Bro’s not going to buy anything, so it ain’t fair or cool that Cal is choking him right here in the middle of the street. The puppet in the joke shop window stares at Bro, impassive, and Bro stares back. Cal needs servicing, and Bro takes him home. He can visit Egbert another day.
The puppet’s still there, still looking like Bert finally snapped and rawed Ernie until Ernie gestated his mutant fuckchild. Those shiny eyes are red and they remind Bro of Cal’s eyes. And the shackles? Those are just fucking splendid.
Striders are ride or die by definition, but they can still look at other ponies sometimes. Bro left Cal at home, so he can investigate the puppet in peace. Also, he wants to talk to Egbert without her glowering at Cal over Bro's shoulder.
She’s alone in the shop. Her son’s probably away at clown school.
“'Sup,” Bro says. “What’s with the bondage puppet in the window. Are you finally branching out.” He told her that a joke dungeon was a good investment. Egbert has a keen business sense, but Bro’s is even better. Terror and hilarity, conjoined, would bring in the big bucks.
Egbert flashes her rabbit teeth at him. He likes it when she does that.
“It’s a plushie,” she says, “and the shackles don’t come off. My tomfool brother sent it to me!”
Poor Egbert. Bro pities her for being cooler than both her brother and her son. But that's cool - Egbert pities him right back, which is why she let him overcharge her for smuppets back when he was tragic urchin. Cal said it was just that Egbert’s a GREEDY-FACED WRINKLE BITCH STARVING FOR THAT BULBOUS RUMP, but Cal’s got an incomplete grasp on the human psyche.
“Can I check it out.”
The puppet’s deliciously ugly, and he’s topless for some reason. His shackles match the color of his eyes. He’s got ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, with curved yellow claws on each one. A kid could poke its eye out with this.
“Has he got a name.”
“My brother called it the Sufferer? He said it came with a quaint little story - his words, not mine - but he also failed to relate the story in his letter. I assume it would have been a lie in any case.”
Sometimes, Bro liked to think about meeting Egbert’s bro and having some words. He ain't sure what words exactly, though. Cal would know.
“I don't even know if I want to sell it,” Egbert says. “All the pranks it makes me think of are quite mean-spirited.”
“I could,” Bro mutters. “I could take him off your hands.”
“Hoo hoo! You're welcome to it, dear." She considers him, smiles so very wide. "Won't your Lil’ Cal be jealous?”
He will. But Bro's atoned for worse shit before. Cal always forgives him.
Lil Suffie sits quietly on his shelf, like Bro expected him to, for exactly two days.
Cal spends the time keeping Bro sharp and unsheathed, and there ain’t much sleep going on. Pissed or no, Cal can only do so much to him. Just some choking and poking and ripping. So Bro makes up for the rest of it, lets Cal interrupt every thought and action, gives his body over. Lets Cal ride.
He gets into a fistfight, and Cal’s got his back. He gets fucked over the sink in a bar, and it’s not the sex Cal needs. In fact, he is personally against most types of REVOLTING GUSHY MAMMAL FLUIDS, although he has a thing for MAMMAL GASHES. Cal just digs the ritual of seeking it out. He gets more excited over women than men, but it’s men who can degrade Bro in the quick and easy way that satisfies both him and Cal. Bro getting fucked once in the night’s not enough, so he goes out again, finds an older couple looking to rekindle their nuptial passions over going to town on a hot young thing. So Bro gets tied up by the wife while the husband fusses and films it. Fine. He's got to bite his own tongue bloody to stop himself from airing any of the running commentary on the wife, but then Cal’s voice melts around the edges and Bro gets a few moments to enjoy the cheap handcuffs around his wrists. He doesn’t think about Lil Suffie even once.
Except, when they get home, Bro finds that Lil Suffie went and relocated from the back of the shelf to the edge of it. Earthquake, he tells Cal firmly, and nearly believes it himself. Doesn't think about it. Doesn't think about the warmth beneath his hands when he moves Lil Suffie over to the bedroom. Just livenin’ the place up, he says to Cal. Takes getting choked as his due.
Cal is his god and his best buddy, but Bro can't override all his physical limitations yet, and Cal gets that. Quiets down when Bro curls up on his bed. Smiles that joyous smile while Bro's drifting the fuck off to sleep.
His dreams usually come with a cold, abstract slither.
But this time, Bro's overheating. It makes sense he's this fucking hot: he's wearing someone else's skin.
Bro is gray and smooth now, like a seal. Wider shoulder-wise than he's used to. Whose body's he snatching? Or is this some repressed desire of his? No stubble, no melanin. Maybe the twink version of Bro would look like this, right down to the glow-in-the-dark yellow eyes. Spiraling bicorn horns, why the fuck not. There's a level of Bro that knows he is dreaming. On another level, he sees himself from the outside, helpless as any voyeur and more indifferent than most.
On that level, Bro knows he isn't supposed to be here. Knows this time will come at a price.
“The difference between us is artificially magnified,” says the speaker. “It’s forged in closed purple rooms, and then made to spread among the kids, no offence meant to any here who are still unascended. But that’s just it - Ascension catches us divided and petrified. We’re all obsessed with being unique, and at the same time, with finding those who are unique along the same lines. Our quadrants are hollow, or they fill us with fear. Even the music that’s supposed to sustain us is used to deepen the chasms between troll and troll.”
He’s standing on a foot stool, still barely taller than Bro, and there’s a circle of gray figures around him. Bro’s got a front row view. The dream fills in the blanks for him. The speaker’s got no sign, got no call to be making claims like that. At the same time, what he’s saying feels trite. It’s a small world after all, and all that shit, but just pointing out an equality doesn’t give it any legs to stand on. And what does he know about music anyway?
“But that’s not why you’re here,” says the signless speaker, and catches Bro’s gaze. His eyes are red, like a rooftop sunset. “You’re here because someone’s got power over you. You’re hurt and tired. But you can’t get rid of the person above you, because you have grown dependant on giving your service.”
He steps closer, and Bro steps back, like a coward or a kid.
“You want to be useful. Want to have a place in the world. You want to have an important job to do, and it terrifies you to disrupt the system keeping you in your place.”
He steps even closer, leans forward. “It’s a waste of who you are.”
Bro turns away, elbows his way through the crowd. People flinch back from him, hey, guess they ain’t equal to him after all. The slithering finally breaks into the dream, and Bro’s got to fucking get gone from here, because Cal could gobble them all up and it ain’t like they wouldn’t deserve it but -
Bro gets up, bleary, silent. Knows what he has to check, knows for certain what he's going to find.
Lil Suffie’s fallen from the nightstand, facedown on Bro’s bed. Seems he can’t do more than that in the waking world. But it’s too much. Bro takes him up on the roof, to fade out under the sun. Goes back down to accept the jarring rainbow burden of Cal’s rage.
The next time he falls asleep is on the floor, mute smuppets covering him whole. He couldn’t leave the apartment, not with or without Cal, and by the end of the day, the loudness made him do nothing but crawl.
Sleep’s difficult to carve out and Bro works toward it. Hopes to catch a moment’s quiet.
The gray skin’s familiar and heavy on him. The crowd’s even thinner this time round, and the signless speaker got himself marked up with scars.
He’s angry. Bro knows anger, loves tasting it. That was even what drew him to Egbert. He loves getting lost in the rage of godsnakes or cutthroat older ladies or randoms in the bar. Or trolls.
“Whoever directed the drones at me might be standing among us,” says the speaker. “But this isn’t a fucking callout, as much as I’ve got my suspicions. Because all of you vacant shitheads are welcome to hear my message of peace and love, all right? Even if you go home after and decide to get your little promotion by turning on me and on your neighbors.”
He’s got a pointy, narrow nose which is twitching with rage right now.
“Here is the thing,” he goes on. “I’ll do it, okay! I’ll do whatever you want from me, and that includes smiling every time someone asks the same five stupid questions. It includes accepting you all, with no background checks, and no retali-fucking-ation when you slip up and let something slip about me. That’s as long as I’m alive, by the way. Once someone gets their shit together enough to kill me, I can’t answer for what my quadrants will do.”
He shakes his head, trotting back on track. “I want you to know I’ll do anything. As long as you hear me out, and think about it. And maybe, when I’m gone, keep on thinking and talking about it.”
This time, when he looks up, Bro’s expecting it. “And that applies to our tourists,” he says, his voice sweet as poisoned honey. “You’ve got a long time to think about it. Sir. What are you, low cobalt? High seas azure? Do you care? Does it bug you that I can’t tell? I really can’t.”
Bro seriously doesn’t care, and only has a vague idea about what it means. But he doesn’t appreciate the interrogation. He doesn’t answer to the speaker. He answers to -
“Oh, you're one of those loyal ones,” sneers the speaker. “Here for the thrill, not to spy. You just want someone to make you feel special.”
The speaker kneels down in front of him. “Is this what you're hoping for, highblood?
Kind of, Bro thinks. Not exactly.
The equipment he's packing has got some peculiarities. But the sensation of getting your dick sucked is an intergalactic fucking constant, and so’s the feeling that comes with doing it in public. All those yellow eyes on him, hungry and shocked.
The speaker’s got small horns, so pretty. Bro rubs a rough gray thumb over the nub, but hates the rippling strength in his hand. This body, he can’t control fully. So he puts his hands behind his back instead.
That mouth with its little fangs promises danger, but the speaker is maliciously gentle with him. Does he do this a lot? Service the congregation? What can he be hoping to prove?
As Bro feels the pressure building, he thinks about leaving his mark on the speaker's face. But just then, the signless speaker pulls away. “I can taste you already,” he announces, and Bro loves the way the shock spreads around the crowd. “I guess we’re all about to learn your place on the spectrum. It will be an enlightening experience.”
But he doesn’t put his mouth back, and suddenly Bro feels tested. Whatever the speaker is, it means something for him to blow - whatever Bro is right now. Something that’s something like the kind of degrading that Cal loves to get off on.
He steps back again, and the retreat of it is familiar. Coward or no, Bro isn’t here to use speaker’s mouth.
He receives a quick wink and the flash of a smile from his speaker - who's still kneeling. Is he about to make his way through the whole crowd now? Bro doesn't stay to watch.
Bro wakes up and says nothing, locks himself in the bathroom with Cal on the other side of the door. When the night falls, he drags Cal up on the roof too.
The signless speaker is thinner, exhausted. There’s a hush in his voice and a new rhythm in his words. The aliens around Bro are marked up too. The bruises round Bro’s throat feel like both a comfort and a disguise.
“When sacrifice is asked of us,” says the speaker, “we can give it willingly, or grudgingly, or we can refuse it. The Empire wants our willing sacrifices - in war and in Alterniaforming, and also just at home, propping up the system weighing down on us all. But when we’re called to sacrifice for each other - will you do it happily? Or with resentment? Or not at all?”
As he steps down from his stepladder, the trolls all kneel, and Bro does too. This time, the speaker wasn’t aware of him, and Bro can sense his surprise, down in his dream-guts.
“Hey, guys, the tourist’s back,” the speaker calls, and his voice feels lighter and louder. He’s not speaking to the congregation right now. “Thought I spooked you away.”
“No,” Bro says. His troll voice is the same as his real one.
“So?” There’s something like laughter bubbling under the surface there. It’s nicer than Cal’s laughter. “What kind of sacrifices are you into?”
“Willing ones,” Bro says, and that’s always been true. He just opens his mouth wide - and he didn’t get any cool-ass fangs, but maybe that’s a good thing in this particular situation - and the speaker does laugh, and breaks the solemnity that’s been haunting his meeting.
“I like coldblood starfuckers,” he teases, “or is that an offensive term? Maybe I just mean… real cool fans.”
Bro doesn’t close his mouth. He just shrugs, and the massive shoulders make it more fun, so he does it again.
The speaker shrugs right back, and flinches - he’s got bruises that he’s hiding. He slides down his leggings. They are ridiculous on every level of Bro’s consciousness.
The bright red troll dick is more of a surprise than Bro’s own dick was. It moves around, like a cat’s tail. Bro would chase it around, but maybe that’s not fitting for the situation. He just waits, still, and then the tendril slides into his mouth.
Bro’s taken bigger dicks than this one, but the tip of it tickles his uvula, and then moves away. It sort of feels like it could crawl all the way down, if the speaker wanted it to.
Bro feels his hair getting pulled. There are no hats in the dreamscape. He gets down to sucking and swallowing. Spit slides down his chin, and something slides down his cheeks. It’s not like he’s getting choked here, so it can’t be tears.
“I’m so glad the aristocracy has a few useful skills,” says the speaker. It’s praise. Bro revels in it. He hopes everyone around them heard it too.
His hands are still uselessly overpowered, so he can’t hold on to the speaker’s legs. Instead, he presses a cheek against one of those skinny thighs, and then, then the speaker touches his hair more softly. Is it even dyed here? And why did he never miss his shades until now? The speaker brushes his hair away from his eyes. Blue eyes, apparently. Are they like Cal’s? He wants to tell the speaker that they’re not real.
The red dick’s warm and gyrating slowly on his tongue, and Bro wants to swallow what’s about to get spilled there. He's got this vague idea that that’s important, that it means stealing something important from whoever’s in charge.
There’s a yowl and a burst of static, and the speaker jerks away.
“Run!” He’s yelling, jerking Bro upright by the hood. “Get out of here! All of you, get the fuck away, you know they’ve started to arrest -”
He shoves Bro toward the edge of the clearing. Bro doesn’t want to, but he obeys him. That’s how it’s going to work now.
He wakes to a quiet house, his crotch sticky and his fingernails bleeding. Oh, he’d fallen asleep on the floor again. Scratched the carpet in his sleep, like an undomesticated pet.
He rubs down against the floor, just to feel the sensation of his own skin. No horns and no weird strong hands. Bro’s in charge of his body again.
He has breakfast first. One of those cereals Egbert sent him in the mail. Pays attention to the cinnamon, the flat soda. He’s never had milk in the house and he’s not about to start, but maybe he’ll get better juice to go with the cereal.
When he’s done, Bro faces the stairs. Rolls his shoulders - smaller now, realer - and wraps a scarf around his neck first. He’s got a stripy one lying around for some reason. Whatever. Maybe it can keep him protected.
The roof’s as quiet as the house. Bro holds his breath, opens his eyes.
Lil Suffie’s alone up here.
Bro looks down, and thinks he can see a spot of orange. Cal’s face must would have shattered, falling from this height, right?
Someone’s going to clear that away. Probably.
Lil Suffie’s silent, under the sun. One of his nubby horns has gotten ripped. Bro cradles him up to his chest. Bath. Okay. He doesn’t have commands to follow, but he knows baths can help.
There’s no shower gel in the bathroom, but Egbert sent him kitchen detergent that’s going to have to do. He empties the tub of the chigiriki and the kama, along with bits of smuppet fluff. It’s not clean, but Lil Suffie will have to make his displeasure known if he hates it.
Bro fills the tub with warm water. Makes it bubble and smell like pine trees. He could dip inside too, when Lil Suffie’s done.
Immersing a plushie in water’s different than washing a puppet. Less floppy. Bro dips him in completely, careful of the horns. The speaker never wore handcuffs, so maybe Bro will suggest some alterations to Lil Suffie's design. Next time he falls asleep.
But as he scrubs and he wonders about other sacrifices he can make, there’s a warmth underneath his hands. Bro waits, and hopes, and doesn’t know what he’s hoping for.
The Sufferer’s not gray like he should be, and the nubby horns are totally fucking gone. But for a man who just appeared from thin fucking air and water, he looks pretty hot. His skin’s darker than Bro’s is, and his hair longer than it ever was.
“Ablutions?” he rasps, and his voice is his real one. “That was the key to breaking the curse? Nothing but fucking ablutions?”
He stares out the bathtub, water dripping down his face. The shackles around his wrists are metal now.
“Guess it was this,” he says, and indicates Bro. Bro was kneeling anyway, for the wash. “Guess it was fucking you. Haha! Ha! Fucking.”
His laughter’s not real nice, but Bro can work with it. He’s already done more for the Sufferer than he’d ever done for Cal.
“You need those taken off,” Bro says. “I can pick the lock or take you to a friend. Or a hospital.” Or a fire station? Bro sold away his metalworking equipment a while ago. He should have kept a saw for kink emergencies, and for this.
The Sufferer shrugs. He blows on the shackles. They fall away, but the skin under them is red and broken in places. Fuck, Bro really should have washed the tub.
He holds the Sufferer’s hand, careful, useless. There are still claws there and they are still yellow. The Sufferer’s disguise ain’t complete.
Bro kisses his knuckles and his palm. He’s not too surprised when there’s a hiss from the Sufferer and the skin heals up.
“Right,” says the Sufferer, “you’re my magical highblood alien superfan. And beholden to a puppet, I guess? What the fuck was that thing? How long has it been hurting you?”
None of that matters, but Bro’s never gotten asked before. Like on his worst days, his words leave him in a ditch.
“Doesn’t matter,” says the Sufferer, and hey, that smile’s back. “Well, it does, but we’re prioritizing. We need to get Dis and the others. First, you need to get in here with me.”
Bro takes off the scarf but not the tanktop. His shorts are still stained with come.
The water’s getting too cool, and the tub’s not at all big enough for the two of them, but. Bro’s not going to object.
The Sufferer kisses him, then pushes him down underwater. Bro’s expecting to get drowned, but he’s getting his face washed instead.
“Huh, not a cobalt, then,” the Sufferer mutters. “Listen. Can you take me someplace clean?”
“The roof?” It’s all he can think of, short of Egbert’s kitchen.
“Hah!” The Sufferer sounds less bitter now. “It’s dusty, but I guess it's less slimy than this. Can you not afford cleaning droids, or is it just - doesn't matter! Come on. Take me out into your weird sun. I thought you were going to fry us both that first day. Forgot I couldn't burn. But I can burn now, so I'm trusting you to think about that for me.”
He’s got nothing to give to the Sufferer to wear. Nothing clean. He sheds his own wet clothes, and they both walk up the stairs naked. Bro’s neighbors have seen worse. Nobody's going to burn.
On the roof, Bro gets kissed. Keeps on getting kissed until he’s backed up against the edge of the roof. If someone looks up right now, they'll see the squishy silhouette of Bro's ass.
"Thank you," the Sufferer whispers to him, and then kisses a trail down his throat. But he doesn't kneel this time, only reaches out with his half-alien hand. Holds Bro's cock, gentle as a promise. "We're going to treat you so well," the Sufferer tells him.
He sucks a bruise onto Bro's throat, and jerks him off slowly with one hand. Keeps a grip around his shoulders with the other, so the edge of the roof is feeling less and less like an issue. Bro can't see into him, like he could with Cal, but he's getting impressions of a plan. Hunting down an alleycat, a computer glitch, a ripple of sunlight on the ocean. Covering Bro with slurry in four colors. Shedding the disguise and setting up a base. Cleaning the apartment. Holding Bro by the hand, by the throat, by the balls, and never harming him more than feels good.
"Can we - " Bro says, and the words stick in his throat. He wants a bigger indulgence than getting off. It's up to the Sufferer to decide what to do about it. "The roof's cleaner than my bed. I didn't sleep for real since last week. Can we just -"
"Sure, bro," says the Sufferer, and the laughter in his voice feels just like the sun. "We can just cuddle first." A tiny bite, a mark on his chest. "You deserve a break." Bro barely ever got a break, and he never deserved one before. The Sufferer pulls him back to the middle of the roof. Lays him down, lies down on him, careful to brush against his erection. Light and painless. Without asking, he takes the hat off Bro's head, brushes his hair back.
Cal's always told him that this kind of thing was filthier than anything to do with real porn or smuppets. But the Sufferer doesn't seem bothered. He doesn't need to be. (Bro won't cling more than he's allowed to.) Bro's still way bigger than he is. He can shield him from the worst of the rooftop dust.