Title: The Night Circus
Fandom: Warehouse 13/The Night Circus
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: This is a fusion (I think that's the right term) with the novel, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The general premise of the novel (which I highly recommend!) is the same here, though I've certainly changed quite a few aspects. Some scenes are lifted right from the book (with changes), but others are not.
A/N2: Make note of the year listed at the start of each section. The story will not move ahead linearly.
A/N3: The top part in italics is taken word-for-word from the book. It sets the scene quite well, so I decided to quote it directly. Credit to Erin Morgenstern.
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, where yesterday it was not.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.
Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impressive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.
And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
“What kind of circus only opens at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.
You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens as the sun sets.
The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.
The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.
The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.
First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light.
All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight.
When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest the gates take a few steps back.
At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters. First, a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:
Le Cirque des Rêves
Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.
“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.
Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
~London; April 12, 1891~
The slow, deliberate sound of heels clacking across the floor echoes throughout the theater. The twenty-third auditionee walks to the very center of the stage, a serene smile resting upon her face. Though the proprietor makes a brief fuss at the idea of a female illusionist, after a few basic questions – the most interesting answer being that she is the adopted protégée of the one and only James MacPherson – she is allowed to audition.
She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and for the very first time in her life, Helena Wells begins to perform for an audience.
As soon as Helena does her first trick, removing her jacket and effortlessly turning it into a raven, the color drains from Myka’s face.
Growing up, she had spent so much time wondering who her opponent in this mysterious game would be. Imagining what he or she might be like; where her opponent was; whether he or she was also thinking of Myka.
And now, Myka finally knows. It’s her. Myka’s opponent in the game, set in motion when Myka was just eight years old, is Helena Wells.
The other members of their small audition committee – Mr. Kosan, the proprietor, and Mrs. Lattimer, the costume designer – watch in delight as Helena manipulates her surroundings and even turns Myka’s notepad into a dove and back again. As the others turn to watch the raven above their heads before it flies straight into Helena and turns back into a jacket, Myka cannot take her eyes off of the woman herself. She is quite impressive, but Myka is the only one who fully knows why.
Helena’s tricks are real. There is no illusion, no tricks of the eye. Myka can feel the magic deep in her bones. Other than a few demonstrations by Mr. Nielsen, Myka has only ever seen true magic one other time in her life; when she was twelve years old, sitting alone in a packed theater to watch MacPherson the Magnificent. Helena’s adopted father.
Color rushes back into Myka’s face as Helena catches her eye, clearly loving Myka’s shocked expression, and winks.
So much time spent wondering, and yet Myka now feels completely unprepared. How can she possibly match, let alone beat, Helena’s obviously advanced skills. Not to mention her beauty and charm, which she exudes with ease. Watching her, Myka slowly sinks lower into her seat.
At least Myka still maintains the element of surprise. She now knows about Helena, but as far as the other woman is concerned, Myka is nothing more than a simple assistant.
Helena will be hired, of course. There is no doubt of that. And somehow, the circus will be their chess board.
Myka still doesn’t really understand the point of the whole thing – Mr. Nielsen has never been clear about that, nor about the exact rules of the game – but regardless, Myka feels a small thrill of excitement in her chest.
After more than sixteen years of preparation, it is finally time for the game to begin.
~Marseille; May 27, 1879~
Before this little holiday – Myka is not sure whether that is the appropriate description for her current trip, as Mr. Nielsen talks about it as if it is homework, but she uses the word nonetheless – Myka had never been to any kind of performance. Mr. Nielsen calls them frivolous and foolish. And yet here she is, at her second show in two nights.
The previous night, Myka had been disappointed. She couldn’t understand the awe of those in the audience around her. True, the alleged “magician” had strung together a few decent tricks, but the mechanics behind the illusions – sleights of hand, misdirections of attention, a few well-placed mirrors – were so obvious to Myka, that she spent a good deal of time watching those around her, rather than the man on stage. Why couldn’t they see what she did?
Tonight, however, is a completely different experience.
There is a buzz in the air even before the performance begins. And from the moment that MacPherson the Magnificent steps on stage, Myka is enraptured. The illusionist makes a few cleverly clumsy moves, in order to disguise the true as false, but Myka sees through the deception. The man is truly magnificent, for there is no pretense to his tricks.
The thrill inside her is undeniable. This is what she’s been working towards so tirelessly for the past five and a half years. All those books she’s spent days and weeks poring over, copying notes and passages and cryptic symbols into her journals... It’s all meant to lead to this.
Myka runs her fingertip over the scar at the base of her ring finger. If this “game” for which Mr. Nielsen is preparing her were held today, Myka is the first to admit that she probably wouldn’t stand a chance. But someday, she tells herself, she’ll be able to do what he does.
“How can no one else tell?” Myka asks Mr. Nielsen later. “How can they not tell real from fake when the difference is so clear?”
“People see what they expect to see; what they want to see,” he replies without looking up from his newspaper. “They need to be able to make sense of their world, and that leaves no room for the unexplainable.”
Myka opens her mouth to question him further, but he goes on, “Now you see what you’re up against. You have a lot of work to do, so get back to it.”
“Is he my opponent?” Myka asks incredulously. It hardly seems fair.
“No,” is all she gets by way of reply.
~New York City; September 2, 1873~
The first time that Helena meets Arthur Nielsen, she is six-almost-seven years old.
“I thought it was about time for another game,” Mr. MacPherson announces as he enters his dressing room, where Helena has been left to wait.
Helena looks up in surprise; he never plays games with her. But he isn’t talking to her, anyway. There’s another man standing in the doorway. He adjusts his glasses, taking a minute to glance all around the room. His gaze stops only briefly on Helena before moving on.
“I thought you had given up, after the last one,” the man in the rumpled gray suit idly comments.
“Ha! Never!” MacPherson retorts genially.
Helena looks back and forth between the two men, unsure whether she should be there. Mr. MacPherson usually ignores her presence most of the time, especially on performance nights. Suddenly, however, he turns his attention to her, takes two large strides over to her chair, and yanks her to her feet. Helena scowls at him, but doesn’t voice her displeasure.
“Helena, this is Mr. Nielsen, a very old friend of mine,” he says, holding her tightly, almost painfully, by the shoulders and thrusting her out in front of him. He says the word “friend” in such a way that Helena is fairly sure that he doesn’t mean it.
Remaining silent, Mr. Nielsen nods his head slightly and regards her seriously for a moment, but then his eyes return to face her guardian.
Helena can easily hear the smirk in MacPherson’s voice as he continues, “Now, do be a dear, child, and show Arthur what you can do.”
She twists her head around to look at him in surprise – he has always been emphatic that she must never share her ‘skills’ with anyone – but he only pinches her shoulders harder. He isn’t even looking at her as he says, “Arthur is an important exception to the rule. The only exception.”
There have been times when Helena was itching to show off, but knew that she had to restrain herself. Now that she has been given permission, though, she suddenly has no idea what she should do.
Impatient, MacPherson makes a small huff of annoyance before he steps away from her, takes a teacup from a table in the corner, and quite deliberately drops it.
Just before it hits the floor, the teacup stops in mid-air, hovering for a moment before it fights back against gravity and lands back on the table with only a slight wobble.
Mr. Nielsen’s bushy eyebrows draw together just slightly. “Impressive,” he allows, “though quite basic.”
Helena frowns, and although she doesn’t mean for it to happen, the teacup breaks as though it had smashed upon the floor after all. She flinches minutely at the sound, but then still without a word, she focuses her attention on the shattered fragments of porcelain, watching as the pieces quickly fit themselves back together until the teacup sits whole once again, none the worse for wear.
MacPherson grins triumphantly, taking the cup and nonchalantly tossing it in the other gentleman’s direction.
“There you go, old boy!” he calls out as Mr. Nielsen fumbles with the cup for a moment. He just barely manages to not break it a second time, but Helena has no doubt he could fix it himself if it came to that.
Mr. Nielsen clears his throat. “She’s got a temper,” is his only comment this time.
MacPherson winks. “All the best ones do. She’ll learn to control it. I’ve only been working with her for a few months, and already, she can do all that. She’s the most natural talent I’ve seen in quite a very long time.” Helena lifts her eyebrows in surprise. This is the first she’s hearing of it.
Having done her part, however, she is clearly no longer of interest to Mr. MacPherson. He crosses the room again and claps Mr. Nielsen on the shoulder. “So what do you say? Feel like losing? I’ll let you take all the time you want to find someone you think can beat her. I’ll even let you have the first move. Just make sure you don’t get too attached, because I know my girl will come out on top.”
He takes two identical rings out of his pocket and lightly flings them in the air. They stop right at Mr. Nielsen’s eye level, twirling on invisible axes. The light catches on them as they turn, tossing tantalizing reflections of luminosity around the room.
Moving faster than Helena thought him capable, Mr. Nielsen snatches the rings out of the air, letting them rest upon his palm as he considers them.
“Over-confidence was always one of your failings, James,” he says. “I’ve heard tell that she’s your daughter. Are you sure this is a bet you’re willing to take?”
The room dims slightly as one of the lightbulbs shatters, but neither man pays Helena any mind. She has to remind herself to breathe. She’s wondered, of course she has, but-
MacPherson waves a dismissive hand. “Mere rumor,” he asserts. “And like I said, she’s going to win, so anything else is irrelevant.”
A slow smile spreads across Mr. Nielsen’s face. “Then we’ll have ourselves a game.”
No rules or terms of the wager are mentioned, but the two old rivals share a look and shake on it.
“Girl, come here!” MacPherson commands jovially without looking at her.
Shyly, she moves forward. She’s never seen her guardian act quite this happy, and it’s throwing her off.
Mr. Nielsen turns to her with a gentle smile. “Give me your right hand, child.”
Helena does so. She’s trying to remember what they’ve been talking about, but she feels the facts slipping from her mind. She knows enough to understand that the man in the gray suit is making it happen, but not enough to make it stop.
Mr. Nielsen takes one of the rings, which he’d been holding on to, and places it onto her ring finger. The other goes into his coat pocket. The ring is noticeably too big for Helena, but before she can comment, it begins to shrink. So much so, that she can’t help but cry out when it gets too tight. Even then, the ring continues squeezing tighter, and Helena closes her eyes against the burning pain it causes, worse than anything she’s felt before.
Another few seconds, and then the pain begins to fade. Frightened and resentful tears fall down her cheeks, but Helena blinks her eyes open and looks down at her hand.
The ring is no longer there, but an angry red scar remains where the silver dissolved into her skin.
“I’ll be in touch,” Mr. Nielsen says with a nod, before he turns and strides back out the door.
~just north of Chicago; August 5, 1901~
Claudia Donovan, nine years old, thinks she could probably see Canada from here. Definitely, if she had some binoculars.
She sits as high as she can get in the large oak tree outside her house – the house she happens to live in, at least, even though it doesn’t feel like “home.” Nowhere has felt like home since her brother Joshua disappeared.
Claudia can hear one of her foster brothers yelling for her to get down and come in for lunch, but she ignores him for now. This is the one spot she can find any peace, lately, so she’s in no hurry to climb back to solid ground.
She looks out as far as she can see, and dreams of something better.
~Tilburg; September 21, 1898~
Helena walks right into the small package sitting in front of her door in the morning, kicking it out into the hallway of the train. She eyes it suspiciously for a moment before moving to retrieve it and returning to go sit on her bed.
It is lightweight, very carefully wrapped. No note.
She imagines it could be a birthday gift, but this confuses her more than anything else. As far as she was aware, MacPherson is the only person other than herself who actually knows that today is indeed her birthday. She highly doubts that the package comes from him, however.
For one thing, MacPherson has never given her a birthday gift before now.
For another, he is currently a bit too busy being officially-though-not-technically deceased.
The only conclusion is that her ever-elusive opponent has somehow discovered the meaning of the current date. Her birthday has never meant all that much to her, now even more so, given that they all appear to have stopped aging since the circus began. Still, Helena can’t stop the smile and childlike anticipation that spreads through her.
Her first birthday gift, since any time she can remember.
Carefully, she unwraps the package, setting the paper beside her on the bed. Though she pays it no more attention, the wrapping paper proceeds to tear and fold itself into three origami birds, which then take flight and flutter lazily around the room. The raven, sitting on his perch in the corner, squawks at them; one of the paper cranes chirps back.
Inside the box, there is a note. Helena doesn’t recognize the handwriting, but that is no surprise, as she hasn’t had occasion to see many of the circus people write, and she would hazard a guess that this isn’t her opponent’s true handwriting anyway.
To Miss Wells, in celebration of your day of birth
Enclosed, you will find an artifact,
in honor of the country in which you currently find yourself:
Vincent Van Gogh’s paintbrush
Use with care.
“What on Earth...?” Helena questions softly to herself.
Indeed, placed inside the box, a simple paintbrush lies. Helena has heard of the artist Van Gogh, though she is not overly familiar with his work. Thinking only to examine the brush more closely, she picks it up.
A bit of color catches in the corner of her eye, and when she instinctively turns in that direction, she gasps out loud, dropping the brush and letting it clatter to the floor.
Helena blinks, and the effect is gone.
Warily, she stares down at the deceptively plain paintbrush at her feet. Curiosity soon overtakes her, however, and Helena reaches to pick it up once again.
She is better prepared, this time. Little by little, her entire room is turned into a painting.
Broad, sweeping brush strokes; bold colors; swirls of thick paint.
It’s as if an invisible hand were reaching into her room and gradually covering everything in sight with paint. The painting is far from static, as well. One of her doves, now painted, ruffles its feathers and coos at her in confusion, and the paper birds continue unimpeded in their paths of flight, now trailing dashes of paint wherever they go.
Helena can only watch, startled shock turning to awed wonder. Before long, it is done, and her entire room is covered, floor to ceiling and everything in between. Everything save herself, that is. She alone remains as she always was.
Gingerly, Helena reaches to touch the quilt on her bed. She smudges it, and her fingertips come away with what looks, feels, and smells like actual paint. The paint doesn’t appear to stick to her clothing, however, and with a laugh of delight, Helena gets to her feet practically and skips around the room, examining everything. Even her books now contain small squiggles of illegible paint.
She can’t quite imagine what must have been done to charm the paintbrush she still holds in her hand. She isn’t even sure that she wants to know.
Illusions never quite held the same sway over her as they seemed to everyone else. Although she very much does love performing, for Helena, magic is simply a tool, same as any other. There were times growing up when in fact she deeply resented this “natural gift” she has been given.
Now, however... In this moment, Helena experiences the pure joy, the magical enchantment, that so many others have felt when they come away from one of her own shows.
“Thank you, whoever you are,” she calls into the room.
Without question, Helena’s thirty-second birthday is off to a much better start than any of those which came before.
“Thank you very much for the gift.”
Myka jumps at the sudden sound of Helena’s voice, whispering directly into her ear. Her gaze jerks around the room, but Helena is certainly nowhere in sight, and Mr. Kosan appears to have not heard a thing, as he remains focused on the ledger opened up before him.
“Your identity continues to elude me,” the disembodied voice continues, “but I would very much like to return the favor next time the circus changes locations. Please let me know where I can leave you your own ‘artifact’ and be sure that you will receive it.”
Myka thinks that the message is over, but after several moments’ pause, Helena goes on, sounding almost shy. “It was truly wonderful,” she says. “Thank you.”
“Why are you grinning like that? Are you even listening to me?”
Myka’s concentration is broken by Kosan’s question.
She clears her throat, forcing the corners of her mouth back into a neutral expression. She clenches her jaw against the desire to keep smiling, even wider.
“I apologize, sir,” she manages solemnly. “My mind drifted momentarily, it won’t happen again.”
“Hm,” Kosan huffs. “Be sure that it doesn’t.”
Myka does succeed in paying sufficient attention to her boss, but a good portion of her thoughts continue to drift towards Helena. She had hoped that her gift would be well received, but she couldn’t be sure. Although Myka herself has stopped seeing their game as antagonistic, she had no idea whether or not Helena felt the same way.
Now, she cannot wait to see what Helena will offer in return.
~Paris; May 30, 1896~
Sam smiles as he sees Myka approach.
“Hi,” he calls out happily. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Myka does not look nearly as pleased.
“I need to talk to you,” she says, glancing back over her shoulder.
Sam nods, looking down at his watch. “Sure. I get a break in-”
“No, now,” Myka interrupts. “I’m sorry, Sam, it’s important.”
“Alright.” He nods again, concerned. “Give me one minute, and I’ll get Wolcott to take over for a bit.”
“Thank you.” Myka turns her back, waiting impatiently, as he quickly goes off to find one of the other security/crew members.
It isn’t long before he returns, sliding up next to Myka and running his hand down her arm.
“It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of seeing you, Bunny,” he greets with a playful flick to the rim of her ever-present bowler hat.
She smiles wanly. “I know. The circus has been traveling too far from London for me to make it.” Myka doesn’t waste any more time on small talk before getting to her point. “Why didn’t you tell me about the new tent?” she asks.
Sam frowns, confused for a moment. Myka opens up her notebook and shows him where she’s sketched out a quick drawing of an expansive tree, with no leaves, but instead hundreds of candles standing up along its branches. “Oh!” His face clears. “You mean the Wishing Tree! I like that one. It isn’t your work?”
Myka shakes her head tightly.
“Sorry,” he says. “It’s fairly new, and I haven’t had time to write to you since it appeared. I didn’t think it was important,” he adds with a shrug.
“It is important!” Myka exclaims. “She made it. I could tell, the very second I walked into that tent. I need to know these things, Sam, if I’m going to keep up with her.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeats, his shoulders stiffening defensively. “I haven’t noticed anything about her. You say she’s making all these moves and changes, but from what I can see, she just goes about her business, doing her performances.”
Myka takes her hat from her head and runs her hand over her hair with a sigh. “No matter what it looks like, she is working against me. Constantly. You’re my eyes here when I have to stay in London, Sam. She still doesn’t know who I am, and that gives me an advantage, but she has the advantage of being here, being part of all this.”
Sam clenches his jaw, but remains silent.
“Did you make a wish?” he finally asks, his eyes staring right into hers. “Do the wishes come true?”
Myka looks away.
“I don’t know,” she says softly, ignoring the first question.
“I miss you,” Sam goes on. He offers a self-deprecating smile, easing some of the tension that has sprung up between them. “Since I’m doing such a crappy job of spying for you, maybe you should arrange it so that you can come and travel with us.”
Myka smiles back, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“Maybe I will.”
They are both quiet for another few moments, until Myka reaches out and gently squeezes his hand. “I’m sorry, Sam, I have to go. I’ll stop by again if I can.”
He nods, and with that, she turns and leaves.
She didn’t say that she misses him too, he notes.
~London; March 16, 1905~
The Inclement Weather Party is in full swing when Myka enters the acrobats’ tent. That tent is the largest, so it’s where everyone goes on nights when the circus is cancelled due to rain.
She doesn’t see Helena right away, but she can feel the heat of the other woman’s gaze on her. Her first impulse is of course to run and find her, but she manages to resist. Instead, she follows the sound of Pete’s voice, wandering her way through various pockets of people, until her best friend is in sight.
“Mykes, you made it!” the fire juggler calls out when he sees her, stepping forward to envelope her in a tight hug and literally lift her off the ground.
“Hello to you too, Pete,” Myka says with a laugh, reaching for the top of her head to make sure her hat doesn’t fly off. “And of course, I wouldn’t miss this,” she goes on once back on both feet.
They quickly fall into conversation – Pete going on about a few recent changes he’s made to his act, and about the pretty acrobat he’s had his eyes on – but Myka finds that she can’t continue to fully ignore the weight of Helena’s gaze.
Surreptitiously, and with attempted casualness, her eyes begin to move about the tent. It doesn’t take long for her gaze to zero in on Helena, caught up in conversation with the twins. Myka could swear that Helena’s eyes actually twinkle when she notices that Myka is finally looking at her.
No words are exchanged between them, and they each are easily able to maintain their conversations, but they share their own kind of dialogue nonetheless.
I want to be talking to you right now, not him.
It’s not that Helena hears the words, per se. It’s more like she feels them, deep inside.
I want to be kissing you, Helena answers in turn.
She grins when Myka blushes.
In a far corner of the tent, but with a clear view of both Myka and Helena, Arthur Nielsen frowns.
“This is unacceptable,” he grumbles, seemingly to himself.
“Oh, I agree completely,” comes the reply. “Your student shouldn’t even be here. She’s become way too much of a distraction.”
“Well you are supposed to be dead, so I don’t think you have the right to tell others where they should or should not be,” Arthur retorts.
To his left, there is a light shimmer, like from a mirage. From some angles, people can almost make out the translucent shape of an elbow, the curve of a jaw. If anyone does notice and begin to look a little closer, they suddenly find themselves interested in something else, and they forget the moment entirely.
James chuckles to himself. “Touché, old boy.”
“I will do my part; make sure you do yours,” Arthur continues. “The two of them need to stay away from each other.”
The ghostly shadow of James MacPherson inclines his head, and then walks through the wall of the tent and out into the rain.