New Life
rating: +16+x

“Alright, um, so, I really don’t want to do this.”

“I know.”

“But I have to, because —“

“You don’t have to explain it to me.”

“I know, humour me? This is more for me than you.”

“At least you’re aware.” She sighed. “Continue.”

“Th-thanks, really. So. Uh. I don’t want to do this. But sometimes, things, well, they have to be done, and, last week, you got a really bad scrape on your leg when you were out picking blackberries —“

“You don’t have to do this for every cut and bruise, you know.”

“— in our garden, and you know you’re supposed to wear those gloves and knee high boots I got you when you’re doing that —“

“I was wearing the gloves.”

“— but you weren’t and so now I have to kill you.”

Pepper just rolled her eyes, and waited patiently for the needle.

“It might honestly be faster and more painless if you shot me in the head,” she suggested.

“I’m not going to shoot you in the head! How, how could you ever expect me to do that?”

“I don’t like shots. The medical kind, I mean. Why don’t you poison me or something?”

“We’ve talked about this.”

“I know, fine.”

“There’s nothing I can put in food —“

“I said I know.”

“— that’ll preserve your body in the same way —“

“Brian.”

The black haired beanpole of a man abruptly shut up, the thin layer of sweat on his forehead a dead giveaway for his intense discomfort… if his wide-eyed and tight-lipped expression wasn’t enough already.

“Fine. You never let me grieve, you know.”

“Just hurry it up, we’ve got somewhere to be in two hours, and the sooner I die the sooner I can dress myself up.”

“Oh that won’t be an issue.”

Pepper couldn’t help but smile a little bit.

“You didn’t really —“

But before she could finish the thought, Brian jammed the needle rather forcefully into her thigh, causing her whole body to tense, in an almost orgasmic gesture. Not totally incorrect, either — Brainy Brian had made sure the drug was as pleasant as possible. Pepper had yet to tell him that it was a sort of sexual experience. She expected it would weird him out; he had never stopped being bashful about that.

But before she could think about it much longer, the darkness closed in around her, in a strange and not wholly unpleasant mix of pleasure and terror. The last thing she saw before she went under was Brainy mouthing “so sorry…”




She woke up, slowly, like coming out of a deep slumber, on the bed just to the left of where she’d died. Brainy must have been speedy on this one; as she turned her head, she saw her previous body taking its last shallow breaths. Always a little eerie when that happened.

It made her smile.

“Wow, these sleeping pills are really working! I was out in a second!

She turned her head away from her body, to her right, and saw Brainy already sitting up from a supine position and getting his shoes on.

“I can tell! I’m not even fully dead yet.”

“Heh, heheheh, wow, th-that’s creepy.” The tying of his shoes slowed as he stared at her soon-to-be corpse. “You look so… pretty.”

“God damn necrophile.”

“Am not!”

“Are too.” Pepper sat up, and kissed him on the cheek, at which he giggled like an elementary-schooler.

“Okay, maybe just for you,” he said, with an all-encompassing blush and a too-shy smile. “Sorry I did it so… fast. If I catch you off guard, you don’t wince and tense up so much, and you know I don’t like hurting you.”

“I know.”

“And I know I don’t need to do it for ‘every cut and bruise’, I just want us to be perfect before going out —“

“I know.”

“— into the world and seeing the sights and tasting the tastes and all of that and I just wanted it to be as good as it possibly could be and every second we were out and you had that gash on your leg —“

“It had mostly healed up.”

“— I’d be thinking about how different it would be if you didn’t, so I just had to get rid of it and I don’t know how to heal bodies, just how to make them, and I thought ‘no harm no foul’ and went ahead and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but I wanted you to not check in on the body’s process because I made a new dress for it and it was a surprise.”

He'd started looking worried, but by the end of his ramblings his lips had curled up at the corners. Pepper grinned back at him, that guessing grin that little kids had while shaking a Christmas present and wondering what’s inside. She could already feel the velvety outfit on her skin. She raised her arm, and studied the black frills that fell around her wrist.

“You know I love black, and I know you love frills. Playing it safe so far, I see.”

“Pull-pull the frills back,” Brainy stuttered.

Pepper raised her eyebrows, and pulled them back. Underneath, there were more frills… but these ones were a bright, vibrant green.

“Ohh…”

She pulled the covers off herself, and sat up, admiring the other splashes of green among her smooth black surface. The first most noticeable examples were three green flowers on her right breast, and the line of green around her midriff.

“I’m liking it so far.”

As she stood up, the bell shaped bottom of her dress filled out, full of just as many frills as she expected. The outermost layer was black, but each coming in alternated between black and green. Her footwear were these small, Dorothy “this isn’t Kansas anymore” shoes, coupled with tight green knee-high socks.

“Oh, I really like it.”

“Touch your hair.”

“Mm?”

“Tou—, uh, touch… there’s a bow, right, in your…”

Pepper reached up, and found the bow clipped onto the top left of her black wavy hair. She smiled, her usual subdued kind of smile.

“It’s green, isn’t it?”

“It is. It is! Is the colour scheme, is it…?”

“It’s beautiful, Brainy. This is awesome. I want a mirror.”

“Thought you hated those.”

“Oh ha, ha, ha. Very funny.”

“If you get to poke fun at my trauma, I get to poke fun at yours.”

“Alright, fine then, you klutz.” She over-pronounced the “k” in “klutz”, because she was almost going to call him “kid killer”. There were moments, when she could joke like that with him. But now, with all the nerves of going on a trip? She figured it would do more harm than good. Maybe one of the coming days would bring the levity necessary to turn his past into a joke. It had worked before. Not often, but it had.

She brought herself to the bathroom, and saw just how carefully Brainy had styled her hair, as an added bonus to her costume. The black of her dress perfectly matched the black of her hair, and he had given her bright green lipstick. Looking herself up and down, she was impressed. Not that she should’ve been. Brainy was always this meticulous, this detail-attentive. In another life, he would have definitely been a fashion designer.

“Alright, one thing.”

“What thing?”

“The green lipstick is too much, I’m going to wash it off. Otherwise, I love it, thank you.”

She turned around and brought him in for a kiss, leaving his lips just a little green and his energy absolutely bubbling.

“Now go get your outfit on and your suitcases in the car while I’m in here, and then I’ll help you take my body to the gym.”




While Brainy and Pepper carried the body down the stairs, Pepper noticed that the vessel hadn’t even lost its warmth. No pulse, no breath, it had died a half hour ago, but it was still warm, and hadn’t stiffened even slightly. Pepper and Brainy had plenty of experience disposing of the dead bodies of clients, and she knew that by now it should have at least been cold. It must have been part of the syringe’s contents, a preserving elixir for the bodies of herself and Brainy.

The gym had once been a real gym, before Brainy and herself had redesigned it. Neither of them worked out; any time they felt dissatisfied in their body, Brainy could dream up a new one far easier than they could lose weight or gain muscle. The result was that the two were almost sculpted. They weren’t perfect tens — neither of them had wanted to give up the essential elements of their original looks, even when doing so could gain them a more typical beauty.

Even so, they were undeniably attractive. Both had the fair, smooth skin that nobody was born with and that lotion brands promised, without any of the product. They both had the same colour of black hair, a deep black that was only ever acquired with dying, and they both had the same, clean, marble-white eyes.

There were things they couldn’t leave, though.

Among them was Pepper’s perpetually tired resting face. If she wasn’t angry, or happy, or any emotional extreme, she looked like she could nod off any second, even if she was wide awake.

Brainy also kept some small imperfections, things that kept him from looking like a doll. His bony frame was one of them (though he’d had to fill out a little bit, by Pepper’s request, to make snuggles a bit more comfortable), and his strangely long fingers were another. In all respects, he looked like his height was unnatural, as if someone had taken a normal adult and stretched them upwards just a tad.

“Doll,” she thought, looking at her own corpse. Her mind had caught on the word. That would’ve been an apt name for the vessels they left behind. Maybe the gym could be renamed to the dollhouse.

Or maybe she’d rather they not commit so hard to the “recovering psychopath and his undead lover” aesthetic. Not that it bothered her too much, but a basement full of preserved dead bodies called the “dollhouse” sounded really cheesy.

She kicked open the door behind her at the bottom of the stairs, and helped pull her body into the cold, sterile room. Pepper liked the dark and dreary aesthetic a lot more than Brainy did, so they split between them the task of decorating the house, allowing each of them to interject their preferences. Pepper got to design the gym. As a result, the room was dim, musty, and cobwebbed on purpose.

On the left side were old Brainy bodies, and on the right were old Peppers. Each was held in its individual cylinder of cold, clear gelatine, suspending them in lively, theatric positions. Well, mostly Brainy’s. Pepper’s were usually more subdued, sometimes a little more devilish-looking, with her half smile on each of them. Each cylinder was lit from beneath and above, with different colours depending on the outfits on display.

They brought the old Pepper body to a humanoid metal prop in the middle of the room, with which you could pose the body before it got submerged. This usually was a fun, lively process — sometimes they’d even combine a Brainy and a Pepper, and put them in a form of affection. Hugging, kissing, posing. Those displays came out around Valentine’s day. Currently, they were below the floor, like the stores of unused gelatine. Right now, though, they didn’t have time to pose. They just needed the body to be preserved before they went out.

So they pinned the Pepper onto the prop in a haphazard, half-assed fashion, and Pepper pressed the grey button on the wall that would press the body down into warm, malleable goo. They made sure not to freeze it in place yet, as this wasn’t the pose they wanted for the future. A project for when they got back. That should be fun!

"Alright, with that done, we have…" Brainy checked his gold watch. "An hour and ten minutes to catch the train!"

"Sounds doable."

"Sounds very tight."

"Sounds doable, I said."

"Alright. Alright! Alright! Let's go!" Brainy bounded up the stairs, Pepper following soon after, taking far more time than he had. She caught up to him at the entryway, where he was slipping on his brown, leather, studded shoes. Brainy always dressed for the occasion, no matter what the occasion was, and this time was no different. Inspired by the era of steam locomotives (not that this train was a real steam locomotive), Brainy had done his best to dress up like he was "old money". Of course, he wasn't, but he was "money" minus the "old", so he was prepared to look like it. Foregoing his usual chromatic extremes, he had settled into a brown, red and black. No doubt the black was to go with Pepper's dress, the red was likely an intended contrast, but the brown befuddled her. Still, she didn't ask.

Querying Brainy about his fashion choices was just asking for a long-winded, one-sided conversation. Not that she didn't often enjoy his enthusiasm, but it was a commitment she didn't want to make at the moment.

In any case, she knew his wardrobe would be somewhat influenced by their employers. Brainy was kind of a special case — some people thought he was dead, which meant no one was looking for him, sure, but any and all attention he brought to himself would serve to heighten the chances that things went to shit and enemies were made. Thus, he wasn't allowed to be quite as extravagant and colourful as he would like. Pepper had seen him at his freest before (of course). He was just about a bird of paradise whenever they had guests over — and to extend the metaphor, he would take any opportunity to show off his plumage. He was restricted in this regard when it came to outings such as this.

After a last minute straightening of his bowtie in the mirror — a process that surely would have taken longer had Pepper not given him a look — they finally pushed open their stained glass doors and got into the car. Pepper drove, because Brainy was scared of it. The dress made it pretty annoying, but that was alright. They wouldn't be in the car long.




The train wasn't one of those old trains, no, but it was made to look and feel like one. That was sort of its selling point. There were even train cars in which little "plays" happened from actors and actresses selling the time of ye olde railroad. Pepper thought that the romanticisation of trains was more of an American thing, so she was confused as to how this business would be doing so well in Britain, but she'd never done research on the subject, and why would she look a gift horse in the mouth? Either way, they hadn't taken one of the theatric cars.

Brainy and Pepper (mostly Pepper, admittedly) wanted to have a quiet train ride, looking out across acres and acres of green in the English countryside, on their way to the ferry that would take them into Northern Ireland.

Their booth had a lovely red leather couch and an artificially old-looking table, on which they had stacked a pile of travel snacks, including some of the new Wondertainment candies that had come out. They had a tradition of buying the entirety of the new catalogue of sweets every two months. They could only bring the magicless ones with them on the public train, of course, but that still gave them a hefty amount — Wondertainment seemed to be launching a campaign to reach the mundane markets under the leadership of Judy Papill, an old friend and coworker of Brainy's.

First, they opened a package of some "gourmet" chocolates, and started popping them in.

"Hmm…" Brainy chewed.

"Hmm?" Pepper replied.

"Dark," Brainy finished. "Dark chocolate."

"Yes. That is indeed what the box said."

"I don't like reading the boxes before I eat. It takes out the surprise. And this was an unpleasant surprise."

"So what you're saying is… I can have the rest?"

"Absolutely."

"Sweet." Pepper took the whole box, and scooted it towards her end of the table.

Unlike the extremely speedy vacuum tube trains that were now the norm, this ride had the familiar bumps and tumbles that Pepper remembered from when she was alive for the first time, way back when.

"How can you like dark chocolate?"

"The same way I like coffee," Pepper replied.

Brainy shuddered. Just about the only coffee he could handle was the type that was more milk and sugar than coffee. He'd always been more of a tea type, anyways. Of course, that might have been spawned from a Wonder World!™ upbringing, where tea was most definitely the drink of the hour. Even more than soda, strangely enough. Maybe it had something to do with their Boston location. Boston, Boston Tea Party, Wondertainment… Pepper hadn't ever really done the research, so who knew. She tended not to do research on most things.

"Bitter," Brainy concluded.

"Bitter indeed," Pepper said around a mouthful of sweets. Looking over at him, she could see him getting that smile, that I'm-about-to-launch-into-a-tangent smile. "What?"

"Well," Brainy straightened up, "I felt that oddly fitting, you know? How you like bitter things, and I like sweet things. You like dark, I like bright. It's a running theme, see? And you can trace it all the way back. I'm just wondering, like, flavours."

"Flavours?"

"Flavours! About us, what would we taste like? What are our flavours? And more than that, how have they changed? Sorry, this sounds so unrelated, but my mind was on… well, paid vacations, right? Like this one. I, uh, started with a… vacation, that went a little wrong, and in the aftermath of that, I met you, and you, well, you were far more bitter back then. Bitter, bitter, bitter. I think you were right to be bitter, actually, but it's really… inspiring? To see how you've… you've…"

"Mellowed?"

"Yes! Mellowed. Calmed down. Become less… biting. Sorry. Sorry, I didn't mean to make this insulting."

"No, it's fine. It's hard to get under my skin."

"Well it is now."

Pepper shrugged, and popped another chocolate into her mouth. "I think you taste like strawberries."

"Aww."

"Sweet, but acutely sour."

"Ohh."

"Maybe more like… a strawberry pie, where the flavour's been a bit diluted by all this crust and saccharine filling. Like, the sour's been lost, after all the preparation. Oo, oo, maybe you wake up a strawberry, and after you dawn your makeup fancy clothes, that's when you're the pie, and it takes a lot of getting to know you to find the strawberry inside. How's that? I'm a fucking poet."

"That sounds a little hurtful."

"Really?"

"Am I not me when I'm… in pie form?"

"You're you, but you're dressed-up you."

"Mmm. But you're also saying I taste better with preparation."

"Not so true. The flavours are just… different."

"Different?"

"Yeah."

There was a pause as a bag of white chocolate turtles was broken open, and the contents shared. Pepper chewed and stared out of the windows. They had yet to leave the city, but they were getting into the more suburban parts of London, where spots of grass could be found on lawns and there seemed to be naturally growing trees in some areas rather than none.

"I think," Brainy said, "that you're a… hmm."

Pepper waited patiently for the thought to come to him of its own volition.

"There's something swimming in my head about you being a sort of nut. I'm bad at this, because most of the dishes I'm familiar with are either very fancy, or very sweet, and I don't think you're either."

"Pah. Rude."

"If I thought I was going to insult you, I wouldn't have said it, heheh. Umm. But, I'd say you have a shell, but really, you had a shell, and I think… it's largely gone now."

"Mm."

There was another pause.

"Sorry, you were so much better at this."

"It's alright. I'm used to being good."

"Heheh, shush you."

Pepper turned to be facing away from Brainy, and then fell back into him, smiling when he jumped at her sudden touch. He angled himself towards her as best he could, and moved his right arm around her belly so that his hand rested on the left side of her hip, which he gently rubbed affectionately.

Pepper finished chewing a turtle before saying, "you know what?"

"What?"

"I'm proud of you."

"What for?"

"You didn't stutter that whole time."

Brainy took a long time to respond, and every second he was silent was a second that Pepper felt smugger than before.

"I guess I didn't," he said very slowly.

"Why the pause?"

"I had to keep myself from getting flustered, so I wouldn't l-lose my — gosh!"

Pepper felt his body tense, and couldn't help but laugh. Her laugh sounded deeper than she thought it should. If she listened back to it on a recording, it sounded like a kind of "huh huh huh", and she thought it was just about the ugliest noise she made. Well, no, her worst sound was her singing voice. But at least whenever she did that, it was voluntary, and usually served the purpose of playfully annoying people.

Brainy yawned.

"Sleepy?"

"I, uh, stayed up all night, making the final touches on your dress."

"Mmm, should I let you nod off then?"

"I think I'm, uh, headed that direction, yeah."

"I'll try not to wiggle too much then."

The train was going to take an atmospheric four hours to get to their destination, but Pepper was wide awake. Getting a new body did that — they always seemed to start up with a full tank, so to speak. Brainy had given himself a new physique two days ago. He thought it would be beneficial to get that task out of the way earlier than he had on previous trips, but it proved to be anxiety-inducing for him. He was comically careful not to bruise or scratch himself before the vacation, so he could look spick and span.

Pepper cared far less about looks than he did. He tried to respect her boundaries on the concern, but it was difficult to, seeing as he literally molded her body. His twitchy, compulsive brain always wanted to tend to all the small things, make her absolutely spotless. Pepper had silently conceded on that point, allowing them to get to their current looks, but she'd been very stern when he had tried to plan her outfits for her. He could make her things, but she wouldn't stand for him telling her when she should wear them.

"Mind if I have the rest of the chocolates, Brian?"

She got no response. He must have stayed up really late, then, to fall asleep so fast. It's a wonder she hadn't noticed he was so tired earlier. Of course, that was a skill of his. Brainy had just about mastered the art of looking like he was one thing when he really was the other. He didn't used to have that, but the business world had been hard on him since he got into Marshall, Carter, & Dark. He didn't have to give up his theatrics, but he most certainly had to put on a face for customers, no matter how he really felt. It was another layer to his costumes, Pepper thought. More dough on the crust.

She reached over and pulled another bag of chocolates towards her. Wait, no… toffee. She brought a bag of toffee towards her and ripped it open, proceeding to search for the largest, most delicious-looking piece she could find. After the acquisition, she rested her head on Brainy's skinny chest, and looked across the aisle, out the opposite window. It was finally turning into countryside, and Brainy wasn't even awake to appreciate it.

"Missing all the beauty of our country, Brainy." She took a bite of the toffee. "Weird to think I was born here, way back when. I totally lost my accent when I was ported over to the United States in an auction. Good times. Bleah."

They weren't good times.

In fact, they were the worst moments of her life. Being sold and bought like she was nothing more than a novelty was more than a little degrading to her self esteem. She was pretty sure she'd gotten over it. The centuries between now and then helped, and having a body seemed like a useful thing to hold onto. Not that she ever felt like her body was truly hers. It was synthetic. She was the passenger that drifted between bodies on a whim. Maybe she'd never really gotten a body. Maybe she'd gotten a vessel better than a mirror.

That was stupid.

This was a stupid train of thought.

Her focus came back to reality once she noticed the family sitting in the booth across from them. It was a mother, father, and a daughter, playing some card game on the available table. Maybe Apples to Apples. It couldn't have been too fun with only three people, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

They weren't an attractive family unit. If Pepper were to guess, she'd say that they were a family made up of the outcasts of mundane society. When you've got no one, you'll take anyone. Maybe that was a little judgmental. Pepper knew she had a habit of doing that; seeing people and trying to figure them out without context. Prejudice, she thought. She was a prejudiced person, at heart. She knew Brainy wouldn't have the same hangups.

For someone who regularly repeated "image is everything", he didn't seem to notice anyone's but his own and Pepper's. Not a single second was spent eyeing someone up and down, noting their footwear, legwear, chestwear, headwear, handwear, or any of the rest of their -wears. He only noticed enough so that he could compliment them on it. Even things that didn't look good, he seemed to think were just the most amazing things. Pepper wondered where the mental block was. She couldn't buy that he was so involved in the outfits of his loved ones, and then completely ignorant to the fashion of others.

But she knew that these thoughts couldn't be what was making her feel so uneasy. When she came back to, she found herself making uncomfortable eye contact with the daughter, and swiftly averted her gaze. She stared back out the window, out at the rolling green hills. But that was a mistake. The border of her vision just vaguely outlined the backlit heads of the parents. Something combined in a jarring, familiar mix of emotions, yet subtly, in that way that someone can still be happy while the gears have already been set in motion to have them crying within the hour. But Pepper was clever enough to catch it. And she knew what it was about.

Had she really never ventured out into the countryside, not once in the last forty years? Had she unknowingly restricted herself to the city, had she only ever opened Ways to deserts?

Clearly, it had been far too long.



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