Work Header

Water in the Desert

Work Text:

The desert would eat you alive, flesh and bone and spirit, if you let it.  It was an arid, uncompromising place, liquid as sparse and precious as rubies. Jowd had spent days there where the only thing saving him from utter dehydration was the tiniest sips of water from his pouch, what sustenance he could find from the rare vegetation, and the powers of filtration. And, for how he had struggled with everything in himself to survive back then, he would go back right now and let it eat him whole over this slow drowning in the dubious luxuries of this Imperial cell.

Instead, he obediently opened his mouth for another grape from the white-clad, hooded… thing that shadowed Cabanela’s every step, and let a placid smile sit on his frozen face. It tasted like sand, gritty and unsatisfying in his teeth. Stoically, he chewed and swallowed. The thing brought him another. Jowd ate. It was all very methodical.

Safely across the room where Jowd couldn’t reach him, Cabanela leaned against the wall, watching him with hungry eyes.

“How are they, baby? Fiiinest fruit from dear old South Figaro… and weren’t they just happy as anythin’ to send it our way to support the Empire.” Cabanela chuckled, but it never reached his eyes.

Jowd stayed numb, only responding, “They’re good as I remember… could use some ketchup to add some flavor.”

“You heard the maaan,” Cabanela said to his shadow. “Get him some ketchup.” The shadow turned away, gliding smoothly, and Jowd’s eyes followed it almost against his will. It moved so oddly, as if it was meant to dance with every step, but so subdued as to make each footfall oddly precise and robotic. The mask it wore seemed to gleam brightest white against the gloom of the cell; its enshrouding clothes and hood barely even moved in the slight breath of its passing.

Jowd’s eyes narrowed, tracking the… thing? No. It was human. It had to be. Jowd had seen some incredible magitek when Cabanela had proudly showed off some of the Professor’s creations, but there was nothing that could match this. Despite the precision of his actions, there was something all too brittle and frail in that stooped frame that couldn’t be hidden.

Cabanela was beside him before he knew it, long fingers caressing his face in his distraction, and then wrenching his face painfully around by the beard so Jowd could see only him. “Pay no attention to my shaaadow, baby,” he hissed, face contorted in an ugly snarl. “When I’m here keep your eyes on me, not that thing.” He ran his hands down Jowd’s shoulders, sending just the smallest tingle of lightning through each Jowd’s restraints as he passed them. Just enough for a reminder.

Jowd smirked at him and let the lightning run through his veins, shuddering just a little more than necessary. If Cabanela could draw his attention, Jowd could do the same. “But he—” he emphasized the he, and watched Cabanela twitch, just a little, “has my meal. What do you bring to the table?”

Cabanela smirked back, affability restored. “Oh, you know me, baby, waaater in the desert.” He snatched the ketchup from the shadow as he came back. “Leave us. Oh, waaait—" The shadow turned back and Cabanela opened the lid with a quick flick of his finger. With a grand gesture he spattered it all over the shadow, throwing the can over his shoulder when he was done. “Red and white, nothing like it.” He laughed at the shadow, still standing quietly. “Get out of my sight and clean yourself up. Disgusting, letting yourself get all stained like that.”

Ignoring the shadow making his way out of the room, Cabanela preened, plopping himself into Jowd’s lap with a handful of grapes. “The only way is the spotless way, isn’t that right baby?” He put a grape to Jowd’s lips and laughed as Jowd snapped his teeth shut with a clack, nearly biting his fingers. “Thaaat’s a good boy,” he crooned, and ate the grapes slowly, one by one, watching Jowd watching him.

He got up slowly, eyes still on Jowd’s fists shaking in their shackles. “If you’re thirsty you know how to help yourself, baby.”

He picked up the can and ran a finger though the ketchup, then smeared it across Jowd’s face in a slap that rang through the room. “Enjoooy your ketchup.”

As he left, Jowd let his consideration of Cabanela and his shadow go, and slipped into a meditative state, heedless of the ketchup still tantalizingly out of reach on his face, or of the pain in his wrists. Deliberately, he walked back into the desert and let it eat away at him. Even if only in his thoughts, he wallowed in the dehydration.