles, one of which was a bad memory so he didn't linger on it. While he was relishing at the smell of the forest and the warmness of a family sitting together playing games, someone entered the tent.
"Hey." Arthur nearly dropped the small, blue bottle in his hands. He put the stopper on it and turned around to see Merlin standing across him, a wide grin on his face.
"Hey." He replied. They stood like that, staring at each other, for a long time. The last five years were good to them, appearance-wise. Arthur mechanically placed the bottle back on the table and he barely batted an eye. There he was, after five years, still so adorable, still so handsome. He felt like if he moved, Merlin would disappear and this was all just a dream. He moved an inch to the right and Merlin was still there. He started moving toward the other side of the table, the other boy following his direction. They met halfway, grabbing each other in a full on kiss that was waiting to happen for a long time now. He could feel the warmth spreading through him like he jumped into a bath after a gruelling day at school. Merlin clutched at Arthur, never wanting to let go ever again.
The kiss subsided eventually, both men pulling away at the same time. Arthur pressed a small kiss on Merlin and he replied with two kisses on his own. They were still holding each other as they leaned their foreheads against each other. "I missed you." Merlin said.
"Well, you should." Arthur smirked and Merlin laughed, pulling away. The blond laced their fingers together. The illusionist looked down and smiled at the familiarity of it all. They went out of the tent, chatting about the last five years as if nothing had gone amiss. They were together again, that's all that mattered. They got some more snacks before visiting the tents they liked but not before stopping at the carousel to ride it for one round, just for kicks, all the adults were doing it anyway. The night became infinitely better since. They had so much to catch up on, all the stories of far off countries and college happenings, all the while not letting go of each other's hands.
They met with Arthur's friends on their way to the Labyrinth. It was laughably awkward but Morgana – bless her soul – kept it brief and promised everyone the full story while they were visiting the Ice Garden. Merlin did, however, got the looks of approval and they all seemed to like him so Arthur was pretty much in the clear. When they got to the extensive tent, Merlin insisted that Arthur lead them around and they subsequently got a little lost. But getting lost in such a magical place wasn't all that bad.
This continued like the other nights before.
Arthur would arrive late at night, only a short while before Merlin's final shows since the illusionist would always send him the time through the porcelain gardenia. He could've easily arrived at an earlier time and enjoy the circus himself but he always had to be with Merlin, knowing very well that their time was limited and fleeting and he wanted to do as much with him as he possibly could. They would visit tents and watch performances together. Eat snacks together. Talked about the circus together. Arthur got gardenias at the end of their nights. They wanted their little bubble to last longer. They wanted them to stay intact in some way. Arthur would suggest running away with the circus but Merlin would put him down, knowing about the huge business that his father was going to pass down to him in the near future. Merlin would always smile sadly at this and he cursed his inability to be completely selfish and snatching Arthur away.
"How long will be staying?" Arthur inquired one day when they exited the circus, dawn already breaking over the horizon. Merlin smiled and squeezed Arthur's hand reassuringly. "You can tell me, I'm a big boy now." The blond teased though there was an underlying no I don't want to know feeling that he didn't want to express.
Merlin sighed. "Three days. Three more nights before we leave." Arthur nodded, but he couldn't accept how short time was left.
"I'm not entirely sure but I've a feeling it's France or... I don't' know."
Without another word, Arthur pulled Merlin into a sweet kiss while the first rays of sunlight touched the ground before them. The circus was closing and Merlin needed his rest. They pulled away and Merlin chuckled. He raised his hand and instead of a gardenia, it was a card, but it wasn't just any card. It was a special one. A silver one, the size of a ticket. Arthur took it from Merlin's hand and read it.
This card entitles the holder to unlimited admission
"Sorry I couldn't give you one before." Merlin blushed and smiled at Arthur's expression of shock. "I keep forgetting." Arthur flipped the card and in the same black ink and writing was the proprietor's name as well as the circus's name. He pulled Merlin into a tight hug as he laughed and thanked him. Merlin glanced over at the ticket girl, who smiled and winked at him. He chuckled and untangled himself from the hug.
"I better go back in." He said.
Arthur nodded with understanding. "I'll see you tonight then." He waved the special ticket in the air.
Merlin looked up at the morning sky and back at Arthur. "You bet you will." Without an explanation, the illusionist turned around and went into the tent. Arthur grinned all the way home, unable to think about anything else but the circus and the man with beautiful blue eyes. He stayed with him even when his head hit the pillow and sleep embraced him into his dreams.
When he woke up, it was raining very hard. Glancing at the clock on his bed side, it was still four in the afternoon. The weather didn't show signs of slowing down so he figured that the circus wouldn't be open tonight. Before he got too disappointed, he saw that there was a new message for him on the porcelain flower.
That only meant one thing; Merlin was coming over at six, probably for dinner. Arthur jumped up and got everything ready. He called his cleaning service to go clean up his messy flat while he bathed. He placed and order for a takeaway dinner for two at a nearby restaurant with great food. He wanted everything to be perfect since this was the first time he could spend time with Merlin outside the circus. He stressed over what to wear and what to do when he realized all the nervousness was stupid so he threw his formal clothes off and put on some jeans and a shirt.
Merlin arrived right at the second. There was a knock on the door and Arthur couldn't even fathom how he found out where he lived. He opened the door with a wide smile and a loud welcome. Merlin grinned, looking impeccably dry as supposed to the rain pouring by the buckets outside. Arthur took his umbrella and coat and let him wander around while he looked for a place to put the items.
Merlin could tell that it was recently cleaned and was a little quaint for a young man's flat. It was far too big for one person as well. He looked out the window to the dark night and smiled at the little lights shimmering in the distance. Music started playing in the background and two arms wrapped around his waist then a kiss was placed on the nape of his neck. "I hope you like lamb." Arthur said lifting Merlin up, making the shorter man laugh with delight.
"I do, I do like lamb!" Merlin said enthusiastically when he was put back down on the floor. The two sat near each other, enjoying each other's company. Arthur apologized, feeling inadequate compared to the circus in terms of entertainment but Merlin waved it away. It was a nice break from the madness, a nice warm home and the quiet. Merlin talked about how noisy it could get when there's inclement weather problems because of the inclement weather party the circus was having.
"That must be fun." Arthur commented, finishing the last of his lamb.
"It is…" Merlin leaned his head on his hand, looking at the other man. "But, that's one less night without you and I wasn't going to stand for it. And you wouldn't believe how clingy the Murray cats can be." Arthur laughed. "It's true! One minute I'm sipping this drink, laughing at something Widget says then out of nowhere this tiger has me pinned to the ground, licking my face!" They laughed at the mental image. Soon, they were washing the dishes together like a proper couple though they haven't made anything official. But who needed officiating anyway? They liked their arrangement and there wasn't anything they wanted to change. Afterwards, they had nothing else to do except slow dance to the music. They were silent for a long while, relishing the feeling of holding each other close.
"I wish I could stop time and keep us like this forever." Merlin murmured when he leaned his head on Arthur's shoulder, a small, rueful smile coming onto his face. "I wish I could, but I can't." Arthur leaned his cheek on Merlin's head, not saying anything. He wished that too but there was no help in uttering it. They swayed back and forth in silence. "I remember that first time I saw you." He continued. "I had so much fun messing with you. With the doves, remember?"
Arthur chuckled. "I don't dare to forget. It's one of my favourite memories, ever."
The shorter man looked up and they stopped swaying, just staring into each other's eyes. "I don't want to go… But I can't stay." He said, sadness coating every last syllable. It was this time that they realized how completely unfair their situation was. How completely bittersweet. If only Merlin came later, Arthur thought. He could've been out of school and doing the family business and being so good at it that he could spend the rest of his life trailing after the circus, but that wouldn't do… At least, not right now.
Arthur cradled Merlin's face in his hands, staring into those wondrous eyes of his before kissing his lips. Me too. The kiss seemed to say. It was insistent as much as it was desperate. Merlin replied with the same fervour, his hands tangling themselves into Arthur's soft blond hair. There was that sudden heat between them that forced them to move close and clutch hard. Merlin stepped out of his shoes without much effort and jumped to wrap his legs around Arthur, who enthusiastically supported his bum right away. For some reason, Arthur knew where his room was even with his eyes closed and a grown man kissing his brains out. He suspected Merlin helped.
When they reached Arthur's room, Arthur leaned Merlin onto the wall; lips not leaving each other long after the shirts were discarded. Their skin felt good together, more than good, actually there were no words that could describe their skin against the other's skin.
Arthur grinded against Merlin, eliciting a breathy gasp. He moved his lips down Merlin's jaw and neck, enjoying the short panting sounds the illusionist made. Merlin unbuckled, unzipped, and unbuttoned their pants without so much as moving his hands from Arthur's muscular back. They moved away from the wall and onto the bed with Merlin straddling Arthur. Their lips touched and their tongues tangled. Their hands travelled to places they've never touched before, bare chests, stomachs, and backs.
Merlin grinded on Arthur, the friction causing both of them to groan with pleasure. Merlin followed Arthur's example earlier, moving from the lips and lower to other area of skin. Arthur loved the feeling of the other's lips on his skin, leaving a trail of chills that coursed through his veins. "Oh God, Merlin." Arthur moaned. They rolled over, this time with Arthur on top. They chuckled against each other's lips. Arthur ran his hand down Merlin's lean body and down to his pants. He pushed through the underwear almost impatiently and stroked the hardened member immediately. Merlin shuddered under his touch. The pants moved off of Merlin as quickly as he could manage. The illusionist wrapped his arms around Arthur's shoulders, wanting more of those lips.
Slowly, Arthur's hands left Merlin's cock and move towards lower regions, teasing his entrance with a finger. The underwear flew across the room with Arthur's pants and underwear. He didn't care about how Merlin did that, they were naked, that's all that mattered. Arthur pushed a finger in, Merlin squeaked. "Relax." Arthur murmured, still pushing in. Merlin cleared his head and focused on Arthur's lips and not on the slight pain in his butt. It was a tight fit in Merlin's case, Arthur shuddered with anticipation. His fingers worked their way and Merlin could barely continue kissing when he couldn't do anything but pant and constantly say Arthur's name as he was being pleasured. Soon, he was ready and before Arthur could even scramble for lube, Merlin stopped him with a quick hold of the hand.
"You don't have to." Merlin purred, he reached down and touched Arthur's length. There was a cool sensation that made Arthur shudder violently as Merlin stroked him. They kissed again, tongues battling each other, pushing and pushing until Merlin stopped stroking and placed a wet hand on Arthur's shoulder, signifying his readiness. Arthur pushed Merlin's legs apart and pushed himself in. Merlin cried out in pleasure, arching from the bed.
They held each other close, nails biting the skin as Arthur penetrated slowly. Once all of him was in, they kissed again as Arthur moved. He bit Merlin's lower lip, pulling at it as the man under him started to pant and moan with every movement. He buried his head into the pillow, moaning Arthur's name. The blond began kissing the illusionist's neck again, sucking on it, forming bruises that would surely need covering up the next day. Merlin scratched down Arthur's shoulder as the thrusts turned deeper and faster. He couldn't form words any more, just pleasured sounds that were music to Arthur's ears.
Merlin pressed against Arthur's body after a particularly deep thrust that made him cry out and arch from the bed for a good five seconds. He pushed on the bigger man's chest and they flipped over, not separating at all. Merlin wrapped his hands around Arthur's hands and moved them above their heads, holding hard. They began kissing again as Merlin twisted and turned his hips. It was driving Arthur insane, the tightness, the friction, the Merlin. He didn't usually like to be dominated like this but fuck Merlin was hot. His hips were doing the impossible.
Merlin leaned away from Arthur to a sitting position. Arthur held Merlin's hips as tightly as he could while the other bounced on him, leaving no room to think or to even properly breathe. They didn't stop until they were all dried up and exhausted and that wasn't until a couple of hours later. They figured they'd done every position known to mankind and they called it a night after the third mind-blowing orgasm. Merlin cleaned them up easily and the only way they could really say that it happened was how damp they were with sweat. They didn't speak; they just kissed softly and gently, holding hands.
Merlin soon fell asleep on Arthur.
The blond stayed away for a few more minutes, stroking Merlin's raven black hair and just thinking about him and the past couple of hours of sex. It was only when the man on top of him snuggled closer that he fell asleep himself.
The morning came with sunlight beating down on Arthur's eyelids. He almost didn't want to wake up, he had a feeling that Merlin wasn't there anymore. He didn't want to wake up to that, not just yet. He wasn't done with the night before. But something stirred beside him and a finger pressed on his nose. His eyes fluttered open to be greeted by blue eyes. He smiled. "You're still here."
"Of course I'm still here." Merlin chuckled. "I'm not that kind of boy, Arthur."
"Bugger off." Arthur murmured before leaning up to place a quick kiss on Merlin's cheek. "Will you be staying for breakfast?"
"Not well but I manage to make something edible."
"I love a challenge."
Breakfast constituted with eggs, bacon, tea, and more eggs because Arthur managed to put shells in the first batch. Merlin found himself wishing he could stop time forever or leave the circus without any remorse. He wanted this too, this life with Arthur but he loved the circus with all that he had and he couldn't possibly leave it. What's worse was that if he told anyone about this, they would tell him it was fine to leave but it wasn't fine. Nothing was fine. The dilemma would stretch on and on and on. He needed to ask someone about this – Poppet, probably. Ask her about Arthur and their future if there was one. He didn't want to leave but he needed to go back to the circus at some point before anyone would miss him too much. And he did, after a few more kisses from Arthur.
The last two nights were the hardest since he was given more performance slots but Arthur either didn't mind or didn't want to mind. They had the most fun they could, constantly playing some sort of game at every tent they went to. It was great but the goodbye was getting too close for their liking. Merlin had asked Poppet about them and she said something that gave him hope. They were on the Stargazer, right before he was to meet Arthur at the bonfire. She read the stars for a couple of minutes before turning to her friend. "Merlin," she said, taking his hands into hers, "you and Arthur have this special bond that no matter what you do and where you are, you always come back to him and he always comes back to you. It's bright, too bright for me to see. But you have to find a way for him to stay connected with the circus, I know you can but I don't know how. Make it small and subtle." She smiled wider. "Don't be so sad, okay? You'll have your time. Patience was always one of your strong suits."
Merlin laughed. "Of course, or you and Widget would be one of my doves by now."
It was their last night together. They stood in front of the circus gates, kissing each other goodbye, both refusing to cry. Merlin found it stupid to cry, what with Poppet's prediction of happiness. He even found the perfect way to connect Arthur to the circus. They pulled away and shared a sad smile. "I guess this is it, then?"
Merlin shook his head. "No, not really." He pressed his hand on Arthur's neck and something coiled around him. The illusionist pulled away, smiling down at his handiwork. It was a necklace with a black, white, and red clock hanging on it. It didn't seem like anything special at first glance but he knew it was very special.
"What is it?" Arthur asked, touching it.
"Don't get cheeky, Merlin."
"It's a gift, a special one, you'll find out soon." Merlin kissed him again, one last time, at least for a while. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too." Just as the sun coloured the sky, Merlin disappeared behind the circus curtains and the gates creaked to a close. It was quiet on circus grounds. Soon, it would be gone from everyone's sights for who knows how long. Arthur sighed and walked back to his car. He hoped he wouldn't have to wait a long time for them to meet again, just three years at the most, but not five. He knew Merlin's duty to the circus but he wanted to keep him as his own, still. I guess we just can't have everything. He thought dejectedly as he took off the necklace when he got to his flat.
He stared at it. It was just a normal clock with red numbers in it. He turned it around in his fingers and found nothing unusual about it, at least not at the moment. He gave up and tucked himself to bed and fell asleep, willing Merlin to be beside him when he woke up. His dreams were happy ones, of him and Merlin in the circus, laughing and having a good time. They were mostly memories, like his brain was replaying everything just to comfort him through the day. When he woke up, Merlin wasn't there and he was probably long gone. He tossed and turned, wanting to go back to those beautiful dreams but he found that he couldn't fall into unconsciousness again. He got up and continued his life with a heaving sigh.
The next day before class started, Arthur rushed to get his things together and a shirt on. If he didn't leave in five minutes he was going to be late. He paused at the bedside table after he was fully clothed. He eyed the black and white clock necklace for a few seconds. It was right beside Merlin's porcelain gardenia that said I'll miss you, Arthur again. He grabbed the necklace and secured it around his neck. He caressed it fondly, thinking of Merlin. Then he felt something on its back, a sort of indent. He pulled it off and right on the back in plain letters was one word and one word only.
At first, he didn't understand what the clock was trying to say. What about Scotland? Then it hit him. Scotland was where the circus was going to; Scotland was where Merlin was going. Arthur began to laugh, admiring Merlin's ingenuity. It was the perfect way to know where he was at all times and he was going to use this to his advantage once he had time to fly off to any place in the world to follow the circus wherever it went. He kissed the necklace and left for class with a certain hop to his step.
Milan, July 2007
The circus came out of nowhere. No announcements. No advertisements. No preamble whatsoever. Everyone waited near the gates as the sun began to set, anticipation buzzing in the air. There were rêveurs talking excitedly with each other and newcomers to the circus. There were children waiting on their parents' shoulders or in their arms with an enchanted look in their eyes. The black and white tents were the biggest they've ever seen. The excitement was almost palpable.
Arthur waited outside with a big smile on his face. He touched the clock necklace with one hand almost affectionately. He'd been waiting for a long time for this moment again. He could almost feel Merlin's eyes on him, somewhere behind the tents; he knew Merlin knew he was there.
Just a few more minutes weren't so bad after the long wait.
Then, the sun fell and the lights began to flicker on in a beautiful rhythm making people gasp with awe. Arthur chuckled as the lights of The Circus of Dreams were all aglow and the gates opened on their own. He rushed forward, uncaring of who he cut off or bumped, nothing else was going to come between them, time and distance were enough.