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Quarter to Three

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Nights were difficult. While he’d always been drawn to late hours for as long as he could remember, there was something different about this particular brand of insomnia. Wolfgang supposed it was a side effect of being unconscious for long stretches of time. Made sleep hard to come by, body lying rigid against cool sheets that were miles better than cold and unforgiving slabs of metal but his brain couldn’t compute the idea, couldn’t separate a soft mattress from metal rungs, or the gentle hold of a good woman from too-tight restraints and soon the sweating would start and the world would get smaller, walls closing in on him as darkness crept from the corners, threatening to swallow him whole while the pain in his chest seemingly intensified.

Logically, he knew they were only phantoms of the real shocks he’d taken to the chest, courtesy of BPO. But logic never did much against a wandering, traumatized mind long acquainted with the methods of how to break someone. With all that, Wolfgang reasoned it was safer to stay awake. Easier on his mind and his chest, still bruised but healing.
When he was younger, nights were typically spent huddled under his blanket, making as little noise as possible while he waited for the sounds of his father’s footsteps, a heavy and ominous shuffle as the old miststück plodded by on his way to sleep off the alcohol Wolfgang could smell through his bedroom door.

He would only relax when he heard the snores, tension easing from thin shoulders once he was absolutely certain Anton was asleep. If he was lucky, he’d end the night without the sting of his father’s fists connecting with his flesh, or hearing his mother’s cries once his father rounded on her. And if he were really lucky, he’d stay with Felix. Those were the only nights he could ever remember sleeping more than five hours at a time, before he lived on his own.

He didn’t like to think about it.

Then again, he didn’t like to think about much.

Suppressing those memories was a task after his ordeal with BPO. It was as if the incessant rounds of electricity he’d taken to the chest knocked loose what he worked so hard to hide, leaving him raw, a sharply different pain from the aches he still felt all over, halting his steps into a slower shuffle, with a stiffness in his arms and legs he couldn’t seem to shake.

His cluster was worried about him. He could feel their concern pressing at the back of his mind but they’d thankfully kept out, knowing how much he regarded his privacy. It’d been a collective agreement that they didn’t poke around for long. Whispers was subdued and no posed immediate threat to his inner thoughts, but Wolfgang didn’t trust that something else could change that, especially with Lila still unaccounted for.

He didn’t do paranoia well; it settled at the base of his neck, tensed his shoulders and made him quiet…well, quieter. Living life on someone else’s terms didn’t sit with him. It’d been some time since he felt the need to react in fear, coming a long way from the frightened boy terrorized by his father, and Wolfgang had no intention of letting it happen again. He’d had plenty of experience with the kinds of people who operated through intimidation and touted their power with money and connections. But even though his body was still working to recover, and his mind was still shell shocked, he had to remember he wasn’t alone.

If it wasn’t for his cluster--his family—he wouldn’t have made it out of that damn facility. He supposed that was the root of his nightmares. The resolution of such deeply grim thoughts while strapped in that chair; hooked up to machines, wires all over, the stench of his own blood trapped inside his nostrils. He resigned himself to dying. Sacrifice to protect the others, refusing to allow his mind to betray anything else about them, stubborn in giving Whispers what he wanted. He’d seen worse deaths; at least this one had meaning, beyond his own selfishness. Dying for them. For her.


He’d tried his best not to let his mind wander to her there, already angry Whispers had managed to slither in and piece together her name. He refused to give more, to betray the depth of his affections for her, his love shifting into a defiant kind of rage and he supposed that explained why they’d stepped up the torment in the hopes that he’d weaken and spill more of his secrets. But Wolfgang’s high tolerance for pain never factored in for the faceless suits, and he supposed the reason he hadn’t met that noble death was sheer fucking stubbornness.

That, and a rather bold plan by his cluster involving kidnapping and a little torture of their own, eventually trading Whispers for Wolfgang. He’d still been mostly out of it when everything went down. What he knew, he gleaned from the other seven during those first few days post-rescue once their shock at seeing his battered and bruised body wore off.
It was a pity he didn’t see their handiwork. Whispers’ own damaged form, weakened limbs and eyes clouded over, glancing at nothing. Kala’s doing, he’d learned. A parting gift from the brilliant scientist, incapacitating The Cannibal with a drug concocted from things Wolfgang was sure he couldn’t pronounce, but nonetheless ensured Whispers’ days hunting his own kind would be difficult.

They weren’t naïve to think the fight was over, but at least for now, there was room to breathe.

To heal.

If only he could sleep.

Being with Kala was enough to calm him, if only for a few hours at a time. She’d attempt to stay awake with him but eventually drifted off, and while Wolfgang couldn’t see her dreams, he felt them; a gentle, soothing hum of energy, tucked into the space in his mind where he usually kept thoughts of her.

He also felt the anxious thrum of worry, even in her sleep. The protective arm wrapped around his middle, the hold firm but gentle enough that he could slip out, as he was prone to doing when he grew tired of staring at the ceiling. Carefully, he moved her arm and dropped a kiss to her forehead, lips quirking at the reflexive scrunch of her nose as she stirred but didn’t wake. He knew she was exhausted. Keeping the cluster’s supply of blockers well stocked was not an easy undertaking, and while he knew the work fascinated her, learning more about their make-up as a different species of human and how drugs affected them, it still took a toll.

The guilt of being yet another thing she fretted about didn’t come like he figured it would. Nor the self-loathing at putting her in harm’s way; this was simply the hand they were dealt, the obstacles presented to them by outside factors. He couldn’t have prevented his own kidnapping, though he’d never not regret having just one more bullet during the restaurant showdown with Lila.

He tugged on a pair of black sweats and a grey t-shirt, wincing a bit at the slight soreness in his arms. Nomi figured he had a least a week or two before he was healed completely. His fingers itched sometimes, longing for a good fight or at the very least a round or two with a punching bag but Will vetoed that, warning him about overexertion so soon. Sun had offered to teach him tai chi, to harness his breathing or control…something or other and at first it sounded like the yoga classes Felix got him as a gag gift for his birthday one year but the longer he sat around, the more appealing it seemed.

The apartment was big enough, airy with plenty of windows and open space but he’d long grown tired of pacing the pale hardwood floors, feet sweeping quietly so as not to disturb Kala’s rest during those sleepless nights. He was still getting used to the place. It wasn’t the idea he had in his head when he thought of finally being with the woman he loved, but it would do for now. They discussed it as a cluster, figuring Kala’s original plan of staying in the Paris flat Rajan had purchased was the safe bet, better than London where BPO would no doubt still be monitoring them. Since the place had been purchased with cash, and under a dummy name, tracing either of them to the address would prove complicated. Wolfgang had to hand it to Rajan--the man certainly covered his bases.

It was in a trendy Parisian neighborhood, filled with plenty of old charm with classic architecture, open markets, and so many sights and points of interests blended with modern shops and restaurants. Or so Kala told him. Wolfgang hadn’t ventured out much, mostly to the sidewalk café near the building, whenever he got too restless. Fresh air was nice, but too much wandering within the press of crowds in the unfamiliar setting made him far too aware, the spike in his senses causing a slight tremble in normally steady hands and an irritating sort of panicky feeling he wasn’t used to.

Wolfgang didn’t bother with lights, his steps slow but sure in the darkened apartment when he headed towards the balcony. It was a cozy spot, big enough for a small table set, with a stunning view, especially at night. Gingerly, he eased into one of the wrought iron chairs, slipping down low enough that he could tilt his head back and gaze up at the sky. It was late, well past midnight and the city below held a few twinkling lights but was relatively quiet. He didn’t mind. The air was crisp, a little cool for summer but felt so damn good against his skin.

A cigarette would have been nice. The craving caught him by surprise; he couldn’t remember the last time he had one. It wasn’t as if he was offered creature comforts during his weeks-long tenure with BPO, and he supposed being in and out of consciousness for days on end would really kill the nicotine buzz. Perhaps something good came out of the ordeal, he thought grimly.

With a small grunt, he sat up a little straighter, hands patting his pockets in old habit for the lighter he knew wasn’t there. Most of his stuff had been left behind, a casualty of the chaotic kidnapping, but Wolfgang didn’t miss much. Aside from some old pictures of him and his mother, there were few things he treasured. He did miss Felix, however. Around this time on a night in Berlin, they would still be at some bar knocking back shots and sweating off the alcohol on the dance floor. Eyes closed, he could practically hear the thumping bass and Felix’s excited shouts over the music, his happiness pulling a smile out of Wolfgang because Felix had that effect on everyone.

He missed his brother’s brand of energy. They were due for another phone call; they were relatively brief with no discerning pattern, just in case anyone was monitoring Felix. Which Wolfgang had no doubt was the case. Maybe not with BPO, but definitely with Fuchs, and possibly with Lila. The simmering anger he felt at being driven from his city would never be soothed until he returned, he supposed.

Wolfgang could practically hear Lito tutting in disagreement. There wasn’t much to be done with anger right now. It was best to wait, to put those emotions to good use once he was completely healed and ready to tackle the next step in their fight. All these thoughts of heroes and battles made him long for his action movie nights with Capheus, but he knew it was just as late in Nairobi and their resident wheel-man seemed to be asleep.

They’d all gone their separate ways once the rescue mission proved a success. It was deemed safer for Lito and Capheus to return to Mexico and Nairobi, since BPO was unaware of them. Will and Riley were still in London, and to everyone’s surprise, Sun had remained, as well. Things were much too complicated for her to return to Seoul just yet, but she had every intention of going back and dealing with Joon-ki and their family’s business. Detective Mun was recovering nicely and while the coverup was underway, video footage leaked from an ‘anonymous source’ clearly showed the young Mr. Bak pulling a gun on the policeman. Wolfgang recalled chuckling at that, knowing full well the ‘source’ of that leak was most likely Nomi or her friend with the strange nickname. He regretted being so out of it that he couldn’t fully interact with his cluster, to soak in the experience of them all being in the same place. How surreal it must have felt to finally be connected in the physical and not just mentally.

It was nothing short of phenomenal, just with Kala. The sensation of one-ness and presence was at times overwhelming, growing stronger the more they spent time together. A terrifying thing, being so immersed in feelings. Their bond, already solid during their many visits felt much more so, now that they’d finally seen one another in person. Denied that closeness for so long, to have the dream of it be snatched away so cruelly when he was taken, to resign himself with the fact that he would die and never hold her how he wanted…thinking too long on what he almost lost brought on a choking wave of panic that only made his heart race faster, the tightness in his chest too great to bear. It was best not to wade too deep into those kinds of ‘what ifs’.

Instead, he chose to focus on his good fortune. He couldn’t possibly express how it felt to open his eyes the morning after their trade and see her hovering above him. All wild curls and those dark eyes, so full of love and joy, her relief spilling over to him, the sensation soothing him back to sleep, happy grin in place of teeth gritted in pain.

Even now, his lips twitched in the smallest of smiles, growing wider once he felt slender fingers card through his hair and he lifted his gaze, chuckling against the plush lips Kala pressed to his by way of greeting.

“Did I wake you?”

Kala stifled a yawn as she shook her head, fingers tightly looped in the handles of two mugs and wearing a gentle, sleepy smile. “Not really. I think I’ve adapted to your schedule. Besides, your thoughts are incredibly loud. Like someone leaving the television on. Here.” She passed him one of the cups and settled across from him, shivering a bit against the cool metal of the chair but took a quick sip from her tea to counteract the sensation.

Wolfgang glanced at his mug, noting the fragrant blend of coffee and sipped, humming with satisfaction. It wasn’t the robust roast he was so fond of back in Berlin, but it was good enough. The heat from the mug was welcome against his hands and the coffee was exactly how he liked it. Dark--with just the tiniest splash of cream--and sweet.

“Thank you, schatzi.”

That earned him another smile, bright even in the dim glow of the lamp she’d left on inside and Kala reached across the small table for his hand, delicate fingers threading through his rougher ones. “I suppose a cup of coffee is better than smoking.” The teasing lilt of her voice, paired with a waggling brow caused him to laugh, a deep rumble that reverberated, filling the pair with a warmth that had little to do with their late-night drinks.

Silence settled between them, a comfortable pause while they watched the stars and the city below, and Wolfgang basked in the overwhelming sense of peace. It seemed like such an impossible concept after enduring weeks in that damned facility and the seemingly endless cycle of searing pain with the paddles. Somehow the worries and paranoia feeding the adrenaline trapped under his still-bruised skin didn’t seem as urgent, with Kala’s hand in his.

As if sensing his train of thought (he was sure she picked up on something, though she remained silent on the matter), Kala gave his hand a small squeeze, pulling him out of his head and back to their little nighttime oasis.

“We should take a drive tomorrow,” he told her.

Dark brows rose at that, and she sipped from her milky tea before speaking. “Really? And where are we going?”

Broad shoulders lifted in a casual shrug. “Anywhere. Maybe the countryside. Go on a picnic or something.”

Kala sucked in a smile, plump bottom lip caught between her teeth in a way that always made him want to nibble at it, and Wolfgang had to smile at her attempts to minimize her laughter. “Really? A picnic in the countryside…”

“I don’t see what’s so funny.”

“Then you’re not imagining the scenario I am. You, in your usual black clothes…but wearing a very large sun hat.”

“I see,” Wolfgang nodded, pretending to think over the comically vivid picture she’d painted. “I don’t know about this hat business. But I could switch the black for a different color.”

Kala gasped at that, free hand pressed to her chest as her playful gaze went wide. “Really? Like…yellow?”

His cup hovered at his lips, sip halted long enough to respond. “Looks better on you.”

Ignoring the warmth in her cheeks from the surprise compliment, Kala continued, though she was unable to hide her smile. “It is my favorite color. Well one of them. What about yours? Favorite color, I mean.”

He gave another small shrug. “Never thought about it. Maybe blue.” Curious eyes met her gaze and his lips twitched into a faint smirk. “I could wear something blue. If that’s what you want.”

“Blue. For me?”

“I’d do anything for you.”

Her teasing grin melted at the sudden sweetness, fingers tightening against his and she lifted their joined hands to her lips, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “Softie.”

Untangling their hands, Wolfgang thumbed her cheek and gave a small laugh, feeling an uncharacteristic lightness in his still-sore chest once his fingers brushed her face. “I’m still recovering. You can be badass enough for both of us.”

Leaning in to his touch, Kala gave a soft hum, momentarily distracted by the warmth emanating from his skin. “Mmm, don’t think I’ve forgotten about the sun hat…” The warning held no weight and they both knew it, but he enjoyed the firmness in her voice. Smirk still firmly in place, he set the mug atop the table and reached for her then, tugging closer until she got the hint and moved to his lap, sitting sideways and taking great care not to press too hard against the sore spots on his chest.

The silence between them was still comfortable, both reveling in the peace of the late hour and the blissful calm that seemed completely earned after the chaos of the last month. His fingers wandered, trailing lightly over her legs. An errant pass would inch a bit higher than the last, dipping a bit to skim the rich brown skin of her inner thigh, smooth and silky under careful, calloused hands.

The hitch in her breathing each time brought a smile to his lips; the newness of finally being able to experience holding her in real life had yet to wear off, and Wolfgang supposed (hoped, really) it never would. He knew Kala felt the same, even without slipping into her thoughts. So much was expressed in those dark eyes, the glint he’d quickly recognized as want never too far whenever their gazes met, simmering need wrapped in a host of other emotions.

Trapped in the BPO facility, that look saved him. When the pain became unbearable, when his mind would drift, desperately grasping at anything to distract him from the searing agony that made him want to claw out of his skin, he would find her. Concentrate on their last moment together, the brush of slender fingers against his lips, the softness of her kiss and the gentle caress of loving words between them. Paris had felt so real then, dimming considerably as thoughts of shy smiles and unruly ebony curls gave way to harsh florescent lights and a pain so intense he felt it in his teeth.

It was a wonder he was even upright, let alone wrapped up in her arms. Dark blue eyes, which had glazed over as his thoughts grew deeper suddenly shifted focus at the feel of her fingers tracing the bridge of his nose, eventually passing over his mouth long enough to smooth out the frown creasing his features.

Lips pursed, Wolfgang kissed her fingertips, the gratitude he felt at her calming gesture settling between them like a soothing buzz, better than any coffee. Kala smiled, her forehead resting against his, her other hand cupping the back of his neck to keep him close.

They stayed that way for some time, deep breaths and soft touches and Kala was sure he’d fallen asleep until she heard his voice, the low timbre cutting through the sweet silence.

“I’m still not wearing a sun hat.”

A loud snort of laughter gave way to full blown giggles, and Kala tossed her head back, eyes shining with amusement. “You don’t have to wear the hat, you demon. Blue is just enough.”

Wolfgang met her gaze, his own eyes filled with a tenderness that sent a jolt of heat racing down her spine, because she loved the way he loved her, equal parts tender and overwhelming, with a fierceness she felt in her core. She’d do anything to protect that love. To protect him.

While he’d sensed her feelings, he didn’t intrude on her thoughts. Not entirely, anyway. But Kala wasn’t too surprised when she felt his lips again. The gentle meeting soon gave way to the deeper presses she always preferred, lazy and honeyed that they were, sending a jolt of longing racing down her spine, the feeling growing stronger when his hold tightened, muscled arm curling around her waist. It was instinctive, the way his mouth moved against hers, the unhurried glide and the soft huffs of heated breaths he released in between, tongue slipping out to tease hers with a small groan. It was the kind of kisses that she dreamed about, drugging and sensual, the ones she knew he loved best because deep down, past the gruff exterior and hard eyes that had seen enough violence to last two lifetimes, the man she loved was achingly tender, at least with her.

Breathless, Kala pulled away just enough to catch herself, though she couldn’t help but chuckle when Wolfgang chased her lips for one last kiss. Her forehead met his while her fingers stroked the stubble covering his strong jaw and she gave a small hum at the sound of their heartbeats, thumping in tandem. He listened to the soft scrape of her nails against scruff; the repetitive and tender motion was soothing, and Wolfgang could feel the tension shifting in his body, broad shoulders relaxing completely into the coolness of the wrought iron chair, Kala’s slender frame curled against him.

Before he knew it, his eyes had drifted shut and though it wasn’t exactly sleep it was the closest he’d felt to it since…quite some time.

Wolfgang felt the vibrations from her contented hum against his skin, and his lips twitched into a smirk. She was warmth, the sensation radiating from brown skin, to her thoughts, happiness and peace and full of him. Sleepiness enveloped them, though he wasn’t entirely sure if it was just his mind feeding off her vibe and energy but the feeling tugged at him now, but he fought off a yawn, fearing it would disturb the overwhelming calm that’d settled between them.

But as he figured, Kala would sense him and soon she was lifting her head, their eyes meeting as she offered him a sleepy, sweet grin. “To bed, my love.” Carefully, she slipped from lap, her fingers finding his in the dark and helping him to his feet, soft laughter tumbling out when he pulled her to him. Arms curled around her waist, their bodies swayed in a lazy rhythm while Wolfgang silently savored their closeness.

Gentle fingers carded through his hair, bringing out the smallest of shivers for both and Kala captured his lips with a tender kiss, indulging in the lingering taste of coffee, a soft laugh slipping out when she felt his smirk between the unhurried press.

“Is this your way of putting me to bed,” he teased, hands drifting from her waist to span her hips, eventually settling on the round curve of her ass fitting nicely against his palms while they continued to drift aimlessly with the breeze in the slowest of slow dances.

Kala gave a little hum at that, her grip tightening just a bit at the base of neck. “Yes. I’m distracting you to sleep.” Even in the dim light, where late evening and early morning met, Wolfgang could still make out the glimmer in her eyes, the rich chestnut so expressive, he never really needed to intrude on her thoughts. The way she looked at him, and the buzzing warmth he felt pooling in his still-bruised chest with the press of her against him, it could never be anything but love.

He would never see his capture as a blessing but there, on a balcony under the stars as Paris slept below them, Wolfgang could appreciate the peace he’d been gifted.