Title: The Night Circus (2/?)
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 date listed at the start of each section. The story will not move ahead linearly.
~Chicago; September 21, 1903~
“Truth or dare?”
The question, directed towards Claudia, is immediately followed by three acorns being thrown at her, each one sent by one of her foster siblings.
Claudia glares up at them through the tree’s branches, sticking out her tongue.
“Well, which is it?” Margaret impatiently asks. “We haven’t got all day, you know.”
Claudia usually asks for truth – though whether she actually says the full truth is another question entirely – but something about the small sting on her cheek where an acorn hit makes her feel defiant.
“Dare,” she calls out loudly, sticking her chin out.
The silence that follows shows that Margaret certainly hadn’t been expecting that one. Claudia smiles to herself.
The quiet is only broken by Alice’s giggles as Frank manages to catch Claudia right on the top of her head with another acorn.
Clearly needing the attention back on her, Margaret finally speaks, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Claudia’s dare is to break into the Night Circus.”
Alice gasps, and Claudia feels herself pale just slightly.
Margaret practically preens, as she commands, “And you have to bring something back, so we know you really did it.”
It’s an impossible dare, and all of them know it.
Before she can talk herself out of it, though, Claudia jumps down out of the tree. “Alright, I’ll do it,” she calls back up at them, before taking off across the field.
It’s been about half a week since the mysterious black-and-white-striped tents appeared from out of nowhere. The last time the circus was here, six years earlier, Claudia was deemed too young to go, and was forced to listen jealously as the others chattered on about it.
Just the previous night, however, Claudia had finally been allowed to go.
It was nothing like Claudia had thought it would be. The Night Circus is something to be explored, something to be experienced, rather than something to be watched. She had only had time to visit a small fraction of the tents, each with a sign proclaiming just the slightest hint of what wonders would be found inside.
There was the carousel – with its gryphons, dragons, unicorns, and other strange creatures – taking a far more complicated course than a mere circle.
The elaborate garden, made entirely out of ice.
The seemingly endless labyrinth, where one room might be made entirely out of playing cards, while in another, it is snowing.
The acrobats, who fearlessly throw themselves through the air, even without a safety net.
When Claudia was forced to leave, she immediately couldn’t wait until the following day, when she would be able to return once again.
Granted, she thinks now as she walks through the field between her house and the circus grounds, her return trip is coming a bit earlier than anticipated.
Although Claudia had set out from the tree full of brave thoughts and imagined admiration from the others, she finds herself growing more intimidated as the tent tops loom higher and higher.
Everything looks different in the daylight. It is completely silent, not even the smallest suggestion of the bustling activity from the night before. There are no lights, no people, no sounds... Nothing but a faint hint of the smell of caramel and smoke in the air.
She stops in front of the wrought iron gate, now closed shut with a complicated-looking lock. A small sign reads:
Gates Open at Nightfall & Close at Dawn
Trespassers Will Be Exsanguinated
Claudia gulps. She isn’t sure what “exsanguinated” means, but it doesn’t sound like a good thing.
She takes a quick look back over her shoulder; she can see the others, three small specks sitting up in the tree, and she just knows that they’re watching her carefully.
Wanting to be out of sight, Claudia turns and slowly walks around to the other side of the fence.
As for actually getting inside the circus, however... Climbing over the fence is unthinkable, as it looks to be well over three times Claudia’s height.
She smiles, though, as she realizes that there are some advantages to being a “pipsqueak,” as Frank often calls her. The fence, though intimidating, wasn’t exactly designed with small-for-their-age-eleven-year-old-girls-on-a-dare in mind.
It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but Claudia manages to slip through the space between the bars.
She holds her breath and shuts her eyes, half-expecting to be “exsanguinated” on the spot, but nothing happens.
~Vienna; June 27, 1907~
It has been a fair number of years since Leena and Steve required a chaperone whenever they chose to wander through the circus. Nonetheless, there are still times when, in between sets of their own act, their winding promenades take them in search of their favorite companion.
Tonight, they manage to time it just so, going to get some snacks and then wandering aimlessly until they find themselves outside Helena’s tent right as the older woman finishes one of her performances.
“Hello, darlings!” she greets happily when she sees them, her cheeks pleasantly flushed after the usual round of thunderous applause.
“Care for a stroll?” Steve asks, offering his arm.
Helena grins at him. “My, what a gentleman,” she comments. “And to think, just a few short years ago, I was helping to change your diapers.”
Steve blushes, while Leena rolls her eyes. “We’re going to be sixteen this year, Helena. It’s been quite a bit more than a ‘few’ years,” Leena corrects.
“Indeed,” the illusionist acknowledges with a wink. Her expression turns wistful as she adds, “You are growing up far too quickly.”
ldquo;Not quickly enough,” Steve counters, leading the way towards the central courtyard.
Helena nudges him in the side, teasing, “Oh, don’t worry. Before you know it, the two of you will both have plenty of boys flocking to your side.”
Steve chokes on the mouthful of popcorn he’d been eating, earning a delighted laugh from Helena, as well as a smirk and thump on the back from Leena.
“You know, she’ll only get worse if you keep reacting to her like that,” Leena remarks, one eyebrow raised. “You’ve got to learn to ignore her, and then it won’t be any fun anymore.”
Steve has to clear his throat several times before he can reply. “Easy for you to say,” he eventually declares. “She doesn’t tease you nearly as much as she does me!”
“Darling, I believe that’s her point,” Helena says with a grin. Her smile shifts to one of a purer happiness as she catches sight of a man walking towards them, wearing a black suit with a red rose tucked into the buttonhole.
“Miss Wells,” he greets. “Always a pleasure to see you. I have not yet had the chance to visit your tent, so this is a pleasant surprise.” He turns towards Leena and Steve with a kind smile. “Oh, and how lovely. You are the ones with the kittens, yes? Training those small bundles of fur to jump through hoops and do back flips must take an incredible amount of patience, I would imagine. Exceptionally impressive.”
“Um, yes,” Leena replies after a moment of surprised silence. In all the time since they earned their own act, not once has a single one of the circus patrons recognized them when they were out mingling, without their costumes.
Steve doesn’t appear to share her surprise, however. He grins. “And you’re the man who made our clock!” He sticks out his hand for the stranger to shake. “It’s an honor, sir.”
The man looks pleased at the recognition. “Indeed, yes,” he says. “Has Miss Wells told you about me?”
At that, Steve becomes flustered. “Um. Well... No...” He shoots a sheepish glance towards Helena.
“Mr. Jinks, here, has a particular talent for reading people,” she supplies with a fond smile.
“I see,” the man says, though he clearly does not. “Well, allow me to formally introduce myself. My name is Mr. Caturanga. As Mr. Jinks deduced, I am a clockmaker, and general tinkerer.”
He reaches to shake Steve’s hand a second time, and Leena’s a first, as Helena introduces, “And this is Mr. Steven Jinks and Miss Leena Frederic, circus performers extraordinaire!”
Leena gasps quietly as Mr. Caturanga takes hold of her hand, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Steve turns to look at her in concern, but she simply shakes her head minutely at him.
Her gift doesn’t always work like this, but at the very moment when their skin touched, Leena was immediately flooded with sensation. It will take her some time to make any sense of what she experienced, if any sense is there to be made, but in the moment she is simply overwhelmed with color.
A deep, dark red clings to Caturanga, even as the rest of the impression begins to fade. Leena closes her eyes, glad that the man’s attention has shifted back to Helena, and tries to hold on to as much as she can before it is gone altogether. She has gotten better at this, with Helena’s help, but it is still far from easy.
Satisfied that she has retained all that she can, Leena allows her focus to return to the present. Steve and Helena remain engaged in conversation with Mr. Caturanga, but Leena can sense their worry, as they each keep a concerned eye on her.
Leena smiles to assuage their anxiety, but even so, she cannot quite shake a disquieting feeling that niggles at the back of her mind. The emotion feels entirely incongruous with this joyful, polite man who stands before her, but there is no denying that he is at the center of whatever it is that she just saw.
Without a word, Steve reaches to squeeze her hand, and immediately, Leena feels a sense of balance return to her. She squeezes back. There is no point trying to hide anything from Steve, as he will always see the truth on her, but the emotion is genuine when she turns to him with a small, grateful smile.
Even now, however, when Leena glances once more at Mr. Caturanga, that deep red silhouette lingers behind.
~Philadelphia; December 15, 1899~
Myka is in a room with pure white sand beneath her feet and an endless stretch of nighttime sky all around her. The sensation of being out of doors, in a vast and open space, is so complete that it is somewhat of a surprise when Myka puts her hand before her and eventually finds the wall hidden amongst the stars.
She leans back against the wall, content to simply stand still for a moment, before trying to find the door that will take her to yet another room. In order to get to this spot, she went through a plain room with seven doors, a room where it felt like she was swimming, an evergreen forest, a room where it was snowing, and a hedge maze.
She hears a door open, but the sound of footsteps is muffled by the shifting sand underfoot.
Mr. Nielsen comes to stand stiffly next to her. He does not say anything right away, but Myka can sense his disapproval regardless.
Sure enough, he can only manage to stay quiet for a minute before he declares, “This is abhorrent.”
Myka smiles at his predictability. “It’s good to see you too, Artie. It’s been quite a while.”
“Don’t call me that,” he grumbles.
They return to silence for a moment, before Myka gives in and asks, “Which half is abhorrent, mine or hers?”
Arthur bristles. “Don’t you see? The very fact that you can even ask that question is abhorrent! You are not meant to collaborate. I have told you so, many times. You are meant to be working separately.”
“First of all,” Myka sighs, “you can’t punish me for breaking the rules, when you insisted all along on refusing to tell me any rules. Second of all, it can hardly be called collaborating when she still doesn’t even know who I am. And third of all, what better way to compare and judge our own individual skills, than when we are forced to share the same tent?”
“And what about this Caturanga fellow? He now knows who you are,” Arthur replies, managing to ignore all three of Myka’s points. “He isn’t even a member of the circus, and you have him helping you?!”
“Technically,” Myka offers, “I am not a member of the circus either. Mr. Caturanga simply serves as a consultant, to both of us. He helped to advise Helena on the workings of her carousel; he helps advise me when it comes to the engineering logistics of my own rooms in the Labyrinth. This is supposed to be a test of magical skill, isn’t it? It hardly seems fair to hold me at a disadvantage just because Helena happens to be gifted with engineering, and I’m not.”
“So it’s Helena, now?” Arthur asks pointedly. “You cannot trust her!”
Myka is grateful for the darkness, as she feels her cheeks flush. “Miss Wells, then. I apologize,” she murmurs sarcastically.
Arthur grumbles something unintelligible, which Myka doesn’t bother asking him to repeat.
“So is she better than I am? Can you even tell which rooms are mine, and which are hers?” Myka challenges. “We’ve been playing at this ‘game’ for eight years, Mr. Nielsen. Surely by now everyone can tell that our skills are comparable. How will a winner even be determined at this point?”
“That is not your concern,” Arthur practically spits out. “You need only focus on your own work. No more of this debauched juxtaposition. I expected so much more from you. This is highly disappointing.”
Myka doesn’t so much as blink, but there is no denying the sting of hurt that Arthur’s words cause in her. She swallows thickly, but it takes several long moments before Myka can trust her own voice not to break. Her words come out low and harsh as she replies, “Well clearly, when you were looking for lonely, vulnerable young children, you should have chosen someone else. I am sorry that my entire life thus far has amounted to nothing but a disappointment. I have always done my best for you.”
Arthur sighs, removing his glasses to rub his eyes. He looks as though he means to say something, but then closes his mouth again. Myka says nothing more, even as the silence that envelopes them weighs heavily on her shoulders.
Finally, Arthur speaks. “Just... Keep working. And stay away from Miss Wells.”
With that, he turns and goes back the way he came, leaving Myka to sink down and lie in the sand beneath the stars.
~London; September 2, 1899~
Mr. Caturanga looks up from his work at the sound of a polite cough. He hadn’t noticed that someone had entered his shop.
“Ah, it’s you again!” he exclaims happily as he catches sight of the woman who served as the catalyst to his relationship with the Night Circus. “Forgive me, but I’ve forgotten your name. It has been quite a few years, now, and I must admit that my memory is not fully what it once was.”
The young woman, looking just about exactly as she did eight years prior, right down to the pinstripe suit and bowler hat, takes a step forward with a kind smile. “Myka Bering, sir. I am the assistant to-”
“Yes, yes, I remember that much, you can be sure,” he interrupts, waving a hand as though to wipe the rest of her explanation away. “How could I possibly forget the woman who commissioned me to make the clock that would lead me to Le Cirque des Rêves? I must tell you, that wonderful circus has inspired me like nothing else has in a very long time.”
“I am happy to hear it,” she says with a smile. “Your clock is certainly a marvel. I can’t seem to imagine either the clock without the circus, or the circus without the clock.”
Caturanga beams proudly. “Well, now what can I do for you?” he asks.
Myka’s expression turns a bit shy, turning to look down at the floor, as she considers her words.
“This may sound a bit strange, but I was wondering...” she begins. “How much do you know, about the circus?”
Caturanga tilts his head to the side, puzzled. “Pardon?”
Myka worries her bottom lip between her teeth, before she tries again. “How much has Miss Wells told you? About how the circus works.”
Something clicks, and Caturanga smiles broadly. “You are her opponent!” Myka inclines her head in agreement. “I never would have guessed,” he continues. “No wonder she hasn’t figured it out yet. I think she suspects the fortune teller.”
ldquo;So she’s told you about our... competition?” Myka asks.
“Only in the vaguest terms,” he explains with a shrug. “When she told me that everything she does is real, I had no choice but to either take her at her word, or consider her a liar. Though I am sure the lovely lady is no saint – the gleam in her eye is far too mischievous for that to be so – I most certainly do not consider her to be a liar. With that understanding, we turned to a discussion of what one might create if things such as gravity need not be a concern. All the credit undoubtedly goes to Miss Wells, but I assisted somewhat with the creation of the carousel, as I imagine you’ve guessed.”
“My assumptions ran along similar lines, yes,” Myka agrees. “Now, I have an idea, but I’m not the architect that either of you two are. I was hoping to ask for a bit of your assistance as well.”
Caturanga’s smile only widens. “Miss Bering, I would be delighted. I had wondered, whether you – although at the time, I had no idea that it was you, per se – would approach me. The way I see it, magicians employ engineers all the time to make their tricks seem real. I can help do the opposite, making actual magic appear to be nothing but clever construction.”
“I know that you are friends with Miss Wells...” Myka hesitates. “I can make you forget this entire conversation, if necessary.”
“I am indeed exceedingly fond of her,” Caturanga allows, “but I assure you, no memory modification shall be necessary. I would never dream of betraying either your confidence or your identity.”
Myka’s smile is equal parts grateful, relieved, and excited. “Thank you. I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy working with you.”
“The feeling is quite mutual, my dear,” Caturanga says. “Now, tell me about this idea of yours.”
A month later, when Caturanga receives a letter from Helena, he worries briefly about her reaction. Will she be upset that he is working with her opponent? Will she ask him for Miss Bering’s identity?
He can only smile, then, when he reads her note, which gets right to the point. Really, he should have known better than to doubt her.
May I make additions to it?
Caturanga decides on the spot that he will have to plan another visit to the circus sometime soon. He cannot wait to see what these two remarkable women will come up with next.
~London; October 30, 1908~
Helena stands alone in the middle of the lobby of the Midland Grand Hotel. She has made no inquiries at the front desk; she has not spoken to anyone at all. Guests and staff walk by her, seeming to unconsciously take steps to avoid crashing into her, even as they appear to take no notice of her at all.
She knows that this is where he stays when they are in London. She knows that he will come to her eventually, as long as she is patient enough to wait. Patience is not one of Helena’s strong suits, but this is important. It is time for things to move forward, one way or another.
It is more than an hour, before a man in a rumpled gray suit approaches her.
Other than his expression of mild distaste, Arthur Nielsen displays no reaction and makes no comment while Helena speaks to him. When she is done, he simply nods.
Helena bows to him formally, and then turns on her heel and leaves without a backward glance.
Across the room, Adwin Kosan remains in the shadows, unnoticed and watching. A ghostly figure stands by his side, whispering something into his ear.
~Rome; May 10, 1902~
Myka almost gets lost trying to find the café at which Helena has requested her presence. It’s a tiny place, and though it actually appears to be closed when Myka first walks by – blinds closed, no lights visible from the street – it’s fairly crowded inside.
Waiting at a table towards the back, Helena smiles when Myka enters, beckoning with a slight upwards nod of her head.
“So you found the place?” Helena greets.
“Barely,” is the response, as Myka takes her seat. “You’ve certainly taken us off the beaten path.”
Helena seems to take the comment as a compliment. “I’m much more partial to local watering holes, rather than the larger establishments. I hope you don’t mind. I assure you, the food and drink are very good.”
Myka smiles. “Cheers, then,” she says. It is then that she realizes that her own wine glass is quite different from Helena’s, and from every other glass she can see at the surrounding tables. The stem is designed as a column of the composite order; the bowl is round, with grape vines intricately etched around the top of the glass, just below the rim.
With a curious tilt of her head, Myka asks, “Is there a reason why I get such a lovely glass, and no one else does?”
Helena’s grin turns a shade mischievous. “It’s an artifact,” she replies simply, causing Myka to laugh. “Did you think I’d forgotten that it was my turn?”
“I’d wondered,” Myka admits, after they pause to order their meal. “We’ve already been here for a week and a half, and I imagine we’ll be moving on soon.”
“Yes, well,” Helena declares seriously, “it is a very old artifact, you know. Took me an incredible effort to track it down.”
Myka chuckles. “Is that so?”
“Quite.” After another moment of taking in Myka’s happy grin, Helena breaks, her somber expression lightening. “Well really, we’re in Rome! There is so much history here, so much culture! The task of choosing just one thing to give you proved to be quite daunting, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, how very dreadful for you,” Myka sympathizes mockingly. “That must be why you took the circus to an unnamed unincorporated settlement in South Dakota when you knew it was my turn. I understand now, it was obviously so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with too much history or culture to deal with. That was incredibly kind of you, Helena.”
Helena laughs in delight, and Myka finds her throat going dry at the light sound. She rubs the back of her neck and takes a rather large gulp of the wine Helena had ordered for them. Their food arrives, and Myka gladly shifts her attention to the waiter for the moment.
“I do apologize for that,” Helena says after the waiter has left again, managing to sound at least slightly sincere. “I was growing frustrated with the fact that I still had not yet identified you. Besides, now that I know you’re a bloody Yank, it only seems appropriate that you get the American locations. And in any case, you did very well! I very much like my Sioux arrowhead.”
Myka, who had been continuing to idly sip on her wine, opens her mouth to respond, but stops when she looks back down at her glass. She frowns. She certainly remembers drinking from the glass, and she doesn’t remember anyone refilling it, but...
Helena laughs again. “So you’ve discovered the artifact’s effects.”
A hesitant smile begins to edge over Myka’s face. “Okay, you got me a bottomless glass of wine?”
“Well surely, Bacchus’ wine goblet can never be allowed to go empty, wouldn’t you agree?” Helena asks in return.
“Ah.” Myka smiles with understanding. “A very old artifact, indeed. So, of all Rome’s endless possibilities, why this?”
Helena smirks. “Oh, have I been too subtle?” she asks with faux innocence. “Surely, my dear, it should be fairly obvious that I’d like to get you intoxicated. You hold your cards very close to the chest, Miss Bering, and I’d very much like to...” She pauses, searching for the right word. “...disentangle you a bit. I thought wine might help,” Helena concludes with a wink.
Myka blushes and finds herself staring down into her glass and idly picking at her food.
She’s not quite sure how to take Helena’s comments. The outright flirting is not at all something for which she had prepared herself, when Helena finally discovered who she was. She enjoys their banter – most of the time, at least, as long as Myka can hold her own reasonably well – but Myka can’t help but wonder what it really means.
Is it nothing more than lighthearted teasing? A genuine expression of friendship? A tactical effort to throw Myka off balance...? Too many possibilities run through Myka’s mind, with no real sense of which one might actually be true. She’s certainly off balance, however, so if that is Helena’s aim, she is succeeding quite well.
Helena, meanwhile, studies Myka’s face as a series of emotions flit rapidly by, too rapidly for Helena to properly identify them, before she schools her face back into a relatively neutral expression. Helena certainly enjoys pushing Myka’s buttons, but there is real truth in her words. It’s been a good amount of time, now, since Helena learned her opponent’s identity at long last, but she still finds herself both fascinated and bemused by the beguiling woman sitting across from her.
Myka jumps slightly in her seat at the sudden feel of Helena’s warm hand covering her own. She looks up and is drawn immediately to Helena’s gaze. Those deep, captivating brown eyes lure her in; Myka knows that she couldn’t have looked away in that moment, even if she’d wanted to.
“You needn’t be afraid of me,” Helena says softly. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable. Truly, I thought only to supplement the good company I knew I would have this evening with some good wine.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Myka utters, her eyebrows briefly knitting in confusion. “I’m not fully sure what I am,” she admits with a soft smile, “but I’m not afraid.”
“Good,” Helena responds, lightly soothing her thumb over the back of Myka’s hand before letting go and leaning back in her seat.
The light outside begins to grow darker, and soon it will be time for both women to return for another night of the circus. But for now, their conversation turns to safer topics – the city; the twins; the food – even as their thoughts continue to circle around each other.
~Moscow; February 19, 1910~
Helena closes her eyes and takes a deep, calming breath. She can hear footsteps rapidly approaching her, and the corner of her mouth ticks upward for just a moment as a picture of Myka pops into her mind.
Pasting a composed smile on her face, she turns to face the oncoming storm.
“Hello, Myka,” she greets with an inclination of her head.
The unruffled welcome brings Myka up short. “Hello. I-” She shakes her head, flustered. She’d been preparing for a fight; been readying herself to argue and bluster and rant her way to what she wants. The unexpectedness of Helena’s tranquil charm, however, leaves Myka entirely disarmed.
Myka sighs, shoulders lowering, and all her righteous indignation suddenly deflates, leaving her feeling lost and alone.
“I know what you’re planning to do, Helena,” she says softly. She makes as if to take Helena’s hand, but then thinks better of it. Instead, her hand clenches into a fist as she continues, “I won’t let you go through with it.”
Helena has the audacity to smirk. “Is that so, darling? You won’t let me?”
“I... I know that-” Myka tries, but stops before completing her thought. She looks down to the floor and runs both hands through her hair.
Helena betrays no emotion, but allows her gaze to follow the paths of Myka’s fingertips, her own fingers itching to reach out and stroke through those tousled locks. It is so rare that Myka allows her hair down, both literally and figuratively.
Myka grits her teeth, looking up abruptly to stare Helena squarely in the eye. “I know that I hold no sway over you, but you are everything to me, and I am not too proud to beg for your mercy.”
Something inside of Helena cracks, and, no longer able to maintain the illusion of indifference, she steps forward into Myka’s personal space, reaching out to grab desperate hold of Myka’s hand.
“You hold so much more than you know,” Helena counters softly. Her free hand seems to move of its own accord and rises to cup Myka’s cheek. Myka’s eyes flutter closed at the contact, and she turns to softly press her lips to the palm of Helena’s hand.
Helena tries to remove her hand, but Myka reaches quickly to hold it in place.
“Myka.” The name comes out as an exhalation of breath. “My Myka. This is the only way I can think to save you.”
A few solitary tears fall down each woman’s face; neither one makes any move to wipe them away.
“But don’t you understand?” Myka entreats. “Helena, I don’t want to be saved, I just want to be with you!”
Helena looks down to the floor, but says nothing in return.