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25 August 2008 @ 04:52 pm
Title: The Greatest Show on Earth
Chapter II: Fearless
Author: tiptoe39
Rating: PG-13 for brief language
Summary: AU. Welcome to the circus. A lion tamer meets the newest act to come aboard.

"Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages, I give you the Linderman Circus!"

The arena exploded in a shower of confetti. Rainbows crisscrossed the stadium as the stagehands heaved the colored spotlights to and fro. Now on the animals, now on the clowns, now on the tumblers and the high-wire acts, the heavy ovals of color fell, lingering long enough for a flourish and then catapulting off again. Noah fired off his gun three times -- bang, bang, bang -- and a trio of balloons far above the ring popped one by one, releasing streamers. The lions roared. The elephants trumpeted. The circus was under way.

Matt cracked his whip as he led his girls in, arms widespread as the cape draped about his shoulders billowed and curled in the hot breeze of their breath. Leona and Janice stepped proudly, heads high, anxious to be seen in their newly trimmed glory. They took turns roaring, each one letting out a good call then falling silent to allow her girlfriend a chance to speak. Matt led them into the cage and cracked his whip again. They leapt to their podiums, stood on their hind legs, and gave another good roar, this time in unison. As the spotlights narrowed to blend to bright white against Linderman's top hat and silver hair, Matt gestured his girls down. All three of them took their seats and waited for their turn to come.

The horses went first, then the Petrellis did their act. The clowns came around next for their first pass, tickling the funny bones of the audience. The routine was actually quite funny, with Ando playing a sort of geisha type, all fans and girlish giggles, as Adam and Hiro fought over her and ended up tripping over each other in a slapstick slapfight. Matt chuckled. Janice just yawned.

Then it was Mohinder's turn. Linderman whispered into the microphone like a man in utter awe. "Gracing our shores for the first time," he hissed, "with fabulous feats high above the center ring without the aid of a net, please welcome the jewel of India, the mysterious and magnificent Mohinder!"

The tent filled with exotic music, erratic drumbeats and a sweet flute, as the lights fell on Mohinder, arched backward with arms and legs spread on the trapeze. He sparkled in the lavender light like a diamond in the sun. Matt stood, and nervous, Leona looked at him and bared a few teeth. "It's OK," he whispered, ruffling her fur. "I'm just looking." And it was hard not to look.

Mohinder rose to one toe, stretching his arms out and letting go of the swing's ropes. Then, after an improbable several seconds of balance, he raised his other foot high above his head and arched backward, hands outspread. Each movement as fluid as silken sheets in a breeze, each pose as solid as a statue. Grasping the bar with two hands, he pulled himself downward, tucking into a small ball beneath the trapeze and then extending his legs above his head in a V. Twisting his ankles together, he then held the bar between his feet and hung upside-down, his arms outstretched beneath him, twirling slowly in space like the star atop a gigantic Christmas tree. The crowd was agog, cheering and clapping and gasping by turns. Matt thought something gold and spangled had settled onto his heart. He could barely breathe. This new act was truly something special.

Then it was all over, and Mohinder was swallowed by darkness. Matt sat again, his hand on his chest. His throat was dry. He felt dizzy. He reached for the bottle of water he kept on the floor of the cage for performances and tried to touch ground again. He wasn't sure he didn't need a safety net himself.

Sandra came around with her dogs, and she and Noah winked at each other as they traded places and he took the stage. Theirs was another circus family that Matt envied. He wished he'd had foster parents to take him in like they'd taken in Claire, a loving couple providing a lost, misfit child a place to be herself. He'd have taken it over the distant, cold days of his youth.

But now there was no time to envy, because he was up. He bowed to the crowd, listening to Linderman's narration about the fearsome Leona the Lion and Jungle Queen Janice. Linderman always sounded like he was the most excited child in the place. You got a real sense of wonder listening to that breathy, borderline squeaky voice with its hint of foreign accent and crisp consonants. He captivated crowds by sounding captivated himself.

"Good girls, now," Matt muttered under his breath. "Let's do our thing."

In the morning, they gathered around the stack of morning papers to read their reviews. Much nodding and smiling, at least one harrumph (Nuclear Ted apparently didn't like being called a Weapon of Mass Disappointment) and some shrugs, and the crowd dispersed. Matt felt a little bit woozy today. He hadn't slept very well, and the descent from opening night's adrenaline rush was always a little hard on his senses.

He retreated to the cages to bid his girls good morning and was surprised to find Mohinder standing against the wall, far from the bars, staring down the animals.

"Hi," he said, sidling up to him.

Mohinder jumped. "I... I'm sorry. Should I go?"

Matt stifled a snicker. This guy was jumpier than a new box spring. "Let's ask them," he said, hooking a thumb toward the lionesses. "Ladies, is this guy bothering you?"

They gave him a disdainful look. "I think that means they can deal with you," he said, laughing a little. Mohinder smiled shakily, and Matt went on. "You were fantastic last night. I couldn't..." He blushed. "Nobody could take their eyes off of you."

"Thank you," said Mohinder, blushing and taking off his glasses to clean them on a patch of his shirt. He truly looked like a completely different person here, so unsure and uncomfortable earthbound. Perhaps at his core he was a bird, and he was only happy when he was in flight. The thought made Matt smile, but Mohinder had turned to him, leaning casually against the nearest beam. "I thought you were rather remarkable as well," he said. "I've always envied the ability to control animals. To tell you the truth, I'd once hoped to be a lion tamer myself."

"You?" Matt couldn't stifle a chuckle, and Mohinder eyed him suspiciously. "No offense, but I can't see you pushing lions around. I think they'd confuse you with a side of beef. They'd try to eat you."

A sidelong glance. "And I suppose you look so much bigger in their eyes."

"Come on," Matt said. "Hell, I could eat you in one helping, you're so skinny."

Mohinder put his hands on his hips and scowled, a half-smile touching his lips. "Oh? Is that your plan, then? Are you hoping to eat me in the near future?"

His stare was fierce, and Matt gulped. For a split second, he felt a hot coal traveling through his gut. There was an implication there he wasn't sure he felt comfortable with. And Mohinder had undergone that strange transformation from shy, awkward newcomer to fearless daredevil again. His gaze was challenging, and Matt wanted to look away. But the hip touching Mohinder's hand was cocked just so, making his body look unnaturally curvy in the dim shadow cast by the tent pole. and there was that exotic, intriguing scent again on the air just surrounding him. Tempting and unknown. Matt had a sudden desire to lick his lips.

But in another instant, Mohinder had turned to the lions again, an analytical look replacing the predatory one so quickly that Matt wasn't sure the whole thing hadn't been a figment of his imagination. "But it's really not a matter of size, in the end, is it?" he said.

Matt drew in a quick breath. When had he transformed again?

Mohinder crouched by the cage, catching Janice's eye and looking at her fondly. "I'd assume it would be a matter of building a relationship, just as it would be with any other creature."

His words were those of a scholar, but his gaze was so kind as he looked at Janice, who lifted her chin proudly at him. She was trying to impress him, and Matt felt an urge to do the same. "More or less," he said, drawing in his stomach to stand taller. "Jan and I are closer than any married couple I've ever seen. Isn't that right, Jan?" He reached out an open palm, and Jan batted at it with her front paw rather harder than he'd expected, giving an annoyed little roar. "Women," he shrugged.

He looked at Mohinder to discover the man had gotten to his feet and advanced on him, so quickly he hadn't even felt his presence. Now, though, the scent overwhelmed him, and he could barely breathe. There was a face so close to his, long dark lashes downturned under prim glasses, and now a hand, lithe and strong and far too smooth to be that of a trapeze artist, was advancing toward his belt. Matt panicked. What was Mohinder about to...

But the hand simply caressed the butt of his whip lightly, then drew back. "Do you really have to use that awful thing?" Mohinder whispered, looking green.

Matt melted inside. He felt like a lump of butter left on the bottom of a saucepan. He wanted... he didn't know what he wanted, but it involved this man not looking quite so queasy. Perhaps eyes shining at his in relief... "It's the sound," he said quickly. "I use it against the floor, not them. Never, ever them. And most of the time I don't have to use it, either. The girls listen to my voice. There's a lot of loud noises in the show. This one's the same. Just another loud noise."

The brown eyes blinked behind the glasses. His eyelashes were long enough to be batting against the lenses, Matt noticed with a twinge of unfamiliar sensation. "Do you suppose you might..." Mohinder began, then stopped abruptly. "No, never mind me. I'm envious of you for being so close to them. I think the fear might paralyze me."

"Wait. You were up there--" at this Matt pointed skyward "--and you're worried about these big pussycats?" He chortled.

At the sound, Janice paced forward and ran her paw across the bars just in front of Mohinder. Her claws made a series of musical tings against the metal. A shudder ran down his whole body, and he froze solid, arms pinned by his sides. Matt saw then just how real the man's fear was. "Jan!" he scolded, and she drew back. "Honestly." He laid a hand on Mohinder's shoulder, and slowly the muscles beneath his palm relaxed. Mohinder exhaled.

"I'm sorry about that," Matt said.

"N-- no, it's fine..."

"I keep telling her not to play with her food."

And Mohinder turned right back into a block of ice.

Matt's jaw dropped. "I'm joking!" he exclaimed, shaking Mohinder by both shoulders. "For God's sake..." It took an impatient snort to thaw Mohinder out, but once he could move, he burst into a chorus of laughter. All of his tension drained away through those giggles, and he leaned forward into Matt's grasp, head lowered toward the dirt, shaking with relief and amusement.

"I'm sorry," he managed as the laughter subsided. "I'm new here, and I'm still so nervous..." He lifted his head and the words evaporated from his lips.

Matt stared. Mohinder was right there, still leaning on him a little, but his face was in suspended animation, jaw opening but no sound coming out. Even breath had stopped. What was it that had stunned him so? It was hard for him to tell with Mohinder's eyes on his face, Mohinder's weight pushing gently on his palms. It was dulling all his senses. He was aware only of high cheekbones; gentle, tentative eyes; an anxiously quivering mouth; gentle pressure beneath his hands; a strong, warm, sure body near his own.

He swallowed hard. He was swept up in that fragrance and unfamiliar emotion again. What was it that made this person so different from anyone else he'd ever met? He was a little afraid to find out.

At lunchtime, Nathan held out a frosty bottle of beer. "Have a drink with us, Parkman."

Strolling across the lawn, still addled from the force of that sudden plunge into desire, Matt had to shake his head and say "Pardon?"

"Beer. Now." A grimace.

"He means, join us for lunch," Peter jumped in. His beer was half-gone.

"Don't you two have a show tonight?" Coming back to himself, Matt settled into an easy squat on the dried grass next to the pair.

"I think we'll be OK by seven," Nathan scoffed with a gregarious laugh.

"It's practice I'm worried about," muttered Matt. It was kind of funny. Nathan was Peter's anchor man in the show, but when it came to alcohol, he was the brother that really knew how to fly.

"Whatever," Nathan grumbled. "So what do you think of the new act, huh? Complete bullshit, isn't it?"

"Nathan--!" Peter's voice was a warning.

"It's all theatrics!" Nathan raised his beer bottle and shook it angrily. The thin film of liquid shook in the bottom, and foam spread against the glass. "I can do that crap. What about that act involves any skill whatsoever? It's just going upside down and doin' the Spread Eagle." He kicked up his foot and nearly sent their basket of French fries flying. Matt and Peter jumped in unison, but Nathan's toe missed the dish by millimeters, and they breathed easier.

"I don't think it's the skill, really," Peter mused, "so much as the height. You have to be fearless to do that sort of thing without a net."

"Exactly. You and I will be out of work because some pansy from Ind-eye-A can sit on a bar and hang upside down. So much for all our hard work. We should have gone for the Olympics."

"You're being pessimistic, Nathan." But Peter was looking genuinely concerned. Nathan had an inordinate influence on him, and if he was predicting doom, even half-sloshed, Peter was likely to believe it.

Matt sat back and thought about the problem, sipping his beer slowly. He understood how hard the brothers had worked. They'd been tumblng since they were just old enough to stand, insistent on making their mother proud and carrying on in the family tradition. Blood ran thick in their family, and Peter's brief teenage rebellion (full, Matt understood, of threats of nursing school) had been a tense time. He and his brother had been estranged, and even now their relationship bore the scratches and marks of having barely survived a forest of briar and thistles. They clashed, melded, bristled, and clashed again.

"I think your jobs are safe," Matt said. "So you really don't think he's very good?"

"He looks pretty, sure," grumbled Nathan. "But he's all style and no substance."

Peter laughed. "If you feel that way, why don't you go to law school instead of doing handstands for a living?"

"You kidding me? Ma'd kill me." They both laughed, but Matt thought he caught a trace of sadness in Nathan's eyes.

"How do you feel about him, Matt?" Peter asked.

The answer tumbled out before he had a chance to think about it. "I think he's fantastic."

Nathan stuck his tongue out and blew rudely at him. "You're a slave to fashion, Parkman." But Peter leaned forward, scrutinizing Matt's expression. He nudged his brother, and a second later they were both staring open-mouthed.

Not that Matt himself noticed. He was too busy remembering a dazzling shooting star.

As promised, the Petrellis were sober again by showtime, and their routine was fierce and flawless. Peter spun like a pinwheel and flipped backward from a springboard onto Nathan's shoulders. They were an amazing team, really, full of power and precision, and Matt thought they were a joy to watch.

But Mohinder. God, he was in a different league. Again, Matt stood, transfixed. And as Mohinder stretched out his arms and hung by one hooked ankle above what seemed to be a thousand feet of nothing, Matt tried to imagine what it must be like to be up there. He closed his eyes and imagined nothing, no net, no solid ground beneath him.

The wave of dizziness that assaulted him almost immediately was sickening. He leaned forward and grabbed one of the cage's bars, trying to restore order to his spiraling brain. Janice pawed at him anxiously, and he stroked her fur to reassure her. Peter was right - Mohinder had to be fearless. The knowledge made him all the more dazzling.

He closed his eyes and sat until it was his turn. Compared to that, his job was really far too simple. He had to play with a couple of overgrown cats who wouldn't hurt him if their lives depended on it. His was the job that was all style and no substance, for all he did was crack a whip on the floor and whisper to his girls to move, to circle him, to roar, to shake the bars of the cage and get up on their hind legs. Barely five minutes of movement, a few well-placed shouts, and a flourish of cape, and he was done. Smoke, mirrors, and applause. Matt liked it, but tonight as he gave Leona and Janice their cues and watched them jump from podium to podium, he felt distinctly inadequate.

Then he felt a rush of heat on his neck, as though someone had breathed hot and misty onto him. He'd picked up something, a brief flash of an image in the whirlwind crowd, and whatever it was had set all his senses ablaze. He turned back, trying to make out the crowd past the tawny, muscular bodies leaping across his field of vision.

In the wings, behind the rafters that held up the bleachers where the crowd sat. Nestled among the bales of hay and planks of wood, almost invisible in the dimness. The gleam of sweat on a brow; the sharp flash of a spangle sewed onto fabric. Matt's face went slack for a split second. Leona growled a little, and he shook himself back into performance mode. The show must go on, after all.

But he'd had long enough to know what he was seeing. Mohinder was watching him with a frightening intensity. With shining eyes and trembling hands, he was staring. There was fascination in that face, certainly, but there was also fear. What on earth could the fearless Mohinder be afraid of?

Sheila!: Alison Goldfrapp - In Love With A Strictmsbhaven on August 25th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)
Heh! More please?