“Where are you from, babydoll?”
Freddie starts, turning to the man sprawled behind him with a coy smile. “Nowhere you would be interested in, darling.”
“Try me. Tell me about your home world.”
He toys with the draping silk garment wrapped around himself—more expensive than anything he’s owned and smelling strongly of cloves—and thinks that one over. The truth is there isn't a single thing he could say about Primus that wouldn't get him in trouble. It's difficult to purr seductively about dead soil and families torn apart, and songs of beauty and longing exist only to be heard by a select few loved ones in his life.
He casts his eyes to the entrance to the tent instead. It's just early enough in the day that he can see the planet they're orbiting rising in the sky. He wishes he could identify it, but as it is he has not even the faintest idea about these outer-belt worlds. Brian would know it, maybe.
“Tell me about yours,” he says instead.
The man begins prattling on about the inner rim and Freddie takes the moment to scan the room quickly. It's just a poorly-made tent among thousands of others in this marketplace, lit dimly by lantern light. He hates that fact more than anything else that's happened to him in the last month and a half. He can deal with mining in a pit for weeks on end, can handle being snatched out of there and sold into the interstellar sex trade. Hell, he can even take losing all his loved ones (temporarily, just temporarily, or so he’s praying.)
What he can't deal with is the flash of hope every time he catches a glimpse of a head of chocolate curls or a pair of blue eyes in the low light. He nearly curses himself when his heart skips a beat as he catches a familiar slightly nasal accent in the murmur of the room. John isn't here, and he'd best get used to that.
“Would you like it there?”
He starts, bringing himself back into the conversation. “Sorry, darling. What was that?”
The man smiles easily, giving Freddie a quick once over. “It's okay. I'm sorry if I'm boring you.”
“Oh. No, I'm afraid I’m just a little distracted today. I haven't been sleeping well. The gravity here gives me a horrible headache.”
“That's awful,” the man says, touching his arm. “I can get you out of here tonight if you'd like. Deneb-3 is beautiful this time of year. I have a humble estate there that I think you'd love.”
Deneb-3. There's a wonderful port there, and he thinks he might just be able to sneak off from whatever estate the man is talking about long enough to bribe his way onto the loading decks. Maybe he can find someone who will get word to Brian and Roger. Maybe they'll be able to go save John before the mines drive him mad, or worse.
“Deneb, you say?” Freddie asks lightly, and the man melts. Yeah, he’s got him.
“Deneb, yes. My estate is by a little lake. You'll love it. Let me just talk to your employer and I can have you out of here in an hour.”
Freddie smiles sweetly, accepting the kiss he receives to the back of the hand. “Hurry along now. Don't keep me waiting!”
“Of course not, pet,” the man says, hurrying away.
Freddie smiles after him. It's almost too easy to keep up the facade. Truthfully the man is kind and charming. If Freddie could forget that he's currently being purchased like a sack of flour to be used for gratification against his will he'd almost think that in some other universe he even could've loved him, had circumstances been different.
Instead he's being purchased like a sack of flour to be used for gratification against his will.
He sighs and leans back against the pillows on the loveseat, taking a long sip of his tea—no alcohol, they aren't allowed to get drunk though the buyers are encouraged to—and surveying the room again. His fellow victims are making nice with the buyers milling around, swaying their sashes and robes and laughing lightly. They've all been cleaned up, and that at least Freddie can be grateful for. They'd been a sorry mess in the transport ship, he himself covered in dust and coal from the mines, but they'd soon fixed up his hair and scrubbed him clean. It'd felt like a spa day, or it would've if he hadn't known what was coming next.
The whole sex trafficking thing is a little hard to get past.
He sighs and looks around again. The man—Paul, that’s his name, Paul—is currently in deep discussion with his dealer, probably over price. When Paul looks his way he winks at him and gets a soft smile in return.
Freddie looks away coyly, eyes catching on a tall head of curly hair by the door. He starts and forces himself to look away. Then he forces himself to look back because holy shit, that guy looks just like Brian.
Then he stares because holy shit that is Brian.
He wonders distantly if he's dreaming, then sends a prayer to high heaven because he desperately hopes that he is. He hopes this is a nightmare. His lovers should never be near a place like this. Brian has his head down, eyes trained respectfully on the ground, hands clasped in front of him and shirt unbuttoned to the point that it's probably a little pointless to even wear it. There’s a collar around his neck and he’s being led around on a lead.
It isn't an uncommon sight on this moon, but of all people to fall into this world—
Did they get him? If they have him then they have Roger. He’d thought they'd gotten away, thought they were safe. He watched the ship fly away, watched it disappear into hyperspace.
Had this all been for nothing?
And then people’s heads turn and the crowd slowly parts to reveal a one Roger Taylor, leash wrapped lazily around his hand, torso buried in a fur coat that must've cost one of his vital organs, nearly transparent sunglasses perched on his nose and his hair hanging glossy and fluffy. When his eyes land on Freddie the grin he sends him is possibly lascivious, and he tugs Brian forward harshly enough to make him stumble as he makes his way over, ignoring the admiring glances from buyers and merchandise alike as he goes.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he rasps, and for a moment his leer slips to be replaced by a look that's genuinely joyous. “You come here often?”
“That's a horrible line,” Freddie gets out. Barely gets out, really. He can feel his throat closing up, can feel his eyes well as Brian glances up quickly to give him a reassuring smile and then down just as fast. He takes a long sip of his tea just so he can have a moment to compose himself. “And I’m afraid if you're looking to buy then you're just moments too late. I'm regrettably about to be going home with a gentleman over there.”
“We’ll see about that, baby,” Roger says loudly. He pulls a cigar out of nowhere, genuine by the looks of it and probably costing a fortune, and a passing attendant lights it for him. “Thanks,” he tells her. “Listen, I don't know what the wait is. I’m ready to buy. Where is your employer?”
“Have you checked in yet?”
“Checked—no, I haven't fucking checked in yet. Do you know who I am?”
“I'm sorry,” she says meekly. “I'll need some ID.”
He scowls, grumbling to himself as he pulls out an ID chip and hands it off to her. She scans it in her reader and then her eyes go wide as she skims the information there.
“Yeah,” Roger snaps. “Get him over here now. Now!”
Unfortunately that’s when Paul decides to make his entrance once more, the dealer in tow. He sidles up to Freddie and lets a clammy hand rest just above the curve of his ass. “Is there a problem here?”
“Yeah,” Roger snaps. “It’s called I’m used to a better level of service around here, Norman. You've always been good to me in the past. What's the problem?”
The dealer takes the reader from the attendant before handing it quickly back. “Mr. Greenbaum,” he says quickly. “So sorry. You’ve always sent an assistant in your stead before now. I didn't recognize you.”
“I figured. Look, I'm in a hurry. I'll take this one and go.”
Paul tightens his grip on Freddie’s waist. “Now wait just a—”
“That’s perfectly alright, Mr. Greenbaum,” the dealer says quickly, much to Paul’s chagrin. “It's just that sadly our Freddie here is already spoken for. I have several young ladies who are much more fitting to your tastes—”
“Did I fucking stutter?!” Roger roars, and heads around them snap over to look once more. “I fired my moron assistant because he couldn't pick out a decent whore for me and now you think you know better, too? I know what I bloody want! If he’s already spoken for then I’ll pay extra. You don't want to lose my business, I can assure you. You don't want to make an enemy of me.”
“I don't,” the dealer says. “You know I don't. I've always considered you a friend.”
Roger relaxes infinitesimally. “And I you. I don't want things like this to sour our relationship, you understand.”
“It would be a shame if we couldn't do business anymore. For both of us, really.”
“You're right. An absolute shame.”
“Listen, Mr. Greenbaum,” the dealer says quickly. “You're in a rush, yes?”
“Yes, quite. Lord knows we’ve wasted enough time already.”
“Take him now, then. Consider it an act of good faith. You can wire the money over later.”
Roger sniffs haughtily. “It'll be no later than tomorrow. Your friendship is appreciated, as always.”
“As is yours.”
He holds out a jewel-encrusted hand, which Freddie takes.
“What—” Paul snaps, holding his waist in a bruising grip. “Wait a minute! You're mine! Come back!”
The dealer winces. “Regrettably the sale hadn't yet gone through, Mr. Prenter.”
“Bullshit! He hasn't even payed!”
“Call it customer loyalty.”
Roger rolls his eyes, snapping Brian’s leash forward. “You,” he says. “Get him settled on the ship, now. If there’s any dawdling in the marketplace you'll both be in a world of hurt later, mark my fucking words.”
“Sir,” Brian says breathlessly, leading Freddie forward quickly and out of the tent. He has a grip on Freddie’s arm that's a shade too strong, but then Freddie is practically clinging to him as soon as they make it into the bustling street. The two of them barrel through the crowds until they can slip under one of the side awnings of the market, and there in the middle of the dusty soil sits the ship, tarnished and clunky and perfect.
Brian quickly opens the airlock, not even bothering with opening the loading bay. He shoves Freddie through and into the corridor and then he’s pulling him into a crushing hug, hunching down to push his face into his hair and breathing jerkily.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he breathes. “Freddie, we thought we lost you, Freddie.”
Freddie just pulls him in even closer and breathes him in—familiar smells, ink and paper and vanilla—and sags into his hold. He can feel himself shaking but he doesn't even care. Brian’s shaking too. “Shh, shh. It’s alright.”
“I’m sorry we left you. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Enough of that,” he says briskly, and Brian sniffles loudly against his ear. “You got me back, didn’t you? You smart boys, you found me eventually.”
They both jump as the door clatters open, but then Roger is wrapping himself around them both with a giddy laugh. “I can't fucking believe that worked,” he breathes, then pulls back to look at Freddie. “Are you okay? Did they hurt you? If he touched you so help me I’ll go back out there and—”
“I’m okay,” Freddie says. “Fuck, Roggie. I'm alright, I'm okay.”
He pulls him close again, nearly crushing him in his grip and only letting up to run a hand through Freddie’s hair. “They gave you a haircut.”
“No, that wasn't them. That was the mines.”
Brian stiffens. “Mines?”
“Miner’s colony. They snatched me up from there. It's alright, guys. Really, it is. I'm safe now.”
“You will be,” Roger starts, then hurried toward the bridge. They both follow quickly, Freddie stopping for a minute to undo Brian’s collar.
“What the hell was that plan?” Freddie asks them.
“My idea and the only one we had, really,” Brian tells him. “We can't exactly hack an ID chip. John left behind a few counterfeits, and a high-ranking government official with a penchant for buying slave boys just happened to be one of them.”
John. Shit. “He’s okay, right?” Freddie asks. “You got John first, didn't you? Don't tell me you only came for me.”
They reach the bridge, where Roger is already running through startup sequences. When he hears that he frowns and pauses. “He isn't on that moon, is he? We didn't see him.”
“No. No, he's still in the mines.”
Brian frowns. “Still in the mines? What mines?”
“When they took us they sold us to some slavers on the outer rim. We were working hard labor. The life expectancy on the unit was four weeks. If he’s still down there—”
“He’s alive,” Roger says firmly.
“You don’t know that.”
“We can’t accept any alternative,” Brian says, eyes wet. “Not right now.”
Freddie grits his teeth. No way they could’ve known the danger John was facing—is facing, and it’s horrible to think that that’s in a best-case scenario. Either he’s still down there and going mad with it, he’s been snatched up to be sold off into some other circuit like Freddie himself had been, or…
Or. He doesn’t let himself finish the thought.
The three of them let out a collective breath as the ship enters hyperspace, the smuggler’s moon vanishing behind them. It’s only then that the tension seems to evaporate from the room; Freddie allows his shoulders to slump, moving toward the console until he can rest part of his weight on Roger. Roger accepts him with one arm, the other hand still on the controls as he presses buttons rapidly. Brian steps forward to lean against Freddie’s other side.
“You should’ve gone for him first,” Freddie murmurs.
Roger sighs. “We had no way, Fred. We had no leads. It’s a miracle we even intercepted yours.”
“Snuck into the navigator’s room after the crew had a drink too many,” Freddie says, not without a hint of pride. “I picked the lock the way you taught us.”
Roger presses a kiss to his hair.
“Listen,” he continues, sobering quickly. “If they’d sold me off I would’ve found a way back to you. You have to understand that. It doesn’t matter what they did to me. Drugged me, brainwashed me, kept me underground for twelve years…it doesn’t matter. They could’ve killed me and I would’ve found a way back.”
“I know,” Roger replies. He gives up on the controls finally, hitting the autopilot before turning to accept Freddie fully into his arms, his head tucked over his left shoulder and Brian’s over his right, the warmth making Freddie sigh. “I get it, dove, just like we’d go our whole lives looking for the two of you. We don’t give up on each other.”
“Then you have to understand,” he says slowly. “Where they’ve taken John, people don’t come out the same. People don’t even come out at all.” He thinks of the endless mines, the cold dampness seeping into his bones and growing mold on their daily rations, workers becoming too weak to lift their picks and then being dragged off limp, never to be seen again. He shudders. “You should’ve gone to him first.”
“Freddie,” Brian murmurs, and it comes out reverently the way it always does when he says it, second syllable drawn out like a sigh. His lips brush the space beneath Freddie’s ear when he talks. “We had a lead on you. We came for you because we knew where we’d find you. What would’ve happened if we’d ignored that?”
“I’d have sucked some slaveholder’s dick for a few months while you went and rescued our lover from the depths,” Freddie says sarcastically. “Small price to pay.”
Roger’s arms tighten possessively around his waist. He gives him a consolatory pat on the shoulder and ignores his grumble in response.
“We came for you,” Brian says, “because we could find you. And we came for you because we figured you could help us find John. Because the four of us don’t give up on each other, and we don’t take breaks, and we don’t settle. We’re family. We fight for each other or we die trying.”
Freddie laughs; he can’t help it. He laughs even as he cries, and he’s not sure if it’s even laughter or sobs that are making his core shake. “Brimi,” he gets out, grinning. “Oh, Brimi. Something’s changed in you.”
“Losing the loves of my life might’ve had something to do with it, I’d imagine.”
That one does make him sob a little bit. He pulls away from them. “Move over, Rog,” he says, wiping his eyes with the heel of a hand and heading to the navigation console. “I don’t know exactly where it is but I know the coordinates of the region. Worst case scenario we have to search a couple of different systems until we find a terraformed miner’s moon. There are millions of people on that rock, wherever it is, but we’ll find him eventually.”
Roger runs a hand through the now-short hair on the back of his head. “That’s the way.”
Brian hovers behind Freddie’s shoulder, watching closely as he types in a set of coordinates. “That’s a ways off,” he murmurs.
“It was far in the transporter,” Freddie replies. “It took weeks before we got here.”
“How fast for us?” Roger asks.
Brian shrugs. “A week or so?”
“How fast if we push her?”
“We could shave off two days, but you know what John would say about straining the engine like that.”
“We can risk it.”
“Not if we blow a gasket and end up stranded. Without him around that would delay us indefinitely.”
Freddie stills, ducking his head for a long minute. A delay he can do, and John might be able to make it too. An indefinite pause… “A week it is,” he says, resuming his typing.
Roger runs a hand across his shoulders as he passes him on his way back to the controls, syncing the new coordinates into the computer and nudging their speed up as much as he dares. Brian doesn’t go anywhere, still hovering at his back close enough that Freddie can hear him breathing. When he feels a warm hand rest comfortingly over his shoulder he pauses to tangle their fingers together for a moment.
“We’ll get him,” Brian murmurs.
“I know,” Freddie replies, because they have no real choice in the matter anyway.
Just once he dares to access the hidden-away recess of his mind that speaks of his home world, of hidden songs and Earth phrases. Just once he prods at the three presences growing fresh and young like roots. He thinks of John not as the verse sees him but as they know him: sharply observant, rambling and sarcastic, easy to laugh at the oddest of things, bright and sweet and snappy in the mornings. He thinks of him and reaches.
A dull lukewarm presence reaches back.
They’ll find him. They don't have any other options.
He turns to press a kiss to Brian’s thumb before he gets back to work.