A life half lived
Arthur glanced up at the TV in the corner of the bar and reached for the remote control to up the volume.
‘World famous illusionist Merlin has announced that he will be performing two special shows in the UK next month. They will be in London on the 27th and in Sheffield on the 30th. Anyone interested in purchasing tickets for these shows should call the number on the bottom of the screen now or visit our website…’
Arthur looked at the man on the video clip that they where showing. Merlin was just the same as he remembered, except for the designer suit he was wearing in the footage they showed, and the tinted glasses he always wore on stage. Arthur couldn’t wait to see him again. The trouble was that Merlin didn’t know him. This happened every time, every reincarnation; Merlin always had his magic whilst Arthur retained knowledge of them. He was never sure whether this was a blessing or a curse. Arthur could remember every kiss, every touch that his lover had ever given him. The problem was that whilst he could remember, he could miss not having it now. Usually, Merlin remembered eventually but this time something had gone wrong.
He just needed to talk to Merlin- once he did, his lover would remember- and it looked as though this was his chance. Merlin, or at least the Merlin of this incarnation, was a hard man to get near. He was a celebrity, having made a name for himself as one of the youngest and best illusionists. Of course, no one but Arthur knew that Merlin’s magic was not merely an illusion, a trick that he had spent years perfecting, but the real thing. It was also why Merlin wore those shades on stage- his eyes flashed gold for a second each time he used his magic. Arthur suspected he was the only one who knew that, also.
“Are you going to get tickets?” a voice asked.
Arthur turned to see Jenny, one of the waitresses. He smiled, shrugging his shoulders.
“You know, I reckon you’ve got a crush on that Merlin bloke,” she continued, grinning. “Every time he’s on the TV you’re practically glued to the screen- it’s the same look I see on Lucy’s face when she’s watching a Brad Pitt movie.”
Arthur laughed; she was right about Lucy. She was one of the weekend bar staff and was, to say the least, obsessed with Brad Pitt.
“It’s not the same,” he protested. It wasn’t; Brad Pitt was unattainable but he’d spent centuries with Merlin. Not that he could explain it to Jenny.
He noticed a customer come up to the bar and went to serve him. This was usually Merlin’s role, only this time their roles had been reversed. Arthur was now the servant, tending bar here and working a day job in order to pay his rent, after things with his father had become so strained he could no longer bear to stay at home.
Three weeks later, Arthur had the night booked off work and a ticket to Merlin’s show in his pocket, and he was getting nervous. He had thought a million times about writing to Merlin, or phoning him, to explain it all to him but he had quickly vetoed that idea. There were some things that you just couldn’t explain over the phone.
Such as, ‘Hi, Merlin- you don’t know me but I’m a prince and you’re a sorcerer, oh, and we’re lovers as well, who have been reincarnated countless times. So, let’s go for a drink.’
Instead, he went to the magic show, sitting restlessly in his seat as Merlin performed, playing up to the audience as he made them gasp in wonder. His final ‘trick’ was to make a member of the audience disappear. He selected a woman from the front row, a motherly-looking woman who looked delighted to be asked to join in. Had this been any other magician, Arthur would have suspected her of being a plant, a member of the crew who had been placed in the audience and selected to ensure that the trick went correctly. Since, this was Merlin, however, he had no such suspicions.
Merlin instructed the woman to stand in the centre of the wide stage. There was nothing around them, no box in which to hide her, and have possible trap-doors for her to escape through, nothing that could cast doubt on what was about to happen. Merlin simply took a silk cloth, large enough to conceal him and the woman as he swept around her once, holding it high and letting it billow out behind him as he walked, and then dropped it to the stage with a flourish.
The crowd were silent for a moment, staring, and then they were on their feet, Arthur with them, cheering and applauding. The stage around him was empty; there was no where for the woman to be hidden, that was clear. She had vanished. Merlin took a bow and accepted the applause with a slightly embarrassed look on his face, one which Arthur remembered well from the times he had known Merlin.
On stage, Merlin held up his hands for silence and the crowd quietened as he addressed them again. Suddenly, the lights went out, plunging the entire venue into pitch darkness. A few people let out sounds of alarm but it only lasted a second.
When the lights came back on, people at the front began to chatter excitedly and clap their hands again. The woman, now back in her own seat, next to her husband, stood up at Merlin’s request. She had a huge smile on her face, looking absolutely thrilled to have been able to participate, and waved rather shyly to the audience.
Arthur waited until everyone began to file out, after the show was over. He had to time this right or he wouldn’t get close, he thought, checking to see if anyone was watching before making a dash for the backstage door.
He actually made it further than he expected, getting almost to Merlin’s dressing room- information garnered by way of a twenty pound note and a trainee stage hand- before he was caught. Two huge men in ‘Security’ jackets appeared beside him, grabbing him by each arm as he tried to talk his way out of this.
“Look, I know I don’t have a security pass but I just need to talk to Merlin for a moment,” he told them, almost begging. “I’ll leave on my own then, I promise.”
The security guards gave him a look that told him he wasn’t the first to try that line and he wouldn’t be the last.
“What’s going on?”
Both guards and Arthur turned to the sound of the voice, one that Arthur knew well.
“He doesn’t have a security pass, Sir,” one of the guards told Merlin. “We’re removing him; nothing to worry about.”
Merlin looked at him and, as their eyes met, Arthur imagined that he had seen a flicker of recognition in Merlin’s eyes. Then it was gone. No, he thought determinedly. He was too close for this to be the end.
“Merlin, please listen to me. I need five minutes of your time, that’s all, and then I’ll leave,” he said, ignoring the guards and looking directly at Merlin. “It’s important. I know why you wear the glasses on stage!” he blurted out desperately, seeing that he was losing Merlin’s interest.
That got the young man’s attention. He looked worried now, but at least he was listening.
“I know,” Arthur told him again, then added, “Gold.”
Merlin nodded faintly and the guards let go of Arthur’s arms. “It’s fine,” he told them. “Let him through.”
Arthur followed Merlin into the dressing room and sat down in a chair opposite the couch where Merlin was now seated.
“First of all, since I can almost see you thinking it,” Arthur said. “I’m not some total nutcase who’s stalking you or anything. Though, when I think about it, it probably did look a bit like that out there.” He sighed. “This is not quite what I pictured; I had imagined a somewhat more graceful entrance.”
He saw the look on Merlin’s face and felt his cheeks flush. “Sorry, I know I’m rambling a bit.”
“You said you knew,” Merlin reminded him. “What do you know, and how?”
Arthur forced himself to sit back in his seat instead of going forward to take Merlin in a tight embrace like he really wanted to. It had been too long since he had been able to hold Merlin, or even to be near him.
“Your eyes. When you use your magic, and that is how you do your tricks- real magic and not illusions,” he said, “your eyes turn gold. As for how I know, that is going to take a little longer to answer.”
“I have time,” Merlin told him.
Ten minutes later, Arthur sighed. Merlin didn’t believe him; hell, he wouldn’t believe it if he was the one being told this story.
“I swear to you that I am telling the truth, Merlin. Think about it; I have no reason to try and con you.”
Merlin eyed him warily. “I should have security throw you out, right now,” he said.
Arthur waited, but Merlin never called for them. He had to make Merlin understand that he was genuine, but there was only one option left and after seeing the look on Merlin’s face, he was afraid of the reaction he’d get. Still, this would be his only chance. If he messed this up, there would likely be a restraining order against him by tomorrow morning.
“I’m sorry, but you leave me no other choice.”
Merlin frowned. “No choice but what?”
Arthur got out of his chair and quickly moved to the couch, catching the now-worried looking young man in his arms and kissing him. Sometimes this was the only thing that worked but he didn’t use it very often, not after the time he had tried it and Merlin punched him in the nose for it. Then again, walking up to a complete stranger in the middle of a tavern in 1762 and kissing him probably hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had. Of course, Merlin had apologised five minutes later once the shock had worn off and his memory had returned but it had still hurt.
Luckily, this time his nose remained unbroken. Merlin’s body was tense under Arthur’s hands for a few seconds, but then he calmed down. Arthur felt a wave of relief as he felt Merlin’s arms go around his neck and he began to return the kiss. He eventually drew back to look into Arthur’s face.
“You remember?” Merlin nodded, his grin widening as Arthur pulled him close once more. “I’ve missed you, Merlin.”
Merlin stood up, holding a hand out to Arthur and pulling him to his feet. “I think we should get out of here,” he said, his eyes shining mischievously. “After all, we have a lot of catching up to do.”
Arthur followed Merlin out of the dressing room, agreeing completely; the dressing room was not the place for the kind of catching up that he had in mind. He tugged Merlin close for another kiss as they got outside, jumping away as a flash went off in their faces. The paparazzi were snapping shots of them, asking questions, but Merlin handled them like, well, like a sorcerer. A few whispered words and they all stopped in mid picture or question, turning to living statues.
“That’ll only hold them for a few minutes,” he told Arthur as they got into the car that was waiting to take Merlin back to his hotel. “Long enough for us to leave. I can’t do anything about the pictures, though. By tomorrow morning, we’re going to be splashed across every tabloid newspaper in the country.”
This was not as big a deal for Arthur as it was for Merlin. Arthur was used to being the one who was watched and talked about so it wouldn’t matter but Merlin might not fare too well. He had more to lose this time.
“Will it be a problem for you?”
Merlin smiled. “Well, they know I’m gay now. Damn tabloids have been debating that one for a while. You know what, though? I don’t care. They’re going to have to get used to you being with me because I’m not letting you go ever again.”
Arthur smiled at those words. Everything was right again. It was just like it had always been and always would be; him and Merlin. Together.
It didn’t get better than that.