Chapter Seven

by June

The wax paper that I taped over the windows
Melted as quick as chocolate in the heat
And it'll probably never come off now
The windows look like frosted glass if you see them from the street
And the dim light that filters through
Casts a new light on you and I
I wanna follow you all the way down this time
I want to see what it is you're going down for
-Mountain Goats, "Chinese House Flowers"

Sometimes I stayed late in the library. I didn't care much about my classes and the catalog wasn't particularly scintillating since the prison administration wasn't too keen on inspiring original or incendiary thought. But the library was quiet and a good place to be if avoiding people--specifically roommates or neighbors--was in order. With curfew approaching, I would have to leave soon, but for the next half hour I could stay buried amongst the stacks and not face the two people who knew me well enough to know that I'd been thrown off my game--that I'd actually done it to myself.

I busied myself with the lists of names Karl and I had been compiling since we started our investigation into Benji's death. This place being what it was, we couldn't very well go around asking about witnesses or motives or suspects; we couldn't do more than come up with our own list of people we thought might have done it or known the person or persons who had done it. And we could make guesses as to what sort of person might be next, if indeed Vasil's death two years ago was for the same reasons as Benji's--if indeed Benji was killed for political reasons.

If I started thinking at any great length about how far out on a limb we were with this whole thing, I probably would have run directly to the row of phones out by the office and called up Duo to apologize for ever thinking of involving him in what was clearly a result of my and Karl's excessive paranoia and boredom. But that would be a really embarrassing thing to do and Duo had already brought me copies of a few obits he thought I might find interesting, and they were actually interesting, though we could in no way tie them to either Benji or Vasil. And the fact remained that I'd piqued Duo's interest and he wasn't backing out now, even if I did call him and tell him to give it up.

So, making sure to direct my thoughts away from the notion that I was wasting my time and putting my best friend in unnecessary danger, I went back to my lists. This particular list was not of potential suspects; this was a list of the inmates Karl and I thought might make likely targets. We'd divided the list into three categories: leaders during the wars, leaders here, and the men who were both. High-ranking office was not a requirement for making the first list. Some of the most influential leaders had been volunteers who'd never gone far up the chain of command. Some were rebels. The leaders here at RCNP we divided into positive and negative, those who drew people together, like Benji, and those who headed up bands of malcontents. These were mainly bitter old Alliance men and members of Mariemaia's army who had nobody else to talk to. Vasil and Benji both fit in the last category.

Dividing up and classifying inmates regarding leadership abilities may or may not have been a valuable use of my time. I did have a paper to write for Friday--which would take me all of thirty minutes once I sat down and did it. And I needed to read a book for tomorrow. But neither of those things would serve to distract me enough from the real reason I was hiding out in the library. Onur knew something was up with me, and he was keeping watch more vigilantly than usual--for some reason still intent on making sure I didn't screw up too terribly. He was like an overachieving older brother who expected all the younger siblings to follow in his footsteps. I was an only child, but for a number of years Meiran had been like a younger sister before she was my wife, and I was beginning to have an idea of how she must have felt about me.

And he suspected that something was up with me and Karl--which there was. Three times since that first time in his bunk, we'd gotten each other off, twice by hand, the third time with Karl on his knees. He hadn't asked me to reciprocate in kind that time, which was considerate because I probably wouldn't have been able to, embarrassingly strung out as I was after getting my first blow job. So far as I could tell, no one else knew about what Karl and I got up to, which was both good and also a missed opportunity of sorts--good because it wasn't anyone's business what we did and not so good because if Karl and I openly declared that we were in a relationship, then both he and I would get less trouble from the other men. If I staked a claim, so to speak, it could actually work out in our favor and we would become like any of the other pairs here. So, practically speaking, it would be the smart thing to do. But we hadn't talked about it, and honestly, I didn't think I wanted to be openly involved with Karl. First of all, I knew that Onur would think poorly of my decision. Living with him would become even more of a trial. His wife and child had died in the first war, but he remained faithful to their memory and he thoroughly disapproved of the physical weakness that drove men to sex with people they didn't know, like, trust or respect. I agreed with him completely, and yet I was... So there was the hypocrite problem. Secondly, I could not make Karl a part of the friendships I had with Heero, Trowa and Duo. I just couldn't. I tried to envision what Duo would say when I told him involved myself with an Ozzie, a rabid Treize loyalist no less, and the thought was so horrifying that it was immediately discontinued.

Additionally, Karl had shown no interest in openly declaring anything either. I had my reasons for suspecting why he wouldn't want to, but I had no substantiated evidence. If I looked a bit harder, I could probably find it.

I stared blankly at the lists of names in front of me, scratching off a few that made no sense. We had to assume that Benji's death was for a reason, and for many of these men, their deaths would have no reason other than random cruelty. They honestly just weren't that interesting.

I wrote in a few of the names Duo had found, high-ranking officers, a few community leaders, a few rebels, all dead from mysterious accidents, strange illnesses, or suicide. One of them was a homicide in Old Los Angeles. All of it looked pointless.

I glanced up at the clock and gathered my books and papers together, sliding the list of names amongst some sheets of notes. I'd flush it down the toilet later as I did every other list Karl and I compiled in our free time. Random lists of names floating about our cells did not make for good conversation with other inmates or staff members.

Getting books and notes together into as neat a stack as I could manage I headed for the exit, on my way, passing through the closed off carols for quiet study. My teachers had suggested I reserve one to help me focus on my coursework. I informed them that it wasn't lack of focus that was the problem. Rather it was that the reading material bored me to tears, and no amount of isolation would spark my interest in reading books about, for, and by dead white men from a different era. They thankfully dropped the suggestion. Though they also reported me to Rorty and I had to endure a double dose of one-on-one basketball games/counseling sessions for about three months. I still think I got a better deal than those poor saps in their cubicles studying biology or finance and deluding themselves into thinking that someone would hire them some day.

I had almost made it to the exit when I heard it--a muted rhythmic sound from one of the carols on the left. Identifying the sound almost instantly, I was reminded of another reason why I stayed out of the quiet study carols. While they were great for individual privacy, individuals weren't the only ones to make use of them for that purpose. Lucky for those couples who needed the alone time, not too many guards passed through here. Unfortunately for the rest of us, there were little square windows situated about two-thirds of the way up the doors into the cubicles, so that if anyone did happen to pass by while one was so "occupied," he got an eyeful without really intending to.

The unintended eyeful that I'd just gotten was enough to stop me in my tracks. My jaw clenched and the grip I had on my books tightened until my knuckles ached. I blinked a few times and realized that I hadn't actually needed to look too hard for the evidence that Karl wouldn't want to openly be with me. It was right in front of me, as I suspect it had been for much of the time I'd been here.

He was bent over the desk with his uniform bunched down around his knees, t-shirt shoved partway up his back. One of White Fang's less reputable and significantly crazier former members was doing the honors, gripping him by the hips and shoving into him hard enough that the desk was creaking and pulling where it was bolted to the floor. The guy looked to be enjoying himself thoroughly, as did the officer standing against the wall watching. Brandt had always been one of my least favorite guards for his passive-aggressive attitude and his voice, suited for making veiled threats. I now had a new reason to add to the previous, comparatively insubstantial ones. The pace looked painful and so did the way Karl's hip bones knocked up against the edge of the desk. He gripped the sides, fingers sliding along the smooth wood veneer until his position got too precarious and he readjusted his hold again. His face was flushed and he was sweating, but his eyes were blank, his expression utterly neutral. He didn't appear unwilling, but neither did he appear particularly present. It was as though he didn't need to pay attention to what was happening to his body.

Then White Fang threw his head back and jerked forward a few more times, shouting barbaric, disgusting words at the ceiling. Brandt's breath quickened and still Karl showed nothing. Feeling decidedly ill, I was about to bolt for the exit when Karl suddenly looked up through the window and met my gaze, head-on. His lips pressed together in a tight smile and then he looked away, levering himself up onto his elbows and reaching down to--

Then I did run, making for the exit and my cell and my empty bunk and my prudish, wonderfully functional roommate. I grabbed the door frame and flung myself around the corner--finally out of the library--and ran headlong into Ms. Francesca Prescott, director of RCNP, herself.

Normally, I pride myself on my natural athleticism and all the characteristics that go along with it--speed, endurance, strength...balance and agility. Well, I had plenty of speed and a full head of steam behind it, but all sense of balance abandoned me as my armful of books and papers connected with her chest and the arm I reached out to steady her accidentally massaged the side of her right breast. It was like something out of a bad sitcom or a scene from one of Benji's comics that he'd kept stashed under his bunk. It wasn't something that I would do.

She appeared to be of the same mind as she stumbled back a step, dark brown eyes bugging out of her head in surprise. Her left arm pinwheeled almost comically a few times to keep her balance. I still had a hold of her right arm, which reminded me that the backs of my fingers were still touching her right breast, which prompted me to let go as soon as I saw her--now completely recovered--leveling a shrewd glare at my hand. I'd managed to drop only half of the books in my arms and so bent down to pick them up, trying to recover from both the shock of slamming into her and the unfortunate spectacle in the library cubicle. Both at once was no easy task.

"I am so sorry," I started. "I didn't see you coming and I wanted to get back to my ce--back to my room before curfew and--" I wasn't listening to the words spilling out of my mouth like tepid water, but was thinking instead of how best to keep Prescott from continuing into the library and bearing witness to what I had just seen a moment before.

It was against the rules for officers to be involved with inmates, more so than it was for inmates to be having sex in library cubicles, but the fact that the right thing to do was to report them didn't even enter my mind. After only two years, 'right and wrong' as well as 'good and bad' had been twisted and warped into 'what will make for less trouble and what will make for more.' Reporting Brandt, disgrace that he was, would only cause more trouble for Karl if Brandt received only a reprimand or even leave without pay. And it went without saying what would happen if White Fang got in trouble. So...

"Are you hurt? Did I--"

She straightened her shoulders and ran a hand through the dark hair that had come free of its pins and now framed her face. "No, of course not," she snapped. "I'm perfectly alright. The question is, what on earth were you doing tearing out of the library like Hell itself was at your heels?"

I offered a small, conciliatory smile. "Escaping from the mounds of homework?" It sounded more like something Duo would say and judging by the skeptical tilt of one elegant eyebrow, she didn't exactly buy it either.

"It's been my understanding, Wufei, that you don't concern yourself with homework, that even going to class has been more effort than you care to contribute."

Sometimes Francesca Prescott reminded me a bit too much of Lady Une, when she wasn't letting the nice part out. Prescott had darker skin--her family had been either Spanish or Italian; no one was sure--and was significantly shorter, but her presence was the same. Duo would have said "big and scary." I went more with "pushy and mannish." It was a mystery to me how neither Une--with a split personality and a reputation for liking them both quite a lot--nor Prescott--another officer who lived and nearly died for Treize--would both end up in such positions of power, while someone like Karl, arguably no more of a zealot than either of them, ended up behind bars. I didn't think he was that much crazier than they were.

"I--well, I thought I should try to get caught up."

"Hm, I see. And did you make any progress? Judging by the speed at which you exited this hall of learning, I would venture to guess 'not much.'"

I tried to look appropriately chastened. "Yes, I should get back to my room to read a bit for tomorrow before lights out."

She nodded sharply. "You do that." Then she headed for the entrance to the library.

"M-maybe you could walk with me. We haven't spoken in a long time."

She turned back, that eyebrow arched again. "No, that's true we haven't. Should we have been? You don't see me walking other residents back to their rooms at night. They're all grown, mostly responsible men."

"I thought perhaps we could discuss my future--what I might do after I leave RCNP." And I was rather curious about that, though I wasn't sure I wanted to hear her thoughts on the matter. She and Une had butted heads over my case for weeks before my sentence started. As far as I knew, I was the only inmate who might have a future in Preventers and maybe the only inmate who had a shot at any sort of interesting future. Not that Onur didn't think trigonometry was interesting. For some reason, he did.

Right on cue, she stiffened. "Your future is not something to be discussed here and now. Or ever, if you continue along the path you're headed."

And, right on cue, I stiffened. "You can't keep people here just because they don't do their homework."

She shrugged. "No, you're right about that. But you will stay here as long as you are a threat to the peace and as long as you're a threat to everything Relena has worked for. I can keep you here for those reasons. And you would do well to remember that."

"Why would I want to join Pr-- Why would I want to join an organization that protects the peace if I really wanted to destroy it? Why would you keep any of these men and women from doing what they're really good at, if they could do it in protection of the peace?"

She turned away from the library and headed in the direction of the cell block. I hurried after her, relieved that I'd temporarily diverted a major problem for one of my only friends. We walked shoulder to shoulder, though she kept trying to pull ahead of me--and usually managed to do it, even in heels. "Because," she hissed. "I don't trust that these men and women would do what they are so very good at in service of the peace. Just as I don't really believe that you want to join the Preventers."

I nearly tripped over my own feet and she looked back at me with a thin smile, enjoying my surprise. "Of course I want to--"

"You don't have the foggiest idea what you want, Wufei. If you hadn't continued to fight after your friends stopped, if you hadn't joined Mariemaia's army and obeyed the orders of that weasel Dekim Barton, you wouldn't be here. You would be a war hero. But you didn't stop. You continued to fight and you did it for a reason, one that I am aware had nothing to do with Dekim Barton's goals. Joining the Preventers would be a way for you to continue to fight. It would direct your aggression and your admittedly impressive abilities. Your friends Barton and Yuy took that route and it appears to be working for them, but they are not like you. They are good soldiers who believe in the right things, in the things worth defending, and you..." We'd stopped outside the cell block and she stepped close to me, lowering her voice when two guards came within earshot. She crossed her arms over her chest and even though she was shorter than me, she commanded just as much attention as someone a foot taller. "Well, you seem to think you're special."

Having recovered from the initial shock of her declaration, I couldn't hold back the ugly sneer that had worked its way up from my chest. "Am I not? Aren't all of us you've got locked up in here? Isn't that the whole point?"

She smirked. "Of course. You're all beautiful, unique snowflakes." I had a feeling this conversation was coming to an end. "Here at RCNP, we work to nurture your unique abilities so that you may reenter society as a productive businessperson or teacher or mechanic. We want you to be the best citizens you can be." She pointed into the cell block. "Now get to work on your reading. I'm tired of seeing your name on my desk each week. And let me know if you would like to have any more of these chats. I thoroughly enjoyed this one." Then she spun on her heel and departed, the sound of her pant legs swishing together fading as she got further away.

I watched her departure and then rubbed the ugly expression from my face with my hand, taking a steadying breath. That had been bracing. Across the way, Busey was giving me the 'what did you do this time?' look. I shook my head in his direction and headed for my cell, glad to find Onur already there, studying as usual.

I didn't look up when Karl passed by a few minutes later.

"What about Eben Oulette?"

I lay flat against the bench, squinting up into the spindly olive tree, thinking about dinner and how much I was looking forward to it, no matter the quality of what I ate.

"You mean aside from the fantastic name?"

Karl huffed a laugh. "Yes. Aside from that."

"Um, what's his story again? Ex-OZ Specials, right?"

"Right. That pretty chick you know, what's her name, Noun?"

"Noin. Oh, yeah, I remember this guy. Noin was his superior. But he, unlike her, didn't know the difference between breaking orders for the right reason and breaking orders because you're a fucking loon."

"Still, he made it pretty far up the chain of command, won a few medals, impressed a lot of people..."

"Massacred civilians all for The Cause..."

I could almost hear Karl's shrug. "They do tend to get in the way sometimes. You know that probably better than I."

I closed my eyes against the white humidity in the sky. "Yes, I do."

I heard the 'scritch' of the pencil over the rough surface of the table. "He doesn't pull much weight around here, though. Most people are too afraid of him to get friendly and if he terrorizes anyone, the staff is on it pretty quick."

"They keep him under control," I agreed. "He's not much of a threat anymore."

"Off the list?"

"No..." I ran my fingers along the dusty ground under the bench. "Off the list of victims, yeah, but not the other one. He'd make a good tool or a good scapegoat if nothing else."

Karl murmured his agreement and the next few moments of silence were filled with vigorous writing.

"Rinko Sakai?"

"From the women's block?"

"I can tell you're making a face, Chang, and yes, Rinko Sakai from the women's block."

I rolled my eyes. "We never see them. They might as well be in another time zone. How would we know who their leaders are?"

"You really need to get over this 'not talking to people' thing. It's pretty cool all the stuff you can find out by approaching others and just asking them."

I sat up and slid my legs back under the table. "Yes, but talking to people is an open invitation for them to say stupid things, which means I have to hear them, and I don't like that. Better to not run the risk and avoid the whole thing all together. You're a good talker. You should do the talking."

Karl gave his lopsided smile and twitched a lock of hair from his eyes. Watching him do this, I felt a distinct twinge in my gut, the kind of twinge I only got when we kissed or when we found somewhere quiet to be alone. Three times since that first time. And it was only two days ago that I saw him in the library with Eddy Koch--I'd found out his name from Onur--and officer Brandt. I didn't want to think of that night, but I couldn't very well forget it either. And now, forced to confront that image with this twinge in my gut, I had to decide whether I cared that other men fucked Karl. Because it probably wasn't just that one time and it probably wasn't just with Eddy Koch. I had to decide whether or not I cared that the things Karl did to me he let others do to him. If the twinge in my gut was any indication, if seeing him smile put it there, then I probably already had my answer.

"You'll have to tell me about Sakai," I said. "Because I don't know anything about her."

Karl nodded. "Okay. Well, first off, she's a babe." He grinned at me when I snorted in derision. "Second, she's a colony rebel from L1 with ties to the developer of the Gundam, Wing Zero."

Now he had my attention. "What do you mean 'ties'?"

"She was one of the brains working under the big brain who first dreamed up the Zero System."

I kept it all off my face while inside my head, the little bit that I knew about Zero bubbled up from memory in Quatre's voice. Control, vision, prediction, power, possibility, precision, death, over and over again in countless ways, suffocation, fear and madness. Quatre had made it all after witnessing his father's death. He'd built it, mastered it and then surpassed it. It'd nearly driven Duo out of his mind and the sound of Heero's breath over the comm links as he fought with it was not a sound I'd soon forget. Many individuals had tried to take advantage of the system and most of them had ended up here, including Dorothy Catalonia.

"Apparently, the lure of money trumped science for science sake because she tried to sell copies of the program to some splinter group of colony rebels who ended up turning her in."

Karl didn't mention Quatre by name, though his memory sat between us like a barely visible spirit. He rattled off a few other things about this Sakai woman that convinced me she was a shady character and that Quatre should have known better than to let her work with him. But he'd always been a trusting soul and even if he had been able to feel out her duplicity, he probably thought she'd been doing it for an important reason. And maybe she had. Reasons for actions weren't always taken into consideration when meting out punishment.

"I don't know, Karl, what do the other women think of her? She wasn't a leader during the war; she was a mercenary scientist."

He shrugged. "Don't know."

I'd grown irritated with this conversation, probably because this was the second time in recent history that Karl had brought up Quatre, forcing me to remember things I'd rather not, and then encouraging me to look for Quatre in him because sometimes they really did look alike. Karl forced me to miss Quatre more than I wanted to, so it seemed only fair that I return like for like and try to make him as uneasy as he made me.

"Well, if you don't know, then why did you bring her up?" I snapped.

Karl's mouth twitched at my tone and I had the feeling that he'd gotten the exact reaction he'd been looking for. "Just thought she was an interesting case is all."

"Well, how about Eddy Koch? He's an interesting case if ever there was one." Stupid, asinine, bull-headed, immature thing to say. Couldn't take it back, though, no matter how lame I felt the moment I'd said it.

Naturally, Karl didn't even blink. "What about him? He wasn't a leader during the war; he just blew up some people he shouldn't have." He reached for his cigarettes, perhaps the only indication that he was the slightest bit uncomfortable. "Why, do you know something I don't?"

I chewed the left side of my lower lip to keep from making an incredibly rude statement about what exactly I knew. I managed to limit my reply to: "I think he exercises a fair amount of influence around here--pulls facility staff and a few inmates into a tight inner circle."

Karl lit the cigarette and then watched the edges of the paper turn brown as it started to burn. "Really. I hadn't noticed that. Who has he pulled in? I always got the impression he was big and dumb, and without the common sense god gave a hamster." He took a long drag on the cigarette. "Nice dick, though. That's the word on the street anyway."

The mood having turned decidedly foul, I sneered back at him. "Is that all you require, then?"

"I require lots of things. I'm very needy and easily bored."

"I hate needy," I hissed. "And I hate weakness."

Karl rolled his eyes, seemingly oblivious to how near my temper was to snapping. "Tell me about it. That's all you used to talk about when you first got here. Justice and honor and weakness. A few nights I had to jerk off, like, three times thinking about you, just to dirty up that self-righteous image you pounded into my head. It always worked." He grinned. "And now I get the real deal without all the blow-hard bullshit you used to carry around with you. Sometimes life is sweet, don't you agree?"

I was off the bench with one knee on the table and a fist in Karl's collar before he even blinked. I pressed him back until he leaned precariously off the bench, the back of his head almost touching the trunk of the olive tree. "You want justice? Maybe I should finally do the right thing and stake my claim on you--make you mine. It'd be the righteous thing to do, protecting you from further harm, keeping morons like Koch away from your ass. Wouldn't you just love that, Karl? Seeing my justice every single day when we fuck in the showers for everyone to see?"

He went very still then, bright blue eyes meeting mine and searching, unwavering, for sincerity. At that moment, neither he nor I knew if the offer was genuine or not. Finally he snorted and looked away. "That wouldn't be justice; that would be suicide."

I let go of his collar and leaned away. Karl sat up in his seat and straightened his shirt. He puffed on his cigarette without removing it from his lips, blowing smoke from the corner of his mouth and then inhaling hard. The length of ash at the end started to droop. "Why?" I asked.

The restless tapping started again. I hadn't noticed that it'd been absent for most of this conversation. "Because a lot of my problems are already your problems."

He stood up from the table and put both hands at the small of his back, stretching a little and avoiding my eyes. "Where are you going?"

He looked at an imaginary watch. "It's dinner time, Chang. I heard your stomach growling earlier. You should be excited." He was about to turn away when I rose from the bench and reached across the table to again grab him by the collar of his shirt. His eyes widened and he snatched the cigarette from his mouth a half-second before I kissed him. It was wet and noisy and I got spit on his chin, but eventually he closed his eyes and leaned into it a little. In my peripheral vision I saw several men pause to stare at us. A few of them whistled.

If Karl wanted to think that I'd made a move on him just to protect him, I wouldn't try to persuade him otherwise. Nor would I volunteer any other possible motivations.

Find more of June at her Livejournal.

On to part eight. Back to part six.