mysensitiveside: (coveting my grappler)
[personal profile] mysensitiveside
Title: The Night Circus (3/?)
Fandom: Warehouse 13/The Night Circus
Pairing: Myka/H.G.
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~5,000
Spoilers: None for Warehouse 13. Definitely quite a few for the book.
Summary: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Helena and Myka.
A/N: I'm really sorry for taking so long to update this! Real life has been crazy busy lately.
A/N2: For those of you who have read the book... You should know that I'm changing the way the ending works (partly to make it somewhat more of a surprise, partly to make it more Warehouse-y). So if you don't recognize what's going on, that's why!

Part 1     |     Part 2

~London; October 13 to 14, 1891~


The cauldron sits in the middle of the courtyard, cold, empty, and waiting. It is made of wrought iron, and long, thin strands of it rise from the edges of the cauldron, lifting into a twirling, twisted snarl of metal. People walk around it, thinking it nothing more than an interesting piece of sculpture.

It is almost time.

Myka hurries forward and drops the heavy book – a perfect copy of which remains locked in her office – into the base of the cauldron and then moves to the edge of the courtyard. She looks around at the circus patrons; some walk around still in a daze over some sight or another, some talk animatedly with their companions. No one has noticed Myka and her book.

Sam has volunteered to be Myka’s eyes and ears while she is stuck in London, but, if this works, the book and the bonfire will serve as a much stronger link between Myka and the circus. She’s never done something like this before, nothing on quite this large a scale. But with all these moving parts – with all these people being pulled along on the coattails of this challenge – it seemed wise to set a few safety measures into place.

One minute before midnight, twelve figures silently enter the courtyard and arrange themselves around the perimeter. Though they’ve never officially met, Myka recognizes Pete Lattimer, standing at 9 o’clock. She isn’t sure of the identities of the rest.

As one, all twelve lift their bows and take aim towards the cauldron. In the next instant, the tip of each one of their arrows lights with a small dancing flame. Now people are starting to pay attention, with whispers and nudges and fingers pointing towards the twelve glowing points.

The first archer releases her bowstring, just as the clock by the gates begins to toll.

With the first deep chime, the first arrow reaches the well of iron, igniting the bonfire with an eruption of yellow flame and sparks falling all around.

The second archer lets his arrow loose just a few moments after the first, and as the second bell chimes, the next arrow arches into its target, and the flames turn instantly into a clear sky blue.

The crowd oohs and ahs, as the color of the cauldron’s fire changes with each successive toll of the clock, each successive flaming arrow. A warm bright pink turns into the color of a ripe pumpkin; then scarlet-red; a deeper, sparkling crimson; a color like incandescent wine; shimmering violet; indigo; the deepest midnight blue...

On the penultimate chime, the flames shift into an inky black, and for a moment, it is hard to tell the flames from the cauldron.

Until finally, on the twelfth and final chime of the clock, the flames burst into blinding white, a shower of sparks falling like snowflakes around the cauldron. Huge curls of white smoke float up towards the sky.

The archers melt back into the shadows, as the crowd erupts into applause.

It is opening night, and so far, at least, everything is going perfectly.

***
~Glasgow; January 19 through 31, 1897~

The first time that Myka meets Pete Lattimer, she really doesn’t like him at all.

She’s not sure who has appointed him as her ‘tour guide,’ but it is quite unnecessary, seeing how she has spent a remarkably large percentage of her time over the last nearly six years organizing, studying, and working on the circus. And in any case, he is certainly the wrong man for the job.

Pete is loud, obnoxious, and infantile, and Myka would far rather be alone working than being led from tent to tent, each of which she already knows perfectly well. Still, when it was decided that Myka would start traveling with the circus more often, Mr. Kosan determined that she should have an escort of sorts to, as he explained, “show her the ropes.”

“You know, I have been here before,” Myka protests, as Pete begins telling her of Irene Frederic, the wild cat tamer. “I was even there when the Regents first got together and started designing the circus.”

Pete rolls his eyes; he is clearly not a fan of Myka’s either.

“Well excuse me,” he says, sarcasm dripping. “I’m not doing this for you because it’s my idea of a good time. But I was told to show you around, so that’s what I’m doing.”

Myka is irritable – Sam’s description did not even come close to doing Miss Wells’ remarkable new carousel justice, and having now seen it for herself and sensed the level of skill that must have gone into its construction, Myka is feeling a tad too far out of her depth. She knows fully well that she’s taking it out on poor Mr. Lattimer, but knowing is not enough to get her to stop.

“Yes, and who told you to do so? Your mother? Do you always do whatever she asks?” Myka taunts.

Pete clenches his jaw. Having been present during many of Mrs. Lattimer’s meetings with Mr. Kosan, Myka knows that his mother’s association with the circus is a bit of a sore spot for Pete. He had no idea that she was one of the Regents – the founding members of the circus – until after he had been hired.

“Fine,” Pete spits out, raising his arms in surrender. “You’re on your own.”

With that, he turns and stalks off towards the performers’ living quarters.

They don’t see each other again until the following evening. Myka is fixing herself some dinner, when Pete strolls into the kitchen area. He freezes for a moment when he sees her, but merely shakes his head before rummaging for a snack and departing again without a word.

As the week goes on, Myka begins to wish that she hadn’t been so brusque. Although she certainly keeps quite busy, her life remains a lonely one. Loneliness is practically all that Myka has ever known, but the thought that she might have been able to change that, had she not already begun burning bridges, is a difficult one. She has Sam, it is true, but much to his chagrin, she has decided that their relationship should be kept secret.

A week to the day after their first meeting, Pete finds Myka scribbling in her notebook, jotting down ideas for her own next move in the game. He clears his throat, startling her.

Pete smiles, and though he would never admit to such, he finds the smudge of black ink that stretches across Myka’s cheek quite charming. The woman’s an undeniable pain, but he has a good feeling about her nonetheless, and he’s learned to trust his gut feelings.

“All right,” he begins, “I’ve had enough time to get over my wounded pride, and you’ve had enough time on your own. Have you even left the circus once since you got here?”

Myka blinks, surprised that he is here, that he is talking to her, and that he noticed anything about her behavior at all.

“Um, well...” She thinks back, scratching the back of her head. “I guess I haven’t, no.”

Pete nods, as if he knew as much. “Glasgow’s a pretty nice place, once you get past the rain, and the cold, and the bad food.” He winks. “So come on; some friends and I are going out for a bite before the circus opens, and you’re coming with us.”

Myka smiles tentatively. “I am?”

“You bet you are, whether you like it or not,” Pete replies with conviction.

It’s how their tradition of eating together begins – well, eating for some meals, at least; Myka swears that Pete could eat ten meals per day and be perfectly happy – and how Myka begins to meet some other members of the circus.

Though Myka is grateful for Pete’s overture, she is still no fan at all of his childish antics, and things are fairly stilted between them at first.

That changes, however, on their last night in Glasgow.

Pete and Myka are just departing what has become Pete’s favorite pub, when a small group of men are entering. Myka has seen them at the pub before, often talking loudly about their favorite football club. She nods politely, but is taken by surprise when one of them, the apparent leader, reaches out and grabs a tight hold of her hand, spinning her around to face him.

“Hello, beautiful,” he greets with what he must think is a charming smile. “Leaving so early? Surely you could be persuaded to come in for a drink. And you can leave your boy,” he says with a derisive jerk of his head towards Pete. “I’ll be sure to take very good care of you.”

Myka’s smile is tight-lipped and forced. She lightly pulls her hand back, but the man maintains his grip. “Thank you, but no,” she responds. “I really have to be going.”

“Oh, don’t be like that-” the man begins, before Pete steps forward, glowering protectively.

“The lady said she wasn’t interested,” he murmurs, the warning evident in his voice.

Myka rolls her eyes. “Yes, Pete, thank you, but ‘the lady’ can speak for herself,” she insists. With that, she tugs back hard so that her hand slips loose from the unwanted hold, and catching the man wholly off guard, she shoves him backwards with both hands to his chest.

Myka had really only meant to get him to back off, and show that she isn’t cowed by him, but as the rain earlier that morning has left the ground slippery with mud, the man completely loses his balance, falling right to the ground.

For a moment, time seems to stand still, as everyone turns to stare at Myka, shocked. Then one of the man’s friends snaps out of it and rushes towards Pete, who manages just in time to come to his senses and punch the oncoming threat square in the jaw.

Myka trips the next goon, as Pete ducks out of the way. There’s a moment of hesitation from the few men who remain on their feet, and Myka quickly turns and pulls Pete along with her as she begins to run back in the direction of the circus.

The others briefly give chase, but soon give up as Pete and Myka turn a corner and continue sprinting down the street.

The circus is within sight when Pete starts to laugh. Myka joins in when his foot catches on a slick patch of the dirt road, his arms going round like windmills as he tries to keep his balance. The fight against gravity is a losing one, however. Pete grabs hold of Myka’s jacket in a last-ditch effort, but he succeeds only in pulling her down into the mud with him.

Almost out of breath, Myka finds that instead of being angry, she can only laugh, even as he playfully flicks some mud towards her. She returns the favor, and a handful of mud glances off his shoulder, splashing up to hit the edge of his chin.

“Myka Bering,” he pronounces, caught between laughing and catching his breath, “I have officially never met a woman anything like you.”

Myka grins proudly.

***

~Chicago; September 21, 1903~


Having successfully made it inside the Night Circus, Claudia isn’t sure what she should do next.

There are no signs of anyone; no performers, crew members, or workers. Where they’ve all gone, Claudia has no idea. There must be a circus train somewhere, but no one’s ever seen one, as far as she knows.

At first glance, there’s nothing obvious for her to take back as proof of having completed the dare. There are the signs still hanging outside the entrance to each tent, but she doesn’t quite have the nerve to steal one of those.

So, given no other plan of action, she simply wanders. Before long, she’s no real sense of where she is, or how to get back to the spot where she first entered.

Regardless, Claudia isn’t scared. The feelings of intimidation she experienced as she approached the circus are fading now, replaced by a guarded sense of excitement. Although there’s an eeriness to the circus, permeating the air, she feels at home here, to an extent that doesn’t make any sense.

Claudia stops as she winds her way around yet another corner, finding herself at the edge of the central courtyard. The bonfire burns brightly as ever, but in the pale light of day, the contrast between the white flames and their surroundings is not nearly as stark as it had been at night. She approaches the cauldron, getting close enough that she can feel the heat of the flames.

“Hello.”

Claudia startles noticeably, whirling around towards the unexpected voice which has suddenly appeared behind her.

A girl stands there, alone, dressed all in white. She appears to be older than Claudia, though perhaps not by much.

Claudia opens her mouth to speak, but finds that nothing comes out. Having no idea where to go, her distinct urge to run yields nothing but a quick search with her eyes for anything resembling an exit.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the girl says. “Not yet.”

In spite of her words of warning, the girl’s smile is kind. Claudia takes a moment to look her over. She is clearly a member of the circus, though Claudia doesn’t recall seeing her the night before. She wears a lacy white dress, white boots, and white gloves, a pleasing contrast to her toffee-colored skin. Her hair hangs loose, with tight curls cascading down to her shoulders.

“Yeah, I know.” Claudia finally responds, sheepishly digging her toe into the sand at her feet. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s all right. We just should get you out of here before anyone else sees you. Which way did you come in?” she asks.

“Uhhh…” Claudia looks around, lost.

The girl smiles again, and Claudia can’t help but smile back.

“Come on, then.” The girl nods her head back towards one of several walkways extending out from the courtyard.

They walk side by side, a relatively comfortable silence filling up the air between them.

Claudia has never been known to stay quiet for long, however, and now is no exception.

“What does ‘exsanguinated’ mean?” she asks curiously.

The curly-haired girl laughs, a soft, sweet sound. Her words, however, make Claudia pale and swallow audibly. “It means to get drained of all your blood,” she replies, a twinkle in her eye. “Don’t worry, they wouldn’t actually do that. I don’t think.”

Still, if Claudia felt a desire to stick around and get to know this quiet girl, it’s gone now. The girl leads her to a break between the tents, where she can once again squeeze between the bars of the fence.

The girl smiles one more time, then turns to leave.

“Wait!” Claudia calls out. Clear brown eyes turn back to face her, and Claudia finds herself blushing as she stumbles through an admission. “I… It was a dare. That’s why I’m here. And, to show that I really did it, well, I need something. Something from the circus. To bring back.”

The girl nods in understanding, walking back to the fence as she peels a glove off her left hand. She holds it out through the bars of the fence, but Claudia shakes her head. “Oh, no, I couldn’t take that.”

“It’s no problem, really,” the girl responds. “I have a whole box of them.”

Reaching up, Claudia shyly takes the proffered glove. “Thank you,” she says earnestly.

“You’re welcome.”

Claudia smiles brightly, and then turns to head back towards her house.

“Good bye, Claudia,” the girl calls out.

“Bye!” The redhead twists and waves happily, before bursting into a run. It’s later than she’d realized, and none of her foster siblings are in the large oak tree any longer. She can only hope that she won’t get in trouble for being gone this long.

Claudia is half-way across the field when she realizes that she never told the curly-haired girl her name.

***

~Helsinki; March 2, 1910~


Myka takes a deep breath. She’s never managed to do anything like this before, but theoretically, it should work. If she can’t stop Helena, then at least she can work around what the other woman is planning. She can work around all of them; change their stupid rules.

So far, she’s managed to slow time down, but not turn it backwards. She goes over the runes and symbols in her notebook one more time, making sure she’s done everything right up to this point.

Satisfied, she knows that the next step is making some kind of marking on herself, so that she’ll know if it worked or not. She studies the scar around her ring finger, running her thumb over the old wound. She’s not quite willing to do anything that drastic if it’s not necessary, however.

Myka has just decided that she’ll make a small cut in the tip of her pinky finger when a stray bit of wind comes in through the open window and flips to the next page in her notebook. She’s surprised to see the final step to the incantation already written out – they’re the same symbols from the previous page, but now drawn to represent the figure of a clock, with the hands set to nine minutes before the current time – along with a short note, written in her own handwriting.

You've already cut your finger, and you've already tried the spell. So if you don’t remember doing so, and if there’s no cut, then that means it didn't work.

With a growl of frustration, Myka takes her notebook and tosses it across the room.

***

~London; November 1, 1908~


Helena quietly shuts the door to the flat and leans up against it with a sigh. She holds Myka’s leather book – a “safeguard,” she had called it – underneath her arm. She has only glanced through it, enough to see that it is full of scraps of paper, each bearing the signature of a member of the circus. Helena can admit to herself that she has absolutely no idea how it works, or what its purpose is, but maybe if she can learn… If she can figure out how to use the book, then she can take some of this tremendous weight off of herself, and make the circus more independent.

She doesn’t know what to feel right now, what to think. She can still feel the warmth of Myka’s arms wrapped around herself; but so too can she still feel the warmth of blood on her hands. She wants to forget, and though she was able to manage it for a little while, the reality of what has happened has come crashing back into her psyche, leaving her trembling and cold.

Helena is seriously thinking of forgetting everything else and returning back into the safe haven behind her, just for a little longer, but before she can make her decision, a harsh voice rings out.

“You deceitful little slut.”

Helena starts at the sound. She had not noticed the man standing, waiting in the shadows. Then again, his nearly translucent nature makes noticing him quite difficult even under the most normal of circumstances, never mind her current emotional state.

She lets her head fall back against the door. “Hello, James. I’m surprised you waited this long to say that to me,” Helena says with a contemptuous sneer.

MacPherson begins to pace across the hall, flickering in and out of visibility, as he steps from shadow to light and back again. “Oh believe me,” he assures, “if I could, I would have marched in there and dragged you out here by force. But this place is so well protected it’s absurd. Nothing can get in without that girl explicitly wanting it there.”

“Good.” Helena nods to herself. “Obviously it’s not so absurd, given that it stopped you. So now you can leave her alone. And me as well, while you’re at it.”

“You should follow your own damn advice. You need it much more than I,” MacPherson argues. He gestures towards the book under her arm and asks, “What are you doing with that? You cannot interfere with her work.”

Helena sighs, pushing off from the door and taking a few steps towards the stairs which lead out of the building. “It is none of your business, but you needn’t worry. I have no intention of interfering. I merely wish to understand her system, so that I can stop having to constantly manage so much of the circus myself.”

MacPherson stops pacing, coming to stand right in front of her. Helena has not seen him look quite this angry in a very long time.

“Her system – Arthur’s system – is of no concern to you.” He shakes his head in derision. “You are so much weaker than I thought. I have overestimated you and your ability to handle this challenge.”

“It’s not about skill at all, is it?” Helena asks. Beneath her simmering anger, she is genuinely curious. “The game is about how we handle the repercussions of our magic, out there in the real, public world. A world that doesn’t believe. It’s a crude test of stamina and control, not ability.”

“It is a test of strength,” MacPherson practically spits out, “and you are weak.”

“So then I’ll lose!” Helena can only shrug resignedly. “I am as competitive as they come, but I am just so exhausted. I no longer care about your stupid game, so go on and do whatever it is you need to do, and just declare a winner already! Win or lose, I have no reason to be ashamed, and neither does Myka.”

MacPherson actually laughs, barking out a harsh sound that contains no amusement. “A winner is not declared, you foolish girl. The game continues until it is over. It cannot be stopped. You used to be somewhat clever; I’d thought you would have figured this out by now.”

Helena opens her mouth to bite back, but the gears in her mind are working, churning through all the vague, obscure words he’s chosen to say to her over the years. It only takes a few moments before something clicks in a way that it never has before.

Helena feels like the air’s been sucked out of her lungs, and she takes a step backward, reaching behind her until she feels the solid form of the door behind her. She spreads her hand wide, as though she were trying to feel the beating of Myka’s heart straight through the wood.

Suddenly, the shape of it all is clear, as everything falls into place.

“The victor is the one left standing after the other can no longer endure,” Helena says, her voice a hushed whisper, the scope of the whole thing finally making a kind of devastating sense.

For just a fraction of a moment, MacPherson almost looks as though he feels sorry for her. But then the expression is gone, replaced with a neutral mask. “That’s one way to put it, I suppose,” he acknowledges.

Helena turns to gaze longingly at the door behind her, her hand still pressed up against it.

MacPherson scoffs. “Oh, stop behaving as though you love that girl. I raised you to be better than this.”

Helena appears dazed as she turns back to face MacPherson. “Yes, you raised me. And yet you’re willing to sacrifice me.” She looks to him, waiting for him to tell her that she’s wrong; that this is all just one, big, horrible joke. “And for what? To make a point? You’ve played this game so many times before; have either of you proven anything yet?”

MacPherson clenches his jaw, staring at her dispassionately. “Don’t look at me like that; as if you think me inhuman.”

“I can see right through you,” Helena snaps. “Your humanity is most certainly up for debate.”

He offers a one-shouldered shrug, as though to concede the point, but says nothing more.

“And what of the circus? What happens after the game is over?”

“The circus is nothing but a venue,” MacPherson replies. “If you like, you can keep it going after you win. It serves no purpose beyond the game, however.”

“I suppose all the people involved serve no purpose as well, then?” Helena runs a disbelieving hand through her hair. “Their fates are of no consequence?”

The questions are fairly rhetorical, and they both know it. Helena doesn’t know how old MacPherson is – undoubtedly he is very much older than he seems – but she finds herself thinking that he has been a part of this world for far too long. He has lost all sense of responsibility, all sense of human connection to those around him.

He frowns, nonchalant. “All actions have repercussions. That is part of the challenge.”

Helena turns, disgusted. She cannot stand to look at him. “Why are you telling me all this? Up until now, you’ve refused to tell me much of anything.”

“Up until now, it never occurred to me that you might actually be the one to lose,” he says, disappointment coating his words.

“The one to die, you mean,” she amends.

“Death is merely a technicality. A game is completed only when there is a single player left. There is no other way to end it.” He reaches for her, and although his hand is not material enough to grab hold of her, the odd feeling of his hand going through her arm is enough to set her attention back on him. “So I highly suggest that you put an end to your little dalliance with Miss Bering, and quickly.”

Helena’s shoulders slump, all the fight leaking out of her like a deflating balloon. She looks down to the ground, only remembering the previous night’s events when she sees the rust-colored smear of dried blood that coats the bottom of her gown and rises up towards her waist. She thinks of making the stain disappear, but decides to let it stay.

She wants nothing more in this moment than to return to her room, get into bed, and not emerge for at least a month. Before she gives in to her utter exhaustion, however, she has one more question.

“What happens to the one who is left, then? Mr. Nielsen’s student won last time; what has become of him?”

MacPherson offers a derisive laugh. “She is currently playing with the lions and tigers in your precious little circus.”

***

~London; October 13 to 14, 1891~


Helena had expected to feel like a cheap imitation of MacPherson during her first performances.

From the very first moment that she emerges into the ring in a cloud of white smoke, however, her nerves simply evaporate, and the experience is vastly different than the one she witnessed from the wings of endless theaters as a child. Her performance space is small and intimate, and she finds that she can make each performance unique, letting the response of the audience inform what she chooses to do next. It is exhilarating.

Nonetheless, she still very much appreciates the stretches of time to herself in between performances. She removes her top hat, covers her costume in a large overcoat, and emerges to wander around the circus.

As midnight approaches, she decides to see if she can find a good spot to watch the lighting of the bonfire. It is then, however, that she learns that both Mrs. Frederic and Mrs. Jinks have gone into labor.

The area that is already being referred to as backstage, in spite of the lack of stage, per se, is one of somewhat ordered chaos. Evelyn’s baby was due a week prior, and Emma’s isn’t due for another week yet; afterward, people will joke that both children wanted to experience opening night with a friend. Helena does what she can to help, which mainly consists of making tea and assuring people that everything will be fine.

Unlike almost everyone else, Irene Frederic, the matriarch of the cat tamers, is conspicuously calm. She simply stands to the side, keeping an eye on her son, who paces back and forth like one of his cats.

Helena pauses next to the regal woman to catch her breath. “I feel like I’m more anxious than you are,” she comments with a laugh. “Although I suppose one must have a special talent for tranquility when one deals with wild animals every day.”

“Evelyn is strong,” Irene responds simply. “I have no need to worry.”

Helena smiles warmly, before returning to check on the Jinks family.

A few minutes before midnight, the first cry of Leena Frederic is met with sighs of relief and cheers of excitement.

And then something else almost immediately follows.

Helena feels it even before she hears the applause echoing from the courtyard; a wave of energy that spreads through the circus like a stone dropped into a still pond. It flows through her body, hitting her with such force that she almost loses her balance.

“Are you all right?”

Helena turns to see Irene coming up beside her and placing a warm hand beneath her elbow to steady her. There’s a knowing gleam in Irene’s eyes that Helena can’t quite understand.

She takes a deep breath, flustered. “Yes, thank you. I’m fine,” she says, placing her hand to her chest in an effort to calm her racing heart.

Just then, another baby’s cry erupts from the adjoining chamber, as Steven Jinks enters the world.

“They have remarkable timing,” Irene comments. Helena can only nod in agreement.

With that, Irene offers her a cool smile, and then goes to be with her family.

Whatever move Helena’s opponent has just made, it has shaken her. She feels the entirety of the circus radiating around her, as though a net has been thrown over it, trapping everything within the iron fence, fluttering like a butterfly.

She wonders how she is supposed to retaliate.

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