see prolouge or chapter 1 for notes, warnings, disclaimer
Notes: Takes place immediately after chapter 8. The second part takes
place a few days later.
+ Chapter 9
It made me remember
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
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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Of course I care."
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
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.
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.
[ cont ]