Shut your eyes and think of somewhere
Somewhere cold and caked in snow
By the fire we break the quiet
Learn to wear each other well
And when the worrying starts to hurt
and the world feels like graves of dirt
Just close your eyes until
you can imagine this place, yeah, our secret space at will
He had been picked up by some recruiters back on earth. They had promised him three meals a day in return for some hard physical labor. John had been fine with that; he had been so damn hungry that it felt like his stomach had been eating itself. They could have asked him to donate his kidney for an energy bar and he would have said yes.
He and roughly ten other boys ranging somewhere between 10 and 18 had showed up at the abandoned house where the recruiters had asked them to be. He might have thought it a little weird that they had weighed them and checked their teeth. The recruiter had looked at him with sad eyes, and for a second he had panicked, the thought of having to leave again, to go back to nothing seemed so overwhelming that he would have done just about anything. How old are you boy? She had asked. Shepard had bit his lip, he knew he was way skinny and would pass for younger than he was. 12. He had said. Only to be interrupted by Jake who had pushed him, like fuck you're 12. Jake had said and looked at the recruiter, He's at least 14, he's just a little shit.
The recruiter had frowned at John, and had turned her attention to Jake. John had to think fast, and had raised his voice, Ma'am please. He had said, no actually he had begged.
She had shaken her head, and mumbled a sorry kid, and then continued with Jake. John had stuffed his hands in his pockets, and hung his head, he wasn't looking forward to going outside again, maybe no one would notice if he hid upstairs? And that was what he had done,he hid upstairs between some crates and had fallen asleep, worrying about where he would find his next meal, and how much he wanted to kick Jake's fucking teeth in.
Next thing he had known he had woken to voices and had crawled inside an open crate and closed the lid, pretty sure they would be pissed if they found him still in the house. John still didn't know why he had gotten into that crate, he had just acted without thinking, not wanting to be smacked around and kicked out. Apart from it being humiliating, it was way harder to get away with anonymity when you had a shiner. He had hardly dared to breathe as the crate had been picked up.
He had managed to stay hidden for two days before a mechanic oticed him as John tried to steal his food. Desperation had driven him out of the crate, and had made him bold enough to try and steal that plate of food. To John's surprise, the mechanic let him eat it before he called it in. His name had been Glenn, John would always remember that. He couldn't remember the last time someone had spoken to him like this, asked him if he was okay, and what his name was. And honestly he had most probably acted like he had been raised by wolves, never answering the nice man, just wolfing down the food.
It had been a massive clusterfuck when they realized he was on aboard, he still remembered them arguing over his head, some wanted to space him, others wanted to keep him, and others again said that no good would come from 'creative' minds like his. In the end the man with authority and cruel grey eyes had stopped them, and said that he would take the kid on. John had instinctively been afraid of him, he had seen that gleam the man had in his eyes before, and it was never anything good.
The man's name was Luke, and he had grabbed John by his neck and marched him none too gently towards the living quarters. It had been a very surprised Jake who woke up when John was tossed into the heap of sleeping kids.
And now he was here, freezing his fucking ass off on the Gagarin station. John looked around miserably, he had taken a wrong turn somewhere and he had no idea where he was. This station was a bloody maze, and everything looked the same only separated by numbers, and it was real hard to remember if it was 2004 or 2008 or maybe 2010 when your teeth were clattering from the cold. "Fuck." He mumbled, putting down the box he was carrying. It was supposed to go to the officers' quarters, but all he could see was pale blue walls and numbers. Shepard wiped his nose on his sleeve, and thought to himself that he could just as well have stayed on Earth. He could see his breath as little puffs of mist in the air, fuck this shit, the second he was 18 he was so out of here. He remember being told that the army would pay for your meals and give you a roof over your head. At least it had to be less cold to be in the army, who had the need for an entire army with their brains filled with snot?
John turned around and looked at a little fragile looking girl. Her skin was olive colored, she looked healthy and mighty pretty. Horribly self-conscious, John, hid his thin, pale arms behind his back and tried to give her a smile. "Yeah." He admitted. "I have to deliver this to the officers of this wing, but -"
She looked down at the package. "You look cold. You're shaking." She stated with a worried expression.
"I'm good." John said taking a step back, he wasn't supposed to be even talking to this girl. It could mean the difference between getting fed, or not. And if Luke was in an especially bad mood, he'd end up with a bruised lip too or something similarly delightful. "Just - " He winced, scared that anyone would see him talking to her. It was like the biggest no-no around here, never talk to the brain-camp kids! He didn't quite know why, he just followed orders because the consequences were bad. "What's the number. I sorta forgot."
The girl looked him up and down, it was clear that she wanted to say something more than she did. "2004" she said.
"Thanks." John said with a little smile, fighting the urge to wipe his nose again. "So.. Take care." He picked up the box and started to walk down the corridor.
"Eh it's the other way." The girl said with a grin.
"Oh.." John flinched, "I knew that."
"Of course you did."
John hurried to the officers' quarters, he could hear them laughing and talking long before he made it to the room. One of the Turian officers looked up as John tried to put down the box without being noticed. "Hey Boy." He gruffed.
"Sir." John said, nodding "I – eh, it's the stuff you asked for." He said, walking slowly backwards just in case he had to bolt. "From central provisions."
The Turian who had spoken stared at him for a long time. "Alright." He said, "Piss off."
"Yes, Sir." John peeped and scrambled out of the room as quickly as he could. No way he wanted to stick around to see what the Turians came up with. He had been told, no, more like had drilled into him that the kids were dangerous 'they can kill you with their mind alone' is what Jane had told him, but John was more scared of all the Turians, not only because they were super tall and had guns, but because it was impossible to read their mood on their face. They must be a bitch to play poker with.
He hurried back to where Luke and Jane lived, but found his pillow and blanket out in the hall. He didn't need to check to know that the door was locked. He sighed and picked up the blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders, sitting down next to the door. He could hear them clearly from his side of the door, apparently enjoying some alone time – Again. He wasn't a kid, he knew exactly what went on, but it still made him blush slightly and pull the blanket over his head and cover his ears.
John knew that lots of the boys and girls he knew back on Earth would do it both for money or food, and with each other for whatever reasons. He had never done it, nor had he been invited to anyone's bed. He wasn't sure he would have said no, it was just that he never had the chance to say yes. He wasn't made of stone or nothing, but usually he had 99 other things to worry about, and getting naked wasn't one.
John looked up seeing Jake standing there in the stark hall light. His nose was bleeding and his eye was half closed, the lid swelling shut. "Jake?" John didn't think twice but just extended his blanket inviting Jake under it. "Dude you're freezing." He whispered, "How long have you been walking around?"
"Dunno." Jake mumbled leaning up against John for body heat.
John rubbed Jake's shoulder and arm. He wasn't gonna ask what he had done to get kicked out for the night like that. Or why he looked like he made impact with a Krogan, it just wasn't important. "Did you get any dinner?"
Jake shook his head.
"Wanna go get some?" John said with a little smile, and a sniffle.
"Yeah." Jake said still shivering slightly. "Won't you get in trouble?"
"Fuck no, they won't check on me for hours and hours." John, squeezed Jake's shoulder, "Let's go."
They got up and John let Jake have the blanket, rubbing his arms in the cold air. He wished that Conatix would have been less stingy and had heated the corridors. They made their way through the night empty corridors like a couple of ghosts, good thing they were used to sneaking around back on Earth. Hearing voices, they stopped and hid in a corner, Holding Jake back with an arm, John peeked around the corner. "We're good." He whispered and pulled Jake with him down the corridor, both boys trying to move silently and fast.
They stopped outside the locked kitchen doors. John looked up at the air duct, "Check it." He smiled, "Gimme a hand." Stepping up on Jake's knee to his joined hands, and up on his shoulder, John made it to the duct, he picked the fence off and slowly lowered it down to Jake. "Alleyoop." He mumbled and used all the strength he had in him to get his torso inside the duct. "Wait here." He whispered, the duct echoed so that he cringed at how loud it sounded.
"'kay." Jake whispered back.
Pushing the duct grate open to the kitchen, John halfway expected three armed Turians to gun him down, but as he landed, none too gracefully, on the floor he found it was dark and silent. "Alright." He whispered going straight for the pantry, which wasn't locked, because no one expected anyone to get into the kitchen. He grabbed some stuff that would be easy to eat, like bread. Canned goods were bad, they had nothing to open it with. He filled his pockets and made his way back to the duct, climbing unto a stove to jump into the duct. He carefully put the grill back, and crawled towards the light. He gracefully slid out and landed on the floor besides Jake. "Tada!" He grinned. "Now let's get the fuck out of here."
"The grill." Jake pointed out. John sighed but knew he was right, and ignored his rumbling stomach and the prospect of food, to put it back where it belonged.
Back in front of Luke and Jane's room, the boys sat down and started to eat. "Shit like that will get you in some deep trouble someday." Jake said softly.
"Maybe." John mumbled with his mouth full of bread. "But it's totally worth it."
"Hell, yes." Jake chuckled almost choking on the bread. He stopped chewing for a second and extended the blanket to John, who scooted in under it with a grateful smile.
"I thought you hated me." Jake said with a tiny voice.
"I don't hate you." John said with a puzzled expression, "Oh you mean the recruiters and all that? Naw man, it's good, I would have done the same."
"I somehow don't believe that." Jake said softly. "You've been nothing but kind, went above and beyond for everyone, and all I've done is look out for myself." Jake smiled, "Funny that I am much bigger than you, and still I am more afraid. You are fucking fearless, man."
Shepard chuckled and blushed a little at the compliment. "I'm not."
"So.. ehm.. about the recruitment thing, I take it you're an orphan." Jake said, breaking off another piece of bread.
"Yeah." John said, but didn't elaborate more. "You too?" He turned his head and looked at Jake who nodded. "Simian bacterial fever." - John bit his lip, "And you survived that?"
"My mother gave me the vaccine they managed to get a hold of." He said with a bloodless smile. "Told me to make something of myself." He laughed drily.
The paradox was not lost on John who joined in the chuckle. "Look at the bright side, it took you to unknown horizons."
"Dude." Jake shook his head amused. "I'll be 18 in two months, and I am so out of here."
John nodded, knowing he had four years left of this. "The army?" He asked, knowing that was most boys' best chance if they didn't have parents to pay for a fancy education.
"Yeah." Jake said.
"Me too." John said with a yawn.
Jake let John settle against his shoulder, he wanted to say something about the army not taking scrawny runts, but what he had seen of John he was sure the kid would pull it off somehow.