Work Header

A-Side: Envy; B-Side: Shame

Work Text:

At times, Gilliam finds himself looking upon Grey with a sort of envy.

It's not for the boy's body, as strong and young as it is. There's no way of telling just how Grey came to thrive in the tail section like this. With nowhere to run and no space between the people packed together like cattle, he had no choice but to utilize the environment until he was darting between bunks and curling his body between the structures of the thrown-together shanty town of the tail section like a snake. Total control of every muscle, every movement precise.

That is not what Gilliam envies.

His bones have only grown more brittle and useless over time, though that probably has more to do with age than idling. Being fed only protein bars, nobody in the tail section is as fit as they would be outside, under the sunshine. Except for Grey.

It's almost as if Grey and the train are connected, blood and sparks and skin and metal meshing together to create a single unbreakable entity. There is danger in that thought, though. The last thing Gilliam wants is for Grey to be associated with this train so deeply.

Everyone in the tail section knows just how strong Grey is. Everyone has seen him climb the teetering rods and gratings with silent grace when there wasn't enough room to walk in a straight line down the train car. More than once, he's been spotted hanging upside-down from the ceiling, muscles stretched taught. Nobody is sure if he's trying to train his body, or just escaping the hellishness of the car floor.

It stops being strange after a while. Then it becomes comforting, because everybody knows Grey could take down any of the guards, guns or no guns.

No, no. That's not what Gilliam is jealous of. It's part of what he adores. The envy stems from something much different, much stranger, much more horrible. When he thinks on it, he feels acid tearing through his insides. His old bones ache, what is left of them at least, and his heart wavers with grief like it's trying to spare him the shame.

In the early hours, when Grey crawls over to Gilliam, that is the worst. Grey has taken a liking to perching his chin on Gilliam's good leg, right above the crooked knee. He will turn his head and press his cheek into the frail skin and bone of Gilliam's thigh, nuzzling like a cat. Gilliam will look at the red letters scattered across his makeshift desk and run his hand over Grey's coarse black hair.

Sometimes, Grey makes deep noises. Heavy, warm growls that come from his chest. They reverberate like the hum of an engine, like a big cat purring after a fine meal. If he had the teeth for it, Grey might be no different from a wild beast. Gilliam has certainly seen him move like one.

There's not much to be happy about here, but it's easy to tell when Grey is content. He emotes like a beast, too, projecting his mood into the sway of his body and the lines in his face. He looses the grim shadows around his eyes when he's something close to happy, and he almost looks like the young man he would be on the outside outside.

The boy has known this train for his entire life. His entire concept of society is wrapped up in broken fingers and brutish guards, the sick and the dying, the heel of a boot grinding him into the snow and dust.

Every time Gillaim hangs up that phone, the bitterest envy soaks him to the bone. His stomach pitches wildly, like the awful shaking of the train as it punches through bitter cold and solid ice. He is not jealous of Grey's youth, all the strength hiding in a beautiful body. He's not jealous of Grey's heart, or his ability to balance quiet, feral rage with some kind of soft near-purity.

Gillaim is jealous of Grey's inability to speak. Because if Gilliam himself could not speak, he would be able to bury his shame in silence.

Each time Grey holds his arm as they walk, presses close to his back in affection, even casts him a glance from across the train car with something akin to warmth, Gillaim feels a confession hanging from the edge of his tongue.

There is danger in his attachment to Grey. Words push against the inside of his mouth, banging on the back of his teeth like they're ready to vault off of his tongue. If he were like Grey, he would have no fear of his conscience rearing up and exposing him to the people he has grown to care so much for.

But then, Gilliam supposes Grey doesn't need his words to lay his thoughts bare. He looks up at Gilliam, brown eyes shining with an innocence begetting the purity of boyhood that's unattainable on this train. Those hands, calloused and tattooed, touch Gilliam with a tenderness that has no place among the filth and despondency of the tail section. Grey can kill, has killed, will kill, yet he looks at Gillaim with adoration as fresh and white as the snow keeping them all locked away here.

Edgar isn't the only one with a misplaced case of hero worship on this train.

I trust you, Grey's eyes say, I love you, and Gilliam's heart breaks.