Sano beat his friends to the mess hall by several minutes, and was already eating by the time Katsu, Kaoru, and Soujirou sat down around him.
“What’s wrong?” asked Katsu immediately.
Sano glowered. “I ran into that guard again.”
“That does happen sometimes with people who work here,” Katsu replied carefully.
But Sano was no in mood for caution. “He asked me how my shoulder was!”
“So?” wondered Kaoru.
Unsure why his companions were not getting it, “He’s messing with me!” Sano explained in irritation. “How can he shoot me and then confuse the hell out of me and then ask me how I am?!”
“How did he confuse you?” Soujirou inquired. Sano had forgotten that the newcomer didn’t know all the details.
Sparing Sano the trouble of answering, Yahiko joined them just then with the announcement, “I have a great idea!” Making no objection to the subject change, Sano sat back and brooded in silence as the kid detailed his latest escape plot.
But as Soujirou began again systematically to shoot him down with a smile (though Yahiko seemed to have thought it through better this time, and was putting up more of a fight), Katsu leaned over to Sano and murmured, “I think you’re worrying too much about this.”
“No, I’m not!” Sano protested. “I can’t tell if he’s threatening me or what!” His voice dropped to a quiet, intense hiss. “He said he wasn’t going to turn us in, asked me a hundred questions he could have found out the answers from anyone, and said he wasn’t going to fuck me because I was hurt. Then he shows up in the wash-house like he’s coming specifically to ask about my shoulder, and gives me this look like I think he still wants me, but…”
“Oh, god, Sano, is it the sex thing that’s bothering you?” Katsu demanded incredulously.
“It’s everything about him!” replied Sano vehemently. After a moment he added, “Still, though, when was the last time a guard took you to his room and then didn’t fuck you?”
“He’s probably planning to wait until your shoulder’s better and then do it.”
“But it doesn’t make sense! Nothing he did makes sense!”
“I’m not saying I don’t see your point… there’s just nothing you can do about it. If you keep worrying, it’s just going to drive you crazy.”
“Maybe it already has,” Sano muttered. “But I don’t think I can just let it go when the guy knows…”
“That puts the ball in his court,” Katsu replied firmly. “You’re just going to have to wait for whatever he wants to do. You can’t go harassing a guard.”
Sano really had nothing more to say. Despite the soundness of this admonishment, he wasn’t sure Katsu was right — but at the same time, what could he do to press the issue, to find out anything more than he already knew? The answer to that was obvious, and the next question was whether Sano would rather pursue peace of mind by taking potentially life-threatening chances or a good friend’s concerned and reasonable advice. At the moment he was leaning toward the life-threatening chances, but it took a while for him to decide.
It was one of those rare nights when both he and Katsu got to sleep in their own cots in their own quarters and not get fucked by anyone. With Soujirou around and also without barracks-call, the occurrence was that much more unusual. And though Sano would never actually wish the guards’ attentions on his friends, it was a bit of an unfortunate coincidence, as their presence could only weaken his resolve and Katsu specifically was sure to object.
But though Katsu might be able to talk him out of it, he couldn’t stop him if Sano had a head start…
The quarter-warden hadn’t closed the doors yet, as usual, letting the cooler air into the consistently-uncomfortable building, but she had already done her nightly count — ‘inventory,’ she called it — after which it was very difficult to convince her that you had barracks-call: you’d be late by then, and few slaves were stupid or absent-minded enough to keep a horny guard waiting. Sano was debating now whether it would be better to tell her he had call and risk her not believing him (and keeping a closer eye on things for the rest of their awake time), or to attempt sneaking out (which would have worse consequences if he were caught). Either option had its advantages in keeping Katsu from following him with dissuading logic.
Presently the decision became easier when the conversation among his friends turned simultaneously lively and exclusive of him just when the warden had stepped into the next room. There was no time for further consideration; Sano rose quietly, glad he wasn’t sitting in the middle of the group, and slipped out the door.
Hurrying up the hill toward the barracks, he only looked back once. Though nobody followed, he still felt nervous. Well, of course he felt nervous: he was sneaking out to pay an unsolicited visit to a man that could bring about his death in a variety of ways and didn’t seem to have any logical reason not to have done so already.
And this was his door…
His knock was answered immediately, yellow-eyes was staring down at him, and suddenly Sano had no idea what to say. Katsu had been right, of course: deliberately seeking out a guard with the idea of demanding anything was phenomenally stupid.
The man’s expression slowly turned skeptical as Sano continued to say nothing, until finally he stepped aside and gestured the slave to come in. Closing the door he remarked, “I don’t recall inviting you here.”
“You didn’t invite me the other night either,” was all Sano could come up with.
The guard nodded as he bent and continued to untie his half-unlaced boots.
Sano watched uncertainly for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Look. I wanna know…” What did he want to know? Everything. How to ask was the more difficult part. “Who are you?” he finished lamely.
The guard glanced at him a little skeptically as he set his shoes aside and began to unbutton his heavy grey shirt. “I believe I answered that one last time.”
Sano was heartened by the casualness of this response, and retorted, “You didn’t do a very good job.”
Curtly drawing his gun, the guard startled Sano into stepping hastily back with a racing heart and a hot rush of fear. But yellow-eyes was merely putting the weapon away in the safe, it seemed. Still, the awareness that Sano shouldn’t push his luck was reinforced by the action; this man had shot him once without blinking, after all.
But he’d come to get answers. “You’re not a normal guard.”
“Thank you,” yellow-eyes replied, laying his shirt over the back of the chair to his right. “Get in the bed.”
The strange sensation Sano had felt in the pit of his stomach the last time he’d talked to this guard abruptly returned. “I didn’t come here to sleep with you,” he said hoarsely.
“It’s past curfew,” the guard replied, removing his belt to lay it also on the chair and seating himself on the bed. “You can’t go back to your quarters now.”
Sano couldn’t argue with that point. “Not without getting in trouble, anyway,” he muttered, going to the other side of the bed. At least yellow-eyes was on the left this time, which meant Sano could lie on his good shoulder and not face the man. And maybe he could yet obtain some answers.
But as he was removing, slowly and painstakingly, his own dirty shirt and tossing it onto the floor, very conscious of the presence close at his back, yellow-eyes questioned, “What kind of punishment is usual here?” And he reached up to turn off the light.
Sano pulled back the blankets and lay down as close to the mattress’ edge as he could. “Why do you want to know?” He was braver in the dark, but only for half a second —
For as the guard settled down beside him and replied, “I asked first,” Sano could feel the words almost in his ear, and the man’s warmth just behind him, partly against him.
His heart was pounding, and that feeling in his stomach was steadily increasing. Uncomfortably he hastened to answer. “It depends on who’s giving it, what you did, what time it is, shit like that. Some guards’ll just smack you around some; some of ’em’ll drag you into a corner and make you give ’em a blow job or something. If it’s staff, quarter-warden or something, you’ll probably end up with some really shitty cleaning project you have to get done along with your regular work.”
“And what if you’ve done something more serious than just breaking curfew?”
“Still depends. If it’s not bad enough to kill you over, you might end up in solitary for a while. They don’t feed you much in there, and you get beat a lot.”
Yellow-eyes was silent, and the air was tense. Still, Sano interpreted the quiet to mean that it was his turn. “So, why’d you want to know?”
“I’m calculating how much I’ve saved you from,” came the reply.
“Saved me?!” wondered the slave angrily. “You fucking shot me!”
“You wouldn’t have survived long enough out there to get to any country. I saved your life.”
“What kinda life is this? And how do you know I wouldn’t have survived?”
“Didn’t Souzou’s experience teach you not to put faith in escape attempts?”
Startled, Sano couldn’t reply for a few moments. Finally he asked in a near-whisper, “How do you know about him?”
“You’re not the only one who was here back then,” yellow-eyes answered.
Sano was wordless, baffled. Who besides him and Katsu was left from that time? Some member of the staff, no doubt… but who could it be? And if the guard was getting detailed information from that person, what need was there to question Sano? But while this would probably have been the perfect moment to inquire about that, the unexpected mention of Souzou’s name had thrown him drastically off balance.
It had been so long, and he still couldn’t help but be deeply disturbed by the thoughts of those events. But, then, he’d long known that time didn’t move the same for him as it did for others. Sometimes — not often — he almost wished he were just a normal slave. Might not that be a better life than stagnating in painful memory? But if he was going to wish for anything, he might as well wish for freedom. Or…
“You could at least have let me die like him,” he whispered.
“I saw no need for you to die,” yellow-eyes replied immediately.
“There was no need for him to die either, but at least he got away from here…”
“If you wanted to be like him in that sense, you wouldn’t be here.”
“If you hadn’t stopped me, I wouldn’t be here.”
And finally Sano managed to ask the question he most wanted answered: “Why won’t I regret that?”
“Because I won’t allow it.”
Sano laughed bitterly. “What if I’m already regretting it?”
“Then you need to be distracted.” Suddenly the man’s arm had crept over his body to run fingers across his chest.
Sano’s breath caught in his throat, his shoulder throbbed, and his stomach twisted… and, oddly enough, none of these necessarily in an unpleasant way. “So you’re gonna actually fuck me this time?”
The guard had shifted so he was pressed fully against Sano’s back, and now replied in the slave’s ear, “Do you want me to?”
“No,” Sano gasped as the man’s hand slid into his pants, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if yellow-eyes hadn’t heard him at all. And as the guard began stroking him, he didn’t think he had the ability to reiterate his negative. The last time he’d gotten an erection without having to concentrate on doing so was… he couldn’t remember… Had a guard’s touch ever done it before? He didn’t think so…
He knew he shouldn’t let the man’s overtly-stated intention of distracting him be fulfilled, but the unusual sensation of being deliberately pleasured by somebody else was too overwhelming. And as yellow-eyes, who seemed unfairly good at this (though what did Sano know?), wasn’t in any hurry to finish him off, there was plenty of time for Sano to lose track of everything except the skilled fingers working him toward orgasm, and to forget everything he’d come here intending to find out.
While all this was going on, Katsu, who might otherwise have prevented it, found himself equally distracted. Having emerged from the building too late to stop or even catch sight of the missing Sano, he spent a moment contemplating the relative merits of chasing his reckless friend versus sneaking back inside before the quarter-warden closed the doors.
“Katsu, what’s happening?” Soujirou had followed him.
“Sano’s being stupid,” Katsu sighed.
“I heard some of what you were saying… he’s having trouble with a guard, right?”
Katsu nodded. “The guy who shot him the other night was unusually nice to him, that’s all. Sano doesn’t know how to deal with people being nice when he doesn’t expect it.” Hell, who did?
“Maybe this is a good way for him to learn, then.”
“Bothering a guard isn’t a good way to do anything except get yourself in trouble.”
“Is the guard likely to do anything worse to Sano because of it than he would do anyway, though? Or, if he’s nice…”
“I don’t know that he is; I’ve never talked to him.” Though his tone was still grim, Katsu’s tension was draining. Soujirou made a very good point: what could the guard do to Sano at this point that was any worse than what they were already fearing might happen? Hell, maybe the guy would fuck Sano for his trouble, and Sano’s confusion would end. Not that Katsu would ever really wish that on his friend.
“Hey,” Soujirou said softly, breaking Katsu from his thoughts. “I’m sure it’ll be all right. Who knows better than Sano how things work around here?”
“I do,” Katsu replied wryly, “and I’m the one who’s worried.”
Soujirou put his hand on Katsu’s shoulder, drawing his gaze. “It’ll be fine,” he reiterated, leaning up and kissing Katsu briefly.
The latter watched the blue eyes as they drew back. He wasn’t sure why, but somehow when Soujirou said things like that, Katsu was inclined to believe it. “I hope you’re right,” he said in a lighter tone, looking back in the direction of the guard barracks. I hope you find some answers, he told Sano silently.
Soujirou said his name suddenly, and on turning Katsu found himself locked in a longer and much more intense kiss. And perhaps it was not the best display of friendly loyalty, but with Soujirou’s soft lips against his, he couldn’t stay worried for long.
The younger slave’s arms slid around Katsu’s back to pull them closer together, and even in the warm summer night the heat of proximity was not unpleasant. Katsu laced his fingers though Soujirou’s hair and savored the feeling of the other’s body against his.
And then the voice he hated most in the entire world spoke from several yards away: “Nothing I like better’n slaves sneaking out of their quarters at night to fuck.” Akamatsu was approaching swiftly as he said this, opening his pants. “Don’t mind me, guys,” he grinned licentiously as he halted.
Katsu tried to keep what would have been a very detrimental expression of horror off his face. He couldn’t say he was surprised at this turn of events — standing around outside carelessly kissing another slave could bring only a few results — but was vehemently cursing his luck and foolishness.
Soujirou did not appear any better pleased at the prospect of providing this kind of entertainment for a third party, but after a moment his visage hardened in determination and he put his mouth to Katsu’s ear. “Looks like we have no choice; might as well make the best of it.”
“We can’t do this…” If he’d had time to explain, he would have had more objections than just the audience. He’d never had a relationship, because he hadn’t wanted to find himself in Kaoru’s situation or that of those he’d known before her… and the fact that something about Soujirou was more intensely attractive than anything he’d ever felt from anyone else he might have liked was all the more reason to want to do things right… if there was a right way for one slave to get involved with another that was likely to be sold away from him within a few weeks. And he wasn’t sure he knew how to have sex the right way, the way where both parties supposedly enjoyed it.
Soujirou said very seriously, almost as if reading more than one of these objections in Katsu’s few words, “You won’t regret it if I enjoy it, though?”
“But, in front of him?” Katsu murmured, aghast. It wasn’t as if he’d never done anything like this in front of a guard before — indeed, this guard — but he assumed Soujirou really hadn’t.
“Just pretend he’s not there.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
Akamatsu’s impatient tone broke into their debate. “Are you guys gonna get on with it, or do you need my help?”
Katsu was not about to answer that out loud. Slowly he drew Soujirou to him once more and wondered not only whether he could do as he was urged — ignore the guard and enjoy this — but what kind of animal it would make him if he did. Most likely, merely more the kind he already was. He tried to console himself, to placate his conscience, by reflecting that this was probably better, at least, than either of them having Akamatsu’s attention solely on himself… but in the end the most placating circumstance arose from his body, not his mind.
It was some time — indeed, it was about the middle of the night — before they went back inside their quarters. That they were going to be unusually tired tomorrow was the least of Katsu’s concerns.