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02 September 2008 @ 03:33 pm
[fanfic] The Greatest Show on Earth (4/?)  
Title: The Greatest Show on Earth
Chapter IV: Frozen
Rating: PG-13 for slight sexual innuendo and language.
Summary: AU. Welcome to the circus. The lion tamer meets the new act.
Author's note: Hee, hee, this fic has eaten my brain. I'm going to write it exactly as I please, aimlessly and with lots of fun. Not that this chapter is starting out particularly fun, but it'll get fun, I just know it. I think that's why all the chapters are titled with F words. Just a thought.

Three years ago, they passed through a town where a nuclear power plant squatted like a potbelly stove over the landscape. Ted swore up and down that was the thing that'd killed Karen, because after being in that area, she lost her energy. She gave up caring for the horses and spent her days and nights -- listless at best, violently ill at worst -- inside their trailer. She'd avoided the hospital despite Ted's insistence until she finally collapsed and couldn't be roused. The circus delayed its tour during those last few weeks as they desperately tried to excise the cancer. But after an intense round of chemo destroyed her remaining dignity, she said "enough" and wasted away, finally closing her eyes after just a few days, her hand releasing Ted's and opening limply, like a wilting flower.

Ted said nothing. Got up from the bed and went into the hall and silently simmered there.

Matt was there, along with a nurse and also Linderman, who stood mute and unmoving in the background. Ted eventually directed them to cremate her body and mutely left the hospital. He shut himself in his trailer after that, and nobody saw him for days.

It was the night of the full moon, and Matt had awoken and stepped outside for a breath of night air. The silhouette near the fence scared him at first, and he'd crept up with a mind to subdue a possible intruder. But as he neared him, he realized that the strange, methodical movements were those of Ted, staring at the moon and slowly tearing out each of his long whiskers, one by one.

He felt Matt's eyes on him. "Karen lost all her hair," he half-shouted, without looking. "Is this what it felt like?" He yanked out another, and Matt winced, his chin suddenly aching in sympathy. "Did it hurt like this? That's what I want to know."

"It hurts, huh?" Matt approached him slowly. He wasn't sure Ted wouldn't do something sudden and dangerous, but he also knew that he needed to be stopped.

"It hurts and it helps," Ted said, jerking his head back as another long hair came free. "It hurts worse when I don't do it."

"Maybe you want to talk about it?" said Matt, stepping closer again.

"Talk?" Ted laughed. "I talked to Karen about everything. Who'm I supposed to talk to now?"

Matt grabbed his wrist. Ted threw a punch at him, but Matt had wrangled bigger cats than this before. He grabbed the fist and stared Ted in the face. "Try me on for size," he said. "You bottle it all up and it'll kill you, Ted. Let it out."

And Ted had struggled and twisted and eventually fallen over onto his knees in sobs, telling the whole story of how he'd met Karen and how they'd fallen in love and how he knew he was destined to be with her, and Matt remembered feeling a sort of awe. What must it be like to love so completely that you tear out your own hair once that love is gone?

Ted's sobs eased after a few hours, and the moon was setting low on the horizon when Ted finally looked up, his eyes and nose puffy but a small, grateful smile hovering like a ghost on his lips. "Weird," he said. "I don't think I talked this much in a long time."

Matt clapped him on the back. "Blame it on the full moon, buddy," he said. "It makes people do crazy things."

"Fucking full moon," said Ted. And with that, they were friends.

Matt didn't like wandering through the sideshow tent. Claire's bed of nails and the trails of plastic bones around Niki's cell notwithstanding, the scariest thing was always the potential presence of Angela Petrelli somewhere just out of sight. Matt was convinced that she slept upside down, like a bat, in the darkest reaches of the tent. Waiting for some poor little mouse of a man to come by so she could swing down and grab him in her jaws.

But Angela didn't swoop today, and Matt made his way to Ted's podium without incident. The setup there always amused him -- Ted did his thing behind a sheet of flexible, clear plastic, as though he were an experiment in some mad scientist's nuclear laboratory. Warning signs in garish greens and glaring oranges covered the railings just in front. Kids would reach their hands closer, trying to see if it felt hot, if they would really get fried by Ted's nuclear radiation. It cracked him up, because knowing Ted, he probably would have fried them if he had the ability. He was fond of kids, but he was no good with them. He got scared and they got scared and they ended up running from each other. But at a good, safe distance, he was in his element.

"I'm going to irradiate some brats today, ho, ho, ho!" Ted said, smacking his hands together, as Matt approached.

"You're in a good mood."

"So are you. Why are you smiling like that?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Matt sat down on a tent peg and propped his chin up on his elbow. "I came for advice, believe it or not."

"Still feeling the full moon?" Ted rearranged his matches and filled up his sacs of lighter fluid, setting things ready for the influx of gawkers.

"Maybe I am. Maybe not. Ted..."

"Howl some more." Ted fixed a maniacal grin on him. "Awooo!" This time, he didn't bother being quiet. Matt had to cover his ears. "Heh! Ten bucks says Mama comes out here to yell at me. 'What are you thinking, scaring the children like that?'" He pulled his face into a frighteningly accurate imitation.

"Ted..." Matt repeated, then stopped and sighed. What the hell was he going to say, anyway?

Then there was shaggy man in his face. "Just say it," Ted prodded, deadpan.

He knew that he'd come here for precisely that reason. This was Ted, after all. And around Ted he could say anything. Nothing was off limits, nothing would be held against him. But somehow it wasn't quite that easy. He managed only to mumble the question under his breath.

But this was Ted, after all, and he didn't make a habit of stopping his life for your benefit. "Speak up, for God's sake," Ted returned to readying his act. "I don't have time to read your lips."

Matt tried again. The words froze inside his throat this time, and the ice tingled along the edges of his bones. "Never mind," he said, getting up.

"I'll be here when you get up the balls to say it, man," called Ted as Matt left the tent.

"So, are you going to help me practice?" A smooth voice glided over his ear, and Matt jumped as though he'd been touched.

Mohinder was smiling smartly, decked out in his spangled outfit and ready for the show. The audience for the evening show was beginning to trickle onto the fairgrounds now, and a number of cross-eyed glances slid their way as kids and parents walked by. Matt felt decidedly funny, especially considering he hadn't changed yet. Angela didn't like other circus personnel outside her sideshow; she thought it distracted from the macabre mystique. Matt could almost get away with it in his civvies, but Mohinder was innocently glimmering like a big fat chunk of Mama bait.

"For God's sake, what are you doing out here in that?" he snapped. "Get back inside." He put a hand on Mohinder's back and shoved him into the tent as stuttering protestations drifted back over the air to tickle at his skin. His heart was thundering already. If this guy was going to corner him, why couldn't he at least do it in private?

Safely behind the drape of thick fabric, Mohinder turned on him. "What in the hell are you doing?"

"It's not me," Matt explained hastily. "It's Mama Petrelli. She doesn't want anything taking attention away from her precious sideshow."

"Is that that woman's name?" Mohinder nodded. "I saw her eyeing me while I was having a talk with that acrobat, what's his name, Peter. I felt decidedly like a piece of meat. You know, perhaps I honestly do look like one. I really ought to watch myself around your lions."

Matt watched his lips move, feeling numb around the edges. Every expression seemed to him to be more beautiful than the last one. Mohinder's eyes danced; his nose turned up in disgust; his cheeks widened from sallow to round as he smiled. The light caught his profile. Even his haphazard curls seemed to fall perfectly around his face. Somehow Matt's fingertips itched.

"Th.. that's because she's his mother," he found the strength to say. "She's... protective of her brood."

Mohinder laughed. "Brood, exactly. She's like a mother hawk defending her nest. That's precisely right." Matt, hollowed inside and out by the divine bell-ringing of Mohinder's laughter, only nodded, somehow forcing himself to smile back.

Then something occurred to him that made him shake in his shoes. "You've been talking to Peter?" he said hoarsely.

"He's quite affable, yes."

"Has he... told you anything about me?" Most notably, about what I've told him about you?

Mohinder laughed. "Plenty of things."

"Oh, great." Matt dropped his head. "I can probably explain somehow, if I try..."

"Why?" The shaggy curls dropped sideways as Mohinder bent his head, and Matt looked at him with a mixture of relief and apprehension. It looked like Peter had enough tact to not let that particular cat out of the bag. But still, Peter had Nathan behind him pushing him at every opportunity, and he had a terrible streak for wanting to help. And that inevitably caused more problems than it solved.

"Nothing. Never mind."

Mohinder shrugged, strolling to the edge of the tent and peeking out at the milling crowd. "I don't see why you should have to explain anything to me. We've only just met, after all. It hardly matters what I think of you."

"Right." Matt had forgotten about that. They had just met. No matter how frightening and intense the sensation when he was around him, he was still a stranger. There was no need to rush into anything here, much less something he couldn't even get up the courage to name to himself. The problem was putting ice on this particular swelling before it got so big that the Big Top itself couldn't hold it. It was past time he cooled himself down.

"Right," he forced himself to repeat, trying to keep his voice light and casual. "So what were you saying about practice?"

A long finger extended toward the sky. "I'm facing my fears, as I'm sure you recall."

"Oh, no." Matt backed away, waving his arms as though to fend off some unseen attack. "Forget it. You're braver than me."

"Braver than I, and somehow I doubt that."

"Look, just because you've got some weird complex about a bunch of cats--"

"Lionesses. They're lionesses."

"In any case, that's completely different from going up to a zillion feet in the air--"

"Have you ever been on a jungle gym?"

"What?" Matt blinked, forgetting what he had wanted to say in an instant.

"A jungle gym. Have you ever hung upside down from the bars at a playground? It's the same thing. You have plenty of support. It's quite simple."

Matt stared at him. Mohinder's smile was completely innocent, and if it weren't for the wicked twinkle in his eye, Matt might be fooled into thinking he was genuinely trying to be reassuring. "I used to fall from the monkey bars plenty of times," he said pointedly. "I think you get worse than a skinned knee if you mess up when you're up there."

A flash of disappointment flew through those glittering eyes, almost too quick to grasp before it was gone again. "Suit yourself," said Mohinder, shrugging.

As he walked away, Matt felt a twinge, like someone had just slammed a sliver into his heart. "Hey," he called out, "uh, you're still welcome to come visit the girls anytime."

Mohinder turned back. "Thank you," he said. and smiled.

In an instant, that one smile melted everything that Matt had worked so hard to freeze solid. His pulse throbbed in his ears, drowning out the noise of the crowd. His arms ached. His knees wobbled. There was fire blazing in his gut and in his hands, and he felt like he was going to start spitting flames any minute. He could think one thing and one thing only: He wanted to grab that man and throw him against the wall and kiss him so hard he wouldn't be able to speak for a month.

It was too late for cooling down.


A belch of lighter fluid and smoke made him cough. Matt waved away the foulness but continued undaunted. "Ted, I have to talk to you."

"You're not even dressed yet. God, do I have to strip you myself? When's your curtain, twenty minutes? Ten?" Ted started shuttling him back toward the big top, mumbling annoyed little grumbles with the aftertaste of his act still on his breath. "You ought to be glad I'm done for the day. And that I'm feeling generous."

"Ted, Ted, Ted, stop." Matt whirled, planting his feet firmly. "Stop and shut up and listen a second."

The fire-breather threw up his hands. "You're the boss man," he said with a shake of his shaggy head. "I don't know who made you the boss man, but--"

"Ted, what if I'm gay?"

A beat. Matt thought he might die of mortification right then and there. Just melt right down into the ground. From solid to liquid in two-point-five seconds.

Then Ted laughed. "What does that mean, what if you're gay? If you're gay, you're gay. Is that all?"

Matt blinked at him. "What?"

"I hope shit doesn't gross you out, though. Unless you're planning to bottom, in which case I hope shit doesn't gross out the other guy--"


Ted put a big hand on his head and patted twice, looking into his eyes. "Matt." He said it gently but in a way that commanded attention. "Look at us. We're circus freaks. Literally. You think anyone here gives a damn about that? Seriously. If you've fallen for someone you should go after him. Or her. Whoever. Nobody deserves a little happiness more than you, my friend. You saved my soul."

Matt stared at him. "Ted, that's..."

Ted waved his hand and turned on his heel. "I know. Now get the hell out of here and change before I throw up. I gotta go brush my teeth." He stomped off, spitting in the sawdust the whole way.

Matt cracked the whip, and he and the cats sat down as the opening processional ended and the lights moved away. There in the dark, he waited his turn and thought. Hard.

Was it all really that simple? If he's gay, he's gay and that's it? Ted had shrugged his shoulders and declared that nothing would chance, except for he'd better get used to the idea of anal...

Well. He wasn't quite ready to think about that yet. Maybe he'd get to it eventually. He wasn't sure.

What he was sure of was that Mohinder was fascinating. And beautiful. And something was going to happen there. Something was bound to happen. He knew this ache of impulse in his muscles. He could hold it back only so long before it burst forward and acted on its own, and then he'd be locked out of his own decisions, left running after that bus as it hurtled down the street. Given the choice, he'd rather get on and enjoy the ride.

But how? How do you get something to happen when you're not even sure that person you're planning on romancing is interested in people of your gender-- when there are nine-to-one odds against it? That was the problem.

And it's pretty easy to get cold feet when the odds are against you.

But that didn't mean he wasn't going to try. After all, you've got to move cold feet, or they'll end up frozen.

Janice nuzzled his side lightly. When he turned his head to look at her, she shook her head as if disapproving. That was his Janice. Fiercely protective and possessive. "Thanks, hon," he said under his breath. "I appreciate it, really, but... I don't think either of us can do anything about it at this point. What happens, happens."

He wasn't even feeling terribly bad about that.

And when Mohinder's act started, and he saw that body splayed out against the canvas at the top of the tent-- with the spotlights scattering tiny diamonds from his sequins into a confetti haze of light, and a body lean and strong., changing shapes with the grace and fluidity of the wind itself-- Matt thought he was even kind of looking forward to it.

Easy To Amuse, Hard To Pleasestarlingthefool on September 2nd, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
I just read through these a few days ago - don't remember if I commented, but this is a fantastic series. This chapter in particular. Love the dialog between Matt and Ted (and lol fire eater...).
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
thanks! i really enjoyed that dialog myself. very pleased at how strongly their characters and needs came through. how are you doing m'dear? all well?
A Troop of Rogue Trained Monkeys from LJ's Search: MattMo Yay!hanuueshe on September 2nd, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)


Okay, so, before everyone decends upon this like a pack of wolves, let me be the first to say "I LOVE TED!!!" and "Your dialog rocks!" because it totally, totally does. I cannot wait for you to continue this. I really can't. :D
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
yay! like i said above, i really enjoyed writing the dialog for this. welladjusted!Ted cracks me up!
The Art of Feeling Stickykethni on September 2nd, 2008 08:18 pm (UTC)
I love this series! I love your use of language and even more Matt's little support network of Ted, Peter, and Nathan :)

Great stuff.
Tiptoe39: fandomtiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC)
It's weird to write everyone so mentally healthy, isn't it? hee.
lea1-santomelea1santome on September 2nd, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
It's the full moon.
"Ted, what happens if I'm gay?. You're gay, my friend, and has a case-Ted.
Es la luna llena.
"Ted, ¿que pasa si soy gay?. Eres gay, amigo mio, y has caso a Ted-.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC)
You liked that line? Hee hee. Ted is too busy breathing fire to worry about Matt's sexual preferences, I think.
lea1-santomelea1santome on September 2nd, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
Just to get hurt a bit I will say that I did not like it anywhere.

Has chopped!

I liked everything, especially when Ted advises Matt.

Sólo para hacerte enfadar un poco voy a decir que no me gustó ninguna parte.

¡has picado!

Me ha gustado todo, sobre todo cuando Ted le aconseja a Matt.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
hah! i will go cry now!

(just kidding)

I have been meaning to tell you this for a while, and I hope it's OK to say: Sometimes I have trouble understanding the translations you use.

(What do you mean "chopped"? Is "chopped" like "joking"?)

One thing you can do if you want to make your English translations better is, always use the pronoun. A lot of the time, when in spanish you don't need to say who you're talking about, in English you always need to say who is doing something. So always use "el" or "ella" or "yo" (et cetera) if you can, when you use the translator. (and use it before the verb if you can.) It still isn't perfect, but maybe it will be a little easier to read.

I hope that is OK advice. I love your comments so I want to understand them all!
lea1-santomelea1santome on September 2nd, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
Women do not cry!, Which was just a joke!

You've chopped; has fallen into the trap it's a joke.

I try not to use phrases in Spanish, then in English because the best thing to not have their meaning.

Put the commentary in English and Spanish, if you know a better online translator.

Thank you for the recommendations.
no llores mujer!, ¡que era tan sólo una broma!

Has picado; has caido en la trampa; es una broma.

Procuro no utilizar, frases en español, pues porque en inglés a lo mejor no tiene su significado.

Pongó el comentario en Inglés y español, por si acaso conoces un traductor online mejor.

Muchas gracias por las recomendaciones.
EmmyHildy: M/M - So Hard to Breatheemmyhildy on September 2nd, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
I love Ted!! He's so mean and grumpy and funny and helpful ;)

"What if I'm gay?" silly naive Matt :D So cute!!
Tiptoe39: force matttiptoe39 on September 2nd, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
hee hee, i wonder what he was expecting to hear? :D
(Deleted comment)
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 3rd, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
eee heee, i'm sure the pouncing will happen.

And note angela hasn't even actually shown up yet.... i'm enjoying building to her actual entrance, although truth be told i'm not even sure that that will be... eee hee hee.

:gazes at icon: candy candy?
plotbunny_tiffplotbunny_tiff on September 3rd, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC)
I know this probably wasn't your intention, but the section about Ted's wife dying had a very Old Testement (and forgive the Biblical reference, I'm not sure if Torah-esque is even a word...gah babble) feel to it.

The first instance was the hospital scene and the death of Ted's wife. It had the undertone of Matt and Lindermann as angels (Lindermann as an angel of Death, Matt as a Guardian for Ted), silently standing by as she passed on.

This tone grew stronger during the hair plucking. I couldn't help but see Ted on his knees in a desert, sackcloth draped across his body and ash on his skin, tearing out his hair and bellowing his grief until Matt came down with words of strength and comfort.

Aya, I think too much. This was quite epic my dearest darlingest Tippy. I'm glad I don't have to shake you. Just keep my supply fresh and on a consistant schedule, and I shall purr in contentment like the lionesses you write about.
Tiptoe39tiptoe39 on September 3rd, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
yay! wow, what a nice compliment. that's.... really kind of awesome. i liked the idea of linderman standing there and not doing anything, where matt felt really kind of helpless and wanted to do something.... and yeah, Ted is very sort of primordial in his grief... poor guy ;_;

you're right that it wasn't my intention, but the fact that you saw biblical stuff in it says to me that i'm managing to touch on some universal themes. It's very odd, but this story feels in some ways like it's more realistic than others I've written. It's funny how the human experience can come through so clearly no matter whether you're writing about circus folk or superheroes...

ahh, i love.

loving part five so far, it's gonna be adorkable.
teecub on September 4th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
Woohoo! I LOVE IT! Matt the lion tamer, Mohinder the acrobat - yum! I sooo cannot wait to read even more of this story. The characters are all brilliant, and your take on them fits perfectly! <3
Tiptoe39: cmere youtiptoe39 on September 5th, 2008 01:11 am (UTC)
hey, you! i feel like i haven't seen you in AGES!!! :D
saavikam77: Matt/Mohinder - Minesaavikam77 on February 1st, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, what a heartbreaking opener! It was so sad to see what happened to Ted and his wife, but it certainly shed a light on his character now.

And I keep wanting to either pet Matt or give him a hug. :p At least he's finally figuring things out.