Author: Rogue Energizer Bunny PM
When you're standing against a wall with a bag of explosives heavy in your hand, things get real. You realize you don't have any hidden strength - all you have is yourself. [slash]Rated: Fiction M - English - Sci-Fi/Tragedy - Chapters: 9 - Words: 26,108 - Reviews: 231 - Favs: 26 - Follows: 38 - Updated: 08-13-12 - Published: 05-06-12 - id: 3020206
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 8: Brother
"This has been said so many times that I'm not sure if it matters. But we never stood a chance, and I'm not sure if it matters."—"Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying", by Fall Out Boy
I don't know what I'm doing anymore. My six classmates sit around the table, their books out. Focused. And I sit here and stare at the blotchy text, and I can't get myself to read a single word.
I never really liked school, you see, but I tolerated it because I thought it was important. But what would happen to me if I didn't go? My parents had enough money to support me no matter what, and it wasn't like I would be working or anything. My father is a scribe in the guard's office. He inputs things to a machine, and it prints books. I'll bet hiseducation didn't do him any good.
So what am I getting out of all of this? A rich boy's education for a secretary's son. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that, but I don't think it's for me. After seeing the Underground, and getting to know Devin and Olson, I don't think I can go back to this. The stuff out there is real. The stuff in here is all lies. And I think I want more out of life then lies.
Quietly, I begin to stack my books into a pile, ready to stick into my bag. The other students cast me doubtful looks, but don't say anything. They probably think I'm a freak; I haven't been to school in forever, and now I'm being super awkward about it.
I don't belong here. Not anymore.
"Have you finished the essay on Adin Sapros?" the professor asks. He's a tall, crooked man, whose reddish blond hair doesn't match his grayish complexion. He'd gotten back from break without my noticing. The fragile-looking girl to my left glances at me, then quickly down at her paper.
"No, sir. I have a headache. I'll turn it in later."
He studies me and frowns. "It's due at the end of the day. And you haven't completed any of the work you've missed."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I really have to go," I say.
"Jerrep, you need to finish your work."
Asshole. "But I don't wantto. My head hurts."
The tan-skinned kid who sits across from me has ducked his head down until his nose almost brushes the page. The others glance away.
"Your parents are paying me to teach you. How am I supposed to teach you if you're never here?" His tone isn't harsh. It's more patient—insistent.
"I don't know, sir. I need to go." I tip the stack of books into my bag and stand up. He doesn't stop me as I make my way out of the small room, but I can sense them watching. Once I'm out the door, it's like a crushing weight has come off my chest. I don't have to go to school if I don't want to. I don't have to do anything I don't want to.
The whole way to the square, nobody stops to talk to me—not even the people I know. I keep my head down and rush past. It's odd. It's scary, and I don't know if it's good or bad. I like who I am now. I like men, and maybe it doesn't matter. What does it change?
Everything. It's changed everything.
I step into the square. It's packed now, unlike last time I was here. People mill about, some in groups, some alone. They all walk quickly and keep their eyes straight ahead, unfocused. In the end, everybody has something to hide. Maybe I've been oblivious this whole time. But I don't want to just trudge along any more.
Devin isn't at his desk when I walk in. The small room is dark and still. I stop and almost leave—maybe it's closed or something—but then I hear voices from the back. He must be helping a customer. The massive bookshelves crowd the space with shadows. Some electrical lights would be nice. Maybe he can't afford them; business isn't exactly booming.
Devin stands outside the break room with a taller guy I haven't seen before.
"Hi," I say.
"Hello." He smiles a little, but he looks tired. "Do you need something?"
"Uh, I just…" The taller man is staring at me. He's got sharp, angular cheekbones, and light eyes that don't match his face. This is the first time I've seen anybody else in Devin's store.
"Sorry. Jep, this is my brother, Nye."
His brother. "Hi. It's nice to meet you."
"Hello. Nice shirt." His eye flick up and down my body, without a hint of a smile. "The diagonal stripes really compliment your complexion."
"No problem." His mouth quirks up, and he coughs. I wonder if he's making fun of me. There's nothing wrong with this shirt, though, and purple's my favorite color.
"Did you fire him?"
"What?" I ask.
Devin frowns at Nye. "Who?"
"Olson," he says. "Did you fire him?" He's still looking at me, even though he's talking to Devin. When neither of us say anything, he glances between us and asks, "What? Did something happen?"
"Olson's been captured," Devin says.
"…God," he says.
"He blew up another check center, and something went wrong. Jep," Devin points at me, "saw them taking him away."
"Damn. That's… where are they keeping him?" He seems concerned, like he actually knows him. I wonder how. They've got the same shifty look about them. Was he in the camp, too?
"We don't know," Devin says.
"What are you going to do about it?" Nye asks.
"We don't know."
He stares at him. "So you're not going to do anything? Is that what you're saying?"
"That's not what I said."
Nye shakes his head. "But it's what you meant. What, are you going to let them take him back there? You know how—"
He crosses his arms. "Nye, I'm not letting them take him back. You seem to think we have control over this situation. We don't. They have Olson, they have guards, and we have nothing."
"The Underground is dead. They burned us to the ground, and half the members are in camps."
"I have chemicals."
"Olson could be dead because of your chemicals."
They stare at each other, and neither one blinks. Me, I'm shifting around and wondering whether or not I should say something, because I'm pretty sure they've forgotten that I'm here. I'm more than a little out of the loop right now. "Um," I start to say.
"I have to go to the store before dinner, and I've already stayed here for too long," Nye says.
"Nye, you don't have to—"
"I know. But I need to go, so see you later. Have fun training the newbie. Maybe this one won't throw things or belittle your customers, that'd make you happy, right?" He turns and stalks away. The door shuts behind him, and Devin and I are left standing in the store, alone.
"Your brother?" I ask, finally.
Devin frowns a bit. "He doesn't come around often."
"Oh." Right now I'm trying to picture them both as kids, growing up, sharing a room or something. I can't. They don't seem like siblings.
"Did you need something?" he asks.
"I… no. Well, I was wondering if you meant what you said about helping here."
He raises his eyebrows. "I can't pay you much. I can give you Olson's salary, I guess, but I won't give you what you're used to."
"That's fine. I just need something to do, you don't even have to pay me."
"What about school?"
He stares at me. "And your parents are okay with that?"
"Yeah. Of course."
They aren't okay with it.
"Sit down," my father says. His face is flushed and his fingers twitch around in his lap. My mother sits beside him, eyes downcast. I sit down slowly, and can't look at him. The carpet at my feet is patterned to look like a dragon. I drag a toe across its face.
Actually, it sorta looks like a mouse, with big eyes and a lumpy tail.
"Jerrep. Listen to me."
Oh, hell. "Yes?" I ask, but I don't look up.
"Why did you leave school today?"
"I had a headache." So are the flowers behind the mouse/dragon, or growing out of its butt?
"Then where did you go?"
Because that's what I really wanna know. I'd like this carpet better if it was a snake monster with flowers growing out of his ass. "For a walk."
"Is that your answer to everything?" My father's voice is taking on a tone of annoyance. I squeeze my eyes shut. "Answer me."
"I don't want to go to school any more."
"What?" my mother asks.
"Well, that's too bad," my father says.
Screw them. "I'm not going to go to school anymore," I tell the flowers on the carpet.
Silence. Then my father snorts. "What makes you think that?"
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I look up at my parents. My mother still won't meet my eyes; my father is staring at me hard. They're not going to let me quit school—of course not. To them I'm some rebellious teenager, acting out for attention. My father looks angry, but behind the harsh lines of his face, his eyes are wide, his complexion pale. They're loosing me.
They lost me a long time ago.
"Jerrep?" my mother asks.
"I'm sorry," I mumble.
My father's shoulders relax. "School is important. I know things are confusing sometimes, but you need to do this. You can't throw it all away yet."
My mother nods and sniffs a little, but then she smiles. Her face is all worn and crumpled-up, but she seems relieved by my apology. That's not what I meant, but I don't say anything. I nod back. My throat is closing up.
"Okay?" my father asks. He leans forward and looks intently at my face.
I give a tiny nod and try not to let my lips wobble.
He leans back. "You've been good. Maybe we should've been more rewarding."
I nod again. The dragon is blurring under my feet.
"You can go now. I don't want to hear anything more about missing school. Alright?" His voice softens on the last word.
"Yeah," I say, and I get up to leave. What I really want to do is hug my mother. I want to hug her and cry a little, but instead I walk up to my room with my head down. I'm collapsing into myself.
I hate this house. When I get to my room, I take the poetry out from under my mattress and scatter it across the floor. There isn't as much there as I'd thought, but it looks impressive enough. I think for a second and dump out my schoolbag, too. I fill my bag with clothes and put on my shoes.
What am I doing?
You lift your head from the trodden snow and stare at the man kneeling by your head. He isn't as old as you'd thought—he doesn't have a beard. Old people have beards. He's got bags under his eyes, though, and there's a thin white scar on the edge of his lip.
"Kid. If you don't get up before the bell rings, they'll trample you."
You let your head fall to the ground and close your eyes.
"Oh, for fuck's sake."
Hands grab your arms and pull you off the ground. They press into healing bruises, and you cringe away and wait for a blow to land. He doesn't hit you; instead he sets you against a wall and leaves his hand on your shoulder. By this point, you're past cold. You're numb and soaked through, but you don't want to move. They took everything.
"Hey. Are you okay?"
When you don't answer, he cups your cheek and angles your head to look at him. His eyes are soft green, with flecks of orange around the middle. His hand is warm against your face, and it's more gentle than anybody's been in days. You exhale and close your eyes again.
"Wake up. It's almost dinner time. You can go eat—it'll be warm in there. You're gonna die if you stay out here much longer."
You're sore from hauling rocks around all day, and battered from the others shoving you around. At twelve years old, you're younger than most of the kids there. They just moved you from a children's camp. You don't remember before that, but they call you a half-blood, even though you're not completely sure what that means.
The man lets you rest for a minute, then taps the side of your face. "Okay. Here." He digs around in his clothes and pulls something out in his fist. "I don't usually help kids, but you're a wreck. You can't just lay out in the snow until you freeze. That's pathetic." He opens his hand. It's a little metal object, about the length and width of your thumb.
You stare at it, and then up at him. He nods, so you pick it up with your numb fingers and turn it over in your hand.
"I'm not going to last much longer in this place, so listen. Don't let the guards see it, and don't lose it. There aren't any rules in here, so you need to learn to fight back."
You open your mouth and ask, "But don't you need it?" and your voice is cracked and hoarse.
He shakes his head. "I'm not going to last much longer. I'd rather some kid have it than the guards."
The object is heavy and warm in your palm. You close your hand around it. Violence means power. Violence means safety.
"Thank you," you say.
"Yeah. Don't expect anything else. You can't trust anybody in this place," he says, and walks away. With a knife clenched in your fist, you find the strength to stand, even if your knees shake a bit.
Violence means hope.
Two days later, you're walking down the path, and the man's laying out in the snow, green eyes foggy, forehead caved in and misshapen.
You keep walking.
So jumping out the window… maybe not my smartest move.
I lie on the ground, gasping for breath, ass and feet numb from the impact. Damn. It'd be better if there was snow on the ground, but instead there's frost, so I might as well have landed on rock. Where'd my bag go? The window wasn't that high up. At least it's too dark for my parents to see outside, but still, I should get a move on. I fumble around in the dark until I find my bag, and then I scramble to my feet, only to slip and fall back down.
What the hell. I get to my feet slowly, rubbing my bruised elbow.
Where am I going?
The wind picks up, and I take a step back. Maybe I should've thought this through better. If I stay out all night, I'll freeze. I don't have anywhere to go. I need to find out where Devin lives, because I'm screwed, and I can't crawl back up the side of the house. Well, shoot.
I guess I could break in or something. It'd be pretty odd to be there without him.
The wind blows harder. I start walking.
It's farther away than I remembered, and then it starts snowing as I walk. And I mean snowing, not little fluffy snowflakes, but granules of ice that sting my face. It's miserable, and I take wrong turns twice. By the time I get there, I'm shivering, and my hair's soaked through. My jacket keeps most of the moisture off my clothes, though.
It takes a moment to identify which door is his. They all look the same: narrow and windowless, with numbers carved into the center. I waste a few minutes trying to make sure I've got the right one. And then when I try the handle, it's locked, of course, and I didn't see any windows when I was inside.
Damn it all.
I start jiggling the handle around, but that doesn't work, so I kick the door a few times. That doesn't work either, and the wind keeps coming, and I'm throwing myself against the wood when it pops open.
"Wah!" I stagger through the door. My shoes are slippery from the snow, so I skid on the floor and almost fall. The door slams shut behind me.
…That door didn't open on its own.
"What the hell are you doing here? Are you looking for somebody? Nobody lives here anymore, so beat it," somebody snarls.
Did I get the wrong door? What's going on? "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! It's cold out there!" There's a light shining from behind me; my shadow looks about eight feet tall. I can see that this is it, though. The books are all over the place, and there's that bitter smell of chemicals. That bitter smell of Olson. God.
"Who are you?"
I turn and look behind me. It's an older boy, about my height. I don't recognize him for a second. "Nye?"
"No, that's my name. It can't be your name too. I asked you what yours was, are you going to answer? And don't drip on the books." For a second, he really looks like Olson. If he was just a bit shorter, I wouldn't notice the difference in the half-light.
"It's Jep! From the store. What are you doing here?"
He frowns at me. The lantern in his hand stretches his features into a grimacing shadow. "I'm picking some books up, for Devin. He didn't want to come here."
"Now you tell me what you're doing." His shoulders are squared. I can't help but notice how much broader they are than Olson's, but it's a pose I've seen before.
I'm about to lie, but I don't know what to say. There's really no reason for me to be here in the middle of a night, during a snowstorm. "I ran away, and I need somewhere to sleep. And it's cold out there."
"Well, you can't stay here," he says. He pushes past me and kicks over a stack of books. "I'm busy. How do I know you're not going to steal something?" He shoots me a glance. "Not that there's anything to steal."
"You're going to send me back out there?" I ask.
"Maybe. I don't know. Should I?" He picks up a book and starts flipping through it. The wind whistles outside, and bits of ice slam against the door. Neither of us say anything. I shift around a bit.
"You look a lot like him," I blurt.
"Like Olson," I say.
The books snaps shut. "That's nice." He drops it back into the pile, and it slides off and lands near my feet, so I bend to pick it up.
"Don't touch that. Don't touch anything." His hands grab me by the shoulder; he drags me to the couch and shoves me onto it. "Just sit down."
"Sorry." I wonder if I've offended him. It's hard to tell. I really hope I haven't—I don't want to go out there, especially know. "Devin said you were his brother." Maybe if I talk to him, he won't throw me out.
He kicks a book across the room. "Whose."
Bad idea. "His."
"Oh. Right. Yeah, I am." He turns and stares at me some more. Then he kicks some more books into a pile and scowls at the floor.
"What are you looking for?"
He puts his hands on his hips and looks at me for a long time. Outside, the wind begins to settle. The flame in the lantern flickers erratically on the floor, distorting the shadows cast by the books and furniture. I wonder if the lantern is a hazard, considering the acrid odor from the closet.
"I'm not actually here for books, I just said that to shut you up. How well do you know Olson?"
"Uh… I haven't known him for that long—"
"No, I don't care how long you've known him; how well do you know him? How much do you know?" he asks.
This is strange. I don't like the intensity of his eyes, and the set of his shoulders. "I know about the bombs. I've seen in the closet." I point at the closed door. "I know he used to be in a camp, and that he doesn't like to talk about it."
He's reaching for his pocket and fumbling around for something. He pulls out a crumpled piece of paper and smooths it out. "I want to show you something."
It's a diagram of some sort. "What is it?" There's a circle, divided into parts, and crosses at different points.
"It's a plan. This is the place they're keeping him," he points at the circle, "and this is the only entrance. The Xs are explosions. I came here for supplies, but you came running in, so I made something up. But since you seem serious about this running away stuff, I guess you're not going to go to the Guards?"
"No, of course not."
He nods. "Good. So I did a little asking around, and a friend of mine was watching a center, and he saw Olson get taken in. So we know where he is, and we have the explosives, we just need more people." He folds the paper into a square and sits down next to me.
"You want to break him out?"
He nods. I realize that his eyes are the same color as Olson's, and I frown. He doesn't look anything like his brother. Devin's face is all soft angles and tanned skin, and he's pale and sharp.
"And you want me to help?"
"Will you? We need more people—the guards have been cracking down, and half my friends are in jail. I usually don't talk to people your age, other than Olson, and you're pretty soft, but I really need the help."
I'm soft? I prickle a bit, but it's true, so I don't say anything. The prospect scares me, honestly. Explosives? And what type of people are his friends? But in the end, it's no contest. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll do it." He starts to say something, but I cut him off. "Can I ask you something?"
"Why do you care?"
He scratches his cheek. "Olson's my half-brother."
"I used to obsess over living; now I only obsess over you. Tell me you like boys like you'd better—in the dark lying on top of you."—"Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying" by Fall Out Boy