Rating: R for violence, horrific imagery, language, and sexual content
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in association with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This fic was written with the newest incarnation of Sweeney Todd in mind. All original characters belong to me, as well as the basic plot.
Author's Notes: This was inspired by two things—the first was The Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King, Part I being somewhat modeled after Andy's encounters with the Sisters. The second was MelodyWilde and her short story "Shark Bait," a piece she wrote to accompany her fic "Compensation."
There is a sentence in my fic "Fifteen": Perkins had never forgiven him for breaking his nose the very last time he'd tried to molest him so many years ago. And, while I said I'd never write a scene involving Benjamin Barker getting assaulted, I did actually like the idea of writing the last time he gets assaulted. So, it's more prison unpleasantness. I hadn't intended it to be this long, but it wouldn't stop growing and it rather turned into the moment where Benjamin Barker officially went bye-bye and Sweeney Todd was born.
Dedication: Strangely enough, MelodyWilde was also quite excited when I asked if I could dedicate this to her. So, as unpleasant as it is, as vile as it is—MelodyWilde, this is dedicated to you. Thank you for helping inspire me to write it.
"Prison is no fairy-tale world…Prison life consists of routine—and then more routine."
—Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
PART I – BENJAMIN BARKER
Benjamin hated the way he involuntarily flinched at the sound—it was Wilkes. He turned, looking up from the stones and dirt he'd been shoveling alongside the rest of the prisoners he was chained to. Wilkes was picking his way towards him, and Benjamin didn't miss the whip curled tight around his wrist like a snake. He hated that more than if it'd had been dragging behind him like some kind of lizard's tail.
Wilkes pulled the keys from his belt, bending down and unlocking Benjamin's chains. "Report to Perkins," he said gruffly. Wilkes straightened, staring hard at Benjamin, who stared back with equal venom. Neither moved for a moment in a contest of wills—Benjamin's hands tightened hard around the shovel handle, and the whip uncurled from Wilkes's wrist as he took a step forward. "Now."
If it hadn't been for the sudden whisper in his mind, his wife's voice, so distant,
(No, Benjamin, please don't leave us)
he would've done it. He would've been killed on the spot by the guards, but how he dearly would have loved to bring that shovel up and smash it against Wilkes's thick head, or perhaps just shove the blade against his neck and crush his windpipe—or even better, slam the sharp edge of the spade right up between Wilkes's legs. But Lucy told him no, so he didn't; instead, he dropped the shovel, glaring pointlessly at Wilkes.
Benjamin knew exactly why he was being sent to Perkins, and, from the way the rest of the prisoners refused to look at him, all suddenly very intent on their work (save Dan Thompson, who risked being beaten for his troubles by stopping and staring mournfully at the exchange), they had an idea, too. He hated that most of all—people knew. People knew what was being done to him, and did nothing to try and stop it. Nobody did anything, because that was the process. That was simply the way it was.
However, the other prisoners never went near him anymore—no more groping hands in the dark. There was that.
He grabbed his shirt from the slagheap it had been tossed on, wiping sweat from his eyes with it. He didn't put it on—there would be no point. If he had it on, they'd just tear it up and he'd be stuck with no shirt at all. He heard Wilkes crunching behind him, barking orders to the rest of the guards to keep an eye on those fuckin' pansies while he was gone. His hands gripped his shirt tightly—fuckin' pansy. That's what Wilkes liked to call him when he had him alone. Fuckin' pansy—his precious pansy, special-delivered to him from London for fuckin'.
The trek to Perkins's "Office," as he called it—that little shack where the guards were allowed to cool off, process paperwork, or privately reprimand the prisoners—was always silent. Wilkes saved his talk for when they actually got down to it—he only taunted when he knew he had the definite advantage. Benjamin had a feeling he liked to keep the silence because it made the walk down to the Office all the more painful. Benjamin had occasionally walked past other small, cowering men being led to the Office during Perkins's so far seven year reign of terror. Never any talking, and they all looked the way he'd looked when he'd first been escorted onto the island. However, he'd long since become rather numb to their suffering—for five long, painful years, he'd been forced to go into that Office and endure Perkins's obsession with him. He didn't know why Perkins was so bent upon humiliating him so, wasn't sure why he was the bastard's "favorite." All that mattered was that he was, and that this happened far, far too much.
Wilkes shoved him hard, making him stumble. "Move faster," he snarled. Benjamin was tempted to ask why he were so anxious to get him in there. He was also tempted to ask Wilkes how his wife, Anna, was faring with their new baby, because Wilkes's reaction always provided him spiteful pleasure, and the beating he'd gotten for mentioning Anna's sweet and succulent breasts while Wilkes had been fucking him had been very much worth it—but the question hurt this time, so he didn't say anything.
The trek to the Office was both long and short. The door to the flimsy little hut wasn't quite closed, so Benjamin pushed it open and stepped inside, Wilkes right behind him. There was Perkins, with Livingston—yes, Livingston. He'd only been on Perkins's team for two months and he'd already enjoyed the favorite little pet. Livingston was not nearly as manipulative and thoughtful—he took with brute force. He was a true thug; he'd fit in very nicely with prisoners, should he ever want to take up a career in espionage. They both looked up when they heard Wilkes slam the door behind them, and Benjamin hated the knowing, conspiratorial grins the wretches shared.
"Barker—'bout time you got 'ere. I sent for you five minutes ago," Perkins leered. "Always in trouble, you is, Barker. Always bein' sent to the Office."
Benjamin stared coldly at him. "Just get it over with," he said flatly.
Livingston laughed. "I think 'e likes it! S'wot he did las' time, too!" he chortled trollishly, and Benjamin's insides burned and slithered painfully, his hands clenching hard into fists.
"Well, if'n 'e wants it so bad, we don' wanna deny the man, do we?" Wilkes said it directly before he grabbed Benjamin from behind, his arms wrapping tightly around him and throwing him hard across the room.
Benjamin stumbled over a chair, arms flailing, before falling hard to the ground, the chair splintering beneath him. He landed on his shoulder, which smarted terribly, but at least he avoided Wilkes's intended effect of getting the wind knocked out of him. He wanted to get back up, but he didn't put nearly as much effort into it as he supposed he should have, because he knew Wilkes would be on him—and there he was, fist raised, and he closed his eyes as Wilkes punched him hard in the mouth, his hand around Benjamin's throat. Wilkes was the strongest of them—so it was only natural that he softened up the prey.
Benjamin didn't struggle much anymore, so Wilkes didn't beat him as much anymore. Yes, he hit him, punched him, bit him, twisted his arm wrong, slammed him hard against the floor—but at least he wasn't kicking him and kneeing him hard in the groin. Benjamin hissed when Wilkes grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head up, forcing him to look at him.
"You liken' that now, too, ya fuckin' pansy?" he jeered. Benjamin couldn't help himself—his throat clicked and he spat a mouthful of blood right in Wilkes's face. The expression was almost comedic—would have been, had the situation not been so serious. But Wilkes was not a man to be spat at, especially by what he considered to be his bitch, and so he wasn't surprised to suddenly find himself dragged across the room by the hair and tossed straight to Livingston, who grabbed him hard by the upper arms and shook him violently.
"Think it's funny t'do that?" Livingston growled before sucking in a rasping breath and hawking a great glob of snot on him. Benjamin squeezed his eyes shut, and, as such, didn't see the side of Livingston's fist—he felt it, though, connecting hard with his temple. Back down to the ground—he hated that he sometimes wished they'd just bend him over the chair and be done with the beating. But no, they enjoyed seeing him writhe on the floor, helpless and broken.
He pushed himself up with his arms, shaking, a thin trail of saliva and blood and mucus dripping to the ground from his mouth and nose. He could hear them gathering behind him, their boots scuffing along the ground, their laughter echoing strangely in his head from the blow Livingston had delivered. He stared at the bloodstain on the floor, waiting for their next move, his breath whistling.
"Get up, ya piece'a shite," Wilkes snarled.
"Get up," Benjamin wheezed. He managed to sit up, turning and facing them as he wiped the glob of Livingston's spit from his face. He sneered. "To my feet, or would you rather it just be my knees? I think this time around, my knees would be nice." He gave a coughing laugh, staring up at them all.
Perkins reached down and hauled him to his feet, his nose an inch from Benjamin's bleeding one. "Now, ordinarily, I'd be thankin' ya for such an invitin' proposition and you'd be lickin' my goolies. But if'n I din' know better, I'd say you was mockin' me," he whispered dangerously.
Benjamin smiled weakly. "Let's say we just find out if it's mockery or a proposition." And then he smiled wide, making sure that all three men got a good look at his exceptionally toothy grin.
He relished the brief flash of uncertainty that each one of them showed, none of them quite sure how to take this never before uttered threat, the sudden, somewhat subtle refusal to get down on his knees and let them come down his throat. He had no idea why he was threatening them. He in no way had the upper hand, and in his five years of constant abuse, he'd almost been getting used to it…
Perhaps it was the thought of him getting used to it that made him want it to stop. Or perhaps he was just ready to die.
He didn't have any time to think about it—Perkins spun him suddenly and shoved him against the wall, the bruise already blooming on his cheekbone erupting in pain again as it connected with the plaster. His left arm was twisted backwards and jerked upwards, Perkins pressing hard against him.
And here we go, he thought grimly and tiredly. This happened so often and so predictably…yes, there was Perkins's hand, reaching down. Benjamin hissed as Perkins gripped painfully on his groin. "You ain't got no place makin' comments like that, pissant," Perkins snarled, fingers tightening a little, grinding his hips against Benjamin's arse.
Benjamin said nothing. While his hope that they'd get bored with him if he just lay there and took it had been proven false a year ago, yelling didn't do any good, either, and he'd already said something that he'd pay for later—saying more would only make it worse. So he kept silent, growing aggravated that they wouldn't just get it over with already.
Livingston was laughing. "This is 'zactly what he was doin' last time. No wonder 'e's yer favorite. What's such a pretty li'l pouf doin' here, aye?" he jeered.
" 'E wasn't no pouf when they sent him down," Perkins said, breathing in Benjamin's ear. " 'E's got a wife at home."
Benjamin's eyes snapped open. Perkins was groping him and trying to undo their pants, but he barely felt it. His wife…
"I hear she was a peach," Wilkes chuckled. "Prob'ly off findin' 'erself another man, if she ain't got one already—who'd wait for this gayarse?"
Benjamin was shaking.
"You keep that up, Barker," Perkins growled, already panting. "S'nice when you do that."
"Wish she'd come down for a visit to 'er 'usband—we could've maybe 'ad a go at 'er! Let 'er see what a real man is!" Livingston snickered.
The thin, taut line holding Benjamin's mind together suddenly snapped.
He didn't care that Perkins was fucking him. He didn't care that there were three of them and one of him. He didn't care that attacking prison guards was punishable by death.
Benjamin Barker saw red.
With a furious, choked snarl, he shoved away from the wall as hard as he could with his free hand and his knee. Perkins let out a startled yelp as they both went staggering backwards and crashing to the floor. Benjamin heard as the wind was completely knocked out of Perkins when he landed on him. He rolled off of Perkins, scrabbling across the floor on his hands and knees. His hands found the shattered remains of the wooden chair he'd fallen on—he grabbed one of the smashed legs and turned, seeing Wilkes and Livingston advancing on him, their initial shock that he dare fight back after two years of finally submitting quietly fading quickly into anger. His fingers tightened and he launched himself wildly at Wilkes's knees. He swung the chair leg forward, stabbing the splintered end into Livingston's thigh as he did. Livingston screamed, and when he jerked his leg away and went falling over sideways, it nearly wrenched the new weapon Benjamin had right out of his hand. He ripped it out of Livingston's leg instead, his fingers seeking out Wilkes's throat. He made do with the shite's collar, and Wilkes didn't even have time to put up his hands to stop him before Benjamin had brought the wooden club down on his head. He could barely see where he was hitting, but it didn't matter—he did it again and again until Wilkes went limp.
Jerking his head up, he saw Perkins coughing and staggering to his feet, and Benjamin knew he'd try and sound an alarm. Leaping off of Wilkes and pausing only to deliver a sound kick to Livingston's head to quell his complaining about his bleeding, spurting leg, and then whipped his bloody weapon through the air and smashed it against Perkins's face. Perkins roared with pain, fingers flying to his spouting nose, blood running down his hands. Benjamin stumbled backwards, a wave of pain and nausea suddenly sweeping over him.
"You fuckin' bastard!" Perkins bellowed, "I'll 'ave you killed for this!"
"I don' care what you do to me," Benjamin spat, "but don' ever talk about my wife again!" he suddenly screamed, leaning against the wall, his makeshift weapon trembling in his hand.
That's when the door swung open.
"Sir, we heard—"
The guard's voice died in his throat. Benjamin saw the two standing in the doorway, staring at the scene before them, staring at him. For a moment, he wondered why, then he realized why—burning with humiliation, he used his free hand to tug his trousers back up, hating that it was all too clear what had been happening. They shook themselves free of their shock soon enough, one of them aiming a pistol at him. "Drop the weapon," he said as forcefully as he could manage. Benjamin did, slowly buttoning his pants now that both hands were free.
He was seized and heard the familiar jangle of chains as they pulled his hands behind his back, a pistol against his head. "Sir, you all right?"
"No, I'm ain't bloody all right!" Perkins spat, voice muffled and nasally. " 'E broke my fuckin' nose."
"Attackin' a guard—three guards—is punishable by death. You aware of that, arsemonger?" the man chaining Benjamin's hands together said, jerking his wrists to check how secure the metal was.
"Yes," Benjamin answered quietly.
"He ain't gonna be hanged," Perkins growled.
"Sir?" The two men holding Benjamin looked rather startled.
"I said he ain't gonna be hanged!" Perkins shouted. "Throw 'im in the Pit an' leave 'im there until I says 'e can come out." Benjamin saw how Perkins relished the way he reacted to that damning sentence. "And get the medics."
"Yes, sir—Henry, go fetch him some help. I'll take this one."
The young guard—Henry—nodded and dashed off and Benjamin felt the man behind him yank his shackled wrists. "Come on, you," he said gruffly.
The Pit…he'd been in the pit before, for a total of five long, torturous hours. For the most part, thought, he'd done a good job of avoiding it—five hours had been enough. Perkins and his crew must have considered it fair exchange—he didn't get thrown in the Pit too much, and they got to do whatever they wanted to him. He had a feeling the "exchange" was officially over.
No set sentence, already hurt and in pain from their assaults, and their hideous, jeering comments about his wife in his head…
How he was going to survive the Pit, he did not know.
PART II – HENRY SMITH
" 'as he stopped?"
Henry Smith looked up when Richard—Richard Jameson to the majority of the world, Mister Jameson to the low life they kept in order on this God-forsaken hellhole—came back bearing the water canteens. Henry scratched at his neck, and smearing a little of his own blood when he slapped at an insistent mosquito. "Aye. He stopped."
Henry glanced at the small, barred hole on top of the heavy iron door. That little hole was the only source of light for The Pit's current occupant.
Richard handed Henry his canteen. "Wonder wot he was screamin' 'bout this time."
Henry gave his friend a withering look. "You stupid, or somethin'? It's The Pit. You'd scream too, you got thrown in there for two weeks, 'specially for the no good reason 'e got chucked in."
Richard snorted. "I wasn't askin' no general question—I was wonderin' if he was screamin' 'bout somethin' in The Pit or if'n 'e was just finally twistin' off. You know he ain't gonna be sane when—hell, if we drag 'im out of there," he said, unscrewing the cap on his canteen.
"Who says 'e was sane to begin with?" Henry retorted, wetting his hands a little with the water and splashing it on his neck and forehead. "Attackin' Perkins like he did? Stabbin' Livingston in the leg, bleedin' him like 'e was some kind of pig? Not to mention leavin' Wilkes half-blind. Ain't no one on this island sane who could do all that by 'imself."
Richard was staring at him again, looking fierce about it. "Henry, don't. We ain't talkin' about what we saw. You know that," he said firmly.
Henry sighed. "I weren't talkin' about that. I was just, you know, wondering how on earth a little guy like him could take out those three without being teched. I wasn't talkin' about Perkins and him…" Henry shifted uncomfortably.
He'd not talked about it, but he'd thought about it. Rumors and stories flew through the colony, yes, that Perkins had strange tastes and definitely had his own reasons for actively pursuing his position on the island, but Henry had, for the majority of his so far year-long stint, kept them out of his mind and ignored them. That is, until two weeks ago, when he and Richard had burst in to find out just what was going on in the guard's hut—and did they ever find out.
Henry still couldn't get the image of Barker, bleeding and quite obviously humiliated, slowly buttoning his trousers. It almost made him wish he'd missed that Perkins's had been undone as well.
Henry tried to be an honest man, and working under someone like Perkins obviously wasn't going to be very easy.
Richard seemed to sense what Henry was thinking. "Henry, I'm tellin' ya, don't."
"It's one thing for the prisoners to do it to other prisoners—but that weren't right, Richard," Henry blurted stubbornly. "And this ain't right, neither," he added, jerking his thumb at The Pit.
"Stop talkin' about it," Richard said bluntly. "Talkin' about it ain't gonna make it unhappen, and it ain't gonna make it stop happenin'. And if Perkins gets wind of you talkin' about it, you know what's gonna happen then. So if'n you wantin' somethin' bad to fall on you, by all means, keep talkin'—but don't drag me down with you!"
Henry opened his mouth to reply, but quickly snapped it shut, turning and looking at the small grate. Barker's terrible wails were bubbling up again, muffled by the heavy cover but still echoing strangely up from underground.
"God, please, let me out! I'll do anything! Anything, you hear me, Perkins?! Anything, I swear, why are you DOING this to me, I haven't DONE anything, I was INNOCENT—OH, GOD, GET THEM OFF ME, GET THEM THE FUCK OFF ME, NO, I CAN'T SEE, IT WAS INSIDE ME, I DON'T WANT THEM INSIDE ME—!"
Coherent words dissolved quickly into nothing more than screaming—again. No matter how many times he heard it—and he knew no matter how many times he would hear it—the sound of men being reduced to begging, shrieking, crying candidates for the loonybin always sent chills up Henry's spine. He hated listening to it, hated having to guard what was considered the worst place on all of Devil's Island. He even hated throwing people down into The Pit—no matter who he was shoving into the awful black maw, he always despised doing it, sometimes apologizing to those he knew were getting it just because they made Perkins or another senior guard angry. Barker's screams were particularly bad, because sometimes he started shrieking about some woman named Lucy, pleading that she come and save him. Henry had only once shouted back at him, risking a reprimand for communicating with a prisoner in solitary confinement, but it had been too much—he'd yelled that Barker had better shut up, because Lucy or whoever the hell she was wasn't going to save him. He'd regretted it instantly—Barker's screaming didn't exactly stop after that; it simply transformed into hideous sobbing, which was much more horrific than merely screaming.
Barker's wails were tapering off again, as they always did. Henry was still astounded that it had taken a full week-and-a-half to start getting any kind of noise out of the man. Henry knew what was in there—he had a good feeling that he knew what was on Barker, had a feeling he knew what had been "inside" of him. Going down to The Pit with open wounds, no matter how small, was a terrible sentence in and of itself. Add to the fact that, in his year of work here, he'd never seen a man spend more than a few days in The Pit so far, and Barker would be breaking two weeks if he stayed down one more day…
Shuddering, Henry took another gulp of water, struggling to swallow against a small swell of nausea. He hated that he still felt green around the gills after a year down here.
"What'd Barker do to get himself shipped down here, anyway?" Henry murmured to himself as much as to Richard. Richard shrugged.
"Not sure," he replied, staring uneasily at the hatch, obviously unsettled as well by the keening wails still drifting upwards through the metal. " 'aven't had any reason to ask about 'im. But I see him all the time."
"Me too," Henry said pensively. "Hangs around with a big lug most of the time, you know, the one with the limp and missin' two fingers?"
"Aye, Thompson—had to give 'im a couple'a thumps once, 'e wandered off into the jungle without permission. I know for a fact why 'e's in here—professional thief, 'e is. Stole from too many of the wrong people, so they made a right example of him—here for life, that one," Richard said, grabbing onto the slight change of subject.
"Life, eh? 'ow long's he been here so far?"
"Fifteen, I think. Survivor, that one, and pretty friendly with most guards. I think 'e gets infirmary duty a lot for good behavior."
Richard glared at Henry, and Henry stared passively back. "Barker don't talk, and nobody talks 'bout him." Richard leaned forward. "Us included."
"Oi, you two!"
Henry leapt to his feet, Richard stumbling against him as he jumped to attention as well. Marcus Greene, one of Perkins's main crew, but not nearly as vicious—just irritated all the time. "Get that lout out of there. If he ain't dead after two weeks, he ain't gonna give it up down there, and if we keep 'im in much longer, we'll have to put on a lease. Pull 'im up and send him to the infirmary," Greene barked.
"Yes, sir," Richard said, nodding. Greene glared at them both for no reason before stomping off in the direction of the labor lines.
"Two weeks—what's the longest anyone's every survived down there, you think?" Henry quietly asked Richard. "Think Barker jus' set a record?"
"Nah—I was told that a crazy prisoner named Xerxes survived for a full month once," Richard said, pulling his keys off of his belt. "He was crazy when they stuck 'im down there, twice as much when they pulled him out. Said 'e'd been eatin' things down there that weren't meant to be eaten. But 'e survived. Come on, let's get 'im out of there."
Richard bent down and unlocked the main hatch and pulled; the iron door swung up and open with a creaking protest, light spilling down into The Pit. Both of them reeled back as usual, the horrible stench of The Pit smacking into them. Coughing a little and getting used to it, they both leaned over again, Richard pressing his nose with his sleeve. Henry saw a few rats scatter, saw mud and filth and blood, saw roaches and spiders skittering and trundling about the bottom, and there, curled up in the middle of it all with his arms covering his eyes against the harsh sunlight he hadn't seen for two weeks, was Barker.
"Henry, I don't think we're gonna be gettin' any help from him," Richard said quietly. "Usual method of determin' who goes in?"
"No, no—I'll do it," Henry said, sighing. He shrugged off his jacket, choking a little on the cloying smell drifting up. Taking a few breaths to steady himself, he briefly closed his eyes before kicking the tiny little ladder down, watching it swing down in a wide arc and land in the mud.
It never got any easier, climbing down in there and hauling the ones that were incapacitated back up to the surface. Slipping on the mud, he batted a spider off of his pant leg before squishing his way to Barker, who was shrinking away from the sound of his footsteps and mumbling incoherently.
"Come on, Barker, time's up," he sighed, reaching down and grabbing Barker's shoulder.
Barker screamed. Henry reeled back in alarm, narrowly avoiding Barker's flailing limbs but not avoiding the splatter of muck he sent flying as a result. He nearly went sliding face-first into the mud, but managed to stay upright, furiously wiping at the flecks of sludge that had flown up into his face. "Barker!" he shouted. "Be still!" He grabbed onto the man's wrists, but he was covered in the muck, every inch of him stained black, so his arms slipped right out of Henry's hands, and suddenly he was startled to find Barker staring right up at him, the whites of his eyes standing out like beacons and making him look utterly insane.
"Perkins, don't send me back, please!" he babbled, fingers tightening on Henry's shirt as he sat before him on his knees. "It won't happen again!"
"Barker, I ain't Perkins, and I'm tryin'—" Henry didn't want Barker to keep talking—he felt sick enough as it was.
"What do you want me to do, I'll do it, I swear, I'll do anything!" Barker's voice was spiraling upwards as Henry struggled to get his fingers off of his shirt—struggling not to look into Barker's wild eyes again.
"Club 'im, Henry!" Richard shouted, alarmed as well and looking as if he might leap down into The Pit any second.
"I can't get to it, 'e's got my hands!" Henry yelled back as Barker pawed and scratched at him.
"Whatever you want, I swear, just—oh, God!" Barker screamed, high-pitched and haunting, and clawed at his shoulder. Red mixed with black as he fell back into the mud, twisting about in the slop and just screaming.
"GET IT OUT OF ME, GET IT OUT!!!"
With a wet squish, Richard landed in The Pit, billyclub already drawn, and, slipping and sliding about, rushed over to the writhing Barker and brought his club down hard on his head. The screams abruptly and mercifully stopped, Barker's body slumped, and the air finally went still again.
"You—you all right?" Richard asked, his face rather pale.
"Mostly," Henry replied, clenching his hands into fists to try and suppress the sudden and unexpected case of shivers that had overtaken him. "Good God, what the hell was he pullin' out of his shoulder?"
"Prob'ly them little white worms prisoners sometimes get—but I ain't about to check and see, Dr. Connolly can do that. Come on—you can haul him up, get on outta here."
Henry didn't need to be told twice; wiping his hands on his trousers, he made for the ladder, scrambling upwards to get out of The Pit. Once he was out, he got to his knees and waited for Richard. He watched as Richard used his own jacket to wipe down Barker's wrists and hands a little before hauling the unconscious man over to the ladder. Henry lay flat, reaching down through the hatch and grabbing Barker's wrist once Richard managed to get the man upright and against the ladder. With a grunt, he managed to heave him up and out, reminded unpleasantly of the few times he'd hauled a dead one out instead of a live one.
Barker didn't look any better in full sunlight; every inch of him was covered in either wet or dried sludge, the blackish brown sometimes turning a muddy, brick red from where he'd been bleeding. Dead insects were in the crusted muck, live ones squirming around in the wet. He was emaciated (well, worse than he had been), and the stink of him was hideous.
He didn't look forward to dragging him all the way to the medic's tent. But it had to be done. So, with Richard on one side and he on the other, they flanked the comatose prisoner and started the trek to Dr. Connolly.
PART III – DANNY THOMPSON
The infirmary wasn't very big, considering the amount of traffic that went through it daily. It was a tent, really, without separate rooms or anything resembling privacy. It sat near the river, as Dr. Connolly had insisted on a constant supply of water. The sound was somewhat comforting when it could be heard over the patients—at least, that's what Dan Thompson thought. Then again, prison had, strangely enough, made him extra sensitive to pretty things, and when he saw something he thought was lovely or relaxing, he enjoyed it as much as he possibly could.
Infirmary duty was something he always looked forward to, and not just because it was something he'd discovered he could do well besides stealing. The tent was hot, yes, but it was hotter outside in the sun, and while sawing through gangrenous legs and stitching up open wounds wasn't something he generally enjoyed, it was better than shoveling slag and being beaten for his efforts. His reputation with the other prisoners also tended to improve, because he snuck them little things he'd nicked here and there. That made working on the labor lines a bit easier, and garnered him favors to be returned back to him later. There weren't very many prisoners he'd do favors for without expecting anything back—Hawkins, maybe, and Quentin, and of course Ben—
He stopped that thought, pausing in his task of dunking bloody saws and knives in the water bucket, eyes closing briefly.
Ben. He hadn't seen him since he'd been sent to the Office. But he knew where he was—the whole labor line was whispering about it.
Shaking himself, he went back to washing the bloody tools. He'd been struggling not to think of Ben for days now, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable. He hated how much he liked Ben—he was friendly with people, but had never really grown attached to anyone, save Ben. There was something about Ben he just liked, and now the poor bugger was going to die in The Pit. He'd been there for two weeks already, and Danny had seen Wilkes, Livingston, and Perkins. Oh, they were getting firm revenge upon Ben for finally snapping and not taking it.
Better the man be hanged than left to die in The Pit.
While Danny hadn't been there to see what happened to Ben the first time a prisoner had taken a liking to the lithe, pretty little man, he'd been friends with him when Perkins had decided Ben would make a good toy. The first time it had happened, he'd stumbled into the sleeping quarters bloody and beaten, and had all but passed out shortly afterwards. He never talked about the incidents, but Danny always knew when it had happened. He didn't need to see the bruises and cuts to know.
Danny turned briefly as he heard someone enter the far end of the medical tent; two guards had brought in another patient. Sighing, he went back to washing, catching the occasional comment from Connolly, but not really listening. He set aside the bone saw, now free of blood and flesh, and went to work on another knife. He needed to get those cleaned—he had a feeling they'd be used soon, given that one of Connolly's patient's arms was swelling up tight like a snare drum, and he'd have to be on hand to help hold him down.
Danny glanced up again as Fredricks went by, dragging an absolutely filthy man towards what Danny knew would be the river. "Jesus, can you tell who that is under all that muck?" Danny asked.
"Wouldn't have, had they not told me," Fredricks replied grimly. "It's Barker, Danny."
Danny dropped the tools into the water bucket with a splash, a shock running through him. Grabbing Fredricks's arm to stop him from walking away, he hunched down, grabbing a handful of muck and hair to pull up the unconscious man's head so he could see his face—he wasn't successful, as his face was entirely obscured by mud.
"You ain't shittin' me, are you?" he said, moving around to face Fredricks again.
"I ain't. It's Barker. I'm takin' 'im out to dunk 'im so Doc Connolly can patch 'im up."
"Give 'im 'ere. I'll take 'im," Danny said, immediately reaching forward to grab him. Fredricks relinquished him, looking relieved.
"Thanks—I don't think I could've taken another minute of havin' that so near my face," he said, going to dunk his hands in a wash bucket.
Danny ignored him, heaving Ben over his shoulder, holding his breath as he did and snatching up one of the smaller drop cloths and a knife. He stumped out of the tent, squinting against the harsh sunlight, and making the relatively short trek down to the river.
"If this don't wake you up somehow, Ben, don't know what will," he said, setting Ben down in the grass. He looked bad enough covered in mud—Danny wasn't looking forward to seeing what he looked like without it. He splashed some water on his upper arms and shirt first, getting muck off of himself, before dragging Ben down into the water, wading in with him, relishing the cool as he did.
Grabbing Ben's hair again, he dunked his head under the water, watching the river start carrying the filth away towards the sea. He pulled Ben's head up—nothing. He dunked him again, holding him a bit longer, and sighed in relief when he felt him start moving.
Hauling him back up onto the banks, he wiped the streaks of muddy water away from Ben's face. "Come on, Ben—open your eyes," he said quietly, splashing more water onto him. Ben moaned, his head lolling from side to side, and Danny waited patiently, scrutinizing what new injuries the initial dunk had revealed. The skin at his temple was purple and split, blood oozing down his cheek—a fresh wound. He'd been tossed down without a shirt, and Danny could see that his shoulder was bloody as well. Smearing water on the spot, he grimaced as the mud was rinsed away—that was a self-inflicted injury. Ben had clawed viciously at his own flesh, and it would be hell to clean and patch up. He sighed, eyes traveling back up to Ben's face in time to see his eyes very slowly drift open.
Danny stared impassively down at him. "Jus' me, Ben."
Ben's mouth worked for a moment, and Danny had seen the look that slowly overcame him enough to know exactly what it meant. Gently gripping Ben's arms, he leaned him to the side in time for Ben to throw up on the bank. Danny wrapped an arm around Ben's emaciated stomach, squeezing carefully, knowing it would be better for him to get up whatever was making him sick than keep it in. Ben choked and coughed, his body shaking violently, his chest heaving. "Jus' get it up, you'll…" Danny trailed off; suggesting that he'd feel better was a rather stupid thing to say.
Ben's retching finally slowed and stopped, so Danny carefully rolled him on his back again. Ben stared blearily up at him, his eyes half-lidded.
"Where am I?" Ben rasped.
"You're half in the river," Danny replied, "an' about to be all in it, if'n you'd be kind enough to strip down." Upon seeing the rather confused expression that flitted across Ben's haggard features, Danny added, "I can't exactly clean you up proper for Connolly if you've got those clothes on—'sides, you're just gonna have to take 'em off anyway for Connolly so 'e can patch you up proper."
Ben stared silently up at him for a few seconds more, and then he slowly, painfully began fumbling for his trousers. After watching for a few moments, Danny knew that it would either take far too long or be completely unsuccessful, so he stilled Ben's hands and reached over to grab the knife he'd brought with him, half-smiling apologetically. "I was hopin' we wouldn't 'ave to use it, but…well, don' worry. You'll be issued new clothes 'fore you leave the med tent," he said, and, before Ben could protest, reached down slit the side of his trousers, cutting the band in two. "Right—come on in, it'll be easier to peel these off if you're in the water."
Danny slipped an arm around Ben, hauling him yet again into the river. He didn't like how Ben was shivering uncontrollably, especially in this heat, but decided he'd worry about it later. Ben was feebly trying to get his pants off, the water around them turning dark as he steadily got clean of The Pit, but, because he still wasn't having much success, Danny obligingly assisted him again—he was used to undressing prisoners in need to medical attention.
"A'right, let's get all the rest of this shite off you," Danny muttered. "Gotta dunk you again—hold your breath." He didn't wait for confirmation, because he didn't even know if Ben had heard him. He pushed him carefully under the water, mussing Ben's hair as he did, and then pulled him back up so he could breathe. He did it twice more, Ben coughing and spluttering each time, but Danny was used to this—Ben wasn't the first prisoner to come in from The Pit apparently dragging half the vile place with him.
He set to rubbing Ben down under the water, knocking off the mud and filth, picking off bugs as he did—prisoners always came out of The Pit with ticks on them, and Ben was no exception. Most of his were easy to remove, thankfully, as they'd suffocated from the mud. He ran his hands along Ben's legs and torso, feeling for any odd bumps or injuries—he grimaced. Small lump near his side on his lower back—Danny had felt enough of those to know exactly what it was, and he absolutely hated removing them. Well, perhaps that explained his shoulder. Ben would wince any time his fingers came in contact with another wound, and Danny noticed that he winced quite often. He gently pressed against his ribs, because he'd had enough of those broken by Perkins and his cadre of arse bandits…fortunately, Ben didn't appear to have any breaks this time.
Cleaning him off took less time than Danny had assumed it would, but the process still wasn't exactly short. However, sopping wet and shaking was much better than what he had been a few minutes ago, so, finally satisfied with the results, Danny pulled Ben back out of the river and wrapped him up in the drop cloth.
"Danny…" Ben's whisper was ragged and almost inaudible. "Danny…how…how long…"
"How long were you in there?" Danny finished for him. "You sure you wanna know that?"
"I…" Ben's eyes closed and he drew in a shuddering breath. "I wouldn't have asked…if I didn't."
"Fair enough. Two weeks. Didn't split barmy Xerxes's record."
"Two weeks…" Ben repeated. "I…I don't remember being pulled out."
"That don't much matter, Ben," Danny said, hauling him to his feet again. "What matters is you're out. Can you walk?"
"Don't know," Ben murmured. "My head…"
"I'm guessin' a guard clubbed you—might've happened when they pulled you up. I 'magine I don't feel so good. Try an' walk—you can't do it, I'm carryin' you."
"I can walk," Ben rasped. His knees, unfortunately, made a liar out of him when they buckled and, if it hadn't been for Danny's arms wrapped firmly around him, he would've fallen face-first on the ground.
"Tha's right, Ben, you can walk," Danny said calmly, and then heaved him over his shoulder again.
"Don't…" Ben wheezed, but Danny ignored him. He'd carried men bigger and more energetic than him before—Ben could just deal with it.
Pushing aside the tent flap and reentering the infirmary, he quickly spotted Connolly fussing at a prisoner with a broken leg. "Dr. Connolly," he called. "Two-week resident of The Pit, here. Benjamin Barker."
Connolly's bushy black eyebrows went up. "Put him there," he yelled back, pointing to the nearest empty cot. "He cleaned?"
"Just finished," Danny replied, depositing Ben on his designated cot. " 'e's got bots, Doc."
"No surprise—you spend two weeks in The Pit, you're going to come up with something unpleasant," Connolly said wearily, finally wending his way through the array of cots and tables over to Ben, who looked like he was about to pass out again. Connolly slipped his glasses onto his nose again, pursing his lips and tossing the drop cloth away. "Put that where you found it and get me the thin forceps and a small knife."
"Right," Danny nodded, sweeping across the room and dropping the cloth back on the pile and snatching up the two metal instruments he'd been asked for. Connolly was already examining Ben in close detail when he got back, squinting at his ragged shoulder.
"Barker, what the hell's wrong with you," he muttered irritably. "These are easy to get rid of, and you had to go and find a way to make it hard."
"What's wrong?" Danny asked.
"There's one in here. Don't know what possessed him to just start clawing away at himself. He's gonna need stitches now—get the catgut and my needle," Connolly said. Danny handed Connolly's instruments to him and turned to get the stitching material. "And I believe you said bots, as in more than one?"
"Aye, there's one on 'is back, too," Danny said, rummaging around for the gut and needle. "That one ain't messed up."
Connolly grunted, pushing Ben roughly on his side to look at his back. After a quick glance over, he dropped him on his back again, now scrutinizing the large, bloody bruise on his temple. "Hit over the head, too. Nothing for that. I'm pretty impressed—for two weeks in The Pit, I expected much worse." He rolled his sleeves back, snapping the forceps a few times. "Roll him over, Thompson—and if necessary, hold him still. Gonna get the easy one first, then patch up his shoulder."
Danny suppressed a sigh and got Ben on his side again, carefully watching Ben's face rather than what Connolly was doing. However, Danny knew when Connolly set to work, because Ben's eyes suddenly went wider, and he gasped; Danny quickly put a hand on his upper arm and hip, holding him still. "Don' move, Ben, you'll muck it up—won' las' long, and you've 'ad worse."
Connolly did this process so often, it took a very short time to remove the ugly little worm from Ben's back. Danny looked up to watch Connolly drop the squirming thing on the wooden planks that made up the floor and grind it under his heel. Ben's eyes were squeezed shut, fingers gripping the scratchy mattress as Connolly roughly wiped blood from the minute incision he'd made. He wasted no time in moving up to Ben's shoulder, and Danny knew it wasn't going to be pretty—his hands tightened a little on Ben.
Ben's weakened state didn't incapacitate him entirely as Connolly dug around in the open, torn gash of Ben's shoulder, picking out all manner of foreign matter as he did. Danny didn't watch—he kept an eye on Ben, watching as his breathing became shallow panting as Connolly drove the forceps in deeper and occasionally used the knife, muttering the entire time about this and that—Connolly was always disgruntled when it came to simple but time-consuming jobs like picking dead bugs, filth, and who knew what else out of an open wound, and when he got disgruntled, he got even rougher than he usually was—Connolly was a prison doctor and had neither the time nor the patience to be gentle and careful. He simply got the job done.
He finally set aside the forceps and knife, picking up the catgut and needle. Sewing up the wound took a short time, as Connolly was as skilled with his needle as any woman with embroidery. He got up after he finished, and Danny released Ben, who didn't move.
"Cover him up, get him water and some food—he's starving and dehydrated. Don't take long, I'm changing a splint and I'll need you. I'll give him two days—after that, he needs to get out. Two maggots, a crack on the skull, and rat bites aren't enough to keep him in here long. Don't forget to make him eat a few limes, and we'll get him some new clothes after," Connolly prattled off rapidly before sweeping away, dunking his hands in a water bucket and flinging water everywhere as he did. Danny nodded, kneeling and pulling the blanket out from under the cot, unfolding it, and tucking it carefully around Ben.
"I don't want you eaten' jus' yet, Ben, but when I bring water, you drink it," Danny said before making his way to the rations they kept on hand, carefully picking the best-looking bits of food he could find and two limes before hauling a water jug and the plate back over to Ben. Setting the plate down on the floor beside the low cot, he knelt down and waited to see if Ben would sit up on his own—he did, or at least he tried, and Danny supposed that was enough. Uncorking the jug, he handed it to Ben, keeping his fingers around the handle in case Ben couldn't hold it himself. "An' don't drink it fast, or you'll just keck it all over me."
Ben drank, and slowly, just as Danny had ordered. Danny studied Ben's ashen face for a bit, but, when he gave no signs of having the urge to throw back up what he'd just gotten down, Danny corked the jug and left it beside his bed, rising to his feet again and wiping his hands on his shirt.
"Rest up, Ben. It's over now, and you're out," Danny said quietly, picking up the instruments and stitching materials Connolly had left behind.
Danny paused, staring at Ben's profile, his eyes closed and darkly shadowed, black hair tangled and wet, blood crusted on his temple and red stained across his shoulder. He was tempted to reply, but he could tell Ben had already passed out. Danny sighed.
"This place is fuckin' you up, Ben," Danny whispered softly, finally turning and leaving his friend to sleep.