While his room doesn't have a clock, time in the wild has helped John better estimate time. It's probably eight or nine, and though he's tired, he's also less tense and achy. The bed must be more comfortable than he originally thought.
Standing in boxers and nothing else, John realizes he has no idea what the weather's like out here. The 'ville had some kind of yearlong average that held steady, for the most part, but they can't have that here. He throws on jeans, an old shirt, and boots, heads for breakfast.
After, he stands there a little awkwardly (is he supposed to help in the kitchen again?) but Brad says he'll show John where he can find his work schedule. Outside the main command office is a board with the master list, John's name scribbled in several different places with a note that says he'll be officially added at the end of the week. He's on cleaning duty this morning, and when he checks, finds Q-Tip's name there, too.
First, Q-Tip explains when they meet up, they have to hit up the supply closet for buckets and rags and mops and "that shit." There's a specific order they're supposed to go in, he says, and doesn't say anything about breaking the rules.
Maybe now he gets why they're sometimes necessary, though he claims it's because he doesn't want to piss Caroline off. And John gets that. She seems like she's not afraid to kick ass.
They're all alone right now, with post-breakfast cleanup to do before heading outside. John talks to fill the silence, not getting much of a response from Q-Tip, who seems distant. He doesn't want to push the subject if it's sore. Maybe—and John hates the thought as soon as it pops into his head—Q-Tip realized he doesn't want John here after all, but can't exactly say so. Not after John came all this way to stay out of trouble.
John wishes he could figure out what between them changed. They're hardly connecting, even over stories about the other people here. Q-Tip's slang has morphed into something John can barely recognize, but he doubts that's the problem. Apologizing might make things even worse; John hesitates to do so.
Partly to find out and partly to make conversation, John asks, "What's the deal with the showers? I mean, are their certain times we can use them? And the black pipes are weird."
"Thermal energy, bro." Q-Tip looks almost offended by the question, like this isn't something he should have to explain. "Just watch for time. The water'll shut off automatically if you try to use more than the allotted time."
"Oh." He's not exactly sure what that is, but it sounds good. "When we're done here, I want to use one." If he were bold like Q-Tip is, he'd say you should join me. He keeps his mouth shut.
"Good." Q-Tip moves around the table, sweeping dirt into a pile. "You fucking stink."
Are you serious? John wants to ask, because he's not having any luck getting a feel for how they're doing. What happened? Something keeps him from saying more, though, so he cleans until people start coming in for lunch, when he goes back to the residential area and showers, trying to count time in his head.
There's lunch and a rest/quiet hour before more work, which John uses, since he probably needs the sleep. Like yesterday, he does his part and then eats again. One important thing's different, though: he has a beer, and then another, and soon he's lost count of how many he's had and is definitely somewhat drunk, loose-limbed and fuzzy-headed.
It's nice not to have to think, to tamp down all the parts of himself that he does, whether it's out of fear or necessity or something else. Rudy forces him to eat the other half of his turkey sandwich before drinking more, and Brad keeps John semi-focused by telling the story about how he was well on his way to being in Special Ops but ended up here, with Nate, instead.
Most people start to wind down eventually, but John's still floaty and happy, and figures now would be a good time to talk to Q-Tip, since he's all calm. He somehow finds Q-Tip's room, knocks until he's let in. And it might be the beer, but things hardly go as well as he'd hoped for.
"I know," Q-Tip says when John apologizes. "Everyone has to figure out shit on their own. We're okay." But he doesn't look up from his lap to meet John's eyes, and John's buzz is replaced with an uneasiness that sinks into the pit of his stomach.
"Tell me about what you've been doing, then," he asks. "I really want to know. The LT seems—fuck, he seems so smart. Have you seen the library?"
"Yep, he knows a lot." Q-Tip stands, finally making eye contact. "I'm kinda workin' on something right now. I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow, okay?" It's clear that he wants John to leave; it's also clear that they're not actually fine. That's what John came here to fix, and he's not going to leave until the knot in his stomach untwists itself. He misses just hanging out and talking, being made fun of and trying to throw a few insults back.
"It doesn't really seem that way," John says. "You know, when you came out here I was bored out of my mind. Guess I didn't realize how much time we spent together." He pauses, gets nothing, and pushes forward. "So what other work is there? Besides kitchen stuff and cleaning, I mean."
"John, I have fucking babysitting duty tomorrow," Q-Tip says, his voice tight and kind of angry. "Can we not do this now?"
He stands like he's going to leave, but shakily turns and edges Q-Tip in so they're both near the corner. Without thinking about it (a huge mistake, John realizes in hindsight), he tips forward and kisses Q-Tip. He's drunk and imprecise, trying to steady himself with a hand on Q-Tip's shoulder, but it doesn't take very long before he's shoved away, stumbling backwards and nearly falling.
Q-Tip wipes his mouth, spits into the trashcan. "You're fucking schwacked." He sounds disgusted, a knife twisting into John's chest. "We're not going to do this now. Sleep it off, and on the off chance you remember this, we can talk about your mood swings in the morning."
Back at his room, Stiney takes one look at John before shaking his head.
"You gotta be careful," he says, a note of concern obvious in his voice. "Nobody's here to keep you from drinking, or to make sure you don't have too much. Getting used to it takes some time, so don't go crazy. Trust me, I did the same thing when I got here." He pulls John's shoes off and throws a blanket over him.
Drifting off, he can faintly hear some water and pain pills being set on the table beside his bed.
John's last thought is how did everyone here get so nice?
The next morning, John has a pounding headache and upset stomach and skips breakfast entirely. He doesn't think forcing food into his system is a smart idea, but water probably is. He turns his head and sees a glass next to him, and then he takes the pills for his headache.
According to the schedule he checked yesterday, today's the day John doesn't have to work until the afternoon. Clearly, some higher power's got his back; if he tried to function, he'd probably just...well, he's never been drunk, so he's not sure. But it wouldn't be good.
Later on (after getting sick and sleeping for a bit) he feels well enough to pull on the first clothes he sees and making his way down to the mini-kitchen that Stiney told him is in the basement for some coffee, which makes him feel a lot better. He makes it to lunch after all, finding a seat next to Leila.
"We missed you at breakfast this morning," she says. "But you're feeling now?" After he nods, she says, "Good. There's actually a favor I have to ask of you."
"Uh-huh," John answers, not sure what it could be. The compound has everything set up so well, and he's new here and a complete mess.
"Tell me again how you found us."
It's somewhere between a request and an order, though he gets the sense from her tone that if he doesn't cooperate, he's going to regret it. "My job, as you can imagine, is to make sure that we're secure, and we don't want any—...anyone to just come off the street, so to speak, and into our home."
John firstt thinks this is some kind of intelligence test—make sure everyone here meets some standard, vaguely reminiscent of something the government would do—but he realizes that Leila's genuinely concerned for the members. For herself, too.
"Well, Q-Tip left me...a map, I guess," he explains, "because he left first and I only decided to come a few weeks later."
"Yes, Evan mentioned that." She doesn't look placated yet. "And how was getting here?"
"Not all that easy. The directions weren't too clear, probably on purpose. Plus, you know, the geography here's a lot different than it was when I was trying to get here."
"Good," Leila says, adding "sorry for your trouble" like an afterthought. "Though I'm glad we don't seem to be at an immediate risk of being found out. You can never be too careful."
"Right," John agrees, trying not to think about what they'd to do him—not only did he run away, he also stole government property.
Doc comes over to formally introduce himself and to request that John see him for a physical and some vaccinations within the next week. The three of them get to talking, and John learns the unexpected way they ended up here. What he really likes, though, is that everyone wants to be here. No one's forcing them, and they could leave right now if they wanted to, without consequences or fear.
It's hard to imagine why Kenton could be a threat to society. The 'ville and its surrounding megacity are painted as the picture of healthy, functional life. But this, he thinks, is what Q-Tip wanted John to figure out before he left. He wanted it to be the reason John left.
"Gotta go," John says abruptly, knocking over his chair as he stands. Even as he sprints, the library seems so far away. It's open, if empty. He grabs the first book he finds in the historical nonfiction section and leaves a note on the desk saying he took it.
His workday crawls by, long hours of harvesting produce only slowed by his desire to read the book he picked up. Also, he's not used to so much bending and reaching, so much time outside without a break. The lack of sleep and slowly-dropping temperature probably aren't helping, either; he does the best he can, though.
Instead of relaxing during the quick pre-dinner break, John finds a shady spot beneath some trees and finally gets the book out of his pack. It's yellowed and faded, clearly old, but the front cover's still intact. The cover image, protesters screaming at someone in a gas mask, is so striking he almost misses the title.
Coming Around Again: The Last Revolution by Evan Wright.
The book is thick, easily four hundred pages, heavy with the weight of history. He flips it over and there's another photograph, this one of a city in flames, a short summary across them. Inside, he finds a page with just the title, and then one with a quote.
"Society is held together by our need; we bind it together with legend, myth, coercion, fearing that without it we will be hurled into that void, within which, like the earth before the Word was spoken, the foundations of society are hidden."
James Arthur Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
Chapters are listed on the next page, and there's a lot of them. Out of fear of being disappointed, he almost doesn't move on, afraid of finding out something he doesn't want to know. Not surprisingly, curiosity gets the best of him. John flips the page and starts to read.
Wright starts from what John thinks is the very beginning, some really old Greek tragedy John's never heard of. He talks about civil disobedience and small uprisings throughout Europe (where the fuck were these places?), how the United States became home to people who wanted freedom of religion, and the pockets of people who stayed loyal to Britain during the war.
There's more, most of it completely new to John. He had no idea how extensive slavery was or even an understanding of the real gravity of it. How suffrage sprung from the abolitionist movement, full of hunger strikes and hard-to-miss protests. The 1960s and early 70s were full of protests, the book says, and things were relatively calm until the turn of the millennium. Shit got out of hand after that, then went from bad to worse.
In 2001, John learns, three planes crashed into important buildings located in a key Old World city. A fourth was aimed for the nation's capital, but a group of brave passengers wrestled it out of that path.
This was one of the defining events of the century, but it wasn't what made people start a coup d'état. It shook a country to its core, though, and laid the groundwork for what would come.
None of his teachers ever mentioned anything like this; he sits, gaping, for a few minutes. They taught their classes about ancient explores and breakthroughs in pre-advanced medicine, when man walked on the moon and the post-racial period from late 2008 on. And they did mention bad shit that'd happened in history and how to keep from making those mistakes again, but he's eager to find out what brand new information the book holds.
"But those are just a few countries we're talking about," the author says, "and the US hasn't led the world in years. With just a little backtracking, Wright's picture of the world becomes so much more complete.
A lot of people were killed because of a protest in China in 1989—Wright says there are discrepancies in the numbers, citing "between 180 and 10,000," which is a huge gap but significant either way. Bloody Sunday in Ireland claimed the lives of 27 people, and the Soweto Uprising helped get something called apartheid condemned.
Their teachers taught them about when the new government was formed and all the good things they did, but no one's ever told John how or why. But Wright does.
In hopes of keeping the world together after so many rebellions, the biggest countries joined forces and tried to regain some control, but that weakened them and they were overthrown. The book is an account of a small group of rebels trying to change the world and stay safe while doing it.
Evan Wright describes, in detail, pages and pages of things John had no idea even existed. The book is an account of a small group of rebels trying to change the world and stay safe while doing it. What really sucks John in are the people (characters? They're real, but with identifying details changed.) One of them reminds him so strongly of Q-Tip it's not even funny, and all of them are stubborn and fearless. It makes John want to do something important and revolutionary, to be a better person.
Dinner and last call come and go, and he registers his stomach growl, but ignores it. He can eat at breakfast tomorrow; he needs to read now. He never imagined he'd be so interested in something, though that's what makes Kenton so great: coming in, he had no expectations. Anything can happen now.
He reads until he gets eye strain when the moon becomes his only source of light, and then he reads until he gets cramps from the library's hard-backed chairs. The pages seem to fly under his fingers; the number he has left to read shrinks until he's, somehow, at the last page and wishing there were hundreds more.
The government's keeping so much more from society than people will ever know, and John feels like he's beat the system. He's wiser and more educated, armed with the power of knowledge. Maybe one day he can help make sure everyone can learn the truth.
For now, he has to come back to reality, which is when he realizes he has no idea what time it is. The sky's a deep blue-black, dotted with stars. He's going to be exhausted as fuck tomorrow morning—if he even calms down enough to sleep, that is.
He's bursting with energy, his entire body shaky and unsteady, and still manages to run to Q-Tip's room, tightly clutching the book. It has to be so late, he knows, but he doesn't care. What surprises him (and should it, here?) is that the building's unlocked. He just walks right in and up the stairs to Q-Tip's room.
"Q-Tip, wake the fuck up," John says, only-half trying to keep his voice down. He's extremely grateful Q-Tip doesn't have a roommate. "Come on, wake up."
"Seriously?" Q-Tip's squinting, hair a complete mess, and still manages to—not the time, John reminds himself, not why you're here.
"I know, I know, but I went to the library earlier today and I got this book that the LT probably would've suggested I read anyway, and holy shit, I feel like a new person."
"Great," Q-Tip mumbles. "'m so happy for you. Now can you please let me go the fuck back to sleep?"
Instantly, John's good mood is gone. They're not on great terms and he just stormed into Q-Tip's room in the middle of the night, expecting him to be as excited as John is. Of fucking course this is the response he gets.
"Sorry. I'll just see you tomorrow, I guess," John says, slinking out with his head down.
God, why is he such a fuck-up? Why can't he do anything right?
Tossing and turning in his bed, he eventually comes to the realization that his actions are the problem. John's been doing, basically, the same thing over and fucking over while expecting some change. If he wants a different result, if he wants real happiness and normal relationships and shit, he has to do something about it.
Realizing this, oh, a few weeks ago would've made everything a whole fucking lot easier. That didn't happen, though, and at least now he knows. And he's not exactly the most organized person, but he figures he should make a list or something of what he needs to do. It's kind of hard, because his body's exhausted even while his mind's racing, still trying to comprehend what he read in Evan Wright's book.
1. Either repair his relationship with Q-Tip so they're really okay, or get over the attraction and move on.
2. Build relationships with the other people here. They seem great, and the last thing John wants is to isolate everyone over one little problem.
3. Learn everything he can about the past.
The new day makes him feel a little better, though it also reminds him that he's pretty much out of semi-clean clothes. He should definitely do laundry after dinner; if he asked, Stiney would lend him something, but John doesn't want to borrow from people without anything to lend in return.
When he sees Q-Tip over breakfast, he just smiles and nods, figuring it's the best thing for now. They should probably both cool off, regroup and all that. A little space is good. Or it will be, hopefully. He's running out of ideas.
But he can't shut himself in his room and hide anymore; he has responsibilities. So he cycles through the day (work, lunch, rest, dinner, hanging out and talking with people) and leaves a book he officially checked out of the library on Q-Tip's bed. It's about anarchy and individualism. John hopes he likes it.
The routine he falls into here is much better than the scheduled one back at the 'ville. John has variety on a day-to-day basis. He's finally started working in the fields and nearby woods, which is hard, but he likes how natural it feels. Like he could be part of a group that lived hundreds of years ago, surviving because of skill and not amenities.
Sometimes, over lunch or in the evenings, he and Q-Tip talk, but it's never about anything significant and there are always other people involved. They aren't alone; whether that's a good thing or not, he has no clue. Maybe they'll always be sort of in between casual and close—in flux, he thinks it's called.
Just like Q-Tip couldn't exactly wait for John to make up his mind and leave the 'ville, John can't wait until Q-Tip decides not to be mad at him. He's setting up a different future in Kenton, and it's good so far, but the goal wasn't to live solitarily. People here are supposedly like him; he needs to make friends, acquaintances. A support system—not the artificially created one the 'ville shoved at him, but one made up of people who genuinely care. He likes it here. He has to put down roots, and why wait?
One morning, long before breakfast, he goes on a run with Rudy, which is kind of a terrible idea. John vows not to do it again, but can't force himself to leave before he's taught how to correctly breathe and stretch.
While they're replanting some of the garden's vegetables, he works a little bit of Brad's story out, because he's interested and it's a challenge. There's clearly more to Brad than meets the eye, and he only gives up a few details: he was hand-picked to join Special Ops' Counterterrorism Division and got brutally dumped during training. He threw himself into the program and had a promising future, but met Nate somewhere along the way and his eyes were opened.
"It takes some time getting used to the change," he offers, and John feels more understood. Maybe Brad's a telepath—they're rare, but almost always involved with Special Ops. He doesn't ask, though, because that'd probably be rude. "You seem to be adjusting well. Just let me know if anything comes up.The LT likes to joke that I'm a misanthrope, but I like to make sure morale's high around here. And if I can't help you, I can assign someone else to."
"Thanks," John says, and really means it.
"Come over here," calls Leila from the opposite side of the plot, where she and Gunny Wynn's wife are harvesting everything that's ready. "You have to try these."
He's handed something red and unidentifiable, but a bite in he realizes he's eating it because Leila thought it was too good not to share. And it is amazing, sweet and ripe. Maybe there'll be pie for dessert sometime in the next few days.
"I heard these help with concentration," she explains. "That's what Rudy will have me believe, anyway."
Brad takes a bite and says, "I don't feel any different," earning a sigh from Leila.
"Don't be difficult."
"This is Brad we're talking about," Emily says, and they all laugh, even John.
He finally gets to be in on a joke. He's finally part of a group he likes. Minutes later, when they're all back at work, quiet and focused, he still feels good, which makes the work he's doing seem almost secondary. This is the life he gets to have, and it's pretty good.
Leila gives him a napkin full of fruit at the end of his shift, just for him. He's nice enough to give Q-Tip some, and the fucker barely says thanks. So much for passing it forward.
They play basketball after dinner, though, and it's good. It's just them, so they don't have to talk; all they do is play, the sky growing darker and air getting cooler around them until John can't see the makeshift hoop from a few feet away.
"Um, we should probably get back, right? Before lights out?" John doesn't want to leave, but he didn't know what else to say. Better to cut it short than to not know how to fill the time.
So they go back to their separate rooms in separate buildings and do separate things. John forces his mind to stop thinking, as much as he can do that, anyway, and squeezes his eyes shut until he finally falls asleep.
Today John's on repair duty, with Baptista and Leon. Basically, there's a big workroom with long, wooden tables and high windows, and their job is to deal with anything that's broken or fucked-up. Some of it's easy, pipes that need reconnecting and utensils that are fine once forced back into shape. But there's a lot of shit he has no clue how to fix, and he ends up doing the simple shit while feeling bad about it. He tries to watch what they're doing in hopes that he'll learn something, when all it does is distract him from his own stuff.
Midway through the morning, the LT stops in, a half-smile on his face and some kind of watch in his hand.
"How's it going?" he asks. "Good to see you're feeling better, Baptista. I'm hoping you can work your magic on this." He hands the watch over, letting his empty hand slide across the table, wiping off dust.
"It'd be great if we had some skeeners for this." Leon's holding something thin and silver and John has no idea what it is or what's wrong with it."
"You know we have to make do unless someone bring them. Or figures out how to repair the ones Evan broke. Sorry," he says, really sounding it. "Is it okay if I borrow John for a little bit?" the LT asks, all deference. He'd probably go ahead even if the answer was no, though.
There's a moment of dead quiet and then Leon says sure.
John has to wonder if he's done something wrong, because couldn't the LT just say whatever he has to at lunch or rest? But he returned the book he borrowed from the library a few days ago, and he's been doing laundry and taking showers according to protocol.
Then he thinks that maybe Special Ops is hot on his path and Kenton's decided to throw him out for their own good. Anything's possible, right? Having to leave would majorly blow, especially since he's only just started to settle in.
"My office isn't too far," the LT says. "I just want to make sure we're not interrupted." Everyone uses the main command building for something almost every day, and John's no exception, so he's used to making the trip down there. Today—now—it feels longer.
But then, all of a sudden, they've arrived, and there's no dodging it now. John vaguely remembers meeting him here when it was his first day and he was scared shitless, overwhelmed by everything new around him. Now he's definitely freaked that something's off and takes really deep breaths to try and calm down.
"Do you want some water? It's that or beer, but it's only morning, so…"
John clears his throat, which is actually a little dry. "Water's fine. Thanks." That could've been a trick question, a test to see what kind of worker/community member he is, he thinks a second later.
After a long few minutes where neither of them say anything and just sip their water, John asks, "Um, what's this about, LT? What did I do, I mean." The LT looks kind of surprised at that, or maybe put off.
"John, you don't need to call me LT. Nate is perfectly fine," he says. "And the last thing I wanted was to worry you. This is just a routine meeting I like to have with all our new members to see how they're doing."
"Oh." It's still a little weird that people care about him and want to know how he's getting used to the situation. Back at the 'ville, they were pretty much on their own: no one to talk to if they were upset or struggling with something. He knows that's not how things are here, but theory isn't the same as practice. "Thanks.
I'm pretty good," he says. "Still figuring a few things out, I guess. Like, I thought I knew the work rotation, and then I found out I'm going on a supply run next week. Or I won't know where the compost is. But those are little things, and I'm actually happy."
"You're getting along with everyone? Rudy says he's worried you're holding something back."
He has to laugh. Rudy's great, but he's the kind of person who'd think that. John's just quiet.
"Yeah," John answers. But Nate's here to help, so he admits that things between him and Q-Tip are kind of...strained at the moment. He explains what happened (well, a short version of it, because there are some things Nate doesn't need to know) and then folds his hands and waits for Nate to say something.
"That sounds complicated." Nate sips his water thoughtfully. "Actually, I know he might not seem like it, but Brad's good with this kind of thing. Well, he's better at mediating fights, though that's not all he can do. Do you want me to have him come down here?"
Nate has to be shitting John. There's no way he's going to drag Brad, who's a good guy, into this; they barely know each other.
"Um, no. I think I'm good with you," he says, not wanting to accidentally offend Nate, especially since John's not sure what the deal with him and Brad is. "I guess I just want to know how to make things go back to how they were.
"I think you can do it. Evan really cares about you, you know, and that outweighs whatever shit you guys are in," Nate says, refilling John's glass and shifting in his seat. "When he got here, he was this angry, bitter person. Rudy was skeptical he'd ever cheer up. I'm glad you're trying to work out your differences, but I'm not sure you're seeing the big picture."
"I know," John says. He really does, and he also knows that he could be here for some time and still hasn't finished his work, so he picks up the shirt he'd been sewing buttons back on, rethreading the needle. "What are you trying to accomplish by telling me? Before he left, there—we had an...argument, and I think that's when we began and ended."
"A resolution," Nate says, taking a few things from the basket to fold. "For you two, I mean. Or the start of something great. Whatever problems you're having, I understand. Brad and I were the exact same way for a long time, and you can bet it didn't help that I'm kind of everyone's boss. We're making it work, though, and I really do think if you and Evan have a real conversation about this, it'll at least work out the tension."
"Okay," John says, already trying to work out what he'll say and do, and Nate says he's, of course, welcome to stay indefinitely. The rest of the day is considerably harder, though, since he's trying to dream up some speech that'll fix everything with Q-Tip and also fix all the broken shit laying on the workshop table.
The guys are pretty nice about how distracted John is, but when he almost slices through Baptista's finger with a laser, they send him to go help clean the main compound, where he can't maim or kill anyone. And he doesn't want to be known as the guy who slacks off, but he figures everyone must have an off day not and then, right?
He'll have twenty minutes of concentration and then his thoughts will drift back to Q-Tip for an hour while he wipes the same spot over and over. Caroline is totally going to kick his ass in a couple hours, when she sees what he's done. Or failed to do, he guesses, because everything wooden is streaky and half-dusty instead of clean.
All through quiet hour, John paces and thinks. Q-Tip gets seriously annoyed when his "alone time" is interrupted. Going in there to try and make this right now would only serve to push them further apart.
Dinner's way too public for John to even think about talking to Q-Tip. Hopefully this isn't some kind of sign that he really shouldn't be doing this at all. He drinks about six glasses of water and fills up on bread, which feels like rocks in the pit of his stomach. Every so often (a lot—too much) he glances down to the other end of the table, where Q-Tip's stuffing his face and talking very animatedly with some guy John thinks is nicknamed Manimal.
Nate slips John an encouraging look or two, though he seems kind of preoccupied with something Gunny's telling him. Brad looks like he knows something's up, which he probably does, though John can't tell if it's about him or not. It's hard to stay calm with so much going on inside his head.
Someone really should invent a pill that lets you turn your mind off, especially since there are ones for cleaning your teeth and improving your muscles and letting you make babies. He'd take a no-thoughts pill in a second, no questions asked.
Once the meal's over and everyone's cleared out, he lingers at the table, hoping it'll give him some sort of answer. He can't say he's surprised when nothing comes (though he'll admit disappointment). In hindsight, he can see how fucked up everything was, just plain wrong, except he never had to worry about any of this shit. And he never thought he'd have to handle (or accept) being different until he met Q-Tip.
That's why he has to go over there. John must owe him a thanks, at the very least. He's able to slip unnoticed through the dark and even into Q-Tip's room without anyone noticing.
"Do you have a few minutes?" John asks. When he gets a nod in response, he closes the door, sucks in a breath, and mentally composes everything he'd planned on saying. His heart's pounding in his chest when he starts with a general apology for not understanding whatever he didn't at the time.
Q-Tip's expression softens, and that eases John enough to keep talking.
"You probably hate me right now, and I get it, but I don't feel the same. I came here for you," he admits, "all the way out here. Don't tell me I'm too late. You scared the shit out of me at first. I didn't know what your deal was or why I was having all these feelings, and even with that, all I wanted to do was hang out with you. When I helped you break into the main complex, it wasn't because I really cared about Lilley. It was 'cause I couldn't stand the idea of you getting caught and, you know, fucking reeducated."
John's not getting any reaction, just a blank stare; it's unnerving. He makes himself keep going: it's now or never and he needs to do this for himself.
"I didn't realize everything until after you left, and then I found out that I was probably in really deep shit, so I just left. You might not see it this way, but I followed you here." He's out of breath and has to stop for a second, but keeps going before Q-Tip says something.
"Then the LT talked to me and I...motherfuck, I'd follow you anywhere. I'm kind of in love with you and I don't even know what you—if you feel the same way. So I just need to know, or else I'll probably lose my mind."
The next few (silent) moments are the longest of John's life. He's searching Q-Tip's face for any signs of emotion and getting nothing, making the logical side of his brain hate the emotional one. It feels like forever.
"About damn time," Q-Tip says slowly. "I never thought anyone could be so out of it, and then I met you." He's smiling while he says it. Everything is right and good.
The biggest sigh of relief pushes itself from John's body. Finally, they're okay. He's been waiting for this for weeks; it's practically made him sick, and it's definitely set him on edge.
In a breath, John draws up what little bravery he has left and says, "I don't know if this is the time, but I want—"
Before he can say anything else, or even fucking breathe, their mouths are touching, the space between them gone. It feels like someone lit him on fire and left him there to spark; that's how good it already is, and his skin feels tight with want. He exhales from the shock of it, then Q-Tip coughs and they both have to pull away.
John says sorry and Q-Tip says you ready this time? and John says yeah.
It's timed better so it's better overall. Q-Tip's tongue is warm and soft, surprisingly gentle, and the newness of the situation is exciting. They're not even remotely buzzed (John had considered liquid courage before talking to Q-Tip, but thought it'd make him fuzzy-headed and careless), yet he feels high off endorphins or something.
For a few minutes, he slips out of...not consciousness, exactly, but a state of knowing, and when he refocuses, his head's clear. Like fucking magic, only he knows that shit doesn't exist.
Q-Tip's hand is around his throat, fingertips leaving colored points of pressure, and John's never felt safer. He's pressed against the door with Q-Tip's thigh between his legs and no way to close his mouth (not that he'd want to, shit)—the situation's completely out of his control, basically, and he couldn't care less. This is the only place he wants to be. If he could stay here forever, he'd do it without a second thought.
Outside the room (which is the only important place at the moment, but John still has ears) he registers someone walking in the hallway and it sounds like they're pausing right at Q-Tip's door.
"Hey," John says, trying to keep his voice low and wow, he's raspy. "I don't think we're alone."
Turning away for a minute (and giving John a great view of his ass), Q-Tip locks the door, grabbing the chair to jam it, too.
"Just in case," he says with a half-smile, showing bright white teeth that John really wants to swipe his tongue across. The opportunity presents itself a moment later, when Q-Tip slots their mouths together again, only with more urgency this time. And there should be, after months of tension and buildup, their horrible fight that left John shaken for days.
And all of that seems to be working itself out—with their tongues practically shoved down each other's throats, no less, but a resolution is a resolution, even if the pressure in John's spine keeps building. If it doesn't stop soon he's going to...actually, it hasn't happened before, so he has no fucking clue, but it probably won't be good.
"Bed," Q-Tip says into John's neck, and then bites it.
We're there already? John wants to ask. He's never been with someone, so he doesn't know if there's supposed to be some kind of timeline: x minutes of kissing times y number of days they've known each other, or whatever, and he's also kind of fucking thrilled that this is happening.
"Take this off," he insists, tugging uselessly at John's shirt. "Fuck, I wanna see."
All of the muscles of John's body freeze up. He knows his face tenses.
This is new for them, and sex is new to John, period. Q-Tip knows what John thinks of his appearance, if he hasn't forgotten, and this is completely different from seeing each other in workout gear. He'll do it, but he'd really rather not go first. He pulls his shirt down, holding it by his waist like an idiot.
Q-Tip rolls his eyes a little, and John worries that this will be over before it's even started. But he just says I can't believe I gotta do this and then sits John down on the bed.
"Can’t you see—fuck, you’re beautiful, okay? And I’m not gonna repeat myself, so I hope you heard me." It's the sincerity of his tone that gets John, makes him understand what this is: the start of a relationship, not just a random fuck, and Q-Tip sees the best version of John.
"Okay," he says, letting his hands drop. They hit the wooden bedframe, and he pulls away while trying to keep them from touching anything else. "Okay, yeah. Thanks. I needed that."
"Fuck, do you ever shut up?" Q-Tip plops down next to him and John bites his lip, enjoying the actual fucking whimper he gets in response. It's a different angle, but John turns his head just a little and sees where the moon's casting shadows on Q-Tip's face.
Maybe it's not better (their teeth knock together) or maybe they just need to figure out how they're doing this; it gets good again when he notices he's being eased back against the pillows, Q-Tip's body fitting perfectly above John's.
He's really hard, enough that having pants on is uncomfortable. Q-Tip's hard too, though, and the way they're pressed together is almost good enough for John to leave everything be.
"Can we...fuck, I just need to—" His face is flushing, and for no apparent reason, which is embarrassing and really childish and probably something Q-Tip's going to laugh at him about. "It's…" he gestures vaguely to his jeans, how they're obviously tented in the front."
"Yeah," Q-Tip says, and then something clicks and he gets it. "Hang on."
A couple minutes later, they're half-sitting, half-kneeling on the bed, and John has to grab Q-Tip's shirt just to stay upright with how he's being manhandled. One of Q-Tip's hands is slowly working the buttons on John's shirt open, and the fingers of the other are in his hair, short as it is. The feel of nails against his scalp isn't exactly good or bad, it's just different, like it's pushing him to keep going.
Carefully, he lets his hands fall from the fabric he'd been clutching and drop to waist-level, where they eventually settle on Q-Tip's waist. His belt is tricky, or maybe it's just John's shaky hands; either way, he struggles with it for a good minute before Q-Tip breaks away and helps him out.
It's too hard to kiss while Q-Tip is having issues with his own of his clothes, getting his pants halfway over his boots before he figures out that he should've ditched them before pulling denim down his thighs. John takes off his own shoes and socks to speed the process, but Q-Tip grabs John's hand just as he's pulling the zipper.
"Lemme," he says, voice a little ragged already. "Go back down." And John was never down in the first place, but he listens, spreading his legs so Q-Tip has room to kneel between them. He shivers when fingers brush the inside of his thigh, can't keep from pitching forward until he's pushed back with a half-annoyed huff.
Soon it's Q-Tip's hands all over John's bare legs, the roughness of his palms ignored in favor of focusing on the tingly feeling in John's stomach. It's kind of like he needs to get sick, actually, but there's no bile rising in the back of his throat, and it's not bad, just kind of different.
"What are we doing?" he gasps, mostly breathless, and doesn't inhale as he waits for an answer. Looking down is a stupid mistake, thoughtless, because he sees Q-Tip: hair mussed, eyes bright, lips damp, fucking naked, glancing up at John like he hung the moon or something.
His own eyes fall shut—survival mechanism—and he hooks his fingers into the slats of the headboard to steady himself. "I don't." This isn't as easy as he thought it would be. "You know I haven't." It's not a full sentence or even very logical. He can't bring himself to say more and hopes it's enough.
"Dunno," Q-Tip answers, and he's chewing his lip when John finally manages to open his eyes. "What are you, you know, into?"
The frustration starts seeping into John's bones then, because didn't he just say he didn't fucking know and wonders if Q-Tip's being dense on purpose. He shrugs and rubs at his face, wanting desperately to hide, but not to leave.
"Just come up here," he finally says, and they're kissing again and still naked and touching a lot. His hips come up without him telling them to, which makes Q-Tip laugh and ask what else? The air's being pushed from John's lungs, a little at a time, so he ends up with his palms splayed just below Q-Tip's ribs, a last resort if he needs one.
Something's poking his thigh, and it takes him a minute to figure out that it's Q-Tip's dick. Messing around makes John stupid, apparently, or maybe he can blame that on how most of the blood in his body is being diverted to the same place on him. The need to get off is kind of urgent, and when his hips come up again he digs his nails into Q-Tip's back.
"Come on," John says. He hasn't waited this long to come against Q-Tip's belly without even being touched. That'd be really disappointing, and he does his best to push Q-Tip off of him so the point's clear.
"I want." He takes a big breath and forces himself to meet Q-Tip's eyes. "Fuck me." Q-Tip looks like he's been hit, and John panics internally until he says yes, all raw and eager.
There's a rush of cool air over John's body when Q-Tip hauls himself up and off, his ass just as pale and perfect as the rest of him. He's digging through his dresser and John's breathing won't slow down no matter how hard he tries.
Q-Tip comes away from the dresser with a little bottle dangling from between his fingers, yanking the bunched-up covers from off the bed before sitting down on it again. He strokes along the hair under John's navel and when his hand drops lower it's like a revelation, everything he's been waiting for and more.
It makes his breath catch in his chest, not that it hasn't been doing that for the past twenty minutes, and it's not until Q-Tip puts his whole hand around him that he can exhale. Of course, it's just then that a whine forces its way out of John's throat while his dick is fucking twitching in Q-Tip's palm.
He doesn't follow it up with words, if only because he can't form them, though it might be a good idea. Q-Tip's mouth is curled in a half-smile and John wonders if he's doing something wrong.
John's a little put-off (nowhere near enough to think about stopping), which is how his thoughts start wandering and end on the concept that Q-Tip's hard too and kind of preoccupied. The bottle's a little hard to reach, having fallen to the side, but John gets it anyway, popping the cap once it's upright.
"So this is where we...you know, right?" Being embarrassed is kind of weird, because they're about to do what he can't say and it doesn't seem to have faded at all since he poured his heart out.
"What makes you think I'm some kinda expert?" One of Q-Tip's eyebrows goes up almost comically, but John's naked with his legs spread, so nothing's really funny right now.
"Um," John hedges, because he really doesn't know, but he's kind of always equated Q-Tip's confidence with the ability to sleep with whoever he wanted. "Shit, does it matter?" He shifts onto his stomach, hiding his face in the process. Q-Tip snaps the top back on the bottle, leaving his fingers wrapped around it, and pushes John back to where he was.
"Guess not. Don't worry about it." His breath is coming in hot puffs right over the base of John's dick, a tease he can barely stand. "Dude, you have to relax," Q-Tip insists, pressing a kiss to John's hipbone, and it takes work not to jerk on impact and break Q-Tip's nose.
"This is—fuck—great; I just...you don't have to," he says for lack of something better, because Q-Tip's this close to sucking John's dick and the last thing he wants is to seem ungrateful.
"When have I ever done something I didn't wanna?" Q-Tip asks, pulling back so he can look straight at John. "This is just gettin' started. You're seriously tense, is all. Nothing's gonna happen if you stay like that."
He's right, of course, and John threads his fingers in Q-Tip's hair so he has an outlet for the tension. The relief is momentary; Q-Tip ducks lower without saying anything else, which is almost too much for John to handle. He's never had someone's mouth on him like this before. It's terrifying and thrilling at once—he wants to bolt but it feels too good, hot and wet and messy.
John sees Q-Tip's throat working before he can feel it open, and he hears himself moan, pitchy and loud in the mostly-empty room. Lower down, Q-Tip couldn't be more pleased with himself. Words aren't necessary for John to figure this out, all keyed-up and breathless, because Q-Tip's doing his best impression of a smile and John can feel the extra space.
Suddenly there's something cold and wet pushing at his asshole and nothing but air around his dick. He whines when Q-Tip presses his hips back down.
"Wait a minute," he hears Q-Tip say thickly, and then the blanket's being folded into something resembling a square and slid under John's ass. "I'm gonna—" he wiggles his fingers. "Just tell me if you can't handle it."
It strikes John (for the first time, because he's an idiot) that Q-Tip is giving him every opportunity available to back out, and it's thoughtful when he considers that Q-Tip's not being overly gentle with his fingers.
"Keep going," he says, the decision reaffirmed when John accidentally moves or Q-Tip does something with his finger and his spine goes all tingly. There's some pressure, but it's not terrible. Sex is supposed to be great, everyone's said, and here he is: naked, squirming, and praying for Q-Tip's mouth on him again, because that'd make it great.
Like most things, he's making that as difficult as possible. John's sure Q-Tip knows what he wants, but he won't until it's specifically requested, John stuttering and trying not to turn too red. It happens soon enough (though not before Q-Tip coats another finger to make the slide in easier), except there's no rhythm to any of it and that's frustrating.
When Q-Tip presses the tip of his ring finger to where the other two are working inside John, he can't help but tense up again, flailing until his palms find the headboard. That makes everything stop for a minute, or until Q-Tip decides John's okay—his sense of time is fucked.
He accidentally pushes forward, trying to adjust faster, and his hips (and dick) follow. This doesn't seem to faze Q-Tip, who just lets it happen without trying to take control, for once in his life. It's tighter, between how Q-Tip's throat is practically enveloping John's dick and he's gotten a third finger into John's ass, completely new and incredibly good.
Maybe Q-Tip was right about it being too much, if that also means stop before John breaks into a million little pieces thanks to that fucking mouth. Nothing comes out when he opens his own, and he might just die of frustration if he doesn't come soon.
He gets close without even realizing it. What Q-Tip's doing is too much and not enough all at once, and he feels like he might black out. He tries to form words, to say something intelligible as a warning; he'd bet it's the polite thing to do. Being an incoherent mess, though, John presses his head to the pillow and comes, his body arching off the bed.
Minutes later, his heart's finding its normal pace, and his breathing's pretty much even. Q-Tip is looking at him hungrily but sitting back on his heels, doing that almost-cautious thing again.
"What?" John asks, hating how his voice rasps against his dry throat but too preoccupied to put on pants and get water. "Don't tell me I did it wrong or something."
"No," Q-Tip says, "just…" and when he crawls back over John can feel what Q-Tip meant.
"Right," he says. But he doesn't know if he's supposed to use his mouth or what, and asking will probably make him seem stupid. Q-Tip doesn't say or do anything to help him out, not that John expected that of him. The awkward handjob he attempts must not be a complete failure, though, because Q-Tip's eyes shut and his hips press up.
He feels validated enough to push Q-Tip back and sit on his thighs, trying to kiss him and keep the motion of his hand steady all at once. He's not entirely successful, which seems to matter less the more he flicks his thumb over the head of Q-Tip's dick. Mostly he tries to do what feels good on himself, only on Q-Tip (obviously). The skin under his hand is getting slicker, and Q-Tip seems to be enjoying himself.
Stopping for a minute, he sees the way Q-Tip's head is tipped back, his skin flushing from his cheeks to his chest, his eyes flicking back and forth under his lids. Then his eyes open, much more black than green now, and he asks, "What's the holdup?"
"I'm, um, I just wanted to," John stutters, wondering why his brain has to pick now to stop forming coherent sentences. But he doesn't have to worry about finishing it, because Q-Tip pulls John into him by the back of his neck and kisses him with just enough tongue.
When his hips shift accidentally, it sets off a spark of pleasure in his core, and he does it again, on purpose this time. And again, and again, and again, until Q-Tip separates their mouths.
"What?" John asks.
"Dude, seriously?" Q-Tip doesn't follow this up with an explanation, though. He just wraps an arm around John's back and flips them over in one smooth move. "Ready to try this again?" There's just a hint of smugness in his voice, and he gets his arm out from underneath John to fumble for a tube on the nightstand.
He closes his eyes, and tries to stay relaxed as Q-Tip pushes into him. Deep breaths help. So does gripping Q-Tip's shoulders to make sure he doesn't move. There's too much pressure just to ignore it; he has to wait it out with Q-Tip tense above him, as still as he can be and so hard.
"Okay," John says after what feels like forever. It must feel longer to Q-Tip. "I'm ready. Just...slow, okay?" The first move comes with a rush of soreness, and maybe he winces, because Q-Tip kisses him, and that's distraction enough. John feels naked, trapped, even though he knows he's safe, and he puts his hand on Q-Tip's face and pushes him back to look for a second. That doesn't go unnoticed, but neither of them say anything, and Q-Tip starts to suck a mark into John's neck.
He arches up into it, feeling Q-Tip press deeper into him with the shift. Playing dirty, and John feels it again, like he might break. Q-Tip's thrusts speed up and the friction on John's dick, which is trapped between their bodies, builds and builds, a counterpoint to the warmth spreading at the base of his spine.
It's almost good enough to hurt, Q-Tip moving steadily, confidently (and John's thighs are going to be sore tomorrow from the new position), but it's not quite enough, and he's lost the ability to say what he wants. Again.
With some maneuvering, he gets one hand down to touch himself, surprised that he's already come and is this hard again. But his hand's knocked away by Q-Tip's, and the other one balances on John's hip so he can keep going. John tries to say how close he is. Q-Tip steals his breath with a kiss and John's eyes open and he just can't hold back any longer.
All the motion is gone, and as soon as John can think again, he says, "Come on, let me do you, I wanna see," watching Q-Tip's face as he jerks him off, not hesitant this time.
Q-Tip keeps biting his lip and cursing, showing a whole new lack of restraint, and it's fucking hot. His fingers wind themselves through the slats on the headboard. John ignores the ache starting in his wrist and goes faster because he can feel how close Q-Tip is.
Within two minutes, there's a sticky burst of warmth across John's hand, and he meets Q-Tip's eyes, just watching him get off. Wow, he thinks, heart racing. Then, stupidly, I did that.
Catching his breath takes some time, long minutes of his skin growing tacky and his thoughts filtering back in. They're not worried ones, though (must be an effect of the sex), even with the fact that he just did it with his best friend.
They're sweaty and sticky and probably smell terrible, but make do with using a damp cloth to clean up, since the showers stop working after nine at night. John flops back into bed like his bones could turn into gel and give out at any moment. His eyelids get heavier and heavier, and soon he's losing the fight to stay awake and savor how they're kind of touching and completely relaxed.
"Hey," Q-Tip asks, poking John in the ribs. It hurts, and he doesn't see why it's necessary. "You still awake. I can't sleep."
"Mmf," John says. Drifting in and out of wakefulness isn't the same as being awake and willing to participate in a conversation. He came maybe fifteen minutes ago, and he's a teenager, but he's still tired. It's not like he can just jump up and leave, what with them being in the same bed and his muscles being useless. "'s a matter?"
"I'm glad you're here an' all, cuz it sucked back there, but I'm not...I think I'm gonna leave."
"What?" Well, he's certainly a-fucking-wake now. "Prob'ly not a good idea to dro' a bomb on someone like that." And his mouth hasn't quite caught up. Q-Tip can deal; he just sprang something big on John. "Especially after...fuck, did you even think this shit through?"
"Mostly," Q-Tip says, and that's just fucking great, because mostly will get you an A for effort and a D for actual work. Even John was sure about what he was doing when he left the 'ville. "Kinda. Don't you want more than this? I do. Being here makes my skin itch. This place is fucking suffocating me. I can't stand routine. And there are so many fucking rules."
The irony of what Q-Tip is saying forces a shocked laugh out of John. It's bitter in his throat, almost. Certainly not in response to actual humor.
"Are you shitting me?" John can barely process the situation. "You practically dragged me out here, saying this place would be the best thing to ever happen to me, and now you want to leave? Well, that's just great. Really. Where are you going to run off to next?"
"Sometimes you gotta do without worrying," Q-Tip says, like he'd pack a bag and leave without a map or a buddy or a plan. To John, it sounds whack. Even though he came out here alone, he had some idea of where he was going and how long it'd take to get there. "There are some places I've heard of that are tryin'a change things. I want that. Not people who sit around and talk about how much things blow but don't do shit."
He's so wrong, John knows, and just as they're working themselves back together, something like this has to come along. It's probably going to tear them apart. He's not going to let it without a fight, but once Q-Tip gets an idea, there's absolutely no stopping him.
"Why can't you just be happy here? If you leave, you'll probably find someplace else and then decide you want to move again," John says. Their situation dictates that not staying in the same place for too long is a good idea, which he gets, but lots of activity might put targets on their backs—meeting more people increases the chance that one of them is an informant.
"Maybe," agrees Q-Tip. "Or maybe not. Whatever. I won't know until it happens, either way. But I don't wanna regret something I didn't do. I can't be caged, John, we can't live like that. We didn't used to." He knows Q-Tip's talking about ancient history, back when people wandered the earth, back when they killed to eat and walked everywhere and lived in little tight-knit pockets, bound by family and language.
But that was when years were measured in a different way and no one was in charge. So long ago it was just a footnote in what he learned in school.
"And what am I supposed to do?" John asks, for lack of something more coherent or profound to contribute. "Stay here while you run off and save the world? Great. Just what I wanted."
"No way you're staying behind," Q-Tip insists. "Forget this. Come with me."
There's no way Q-Tip's managed to do this to him again. His head spins. Everything in front of him becomes blurry.
"Can you go?" he asks. "I have to think about this. We'll talk tomorrow."
"Really, Q-Tip says. "Wow." Before John can say anything else, he grabs his pants and leaves, slamming the door behind him.