Sometimes, she pictures what it would be like. Not to hit him in a violent bout of grief and betrayal, but to do it deliberately, methodically. Murder, premeditated, first-degree. She imagines rat poison and elevator shafts, imagines machetes and guns and, on one memorable occasion, a rocket launcher –
“I should have blown his fucking brains out,” she tells the wall, but at that point, she thinks she might just be channeling Wolfgang.
“You should have,” he agrees, promptly appearing next to her on the narrow bunk. He settles in like he usually does, with his back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of him like he’s in it for the long haul, looking around the cell with intent fascination as if there is something significant to see, rather than the same disgusting metal toilet and the same bare concrete walls.
He does this a lot, she has noticed; comes to visit her at odd hours, keeps her company in her cell without saying much. Sometimes she wonders if he’s not doing it out of some displaced sense of remorse, as if he thinks this is where he should be, since he is the one who committed the crime she is merely thinking about, and still she is here while he walks free.
She never asks him, though, because solitary confinement is lonely and he is here; in exchange, he takes her with him on his walks around Berlin, lets her experience the foreign culture through his eyes. He takes her to Turkish fast-food places for greasy döner kebab and to the public pool in Neukölln, makes her read the horrible tabloids at the private clinic while he sits with his friend, and once lets his guard down enough to allow her to be there when he gets drunk off his ass on the cheapest vodka and breaks down crying, lonely and lost.
“Why didn’t you just drop him, though?” he asks now, and she knows it’s not an idle question, knows he is trying to understand. “Why didn’t you let him crash and burn when you found out what he did? Him and your father – you owed them nothing.”
She looks down at her hands and is quiet. “It was about honor,” she says eventually, but almost reluctantly, because she thinks he won’t understand.
“Honor?” someone repeats, and when she looks back up, Lito is sitting on the bunk, squeezing in between Wolfgang and the wall, leaning into Wolfgang’s shoulder, a knee pulled up into his chest. “Whose honor, though?” he asks. “Yours or theirs?”
She laughs a little, amazed to realize that it barely sounds bitter. She knows what her family would say, that she doesn’t have any honor left these days: that she lied to the court, that she is in prison for embezzlement, that she beat her own brother bloody and enjoyed it, too. But even as she thinks it, she knows it’s not as easy as that.
“You lied,” Lito finally nods, when he sees that she can’t bring herself to say it out loud. “You lied and lost your face to the world, but you did it because it was the honorable thing to do. Me,” he says and points a finger at himself like a gun directed at his own chest: “Me, I lied to keep my face, and it wasn’t very honorable at all.”
He looks sad, and she thinks that he, too, spends a lot of time in this cell, sharing a bunk with Wolfgang and her more often than not. She does not have to look into his eyes to see that he feels like he belongs here with them as well: the liars, the murderers, the fighters.
Sun thinks he is being too hard on himself. There is a reason he lied, the same reason she always stayed quiet about her nightly life; because no matter what Nomi may say about the violence you do to yourself, there are also consequences to telling the truth. And Lito may be out to the world, but when she visits with him, she sees all the things he now keeps from Hernando as well: sees him sitting by the phone waiting for a call from his agent, reads over his shoulder when he opens another piece of hate mail, watches him hunch up his shoulders and pull a hood over his head when he sneaks out of his house in the middle of the day like a thief into the night.
Perhaps, she thinks, it’s impossible to be truly honest for people like them: Perhaps telling one truth only leads to a dozen other lies.
“When I stood on that podium,” she says slowly, “and told them I had taken the money, I knew exactly what I was doing and yet it did not feel like I was telling a lie. But now, Min-Jung or Soo-Jin will smile at me, and I feel ashamed for lying, because I am not who they think I am.”
“Because you did not actually ruin your family?” Lito asks slowly, and she nods.
“Because these women gave everything to be free, and I was not strong enough to stand up for myself.”
“What,” Wolfgang smirks. “You don’t think you slaughtered enough people for Capheus to feel like you’ve earned a bed in this hotel?”
She shakes her head and looks away. It’s something she doesn’t particularly like to think about – not because she feels guilty, but precisely because she feels absolutely no regret. “It’s not the same,” she says. “It was him or them. I did it to save him.”
Wolfgang shrugs. “And I would have killed many more people than I did if it meant keeping Felix safe. People like us will do horrible things for those we love.”
And sometimes, we do horrible things just because, she thinks, or perhaps it’s really his thought she hears; but she doesn’t have time to figure it out before a clanging noise announces the opening of the door. Together, they watch Min-Jung enter the cell, watch her crouch awkwardly to set a steaming plastic bowl onto the ground.
Sun slides off the bunk to meet her on the floor.
“Who are you talking to?” Min-Jung whispers as she hands over the usual plastic spoon wrapped in a napkin, slowly, slowly, to give them more time to speak.
“Only myself,” Sun says lightly, and Min-Jung glances at her in concern.
“This is what solitary does to you,” she says quietly. “The loneliness can drive you insane.” With her back to the door, behind the cover of her own body, for a split second her fingers touch the back of Sun’s hand.
“Don’t let it break you,” she whispers and gets back to her feet. “You are stronger than that. And remember that you are not alone in here.”
Sun smiles a little. “I know,” she says, and watches as the heavy door falls shut behind the old woman once more.
“See,” Lito gestures towards the door. “They like you.”
She shifts until she is sitting on her heels. “Because they believe I did something I didn’t actually do.”
Wolfgang shakes his head. “They don’t respect you for what you did,” he says. “They respect you because they can see that you’ve got it in you too.”
She looks at him in askance. “That I’ve got what?”
“What we see in each other,” Nomi says quietly, appearing in the corner of the room. She leans against the wall and wraps her cardigan more tightly around herself.
“The rage. The hurt. The anger at the men who made us feel ashamed of ourselves.”
There is no need to ask who she means – the painful marks are all over their skins, easy for Sun to make out when she looks at her friends, even if they are invisible to everyone else: Nomi’s parents with their cold disapproval and their cutting words, Wolfgang’s father with his brutal fists and his contempt, Lito’s cousins with their gloating displays of machismo, their disgust for the putos they like to talk about so much.
Sun does not let herself think of her brother, her father. Instead, she thinks of the last man she slept with, Cho Ye-Jun, a mid-level manager with a partner company. She hadn’t been in love with him, but she had liked him enough to let him get close, until the day she had found out that he was sleeping with her to take advantage of her family connections. She’d thought it was ironic he’d go to the effort, given that her father pretended she didn’t exist half the time; but she’d still made sure his superior knew that he kept using the company credit card to pay for visits to hostess clubs. He got fired quickly after that.
“Is that why you never join us?” Nomi asks, carefully but curiously, as if she knows it’s none of her business and yet cannot quite help herself.
Sun doesn’t think Ye-Jun has much to do with anything, except that he’s another man who saw her as nothing but a stepping-stone to success and failed. He certainly doesn’t have anything to do with what she feels when she occasionally finds herself in the others’ bedrooms these days, without ever actually meaning to. She thinks this probably means they must have been thinking about her, suspects that perhaps Nomi does it on purpose sometimes, a means of sharing pleasure, a way of inviting her in.
Sun doesn’t mind, but she never joins them either. Sometimes, though, she stays to watch, and not only because she doesn’t always know how to leave once she is there. There is a purposeful beauty to the act that she enjoys, a choreography of moving bodies, a form of dancing just as fighting can be. She likes to watch Nomi with Amanita, their playfulness, their tenderness, the way they shift from deeply romantic to laughing within seconds and back. She likes watching Lito with Hernando, the play of muscles under tanned skin, strong bodies arching together in a perfect rhythm only they can hear.
Once, only once, she showed up in Berlin to find Wolfgang slowly stroking himself, stretched out naked on rumpled sheets. She smiled at him and sat on the floor, cross-legged, leaning back against the container that served him as a wardrobe, hands on her knees.
He looked at her from half-lidded eyes, one hand lazily moving up and down his length. “Are you sure?” he asked, and for a moment she thought about it, knew he wouldn’t mind if she touched him, might welcome it even, and she wondered what it would feel like to lie down next to him and reach out.
“If you don’t mind,” she said politely in the end, “I would rather just watch.”
He merely shrugged lightly, as if to say “suit yourself”, then tilted his head back and closed his eyes. She almost asked him who he was thinking about, but it seemed rude to put the question into words, and she knew his thoughts well enough to imagine. In her mind, she could picture it: Kala’s gentle smile, dark curls spilling over bare shoulders; Felix, healthy and happy, his head thrown back in laughter; even herself in the middle of a fight, gaze focused, her body tight and poised to strike. She sat and watched and listened, and when he came with a groan, spine arching, she disappeared before he opened his eyes.
Sun remembers smiling for the rest of the day, but she isn’t sure how to explain this to Nomi, whose love for Amanita is so entangled in their physical bond. It isn’t so much that she dislikes sex, really, in fact, she finds it pleasant enough; it’s rather that it’s always felt somewhat perfunctory to her, half-hearted, not really worth the sweat and blood that went into it in the end.
“I think I simply prefer fighting,” she now says slowly, and Wolfgang pulls a lop-sided smile.
“Yes,” he says, “sometimes I do too.”
Sun sees Nomi and Lito look at each other with identical frowns, and almost laughs at their helpless incomprehension. It’s amusing enough in itself, but more than that, it fills her with a sudden sense of relief: relief to know that she can share her utmost inner thoughts and yet be herself, that they are not the same person, that she knows Nomi and Lito and Wolfgang, and still knows who Sun is as well.
She climbs to her feet and carries the food back to the bunk, balancing the bowl carefully on one knee as she reaches for the spoon.
“Dog food,” Lito says with disgust, eyeing the meal with deep suspicion. “You should not have to eat this. Why don’t you come visit with me later? Hernando is going to cook for me.”
Wolfgang looks at him from beneath raised brows. “She still needs to eat.”
“I know,” Lito responds reluctantly, frustration clear on his face. They all know that tasting things through the bond does not provide any nourishment, but it can be so tempting to forget. Sun had found out the hard way when she had fainted one morning, trying to get up from her bed. Will had appeared and caught her before she could hit her head on the hard concrete floor, but when she came back to herself, she realized that for two days, she hadn’t eaten anything but Hernando’s lime chicken soup, and a curry at the restaurant around the corner from Wolfgang’s place. Which for all intents and purposes, she had not actually eaten at all, even if she could still remember the taste of chili and Mexican oregano on her tongue if she focused hard.
She sighs and dips the spoon into the soup, but a hand covers hers before she can guide it to her mouth.
“Here,” Wolfgang says and reaches for the spoon. “Let me do this.” Together, they eat quickly, and she feels the warmth of the broth sliding down her throat, can feel her stomach filling up, but the stale, unpleasant taste is somewhat distant, more bearable now that it’s shared.
“You know you are going to get out of here,” Nomi says suddenly, and Sun blinks as she sets down the empty bowl.
“I don’t think so,” she says, resigned. “My lawyer has tried everything he can. My father spoke to him before his death, and he has convincing evidence to make a case.” She shrugs. “But my brother was well-connected, and after what I did to him, the police is even less inclined to reopen the file on my father’s death. They will be charging me with assault instead.”
“I’m certain your lawyer is an honorable man who did the best he could,” Nomi nods, although the way she says it makes it clear that she is not so sure at all. “But I doubt he has got our joint resources at his disposal.”
“Your joint resources?” Sun asks slowly, and Nomi smiles.
“I think we should take advantage of the fact that Lito has got more money that he could ever need, I can hack into pretty much any security system in the world, and Wolfgang is banging a locksmith.”
Wolfgang clears his throat. “I’m not b-“
“Shh, be quiet,” Nomi waves him off. “Is, wants to, whatever, you know I have been in your head. The point I am making here is: We are working on it. We’ll get you out.”
“It will be like Ocean’s Eleven,” Lito says happily, and rubs his hands. “Plus telepathy. Minus three.”
Sun looks at his excited face and can feel a spark of the hopefulness he feels in her chest; then her gaze falls away and she stares down at her knees.
“I’ll never be able to clear my name,” she says quietly, for her own sake as much as for his.
“I’ll always be on the run.”
“Yes,” Wolfgang says evenly. His jaw is tight, but his eyes are clear. “You probably will be.”
“But at least,” Nomi says steadily, “running means that when the BPO comes after you, you will actually be able to run.”
“And you will be in good company,” Lito smiles, more gently now. “Remember,” he says, and reaches out to brush her hair away from her face, “remember that you are not alone.”
“I know,” she nods, and sits very still when she feels Nomi’s hand come to rest on her arm.
That night, when she is lying awake in her bunk because sleep simply won’t come, she pictures what it will be like to face him, just one last time. She can see it clearly, his terrified gaze, the moment he’ll ask whether she came to kill him, the way he will beg, without doubt. She wonders what she’ll do, and realizes, without much surprise, that it’s not only her decision to make. In her mind, she can see herself looking down at him, but she does not only see herself. She can see Nomi at her side, can see Lito at her back, can see Wolfgang holding a gun, and thinks perhaps that what she’ll decide doesn’t matter so much anymore. Perhaps anger, like sorrow, is more easily carried when shared.