Who: Ben and Jack What: Catching Up When: Sunday January 26th Where: Wagon Area - Outside Jack’s Wagon Rating: Mild Status: Complete
It had been several weeks since Ben had that little heart to heart with Jack after church one Sunday, hearing the younger man asking questions about his and Fitz’s relationship and how did he know that he preferred men over women. He hoped that things had gone well and the brief moments that he had caught a glimpse of Jack it seemed like they had, the other man was smiling a bit more, or maybe there was just that hint to his smile that Ben knew all too well. Could it be that young Jack was in love?
He had missed the Reverend's sermon on Sunday morning and he wasn’t about to admit it was because he had slept in, the night show followed by a rather… vigorous romp with Fitz had left him worn out and he slept late. There would be plenty of other sermons and it wasn’t like he actually took what was getting said to heart, Ben was definitely not religious.
The afternoon was uneventful, it was sunny so he had washed their sheets and towels and the rest of their clothing and waiting for them to dry he decided to wander around the currently vacant Zion, seeing what had changed since the last time he had taken a walk around which was just after Christmas.
Jack had attended service as he always did. He knew Kieran had issues with the Reverend, though he wasn’t sure why. He only ever said the man ‘rubbed him the wrong way’. After service, Kieran went about his work and Jack found himself free for the day. He had a few things he needed to do- but most couldn’t be done until the supply run was complete on Monday. So, after a bit of practice trying to ‘fold’ the stairs of his wagon so he could get to the door easier, he took some laudanum and found a nice spot to sketch. He was working on a few redesigns for some of the worn banners, it was always a great excuse for trying something new when they had to be repaired or re-touched.
Chair parked in a spot that was half shaded, so he was protected but could also keep warm as even on the west coast the winters could be cool at times. He propped his sketchbook on one arm as his pencil danced over the page. It took him a moment to realize that Ben had wandered near. He met the man’s glance with a smile, eyes slightly glazed thanks to the laudanum. “Afternoon.” He said with a nod as he turned back to his sketch.
It was always a bit obvious which wagon belonged to Jack and his wagonmate Kieran, it was altered in order to allow Jack to get his chair in and out and really quite a feat of engineering if you asked Ben, not that he knew a lot about the subject, only what he had picked up from the family textile’s mill back in France which wasn’t anything overly technical.
He was humming to himself as he walked, seeing Jack sitting outside of his wagon with a sketchbook so he altered the direction of his walk to take him nearer, but not so obvious as to appear that he was heading directly for the young man. “Good afternoon Jack.” Remembering that the full name of Jackson wasn’t exactly something Jack liked to be called. “I hope that everything is going well, I have not seen you around a lot.” Not that he had actively gone looking of late, everyone had their own lives to lead in Zion.
Jack just shrugged a little. “Keepin’ busy as always.” He replied, turning the page in his book to the previous as he referenced the outer design for a banner. “An’ weather changin’ always causes a bit a’difficulty.” He rubbed at his leg, covered by a blanket, a bit. “So, some day I dun go far.” Had he his way, some days he would leave his bed when it got really bad, but Kieran always at least made him get up and go to meals. Of course, he also was also keeping busy getting to know Kieran better- physically. Well, at night at least.
“Ya can sit if y’ want.” He said, gesturing to a chair at the end of the wagon Kieran tended to use when they sat out at night. “‘Less y’got somewhere t’be.”
Ben remembered his grandfather always complaining about his knees when the weather was changing, an ache here and there when a storm or rain was coming or it was heading into winter. He could only imagine what it was like, of course he knew that Jack had ended up in a wheelchair after an automobile accident and despite the pain that he obviously went through on a daily basis the younger man Jack never wanted any kind of sympathy, a trait Ben admired greatly.
“Merci.” Ben replied with a curt nod, taking a seat in the offered chair. “Non, I do not have anywhere to be, just waiting for our washing to dry so I can make the bed again.” A small smile as he remembered the night before for a moment. “Have you had much luck with that… other predicament we were talking about?” While he didn’t want details Ben was interested to hear if Jack had actually said anything to the object of his affection or had just kept it to himself still.
Jack went back to his sketch as Ben got situated in the chair. When the question of ‘luck’ had come up, he felt his cheeks warm as he cleared his throat slightly, pencil still on the page. “Well, it’s taken some… figurin’” He said quietly. His very limited mobility had meant Kieran had to be more active in every situation. Also, Jack’s… other issues had taken some getting used to. But they’d sort of figured some things out, which was working. “But it’s… good.”
Jack tapped the pencil on his sketchbook slightly. “It’s different, an’ I’m still a bit scared if people find out.” He glanced over to Ben. “Y’r… he’s, not sure I could see ‘em ever hidin’ how he feels ‘bout ya. Even if he tried.” He let out a small laugh. “But I’ve known some a’these ‘round here most my life. They find out… who knows what they’d do- how they’d react.” Was best not to test them.
There was a bit of a smirk when he saw the flush in Jack’s cheeks, even before he said something that was signal enough that something had happened, more than just a kiss at least. He was in a way proud - like when a mentor saw their pupil reach their goals, but all he had done was give Jack some friendly advice. “Oui, I understand.” It hadn’t taken him and Fitz long to sort things out but they didn’t have the kind of issues present in Jack’s case.
Leaning forward, elbows on knees he nodded, voice soft as he spoke. “When it came out in Paris… I had my share of looks… and if it wasn’t for a few good friends who understood we might not have been able to escape before they arrested us.” Thankfully it seemed people were more understanding here, although they did still get some looks from others when he brushed Fitz’s hair back, or gave him a one armed side hug. “And if they haven’t noticed yet, then that is something, maybe they are just used to the two of you been… well, you.”
“Been roommates since my ma passed, years ago. Dated a few girls since so… guess it’s easier for people not to notice.” So long as no one caught them when they weren’t in the wagon.
Hearing Ben’s story made Jack frown, he looked over to the older man. “An’ I’m real sorry t’hear about… arrested is the least a’my worries from some places here. Maybe not this place, but when we’re ‘round south, or in th’middle. Some folks’d be more likely t’just string ya up rather worry ‘bout the cops. Hell, some cops prolly’d help.” Jack didn’t honestly think anyone in Zion would do that, but didn’t mean there still wasn’t a risk if someone said somethin and it was heard by the wrong person. All they’d have to do was get you out of the carnival’s protection.
“Least y’were able to get away t’gether.” Jack said after a brief moment’s reflection.
“And these wagons are more soundproof than you realize.” He smirked as he glanced back at the wagon behind them, Ben was definitely thankful for that reason because he and Fitz could get loud sometimes.
“You learn to be more careful in places where they’re not so accepting.” A small smile. “It can be difficult, especially when the… urge is there. That’s when willpower has to win out.” Jack was right, those outside of Zion in many places they visited would lynch just about anyone who were different, it seemed like the Civil War had made things worse in some places.
“We almost didn’t, he wanted to say it was his fault and seduced me, take the blame for it all and let me go back to my life. I wouldn’t let him do that, so we got a boat to London, laid low for awhile until our false papers came through and booked passage to New York. The rest… is history.” He didn’t mind telling Jack this, he trusted the younger man. “We were just lucky to find Zion.”
Jack brushed his fingers through his hair, for a moment he realized he needed a trim. “I dun know if I could even imagine.” He shook his head. “All I known is Zion. Can’t even think a’what I’d do if I had t’just leave. Must a’been hard.”
When Ben mentioned them finding Zion he couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Seems like most times it’s Zion that finds you. Ma used t’swear that’s what happened t’us. Nother carnival passin’ through so close ta ours leavin’ what’re th’odds? Not t’mention one who had someone who knew I was special an’could help me learn.”
Ben nodded, he wondered what it would’ve been like to grow up in carnivals, wondering what made Zion different from them although he knew that at least here they were safe and not exploited like so many other carnivals did for their ‘freaks’. Sure life here was so much different from what he left behind in Paris - going from exclusive lifestyle to living in a wagon - but he and Fitz were together and that was all that ever mattered to him.
“Oui, Fitz decided to pick the right pocket it seems.” He smiled, remembering that day and their change of luck, it was much better than stealing and pawning things just to eat. “Until I got here I always thought that we… special people… were very rare. One in a million. But so many people with so many different gifts, we are unique and I don’t want to leave.” Ben just hoped that it wouldn’t be the case, this place was now their home and they were happy.
“Think it’s less that there’s so many of us, an’ more that we’re drawn together.” Jack admitted. He’d been there long enough to witness it. Some found Zion just because of the leylines. Not many knew, less understood that the placement of the carnival was not coincidence. He could feel it every time he jumped. Sometimes, the places they landed were so strong in magic he almost struggled not to tap in when doing a spell. If it weren’t that he was so ashamed of his wilted wings…
“But yea, I understand. When I was a kid it seemed like I met a new type a’person every day.” It was a bit of an exaggeration, but compared to where he’d come from it seemed true. “An’ I’m sure even after all this time I’m still missin’ some people. Those not wantin’ t’say they’re different.”
“Other than my grandmere I thought we were alone until I met Fitz, and even then we were the only two that I knew of. We never realized we weren’t alone until we arrived, or that there were so many different gifts in the world.” Although he never actually asked people what their gift was, if they wanted to tell him then so be it, which was why he didn’t know what kind Jack possessed. “What was the last carnival like? I’ve heard things from others, how they exploit us in whichever way they can. At least here we can choose what we do, we have a say, a voice.”
When it came to things like leylines Ben was still completely clueless he didn’t know why they landed where they did, after five years there were things that he just didn’t know about. “I miss my family too, they didn’t know why I left. I didn’t want them to be embarrassed that their only son would never get married or have children and that I was going to get arrested for it.” He had lied and said they had an opportunity in America, rather than soiling the family name.
Jack shrugged a little. “I dun remember too much… I was 10. But I dun think there was anyone real special like here. Ma always liked snakes an’ worked with them, but din have any ‘other’ gifts or nuthin. There was a strong man like Mr. Wells, but I think he was just a normal man, couldn’t bend bars or nuthin.” He said, glancing at Ben. “Pa was the talker to Ma. I do remember sittin and listenin to him practice new bally’s. Everyone was like a family, but was more business. When the accident happened an’ the doc said I was laid up, they just kept movin’ on. Dun know if Zion woulda done the same.” Of course had he been with Zion in the first place and he’d been hurt, someone like Kieran would have been able to fix him before things set in their ways.
Of course Ben had heard about these ‘freak shows’ that had run for the best part of the last century, of men like Barnum who had actually bought people with gifts or disabilities and displayed them in his shows. He knew in a way they were similar, but at least everyone was well treated and actually wanted to be here, and Kristoph cared about the people in carnivale.
“I saw one or two when I was younger and they were nothing like here, just normal people like you mentioned but they had something different that people would come and see.” One such time was on a trip with his grandparents and his grandmother saying to him to be careful and don’t let somewhere like this take advantage of him, of course he didn’t think that he was getting used in any way at all. “I am sure Kristoph would have figured something out if it had happened in Zion, he actually cares about us.”
“Yea.” He nodded, looking back to his pad. “What d’ya think?” Jack asked, turning the page and angling the pad for Ben. It was a new banner for one of the acts in the ten-in-one, a design that felt more like the coming spring- even though it was still winter. “I noticed some were worn.” Since Ben would get a new one out of it too, it was worth getting his opinion.
Shifting a bit Ben looked at the offered sketchpad and the banner design upon the paper, he knew that Jack had designed a few of the banners around the place and he had never seen a bad one yet. “I think it looks fantastic.” He said, smiling wide. “You have such an amazing talent Jack, I have problems drawing a circle and always admire those with such a beautiful gift.” There was a soft chuckle. “I would ask you to do a portrait of Fitz, but I don’t think he would ever sit still enough.”
Jack laughed a little and shrugged. “Just was something to do when I couldn’t work or leave the wagon.” It would be years until children were forced to go to state run schools and not expected to work, more than a decade until federal laws were passed restricting those below the age of 16 from working many types of jobs. So, Jack had always intended to work as most kids did who weren’t born into a wealthy life like Ben, life had just dealt him a hand that made it harder. “More I did, more I got good. ‘Tween drawing an’ magic I managed to fill my days until Kristoph offered me a chance to do the banners, an’ it sort a’ just went from there. Since then, I been drawin for people- well those who want it.”
He looked at Ben with a small smile. “Ya want I could try’n do somethin’ for ya. Got a pretty good mind for faces.”
Ben had gone to school although he knew so many others in Zion hadn’t had that luxury, he also didn’t look down on those who hadn’t received a formal education, so many of the socialities back in Paris would turn up their noses and call them ‘the commoners’ but he knew that they just had a different kind of education, one that involved real life and things that he would have never learned in all his years. “They’re amazing, I know that most of the ones I see around are your work, including my own. They really are works of art.”
When Jack said he’d be willing to try doing a portrait of Fitz, a grin spread across Ben’s lips. “I would appreciate that very much and will pay you for your time.” Of course he would never ask for anything free, time was precious and Jack deserved to be compensated for his time and materials.
“Not all of them.” He said, humbly. Jack wasn’t the one who was an artist. There were those who helped actually paint the banners as well. Some gave their own input and made alterations to his designs.
“And if I did need him to stay still- I have my ways.” Jack laughed at the joke- not completely aware if Ben would get it or not.
Ben knew that while they weren’t all Jack’s artwork but most of those in the Ten in One were, he could tell by the style as each artist had their own distinct ways. Getting the input for his own banner made it that bit more special.
“I am sure you do.” Ben said with a wink, he knew that Jack had the ability to slow down time but didn’t know that the younger man was a magi. “The only time Fitz stays still is when he’s asleep.” He chuckled. “And even then sometimes he tosses and turns during the night.”
Jack couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Should ask Kieran ‘bout bein’ woken up by rough sleeps- Or rather.” He pursed his lips slightly before shaking his head. “Not as cute I’m sure. But I’d bet he’s got one or two regretful nights about movin’ in.” He often was woken up by pain, but sometimes he didn’t actually wake up as much as make noise as he stayed sleeping- other times he’d wake up with a small yell at a stabbing sensation. Always was worse when he ‘performed’, using magic tended to tire him out and make it harder to bare the pain. One reason he’d taken the laudanum that morning. “Ya do make a cute couple.” He replied as he reached into the satchel on the side of his chair to pull out a small box of colored pencils. As he opened the box he frowned, moving the wooden sticks around a bit. “Well, damn. Coulda sworn I had a red.”
He could only imagine what kind of physical pain Jack went through, to live with such an injury that caused him grief every day, he could see that slightly glassy look in the younger man’s eyes from whatever drugs it was that helped ease that pain. “If he truly cares about you he won’t mind getting woken up during the night. I know Fitz is just dreaming, chasing after something.” Sometimes Ben would just smile and run his fingers through Fitz’s hair and murmur something in French to his boyfriend.
An eyebrow quirked when Jack said he couldn’t find one of his pencils. “Missing one? I misplaced one of my gloves last week, turned up at the mess hall the next evening but I don’t remember wearing them there. I am sure you will find it again.”
“He does, has… gotten used to it.” He’d woken up from more than a few nights with his Angel sitting on the side of his bed. He didn’t know at the time, but Kieran had been doing his best to help ease his pain. “A lesser person woulda left prolly. I got lucky with him, truly.”
Jack sighed and put the case back into the satchel, which didn’t seem to change shape, and his sketchbook followed, which at first seemed too long to fit. “Maybe I left it in the wagon somewhere. I’ll finish later.” He looked over to the other man. “Need help folding your laundry? I might be able t’help y’dry it faster.”
“That just shows that he really does care about you, if he didn’t he wouldn’t have stayed.” If that wasn’t a sign of love - or at least extreme devotion - then Ben didn’t know what was. He would say ‘young love’ but who really knew how old Kieran really was, the Angel was definitely older than he was. “Sometimes love hides itself in friendship, you do not know that it’s happening until suddenly there it is.”
He watched as Jack packed up his sketching things into the satchel and raised his eyes at the offer of helping with his laundry. “Only if you are feeling up to it, if you would rather rest then do so, I can handle our bedding.” Ben wouldn’t be happy if he accepted the help and then the next day would hear that Jack was in bed because he wasn’t well.
“It’s a simple spell,” He waved his hand as if it were nothing. “And it’ll make me feel like I’m doin’ somethin’.” Jack chuckled, pushing at his wheels to start moving. “And pay ya back for all the good advice.” He added with a small smile.