A/N: I don't own it. For those of you who don't know, saalam means peace.
It's dark and quiet.
He hates it. He hates it so much that he loves it. And that's what really scares Ender the most. His love is truly that of toxins, of a parasite. He loves until he can no longer love anymore, for how can one love something that doesn't exist?
Once he loves something, it is gone. Destroyed. Forever.
But this—this is pure bliss. It's not the loud clinks and banging's of the mess hall, nor is it the shouting of young boys or whizzing of air as they fly around you in the Battle Room. In his room, with the lights off and the door closed, Ender need not worry about giants or null gravity or Peter. He can simply slip back into the carelessness Dink had shown him; slip back into null gravity in the battle room and float like a feather in the wind.
There were a lot of things Ender missed about not only Dink, but being in Rat Army, or any army but his own, for that matter. Sure, he was pushed around and messed with by Rose and the other boys, but he was allowed to practice with his friends. He was allowed to work with people he had been working with for so long; train them and teach them well. Now they were all torn away from him.
Petra was just another enemy army. Dink just another. Alai…
Tears sprung from Ender's eyes when he thought about Alai. All he could hear was that one word, over and over…
The only way he can control himself is to bite down on his hand. Bite and bite until the blood pours out of his flesh like the light from the laser guns; fast, instant, surprising, and a little hard to get used to. Ender takes a deep breath, trying to steady himself and his breathing, but it's not working very well.
And then, a knock on the door. Whoever is there doesn't even wait for an answer; they just step on inside. For some reason, Ender pulls his sheets up. He's lived in the barracks with the other boys, seen them naked, let them see him naked, but there's something about this situation that makes him cover himself anyway. Something about being naked during the middle of the night with all of the lights off, upset and holding back sobs, having a stranger enter your room—it all leaves one vulnerable. Ender is not vulnerable.
"Ender?" The voice is timid but recognizable.
"Ho, Alai," His own voice shakes, and he sits up.
For the next few moments, all of Ender's life is awkward. Ever since salaam was no more, the two had been strange around each other. Yet, there he was, in Ender's room, staring at him through the darkness.
He couldn't see anything in the dark, so, as one could only expect, he jumped when his bed dipped. But the other boy placed his hand over Ender's, and the other around his neck.
He had only been in a situation similar to this once in his entire life. Peter knocked him down when playing a game (actually, that was the game, but details like that aren't important, he guesses). Valentine came to check on him after Peter had walked away, cradling his head from the hard pavement until he could stand again.
There was something different about this, though. Valentine's had been out of nurture. This was out of something else. Something more that made Ender want to lie back down in bed, shut his eyes, and let sleep overtake him. Something inside of his stomach that seemed to grow and grow as if it were a cocoon out of which butterflies would certainly burst.
The two boys' foreheads rested against one another's, each other's breath tickling the face of the other.
It must be forbidden. It must be, or else Alai wouldn't wait until the middle of the night, in complete darkness, in complete secrecy. It must be like salaam. There is no other answer.
And then, as if he had just sat down, Alai begins a conversation, "Ho, pinprick. How you be holding up in this new seat of power?"
He hasn't talked to Alai in so long, it seems, that he doesn't really known how to respond. After all, this could be a trick.
But Alai, his friend…no. He wouldn't. Would he?
"I'm training them. It's hard, but I'll suffice. If an unstoppable army is what Graff wants, then I'll be damn sure to give him one."
Alai laughs gently and pulls away from Ender, but the latter doesn't know where the former goes. He remains on the bed, Ender knows that, but as for what he is looking at, what he is thinking…Ender's not so sure.
"You know we're not normal kids?" The words fall out of his mouth before he even knows what's happening.
"Yes," Alai's voice is small and timid again. Ender doesn't like it. "We never were kids, Ender. We're just stuck in kids' bodies. All of us—every single farteater in this place—is far older than 6 or 10 or 12. We're all 18 and 20 and 24. It's just the way it works."
For the sake of his own sanity, Alai tries to make sense of everything that's happened since he's been at battle school. Alai is making excuses so that he doesn't have to face what's in front of him.
Or maybe Alai realizes the truth.
Ender can't help but agree.
And he can't help but almost sob. He thinks like his enemies. Thinks like them, loves them, and destroys them. Two out of three for Alai. He doesn't want to turn into Peter.
The opposite of hate is love, and therefore, the opposite of destruction must be creation. But creation is also the product of the human mind, which just leads Ender right back to destruction. It's the one game he cannot win.
"Out of all the innocence we lack," This time, Alai's voice is strong and it echoes through Ender, from head to groin. "I'd have to say our friendship is the most innocent thing we have. And…and I think if I lose that, I'll lose my mind."
Ender feels the warm, soft, wet lips on his cheek, and remembers that night. Remembers the word and him leaving and everything. Then, Alai's lips move, a soft kiss to the left, and then one to the left of that one, until he's at Ender's lips.
The connection's more intense than anything Ender's ever done, even if he doesn't know what the hell he's doing. Fact of the matter is, not knowing makes him feel like a kid again, not an army commander or trained killer.
So that Alai doesn't feel unwanted or betrayed, Ender puckers his lips against the other boy's, the way he saw Peter do to Mrs. McDaniels' daughter before Mr. McDaniels caught them. Alai's hand returns to Ender's neck, and Ender's rests on Alai's knee. But after a few moments, a piece of paper slid underneath his door, and both boys stop to look at it.
Even if his night ends with peace, Ender still wakes up a killer.