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I hoped you were going to live as a normal student, and I was going to become the Knight of One, take Area 11 and change things for the better that way.

And regardless of who won, I was going to keep on existing. I was convinced Britannia would never let you get anywhere and then you did.

You defied all my expectations. Lelouch Lamperouge never actually existed, there was nothing official about me.

It was going to be a dull life and I was not looking forward to it. Geass gave me life. I meant what I said when we were younger, I really did want to destroy Britannia.

But unlike you I never did anything about it. It was to end the suffering of the people. Elevens, like me. Suzaku shook his head with a cynical little smile. He literally just had Suzaku. Despite himself, Suzaku smiled down at his hands where they were and drew his knees up. Eventually, Lelouch relaxed and put an arm around Suzaku, the other hand starting to play with his hair. In the end, Lelouch fell asleep before Suzaku did, enjoying the warmth of the other boy.

His brain was however currently on hiatus, entirely focused on Suzaku. He was pleasantly surprised when, even asleep, Lelouch curled into Suzaku, gripping his hand. Suzaku let him, feeling a little warm in his chest at the unconscious show of affection. Lelouch flushed and turned away. They spent the rest of the afternoon watching terrible TV and chatting about Ashford, it was surprisingly Normal was good.

Normal was great. Suzaku felt more relaxed than he had in ages. It was quite late before either of them moved from the sofa. He groaned, putting a hand to it. Lelouch agreed. They made their way through to the kitchen, and he started to look for something to eat… Only to come up short. Where is your food? Lelouch helped him look, at one point he stumbled over the recycling which was absolutely full of takeout boxes, alcohol bottles and cans - both for beer and food.

He was appalled. Eventually, Suzaku found a jar of pasta sauce and retrieved the huge bag of pasta he had that made up the bulk of his not-ordered-in meals. Grocery shopping. Also why do you have such a large bag of pasta? Suzaku got out plates and cutlery for the both of them, and added the water to the pasta, letting it boil. Suzaku shrugged.

You have a job to perform! I can always eat at home. Suzaku rolled his eyes, quiet until he had finished his plate. A few moments of scrounging for cleaning stuff yielded nothing. Look around you, Suzaku. Everything needs cleaning! That sink is disgusting. You cannot wash up in that! Suzaku sighed and moved the dishes onto the side, filling the sink with water and washing up liquid and getting started on the chore. They worked in silence for a while, cleaning the kitchen until it was spotless.

When they were finally done, Lelouch took a step back. Suzaku returned the smile, soft and a little solemn, as his smiles tended to be these days.

When will that be? Lelouch left quickly after that. He was tired and wanted to monopolise on that while he could. If he managed to sleep for even an hour it would be a victory. In the end, Lelouch only managed to sleep for a grand total of 5 hours in two days.

It was a new development, and one that concerned him, but he figured that if worst should come to worst he could always try a hard reset. What did he really have to lose? A fight, or an attack, or something. This felt He went to the gym that evening and ran until his muscles burned, collapsing into bed with a drink and a couple of pills almost as soon as he got home.

Lelouch woke up at 3am, having gone to sleep at 11pm. It was the day he was playing host to Suzaku which simultaneously thrilled and terrified him, so he worked out his anxiety by frantically tidying the flat. The caffeine flowing through his veins made him incredibly restless, practically vibrating out of his skin.

He temporarily cut himself off something that only lasted half an hour and ate a slice of toast to try and offset the effects. Suzaku was unimpressed, and pressed the call button, waiting as it rung. Lelouch tried to focus on the phone, his body was not cooperating. Maybe more coffee was the answer? Eventually he managed to answer the call.

Lelouch rattled off his address quickly, looking forward to seeing Suzaku. Part of him knew that this was a terrible idea; he was not in any shape to see anyone, let alone someone he was trying to convince that he was capable of helping them. See you. Meanwhile, Lelouch flitted across his apartment trying to make everything perfect.

He kept finding those tiny drawings, most of them were disturbing and he shoved them in the bin. Twenty minutes later, Suzaku was on his doorstep, having run over. He rapped on the door, more than a little concerned.

Lelouch froze at the sound. He dashed across the apartment trying not to trip over the coffee table and looked through the peephole in the door briefly before flinging it open. His hair was a mess, his hands shaking and there was a manic look in his eye that unnerved Suzaku to no end. Tell me what you took. Suzaku considered him with more than a little concern, not entirely sure what to do with him.

Suzaku huffed, pacing up and down. This was an accident. You were never supposed to see this. Suzaku stopped, and crossed his arms. That sounds familiar. Almost like me drunk texting you late at night about my self destructive tendencies. Lelouch tried to look apologetic but was starting to feel exhausted and ill again. I need you to work with me to do that. If you can sleep with that much caffeine in your system you have a superpower.

The rush of adrenaline was wearing off. Do you mind if I see what I can put together? Lelouch grimaced at the idea of food, after all he had already eaten toast, but let Suzaku up to look for some. The longer he could keep Suzaku in the dark about his eating the better. Fuck, it looked like a model kitchen in a shop, it was so spotless. It looked unused it practically was. Lelouch waited a few seconds before standing to follow Suzaku.

He swayed slightly but moved across the room to stand in the kitchen doorway as Suzaku started with the fridge, just seeing what food he had to work with. Lelouch watched Suzaku pootle around his kitchen. He almost looked out of context in the spotless room. Suzaku was made for warmth, and lived-in spaces. Lelouch struggled for the words, his brain uncooperative Suzaku was surprised by how little he found, but maybe Lelouch just needed to go shopping.

Once the ingredients were prepared and the food cooked, he found a couple of plates and dished it up. Despite everything screaming at him not to he made a concerted effort to eat at least half of it. Suzaku ate his fairly quickly, tempted to make himself a coffee but not wanting to put that temptation in front of Lelouch.

Lelouch looked confused. I thought you knew this. Suzaku froze, and then leaned forward, looking suspicious. The man was not in his right mind. Suzaku rested his chin on clasped hands. Lelouch was affronted and surprised. How did Suzaku know about the blackouts and voices or collective unconcious- whatever bullshit he called them they were annoying-?

I already told you what I took. Suzaku went quiet. This was cruel, why would Lelouch say that? His heart felt like a rock in his chest, all the voices in his thoughts telling him every reason why Lelouch was lying, because he was worthless and selfish and hypocritical and dangerous. Besides, Lelouch always lied.

His shoulders were tense, back to Lelouch as he tried not to get too wrapped up in his own thoughts. Lelouch watched Suzaku walk away. Thanks to the food, the shaking was slowing down and he was starting to think coherently again. As his thoughts cleared, horror began to dawn on him. He always had been selfish.

They could move on from this. It was the least in a long line of things to move on from. Lelouch walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. He was fed up with misunderstandings and assumptions. Suzaku started at the touch, his first reaction to pull away. He was? Lelouch forewent the coffee but took another couple of painkillers he found on the table; Suzaku would probably be disappointed in him for drinking it and he wanted to be as clear headed as possible for the upcoming discussion.

He went through and sat down on the sofa, leaning forward a little with his forearms on his thighs and his hands clasped. He remembered it far too well, nothing good ever came from that expression. Suzaku considered him. Lelouch took a deep breath and looked Suzaku in the eye, trying hard not to react to the coldness he saw there. I really do. Despite everything. I like you , Suzaku. It has nothing to do with you being the only person I can talk to.

God, I hated myself for it but I could never stop liking you. But only if you want it too. Suzaku raised an eyebrow, and for a moment his mask cracked. Lelouch almost screamed. Suzaku went rigid at the yell, ready for Lelouch to lash out at him. A crease appeared in his brow as he processed the words, the tension slowly leaving him in the following silence. He thought about his own feelings towards Lelouch. They were deep and complicated, conflicting in his head.

Knowing our history? But I know I want to try. Suzaku glanced up at him. The cold look in his eye was gone, replaced by caution and confusion. Lelouch flushed, suddenly embarrassed. He couldn't believe how well this was going, it was exceeding even his wildest imaginations. He had no plan for what happened now and that simultaneously thrilled and terrified him.

Doing this felt different, now that he knew how Lelouch felt. He tried not to act awkward about it. Lelouch slowly relaxed into Suzaku, part of him worried that he was doing this for his sake and not because he wanted to. I was allowed to think about you in a complimentary and deferent manner, but never Never romantically. Lelouch started playing with his shirt. Suzaku shook his head. When I became part of the military I heard stories, but no. I knew several people like that, least of all Schneizel himself.

I suppose I liked Shirley a bit I was never sure if that was because everyone expected me to though. I know a lot of royals do develop Lelouch fidgeted. I thought you were only in it for the chance to avenge Euphy and bring peace to everyone. I was under no illusion that you might actually like me, especially after everything. If it had gone on for longer then I probably would have This morning has gone a lot better than I ever hoped it would. I never meant to say anything.

Beyond just a difference of ideals. It was the feigned nonchalance next to the stubborn persistence of his ideals that tipped me off. You tried too hard to fake not caring for me to believe you had nothing to do with it.

I never could figure you out. Suzaku looked down at him. Lelouch smiled, and tried hard to suppress the memories of the times that Suzaku had used that face around him, desperately trying to stay in the moment.

I had to have something going for me. And what would that be? A family who hates me? The ability to cause pain to other people? Because you make people want to listen. You make people want to make you proud.

Lelouch laughed and sat up to look at Suzaku. How many just went with the system, complaining but never doing anything? Your route was definitely not conventional but it worked.

Not just anyone could have done that. Stop putting yourself down. You made me accept compliments so you are damn well going to accept them as well.

Suzaku rolled his eyes. The caffeine was wearing off and he was starting to shake again, feeling exhausted. I feel pretty shit, but No, not physically. Not right now. Suzaku gave him a look. Lelouch watched the motion, cringing at the memory of that particular injury. Lelouch conceded the point. The whole thing was an accident from start to finish! And now I have a pretty scar as a souvenir. Taking a breath, Suzaku nodded, giving him wordless permission.

He stroked lightly over the ruined skin, feeling the ridges of scar tissue. I kept it as a reminder of what I had done, and why I was a soldier in the first place, and I thought that was ironic, all things considered. He was only going to die after all. I was never that badly injured. I have one here. Just to crack the mask. Suzaku paused for a moment, and then leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss over where the scar was hidden. Suzaku stared at him. No more coffee for you. Lelouch let Suzaku pull him away, suddenly too tired to fight him.

It felt like the previous day all over again. Suzaku sat him down at the kitchen table and settled on getting them both a glass of water. Lelouch probably needed it anyway. He sat opposite him, looking concerned. Lelouch looked away, unwilling to meet his eyes. He was supposed to be the one that helped Suzaku , not the one that fell apart. Suzaku narrowed his eyes. Suzaku sighed, closing his eyes and resting his chin on his clasped hands. Saying those words felt strange.

I have my own issues, that you know about. If you can want me, I can want you. Of course I do. They spent a while browsing through local cafes, dismissing some because they were too popular, too niche or just terrible places to go. Lelouch thought for a second. His next big game was in three days time, so he could do that.

He smiled. Putting a hand to his stomach, he grimaced. What do you even want to eat? He ate when he absolutely had to. After about five minutes, he set a sandwich down in front of Lelouch, carefully watching to see if he ate.

He was still concerned from their earlier incident. Lelouch nibbled at the sandwich. It was already too much. He knew Suzaku was watching though, so he tried. Suzaku was careful to make sure Lelouch ate the whole thing. His blackout earlier worried Suzaku more than he cared to admit, and he wanted to make sure Lelouch ate enough to feel better.

Lelouch felt ill. He wished Suzaku would just leave so he could throw it away. In his head, he was wondering why. Was it just an appetite slump?

Or was it something worse? Suzaku was torn between pushing Lelouch to eat and letting him be. C might have done. How to play better, I mean. Want me. To teach you to play chess? Suzaku went with him, amused by his apparent horror at the idea of exercise. No worse than Suzaku was at chess, anyway. Lelouch gave Suzaku a brief recap of the rules before turning the white pieces to face Suzaku. Suzaku contemplated the board for a moment. Unsurprisingly, the first thing he did was move one of his knights forward and to the middle of the board.

He really had no idea how to play strategically. One whisper is all it needs. He could do it. He can. If he could just shape the cold clay of his lips The not-name ripples through him, a still pond disturbed by the shadow of a leaf, and curious he turns his gaze to seek the one who would try to name him. But no aura stands before him in this ocean of star and void.

Well, no matter. There are far more interesting things to listen to anyway. He reaches out to listen, but It takes an eon, but mere seconds too, for Izuku to remember how he is supposed to fit into the small confines of his body. He holds up his hand, turns it this way and that. Is this his? How has he ever considered himself something so… so small, so simple and well-defined?

Izuku blinks, startled. How does he live like this? How has he ever? His eyes hold questions. And of course they do. But they are as meaningless as the crooked, knotted bark of a tree. Izuku feels sorry for it, all of a sudden, this dull and sorry creature of so much blood and dust. Why has it come here, what brought it running when it does not belong? Not with its gray, translucent mortal body, a shambling clay thing stumbling around in the dark with no sight nor inkling of the shining rivers that weave the world along.

Who would ever hear it? Who would ever care? Izuku looks back at the room. It really is a mess, somehow, even though it is still so bare and empty a skeleton that it could barely be called a part of the earth. Glass shards from the shattered lightbulbs have fallen over the table and on the floor like a strange and razor-sharp snow, glinting in the faint orange light spilling from the hallway.

In the second and third planes, he can see the twisting, warped echoes of the struggle between himself and the temple-dog. Can human eyes see anything of it? Can humans see anything of importance at all? What does Fatgum want him to say, though? The question sparks up something resentful in him.

Instead, he considers the room again. Izuku wonders, if he told Fatgum the truth, what he would be able to hear. What can he say in the human tongue? Izuku looks at it with pity. A cold feeling washes over him. The world comes into sharp focus, driven by the thud of his heartbeat in his ears.

He almost lost himself in it. But he wants it. He wants to hear it, now that he knows. He wants it the way a drowning man wants air. The song is fading, now, quieting to mere whispers of the vast earth-chorus it was before. He can no longer hear the core of molten earth, nor the starmetal that shone in distant lights.

But in the quiet are the small voices: the stone foundation of this building, the dirt under the street… the discordant not-quite-hum of the metal in his handcuffs, like the susurrus of rough sea pebbles washing against the shore.

He listens to it. Feels it beat in time with his heart. He knows it in his very bones. And in that stillness between beats, it is the easiest thing to just -- slip the handcuffs off his wrists. Fatgum tenses. Izuku only sits there, taking in the sight: the handcuffs, still locked, still whole, still functioning perfectly except for the fact that they are not where they should be.

Izuku should try and smooth things over with the hero, he knows, but why should he care, when the song is even now fading, even now gone, leaving nothing but a ringing silence behind?

Without it, the handcuffs have no life of their own; they are nothing but the shining steel that made it, deaf to the worlds and words of humankind. Izuku picks them up and weighs them in his hands, as if that could give them voice again, but they sit as dull and dead as rotted wood. He gently nudges Izuku into facing him, and Izuku looks up at him blankly. Izuku touches his hand to his cheek.

His fingers come away wet. He notices now the hot tears dripping down his face. How strange this must look to Fatgum right now, to walk into a prison and find the lights shattered, the prisoner absent, and then the prisoner returned in mourning.

Fatgum looks at him, melancholy and sad, as if he has perceived even a fraction of what Izuku is trying to say. Then he should be grieving. Instead, he is kind. He is kind when he tries to comfort Izuku, kind when he asks him questions, and kind when he shoos Izuku to a different interrogation room so the one with the lights destroyed can be repaired.

It takes almost half an hour for the aftereffects of his encounter with the temple-dog to fade. He has made an uncountable number of mistakes in the last twenty-four hours, honestly. The first and foremost was helping Eraserhead. The second-most important, though, was accepting help from someone else. How stupid can he be? The self-hatred in him curdles, a sour and rotten black thing that sinks down into his chest.

It approaches him but stops a few feet away, tails wagging in trepidation, unsure of whether or not to approach. Well, good. It should be unsure. This whole thing is its fault, anyways, except for the part where Izuku agreed to help. I bring a message from the earth-lion, the fox says, lifting up its chin and setting its jaw.

His voice is low. Tell the temple-dog to leave me alone. Its tails lash, ghostly and shining under the fluorescent brightness of the room. And what of your deal? Izuku looks at it sharply. It jerks back before it can catch itself, but then it meets his gaze with its own defiant eyes, mouth drawn up into a barely-suppressed hint of a snarl.

Izuku feels cold and dark, looking back at it with something almost close to the cruelty of indifference. But not quite. The fox hisses, almost involuntarily, Izuku thinks. Its snarl is no longer repressed. You do not want the consequences of that. Too afraid to show its face to me right now, because of what I could do. The mistake it made was trying to treat him like another spirit. Izuku waits for it to do something, but when nothing is forthcoming, he looks at it again. Its head is turned towards the window, and its eyes are narrowed, fixed on something far beyond.

Nothing too unusual there. But on the third Izuku grumbles and tries to push them away, but they cling so angrily that he just gives it up for a lost cause. Senshajou sniffs. Now he wants interaction! They look at him archly, and Izuku has a flashback to every single time they climbed into his room to just find him days deep in a depressive episode. Izuku shuts his mouth.

Izuku stares up at the cat spirit. The fox bristles. It was his choice, it snaps. The consequences are his to bear. Red-hot rage flashes through him. Izuku really… feels kind of uncomfortable, having someone else defend him.

The look Senshajou gives him is searing and so full of pity all at once, it makes Izuku want to scratch that look off their face, makes him want to throw them out of the room. I did what was necessary to protect my charge, the fox says stiffly, rising to its feet. I will not owe anyone for it. A coward. Senshajou looks at him for a long moment. Izuku resists the urge to swallow, or lick his lips, or apologize for trying to leave them behind.

Just this once! Izuku obligingly starts petting their head. Izuku has exactly one moment to process that and let the full horror of that realization sink into him before someone knocks politely on the door.

When Tsukauchi Naomasa enters the room, Deku is lying on the bed and regarding him with a betrayed look. The cat yowls and springs to its feet. Deku ignores its offended hiss and sits up, looking at Naomasa irritably. Naomasa nods politely and pulls up one of the chairs from the table so he can sit by the bed. He picks up the chair and sits at the table across from Deku without commenting and pulls out some of his papers and a notebook.

Deku slouches belligerently in his chair and pins Naomasa with a piercing, unwavering stare. Naomasa looks at Deku. Deku looks back at him, not seeming to even comprehend the level of weird that just came out of his mouth. He should have expected that.

Naomasa writes possibly enhanced hearing? Have you ever had any contact with the Villain Alliance, in any capacity? My favorite color is yellow. What is this…? Some of his confusion must slip into his expression, because Deku just nods -- looking relieved, but also oddly resigned -- and sits back.

Deku gives him a small, sardonic smile a moment later. Naomasa represses a sigh and writes, figured out Quirk within minutes. Perhaps it can be attributed to the frankly alarming amounts of aggressive cynicism he seems to display. The indifference with which he says it makes Naomasa narrow his eyes.

It may save lives. Deku considers him for a long moment. Naomasa is a little surprised that Deku capitulated so easily once he brought morality into the fold. Adheres strictly to personal moral code? Not a lie. Naomasa sighs. We may be able to do more with that information than you, and it will make things easier on you as well.

Naomasa tries another tactic. Deku laughs, and laughs some more, and puts his face into his hands. The light flickers, and it feels like such a thin veneer all of a sudden, a fragile veil that with a touch would rip and reveal the dark and hungry shadows beyond. This is so stupid. Naomasa coughs and tries to make words come out, but his throat is dry.

Some unnamed fear casts ugly shadows within the hollow of him. Deku, what is this? Deku, what is happening? He wants to speak. Deku takes his hands away from his face and rests them with a terribly gentle precision on the table.

Naomasa inhales sharply, suddenly able to breathe, and the fear slides away from him with all the surreal haze of a dream. Why was he so afraid? What did he see in the face of a fifteen-year-old boy? Was it all in his mind? Or was it Everything about Kamino Ward! Why is it that nothing Deku says is ever helpful in any way? Hypothetically, if that were to happen, this child may also have the ability to fuck up in ways that other people have no explanation for.

Naomasa puts his hands to his head. Deku makes no sense. At least with the other subjects Naomasa has questioned before, they had some kind of internal logic, or at least it made sense what they were lying about. This, though -- what the hell is this?

Do you recognize any of these people? At least pretend to look at it. Deku stares belligerently him and slaps one hand onto the offending sheaf of papers, and proceeds to give Naomasa the stink-eye as he drags it closer to him. Naomasa gestures at the papers with a chin. Deku scowls but acquiesces, glancing down at the pages.

It seems more like a denial than an actual answer to his question, so Naomasa presses on. Even now, his eyes are drawn back to the papers, narrowed and unhappy with something that they see.

Something other slips into his expression, in the too-sharp angles of his face, in the terrible gleam of his teeth, in the way his hair and his eyes are such violent dark they seem to absorb all light. Leave it alone and go away. He should stay.

He still has more questions to ask, so much to find out. With carefully steady hands, he gathers his papers and goes. But Deku just sweeps past him, bumping angrily into his shoulder as he goes, and sits down on the bed facing the wall. He does not look at Naomasa. Naomasa leaves. He shuts the door behind him, feeling strangely shaken for no reason he can explain. What happened to that cat? Izuku waits for the door to close before allowing himself to relax a little.

He sighs and rubs at his face. God, that conversation went disastrously. Just an absolute gamut of being too emotional and making really bad decisions. Why did he show off so much of his hand? Why did he react so honestly? And more importantly -- Izuku pulls a pad of sticky notes, a pen, and a wallet out of his jacket pocket and stares at them -- why did he pickpocket a detective in the middle of an interrogation? Senshajou just licks their paw smugly. But in three of the photos, hovering behind the subjects, had been a spirit: a kirin with pale fur and accents in red and orange and gold, teal-blue scales glittering on its clawed feet, and a single jagged horn growing from its head.

Izuku has seen that spirit in the area near his apartment before, striding purposefully down the streets, its aura pulsing like the bloody skies of anger and grief. Izuku has never spoken to it before, has always avoided it, in fact; he has never been able to withstand the force of its terrible sorrow, nor the burning of its resolve. Why did Tsukauchi have to show him the photos? He snaps the wallet shut and puts everything back into his pockets. I need to get out of here, he says aloud.

Senshajou says prissily. Hurry it up! Izuku looks at them sideways. Jou-chan, why are you here, anyways? Well, I mean… yeah, says Izuku. Izuku tries to catch them, but they cling to his arm and start swiping angrily at his face. Stupid idiot! Ow -- stop that! Izuku snaps, trying to fend off their claws. That hurts, stupid cat! Senshajou cries. What do I want, indeed! I came here to help you! Then, dumbly, You came here for -- for me? And his voice is so -- so small, why Of course I did! All he can do is look at Senshajou mutely and wonder why it is they care so much.

The cat spirit gives him no answers. Izuku draws back. I can teach you to bring yourself there on your own. Izuku digs his fingernails into his palms, chewing the inside of his lips.

What if I -- I lose myself? Izuku takes a deep breath, lets it out, and nods. How do I…? I did, he says. Not anymore. Listen, and try to see. Senshajou opens their mouth and starts to sing an odd tune, at first one silvery note that glides up and down through starlight, but as he listens, he hears layers upon layers of sound unfold into places he never thought he could go.

The universe is laid before him, that great void and the shining hearts of stars spread all across the galaxy. It changes. The stars swim out of focus and instead Izuku finds himself drawn to the darkness.

He can hear the mysterious voices in the night; he can see the darkness is all alive; and if he could just lean forward a little more He drops to the floor with a gasp. The fluorescent lights of the hallway are too bright -- he wants to go back -- something is tugging on his shirt and refusing him though, something is saying Izuku slips inside, Senshajou tangling around his feet, and peeks onto the second plane.

There are auras moving with frustration and urgency -- his escape has been discovered, then -- and, here on this floor Izuku opens the door. He just looks quizzically at him and lowers his hands. Izuku takes a deep breath. For a moment, Izuku thinks, This is it. Izuku listens attentively, eyes watching the movements of the other heroes on the second plane, and ignores Senshajou staring at him accusingly through the entire conversation.

Izuku takes the pen and sticky notes back from Red Riot and stuffs them back into his pocket. He trails off. And the flying? Izuku carefully keeps his breathing even, keeps himself from looking at Red Riot. Red Riot skips back, eyes round with surprise, but Izuku manages to snag it, and he throws it against the wall with all his strength. It cracks, and whoever was on the other end is cut off. Red Riot grabs his arm and pulls him back before he can make it to the door.

Izuku snarls and tries to twist him off, but to no avail. We can work together! The door bursts open. Izuku grits his teeth. He is such a fucking dumbass, he never should have tried to reach out to Red Riot, he should have just left when he had the chance He sprints out the door and skids around the corner. Twenty feet, ten feet, five A brown-haired girl hurtles out of nowhere and slaps him on the shoulder, and a transparent bubble forms around him.

Gravity loses its grip on him; his feet leave the floor. Izuku slams against the bubble furiously, and again, and again. Izuku slams his hands against the bubble again and glares at the cloud; it stills under his gaze as he gathers up his energy, pushes it towards his throat The command burns his throat as it comes out, like fire and molten rock, and the bubble shatters.

Izuku falls, coughing. This is just fine , he thought. She skipped through the infant years, but that's okay. This is just like adopting a two-year-old.

She's still my baby. By the end of the second hour, number 8 was beginning to nod off. Her head drooped towards her chest and her clear eyes hazed over. Rodriguez found it very cute that despite her unsettlingly mature disposition, the hybrid was still getting drowsy just like a normal infant. Number 8 leered at Rodriguez suspiciously through ever-narrowing eyelids, struggling to keep herself awake.

And then she finally hit a wall, her perfectly straight frame collapsing into an exhausted heap. Tenderly, Rodriguez took hold of her wheelchair and wheeled her out of his office, carefully navigating around the rubber mat on the floor so as not to jerk her awake with bumps.

He swelled with fatherly pride as he strolled with number 8 through the hallways, once again ignoring the strange looks that his colleagues were giving him. When he passed the Queen's cage, he noticed that the crowd of whitecoats—as well as the Alien—were missing. A wash of white frost tinted the inside of the observation window.

They must have used cryogenic gas to immobilize the Queen for the x-rays, Rodriguez thought. I guess tranquilizers weren't effective. I could have been with them during the first anatomy exam. He felt a mild pang of regret—he'd lost his opportunity to examine a brand new organism. But then he looked back down at his baby, sleeping quietly, and he felt glad that he'd chosen to spend his time with her.

As Rodriguez lay number 8 down on the floor of her cage, he noticed the way that her white hospital gown pooled around her just like an angel's halo. She looked so delicate and innocent—it made Rogriguez' eyes water. It was excruciatingly painful for Ripley, reclaiming her body. Her leg muscles trembled with every step as she staggered along the rough rubber surface of the treadmill.

She was learning to walk on the conveyor belt of a grenade-manufacturing machine, a horde of whitecoats and pink faces surrounding her. She had electrodes stuck to the sweaty skin of her forehead and additional sensors clamped around her wrists, underneath the sleeves of her new gray jumpsuit. She could feel that pieces of herself were missing—vital memories were floating around her mind in a mist.

She knew that they were there, but she couldn't access them—not yet. The first memories to come back to her were the painful ones; the big events in her life that shaped her the person that she was. She remembered being welcomed into her dad's half of the family after her mother—the woman who had raised her and loved her for thirteen years—decided to disown her.

At first, Ripley had isolated herself from her new family members. She'd shrugged off her dad's attempts at affection, avoided eye contact with her younger step-siblings. If forced to explain the motive behind her coldness, Ripley would have claimed that her step family's friendliness was disingenuous, that they didn't really care how she felt, one way or another.

The truth was that Ripley was deflecting their affection out of self-loathing; she didn't feel that she deserved a supportive family. As much as Ripley had pleaded with her mother in their last months together—as hard as she'd tried to defend her heterosexuality—Ripley couldn't help but blame herself for her mother's rejection. She thought that she must have done something to deserve her abandonment. The muscle growth felt horrible—Ripley's legs were throbbing, cramps spasming all over her calves.

She clenched her teeth and kept moving, step after step, sweat dripping into her stinging eyes. For the first 13 years of her life, Ripley maintained a warped perception of her father; her mother painted him as a lazy alcoholic. She convinced Ripley of her ex husband's incompetence just as effectively as she convinced the court—she fought off every one of the man's attempts at gaining shared custody of their daughter. Ripley was given the chance to know her father only after her mother doubled back on her righteous claim of ownership, and shoved her coveted daughter out onto the sidewalk.

Ripley's dad was laid back, but not lazy. He was scruffy, with an embarrassing sense of humor and a thoughtful slowness to his speech. By degrees, Ripley grew to like him. He provided a constant, undemanding warmth that slowly thawed Ripley from her frozen state.

His kids were colorful—each of Ripley's four step siblings somehow sported completely distinct interests. The brood contained a future accountant, a wanna-be bully, a die-hard piano player and a video cassette addict. The only thing that they had in common was their admiration for Ripley.

The oldest of them was four years younger than she was, and they all latched onto her as a role model. Somewhere down the road, Ripley suddenly realized that she'd made herself into the mother of the family. Her help was certainly needed once her dad married his third wife, Janet, who was purportedly allergic to children.

Ripley's legs rebelled. The muscles clenched up, forcing her to stop mid-stride. The treadmill carried her slowly backwards, pressuring her. Ripley slowed her breath and tried to relax—she felt as though her muscles were attempting to swallow her bones. In a few seconds she was walking again, speeding up steadily. The first thing that Ripley learned about her sexuality was its home breaking potential. Her mother first accused her of being a homosexual when she'd barely started puberty, before she was ready to start figuring things out for herself.

Ripley didn't fully understand what homosexuality was, she only knew that it was unspeakably perverted, and that it was somehow ingrained in her own mannerisms and habits. It was synonymous with guilt and isolation, and it made mothers into strangers. Ripley never learned what tipped her mother off initially—the woman knew it long before Ripley knew it—but from the moment that the idea first jumped into her head, Ripley's mother viewed everything that her daughter did as a symptom of degeneracy.

Mother didn't like the fact that Ripley was taller than the boys in her class. She critiqued Ripley's aloofness in social situations, threw a fit when Ripley wore the same outfit twice in a week. Ripley wished that she'd shown some more backbone in those last months spent with her mother.

But Ripley had been scared by the prospect of losing her mother's love. She tried hard to change, but it didn't make a difference. For too long after her abandonment, Ripley carried her mother's toxic influence with her.

She sported a long-distance umbilical chord—one that reversed healthy growth instead of fostering it. Only after years of submitting to obligatory self-loathing did Ripley develop the courage to bite the cord and tear herself free.

Droplets of sweat fell onto the rubber conveyor belt treads beneath her feet. Building up confidence was a meticulous and wildly difficult process. There was no road map for it; all that Ripley had was a mortal drive, a suspicion that self-loathing would eventually spell her end. It helped for Ripley to think of her brain as an electrical circuit—she had to hit the switches to stop her thoughts from jumping towards self-blame, redirect the flow towards a more forgiving part of her psyche.

Her sparse collection of friends helped with the process, and so did her step family. Like an evolving invertebrate, Ripley developed a strong backbone. Every time she pushed herself to act confident, she gained a bit more bone around her nerves. By her late teens she could call herself proud; she took pleasure in carrying an air of intimidation.

Self-esteem gave her hold of her own reins--she could lead her personality in any direction she wanted or needed to. To her own amazement, Ripley accelerated into a jog, sending the whitecoats scrambling to increase the speed of the conveyor belt. Her pulse monitor was beeping rapidly, her body overheating, yet Ripley felt herself speeding up and gaining power instead of succumbing to exhaustion.

Ripley could win her internal wars, but she was never safe from conflict. Wherever Ripley worked, whatever ground base or spaceship she was stuck in, she was never, ever, without the pleasant company of one or more condescending assholes. There was a certain type of man that populated every sect of spaceworker life, and he took very badly to Ripley's ego-damaging existence. He made it his duty to spit slander at her from every angle, casually calling her a bitch and a crone and an entitled princess.

Once word got out on the ship that Ripley was a bitch who slept with bitches, the slander would worsen exponentially. Frustratingly, the flying pigs were largely all that Ripley could remember about her career as a flight officer. Clouds of mathematical knowledge and piloting experience were floating in some yet undeveloped part of her mind. All that Ripley had now were smirking mouths, breathing tobacco and halitosis as they whispered aggressive, flirtatious come-ons in her ear.

But Ripley had to be rational. Perhaps her selective memory made sense from an evolutionary standpoint. A newborn animal learns to recognize its enemies—predators, poisons, poachers—before it learns to hunt for itself. Ripley was born with an instinctive aversion to male bigots. An apt adaptation indeed. In a burst of angry energy, Ripley's jog ignited into a sprint.

Her whole body ached; painful shockwaves shot up her leg bones with every pounding step—but the pain spurred her onwards. Around her, the whitecoats muttered words of amazement. The riveted texture of the conveyor belt raced into a blur underneath of Ripley's rubber shoes.

And then without warning, one of her knees buckled and she began to fall. She leaned sideways and toppled off of the treadmill before she could be thrown by the force of the racing conveyor belt. Hitting the ground sent a jolt through her body—it worsened all of her aches. She hissed reflexively as she felt the whitecoats' hands all over her, helping her up. One of them pulled up the leg of her jumpsuit up to check on her knee, which was bruised inflamed. On reflex, Ripley shoved the men away—and was shocked by the amount of strength in her arms.

The whitecoats staggered backwards, nearly falling over. They gawked at her, confused, and then Ripley felt the sting of a needle enter her neck, watched her vision fill with blackness.

She woke up, head pounding, on the floor of her cell. She'd been changed into a clean jumpsuit; a blue one, with the CCA silver wings logo embroidered on the collar. Sitting up, she realized that she could support her weight on one arm. Experimentally, she did a push-up, and she found that her arms—which had felt completely slack and weak that same morning—were now fully functioning and strong. Muscle tone was building around her bones rapidly, her body changing impossibly fast. Ripley stretched, wincing as she worked the kinks out of her new muscles.

She breathed deeply, her lungs feeling healthier than she remembered—she had never smoked in this body. She felt calm and clear-headed for the first time since her rebirth. Progress was being made—she was regaining control of her life in stages.

She had her body back, now she just needed to work on organizing her frayed and confused mind. The blueprints for the person that she used to be were there in her brain, contained in her expanding memories. With practice, with repetition, she would become that woman again.

She would lift Ellen Ripley from her year grave. Olson was staring at number 8 as she jogged on her treadmill. Grudgingly, he looked away long enough to roll his eyes at Rodriguez. It's a good thing we took her away from you. You'd probably still be parading her around in a wheelchair, treating her like an infant. She's is a remarkable specimen In terms of her psychical abilities As is, she could keep pace with a gold-winning athlete—the girl runs like a man.

And she's strong too. Her record so far is pounds worth of bullet casings—she can lift the crate above her head. She could be crushed! Olson snickered at the pudgy man's panicked shrieking. Cuts, burns and bruises all disappear in a couple of hours. Kept her in pristine shape just for you. I didn't like doing it either—she does look a lot like a normal woman.

Plus I know she would have mangled me if it wasn't for those handcuffs. Olson put his hands up. I promise. Rodriguez had gotten a disquieting glimpse of number 8's strange bone structure when he'd opened her up to remove the Queen, but the full scope of her deformity was deeply disturbing to witness. Number 8 was human in the flesh and skin, but inside of her was a skeleton as black as space, grinning with porcelain-white teeth. Mechanical-looking black tubes wound around her spine and all through the inside of her ribcage.

The claws that skewered the tips of her fingers grew right from the fabric of her bones. Each of the black knives attached at the distal phalanx and pushed cleanly through the skin. Rodriguez felt sick to his stomach.

Olson peaked his eyebrows at him. Those bones only weigh as much as a human's, but they're extremely hard. They're made from the same matter as the Queen's exoskeleton, in case you couldn't tell. Rodriguez hit a button on the dashboard next to the monitor and closed the image. He returned his gaze to the woman running steadily on the factory conveyor belt, guards with tranquilizer guns standing around her. Rodriguez had never seen a female looking so active before.

Number 8 wasn't holding back or subduing herself, she was throwing her body into every step, sweating and breathing powerfully. She looked completely different from the delicate, immobile woman that he rescued a week ago.

It made Rodriguez's heart ache with loss. Every time that he saw number 8 she looked more and more like a stranger. Adding to the pain was the fact that this was Rodriguez's second child lost to other men. Rodriguez's only son, Marcus, grew up without him, choosing the rough-edged marine as his idol. Rodriguez had had such a nice life planned out for him--but now the little boy was an unfamiliar adult. He elbowed his way past the guards—who watched him with apathetic amusement—and switched off the conveyor belt.

Ripley slowed to a stop, her lithe body straightening into a statuesque pose, and leered down at Rodriguez from atop the machine. She is not a lab animal. She is my daughter and I love her.

The six other whitecoats sat at their computers and watched him, some of them sighing in annoyance, some stifling their laughter. But this isn't about me, it's about what's best for her. Like right now, for instance. A woman's voice sounded from above rodriguez—it was deep and melodic and roughened with frustration. Rodriguez looked up at number 8 and blinked. It's not what's best for you. Rodriguez whirled around to face the other whitecoats.

I never taught her to swear! She's an old soul, not a blank canvas. I thought we already established that. You like that better than the cage, right? Rodriguez sniffed and addressed the whitecoats. She seems to like it. And, you know, none of us have any complaints about supervising her. He leaned back in his chair and gestured with his foot towards the heavy metal cylinders sitting on his desk. Rodriguez plucked the handcuffs from Olson's desk indignantly and brought them over to the hybrid.

The handcuffs were a pair of fused steel gauntlets. They covered Ripley's forearms from the wrists up to the elbows, forcing her arms out in front of her body and cramming her hands into a jumble of fingers and claws. Rodriguez had gotten no say in the handcuffs design—if it were up to him he would have gone for something more decorative, with inset jewels, or lace maybe. For extra security, the cuffs were coated in an acid-resistant chemical—an expensive solution that needed to be painted on fresh every week.

The man and the hybrid walked up to Rodriguez's office in silence. Rodriguez was made uncomfortable by number 8's height, by the dauntless, feminine power in her stride. Even with her arms bound she glided along with threatening confidence—Rodriguez looked prissy and clumsy compared to her, which was humiliating. Without moving her head, the woman looked down at Rodriguez from the corner of her eyes, as if he were an insect. She didn't say anything. You have control over every aspect of my life.

I think I should at least be able to own my own walk. Rodriguez's face puckered. I think that I at least deserve a little respect from my daughter. Is that really how you think of me? The way you act, I thought you were trying to grow me into your perfect girlfriend. Rodriguez flushed red. They want you to hate me. They're trying to destroy our pure relationship because they're jealous. You're still young, I think that I can change you back. Rodriguez didn't actually have a lesson planned—he had taken number 8 to his office in an attempt to hide her from the other men.

The session ended up as a kind of one-sided interrogation about the workings of the Company. Rodriguez found himself answering all of the ravenous questions that number 8 threw at him, perhaps explaining too much.

The hybrid wanted to know about the CCA's history, and about the other countries beyond the Company's border. Some of her questions were tricky—she asked if slave labor in factories was the key to CCA's ability to maintain low prices on their products. She asked how CCA could claim that it didn't tax its citizens when it was illegal to buy any product that didn't send money to the Company.

Her questions made it hard for Rodriguez to paint the Company in a favorable color, so instead of providing straight answers, he resorted to listing generic reasons that the CCA was a great nation. Still, she read into his answers and found ways to make everything more complicated than it needed to be. Talking to her about foreign nations was much easier.

Spewing soft slander about the greedy Chinese brother corporations and the idiotic Russian imperialists came naturally to Rodriguez. Though why number 8 wanted to know if the Union accepted refugees, and whether or not they were tolerant of sexual deviants, Rodriguez couldn't imagine. When the lesson was finished, Rodriguez remembered that he had something to give to number 8, something that he'd found stuck in a grate on the 9th floor.

It was a violet corsage made with synthetic flowers, something that was probably gifted to a young woman on the eve of a dance in the Auriga's ballroom, some years ago. Well, here it is. Ripley looked down at the dainty flower blooming from her handcuffs and grinned crookedly, as if she were suppressing a laugh.

Rodriguez beamed. You see, I'm so much nicer than those other men. Dice are wrong. You do have a place in society. And someday I'm going to introduce you to the world as a reborn Company lady. You'll show them that there's hope. Number 8 laughed suddenly, bitterly, showing her teeth in what looked more like a snarl than a grin.

Just surrender all hope of agency and self-reliance. And don't forget to buy Company brand cosmetics. He liked the content of what number 8 was saying, but he was a bit frightened by the tone.

You could be on a commercial. Do they tell you to lose the swish, to walk with more power in your step? Rodriguez went red-faced. His mouth molded itself into a variety of shapes before he finally spat out his words. I'm taking you back to your cell right now! The guards are taking you to your cell, and I'm telling them not to feed you tonight!

He picked up the PA speaker and called for security, glaring at the hybrid woman as he did so, hoping to catch some glimpse of regret in her eyes. She watched him back with a stony, hateful expression, her posture straight and rigid in her chair. If she regretted anything, she wasn't going to let him know about it. The woman's struggle would be long and hard, Rodriguez could see that.

Her insistence on being independent was threatening her chance of ever becoming a free citizen. She would never make it out of her cage if she kept clamoring for autonomy. Rodriguez had his work cut out for him.

He thought that raising a daughter would be easier than raising a son, he thought that she would be better behaved. It seemed that everyone in Rodriguez's life existed just to mock him. He gave Number 8 a gift of flowers and she repaid him with an insult. Nothing in his life was fair. At least number 8 wasn't going anywhere. She would always be on the same ship with him, no matter how distant she sometimes felt. Thinking like that, it seemed inevitable that number 8 would come around eventually.

Rodriguez felt a little better, his chest loosening. Like a crop planted inside of a lead pipe, number 8 had only one direction to grow in; she just needed time to find the sunny little opening where she belonged. Ripley lay face-up on the cold metal floor of her cell.

Her back was sore from laying on the hard surface, but she was barely aware of the pain. She was deep in thought, removed from her body. As the weeks trudged by in a haze of florescent lights, Ripley found herself becoming more and more withdrawn. Every uncomfortable test performed upon her by the whitecoats drove her deeper inside of herself; she hid in her mind in order to distance herself from the reality of her situation. Disconnected from the world, Ripley spent her time living in the past, carefully expanding her island of memories by pushing out into the surrounding mist.

She remembered her daughter, Amanda—her pride and joy. She remembered her apartment building in Chicago, built on the dry sands of what used to be lake Michigan. In winter it would snow, and Ripley and Amanda would stand on their fire escape and watch the metal gargoyles on the building next door get coated in white powder, making them look fluffy and harmless.

Amanda used to be afraid of the gargoyles. She had names for each of them--bloody bat face, bug-eyed old man, killer skull, and the like—and she was convinced that they would fly inside of her room at night. Ripley got very good at comforting her, at soothing her fears, and with pride she watched her daughter slowly grow braver. Kadnlarn ufkunu aar. CastAkasha Coliun and her pussy problembr Akasha Coliun has problem with her pussy.

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