Title: Standing on the Grave of Dreams
Pairing: Ryan/Spencer, Mikey/Pete
Word Count: 50k
Warnings: Graphic and detailed scenes of a violent nature. Sex slavery. Non-con. Vivid description of physical injuries. For more detailed warnings please go here ( Spoilers for story at the post )
Summary: Set in a post apocalyptic world where sex is strictly regimented, Ryan struggles to survive and maintain friendships in one of the travelling fairs. A place where the sex is government sanctioned and the abuse ignored.
Author's Notes: Written for the drawn_to holiday exchange. Arsenic, when I saw I'd been assigned you I was both freaked and pleased. Simply because I love you and I wanted to give you the best story I possibly could. In doing that I had to mislead you about what I was writing and I hope you can forgive me for that. Hiding what I was doing when we talk so often was difficult, especially as the story wouldn't stop growing. If I had more time I could have added many more thousands of words. As it is, every word of this story, every idea, every thing that happens in it was written with you in mind.
I couldn't have done this without themoononastick, sperrywink and egelantier. You're all amazing and gave so much time and energy to beta and talk about this story. It wouldn't be half as good without all your help and corrections. Thank you, all of you. I owe you big time. Any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.
Finally, thank you to foxxcub for running the exchange and inviting me to join.
"You're needed in the pens," Rolof says, and leans against the fence, his elbows hooked over the orange-painted slats. He yawns, making no attempt to cover his mouth. "You'd better hurry. Roll out's in an hour."
Ryan doesn't look up, just keeps folding his outfit, each crease deliberate, careful. "There's been a delivery? I thought Horace couldn't get anything new?"
Rolof rubs at the side of his head, smearing black liner from the corner of his eye. "No delivery, it's a capture that chose to come here." He heaves himself upright and looks over his shoulder, toward where the main arena is already half collapsed and surrounded by men. Rolof pulls in air through his teeth and fixes Ryan with a pointed look. "No hints this time."
"Right." Ryan opens his bag, unfastening the grimy strings. It takes him a few moments to pack away his outfit, his comb, the pouch containing liner and grease and the stub of blush. His fingers ache as he refastens the knot and straightens the strap, making sure it rests just so on his shoulder before he stands. Upright, he brushes dust off his knees and picks straw off his tunic. "No hints."
"Good," Rolof says, and takes a step back, attention divided between Ryan and an engine that's starting with a squeal of sound. "Go. There's not much time."
A last glance around and Ryan goes, his chin held high, defiant against the cat-calls from the breakers as they collapse the booths and get ready for roll out. He meets each blatant stare with one of his own, but he doesn't slow. He never slows, not when he's alone -- touching isn't allowed but there's always someone ready to push the rules, reaching out and grabbing hold of merchandise they could never afford.
Water squelches as Ryan steps from the pen and onto the planks that stretch across the field, make-shift wooden paths that wind through the pens -- almost fully collapsed now, blankets and mattresses stacked in piles -- and past the waiting rows of engines, each one pulling a wheeled large gilded cage. Shivering in the cold wind, he skirts a row of metal trunks and steps over a flag pole that's lying on the ground, its yellow and blue stripes splattered with mud.
"Gonna give us a freebie, Willow?"
Shoulders tight, Ryan looks at the breaker who's dismantling the arena walls. He's holding a painted panel, white-tipped fingers against a picture of a kneeling man, and he grins, wide and lecherous as he deliberately looks Ryan up and down.
"You know you want to take on a real man. Some of this and you'll be paying me."
Ryan's heard it all before and doesn't bother to respond, there's no point and it's not like the words can physically hurt. Never increasing his pace he ducks between two engines, nose wrinkling as he walks over soiled straw and into the other remaining upright pen. It's part of the red quadrant and scarlet streamers hang from the wooden fences that surround each sectioned small space, the beds inside already stripped and ready to be packed away.
"Willow, over here."
Ryan follows the sound of Pete's voice and walks through a narrow gap and emerges into what's left of the red showplace. It's almost empty now, the raised platforms and material walls stripped away leaving a bare wooden floor and one last table surrounded by chairs. Sitting on the chairs are two men -- boys really -- and Ryan feels cold as he takes in their threadbare clothes and easy smiles. It's a combination that screams naivety. Ryan doesn't know their story but he can guess how it goes. It's all too sadly familiar and all he wants to yell is run. No matter how it seems, this isn't the best option at all.
Pete smiles when Ryan gets close. The fake smile he uses when he performs, all teeth and false cheer. He's sitting on the table and taps his fingers against his thigh as he swings his feet, the toes of his sandals brushing against the floor. "This is Brendon and Jon, they're joining us."
Metal chair legs scrape against wood as one of the boys stands and holds out his hand. He grins wide, says, "Hi, I'm Brendon."
Ryan exchanges a look with Pete and Pete shakes his head minutely. A warning that no matter how Ryan feels he has to follow the rules, there's too much at stake to risk giving anything away. Ignoring Brendon, Ryan sits and puts his bag on his lap, pushing aside his guilt when Brendon's smile fades and he drops his hand.
Sliding to the edge of the table, Pete stands, his smile vanishing. "They're with you. Fill them in about the usual stuff."
"Wait." Ryan reaches out and grabs Pete's arm, stopping him from walking away. "I thought. They said Sp... Sunshine would be back in amber today."
Pete shrugs and doesn't push back his bangs when they fall into his eyes. "They say a lot of things."
"But I've done what they said," Ryan protests. He's still holding onto Pete's arm, fingers gripped tight and he can feel how Pete's trembling under his outwardly projected calm. "I did everything."
"I need to go." Pete steps back and Ryan loosens his hold, watching as Pete flashes a fake grin toward Brendon and Jon before almost running from the area.
"Is he okay?" The other boy -- Jon -- is leaning back in his chair, head tilted to the side as he watches Pete leave. He's got long dark hair that curls against his neck and he absently tucks it behind his ear. Ryan can see why he's been signed up, why they both have. Aesthetically they fit, too thin, too young, an air of desperation pushing close. They're perfect for the fair and they're going to be eaten alive.
"What did Pan tell you about this place?" Ryan asks, hoping that Pete's already explained the details of what they do. It's always easier when he does and Ryan's relieved when Brendon leans forward, his eyes widening slightly.
"He didn't say much, but Horace said we'd get regular food and somewhere to sleep in return for performing."
Which is all technically true, but Ryan has to bite his lip, remind himself Spencer in order not to reveal the reality of each promise. That food is the most basic of rations, the beds for sleeping, straw. Licking his tongue over the raw spot on the inside of his mouth, Ryan says, "You know what kind of performing, yeah?"
"Sex stuff, we know," Jon says. "That's fine, and it's a hell of a lot better than being sent to the labor camp."
"Yeah, sex is fun, building stuff not so much." Brendon's tapping his foot against the floor and Ryan wants to press his hand against Brendon's knee and stop him moving. "And we get to see the world. That'll be awesome."
"Yeah," Ryan comments, and doesn't add that Brendon will be lucky if he ever sees the outside of the fair again. He shifts in his chair, trying to get comfortable. "When we get to the next city you'll need outfits. We'll discuss names on the way."
Brendon jumps to his feet and turns on the spot, one arm bent like he was swishing an invisible cape. "Can I get a cape? And what names?"
"No cape," Ryan says, and stands too, but slower, his hips protesting. "And the names are what you'll use here. For the shows and johns."
"You're telling me Willow's not your real name?" Jon smiles, slow and easy. "Shame, it's a cool name."
Ryan doesn't smile back, but he does relax a little, his shoulders dropping at the lack of mockery in Jon's comment. "Thanks." He starts to walk and winces when the edge of his bag bounces against the fist-sized bruise that trails from under the waistband of his pants. Readjusting the bag, Ryan presses the flat of his hand against his hip and then, even though he knows he shouldn't, he has to ask. "The papers, you've already signed them?"
"First thing we did," Jon says, and picks up a small pack which he shrugs onto his shoulders. "Horace said it was better if we did, otherwise the camps could insist on us going there. I really don't want to spend my life rebuilding cities with my bare hands."
Angry, Ryan turns away, before he's unable to stop himself verbally smashing down Horace's gilded lies. Before, when Spencer wasn't held in red, Ryan would have tried to help, giving hints that Brendon and Jon need to change their mind and join the labor camps, that at least there all they'd face was crumbling buildings and radioactive hot spots. Now he's got no choice but to play along, and ease anyone new into this life as best as he can.
"How do we travel? I was never allowed to go see the fair leave town." Brendon's looking around, interest caught by everything he sees. He walks backwards, looking up at a breaker who's high up on a ladder, taking down a line of flags that he lets flutter to the ground.
Up high the flags look crisp and colorful, but up close the edges are tattered, the material worn through and in places, holed. Brendon crouches and picks up the line of flags, holding them out to the breaker who's sliding to the bottom of the ladder. "Do you want a hand to gather the rest? I can help."
"Don't," Ryan says sharply, and despite not knowing Brendon he reaches for his arm, holding on and pulling him away. "He doesn't need your help."
"Says who?" The breaker takes a step forward, crowding into Brendon's space. "I'm sure he can help me in lots of ways. What do you say hot stuff, want to give me a freebie? Show me what that cock-sucking mouth can do."
Ryan pushes himself between Brendon and the breaker, says coldly, "Back off. Now!" It takes all of Ryan's nerve to stand his ground. While the rules of the fair say no touching it doesn't mean it doesn't happen, sex-starved workers too poor to pay taking despite the consequences. Thankfully, this time the breaker steps back, looking scornful.
"You know it." The back of his neck prickling, Ryan turns and pulls Brendon away. "Come on."
"I don't...." Brendon sounds confused and looks between the breaker and Ryan. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No. Yes." Ryan keeps hold until they're out of earshot then drops his hand, rubbing his palm against his tunic. "You can't offer to help the breakers, you can't even talk to them. They're not like us."
Brendon looks past Ryan to where the breaker is coiling the flags around his arm. "Because they do physical work? That's stupid, we're no better than them. You can't judge like..."
"It's not that," Ryan cuts in, hating how Brendon's looking at him like Ryan's some kind of elitist snob, which is so wrong it's almost laughable. Ryan's well aware of his position in life, and it's right at the bottom. He steps off a plank and muddy water seeps into his sandals, making his feet slide unpleasantly as he walks. "We're sold for sex; that comes with a label, and some people take advantage."
"We'll take care." Jon sounds sincere and he gives Brendon a quick reassuring smile. "Is there anything else we should know?"
Ryan could tell him hundreds of things. Never allow yourself to be tied down by someone who's obviously high. The best ways to fake enjoyment while being fucked in the arena. How to take care of bites and bruises with water and soap. They're all things that need to be learned, but not yet, when they don't even know the basics that'll keep them alive.
"Just keep away from the breakers. They have their own wagons and sleep areas, and make sure your brand is showing when the john's are around."
Brendon swallows hard and crosses his arms across his chest. "Brand? Horace said we'd need to be marked but I thought he meant a collar or bracelet. That's what he meant right? You've got a bracelet hidden under your tunic."
Ryan's foot slips out of the front of his sandal and cold water is pushed between his toes as he stops walking. Holding out his left hand he shakes his arm so his tunic sleeve slides back, exposing the brand that's burned into onto the inside of his wrist, white scar tissue making a looping design. "No bracelet."
"Fuck," Jon says softly, and reaches out as if he wants to touch. Then stops himself as Ryan takes an instinctive step back. "Did that hurt?"
Truthfully Ryan can't remember, time and countless other hurts stacking up since it was done. He curls up his hand, fingertips touching the swirl that extends onto his palm. "It's over quick."
"That's not reassuring." Brendon's got his hand wrapped around his wrist like it's already aching, and he looks solemn as he tries to look at Ryan's brand.
Ryan shrugs. It wasn't meant to be reassuring and no matter what he says it's still going to happen, all he can do is try to lessen the hurt. "When we get to the next city ask Pan to do it, not Horace. He likes branding too much."
"Isn't Pan traveling with us?" Brendon asks. He's still holding his wrist but he's gone back to looking around, taking a keen interest in everything they pass.
Ryan shakes his head. "He's part of red quadrant. They've their own engine."
"Right." Jon's looking past Ryan, as if he's trying to remember something he's been told. "Red is the hard-core shit, yeah? Kinks and stuff."
Before Ryan can reply Brendon's talking, turning so he's walking backwards again as he looks between Ryan and Jon. "I saw one of those kink shows once. My brother took me one night, we snuck out for some bro bonding time, but we got separated and I ended up at this performance. They had someone suspended from hooks, through his back, legs and arms and it had to be staged because who'd want hooks through their skin? And he was hanging there with all these other guys jerking off around him." Brendon rubs at his face and licks at his lips. "We won't be hung on hooks will we?"
"Not while you're in amber. We get the mainstream stuff."
"Good," Brendon says, sounding relieved. "I can do that. The performances, too. As long as there've no hooks."
Jon grins and digs Brendon in the side with his elbow. "You just want an excuse to get naked."
With a swipe of his hand, Brendon indicates the length of his body. "I have an awesome body, it's a shame to cover this up."
"Like you make much of an effort to do that." Jon's mouth remains quirked into a smile as he turns to Ryan. "He's always getting naked. How he hasn't got frost bite I'll never know."
"Because I'm hot like fire, baby!"
Brendon's whole face is lit up and yet again Ryan can see why Horace has taken him on. Brendon looks happy and so painfully young that it's inevitable he's going to be popular as soon as he's offered for sale. Stomach cramping, Ryan says brusquely, "We need to hurry up."
"Going, sorry." Brendon keeps smiling as he falls in next to Ryan, walking so they're side-by-side as they leave the viewing area and walk outside. Brendon's on the sodden grass and not the plank and each one of his footsteps is a squelch, water quickly soaking his shoes . It doesn't take long to get to the engines, and the closer they get the more the air is full of the scent of diesel and smoke. Sometimes Ryan thinks he's got the smell ingrained in his skin, smoke and spunk and dirt, layered on no matter how often he washes and scrubs at his body.
"We're traveling in cages?" They've arrived at the row of engines, each one hooked up to a gilded cage and Jon's mouth is open as he looks at them all, taking in the piled up straw and colored banners that hang from the top bars. "Horace didn't mention that."
"He wouldn't," Ryan steps over a puddle onto the mud which is lined with crisscrossing tire tracks. He's heading for Mikey who's sitting on one of the trunks that holds the props for red. He's got his legs brought up to his chest and his head resting on his knees, his eyes closed as if he's asleep. Perching himself on the edge of the trunk, careful that he's not unexpectedly touching, Ryan says softly, "Shadow, hi."
"Ryan." Mikey opens his eyes, showing that they're blood-shot and red-rimmed. He yawns and pushes his hair out of his face, and Ryan sees that his arms are covered in fresh burns and dark bruises circle each wrist, showing off his brand in sharp relief. "Pete says there's fresh meat."
Mikey's talking slowly, his words thick but he's present enough that Ryan rests his hand on Mikey's knee, pressing a warning. "They're right here. Shadow, this is Brendon and Jon."
"Fuck," Mikey swears under his breath and he mouths a sorry to Ryan before turning his attention to Brendon and Jon. Mikey wiggles his fingers in their direction. "Hi."
"Hey," Jon says, and he smiles at Mikey as Brendon waves his own greeting.
A pause, and Ryan needs to know about Spencer, but not while Brendon and Jon are listening. Pointing toward the amber engine he says, "Go wait over there. I'll be right over." It's taking a chance, they've been put in Ryan's charge and they're so new they should be chaperoned at all times, but Ryan needs to pass on this message, and he watches as they walk away, their heads together as they talk.
"They keep getting younger." Mikey's eyes are closing again and Ryan squeezes his knee, needing Mikey to be aware.
"Mikey. How's Spencer?" It's been nearly a week since Spencer was taken away and Ryan's about out of his mind with worry. He's existing on brief public meetings and the messages he can pass via Mikey and Pete but it's not enough, it can't be enough. Second hand reassurances doing nothing to ease the separation. "Is he on the red wagon already? I haven't seen him."
"He's not traveling with us." Mikey blinks hard, trying to push back the effects of whatever drug that's in his system. "He bit someone last night. They threw him in solitary."
"What? Why didn't you tell me?" His stomach leaden, Ryan wants to shake Mikey until he gives every detail. "I could have. Could have tried. Something."
Mikey clasps his hands around his legs, his fingers blanched white where they're laced together. "I only found out this morning. It was a hard night. I'd have stopped him if I could."
Ryan counts to ten and reminds himself this isn't Mikey's fault, that there was nothing he could actually do. "Tell me what happened. Exactly."
Mikey brings his hand to his mouth and nips at the skin on the side of his thumb. "I didn't see it happen, I was with a john, he got off on the smell of burned flesh and by the time he was done Spencer had been taken away. Pete saw, though. Spencer's john wanted him to take a whip to Bryce, he refused and when the john tried to make him there was a scuffle and Spencer bit the guy's arm."
Ryan's whole body feels weighted down and all of his strength drains away. All he wants to do is see Spencer, the loss so great it's a physical thing lodged deep in his chest.
"He's a fucking hero," Mikey goes on, and Ryan agrees, but at the same time, he wouldn't wish solitary on his worst enemy and part of him wishes Spencer had pushed aside his principles just once.
Listing to the side, Ryan rests his weight against Mikey, knowing he won't let him fall. It's not often that Ryan initiates contact, but it feels good to touch someone who feels safe and Ryan allows himself a full minute, his head against Mikey's shoulder. "I miss him, Mikey."
"I know," Mikey says, and Ryan screws shut his eyes, fighting for the control he needs to get through the day.
It's the sound of a whistle that gets Ryan moving. Opening his eyes he flashes Mikey a small smile before sliding off the trunk and making his way over to Brendon and Jon. They're standing next to the cage for amber, looking inside and plainly overwhelmed. Making his way to the entrance, Ryan pulls it open and climbs inside. Hands wrapped around the metal bars he looks down, says, "If you need to piss go do it now. We won't be stopping."
Brendon steps close to the cage, looking through Ryan's legs. "There's no bathroom in there?"
"Sure, there's an invisible one right over there," Ryan snaps back, and feels like he's kicked a puppy when Brendon jerks away, looking startled.
"I just thought. I didn't think we'd travel like this. On display."
Ryan rests his forehead against the bars. A headache is taking hold and he breathes in deep, trying to relax. He's still got so much to tell and feeling so wound up won't help. "It's what we do, Brendon. You'll have to get used to being on display."
Brendon nods and smiles, but even now, after so short a time it's fainter than before. "I can get used to it. It's only people looking, that's nothing, right?"
"Right," Ryan replies, and knows Jon hears the lie when he looks at him sharply. "If you don't need to piss you should get inside. We'll be moving soon."
Regaining some of his enthusiasm, Brendon jumps inside, not bothering with the step. Wandering around the cage he inspects the piles of straw, finding the stack of blankets and tarpaulin. Seeing it his expression tightens slightly, but he makes no comment, just throws himself down, wiggling on the ground until he's hidden in the straw. "Not bad. I could sleep in this."
"The best spot is here," Ryan says, and he sets down his bag at the end of the cage close to the engine and its generated warmth. It's where Ryan and Spencer have slept for the last year, and instinct has Ryan picking up two blankets before he remembers and lets one drop back to the ground. "Grab a blanket and some straw."
Jon picks up two of the rough wool blankets and throws the red one at Brendon. He clutches the other one to his chest, frowning as he looks outside. "I don't get it. They want to show us off sleeping or just sitting around? It doesn't seem much of a draw."
He walks to the bars and the cage rocks slightly. Automatically compensating for the movement Ryan puts his blanket next to his bag and then joins Jon. "There's side covers for most of the journey. They let them down when we're away from the cities."
Jon narrows his eyes against the sun as he looks up at the coverings that are folded up at the top of the cage. "There's nothing over the top."
"No one sees the top," Ryan says, and it's not like the side coverings provide much protection either. They're mostly there for advertising purposes and if he could get away with it Horace would leave the cages uncovered at all times. As it is regulation state he needs to provide some weather protection and Ryan usually enjoys traveling in the semi-dark. It's the only time he gets any kind of privacy at all and normally he'd curl up with Spencer, becoming lost in the sound of the road and talking about anything but work.
"How long do we travel?" Brendon's blanket is in his lap and he's got one of his hands pressed against his stomach, when he sits up there's straw in his hair. Plucking a strand free he puts it in his mouth so it hangs out of the corner. "And do we get fed on the way?"
"You didn't get to eat?" Ryan asks, and suppresses a sigh. "Of course you didn't."
The straw moves in Brendon's mouth, like he's chewing on the end. "The authorities took us straight to Horace as soon as we made the choice to come here. We were in the holding block before then."
"So you haven't eaten at all today?"
"We had something a few days ago, before we got caught," Jon replies, trying to sound unconcerned. "We're fine."
Ryan doesn't want to deal with this. He wants to burrow under his blanket and sleep, not take on more worries, especially when they're worries centered on two people he doesn't even know. Furious, at Horace for taking advantage, at Brendon and Jon for being so naive, at Spencer for being so fucking principled, Ryan snatches up his bag and jumps outside. "I'll be back in five minutes. If Ronan comes tell him I've gone to see Pan."
Ryan doesn't need to look back to know they're both watching him go. It's why he doesn't look back, just hurries through the bustling chaos that signals imminent departure until he spots Pete, who's sitting in the open entrance to the red cage. He's resting his head against the metal bars and close behind him Ryan can just see Mikey, covered over with a blanket and apparently fast asleep.
Pete watches Ryan come close. "I know you know Spencer isn't here."
"I'm not here for that." Ryan looks around, making sure that no one is within hearing distance. It's bad enough that he's asking for a favor, having people know he's doing so wouldn't be smart at all. "Brendon and Jon haven't eaten today. I know you keep stuff."
It's no secret that Pete usually has a stash of food. Neither he or Mikey tends to eat much and saving the left-overs leads to valuable trade currency with the other performers and staff. Not that Ryan's ever indulged, at least until now. Reaching behind him, Pete pulls a bag from under the straw that's piled next to Mikey. Usually Ryan sees the bag on Pete's back but today he positions it on his knee and unfastens the ties. "I've got sausages and half a sandwich, an orange too. It's a bit dry, though."
"That's great," Ryan says awkwardly and takes the napkin-wrapped food that Pete hands over. "I don't. Whatever you want in return I'll do it."
Pete fastens his bag, his face hidden by his hair that falls into his face. "I don't want anything." He looks up and pushes back his bangs and they stay slicked back with sweat. Ryan scratches at his own scalp, it's been an unseasonable hot day and it seems like forever ago since he'd managed to properly wash.
"I can't just take it."
"You're my friend," Pete says. "It's not a trade."
Ryan clutches the small bundle of food. He feels touched and embarrassed and more than anything, wishes Spencer was here to help when he feels so awkward. In the end all he can think to say is, "Thank you."
Pete shrugs one shoulder and brings up his feet so his heels are tucked against the edge of the mental floor. "You'd better get back, we'll be moving soon."
Ryan nods sharply, and then heads back to his own cage. Most of the planks have been taken up by now and by the time he gets back his feet are soaked, the straps of his sandals chaffing against his ankles as he climbs inside. He finds Jon and Brendon standing close together and stealing glances at Ronan who's in his usual spot, curled up in one corner and surrounded by straw.
Brendon's frowning, and as soon as Ryan's inside he immediately moves close and says, "Does he talk? We said hi but he ignored us and lay down."
"He talks when he wants." Which used to be a lot more until Timothy was found dead and his john covered in blood. "Here." Ryan hands over the food to Brendon, and then sinks down into a pile of straw, resting against the bars at the back of the cage.
"You got us food." Brendon sounds surprised, and he shows the napkin-wrapped bundle to Jon before moving to sit next to Ryan, so close they're almost touching. Shifting over slightly, Ryan blinks when Brendon starts to tear the sausages in half.
"I got them for you."
Brendon hands half a sausage to Jon, who's folded himself to the floor next to Brendon, and then tries to give the other half to Ryan. "Take it."
Ryan stares at Brendon, seeing how he's eyeing the sausage hungrily even as he holds it out to Ryan. "I'm not hungry."
Brendon tears his gaze away and looks directly at Ryan, studying him as if he's trying to see the lie in Ryan's statement. It makes Ryan feel uncomfortable: he's used to being watched, it's part of what he does, but Brendon's not watching the lines of Ryan's body or shouting approval of some flexible position, he's actually seeing Ryan. Which is something Ryan doesn't like at all. "You look hungry. Do you even eat?"
"I eat," Ryan shoots back, and he pulls his bag close, tightening the straps as an excuse to look away.
"Thank you," Jon says then, and when Ryan looks up he's biting into his part of the sandwich, talking through a mouthful of stale bread and mystery meat. "We owe you."
"No, you don't," Ryan says quickly. He slumps back, the metal bars digging into his shoulder blades and all around is the sound of engines revving up and people shouting. Directing these last frantic parts of roll out, when the fair is completely packed away leaving behind nothing but memories and flattened grass. Conserving the last of his energy, Ryan looks blankly ahead as the first engine starts to move, the red flags attached to the cage fluttering wildly as it bumps over the grass toward the road that heads toward the city.
The engine slows when it gets onto the road, easing around the tight corner and Ryan watches as Pete kneels over Mikey, no doubt urging him to stand. Ryan knows he has to do the same and he rubs at his eyes as he twists onto his knees and hauls himself to his feet. One hand wrapped around the bars he ruffles his hair and pinches at his cheeks, staggering slightly when they begin to move. Already the red engine is driving onto the road which gives him a few minutes to get Jon and Brendon ready. Which isn't enough time, but thankfully leaving an area is never a big deal compared to the arrival.
"They need to get up." Ronan has taken his place along from Ryan and is busy unbuttoning the top buttons of his tunic.
"I know," Ryan says tersely, and notes that Jon and Brendon have followed Ryan's lead and are already standing, swaying in place as the cage is towed over the sodden ground. "You need to stand here. They're be people waiting on the roads, they always are."
Brendon stands next to Ryan, but he's watching Ronan tug at his pants so they're lying lower on his hips. Teeth digging into his bottom lip, Brendon says uncertainly, "Should I do that too? Because I don't look like him, or you. People won't want to look."
"You look fine." Ryan unfastens his own tunic so it hangs open, exposing his stomach. There's a smear of something, running from his ribs down and Ryan drags his thumbnail over the top, dislodging the flakes. Most nights he manages to give himself a thorough wash with the hose but it's harder with Spencer away. Ryan's got no one to watch his back and he'd only managed a cursory rub with a wet rag before bedding down for the night.
Jon looks past Brendon, and while he looks relaxed there's tension in his voice when he says, "So, we just stand here and be ogled?"
"Yeah," Ryan says. "Just stand there and keep smiling. Show them you love working for the fair." Which as lies go is so laughable that if Ryan started he'd be unable to stop. "And if they. If they say stuff. Ignore it."
"Stuff like what?" Brendon asks as the engine reaches the road, making the cage bounce as they move from grass to cracked asphalt, onto the road that's lined with small groups of people.
It's not the biggest crowd Ryan's ever seen. The traveling fairs tend to be a big draw, attracting people desperate to see those brazen enough to sell sex. Mostly they tend to stay back, government matched couples who want to mutter together and gawp, but there's always groups that disapprove. The ones that campaign against the right for legalized sex outside marriage, the ones that think sex is only for conception, the ones that hate any sex at all. Then the ones who think the entertainers are some kind of animals, there to be mocked and jeered and scorned. Sometimes Ryan thinks he should hate those most of all, but he doesn't. He hates the ones who affect outrage, the men with their wives at their side, silently condemning while days before Ryan had writhed on a bed, their cocks balls deep in his ass.
Brendon takes a deep breath and tries to smooth the wrinkles out of his pants, his smile fixed as they approach the first group. "I don't understand. Why are they here? We're leaving, right?"
"Human nature, they like to look and think they're better than us," Ryan says, and he knows he sounds bitter. He can't help it when he hears the first whispers and then, ribald shouts.
"Going to perform for us whore? Give us all a show."
"Get on your knees and suck the little one off!"
"Who'd pay for sex with that?!"
Usually Ryan deals by slipping away mentally, going to a place that's safe. It's something he can do easily, keeping up the posing and enticing looks while his mind is elsewhere. Today that's impossible, he's too distracted by Brendon and Jon, who're trying their best to look unaffected by the comments that are flung their way. Ryan runs his hand down the length of his chest and stomach, fingertips just under the waistband of his pants as he glances at a man who's staring his way "We'll have passed them soon. Keep smiling."
Eventually, when Jon looks pinched and even Brendon's smile is little more than a curve of his mouth, the crowds thin, and then dwindle to nothing. As soon as there's no one watching Ryan steps back from the bars and buttons his tunic before starting to unhook the coverings from the top of the cage. Fingers twinging he unties the knots while Ronan does the same at the other end, and then, together, they let the covering drop. It's made of canvas, The Amazing Horace's Traveling Sex Show painted in what was once bright gold. Now most of the letters are peeling and there's a hole in one corner that seems to get bigger by the day.
Minutes and the other two coverings are let down, shadows filling the interior of the cage. Welcoming the much needed privacy, Ryan walks back to his blanket and eases himself down, says, "Take the time to rest, you'll be busy later."
Jon indicates the area next to Ryan. "Is it okay if we stay there?"
Ryan wants to say no, that this is his and Spencer's place. Instead he shrugs and unfolds the blanket so it covers his lap. "If you want. We should talk anyway."
"About the names, right?" Brendon grabs his own blanket and when he sits down he clutches it to his chest, his chin against the rough material. He looks at Ryan, then away. "Is it always like that?"
"Most time it's worse." Ryan can't see any point cushioning the blow, they'll find out soon enough and at least this way they're warned. He tucks his hands under the blanket and rubs them together, trying to ease the pain in his joints. "You get used to it, sort of."
"I didn't think it would be like this." Brendon sounds defeated and looks just as bad, his chin to his chest and shoulders slumped. Suppressing a shiver Ryan tries to push back his fear. If Brendon goes out like this he'll be one of those that don't survive. Again, Ryan wishes for Spencer, for Pete, anyone that can give encouraging words and reassurances that are beyond Ryan right now. Each time he tries, opens his mouth to tell Brendon everything will work out okay, the words get stuck in his throat, trapped by a harsh reality that screams to be heard.
Ryan flexes his fingers and looks directly at Brendon, says flatly, "You signed the papers. You've got no choice."
Brendon collapses in on himself even further, and Jon pulls him close in a hug. "We could run. We've done it before."
"No. No you couldn't," Ryan says, and remembers bodies lying on dried grass, blood and broken bones and last cut-off gurgling screams. "You'll be caught, they always are."
His arm around Jon, Brendon sits up straight, fear draining away to be replaced by sudden determination. "We'll stay here then, be the best performers ever."
Ryan's unsure if it's faked bravado or if Brendon's pulled on some hidden inner strength. Not that it matters, all Ryan cares about is survival, and for that no one can appear weak, however that's achieved. He leans forward and pulls off his sodden sandals, setting them to one side to dry before grabbing a handful of straw and using it to dry his bare toes.
"You said we needed names," Brendon says, and there's no hint of his former smile. "Tell us everything to be the best."
Ryan begins to talk.
Arriving at a new city is much more of a production than when they depart. At the sound of multiple whistles Ryan starts out of sleep, his heart racing as he sits, the blanket crumpling around his waist. Yawning, he stretches out his foot and pokes his toes briefly against Jon's leg and says, "You need to wake up now." Jon wakes easily, he's still in a normal pattern where sleeping is done at night, and it looks like he's been more dozing than actually asleep. It's the same for Brendon who looks wide awake as he sits but Ryan's still exhausted, the talk with Brendon and Jon cutting into his much-needed rest.
Every part of his body hurts as he struggles to his feet and stumbles to the bars at the end of the cage. Steadying himself against them he pulls back the covering slightly, squinting shut his eyes as he looks outside. There's nothing interesting to see, the usual jagged horizon of broken buildings next to new but for now they're traveling on an isolated road that's bordered by fields full of crops covered by huge plastic bubbles. Taking the opportunity Ryan unfastens his pants, keeping the covering held back with one hand, his forehead against the bars as he pees outside, leaving a trail that joins two others, and he knows up ahead people are awake in red.
"Hm, efficient," Jon says and takes the covering from Ryan, pulling it back even further and holding it in place as he unzips his pants.
Ryan shakes off and pulls himself right, his stomach growling as he fastens his buttons. It'll be a while before he can eat, they need to get to the new location and wait as pens are set up and the arena assembled. The only plus is the potential to see Spencer and Ryan intends to sneak to the isolation wagon as soon as he can. Until then they have to get through the journey into the city and then sometime today find Pete for a branding. Running his fingers over his own brand Ryan kneels on his blanket and pulls out his bag. Reaching inside he pulls out his blush and liner and sets them both on the floor. Usually this is something he does with Spencer, their own ritual as they paint on the make-up that takes them from Ryan and Spencer to Willow and Sunshine. For the last week Ryan's been doing it alone.
Brendon's watching him curiously, but he makes no attempt to touch, just sits with his chin resting against his clasped hands. Picking up the liner, Ryan brings the pencil up to his eye and carefully positions it close to the corner.
"Don't you have a mirror?"
"Don't you think I'd be using it if I did?" Ryan says back as he glances at Brendon, who's leaning forward and frowning slightly.
"I could..." Brendon pulls in a deep breath, as if he's gathering courage. "I could do that. It would be easier."
"No," Ryan says. He doesn't even consider saying yes, there's only a few people he'd willingly let close and not one of them are here. Keeping his hand steady he begins to draw a line under his eye, hoping he's close to the lashes. When he's done he runs his finger over the line then starts on his other eye, always careful of the bumps in the road. He'd managed to jab Spencer in the eye once, when they were both new and clueless. It had hurt more than anything Ryan has ever done to himself.
"Where do we get that stuff?" Jon indicates Ryan's make-up, unashamedly staring as Ryan swaps liner for blush and brushes on a line of color along his cheekbones. "The same place we're given our outfits?"
"If there's anything left," Ryan says flatly. "Horace doesn't stock up often."
Brendon leans back on his hands. "Figures."
"That's all he cares about," Ryan says, and looks up, surprised at the resulting laughter.
Brendon smiles, wide and bright. "You made a joke. I didn't think you had it in you. No offence."
"None taken," Ryan says, perplexed that Brendon apologized for something that isn't even an insult. Putting away his stuff Ryan fastens his bag and stands getting ready to roll up the coverings. The trip through the city, the set up of the fair. Brendon and Jon's first night as performers. It's going to be yet another long day.
They pull up in an area on the outskirts of the city. Close by buildings tower into the sky, the top floors blanketed by smog, but here they're on scrubby grass and surrounded by trees, their branches spindly and leaves spotted with black. As soon as they stop moving Ryan pushes open the cage door and jumps outside, his knees buckling slightly when he hits solid, unmoving ground. The engines that pull the huge trailers have parked on the outskirts of the field and already the breakers are rushing to re-build the fair. They're a well-oiled machine, setting up the perimeter fence first and then walls and floors slotting into place. Ryan knows this is the perfect time to see Spencer. It's also the worst time to leave fresh meat alone and Ryan knows he's going to have to take Brendon and Jon along.
Ryan looks around, his arms wrapped around his body. Despite the short journey it feels colder here and the air feels damp, making him cough as he breathes.
"What happens now?" Jon's standing an arms-length away, looking calm and steady, as opposed to Brendon who's trying, but seems unable to stay still. Ryan can't blame him, it's been over a year now but he can still remember the sheer terror of his first night, and the sickening realization he was in over his head.
"Now we get you outfits, eat and then see Pan. No, wait." Ryan stops himself talking. "Pan first then eating."
Jon blanches slightly, going pale under his tan. "I'd hoped you'd forget."
"Sorry," Ryan says, taking note of how the first of the pens is already half-standing. "We need to get going. But first, I need to go talk to someone."
Brendon sweeps out his arm, urging Ryan forward. "Lead on."
Ryan hesitates; he's not sure what to make of Brendon, who remains playful despite his obvious nerves. It's been a long time since Ryan's been around anyone who laughs so easily. Sure, there's moments when things seem lighter, when he's hanging out in some period of rare spare time with Mikey and Pete. Then, more often, the times he spends with Spencer, when they remember times past, when they had families and food and days could be lived without hurts. But Brendon's different, he hasn't lost his sense of fun and while it's a welcome change, it's a little jarring as well.
Jon takes a small step closer, says, "Willow?"
"This way." Ryan begins to walk. He's not actually sure where the isolation wagon would have pulled up but a small metal container is hard to conceal, especially when it's mounted on wheels. Just thinking about it makes Ryan feel sick, he's only been inside it once, when fighting back with a john led to being thrown in solitary for two days. Ryan had thought he was about to go mad, driven insane by heat and suffocating claustrophobia. Still, he'd swap places with Spencer in an instant.
It takes almost ten minutes to find the wagon. It's been parked under one of the trees and partially hidden by the portable toilets and Ryan's relieved there's no guards in sight as they walk close. All the nearby breakers are busy constructing one of the pens and Ryan sidles close, his heart racing as he stands under the tiny window and knocks hard against the metal walls.
"Sunshine. Spencer, are you in there?"
Relief hits hard and Ryan has to rest against the wagon, his forehead against the cold metal. Reaching up as high as he can, he curls his fingers through the open space and almost instantly he feels Spencer taking his hand, wrapping his fingers around Ryan's. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Spencer's voice sounds raspy and Ryan presses himself against the wagon, needing to feel this illusion of being close.
"For warning that kid about joining the fair. If I hadn't done that you wouldn't have been in red and wouldn't have bitten that john."
"Jesus, Ryan." Spencer squeezes Ryan's hand; hard. "This isn't your fault. The kid was called Jed. He was fifteen years old. If you hadn't warned him I would have. So stop with the guilt already."
Which is easy to say and harder to do. Ryan stands on his tip-toes so he can ease more of his hand through the gap. "Did they hurt you?"
"Nothing I can't handle," Spencer says immediately and pure white hot anger runs through Ryan's body.
"I hate them, Spencer."
"I know." Spencer's running his thumb over Ryan's hand, a gentle rhythmic pressure. "I'm okay, Ryan. I promise. I'll get out of here and we'll be put in the same quadrant again."
Ryan pushes back the rage, forcing it down with all the other useless emotions. "And what if we're not?"
"Not going to happen," Spencer says immediately, sounding sure. "I'll be out of here soon and we'll grab something to eat together. Can you believe I'm missing that slop?"
Ryan closes his eyes, hoping if he can't see the wagon it'll easier to imagine Spencer's right there with no barrier in-between them. "Solitary's driven you insane. No one misses the slop, it moved yesterday. I had to beat it down with those bricks they call bread."
Spencer laughs, rough but there and Ryan pictures his smile, the way Spencer's eyes crinkle at the corner. "Oh don't even, I know you like that shit."
"Once. Once I liked it. When it had that meat in it, you know, the stuff that tasted gamy."
Spencer laughs again, louder this time. "You know that was road-kill, all they did was scoop up those raccoons and throw them in the pot. I got a mouthful of fur in mine."
Ryan shrugs, and then remembers that Spencer can't see. "It still tasted good."
"If you like raccoon chunks," Spencer replies.
Ryan smiles a little before looking over his shoulder when he hears a shout. It's the breakers, a group of them hauling on a rope as they pull up the arena walls. In the last five minutes they've constructed almost half of the building and Ryan knows he's running out of time to get Brendon and Jon to Pete. Reluctantly he says, "I need to go. I'm looking after fresh meat and need to get them ready for tonight."
"Have they been branded yet?" Spencer asks. "If they haven't you need to go now, find Pete."
"They haven't," Ryan says, he wants to keep holding on, just stand here as his arm cramps and his feet go to sleep but Spencer's already pulling back his hand. A last squeeze and the contact is gone, and part of Ryan is lost again.
"If I don't get out today...."
"I'll come and see you again," Ryan promises, and he will, whatever it takes. Hand against the metal wall he lingers for a long moment and then steps away, heading toward Brendon and Jon. "Let's find Pan."
They're making their way past the half-built pens when Brendon finally speaks. For the last few minutes he's been sneaking sideways glances at Ryan and if he were a better person Ryan would have given him an opening to talk. The truth is though, Ryan doesn't want to deal with the questions because they'll be about Spencer, that's inevitable.
"Back there." Brendon steps over the panels of wood that are lain out on the grass. With each step his pants leg rides up exposing his bony ankle and a small bruise on the bottom of his shin. "They keep people in metal boxes? That's.... they can't do that."
Ryan studies Brendon, taking in how angry he seems. It's a reaction he'll have to lose because the simple fact is, they can do that, and a lot worse. "They can do what they want."
"Well they shouldn't." Brendon's brows are drawn together, his mouth a thin line as he increases his pace, kicking at the ground with each step. "The person inside, can they even stand up?"
Ryan remembers the ache of his shoulders and back, sitting cramped on the floor as the temperatures soared and plunged. How Spencer had helped him to stand when Horace had finally allowed him out, opening the door and grabbing hold of Ryan's arm and hauling him out to sprawl on the grass. Memories pressing close, he's relieved to see Pete, the distraction allowing Ryan to slam back barriers that had threatened to crumble. Ducking under a string of tattered green flags, Ryan makes his way over to Pete.
"Willow. New people." Pete's stretched out on the grass while nearby, Mikey's sitting in the shade of one of the mobile generators. He looks much more alert today, wiggling his fingers at Ryan when he gets close. Waving in return Ryan goes and looks down at Pete.
"They need branding."
Pete's got his hand held in the air, shading his eyes as he looks from Ryan to Brendon and Jon, his gaze sliding down to take in their bare arms. In a smooth fluid move he gets to his feet, says, "I'll go and get the stuff."
"We'll be behind the generator," Ryan says, picking a place where they'll be hidden from Horace and his sadistic touch in creating a brand.
"How much is this going to hurt?" Jon asks, when they're behind the generator and hidden out of sight. Surprisingly it's Mikey that answers as he follows and holds out his arm, showing the brand on his inner forearm.
"It's over quick, and Pan's good at getting it right first time." Mikey runs his fingers over the whorls and swoops that end at his wrist, his fair falling forward into his eyes. "You'll be okay."
Jon smiles, his attention solely on Mikey. "I trust you."
Mikey's head jerks up and he looks surprised, emotions laid bare before his own shields come crashing back down and he looks away, as if unsure what to say.
"So we get these and our outfits, then what?" Brendon asks, filling the silence that's beginning to get awkward. "Do we get something to eat because I'm fucking starving."
Back against the generator, Ryan slides down to the ground, taking this time to rest. He gasps a little on impact, still sore from the day before and rubs the flat of his hand over his hip. "We'll eat first then costumes, once we get to the pens we won't be leaving for a while."
"I was meaning to ask," Brendon begins, but whatever he's about to say is cut off when Pete comes back carrying a cloth bag that's looped over his wrist. Kneeling, he sets the bag on the ground and takes out a small wooden box which he opens, revealing a piece of metal complete with curved raised ridges, that once heated will apply the brand. Getting that heat right is an exact science and one that Pete does well, as opposed to Horace who always heats it too hot and leaves it too long, taking pleasure in the resulting pain.
Jon kneels too, leaning forward slightly so he can see into the box. "So what does that actually do? Do you put it into a fire or something?"
"That's old school branding." Pete picks up the metal, turning it to show the controls on the back. He switches it on. "This is self-heating. Get to the right temperature, press down and you're done."
"Right," Jon says dubiously, and he holds out his arm, fingers splayed as he exposes his wrist. "Let's get this over with."
Pete looks up from where he's testing the temperature, brushing his fingertips against the already hot metal. "Throwing yourself into stuff, I like you."
"More like getting it done before I lose my nerve," Jon admits, and Ryan notices how his fingers are trembling slightly.
"Do you mind?" Obviously seeing that too, Mikey's moved and has his hand just under Jon's arm, close but not touching. "You can't move when he starts, it makes it worse."
"It's fine, thanks" Jon says, and swallows as he looks at Pete. "Do it."
"Try and stay still," Pete says quietly, and he waits until Mikey steadies Jon's arm, and then positions the metal. When he's sure it's right he presses down, and this is the part Ryan hates the most, because no matter how good Pete is there's still the scent of burning flesh and the sizzle as white-hot metal meets skin.
"Fuck," Jon gasps, his mouth open as he draws in a breath and Mikey holds tight, making sure Jon doesn't move for long seconds. Then finally, finally it's done, and Pete pulls back. Using his free hand, Jon wipes at his eyes and looks down at the angry burns on his wrist, says weakly. "Thank you."
Mikey loosens his grip and says to Pete. "I'm going to get the cream."
"You know where it is," Pete says and turns his attention to Brendon. "You should get it done now, before it cools."
Brendon's looking after Jon, who's holding his arm away from his body as Mikey helps him to his feet. Hand cupped under Jon's elbow, Mikey steers him into the shade and urges Jon to sit, doing the same as soon as Jon's settled.
"This is good shit," Mikey says, groping for Pete's bag which he's been carrying on his back. Putting it on his lap Mikey rummages inside and brings out a small tub. It looks like the tub of grease Ryan keeps in his own bag but when Mikey untwists the lid the stuff inside is a weird pinkish color and drips off Mikey's fingers when he scoops up a glob. "I know it doesn't look like much but it stops things hurting."
"Good," Jon says, and hisses as Mikey gently rubs cream over the fresh burns, careful to ensure each line is fully covered.
Brendon's still looking at Jon, but when Pete speaks he turns to him, and despite looking afraid, holds out his own arm. "I'll try not to move."
Ryan's never been touchy-feely, even before he came here and learned that most touches only brought pain. He'll curl up next to Spencer, sometimes Mikey and Pete, but usually contact is bought. It's why he hesitates before moving to Brendon, and feels a pang of guilt at the way Brendon smiles when Ryan says, "I can help."
Ryan shrugs and looks at his fingers where he's holding Brendon's arm. The skin there is unblemished, blue veins just under the surface and all Ryan feels is twisted inside. Brendon doesn't have a clue what the brand means, how once it's applied it means he's available for a price.
"Ready," Pete says quietly, and brings the heated metal down. Brendon stiffens, a moan torn out of his throat as Ryan holds on and tries not to gag, until, finally, Pete says, "Done."
Ryan looks up in time to see Mikey throw the pot of cream, snatching it out of the air he goes to hand it to Brendon, and then abruptly changes his mind when he sees how Brendon's trying to control his shivers and blink back the tears that are gathering in the corners of his eyes. "This'll help." Ryan unscrews the lid of the tub and scoops out some of the cream. It's warm and smells like something has died and been liquefied, but Ryan knows how well it works. Brendon flinches at the first touch and his skin is hot, the burns smooth under Ryan's fingers.
"Well, that sucked," Brendon says weakly, and holds his arm away from his chest. "Thank you."
Ryan's not sure who he's actually thanking, not that it matters and he throws the cream to Mikey who drops it back into Pete's bag. "Are you coming to eat? The kitchen should be set up by now."
Pete sets the hot metal on the ground, waiting for it to cool down. "I need to see someone first." Which means he's off to make deals with the breakers, exchanging food and money for the meds that he needs.
Ryan rubs his hands against his arms, making sure they're clean. He wants to ask Pete to use his contacts to find out about Spencer, but it means asking yet another favor and Ryan hesitates, then says, "If you can find out about Sunny. When he's getting out."
"We'll ask around," Mikey promises, and gives Jon a smile before clambering to his feet. "Look after that. Keep it clean."
"You're not coming to eat?" Jon asks.
Mikey shakes his head, says, "I'll grab something for later, the first night's always rough."
It's obvious that Jon doesn't get what Mikey means, just sits watching as Pete gathers up his things and then stands. The bag wrapped around his wrist swinging in the air as he loops arms with Mikey. "Shall we?"
Mikey rolls his eyes but he's also smiling as Pete takes a moment to lean his head against Mikey's shoulder before walking away.
Jon rests his fingers against his arm, where the skin is an angry red almost to his elbow. "They're together, right?"
"Yeah," Ryan says, and gives Jon a narrow-eyed look, because Mikey and Pete's relationship is one of the things Ryan hangs on to, that despite the hardship, the degradation and the struggle to get through the days, they've stayed together, stronger as a unit than one.
Jon holds up his hands, wincing a little as he does so. "Just asking."
"As long as you are," Ryan says and then sniffs, smelling the distinctive odor of cooking slop. "Come on, we need to eat."
When they leave their sheltered spot the fair is well on the way to being fully built. The arena takes up a central position, the walls covered in panels depicting pornographic images. Set to both sides of the main entrance are the pens, the red and yellow flags flapping in the breeze. While scattered around those are the smaller booths, their paint flaking and revealing the raw wood underneath. Passing between two of those booths, Ryan leads the way to the kitchen for the performers, which is hidden at the back of the fair. As they walk the sound system groans into life with a shock of white noise which is quickly followed by the cheery music that Ryan's come to hate.
"What is that?" Brendon asks, his expression pained at a particularly tinny sequence. "I could play better in my sleep."
Ryan shrugs. He used to enjoy music but now all it is is meaningless noise. Even when he's scheduled to perform in the arena the music is just another prop, all enjoyment of it stripped away.
"That's not right," Brendon says, and he looks up at the ancient speakers as if he can physically see the wrong notes.
"Get used to it, it won't be shut off for hours," Ryan says, a lot of hours in fact, when the last john has finally gone home allowing the performers to stumble back into their stalls.
"And I thought the branding was bad," Brendon says quietly, seemingly talking to himself.
"The branding fucking sucked." Jon bypasses a pile of narrow mattresses, all of them covered in multiple stains which will end up covered by dark sheets. "The cream's good stuff, though."
Still glaring up at the speakers, Brendon nearly walks into the mattresses, just missing them when Jon reaches out and tugs at his tunic. Taking a stumbling step to the side Brendon smiles a thanks and then stands on his tip-toes so he can see over a tall fence. "Is that where we eat?"
"For what it's worth." Ryan leads the way along the fence, put there to hide the fact that the performers have to eat and shit and have actual physical needs. On the other side of the fence is an expanse of grass where Jacob stirs a vat of something on the stove set up in the small open-sided hut. In all the time he's been here Ryan's never heard Jacob actually speak. All he does is dole out food, his eye downcast and that doesn't change today when Ryan grabs one of the metal bowls and holds it out to be filled.
With a twist of his wrist Jacob scoops up a ladleful of the slop and pours it into Ryan's bowl. If Spencer was here they'd be arguing over the origin of the grey tinged lumps that float to the top, but he's not so Ryan takes a spoon and sits with his back to the fence as Brendon and Jon get their own food. When they've both got filled bowls they sit next to Ryan, and Jon uses his spoon to poke at his slop.
"Is this even edible?"
"No one's died from it yet." Ryan brings his spoon to his mouth, trying not to look at what he's actually eating. Thankfully it doesn't taste that bad today, and he swallows another spoonful, suddenly starving.
Dubiously, Brendon tries one of the grey lumps, his mouth working furiously as he chews. "No wonder Shadow didn't want to eat."
Ryan brings the bowl up to his mouth, too hungry to use the spoon. Swallowing almost half of the contents of the bowl in one go, he wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. "He didn't eat because the johns in red are always extra demanding the first night. He'd just puke it back up."
"Seriously?" Brendon puts down his bowl, and slop spills from the side, pooling on the grass. "I know he works red, but why would he puke?"
Ryan wants to laugh or to grab Brendon and shake him for being so fucking naive. Not even trying to soften his words he says, "Shadow pukes because people get off on hurting him. He'll puke because he walks into that pen knowing there's people coming who'll ask to beat him until he’s covered in blood and bruised from head to toe and then fuck him while he’s unconscious. He'll puke because he'll be shot up with drugs that leave him defenceless, drugs that are sold in one of the booths. He'll fucking puke because he knows it's happening to Pan, too and if I can't stop it, Spencer."
"Oh god." Brendon's got his hands over his mouth and Ryan would feel bad at letting that all spill out, but he's too tired, too worried about things he's got no chance to control.
"Spencer. That's Sunny, yeah?" Jon says. "The one in the metal wagon."
Ryan leans back against the fence, feeling the rough wood through the thin fabric of his tunic, says, "Yeah."
Tags: my stories:bandom