Work Header

Under The Big Top

Work Text:

Arthur had grown up amongst caravans and big tops, watching his father put on his top hat and red coat of a Ringmaster and hearing stories of his mother’s famous solo trapeze act. While Ygraine had been stolen from both husband and son by a mechanical failure during practice, her love for flying lived on in Avalon Circus; first through Arthur, and now through Merlin and his troupe.


It had been Arthur who insisted his father bring back the act, saying his mother would have wanted it. It was he who had wanted to carry on her legacy, but Uther wouldn’t hear of losing his wife and son the same way. So Arthur was introduced to trick riding and flew closer to the ground.


And now here they were – twenty-two, constantly on the road, and happier than ever.


Arthur had just finished practice with Leon, giving Hengroen and Cavall a fond stroke as his partner led them back to the stables. He would have usually followed, taking care to make sure their steeds were as healthy and gorgeous as usual, but he knew whose practice was going on in the big top. His guilt at leaving was lessened as Leon just rolled his eyes and told him to go.


It didn’t take long to reach the red and gold monstrosity that was the big top, and Arthur pushed the tent flap out of the way easily as he rushed inside.


He could already hear the gentle creaks of the trapeze, the calls of “hup!”, the swish of bodies flying through the air. Arthur couldn’t help but smile as he entered the ring just in time to see Merlin complete a triple somersault before landing gracefully in the net. He clapped, giving Elena and Freya a wave as well, before making his way to the edge of the net to help Merlin out. The artist hardly needed it, but Arthur loved the way he grinned as Arthur placed his hands at his hips, Merlin’s own resting on his shoulders as he was lowered to the ground.


“I thought you had practice!”


“Leon and I started early. Like I would miss any chance to see my favourite boy flying.” Arthur smiled, nuzzling fondly at Merlin’s neck.


“You hurt my feelings, Princess!” Gwaine called from above, wearing a cheeky grin as he swung upside down from the catch trap.  Arthur just rolled his eyes, flipping the catcher off before doing some catching of his own – Merlin’s lips with his.


He could feel the grips Merlin wore as the other man wrapped his arms around his neck and knew the back of his shirt and likely his hair would now be patted with chalk.


“Go. I want to see you and Freya do that thing – where you swap.” Arthur murmured, pulling back.


Merlin raised an eyebrow, amused as they made their way over to the ladder. “The passing leap? You know, for someone who watches us so often, you really are rubbish at remembering our tricks.”


Merlin laughed as Arthur made a playful swipe at him, giving his lover a wink before scurrying up the ladder with effortless grace. Arthur moved back to the audience seating, eyes locked on the performers as they readied themselves.


First came Freya, lining up as Elena handed her the fly bar. Two calls from Gwaine – “Ready!.....Hup!” – and she was off. Her first move was simple, her hands dropping the fly bar as Gwaine caught her legs. Then came Merlin in quick succession. He took the fly bar as it swung back, leaving the platform in the same second, before getting to the highest point of his swing and dropping. At the same moment Freya arched, Gwaine helping to swing her as he dropped her legs and grabbed Merlin’s arms as he fell – Freya finding her grip once more on the fly bar. Arthur whistled as Freya completed her return, Merlin twisting out of Gwaine’s arms to grab the fly bar as it passed again, making his own way back to the platform.


They really did have the best job in the world – performing under the big top. And later, when the crowds had gone home and the lights were off, Arthur would appreciate Merlin’s acrobatic skills even more behind closed doors than he did in the open air.