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Trouble In Paradise?


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The first thing she heard when she opened her eyes was the creaking of the wheels as the wagons moved along. The menagerie was on the move again, having finished a set of shows in Tear. Despite the adulation the performances had received - and the full coffers - everyone in the group had been happy to leave. They’d set up on the outskirts of the city, attempting to stay as far from the muck as possible, but it was to no avail. Boards were set down to avoid sinking into the sludge, but there were far too few boards and far too much mud. It just seemed to ooze everywhere, making its way into every nook and cranny; it would take the handlers days to get the clay out of the animals fur, and longer to get the clay out of performance garments. It was always a chore to polish everything before the next showing.


The creaking was a familiar sound and today, it made her smile. Lately everything was making her smile. It was as if the giddiness of being in love pervaded her every thought and action. She felt…like a child with a new toy. She grinned deviously, I DO have a new toy though… She glanced almost pointedly at the body next to her, laying on his stomach, face turned away from her toward the door. Unable to resist herself, Tensleigh propped herself up on one elbow and began trailing her fingers lightly across Viktor’s broad shoulders. He let out a soft snore when she touched him causing her to giggle quietly and then cover her mouth when he stirred.


Lifting his head off the pillow momentarily, the ringmaster turned to face her and gave her a brilliant smile. Then he settled back down onto the mattress and closed his eyes, features slackening slowly as if he was falling back asleep. Tensleigh smoothed some dark hair off his forehead gently, kissed him lightly and then after a moment, trailed kisses to his ear and whispered that if he knew what was good for him, he wouldn’t go back to sleep just yet. Viktor’s eyes snapped open and the lion tamer grinned seductively before moving in to kiss him for the second time this morning.


Holding her hand up to shade her eyes, the tamer glanced past the bars, out the door of the wagon to see several of the staff milling about. She frowned, looked up at the sun, and looked back at the group. I thought we were supposed to be on our way ago an hour ago. What is going on? Setting down the brush, Tensleigh patted a purring Lavi on the back and stood fluidly. She unlatched the set of bars, slid into the protection ring, pulled bars shut and jumped down from the wagon. Though they were a few wagons back, it did not take her long to reach the group – her long legs carrying her in half the time it would take Irene or Zevala – Petero’s “new” assistant.


The talking died down to a murmur as she drew closer. Tensleigh forced herself not to frown at that. It didn’t used to be that way – she had been one of the group for nearly her entire life. Even despite her friendship with Viktor the other members of the menagerie had never treated her differently. Perhaps because they all had been friendly enough with Viktor out in the open; they hadn’t known the depths or her friendship with him. Now, though, they knew that her relationship with Viktor went above and beyond the normal camaraderie of performer-owner, or even friendship. The pair had tried to keep up underwraps, but someone had found out and the news had spread through the camp like wildfire. Tensleigh had been livid that someone would betray her, them!, like that, but Viktor had just laughed it off. Of course he did. It doesn’t alter how he is treated. Except for perhaps respect of some of the crew men. The lion tamer wasn’t stupid; she saw the nods and smiles they gave to him as their eyes flitted from her.


Make the best of it. She scolded herself. Drawing herself up, Tensleigh took a deep breath and stepped up into one side of the large circle. “What’s going on?” She asked, her tone natural and calm. No sense in letting them see that being treated differently bothered her. That would only provide more fuel to the fire. Sooner or later they would see that she wasn’t a new enemy, but rather an old friend. Why should she feel ashamed for being in love? A thought from earlier that morning flashed into her head and she fought back a smile, relaxing in the knowledge of Viktor and his love for her.


The group shifted on their feet and crossed their arms over their chests, not really answering her. “I thought we were supposed to be on the move over an hour ago,” Tensleigh said, moving on, again ignoring the rudeness of her acquaintances. When they didn’t answer, she flicked her eyes toward Viktor’s cabin and sighed. She supposed it was difficult to get everyone in line at the same time. Perhaps he needed some help. “Start readying the wagons, and yourself, to move. Barring any unforeseen circumstances we’ll be moving within the half hour.” The men smirked and dissembled, heading their separate ways while she headed toward the front of the line.


Viktor was nowhere to be seen when she reached his cabin, as per usual. Scrubbing a hand through her wild curls, Tensleigh pondered where he might be at that moment. Her eyes flickered to the bed and she felt a grin overcome her face once more - the tension from her confrontation with the staff leaving her. Let them be petty, she thought to herself, I have all I need. Though the issue with the staff would need to be raised later, the tamer felt confidence in that thought. She really did feel as if Viktor was all she needed and let the rest be damned. Hearing a commotion outside, Tensleigh ducked through the doorway and leapt down from the wagon. There,she saw the two drivers arguing about the lead. Quirking an eyebrow, she watched in fascination for a moment before shaking her head and jumping between the two of them. Another small fire I can fix for Viktor, she thought proudly, as the two drivers calmed down and settled on a length of lead.


As she instructed them to ready the horses to start moving within the next few minutes, Tensleigh turned around and saw Viktor staring at her. She smiled and rushed over to him.

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The Menagerie was late getting started. They were losing daylight and that meant miles on the road. Viktor was not happy about it. What was worse was that it was his own fault. He had his routine in the mornings. There was an order and a process to getting such a large company together, on the same page and on the move again. His morning had not gone as planned though, something that was occurring more frequently. Thinking back on how he had spent the morning it was hard to complain though. It was, however, frustrating that it seemed for him to enjoy one thing he had to deal with the problems it created with another thing. He resolved to find a new way to deal with the frustration or a new way to get the Menagerie rolling. He was not about to put a stop to enjoying his time with Tensleigh in the mornings.


It still felt strange to wake up with her in his bed. It felt like a dream he was about to wake up from. He was used to being in control of everything and everyone around him. This was different though. He felt like he had no control at all. Every time he saw her he forgot what he was doing or saying. All that he waned to do was take her in his arms. Everyone knew how to do their jobs, how much did they really need from him?


The truth was that even though everyone knew how to do their jobs for some reason they still needed him to encourage and scold and push all the right buttons to get everyone motivated and doing their job.


The road was already starting to get uncomfortably hot. Viktor dragged an arm across his brow and realized he was sweating already. At least he didn’t have the mud of Tear to deal with any longer. That place had been a nightmare, a very profitable nightmare, but a nightmare none the less.


The crowds had loved the acts. The tight rope walker, the strong man, the man with the daggers and the terrified assistant and Viktor’s pride and Joy Tensleigh and her lions. She was magnificent out there and so were her lions. Everyone sat on the edge of their seats the whole time wondering how anyone could control such magnificent beasts. Surely at any moment things would go wrong and the lions would show Tensleigh that they were not creatures to be told what to do. Yet, at every turn they did as she commanded and the crowd walked away amazed and shaking their heads. And Viktor, well he got to take her in his arms and tell her not to take such risks as he kissed her. She promised she would be more careful but her definition was vastly different from his own.


Viktor’s attention was drawn to a disagreement nearby. He saw two of his drivers arguing as he approached. As if they didn’t know how much lead to give. This would be one of the times he would have to scold. But before he could speak Tensleigh jumped in between the two and sent them both away with a firm word. They appeared on the point of arguing with her or hesitating until they saw him watching. His firm look sent them back to their jobs quickly enough.


This was the trickiest part Viktor had found. Nobody knew how to act towards Tensleigh now. Was she the Lion Tamer? Was she Viktor’s girl and therefore something more? Was she both, or neither? He had tried to keep things quiet at first, a task that proved impossible in such quarters with curious people. And curious was the nice way of saying nosey and gossipy. Even he did not know how to treat her. Did she want the added responsibility. Sometimes the burden was not fun. She would be treated differently just as he was. Sure they were nice enough to him but their guard was always up around him and they were always watching how he would react to things. It was a fine line to walk and he felt guilty that because of him she had to walk it now. For a brief moment he hoped that she didn’t feel forced to keep him happy so that she didn’t risk his turning her away from the menagerie if she turned away his affections. That was a disturbing thought.


It was also a ridiculous thought. He knew her feelings were true and strong just as his were for her. She turned and saw him and rushed over to him. He took her in his arms and for a moment he forgot about the menagerie running behind and the heat and everything else that was going on. There was only Tensleigh.


“I am sorry Tens, I still have to finish seeing to everything to get us back on the road.” He said after he kissed her. “You have your lions and everything else ready I trust?” He asked thought it was more a confirmation than anything else. He knew he could rely on her.

Edited by Arinth
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  • 2 weeks later...

Night had fallen hours ago by the time people finally began to disperse from the menagerie grounds. Lanterns still shone brightly atop poles and in the hands of visitors, illuminating the area and those within, but it was late enough that workmen began to pick their way through the crowds. Each man and woman had a task assigned to them, as certain as the performers had theirs, but while performers dazzled in the spotlights, these employees worked behind the scenes to ensure that everything happened smoothly. She knew the menagerie would not be the same without them and had always treated them accordingly, though several other performers considered the workpeople in almost a different class.


As the small jewels on her performance outfit glittered in the spotlights, Tensleigh saw a disgruntled look on several of their faces and she made a note to discuss their salary with Viktor. It had to be about money; it was always about money. Despite being a part of the menagerie for a long time, she couldn’t recall knowing more than a handful of them very well – only that she’s been taught to treat everyone equally. It helped to remember that when she was performing for a queen or for an Aes Sedai. None of the faces surrounded her looked familiar though. Several of the men still had a rough look about them and she wondered how many were new in the past three shows. One man was looking at her with open resentment and she looked at him questioningly before she turned to the sound of her name being called.


When she spun back around, the man was gone and the other workpeople were focusing on their duties. Biting her lip, Tensleigh stared at the spot the man had occupied and pondered what – if anything – could be done about his apparent dislike of her. She couldn’t tell Viktor that; he’d go ballistic. Though he wouldn’t speak of it to her, he was having difficulty knowing how to treat her in an official capacity. The nights were thrilling, she grinned momentarily at the memory of last night, but the days were still awkward. She saw the anger brimming behind his careful façade when anyone said anything remotely out of line to her where he could hear. Little did he know, that was merely how the crew treated each other and she’d adjusted to their mockings. It was still different between her and the crew, but it seemed as if they were all getting used to it. The past two weeks had done much to alleviate her fears in that regard.


Tucking a hunk of her wild hair behind her ear, the Tamer strode back to her wagon to change. The nude, though decorated in all the right places, catsuit she wore now had been torn slightly by an errant claw. There was a thin scratch down her left hip where the claw had grazed, but it wasn’t even deep enough for blood to well. The young lion had showed his love for her in his restraint and she was thankful. Truth be told, with the rush of adrenaline running through her due to the performance, she hadn’t even noticed until a fan had pointed it out! She’d laughed and pulled the taut material together to hide her exposed flesh. She was extremely glad Viktor had been otherwise occupied seeing as it had been a man she’d been speaking with at the time. Irene had rushed a midnight blue robe over to her and Tensleigh had shrugged it on, knotting the belt loosely around her so that the tear was covered.


She shrugged out of the suit and slipped the robe back on, tying the belt tightly around her waist. Looking down she figured it was decent enough. The fabric ended slightly before her knees and there was enough wrapped around that it didn’t split open when she walked. Tugging on a pair of sandals she left her wagon, striding purposefully toward Nico and Irene’s. A few whistles accompanied her walk and she laughed, tossing her hand up in the air as recognition for whomever had called out his appreciation. Golden curls whipped about her face as the wind picked up. Tent edges snapped in the gusts became more forceful and the Tamer picked up her pace.


The strongman and his wife were out when she arrived. Tensleigh knit her brows momentarily, curious where they would be, when she smelled a rich delicious scent waft past the open wagon door. She felt like a woolhead. Of course they would be at dinner! That’s probably where all the performers were, and where the workmen and women would be headed when they finished their assignments. The troupe would be here in Aringill for another two nights, so the cooks would go all out with local, fresh food.


As she penned a note to Irene about the suit, leaving it sitting folded on the table with the paper on top, she wondered if Viktor would be at dinner or eating alone in his cabin. He had never been a part of the group as she had, but with the camaraderie of the men of late, he’d been relaxing a bit more in the presence of his employees. But therein lay the rub – they were his employees and it had to be difficult to be friends with someone if you had to possibly fire him or her too. She looked toward the tent where the food was and then back toward Viktor’s wagon. The light was on. Taking a deep breath of the delicious aroma, she ran toward the Ringmaster’s cabin, slowly as she approached. Her stomach growled and she frowned down at it as if it were a traitor.


“Vik?” she called out, surprised at the nickname that rolled out of her mouth. “What are you up to? Want to go grab some dinner with the crew?” Being in a relationship hadn’t made her any better at knocking and she pushed open the door, her words the only warning to her presence.

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His cabin felt hot and smaller than usual as Viktor stood with his hands behind his back listening to yet another worker complain. He did his best to keep any emotion from crossing his face and betraying him. Why was it that people always had to find something to complain about? They could be complaining about the lack of a job after all but that just seemed to be the nature of man at times.


This man was complaining about the route they were taking. He wanted to go west even though they had just come from the west. Another man had complained about some new workers. One complained about his pay and one had even complained about Tensleigh. The man had insisted that she had issued a command demanding that he do something for her and that he wouldn’t stand for it. He worked for Viktor not his love interest of whatever Tensleigh was to him. Viktor had responded as calmly as he could, while imagining that his hands were strangling the man that he must have misunderstood Tensleigh’s helpful suggestion for a demand. The woman was smart and had a good heart if someone was making work harder for themselves by being stupid she would take time to offer to help them. It was something that most people would appreciate.


He didn’t like the thought of the new men causing problems. He still remembered how Tensleigh had been attacked. He had considered offering to hire a guard to protect her. He could just imagine how well that would go over though. She was a lion tamer after all he doubted she would appreciate it and the workers would take it as an insult to suggest she needed protecting from them. She might though. Now that he had her he didn’t want to take any chances. He couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.


Suddenly she was calling his voice and the door was opening. His breath still caught sometimes when he saw her. She was as beautiful as anyone he had ever seen. Even the Aes Sedai they had run into had paled in comparison in his own opinion. He took her in his arms and kissed her. He told the man complaining that he would address the issue and that he would talk to him again the next day.


When they were alone he kissed her again. When they stopped kissing later he pulled back and ran his hands up and down her sides from his hips up. “Are you okay? I swear I grow twice as nervous as the patrons watching you with your lions. I thought one even scratched you tonight. My first thought was to stop the show immediately.” He laughed at himself.


He was still dressed in the ringmaster clothes he had worn for the show. He started unbuttoning his shirt. He stripped it off and found another one that was more comfortable though hardly less flashing. He did enjoy looking nice. He smiled as he finished adjusting the dark red shirt he wore and found Tensleigh watching him. She looked stunning as usual.


“Have you eaten? I am sorry if I kept you waiting, I lost track of time. Now that I have a chance to pause I realize how hungry I am though. If we hurry we can still find our strong man and see how he deals with Irene tonight.” He laughed again. He felt happier in her presence like his other concerns were suddenly not as important or as challenging. “If he is the strong man what should we call her?”


He grabbed her hand pulled her out of the cabin before waiting for an answer. They would catch up as they walked and while they ate. He had not seen her as much as he would have liked but he hoped to make up for that after dinner.

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