see prolouge or chapter 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer
Author Note: Be prepared for
emotional dimwit-age, on the part of both boys. They're teenagers - what
more do you want?
Warning for this chapter : Liiiiime.
Note: Thank you Discipline and Punish for some of the imagery in this
chapter. (Yeah, I'm a nerd. This should not be news to anyone.)
+ Chapter 6
The door swung open
We sauntered into the poorly lit store,
and looked around lazily.
We stole every bit of candy they had inside.
- The Recognition Scene M.G.
Karl watched with bright, almost feverish eyes as I selected what I would
eat for dinner. Moving through the food line, he barely paused to take
notice of what he was dumping on his plate, while I carefully steered
clear of the chicken and gravy and picked out the pieces of broccoli which
looked like they'd retained the most nutrients after being blasted in
the steamer. The mashed potatoes were instant and therefore useless, but
they filled me up so I spent a few seconds struggling with the serving
spoon, trying to the get the fake potatoes to come off. I grabbed a roll
with butter and a fruit cup, then headed for a table, Karl right at my
heels. He sat down across from me and watched me unfold my napkin and
take a few sips of water. I watched him too, though with a bit more subtlety.
He hadn't been sleeping at all lately, and it showed. He usually looked
a little strung out, but for the last few days, he'd gotten kind of gray,
his eyes looking larger and bluer than usual. His eyelids were nearly
translucent, and beneath them, he had smudges like bruises. Rorty prescribed
him sleeping meds, but as far as I knew, he didn't take them, not unless
he got really desperate and the other inmates started complaining that
he was keeping them up as well.
He tapped his utensil against his plate and watched me spread a liberal
amount of butter over the roll. Meticulously distributing the rest of
it on my broccoli followed with a heavy dusting of pepper, I watched him
grow more and more twitchy. I was about to put the first floret into my
mouth when he reached across the table, quick as a snake, and got his
fingers around my throat, jerking me back in my seat. His breath quickened
as his eyes slid sideways to see where I had the skewered broccoli and
my spork pressed to the side of neck. His left eye twitched and his fingers
squeezed experimentally, loosening almost immediately as I smeared buttered,
mushy vegetable along the length of his jugular. He gave me a crooked
smile, hiding the side of his mouth with the broken teeth and let go.
Then he took a shuddering breath.
"Would you like to tell me how your conversation with Duo went or do I
have to try and scare it out of you?"
"I'd love to tell you."
"Would you also please remove your fucking spork and broccoli from my
throat?" He made both of these requests in his most polite tone.
"Sure," I answered, lowering my utensil and then pushing the food off
it on the side of my plate. I looked up at him and could see that he was
about ready to lunge again, doubtless frustrated that I was taking so
long. "Little tense, Karl?" He raised an eyebrow as though to say, 'what
does it look like, dipshit?' "Have you been spitting out the medicine
Rorty prescribed for you again?"
He had the decency to look a little sheepish, though he muttered. "You
know I never swallow those things." He curled the long fingers of one
hand around his water glass. "And if you don't tell me what happened with
your friend, I can't guarantee I won't try to throttle you again."
I ate a few bites of potato and reminded myself that, while I considered
Karl my friend, he was a lot smarter than me and with a considerably more
flexible sense of morality, he didn't win any 'most trustworthy' awards.
He made me uncomfortable about as often as not. I met his tired gaze and
"Sorry - I wasn't raised to be patient."
"No, you were raised to keep your hands clean and be important to the
He feigned a wounded expression and then showed me his slightly sweating
palms. "My hands were never clean. Now, is your friend going to help us,
I took a bite of roll and waited to speak until I had chewed and swallowed.
"Of course he'll help us. But I can't let him do anything that would endanger
him, his job, or our friends." I looked down at my food and waited.
Karl's grin was short-lived. "So... he's not going to help us, then."
Not looking up, I smushed potatoes through the grooves in the spork. "I
just said he was."
"Not if you keep him from snooping in the places we can't go and reading
what we can't read and speaking with the people we can't get near."
I shook my head at my dinner and then met his gaze. "Karl, if the insidious
plot to execute the remaining leaders from the war is really as insidious
as you seem to think it is, then Duo's as good as dead if he talks to
the wrong person or is found in the wrong place."
"But he can at least run if he gets caught. He's got all of earth and
space... we've got nowhere to go! We can do nothing here but wait to find
the next body."
I shrugged and didn't back down. "I won't let him take such a risk on
our hunch that two men's deaths, two years apart, are connected. I want
to figure it out as much as you, but I can't ask him to..." I caught abrupt
movement over Karl's shoulder and lost my train of thought when I paused
to see what it was. Then I took three large bites of potatoes, knowing
it would be the last food I'd get until breakfast. "Dinner's over, Karl,"
I said, speaking with my mouth full. Etiquette was not the primary concern
"Basker and O'Malley on your six. They brought friends." His back went
rigid, though he didn't turn around to see whether I was right or not.
The dull roar of the mess hall began to quiet as the Romefellar bullies
made their way through the tables.
"They still coming this way?" he asked, following my lead and shoveling
as much food down his throat as ten seconds allowed. I nodded and he groaned
around a mouthful of chicken. He washed it down with a gulp of water and
then stood up from the bench, scrubbing the back of his hand across his
mouth. He turned to face them as they drew near.
"Did you do something to warrant what's about to happen?" I
asked, standing up from the table as well.
"Oh, maybe. I guess. I don't know." He wasn't listening. He
was watching O'Malley take the offensive with Basker and one of their
buddies flanking him. O'Malley was tall, wiry and mean, with bright orange
hair and a bunch of freckles that made him appear younger and nicer than
he really was. Basker was the better fighter of the pair, but O'Malley
always took the lead because, for some reason, he was always angrier.
"Try not to-" Then they broke over him like a wave, in the process,
shoving our table back into the wall. I just barely managed to scramble
up onto the bench, avoiding seriously bruised shins or maybe a broken
kneecap. The knot of men caught him and dragged him toward the middle
of the mess hall, holding him by his clothes and his hair so he couldn't
get his feet under him. His chin was already bleeding, most likely from
where he'd hit the floor the first time before they picked him up.
Basker and O'Malley were both irritatingly typical Romefellar thugs. They
and the crowd they ran with were smart, but not too smart, strong but
not very organized and vicious enough to make up for both of those shortcomings.
They hadn't been high-ranking officers during the wars but they'd been
devout followers, and they still held nothing but disgust for those who
remained loyal to Treize even now, even here. They knew Karl held onto
all that Treize stood for, they knew he was a little weird, and they knew
that physically, he was no match for them.
Karl's relationship with Basker and O'Malley was not difficult to understand;
it bordered on clichÃ©. But that didn't make their fights
any less brutal or the stitches and bruises any less painful. I could
recite from a psychology textbook exactly why these men went after Karl
and others like him. I could explain the exact combination of lost individuality,
independence, and masculinity mixed with a mean streak that put their
anger and frustration over the edge often enough to give them the label
"bullies." They were only attempting to reassert their will
in a place bent on making them docile. However, knowing it and having
it be true didn't help Karl in the least, so I did what I always did in
these situations - climbed over the table and waded into the middle of
everything. This tendency would be one of the reasons the Romefellar bullies
sometimes came after me.
More trouble for more fights really wasn't what I needed on my record
this late in my sentence. But I knew that Karl wasn't in any kind of shape
for a real fight, so it had to end before he was seriously injured. There
were times when his basic training, coupled with a brain that could see
five to eight steps ahead in every strategy, was enough to hold off the
worst of their vindictive anger. Today was not one of those days.
They had formed a ring with Karl and O'Malley at the center, and they
let me through without much trouble. I recognized several of the men the
Romefellar bullies had brought along. They recognized me too, probably
from the many fights they'd been dragged into by their leaders. They watched
me warily as I tried to assess how best to peel O'Malley off my friend.
I saw Karl's knees buckle as he doubled over around a fist in his gut.
He disappeared then, blocked by Basker and the other guy whose name I
couldn't recall at the moment.
"Bergsen!" I called. I didn't use his first name at times like these.
"Bergsen, get up!"
An angry voice from behind told me to help him up myself before shoving
me hard between the shoulder blades. Suddenly, the reason they'd let me
through so easily became clear. I stumbled forward and nearly tripped
over Karl where he held himself on shaking hands and knees. I twisted
around and landed beside him instead, ready to spring, and not at all
liking how tall everyone looked from down on the floor.
"Enjoying the show?" he bit out, his mouth bloody and his body unwilling
to fight for him. I saw a kick aimed for his ribs and managed to grab
him out of the way, jerking him backward onto his heels. They were shouting
at us, yelling at me to get out of the way, though I didn't think they
had any intention of letting me go without a struggle. They yelled at
him to get up and fight them on his own.
"Actually, the view from down here isn't so great," I replied.
He laughed, an hysterical edge to his voice. I hooked my arms under his
and started dragging him to his feet before another shove, this time with
a heavy foot, sent us both sprawling. I landed on top of him and quickly
slid off, feeling his wiry muscles coil for a strike that could just as
easily have me as its target. I backed up against someone's legs and got
to my feet just as he lashed out, taking out two men at the knees. They
were on the ground before they could even shout their surprise. I kept
my eyes on Karl's flailing limbs as both O'Malley and Basker tackled him
again, so I didn't notice until he'd grabbed my arm that Onur was right
beside me. By reflex, I jerked my elbow out of his grip and tilted my
chin toward the blur of pale limbs and hair.
"Did you bring friends, because I think we need them today." He nodded,
a scowl dragging down the corners of his mouth.
"This is utterly irresponsible on Karl's part."
"They started it."
"Ah. Just as those men on the courts yesterday started that fight by looking
at you the wrong way."
I leveled a glare at my roommate. "They weren't just looking. Trust me.
And can you deliver this daily lecture later?"
He rumbled a growl that I heard over the dull roar of the mess hall and
then shoved me forward back into the fight. Basker caught my eye and pushed
one of his lackies at me, but I grabbed the kid's arm in my left, pulling
him directly in front of me, and knocked him down with my right, stepping
over him to get to his leader. I kept my fists open, swatting away Basker's
heavy punch and thumping him in the chest with the heel of my palm. He
staggered back, and before he could regroup, I grabbed hold of Karl's
collar and tried prying him away from O'Malley. Both of them were a mess,
so it wasn't clear who was winning. I knelt down beside him just as a
few of Onur's White Fang buddies and a pair of well-known Treize loyalists
materialized around us, forming a solid barrier of muscle and surly attitude
to keep everyone away from us at the center of the brawl.
"Come on, Bersen," I called, tugging a bit harder to get him out of O'Malley's
grip, abruptly leaning out of the way as he whipped around, a bony elbow
aimed at my nose. His eyes were wild and furious, the left now rimmed
in the beginnings of a bruise as well as smudges of exhaustion. He grinned
his broken grin, teeth turned pink with blood. "Come on," I said again.
"Guards are headed over to break this up. We need to move." Karl finally
twitched a shrug and with Onur keeping O'Malley down - weighing probably
twice as much as him - the two of us scrambled away, the pair of Treize
loyalists at our backs.
"But I was winning, Chang," he said, breathless. "I don't win very often."
"You wouldn't have stayed winning if we waited any longer," I grumbled.
"Get up; they're coming."
Whistles cut through the air, ringing in my ears as they got closer. One
of the downfalls of using an old correctional facility with a big open
mess hall was that officer control, if not present at the start of the
fight, was difficult to add into the mix. Meal times were supervised,
but not on the ground. The fights that didn't stay small really got going
by the time the law moved in to break them up. And since there were so
many of us, the guilty parties involved were sometimes difficult to single
out, a fact we took thorough advantage of at times like this.
We stayed low, watching the crowd divide as the guards pushed their way
through. The men split the same way every time, clearly marking out who
had fought whom in the wars. Trouble was, I'd never aligned myself with
any of them, and very few of them ever allowed me to stand with them anyway.
If none of my friends were involved in the fight, I was usually left out
in the cold.
But today Onur fought his way over to us, grabbing my arm as he passed,
hauling me upright. I barely had time to get a hold of Karl, one arm slung
around his middle, before we were both dragged back in amongst other former
White Fang. Karl and I stayed down, pressed close together by the other
men standing around us.
"Clean yourself up quick," I murmured. "You're a mess." Karl didn't need
shit from frustrated guards in addition to the pounding from his usual
bullies. He used his white undershirt to scrub at the blood on his face,
managing to smear away a fair portion of it, so that his skin was mostly
just stained the color of rust. With his other hand, he straightened his
mussed hair. I touched the blotchy red skin under his eye and he jumped.
I knew he was ready to snap again, and for some reason, probably having
to do with the enjoyable adrenalin rush I was still riding, I left my
fingers there even after the flinch. "That'll be a nice bruise by morning,"
Karl gave a lopsided grin and then twitched away from me. "Does it look
like I got it while winning a fight, or having my ass handed to me?"
I shrugged. "Tough call. I'll be sure to spread it around that you had
the upper hand when we broke it up."
He arched an eyebrow. "Spreading rumors involves talking to people and
we both know you don't do that."
Another shrug. "I'll tell Onur, and he'll help you out."
Hearing his name, my roommate hissed down at us to shut up and stay still.
A moment later, one of the guards who loved to lecture launched into one
of his speeches about individual and group responsibility. We all needed
to take charge of our own actions and think about the consequences and
yet we also had to look out for each other and form bonds that would prevent
such things from-- and so on. I wasn't sure what kinds of positive bonds
were being formed in this place, but I knew which ones were being preserved.
White Fang's solid ranks stood around us, more than a little hostile to
our presence at their feet. Romefellar stood glaring on the other side
with pockets of old Alliance, OZ, and colony rebels strewn about. Mariemaia's
army formed the perimeter, pretending they weren't interested in any of
As the guard's speech began to wind down, the men lost interest and started
to shuffle around, making their way back to the cell blocks for the two
hours of study time before curfew. Karl and I got carefully to our feet
and, keeping our heads down, stayed among the ranks of men filing out
of the mess hall.
We made it back before Onur, so I followed Karl into his single room,
watching from the door as he washed out his mouth and wiped away the rest
of the blood from his face. He had one of the few singles in the facility
for the simple reason that his roommate would have gotten as little sleep
as Karl, making for two half-crazy inmates instead of just one. Most of
the time, I think solitude suited Karl fine; most of the time I envied
him, wishing that I could do something as simple as take a piss without
someone hearing or watching.
Today, however, I wasn't so sure he appreciated the emptiness of his own
room. I watched him scrub the blood from his mouth and chin, thinking
that, while he did make me nervous by occasionally threatening my physical
safety with those long fingers, he was the most interesting person I knew
here and I didn't want to lose that because he finally lost it. Eventually
he turned to look at me, eyes glancing away as soon as they landed to
the walls of his room, to the bed and back to me.
"I'm never gonna get to sleep now, Chang," he muttered. "Not after that.
And if I don't sleep tonight, they might make me swallow those pills."
He looked away, twitching a little. "Hold my nose and check under my tongue
to make sure I really took them. Stick their fingers further into my head
and-" He wriggled his fingers absently, voice pitched lower. "Scramble
them all around until I don't care about anything and I won't know you,
and those Romefellar..." His fingers squeezed into fists. "...fucks can
pound the shit out of me and I won't even notice."
"They'll keep killing us off one by one with night-time assassinations
or sleeping pills or fucking hypnosis." He looked up at me. "I don't know
how else your roommate could buy into this bullshit so thoroughly." His
voice was rising steadily, and feeling like a cowardly shit, I glanced
over my shoulder to make sure not too many people were paying attention
to it - even though his words resonated in my chest with truth. "They've
got us so completely, Wufei. They're in our heads more than anywhere else."
With those two sentences, he sounded sad and resigned and older than 21.
"You should calm down," I snapped, trying for authoritative. "There's
no one in you head besides you. Those pills don't change who you are;
they just help you to sleep."
Karl barked a laugh and took an aggressive step towards me. With my back
to the door and the sound of my roommate arriving in our cell, I knew
I was in no danger, but I couldn't help a small half-step back. "Ah, I
see. So, what if they decided that the forms you practice in the mornings
and the sparring sessions you have with Yuy are elevating your physical
fitness beyond everyone else's and they start mashing up muscle relaxers
in your food or they give you Prednisone and your body turns to mush,
just so they can control it a little better. Oh, but those pills don't
change you, do they? They just make you a little less tense." He took
another step forward. "My brain's all I've got, Chang. I don't feed it
I threw up a hand to keep him away. "Right, I get it - no sleeping pills.
He looked down at my hand, his chest a few inches from my palm. "They
don't even need to watch us anymore," he muttered. "You ever wonder why
they leave us all together in that giant mess hall without more than a
few guards on duty behind the cameras way up at the ceiling?" He paused,
but I had nothing to say. "Because we break up our own fights. We've got
people like Onur to discipline us - we do it ourselves!" He laughed, gesturing
toward the yard. "There probably aren't even guards in those towers anymore,
if there ever were to begin with!"
His hand darted out, latching around my wrist. Too shocked and far too
curious to pull back, I let him drag me forward. He held my wrist up,
my arm bent at the elbow and wouldn't let me look away. His narrow chest
fluttered up and down with soft ragged breaths, and he twitched damp blond
hair from his eyes. I knew what he wanted maybe even before he did.
"We can't always do exactly what they want, can we? Basker and O'Malley
are bullies to be different, to feel strong. Why not us?"
"We should be bullies?" The weakness of my voice was disgusting. Two years
ago, I would have found a way to strangle it out of me. Two years ago,
it probably wouldn't have existed at all.
Karl's eyes searched mine, lit up with the prospect of breaking another
rule. "Get a fucking clue, Chang," he said before shoving me hard against
the metal bedpost and crushing his mouth over mine. One hand still around
my wrist, he tried to get my arm over my head, but I growled against his
lips and he left it pressed against the top bunk. He leaned forward into
the kiss, keeping about a foot of space between us. It was probably the
most awkward thing I'd ever done, and as first kisses went, it left much
to be desired. He bit and sucked at my lips until I opened them, and then
shoved his tongue into my mouth, pushing at my shoulder with his other
hand, squeezing with dangerous fingers. When his hand started to drift
down to the sleeves of my jumpsuit, I fully recognized what was about
to happen. Two years of no contact with another person. Actually, most
of a lifetime of no contact with another person, since Meiren and I never
consummated our marriage - she was only thirteen for fuck sake. Disturbingly
erotic dreams and my own hand were the only experience I had in these
matters, and that era was about to come to an abrupt end if I let his
hand go any further south. Perhaps it should have been someone other than
Karl who did it, someone I trusted and really liked - someone female,
The list of both men and women who could fill the role of 'like and trust'
was tiny, fitting on one hand... and not actually including any women.
I could have loved Meiran, and I should have loved her better when she
was alive. But being dead disqualified her from my list, as it did Quatre.
Karl wasn't on it either, not really. But he was here and he was willing
and eighteen seemed like as good a time as any to put an end to one era
and begin another. So, I grabbed for his waist and pulled him flush against
me, sucking the breath right out of his mouth at the feeling of another
living, breathing, warm body pressed along mine.
"Fuck," he groaned into my mouth, tilting his head to get a better angle,
moving his free hand to the side of my neck. He had about an inch on me
in height, just enough of an edge so our noses didn't get in the way.
I tensed as his fingers wrapped loosely around my throat and I felt him
smile. His lips tasted like copper. "We need to hurry," he murmured, turning
his back to the door as more of the men passed on their way to their cells.
I grunted an affirmative and he broke the kiss, bending down and lacing
his fingers together over his knee. I stepped into his hands and he boosted
me up onto the bunk. I shoved myself back across his blanket, kicking
off my shoes and untying the sleeves from around my waist. My head hadn't
fully gotten itself around what we were doing yet, I didn't think, but
my body knew what was required of it. I extended a hand to Karl as he
hoisted himself up onto the bed; then I pulled him on top of me, wanting
nothing more than to feel skin and a heartbeat against my ribs and breath
in my ear. He shrugged out of the jumpsuit sleeves and jerked his bloody
t-shirt over his head with one frantic tug. Kneeling with one leg between
mine, he reached one hand for the back of my knee, then he slid down,
dragging his groin over mine. The breath left my lungs in one sharp gasp
and my hips rolled up into his without any conscious thought on my part.
The heavy fabric of our uniforms as well as underwear kept him from touching
me, but the friction alone made my skin tingle at a thousand different
points from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. With the hand
that wasn't still hooked beneath my knee, he shoved my t-shirt up to my
armpits and pressed his belly and chest flat against mine. His skin was
damp with sweat and he winced as a few bruises pulled, but the feel of
him, the solid weight of him drove me embarrassingly close to orgasm.
I arched my neck back and he bit my collarbone hard enough to leave a
mark. He pulled Duo's bandanna out of my hair and shoved it off the bed
before I could grab for it. His hips thrusting against mine in a quick
jagged rhythm, I knew that he was as close to finishing as me. I pressed
my hand to his shoulder, pushing him back so that I could see his face,
wanting to know what he looked like when he wasn't smirking or laughing
or being his generally creepy self. His eyes were squeezed shut, hair
swinging in time with the motion of his hips.
"Karl, open your eyes. Look at me." Translucent lids flicked open, but
his eyes were flat and unseeing, his fingers tightening as, suddenly,
he curled forward over me, chin tucked nearly to his chest. His gasped-out
curse and the knowledge of what he'd just done shoved me past any barrier
of control I might have had left, and we nearly cracked skulls when my
shoulders came off the mattress. It was surprising how much better this
felt with another person involved, I thought dizzily when my head came
to rest again on Karl's pillow. We shared several breaths, mouths only
inches apart. He kissed me again, clumsily, sleepily.
"Get out," he murmured against my lips, words and action jarringly disparate.
"I think I can fall asleep now." He rested his head against my shoulder
as he rolled to the side, giving me a nudge with his foot. His hand ran
down from my chest to the waist band of my underwear and then he shoved
my hip. "Thank you," he muttered.
I blinked at him for the space of a few heartbeats, but his eyes were
already closed, his breath slowing into a regular rhythm, so I rolled
out off the bunk and dropped to the floor, picking up the bandanna where
it lay and tying it over my thoroughly mussed hair. I watched the muscles
in his battered face relax into sleep and then pulled the blanket over
him, turning to leave when a guard loomed in the doorway.
"He's asleep," I mouthed, and the guard, knowing what a rare occurrence
that was, nodded and quickly left, probably to alert the rest of the staff
to avoid Karl's cell for the night. He was gone quickly enough not to
notice the state of my clothes and the blatant "just got off" glaze in
my eyes. Onur would definitely notice both, so I spent the next few minutes
cleaning up in Karl's sink before returning to my room.
[ch. 5] [ch. 7] [back
to Singles a - k]