Word Count: 4639
Summary: Anno Domini 1951, fifty years after the failed Fertility experiments, the world still deals (somewhat successfully) with the mutations the experiments brought. With the advent of successful mechanical wombs, and a resurgence of female fertility, Carriers finally won full civil rights, and a new type slavery was abolished. Still, in many small towns and rural parts of America, in isolated communities, carriers were still viewed with suspicion, distaste, or horror.
This is the world Jared finds himself having to navigate.
Story at AO3
Jared's racing heart tumbled him out of sleep. He lay blinking up into the darkness, trembling so hard his cot shuddered with the force of it. A few seconds passed before he felt it; his pajama pants were glued to his body—wet, rapidly cooling, and thoroughly disgusting. 'What happened…?
He plucked at the tacky fabric, sleepy-slow and confused as to what was going on—until outrageous images bloomed in his mind. He shot upright, clapping his hands to his mouth. "Oh...shoot. What is wrong with me?"
He wanted to flop back down, throw himself into sleep and not think, but his body kept reminding him of hands on his skin, soft, and warm, of lips traveling up his neck to latch onto that awful, evil patch right below the hinge of his jaw that felt—
"Ungh." He winced, the punch of desire the thought brought making his rod throb uncomfortably. Memory was so clear regarding the hands: the shape, the warmth, the weight on his skin; the mouth, how soft, wet, demanding. He remembered all that, but not a face, there'd been none he could make out. He'd only felt the lips, felt eyelashes flicking over him. Warm, wet, mouth on his body and a strong, confident hand on him, playing intimately with his foreskin, his balls, working him to a shattering release. He'd felt that mouth against his ear, chuckling warmly, fondly, intimately...in his dream.
In real life, he got to have his dumb self alone in a cold cot with clammy pants clinging to his huge belly and his pubic hair glued flat against him.
"Holerah.Shi—ooot." He pulled his shabby, old robe from a hook, gathered his toiletries and shuffled off to the drab closet of a bathroom that was available to him. Ugly, but private.
"That was. Nasty. Weird," he muttered, as he scrubbed ferociously at his skin, rubbing a wet cloth between his legs like they'd betrayed him in some way. Weird because whoever had touched him in his dream had felt familiar, even though he had no idea who it was, what they looked like. He'd only ever kissed two people in his life; this kiss wasn't like those, this had felt good and warm and safe and...exciting. Their touch was exciting.
"Obviously exciting," he snarled, scrubbing that evidence away. And despite the rough cloth and the now cold water, his lately always-needy, always-greedy body was reminding him how it'd felt. How warm and strong that hand was, and how much his rod had liked it; liked it now, greedy thing. Jared sighed in defeat as he leaned against the shower wall. Let out a little moan as one hand traced his length, and after an uncertain moment, the other hand drifted behind, fingers running over his hip, the curve of his ass, and into the cleft. He shuddered, couldn't pretend that it didn't feel good...one finger played at the tight furl, pressing in as it reluctantly relaxed while he pulled at his rod.
Quiet little grunts were forced out of him as he pushed past resistance and inside, surprised as always at the heat, the smooth, velvety grip. He pulled out, rocking his finger before pushing back in, loving the feel of his rim giving way.
Bits of the dream flickered through his mind; he saw tanned skin, the smooth, high curve of a cheek...Jared groaned, loud enough to echo through the tiny room. The sound startled him into biting his lip. "Shhhh, you gluepig," he hissed at himself, pinched his lower lip tight between his teeth; he concentrated on calling up as much as he could of the dream boy with the smooth cheek, the long lashes….
Jared tilted his head back against the door, his hand speeding up, finger plunging in, faster, adding another, and another—stretching himself just to the point of pain—farmer hands, he thought,tanned skin, he thought, and came, and slipped on the tiled floor.
"Yow!" His flailing hands almost yanked the shower curtain off the metal rings holding it on the rod. Water sprayed everywhere, and it took a few minutes before his hammering heart stilled, and then of course the Thing kicked him right in the lungs. This shower had been the worst idea….
Jared huffed grumpily as he cleaned spunk from his belly—again. He was darn tired, achy, and still just a little...what did Candy call it...horny. Which was supposed to be perfectly normal and expected considering his state and the Lord take him straight away if he ever had another conversation like that again. Girl's night, his right foot. It had just been an excuse to get together, eat up his cookies and interrogate him on his non-existent love life. And vastly, horribly, overshare about their own.
Girls. He shook his head and yanked his robe closed, stumbling around the bathroom. Cold now, damp, and so darn tired he could barely keep his eyes open, Jared gathered his toiletries and shuffled back to his room He was determined to sleep his last few hours before dawn, what with looking forward to a full day of kitchen duty, the diner, and classes.
He shut his door and threw on fresh sleep clothes, before falling back onto his bed. At least, it couldn’t get any worse, he thought, trying to fluff up a pillow stuffed with dust-bunnies and cobwebs. Thank the Lord for small mercies.
Jared slowed at the threshold of a cheerfully decorated room, clutching the ends of his red scarf—even at the height of spring the days were still a bit cool for him. He'd wrapped the scarf so it covered everything from his neck to his pointy, ice-cube nose. He found it so cold he was still wearing socks to bed at night and sleeping in long sleeve shirts and it was ridiculous, because Before Thing, he'd been a gosh-darn furnace all the time. Now his toes were like icicles and...and….
He flushed bright red when he realized he'd been ruminating about the weather and his feet while standing in the classroom doorway, a roomful of strangers staring at him.
The classroom was packed full of carriers. Jared blinked. Oh. Okay, not packed, no...but still, the little group of men here were more carriers than he’d ever imagined seeing. Just...pregnant men, all of them so pregnant. Jared's hand floated down to his stomach, cupping the aching weight in one hand for a brief moment, before his face twisted and he yanked his hand away.
The reason he was in this carriers' birthing class was because of some gentle but determined arm-twisting on Mrs. Stern's part. And her partner in crime, of course. With the double weight of their expectations, she and Mrs. Mond had convinced Jared that the free evening program for young carriers Nice Medical Center held every Wednesday would be just the thing for him. Mrs. Stern advised him that while the birthing classes were voluntary, it really was in his best interest to attend. They were provided free of charge, by the state, and it would give him a chance to get to know people who shared something unique with him and around about the thirty minute mark of their pep talk, he'd fallen asleep in his mind….
Personally, Jared thought the state should keep its nose out of his business, but thinking about it logically, he supposed the classes made sense. Searching the comp's InConnect had provided some information, certainly. Jared now had a clearer picture of what to expect than what the doctor had given him. And why a c-section was probably the best course of action. Those long-ago scientists might have forced Nature to be more generous with her gift of fertility, but she'd done nothing about unyielding pelvic bones. He'd nearly fainted at that discovery.
No, he could definitely see there'd be benefit in talking to other carriers. Maybe he'd feel a little less like a freak. As soon as Jared had the thought, he chased it back into the box it'd popped out of. He was not a freak, and he didn't feel like one...very much. What he really was, was lonely. Though thinking that made him feel guilty, considering all the friends he'd made. It was hard to explain, the way loneliness twined through all his good feeling and left him wanting...something. It was the kind of lonely that the people around him, despite being so dear to him, couldn't ease.
Now here he was, standing in this doorway, looking at all the different faces, the different shades of skin and types of hair and…and different from him, but the same...but for one thing. They were with partners. They sat on colorful mats scattered across the floor, leaning against other men and in one case, a girl. All staring at Jared with with curiosity, and then, dawning sympathy in their eyes.
They all had something in common, despite their differences. They were all exactly the same in this one thing, and Jared was not and would never be. They were happy and in love. They wanted this, but Jared, Jared hated it.
The instructors greeted him, one woman, one man; Jared knew from the pamphlet Mrs. Mond gave him that the smiling man was a carrier. It was all too much. Jared swung around and practically ran down the hall, down the stairs and out of the hospital doors.
He'd had to explain to Mrs. Stern that he would not be attending those classes, because Mrs. Mond had a streak of cruelty she'd somehow managed to hide behind that apple-cheeked smile. She'd insisted he had to tell Mrs. Stern on his own.
The brief, uncomfortable conversation had begun with a quietly disapproving Mrs. Stern, but thanks be, she'd thawed somewhat when he explained why he couldn't go back to the classes. He let her think it was solely because he couldn't bring himself to socialize with all those partners, and vowed he'd attend virtual classes through the comp at the library since St. Maggie's didn't have comps for the resident's use. With Mrs. Stern's help, he scheduled the class, along with library time. He'd offered to pay for it on his own, but Mrs. Stern waved the offer off. "No need for that. The state makes the classes available to all its citizens for free. A Nice address is the only thing you need."
That had been a problem taken off the table. He should have felt better, but he couldn't get the picture of those men out of his mind. All those contented, expectant, excited faces. He wished he could feel that way. Maybe he could have, if only Thing hadn't exposed everything he'd believed in to be a lie.
Jared strolled through the doors of St. Maggie's, headed for work and feeling light-hearted, in fact, he felt positively upbeat this morning. The sun brightened everything, making the city look clean; a lovely, warm, breeze tickled the ends of his hair. He'd left his beloved scarf in his room, had even unbuttoned the top few buttons of his jacket—comfortable at last. Even the hike to the local trolley stop felt a little less like a forced march across the Arctic today—he took a slight detour to Mr. Sonne's, deciding that dam—darn it, he was going to treat himself this fine morning. And work on his cursing. He'd sound just like a city person before long. Was that a good thing?
Jared shook his head. Catching sight of himself in chrome sides of a bathroom tube he passed, he brushed hair away from his face, long enough now to pull into a horsetail. He looked more like the carriers in Mr. Jim's books than he liked...really should cut his hair, he thought with a heavy sigh, and tucked unruly strands behind his ears. Something else he'd do as soon as he had more time, and more money.
He made his way past the people crowding the Milk Bar entrance, and was called towards the back end of the stall by Mr. Sonne, the stall's owner.
"There you are, young man. Been waiting for you. Here you go, a Snickerdoodle whip," Mr. Sonne said as he slid a very tall and frothy cup of forbidden coffee towards Jared, smiling when Jared let out a pleased little hoot. "It's an abomination of milk and flavored syrup with a shot of caffeine, just the way you like. And grab one of those cookies, you need to eat more than you do."
Despite the fact Jared had a job, Mr. Sonne still treated Jared like he was the starving kid who'd turned up in his stall eager for even one free, day-old doughnut. Jared scoffed, took a sip, and licked away an impressive whipped-cream mustache. "You know, between the folks at the diner constantly making me eat, plus the cookies you keep forcing on me, it's a miracle I'm not the size of two whales."
Mr. Sonne just smirked. "Um-hum. How are you doing this lovely morning?"
Jared smiled up at him, knowing what Mr. Sonne was asking. Early on, shortly after he'd settled in to St. Maggie's, Mr. Sonne had casually asked Jared one day if he was a carrier. Jared had been hesitant to answer, but he'd held his head up and answered yes. The man had simply nodded and that had been the end of it. Now he just pushed sweet, mostly non-caffeinated drinks his way. That, and his poker-faced acceptance of everything, made him one of Jared's favorites.
"I'm fine sir," he replied. "I keep having these crazy mood swings though."
Mr. Sonne coughed out a dry little laugh. "My dear wife blessed me with four children—her mood swings are a memory I cherish—no, not really," he said to Jared's raised eyebrows. "Take another cookie before you go. It's good to see you smile, Jay."
Good to see you smile. What did that mean? Jared walked away, frowning slightly. He smiled! He smiled a lot, all the time, in fact. Constantly smiling. Just, lately he'd been a little...well, grumpy. But mostly he was happy. More or less. Jared snapped a bite of his cookie and hurried towards the trolley stop—he'd spent longer than he planned at the coffee stall.
Jared made it to his stop just as the trolley squealed to a standstill. He hefted himself onboard, set the bag holding his work shoes on the floor between his feet and nibbled the last of his cookie. Legs spread to give himself some room, he groaned in relief. Walking the few blocks to his stop was getting to be more and more like a test of willpower.
Arranging himself as comfortably as possible on the hard, wooden bench, he gave a quiet greeting to the various people on the trolley with him, people that he'd gotten to know—at least by sight—as the weeks had passed. The bench was actually his favorite seat; from it, he had a good view of Nice flicking past his window. The chunk-chunk of the wheels on the steel rail had become a familiar song now, just as the pale yellow walls plastered over with posters and announcements and hand-scrawled notes advising all that Holly was hoor were so familiar now as to be invisible.
He leaned his head back against the window, and sighed. The Jared that had skipped out of St. Maggie's this morning like, like—Heidi on the mountain—had become grumpy old Jared again. He wasn't looking forward to what this day offered; standing on aching feet all morning, then off to classes, and then to the library, and then home to study before blessed sleep... it was hardly past breakfast, how was it that he was already exhausted?
Arriving at work, Jared did his best to shake off his blue mood. Lando cornered him before he'd even hung up his coat, asking if he'd thought about shortening his shifts—which, no Jared did not wish to shorten his shifts, thank you—and about setting a date for his "lying-in", a term Jared had been startled to hear coming from his boss, because before today, he'd never heard anyone but the oldest of old grandmothers say that. After a good solid minute of laughing, Jared had informed a highly indignant Lando that was also not happening—not when Jared had no idea of his delivery date himself.
The lift to his spirits evaporated too quickly as he began dressing for work. He struggled to pull the sides of his work shirt together. The darn thing had gotten so tight, it was almost obscene. There was way too much of Thing's residence showing through the straining buttons. How the heck had he not noticed this earlier?
Jared groaned in annoyance, and mentally added a shirt or two to the list of things he needed, and the amount of money he'd have to deduct from his paycheck before sending Mr. Jim his money.
While he was thinking hard about his immediate future, Lando came strolling into the employee's room, did a double take when he saw Jared. Jared watched him struggle mightily not to giggle, and worked through his own struggle not to waddle over and smack the living heck out of the man. Lando bit his lip and hurried out of the door, and before Jared could even practice his curse words, was back, carrying a pink apron. Jared stared at it and looked up at Lando. "Pink?"
Lando cleared his throat. "All the black ones were dirty?"
Jared snatched it out of his hand. "Fine! I mean, thank you. I'm sorry, that was rude. I was...lost in my head for a moment."
"Sure. But you might want to purchase some new shirts. 'Cause, y'know, this is a diner, not a pathetic strip club where no one takes their clothes off, they just flash portions of their anatomy at our horrified diners."
"Oh my god, O—get the hell out, you ass—" Addie appeared behind Lando, elbowing her way past him with a disgusted expression. She slammed the door on him, the sound echoing in the small room. She hitched herself up on the lunch table, ignoring Jared's weak protest. "Oh, please, this table is cleaner for my ass being on it. Ignore Lando, he's an idiot, but deep down, he cares…" She stopped and peered at Jared. "You okay, Jay?"
Jared leaned against the locker wall, crushing the apron to his chest. He dipped his head, taking advantage of how long his hair was to hide behind it.
"I just.. I'm tired of being this way,"he muttered, tying the apron on. He slouched his way out of the employee room, Addie on his heels as they headed into the kitchen. Jared ignored everyone, snatching up a basin of dirty dishes just this side of too heavy for him, using it as a wedge between himself and Addie.
"Jay," she said, concern in her eyes as she reached towards him.
He shrugged away from her, snapped,"You want to know how I really am? I hate being this...bloated blob, I hate the things that are happening to me, and I hate the way everyone thinks it's so, so fu—flipping—funny. I hate it!"
Activity in the kitchen came to a stop. Jared could feel the staff's eyes on him, waiting for what might come next. And next was Candy, slipping past Addie and making a beeline at Jared. Candy's lilting croon broke the silence. "Oh, now honey sweetie-pie, that's just hormones talking. Why, in no time at all you'll be so thrilled an' excited, you won't be able to image you ever felt this way, trust me."
She reached out to lay a hand on his stomach and Jared shouted, "DON'T!" Twisting away from her touch, the basin overbalanced, and dropped to the floor. He clapped hands over his face, his fingers digging in as he tried not to scream, ignoring Candy's shout of surprise and the flying shards of dirty dishes. Kitchen activity doubled, and the busboys and cooks tried to sweep up the mess without actually making contact with Jared, who was still clutching at himself in the middle of the floor. He heaved in lung-fulls of hot air that stuck in his throat, choking him, before finally he managed to squeak out, "Don't, don't touch me, I hate being—this—this horrible way!"
"Oh, Jay. You can't even say pregnant, can you?" Candy looking shocked—this was a side of Jared no one had ever seen before. Well, maybe it was past time he'd spoke the truth. Holerah, or maybe he'd just been a giant ass to his friends.
Jared meant to apologize, he truly did, he should—but what spilled out of him was completely the opposite of that.
"Pregnant, pregnant, damn it, are you happy now?" Eyes clamped shut, he shouted, "I hate being pregnant, I hate this thing!" He tore the pink apron off, and throwing it to the ground, violently stamped on it. "I hate myself!".
Thunderous silence met him as he dashed out of the kitchen and straight through the dining room, pushing past Ralph at the doorway, ignoring the shouts of the other diners. He ran almost all of the blocks back to his attic, adrenaline pushing him past exhaustion and pain.
Once he'd slammed the door shut on the outside world, he collapsed, his fingers digging deep as they could into the bedclothes. He felt like...like he was finally taking the step off a cliff that he'd been hesitating to take since arriving in Nice.
Jared sobbed into his pillow, torn in two with how much he missed his mother. He needed her, why did she hate him? How could they have just thrown him away? He hated the thing inside him for taking her and his siblings and his home away. His chest and gut hurt, throat raw and mouth dry from screaming into his pillow.
"Help me, help me," he moaned into the soggy, wet mass he'd turned his pillow into. "Oh Lord, why did you do this to me? Why? Wasn't I good enough? Is it because I'm a monster, because I want boys instead? Why do only bad people want me? I must be so bad…"
He took a breath, sides heaving, and then dissolved into tears again—for the loss of his job and his friends. How was he going to live without anyone who cared?
Jared fell asleep finally, hours passed before he woke again. The sun had long passed his window, and shadows crisscrossed the floor. He rolled upright, and tried to lever himself off the bed, stumbling over the ruched-up pile of his rug. Jared winced when he saw where his shoes had landed after kicking them off; one sat on his table, the other was peeking out from under the rug.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud," he groaned, rubbing his belly, groping for the table edge to help him stand. He felt nauseous and out of sorts, scolded himself for being stupid enough to fall asleep on his belly. The Thing was punishing him for crushing it. And for goodness sake, water! He needed water terribly. He'd sent all his bodily fluids pouring out through his eyes. His queasy stomach took a turn and then howled like a mad beast. Yes, and he was hungry beyond belief. If he was lucky, he had a few crackers left in the pantry cabinet..."The Lord willing," he mumbled and shuffled over to the little cabinet that held his few snacks.
He was so startled by the sudden loud, insistent knocking at his door that he fumbled his crackers to the ground. Overcome at the injustice of losing his few crackers, his eyes filled; he forgot for a moment that someone was demanding his presence at the door. Banging came again, and heaving a great sigh, he shuffled over and carefully opened the door—wobbling backward when it flew open.
The doorway was filled with people he'd not expected to see again, not after the way he'd acted today and the horrible things he'd said.
Lando pushed his way in first. "I'm not staying," he said, waving the bags he clutched. They were full of something that smelled amazing. "Could've warned us 'bout the dragon ladies guarding this place, but thank whoever, you're their favorite and they let us up instead of devouring us whole," he grumbled.
"Hunh?" Jared bleated like he hadn't jumped from Alpha to Gamma student in little more than a month. Favorite? He thought. What in the world?
Lando arranged the food on Jared's table. "There. It's small in here, I'm leaving." He gave Jared a pat on the head. "See you at work," he said, and left as Ralph and Carl came in, both of them carrying bags from a local thrift store. Jared looked from Ralph to Carl, curious...and very confused.
"Don't look at us," Carl said, rolling his eyes. "Those girls made us carry these bags of—whatever they are." He reached inside the bag and pulled out a tiny blanket. " Hunh," was all he said before grinning at Jared. "Bears are cool."
Jared was still bobbing his head with no clue what he was agreeing to when Candy and Addie strolled in. "Don't listen to whatever he's telling you," Candy smirked, and kissed Jared on the cheek—high as she could reach. "Unless they're telling you about how they fought over who was paying like bratty toddlers. Addie, what do you call it if someone's the teachers pet when there's no teacher?"
"Umm...spoiled?" Addie said with mock seriousness. She smiled—and did a double take when she got a good look at Jared. He quickly scrubbed at his face and hair, before dropping his hands and clasping them behind his back. He was pretty sure he looked like he'd been dragged backward through brambles.
"You! Get on that shelf you call a bed, right now." She turned from Jared to snap her fingers at Ralph. "Tea!" she demanded.
Ralph tossed his head back, looked down his nose to growl at her. "Just who the hell do you think I am?"
"A pushover and a soft touch," she snapped back.
"Damn," he said, lighting the little hotplate that served as Jared's kitchen. He found a cup for Jared's tea, muttered, "Appears the woman knows me well."
Jared smiled as he watched the scene playing out between the two of them and wondered if they knew they liked each other. Distracted by the thought of Ralph and Addie, he was bundled back into bed, wrapped in new blankets and holding a mug of deliciously scented tea. For the first time in hours, he felt warm inside and out. His eyes insisted on watering up as he looked around at the people crowded into his attic. He glanced over at his table, nearly hidden under everything that had come out of the bags. A Golden Morn dinner special, plus muffins, crackers, and few pieces of fruit. Tea and honey, and iced cookies...plus Jared was now the proud owner of several shirts, two new pairs of stretch-band pants, a pair of slippers that were made to look like furry little cows.
He'd thought he'd lost everything this afternoon, but here were his friends, with hugs, with understanding, he inhaled deeply...and with food, he thought, and let out a damp little chuckle. He dipped his head over his cup; he didn't want them to see him crying and mistake happy tears for sadness.
So...it appears he was kind of an idiot. He'd thought he'd made friends here, but what he'd had was family all along.