Author: June
see prolouge or chapter 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer


Warnings: glossy lemon

Notes: Takes place immediately after chapter 8. The second part takes place a few days later.

Reformation/Reaffirmation + Chapter 9

It made me remember the sunflower
that popped-up outside my window one morning in Norwalk.
It was bright yellow and it was real inviting
and I almost forgot that it was an intruder.
And I saw you against the soda machine.
I saw you leaning there.

- "Chino Love Long 1979" m.g.

Onur's shoulder bumped up against mine as I neared the cell block. Almost all of the men had returned to their rooms by that point, and I knew the doors would be locking in another minute or so, but I had to see Karl. Tapping through cinder blocks would not suffice tonight. The adrenalin still slamming through my blood stream would not allow it.

"Is Karl back yet?" I asked.

Onur's gaze slid to mine and then away just as quickly. "I don't know," he answered. "I didn't stop by the room before I went looking for you. I figured you'd be sticking your nose where it didn't belong and, what to do you know, there you were, inside the caution tape, no less."

I itched to get back to the room, to tell Karl what I'd seen. "There was no caution tape."

"I was speaking figuratively," he growled, eyes sweeping over the cell block with a protective glint. "You were with your incredibly dangerous friend, openly disobeying the orders blaring over every speaker. You were-"

"I was trying to find out who's having us killed off," I said between clenched teeth, just loud enough so he heard me over the continuing buzz of men talking.

He shook his head and rumbled, "I was very afraid you were going to say that."

I looked up at him. "Yeah? Have you been thinking the same thing, Onur?"

His dark eyes narrowed. "Of course not. Your paranoia is staggering and, thankfully, not contagious. But I know you, Chang. I know what being around your friends does to you, what you're like when they're here."

I snorted in disgust at the sheer audacity and inaccuracy of a statement like that. "You know nothing of my friends and you know nothing about what I'm really like," I spat. "You-"

"I think that I do," he snapped back, voice heavy and thicker with subtext. I stopped and turned narrowed eyes on him. He didn't look angry; he looked frustrated and a little resigned. "I'm not threatening you, and I'm not scolding you; I am warning you to be careful. You think that everyone avoids you because you've built a reputation for yourself, and that is surely true to some extent. But you're not as much of a mystery as you think. Maxwell's face was all over the news when he was captured during the first war. Barton and Yuy are the same kind of person. Winner was-" I stiffened in anticipation. "Winner completed the set. He made you a whole. I know they're your good friends, no matter what I might think of them personally. They wouldn't want to see you hurt, wouldn't want you putting yourself in the position where you could be hurt."

I could feel the rest of the lecture about to drop, so I preempted it. "That's a funny thing for you to say, an L4 White Fang volunteer. Because your gang had so much more chance of success than mine."

He flinched but then shrugged. "I had no family left when I made that decision. And I'm still not sure it was the right one. It has marked me for a lifetime. The choices you make here matter as much as the ones you made before, though it may not seem like it."

I left him standing there outside our cell and entered Karl's doorway, pausing to call over my shoulder, "Lock down is in a minute. I probably won't make it. This is a choice I'm comfortable with."

His expression tightened and he looked away. "You are-"

"Not listening," I said with a finality that he could not ignore. His jaw clenched and he disappeared into our room without another word, shoulders hunched around a disappointment in me that he could never seem to let go. I turned to see Karl regarding me from his bunk, one of his accounting books propped up in his lap, one pale eyebrow raised in question.

"You could do a lot worse than listen to Onur," he said. You could listen to me. That would certainly be worse."

In the few weeks since I'd made my intentions toward Karl known, he'd often pointed out that it wasn't the smartest move I'd ever made, nor the safest. I argued differently, and even if I eventually got him to see it my way by the end of the conversation, he still sometimes looked at me with an expression of deeper knowledge and sadness that told me he thought I'd made a mistake throwing my lot in with him, like he thought that he was ruining something for me, something important. Onur appeared to agree whole-heartedly.

And I was sick to death of feeling the judgment of others for my choices. They may have been shitty decisions, but they were mine to make and they were my consequences to deal with. And I didn't make them recklessly, no matter what anyone thought.

I strode the rest of the way into his room and stopped at his bunk, reaching up to grab his ankle and tug his legs over the side of mattress. He smiled at me and sat up, closing his book and spreading his knees so that his feet swung on either side of me. I slid my hand up from his ankle to his calf and then to his kneecap, a possessive touch, the kind I was getting used to making more often so that others could see who he belonged with. I looked up at him and his smile widened.

"I don't listen to you either," I said.

"Sometimes you do."

I tugged hard on his pant leg and he slid down from the bunk to stand directly in front of me. His eyes were bright with the knowledge of the chaos all around us. Basker and O'Malley's deaths were not weighing heavy on his mind. I could see that he was elated. He never looked this excited just to have me in his room. The frenetic energy of all the inmates seemed concentrated in his wiry body. It vibrated out of him in waves that smelled of sweat and relief.

"You're glad they're dead," I said, sliding one foot forward between his, angling our hips a bit closer together.

"I'm not sorry," he replied, resting his head against the bunk, back bent, inviting me to lean forward over him.

The loudspeakers finally fell silent then, after what felt like hours of blaring warnings and reminders, and the rush of quiet that followed was startling, despite the continued low buzz of inmates' voices. It lasted for a few seconds, during which I watched the door where it stood open, counting down in my head, looking away when the bell sounded and it slid shut and locked. I turned back to Karl. "Looks like I'm stuck here for a bit."

"You better hope it's not Brandt who comes to get you out of here." Karl said the name as though it had a foul taste to it. He never spoke of the other inmates with whom he'd involved himself with such disdain. He didn't really speak of them at all, which was fine by me; I didn't want to know about them. He reserved all his disdain for Brandt. Whatever the reasons for our relationship, whatever form it took between the two of us and in front of everyone else, I knew Karl did not miss having Brandt observe from the corner of a library cubicle.

"He's a worm, and he has no power over you anymore."

"Doesn't mean he won't find ways to make your life miserable."

I rested my hand on the small of his back and pressed lightly against him. "This was the right thing to do, and I don't regret it."

Karl pushed off the bunk and brought his mouth close to my ear. "You have a way of always sounding certain about things even when you're not."

I turned my nose into his jaw and rubbed it against light brown stubble. We were safer together, openly in a relationship, than we were alone, and that was a good enough reason for both of us, but these intimate touches soothed a lonely ache that I'd been living with, and that feeling was probably more of a factor in my motivation for being with Karl than I wanted to think about. "Fools enough people," I muttered against his skin.

"Here's one to throw you off then," he whispered. "Why haven't you fucked me yet?" He bit my earlobe and then chuckled when he felt me shiver. "You made your claim, made yourself the only person allowed near my ass, and all you do is jerk me off after I suck your cock. Not the smartest move you've ever made, is it, Chang, taking me off the market and then not taking advantage of what you got." He pushed his hips into mine and of their own accord, mine rolled back into his. "Afraid you'll catch something from me?"

I shoved some distance between us and pushed his shoulders back against his bunk. I took a breath. "Yeah, pretty much." His hair had flopped into his face and he twitched it aside.

"I won't be so easily insulted," he murmured. "I've seen you looking at the condoms I keep by the sink. When are you going to fuck me?"

The fact that I was stronger than him, that I could easily dominate him physically, had not meant that I automatically wanted to be the dominant one in the relationship. This, however, was what was expected. I avoided talking about it when I could.

A nudge of his thigh against the inside of mine, even from the greater distance between us made my throat close up on whatever I was about to say. I swallowed and took another breath. "There are other things we should be discussing right now," I said, trying for authoritative.

"Like what?" he asked, as though there really was nothing at all to talk about besides why we weren't currently fucking.

"How about that neither Basker nor O'Malley's deaths fit with the pattern of Benji, Vasil, and Quatre?"

Karl rolled his eyes, and shrugged his shoulders. "Sure they do. They were both leaders, just not of the good kind. As I recall, we made a list for them. O'Malley was even on it."

I shook my head and felt it clear a bit, distancing myself from the sensations below the waistline of my uniform. "But they were more thugs than real leaders. They drew people to them out of fear; they could never bring anyone with brains. Once their sentences were up, they would have been out for a grand total of three days before assaulting someone and ending up in real prison. The state punishes people like them with incarceration; it doesn't assassinate them under the guise of a knifing in the storeroom."

Karl gave me his lopsided smirk and shrugged again. "Very good. So, they don't fit our previous pattern. Vasil and Benji and Quatre could have rallied hundreds or maybe thousands around them with the right provocation and the right words. These two clearly could not. So where do they fit?"

"They don't fit," I snapped. "Not unless we're widening the net to anyone who's dangerous, which would include basically everyone in this fucking place, excluding, of course, my roommate."

Karl appeared to turn this over in his head. "Hmm," he nearly purred, jerking me forward so that I pressed against him again. "I'm not feeling particularly safe for the new regime right now; are you?"

I put my hands on either side of his head, gripping the metal frame of the bed. He liked it when I did this; he liked to feel boxed in, though I didn't think it was because he actually liked to feel trapped. I thought it was because he liked watching others feel as though they were dominating him. It made him feel in control when he might otherwise not have been. Because I didn't particularly feel like I was in charge, this posed a challenge to the dynamic he was used to.

"Try and be serious, Karl."

"I am being serious."

"Then are you afraid you're next? Basker and O'Malley didn't start all those fights - you started a few with them. Are you scared now?"

"I don't know." He paused. "I don't think so. What do you think?" He looked up at me through his hair, and I gave a sharp shrug, forming my answer carefully. We'd never considered adding our own names to the list because in no capacity whatsoever could we count ourselves as leaders here. During the first war, Karl had worked alone or with a small team of elite specialists, and I kept basically quiet about anything before my role in the second war. And anyway, I was more concerned for Duo's safety than my own. At this point, he was more of a wild card and a potential leader than I. The point was, while neither of us were "safe" per se, we wouldn't have fit the pattern. I couldn't compare myself to Quatre in this way; though Duo and perhaps Heero, if he spoke up more often, could. "Well," I finally ventured. "If we're talking both influence and power, you clearly have no influence here. That's certain." I watched for his reaction, but he only smiled. "But power? Sometimes I think you're three-quarters of the way through a plot to bring this place to its knees." His smile widened to a grin.

"Burning blades of grass with matches is just the beginning. Wait and see," he said. Standing within the relative shelter of my arms, his pale eyes seemed to glow a bit in the dim light. His body felt sharp and dangerous pressed up against mine. "Do you want to know what I think of you, Chang - whether I think you could be next?"

I shook my head. "Not really."

Images from the crime scene flickered behind my eyes. The bodies became any number of people I knew, or had known in the wars. They became Karl and Quatre, then Heero and Trowa, then Duo and I. I looked down on them with the critical, practiced eye of a Preventer. I felt Heero's grip on my wrist and the urgent need to understand why this was happening to us. I didn't want to know exactly why Karl thought I could be one of those bodies, because, whatever he said would probably be close to the truth.

I tried to be taller, tried to make it so that when I said "not really" he listened and didn't say what he intended to say, but it was just posturing. I knew how to manipulate a giant robot, and to a lesser extent, someone who functioned similarly, someone like Heero, but Karl would always be beyond me. But I could hurt him if I really wanted to.

I gripped his arms, digging my fingers into his biceps, and shoved him sideways along the bunk until we reached its edge. He stumbled along with me, trying to keep his feet under him, until the support of the bed frame at his back was gone, and then he tripped backwards, fetching up against the cinder-block wall with a sharp grunt. "Say it," I hissed. "Go ahead."

He reached up to rub the back of his head and the pads of his fingers came away smeared with a bit of blood. He glared a challenge at me, daring me to listen. "You know what I think? I think you're more dangerous than most the rest of the men and women here put together. But only under certain circumstances. I think you're dangerous when your friends are here, for one, because they make you a whole person, instead of a cranky, belligerent, and insecure literature geek. But more than just making you better, they make you remember who you really are. And when you remember that, you are doubly, triply dangerous because then you remember what you stood for, what you still stand for."

Onur was right - I was a fool to think that my past was a mystery before the second war. I should have known that Karl would have figured out, probably the moment I got here, exactly who I was and what I stood for. I grabbed him by the shaggy hair at the back of his neck and tilted his head back, a growl rumbling up from my chest. But he kept his eyes locked with mine and didn't stop. "Do you want me to tell you what that is?" he whispered. I saw his Adam's apple bob up and down as he swallowed.

"Tell me."

His arms came up slowly, until they rested on mine, sliding along my forearms. Then one was around my throat, long fingers wrapping almost the whole way to the back of my neck. I had my thumb pressed against his carotid in the same second, but my heart still hammered against my ribs in surprise. I would have thought I'd be used to this sort of thing from him by now.

"Chang," he started, and I could feel the vibrations of his vocal chords against my palm, "Here, in this place, when you remember who you are, you are chaos and rebellion and violence." He said this with a slight sneer.

"Sounds about right, coming from a Treize loyalist," I sneered in reply. His fingers tightened around my throat and I pressed my thumb harder against the artery.

"And hope and maybe freedom," he finished.

I dropped my hand and tried to step away from him, but he grabbed the collar of my t-shirt and pulled me into a hard kiss. When he broke it, he kept his lips against mine. "You were the only who could have killed him," he whispered, breath entering my mouth and feeling like it might be poison.

"I was the right person to kill him, or you figured out that I was the only one who could have done it?" For some reason, it seemed terribly important that I make the distinction. And I didn't need to ask him who he was talking about.

"Both, of course." His tongue trailed along my upper lip, tasting the sweat that had gathered there. "Are you going to fuck me now? I know what you are - I could tell everyone here what you did, that you are more of a terrorist than even the most depraved zealot from White Fang or OZ. You killed my leader. You've killed thousands. "

"So have you," I whispered.

"Yes, but you actually pulled the trigger. You'd be dead by lunchtime tomorrow if they knew exactly who you were, who you are."

"What makes you think they don't know already?" Karl looked like he had an answer to that, but I cut him off, not really wanting to hear it. "And you want me to have sex with you so that you won't broadcast my history to the entire facility?"

He leaned back to look me in the eye. "No, I want to fuck because I like you."

I blinked and realized that it was impossible to know whether that was sarcasm or sincerity.

"Are you a bad person, Karl?"

Now it was his turn to blink at me. "Do you really care?"

After two years of semi-friendship and nearly a month of something else that might have been deeper or might have just been unforgivable weakness, I didn't know why I thought expressly asking the question would lead to an answer.

"Of course I care."

"Why?"

His expression was conflicted as he regarded me from such a short distance. The mask of self-assurance, of confidence in his own mental superiority slid and flickered across his features, but the nervous movement of his eyes said that he was genuinely curious.

"Because I don't have sex with bad people." He searched my face and I hoped that it was because he couldn't tell whether that was sarcasm or sincerity.

He shifted against the wall, rubbed at a scab on his chin, tapped the middle finger of his left hand against his thigh a few times. Then he twitched a shrug. "I don't think I'm a bad person. But it's hard to know sometimes." I thought he believed that, that he meant it. He smiled. "So, this is a personal code of yours - no sex with morally ambiguous characters?"

My mouth pressed into a thin, answering smile. "Moral ambiguity I can handle. I draw the line at utter corruption and moral depravity." Line drawing had never been difficult for me. There was justice and there was injustice. It seemed that, after two years, the lines were either getting wider and blurrier or I had completely lost the ability to draw them.

"Oh, we should be okay, then." He cocked his head, as though reconsidering. "I think."

The small bit of space between the bunk, the adjoining wall and the sink behind me was the only bit of privacy we were going to get, locked as we were in a cell. So, we kept our clothes on and stayed standing just in case, and hoped that room check wasn't for at least another ten minutes. We hoped that the dead bodies and the preventer stubbornly refusing to leave without recording every detail of the crime scene in his photographic memory, were enough to distract the staff from what we were doing.

He had condoms, and not surprisingly, cheap lubricant, so we did it right, and I didn't think it hurt him, though the only real indication that he might have been enjoying himself was the strength with which he bit down on the knuckles I'd shoved in his mouth to keep him quiet. I watched his face the whole time and forced his eyes up to mine whenever he tried to look away, wondering if this time, if the fact that it was me and not someone like Eddy Koch, would be enough to keep him focused and present, if maybe he'd look like he was participating. But his eyes were blank like always. His body moved with mine, and his wiry arms strained to hold himself up, one pressed against the wall, the other gripping the bed frame. He was clearly exerting himself; his skin was flushed and he'd begun to sweat, but the eyes that watched me stayed flat and kept me at a distance. I gripped his ribs through his t-shirt and increased our pace, and the sound of his shirt and the back of his head rubbing up and down against the cinder blocks for some reason was one of the more erotic sounds I'd ever heard. His legs tightened around me and it grew difficult to breath. I couldn't tell whether he was close to finishing or not, but I winced when his teeth finally broke the skin of my knuckles.

"Karl," I managed.

He pushed my fingers out of my his mouth with his tongue. "You should finish," he said, breath hitching slightly.

"So should you," I bit back.

He flashed his crooked grin. "I will."

With the threat of an immanent room check hanging over our heads, he finally met my gaze for real, appearing to fully be present for what we were doing. He watched me watching him and then carefully removed his fist from where it had been pressed against the wall, supporting his weight. I took a half-step forward and pressed him harder into the cinder blocks, straining to hold him and keep up our rhythm. He reached between our bodies to touch himself and that was all it took for the both of us.

+

He was asleep in seconds, barely taking the time to retie the sleeves of his uniform around his waist and kick off his shoes before passing out in his bunk. I rested beside him, watching the door and waiting for my forced removal from his room. I hoped they'd be discreet, as it was not often, usually only after I got him off, that Karl fell well and truly asleep.

I waited and thought about how I wasn't breathing a word of this to Duo the next time he visited, no matter what Heero had said... or implied. Or whatever it was he'd done. We would limit our conversation strictly to the new dead people we had to add to our list. Dead people were far more interesting than my personal life anyway, and far more important.

My eyes had started to droop when, finally, the room check came around, a pair of harried guards - thankfully neither of them Officer Paul Brandt - spotting me absent from my room and in Karl's bed. The barred door slid open and they both stepped inside, not waiting for me to get down on my own. I barely managed to slide off the bunk and grab up my shoes before one took me by the elbow and the other gave me a good shove between my shoulder blades. This sort of thing happened fairly regularly - we were hardened war criminals after all. We couldn't be expected to follow the rules all the time. I decided that was what I'd tell Onur, if he asked what I'd been thinking when I violated curfew. Still, a small jolt of anticipation of punishment slid up my spine as they marched me next door and inside my room.

"Extra laundry duty this week," one of them grunted as they left, nodding to Onur before the door slid shut behind them.

"Lovely," I muttered, carrying my shoes over to my bunk and dropping them underneath. Neither Onur nor I spoke up for the rest of the day, even when dinner was brought to our cells and I handed him his plate of food. I spent the evening studying in my bunk, spine pressed against the cool cement, conscious that I was lying nearly back to back with Karl.

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