Pairings: Kurt/Sebastian, eventual Kurt/Blaine
Word Count: 7,066 overall; 3,932 this part
Warnings: infidelity, domestic abuse, animal abuse, schizophrenia, paranoia, multiple character deaths
Summary: The year is 1931 and Blaine Anderson has just landed himself a job as the vet for the Dalton Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth, when he meets the beautiful equestrian star, Kurt - who just so happens to be married to Sebastian Smythe, the charming and twisted animal trainer. The three of them form a close, but barely-raveled bond when they take on the task of training the great, dumb elephant, Pavarotti. A Water for Elephants AU.
He doesn't seem real to me at first, the way he looks underneath that big top.
We're rolling into the plot when I wake up, and the brakes screech loudly in my ear. As I look around, I'm a little disoriented. I've rolled across the floor since falling asleep at the foot of Puck's cot and I'm now on the complete other side of the car space.
"Good morning, sunshine," Puck says as he walks past me, and a few items of clothing are thrown at my face.
"What's this?" I ask, propping myself up on my elbows.
"Your new working clothes," Puck replies, stepping out of the car. "You won't be needing the threads you got now where you're going."
I'm not sure I like the sound of that, but I trust Puck, so in less than five minutes I'm exiting the car dressed ratty outfit Puck lent me, blending in with all of the other workers.
As I make my way through the plot, I begin to stare around in awe. All around me men are setting up – booths that waft out the smell of cooking food. Tables and chairs for people to sit at. And then there are the tents – white and tall, moving in the wind. The big top stands out among them all, gazing over the entire place.
The animals of the menagerie are being woven in between the groups of working men, heading to their own tent. I see some performers in street clothes, others already in costumes looking like they've just been practicing.
I've only been to one circus before – the McKinley brothers – and I was definitely amazed then.
But there's something about the behind the scenes that seems just a little more magical to me. In the big top, underneath all the lights and effects, everything seems effortless it's almost impossible. But here – watching everyone walk around so normally, as if it's just another day on the job – it makes the show look that much more incredible.
I look around and see Puck sitting with the rest of the guys near the grease joint.
"Ah, there he is," Finn says, and the rest of the guys greet me with more "ahhh" sounds. I roll my eyes and take a seat next to Puck. I notice a few other guys at the table, and briefly wonder where they were the night before. Puck catches me staring and clears his throat.
"Blaine, this here is Wes, David, and Nick," he says, gesturing to an Asian, and Negro, and an American respectively. One thing I've really noticed in my short time here is that the Dalton Brothers' Circus is extremely diverse. It makes me feel a little better about my Filipino heritage.
"Hello," I say quietly, and they all give nods back.
"They've all hopped on recently," Puck explains. "They were the new ones until you got here."
I nod, swallowing hard. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. Being a part of all this is very intimidating, and I can't help but think it won't get any easier. I'm starting to think that maybe this is how the circus is run – everyone dodging bullets.
And it turns out, I was right.
"I'm sending you to work with Rory," Puck says as we follow the workers across the lot. "He's the head of the horses – baggage stock, that is. Sebastian's adamant that no one be allowed near the horses. Well, actually, it's probably Kurt. He's sensitive about his filthy animals."
I have no idea who or what Puck's talking about, but I nod anyway, pretending like I do.
A few people glance in our direction as we make our way, eyes navigating to the four new faces. I keep my head down, watching the back of Puck's legs to make sure I'm staying in the right direction.
We come to stop outside the stock car, and Puck turns to me, resting a hand on his shoulder.
"Alright, well – Rory'll take it from here." He gives me a nod, smiling. "Get on then – go shovel some shit." He gives me a little push and I stumble towards Rory.
The stock car is an ungodly mess. I hesitate on the ramp, peering inside. "How many horses do they keep in here, anyway?" I ask, looking up towards Rory.
"Twenty-seven," he replies, grabbing a shovel and handing it to me.
"Jesus," I mutter. "They must be packed in tight. How do they move?"
"They don't," Rory replies, getting started. "Tha's the point. Once the wedge horse gets loaded, none of 'em can go down."
I purse my lips, stepping inside. The smell hits me like a tidal wave, and I have to clap a hand to my mouth to stop myself from vomiting.
"God – how can you stand it?" I ask, breathing through my mouth.
"What?" Rory asks, pausing.
"The smell," I reply.
"What smell?" Rory smirks, getting back to work.
Very carefully, I dig in.
A half hour later, Rory looks up and stops shoveling. He puts his shovel back in the corner and starts heading out of the car.
"Wait!" I call after him. "Rory, wait! Where are you going?"
He turns around, eyebrows raised. "The flag's up."
I still don't understand. "What?"
"The cookhouse's flag," Rory explains. "It means it's time to eat."
I nod, drop my shovel next to his and follow him out the door.
More tents and canvases have been put up since earlier, and the lot is much more populated. I wonder briefly how we can fit this many people on one train, and how all of them can possibly be wrapped up in one little circus.
The cookhouse stands out with its bright red flag, thumping boilers, and crowd of people lined up to it. Rory and I go around to the back of the line, and the smell of food engulfs me. It has the opposite effect of the manure; it makes my stomach twist with hunger, and I suddenly realize how much I haven't eaten since the day of my exams. I look excitedly to the spread of food, my mouth watering.
"My God," I mutter. "Look at this."
"Ah, it's nothing," Rory replies, waving a hand. "McKinley's got all of this, and waiters, too. Ya just sit down at your table and they bring it right to ya."
I stop short, looking at him in disbelief. "You've worked for McKinley?" I ask, stunned.
"No," Rory admits sheepishly. "But I know people tha' have."
I pick up a plate as we reach the spread, and scoop up eggs, potatoes, and sausages. I pace myself, not wanting to look desperate, but it seems I finally have my appetite back, and my hunger is raging.
Rory leads the way to the table, and I take a seat between him and Puck.
"Alright," Puck says as I sit down. He holds out a ticket to me. "You see that man going around?"
I look up, catching sight of a rather overweight man making his way around the tables.
"Give him your tickets and tell him your department is baggage stock."
I do as Puck says and breathe a sigh of relief when the man moves on to the next table. Pushing my food around my plate, I ask, "What was that for?"
"They're just making sure no hobos snuck into get free food," Puck replies. "Only workers and kinkers are allowed on this plot before show time."
"Kinkers?" I ask, confused.
"Performers," he replies. "But don't ever call 'em kinkers to their face 'less you want to get beat."
I nod, pressing my lips together.
I'm starting to realize I've got quite a lot to learn.
After the stock cars have been cleaned out, Puck puts me with Finn. It's nearing show time and we've got to help keep order – keep the crowd controlled and make sure no one sneaks in. First up is the freak show, announced by a guy named Sandy. We've got to follow his subtle orders to make sure nothing goes wrong.
"Ladieeeeeeeeees and gentlemeeeeeeeen! Tweeeenty-five minutes to the big show, tweeeeenty –five minutes! Plenty of time to avail yourselves of the amazing, the unbelievable, the maaaaarvelous wonders we have here from every corner of the earth, and still find a good seat in the big top! More than enough time to see the oddities, the freaks of nature, the spectacles! Ours is the most dazzling collection in the world, ladies and gentlemen. In the world, I tell you!"
Sandy is on the platform beside the show's entrance, holding up his hands and getting everyone's attention with the calls rolling of his tongue.
"Step right this way to see the gorgeous, the enormous, the Lovely Lauren – the world's most beautiful fat lady! Eight-hundred-and-eighty-five pounds of pudgy perfection, ladies and gentlemen! Come see the human ostrich – he can swallow and return anything you hand him! Give it a try! Wallets, watches, even light bulbs! You name it, he'll regurgitate it! And don't miss the world's most tattooed man! Held hostage in the darkest jungles of Borneo and tried for a crime h didn't commit, and his punishment? Well, folks, his punishment is written all over his body in permanent ink!"
The interest of the crowd piques, and it starts to grow thicker. As Sandy continues to ramble off, it's time for Finn, a few other guys, and me to start closing in, regulating the crowd. Sandy begins talking about Brittany – the performer especially for men, and soon most of them are heading off, leaving their wives to go do whatever Sandy's mentioning now.
The women don't seem to be pleased with what we've got to show, though I know the men are – not me, however. I know what's going on in there, and I have no desire to participate. Instead I'm left out here with Finn, keeping an eye on the women.
One woman is already causing trouble, because the horse with a tail where its head should be is simply a horse backed into its stall so that its tail hangs into his feed bucket.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" The woman is furious, turning angrily away from the horse. There's a scuffling outside the tent and I can hear her – "You goddamned sons of bitches! You're damned right I want my money back – you think I'm gonna pay a quarter to see a goddamned pair of suspenders? You talk about red-blood Americans, well, this one's red-blooded alright! I want my goddamned money back!"
"Excuse me, ma'am," I say, wheedling my way through the crowd.
"Hey – what's your hurry, mister?"
"Excuse me. Beg your pardon," I continue, pushing my way out.
Sandy and a red-faced man are squaring off. The man advances, putting his hands on Sandy's chest and giving him a push. The crowd parts as Sandy crashes against the striped skirt of his platform. Citizens gaze over at him, some standing on tiptoes.
I launch myself through them, reaching Sandy just as the other man swings. His fist is but an inch from Sandy's face when I snatch it form the air and twist it behind his back. He squirms underneath my grip, gritting his teeth together. I half-drag, half-march him to the midway before chucking him into the dirt. He lies there for a moment, wheezing and gagging.
I turn back to Sandy, approaching him carefully. "You okay?" I ask.
"Fine. You did good, kid," Sandy says. "Handled yourself really well."
"Thank you, sir," I say politely.
"Puck got you on the show yet?" Sandy continues, straightening his tie.
"Not officially. No, sir."
Sandy nods, narrowing his eyes. "Son, you'd better learn how to keep your mouth shut."
Performers are flocking quickly now, as the show's about to start. Acts are collecting themselves at the last second, and all animals and equipment are being double-checked. I hear the ringmaster – Miss Sue was it? – begin the show, and Finn turns to me.
"Hey," he says, leaning down. "You want to see the menagerie?"
I look up to him, eyes wide. "Yes," I say excitedly, unable to hide my smile.
He leads the way, looking around carefully so we aren't caught. Just around the right side of the big top, Finn takes us into a tent. Cage after cage is lined up, and I look around in awe. There are lions, hippos, orangutans, chimpanzees, and more. But my personal favorite is the horses. They're white and black, shimmering in the dim light. They snort and neigh softly, and I catch myself giggling a little.
Finn and I snoop around for only a minute before he decides he's got to get out of there. If he's not working a job, he has no right to be in the menagerie. I know I should follow after him, but I hesitate, glancing back at the horses. I don't want to leave them.
"Just give me second, alright?" I say. "I promise I'll be out quickly."
"Are you sure, Blaine? You're really risking it, here," Finn says nervously.
"I'll be fine," I assure. "I'm small. I'll hide if anyone comes in."
"Well, alright," Finn says with a sigh. "I'll meet around the show's entrance when you're finished, alright?"
"Okay," I say, watching him disappear.
As soon as he's gone, I'm back over by the horses. I reach out carefully, stroking their necks and muttering soothing words to them. They respond, nuzzling my palm, and I laugh quietly.
A rustling at the door is the only thing that shakes me from them.
I duck down behind one of the cages, peering over the top as I watch one of the performers step inside. He's dressed in a leotard, tights, and ballet-like slippers – all covered in sparkling, sliver sequins that complement the paleness of his skin quite well. His hair is the darkest part of him – brown and silky, brushed back underneath his headpiece. I thought the animals left me in awe, but now my breath's completely taken away.
"Silver Star," he greets, going straight for the largest white horse. "How's your hoof, boy?" He pulls the horse's leg up carefully, glancing at the bottom off his hoof. After a second, he frowns and sets the leg back down, rubbing it gently. "Don't worry, boy. I promise it'll feel better soon." He plants a gentle kiss on the horse's nose before grabbing its muzzle.
The performer turns towards the man that's materialized in the doorway.
"You're on soon, darling," the man says.
"I know," Kurt replies. "I was just checking on Silver."
"How's he looking?"
"The same," Kurt says dully. "But he'll be fine. Come on, boy." Kurt tugs on the muzzle. "Walk on." Silver Star moves forward carefully, and I wince at his obvious limp. "Walk on, walk on."
The other man leaves the tent, and Kurt follows after him, trailing the horses behind him.
Without thinking, I go too.
He doesn't seem real to me at first, the way he looks underneath that big top. I think I'll go blind from the shine. He twists around on top of those horses like silk, eyes closed and face focused. His sequins glitter in the light, beautiful and eye-catching. And once he finishes, holding his landing and throwing his arm into the air for applause, his smile and eyes do the same.
I clap hard, grinning wide.
I find Puck after the show, standing next to Finn around the back entrance.
"Where the hell have you been?" Puck asks incredulously.
"I – I watched the show," I say, point back over my shoulder.
"Well, alright," Puck says, sighing and putting his hands on his hips. "As long as you didn't get in any trouble."
"Come on," Finn says. "We've got to load up."
"And once we're settled," Puck says, lighting up a cigarette. He puts it in his teeth, talking around it. "We'll take you to see Miss Sue, get you on board officially." He pauses, then looks back at me as we walk across the lot. "How old are you, Blaine?"
"Twenty-three," I reply.
"You go to college?"
"Yes," I say, feeling my jaw tighten.
I swallow hard and don't answer. Puck doesn't press me for information.
"We'll find you a spot," he says after a minute or so.
I sincerely hope so, because for some reason, I don't think my chances are good. A degree won't help me here. In fact, I think it might hurt me.
I look nervously at Puck but nod anyway.
"Good, but just remember – don't mention anything about McKinley. Sue hates them."
I nod. "Got it."
"Alright, Finn – grab 'im."
I'm startled as Finn grabs my arm and pins them behind my back. He knocks the door open and jostles me as we step inside the room.
"What's this?" the only woman in the room asks - Miss Sue. She's surrounded by three other men, all of them seated at a rounded card table. Empty and full glasses of liquor sit in front of them, along with discarded cigars and matches. The man across from her is smoking, looking lazily at his cards. He's not even paying attention to me.
"Jumped the train, ma'am," Finn says. "Found him sneaking through a sleeper."
"Is that a fact?" Sue asks. She looks away from Finn, back at her cards. She purses her lips, glancing at the cards on the table. She smirks, looking at the man across from her. "I'll see your three and raise you five." She leans back and takes a lazy drink from her glass.
"You want me to show him the door?" Finn asks. He takes a step forward, tightening his grip on me and nearly lifting my feet off the floor. I grimace, clenching my teeth together to keep from making any noise. I look to Sue, who finally lifts her head, looking at me. I feel something tingle along my spine, and my breath starts to come a little faster.
"No, not yet, Finn," Sue say sat last. "Put him down."
Finn sets me down carefully, giving my back a slap.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," Sue says. "What's your name?"
"Blaine Anderson, ma'am," I say.
"And what is Blaine Anderson doing on my train?" she asks, leaning forward.
"I'm looking for work," I reply.
Sue leans back again, nodding. "Ever worked on a show, Blaine?"
"Yes, ma-am," I reply.
Sue raises an eyebrow. "Which one?"
"Carmel," I say, lying through my teeth. I hope desperately that Sue can't tell. "It was terrible," I continue. "Nothing like this."
"Is that a fact?" Sue asks again.
"Yes, ma'am," I say, swallowing hard again.
"And have you seen our show, Blaine?" Sue asks.
"Yes, ma'am," I say, and I feel a blush spread across my cheeks.
"And what did you think of it?" Sue asks as she reaches down to play with her chips.
"It was . . . spectacular," I say, sincere.
"What was your favorite act?"
"The horses," I say without thinking. "I like the man with the black and white horses. And the silver sequins." My throat feels oddly tight, and I take a deep breath.
Sue smirks. "Hear that Sebastian? The boy likes your Kurt."
The man with the cigar, the one sitting across from her turns back to look at me. He takes the cigar out of his mouth, and that's when I realize I recognize him. He was the one who called Kurt out of the menagerie tent. He has a thin face, brown hair, and piercing eyes.
"So what is it you envision yourself doing?" Sue asks. She drains her glass of liquor, and out of a nowhere, a waiter comes to fill it.
"I'll do anything," I answer quickly, then add, "but if it's at all possible, I'd like to work with the animals."
"Animals," Sue remarks. "Did you hear that, Sebastian? The lad wants to work with the animals. You want to carry water for the elephants, I suppose?"
Finn looks confused. "But, ma'am – we don't – "
"Shut up!" Sue shrieks, and I jump.
She stands up, lips curling, and with her hands behind her back, she walks around the side of the card table, coming right up to me. She smiles, eyes flickering.
"I'm going to tell you how it is, Blaine Anderson." She spits my name, sounding disgusted. "I've seen your kind a thousand times. You think I can't read you like a book? So what's the deal – you and daddy have a little fight? You looking for a little adventure between semesters?"
My stomach goes uneasy at the mention of "daddy" but I say, "No, ma'am – nothing like that."
"I don't give a damn what it is," Sue replies, raising her eyebrows and shaking her head briefly. "If I give you a job on this show, you won't survive. Not a week. Not a day. This show is a well-oiled machine, and only the toughest make it. And you won't know anything about tough, would you, Mr. College Boy?"
I grind my teeth together, standing tall.
Sue glares at me, as though daring me to speak. "Now, piss off. Finn – next stop? Throw him off." She sits down as Finn grabs me again.
"Probably studied poetry," Sue mutters, and the guys all laugh.
"Yeah – veterinary science, actually," I shoot back, having had enough. Finn's about to throw me through the door when Sebastian turns around.
"Hold on, Finn. Veterinary science?"
Finn sets me down, and I give myself a shake. "Yes, sir," I reply.
"Vet school?" Sebastian asks. "You're a vet."
Sebastian's eyebrows shoot up his head. "Ivy league," he remarks, smiling.
"Sebastian, what are you doing?" Sue asks.
He looks to her. "Kurt said Silver Star was off. Wanted me to get the advance man to arrange for a vet. Didn't seem to understand that the advance man was out in advance, hence the name."
"What are you suggesting?" Sue asks.
"Let the kid look at him in the morning."
"And where do you suggest we put him, huh?" Sue asks, raising her voice. "We don't have any room."
"The ring stock car," Sebastian says.
"With Kurt's horses?" Sue asks, skeptical.
"The area where the goats used to be? Isn't that where the little shit sleeps – what's his name?" she says, snapping her fingers. "Stinko? No – Kinko. The clown with the dog?"
"Precisely," Sebastian says.
"Do we really need him?" Sue asks. "Sebastian, I doubt – "
"McKinley has their own vet," I cut in.
Sue looks up, mouth hanging slightly open in surprise. Her jaw is set, but slowly, her lips curl into a smile.
"Finn, show Blaine to his new sleep quarters. Tell that clown Sue sent you."
Puck claps my back as we walk away from the car.
"Jesus Christ," he mutters. "I was listening the whole time, and God, you did a nice job. What with the line about McKinley and sucking up to Sebastian with Kurt."
He laughs raucously, and I chuckle a little. But after a second, I pause.
"Wait, Puck," I say, stopping short.
"Yeah?" he asks, looking at me expectantly.
"What about Kurt?" Puck asks, eyebrows creasing together.
"I'm sucking up to Sebastian by complimenting him and – and back there Sue said something to Sebastian. He said 'your Kurt.' What's going on with them?"
Puck glances at Finn and they both laugh.
"Blaine," Finn says, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Sebastian and Kurt are married."