Author's Note: Okay, here's my full disclaimer. This fic is about Wufei in a post-EW, post-war rehabilitative facility, 'rehab for terrorists' as he refers to it. It's not a prison, but neither is it voluntary. Seeing as I don't know much about prison or rehab, I'm making up this hybrid as I go along. I've given it a fair amount of thought, and its characteristics make sense to me, but I am very open to suggestions as to how to make the place more realistic/accurate/whatever. But I figure, hey, this is the future and and it's a brand new facility anyway, so an institution like this hasn't existed before. The point of the disclaimer is that I don't know much about these facilities, so please don't take offense if my knowledge and therefore my representation of the facility doesn't seem right.
Also, I'm using first person POV, past tense. Wufei is telling his story as well as those of the people around him, from the way he sees them. Hopefully it's not annoying.
Thanks, kinsugi, my beta/hero, for serious creative input.
My brothers picked me up
out of the rushes
Handed me into the company of evil men
But I've inched my way down the eastern seaboard
I am coming to Atlanta again
Yeah, I came to the gates of the fabled pink city
Hungry, and tired, and mad as all hell
Swing low sweet jewel-encrusted chariot
Make me young again
Make me well
-Mountain Goats, "Jaipur"
"So... Wu, does it bug you that you're in the slammer and the rest of us are wandering around like idiots trying to figure out what we're supposed to do with our lives now that we can't blow shit up anymore?"
I opened one eye and squinted up at him where he sat at the picnic table. He appeared to still be focused on his game of solitaire, sucking loudly on a lollipop and tapping the cards in his hand against the recycled plastic table.
"'Cause, I mean, you seem pretty zen about it."
I leaned up onto my elbows, ignoring the prickle of sharp grass on my forearms. My ass would be stained orange-red from the clay-filled dirt, too, and I tried not to think about the razzing I'd get from the laundry crew for that one. "Zen?"
"Well, it still really bugs me," he continued, laying down a few cards and then neatening the piles, still not looking up. "And you just seem... I don't know; you seem okay with it."
I laid back in the grass again, arms behind my head. "Don't worry, Duo, it bugs me on occasion, too."
He either didn't notice my tone or he ignored it. "I mean, here you are, in the slammer, receiving punishment for crimes committed during the wars, as a terrorist, and the rest of us are knocking around, just as clueless as any of the supposed criminals in here, just as clueless as everyone who fought those wars. Only difference is we stopped shooting a little sooner than you did."
"There were a few other things to consider."
He shook his head and finally looked over at me. "Like what? The rest of us did just as much damage as you, and Heero--way more. We've all killed innocents, caused billions of dollars in property damage, killed pacifist leaders, destroyed entire economies, and shit, we've all tried or at least thought about assassinating Relena on more than one occasion. And Quatre invented the whole 'going Zero on your ass' freak out. All you did was blow some shit up a few days after we called it quits." He took the sucker out of his mouth and his words got a lot clearer. "And as much as I like that sweet jumpsuit you get to wear, I kinda miss having you on the outside."
I looked down at the heavy cotton uniform that all the inmates wore. It was bluish gray and zipped up the front. In the hot afternoon sun, I'd shrugged out of the long sleeves and tied them around the waist to hold up the pants. I looked back at Duo and rolled my eyes. Half the time he showed up to visit me dressed the same way except covered in grease and grit, skin stained dark up to his elbows. When he flew in from L2, he was usually a little more presentable, but when he stayed in Rome with Trowa and Heero, he always found some odd job that got him dirty and disheveled. Today, his maroon work pants and the scent of engine oil, told me he'd been underneath a car directly before he got here.
He was watching me carefully and I got the sense there was something a bit more serious he wanted to discuss. Mid-July was coming and that meant the remaining pilots would all visit at once, that we would sit together until dark, until visiting hours were over, and that Onur would sit up with me for the rest of the night. It'd happened last year on that day in mid-July; it would would happen again this year. Duo probably wanted to talk about that, but I wasn't quite ready, so I did something that Duo had always done well--I spoke without really communicating. I kept the conversation going.
"I've noticed that you will take just about any opportunity to say 'in the slammer' and 'on the outside.' Why is that exactly?"
His face split into a familiar grin. After nearly two years in Rehab for Terrorists and two years of war and very little friendship before that, I was willing to admit that I liked to see Duo smile. "You're my only friend in prison. I finally get to tell people, 'Yeah, Chang's still in the slammer.' It's sounds cool."
"Glad I serve such an important function in your social life."
He snorted. "Don't get bitter, little outlaw." I half-squinted, half-scowled up at him and he laughed, popping the sucker back in his mouth. "Anyway, I don't have a social life outside of you three guys. Since Relena decided to make you an example of her 'tough love for war criminals campaign,' my lack of social life is even sadder."
He'd just extended the invitation to speak about the near future, about July 13th, and the fact that we were one fewer. 'The three of you,' said it loud and clear. But I looked away and stared up at the sky turned white with humidity and sun. If I looked straight up, I didn't see the razor wire encircling the high perimeter wall. Technically this was a rehabilitative facility, not a prison. We were being educated and trained to take respectable jobs and live decent lives after our sentences were up. We were not being punished, even though we were all criminals. But the fact remained that many of us were highly trained criminals who were required to stay in a place that would be relatively easy to escape. High walls and wire were not enough to keep many of us here. The assault rifles carried by the guards in the observation towers did that job with stunning efficacy.
Finally I caved, easing in to what had to be said. Duo had voiced his objections to me being here many times. He didn't need to tell me again that he felt bad or that he was angry; he was getting at something deeper. "Duo," I started, "I don't remember us being friends before my trial. And we barely spoke to each other during the wars. So this, 'I miss having you on the outside,' seems groundless. You never had me 'on the outside.'"
He was once again absorbed in his cards. "Details." He turned over a few and then added them to his piles, switching the sucker from one side of his mouth to the other. "But that's not entirely true. I found you a place to live after the Mariemaia incident. We were going to apply to--"
"None of us were close, though, not even you and Heero, not really. It wasn't until I got here; it wasn't until..."
I watched Duo's head hang lower between his shoulders. "... until after Quatre died," he finished. "I know. Two years this July for both of you."
I sat up and pulled my knees to my chest. "Right." I rubbed my arms, trying to get rid of the goosebumps that had just risen. "Before then, I thought Quatre and Trowa might have pursued some kind of friendship and you and Heero seemed to get along..." Duo snorted and, looking decidedly morose, laid down a few more cards. "But we all split. After everything, there was no one else like us in the world and we still rejected any kind of relationship that might have..."
"... kept Quatre from killing himself and kept you out of here." He took the sucker from his mouth again and looked over his shoulder at me. "Or at least put the rest of us in here with you."
"Right," I said. "Though we would never have been together. Far too dangerous, even without Quatre to lead us."
Duo turned, sliding one leg out from under the picnic table so that he straddled the bench. He picked at some dirt under his fingernail and abruptly crushed the sucker between his teeth. Chewing slowly and thoroughly, he looked like he was working through exactly what he'd wanted to say from the beginning.
"What's bothering you, Duo?"
He gave another humorless snort. "Aside from the obvious?"
He swung his other leg over the bench and set his elbows on his knees. His braid, cut a bit shorter now, hung half-way down his upper arm. He grabbed it in one fist and rubbed the length of hair against his chin. "I was thinking about how stupid we were, but at the same time, how we couldn't have really known any different. I mean, given all the evidence up through the Barton rebellion two years ago, we were invincible. No matter how many times Heero self-destructed or how many times we got caught and imprisoned and tortured, no matter how many times we tried to die, we didn't. We were a bunch of fifteen-year-old gods, more or less!" He looked up, eyes wide, looking for me to agree with him. I nodded and he looked away again. "And then blammo! You're tried and convicted for crimes during the second war and Quatre's... well, he's... just gone, and suddenly, these great new lives we were supposed to have after the wars turned to complete shit. We were so stupid not to have noticed that there were only five of us to begin with. And now it's only Tro and me and Heero, and they're so firmly ensconced in Preventers, I barely get to see them out of uniform, which is probably the way they like it, knowing them. And you're the only one left who isn't afraid to make use of your facial muscles, and you're here where I can only get to you, like, once a month!" He tossed his braid back over his shoulder and looked up at me. "So, that's what's bothering me."
I quirked an eyebrow and tried to keep a lid on everything that threatened to spill out of my mouth right then. "I don't know," I managed. "That all sounds to me like it should go under the 'obvious' heading."
He was off the bench and kneeling in front of me so fast I barely had time to lean away from the fist he made in my t-shirt. "Don't be an ass," he hissed. "I'm trying to say something important."
"Then tell me something I don't know."
With him right in my face like that, I noticed smudges of dirt across his cheeks and in a line across his forehead where the brim of a cap must have been. His eyes, a strange color that I'd never been able to categorize, wavered from mine. They slid to the side and then back. "I think you ending up here and Quatre ending up dead happened just a little too close to each other. We were caught completely off guard, and maybe that's how it was supposed to happen. There--how's that grab you?"
"You think the two are connected?" I asked and I think I startled him with my straight face. His eyebrows dipped down for a moment and then lifted. He shook his head.
"I don't know what I think about it. I do know the charges brought against you were pushed through quicker than any war crimes trial I've ever heard of. I know none of us saw it coming, especially because we thought Une would go to the mat for you. And I know Quatre was ready to in her place."
"I'm aware of how far he would have gone for me," I murmured. "But the amount of pressure he was under from his family and from his job..." It was a well-worn explanation of what'd brought him to that desperate point one week before my sentence was to start, when we'd found him...
"Chang, he thrived on that shit. His family and his work drove him."
My throat was dry and the place where his fist pressed against my chest was starting to ache. "Duo, let's just leave it for now, okay? I have a meeting with Rorty in a few minutes and visiting hours are almost over."
He didn't move right away, keeping hold of my shirt and not letting me look away. Then he glanced to the side and stiffened. "Yeah, the man's on his way now. I better hit the road." He let go of my shirt and hauled me to my feet, swiping some of the dust from my pants. I took a steadying breath and a step back, feeling a bit more shaken up than I thought I should. But Duo wasn't done, and before the guard got within earshot, he pulled me into a hard hug and spoke quickly into my ear. "You need to be incredibly careful here, buddy. Always watch your back, and don't let any of these punks near you. We already lost you part of the way; we can't lose you like we did Quatre. We have to see this shit coming from now on."
"I can take care of myself, Duo," I replied. "I have so far."
"Yeah, well, keep that big geeky roommate of yours close by, okay? He may not like you very much--and who can blame the guy?--but he's larger than you and he's watchin' out for you, and that's what matters here."
I wanted to tell him that the few who'd tried to mess with me because of my size and appearance had quickly realized their mistake, but that would have only worried him more. What he didn't know about this place couldn't hurt him. And after nearly two years of visits from friends that I didn't think I really deserved, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt them with stories about my problems. A gust of wind blew across the yard, kicking up dust and generally feeling like a blast furnace. We both staggered a bit and shielded our eyes. My hair, after having been shaved upon my admission to the facility wasn't long enough to pull into more than a feeble tail which did nothing to keep it out of my eyes. I gathered it off my face with a growl and held it back with my hand, pausing when I saw Duo giving me a crooked smile.
"I just realized I got you a present, Wu."
I blinked. "You did?"
"Yeah. Don't say I never brought you anything." Then he pulled a grimy red bandanna from his back pocket and went down on one knee to fold it into a wide band about four inches across. It was streaked with oil and dirt and probably sweat. When he straightened to give it to me, I hesitated to touch it. But he just grinned at me and shoved it into my hand. "That'll work to keep the hair off your face, won't it?"
"Duo, it's filthy."
"Yeah, so wash it."
I looked down at the neatly folded piece of cloth and then back up to Duo, then to the guard hovering behind him. "Thank you," I murmured.
Duo glanced over his shoulder and made a soft hissing sound, quickly looking back to me. Unsurprisingly, Duo and authority figures didn't go well together. He tried to avoid them whenever he could, but our conversation had run long today. He forced a smile, though, and we said our goodbyes. "So, I'll see you in a few weeks, big guy. I wouldn't miss the old 18th birthday for the world." I nodded and he clapped me on the shoulder. "I'll be sure to buy you a pack of smokes now that you're of legal age." I snorted a laugh and Duo snickered along with me at the absurdity of the statement. Two years ago, I had been piloting a multi-ton Gundam, leveling military bases and destroying enemy spacecraft. But I couldn't buy cigarettes or vote. I still couldn't do the former and now I would never be able to do the latter.
With another pat and a quick squeeze of my shoulder, he turned and neatly stepped around the waiting guard. He shoved his hands in his pockets, a sign that I'd learned meant he wasn't happy, and walked quickly to the exit, where he was patted down and then allowed to leave. Just before he disappeared around the corner, I saw him reach behind his head to scratch his scalp with his middle finger. I smirked even though he was gone and couldn't see my reaction.
With a glance up at the sun, I judged that it was just about time for my meeting with Rorty, the prison psychiatrist, and since the whether was nice, he'd want to meet outside. He was probably already at the basketball courts from his previous counseling session. Another hot blast of hair rushed up against my back, blowing short, infuriating strands of hair into my face. I held them back with one hand and looked down at the folded bandanna in the other. Personalizing our uniforms was permitted--it was a kind of controlled individuality that the staff approved of. I wouldn't catch much grief for changing my appearance just slightly, but the gift still made me nervous. It was red and dirty, but so long as not many people knew it came from him, I should be okay. Bad enough that I had three good friends who came to visit me regularly--more than most of the inmates--but wearing things that they gave me was like a sign on my forehead that I needed them, that I wasn't strong enough on my own without them.
I didn't feel like dealing with that particular notion, even though I'd had my suspicions about it for some time. Lucky for me, if anyone else did, too, or they felt like calling me out on it, they learned quickly that in terms of physical ability; I had at least that in spades.
Duo wouldn't have known the risks of giving me something like this, but not wearing it, especially when my hair at its awkward length was such a pain in the ass, would only make him worry more. So I turned my face into the wind and tied the folded bandanna at the base of my skull. I smoothed down the strands that stuck out at odd angles underneath the strip of cloth and then headed for the basketball courts.
"That a present from one of your war buddies?" he asked casually, driving toward the hoop and neatly laying the ball off the backboard through the net. I caught the ball and dribbled back to half court. Rorty waited at the foul line. I knew he'd seen it, noted it, the second I arrived for our meeting. It was his job to notice things like that, but it still made me twitchy. I was a horrible liar, though, so I figured innocent truth was all I could offer.
"Duo gave it to me today because the wind was blowing hair in my face."
"It looks pretty dirty."
"He's a dirty guy. I'll wash it with the rest of my laundry." I paused and swallowed. "If that's okay." He noticed the effort and grinned his guilty approval. He claimed to hate the hierarchical code of etiquette as much as I did. I tended to believe him.
"Sure it's okay, Chang. I think it's incredibly important to have friends with a positive influence."
That was the qualifier right there. I had yet to figure out whether they considered Duo a positive influence or not.
"Sometimes I really worry that Prescott is trying to completely homogenize everyone here. I mean, I know her heart is in the right place and that she wants the best for everybody, but I'm of the opinion that you can't force people to be a certain way. They're going to be who they will be."
This was a familiar conversation. Rorty loved to tell me how he supported individuality and honing specialized skills and pursuing what we're passionate about. After two years of meetings with him, I got the feeling that he needed to say it to reassure himself that he was still working at the Rehabilitation Center for New Pacifism for the right reasons, that he at least kept in mind the original goals of the place. I knew for a fact that he still believed in those goals: rehabilitation and training for war criminals so that we may reenter the working world as constructive, stable, skilled and yes, even happy members of society. We may have lost our most fundamental political rights, but education, social welfare, contract, even freedom of assembly and the press are guaranteed to us upon our exit. I know he believed that neither the Earth Sphere nor the Colonies could stand to lose an entire generation of men and women to the wars, so the work he did here had to mean a lot to him.
And Sally Po vouched for him before my sentence started. They hadn't known each other during the war, but he was in that same network of rebels. He was about the same age, too. I could have just as easily encountered him instead of Sally. So, I knew his heart was in it and I knew that he knew how important it was to not treat old soldiers like criminals.
Didn't mean he was my best friend, however. And it didn't mean I liked to talk about my best friends with him. Nor did his openness about his frustrations with Prescott mean that I could express mine. She could see the transcripts of these meetings if she wanted to, and I never forgot the little tape recorder busily whirring away on the bench by Rorty's towel.
"I'm... assuming you've heard from my Literature teacher," I volunteered, eager for a change of subject. He acknowledged it with a small nod.
"Your attention and participation have dropped over the last few months," he said, attempting to block my advance on the hoop. I spun away but he stuck to me. "Why do you think that is?"
"I don't find the class particularly challenging. I've read all the books assigned this semester. And the woman teaching it is--"
"Ah, yes," he laughed, reaching around to try and steal the ball from me. I shouldered him out of the way and made an easy lay up. "She says you're an unnecessarily short-tempered misogynist."
I barked a laugh. "So it's only the short-tempered part that's unnecessary?"
"Chang..." I could tell that he was grinning at me. He grabbed the rebound and I saw that he was. In the two years I'd been here, I'd never thanked him for using my surname, rather than my given name. It was a vital bit of respect he afforded the inmates that no other official did. "That teacher puts up with a lot. You should be more respectful and grateful that she's willing to deal with a bunch of ornery men and a bitter kid like you."
"Don't give me that offended look, Chang; you're only seventeen." He dribbled back to half court and stayed there, stalling. I waited for him to voice what he obviously wanted to talk about.
"I've been asking all the others who see me whether they want to talk about Bennett," he said finally. "Most have found that expressing their grief over his death has been helpful to them. Is there anything you'd like to say? I know that you and he were friends."
I scowled at the ground even though my heart rate had just jumped. "We played cards some when Karl invited me. I didn't know him well. I thought he was an honorable, if misguided person." I looked up. "During the war, I mean."
He smiled sadly at me. "I liked him, too... definitely a mean poker player."
"Have you determined yet who killed him?" I held my breath as he ran a frustrated hand through close-cut brown hair.
"We've got our suspicions, but from everyone I've talked to in session, no one's hinted at anything. Those formerly of Romefeller seem the most uncomfortable, but they're keeping quiet." I was surprised he'd said even that much to me.
"I would have thought we'd hear a struggle," I ventured. "If somehow, somebody got into his cell, we should have heard the fight."
His dribbled the ball a little harder. "Not to mention, how someone got into the cell. They would have needed access to the main computer to open the door. Some of the staff are thinking now that maybe he did it himself, since the knife was still in his room with his prints on it. But I can't believe Benji would do something like that. He was too..." He trailed off.
"Ornery?" I supplied.
"Exactly," he laughed. "Well, I shouldn't be talking about how the administration is royally bungling the investigation, so we should probably get down to business now, don't you think?" I straightened my shoulders on cue and nodded. "So, what do you think you can do to be more attentive and productive in your class?"
My day got a lot less interesting at that point.
On to part two. Back to the prologue.