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TITLE: Penumbra
AUTHOR: Lala (ipso__facto), ipso__facto @
ORIGINAL STORY: 37 by anatsuno
PAIRING: Billy Boyd/Dominic Monaghan
SUMMARY: "The young man looks up at him and his expression slides, shifts sideways into something more, and Billy's mind snags on an image of spinning clocks." AU.
NOTES: Kudos to anatsuno for an amazing original story! Many, many thanks to blythely, magickalmolly, and punkmeanscuddle for the brilliant betas, and to cindyjade and spillingvelvet for their support and enthusiasm. ♥

DISCLAIMER: The author makes no claims or inferences to reality or truthfulness. Moreover, this story is based upon the work of another author and recognises their creation.

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"A boy."

There's sweat glistening on the manager's high forehead, beads of it rolling down his fat face, dipping into the creases. Billy's stomach twists with distaste but he keeps his focus steady. He fancies he can see his own reflection in the shine, feel the sheathed heat of his own gaze. He stands calmly in front of the desk, hands clasped behind his back.

"A man, sir."

The manager raises an eyebrow.

"I'm thirty-seven tomorrow." Billy circles his middle finger and thumb loosely around his wrist and rubs. Looks down at his feet.

Grunt. "Old enough to know better then, lad," the manager spits. "We've no use for you here. On your way." He waves at the office door with his left hand, the movement sending ripples up the heavy flesh of his arm, and reaches for a pearl-handled knife with his right. He slides the plate closer to where his gut is pressed against the edge of the desk and resumes his meal. A fly buzzes somewhere near Billy's ear, but he remains still, desperation glueing his limbs in place.

The clock over the marble mantle ticks on, two minutes to 12. The manager chews loudly. His mouth is open.

A high-pitched ringing echoes around them for exactly one minute before it shuts off. The underlying mechanical whine from the factory stops abruptly. Nothing moves.


Billy looks up. The manager leans back in his chair and wheels a few feet away from his desk. The wood groans. One of his fat-fingered hands is sliding in circles on his crotch, stroking hard over his visible erection; the other clenches on the padded arm of his seat.

Billy's lip curls as he moves around the desk and drops to his knees.

Billy follows him through the darkened corridors to the sweatshop without a word. He's beginning to sweat himself by the time they make their way into the warehouse and past the control station to the door on the other side. The manager's girth blocks the doorframe, blocks his view of whoever is inside the room. It's too bloody hot. He rolls his sleeves up as the others talk, exposing his arms, and loosens his collar. He hears something about the girl he's replacing, but he's not listening, concentrating instead on the cadence of their voices, finding the rhythm. The new voice - the overseer's - is gruff, but musical, stirring something in Billy's gut. He ignores it.

And then the manager is pushing him forward and into the room, leaving Billy with a warning to behave before he turns away. Billy nods and approaches the overseer's scarred desk cautiously, head slightly bowed. The floor is grease-stained, bleak, and he looks up through his eyelashes. Assessing.

He's surprised by the man's dishevelled appearance - wrinkled shirt with the cuffs unbuttoned and hanging loose. Even his hair is long and unkempt. Dull. Guess no one has it easy, here. Even those with money. The overseer takes a final swig from his bottle and thumps it down. He's young, too, or at least Billy thinks he is, although his face, like everyone else's, is lined and hard. Blank.


And then the young man looks up at him and his expression slides, shifts sideways into something more, and Billy's mind snags on an image of spinning clocks. For a brief second his eyes flicker closed.

"Billy. I'm Billy," he says and he raises his arms, turns his hands palm up and shrugs. "I've got small hands. That's why I'm in sewing," he says, which is different because that's more words together than he's managed in months without provocation.

"I'm Dominic," rasps the overseer, with a strange twist to his lips, "you're on 37, third row, near the window. Lucky lad," and Billy feels the ghost of pain uncoil in his knees. He presses his lips together, hands curling into fists as they fall to his sides. "You'll get a bit of sun."

His lungs feel heavy, full, and he chokes down a cough as he trails Dominic through the rows. The sewing machine is familiar, hardly worth a glance, but Billy spares a short one for the window. Dominic seems to expect it, and Billy finds in himself a strange desire to please him. He turns, and sure enough, Dominic's mouth stretches out, thin and white, eager for Billy's reaction. Billy feels something twist in his belly, the red-hot tongue of anger and frustration licking its way up his throat like heartburn, and he's careful to keep his face blank. Instead, he settles himself in front of the workspace, looks away, and sets his hands on autopilot. His fingers trip lightly over the seams.

Dominic stands at his back for what seems like hours, unmoving. Billy works fast and well; the pile of knickers and smalls in the basket next to him already higher than those of the chattering girls around him. Their voices slide past his ears like water, liquid syllables rolling across the surface of his consciousness. He listens, but the words are lost on him. Behind him, Dominic coughs, once, and moves off, murmuring approval.

The day passes slowly, a confusing blur of heat and noise. Billy tells time by the small square of light inching its way across the concrete, growing more yellow as it travels. He can hear the sharp tap of Dominic's feet as he walks the rows, pausing here and there to deliver a muted warning - and once or twice not so muted, his voice rising sharply above the din, a jarring dissonance.

There's no other interaction between him and the girls - no jokes or laughter. Dominic avoids their eyes, the glares and lust-filled glances alike, his face set in a permanent sneer. Billy himself nods politely to his nearest neighbours, but ignores their attempts at conversation, stays focused on his work. He looks up only when Dominic passes, which he does too often, jarring Billy from his thoughts.

Dominic's grey eyes bore into Billy like knives, each look pointed and damaging. He can feel the heat rolling off of the overseer in waves. But Billy does his best to give as good as he gets, matching him stare for stare. In the end though, it's always Dominic that looks away first, guilty satisfaction heating Billy's cheeks each time he does. There's something strange fluttering in his chest, growing stronger the more he looks at Dominic, causing his pulse to beat at his throat. Still, it's not quite enough, yet, to call it 'hope'.

Somehow, when the bell rings signalling the end of the work day, Billy is surprised enough that his fingers slip, the needle sliding easily through material and into the fleshy pad of his thumb. He curses, and drops the garment before he can bleed onto it, tonguing the wound carefully. His skin tastes of dirt and sweat. He follows the girls to the timeclock.

Dominic is there, waiting, watching as they file past, one by one. He seems to catch sight of Billy at the edge of his vision and his head bobs slightly, then he looks away. Billy sees his eyes go unfocused, like he's searching for patterns in the garish prints of the girls' clothes, trying to make something out of nothing. Billy watches and waits his turn.

It's fast though, quicker than he'd thought, and he turns after he punches his card, searching for Dominic. He is watching, and Billy smiles, slow, but genuine, surprised that his mouth remembers the configuration. One corner of Dominic's own lips curl up in return, mirroring the crooked angle of his jaw, and Billy opens his mouth to ask if Dominic needs - wants - anything else. The small flutter of wings in his throat has grown into a full-fledged beating, hard and strong, and every muscle is taut, skin drawn tight over his bones.

Then suddenly, the girl behind him grows impatient, sighs loudly and shoves between his shoulderblades, pushing his upper body forwards and forcing his shoulders up into his neck. He looks down at his feet and takes a small step to counterbalance, regaining his equilibrium. When he looks up, Dominic's eyes are steely, the mask back in place over his features. Shut down, like the hundreds of machines behind him.

Billy's heart slows and his question turns to a small 'goodbye,' before he lets the throng's momentum carry him away. He stumbles out into the dirty streets, and every building or person he looks at as he trudges home seems muddy and unimpressive. The whole town is stained with layers of dust that are ground in too deep; a pale, colourless world streaked ochre and yellow by the last rays of a wasting sun.

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