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fic: Big Blue Shoes

Title: Big Blue Shoes
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC) / X-Men: First Class
Characters/Pairing: young Lestrade, Erik/Charles
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none
Wordcount: 1978
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: CLOWN WANTED, the notice said. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY.
A/N: Fill for the "AU: circus" square on my trope_bingo card, inspired by the young Rupert Graves's brief stint as a clown and slack-rope-walker.
This one is a birthday story for 2ndskin; happy birthday to her! Thanks to [personal profile] kalypso for beta wisdom and to [personal profile] thimpressionist for cheering me on.



“I'm not having you hanging round the house all summer,” Greg's mum said. “Get down the Job Centre and find yourself something to do.”

“It's not fair,” Greg muttered, but he knew there was no arguing with her once she'd made her mind up about something.

He hated the Job Centre, with its stupid cards for shitty boring jobs no-one in their right mind would want to do. This time, though, there was one he hadn't seen before.

CLOWN WANTED, the notice said. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY.

Greg got called a clown often enough at school, usually just before Mr Higgins threw chalk at him for mucking about. Being a clown sounded less arse-achingly dull than everything else on offer, and if he went for it at least it would get his mum off his back for a bit.

The woman behind the counter raised an eyebrow but didn't comment when he said he was interested in the clown job.

“Xavier's Circus,” she said, looking at the back of the card. “They're over at Hanaker Common. Report to Mr Lanes-Hair.”

Greg didn't believe for one minute that anyone was really called Lanes-Hair, but he wasn't going to worry about that. He bought a Mars bar from the newsagents and went off to join the circus.

***

Mr Lanes-Hair-spelt-Lehnsherr was a moody-looking man, whipcord-tough and glaring. (Greg wasn't scared of him. He was fifteen now, old enough to leave school if he wanted to, definitely too old to be scared of some grumpy old git.)

“The Job Centre sent me,” Greg said. “They said you're looking for a clown.”

“What can you do?” Lehnsherr snapped.

Greg did a couple of somersaults and a back-flip, cartwheeled a few times, tripped over the caravan steps and sat down hard on the grass, feeling like a complete prat.

Lehnsherr looked pained. “Pitiful,” he said.

Stung, Greg went into his best mime routine, the one with the invisible dachshund that had made Josie Clark laugh so hard she agreed to go out with him.

“Less pitiful,” Lehnsherr said. “Did you make that up yourself?”

Greg nodded, fielding the imaginary dachshund as it jumped into his arms and licked his face.

“OK,” Lehnsherr said. “You finish your moves properly, that's one good thing. Come and see Charles – he may be able to get something out of you.”

Charles was the blue-eyed, friendly-looking man in the wheelchair, sitting by the entrance to the Big Top. He smiled at Lehnsherr, and Lehnsherr smiled back, which was more surprising than any of the acrobatics going on inside the tent.

“We may have a new clown,” Lehnsherr said. “His tumbling's hopeless, but the mime's not completely without merit.”

Charles grinned broadly. “As good as that? Hello, I'm Charles Xavier. Delighted to meet someone who's impressed Erik at last.”

“I'm Greg Lestrade,” Greg said. “I can juggle too.”

“Good,” Charles said, beaming, though Lehnsherr was looking pained again. “Have you done any rope-walking?”

“Tightrope?” Greg asked, feeling his stomach lurch. He didn't like heights.

“Slack rope,” Lehnsherr said curtly. It obviously wasn't a joke, though Greg had never heard of the thing.

“Erik's the best at that,” Charles said, looking at him fondly.

Lehnsherr muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “crap”, but he looked pleased. Greg thought he might actually be blushing a bit.

“So when can you start?” Charles asked.

“Right away,” Greg said. He'd been going to take the rest of the day off, but this looked like it was going to be fun.


***


Circus life didn't seem much like fun after a week of Lehnsherr's training; Greg was exhausted and his muscles ached in places he didn't even know he had muscles. Lehnsherr was still a grumpy sod, though he'd finally stopped referring to Greg as an imbecile with two left feet.

“You're doing really well,” Charles told Greg. “Normally it takes at least a month for anyone to get to that stage with Erik.”

Charles seemed to be the only one Erik wasn't grumpy with. Greg had heard him snapping at all the other performers: Angel and Sean, the aerialists, swooping and diving above the ring; Alex the fire-eater and Armando the strong man; Mystique, the contortionist, who could make herself into extraordinary shapes; and Hank, the other clown, who was a better acrobat than Greg would ever be.

Greg couldn't understand why Lehnsherr didn't perform himself, especially when Charles said he was so good. He wasn't stupid enough to ask about it, though; Lehnsherr looked as if he'd skin you alive if you talked out of turn.

“Would you like to do that?” Charles asked, as they watched Angel twist and turn in the air before Sean caught her and they swung together.

“No,” Greg said, shuddering.

“You don't like heights,” Charles said.

“No, I don't,” Greg said. Even watching Angel and Sean made his insides feel funny.

“I used to love them,” Charles said wistfully. “Until I fell.”

So that was why he was in the wheelchair, Greg thought. He tried to imagine what it must be like, being able to fly like that, and then –

“Don't tell Erik I said that, please,” Charles said. For a request it sounded a lot like an order. “He doesn't like anyone talking about the accident.”

Greg's mum always said he was too stubborn by half. After what Charles had told him, he was dead set on finding out what had happened.


***


“I don't know anything about it,” Hank said. “It was five years ago, before I joined. All I know is that nobody talks about it, and you'd better hope Mr Lehnsherr doesn't find out you've been asking.”

Obviously Greg wasn't going to get anywhere talking to the circus people; he'd have to try another tack.

The local library had newspapers going back donkey's years. This wasn't how he'd meant to spend his free time, but he wanted to know, even if it took weeks to find out. He stuck at it, fending off Josie's increasingly sulky demands to stop being so boring and come down the arcade or go for chips or ice-cream.

After what felt like years slogging through dusty back numbers of the Mudford Gazette, he finally struck gold.

BIG TOP TRAGEDY, the headline screamed. INQUEST REPORT, it said in smaller letters underneath.

The circus hadn't been called Xavier's in those days, but Shaw's. And it was Sebastian Shaw who'd been killed when his caravan caught fire, in what the paper described as a tragic accident. They made a proper sob story of it all, and no wonder.

First there'd been Charles's accident, and then when everyone but Shaw was at the hospital waiting for news there was the fire. Shaw's business partner Emma Frost (where was she now, Greg wondered) told the inquest Shaw had been drinking because he blamed himself for the accident. Asked why he should blame himself, she said it was his circus, of course he felt responsible.

One of the witnesses at the inquest, a Russian illusionist called Azazel who sounded like he had an axe to grind, claimed that Shaw had made Charles go on when he was ill with the flu, and that that was why he'd fallen. Frost denied it, and so did Lehnsherr, who was Charles's partner in the trapeze act. He was the one who should have caught Charles, but he couldn't reach him because Charles had mistimed his swing and let go too soon. The paper made a lot of that, too, going on about Lehnsherr's haunted expression. Greg had a strong urge to hunt down the court reporter and shove their report down their throat. Jesus, no wonder Lehnsherr didn't like anyone talking about the accident.

Greg could see why Frost would say the flu story wasn't true – a story like that could be hard to shake off, and bad for business. Come to that, he could see why Lehnsherr would deny it too, because if Shaw was responsible for Charles's accident that was one hell of a motive for murder.

The inquest concluded that Shaw must have been too drunk or too heavily asleep to save himself when the fire broke out, and the verdict was death by misadventure. Greg wasn't at all sure he believed that, but he didn't know what to do about it.

He'd wanted to find out about the accident, and he had. There was a satisfaction in that, even if it did make him uncomfortable.



Charles took one look at him when he got back to the Big Top that afternoon and said “You found out, then.”

Greg didn't know how he knew, but he wasn't going to lie about it. “Yes,” he said.

“That can't have been easy to do,” Charles said.

“It took a while,” Greg said.

Charles looked at him again, an odd sort of measuring look. “How long?”

“Three weeks,” Greg said, feeling it was probably a bad idea to admit it. “When I had any spare time.”

“Hmm,” Charles said.

Greg shuffled under his gaze, feeling awkward. “I'm not going to tell anyone,” he said.

“No,” Charles said. “But you'll have to go, just the same. Erik's not going to want you around after this.”

He hadn't thought it would come to that. Hadn't known till Charles said it how much he was going to mind, either.

“Look,” Charles said gently, “I know you've enjoyed being with us, but this is not the right place for you. If it hadn't been for this I'd have kept you on longer, but maybe it's just as well. You ought to go back to school – no, don't pull that face – and get some qualifications. There's more to you than this, and you shouldn't waste it.”

Soft soap, Greg thought, but Charles said “I mean it. You want to know things and you stick at it till you find out. That's important. You're not a bad clown, but you could be a good detective.”

Not a bad clown took some of the sting out of it, though Greg was still smarting. Being a detective sounded glamorous, but what that probably meant was going into the police, and why would anyone want to do that?

Still, he couldn't stay with the circus any longer, that was clear.

“Charles says I should go back to school,” he said to Erik two days later, as they pulled down the Big Top, getting ready for the circus to move on.

“Then you should,” Erik said. “Charles has a gift for recognizing other people's abilities.”

They didn't speak about the accident, but it was clear that he knew what Greg had done, which had made the last couple of days pretty uncomfortable.

“I don't want to be a copper,” Greg said, bundling up guyropes.

“Waste of a half decent clown,” Erik said, astonishingly. “But I'd do what Charles says if I were you.”



Later, when he'd moved to London and joined the Met, Greg recognized that Charles was right. He hadn't known it then, but this was the job for him.

That wasn't the only thing he hadn't realized about himself back then. Never occurred to him to wonder why he wasn't bothered when Josie broke up with him – he was too busy studying, didn't think anything of it at the time.

The first time in London, dancing in a club and feeling that tightening of excitement in his stomach, knowing he was going to go to bed with another man, it was Charles and Erik he remembered, the way they'd look at each other, the way Erik's hand would rest on Charles's shoulder or the back of his neck. The way being around the two of them felt comfortable and right, even with Erik's grumpiness. Remembering made it easier, somehow; made it feel OK.

All in all it wasn't such a bad time, the summer Greg joined the circus.


***

Title from the Magnetic Fields song, I Looked All Over Town.




Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/107775.html with comment count unavailable comments.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
fengirl88
Mar. 12th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
this comment made me beam at intervals throughout the day - thank you very much! I like writing different versions of Lestrade's past and how he came to be who he is, and I knew there had to be a reason he didn't stay with the circus. it took a bit of working out but I am happy with the result, and very happy you enjoyed it so much.
thesmallhobbit
Mar. 13th, 2013 08:43 am (UTC)
I like the way you've captured Lestrade as a slightly gawkish youth who spends the summer becoming a bit more sure of who he is - especially as it wasn't quite who he thought he was.
fengirl88
Mar. 14th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
thank you very much - glad you liked it! I like imagining different versions of how Lestrade becomes who he is.
rusty_armour
Mar. 13th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
Wonderful birthday present for 2ndskin! :-) I love the way you've managed to take Rupert Graves's past and make it a backstory for Lestrade! It's great that Lestrade discovers his future path because his curiosity gets the better of him and he can't help snooping into Charles's past. It's really sweet that Charles points out Lestrade's talents and suggests he becomes a detective. I really like the fact that Lestrade doesn't really take in everything he learns at the circus until he's older and has gained some wisdom.
fengirl88
Mar. 14th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
*beams*

thank you very much! I wanted a perspective character for the circus fic and young Lestrade was the obvious choice, after which I realized that he'd have to have something to detect... *grins*
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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