jueves, 18 de enero de 2018

*REWRITE THE STARS* (PHILLIP CARLYLE*ANNE WHEELER)


it's not a secret.

Phillip's mind was in two places. One place was inside his head, looking out at the ring and the loud cheers of the audience. The other place was somewhere he didn't even know existed. His eyes were locked on hers, and the world seemed to be in slow motion. It felt beautifully profound.
He knew she didn't really look like that.
She didn't have candy floss coloured hair, but he knew the girl beneath it was even more real to him. The colour of her skin mixed brilliantly with her eyes, and he felt transfixed. This unnamed girl flew like an angel, and his heart soared with her on the trapeze. His eyes locked with hers, blue meeting black and he couldn't pull away. Until then, life continued and she swung away.
Phineus smirked from his new friend's side, before leading him away.
-
Take my hand, will you share this with me?
Cause darling without you
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough
His heart pounded beneath the dress shirt he'd practically lived in his entire life. The singer's voice was beautiful, soaring into the auditorium with a balanced simplicity with such pain behind the words. The performers stood around him, almost drawn to tears like him. Phillip knew they were truly misunderstood by the bigots who fought with them and protested. Because they all stood there together, watching this incredible music create itself. Anne stood next to him. It was truly no secret he admired her greatly. She had an ease of grace to everything she did, how she was so quiet yet seemed so curious secretly. She was a mystery, and he wanted to know everything.
Curiosity killed the cat, but at least that cat tried.
Tentatively, his hand reached for hers. He couldn't look to her, couldn't meet the intense gaze he always melted under. It was always as if his train of thought derailed, leaving him a stuttering mess in a suit. Their fingers locked together, and he could feel his soul flying with happiness. She was so beautiful, and he was truly unworthy.
Then, he caught the sight of his parents. They looked beside themselves with grief, seeing him holding hands with 'The Help' like an innocent schoolboy who knew nothing of the big mean world around him. Reluctantly, he pulled his hand away from hers. Then she ran.
God, he was an idiot.
-
What if we rewrite the stars?
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing could keep us apart
You'd be the one I was meant to find
She was the epitome of beauty in that moment. He'd hated his parents, the entire world for overlooking the talented girl he was so lucky to be around. She'd just wanted to go to the theatre, and she was pushed away by the spite of his ridiculously sheltered family. Then, he found her back in the Circus. Her home, her safe place. Her hair was down, natural in long loose curls that cascaded down her spine. She was just dressed in her training ware, but she was breathtaking to him.
She always was.
She made his heart leap in the best ways possible, and he wouldn't give it away for the world. He had given up everything to join Phineus and to run away, but when he looked up to the ceiling and saw her flying with such grace, he knew he would disgrace his family ten times over. Then, they were smiling and laughing, flying and soaring from the ropes like she was a dove in flight. His heart broke in two right there, with her convinced it could never work and him begging for a chance.
-
"Anne's still in there!"
Phillip recognized the voice from somewhere, but he couldn't bring himself to think about that. She was still in there. Flames of bright orange and red flickered and danced from the windows and walls of the place they'd called a safe haven. Hate and discrimination brought upon their loving family which was blind to differences. Their celebrations of humanity, gone with a flicker of a match.
His legs carried him away from his family, towards the burning entrance. Everything about it was stupidly thought out and dangerous, but he couldn't let her die. He couldn't allow himself to live with the grief of his soulmate dying in front of him. It couldn't happen.
He was blinded by the bright light and the suffocating smell of smoke filling his lungs to their entirety. Phillip's head whipped around desperately, trying to find her. Needing to find her. His brain whirred, trying to recognize the body of his loved one through the burnt rubble.
"Anne!"
"Anne?"
He coughed out until he couldn't breathe. Before his body hit the burning ground beneath him, arms grabbed him and carried him away from the toxic smell and the piercing colours.
-
You know I want you
It's not a secret I tried to hide
He recognized the voice somewhere in his subconscious mind. The song was hauntingly beautiful, and it spoke so much hurt and pain behind the breaking voice. The weight of a warm hand over his brought him back to wakefulness, his eyes slowly fluttering open to see her.  His heart ached when he realized she was crying, her cheeks and eyes glistening under the lights of the hospital ward.  He felt himself smiling, he couldn't help himself. Anne looked like an angel, their hands clasped tightly together so they couldn't be taken apart again. Phillip's mouth began to move slowly, trying to form words. His face was still healing, skin recovering from scratches and burns. The pleasant surprise of the feeling of her lips against his, kissing him lovingly, was far better than anything else.
He'd always known that he would die for her.


Let It Burn So Bright

Chapter Text



• Anne •
She was standing outside the building, catching a breath of fresh air after the show, when she heard it. Yelling. Screams. The crackling, popping, roaring of... Anne whipped around, frantically scanning the building. Saw her friends, saw her family streaming out of the open doors. Saw glowing flames licking the window frames, and black smoke filling the night sky.
Fire.
Her world shattered.

• Phillip •
He stared in horror, unable to comprehend the sight before him. The circus which he had despised and shamed, the circus which he had to come to respect and even admire, the circus which he joined, he helped run – the circus that was his home. Collapsing in a hellish blaze. Turning to face his friends, he counted each soot streaked face; ensuring everyone was safe. Lettie. Charles. W.D. Anne?
“Where’s Anne?” he cried, panicked. “Has anyone seen Anne?”
The crowd muttered between themselves, calling for the missing trapeze artist. She did not appear. Not wanting to believe himself, Phillip slowly turned to face the burning circus.
She was still in there.
His world shattered.

• Anne •
She sprinted towards the blaze, shawl wrapped tight around her shoulders. Feet pounding on the cobblestones. Eyes wide with terror and brimming with tears.
“Anne!”
“W.D! What is – why-” she choked, barely able to form a sentence in her panic. “Where’s Phillip?”
He hung his head.
“We couldn’t find you. He...”
Realisation dawned.
“No. NO!” she howled. “PHILLIP!” Tears fell freely as she wept.
Her world was in flames.

• Phillip •
He sprinted through flames. Eyes stinging from the heat, he screamed.
“Anne! ANNE!”
But Anne was nowhere to be found.
Coughing, Phillip shielded his face from the heat as he pressed on, further into the inferno. Soot and smoke swirled around him, enveloping him. Choking him. Seats and props lay in disarray, reduced to scorched skeletons of wood. Oh, how he wished for Anne to appear. For her warm eyes to colour this black and red world, for her smile to light up the cold night. Frantically he searched, on and on. For just a tell-tale glimpse of her violet leotard amongst the rubble. Still nothing. The building rumbled, the very foundations destroyed by the blaze. Phillip glanced up, hoping to see her swinging on a trapeze across the stage as they had once done together. Instead he saw the open sky, saw the lonely white moon staring back at him, as the roof crashed down around him.
His world was in flames.

• Phineas •
P.T. Barnum watched as his apprentice ran into the circus to save his lover. Watched as she ran up behind them. Watched as his family cried as their home burned. As his friend was trapped inside that burning home.
P.T. Barnum watched as his own feet carried him towards the blaze, barely recognized his own voice as he screamed for Phillip. He sprinted towards the stage, on which the fallen roof lay in pieces, burning viciously. Like a bonfire.
Or a funeral pyre.
Barely able to contain a sob, he stumbled to his knees in front of the debris and begin to desperately scrape away stone and flaming wood. Searching. Searching. Searching. Then-
“Phillip!”
The man lay twisted on the stage, crushed by planks of wood from the burnt rafters. A trickle of blood ran down his ash coated face. His eyes were closed.
His world was in flames.

• Anne •
She hugged her brother tighter as she stared at the entrance to the circus, silently willing Phillip and Barnum to emerge, safe and sound. They didn’t. Sooty tears slipped down her face as she stared into the blaze. Hoping.
And then a hazy figure. Stumbling out, through the burning doors. Barnum! And in his arms...
And just like that, her world crumbled all over again.

• Phineas •
He stumbled out of his circus, Phillip held in his arms. The man was unconscious, having long ago succumbed to the heat and pain. By God he just hoped he wasn’t too late. Phineas limped towards the gathered crowd and carefully placed Phillip on the ground, wincing as he was able to take in the man’s injuries for the first time. Bloodied gashes littered his torso, his shirt and trousers were torn and stained, his face and arms were covered in bruises, and he appeared to have at least three broken ribs. Flooded with terror, he quickly checked Phillip’s breathing. It was there – barely. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Anne Wheeler sobbing into her brother’s chest as he held her, staring morosely at the apprentice's mutilated body.
P.T. Barnum sat back and watched numbly as fireman came and lifted Phillip onto a stretcher, watched as they carried him away hastily, watched as his performers wept and his circus burnt.
As his world crumbled.
I am not a stranger to the dark.
Hide away, they say,
'cause we don't want your broken parts.

Rewrite the Stars


How do we rewrite the stars?

I stand there, staring at the burning circus building. With the tears streaming down my face, the embers sparking off the building against the black cloud of smoke in the night sky look like stars.

He might be gone. He ran in there to look for you.

My mind accuses me of these things which I know aren’t my fault. I had come out the back of the building. He hadn’t seen me, so he had gone to look. Risking his life for me.

We’re both so far gone. So in love. But how can we rewrite the stars?

I ponder my love for this man. How could someone as prestigious as him love a help like me? His parents had asked the same.

Why are you spending time with the help?

I was wondering the same thing. I have gotten used to being viewed as less than what I know I am. He had everything but came to our show. He had stopped even lower by loving me. But suddenly, my thoughts are interrupted by a loud crack. The roof of the building was collapsing. A scream escapes my throat, but even as it does, I see a blurred figure coming from the building. P.T. Barnum, carrying the only man I had ever loved.

He’s alive! Breathing!

Relief floods my body as I see him take a shuddering breath as he lays on the ground.

We aren’t out of the clear yet. He could still die. Just look at him.

He is covered in burns. His forehead is cut and bleeding. An ambulance arrives and takes him away. I feel protective arms around me and know they are my brother’s. He is the only one who knows of my feelings for this man, and even this small gesture gives me so much support.

Would I be allowed to see him?

I ask my brother if I would. He says it would be worth a shot and I can go and try in the morning. We go home and he tells me to try to sleep. My dreams are filled with fires and burns and stars.

———————————————————————————

I wake up the next morning filled with determination to see Phillip. I walk to the hospital and through the doors. I tell the nurse at the desk that I would like to see Phillip Carlyle. They ask for my name and I tell them it’s Anne Wheeler. Then they let me through the doors. I see my lover lying in an otherwise empty row of hospital beds. I pull up a chair and think of everything he had done for me and how I shut him down.

You know I want you. It’s not a secret I’ve tried to hide. But I can’t have you. We’re bound to break, and my hands are tied.

I had told him that after he professed his love for me. I did love him. He knew that and I had known it since I first looked I to his eyes during that new act. I had told myself that he couldn’t be mine because he would find out what was real and hate me for it. But even when his parents had spoken of me so poorly, he had come running after me. He had defended me. All I had done was push him away. And now, he could be dying.

How do we rewrite the stars? Say you were made to be mine. Nothing could keep us apart, you are the one I was meant to find.

I sang, tears filling her eyes. I knew that every word that I sang was true, weather he heard then or not. I loved him and wanted to be with him.

It’s funny how I only realized this when I could lose him.

I thought, taking his burned white hand in my own darker one. I sat there all day, holding his hand and worrying for the man I loved. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I felt a slight movement against my hand. His fingers kept moving, and slowly, the eyes I feared I would never see open again fluttered open.

You’re here!


Of course I’m here!

I thought, but nothing would come out of my mouth. I was so happy, that all I could do was lean down and kiss him.

We had the chance to rewrite the stars, and we took it.


The stars


Does Phillip see this? The stars under feet.

Does he hear how soul sings? So loud. So wonder. So... so beautiful.

Do you feel this, Phillip? Do you feel how is your heart stops, when you see him?

Oh, dear! Please, say that you feel it! Because he feels . He sees all this stars. Stars is in your eyes, Phillip. Stars is in his circus. Stars is evrywhere. Stars is in your heart.

Oh, and all this stars! Phillip, just look at it! He doesn't need a night sky if he want to show it to you. No. He needs just you. You always was this, Phillip. All this time this was you. His personal's miracle. His treasure

And now... Now do you see this colours, Phillip? Oh, how this is much! Not only gray and black with white! All this colours. Does Phillip see green dress? Does he see red roses, which Phineas gave him? Does he see this blue sky, with bizarre clouds? Yes, he sees.

This is magic! This is wonder! And he - Barnum - gave this all to you. All this world only for you. Then why are you silent, Philip? Why don't you say anything?! Why are you afraid?

Are you afraid that he doesn't love you? But he love! Just look! He see only you from that moment in the pab. From the moment when you have see world with all its colours. Are you afraid that his family hates you? Oh, no. Don't you see? Helen calls you dad Phillip. Caroline asks you to tell tales. And what about Charity? She smiles you evry time. She cares about you. Do you remember time, when you was ill? They don't hate you.

And Barnum... He's crazy. Yeah, he's crazy. But he will do everything for you. He will get all these stars from night sky for you. Why can not you see how much he loves you? Phillip, why?

Please do not let him go. Not in this life. You lost it in past lives. Do not lose now.


Come Back


COME BACK

The fire destroyed all the material part of his life, as a punishment for abandoning them all in favor of a world where everyone would stand up and clap at him, congratulating him. But the fire almost cost him something else. The life of his animals, his friends, his home. And Phillip.
He almost died when he saw Phillip running back inside the burning building for Anne and didn’t saw him emerge. Anne was fine, making it out on her own but there was no sign of the apprentice and Barnum feels his heart drop as the cracks of the building wishing to crumble can be heard.
So he looks back at his family and without warning he runs inside, taking out his coat in panic as he looks through the burning place.
He finds him, unconscious, clothes all black and he is barely breathing, Barnum was never a God-fearing man but at that moment he began praying to that God to let Phillip get better. They get out, and he feels the gentle low pulse of Phillip’s heart and he has to contain his tears at the idea.
Phillip is taken to the hospital and Barnum always visits.
Every day, at any hour. Even when he had reconciled with the circus and had begun projects to rebuild it all, he goes to Phillip and sits by his side. Sometimes, he reaches and holds his hand. If the nurses see something, they never say, and just allow him to sit by the man’s side. He tells him tales of his new ideas, of what he is going to do when he wakes up. What they are going to do. Together.
Because they are partners. Associates. Friends. And more. And he needs him by his side as much as he needs his girls and his wife.
He holds his hand tightly and keeps on talking, he talks, in hopes, Phillip is somehow conscious and he comes back, insulting him for abandoning their small circus family for the greatness of fame. He had run toward it while Phillip escaped it. And he should’ve known better.
“Come on, Phillip. Just come back to us.” Barnum whispers, in a small moment of weakness as he leans in, voice warming up unconscious knuckles. “Come back to me.” And a smile shows on his lips shortly after, a dry laugh coming through his mouth. “I’ll let you play first act.”
He will let him do anything. Just come back he prays inside his head and breathes out.
A finger twitches between his own and he is back looking at the younger man. Bruised, blackish face due to smoke looks back at him, struggling to open his eyes. Fingers somehow close to his own and Phillip’s voice comes out, even if briefly.
“Make me ringmaster and that’s a deal.” He speaks up, causing Barnum to sigh in relief and then, releasing a laugh at Phillip’s request.
“You get what you want this time, Carlyle.” He won’t fight him on this one. Not now, not when he just got him back. In a brave show of affection in front of curious eyes, Barnum leans down and kisses Phillip’s forehead, in what could be mistaken as a brotherly affection or even fatherly one.
But they both knew it lacks that sort of tie. It was complicated between them. Though much clearer now they knew how each other felt

In Your Arms When The World Is Burning


“What changed your mind?” It hurt to smile, but Phillip couldn’t stop. She was here, with him, and there was hope in her eyes along with the tears.
“You did.”
Anne was trying to be careful now that he was awake, mindful of his injuries--but every time she loosened her grip on his hand, he squeezed harder. She had a feeling he was never going to let go again.
“I did? How did I do that?”
“Phillip, you ran into a burning building for me.” She smiled. “I figured, if you could do that, I could survive the stares.”
“And the sneers, and the violence.” Phillip frowned. “I didn’t really understand before, I couldn’t. The people I come from, their disapproval is cold. But that mob...they burned our home down, Anne. They hated us that much.”
“And Barnum will build it back up. You know he’ll find a way.”
Phillip kissed the back of her hand, trying to hide a wince when the slight movement hurt his chest. “I do. And we’ll help him.”
“Damn right we will. Together.”
Anne caught the expression on his face: joy, mixed with lingering disbelief. “Hey. Look at me.”
“I’m looking.”
“What do you see?”
Phillip searched her face, hands clasped tight. Besides the hope, he saw a stubborn determination. Anne had a particular way of jutting her chin, that dared anyone to try her. He adored it.
And underlying all of that, behind the fierce, shining promise in her eyes and the tears that betrayed her worry...he saw love.
Barnum had given him more than a new home, a new family. The man had given him the love of his life.
So it was up to Phillip to fight for her. For them all.
“I see you,” he told Anne, letting go of her hand to brush his fingers over her face. To hold her there, eyes locked on his. To pull her gently toward him, for the first of a million more kisses.
Maybe they couldn’t have the kind of life Phillip would give her if the world were different.
But they could make their own world.

Notes:

Title borrowed from "Finding You" by Kesha.

from the fading light i fly


Fire.
Fire.
The whole world is fire.
It clogs the air, spewing poison smog into the streets. Cinders rain from the sky, some glowing, some already extinguished before they hit the ground. The roar of the blaze is louder than anything. It rises above the shrieks of horrified onlookers and the despairing circus troupe. It is even louder than the frantic pulse of Anne’s heart.
The fire consumes the night sky in a relentless inferno. It swallows up the darkness, vicious illumination infecting everything it can reach. It destroys without fear, without mercy. Flames race up and up, floor by floor, higher than Anne on her trapeze, as they swallow up the building she calls home.
She pulls her shawl tighter around her shoulders as a gust of blazing air engulfs her. Strong arms pull her back, shoving her into Lettie’s chest. Instinctively, Anne wraps one arm around the sobbing woman; her other reaches out for her brother. W.D. is still hugging her, protecting her even as their world goes up in smoke.
(It is not the first time they’ve lost everything. They will rebuild together, they always have, but this loss is more painful than any Anne has known before.)
There is a harsh cut on W.D.’s cheek, no doubt from some protestor’s fist. His face is made darker by ash. He placed his hand on Anne’s shoulder, trying to shield her from the view; but silhouetted against the blaze of the Barnum Circus, all Anne can think is that her brother looks like an angel.
(Not an angel of light, with wings and a halo, the type that brings miracles to life. The type their mother used to read to them from their worn family Bible each night, before the children went to sleep. The avenging angels, who descend in a halo of righteousness, with flames licking their heels and retribution at their fingertips. W.D. is as fierce as any biblical allegory. He would make an excellent guardian angel.)
Lettie is sobbing into Anne’s shoulder. The Irish Giant stands, stoic and heartbroken; the albino twins clutch each other and hide their faces from the awful sight. Her family is huddled around her in shattered pieces, and Anne doesn’t know what she can do to make it right.
A sudden loud voice cuts through the din, and Anne is stunned to see Barnum emerge from the crowd. Why has he come back just in time to see his life’s work burn to the ground? He’s returned to the circus he abandoned, only to find it destroyed. The irony is so sickening that she wants to laugh, but all that comes out is a strangled noise (she refuses to admit it’s a sob).
Even the Barnum family is here to watch their legacy go up in smoke. Anne’s heart twists at the sight of Caroline and Helen’s horrified young faces. They don’t need to see this. On instinct she takes a few steps away from her brother and the rest, reaching out to comfort the crying girls.
That’s when the shout first rings out.
“Where’s Carlyle?”
Her heart drops like a stone. She does not know who says it first, but at once a thousand voices seem to rise out of the night, all carrying the same awful question. “Where’s Phillip? Where is Phillip Carlyle? Is he still inside? Did he get out?”
“He was in the ring,” W.D. exclaims. “I saw him in the ring!”
That’s all Anne needs to hear.
She doesn’t think; she doesn’t give herself the chance. Lunging away from the rest of the crowd, she takes off in a dead sprint towards the burning building.
“Anne! No!”
Her brother’s shout is agonized. She hears him behind her, feels his fingertips brush over hers for a split second before she jerks away. She used to win their races as children, W.D. always one step behind. Now she is running for a much different reason, and death is at the finish line.
She cannot think of the smoke, the flames, her brother’s screams. Her mind is only Phillip.
(Blue eyes in an astonished face, suddenly right in front of her. Her arms extended like birds wings, always soaring higher, but for a second he brings her down to earth. She could touch him, if she just reached for him, and for an instant she cannot explain she wants to…
A charming smile, the smell of whiskey on his breath, a laugh that bubbled like the rich-people champagne she could never stand to look at. In him, though, she felt as if she could fall in love with champagne…
His hand in hers, warm and solid for a split second before jerking away. Harsh, wealthy eyes on her. The burn of humiliation, shame clouding his face, tears in her eyes as she runs away, her name called at her back...
His hands on her waist, their eyes locked, their voices mixed. Soaring together, feeling lighter than air, starry-eyed with a hopefulness she’d never known before. Reality combating with optimism, but wanting to believe so badly that it burned. Wanting to believe they could seize hold of each star in the sky and make it theirs...
The hurt in his eyes as she walked away from him. The way he didn’t bother to call her name, not then.
Phillip on her mind. Phillip in her heart. Phillip pressed against her. Phillip trapped in the blaze.)
Phillip is in there, and she needs to save him.
She quickly pulls her shawl over her head, shielding herself from the heat, and charges through the flame-filled doorway. The last shrieks of her fellow freaks die out behind her -- she swears her brother’s sob is the loudest of them all. The roar of the blaze fills her ears, swallowing their voices up.
She is not prepared for the heat. Rushing into the building feels like leaping headfirst into an over. Anne’s first instinct is to shout as the broiling air sears her, but as soon as she opens her mouth she chokes on thick smoke.
No breathing, then. She smothers her panic and focuses on taking as shallow breaths as possible, scanning the floor for any sign of Phillip. The entire building is hardly recognizable; it is a burning wasteland. The blaze consumes all the familiarity Anne knew so well. Making out the ring through the flames and smoke is impossible, because the ring is gone.
The bleachers are not, though, and this is how Anne knows she’s in the right place. Row upon row of seats that filled every night with eager crowds are now sporadically on fire, crumbling in on themselves. More and more each second, the circus falls to pieces around her. As Anne looks on, a balcony collapses to the burning ground, leaving a gaping, hellish maw in its wake.
“Phillip!” she screams, tasting ash. Her voice, like everything else, is swallowed up by the fire. There is no answering holler, no cough, no cry of her name. Where is he?
She scrambles to the nearest wall, hoping for some relief from the heat, but the brick burns as hot as everything else. Her eyes sting; her lungs feel choked. She remembers leaving the safety of night behind her, and every survivor’s instinct screams to run right back out again. Anne has lived by those instincts, but now she forces herself to drown them out. She cannot run away. She can’t abandon Phillip -- who loves her, who she loves more than she knew was possible -- to die.
She forces down the urge to flee, fights back the encroaching hysteria that threatens to overwhelm her. Panicking now will get her killed, and Phillip too.
Desperate for something to ground her, she looks up. There is no arena above her, no sky, no stars. Only a solid ceiling of flame.
When she looks back down again, she finally sees him.
There is a black outline of a figure halfway up the burning bleachers. He doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe; but Anne knows as soon as she spots him. Her heart twists like someone has seized it and is fighting to yank it from her chest.
He must have been trying to get everyone out, only to be overwhelmed by the smoke. His body lies crumpled where he fell, half-draped over one of the benches. He is limp as a ragdoll. A wall of fire encroaches above him, behind him, on either side.
He’s going to die if he doesn’t wake up.
“Phillip!” she screams again into the void. He doesn’t move. The fire edges ever closer, and Anne realizes that it’s up to her.
How can she save him? Think, think. The bleachers are collapsing in flaming pieces. The stairway up is a solid wall of flames. There’s got to be a way. She can’t run up, she can’t climb…
But she can still reach him.
Ever since she was little, Anne Wheeler has been able to leave the constraints of gravity behind. To step off the ground and soar — to be free, to taste peril, to dance on the brink of possibility. Anne has always been able to shed her burdens and fly.
Her mind flashes back to gliding through the air with Phillip pressed up against her. She remembers pleading with him to tell her the impossible really is possible. His hope lifted her up; with him, she flew as she never had before. Something determined and furious clogs her throat, fuels her limbs, drives her forward. This will not be how their story ends.
She knows what she has to do.
The nearest rope is tethered to the wall, not yet eaten away by the flames. She cannot see where it begins, but when she tugs on it the rope holds fast. She pulls it to her and quickly loops it around her waist, testing her weight as she goes. It holds, and keeps holding when she starts to run.
Her feet race across the burning ground. Burning air lashes her face, flames licking her heels. Her eyes remain trained on Phillip.
(When she last saw him, the show had just ended. Sweat glistened on his brow; his eyes were bright, performer’s smile still on his face. He gave his all to every show, and the exhilaration carried him on afterwards.
He was bidding farewell to the spectators filing out of the arena, calling after them to come back soon. The moment he spotted Anne, however, he fell silent. The smile slipped off his face.
“Anne,” he said. Her eyes widened, and she took a step back. When he tried to move forward, she shook her head, pulled her tiny cape tighter around her shoulders, and rushed backstage.
Her final memory was his blue eyes on her, bright with hope and sorrow.)
She’s run away from him so many times. She will not leave him now.
Her foot kicks off the ground, and then she’s in the air. There is no rush of exhilaration as gravity suddenly ceases to control her. Being in the air usually brings her peace, but now she can only feel the thrumming of her own heart. Flames lash out, trying to snag her, as she soars over them. Fire burns around her, licking the hem of her dress. Debris continues to rain down. All she can see, however, is Phillip’s body.
When she reaches him, she is terrified she is already too late. The wood creaks dangerously under her feet. She catches him in her arms, hauling him up, only to find him limp against her. For one awful moment, she’s sure he isn’t breathing.
Then she feels a shallow breath against her, and her heart soars.
“I’ve got you,” she says as the bleachers again groan beneath them. “I’ve got you.”
She loops her arms beneath his elbows, and sees part of the bleachers next to her fall away. Below is a pit of broken wood and flames that seem to reach up, trying to catch her. She pulls Phillip close to her chest as the ceiling groans, steps to the left to avoid a crumbling piece of balcony — and leaps.
The bleachers fall to pieces just as her feet leave them. She cannot look back. The added weight of Phillip weighs her down, pulling her closer to the flames, and she nearly loses her grip on him. With a grunt, she pulls him up, but loses her rhythm as she does. When she looks up, she’s heading straight towards a curtain of flame.
She drops just in time, taking Phillip down with her. The rope hits the fire and is consumed in an instant. Anne’s arms tighten around Phillip, and she begins dragging him to the exit.
Her lungs are burning. She can feel the smoke clogging them, smothering her slowly. Her vision is cloudy, her head swims, and she feels the strength draining from her with every step — but she pushes on.
(Anne Wheeler has always been a survivor. She will not die like this. Not now. Not failing to save the man she loves.)
She can see the exit in front of her, past a wall of fire. She can see the night sky, the curtain of midnight that stretches so high above the earth. She can even see the glimmer of stars.
She has to make it.
She gives one more tug before falling to her knees. Phillip drops next to her, broken and unmoving. He is still as death. He can’t be gone, he can’t have left her that easily, he can’t —
“Anne!”
The last voice she would have expected to hear reaches her ears, and she looks up in amazement as a familiar figure leaps through the barrier of flame.
“Barnum!” she gasps, then gags on smoke. As Barnum reaches them, she pushes Phillip towards him. “Take him — he —“
“I’ve got him,” Barnum assures her, hauling Phillip into his arms as if he weighs nothing. When he reaches for her, Anne is already staggering to her feet.
There is a great roar above them. She looks up, and sees the sky falling.
Barnum leaps out of the way, Phillip cradled in his arms. Anne is hot on his heels. Behind her, she hears the great crash of the building caving in, all collapsing down on the ring that was once the heart of Barnum’s circus.
She does not look back.
When she breaks out of the building, the night air envelops her. It is possible to breathe once more. She can gasp, she can sob, she can see her family huddled together as their home burns to the ground. They call out her name as she reaches them. She all but collapses into W.D.’s arms.
“Phillip,” she gasps; then she sees Barnum lowering him onto a medical cot. Tell me he’s alive, she prays. I got him out. Lord, please tell me he’s alive.
Phillip’s chest lurches. He coughs, weak and choked with smoke. Anne can’t take her eyes off of him as they lift him up and carry him away. She can feel herself trembling, the aftereffects of adrenaline dying away, leaving her shaken and terrified.
As they carry him away, she shudders against her brother’s chest and fights the urge to sob.

She waits at his bedside through the night and into morning. Her head is a whirlwind, as consumed by fire as her home had been. While the circus lies in a smoldering heap, Phillip lies in bed, small and still. His hand is cold in hers. He looks gone, and Anne has lost enough loved ones to know.
She cannot stand to lose Phillip, not after everything.
His words echo in her head; she tries to lose herself in the memory of his smile, his laugh. The song they sang together comes back to her unbidden, and she feels an echo of his hope spilling past her lips.
Phillip made her feel like anything was possible. She needs to believe that he can survive this too.
So, Anne waits. She waits through the night and into the day, waits even when Mr. Barnum comes to her, and W.D., urging her to leave and rest. She will not go. Anne sits by Phillip’s bedside and clings to the hope he showed her how to feel.
Anne is still waiting when Phillip opens his eyes.
“You’re okay,” is the first thing she gasps, close to tears. “You’re alive. You’re okay —“
“You saved me,” Phillip whispers, hazy eyes locked on her.
Anne cannot help herself when she surges forward, pressing her lips to Phillip’s own. He is burned and weak, battered and bruised — but he is alive.
They are both alive, together, and that’s the way their story is meant to be.
There is nothing strong enough to tear them apart.

Notes:

this is the sort of idea i have when i can't sleep at night.
anyways, i really like anne, and i really like flying metaphors, and i kept thinking about the fire scene and what would have happened if it was switched around... so i guess this happened??? anyways enjoy
once again, my tumblr is abroholoselephanta and yes i am accepting The Greatest Showman prompts!


At Eight in the Evening


Waking up for the second time in a hospital bed was completely different from waking up the first time. This time, he came back to consciousness in a panic, afraid, choking for fresh air he knew he’d never reach. Then his eyes focused on the white sheets, and remembering that they were both alive made him gasp in a breath of relief that set his raw lungs on fire.
Coughing made his whole body spasm in pain. He twisted sideways and leaned over the edge of the bed, spitting dark phlegm into his hand. He had just formed a coherent thought about how he was glad that Anne wasn’t there at the moment to see the mouth she’d been kissing smeared with sooty grime when he heard her quick footsteps beside the bed. Her hand slid behind his neck, steadying him through the coughing fit. He hadn’t realized how badly he was shaking until he felt how steady she was.
His vision was swirling with gray spots by the time he was able to stop coughing and look up at her. “I’m getting water; don’t move,” she ordered him. He focused his bleary vision on her brown hair, soft against the silky tan of her shawl, as she poured from the pitcher on the stand beside the bed. He shifted in the bed to watch her, and a flash of fire from the burns across his chest reminded him that it was so much less painful being asleep. But he doesn’t want to forget again, for even a second in a nightmare, that they’re both still alive.
Anne must have read the pain on his face when she turned back with the cup of water. “Told you not to move,” she chided him, but he thought her tone was more worried than rebuking. She drew up her chair and sat down close to the bed. He wanted to sit up and kiss her again, but instead, he leaned over and dry retched more sooty bile.
By the time his stomach decided to stop waging battle with his lungs, he was shaking so badly he couldn’t take the cup of water from her. But he managed a half-smile for Anne anyway, because it really didn’t matter that he felt like shit. They were both still alive.
Anne’s touch against his neck was almost as soft as her eyes, but he could see the exhaustion in her face. “What time is it? How long have you been here?” he rasped, as he tried to remember if it had been morning or evening when he’d first woken up to see her holding his hand. He couldn’t even tell if it was morning or evening now.
“I think it’s around eight o’clock at night,” Anne told him, her thumb moving back and forth against the skin of his neck as he fought to stop shaking. “The fire was almost twenty-four hours ago. You woke up here this morning, remember?”
“I remember,” he assured her, and even though his hand was shaking, he couldn’t help reaching up to tighten his fingers around her hand on his neck. “But that was this morning? Anne, have you been here the whole time? You need rest.”
Her eyes flickered in an emotion that seemed to be more sad than tired, and he remembered then that Anne and W.D. had lived in the circus building. Anger at the thugs that had destroyed her home surged in him. “Where’s everyone else?” he asked, because surely, building or no building, her brother would not be keen on seeing Anne exhausted.
“W.D. was here earlier, telling me the same thing.” There was a half-smile on her face now, coexisting with the sadness. “Then Letty showed up and said she’d sit with you for a spell, so W.D. and I went out for a meal and coffee.”
“And then you came back,” he croaked out. “Anne –”
“Hush, you sound like an elephant grunting.” Anne moved her hand, and he felt the cool rim of the water cup against his lips.
The water helped, but the raw burn in his lungs didn’t go away. It wasn’t that he minded the pain, or regretted his decision to willingly fill his lungs with smoke in order to save her, but being able to breathe was somewhat necessary before he could leave the hospital, and leaving the hospital was necessary to ensuring Anne would have a job and home again. But Anne should leave for the night, even if he couldn’t yet. “Anne, I’m fine,” he whispered. “I’ll be better in the morning. You need sleep; you should go – wherever W.D. is staying.”
“They’re all in a hotel,” she told him, setting the cup down. “But it’s cramped. I think some of them are just sleeping on the floor. Honestly, this chair is more comfortable.”
“I want to be a gentleman and offer the bed, but since I think I might fall over if I try to stand up – ”
“Absolutely not. You’re not going anywhere,” she told him firmly, but her red-tinged eyes were shiny again, like they were earlier in the day when he’d first woken up.
“I don’t need to. There’s nowhere I need to go, if you’re insisting on staying here.” Maybe he sounds like a lovesick fool, but he didn’t care. She was here with him, and their hands were clasped together on top of the hospital sheets.
“Go back to sleep, and we’ll leave together in the morning,” she murmured, and rearranged herself on the chair so her feet were tucked against his legs on the bed.
But in the following minutes, it was Anne who fell asleep first. Phillip felt her drifting against his shoulder, then heard her soft breaths deepen against his ear, matching his raspy inhalations. And although he would have been content with dying in that fire in order to keep her breathing, he was thankful with his entire being that he had been given the chance to stay at her side.

Notes:

Please leave me a snippet of your thoughts :) And thank you for reading - or if you're a fellow writer, writing - Phillip/Anne fics. We need more fanfics of these two.

Say You Were Made To Be Mine (Everything Keeps Us Apart)

-x-x-x-
She sits there, with her hand in his, she pressed their hands underneath her chin, her eyes swarming with tears, she watches him breath, his eyes closed, those blue eyes that she had seen sparkle at the first moment they met, the way he looked at her, as if she was the most beautiful woman he's ever met before.
She could feel herself trembling, breaking with each passing minute, she knew the moment that Barnum carried out Phillip's burned frame, she had held onto her brother so tightly, she was so sure that she would have collapsed onto the ground if W.D hadn't held onto her. She knew at that moment, that she was in love with Phillip.
Phillip risked his life, unlike Barnum, he risked his life to go inside a burning building, to rescue her, she was sure he was crazy, crazy to even think that he would even pull such a stunt, what would other people think? What would they say? He would be banished, shamed, pushed away from his life that he built just because of her? Did she want that on her conscious? That she ruined Phillip's life?
She let out a shaky breath, she looked down at their hands, she could feel tears falling from her face, sliding down her cheeks, She wished that Phillip would wake up, that she would smile at her and everything would be fine, he would look at her and tell her he loved her too, and she would do the same, but she knew that it wasn't possible for Phillip to love her, it couldn't be right?
“Anne?” A soft voice came from behind her, she turned around and saw Barnum standing behind her, she wanted to say so many things to him, so many cruel things, how could he just leave like that? After everything they did to help this man, this man who she had looked up to like a father figure. Someone she could go to who wouldn't look at her as if she was a disgrace to the human race.
“Anne...I'm..”Anne raised her hand, she gently placed Phillip's hand back on his side, She moved to stand up, her eyes staring into Barnum's they were full of hurt, betrayal, and many other emotions that she couldn't even begin to describe.
“What do you have to say Barnum?” She asked softly, “That you're sorry?, sorry that you left us?, That you chose fame over family?.” She crossed her arms over her chest as if she was protecting herself. Barnum took off his hat and held it too his chest as he looked at Phillip.
“Why didn't you run into the fire and see if I was okay?, you were more worried about everyone else. Is it because I'm a colored female?, is it because you couldn't be man enough?, you let Phillip risk his life and now.. now he's like this..because of you.” She snapped at him calmly, she wasn't one to raise her voice, she was taught better than that. “I looked up to you Barnum.. I thought you were different, I thought you were the one person that I can count on besides my brother too have my back.. too have our backs, but you left..” Anne could feel more tears sliding down her face as she looked down at her feet.
“Anne..” Barnum looked at her, Anne was right, he knew, he knows. He betrayed her, left her in that burning building to have Phillip risk his life, she could have died, burned alive in that building and it would've been his fault. Barnum swallowed. “Anne, I know.. my apologizes won't mean much right now.. but I am.. I am truly sorry, sorry that I betrayed your trust, I was only thinking about what was best for my family.. I didn't.. I should have done more..” Anne could feel her bottom lip trembling.
“I think you should go..” She whispered and moved to sit back down next to Phillip, her hand resting on top of his waiting for the moment that he would wake up and everything in this dark world would be bright again.
Barnum watched her, he nodded as he placed his hat back on his head, he moved to leave but stopped before turning back around again to face her. “I'm truly sorry Anne.. I hope you can forgive me.” Anne heard the footsteps leaving, she could feel herself breaking, she looked at Phillip, her hand raising over to his cheek, her fingers brushing against his skin.
What if we rewrite the stars?
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing could keep us apart
You'd be the one I was meant to find
Anne pressed their hands against her chin once more, her lips were pressed against his hand, she squeezed his hand, hoping that he would wake up at any moment. “Please come back to me..' She whispered with heart break in her voice, the world seem to still with each passing moment that Phillip didn't wake up.
-x-x-x-
-x-x-x-
Phillip wasn't sure where he was the moment that he woke up, he felt sore everywhere, his head pounded like crazy, his mouth was dry, he felt another pair of hands on his own, squeezing his as if their life depended on it. He opened his eyes slowly, wincing from the brightness that filled the room.
He noticed her, she was watching him, a hopeful look on her face. Phillip felt his heart race in his chest, he stared into those familiar chocolate brown eyes that, for the past months couldn't get out of his mind. “Phillip...” He heard her whisper, It was Anne. Anne was here, with him, holding his hand, staring at him as if she was so happy to see that he was alive.
“You're here..” He whispered, unable to believe that she was here, he didn't give her much too make her want to be here, he had been terrible to her, she should hate him, she should be spitting the ground he walked on, ignoring his presences. But she was here, holding his hand.
Anne could feel the tears she had been holding in finally falling down her face, She didn't want to ever leave his side again, knowing that it had been painful to do so before, she couldn't stop herself, she wanted to kiss him, to show him that she loved him, even if he didn't love her back, even if he pushed her away again, she wanted to show him that even if he did , she would still be there.
“Anne..” His voice was soft, Anne only shook her head and cupped his face with her hands, she didn't hesitate to kiss him, her nose brushed against his gently, she could feel her heart fluttering, the moment she pulled away, she felt her bottom lip trembling, Phillip slowly reached his hand out, brushing the small curl away from her face before pulling her back into a soft but heated kiss, a kiss that Phillip had been dying to give her for so long
Their lips danced in sync, not caring about the world around them, they only saw each other, they only needed each other, they were each others anchors, they held onto each other as if they were the last people on earth.
Anne pulled away from his lips, her eyes opened slowly, they were still clouded with tears that were threatening to fall. She let out a shaky breath, she reached out and touched the small scar on his forehead, she rubbed it gently with her thumb. Phillip couldn't help but lean into her touch, her hands were so soft, so full of care. He didn't want this moment to end between them. He finally felt what it was like to be in love, and to have someone love him back, it was the most incredible feeling in the world to him.
“I love you.” Phillip whispered, his hand moving down to her cheek, Anne gave him a watery smile. “I'm so sorry.. for everything I have done..”Anne shook her head, placing her index finger on his lips.
“When I found out you ran inside that building.. for me, I realized.. I realized that I was in love with you.. maybe it was before then, maybe I knew.. but… Phillip.. I… I don't want you to leave everything you worked so hard for.. just for me..” She whispered after she took off her finger. Phillip quickly took her hand in his, he lifted it up to his lips and kissed it gently.
“Anne, I love you for you, I don't care about your skin color, I don't care about your race. Those who don't see the beauty in you like I do.. well.. they don't have eyes.” Anne couldn't stop the chuckle from escaping her lips which made Phillip smile, even if it was cracked due to his chapped lips.
“But.. what about your parents..?” She whispered, Phillip moved his head he kissed her lips gently before pressing his forehead against hers, he let out a breath and cupped her face in his hands. “I don't care about what they think.. I thought I should have.. that I would have nothing without them.. but I have a family now, I have you.. I don't need anyone else.” He murmured against her lips.
“I love you, Anne Wheeler, more than anything I have, more than the money I own, more than the plays I made. I can't picture myself without you right here with me.” He took her hand and placed it on his chest over his heart that was beating rapidly.
Anne sobbed dryly, she leaned in and kissed his lips, hearing that Phillip loved her, it shook her so much, breaking those walls that she had built up for so long, the walls that only her brother had been able to break. But Phillip was special, everyone should know that.
She pulled away slowly, letting their foreheads rest against each others, Phillip reached up and wiped the tears from her eyes with his thumbs, “I love you too Phillip.” She whispered which made Phillip smile from hearing those words.
-s-s-s-







Scars


She keeps her eyes closed as he runs his hands over her waist. The skin under his palms is soft satin, an invisible dress wrapped around her bare figure.
It makes Phillip all the more conscious off himself. His own hands are ink-stained and calloused. Stubble lines his cheeks, while her face is smooth. His breathing is rough and uneven. He is even clothed next to her — a shirt offers him modesty, while Anne seems unabashed of her own nakedness.
He knows he can never hope to be beautiful like her. He is not as gentle, not as graceful, not as strong.
His hands move down her thighs and she inhales, a tiny gasp of breath. It does not break the spell. If anything, Phillip falls deeper.
“If there’s anywhere you don’t want me to touch,” he says, voice soft in the silence, “anywhere I shouldn’t look, just tell me.”
“It’s alright,” Anne whispers. Candlelight dances off of her face, highlighting her cheekbones and brow. She looks peaceful, almost as if she’s sleeping. Were it not for the rapid drumbeat Phillip can hear this close to her chest, he would think she wasn’t fazed at all. (He’s glad for it, because his own heart is thrumming like a steam engine, and he feels certain he’d lose himself if she dared open her eyes.)
One of her hands dip down, landing over his own. He can feel her nails run along his knuckles. No longer is he the one in control. She guides him along, down her leg and then up again, showing him what he is allowed to touch and how. Her thigh is firm; her calves powerful; the arch of her foot seems made for a golden slipper.
As he travels up again, up her waist and torso, he rises as well. They are nose to nose when she finally opens her eyes, and he feels his breath catch in his throat. She burns, with a fire deep inside her skin, smouldering in her bones. There is no way for him not to be entranced by her, when she looks at him with those dark eyes. They are so close that if he moves an inch, he knows their lips will touch.
“Keep going,” Anne breathes.
His hands continue to travel up her back, her ribs, caressing smooth skin — and then he stops. Something unusual is caught beneath his fingertips. This part of the skin feels serrated, uneven. His fingers trace the long outline, blind to what they are touching.
Anne continues to stare at him with those dark ember eyes. Her gaze is sharper now, a look he’s come to recognize. She is waiting for him. She wants to see what he’ll do, how he’ll react.
There is a challenge in the purse of her lips. Phillip answers it with a heated kiss. He pulls Anne to him, hand still pressed to the scar on her back, and feels her push back against him. Her hands find his shoulders; lips burn against his own.
When they part, their gasps of breath become entangled with each other. He keeps her close. Her own grip on his shoulders is possessive.
“What happened?” he asks, tracing his fingers over her scar.
Anne is hushed when she replies, though maybe she’s just breathless. “I was ten. W.D. and I were practicing flips in the park, and I landed wrong. Piece of a broken bottle went right into me.”
Phillip ducks his head in sympathy, pressing his brow to Anne’s own. His stubble tickles her face. She laughs softly.
“What about…” He hums the words against her lips, hand venturing to something he first noticed a while ago. “This one?”
One of Anne’s hands drifts away from Phillip’s shoulder, up to her hairline, self conscious. Her bright wig conceals the jagged, fingernail-length scar, and when her hair is down and natural it remains hidden. Phillip has tucked that hair back, however. He’s run his fingers through it, combed it, kissed it. He noticed the scar just behind her ear.
“Believe it or not, hanging clothes. Me and my mamma.” Anne smiles sheepishly, like a decades-old injury is something to feel embarrassed over. “The wire caught me when I turned my head.”
“And let me guess…” Phillip pulls her hand away, holding her wrist up to the light. His fingers trace the outline of a few long-faded marks, barely visible. They form the shape of a jaw. “A dog?”
“A stray one,” confesses Anne. “Me and W.D. used to tease him all the time. We were awful. One day, he bit back.”
Phillip raises the wrist to his mouth, pressing a kiss to each faded mark. His lips caress Anne’s slender wristbones. She sighs, leaning into him, and loops her free arm around his neck.
“And you,” she says. She doesn’t really have to ask.
Anne’s childhood is something indefinite to Phillip, as much an enigma as parts of Anne herself. She keeps things locked deep inside her, sealed in a box and guarded with a key that belongs to her alone. She has lived things he cannot understand, been places he’ll never see. Her past is not his to own. These scars are like little puzzle pieces that reveal glimpses into Anne’s history. They are something secret, sacred.
Phillip is less of a mystery.
Anne’s hands deftly undo the buttons on his shirt, shrugging it down over his shoulders. Once he stands bared in front of her, she takes a step back. Her eyes seem torn between focusing on his face or lower. He doesn’t blame her; he knows it’s hard to look at.
Once his chest was smooth as Anne’s face, but running through a wall of fire changes a man in more ways than one. The skin now is mottled and ugly, white in some places, purple in others. Old burns line his abdomen, his ribcage, decorating his collar like kiss marks. Anne has seen them countless times. She has traced her fingers over them, pressing her hands to the planes of his chest, and studied the ruined skin. The first time, her tears landed against his skin, burning almost worse than the fire. The second time it was her lips that burned, caressing them in a way that proved she was not horrified by him.
Phillip gave up his skin for her. He would give up anything for Anne.
Now, her fingers run along the planes of his chest, gentle and pensive. Her eyes are hooded as they take in the abused tissue. The scars are no longer so sensitive, but Anne’s touch still makes Phillip shiver and gasp.
Anne cups his face with one hand, a long “shhhhh” dragging from her lips. When she looks up again, her gaze meets Phillip’s, glowing with warmth. “You’re still beautiful,” she tells him. “You’re always beautiful, baby.”
Phillip points out the obvious. “Not like you.”
“No,” agrees Anne, smiling (she’s more pleased than she wants to let on). “Not like me.”
When she kisses him again, Phillip hums into her mouth. Something about Anne’s kisses never cease to be fierce, hungry and determined in a way that is just like her. He is more tentative, overconfident until the moment is his; then he does not mind letting her take the lead.
For a long moment, there is nothing between them but lips. Anne moves against him, a hand in his hair, her teeth nipping at him, fingernails dragging along his scalp. He feels her hand working at the button of his pants. They fall to the ground at his feet, and he steps deftly out of them.
When Anne drops abruptly down, it’s like she has been ripped away from him. Phillip blinks, stunned. By the time he regains his bearings, Anne is in a neat crouch, her hands caressing his calf.
“This one,” she says, tracing the twisted scar that marrs his pale flesh. “You never told me this one.”
“I liked to play with knives,” he tells her, breathless. Her nails dance along his calf like a spider. (He’s always hated spiders, but Anne’s touch sends chills up his spine for a different reason.) “I wasn’t a smart child.”
Anne humms. She moves up, up to his hipbone, and Phillip already knows what’s there. “This one?”
“A gentleman at a play of mine felt he was entitled to a refund, and made his feelings… very clear.” He still remembers the feeling of the drunk’s knife slicing through his flesh as he stepped in to break up the argument. It makes him shudder; but the press of Anne’s lips drains the hurt away.
When she rises back up to him, there’s a light in her eyes that is almost teasing. “Sounds like we’ve both got our stories.”
“We certainly do,” Phillip admits. Anne’s hand is still on his hip. He finds her waist once more, pulling her close. “But I prefer to live in the present.”
A smile stretches across Anne’s lips as she twines her arm around Phillip’s neck. “What do you say we make some scars of our own, Mr. Carlyle?” she whispers. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

Notes:

I don’t know how I’ve fallen into hell for this movie, but I’m going in hard.
My tumblr is abroholoselephanta and tbh I’m thirsty for prompts for this movie.


It's Not A Secret I Try To Hide

-x-x-x-x-
She was there, laying in his bed, sleeping soundly. Phillip couldn't look away from how peaceful she looked, the cruel world blocked with her dreams, whatever she was dreaming about, there was a small faint smile on her face, the smile that made Phillip's heart thump in his chest. He reached out, brushing some of her hair away from her face, the softness of her skin sending shivers down his spine.
“Phillip...” Phillip chuckled softly as he watched Anne, he watched as she opened her eyes, squinting up at him, an irritated look on her face was shown for having to be disturbed in her sleep. “What?” She murmured, feeling suddenly shy that Phillip kept staring at her, he leaned down and pressed his lips against hers.
“You're so beautiful.” He murmured against her lips, his fingers brushing against her cheek, he saw her cheeks flush from his compliment. “Phillip stop..” She mumbled as she wanted to go back to bed but of course she couldn't say no to Phillip, his eyes staring into hers, she was unable to look away when he had that dopey love sick smile on his face.
Phillip chuckled again, he leaned down pressing a few soft kissing down her jaw line, he heard her breath still, he nipped at her jaw then started peppering kisses down her neck, he licked her collarbone which made her shiver. “Phillip..” She warned him, his lips had become so addictive, once she started, she couldn't stop but they had to, once they got too carried away they would be so lost into each other not wanting to stop until both of them were full filled.
“Anne..” She heard Phillip murmured into her ear, she shook her head and pulled away slowly, her hands resting on his chest. “Phillip, we have to leave soon..” She whispered, Phillip pouted when Anne pulled away. “Just a little bit longer...” He murmured and leaned back in letting himself get carried away from how perfect she felt in his arms.


Cowardice

Phillip knew he was never going to forget the fire in Anne’s eyes that night.
A part of him had wanted an opportunity to speak to her before their next show; to explain himself and take away the pain he knew he’d caused her. But what was there to say anyway? Even if he’d been given the chance, he had no excuse for it and he was completely aware of that.
Tears burned in his eyes as he looked down at the ring and nearly fell when she looked back at him. He could practically feel the anger and hurt radiating off of her and he hated himself for being the cause of it. It seemed he would never be able to do anything right.
Maybe if none of them had even gone to Jenny Lind’s performance it could’ve been all right. P.T. wouldn’t have sent them all to the standing room and Phillip wouldn’t have hurt Anne the way he had. His parents wouldn’t have seen them and there wouldn’t have been a problem.
But then maybe he wouldn’t have held her hand at all. And how could he blame his parents, really? Phillip was the one who’d been a coward and betrayed Anne in that moment and there was no one else to blame for it.
Looking down at them that night, he wondered if Anne was going to hate him from then on. Would she ever smile at him again? Was it too much to hope that their hands might touch again? Would he always be something vile and cruel in her mind after what he’d done?
He hoped not but the expression on her face wasn’t too encouraging. In the end, he couldn’t bear the thought of watching any longer and retreated to his cramped office to have a drink, thinking all the while of what a coward he was and always would be.
-
Phillip spent the night at his desk. It was due in part to how much he’d had to drink but had also been a perfectly conscious choice. If he went home, he was bound to see his parents and that was the last thing he wanted just then.
They would ask him questions and he wouldn’t know what to say. Or maybe they would speak poorly of Anne and Phillip was sure that he would hate himself no matter his reaction to that. If he didn’t defend her, he would see himself as even more of a coward. If he did, he would no doubt damage his relationship with his parents.
Neither option was appealing and so he opted to avoid the scenario altogether.
The sounds of hearty laughter woke him up. He sat up in his chair and groaned at the stiffness in his back and neck, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he stood.
Lettie and the others were already up and practicing their acts. It was her laughter he’d heard and it brought a faint smile to his lips. He knew how P.T. had turned them all away the night before. It wasn’t only Anne who had been hurt.
Phillip didn’t think he would ever cease to be amazed at the strength they all held. If he’d been in any of their positions, he wouldn’t be able to laugh so sincerely if at all. Well, even as the one doing the hurting, look at how he’d taken it.
And yet, they laughed and proved not for the first time that they were stronger than he.
Changing his clothes and quickly washing his face and fixing his hair, Phillip decided he was in decent enough shape to go downstairs where everyone else was. Maybe he’d be able to talk to Anne. Even with now idea of what he’d say, he wanted to be around her just as much as before.
Of course, it was no surprise to him when she gave him the cold shoulder and walked away.
She’d been sitting with the others and while she hadn’t appeared to be laughing, there had been a smile on her face before she’d seen Phillip.
He nearly followed after her and his guilt ridden expression must’ve been on full display if the sympathetic looks he received where anything to go by. Before he’d even taken a full step forward, there was a hand on his arm.
“Let her go, Carlyle.” Lettie looked up at him, eyes full of pity and understanding. She let her hand fall away from his forearm. “She needs time.”
Phillip nodded and took a seat beside Lettie, resting his arms on his legs and staring down at his tightly clasped hands. He cleared his throat before speaking and didn’t look up. “I’m sorry about last night. I hadn’t known that Mr. Barnum didn’t want us there.”
“You say ‘us’ like you’re included in that,” Charles scoffed. “He wouldn’t have had anything to say about you being there by yourself.”
Phillip winced slightly and still kept his eyes down. It was true and he hated it. “Perhaps. But that’s not my point. My point is that I’m sorry and I want you all to know that.”
WD spoke up then, his tone indicating so much more than the few words he actually voiced. “You don’t need to be sorry to us.”
-
He didn’t speak to any of them very much over the next few days. Every now and then, he tried to catch Anne’s eye so he could go over and try to mend things between them. Anne, however, made a pointed effort to not look in his direction.
Sometimes he would get a slightly pitying look from someone else and he thought they may be sorry he was such a fool more than anything else. He didn’t like those looks.
His office and his flask became more and more appealing. Nothing else assisted him as much in his efforts to forget for a while. Phillip didn’t want to forget forever. If he could, he really wanted to make it better. But for that time, while it was only feeling worse, he didn’t want to think about it.
And so he stayed in his little office behind his desk and kept his flask full and on-hand at all times. He found himself reaching for it every time Anne pretended she didn’t see him.
One evening, less than a week after Miss Lind’s performance, Phillip was surprised by WD knocking on his half open office door.
He looked up with raised eyebrows and cleared his throat. “Uh, WD. Please, come in.” He tried for a moment to stand but found his head in a little too much pain and sunk back into his chair, gesturing at the only other one in the room.
WD gave him a polite smile and set the chair in front of Phillip’s desk before taking a seat, hands clasped together and elbows resting on the arms of the chair. He glanced around the small space. “You’ve been in here a while. We’ve hardly seen you today.”
Phillip quirked an eyebrow upward and hummed slightly in response. “Was I needed? Any of you could’ve asked for me.”
“Yes,” WD murmured. He watched Phillip intently enough to make the other man want to squirm uncomfortably. “It’s not that. I just… wondered if I could speak to you. What I want to say may be… forward and unwanted.”
That didn’t sound very promising and Phillip wasn’t sure he felt like hearing whatever it was but he nodded anyway.
“You see… I know my sister very well,” he began carefully, leaning forward slightly as he spoke. “I know that you hurt her deeply. She and I have spoken about it and now… now I’m speaking with you. Anne needs more room for now as she works through her feelings on her own. Eventually, she may come to forgive you. But I wouldn’t advise you to try anything again. It… it can’t ever be more than what it was, which wasn’t much at all. Pretending as if anything could happen would be foolish and you would only be hurting her so… be angry with me if you must but I am saying this to protect my sister. If something else were to happen -”
“WD, I appreciate your input here but it’s not as if Anne is the only one this hurts,” Phillip cut in, immediately wondering why he had. If he hadn’t been drinking, maybe he wouldn’t have said anything. He knew even then that he was being stupid again and didn’t really have any desire to argue.
WD’s face hardened a fraction. “Maybe not. But you , Mr. Carlyle, would be able to heal and move on. You could easily have any other girl and forget about the whole affair. It’s not like that for Anne.”
Then Phillip did almost want to argue because he knew he cared more about Anne than that. He could never just replace her and be fine. But that wasn’t the point of what WD was saying and he knew that. Fortunately, he managed to keep his mouth shut then. Instead, he nodded slowly.
“I’m only asking that you not make this any harder on Anne than it needs to be,” WD continued, his tone slightly cautious again. Phillip wondered if he thought he was going to be kicked out or some such nonsense. Of course he would never be. “And… if I may, Mr. Carlyle… I’m not so sure you’re dealing with this in the right way for yourself either.” He continued quickly just after he said it, not giving Phillip a chance to be offended. “I think the best thing for both you and my sister would be to move on entirely and focus on the circus. There’s always more work to be done, after all.”
Phillip frowned slightly, his forehead creasing. But he didn’t say anything. They two sat in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments before he thanked WD quietly for sharing his thoughts and the other man made his exit.
He stayed in his seat for a while after that, pondering WD’s words. How was he supposed to proceed? If Anne didn’t want to talk to him, there wasn’t very much he could do. Of course, if nothing else, WD was right about the circus. Phillip still had a job and needed to stop worrying over Anne if he wanted to get anything done.
But he wasn’t going to just give up like WD thought he should. No, he cared for Anne too much to respond that way. He would give her space like her brother had asked and he would redirect his focus to his work. Then, eventually, he would keep trying to fix it all. He hoped desperately that Anne would forgive him one day and, with any luck, soon.
Until he figured out a way to prove he cared about her, he’d just have to keep doing what he was doing and hope for a change. Some part of him protested in the back of his mind; told him he was a coward. Phillip didn’t think he could argue against it. He had no alternative plan and didn’t want to upset Anne further or make an enemy of WD. There was nothing he could do, which meant he had no arguments to use against the negative voice in his head.
And so he agreed instead.
“Then the coward’s way out it is,” he said; tone soft and flat, as he picked up his flask again.

Notes:

I may continue this at some point because it feels like it's left hanging and it's not a happy ending... but at the same time, that was the intent because there's obviously more to their story since this would take place in the middle of the film. *shrugs* So I don't know. I also have numerous unfinished Greatest Showman fics that I still want to post so if I do add to this... it wouldn't be soon, I guess.
Obviously this doesn't fit into the narrative perfectly and it's kinda... gloomy, I guess? But it's fanfiction and... well, I guess I'm taking creative liberties. Anyhow, like I said before, I hope you don't hate it. I'm not sure yet if I do or not but I wanted to post one of my Greatest Showman fics and this was the first one I finished. *shrugs again*






Everybody's Got an Act


Another night of pointless chatter. Another night of pompous people, all of them with forgettable faces and bland expressions. They had all become one bundled up blur of nothing for Keith. The expensive dresses and fancy suits were no longer noteworthy when there was no way for them to stand out.
The same droning words fluttered all around the night sky as people got into their carriages and walked home in their coats.
“Exquisite work. Wonderful plot. Of course, she could have been a bit louder. The orchestra was beautiful.”
These plays had everyone convinced they knew what art was. But it was all a façade, and no one knew it better than Keith as he tossed back his flask and let the burn of bourbon heat his body in the chilling air.
“Excuse me, are you Keith Kogane?”
Keith turned and saw a redheaded man whose hair looked like a candle fire- orange and wispy. He had aging lines on his face, a handlebar mustache and kind faded blue eyes. He seemed harmless.
“Yes, I am.”
“And you put on this play?”
Keith grimaced and drank more from his flask. “Refunds are available at the tick-”
“Oh, no, no,” the man said with a hearty laugh. “You had a large crowd. It was impressive.” Keith snorted and shook his flask, hoping there was enough to last until the after party where he could drown in endless champagne glasses. “Coran Smythe,” he said, reaching his hand out to shake Keith’s.
The name rang familiar, and as Keith shook his hand, he recognized the face and name. “Oh my God. From the circus?”
He beamed and nodded. “So, you’ve been to my show.”
“God no,” Keith scoffed. He cleared his throat and amended. “No, but I’ve read all about it in the newspaper. Fascinating, really. Very risky. Your audiences have been known to leave in much better moods than mine.”
Coran laughed and nodded. “Yes, well everyone loves a good show. But you have a talent for selling those tickets. For convincing people. I need more of the upper class seeing my show.”
“Why would you want that? If you knew how suffocating it is to be around them….”
Coran raised an eyebrow and leaned on a staff with a golden bulb at the top. “Let me buy you a drink,” he said, gesturing away.
Keith shrugged to himself. Champagne or more liquor. It didn’t matter. At least this was new. He followed the orange-haired man to a nearby bar. It was mostly empty despite the late hour. They sat at the counter and Coran ordered a couple of shots which Keith had no trouble tossing back.
“You’re a good businessman. You’re good at selling things.”
Keith frowned and leaned his cheek on his hand. “No. The upper class simply loves their image,” he answered. “I sell them virtue and they take it.”
“But you’re a heavy influence,” Coran insisted. Keith grimaced and broke open a peanut to eat. It was crunchy and bland. “I’ve an offer for you.”
“Oh, do you?” he snorted, opening another peanut. Another shot was placed in front of him and he drank that one a little more warily.
Coran laid his coat, scarf, and hat down on a chair beside them. “Join me. Come work with me, and help me appeal to the upper class. We can sell out countless shows and make my show a national success.”
Keith looked up at the several bottles of liquors and spirits as he laughed humorlessly. “Run away and join the circus, huh?” He looked at Coran who looked smug and certain. “No way. I have an inheritance to receive, and that won’t happen if I get mixed in with you and your… clowns or whatever.”
Coran didn’t seem fazed. He simply raised an eyebrow and said, “Maybe it’s crazy. But would you rather live a boring life of endless plays and drinking? A life where you know every move that’s going to happen? A life where you’re trapped in the same cycle like a caged animal?”
Keith scoffed and grabbed his own coat. “I’m not trapped. I enjoy this life. I live comfortably, and I have everything I could ever want. I’m not going to go from living at the top to… picking up peanut shells.”  He ran a hand through his hair and clapped the showman on the shoulder. “Look, your show is unique. And it’s intriguing. I can admire that. But I’m not joining you. Thanks for the drinks.” He smiled and turned away, starting for the door.
Then suddenly, “I can’t promise you an inheritance, but I can promise you happiness.” Keith stopped, laughing to himself. Happiness? Since when did happiness pay a mortgage? “When people come to see my show, I see real, raw, pure joy, Mr. Kogane. I can set you free from the miserable life you’ve accepted as comfort.” He heard the creak of a barstool as Coran sat back down with a sigh. “It’s a risk for a businessman such as yourself. But the choice is yours in the end.”
There was something pulling at Keith. Something that made him consider the crazy idea of running off with the circus. It sounded exciting. It was new, and he had no idea what he would be going into.
It was a challenge.
He turned back around and crossed his arms. “Let’s pretend I’m considering this crazy idea,” he allowed. Coran smiled. “I’d be putting my inheritance at risk. My grandparents would likely disown me…. What am I getting out of this?”
Coran chuckled and nodded, asking for another round of shots. Keith sat back down and waited. “Understandable. You help me bring in more customers, you want your own cut. How’s seven percent?”
Keith scoffed and sucked his teeth. “I live in the business world, Mr. Smythe. I’ll take twenty.”
Coran laughed and turned to look at him as they both had another shot. “Aren’t you greedy? I’ll do ten.”
“Eighteen.”
“Twelve.”
“Fifteen.”
Silence. Coran began to search his pockets for money to pay the shots, and Keith rolled his eyes, taking out a few bills and setting them on the counter. “Fifteen, and you have yourself a junior partner,” he said, holding out his hand.
Coran took it and his mustache twitched slightly. “More like overcompensated apprentice.”
Keith smiled and felt a fluttering in his chest as new hope and the buzz of excitement filled his body.
--
The next day Keith went to meet with his new employer, Coran had a suit and a hat prepared for Keith.
Keith changed into it, matching yet clashing with Coran. The showman’s suit was different shades of blue and white. Keith’s was a dark velvet red and black.
“Let me introduce you,” he said with a smile. Keith followed him, his eyes drawn to everything going on around him. It was so much. So many sounds and colors and… it was overwhelming. It was different. “This is General Tom.” Keith faced forward, and saw no one. He looked down and his eyebrows shot up as he saw a miniature man in a general’s suit.
“Hello.”
Tom smirked and nodded, almost as if he were sizing Keith up. Meanwhile, Coran had moved along and led Keith to a different section. He saw two humans painted from their toes to the neck, bending and twisting in impossible ways. The way they moved made Keith’s skin crawl, because he was certain that could not be possible.
“These are the Boneless Holts. Siblings from Italy.” Coran turned to the pretzeled humans and cleared his throat. “Matt, Katie? This is Keith Kogane.”
They came apart from their twisted positions and stood lithely, walking with the grace of cats. Keith realized they weren’t simply painted, but wearing full body suits that looked painted. They had striking amber eyes and a significant height difference. “What’s he doing here?” Katie, the shorter one, asked.
“He’s going to be working with us, helping the sales and aiding in the execution of the performances,” Coran said.
“Welcome to the circus,” Matt said with a smirk. “Come on, Katie. We’re up in an hour.”
The girl folded backward and tossed her legs up, continuing to move in slow backflips beside her brother. The latter simply laughed at her.
Keith was guided over to the man who had been advertised as “The Heaviest Man on Earth,” then the “Irish Giant.” He met conjoined twins and two women with white skin and hair.
As he met more of the curiosities, Keith began to smile, feeling fascinated. “This is Hunk,” Coran said, gesturing to a man with tattoos scattered all over his body.
“And they’re… everywhere?” Keith asked him.
Hunk smiled. “Everywhere.” Keith nodded and fought back a smile. “Nice to meet you.” A hand was held out to him and Keith took it, fascinated with the swirling patterns that slid up his hands, arms, and across his chest. It made sense that Hunk performed shirtless, he supposed.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Keith said wholeheartedly.
“And here’s my strongest man!” Coran said delightedly. Keith turned to find a man with bulging muscles and eyes similar to his own angled ones. There was a scar across his nose, and one of his arms looked plastic. But the other was very much real. “This is Shiro. One arm gone after an accident in war. The other is able to lift most of the acrobats.”
Keith’s eyebrows shot up and he chuckled nervously. He had no doubt this man could beat him to a pulp if he wanted. But his smile seemed gentle, and Keith figured that despite his scars, he was a kind person. “Keith Kogane.”
“Nice to meet you,” he answered. “Coran, Lance and Allura are going to need the sandbags refilled. Two of them burst.”
“Again?” Coran huffed. “Alright. Come on Keith.”
Keith followed, much more animatedly this time. He saw Coran lift his hat as he bowed to a bearded lady, and Keith followed suit with a smile. “Hello, Miss.”
She tilted her head and regarded him curiously. “Letty! This is Keith Kogane. The newest addition to our team. This is Letty. Wait until you hear her sing.”
Keith smiled and bowed to her again. “I’m sure it’ll blow me away.” He kissed her hand and the woman laughed delightedly before leaving. Keith followed Coran up some wooden stairs and looked back at the bustle of the performers as they prepared for the next show. “This is incredible.”
“I told you it was,” Coran said. “Wait until you see the crowds of people that come to see them.”
Something oddly uncomfortable settled in Keith. He frowned and turned back to follow Coran up higher. “So…. You let people pay to laugh at them?”
Coran stopped and turned to him, his smile gone. “Of course not. People laugh anyway outside of this building. I can’t help that. What I do is for them.” He gestured out to the oddities who were grabbing their props. “They’ve spent all their lives being forced to hide in the shadows. I’m putting them in the spotlight they deserve.”
Keith nodded and remained quiet. Coran continued up the stairs until he reached a platform and he bent over to grab a sandbag. Keith walked to the edge of the platform and looked down.
A mistake. The sight of the ground far below him made him dizzy, and he forced himself to look away and try to regain his bearings. He stepped back as the ropes above him were pulled taught and a body was speeding toward him. His head came up in time to see a pair of astonishing blue eyes looking at him.
Suddenly, there was a pair of bright blue eyes on him. His back was bent backwards as he swung up, relying on his legs to hold on, his arms outstretched to move with the air almost convincing Keith to reach out and take it. Pastel blue waves of hair swept across a dark forehead.
Bluer than Keith could ever imagine eyes to be. Bright and curved with short, curled lashes all around. And they were looking at him.
Keith felt like he couldn’t breathe at the sight of his flushed face and those unrealistic eyes. He hadn’t realized he’d taken off his top hat.
Suddenly, the body was swinging back across, and all Keith could see was a blur of blue as the rope loosened and pulled tight again. Keith finally took a breath and the sounds of the circus came back in full volume, making him dizzy in a new way.
“Who is that?” he whispered, too softly but unable to find more of his voice.
Coran walked up to him and looked out. “Allura and Lance Alvarez. The trapeze twins.” Coran cupped his hands at his mouth and shouted, “Thirty till! Come down for a break!” Then he tugged Keith, still dumbfounded, back down the stairs.
Keith was given a front row seat to experience the show for the first time, and he waited nervously as more people began to come into the building, sitting in the bleachers and eating popcorn. Children were shrieking excitedly, and Keith couldn’t help but cast his eyes up to the trapeze swings and platform to see if he could get another glimpse of the beautiful boy he’d seen.
Everything went dark. A hush came over the crowd. Then a single spotlight down on Coran who stood in the center of the circle. Keith realized belatedly that he was waiting with bated breath along with the others.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Coran said, spreading his arms. “Welcome to the circus!”
Suddenly there were streaks of fire being blown by two women balancing on small platforms, confetti rained down, and acrobats, contortionists, and other performers began maneuvering their way into the circle as the lanterns around them were lit up.
Keith had no idea where to look first. There was so much happening at once, that it looked messy at first glance. But as he continued to let his eyes skirt across the performers, he noticed how synchronized their movements were. How they each knew where they had to be and where. How none of them interfered with the other. It was like a chaotic dance, and by the time the animals were introduced, Keith was on the edge of his seat.
He heard a whip of air and the creaking tug of ropes. He looked up in time to see the trapeze twins midair as they reached their bars and swung, completely at gravity’s mercy. The girl wrapped herself into a rope and let herself fall, making the crowd gasp as she twirled between the ropes before her brother tugged her back up into a swing. Together, they seemed to run on air around the circumference of the performing space before coming together in a spin and coming down to touch the ground. Keith leaned forward, hoping to catch more of their faces, but then they were flung up into the air by the same rope and they were gone.
Keith heard the stomping beat of the audience and was vaguely aware of Letty singing as the acrobats and contortionists moved about in their dances. Their outfits glittered and spread out, every movement catching the light enough to draw attention. Bursts of fire and ribbons swept across, and Keith gasped when he saw lions prowling.
By the time the show was over, Keith felt exhausted. He felt like he’d been the one performing and singing and dancing and twisting and flying. He remained seated as all the other audience members left with large smiles and bright eyes. Expressions Keith never saw when leaving a play.
Coran came up to him and sat, smiling smugly. “So? What do you think?”
“It was….” Incredible. Amazing. Fascinating. Magical. “It was… wow.” Coran laughed and clapped him lightly on the back. “They do this each performance?”
“Without fail. I told you. People come to laugh, but they leave speechless. These people… they’re talented in so many ways.”  Keith let out a soft breath. “Come, why don’t you tell the performers yourself?”
Keith followed Coran backstage and looked back at the stage behind them. It looked so empty and dull now.
“Ah! My favorite twins!” Keith’s snapped his head forward. “I don’t believe I got the chance to introduce you. This is Keith Kogane. Keith, this is Allura and Lance Alvarez.”
“Hello,” he breathed as he took in their dark skin and their bright blue hair and the limber way they both held themselves.
His eyes focused on Lance as he unwrapped and rewrapped a bandage around his wrist. “And what is your act, Mr. Kogane?” he asked.
His voice was… exotic. Keith had expected something Spanish, but what he heard instead was a sharper, musical British with rolling r’s and soft vowels and sharp consonants. Beautiful.
He cleared his throat and blinked. “O-oh, I-I… I don’t have an act,” he managed to answer.
The same vibrant blue eyes looked up at him, this time far more intense. Smoothed by a smile. Every feature was easier to see without the rushed blur of a swing. Keith felt breathless again.
“Everybody’s got an act,” he said with the same teasing smirk. Then he walked away, leaving Keith to stare after him as he went to sit beside Hunk and gave him a high-five.
Keith chuckled lamely and started to walk forward when he walked right into a small, but strong body. He looked forward and felt his face go red at the sight of a fuming Allura. She raised an eyebrow at him and he smiled nervously before stepping to the side and continuing to walk away.
Coran chuckled beside him, but didn’t say anything. Keith made a mental note to keep himself better behaved. The last thing he needed was to be outcast for more than just being part of the circus.
Shiro came up to him and put his hands on his hips. “So, what did you think?”
“It was amazing,” Keith said, grateful for a distraction. “You were all incredible. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.”
Shiro laughed and grabbed his shoulder in a way that Keith took as acceptance into the group. “Well, we’re all going for drinks tonight. You want to join us?”
“Nah, he’s too good for us freaks,” Matt said, coming up to stand beside Shiro, dressed in normal clothes.
Shiro raised an eyebrow at Keith and Keith looked between them, suddenly on the spot.
Working with them was one thing. Being with them outside of the circus was different. If he was seen….
“When are we leaving, I need to drink away the soreness in my arms,” a voice said behind them.
Keith turned to see Lance in a normal shirt, his hair no longer blue but a soft brown. Shiro walked around Keith and greeted both Lance and Allura with a kiss on the cheek. Keith blinked rapidly in surprise, but recovered when Shiro turned to him. “We were just waiting on our new addition’s response.”
Lance looked at Keith and smirked. “Well, make up your mind, Mr. Kogane.”
Keith gulped and chuckled nervously. “Yeah. I could use a drink.” A few others that had gathered cheered and the entire group shuffled out of the building, bidding Coran a quick goodbye before going through the back alleyway to the next street. Keith frowned and tapped Shiro’s arm. “Why don’t you go through the front?”
Shiro’s smile faded and he shook his head. “Protesters. It isn’t safe. They usually never notice we come back here.” Keith felt a ball of dread settle in his stomach, but he followed along anyway.
--
Keith had lost track of how much he drank. All he was really aware of were the blurred shapes of the others as they danced and sang around the bar. The owner had locked the doors once they’d come in, staying open just for them. Something about knowing Coran.
Keith remained seated in a booth, watching with bubbly happiness.
Suddenly, the seat in front of him was taken and he rubbed his eyes to be sure it wasn’t an illusion.
“You’re a lightweight,” Lance said with a smile.
“No, I’m not. I don’t know how many I drank, but I’m not a lightweight.” Lance laughed and drank from a pitcher of beer. He had a nice laugh. Keith made sure to purse his lips, making sure he didn’t say anything stupid aloud.
“Did you really like the show?” Lance asked, crossing his arms over the table.
“I did,” Keith nodded enthusiastically. “It was incredible! You were incredible!” Lance’s eyebrows went up, and the corner of his mouth twitched. But there was also a blush beneath those chocolate colored freckles. “I mean, you and your sister. It was amazing to watch. It was like you were flying.”
“That’s what it feels like,” he agreed. “It’s liberating. Nothing can reach me when I’m flying.” Keith hummed and tilted his head. “Have you ever felt like that?”
Keith looked at the table. Had he ever felt liberated? No, of course not. Wasn’t that what Coran had promised him? Wasn’t that what had truly changed his mind? The promise of freedom, of happiness. He’d been trapped all his life, hiding part of who he was and going along with the mind-numbing idiocy of the upper-class parties. Always under a microscope for the sake of inheritance, for the sake of a family name.
“No,” he finally answered soberly.
He looked at Lance, wondering if he could see through him. If he could tell what Keith truly thought of him. Did he know his eyes left Keith speechless? Did he know his voice made Keith feel weak?
Lance smiled and nodded. “Well, hopefully we can change that here.”
“Another round, boys?” Katie asked, setting down a couple of beers for them. “Save a dance for me, Lance!”
“Of course,” he chuckled as she walked away, offering more drinks.
“Is she… are you two…?” Keith tried to ask. Lance spit back a bit of the beer he was drinking as he laughed and shook his head. “Oh… well… I was just wondering.”
“No, no. She just likes dancing. She gets everyone to dance. And she claims I’m the best aside from her brother.”
“Dancer?” Lance nodded. “I’m not much of a dancer. I like to watch.”
Lance frowned and wiped his mouth of any excess beer. “Everyone can dance, Mr. Kogane.” He stood up and held out his hand. “Come. I’ll show you.”
Keith froze and stared at his hand in fear. “Um… but….”
“Come on. I dance with Hunk all the time. It doesn’t matter here.” Lance waved him over, smiling widely at him.
Liberating. Happiness. Risks.
Keith gulped and took his hand. As soon as he did, he knew he would never be able to go back to the life he had before the circus.
Lance pulled him along with surprising strength and ease. The others cheered and sang a little louder, laughing as they bumped into each other. This dance wasn’t as choreographed as the one they performed. Lance was light on his feet, hopping and spinning and slipping between other partners. Keith finally relaxed and laughed along as he let the dizziness of the dance overwhelm him.
Before he knew it, they were seated again, joined by a few others. Tom, Hunk, and one of the girls with white hair. Keith had no idea what the conversation about. He just knew there was a glass of whiskey in front of him, and Lance’s leg was warm and pressed against his own in the seat.
Slowly, the group dispersed, some carrying others in their stupor. A few remained asleep in the bar. The dancing and singing came to an end. But Keith wanted it to keep going. He wanted to live in this little world of oddities, and carelessness, and no inhibitions.
Lance was beside him, yawning as his sister nodded off on Shiro’s shoulder across the bar. Matt was with them, but Katie was gone.
“I have a question,” Keith said with a slur. Lance hummed. “Why are you part of the circus? What makes you a… curiosity?”
Lance looked over at him, his blue eyes wide. “You really don’t know?” Keith shook his head. “Well….” He grabbed Keith’s hand and placed their arms side by side. “What do you think?”
Keith looked down. His arm looked pale. Lance’s was a dark brown, like cinnamon or milk chocolate. Beside each other, they contrasted so much it shocked Keith. Lance had an occasional freckle along his arm, and Keith poked them each in turn. Lance only chuckled softly.
“Your skin? That’s… all?”
Lance pulled his arm away and nodded. “For people here, it’s more than enough. My mother was Cuban. She met my father, a black European slave when he got off a trade boat. He’d snuck out of Europe and made it back to Africa, but they sent him back onto the ship, thinking he escaped. Before the trading was outlawed, of course.” Keith nodded, enraptured. “My mother fell in love with him, and they came here. They were lucky they didn’t get caught as slaves in the South. It’s why we have an accent, though. Allura and I only ever spoke to our parents when we were younger. But we speak English well because we grew up here.” He chuckled and traced invisible patterns on the table. “Even up here in the north though, people don’t like us. We don’t fit in anywhere. Not with black people, not with Cuban people. We’re in our own little category to everyone else.” Lance looked up at Keith and tilted his head. “I told Coran people wouldn’t like it if he put me and Allura on stage. But he insisted.”Keith touched his arm lightly and tilted his head. “I like your skin color. It’s beautiful.” Lance blushed and ducked his head, laughing softly. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
“No, it’s okay. I’ve… never had anyone tell me that before.”
Keith looked at him and smiled, feeling his heart flutter as his blue eyes looked him over in the fading light of candles and lanterns. “I have another question.” Lance hummed again, a smile tugging on his lip. “Why did Shiro kiss you earlier today?”
“Hm? Oh, you mean when he saw us?” Keith nodded. “It’s how Allura and I greet people. A kiss on the cheek. It’s what our parents would do. My mother, mostly. It surprised a few of the others, but most of them didn’t mind much. Shiro began greeting us that way when my sister and I began to stop.”
Keith nodded with a soft, “Oh.” Then he asked- and he would later blame it on the alcohol running through his system- “Does that mean, I could greet you that way too?”
Lance looked at him and gave him a slow smile. “Yes. That would be fine.” Keith nodded and looked back at the table. “I should get Allura home. I’ll see you tomorrow night, I suppose.” Keith nodded again, standing to let Lance out of the booth. Lance hesitated and tilted his head. “Actually, we use a kiss on the cheek in greeting and parting.”
“Oh. Okay,” he nodded. “Well then… I’ll see you tomorrow.” Keith hesitated before leaning up and allowing his lips to touch the soft skin of Lance’s his cheek. He felt something electric zip through his entire body and he pulled away almost afraid.
Lance only smiled and leaned in to kiss his cheek back. The feeling of his lips brushing ever so slightly over his skin made him stifle a gasp. “Stay warm, Mr. Kogane.”
“Oh- you… you can call me Keith.”
Lance smiled and nodded. “Keith.” Then he turned away and went to take Allura from Shiro before carrying her and leaving he bar.
Keith didn’t think he’d ever truly liked his name until Lance had said it.
***
The whole point of joining the circus was to help it gain recognition among the upper class. And Keith was a person who like to go large. It was all or nothing. Naturally the place to start was British royalty.
After a few weeks, Keith had finally heard back, and he was ecstatic to share the news. He walked into Coran’s building, with a bounce in his step when he saw the others lounging languidly. All of them looked a little unsettled.
“What does it matter what he says?” Letty asked. Keith raised an eyebrow and looked over to Coran.
“All the elites read this, and this critic does their thinking for them.” He turned to Keith. “Have you seen this?”
Keith took the paper and looked over the latest review. “Yeah. But! Not to worry, because I got us a special event that will make this meaningless.” Coran raised an eyebrow. “I have arranged a special showcase… overseas.” The performers present shifted and murmured. “In England. I have the invite right here. ‘The British royals would like to invite Coran Smythe and his ensemble to a meeting-’”
“Wait, what?” Letty interrupted.
“You don’t mean… the Queen Victoria, do you?” Katie asked, hopping up from where she sat on the floor.
Keith smiled and spread his hands. “Well, if you’re going to start somewhere, it may as well be the top.” The cheers that broke out made Keith smile and even Coran looked like he didn’t believe it.
“Are we all invited?” Lance’s soft, yet sharp voice asked, breaking through the excitement. His words sobered the others as they settled down and tensed. Allura stood beside him, her head down, but her expression angry. Lance’s eyes looked sad, like he was expecting a no.
Because of the color of his skin.
Keith bit his lip and sighed. “I’ll just have to tell the queen that either all of us go… or none of us do.”
Suddenly, Katie ran toward him, hugging him tightly and Keith laughed as he spun her. She bounded back to her brother, both excitedly talking rapidly. Coran clapped excitedly, and the others began to cheer and applaud. But Keith was focused on Lance. On the relieved laugh, and the grateful look he gave Keith when their eyes met.
If the queen didn’t want to meet Lance, she would be missing out, and Keith stood by his choice.
--
Before long, they were on a ship and headed for England. It gave the performer a break from performing for a while, and they were able to live in their own little world for a while. There were no people pointing and whispering, nothing that reminded them that they were different. Not on the ship.
Keith even found himself feeling a little freer the further they got away. He found himself able to laugh more, letting his guard down more.
For the week and a half that they had on the ship, Keith enjoyed spending his time with Lance. Allura tended to give him warning, wary glances, but for the most part, she didn’t tell him anything. Spending time with Lance included spending time with Hunk. Spending time with Hunk resulted in spending time with Katie. Which in turn resulted in spending time with Matt and furthermore, Shiro.
Keith didn’t mind the group, and they all seemed more than happy to include him. He’d found out a lot about them all there.
Shiro had been born without an arm, and lived his life with prosthetics. Allura and Lance weren’t twins. Allura was actually older by two years. The Holt siblings were Italian, but their family had been rooted for about two generations before them. And Hunk’s tattoos were put on him; he wasn’t born with them. Keith came to the conclusion that Coran enjoyed embellishing for the sake of hoaxing people into believing something was more extraordinary than it was.He learned their backstories, and how they met Coran. He heard of the struggle it had been to put on their first performance because it was terrifying to go out there, knowing people would point, stare, laugh, and jeer. He even noticed them feeling a little uneasy- though very grateful- about appearing before the Queen of England. It was a new of people who had simply heard of them, but never actually seen them. They were foreigners.
One night, Keith left his room, unable to sleep. He found Lance by the railing, wearing a heavy coat as he looked up. He approached slowly, but loud enough as to not scare him.
Lance looked back in confusion, then his features softened into a smile when he saw Keith. “Hello,” he greeted. Keith leaned forward and kissed his cheek in greeting. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“No. What are you doing?”
Lance shrugged and looked up. “I like to look at the stars. You can see them better when there's no light."
Keith looked up; he was right. The only light they had came from the moon and the stars, and one emergency lantern that remained lit. The sight was beautiful, with hundreds of stars twinkling above them.
“When I was younger, Allura and I would go onto the roof and stare at the stars. I’ve always wondered what’s out there. Where the stars are, if there’s something more on the moon, if there’s life elsewhere. If I could really fly…. I would go out there and find it all. Explore.”
Keith chuckled. “A man on the moon?”
“It could be possible one day!” Lance said indignantly. There was a smile on his face though.
Keith smiled back. “If it is, then it should be you,” he whispered. “You deserve the stars, the moon, and more.” It was silent, and Keith looked away from the sky to look at Lance.
He was looking at Keith. His eyes were bright under the moonlight, and his smile wide. He hummed and shrugged. “I don’t know…. What if it’s really lonely up there? Just me and the stars.”
Keith pretended to consider this seriously. Then he sighed and said, “Well then, maybe I’ll just have to go with you.”
“You’d follow me to the stars?” he whispered. He was turned away from the railing now. Facing Keith.
Keith looked at his eyes, his heart stuttering in his chest. His voice was soft, and his eyes were bright, and his presence was warm. Keith wanted to touch him. He smiled and nodded. “I’d follow you anywhere.”
Lance took a sharp breath, his playful smirk fading into an expression of surprise and fondness.
Then suddenly, his expression sobered, and he turned away looking down at the water. “You know, I don’t know much about you,” he said. He cleared his throat and leaned against the railing, letting his arm dangle. “What are you looking for here with us?”
“W-What?”
Lance shrugged. “You joined us out of nowhere. Didn’t you have some elite life, Mr. Kogane?”
Keith tried not to feel perturbed by the odd change in his tone, by the sudden air of tension and awkwardness that settled over them. He hadn’t exactly been rejected, so he supposed that was a good thing. He cleared his throat and joined Lance in staring out at the ocean.
“I’m looking for happiness. Freedom.” He looked over at Lance, but Lance kept his eyes on the dark ocean below. “I want to feel the way you feel when you’re swinging in the air.”
Lance smiled slightly at the memory of their conversation and nodded. “Well, I hope you find it here. But what about the life you had before?”
“It wasn’t much.” Lance looked at him, one eyebrow raised in mocking disbelief. “Well, my parents died when I was younger. My grandparents took me in. I was supposed to get my inheritance from them…. Then I told them-”
“That you joined the circus?” Keith chuckled and nodded. “Do you regret it?”
“No,” he answered. “Before… I was putting on plays for the elite to gossip about. Making them feel important. It was always the same thing. A party, mindless chattering, whiskey, another play, more chattering, another after party, more whiskey. I knew what each day would bring for me.” He took a deep breath and shut his eyes, feeling the ocean spray hit his face.
A month ago, he never would have thought he’d be on a ship to England with a group of circus performers, standing beside a beautiful boy with beautiful brown skin and blue eyes. He never would have thought he’d experience a party the way they enjoyed them, with mindless dancing and unreserved laughter. He never thought he’d smile so much at the prospect of seeing someone.
“Now, everything is a surprise, and it’s exciting. It’s far more fulfilling than anything I had before, even if I don’t have as much as I did then.” He sighed and looked at Lance. “What were you looking for when you joined?”
Lance smiled and looked over at Keith. “A chance to be proud of who I am.”
--
After a long voyage at sea, the group was finally able to leave the ship and enter their guest quarters. They would be meeting the queen the next morning, and everyone was excited. Coran had instructed them all to wash up and go directly to bed. He couldn’t risk hangovers in front of the queen.
Keith himself couldn’t bring himself to sleep. It felt strange to be on land again, and stranger to go to bed without wishing Lance goodnight and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
The next morning, somewhat rested, he put on his nicest suit and went out to find Coran and the rest of his group.
He nearly had a heart attack when he saw the performers dressed in their costumes. “Coran, what are you doing?” he hissed. “We’re meeting the queen!”
“Yes, and they’re performers!”
“I don’t see you in a suit,” Katie muttered, pulling her skintight suit to settle it properly.
“I’m not a performer.” She scowled at him and he turned to Keith. “Oh, go on. We can’t keep the Queen waiting, can we?”
Keith sighed and ushered the group over to some guards who seemed tense and uncomfortable. “We’re uh… we’re ready.” The guard nodded and led them to a set of heavy wooden doors. “Everyone relax,” Keith whispered as they were told to wait while another person announced them. “Just smile.”
Finally, they were invited to enter. Soft murmurs and whispers fluttered around as the British took in the sight of these oddities and their inappropriate, strange costumes and exposed skins. Keith wanted to look back. He wanted to see if Lance was okay. If Hunk was okay. If Shiro was okay.He risked a glance back and caught sight of many of the performers with their heads held high. They weren’t smiling, but they weren’t cowering.
He bowed and smiled at the queen who was looking at them with reserved curiosity. “Queen Victoria,” he said with a smile. “I am Keith Kogane. This is Coran Smythe.”
Coran took a step forward to be in line with Keith. “Your majesty,” he said with a bow.
“The pleasure is mine,” she said with regal voice. “I’ve heard much of your troupe from my friends across the ocean.  It’s quite the scandal.”Coran smiled and gestured to the group. “May I introduce them?” She nodded. Keith stood to the other side as Coran introduced them in duos or on their own. Keith was relieved when he saw Lance and Allura step up and bow. Lance kept his gaze forward, and when they were dismissed, he stood beside Keith, which made him smile.
Once everyone was introduced, they were left to socialize while drinks were handed out. Keith remained next to Coran and let his eyes wander. He saw Allura and Lance off to the side, Allura kept trying to hide behind Lance as she pulled her costume down, trying to cover more of herself. Lance looked cold with his legs and torso exposed. Their hair was the usual performance colored light blue.
From where he stood, Keith could appreciate the subtle muscles that Lance had along his arms and legs. He was certain they must be far more visible when he was using them to haul himself up and lift Allura, but in the meantime, he could appreciate the way they curved gently on his body.
“Keith, who is that?” Coran asked suddenly, pulling him out of his reverie.
Keith blinked and looked over to where Coran was pointing at a young woman with sleek black hair and wide almond shaped eyes. “Ah, that’s Amelia Ezor, the opera singer.” Coran hummed and pushed Keith forward. “What’s happening?”
“You’re introducing me.”
“What? Why!” Coran shushed him and pushed him in front of Amelia. “Ah, hello.” Keith regained his composure and bowed. “Miss Ezor. I’m Keith Kogane. This is the incredible-”
“Coran Smythe,” he interrupted. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“I’ve heard of you. The circus man, right?” she asked with a soft voice.
“Well, if we’ve been heard of all the way across the sea, we must be doing something right, eh, Keith?”
“Or something very wrong,” she said with a tinkling laugh.
“Well, I have a proposition for you,” Coran said. Keith bit back a groan. Oh boy. “Come with us. You can sing in the grandest theaters in the greatest city in the world. You’ll be famous, not just in Europe. You’ll sell out shows, and my apprentice here-”“Partner,” Keith grumbled.
“Will help advertise your performances. You can become something greater, offer the crowds something real.” Coran’s eyes twinkled. “What do you say?”
She hummed and looked between them both. “And have you heard me sing?”
Keith opened his mouth, but Coran beat him. “No. But I’ve heard much about you. Surely it’s for good reason.”
She raised an eyebrow and looked at Keith. “What do you have to say about this?” she asked, her eyes sparkling as she looked at Keith.
Keith took a breath and looked around, catching sight of Lance with Hunk and Katie. He smiled and turned back to Amelia. “I think that if you want to be part of something magical that can set you free… then you’ll come back with us.”She hummed and smiled, lifting her glass to her lips. “I have somewhere to be. But I’ll get back to you on this offer.” She looked at Coran and nodded, then let her eyes linger on Keith before she walked away, her dress dragging on the floor.
“Good job, my boy,” Coran said, patting his shoulder. Keith frowned, but didn’t say anything else.
--
After promoting the circus in Europe as well, sales had skyrocketed. If the queen enjoyed the oddities, why wouldn’t they? Keith couldn’t help but laugh to himself at the absolute vanity that brainwashed the rich. By the time the group had to return, Amelia Ezor was with them. She mostly kept to herself, occasionally pulling Keith aside for questions about the theaters. Word had reached quickly about the European singer, and before the ship docked, the first show was sold out.Coran put Keith in charge of situating her and taking her to the theater. Coran arrived in time to see the theater filling up and he seemed nervous. Of course, Keith couldn’t blame him. He was taking a risk on a singer he’d never heard sing.
“Shiro, Hunk, and the others are here. Where do I seat them?” he asked as Coran peeked behind he curtains. “Should I just put them in your original booth?”
Something in Coran’s eyes tightened. “No…. The people here… they wouldn’t like that. It’d take away from Amelia.”
“What?” Keith asked, slightly off put.
“The standing room has better acoustics and an unobstructed view of the stage. Put them there,” he said, checking his pocket watch. “We should be starting soon.”
Keith frowned and walked away to find the group of the others. “This way, everyone.” He led them to the constricted space and tried not to look guilty. It wasn’t his idea. “The concert will be starting soon.” Balconies and seats began to fill up, and Keith began to feel secondhand anxiety. He took a deep breath and looked at the stage as the lights began to dim.
He noticed that Lance had slinked up beside him, his presence soothing and helping Keith calm down.
The lights centered on the stage. The curtains pulled back. Amelia stood in the center with a glorious, glittering gown, her hair in an intricate curled up-do. The orchestra began to play slowly, and then Amelia’s voice filled the theater, clear as a bell with a slight vibrato that wasn’t too frustrating or straining to listen to.
She sang a love song, the notes long and high, incredible to hear coming from such a small body. Keith felt the words wash over him as she sang, her facial expressions visible even from where he stood with the others. It made him feel everything even if he couldn’t catch every word. He just knew that the melody and the orchestra had managed to make his chest feel tight.
He just knew that his hand was creeping closer to Lance’s because there was no one else he wanted to share this experience with.
And Lance’s hand was pressing against his. Their finger interlocked slowly, and Keith realized they were both holding their breaths. He heard Lance’s sharp intake of breath when their hands were fully intertwined, and Keith kept his eyes on the singer on stage.
As the song continued, Keith had to marvel at the way Amelia could hold notes out for so long and swoop right into the next on the same breath. He had to allow himself a small smile as the song made Lance all the more prominent in his mind, every twitch of their fingers, every soft breath, and every ounce of radiating warmth enhanced in Keith’s mind.
Every whisper and flitting gaze.
Keith realized with a start that they were in a very public place. His eyes drifted and he noticed one couple whispering, their eyes flitting over to where he stood. Without thinking, he pulled his hand free and tore his eyes away, a heavy, panicked feeling settling in his chest. The magic of the song had broken, and Keith only wanted it to be over.
Beside him, he was vaguely aware of Lance’s face, blank and calm. He leaned over and whispered, “I think you’ve found your act, Mr. Kogane.”
Then he turned and walked away from the performance with his head held high, leaving Keith speechless and… empty.
By the time the performance was over, Keith couldn’t bring himself to attend the after party. He felt stupid and cowardly. He felt like an idiot. He’d finally gotten somewhere with this beautiful person and… he’d thrown it away.
He waited at the theater, checking to be sure all the props were there, all the ropes were secure, and all the benches were clean. He busied himself until the next showcase would start. He was aware of a tension among the performers. It was nervousness. It was anger. Keith vaguely wondered if he was the root of the problem.
But then he heard the whispers of the others. It was Coran. He hadn’t let them into the party, and they’d gotten angry, barging in anyway. There was a mob outside, which they had to get through to come in tonight. They were all at their wit’s end, and they were sick and tired of being hidden.
Keith felt his heart sink as he realized it was exactly what he’d done to Lance.
Keith watched from a back booth once the show began. Tonight, they seemed defiant. Performing greater, grander things, compensating for the way they were underestimate. They demanded to be seen. To be adored. Keith watched, his heart clenching when he saw Lance and Allura filing in with the others for a bow. Lance looked up and caught Keith’s eyes, his blue eyes cold and his smile gone. Keith shrunk back in shame.
This time, when the show was over, he wasn’t invited for drinks. In fact, the performers seemed to all just want to go home. Keith searched frantically for Lance before he left, catching him as he packed up his suit and ran a hand through his hair.
“Lance,” he called. His body stiffened and instead of being met with a smile, Keith was met with an icy glare. “Can we talk?”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” he answered. He began to walk away, and Keith followed.
“Lance, please,” he begged, reaching out for his arm.
Lance spun around angrily, but Keith noticed his eyes were shining more than they had been a few seconds before. “No! No, Keith! I finally felt like myself here. I finally felt free. And you want to take that away from me.” He wiped at his eyes and stepped forward. “I’ve been ashamed of myself long enough. I’m not going to let myself feel that way anymore. I’m tired of being afraid and hiding.”
“Lance, people could have seen-”
“We were in the back of a theater in the most secluded, darkest part. Don’t think any of us missed that particular detail.” Keith grimaced and searched for words. “I just have one question,” he whispered. Keith looked at him helplessly, wishing with all his might that he could fix it all. Lance looked him in the eyes and furrowed his eyebrows. “What were you more ashamed of? My skin, or my gender?”
Keith’s mouth fell open in shock and hurt. He couldn’t even find the words to answer that, to explain how ridiculous it was for Lance to ask him that. But his lack of response only made Lance take a quick breath to hold his tears back as he walked away and rejoined Allura at the back door.
--
Within the next week, Coran had whisked Keith away and insisted he join Amelia on her tour. “She enjoys having you around. You’re closer to her age.”
“She’s your act!” he protested. “I want to stay with the circus. I like helping here.”
Coran sighed and rubbed his mustache. “The performers are upset with me over the gala after Amelia’s performance. I have to redeem myself and regain their trust. Please, Keith. With Amelia’s concerts, we can rake in even more profits. She trusts you.” Keith sighed, not wanting to go.
He wanted to stay and figure out a way to get to Lance. He wanted to figure out a way to show Lance that he wanted to be with him. But he also knew that he worked for Coran, and Coran needed this from him. He needed Keith to help with recognition and he needed the upper class on his side. That was Keith’s job after all.
“Fine,” he sighed. “I’ll go.”
Coran smiled widely and shook his hand a little too hard. “Atta boy! Thank you, Keith!” He smiled and ushered him along, already delving into the different places he would travel. He told Amelia the news when she arrived at his office later, and she beamed at Keith with her large almond eyes and soft, child-like face. Something twisted in Keith’s chest, but he chose to ignore it.
He managed to get away from the two and went in search of Lance, hoping to talk to him once more before leaving. As he started up the stairs, he heard a voice say, “He won’t talk to you.” He turned and saw Allura tightening the bandage on her wrist as she looked at him with sharp eyes and narrowed brows. “I wouldn’t waste my breath, if I were you.”
Keith sighed and walked over to her. “What did he tell you?”
“He told me about the concert.” She glanced around and leaned in to whisper, “You broke his heart. He doesn’t want to see you.”
Keith shut his eyes and tried to ignore the heavy weight in his chest. Something in his brain told him he’d lost his chance at happiness the second he pulled away from Lance’s grasp. “I never meant to…. Allura, please. Could you just… just tell him that I have to leave for a while. Coran is making me take Amelia on her singing tour. But when I come back, I’d really like if we could talk. Tell him… tell him to remember what I said about the stars when we were on the ship.”
Allura frowned and crossed her arms. She regarded him for a moment before giving a curt nod. “I’ll tell him.” She walked past him and bounded up the stairs.
Keith walked away and looked up in time to see Allura spinning while perched on a hoop. Lance was holding his weight up with ribbons, his long legs folding and stretching like he was running down towards the ground before he yanked himself up and swung onto a bar.
A hand rested on his shoulder, and he started as he heard Amelia’s soft chuckle. “Are you ready? Coran says we leave tonight.”
Keith tried not to show his disappointment. He had hoped to see the circus perform once more before leaving. He nodded and gave her a tense smile before following her out of the building. He walked her to her hotel and then went home to pack.
The next day, he was at the train station with his luggage, and Amelia was immediately escorted to his side. Keith noticed that she moved gracefully, lightly, like a small songbird. Once the train left, everything became a blur.
It was so similar to the life he’d lived before the circus. Arriving at theaters, watching people stare at someone on stage and then leave with polite comments. “Extraordinary. Wonderful. Quite a strong voice.” Then celebratory drinking at parties where everyone wanted to see the small woman whose voice rang out in the largest theater.
Every other night, they were on another train, going somewhere new. Keith often fell asleep with Amelia’s head on his shoulders and his eyes on the stars, wondering if Lance was looking at them too.
He had grown to enjoy Amelia’s company. She was funny, and she was humble. Every cent that came her way was redirected to a charity, and she was modest about her talents. Keith enjoyed listening to her talk about her past when they were on the train, recalling fond memories of her sisters and her life in a small village.
One evening, before a performance, Amelia was reading a review of her latest concert in the newspaper.
“‘With the voice of an angel, soft and echoing in the ears of any who hear her, Amelia has easily become Smythe’s grandest performer. A talent such as hers cannot be taught and is truly a gift that soothes the soul of those who hear her.’” She squealed and hugged the newspaper, looking at Keith with wide eyes, filled with joy. Keith chuckled and nodded.
“You do have a wonderful voice. It makes people feel things,” he said, recalling the way he’d felt the first time he heard her sing. The way he’d gain the strength to reach out for Lance’s hand at least for a little while….
“Well, this is a cause for celebration!” she cheered. She stood up and walked over to the bucket of ice that had a glass of champagne tucked into it. She filled two glasses and offered one to Keith before curling up next to him a little too closely. “To taking risks and finding happiness,” she said softly. Keith smiled and nodded, lifting the glass to his lips. Amelia’s eyes fluttered as she smiled and looked away. “When you said my music made you feel things…. What did you mean?” she whispered.
Keith cleared his throat and shifted. “Well…. The song I heard you sing was a love song.” Her gaze lifted to him and Keith felt himself tense. “When I heard it, I could feel it resonate with me. It voiced things I couldn’t.”
She smiled, and her eyes flickered down to his lips. Her smile faded, and she began to lean in, her soft breaths warm on Keith’s lips.
“Ah, Miss Ezor,” Keith interrupted, turning away. “I don’t think…. You’ve misinterpreted….” He sighed and cleared his throat. “I don’t think Coran would approve of what you’re attempting. We work together, and it’s unprofessional.”
“Unprofessional?” she responded, her face falling as she stared at him. Her expression was similar to Lance’s the last time he saw him.
Keith stood and set his glass down. “Please forgive me if I gave you the wrong impression…. It may be best if I ask Coran to finish the tour with you.”
“No, you don’t have to leave-” She reached out for him, but Keith took another step away.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. He turned away and left Amelia seated, unable to bear looking back at her. He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath feeling guilt wash over him.
Guilt for making her think he liked her. Guilt for getting so close to her and being so far from Lance. Guilt because he wasn’t normal and didn’t like her. He just wanted to go home. He wanted to go back, and he wished they’d never brought Amelia back.
--
That night, Keith presented Amelia Ezor for the last time. She sang with a full voice, but her love song sounded pained. Keith watched from offstage. He’d sent out a telegraph for Coran, informing him of his return. He’d arranged for Amelia to go on to her next location without him. Coran would join her there, if things went smoothly.
Meanwhile, he tried to ignore the pure voice that had managed to turn a love song into a heartbreak song.
By the time she’d finished her set, the audience was giving her a standing ovation. A stagehand had gone to give her a bouquet of flowers. As Amelia bowed, she extended her hand, inviting Keith forward.
Keith walked up to her and took her hand, presenting her forward before bowing with her. He turned to her, ready to commend her on her performance despite the rough way he’d ended things. But before he could process it, her lips were on his and her free hand was cupping his cheek. Keith pulled away, well aware of the photos that had been taken in time.
“What was that?” he hissed.
Her face was streaked with tears and she took a deep breath, hurt by his reaction. “I suppose it was goodbye,” she whispered as more tears fell down her cheeks. Keith felt frozen, but he managed to walk away from the stage and calm his anger.
Instead of going to the after party, he went to the train station and bought a ticket home for the next day. He went to his hotel and packed his things hastily, wanting more than anything to go home. He felt dirty. He felt trapped and suffocated, both feelings he hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Feeling he felt only Lance could take away.
The following day, Keith was more than anxious to get home. The train ride felt long, and his limbs felt like they were wound up to tight and he had no space to stretch out. He wanted to hop off and run home. He wanted to run until he found Lance. He wanted those eyes on him, wanted to see that wonderful smile that Keith loved to see. He wanted to see him flying through the air, giving himself over to gravity because that’s when Lance was happiest.
For now, he was stuck on a rattling train and left to look out the window as the scenery blurred past.
When he finally arrived, he was surprised to see Coran waiting for him at the station. He smiled and tipped his hat to Keith.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I figured you’d want someone to welcome you home.” Keith smiled and nodded thankfully. “What made you want to come back?” Keith smiled and shrugged, not really wanting to go into specifics. “Well the others miss having you around. Katie, Shiro, even Tom.” Keith laughed at that as they walked. “Lance does too.”
“What?”
Coran smiled and nodded. “I notice him looking for you in the crowd every night. And when everyone’s gone, he’s the last to leave.” He paused, letting it sink in for Keith.
Then Keith turned to look at Coran, curious and uncertain. How was Coran so calm about this? About the idea of Keith and Lance. And how could Keith ask without completely incriminating himself?
The showman finally met his eyes and chuckled at the expression on his face. “I saw how taken you were with him when you met,” he said. “I run a circus of people who are all strange and different. I encourage people to embrace it. I don’t really think I’m in a position to oppose who someone likes.” Keith took a sharp breath and gulped nervously. “Of course, I won’t parade that around. That’s your choice to act on. Don’t worry about me, Keith.”
Keith couldn’t find anything to say, so he simply choked out a thank you and continued to walk alongside Coran. As he reached his home, he turned to Coran and cleared his throat. “You don’t mind? Joining Amelia? Having me in charge of the circus?”
Coran smiled, his eyes crinkling and his mustache twitching. “My apprentice has to learn at some point, doesn’t he? Besides…. Amelia has sold out several theaters she has yet to perform it. I doubt they go to see you introduce her.” Keith laughed, and Coran clasped his shoulder. “The performers will gather in two days for their next show. I’ll be leaving tomorrow to join Amelia. Are you sure you’ll do fine on your own?”
Keith nodded, determined. “I know the show well. I know the works. If anything, Letty can guide me a bit. But I think I can do this. The circus… it feels home.” Coran smiled and nodded. Then he left, and Keith went into his house.
He immediately fell asleep in his bed, missing the familiarity of it. His dreams were filled with chocolate skin, radiant smiles, and sparkling blue eyes that held the stars.
--
Stepping back into Coran’s building felt like a change of worlds. Keith had seen plenty as he toured, but none of it resonated with him quite as much as the bleachers, the circular performing space, the platforms, and the sounds of animals and performers drifting in from the back.
Keith walked to the practice area and Shiro was the first to see him. “Look who’s back, everyone!” he shouted.
The others turned and brightened. Keith had never felt so welcomed before. They immediately crowded him, and he hugged them each in turn, feeling elated and warm and happy. This was where he belonged. This was where he was happy.
“How was the tour?” Hunk asked.
“It was okay. But I really wanted to come back. Where’s Lance and Allura?”
Katie tilted her head, regarding him curiously. “They’re getting ready. Hair and bandages and whatnot.”
Keith nodded and walked toward the area where the siblings tended to get ready. As he approached, he saw Lance leaving his post, eyes focused on the stairs. Keith called out to him, and Lance turned, surprise coating his features. As Keith got closer, his expression became guarded and passive.
“Hey. Look, I know… when I left we…. If we could talk after tonight’s show-”
Before he could even spit out what he wanted to say, Lance turned around then turned back to Keith, shoving a newspaper hard against his chest. “I don’t really care what you choose to do with your life, Mr. Kogane. I just ask you to leave me out of it and to stop pretending you care about how I feel.” Lance started for the stairs.
Dumbfounded, Keith looked down at the newspaper, feeling his heart drop to his stomach as he saw the picture from the last night he’d bowed with Amelia. Her body pressed against him, their lips connected. The article was gushing over everyone's newest favorite performer finding love in the arms of a former circus employee. The article made Keith scowl and he crumpled the newspaper up, tossing it to the side.
He ran for the stairs, calling out for Lance. He found himself on the same platform he’d been when he saw Lance for the first time. Lance was already letting himself hang from the bar by one arm as he swung to catch the other with his legs.
“Lance!” Keith called. Lance allowed gravity to swing him back and forth until he could reach a long length of rope and his head snapped up, fixated on Keith. “That wasn’t- she kissed me without my consent. I’d already decided to come back.” Lance rolled his eyes and let himself fall along the rope before tightening his grip and pulling himself up enough to catch the bar. “I don’t like her,” he insisted, wishing he could reach for him. Wishing he could step forward and trust that Lance would catch him.
“We’re half an hour away from opening,” Allura said beside him. “Leave him alone until after the show.” Keith wanted to protest, but then Allura ran forward, caught onto the bar, and flung herself forward until Lance caught her arms.
Defeated, Keith went back down the stairs and went around making sure everyone had their props. He checked the levers and the spotlights, the sandbags and the animals. After 30 minutes, the performers stopped their practice and huddled together behind the curtains, whispering as the bleachers were filled up.
Belatedly, Keith realized it would be up to him to begin the circus and to walk around and present the act. The panic that settled in his chest must have been apparent, because Letty squeezed his shoulder, and Shiro gave him an encouraging smile.
Keith cleared his throat and fixed his jacket, put on his hat, and squared his shoulders. When the audience was full, the lights went down. Keith walked to the center of the stage and waited on the spotlight.
As soon as it hit him, he felt giddy and excited. He was about to present spectacular people and give these people the experience of a lifetime. The smile on his face was more than real as he spread his arms and said, “Ladies and gentlemen…. Welcome to the circus!”
The fire. The lights. The confetti. The screams of delight and pleasure and the wonder of being in the center of all of these choreographed acts had Keith on his toes the entire time.
He watched as people’s eyes widened, as children began jumping with glee. He caught sight of Allura and Lance swinging around the circumference in their running-on-air routine.
This was where he belonged, and he’d never felt like he fit in anywhere as well as he fit in in the center of perfect chaos.
As the show came to an end, the performers huddled together. Lance and Allura came down, tangling themselves in hoops that glittered to take a bow with the others. As they did though, Keith caught sight of a group of men jeering and shouting. Their eyes grazed over Allura and they spat at them, making those seated around them uncertain.
Keith stepped forward and took Allura’s hand in reassurance as they bowed, and he ushered them back behind the curtains, hoping to get far from the angry shouts of protesters.
“They started coming a week ago,” Hunk said when he caught Keith peeking through the curtains. “They come each day we perform just to call us freaks.”
“Why didn’t Coran prohibit their entering?”
“You can’t. They pay their admission, and they behave until the end.”
Keith frowned and looked back at the performers. They looked tired, but they seemed unfazed by the shouts. He walked toward the Alvarez siblings as they cleaned their hair out and stretched out their sore muscles.
“Are you okay?” he asked them both.
Lance didn’t respond, his face set and his eyes focused on removing his bandages. Allura sighed and nodded. “It’s not the first time we hear those things, Mr. Kogane. It won’t be the last.” She turned away, and Keith took that as his dismissal.
He couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he had when Lance refused to look at him.
The group dispersed once Keith had made sure there were no protesters outside. Before she could leave, Keith pulled Allura aside and immediately fell to his knees, much to her shock and confusion.
“I’m begging you to help me fix this. He won’t believe me, and I need a way to get him to listen to me. To let me explain.” Allura stared at him with wide eyes. “I really like your brother. And I would do anything for him to see it.”
Her lips parted in surprise and she lifted her chin as she looked at him. Keith was afraid she would tell him no, tell him to leave Lance alone and never see him as more as an employee. Instead she said, “He’s always wanted to see a play.”
Then she turned away, grabbed her things, and hurried out to join Lance, Hunk, and the Holt siblings.
That night when Keith returned home, he sent a telegraph to Coran, asking him for a favor.
--
The rest of the weekend continued similarly. Lance refused to look at Keith, Keith intervened to stop the shouts and slurs being shouted, and the group would leave without stopping by their favorite bar for celebration. When the weekend was over, Keith went about his usual business, arranging more performances, calculating their ticket sales, and figuring out the expenses the circus had.
Finally, Thursday arrived and as Keith helped clean up before the following night’s performance, Katie tapped his shoulder and gestured to the door. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
He reached for his pocket watch and realized he was running late. Katie smirked and bounded away to continue helping feed the animals and clearing out the space of any mess. “Hey everyone! Great work! Feel free to go home, we can pick it all back up tomorrow!” He gave them a nervous smile and left the building.
Keith ran toward the theater where his plays used to be held and was surprised to see Lance at the ticket booth in a suit. He had seen Lance in different clothing, but never a suit. He looked amazing. He walked closer and heard him tell the man at the booth, “I’m sorry, but I think there’s been a mistake. I was only told of one ticket.”
“There’s supposed to be two,” Keith interrupted, taking the tickets. Lance’s jaw clenched, and he looked over at Keith with a tired expression. Keith took a steadying breath and whispered, “I didn’t think you’d come if I asked. So I had Coran get the tickets.”
Lance stepped away from the ticket booth and ran a hand through his hair. Keith followed nervously and bit his lip. “Lance? I need you to know that I never felt anything for Amelia. She tried to kiss me before, and that was when I decided to come back. I missed you.” Lance took a sharp breath and dipped his head. “I don’t like her. I never could. You get that, don’t you?”
Lance looked over at him, his expression finally softer and vulnerable. “We don’t want to be late to the play, do we?” Keith smiled and led him to the entrance, holding the door open for him. Lance looked up the stairs and smiled slightly. “I’ve never seen a play before. Is it fun?”
“It can be if you go with the right person.” Lance raised an eyebrow and tried to suppress a smile.
They started up the stairs and right before Keith could decide to take a risk and take his hand, he heard his name being said in a sharp, disbelieving tone. They both froze, and Keith felt himself go cold when he saw his grandparents. He hadn’t seen them since he told them about choosing to work with Coran Smythe.
“Grandmother. Grandfather,” he said dumbly. He cleared his throat and regained his bearings. “This is Lance Alvarez.”
Their eyes flitted over to Lance, filled with distaste and venom. “What are you doing, Keith?” his grandfather asked gruffly.
“It’s bad enough you’ve ruined our name running off with the circus freaks,” his grandmother said, her voice quivering as though Keith’s choice was a personal offence. And maybe to her it was. “Now you’re… convening with the help in public?”
He heard Lance take a sharp breath and before Keith could stop him, he was going back down the stairs. “Lance! Wait, Lance!” he called after him. But Lance had already left. Keith felt something raw and painful roll in his stomach. He turned to his grandparents and scowled. “How dare you speak about him that way. He’s a human being.”
“He’s colored,” his grandfather said.
“He’s a person!” Keith shouted. “He’s beautiful. From his skin to his heart. And I feel sorry for you because you can’t see that.” The expression on their faces was enough for Keith to know that he’d severed all possible ties and attempts at redemption in their eyes.
He thought he would feel lost the day that happened. Instead, he felt free.
He turned away from them and ran out, hoping to catch Lance before he got too far. He couldn’t see him, but he could imagine where he would run to. Keith returned to the circus as fast as he could, hoping he would find Lance.
The building was empty now, all the others had left. But Lance was on the bleachers, wearing a muscle shirt and shorts. He was tugging on the bandages for his wrist, and Keith could see how distressed he was as he held his tears at bay.
Keith walked over to him, taking off his coat and scarf and setting them aside as knelt in front of him. Lance’s eyes flitted to him, then returned to his bandages.
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Keith said softly. “They live in the past. They don’t know you the way I do.” Lance didn’t answer, and Keith reached for his hand. Lance pulled away, giving him a sharp look and Keith relented. “Why do you care what they think?”
“It’s not just them,” Lance answered, his voice so broken it pained Keith. “You’ve never…. You could never understand what it feels like to be looked at the way your grandparents looked at me. You like men, but it’s not something people can see right away. The first thing everyone sees when they look at me is my skin. And they look at me like I’m an insect.” Lance’s eyes filled with tears, and when he blinked, they caught on his lashes and slid down his freckled cheeks. “Could you imagine the way everyone would look at us?”
He stood, stepping past Keith to go to the ropes tied around a mast. He wiped at his face and Keith looked after him, wanting more than anything to take Lance into his arms and show him what it was to be loved. To be free.
“Lance, you asked me once what I was looking for in the circus. And I told you I was looking for freedom.” Lance kept his back to him, freeing the rope and tugging on it. “I feel that when I’m with you.”  He stopped walking and turned to look at Keith. “I don’t want to keep hiding what I feel for you. I’ve already done a horrible job at it anyway.” He walked forward until he stood in front of Lance. “You want me too, don’t you?”
“Keith,” he sighed, turning away.
Keith grabbed his arm and turned him back. “They can’t stop us, Lance. They don’t get to say I can’t fall for you. This is between us. I told you I’d follow you to the stars. And I meant it.” Lance shook his head and pulled free, wrapping the rope around his arm. “Lance, I never thought I would run away to join the circus. I never thought I’d feel as happy as I do here. Never in my life did I think I would be where I am now. Don’t you think there’s a reason I’m here?” Keith reached for his hand, but Lance had begun climbing the rope, tugging it to free the sandbag that held it in place, and he was whisked from Keith’s grasp. “I was meant to find you, Lance. We were meant to find each other,” he called out, unable to see Lance.
“The stars wouldn’t want us there anymore than people here do,” his voice rang out. Keith turned, searching for him.
“Then we’ll rewrite the stars. We’ll make the world ours.”
He heard a laugh and Lance swooped back down, whizzing past Keith before skidding to a stop. “You make it sound so easy,” he said, slightly out of breath. He turned and tilted his head. “Do you think I don’t want that? You think I don’t fight the urge to run for you every time I see you?” Keith’s breaths hitched as he spoke. “But this is a big world, and we can’t change it. You’re blinded by the magic of the circus. But it’s a hoax, Keith. You know it as soon as you walk outside these walls. The magic dies, and we’re forced apart. No one would be okay with us being together. And no one can rewrite the stars. They’re out of reach just like us.”
He started to tug the rope again, but Keith held his hands out. “Wait.” Lance frowned and looked at him curiously. “Take me up there. Show me what it’s like to fly.” Lance tilted his head and Keith stepped closer. “Show me what it’s like to feel free.”
Lance smiled and reached out. Keith took his hand and Lance began to wrap him up in the rope. “Hold on to me,” he murmured. Keith wrapped his arms around him, his cheeks flaring with the proximity. “Promise me you won’t let me fall.”
Lance smiled and held him tighter. “If you fall, I’m falling with you.” He gave Keith a smile and tugged the rope.
Before Keith knew it, they were zipping through the sky, and he was holding onto Lance too tightly. Lance chuckled as they swung with the momentum of their added weight. Lance stretched out and caught the hoop keeping them up and in place.
Keith did his best to hold himself up, but he didn’t have the same strength as Lance did. Lance was holding up his body weight with an arm and his legs. “What do you think?”
“I’m terrified,” Keith laughed. Lance’s face broke into the widest smile Keith had ever seen. It made his eyes shine. “But it feels exciting.”
Lance tilted his head back and his laughter rang through the building. “That’s enough flying for you.” He used his grip on the bar to pull them closer to the platform and hauled Keith onto it, unwrapping him.
He sat beside Lance, their legs dangling. Keith kept his eyes on him, an anchor when he was a step away from gravity’s mercy. Keith’s hand slipped over Lance’s, their finger threading together. “The first thing I noticed about you wasn’t your skin,” he whispered. “It was your eyes. They made everything freeze. I couldn’t think of anything else but how incredible they are.”
Lance looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. After a small pause, he said, “Tell me what it would be like. If we didn’t have to hide. If I could be yours and you could be mine.”
Keith smiled and gripped his hand tighter, leaning in close enough to feel his warm breath mingling with his own. “We would walk hand in hand in the streets. It would feel free. The world wouldn’t care because they’d understand that it’s not their business. That there are more important things than trying to control who someone fell in love with.” He noticed a hitch in his breath and Keith met Lance’s eyes. “No one could stop us from being together.”
“And we would… kiss whenever we wanted.” Keith nodded with a smile. “We wouldn’t have to hide who we are. And everyone would know that you were mine.”
“Everyone,” Keith agreed.
“But how can we do that? Right now, right here, how could we possibly change the world enough to let us be happy? It’s not possible, Keith.”
“It could be.” Lance sighed and stood up, shaking his head. He turned away and started down the stairs. Keith immediately followed behind him. “Lance,” Keith said softly, taking his hand.
Lance turned to him, pressing their foreheads together. His eyes were closed and his eyebrows furrowed together. “Of course I want to be with you. I never tried to hide it. But we’re bound to fall apart, Keith. In this world, it’s impossible. Our hands are tied. There’s a reason we can’t reach the stars.”
He gave Keith’s hand a final squeeze before pulling away and grabbing his things. Then he walked out of the building and Keith was left to listen to the echo of the door shutting.
--


The following day, Keith wasn’t sure how he felt. On one hand, he now knew Lance wanted him just as badly as Keith wanted him. He had confessed his feelings and it hadn’t led to his demise. But on the other, Lance couldn’t bring himself to break free from the binds the world had given them.
As Keith watched the performance that night, he saw the same protesters, this time throwing popcorn at the acts that came close enough. Keith couldn’t help but blame them and anyone like them for the way Lance’s defiance had dwindled.
And that night, when Lance and Allura came down from their hoops and the men began shouting louder and throwing peanut shells, Keith walked forward and took Allura’s hand in one of his, then grasped Lance’s in the other. He focused on the protesters, glaring at them as he presented the siblings and bowed with them. Lance allowed his hand to linger for a moment before he went back behind the curtain along with the others.
The audience filed out, and Keith waited patiently, eyeing the men who should never have been allowed in.
“Bunch of freaks!” he shouted. “Parading them around, scarring the children!”
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave. The show is over,” Keith said in a low, angry voice as he walked toward them.
“How could you let those things touch you?” another man asked, his face twisted with disgust.
Keith felt his hands begin to shake. “I won’t ask again. Get out.”
The man near the front sneered and stepped closer, reeking of alcohol. “And what are you going to do about it, pal?”
Keith snarled and swung, hitting the man across the face, and shoving him back against the bleachers. The commotion drew the other out and suddenly the entire place was in chaos. Hunk and Shiro and Letty and Matt were fighting people off, and Keith felt lightheaded from a bad hit to the head.
Suddenly, he heard someone scream, “Fire!”
He turned and his eyes went wide at the sight of the curtains catching fire quickly, the flames spreading throughout the building rapidly. “Free the animals!” Keith shouted. “Get out! Get out!” He ushered them all out as the heat began to become unbearable. The smoky scent of burning wood and cloth filled his nose, burning his nostrils and making his throat feel fuzzy. “Is everyone out? Is everyone okay?” he asked.
His eyes searched the group, catching most of their familiar faces. He felt relieved when he saw Lance, his face panicked, but safe. “Allura? Allura!” he shouted. “Keith, I can’t find her!” Keith looked around, searching for Allura. He looked back at the building and removed his coat. “Keith, no!” Lance shrieked.
Keith barged back into the burning building, and Lance tried to run after him, but Hunk gripped him around the waist and hauled him back.
“Lance!” He turned at the sound of his sister’s voice and scrambled free of Hunk’s grasp until he was running toward her, taking her in his arms. He held her tightly, and checked her for injuries, but she was fine.
The sound of something crashing and crumbling made everyone step back as the front of the building collapsed. “Keith!”
He felt another arm pull him back and he looked up to see Shiro. “Stay here,” he insisted.
“No, no!” Lance cried out after him as he made his way into the flames. All around him he could hear coughing, wailing, cries, and sirens. Allura pressed closer to him, hiding her face in his chest as she shook.
“Look!” Katie shouted, pointing to the figure coming out of the fire. Lance was pushed back as Shiro came out, coughing, carrying Keith’s slumped body. He laid him out on the floor and leaned forward. “Is he alive?” Katie asked with a shaking voice.
“He’s breathing. He inhaled a lot of smoke though,” Shiro answered as he coughed and leaned back onto his heels.
Lance fell to his knees and gasped when he saw Keith. Pieces of his skin were charred, ashes dusted his face, and blood glistened beneath seared skin. He eyes were shut and Lance had to fight the urge to shake him awake.
Just the night before they had been in each other’s arms. Just a few moments ago, his hand had been in his for all to see. Lance felt grief overwhelm him as Keith was taken by the firemen and his home crumbled to ashes before him.
--
Coran had returned as soon as he heard of the fire. The tour was cut short, and the bank had foreclosed the land since they found out that Coran used fraudulent collateral. Lance knew that the others had gone to find him to know what would become of them, to know what they had to do next. But Lance was busy.
Keith had gone back for Allura. The second Keith’s eyes had met Lance’s, he knew. He knew Keith would do anything for Lance. Even if it meant going back into a fire to save the only blood family he had left. Despite Allura being older, Lance had always felt protective of her. In a world where their skin was despised, men tended to eye her a certain way, and Lance knew it was up to him to protect her. When he couldn’t find her, he felt a fear he’d never experienced before.
And then Keith had gone right back into the flames, and Lance realized he had no idea what he would do if he lost Keith. He was so tired of being afraid. Of being ashamed.
Lance had stayed at Keith’s bedside ever since the nurses had tended his wounds, and he refused to leave. He held onto Keith’s hand crying profusely. He looked like he was in pain. He was covered in burns and scrapes and bruises.
Lance had allowed the fear to win him over, and now he had no idea if Keith would even wake up. For the past three nights, Lance had brought his battered hand to his lips and whispered, “Wake up, Keith. I can’t rewrite the stars without you.”
Allura, Hunk and Katie, Matt, and Shiro sometimes came in to see how he was doing, or to update Lance on Coran’s state, or some stuff they found in the rubble left by the fire. But none of them tried to pry Lance away from Keith.
It wasn’t until another few days had passed after Coran’s returned that Lance felt the hand in his twitch slightly. He sat up and looked at Keith hopefully. His fingers began to move, closing around Lance’s. Keith’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion and his head turned slowly. His eyes remained closed as he took a few heaving breaths. Lance’s grip tightened on his hand and he brought his knuckled up to his lips, feeling himself begin to smile. Keith was waking up. He would be fine.
Slowly, his eyes opened, revealing those incredible, heart-stopping dark blue-grey eyes….
As soon as Keith opened his eyes, he saw the color blue. Sparkling and bright, encased in beautifully angled eyes. And then the chocolatey skin, mostly covered by blankets. And then the freckles, tears smeared over them. Then the smile. The beautiful smile that never failed to take Keith’s breath away.
“You’re here,” he croaked.
Lance let out a nervous laugh and nodded, tears streaming freely down his face. Suddenly, a hand was on his cheek, the other tightening more around his own, and Lance’s lips were pressing against him.
Keith’s eyebrows shot up, but his entire body felt electrified. He felt dizzy and as Lance pulled back, caressing his face, Keith couldn’t help but smile dopily at him. Lance pushed his hair back gently and leaned down to kiss him again. And Keith realized what Lance meant about feeling free. He felt like he was flying.
--
After a few more days in the hospital, with Lance helping him drink water and eat, Keith was finally able to leave. His skin felt tender, but he was healed. Only faded scrapes and bruises were left behind.
Lance took him to the remains of the circus and they saw Coran kicking at a few rocks.
“So,” Lance said, taking Keith’s hand. “Where are we putting our new home?”
Coran frowned and sighed, sitting on the rubble. “There’s not a bank in the state that will give me a loan at this point.”
Keith stared at him, then at the others who were lingering around the rubble, looking forlorn and nostalgic. He walked over and sat next to Coran. Lance sat beside him, leaning back and stretching out his limbs. “You know,” Keith said, catching the showman’s attention. “Before I joined you, I had the perfect life. I had an inheritance, I had an invitation to the greatest parties, and I knew what I would become. I was safe.” Coran looked at him tiredly, the lines on his face carving themselves deeper. “But I was never happy. Now look at me. I’m a mess, and I almost died, and I have no one but the people here to count on.” The others chuckled softly, and Coran’s mustache twitched as he smiled. “You promised me I’d be happy. And that you could set me free. You kept your promise, Mr. Smythe.”“That warms my heart, my boy,” Coran said, smiling wider when Lance leaned his chin on Keith’s shoulder. “Sadly, the bank doesn’t take promises of happiness as collateral.”
Keith looked at Lance and smirked. “No. But I could.” Coran frowned and Keith shrugged. “I had the sense to take my cut weekly even when I was touring. While the profits of Amelia’s tour can pay off your debt, my savings can help us start the circus again.”
Coran began to laugh maniacally, and he shook his head, his hair unruly after the exertion of sifting through the remains of the building. “No. No, I can’t let you do that, Keith.”
“Aw, sure you can,” Lance answered.
“Since when are you afraid of risks?” Katie asked as she leaned against a crumbled wall.
Again, the others chuckled. Coran stifled a disbelieving chuckle and covered his mouth. Keith cleared his throat and grimaced. “Although, I’m not sure how we’re supposed to reconstruct an entire building.”
Coran furrowed his eyebrows and began to smile. He stood up and began to pace. “We don’t need a building. We can get the land without a problem. All we need is a tent. It’s easier to set up and take down. We can become mobile! Move the circus to tour the country! We’ll get the animals back and have a ticket booth.” He turned to the others and smiled. “What do you all think?”
The others looked at each other and smiled. They would be returning home soon.
--
Coran had been right. The circus was easy to set up with a tent. They placed the bleacher up at the edges and recreated the stage. A separate tent served for practice and preparation. After the fire, their rapid bounce back had caused the ticket sales to sky rocket, and they found themselves sold out for two shows a night from Friday to Sunday.
Meanwhile, the group was preparing for the grand opening act in the tent. It would be their first performance since the fire, but Keith knew it would be the best one yet. He could feel it in his bones. He could see it their eyes.
“How are you feeling?” he asked Lance as he’d whisked him away when he came down from the trapeze set. They had begun letting people get seated, so Lance and Allura had half an hour to relax before going to perform.
Lance nodded and wrapped his arms around Keith. “Excited. It feels good to be back up there.”
Keith smiled and leaned in, brushing their noses together. He pressed their lips together and sighed in content.
Suddenly, he heard Katie call out, “Welcome to the circus of oddities and curiosities, Mr. Kogane!” He pulled away from Lance and laughed as she winked at him before unfolding herself and walking over to her brother.
Coran came into the tent to check on the performers, smiling as he saw their excitement. Keith was watching Lance walk away, returning to Allura when he was suddenly aware of a staff being held out to him. He blinked in confusion and Coran winked.
“Why don’t you go out and get the show started?”
“Wait… really?” Coran nodded. “What about you?”
He sighed and shrugged. “I think I’d like to watch. Besides, you seem to feel truly at home here. So, what do you say?”
Keith smiled and took the staff with it’s golden globe at the top. Coran smiled widely and gestured out to the next curtain. The rest of the performers took their places, and Keith watched as the lights came down. He made his way to the center, head down, one hand on his hat, the other leaning his weight against the cane.
The spotlight came down on him, and Keith couldn’t help but smile as he looked up and saw the crowd that had gathered for them.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he spread his arms. “Welcome to the greatest show on earth!”
Blasts of fire lit up the dark. The lights came up as the performers waltzed and flipped and jumped into the center. Confetti rained down around them. Above them, Keith could see Lance and Allura flinging themselves from the bars and catching each other. He walked around, smiling proudly as the performer put everything they had into their acts. The elephants and lions hooked the audience and an elephant even took Keith’s top hat.
He laughed delightedly as Lance swooped down and took it back. He let go of the ribbon he’d been swinging on and a group of the others caught him in their arms. Lance offered the hat to Keith with a sly smile and lured him over to the ribbon.
He placed the hat on him as he wrapped the ribbon securely and Keith held onto him as they zipped up into the air, too high for the eyes of the spectators. Lance smiled and kissed him, making Keith dizzy and bubbly with happiness.
He swung them back down and let Keith back onto the ground, laughing joyously as he swooped back up with his sister. Keith laughed as he watched.
If loving someone as beautiful as Lance Alvarez made Keith a curiosity, he was perfectly fine with that. He’d been trapped in a conventional, boring life before. He never wanted to go back. Because now, he was truly free.