Fandom: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere
Summary: Richard and Door go to the circus
A/N: This is an older story, written for Yuletide 2008
Sometimes Richard felt he would never stop embarassing himself with stupid questions. Such as today when he had asked Door if there really was a circus at Oxford Circus.
„You know? A real circus. I've been thinking about it since I first moved to London... London Above I mean.“
"Of course not." said Door and shook her head. Richard thought he might as well have asked if rats could fly. He sighed, shrugged and prepared to drop the subject, but then Door continued.
"It did start at Oxford Circus, a long time ago. But today the circus travels all over the Underside."
She nodded and shifted into a more confortable position. This was not too easy because they were both sitting on a rather narrow bannister somewhere at Liverpool Street Station. It was in the middle of the night and around them the sounds of the last visitors of the Floating Market faded in the darkness between the high Egyptian colums of the train shed.
"It's been ages since it last took place at Oxford Circus." Door's feet gently knocked a complicated rhythm against the white varnished metal of the bannister.
"But there is a circus? A proper circus with clowns and elephants and everything?"
"Excactly. It's been a while since I've been there. I was ten years old back then... visited the Circus with my parents..."
Her voice trailed off and Richard cursed himself. It hadn't been his intention to remind Door of her family's fate. They hadn't talked about it since Richard's return to London Below and he felt very awkward for that the topic had been mentioned at all..
But Door soon lifted her head and a sudden sparkle filled her oddly-coloured eyes. "Ingress has never been there. She always complained that she'd missed it. The Circus doesn't appear every year, you know?“
"So when was the last time?"
"Two years ago. How strange, that you've mentioned it... I think it must take place right these days... You know what?"
"What?" Richard felt lost. He had no idea what was going on in Door's head right now.
She jumped from the bannister, turned her head towards him and smiled, showing her astonishing white teeth that brightened her pale face.
"We should go there!" she said, "You and me and Ingress - it'll be fantastic!"
Richard left the bannister a bit more carefully. He had strained his ankle a month ago and had since experienced the hard way, how inconvenient such an injury was in a world where medical care had never really advanced beyond 19th century level.
He followed Door through the big hall, without paying much attention to the last merchants who were dismantling their stalls and carrying their goods and earnings back to their homes.
It was strange how fast you grew familiar to London Below. He had been living here for the better part of three months now, but all in all this time had not differed too much from his first months in London Above.
When he had come to London from Scotland he had been so very confused by the hectic maze that was the city. But he got used to it eventually until one day he realized that after almost a year in London he still had not visited the Tower Bridge, the Tower or the Houses of Parliament.
It was the same with the Underside: Although Door, the marquis and the others mentioned these places once in a while, Richard had never been to Marble Arch, Ravenscourt or the Temple (he still had no idea what was the matter with Temple and Arch - but after everything he had experienced in in here he was not very eager to find out). Neither had he ever been to Oxford Circus.
However getting used to London Above had been easier by far. For instance, in London Above nobody had try to kill him on his very first day. There also had been fewer monsters and fewer climbs in horrendous heights, just for starters.
By now they had reached Liverpool Street Underground Station and Richard's train of thoughts was interrupted by a newcomer:
A creature that seemed to consist mainly of dark green fur with what looked like brown leaves fixed to its upper side was crouching next to the stairs that led down towards the Tube. Door bent down and asked something in a low voice. The ...thing answered in what sounded like the rustle of dry leaves against a windowsill in autumn.
Richard didn't understand a word so he was left to shift from one foot to the other with his hands in his pockets, feeling slightly left out.
Sometimes he still felt embarrassingly alien to this world, even with Hunter's knife in a scabbard at his belt and people he didn't even know greeting him as "the Warrior who slew the Beast" - which had been more embarassing than anything else. It felt more like a secret joke people were sharing at his expense, than the acknowledgment of an heroic act, although Door had already told him a dozen times that these praises were signs of actual respect.
Door had finished talking to the green thing and now she beckoned Richard to follow her down the stairs.
"You're lucky Richard - the Circus actually returned to Oxford Circus a few days ago!"
"Oh... great. Uhm... who was it that you were talking to?"
Door shrugged "Oh, just a bush - he's from Green Park I suppose, knew pretty much everything that's going on along Victoria and Piccadilly line."
Richard nodded and decided that it was better not to ask for any further information. Instead he made a mental note: "Bushes: Green things, look like compost someone left for the rubbish collection. Obviously living at stations connected to the London Parks."
He would never admit it to anyone, but he actually kept a little notebook in which he sometimes wrote down facts about the Underside whenever he had learned something new. The book was almost full by now and he thought that he might decide later if information about animated bushes was really important enough to write down. It would not be easy to get hold of another decent notebook on the Underside.
"We should fetch Ingress" said Door. Just by mentioning her sister's nam,e her eyes lit up and she suddenly looked much younger.
It had been during the first week after Richard's return to London Below, that they had learned that the angel Islington had not lied, that Doors little sister was in fact still alive.
They had found her hidden in a secret passage far below Tottenham Hale station. The girl had been scared and badly traumatized. It had taken days until she had spoken a word. You still had to be very careful with her, but her condition had improved rapidly since then. Richards was still surprised how much people from the Underside were able to endure. Life was hard down here, but the people seemed so... used to it. Sometimes, it scared him.
Nevertheless, after a few weeks, little Ingress had warmed up to Richard. He had spent quite a lot of time with Door and her sister and he was looking forward to seeing her again.
They left the Central Line train at Holborn where an access to the House with no Doors was hidden. Richards watched Door opening a small gate behind an poster that was advertising the latest West End musical. "Come in," she said and climbed through the narrow opening. Richard followed her and soon found himself within the huge entrance hall of Door's family home.
Ingress was waiting for them. She always seemed to know when Door would be home.
Door's sister was about seven years old, but as with her older sibling it was difficult to tell. She had lighter hair than Door, and her small face was of a rounder shape, but her eyes were of the same odd opal colour.
Door lifted her sister from the ground and spun her around. A wide smile spread over her face and for a second Richard felt absurdly jealous. Then Door put the litle girl down and took her hand.
"Would you like to go to the Circus?" she asked.
* * *
Back when he was living in London Above (with Jessica - the simple thought began to appear like a shadow from another life to him), Richard had been to Oxford Circus almost every day. Today, however, was the first time in weeks that he crossed the deep-down passages between the platforms of Circle Line and Victoria Line.
Communters from London Above crowded the tunnels but nobody looked twice at their small group. Richard was used to this by now, but from time to time he was still afraid that he might accidently bump into someone from his old life.
Of couse, he could not imagine ever to return above. But nevertheless he was not too keen on spotting Gary or anyone else of his former collegues. Or Jessica.
They wouldn't see him, he knew that for sure.
But still, the very thought of facing them in his current attire: Unshaven with longish hair, clad in a weird combination of his old, worn-out jeans and trainers with a badly-fitting suit jacket and a ragged Victorian coat (provided by the marquis de Carabas who seemed to have access to an almost unlimited source of various period memorabilia) filled him with unease and he was glad when they left the public tunnels via a small gateway with a "staff only" sign.
They entered another tunnel. There were no ads for musicals and perfume here, no white-tiled walls with framed tube maps. This tunnel was built from heavy grey blocks, the floor was moist and slippery and the air was sticky with a faint smell of decay and moldiness.
They were no longer alone. Other denizens of the Underside began to fill the passage, walking into the same direction as Richard, Door and Ingress at a leisurely pace.
There were more children than Richard had ever seen before in London Below: Some of them looked like Victorian street urchins straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. Others he recognized as rat-speakers clad in layers of torn cloths with shaggy hair and pinched faces. He also spotted (or rather smelled), two small silent sewer-children who kept close to the tunnel's walls while greenish liquid was dripping from their clothes, several creatures that didn't appear entirely human and there even were two or three smaller versions of the bush-creature they had spotted at Victoria station.
Door looked around warily, holding Ingress' hand tightly in hers. There was still a lot of fear lurking beneath the surface of her pale face and Richard felt a warm wave of compassion flooding through his heart.
He could only begin to imagine what his friend had endured in her life and her being afraid of losing the last surviving member of her family once again was only too understandable.
Richard straightened his shoulders and his hand crept towards the hilt of Hunter's knife on his belt (He was still unable to call it anything else. In a calm minute he had even pondered that this might be his weapons official name by now "Hunter's Knife" ... Well, he supposed there were worse names out there). The gesture was ridiculous, he knew that for sure, but somehow it always managed to calm him down.
They passend a corner and stopped shortly before the tunnel widened into a huge underground hall. Its enormous red brick arches had the dimensions of a cathedral. Dozens, no hundreds of voices echoed through the torch-lit darkness. People were approaching from all sides, where the dark mouths of several tunnels opened into the gigantic cavern.
In the center of the room stood a large tent. For a moment Richard was absurdely dissappointed that a circus tent of London Below looked almost excactly the same as a generic circus tent anywhere in England above. Maybe it was a bit more run-down, the red and white canvas more faded and covered with patches and rough stitches. But the colourful lanterns. decorating it, the pennants and flags all looked very familiar.
People were crowding in front of the tent. Obviously queueing was not a strong duit of the citizens of London Below, as Richard had already noticed earlier. Their small group joined the crowd and squeezed in behind a group of colourfully-clad young woman with faded curly wigs who looked vaguely baroque and rather pretty until one of them turned her head and Richard saw the bird's beak and the feathers in her face.
Richard bent down to Door.He had no idea why he had dropped his voice to almost a-whisper "What kind of place is this?"
Door shrugged "Old Sewers I suppose. They've been empty for decades"
There were sewers so deep below Oxford Street? They had to be located more than two hundred feet underground, Richard couldn't imagine that the Victorians had dug so deep. But he should be used to oddities by now and he was vaguely proud of himself, for not asking any forther or muttering something along the lines of "that's impossible".
A loud noise eminated from the tent. It was something between a roar and a bleating with a distinct metallic sound, as if somebody was trying to play a gigantic rusty trumpet. Richard twitched, Ingress pressed closely to Door and stared ahead with big opal eyes. The crowd began to whisper in barely hidden excitement, but nobody seemed notably scared, even when the sound rang out again.
Richard felt cold goosebumbs crawl down his back. This could only be the cry of a big animal. A giant animal. And since he had faced the Great Beast of London, sounds of this kind hit a bit too close to home.
He still only had to close his eyes to recall the panic and the paralysis, the grunting and the smell, the tiny red eyes and the overwhelming stench of blood when the Beast had charged towards him through the mud.
"What's this?" Thankfully, Ingress' clear voice cut though the haze of fearful memories in Richard head.
"An elephant" said someone from the crowd.
"An elephant?“ It had not sounded like an elephant at all. At least not like those he encountered in London Zoo, years ago on a date with Jessica.
„Down here?" Okay, so he was still asking questions. Maybe he should really start accepting things as they were. It was about time. But his mouth was already miles ahead of his brain. „No elephant sounds like this!“
"Of course they do. Have you never heard of Elephant and Castle?"
"There are elephants at... ?“
"There've been elephants at the end of Bakerloo line ever since Queen Victoria had them brought in for the Jubilee."
Richard nodded his head in silence and even smiled to himself as he wondered how an elephant might have fit through the sometimes very small tunnels on the Underside. Then he thought of the Beast and he smiled no more.
"This... this isn't going to be dangerous, is it?" he asked.
"Shhh!" Door shook her head and gestured in Ingress' direction. In a lower voice she continued "No, not any more dangerours than most other places."
Richard nodded. He thought about the metallic tinge to the elephant's trumpeting and he was not sure if he really wanted to know how an elephant from London Below looked like. Then again: What could be worse than the Beast?
His gaze then trailed over the assembled crowd, taking in all the weirdness and the wonder: There were so many people, so many creatures, most of them belonging to species he'd never seen before. Once again he put his hand on the hilt of Hunter's knife and watched the multitude of heads, some dark, some fair, some bald, some with pointed ears, with green and purple hair, some with top hats or shabby caps and some even with antlers or tiny horns.
He still knew so little about this world, there were still surprises behind every corner.
"So... elephants..." His fingers left the knife and his own voice sounded strange and alien in his ears.
"Huge elephants!" said Door and smiled.
"I'm curious then."
The Beast was still in his head, but the memory was slowly getting supplanted by something else. He couldn't put his finger on it, still struggled to name it. Was it Excitement? Awe? Curiosity?
And suddenly there was music.
Red and blue and yellow lights were flashing over the entrance of the circus tent. The crowd cheered and pushed closer to the portal. Richard heard someone laugh. He looked down and saw Ingress' small excited face. He looked up and saw the same smile on Door's lips.
Inside the elephants were waiting. There was the metallic trumpet sound again, but this time, it did not scare Richard as much as it had before.
And then Door's hand, small and cool in ragged fingerless gloves, slid into his, and the fear and the doubt and the Beast were gone completely.