Author: June
Rating: R
Pairings: 5xOMC, eventual 2x5x2
Disclaimer: I don't own Gundam Wing or its characters, or Mountain Goats lyrics
Warnings: Blood! Violence!
Notes: Thanks, kinsugi, beta/hero!

Reformation/Reaffirmation + Chapter 11

I am right here where you want me
do what you brought me out here for.

- "Family Happiness" Mountain Goats
 
"I think I might be in some trouble."
 
Rorty put his feet up on his desk and leaned back in his chair to adjust the air conditioner in his window so it blew right at us. The cool air felt good, but did nothing to dry the nervous sweat under my arms.

"Screwing up with your school work again?" he asked amicably.

"Mm." I looked down at my hands. "Well, that remains an issue."

"But I'm assuming that's not why you're here. You've never come on your own before to talk to me, so I can't imagine that it would be about your classes."

"Right." I twitched my heel up and down on the floor in front of my chair and pulled Duo's bandanna out of my hair, winding it around my wrist. I wasn't normally fidgety. Duo was a fidgeter, and when he would fidget, I always stopped him, either by polite request or with physical force if he wouldn't listen. Rorty watched me fidget and I watched myself fidget and didn't try to stop.

I'd been afraid before, when I was younger, after Meiran died and just before I went out to fight. I was afraid of being injured or of some freak accident that I would never see coming, a bit of space debris striking Nataku at just the wrong point, the cockpit depressurizing. I was prepared for death in battle, but smaller things got under my skin because I couldn't anticipate them.

I was afraid now because I didn't know what was going to happen next. My stomach was heavy with it. I thought I probably kept it from Karl and Onur pretty well and no one else bothered with me long enough to notice much, but my guts were tying themselves in knots, and I hadn't been able to get Karl's conversation with Brandt out of my head for the last 72 hours. It had to be Prescott he'd been talking about. Why else would he need an officer to speak for him? I'd thought at first that maybe he'd been trying to get in touch with a woman inmate, but really - realistically - the only person who would need to be 'warned' about me, and who would have the most interest in the lists of names we'd been compiling, was Prescott. Aside from Dorothy Catalonia, I didn't know anyone in the women's block beyond the faces I remembered from Mariemeia's followers. Dorothy and I had never spoken and so far as I knew, she was dealing with her sentence like an aristocrat - by pretending it wasn't happening.

No, the only 'she' Karl could have been referring to was Prescott. Which meant I was sleeping with the person who meant to turn me in. Which meant I'd been an idiot to trust him. Which meant I was fucked.

I tried to be objective and analytical. Would Prescott be angry that I was suspicious of the 'faction violence' cover story for all four of the murders here, including Vasil Wasyliw's from two years ago? Would she be upset that I thought at least two of their deaths were for other, more political reasons? Would she think it inappropriate that I considered the population of RCNP a pool of both potential victims and scapegoats for murder? Realistically, how would she react to finding out that I thought her administration was responsible for ordering their deaths, if not directly carrying them out? Would Karl have told Brandt to tell her that part? Why not? If he were going to warn her, he would probably mention where I placed the blame.

But what had really kept me up the last few nights was whether he'd told Brandt to mention Duo. Because, if the answers to my questions were mostly 'yes,' then Duo and I were both in a lot of trouble. I didn't know exactly what kind, and I didn't want to think the worst. I wanted to warn Duo, but I didn't know what to tell him. I couldn't just say, 'Run,' because he wouldn't. Even though he wasn't allowed on the premises now after his rash behavior while I was sick, Heero and Trowa had informed me that he was still working with Sam and that he had no plans to leave. He'd probably do something crazy if I told him about Karl, like he said he would in the laundry. He might even -

"Chang?"

"Hm?" I looked up and took a slow, calming breath.

Rorty looked at me with open concern. He rubbed a hand through his short dark hair and then dropped his feet to the floor. "You're kinda worryin' me, here. If it's not your classes, then what is it? Is someone giving you trouble?"

I shook my head. "No, it's not that."

He nodded, looking me over, probably noticing that I still looked like hell after two weeks in bed - that, and the fidgeting. He watched me thread the bandanna between my fingers and then pull it tight. "You've always been able to handle yourself around here, I know. But some of these guys can be pretty cruel." He leaned his elbows on his desk. "Is this about Bergsen? You two have banded together, right?"

My head snapped up and his eyes widened a bit, knowing instantly, because he could read my face like a book, that he'd hit a nerve. He showed me his palms. "Whoa, whoa; I didn't mean it like that. What happens between you and Karl is none of my business until you make it my business."

I swallowed a few times, unwinding the bandanna from my fingers, then winding it around my wrist again. "It is about Karl," I said. "I'm not sure I can actually trust him, like I thought I could."

Rorty leaned back again, sensing that the abrupt tension between us had been diffused. "He is pretty shifty, but you two have been friends since you got here, right? You would know that about him."

I nodded. "Right. I do know that about him."

I hadn't known whether I could talk to Onur about this or not. I wasn't ready for an 'I told you so' lecture from him, and right now, it felt good to talk to Rorty, even if I wasn't saying much. Rorty didn't think in terms of 'crisis,' and I was leaning perilously close to that category right then.

"Karl is strange, and I don't think he trusts anybody" - least of all me; he was turning me in - "but I had thought that, after two years, we had enough of a bond, that the... that he wouldn't be so shifty around me."

Rorty nodded. "Do you want to tell me what he did to betray your trust?"

It was on the tip of my tongue. How hard would it be to tell Rorty that I'd been considering alternate reasons for Bejamin Bennett's death, and that I knew Basker and O'Malley were strangled rather than knifed - that neither fit with the 'faction violence' explanation. What would he do? Was my suspicion in itself dangerous? Surely not; after Bennett's death, Rorty had told me he was frustrated with how Prescott was handling the investigation. He'd invited me to tell him what I thought, who I thought might have been responsible. Maybe if I told him now, if I was up front with him about what I thought was going on, he could take what I knew and look deeper, be the ally I needed, help me where Duo couldn't.

But it was too much of a risk. I could ask him to turn off the tape recorder and he probably would, and he still wouldn't be a friend.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"You're afraid of consequences?"

"I have no idea what they would be, if there would be any."

"I see." He scratched his head. "Well, I'm not sure I can help you if you don't tell me the problem."

"How easy is to extend someone's sentence?" I asked instead. "If Karl gets me in trouble, how easy would it be for Prescott to make me stay here?"

Rorty frowned. "She would have to present a convincing case to the Board. She'd have to request the money to keep you here. She'd have to go through an ethics committee. It'd be a pain in the ass."

I nodded. "Could I appeal it?"

"Sure."

"Would I need a lawyer?"

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, you'd need a lawyer, but you should really take a few steps back and try talking to Karl first. Sort it out with him before you gird yourself for battle. Prescott may be a hard ass, but she's not interested in torturing people. She wants you out of here as much as you do, believe me."

Somehow, I didn't find that comforting. I chose to think, instead, about how I could get in touch with Une or, if she couldn't help, the Winners. I'd had a good relationship with the lawyer Quatre had found for me, namely because she was one of his sisters and she'd sounded just like him when she spoke. I was sure she would help again if I -

"Chang?" I raised my eyes to his. "Don't worry yet. If you don't want to talk to me, and you're not ready to talk to Karl, talk to someone you do trust." I nodded, too distracted to really take what he said to heart. I stood up to go and he stood up, too. "Go to someone you can be honest with, and then if you still need advice from me, legal or otherwise, I'm here." He reached out to shake my hand and clasped it firmly, giving it a good shake so that I looked directly at him.

"Thank you," I said, meaning it sincerely, though I didn't feel any better.

+

The next day I did what I thought I'd never do and pushed Karl into one of the library carrels, cornering him and aggressively shoving my hands up his shirt, gripping his ribs and sliding one hand up to his shoulder blade. His t-shirt slid up his chest and I watched him breathe slowly, with his diaphragm. I pressed my thigh between his legs and he rolled his hips against me, looking up at me through pale eyelashes, mouth quirked.

"How much do you want me, Chang, to bring me here?" he asked, hand dropping to rest on the sleeves tied around my waist.

We were pressed chest to chest and I leaned back a little to look at him, his yellow hair flopped in his face, heavy with sweat and dirt.

"Sometimes, not very much at all," I said. I pressed a hard kiss on his mouth, running my tongue along his three broken teeth. "Sometimes, enough." I tugged at his shirt and he lifted his arms so I could pull it off, but before it came free, I yanked it back down and behind him, pinning his arms and blindfolding him with the collar. I watched him blink rapidly through the thin fabric, saw his breath catch, felt him jerk once against my hands at this abrupt loss of control. I leaned in close and breathed against his neck. "Sometimes I want to hurt you, just to see if you'll let me, like you let the others."

Karl rubbed himself against the wall of the carrel, like he was scratching his back, staring sightless into my eyes. "You do whatever you want."

I kept the shirt fisted in my hand and guided him to the desk bolted to the floor in the middle of the cubicle. I pushed his hips against it with mine and bent him forward over top of it, my hand in his hair. "How much do you want me, Karl?"

He laughed and shoved his ass back against my crotch, inviting me to push forward. "Enough."

And it was the answer I expected. Enough to like me. Enough to use me. Enough to get me to trust him. Enough so that all I could feel when I thought of his quiet, awful words with Brandt was humiliation. He'd humiliated me without even a word to my face.

+

"Why, exactly, does this conversation need to take place in the laundry? I should be in our room now. And you should be finishing your shift. Curfew is in an hour."

"I know that, Onur. I've been here as long as you. I'm aware when curfew is. Please just come with me and don't make a scene." I said this quietly, through my teeth, as we passed through the mess hall and towards the rear of the facility. I smelled soap and felt the heat of the driers as we got close and I turned to glare at him over my shoulder. "I need to talk to you, and this is the safest place I could think of."

"Safe?"

"No one will hear us."

Onur's wide mouth pressed itself into a scowl. "You haven't spoken to me about anything in weeks. Why the sudden change of heart? Are your grades so bad that you need me to go to the teachers on your behalf?"

I rolled my eyes and shook my head, facing forward again. "As if I would ever go to you for that kind of help, and believe me, school is the last thing on my mind."

As soon as we reached the cavernous laundry, he grabbed my sleeve and jerked me to a stop. I gestured that we should move behind a few piles of clean uniforms, and grudgingly, he followed me.

I'd waited two more days after we fucked in the library and Karl had given me no indication that anything was out of the ordinary between us. I'd seen no sign of Prescott, and Brandt hadn't looked my way twice. Trying to fall asleep in my bunk, well after curfew, I had lain awake, watching Onur snore quietly in his bunk across the room. At breakfast, I'd approached him with a murmured apology for my rudeness over the past weeks and a quiet request that he allow me to talk to him now, to ask his advice as someone I trusted.

He looked at me now with his arms crossed over his barrel of a chest and waited.

"I - well, you remember my friend Heero, how Prescott spotted the two of us at the scene of Basker and O'Malley's murders."

He nodded. "He was difficult to miss, as I recall."

"Right, and I thought I would be in trouble for that, for getting involved in business that wasn't mine, for pushing a Preventer into RCNP affairs."

"Sounds about right."

"Since then, there haven't been any repercussions from that incident, even though I know that Prescott was angry. And, I think that maybe she's been in touch with someone close to me, instead of confronting me directly. I think Karl is getting a facility officer to speak for him to Prescott, about me, about the steps I've taken to find out for myself what really happened to Benji, Basker and O'Malley and Vasil Wasyliw."

The familiar frown line between his brows deepened. "To what end?"

I stared at him. "What do you mean, 'To what end?'"

Onur put his chin in one hand, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, and spoke quietly. I had to strain to hear him over the noise of the machines I was supposed to be monitoring. "I mean, what would Karl have to gain from ratting on you? You two having been concocting wild allegations for months now; what purpose would it serve telling Prescott about them? Have you actually found anything?"

I flushed at his easy dismissal of what had been Karl's and my obsession. "Onur, I told him - and he said he agreed - that I thought RCNP administrators were having former war leaders killed. I was ready to pin the blame on Prescott! I - I asked my best friend to see if he could find any evidence of my suspicions. I involved someone else in what I'm now beginning to think were paranoid delusions brought on by restlessness and boredom! I was thinking in terms of hunches that I thought Karl shared, and now..."

Beginning to believe that I was genuinely on the verge of panic, Onur put a hand on my shoulder, giving me a firm shake. "And now what?"

"Now, I don't know what's going to happen to me."

I looked up at him and his frown was lifting. "What do you mean? Have you done anything wrong?"

My mouth fell open. "What...? How can you be so casual about - " I tried again. "Every time I mentioned Benji or Vasil, you practically jumped down my throat for speculating, as if it were something dangerous to do. Now Karl's about to take those speculations to Prescott and you're asking me whether I've done anything wrong?"

"Prescott will surely get on your case about your commitment to the ideals of reform and true pacifism, and she'll probably insist that you talk with Rorty about where your suspicions are coming from, but - "

"Where they're coming from?! Three people were killed here this summer! And we're all taking the blame for it, when all three deaths occurred under undeniably suspect circumstances! How could we not be suspicious of what we're being told? We're not children, and we're not complete morons." I shook my head and tried to reclaim my cool. "But that's just it. I feel like I don't know whether I should be in serious trouble or not for doing what I did. Have I been deluded about the seriousness of the situation this whole time?"

Onur was giving me his full, sober attention. It was such a relief to have his cool brown eyes looking me over and examining what I'd said from his always level-headed perspective that I felt a swell of gratitude that he was my roommate and that he was nearly twice my age.

"Are you looking for me to talk you down from this, or to legitimate your concerns? Because if you would like to finally realize the seriousness of your situation here, what sorts of opportunities you are squandering, then maybe a bit of panic would do you good."

I huffed a frustrated sigh and shrugged and then stiffened when I abruptly realized we weren't alone. The sounds of the machines had masked his footsteps.

Had masked their footsteps. There were eight of them.

Eddy Koch stood closest to Onur, regarding his former compatriot with wary eyes. The rest were a mix of Romefeller and Mariemaia's followers. None of them had ever tried anything with me in the past. I met the gazes of the men I knew and they stared me down with flat dark eyes, their posture unreadable. Onur looked from me to Eddy and then to the rest of the men who were now surrounding us.

"What is this?" Onur asked Eddy, trusting their old bond to give him a truthful answer.

Eddy looked right at me. "This is business with Chang. You should leave now, pal."

My fingers started to buzz as I clenched them into fists. "Why are you here? Who sent you?" I asked, taking a step toward Eddy, who appeared to be the leader. Onur put a hand on my chest and, oddly, kept himself between me and the former White Fang soldier.

Eddy quirked an eyebrow, looking crazy and scummy as ever. I vividly remembered watching him bend Karl over the table in the library cubicle, but I had known then that it was Karl who had him wrapped around his finger. It was always Karl in control. It had always been Karl.

"He sent you, didn't he. Asked you to bring a few friends. Of the least reputable sort I see, the ones most easily goaded into a fight." I looked around at the men surrounding us. Would they try to pass this one off as faction violence? I barely knew these people, but I suspected they all had one acquaintance in common. "You have a date with him tonight in the library, Eddy?"

My chest hurt, and I could fool myself into thinking it was residual congestion in my lungs, but I knew it was something closer to betrayal.

"Chang..." Onur said in warning.

"I'm serious, Onur," Eddy said in a similar tone. "You better take off now."

"Or what?" my roommate asked, reasonably. "If you intend to hurt him, how could I possibly leave him here? Ordinarily, I wouldn't worry about his ability to defend himself, but this would not be a fair fight."

Eight to two didn't sound much better. I clenched a fist and felt how weak my arms had become during and after my illness. A few weeks from now, I might not have even needed Onur to take care of his half while I laid out the rest, but right now...

I watched them all reach into their uniforms, pulling out switchblades and jackknives. One of them had a rusty fillet knife. "I'm sorry," I said quietly. "They didn't know you would be here. It was just supposed to me, finishing up the laundry shift."

"Don't be an idiot," Onur growled. "We can talk or way through this like adults. Right, Eddy?"

Eddy looked momentarily conflicted, but then one of the Romefeller men, a maniac by the name of Mathis, lunged at me, knife out. I stepped back, ready for this fight, no matter how it turned out, almost glad that it'd come to this instead of an appeal to the Board and more meetings with Winner lawyers.

But then it happened again. Onur put himself between me and the knife, and the sort of thing that changes a person's life forever unfolded in a few inexorable seconds. His big hand closed around Mathis' neck and snapped it, even as the jackknife went into his gut and ripped up, stopping at his ribs. We all stared as Mathis flopped to the ground, instantly lifeless. Then Onur's knees went wobbly, threatening to dump him next to the body. He tried to hold the edges of the wound together, but it wasn't working and I reached for him even as he started to fall. Onur grabbed the knife out of his gut and without a second's hesitation hurled it at the next man in line. It thunked solidly into his chest, right between his ribs, and stupidly, I wished I'd had the chance to see Onur fight in the war. He shook me off as his knees hit the cement and he looked up with wide, dazed eyes.

"Sorry," he grunted. "I threw our weapon away."

"It's okay; I'll get us another one," I said, limbs flooding with familiar adrenalin. I straightened and backed into a defensive stance. "Stay there."

I faced them all with the clear, sure knowledge that this was the end of my time at RCNP. My sentence was ending about ten months early, and as I ducked under the first swipe of a switchblade and away from the quick jab that followed, I was glad there hadn't been time to really think about what that meant for anyone other than myself.

I didn't hold back and it felt good to go straight for the jugular. I hadn't been able to do this in over two years. I crushed Eddy Koch's windpipe first because I still didn't want him touching Karl again and then I spun into a kick that felt like it cracked at least three ribs of the man beside him, a man I had served with in the second war. He staggered back and I followed him and tripped him up, grabbing his arm and slamming him hard enough back onto the ground to crack his skull.

I whirled and leaned back from the fillet knife as it slashed at my throat, dropping my hands to the floor and sweeping the man's legs from under him.

It was a mistake. The second I was down, a hard-soled shoe caught me behind the ear and knocked me to my knees, connecting with my ribs a moment later. I rolled with the hit, sucking in a painful breath, and made it to my feet before anyone exploited the situation further. But one of the four remaining men was directly behind me, in my blind spot, I realized, as blunt pressure that I knew was actually sharp, punched and then twisted into my kidney. I staggered forward and choked on my own spit as I tried to breathe. I just managed to turn away from the fillet knife, but it sliced my ear and cheek before I could back up enough. I felt behind me and my hand closed around the handle of a jackknife, sticking out just above my hip bone. My lower back felt heavy, my legs like they would no longer do what I wanted them to. Still, I managed to grab the wrist of the man with the fillet knife, twisting it for a clean break, then pulling him close to me so that I could snap his neck. I grabbed the knife but not before a quick slice with a switchblade at my right knee severed more than one of the tendons and I went down again. I tried to stay upright, leaning on my left knee, looking up at the three remaining inmates, holding the fillet knife out in front of me, daring them to come at me. They came two at once, one managing to kick the knife out of my hand after I sliced open his calf muscle, the other, at the last second, reversing the grip on his jackknife to slam it against my temple.

The hit drove me down onto the floor where I lay, eye to eye with Onur. The floor was slippery beneath my cheek, wet with our blood. I felt it soaking into my hair and through my shirt. Onur was still breathing but he watched me with eyes that were mostly gone.

We stared at each other until everything went black.

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