Condemned

Chapter 7: Exposure

AN: ooh, words.

Chapter Seven:

Exposure

Sitting by the cell door, I try my best to keep an eye on Bane's movements; as he predicted, a bundle of parcels are lowered by rope into the prison, and even before they touch the ground the atmosphere turns wild. Bane is near the front, and I worry a moment that he might be trampled, but swiftly he turns around and cracks a man behind him on the forehead with his fist, sending the prisoner crumbling to the ground, where he is trodden on by other scrambling convicts. I watch as Bane, swift as a panther, pulls one of the parcels from its rope with a swift tug and sets about trying to unwrap it- a smaller, quicker man manages to pull it over the top of Bane's head. Bane springs around to face the kid, who is already sprinting through the crowd- Bane grabs hold of his collar the moment he catches up with him, pulling him groundwards and the two disappear in amongst the swarm of people. I can't imagine the beating Bane's giving the young inmate, and it pains me to think how bad it might be. I look up to the burning Arabic sun and try to forget about it, as that seems the only way I can deal with things at the moment. Forgetting about my family, the friends I left behind; that I was taken from.

I push back the tears, even though I'm alone. My feelings are normally a thing I keep to myself, but suddenly my heart feels ready to burst and I can't compress the need to tell someone. But who would I tell? Bane? No. He wouldn't want to listen, I know that. Even after a few short days in his company I've instinctively learnt that he dislikes both weakness and defiance- two things I've clearly shown too much of. Adjusting to life here- or at least attempting to- has kept me distracted. Helped me to forget. But this moment has seen a change in that- I want my mum, I say in a whisper, as it's my most prominent thought. I want my family and my friends, I want my house and my life back. I want to go home.

Tears spill over my lenses and I rush to the bathroom to wash them away before Bane returns.

He arrives not long after with the usual porridge, accompanied also by a bundle of leeks, a couple of potatoes and a small burlap bag.

Excited by the prospect of food that doesn't consist of oats, I try my best to stay calm in light of the confrontation earlier.

He hands me the usual bowl, then strips the leaves from one of the leeks and gives it to me.

"Thank you," I say mustily, trying my best to keep my eyes from him- I pray he doesn't notice their redness.

He pulls a shirt over his head then we take up our usual positions, opposite each other on our flimsy beds, crunching and slurping at the food. My technique with the spatula is definitely improving, and I'm now able to eat with solid mouthfuls. The leek, though bland, is an incredible refreshment from days of nothing but porridge.

An hour or so passes, and I manage not to lift my eyes through its entirety. I hear him leafing through the crisp-sounding thin pages of one of his holy books. I keep my eyes on my hands, which I grasp in my lap.

The past couple of days have shown me just how terrifying Bane could be, and it's a side I do truly fear. I may not have provoked him to breaking point yet, but the harsh words, tense atmosphere and purple ring of bruises around my arm are a sure reminder of what further provision could unleash. I resolve to be more reserved in my speech and actions from now on.

The page-turning ceases, and I risk a momentary fleeting glance up. I find that Bane's eyes are locked softly onto the crushed bruising of my upper arm, expression thoughtful, yet somehow blank at the same time.

I look back to my lap, hoping he hasn't noticed my stare. There was something supressed in his eyes- perhaps a tinge of guilt. This, in turn, makes me feel guilty.

More minutes pass like this, then Bane's accented voice floods the cell.

"Tomorrow," he says, and I look up timidly, as though to question his meaning.

"You can come with me tomorrow," he concludes. I feel something light up in my eyes and almost unleash a smile.

"Thank you," I say, a whisper again.

"I am sorry," I confirm, though he's heard it already. He doesn't physically acknowledge my apology, instead shuts his coverless holy text and stands. He doesn't seem to have an aim, just paces back and forth a moment or two before sitting back down and pressing the back of his hand over his most abused eye and grimacing. His face, though dark and splotchy around the bruised areas, now looks much better, the swelling utterly diminished on the right side of his face.

He stands again, leaning to the bottom of the cardboard stand and fishing out his back brace. He pulls it around himself and begins toying with the complex straps, hissing now and then as the device begins to pull him into place. He turns his back to me, tying the buckles at the back. He seems to get stuck with one, and I stand to help him out.

"Let me give you a hand."

He almost jumps at my touch, stepping away from it and saying, "it's fine. I can do it."

Somewhat hurt, I sit back down. Sure enough, he swiftly buckles the support. He reaches for the curious little burlap bag, which is laid beside the potatoes and leek, and opens it up.

"Here," he says, handing it to me.

"What is it?" I ask, curiously probing my fingers inside.

"Unleavened sweet-bread."

I raise my eyebrows, pulling a slice of the crispy sheeting out.

"So it's like... cake?" I say, and he nods with a smile.

I stare at it for a while, and Bane says,

"try some."

I bite the tiniest bit off and almost groan with pleasure.

"Mmm," I say, eyes closed and smiling. "Sugar, at last."

"Good, isn't it?" Bane says, reaching over and putting his bear-sized hand in the tiny bag. He takes up his spot on his bed, and I watch as he bites at the crumbly base. He eats it surprisingly daintily for a man of his size- I can't repress my smile.

"What?" He asks suspiciously, still churning the cake-like substance in his mouth.

"It just looks odd, you eating it like that," I smile with a small laugh.

"Like what?!" He says defensively, his dark eyes now smiling, "what's so funny about me eating cake?"

"You just eat it like such a gentleman," I smile, and he laughs.

"What, are you suggesting I'm not a gentleman?" He says, smiling, and I reply,

"You know what I mean."

"Like a sir," he says a few minutes later.

"Sir Bane... I could get used to that."

"Well, you know what they say- good food and good company."

"Mediocre at best," he corrects.

"The food or the company?" I ask with a mock-offended tone.

"Both," we say together.

The two of us smile foolishly, enjoying the smaller luxuries of life.

'Tomorrow' comes sooner than expected, and the prospect of escaping the cell, no matter how long for, is an exciting one.

"When are we going?" I ask like a 6-year-old with a Disney Land ticket, and he runs a hand over his bruised eyes and says,

"Don't be too excited. Besides, we hardly need be in a rush."

I stand by the cell bars, watching curiously as two ropes drop down from the top of the pit. Slowly, two figures begin to descend from it, struggling in vain to climb to its top. A group of prison-dwellers begin to congregate around their descending feet, which kick about the place in panic. The ropes are dropped and the men plunge the last few meters to the ground. In a second, the group of men pounce on the fallen two like animals, hungry and wild.

I remember what Bane said about the new prisoners being initiated to prison life through the process of taking their belongings. It's brutal to watch, fists flying, and after a few more seconds I find I can't watch anymore.

"How long does this go on?!" I say to Bane, wishing the two men would be left alone.

"Depends whether or not they have anything worth taking," Bane answers, taking off his back brace and placing it under the cardboard tower. "I'll take you when it's calm."

"Okay," I say, hoping that will be soon.

"A few rules," Bane says, massaging his temples, "you stay with me at all times."

"Of course."

"You keep quiet- don't talk to anyone."

I think a moment, then reply, "not even Andri?"

Bane seems to remember the doctor, but then answers, "No. Do not speak to anyone. These people are not your friends."

I find this a bit extreme, but say nothing.

The raucous downstairs cools off, the band of men dispersing and leaving the shaken-looking two new recruits stood alone, staring in blank shock at the scope of the prison around them. I remember how I felt when I'd been dropped down here, and feel no envy of them whatsoever.

I watch the two stumble back and forth a while, trying to decide what it is they should do. Both are young, nineteen at the most, dark-looking with stubbled faces and well-worn rags of clothing. The two look as though they were high-spirited before their condemnation to this abyss, but now look nothing but bewildered and scared. Eventually the two settle on an empty shared cell, of which there are quite a few on the ground floor- people tend to favour the higher cells, I've come to realise, as they are cooler in the day.

"Ready?" Bane asks, and I nod, glad I haven't had to wait long for the journey. Oddly enough I find I'm shaking, though whether with nerves or excitement I'm not sure. It seems silly, being so hyped over something as little as leaving the cell.

Bane unlocks the barred door and looks both ways suspiciously, then, unexpectedly, roughly grabs me by the shoulder and yanks me outside.

"What was that for?!" I say in shock, and he pulls me round in front of him.

"I told you not to talk."

Hand still on my shoulder, he marches me forwards and down the flight of stairs, taking no care with his steps. Not wanting to speak for fear of provoking him but also wanting to demand of him what the hell he's playing at, it suddenly clicks; this is all part of the act. Appealing to the male, primitive instinct of 'this is mine- hands off.'

Though this tactic may work, I greatly dislike the idea of being put in such a derogatory position, especially when its purely based on the fact that I'm a woman. However I realise that, for my own safety and to some extent Bane's as well, I have to go along with it. So, I keep my mouth shut, hands held together and head held high.

I suppose I knew there would be leers and jeers, but it's no consolation when they occur all the same. One man gets a bit to close and Bane almost bites his head off, nearly flinging me across the dustbowl as a result. He secures his grip on my shoulder and carries on forwards, into the main ring, past the sundial podium and into another network of cells built into the chamber. As the small cells here are so close together, their owners have flung tented sheets of dirty fabric over the tops of the bars in order to add a touch of privacy- or perhaps to aid in blocking out the heated sun a tad more. A hand flies out through a bar beside me, and I have to swing away to avoid it. A voice with a dark accent creeps something unsavoury and Bane swings again, hissing a warning at the man in Moroccan-Arabic. The argument between the two becomes more heated and, still unable to speak, touch a gentle hand to Bane's strong arm in order to tell him to leave it. He responds to my message and returns his crushing grip to me, carrying on through the network.

The scale and complexity of the prison is immense, and twisting through this web of cells really brings that home. No wonder it takes Bane so long when he goes to get food, I think.

At the end of the next densely humid cell block, which is increasingly dark, a steam-filled room sits- the steam is that thick that no one can be seen inside it, though I hear voices coming from within.

Bane wraps a thick hand around one bar and shouts something in Arabic, which is responded to by the cry of a middle-aged male. Seconds later, the door unclicks and a red-bearded man with thick lines in his face opens it up and beckons us inside. The steam is overwhelming, so much so that it causes my eyes to sting. Bane takes a seat on a wooden bench at the side of the largish room and I sit beside him.

The unknown man returns to his pot, which, by the bland, familiar smell of it, I assume to be the watered-down oats I've become accustomed to.

The red-haired man shouts something in our direction, stirring the pot.

"He says we should have come earlier," Bane translates, "he had gristle from the package drop- it's all been taken now."

Gristle is hardly what I'd call appealing, but when faced with nothing but oats, even that sounds like a fun deal.

Underlying the humidity of the steam is the prominent smell of smoke, which I assume is how the water came to be boiled in the first place.

"Why doesn't he cook out in the open area?" I ask Bane, my eyes on the red-haired chef as he works lazily about the pot. "There would be ventilation there."

"The food would all be stolen before it even had the chance to be cooked," answers Bane. "These are not the most patient of men."

The prison's resident chef points blatantly to me through the smoke, wittering on to Bane in Arabic. Bane does not reply.

"What did he say?" I ask.

Bane wipes a shiver of sweat from his brow.

"That he's heard about you."

I remember the length of the chef's speech and say, "what else?"

Bane turns to me with a blunt expression, his eyes focused somewhere above my head and says, "that you're not nearly as attractive as he's been lead to believe."

I take this in, expression blank. Not exactly God's gift yourself, I think as I watch the humming red-haired man brooding over the pot with his straggly form.

A few minutes later, the man shouts 'ho!' and begins paddling up the oats with a makeshift ladle. Bane produces our wooden bowls from seemingly thin air and holds each out to be filled.

"Where did those come from?" I ask in playful wonderment.

"You don't want to know," says Bane, and I mock-grimace through my smile. He briefly shows off his teeth from beneath his smiling lips, a cheeky glint in his eye, but it goes quickly as the cook re-demands his attention.

Bane replies to him with a passive nature, handing one of the bowls over to me and ushering me to the barred door. We both thank the man in his language, Bane reminding me to be quiet, then he leads me by the shoulder and back through the heavy network of cells. As we return to open air, light from the top of the well glaring into my lenses, I see there's another fight on. The same man who had almost destroyed Bane in that fight the other day is fighting again, though this time his competitor looks even more ill-matched.

"Who is he?" I dare to whisper, marvelling at the sheer size of the first man, and to my fortune Bane responds not harshly but with an answer.

"Ehiemloch," he says quietly as we pass the fight. "It means 'giant.'"

I nod, and Bane's thick grip on my shoulder tightens. I feel his stone grip pushing against the side of my hand, and it brings home how vulnerable a position I really am in- if he decided he no longer wanted me around, eating his food and sharing his bed, he could easily just crack my neck and discard of me. The fact he hasn't done so (at least not yet, a niggling voice in the back of my head tells me) is comforting, and suddenly the firm lock on me feels no longer like a threat.

"So, did you enjoy your little trip out?" Bane says half-comically, unlocking the cell door and pushing me with more force than necessary back inside.

"Ouch," I say; he doesn't apologise.

I sit a few hours later, a stub of graphite and a scrap of paper in my lap, trying to recreate the faces of my loved ones. Inaccurate, yes, but I try my very hardest to get each detail right- freckles, hairstyles, tiny long-forgotten scars. The portraits by no means do them justice, and this annoys me, and scares me all the same.

What if I start to forget? Lose sight of their smiles, of the glint in their eyes? Though I have almost pushed the factor aside, some part of me knows that I'll live the rest of my days out here, in the dark. A million miles away from the life that I'd known. What if their memory fades, and I forget those little details- the freckles, the hair, the scars? My eyes well and I demand for them to turn aside from tears, but they seem reluctant to listen. I edge around Bane, who is doing his regular sit-up routine, and hide away behind the bathroom curtain. In this vague solitude, I curl over the wash basin and allow the tears to fall, being careful to repress any sob that might escape.

AN: but why is the Rum gone?!

R&R if thou so wishes, my pretties. Depending on wether or not i pass out from tiredness tonight, chapter eight should be gracing your eyelids tomorrow :)

lots of love!

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