Cirque des Ombres
a Halloween ficlet
AU/AH/just for fun
Chapter I: Carni
As long as Alec could remember, he had always wanted to run away with the circus.
Jace would concede the rides were fun, but couldn't imagine making a career out of being a carni.
Isabelle's only thought on the subject was that fairs and circuses were nasty; the food was disgusting, the rides were filthy, and the crowds they attracted were grungy, which is exactly why she had opted out of joining them tonight, claiming she had a date with her flat iron.
Max was the only one who thought Alec's vision of the future was fun. Awesome was the exact word he had used. But because it was Max, Alec hadn't really been listening. And because his brother was only nine and half - though he looked seven, Alec was fairly sure he'd just bring them down. And so he had neglected to invite the littlest Lightwood, and urged Jace to hurry up so they could make a clean break, undetected.
"Did you bring any money?" Jace asked, walking ahead of Alec.
"I'm tapped out," the blond pointed out. Convenient that he had withheld that bit of information until they had almost reached the subway.
"Great. So I'm fronting everything? The tickets? Food?"
"Is that a problem?" Jace asked, finally glancing back over one shoulder. His brow was raised. After a moment, he smiled. "If you're real sweet to me, I'll win you an oversized stuffed animal."
Alec's face screwed up into a scowl. "You mean, from a game I have to pay for?" he clarified.
Jace laughed. "Fine. I'll keep it for my sweetheart," he drawled, descending into the subway.
"Who?" Alec charged after him, indignant, flicking his black hoodie up.
Price of admission: eight dollars a person.
Price of the hand stamp to actually ride anything: 20 dollars a person.
Price of a small soda, non-refillable: 5 dollars.
But making Jace happy? Priceless. That's why Alec's scowl was short-lived, even as he handed over the balance of his allowance. Jace had almost finished both of their sodas and was pointing out all of the rides he wanted to hit before the night was out. Alec stared up at the Zipper with some misgivings, not sure his idea of a good time was being spun around while flipping upside down. The Screamer looked all right, a big boat with sturdy bars across the chest that went several revolutions around, only holding upside down once or twice. Ring of Fire looked like the same principle, only it seemed uncommonly small, the cars riders had to sit in. Alec hated having his head bump up against the top of a ride.
But in spite of his reservations, Alec agreed to go on any ride that Jace wanted to, provided they didn't waste most of the night in lines. Jace pointed out the little wait at Zero Gravity, a spinning top where all the riders faced each other with matching expressions of nausea and fear. Alec's stomach turned. But he found himself agreeing, even though his legs didn't want to move.
"If you're scared, we don't have to go," Jace said as they stepped in line, taunting him. Alec hiked up his chin, resolute.
"You don't look thrilled."
"It looks a lot like the Gravitation."
"Isn't that where you...?"
"Oh," Jace replied, staring ahead in recognition. He seemed to think about this for a second, then turned back to Alec with a mischevous smile.
"Well, if you think you might have to throw up, just make sure you turn the other way first. I don't want to revisit your dinner."
Alec thought of the mashed potatoes and peas he'd pushed dispassionately around the plate an hour before, and swallowed anxiously. He had only lost his stomach once on a ride. He was pretty sure he'd had peas that night too - it was one of the safe and easy staples at home. Anyway, it wasn't pretty. It was very embarrassing, and he'd held out on coming back to the fair these last two years.
"Didn't you want to be a carni once?" Jace asked as they took the steps up to board, maybe trying to get his mind off the ride to come.
"Yeah," Alec said, lips dry.
"I couldn't afford to take you out, on that salary," Alec replied, his nervousness making him uncommonly bold.
Jace laughed, shooting him a wink before strapping in.
Alec was bent over a few feet from Zero Gravity, hands on his knees, trying very hard not to heave.
"Seriously. Are you okay?"
Alec's eyes were squeezed shut. He ignored Jace for a few seconds, but when Alec felt his hand on his shoulder, he groaned.
"Could you just...leave me alone for a second?"
"Sure," Jace murmured, backing off.
Alec breathed carefully for about a minute, trying to swallow past the excess saliva. Eventually it passed and Alec tentatively straightened up. He felt a little better, though he wasn't ready to chance walking yet.
"Better?" Jace asked, still standing a few feet away. Zero Gravity had started up again behind them, looking like a sadistic spinning UFO, multicolored lights flashing, people already screaming. Alec tried to blot out the memory. He managed to nod.
"Good. You hungry?"
Alec shot him a glare, and Jace snickered.
"You're okay," he decided, patting Alec's shoulder. "Come on."
Rolling his eyes, Alec slumped after him, hoping Jace would pick something easier next. Like maybe the kiddie Merry Go Round.
Unfortunately, the very next stop was the Zipper. It was just as bad as Alec remembered. He'd refused to ride it when he came last time. Jace had looked crestfallen for all of five seconds, then got in line anyway and ended up sharing a cage with a stranger, no big deal. Alec stood by and was secretly glad he'd put his foot down. The trauma of the Gravitron would have nothing on the Zipper.
Even now he stood paralyzed in front of his old nemesis, no more eager to give it a second try. He knew Jace would go with or without him. He was hoping he would be understanding anyway, because of how hard he'd taken Zero Gravity.
But Alec was wrong. It wasn't enough that Alec paid their way or that he'd braved the UFO of Doom. No, Jace insisted they ride together on the Zipper, and grabbed Alec's wrist and pulled him along to ensure compliance. Alec's face paled, but it was a matter of pride. He didn't pull away.
"You're going to love this."
"Yeah," Alec replied woodenly, feeling the first objection from his stomach. And they weren't even half-way through the line.
"Shut up, Jace," he demanded, sagging into the bench, seeing spots.
There was a long pause. Even though his eyes were closed, Alec could see the other boy frowning. So he added a quiet "please," then brought his hand up to his face, repeating the previous breathing technique, trying to meditate long enough to ward off the nausea, slow down his heart, and recover.
He wasn't aware that Jace had left him. This time it took him several minutes to get over the episode. When Alec opened his eyes again, a huge pink flamingo was being thrust into his face.
"For you," Jace said, looking both expectant and very serious.
Alec stared at the stuffed animal in confusion. Then the only thing he could think to say was: "Where did you get the money?"
"First throw was free," Jace said, with a little snicker.
"I've never heard of free games at the fair," Alec replied, though he hesitantly took the flamingo, not sure what he was supposed to do with it.
"That's because you don't have my charm," Jace sighed, forcing him to scoot over so that he could join Alec on the bench, throwing one casual arm out along the back.
Alec didn't acknowledge this, staring numbly at the flamingo.
"Yes. Thank you..."
"I knew you'd love it," Jace teased.
Alec scoffed. "I meant-"
"Let's go!" Jace announced, getting up.
With more straining than standing should require, Alec and his pink flamingo followed.
There was one benefit to having to carry around a fake flamingo, Alec discovered. It meant that he didn't have to go on any ride he didn't want to, because who was going to watch his special prize? He couldn't trust one of the employees with it. They might run away with the coveted pink flamingo. Anyone would blow twenty dollars easy for a chance at the big prize.
So when Jace suggested they ride Freak Out, Alec waved the ridiculous stuffed animal and declined. "I've got to hold onto this."
"That's really touching. I wish I had my camera to capture the moment."
"More's the pity," Alec retorted, swatting at him with the pink bird.
"Hey! Two against one, no fun!"
"You're going to lose your spot in line to a crowd of seven year-olds," Alec pointed out.
"Oh, no," Jace said, lowering his defensive hands. "It's on."
"Have fun," Alec called cheerfully, relieved to get a free pass this time.
He watched long enough to confirm that Jace was schooling the group of kids, while working his way cleverly back to the front of the line. Then Alec turned away, dragging the flamingo along with him, hoping he didn't look as silly as he felt.
The circus and the fair were not the same. There was a very important distinction. Alec didn't grow up imagining he'd be one of the perpetually bored, largely unkempt employees that operated the rides and ran the booths at the fair that came round the city every fall around Halloween. That's not the sort of dream he had when he thought of running away and being a carni. No, he was thinking of working in a freak show or taming tigers or being the master of ceremonies under the big top. Something wild and fantastic and full of fun.
He'd only been to the circus a few times as a boy. They didn't come round as often and the admission was a lot more expensive, and no one was as enthused as Alec. As he walked past the rows of people calling from their bottle throwing, whack-a-moling, air-balloon popping stations, he wondered why so many kids would rather be flipped around every which way, when they could see a bearded lady or watch someone ride a motorcycle through fire, or see people walk the tight rope way up over their heads without a net. That was the kind of unique talent he wished he possessed. Alec always wanted to be crazy flexible or unafraid of great heights or an awesome juggler. But that just wasn't in the cards. He could run fast, he was a decent swimmer, and he could hold his breath under water for a minute and a half, which come to find wasn't terribly extraordinary.
Pausing at a little side-attraction boasting the World's Smallest Horse, Alec decided to give it a go out of curiosity. It was 50 cents to take a look. Squeezing the flamingo by the neck, Alec peeked inside the high-lipped box and scowled. What a rip off.
He stomped back down the steps and elbowed his way through the crowd primarily headed in the opposite direction. While he didn't want wander too far from Jace and his heroics on Freak Out, the smell of funnel cakes and french fries was kind of compelling. While he knew it was some of the greasiest, fattiest foods he'd eaten all year, it would be another year at least before he'd come out to the fair, so why not?
He gravitated towards the nearby Food stand, when he felt a tug on his sleeve. Turning around with his flamingo sagging over his arm, Alec frowned.
"Have you seen the circus?"
"What?" Alec asked the small girl, trying not to sound as irritated as he felt to be deterred from his path to food. But he was always awkward around people less than four feet tall, and by the huge gap in her front teeth, she was probably younger than Max.
"The circus!" She repeated like he was the slow one. Before Alec could respond, she turned bodily and pointed behind her.
There was another attraction, this one charging $1.00 to see the "great mysteries of the supernatural world".
Cirque des Obres, the fairly tacky sign read.
Circus of... Shadows? Alec's French was awful.
He really wasn't in the mood to see blurry images of the "supernatural world" through dirty glass peepholes. But it did look like there might be more to see, at least, than the first booth he'd gone through. People were walking inside the little archway and disappearing behind it.
"Not yet," Alec muttered distractedly.
"It's awesome!" the girl grinned, looking up at him.
She reminded him of Max. He would probably think it was awesome too, even if it was one cheap scam.
But Alec was like that too once, wasn't he? He dreamed of being part of something like this.
Even though the rational part of mind said this was ridiculous and a waste of time and money, the dreamer still there in the back of his mind asked what he really had to lose? A hundred pennies and two minutes not watching Jace?
Absently, Alec passed off the pink flamingo, handing it to the girl.
"Thanks," he muttered, and before she could object, he started up the stairs and slid the attendant a dollar, following the line under the archway and inside.