by June

Author's Note: Things didn't go so well for Wufei after the wars. These are his adventures. Expect a small cast of OCs that I have tried to make as multi-dimensional and real as the pilots. Still, this is primarily about Wufei and his relationships with the other pilots, especially Duo. And, uh, this is Wufei, first person POV. I'm giving it a shot.

Also, the verses at the beginning of each chapter are from Mountain Goats - a musician who I think embodies Wufei: frustrated, smart as hell, sarcastic, unflinching and maybe a little depressed. I'm indulging my inner college radio geek by picking the lyrics of his that fit.

And the new law said that seventeen-year-olds could do federal time.
You were the first one, so I sing this song for you,
William Stanaforth Donahue,
Your grandfather rode the boat over from Ireland,
But you made a bad decision or two.
-Mountain Goats, "The Fall of the Star High School Running Back"

The sound of pounding feet on cement jolted me awake and had me reaching for a gun I obviously no longer carried or had the luxury of owning. I looked across the cell to see Onur doing the same. We exchanged glances before sitting up in our bunks to get a better view. The pounding feet were headed for the cell directly across from ours. I slid down from the bunk and took two quick strides to the barred front of the cell, standing on tip-toe, trying to see through the crowd of guards gathering between the east and west rows of cells. Onur came to stand beside me, his dark eyes narrowed.

"That's Benji's room," he murmured.

"Can you see anything?" I snapped. "There are too many guards; I can't--"

Onur glanced over at me. "I'm taller than you, but not by that much."

I growled and pressed my face against the bars, struggling to see directly to my right. "Karl." No answer. I slid closer to the wall and rapped my knuckles against the cinder blocks. "Hey, Karl!"

"Benji's dead, Chang," was his reply. "Gutted like a fish."


"You heard me."

"Did you see it happen?"

"Strangely, no," he said, voice just loud enough to be heard over the shouting of the guards and the inmates who wanted to know what was going on. "Slept like the dead, actually."

I strained to see him, but could only catch pale fingers gripping the bars. "How long's it been since that's happened?"

"Oh, about six years. And I feel like I could go back to sleep now. If the sound of the guards running hadn't woken me, I'd still be dreaming of breakfast that tastes like real food. Curiouser and curiouser."

I looked down at my bare feet, realizing I'd forgotten to put on my flip-flops, and then to my roommate. He was staring at his hands where they gripped the bars, brow furrowed in thought. Come to think of it, I felt off, too. I rubbed my fingers in my eyes and they were gritty. I reached behind my head and found that, unlike most mornings, my hair was free of tangles. I'd slept without moving. My mouth tasted like last night's garlic potatoes, and all I wanted to do was crawl back under my blanket and sleep until lunch. Highly unusual. And Karl was an insomniac. Even stranger for him.

"We should have heard the fight," I muttered. "Karl, you especially should have. Everyone should have heard a struggle."

I heard a pen tapping against the bars. Even if he was groggy, Karl couldn't resist his compulsions for long. "I don't think there was one, Chang," he said, voice even and disinterested. I knew better than to believe that tone. "No blood anywhere other than his throat."

"I thought you said he was gutted like a fish."

A pause. "I was being dramatic, going for a good visual."

"Oh... right."

"Anyway, I'd say his death was quick and quiet. Whoever went in there to do it knew what they were about."

"You think it was premeditated? Organized?"

Next to me, Onur was shaking his head. "Benji didn't have enemies here. Everyone liked him." He said it with the finality of one who knew the truth and who wouldn't believe otherwise even if he didn't. Onur was the type who believed that he'd been put in this place for a good reason. "Romefeller even liked him," he added. "And Romefeller doesn't get along with anyone."

"They would be the obvious suspects," Karl commented. "Relations between Romefeller and White Fang haven't been good since this facility's founding three years ago."

That was certainly true. Most of the fights that broke out, and nearly all of the shouting matches that started in the mess hall, were between those two old enemies. Straining my ears, I could hear our speculations echoing along the rows of cells and repeated among the guards. I could already hear how the announcement over the loudspeakers would go, Prescott's voice crisp and judgmental: "Faction violence was the cause of this unfortunate incident, violence between old enemies that should have buried their hatchets years ago. Benjamin Bennett will be missed by his friends and by Rehabilitation Center for New Pacifism faculty and staff. He was a model participant in the program and an inspiration to all of us, a promise of what Total Pacifism has to offer." We would all shake our heads when she said this because Benji was the grizzliest of grizzly veterans. But the important thing was, he was "reformed."

Prescott's announcement continued to play out in my head. "At times like these we are reminded of how far we have come in the rehabilitative process." She would include herself in that "we" because she's ex-OZ herself, but somehow ended up behind the desk instead of behind bars in the women's cell block. "And we are reminded of how far we still have to go. This violence is a failure on our part, and we must work even harder to overcome old prejudices and move beyond our..."

And so on. I thought about jotting it down just to see how close I was, but Karl would probably take care of that. He usually did and his speeches were usually closer than mine.

Onur wasn't buying Karl's suggestion. "Romefeller didn't have a problem with Benji," he insisted. "They may still hate our guts, but they liked Benji. Everyone liked Benji."

I was a little surprised to hear Onur including himself in that "our." He was old White Fang too, a volunteer from L4; he just didn't usually like to admit it, seeing as how they were still an ornery bunch here at RCNP and Onur was hell-bent on adhering to the "reform process."

"Everyone liked him except the administration who put him here."

"Prescott liked him, Chang," he growled back. I rehashed the speech she'd be making soon and had to agree that she at least wanted it to look that way.

"He's right," Karl chimed in. "As far as I can tell, that woman doesn't want any of us ever getting out of here. But even she couldn't resist that roguish charm of his."

"Must be an L2 thing," I muttered, thinking of another former terrorist who had similar skills. "The guy was homeless before he signed up with White Fang. He had no family to speak of, no connections. The only thing he had going for him was his record in the first war, which was certainly impressive. He organized most of the L2 volunteers didn't he?"

"Yes," Onur rumbled beside me. "I encountered him several times at the end, under Merquise. What are you getting at?"

"Well, for those reasons he could have been deemed a serious threat to the new administration. He was an organizer and a leader. That's separate from the trouble he caused Romefeller during the war."

"You're saying the blame for his death may not rest squarely on Romefeller's shoulders?" Karl tapped his pen against the bars a little quicker.

"I'm saying it'd be stupid to rule out other interested parties."

"He wasn't just a leader during the first Eve War; he was a leader here, too," Karl murmured. I could almost hear the gears turning.

I jumped when Onur's large hand came down on my shoulder. He leveled a dark glare, but I knew it was tempered with worry, even if he didn't dare admit it. "What you two are suggesting is ludicrous and based solely on your paranoia. And it's dangerous if the wrong person hears you. You should shut your mouths before someone reports you." He gave me a hard shake and I shoved his arm away. "Before I do it myself."

Turning my back on him, I went to the wall I shared with Karl's cell, leaning my back against the cinder blocks. I wasn't really in the mood for a lecture from Onur, though it appeared I was in for one anyway.

"This is a rehabilitative center, Wufei." I knew he was serious when he used my given name. "We were placed here because our government trusts us to become better people. We're here so we can have a second chance at life."

I'd heard those words so many times I wanted to gag. "We were put here to be de-clawed, to have our fangs blunted."

"To have our wings clipped and our beaks cut," Karl added, voice pitched to carry.

"This isn't a chicken farm, Karl," I growled.

"Forgive me; I didn't think we were speaking literally."

The wind now totally gone from my sails, I rolled my eyes and looked up when I heard a chuckle rumbling in Onur's chest. "You do have a way with words," he said.

"Fuck you."

"Although your eloquence comes and goes."

I shook my head. "Look, please don't change the subject. Benji's dead--Karl saw his body and there obviously wasn't a struggle. If a bunch of  Romefeller flunkies went after him, we all would have heard it; there'd be blood everywhere. Benji would never have laid down for them. Maybe, there was some other reason--maybe he was deemed a threat because of something else. Maybe he was a threat to someone else. He was--"

"An ex-terrorist, just like you and me," Onur finished. "Just because you slept more soundly than usual doesn't mean--"

"Gosh, I sure am hungry," Karl interrupted. "When's breakfast?"

I turned to grip the bars, a sharp retort ready, just as a guard was approaching our cell, ordering the inmates back to their bunks as he went. "Please step away from the bars and return to your bunks until further notice. Breakfast will be delayed for at least an hour. Please return to your bunks, gentlemen." He came to our cell and our gazes met. "Get away from the bars, Wufei," he said. His name was Officer Brandt and I didn't think he liked me very much, though the way he spoke to me was never indicative of that.

The guards who patrolled the cell blocks were not armed or at least they claimed they were not. They always said 'please' and 'thank you' when they made requests. They didn't give orders and they called us gentlemen. But they also used our first names when they spoke to us and that forced familiarity, the casual way they threw our names around made it feel like they owned us in a way their passive-aggressive orders did not. Even though they did not touch us, I felt like he had his fist in my collar when he used my given name.

I stepped away from the bars and he moved on, telling Karl to do the same. The sound of Karl's pen tapping the wall came through a second later in old Morse code. 'Talk later.' I tapped an affirmative before I climbed back up to my bunk, sliding under the blanket and pulling it up to my chin. It wasn't cold in the cell block. It would be warming up even more before long. Early summer in southern Italy was already hotter than I liked, and it made me think of the soothing airless black of space. Nataku was warm against my back, keeping away the chill in the cockpit. My nose and cheeks burned just a little with the cold. Hell, the apartment that Duo had found for me after the wars had been much more pleasant in terms of temperature, even if it did rain a lot. The cell block baked in the summer, and while the classrooms were air conditioned, we still had to spend a fair chunk of our days sitting in our own sweat.

Right then I didn't care as I rolled onto my side to see Onur already back in bed and asleep. If breakfast was pushed back, then the day hadn't officially started and we could all sleep longer. I felt chilled and sluggish, but there was no way I'd go back to sleep now. I rolled to my other side and stared at the wall, knowing Karl was in his bunk just a few feet away. He was usually so wired that only a few people could stand to be around him for more than fifteen minutes. Laying there, replaying our conversation and contemplating the dead body across the cell block, I understood how he felt. "They screwed up," I whispered. "Whoever wanted Benji dead, they shouldn't have drugged the insomniac across the hall. He would know."

Find more of June at her Livejournal.

On to part one.