Dead Man's Party

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Being very sick had a way of making you forget what it ever felt like to be healthy. When you're so sore in every part of your body you've forgotten what it feels like to simply feel nothing in most places, or forgotten what it feels like to walk swift and steady on your own two feet.

And the cold was a whole other beast. Iris hated being cold, maybe more than anything, but the kind of cold she was reached down to her bones. Standing under hot running water didn't even warm her up. She was shivering and sweating and she could swear that was only making it worse so all she could do was curl up under her blankets that didn't help and stare at the door. She didn't need a nightlight anymore, she was a big girl, but even though she had a fan running she could swear she kept hearing noises in the room and even though they were probably just the papers on her desk she could hear noises all around the room and they sounded like they were coming closer and she wanted to get up and turn on a light but she was so cold and she'd be more cold if she got up so she just held onto her shoulders and stayed there.

Her sore legs kicked out at the discomfort, but only succeeded in exposing themselves to the cold part of her bedsheets and flaring up the soreness in them. Iris buried her face in her pillow and felt herself rock back and forth gently with her sobs. She reflexively covered up the sounds of her crying, but even so she hoped that someone would hear the quiet, muffled sobs over the fan, a thick steel door, and probably several meters of open air. She just wanted someone. Anyone. She'd even take her doctor.

This was the third time she'd started crying tonight, and she'd stopped looking at the clock after 1:30, having gone to bed at 9:30. Nobody was even awake to help her. Even then, she spat a snot-filled please into the pillow every few sobs. But all she could do was lift her arm up to pull the worthless blankets closer to herself.

Iris heard her door open, and dim light crept into her room. She noticed it instantly, any hint of sleep still escaping her. Even so, it took her a moment to turn her aching neck to see who was coming - a fool's errand, though, since her eyes were so adjusted to the dark she only made out a silhouette. It sighed, then moved over to Iris' bedside and crouched down next to her. Iris bit her tongue to keep down any lingering cries she wanted to let out. Now she could see the face - it was Adrian. She let out a sigh of relief that was far shakier than she wanted it to be.

"Ah, knew it." Adrian spoke in a gentle voice, like he wasn't trying to wake her up. "How you holding up, kid?"

"B…" Iris trailed off. Her voice was still shaking. Instead, she just shook her head.

It was nothing short of a miracle that Adrian could even see what she was doing with the light, not to mention how thoroughly she had cocooned herself in her blankets. "What's up? Sore throat?"

"…Just sore." Only now that she was opening her mouth did Iris realize how dry it was. "And cold."

"Yeah, thought so." He stood up and moved something around, audibly banging his leg against Iris' nightstand and doing a good job suppressing a curse. "Mind if I turn on a light? I'll keep it dim."

"Mm. 'S fine."

Adrian turned the lamp on her nightstand on, and she squinted her eyes at him. She could only guess what time it was based on the bags under his eyes, as he quickly disconnected her alarm clock from its outlet ("You'll never sleep looking at that," he said) and plugged in an electric blanket he had presumably commandeered from Beatrix. Before he got to unfurling that, though he handed Iris a bottle of pills and a bottle of water. "Take a couple of those, and you should at least be able to get to sleep." Then, he muttered more to himself than anyone, "Three'd be overdoing it, I think."

Steeling herself, Iris pulled herself out of her blankets and into the cold air. As she tried to control her shivering enough to eat the pills, she looked at Adrian. He'd become very adept at hiding how tired he was, moving with purpose as he readied the weighted blanket.

"…I thought you were on an operation." Iris found it harder to speak once she drank the room-temperature water. She watched Adrian carefully as he tried to find the long end of the blanket.

He seemed to falter for a moment before continuing to spin the blanket around. "Yeah, it wrapped up early. I'm here now."

"…Oh." Her hands began shaking again. Operations never ended early. That meant something went wrong. Iris kicked herself for not thinking about how her sickness affected everyone else on Omega-7. If only she had been there, then maybe-

"Nobody got hurt." Adrian interrupted her thoughts as though he was aware of them. "They just caught wind of us, so I called it. I would've done the same if you were there. It's my job to look after everyone, y'know." Tiredness crept into his voice only on the last sentence. "Alright, lay down."

Iris did as she was told, doing her best to stay still as Adrian pulled her bedsheet out of the tangle of blankets and laid it on top of her. Then he put the electric blanket on top of that, handing Iris a small plastic remote connected to it via a cord. "It clicks up and down, and the button on top is to turn it on and off. And I don't think I'm supposed to do this…" He said as he put one of Iris' heavier blankets on top of the electric one, "…But if it'll keep you warm, here you go. Just make sure you don't overheat, and drink a lot of water. As long as you can keep it down."

Iris cranked the heat all the way up, noticing within seconds that the heat was better than what she had been working with all night. In an instant, she began to feel well and truly tired. "Thanks, but…"

"Hm? You need something else?"

Iris rolled over to her side to get a better look at Adrian. "No. It's just… you could get sick, 's all. Then everyone'd…"

Adrian smiled, soft and humorlessly, and kneeled in front of Iris. "Hey, I'm the boss, right? That means it's my job to take care of you. So what if I get hurt?" He asked. Iris thought for a moment, and smiled back at him. He then reached into his pocket and handed Iris a cell phone. "If you need something, text me. I don't care if it's late."

Iris sat up - or at least pushed herself up a bit - and looked at Adrian with wide eyes. "But I thought anomalies weren't allowed-"

"Ah, who cares." He sounded half annoyed and half consistorial as he gently pushed Iris back down to the bed. "It's Beats' phone, I already talked to her, so my name should be under contacts. Just don't go through our texts, alright?" Iris nodded as hurriedly as her exhausted body would allow, not daring to refuse such a gift.

"Alright. Take care of yourself, kid." With a nod, he turned the lamp back off and stood up - and Iris' hand shot out before she knew what she was doing and grabbed his. "Wait," she choked. "I… It…" She found it hard to articulate what the night up to that point had been like, especially in a way that didn't make her sound like a child.

"…Alright," came Adrian's understanding voice. "Until you're asleep." He walked across the room slowly and rolled the chair at Iris' desk over to her bedside. Wordlessly, he took her hand again in the dark and sat down. Though that hand wasn't underneath the blanket, it was kept warm until Iris finally nodded off.

Removal and reapplication of his sibling's dermal layer was likely the procedure Epsilon was the most familiar with. Gamma and Zeta suffered superficial damage enough to make sure of that, but Delta was particularly fond of changing her appearance even when she didn't need to. Rather than simply imagine new faces, Delta had Epsilon assist her with swapping hers out at least a couple times a week. Mother had once asked him if he found it tedious, but to him it was just a task like any other.

The tedium came from Delta herself.

"Mmm…" Delta made a thoughtful noise as she looked in her handheld mirror, a sure sign she was going to start talking about something that didn't matter. "I don't think I care for the hooked nose."

Of course she didn't. "Cleopatra had a hooked nose," Epsilon volunteered. Maybe that would placate her.

"Well, she also had immense wealth and power." Delta pursed her lips.

Before Epsilon could ask if she wanted to take her facial skin off and try again, Zeta looked up from where they were working on calibrating the exposed machinery of their arm. "Does your nose matter as long as you look human?"

"Zeta, use your brain sometimes, would you?" Delta sighed. "Gamma and I went through a lot of trouble to get it for you."

Epsilon cleared his throat and gave Delta a look. Delta, for her part, took the hint and coughed into her hand before addressing Zeta again. "What I mean to say is that my appearance is important when interacting with humans… I apologize for the jab. That isn't your area of expertise."

Zeta looked at Delta for a moment before wordlessly returning their attention to their mechanical tendons, likely none the wiser as to what Delta was apologizing for. Well, it was the thought that counts.

A few seconds passed in relative silence, with Epsilon futzing around with the flaps of detached skin, unsure if he should continue or restart. As if to save him from that decision, the door to his room - well, it was really just the Charlemagne Unit Maintenance Room, but it was his more than anyone else's - opened, and Gamma and Adrian walked in.

It was the first time Adrian had been in the room, despite the fact that Mother had told Epsilon that Adrian would probably want to change his appearance to be closer to his original body. He never showed up, or even bothered to cut his hair - which was even longer than how Delta liked keeping it - but whatever, Epsilon could care less what that guy wanted to do with his new body that he and Mother had spent so long making for him. He was, however, still slightly annoyed that he had wasted all that time setting up his workstation just for the guy to never show up.

Despite the fact he seemed not to care about his body, he inhabited it far more naturally than any of Epsilon's siblings. Even now, just standing there, he had shifted his weight to his back foot, leaning slightly to the side with his hand resting on his hip. Who even thinks to do that? Epsilon tried imitating Adrian's posture but couldn't seem to find anywhere it felt right to rest his hand.

"Ah, look who finally decided to grace us with your presence," Delta said as she shot Adrian a look over her mirror.

Adrian, not-reacting to the jab in a way that was distinct from how Zeta not-reacted to theirs, looked at the three androids that were settled in the room. "I thought you'd all be ready by now."

"I'm ready," Epsilon hastily replied. He shrunk back a little bit after Delta gave him a side-eye through the mirror for that.

"Well, we're trying to fix something with my face," Delta told Adrian. We, she says. "Zeta's just fiddling around because they're bored."

Zeta's head popped up at the mention of their name. "I'm not bored."

"Yes, you are," Delta waved dismissively.

"…Am I?"

"What's the issue?" Gamma, ever direct, walked past Zeta and right up to Delta, and crouched down to get a better look at her face.

"It's my nose," Delta said, moving her head around to give her partner a better angle. "You see? It's hooked."

"I think it. Um. What?" Gamma blinked.

"I know, I know, beauty standards and all that, but I just don't think it turned out the way I was thinking it would."

"…Understood." Gamma, not really understanding her point, grabbed Delta's face with one hand, and placed the other over her nose.

"What are you - Oh!" Delta was cut off when Gamma abruptly broke her nose and jammed it into another shape before standing back up.

"Are you done with your little Abbott and Costello routine?" Adrian asked.

"For now, sure." Delta appeared to begrudgingly relent after examining herself in the mirror. She shot Gamma a look, who seemed… well, her expression changed a bit, at least. Epsilon wasn't really sure what it meant. Not like he had to know, though, so he went back to fixing up Delta.

"Good. Ideally we'd be leaving now, but I can wait another…" Adrian checked his wristwatch - a wasteful and pointless gesture, considering his body should have had an on-board clock - "…twenty minutes."

"You said we'd be leaving in forty," Gamma said.

"Yes. Which is why I'm telling Delta twenty." Adrian seemed proud of himself for that one, but whatever that was for went right over Epsilon's head. That man was interesting in small doses, but anything more than that Epsilon found frustrating.

"Why do they even need to send us out, anyway? Can't anyone just… what was it, steal some rock from a civilian scientist?" Delta grumbled, despite the fact she clearly enjoyed any excuse to change her appearance. She was just picking a fight for the sake of it.

Adrian, as per usual, didn't take the bait - which only seemed to annoy Delta further. "Because there's a good chance the Foundation probably caught wind of your little outing," Adrian said in an unamused tone.

"So?" Delta huffed. "Not like they were much of an issue last time."

"Hey," Adrian said, a little more forcefully. "Don't brush them off this time. They'll send a task force."

"…Such as?" Epsilon asked, seeing that Delta and Adrian's glaring contest wasn't getting them anywhere.

Adrian sighed. "Well, they would've sent me. So, I guess we'll see who took over my job."

Iris frowned at her reflection, tugging at the hem of her shirt as though it would do anything other than wrinkle it. Everyone on Alpha-9 had gotten bullet-resistant suits for more public operations, and although they came in a number of styles, Iris had no idea what the hell she'd look like in a suit, so she just asked for the navy color in the default style, which was apparently a boring suit and boring pants with a boring button up of a slightly brighter color. "This is dumb," she said glibly. "I look stupid."

She was glowering at the mirror in the closest restroom Site-17 had to its garage, having decided to go in there along with Jackie in order to clean up before they headed to their next operation. Originally, Adams had told them that they needed to leave the site in 15 minutes, then said she'd need at least 20 to get ready herself. That was 30 minutes ago, so in that time Iris had elected to try and fix the hair she had messed up when scrambling to throw her clothes on.

"This is the same thing you wear every time we go someplace with civilians, sir," Jackie replied without looking back from the mirror she was looking at to fix her hair. Jackie probably had a better grasp on fashion that Iris did, and she still got the default style in a brownish-red tone. She thought it sounded like Jackie was chiding her.

"Mm. I know, but it just feels like I'm… overdressed?" Iris looked at Jackie in the mirror. "I just… look dumb. Like I'm wearing a sundress at a skate park."

Jackie stopped what she was doing and turned to Iris. "You wear dresses?"

"I- tch." Iris turned back to her own (now slightly pink) reflection. "I… could. And that's not the point, the point is I look dumb."

Jackie sighed. "If these people are anything like the ones I had when I was a grad student, we're probably fine. The suits might be a little nice for something like this, but that's Foxx's fault for getting them from MC&D."

Ooh, yes, this was Foxx's fault. Iris could run with that. Having someone to be annoyed towards was always far more efficient than just being generically upset. "God. That idiot put those elbow patches onto his jacket to 'blend in.' What a dork."

Pursing her lips slightly as though debating whether or not it would be wise to speak her mind, Jackie asked "Weren't you just saying that you weren't blending in?"

"Ah ah ah." Iris held up a finger. "I said I look dumb. And, thanks to Foxx, I can think of one way to look even dumber. And I know that looks dumb. Adrian used to wear jackets with elbow pads and he looked like a loser." She squinted. "…I guess he did still get with Beats…"

Jackie thought for a moment. Iris was momentarily nervous she'd press her on who she had just mentioned without thinking, but mercifully she just nodded her head. "Fair point."

As if sensing a lull in conversation, someone theatrically swung open the bathroom door. Iris didn't need to look to see who it was; her forthcoming headache was telling enough.

"Hm? Hm?" Anne did a little twirl as she walked up to Iris. "How's it look? Red on black? Nice, right?" She flaunted her new suit to Iris excitedly. Ever since Iris had let her application to Alpha-9 through, she'd been rather giddy. It was exhausting.

Iris only glowered at Anne's reflection until she stopped in her tracks. "Should I have gone with a green button-up?"

"Did you need something?" Jackie asked before Iris could say something antagonistic.

"What? Oh!" Anne nodded her head. "Adams told me to get you guys, we're leaving."

"I don't know why we even need to go deal with some random-ass scientist instead of another task force," Iris grumbled to herself. It would have been so much easier for Pi-1 to deal with whatever the hell they had Iris running around for, but now they wanted to throw her at the problem because of some minor data breach. O5-10 probably just figured she was getting too comfortable or something.

Jackie looked between Iris and Anne before speaking. "We'll be right out, thanks for letting us know," she said with a smile.

Anne's smile, however, disappeared. "Ah. Yeah. Sure."

It looked like Jackie wanted to say something, but she just took a breath and walked out, leaving Iris to finish fixing her hair. Anne walked up to take Jackie's place and leaned against the counter next to Iris, blatantly ignoring the reason she had even entered the room in the first place. She looked at Jackie with pursed lips as she walked out.

As soon as the door shut behind her, Anne scoffed. "Well, she's all smiles, isn't she?"

Iris stopped what she was doing and squinted. "Where the hell'd that come from?"

"She was real short with me whenever we talked, now she's acting all nice," Anne huffed. "I don't know who she thinks she's fooling with that act."

"Well, I think she's just trying to act professional," Iris snapped. The last thing she needed was having her two subordinates being all weird about each other. She didn't want to let Anne on the team in the first place, and even then she didn't think she of all people would get catty. "You could learn a thing or two from her. And it's not like you're the most genuine person I've ever met. At least I hope, if that's really how you are in your brain all the time your life must be hell."

"Hey, at least when I don't like someone, they know it." Anne rolled her head to look at Iris, looking a bit more serious than Iris was used to. "And at least when you bitch at me, I know you mean it."

Iris clenched her teeth a bit. What was with everyone today? "Yeah, I guess…"

After a short pause Anne pushed herself off the counter and resumed her normal theatrics by puffing out her chest. "Alright, be straight with me, how's it look? I've never actually had a suit this nice."

Well, she was certainly acting like it. Iris gave her a solid up-and-down and thought for a second. There were some minor changes from the default style Iris didn't care to think about, and the jacket and pants were black with a red button-up. "The red's tacky but it suits you, and green's a weird color for formal wear," she stated, wetting her hands to run them through her hair again.

Anne thought about it for a second, then nodded, apparently finding the comment satisfactory. Seemingly remembering why she was there in the first place, she started moseying back to the exit. "Just hurry up with your hair and we can head out." She thought for a moment and smirked in a way that caused Iris' head to hurt just a little bit more from the sight of it. "Damn, your hair's taking you this long? Who's your barber?"

"I cut it myself - fuck off!" Iris' reflection turned pink - again - as she flicked whatever water was left on her hands at Anne, who did a stupid little jump away from it while laughing to herself as she opened the door.

Iris called over her shoulder, "And I've got a cowlick, alright?"

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