Under Lock and Key

He counts each door as it closes, the echo of locks sliding home building in his head until when the last door, his cell door, clangs resoundingly it's all he can hear for a long time.

Too many doors and gates between him and freedom, and it doesn't matter that he's here through choice; that doesn't count for anything.

He's dressed like the man in the bunk overhead; he smells like him, their skin scoured clean with the same cheap soap, dried on the same thin scratch of towel. He's innocent, not guilty, but it doesn't matter.

He's scared. Spit-dry mouth scared. He hates open spaces because they make him feel lost; no reference points, nothing to guide him, but this is worse. He's suffocating.

Beyond the gates isn't safe, either; he knows that. He lives each day alert to danger to himself, to Blair, to the people of the city. Not necessarily in that order.

But that's different. Out there he's constrained by rules, sure, by the laws he's sworn to uphold. Heavy chains and he feels their weight every time he cuffs a criminal he wants to obliterate from the world, leading him away when he wants to bury him deep.

Mercy's a very civilized emotion and sometimes Jim doesn't feel all that evolved.

But today he's stood for hours, ankles shackled, wrists circled with steel. Today he's behind one gate, six doors deep.

Today he's one of a thousand flies buzzing against a glass jar, trying to reach what they can see but not touch.

And down the corridor he can hear a man begging and it sounds like an echo, too.

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