Title: Arthur Pendragon's Spectacular
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: The Greatest Showman AU. Merlin is down on his luck and needs a job. Arthur Pendragon's show is opening and needs acts.
Word Count: 1400
Prompt: This is me
April 1866, New York.
The address was right. Merlin checked the street sign against the note crumpled in his hand. The building was three-story tall and disappointingly ramshackle. Paint peeled off it, the windows were dirty with dust and rain tracks, and pieces of cornice were missing in various places. If that was not enough bricks had fallen off and gutters had detached, advertising the fact he had not stumbled in the best part of town – not that he came from better himself. Yet there was an attempt at upkeep. The door was newly painted, a bright red that was probably supposed to attract passers-by's attention and posters lined the walls by the windows with images of performers in their stage costumes. They were newly glued and shone with the colours of their garish outfits.
So this was it. Merlin swallowed. Now all he had to do was step inside. On the one hand he didn't want to. It was a risk. It was something he hadn't tried before, something that would entail he reveal himself to the public. After a lifetime of secrecy, of posturing, that wouldn't come easy. On the other he was broke, at the end of his tether, about to be thrown out of his apartment and no other form of employment would come as natural for him.
He took a breath and entered. The building's interior was as tumbledown as the exterior. The place needed dusting, and repair work. The door to the left, giving way to an empty room, hung by a single hinge and one of the treads in the stairway had caved in, jagged boards showing.
An arrow sign pointed upstairs and indicated the location of the 'direction' offices. Negotiating the broken tread, Merlin went upstairs. He found a corridor along which chairs were lined, all of them unoccupied, save by a stack of flyers that showed a blond man in a red tail coat, knee high boots, holding a whip standing under the caption's Arthur. T. Pendragon's Spectacular. A door led to a big chamber whose windows gave onto the street via fire escapes. The room he entered was wide and almost empty. A desk set in the middle of it and behind it sat a man.
He was amazingly good looking, square jawed and proud nosed, with a slight tilt to his almond eyes and blond hair that fell over his forehead in a fringe. He looked exactly like the man on the flyers, the same ones that were on the chair and the same ones that had attracted Merlin to this venue – only more stirring in the flesh – which meant he had to be Arthur Pendragon. “So,” Pendragon said, “why are you here?”
The answer being so obvious, the question seemed out of place. “I'm here to audition for a spot in your troupe.”
Pendragon laughed. “Pardon me, but there's nothing peculiar about you.” The statement was followed by a close inspection. “You're not extra tall; you're not extra wide. You're decidedly not a strongman. And you're not a bearded lady, I don't think. This is a circus. We don't hire people with no stand out characteristics.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “I'm pretty special, If I say so myself.”
Arthur Pendragon crossed his arms and stuck his chest out. “Then show me how, if you can.”
Merlin had been told by his near and dear ones that he should never let the world know what he was capable of, that he needed to hide away his talent for fear of repercussions. Accordingly he had never made a show of it; he had suppressed it most times. But now the situation was on its head. He could only benefit from having a job. This could put his life back on its proper track; there were times when one needed to be brave. Besides, this was what he was. It was him. Maybe hiding the sum of his parts wasn't the right thing to do.
Bracing himself for the moment, heart beating faster than it ought to, legs feeling like a jelly compound, Merlin prepared to act. He doffed his hat, a rather crumpled but well dusted Homburg, and a shower of blue-winged butterflies erupted forth, swarming around Merlin, clouding about the room before exiting through the windows. One last butterfly sat on Merlin's nose and Merlin gently helped it off it.
Mr Pendragon had raised an eyebrow in response but otherwise said nothing.
So Merlin put his hands in his pockets and extracted a brace of bunnies by their ears. They squiggled and wriggled, landing on the floor. At first they gathered around Merlin's feet but then they hopped and jumped about the room, nibbling around. They dispersed quickly, likely wandering around the building.
Mr Pendragon leant forward, his head tilted with interest. He batted a last stray bunny off his lap. “Have you got more?”
Merlin couldn't quite think on his feet. He hadn't exactly come prepared. His plan had been to wing it. That was his way. He didn't like making provisions for every little scenario. It sounded like scheming and plotting and required too much effort. He lived his life off the cuff, without thinking of tomorrow, or the next moment to be quite honest. He preferred improvisation; to act as his heart told him to. There was nothing that killed the beauty of magic more than base calculation.
In answer to Mr Pendragon Merlin nodded. He needed to give this man what he wanted. He was the law here. He patted his breast pocket, tugging on his linen kerchief. It was an old thing that his mother had darned again and again and it still smelled of her. He was sorry to sacrifice it, but gainful employment beckoned. The moment he slipped the piece of cloth out of his pocket it turned into a flower bouquet. He hadn't visualised which blooms he wanted, hadn't thought past his generic wish for flora, but it appeared he had conjured red roses. Their buds were open, they smelled like mornings, and dew still beaded their velvet petals.
At sight of them, Merlin couldn't hide a smile. His magic was so fanciful sometimes. He bowed at the waist, then righted himself, stepped forward and offered the bunch to Mr Pendragon. Haughtily as he was acting, it probably wasn't deserved, but his beauty acted as a counter, and it had to be paid homage to.
Mr Pendragon blushed and stammered, coughed and cleared his throat. He snatched the flowers out of Merlin's hands, looked at them out of crossing eyes, and dropped them on his desk. In a rough voice he asked, “Is that all?” His eyebrow almost met his hairline, and the smirk that had curled his lip straightened out. He meant business.
Ehm. That was all that Merlin could think of. For God's sake, he'd produced butterflies and rabbits. (White, fluffy ones at that.) He'd given the man lovely flowers. What more did he want? Some prats were really demanding, weren't they?
“Why, erm, yes,” Merlin said, shutting his eyes tight, and balling his fists before muttering under his breath. When he reopened his eyes and glanced around he found he was hanging from the external frame of the window, his nails digging into wood splinters. A story up. Fortunately the fire escape platform was just a little way below him, so when Merlin let go he didn't plummet into the void, nor did he splatter onto the street, but landed safely on the structure. Still, for a moment there, he'd been about to give himself a turn out of fright. He didn't like heights much. All right, make that at all.
Releasing the breath he'd been holding, he climbed back through the window and into the room he'd left Mr Pendragon in. He dusted himself off, coughed into his fist, and walked all the way back in front of him. “Satisfied now?” He frowned. He was not coming up with anything else for this man. If vanishing out of thin air wasn't enough, Merlin didn't know what would do it.
“I don't know how you pulled those tricks,” Mr Pendragon said. “And you should vanish in a puff of vapour next time. Purple would do.” He stood up and leant over the desk, extending a hand, “but you're hired.”
Though Merlin didn't appreciate Mr Pendragon's criticism, he wasn't about to refuse his offer. Penury was that bad. “I'll take it.”
“Welcome to Arthur T. Pendragon's circus,” Arthur Pendragon himself said.