Look Before You Leap

Chapter 3

The Final Step

Immature Love says: 'I love you because I need you'

Mature Love says: 'I need you because I love you'

Erich Fromm

It was now around the time that Merlin fell, he thought. Between two worktops in the room, he crouched by the one nearest the window and waddled lowly round, waiting every few steps for a new development, a change in tension, something to indicate another was here.

Merlin, having not seen or heard any movements besides his own in the room, went to the spot where he fell.

He couldn't see the infamous "Deku Nut" object, he did a little searching just to be sure, like a borrower, he thought, but all was in vain.

A little disheartened, Merlin then waddled still crouched to the other side of the room and waited there for a while.

Long minutes passed, but nothing changed about the aura to the room.

'No-one's here; maybe I got here too early,' Merlin pondered, his low spirits tempting him to leave, but as luck would have it, the door clicked open as soon as he finished his doubting.

He saw a silhouette, due to how the light hit them, and they were holding something. Before Merlin thought better of it, he sprung up like a coil, 'Excuse me, I have a question for y-' but the conviction in his voice was lost on Mithian.

'Oh, Merlin,' she then motioned to the test papers, 'I brought these up for you; you're always so forgetful, like a goldfish is it?'

Oh... right...

'Thanks,' he spoke, the word dying as soon as it left his mouth.

She giggled, 'I thought as much, anyway, what's your question?'

'Oh it was nothing, really, silly really,' Merlin stuttered out, feeling flushed and dismayed.

Mithian seemed to be taken aback slightly, not really understanding Merlin for a moment, but she must have brushed it off as one of his funny antics, because she replied like this, 'Well, well if you're sure,' pausing, waiting politely for Merlin to observe his window of opportunity, then, 'I'll put these down then,' and left.

It couldn't have been Mithian before, Merlin lamented, as he slowly trudged to the door as well, because last time he brought the exams up here, so there was still some hope, he supposed.

'Hey, Mithian!' Merlin called out, 'Did you see anyone on your way up here?'

'Like who?' she sweetly replied, tone suddenly interested, but that wasn't the reply Merlin wanted to dissect right now, 'Never mind,' he pushed out, looking out the window and gave a Jane Austen sigh, 'Alright...'

Merlin's phone buzzed then, pulling Merlin from his dirge of mind. He took the offending piece of technology from his pocket, and decided he didn't mind who it was, it read:

She just asked me out! Jealous? I can't believe it really

Lancelot was so cute, honestly, him and his little mind, Merlin thought, 'Who do you think set it up for you in the first place?' while placing the phone back into his pocket smugly.

However, Merlin felt a very sudden coldness spread through him, he quickly looked at the text again with lightening speed, and read the last part again:

I'll need to borrow your bike by the way; you can double with Arthur :)

Despite the sun, Merlin felt sickening chills, just staring at those few words, wondering what they meant, and what they could mean.

'Pen-dra-gon,' Lancelot pronounced as he unlocked Merlin's bike in the little overhang that held the vehicles, 'Merlin's code is Arthur's birthday,' he informed Gwen, who smiled, 'That's sweet.'

'So,' Lancelot started, not nervous at all, only terrified he might ruin things, but confident in his own skills if he treated things right, 'Where do you live?'

'A couple roads from the station,'

'Right,' he punctuated while plonking Merlin's bike between them, 'we should go to my dad's after to check out your ankle, just in case,' and how could Gwen show any resistance to Lancelot's charming intimate smile? 'Our clinic isn't too far from there.'

Merlin burst through the door, arms flailing everywhere, mind flailing everywhere, heart flailing as much as the strings would allow. He ran past Mithian, already panting, clutching onto the door to the corridor and slid it across, the wood banging and recoiling back violently as Merlin dashed from the room, Mithian looking at him and calling out loudly to try and catch him, 'Actually, I did see someone on my way up here!' But Merlin was already halfway down the stairs.

'It was Arthur!'

'Lancelot!' Merlin called as he plundered into the volunteer club's common room. Merlin looked around wildly, his eyes bulging, trying to see his form, but he wasn't there.

'He went home,' someone said.

'Yeah, holding hands with that Year 11,' another sniggered.

Merlin, unnaturally grateful for their advise, but horribly panicked that Lancelot was already ahead of him, dashed back out, and scurried through the corridors until he got outside, and pelted to the bike shed thing-place.

Breathing heavily, he admitted aloud, 'It's gone,' in equal parts agitated and anxious.

No time to lose, he then raced forwards, out of the school, in the direction of the crossing, yanking his phone from his pocket, hoping to stop Lancelot somehow, but as the phone buttons beeped, the tone beeped, Merlin was told Lancelot was already using the line. Merlin cursed desperately, and tried again, screaming out, 'Answer your fucking phone!'

'Yeah, it's me dad,' Lancelot said, Gwen holding onto his waist delicately as shops and restaurants passed them along with the traffic,

'I've got a sprained ankle for you; think you could take a look at it?'

'No it's not me,'

'Sure, we'll be right there,'

'Thanks for all this,' Gwen whispered tenderly, Lance shooting her a warming glow back.

'Please leave a message after-'

'Damn!' Merlin barked, stabbing the hang up sign with his thumb. He was just getting out of the school gates, legs already burning, but he pushed them anyway.

He leaped over hedges, ducked into alleyways, and more than once stumbled over something or other, head alert and mind focusing on only one goal; streets and houses whizzing past him, the sides of his vision hazing. His lungs felt as if they were filled with acid, but thank god he was going downhill now.

'Should I go back in time? Then again, it's not like anything's happened yet, I could still make it!'

Merlin rasped out a gasp as he tripped up.

The lights of the crossing started bleeping and flashing a ruby red, alternatively hopping from one side of the lamp to the other.

Merlin came running down the hill, the world whooshing past him, but the only sound he could hear were the pants in his ears and then the resonating hoot of the turning train. He looked up, searching frantically for any signs of Lancelot or Gwen, however there were none, and by the time he got to the bottom of the hill, the trains were whizzing and cluttering past each other. Merlin put his arms to his knees and gasped.

The yellow and black striped bars rose, and life seemed pretty normal. Merlin, in the back of his mind, felt a short sensation of foreboding, but was surprisingly and pleasantly satisfied nothing had happened; maybe they had already crossed anyway.

There were no signs of an accident, and Merlin morbidly thought that there was no blood anywhere.

He asked a passing pregnant woman with her first child if she'd seen a bike accident around here, or had heard of one, just to be safe.

She replied in the negative, 'No, I haven't, I don't think so,' then turning to her child, walking away, 'an accident he said – how scary!'

Merlin then felt his phone's ring, indicating someone was calling him. He lashed onto it like a lifeline, 'Where are you Lancelot? Lancelot!'

But it wasn't him.

Merlin then felt a potent sink in his heart, of imagining him alone in the local court, in his sleeveless red t-shirt, and Merlin knew his sad lamentations bled on his face.

'Arthur,' he spoke with such heavy fondness and gloomy guilt. He started slowly walking up the hill, thinking of how Arthur must be kicking the dirt slightly in embarrassment.

'Lancelot's at his place with the girl, what's up? You two did a jump at the field,' and Merlin felt such a pull on his heartstrings, because Arthur was trying to make it sound like a joke.

'I'm sorry,' Merlin spoke softly and truly meant it.

'I'm still waiting,' Arthur said, still carefree-sounding, and with the pause that followed, it seemed like the conversation would end, but Merlin didn't want it to, he liked the sound of Arthur's husky yet smooth voice cracking down the phone.

'Wait, Arthur,' Merlin said with much haste.

'Yeah?'

Merlin didn't know what his mind wanted to say, but his chest ached a lot, 'There's... there's something I've been wanting to ask you for a while now,' he uttered out, barely audible even to him, but he knew he said it, and he knew Arthur heard.

'Do you have fun playing ball with me?' his little voice tempted out.

'What are you talking about?'

'I mean, I have a lot of fun playing baseball with you,' but, Arthur then scoffed a bit after Merlin's tentative line,

'You sure suck for someone who likes it so much,' and he heard Arthur giggle to himself.

'You'd suck too if enthusiasm didn't count!' Merlin bellowed exposed.

'That's better than nothing,' Arthur teased, and for some strangely simple reason, Merlin found himself laughing; he didn't laugh like he usually did though, he laughed as if he was free, and for once, he wasn't ashamed of the almost tears that came with it.

'What's so funny?' Arthur asked, chuckling generously as well, and Merlin imagined his toothy grin.

'It's nice talking to you, it feels like it's been ages,' Merlin sighed, and wanted more than anything to be in that field right now.

'What you on about? We've been talking all day,' Arthur pointed out, his smirk coming through the phone with uncanny precision, 'If you miss me that much then-' but Merlin started to blush, feeling hot, because he knew how Arthur felt, and he knew the happiness such knowledge could give him.

'D-Don't be so stupid,' Merlin stuttered.

'I'm kidding, I'm kidding, calm down,' Arthur said, and Merlin noticed just how much his voice rose in pitch, his throat going gravelly somewhat from the strain.

Merlin smiled.

'Actually, Merlin,' and now, Merlin felt the atmosphere change: he'd been here before, 'there is something I've been meaning to ask you as well.'

Merlin knew that resolve, had seen and heard it several times... but he wouldn't leap now.

Morgana once asked him what the problem was; he said he didn't know, but maybe he knew he was in love: he thought about Arthur every time he thought about him, he just couldn't stop thinking about him. He wondered how long it would take to cure it, just to cure it because he couldn't ignore it if it was love: it made him want so much more. He'd been like a snowball running, running down into the spring that's coming all this love; melting under blue skies, belting out sunlight shimmering love. And it was now that he surrendered to the strawberry ice cream never ever end of all this love. He didn't mean to do it, but there was no escaping Arthur's love. He'd jump that little bit higher, turn that little bit tighter; for his sake, and for Arthur's, because he had a chance for happiness, and he wanted to take it now: he'd jump off the edge, never knowing if there was solid ground below, or hand to hold. But Merlin was comforted and contented, because at least he could hold Arthur's hand, and that would be more than enough.

Merlin was ready, and with excitable butterflies, he waited for Arthur's question.

Merlin's spirits were so high in fact, that shock was inevitable.

'H-Have you been... time leaping?'

X

'Actually, Merlin, there is something I've been meaning to ask you as well.'

'No, wait! Hang on a second!' Merlin blasted out. He didn't know why he leaped again, of course he meant to but, the idea of Arthur knowing just... startled him; maybe Arthur knew about everything else – maybe Arthur had figured out that he had already asked Merlin.

He couldn't bare the notion that Arthur might think less of him. And maybe he did it out of rage also, because he had been so ready to jump on Arthur's confession, his proposal.

'Let's talk about my little sister!'

'Huh? Why?'

Merlin flinched in his speech, 'Because! Oh man is she stupid and really annoying and she once stole my cus-'

'Hello? I was talking here,' Arthur deadpanned, and now that the moment was officially and spectacularly obliterated, Arthur sighed, and Merlin could hear his brain working, retracting the thought, 'N-Never mind,' he said lowly, but then perked up, but Merlin had the sickening feeling it was just for show, 'I'll be waiting,' then he hung-up.

And Merlin was left with the phone's beeping like a flat line.

'How in the world does Arthur even know about it?'

But before a whole new flood of worrying thoughts could cascade into his mind, one very profound realisation struck him: he rolled up his shirt higher.

00

He had no more leaps.

It was over.

Merlin was filled with a fury, a fury at himself.

'I wasted the last one on something so LAME!'

Oh well, Merlin thought to himself, trying his best to brighten the situation, and not think about any lingering disappoint still present in him. At least Lancelot didn't get hurt, and that's what counted.

'Hey, Merlin,' Lance shouted.

Merlin looked straight in front of him, and there was Lance and the girl, Gwen, riding double down the hill, now passing Merlin.

For a moment that felt incredibly long, Merlin didn't hear anything: he didn't hear the general blur of people's talk around him; he didn't hear the clicking of the bike; all he could feel was the increasing pound of his heart, and the blood pumping in his ears.

Merlin's head followed the bike's movement as it passed him, Lance shouting out; 'I need to borrow your bike a bit longer,' filled with joy.

Merlin felt paralysed, then with a force not of his conscious creation, his arms went numb, dropping his phone, as he then raced after them, eyes wide, mind wide.

'Wait!' Merlin yelled, the bike's speed escalating, 'No, wait, stop!' but at that moment, he stumbled, and a woman with a boy walked in front of him. They collided, her shopping going everywhere.

'Honestly! Children these days! Apologise at once!' but Merlin had already picked himself up, the rough embrace with the ground leaving scratches and scraps all over his exposed skin.

He was running so fast that the contact of his feet with the hill's surface seemed to recoil him into the next motion, 'Stop, Lance, stop!' he panted out, yelling his throat raw.

The lights of the crossing started bleeping and flashing a ruby red, alternatively hopping from one side of the lamp to the other.

Merlin came running down the hill, the world whooshing past him, but the only sound he could hear was the pants in his ears and then the resonating hoot of the turning train.

'Wait! Stop, Lance!' His vision was hazy with the lack of air he was gaining, but he could make out a struggle on the bike.

The beeping of the lights echoed eerily on as the approaching train's heavy hooted base sounded out again.

Merlin just kept repeating Lance's name, as he bashed, crashed and smashed into people, knocking him this way and that, as the bike was quickly disappearing in the crowds. Merlin gasped out every time a collision was particularly strong.

A shoe then mashed with his face, knocking Merlin to the ground as he rolled down the hill, bouncing slowly, the claws of the concrete scratching at his skin.

Merlin finally stopped, blood stains behind him.

He hurt, he hurt so awfully all over, and there was an aching in his skull, which worsened as people gathered round him, wondering if he was alive even.

Merlin lifted his head, quick bruises and cracked cuts already showing, as he looked on in absolute horror, stunned and helpless.

He heard the gong of the bike hitting the barrier, Lancelot and Gwen flung into the air; she looked so scared.

Tears quickly brimmed in his eyes.

He slammed his eyes shut, wishing the pain away.

'Stop, stop, stop, stop,' he screamed, his throat rasping, 'Stop, stop, stop, stop!'

X

Merlin opened his eyes again, but to a silent world.

All of nature's natural colours were dulled, it seemed, and everything was frozen. The shades of the light looked cold to touch.

Merlin sprung up, all his injuries gone, as he whirled around himself, looking at the stillness.

'What's going on?' he breathed out, as if someone could hear him.

'I knew it was you,' a voice said, as if it carried the burden of an age.

Merlin knew that husky smooth voice; he jumped round to see Arthur, Merlin's bike leaning against him as he held it.

'Arthur?' Merlin asked, in complete thoughtless astonishment, 'What are you doing here? Where's Lancelot?' he said, incredibly light-headed.

'Probably still at home,' he said, his face looking remarkably sad.

'What?' Merlin stuttered out, not sure if he should be relieved or not, 'But, he was just here,' Merlin said, absolutely sure he was telling the truth, utterly bewildered; Arthur then pulled Merlin's brakes, and let them flop back into their position, as if that explained more than Arthur could describe.

Then it all clicked, Merlin thought, as Arthur stared at him, wordless, just staring with a sunken brow, 'Wait... did you do this? Can you time leap too?'

Merlin thought he'd never seen Arthur look so entirely dejected, even in his red sleeveless t-shirt, his school shirt overhanging it, resting on his shoulders, he wasn't the carefree boy Merlin knew anymore.

'Would you laugh Merlin,' Arthur started, not really looking at him, caught in his thoughts, then pierced Merlin's soul with his ocean eyes, a storm calming, the ebbing tides revealing the pain, 'if I said I was from the future?'

Merlin, who thought that he knew a great deal about some things, found he knew very little altogether, and was once again, speechless and thoughtless, however this time, he had a heavy heart, and felt as if his bones had been cracked by bullets.

They had been walking for... Merlin didn't know. Arthur had been silent the whole walk, as Merlin stared around himself.

He didn't know what it was specifically: whether it was Arthur's crestfallen expression, whether it was the stone expressions around him, or the ominous silence, the kind that made one feel breaks of nerves in their body, but he felt very suddenly, very sad.

Everything, everything was dead still: the birds in the sky, children playing outside, the grass in the wind, a woman watering her roses, business men talking on phones, and just the general public looking so isolated in themselves despite living so close to others: all of it – paused in ice, paused in marble.

Then Arthur finally spoke, his strength only recovered enough to speak, and Merlin thought, if sounds had shades, Arthur's would be grey, 'In my time, there is a device invented so people can time leap whenever they wish,' he then produced the mysterious Deku Seed, 'this is it here,' Merlin looked at the charred looking piece of nut, 'you use it to charge your body, that's how I came to this era.'

'This device,' Arthur continued, inspiring such emotion in Merlin by his glum tone, 'I didn't realise it at first, but along the way – I lost it, I panicked,' he said, his eyes crashing closed for a moment, as if the memory gave him physical pain, 'I looked everywhere, and eventually found it, in the science prep room,' he then flexed his hand to crush the device, the popping sound crinkling into dust, 'but by then, it had already been used up.'

They were in a park now, the pigeons frozen as were the woman feeding them, Arthur walked in front, 'I had trouble sleeping, thinking it might have fallen into the wrong hands,' and here he seemed to stop, gazing out in front of him.

Merlin wanted to reach out, he needed to touch Arthur, tell him that he was sorry, that it was alright, somehow, because the tension in Arthur choked Merlin's chest. But he didn't know if he should.

'Why did you come here?' Merlin asked, wondering why he had met this strange space boy, and finding it funny how he believed every word Arthur said.

Arthur turned to look at Merlin, and there was a brief glint in his eye, the pupil, as if the sight of Merlin was agonizing to him; it was momentary and Arthur recovered excellently, but Merlin saw it, and Arthur knew he saw it.

Arthur walked them someplace, and before long, Merlin found himself in the art gallery.

'There was a painting that I desperately wanted to see,' Arthur explained, again, looking forlorn and trapped, 'No matter how far it was, or what kind of place it was in, no matter how dangerous the journey,' they were in front of a notice which read how the gallery was sorry for a lack of art on this spot, and how one would be there shortly.

Arthur placed his hand on the glass, 'I wanted to see it.'

Merlin, again, was overcome with a desire to hold him, feel him, 'Unfortunately in my time, the painting has already been destroyed, and before these times, the whereabouts are unknown. The only accurate record of it was in this era, this place, in this season.'

'So,' Merlin started, his voice small, 'you came all this way?'

Arthur closed his eyes, and Merlin wondered with such soreness in his heart, of what life was like for Arthur truly, in his time.

'All I needed was to see it,' he breathed, and sighed, 'I was going to remember it for the rest of my life,' his hand then slowly descended the glass, a whine escaping the action; his arm fell, lifeless beside him before he placed both his hands in his pockets, 'But I guess there's no point now,' then he turned and walked away, the slump of his shoulders carrying a weight Merlin would probably never know, he thought, 'to anything.'

'What do you mean you can't return!' Merlin shouted, but his voice was still so little, so ready to break, as he ran after Arthur, who was now in the gallery's lobby.

'It means just that, I can't go back to my time,' Arthur spoke, every word a vanishing wash on the winds.

'But why?' Merlin pleaded, having enough of seeing Arthur so sad and knowing he was the cause; his heart was full.

'Because,' he turned, stopping Merlin; then showed what was beneath his left wrist's sweatband.

Jokerman digits; of birthmark colour; flashing zero.

Merlin didn't want to think about what that meant.

'Because having to steal your bike, that Lance was supposed to ride, used up all the time leaps I had left.'

'What will you do?' Merlin said, his words wet, his heart sinking.

'There's nothing I can do,' Arthur uttered, placing the sweatband back.

'But why would you waste it on that?' Merlin shouted, battling tears so ready to spill over the barrier of his eyes, like pushing doors, 'Why didn't you use it for when you really needed it!'

'I did use it for something important,' Arthur said, his words firm, unyielding, and withdrawn, 'You might not have fully realised it yet, Merlin, but Lance and that girl did die once, at that train crossing.'

Merlin was struck into silence, 'A certain someone was sobbing his eyes out, blaming himself for everything, so, really, it was the only choice I had.'

Arthur must have seen the pain in Merlin's eyes, because he flinched from his harsh words, stepped forward, and looked as if he might hold Merlin's wrist.

'I was supposed to go home,' and now, Merlin felt breathless, as if he and Arthur were in a bubble – a humid capsule too small to accommodate them; Arthur looked into his very soul, and found something special, because his features softened, but seemed more lonely, 'but being with you was so much fun, Merlin,' but he then looked out of the window in the doors, breathing as if he'd broken through the surface of a lake.

Merlin waited.

'I saw a river run through the land for the first time,' he started, with remnants of joy, 'I rode a bike for the first time,' he sighed, 'I discovered how infinite meadows can be, how enormous the sky is,' and upon Arthur's distant wondering in his look again, Merlin realised just how clueless he had been.

They were on the slope by Avalon River, now, noting how the water looked frozen, but not like in winter.

They were looking out, side by side, the only vivid colour in the landscape, silent.

That was until Arthur spoke, 'I really like this era, you have baseball,' he added, as a side comment, laughing slightly.

Merlin perked up at this display, 'What? Baseball disappears? For real?' he questioned, his voice alive, turning to Arthur, hoping for a smile.

But when he looked to him, Arthur was walking away on the path.

Merlin felt too stunned to move, so he tried to reel Arthur back with his words, his most heartfelt words, 'That painting!' he started, only faintly relived to see Arthur stop, 'It's not there now, but you'll be able to see it soon; it's getting restored, that's why it's not there,' Merlin desperately ran out, eager to see Arthur's face, and his efforts were rewarded.

Never had such a short few metres felt so vast.

Merlin knew his voice was shaking, that his body was vibrating with nervous energy, but he didn't care if he sounded despaired, 'How about the three of us go: you, me and Lance? Especially now that the summer holidays are about to start,' Merlin didn't know what was more distressing, Arthur's blankness or his melancholy, 'what do you say, Arthur?'

Merlin swallowed, panting mouth agape, his lower lip quivering.

'Sorry,' Arthur said, his voice more deep than usual, vibrating in Merlin's chest, 'I can't.'

'Why not?' Merlin yelled.

'As of tomorrow, I won't be here,' Merlin knew that he couldn't return to his own time, so Merlin didn't know what Arthur meant by that; a doubting thread of mind gnawed something dreadful, but Merlin refused to entertain it, 'I'm not supposed to let the people of the past know about time leaps, I broke that rule,' and on every word, it seemed he was becoming more drained, 'that's why, I'll never be able to see you again,' then the gnawing exploded: Merlin's body convulsed with the rupture: not only was Arthur stuck because of Merlin, but, by the stern brow of Arthur, and his pointed look of sorrow, Merlin fell into deep mire.

He didn't want Arthur to die.

He couldn't.

Merlin panicked, his cheeks river-marked, 'You promised we'd go to a night gig together!' he shouted, voice raw, throat raw, eyes raw, everything raw.

'I'm sorry,' Arthur said, sniffing, licking his lips, doing all he could to hold himself together.

'You promised we'd go to that fireworks festival!' Merlin wept.

'I'm really sorry,' Arthur choked out, breathing so heavily.

'Jerk!' Merlin yelled, his tears flying from his cheeks as he stepped closer towards Arthur and pushed him away, 'Fine then! Just go!' he sobbed, Arthur looking at him so blue, just letting Merlin push him away, and then started to walk away with his own strength.

Merlin looked after at his retreating figure, then felt a cold snap fissure through his chest, extending to his limbs, 'No! Wait!' he yelled, running after him, then grabbed his wrist, yanking Arthur to face him.

Staring.

They had too much to say to each other, could have been so much more, words lost behind; what stung Merlin also, was, how he'd never get to tell Arthur he loved him.

Because he did. Love him. And now it was too late.

'I want,' Merlin spoke, battling the lump in his throat, looking down at where they touched, how his fingers wrapped around Arthur's thick wrist, then closing his eyes, because it hurt too much.

'What do you want, Merlin?' Arthur's words shook past his lips, his eyes, his face, now expressing a desperate desolation.

But Merlin couldn't meet those seeking eyes, so let his head fall on the boy's shoulder instead, weeping into his neck, his lips gently caressing the soft skin over the taunt flesh as he breathed,

'I want you to stay.'

But as soon as Merlin uttered the words, dared to open his eyes, he saw the edge of Arthur's fingers disappearing.

It was an odd experience, seeming like the edge of paper when you blow out the flame, so it crinkles from that moving line of glow.

That's what it looked like.

Arthur was burning away.

Merlin sought Arthur's eyes, needing to know the other boy knew what he meant, so that he could communicate his desires with his eyes, but by the time he even moved, the line was up to the side of Arthur's neck.

The strange, future boy smiled, then was no more.

Merlin stared, wide eyed, tears brimming, as the world around him faded into motion and colour.

Merlin was so very pale, frozen, still clasping the air.

X

It was the talk of the school – everyone spoke of how mysteriously and suddenly Arthur Pendragon left the world – no trace, no letter, no goodbye to anyone; except for Merlin, which he had to keep silent about, therefore, had to endure the ignorant whispers that were louder than even if everyone was carrying their own ghetto blaster at full volume.

Currently, Merlin was standing at Arthur's desk.

No-one had heard him speak.

The whispers were constant:

'Why did Arthur Pendragon have to leave?'

'I heard it was because he was in debt and the mafia was after him.'

'That's not true is it? I always thought there was something fishy about him.'

'Are you sure it isn't like something like his parents getting a divorce?'

'Well, I heard it was because he was seeing an older woman, and got her pregnant.'

'Are you serious?'

The gasps that followed were disgusting.

All Merlin wanted was to be left alone, but two girls had the nerve to approach him from one of the huddles.

Merlin legged it out the room, moving chairs out his way, quite silently despite his mind's workings.

'I told you, he's not that type of guy!' Lancelot shouted, growling now as he was being cornered by boy gossips.

'I heard he lost a bet and stabbed some guy,' one of them crudely said; laughter in his voice.

Lance saw a figure running through the crowds in the corner of his eye, naturally following the sudden visual stimulation, he saw it was Merlin.

'I thought it was with a brick to the head?'

'No, he got out a knife and slashed his arm then went for his chest!'

'I told you, he's not that kind of guy!' Lancelot brushed off, racing after Merlin.

They were outside now, on the hill overlooking the school's courts, under a tree in the shade.

Both were silent.

Merlin was cradling his legs; Lance was leaning back with a stern face.

Merlin only allowed Lance to stay because he was the only other one vaguely close to Arthur, so wouldn't talk about him; Lance was also the strong-silent-type when it came to emotional constipation, so Merlin thought he was safe.

Lance broke his rule,

'What the hell happened to him?' he uttered, hushed and as if he was talking to himself, but Merlin knew it wasn't dreamy enough to be a thought out loud.

Lance must have taken Merlin's stillness to be some sort of permission.

It was not.

'It's one thing to not tell me, but, he could have at least spoken to you about it,' Lance pressed, disrupting the whirling of lost ships of thought in Merlin's mind.

Merlin thought that, all things considered, he was actually doing an at least decent job of not breaking down, or "unravelling" or self-harming or some weird shit like that. But Merlin wasn't the type to take out emotional pain from himself by replacing it with physical pain: he was the type to hold it in, bottle it up, if you will, labelling each one and placing them in a nice neat cupboard.

He thought he locked it.

He thought the caps were on securely.

His head hurt recently, as if a tempest were raging in his skull. Dark clouds, heavy rain, dark blues and a greyscale of colours everywhere.

'I mean... considering he had a thing for you,' Lance said tentatively, as if thinking now of all times would be the right time to say it, yet still fearful of Merlin bursting.

Lightening struck his heart.

'Did... did Arthur say that?'

Lance wasn't as tense anymore, willing to go on, but was still cautious.

'Yeah, I thought it was obvious though,' another lightening strike, thunder pounding out, 'didn't you notice?'

Lancelot's sweet innocent ignorance was not helping Merlin in the slightest, it was making things irrevocably worse, and to be reminded of filling a fate where he was extremely unhappy, hurting his dearest friend the most, to be reminded of his cowardly naive actions – Merlin felt a torrent of sea water approach his eyes.

'But, you're awkward with things like that,' Lance continued, 'maybe... that's why he couldn't come out with it,'

Insufferable boy! He really didn't know anything, did he?

'Lance,' Merlin started, rising up, fists clenched, 'I'm a horrible person!' his throat struggled through the shout.

'He did want to tell me something important, but I pretended the conversation never happened.'

Merlin felt it now, the rising wave nearing him.

He tensed his fists tighter, 'Why didn't I take what he said more seriously?'

And now it crashed in to him, full force and flooding his every nerve, every fibre, everywhere that was solid: it crumbled, everywhere there was liquid: it poisoned, every space: overflowing with a crammed potency and overwhelming sadness.

Lance must have seen the tears, must have heard the sniffs and little gasps, for his face fell in concern, and he whispered Merlin's name.

However, any comfort Lancelot thought he could give: it wouldn't be enough, wouldn't be even remotely sufficient.

There was only one who could provide Merlin with his medicine.

Merlin ran from him when he felt a touch to his shoulder, ran across the path. His gasps were now completely out of his control, and he felt the waters surround him, the surface quickly dimming from his sight.

He ran through corridors, he ran up stairs, until he banged through the school roof's door, stumbling as the current pulled him under.

He collapsed slowly to the floor, aware and completely conscious of the fat, flabby tears streaking his face.

He missed him.

Merlin missed Arthur so much.

Loving him, it was so easy, so easy because Arthur was so beautiful; touching him, was all Merlin ever wanted to do.

Loving Arthur was more than just a dream come true, it was everything that Merlin did, and everything that Merlin did was out of loving Arthur!

He felt and understood the quantity in which he was sobbing, his gasps as if he were starved of air, his eyes large with moisture as the liquid sped down his face, the dams utterly obliterated. His face became so cold in the breezes that came and died.

No-one else could make him feel the colours that Arthur brought, and now, more than ever, with a dangerous desperation, wished for Arthur to be with him now, and with these thoughts, they manifested into a notion of how Merlin wished for Arthur to stay while they grew old, and they would live each day in springtime, because just loving Arthur had made Merlin's life so beautiful.

Every day of Merlin's life was filled with loving Arthur.

Loving Arthur, he could see his soul come shining through, and Merlin was sometimes even pleasantly blinded by his radiance.

Every time that Arthur just looked at him, Merlin was a little bit more in love with him.

Merlin's sniffs were obscene, his nose numb with it, as rivers of gushing power blasted forth from his eyes like white water. Merlin started to cry out loud, the feelings too precise in their punctures to be physically contained.

He could hear birdsong, and doves flew over him.

He knew he was an ugly crier, as his lips quivered and rapidly became raw with his yells, only made louder and more obtrusive by the stunning fact that he couldn't blame anyone else but himself: he was the sole cause for Arthur's death, and such philosophy tackled him and broke him, but at least he was alone.

No-one to hear his turmoil as the breezes whirled past, carried on their backs.

No-one to hear his turmoil: while Merlin wept into the wind.

X

It was evening.

Nimueh had just finished pouring the latest cup of tea for them, the liquid hot and steaming. She looked back to Merlin in the other room: hopeless. She had supposed at first that his dejection was a cause from losing the ability to jump, realising it was limited. But as their discourse revealed – Merlin's heart ache was from a much greater loss.

She looked between him and the mugs of tea – her kitchen was in a room to the right of the main space – where Merlin was: curled up into a ball on the sofa, eyes tired and heavy-looking from all the crying, his whole face shades paler and duller from what it should be. She noted a vacant, blank expression to his eye, as if his spirit had left him, and all that remained was a husk, a shell.

She was saddened further.

After she was able to understand what Merlin was saying, for he started and stammered, wept and walked about wildly, did the weight of his relationship with Arthur fully become realised to her.

From this angle, semi-spying on him from the other room, it looked as if he had stopped breathing altogether.

After Merlin had informed her of what had happened, he told her of what had passed during the day: whispers and small calls from ignorant, silly, little people, he called them; he said their minds were unfaithful, malleable in the most morbid content, he spoke passionately and loudly of how wrong they all were of Arthur: how the boy was more stunning and rare than anything else – but only Merlin could see that, because Arthur liked to keep a low profile, understanding the world was not ready.

Then Merlin's final words silenced him for the rest of the hours he just sat there,

'They're all just thieves and vultures, feeding on anything, blowing up everything that he's done! It's fucking disgusting, and if I could, I sincerely would kill them all; they don't understand, and never will,' a natural pause followed, 'just how truly beautiful he can be.'

She picked up the mugs, and moved to the other room, replacing Merlin's cold tea, and resolved to help his soul, because the atmosphere around him could only be described as, "damp."

'Feeling any better,' she spoke softly, trying to coax something alive out of Merlin.

He remained still.

'Honestly,' she began, walking to and leaning against her desk, moving around the books and art everywhere, 'I thought that you'd get through school without dating him at all, I really did think that you two were only friends, good friends, very intimate friends indeed, and it made me happy to see you have someone you could trust so much, with yourself. But I always assumed it couldn't possibly be more than friendship,' she hoped her honesty would appease something within him, because she did feel a guilt, that maybe she was also partially to blame for Merlin's current strength in emotion.

'That's what I thought too,' Merlin uttered earnestly, deep in himself, 'until yesterday,' he sighed silently, 'but I guess, I've always known.'

'It's strange how these things turn out, isn't it? I like the saying that love is the condition in which the happiness of another is essential to your own. That's what I got from you two anyway,'

Nothing.

'Life's never how you expect it to be,' she said, as an afterthought, then Merlin raised his head, looking directly at her with blatant deep annoyance.

She hoped this information would be enough for him.

'I fell in love when I was about your age, maybe older,' now that she had Merlin's attention, 'maybe mid twenties actually,' she smiled, 'we hit it off right away, it was as if we'd known each other all our lives, but it all fell apart before we properly grew up,' It was her turn to lose herself.

'Why?' Merlin whispered.

'I don't know,' she sighed, 'bad timing I guess,' now thought started to circulate within Merlin's mind of what that was meant to mean.

'He promised he'd come back for me,' and Merlin thought maybe, by the closed eyes and gentle smile she possessed, that he'd died too, 'I wasn't planning on waiting for him, but oh well, so many years have passed now, but, it doesn't seem that long ago: time flew by fast.'

Merlin wondered, but was stopped from continuing with a pointed look from his aunt.

'But Merlin,' he raised his head again, 'you're different; you're nothing like me at all, are you?'

Merlin felt a pressing within the aura of this conversation, 'if someone were to be late in meeting up with you, you're the type to go look for him.'

Then she started talking about her latest project, leaving Merlin to his own thinking, and to quietly ponder upon reflection.

X

'MERLIN, WATERMELON!' Freya shouted up the stairs.

'Leave him be dear,' Hunith said gently yet firmly, no room for argument.

'Why?' Freya said, bouncing into the kitchen, proceeding to eat her share of the fruit, 'what's happened?'

Hunith chewed inside her mouth, wondering if it were wise to tell Freya, but hopefully some facts would silence her curiousity, 'he's heartbroken.'

'Really? Is it because Arthur left? It's because Arthur left isn't it? I knew there was something going on; they were too... much you know? To be "just friends" that is,'

'Be quiet!' Hunith shouted, shocking her daughter into submission, 'it's none of our business, never was, never will be!'

Merlin had locked himself in his room, but because his room didn't have a lock, pushed a chair up next to the knob.

He was lying on his bed so his head hung upside down... just staring out of his eyes.

Motionless, he was caught between thinking about absolutely nothing, and thinking about absolutely everything.

He had wondered when he fully realised his feelings, and of course, had spent many distraught moments mulling over his actions, and if he really could have prevented what happened.

Now, he was thinking about what his aunt had said, the words echoing in his mind.

'If someone is late in meeting up with you, you're the type to go look for him.'

He had indeed noticed that she spoke this very sternly; each word fabricated with emphasis, but on what he couldn't fully comprehend. He'd noticed how she started off generally, and then said Merlin would look for him.

Him being Arthur of course, Merlin knew that much: but Merlin didn't know if that's what she really meant or if it was even possible to raise his hopes that high, only for them to come crashing down in disappointment.

He knew he couldn't cope if he sank deeper into this swamp.

He was in his pyjamas as well, Merlin believing he'd subconsciously changed, not only because he was tired, but because it expressed a regression of sorts within his mind.

How different things were now.

How very different Merlin was, the comparison to his feelings not just a couple of weeks ago!

A ladybird was flying around his room's light.

It then came and landed on Merlin's arm, slowly crawling up his bicep.

The tingling sensation wasn't given a reaction, but Merlin still went to bat the thing away slowly, not even looking at it.

The itch persisted, so Merlin resorted to scratching the area, not caring if the insect died, looking at it in frustration.

But then, as he was moving the sleeve, a stunning fact was revealed.

Merlin audibly gasped, disbelieving, several potent sensations and emotions unleashed instantaneously on the discovery, causing a rush within his head and a coolness in his blood.

And if it was possible, time froze for a moment.

In Jokerman-like writing, with a line beneath to avoid confusion, Merlin found that he had one last leap left...

Merlin slid off his bed in shock.

Once the tumble had finished, Merlin sprung up.

'It was zero before, I swear! It can't be possible!'

But then, once the initial storm had passed, like parting clouds did Merlin see a possible explanation.

It was impossible, yet true, nothing else could fit.

Once he was master of his breathing, and his heartbeats returned to that of human range, he ran down his stairs, moving the chair to his door before hand – only one goal and one hope alone steadfast in his mind and soul.

'Hey Merlin, what's up?' Freya shouted out to him, but he didn't hear her above the drumming in his head.

He thumbed down the hallway, burst through the front door, the hinges screaming, and busted out through the rusting gate.

Down the hill he ran, legs feeling heavy and unsteady, his heart just as unstable once more.

As he gasped, the bitter coolness of the night air hitting him completely, it gave clearance to his thoughts.

'Arthur used his time leap to save Lance and Gwen, which must mean that I got my last one back! He went to a time before I used it; so if I can go back far enough, he can get his last one too!

I'm almost positive!'

And these, plus the similar, were running through Merlin's mind like wild horses as he too ran down Avalon's Decent, hopefully for the last time.

He thought of the first time he had met Arthur, when he was introduced into their class.

Arthur had looked so smart then, but Merlin could immediately tell he was only doing it for appearance's sake.

Arthur was a bit of a prat to begin with, but Merlin now understood Arthur, his antics, behaviours .etc. and found them incandescently endearing.

His ocean eyes, his dirty blonde hair, sometimes golden, his big build.

Merlin didn't know why, but his thoughts led him to the first time that he introduced Lance and Arthur – who were fast friends. They'd hung out with him a lot, of course, exchanging numbers and such, but now in hindsight, Merlin could see that Arthur did pay him a certain special attention: like when they went to get coffee or something, Arthur would pay for Merlin, despite Merlin's protesting. He wasn't a girl!

Merlin smiled: that only seemed to fuel Arthur's ways.

Or like the time they went to the book shop, and Arthur would come find Merlin in an aisle and show him comics and novels that would interest him; Lance somewhere far in the non-fiction section.

And the times when they'd go to London on the train, Arthur would always offer a seat next to him, or not sit at all, or if they had to stand up, Arthur would always usher Merlin close to him, making sure he was alright in the crowd.

Their first Christmas together, since Arthur had never had a proper tree before, the three of them snuck out to the forest and chopped down a pine. It was stupid and incredibly dangerous, but seemed like a good idea at the time.

Merlin chuckled to himself, a spontaneous infectious smile blooming on his face.

He remembered the time when Lance was doing something for the volunteer club after school. It was raining something awful that day, and since Merlin didn't have an umbrella, Arthur didn't offer his, he just swung an arm around Merlin's neck, brought him under it, then proceeded to walk him home like it was completely natural.

How foolish Merlin had acted before!

How could he have not realised what he felt; he felt it on a daily basis!

He then thought of the time Arthur asked him out...

If everything went according to plan this time, then Merlin would stop at nothing to make Arthur as happy as he made Merlin.

He swore to that.

He jumped once, when he had enough momentum, his foot slamming him into the air, hopping for effort, Merlin then leapt with all his might, propelling his entire body into the void.

This leap was very much like the first, an ocean current like sensation.

Merlin felt the significance, and prayed with what faith he had left.

Test papers came raining down on him...

Merlin sat up, the papers sliding off him, some staying.

He was a little dizzy, but not enough to not realise he was in the science prep room.

It was the day he first leapt, he noticed by the calendar in the corner.

Merlin didn't feel sensations of annoyance, or was plagued with a mindset of disappointment.

He was eternally grateful to the stars: he was wiser for what had happened.

X

Merlin and Mithian were organising the test papers, well, more Merlin, since it was his job for the day, when Mithian piped up with a hopeful, 'I wonder what Arthur does on the weekends and stuff, he can't play baseball all the time,'

The last part was said more as an afterthought, or a joke to lighten the mood, or maybe a cover to douse the obviousness of her interest.

Merlin heard it as all three.

He turned around as a consequence, looked at the girl, all eagerness.

'Mithian,' he started, tentatively, 'I need to be completely honest with you,' she nodded for him to continue, eyes bright, he sighed, 'I like Arthur. A lot.' He spoke with the effect of a blunted blade.

Mithian's reaction was one of consideration. She knew that if she wanted to be with Arthur, she would have to form a bond as strong as he shared with Merlin, however, both knew that wouldn't happen.

Couldn't.

Impossible.

She seemed to understand, and with grace, retracted her objectives.

'I see,' and she gave a little smile, a tug on her lips, as if realising she had no chance after all, 'I bumped into Arthur on the way up here, actually, you should go to him.'

Merlin nodded his thanks and his apology, then went to find Arthur, nerves crackling in his skin.

'Merlin,' Mithian sighed when he left, still looking after him, 'time waits for no one.'

He'd checked the rooms of reasonable possibility just to be sure, but he was convinced that Arthur must have already gone to the court.

He was running across the field to the school gate when Lance called his name.

'Arthur's already gone to the field, he got tired of waiting,' Merlin smiled, feeling an endeared emotion, 'He's pretty cranky, you better hurry,'

By now, Lance was close enough to talk to without shouting, 'Are you sure you want to leave your girlfriend, after all I-' but Merlin stopped himself at Lance's confused face.

'Oh right!' Merlin said, then whispering, 'so it really has all gone back to before,' in reflection.

'What are you mumbling about to yourself?' he quipped, but Merlin was saved an explanation when someone sneezed.

They turned to see Morgana, Morgause and a very almost white Gwen looking suspicious under a tree.

'Why don't we invite them to play ball with us?' Merlin smiled.

'What? You serious?'

'Go and ask them.'

'And why should I?'

'The more the merrier right?'

'Well... sure, but,'

'And by the way,' Merlin shouted over him, turning to stab him in the chest, 'if you borrow my bike, it'll cost you five thousand pounds! You got that? Five thousand pounds!'

Merlin emphasised, then twisted into the direction of the gate, Lance calling out, 'What's that meant to mean?'

Merlin coiled around while running; the strap of his satchel increasing the creases, 'Just ask nicely alright?'

'And one more thing!' Merlin called, 'Thanks for waiting for me!'

Lance smiled, letting a beat pass, 'Hey, Merlin! Watch where you're going!'

Through the streets he ran, the whizzing of cars blurring into a constant sound, until it dissolved into just his pants, a stitch in his side forming into an ache.

When he finally reached the court, he burst open the gate.

And there was Arthur.

Alive. Well. Completely ridiculous and refreshingly fitting.

He'd taken his school shirt off, the red sleeveless t-shirt loose in the right places, tight on his muscles.

He hadn't seen Merlin yet, must have not noticed the gate's bang. This, however, gave Merlin a chance to catch his breath, and lose it in another way, a way he'd refused himself before.

The picture was incredibly normal, however stunning all the same: Arthur was throwing the ball up in the air, disinterested and so obviously bored, it made Merlin chuckle a little, the smile staying and growing, the roots extending to his body, his fingers and his toes, even his ears.

And while Merlin was stuck in his reverie, he found his eyes locked with Arthur's.

What rushes of warm current did caress his soul!

Merlin ran, throwing his bag off his shoulder, and before Arthur had time to properly prepare, Merlin threw himself, quite unceremoniously, into the other man-boy's arms.

Merlin buried his face in Arthur's neck, breathing deeply, eyes wide shut, infusing his body with Arthur's scent. His skin was a mystical mixture of smooth roughness, all above tight, toned padding, which just seemed to mould into Merlin's own.

Arthur was really here.

He was real.

And Merlin didn't care if he couldn't breathe, he wasn't letting go. Didn't think he could.

'You're late,' Arthur said, while being crushed, 'Where's Lancelot?'

Merlin giggled at the fact Arthur hadn't commented on his vast expression of discomposure.

'Not coming,' Merlin mumbled into Arthur's shoulder, nosing the flesh there, feeling Arthur's strands wash against the side of his face like sea grass in the waves.

'What do you mean he's not coming?' Arthur said, sounding like he wanted to be annoyed, but really couldn't be with a Merlin latching onto him like a limpet, clinging to his solid bulk.

Merlin didn't answer, in favour of speaking with actions: he disentangled their bodies, stepped back to check Arthur's wrist – he grabbed his hand, and moved the permanent sweatband before Arthur could stop him.

Merlin felt a shower of relief, happiness and universal contentment: Arthur still had one last leap left.

He looked up, Arthur looking speechless, eyes wide and comical to Merlin, the boy grinned his affection, 'That's a nice tattoo you have,' he said, replacing the sweatband.

Arthur frowned at his wrist, looked at Merlin more pensively and befuddled.

Merlin loved everything about Arthur, knew that now, and by the way his heart flushed with warmth at the way Arthur was pouting, the attention he felt to gaze at his lips for a moment too long, Merlin leapt, not physically, but metaphorically, for the last time.

He leaned forward and kissed him.

He could taste Arthur's astonishment, even though it was a simple press of lips, Merlin craved it all the same.

When he pulled back, his fingers now entwined with Arthur's, did he explain.

'Do you want to go out with me?' Merlin asked, a bit rushed, and suddenly emotional, 'because I love you. Not just a silly crush or a mistaken feeling like it: I love you. And I think I have for a good long while now, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to lose you. But, I thought, if I didn't say anything at all, then I would, in a different sense. Because although I'm scared shitless about the future, I want you part of it, and I want you to be... with... me,' Merlin stammered to an end, 'I want to try this, because I know it will last.'

Arthur seemed to understand Merlin's impulsive actions, and now smirked, after a beat, at Merlin's anxious waiting.

'You're an idiot for starters, Merlin,' and already, the boy was relaxing, melting in a pool of gooey sensations. And maybe because words weren't really necessary right now, or maybe because words needed to be skipped, Arthur tugged Merlin closer and swooped in to steal another kiss, confident, and inexplicable happy.

It was as if their lips could just mould together. Arthur's texture was positively sinful, making Merlin go more than just a bit weak in the knees, as if butterflies were there too. He brought his hands up to Arthur's cheeks, the skin roughly smooth there, and pulled him closer; deepening the kiss that it momentarily shocked Merlin. Arthur's large hands were at Merlin's waist, but as soon as Merlin rubbed his groin against Arthur's, the man-boy slid them down to Merlin's arse, the other boy shivering with the intensity of the ecstasy. While Arthur was massaging Merlin's arse, giving little moans from the motions, Merlin slipped his tongue in.

Now that was worthwhile! Not only was Arthur smiling into the kiss, but his lips were moving like tides, with his slippery tongue, moist and huge, slithering along and into Merlin's mouth... well, Merlin felt all the blood in his body rush to his cock, leaving his brain feeling like clouds.

He could taste and feel Arthur's teeth, and although that idea might freak some out, it was bloody fantastic to Merlin. He would have realised that the sounds their lip-lock was making were terribly obscene, and more than likely would have moaned a little louder, but he was pleasantly distracted by Arthur gridding his groin into Merlin's with purpose.

Merlin thought back to the karaoke incident and thought with a mischievous grin that Arthur wasn't lying.

After many flushes broke out in his genitals, and he was pretty sure he could feel his heart's individual beats, he rewarded Arthur's wait with a slide of his hand down his cheek, his chest, his belly, to his bulging trousers, which was quite impressive.

Arthur groaned, and pulled Merlin impossibly closer by his bum, Merlin's other hand threading itself through Arthur's hair.

Merlin surrendered to the flow of things, allowed the high waves to pull him under, settle him on a bed of warmth, while he was pleasantly smothered with enthusiasm, tenderness and affection.

He could feel and hear Arthur's smile, and didn't even try to stop his own.

XxXxX

If you're wondering how they are now, then they are perfectly happy, to be honest.

They know no weariness in each other's society, therefore, are always seen together. Merlin knows what value Arthur is to him, and has found himself mutually placed upon atop. They are precisely suited in character, wonderful harmony is the result.

In the early days of their being officially an item, Merlin wondered if Arthur would have to ever leap back to his own time.

He never did.