• rating: +9+x

For me, it honestly wasn’t that bad to breathe recycled air and pace the same small room every day. This method of travel had certainly improved a lot in my time on Earth. I had a soft bed, entertainment, and company, but my company all but leapt up in excitement when the intercom crackled on to announce that, the big splotch we were coming up on? That was home.

Not his home, mind you, which made it funnier. I was dreading stepping foot onto that planet, but he had been grumbling the whole time about “in all my 600 years” and “I prefer to have my feet on solid ground”. I sympathised with him, and when he started complaining I always sat with him and talked about how soon we were going to be there– but nothing could replace actually physically being on a planet.

Fortunately, as space travel had improved, it had also become insanely faster. What would normally have taken months or years took more like weeks– weeks where I procrastinated on what I was actually going to do when I reached the end.

It wasn’t my fault it was more fun to watch human TV shows and curl up in the Doctor’s bunk with him. Something about making life-altering decisions (i.e. going to ANOTHER PLANET) together, then being stuck on a vehicle with a ton of uninterrupted time, had made us… do things we hadn’t done before.

We weren’t exactly anxiety-free with this whole thing, and insomnia was smacking me in the face tenfold. Even the Doctor, who normally appeared– or claimed– to be basically needless, expressed a strong need to have me sleep in his bed so that I could be his pillow, a.k.a. thing he needed to hold in order to fall asleep.

It’s not like I minded; if I could, I’d sleep beside him basically every night. I felt frustrated I couldn’t fix all of his problems, so I wanted to do what I could, and if that was being a little humanoid pillow, then I would do that to the best of my ability.

That’s what I was doing when we got the news. Everyone on the ship had shifts, and it was technically ‘night’ for us, which meant that we were tangled up in bedsheets, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was a great show for us– because of how soft the sci-fi was, I constantly pointed out all the inaccuracies, and how not even advanced Kepler doctors had funny handheld rectangles you could wave over a cut to make it disappear. Because the show sometimes had episodes where the characters went back to the past, the Doctor could tell me all about how Earth most certainly did not look like that in the 19th century– all in all, a wonderful bonding experience. But even though bonding was fun, we wordlessly agreed to pause the show and look out the window.

And what a view it was! I thought the Doctor would have a heart attack from the sight of such vastness. I’d seen my solar system in images, 3d models, even orreries, but never like that. There was obviously a darkening filter on the windows, or our retinas would burn off from the sheer brightness, but it was still amazing to behold.

“This is your home? It’s beautiful,” he said from behind me.

“No, it’s where I was made.”

“I do not understand.”

“I exist because this place exists, but my home is with you.”

He leaned down to wrap his arms around me. “That is so poetic, isn’t it? We stand before a wall separating us from the vacuum of space, looking at your homeworld, but you are more focused on me.” He sighed softly. “You are so sweet.”

Blood shot up to my face; I was so glad the lights in our cabin were off, so that he couldn’t see it. Sweet?

“Well… well, I’d rather focus on you than some silly planets.”

“But it is so extravagant. It looks as if a god intricately painted and arranged each element themself.”

“You’re better. I like you more,” I countered.

He laughed and rested the side of his head against mine. “I like you more, too.”

Finally, our last day aboard arrived. I kept trying to thank the crew– it’s not like it was easy or free to go all the way from Earth to Kepler. They were exoplanets to each other, in completely different systems, only barely visible through long-range imaging. (From what I knew, there were actually many different Kepler-type exoplanets; everyone on Earth just referred to the one I came from as “the” Kepler, because I came from it. Everyone on Kepler just called it “earth”, or at least the word for that in my language, and we called Earth by a numerical designation because it took us a long time to realise it even existed. It was, however, a very well-known numerical designation among us)– But the crew repeatedly shook their heads and said that it was more important to get me where I “needed to be”.

That was actually a milder reaction; some of them called me a “figurehead”, and sometimes, “martyr”. I tried to say I couldn’t be a martyr, because I wasn’t dead, but even if I was, it’s not like anyone would know– but they insisted. It made me uneasy to think that anyone on Kepler would have heard the news of my so-called death; the entire thing was supposed to be discreet, because if it wasn’t, everyone involved would end up dead.

But blasting off in a rocket without government permission wasn’t exactly discreet, now, was it?

But still, fuck, that wasn’t my idea. I was signing up for the part where I gave my body to science, the greater good, and the grim reaper, not the part where everything went wrong and I ended up in the Foundation’s walls.

It made me think; if even a small group of people knew about my… disappearance, for a lack of a better word, then I was certain that 4B80 would, as well. It ate at me a little, that I could make it worried, or even sad, or even depressed. A younger me would have brushed it off, saying that I was more trouble than I was worth anyways, and nobody was actually capable of caring about me. But 7CB7 had told me that it felt the exact same things about itself, and… well, that was the catalyst to all of everything in the first place.

I just tried to shake off my worries while I packed up the very few belongings I had. They all fit in a backpack, which was almost comical compared to the difference in the enormous refuelling rockets that humans would send to the ISS to keep the occupants alive. But, when you were in the void of space, it wasn’t like you could find a place to get food from.

That was our plan; we would get most of everything we needed once we were actually on the planet. We’d brought only what we needed to survive: sustenance, medicine, and each other.

When it was time to strap in for rapid deceleration and landing, my hearts were racing. Would there be people waiting for us? The crew had reassured us many times that the government trusted them (hah) and was not concerned with what ‘cargo’ they unloaded. And I wanted to believe them, but part of me also worried that they were delivering us right into the hands of the very people we were trying to avoid; I wondered if there was a bounty on my head.

But my worries smoothed out when the Doctor sat down in the deceleration seat next to me and started fussing over my straps. “You always set them too loose,” he fussed as he shortened their lengths, “You will get thrown around in your seat and get hurt.”

“These weren’t really made for me.” I glanced around the room at the well-synthesised organisms, about a head taller than me and 1.6 times my weight.

“Then that is the fault of the manufacturers. You are perfect and I will not hear otherwise.”

My mouth opened, but I didn’t say much other than, “You- the- but,” slouching backwards in my seat and nodding sheepishly at the crewmember– who had effectively secured itself in its seat without aid– raising an eyebrow at us.

Once he was satisfied that I would not get banged up by my own negligence, he sat down beside me and got himself buckled up much faster and more efficiently than I had myself.

The lights dimmed, and the intercom came on again to say that we would be entering the atmosphere in T minus 10 seconds. The Doctor turned to me, and I realised the announcement was in Kepler, so I leaned over to quietly repeat it in English; as soon as I did, a quiet rumbling sound could be heard throughout the ship.

Ah, yes. Only one of the most dangerous things someone could physically do.

Atmospheric reentry– and this was my second time. At least this time, I wasn’t unconscious, in a sack of amniotic fluid, and headed into the Foundation’s grasp.

As soon as everyone was confirmed to have all their extremities and I’d thanked everyone who would listen, we scrambled as fast as non-humanly possible.

The landing sight was thankfully pretty discreet, and as promised, there was not a single person in sight. Just some crates and vehicles, the latter looking very promising. The crew had already (very, very graciously) offered to let us use one, provided we never revealed any information that could trace it back to them; as in, if we were caught with it, we stole it, no questions asked. It was a fair enough arrangement to me.

I handed the Doctor the slip of paper that someone had written the code to the vehicle’s keypad on, and was met with surprise.

“You do not know how to drive?”

“Oh, absolutely not, that’s way too scary.”

“Are you old enough to?”

“Yeah, all Twos are registered as adults in the government’s database as soon as we wake up for the first time,” I explained as he unlocked the vehicle and we got in.

“That’s good.”

“What? Why?”

“Um…” there was a pause. “Do you at least know how to start the car?”

I gave him a look, then shifted across the centre console and turned the ignition. The vehicle rumbled to life around us. “I think the pedals are similar to how it is on Earth.”

“What a strange coincidence.”

“Well, we both have feet, and legs about,” I gestured at my lower body, “that long.”

“Are you trying to say you did not copy the design of Earthen automobiles?” he asked jokingly.

“Hey, who’s to say you didn’t copy us? Kepler technology is decades, if not more, ahead of Earth’s. You haven’t even sent humans to Mars yet!” I responded, just as lighthearted.

“I am not the one in charge of space exploration, chéri.”

My facial muscles pulled into a smile. “I like being silly with you.”

“It is going to get much sillier if you go flying through the windshield, so please put your seatbelt on.”

I tried to keep from laughing as I pulled the straps around my shoulders, securing them together over my chest. “What, are you going to crash?”

The Doctor stepped on the gas pedal, then braked, making the car jerk forwards momentarily. I probably would have fallen out of my seat if the harness didn’t catch me.

“Okay, okay, point taken. I’ll keep my seatbelt on.”

He more gently pushed on the gas, slowly bringing the vehicle off the pavement of the landing site. It was silent for a moment as he pulled onto the road, before he broke the silence.

“I would never crash a car if you were in it.”

“Oh, it’s okay, I knew you were playing around.”

“But I could never forgive myself if I did something to hurt you.”

“It’s okay,” I reassured him, “You won’t.”

“But what if I do?”

“Doc. I trust you. And part of that is that I truly, deeply believe that you won’t hurt me.”

“Sometimes I fear that your trust in me is misplaced,” he sighed.

“You know something?” I turned towards him.

“What?” He glanced at me before his eyes returned to the road.

“I worry a lot of the time that my trust in people is misplaced, and like I can only trust them a certain amount, or with certain things. It’s… It’s not like that with you.”

Another pause, where I assumed he was gathering his thoughts. I was cheering him on in my head: you can do this! You can find the words! You’re amazing. You’re doing great!

“I am awfully fond of you. Very…” his eyes flitted back to me for a moment, “…very fond.”

My brain went warm. “Yeah.”

Okay, so that was a stupid response. Just absolutely, terminally, stupendously stupid. I poked at the seat’s temperature settings.

“…Want to listen to some music?”

“Yes, I would like that.”

The landing site was so secluded, I wondered if it was on one of the parts of the map that “didn’t exist” – in enormous quotes, because of course it existed. We had seen it, stood upon the ground, smelled the crisp air and salty ocean breeze. But, ‘officially’, according to the government, it had been destroyed, was unlivable due to toxic flora or chemicals, or simply never existed in the first place.

It was yet another blatant lie that they shoved down our throats. It was so obviously a lie, so easy to disprove, but anyone who tried– or worse, encouraged other people to see for themselves– would be crucified. You just. Didn’t. Do. It.

I explained this to the Doctor, and he expressed frustration, but not too much surprise. Apparently Earth had been a bit like that with some different scientific discoveries, like the idea the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe, or the theory of evolution.

We had a nice conversation about it on our drive, with the ocean visible on the foggy horizon, starry night sky twinkling above us.

It was peaceful, quiet; the low hum of the car against the road, the soft light coming in from the window in the star roof. Life was hard, what we were going to have to do was hard, and I just wanted to stay there forever. I wanted to stay with him forever. But eventually I adjusted my seat to go forward enough to reach the GPS, inputting the coordinates to our destination; it would be hard to stay in a car forever.

So we went somewhere I never wanted to go again.

When the Doctor pulled into the driveway, my nonexistent stomach was already sinking. The tires grumbled to a stop against the gravel, and I got out, bringing my backpack, to run to the barn straight ahead. Luckily, nights were pretty bright due to all the light pollution that got trapped under the constant fog blanketing the planet, and I was able to make out the rock that hid what I needed.

I nudged it with my boot, then crouched down and took the shiny piece of metal; I was so relieved at the lack of bugs crawling out under it, like there normally were due to the lack of use the key– and therefore the rock it hid under– had.

The lock that held the barn doors opened after not too much jiggling with the key. They were normally both so rusty that it was a pain in the ass to do, but I tried not to worry about it, pulling aside the doors with a loud creak of the hinges.

I stood to the side so the Doctor could park the car inside the barn, then darted out to replace the key. I positioned the chains to look like the doors were locked, and slid back inside, closing the doors again. It didn’t have to be exact, because nobody actually lived here, anyways. This property was just a vacation area, a little getaway from its stressful job. But it’s not like it ever got any time off; I had known its schedule by heart, and it was on-call so constantly that its only relief was, well. Taking that stress out on me.

The Doctor got out of the vehicle and shut the door, walking towards where I stood by the stairs leading upwards. I started up the steps, and the Doctor asked behind me, “Will we be staying in the haylofts?”

“Hayloft? Is that the word for it?” The steps were relatively old, but barely made noise when I stepped on them; the Doctor, however, was heavy enough that they creaked relatively loud.

Once I reached the top, I set my backpack down on the lightly hay-dusted surface, accidentally knocking something over. I cringed and slid the bag to the side, object glinting in the subtle moonlight drifting in from overhead.

Oh. It was part of an empty container of intoxicants. Of fucking course it was. After my whole life with it, I couldn’t have possibly thought that it would have sobered up, could I?

But as I looked around, there were a lot of them. I shivered; whether it was from the cool night air, or the indescribable memories, I told myself it didn’t matter. I wanted to kick the container in a fit of emotions, but that would just make it fall down and land on the car parked below.

I dragged the backpack to a spot much further along, where I didn’t see any containers, and better yet, couldn’t smell the disgusting, sticky sort of scent. I sat down on the wooden boards and rubbed my eyes with the back of my sleeve; it was late, and I hadn’t been sleeping much at all.

Still shivering, I pulled a small pack out of the larger bag. It was significantly harder to move around in this planet’s gravity, after my body had more or less gotten used to Earth levels of gravity from the months I’d spent there. Okay, maybe ‘gotten used to’ was less accurate than ‘had degraded at the cause of’, because that was sort of a huge reason that we came– for me, back– to Kepler in the first place. My body just could not take being on Earth any longer, which was evident as I pulled up my shirt to try to disinfect the catheter I was going to try to get some fluids into.

It was partly the fault of me being a bit of a “preemie”, as Onyx would say, partly the fault of Earth gravity being too low for what my body was built for, and partly the fault of my, uh… intake issues, but I really wasn’t looking like the pinnacle of masculinity. My costal cartilage was relatively defined, spaces between each rib concaved like little valleys. The trousers I wore were a standard small size, which would be fine except for the shape of my body was not made for them. My waist was too small, so I could pull the waistband away from my body quite a bit, and they sort of fell down– something that always happened if I didn’t wear a belt– only staying up because what amount of body mass I did have was allocated around a low hip flare and sort of heart-shaped thighs. Literally the opposite of what was supposed to be standard for a Two.

My attention was brought away from my shape as the Doctor sat down next to me, taking the pack out of my hand that had been holding it rather limply. He put his hand on the exposed skin of my chest, then slid it up– wrist catching the hem– to get access to the port. His hand was really warm compared to my cold skin, but that wasn’t what made me look off to the side so that I wouldn’t squirm around with his intent eyes on me.

“You don’t have to be so shy,” he said as he wiped the port with an antiseptic cloth. “I’ve seen your body in plenty of ways already…” He was close enough, and it was cold enough, that I could feel his breath just barely ghosting against my neck. Not. Helping.

“Y-Yeah, well, you know how my culture feels about… um… this.”

“What specifically..?” One of his hands cupped my chest to stabilise my shakiness; I could feel every single millimetre of thread as the other screwed the head of the line adaptor into my port.

I didn’t answer, and his fingers brushed against me subtly but intentionally, like he was trying to coax out a response. “I do know that it is considered much more taboo for a One to have an exposed chest, rather than your species. You do not even have mammary glands, much less any external parts relating to such a function.”

I softly grasped his wrist, pulling the more curious of his hands down. Instead of dissolving into a puddle of goo like I wanted to, I mentally kicked myself until I was able to make my mouth move. “I, I don’t think you realise- there, um, there are still- I still have, I- all the nerve endings,” I semi-blurted the last part, my other hand coming up to pull the hem of my shirt back down as his hands almost reluctantly left my body.

He sat back, seemingly… satisfied? Smug, almost?– while I was trying to tuck my shirt back into my trousers as fast as possible.

“It is intriguing that they would bioengineer you in such a way.”

“That-! Isn’t the point of it! I’m sure they didn’t anticipate-” I was cut off by a shiver, more intense than the last. I checked my watch, the temperature sensor reading below-optimal ambient numbers.

“Are you going to be alright?” His tone was still lighthearted, but with a hint of concern.

“I’ve survived lower. This barn isn’t insulated, but you still have AntiPens, right?”

“I do not want to inject you with a syringe of antifreeze proteins…”

“It’s not that bad. Besides, the stuff they used for my immune system, it started off as a prototypal modification to help ectos not die from cellular waste buildup due to the cold.”

“But it would be less risky for you to not get cold in the first place.”


He inched towards me until we were almost touching, but not quite; I could feel his body heat, flowing from the hotness of his body to the coldness of the air around us. His mouth was so close to my ear, evident from how I could hear him breathing; his voice came out low and clear. “I could warm you up…”

My brain didn’t register what that meant, but my body—


The moment was cut in half by the sound of rusty hinges, then a cold, metal click. Footsteps made the floorboards groan, a swath of moonlight coming through now-open doors.

We held perfectly still, and my mind sprinted through every possibility of what could be happening right now. Very large fauna, unhoused resident, crook that saw the car and thought nobody would be here to prevent its theft?

But I knew those footsteps. I’d memorised the weight, its distribution, the stride… how they differed when happy, sad, angry.


Fuck, the steps were leading upstairs. Up towards us. The Doctor shifted to the side, cold air rushing in to fill the gap again; I barely felt it. It was almost like my body wasn’t real, this moment wasn’t real, but I followed his movements to stand.

I wobbled on my feet, and his hand reflexively went to my waist. I didn’t have time to get worked up about it, though, because I needed to communicate something: “You have to run, please. Run.” It came out quiet, rushed.

“No. Never. I am not leaving you,”

“But it’s–”


The silhouette was dark, but metal glinted in the light.

A shotgun.

“5a82,” it said flatly, unimpressed– as always. Its regular uniform was absent, standard-sized clothes just a bit baggy on its frame. A deviance it had passed on to me– exacerbated in faulty growth cycles–, even though it would deny that until its voice was hoarse from shouting.


The Doctor’s hand tensed and wrapped around my abdomen, pulling me closer to his body. My own hand reached to my upper thigh, where a gun was holstered by the straps running around it.

“I thought you were dead.” The sort-of-universal translators seemed to be working, as the Doctor muttered something under his breath about the man with a shotgun ending up dead itself soon enough.

“Dad. Put the gun down, please.”

“Take your hand off yours, then.”

“I am taking a safety measure.”

“You never change, daughter, you never change.”

The back of my hand prickled, palm resting on the grip of my handgun. “I have asked you not to call me that. I have asked you many times.”

“Do you forget that I’m your cell donor? Twos can’t exist without them, stupid, you should know that by now,” It slurred. Oh yes, because it just had to be drunk as well.

“That is a term that Ones call their offspring. Offspring that they made with their bodies, and more importantly, raised.”

“You mad at me, princess? You randomly decided you hate me again? Is that why you brought this-” its hand left the barrel of the gun, sloppily gesturing at the Doctor- “Man home? Did you want to introduce him to daddy?”

“He- we’re- it’s not like that,” I stammered.

“It’s not like that,” he repeated in a high, mocking voice, like it was somehow my fault for not having the standard largeness of vocal chords. “You say that, but you were just there acting like a couple of–” Now that was a slur the translators didn’t know what to do with. “You better get the fuck outta here or I’m gonna find a permanent solution to the p– hic– paperwork I would have to do if the government found out about this.” It let the end of the barrel come a little farther down, a little less towards the ceiling.

“You will not harm him,” The Doctor said with a sort of aggressive firmness. It was moments like these where I very deeply appreciated how commanding his presence was.

However, it had no external effect. “You can’t fucking stop me,” the humanoid spat. “Maybe I’ll blow your head off first, so you can’t protect your little pretty boy.”

I stepped away from the Doctor, and I could immediately tell he didn’t like that. But someone needed to be put in harm’s way; I was the only valid candidate.

My body had enough muscle memory to– despite how my mind was flailing in every possible direction besides for the ones I needed– pull out my gun and point it at the feet of the person standing in front of me. “Dad, put the gun down. Right now, please.”

“You ever notice how fucking entitled you are? Yooouuu think you can order me around like you’re my fuckin’ superior?”

“No, I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.” My words were strained, and I had to make a serious effort to keep my voice from trembling.

“You’re a spoiled little brat, that’s what you are. I was relieved when they said you were dead!” It swayed, stumbling forwards, the shotgun’s muzzle wavering somewhere around my right shoulder.

“I am sorry for accidentally showing back up here.”

“Huh?” It wasn’t a genuine I-didn’t-hear-you ‘huh’, it was the kind that was just dripping with annoyance.

“I am… sorry I’m not dead,” I tried, forcing a smile on my face despite being able to smell the reek of alcohol from its body.

“I’ll fix that for ya.”

The tip of the muzzle touched my forehead, and suddenly I was stumbling backwards, registering a loud impact. The Handler was on its back, trying to struggle back to its feet before the butt of the gun rammed into its diaphragm, knocking the wind out of it.

I didn’t even have the time to make sense of the blue fluids splattered on the hay; the Doctor grabbed my free hand, pulling me around the body on the floor and towards the stairs.

“What- what-” He was leading me down, but my body was numb and my brain grossly absent. It felt like running through water, but he helped me along until I was back in the passenger seat with a seatbelt securely over my chest.

By the time he was in the driver’s seat, I was hyperventilating despite my best efforts not to, fingernails digging into my palms. By the time the Doctor had backed out and turned onto the road, my hands were pressed over my mouth, trying to muffle the gross cough-choke-sob noises.

But by the time we were well on our way, I’d shoved down my internal collapse and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. I was really glad I didn’t have lacrimal puncta that went into my nose, or I’d be sniffling like a sad human.

The cabin was quiet besides for the sound of the road and my roughly 2000 thoughts.

“This is all my fault,” I mumbled finally, eyes unfocused towards the dash.

“No, it is not.”

“I really am just a stupid–”


“But it’s my fault, because–”


“I’m sorry,” I tried again.

“You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for.”

“But, it’s–”

“You never should have been, should never be mistreated like that!” I could tell he was exasperated, but he didn’t yell. He never yelled at me, I realised, which made complete sense– he never got angry at me, or treated me badly– but it was still a strange realisation. I’d sort of normalised it to myself.

“But… I deserve it,” I protested quietly.

“No, you do not deserve it. Whoever has told you that is a deluded idiot trying to justify their own abuse.”

“But that, this specifically, I should have known better… I should have just kept better track of its work schedule, or, or, I don’t know, but I just- I feel bad, you know, like, I feel like I’m just dragging you into all my issues, I feel like I’m just making everything worse for you…”

“Nonsense. I am here because I… care… about you.”

“Yeah, well, I care about you, too.” I rubbed my eyes again; exhaustion was really setting in. “I just don’t want to make anything worse for you. I really, really don’t.”

“Every moment with you makes everything better, it makes it so much better. I… am not good at these words… ah, merde… you mean so much to me, and I want the world to be the best it can be, just for you. I want…” The ‘leather’ of his gloves made a sound against the synthetic material of the steering wheel as he gripped it tightly. “I want to be there, I want to help, I want to protect you. I wish I could have been there before all of this, so that I could have prevented it…”

“Well, I only graduated from a bunch of cells in a vat to a person that could technically think and behave autonomously when I was…” I tried to scale human ages to One ages to Two ages, but there wasn’t a great exchange rate, so I just guessed. “Around like… 6 human years old? So that’s kind of as early as you could have saved me from,” I waved my hands at the terrain around us, “this.”

“Then I should have infiltrated the facility they were growing you in, and removed you from that situation… When we were separated, all I could think about was how badly I wished to fix everything for you. One could have said it was my deepest desire.” I looked at him, and in the lighting, with his expression, I realised how old– stressed, sad– he appeared. “It still is,” he added solemnly.

“You fix everything all the time.”

“The world is still a cruel place, there are still cruel people who may be cruel to you…”

“But you make all of it better. All the time. Just by existing. You make my life better, just by existing. So thank you for existing,” I said, a small smile starting to form despite everything.

“You are pretty amazing yourself.”

A comfortable pause ensued, but I still had something on my mind.

“What’s going to happen to…”

“Your dad?”

My nose wrinkled. “I don’t… it’s not… it’s not my dad.”

“I am afraid I do not understand.”

“Well, they used its DNA to splice mine, right? But parents, dads, whatever, that’s what you call an organism that used their body to make yours. Or, at the very least, raised you like an actual person.”

“What about organisms that can’t reproduce?”

“I mean, if we’re talking naturally, Twos can’t reproduce at all. Twos are sterile.”

“Sterile?” He gave me a look that made me shift and cross my legs.

“Just like, funky gonads and stuff,” I explained quickly, looking out of the nearest window to at least pretend to myself there wasn’t a strange sensation in my body. “So, um, so instead they take tissue samples that they can synthesise DNA out of. And they use that DNA to grow more Twos.”

“So the only reason a Two cannot reproduce is because they do not have the gametes to do so?”

“I- guess? What are you trying to- actually, you know what, I shouldn’t ask.”

I stared at the passing terrain, the moon already descending from its midnight peak in the sky. Changing topics, I said, “Hey, do you want to like… sleep? I know I’m probably going to be hunted like a dog if my handler… ex-handler is able to convince the government I’m alive. But I am like, two minutes from passing out. I woke up almost a full day ago, fuckin… butt ass tired.”

“I do not need to sleep as much as you do. I also was not up ridiculously early in the morning. I will be fine.”

“No, I’m trying to say, like… do you… nevermind.”

“What are you trying to say?” he asked gently.

“I… I don’t want to fall asleep alone.”

“But I will be in the seat right next to you.”

“Yeah, I know… it’s not a big deal, sorry…”

“Do you need someone to hold you as you fall asleep?”

If anyone else had asked the question, I would have bristled from embarrassment and shut down completely. But he wasn’t anyone else. “Yeah… I think I do… but it’s okay… I mean, I’ve spent basically my entire life getting to sleep by myself, so I can manage, it’s really not a big deal, don’t worry,” I said as I fumbled for the adjustment levers on my seat.

“Your nightmares are so much worse when you sleep alone.”

My brain went blank as I tried to process the statement. That was… very true, actually. The first time I fell asleep against someone was because I had woken up in the middle of the night with a nightmare-induced panic attack; it was so bad, I didn’t even realise how much I was crying until the Doctor was there, trying to get me to calm down and stop scratching myself. He’d stayed with me until I was breathing normally and cleaned the (very small) injuries on my arms, and at that point I was so exhausted from crying that he put his arms around me and told me to just go back to sleep. And I did, and I slept so well that I actually woke up feeling refreshed for one of the first times in my life.

That had become our remedy for bad nights. It has started as a thing he did for me, but soon it was a thing I did for him, as well. Something about making sure I was okay…

“It’s supposed to be a mutual thing though, not you bending over backwards to make sure I just don’t have any stu… silly bad dreams.”

“It is a mutual thing. Your happiness and well-being causes my happiness and well-being.”

“Okay.” I smiled, looking around at our surroundings again. “We’re on the sort-of-highway, if you turn right there-” I pointed at an upcoming exit, “-there’s a place you can go keep cars in. We can just stay parked until we want to leave in the morning.”

Once we’d gotten there, I was really fighting to stay awake. I hit the ‘blackout’ button on the dash, making all the windows go from tinted to solidly dark. Light still came in, but there was no way anyone could see who was inside the vehicle without rolling down the windows or disabling the function.

“Is that not a little suspicious?” he asked me, reaching into the back area of the car where his luggage– and also my backpack, thankfully he’d remembered it in all the clamour– lay, retrieving the half-opened nutrition pack from before.

“Do people think tinted windows are suspicious on Earth?”

“Oh, certainly.”

“You know, that strikes me as odd, because everyone here really highly values privacy. People aren’t going to question you if you always keep your door locked or curtains drawn or something. It’s just kind of how it is. Although…” I thought for a moment. “If the government finds out you’re doing something wrong, they kind of revoke all of your privacy. It’s an extra big punishment that way, I think.”

He hummed in agreement, then undid his seatbelt and reached over to undo mine. “Come over here.”

I obliged, manoeuvring my body over the console and, with his help, getting situated so I was seated in his lap. He turned me so that the catheter side of my body was facing away from him, and took out the line from the pack. Oh, yeah, I still had the adaptor just hanging out in my chest.

“I know you are tired. Just relax, lean against me.” He got the line hooked up to the small pump, as well as the canister of nutritional fluids. I sat there sleepily, knowing that if I said I could do it myself, he would just insist more.

Once the line was full of fluid, he retrieved a syringe full of saline, first pushing it into my catheter and then pulling it back out, presumably until he drew a small amount of blood, but my eyes had closed at that point. The line was then attached to the adaptor, and I heard the pump beep cheerfully as it started to feed me.

“Good job. There we go, now you can sleep,” he said, reclining the seat until it was horizontal enough to be comfortable. I nuzzled my face into the side of his neck, his arms encircling my body, and I finally settled into unconsciousness.

I woke up to the soft sound of a pen scratching on paper. In the process of sleeping, I had quite fully smushed my face into his neck, my arms laying against his chest and shoulders. One of his hands was absently tracing patterns into the small of my back, the other pinning a leather journal between the top of his thigh and the pen he was using to write in it. It was at an angle that I could see that much from how my head was turned, but my own thighs were around his hips, and I couldn’t see what words he was writing over the curve of my body.

I made some waking up noises and rubbed my eyes. “Good morning, sweetheart,” He said quietly, hand moving up to comb his fingers through my hair. “How are you?”

“Sleepy,” I responded, feeling rather like I didn’t want to get up and have to actually do real-world stuff, like face big issues. “What are you writing?”

“Just some notes. Did you know you have a roughly 80% decrease of apneic episodes if someone is keeping you warm? I think this has to do something with the combination of lowering stress by physical touch, and promoting healthy body temperatures. You have a harder time breathing when you are cold.”

“You take notes on me when I sleep?” Why wasn’t I surprised?

“Yes, I’ve been doing that since I treated your acid wounds.” Literally our first interaction with me being asleep. Why wasn’t I surprised.

“Mm, well, stop writing, I want to hold your hand.”

He obliged, setting the journal aside and lacing his fingers through mine. It gave me a kind of satisfaction that we could do that, that he could touch me and hold my hand without hurting me. His hand with the extra gloves he always used to wear was still his hand, but it meant more to me knowing he could feel things without a barrier. We could touch without a barrier; we could exist together without a barrier.

I turned our hands and moved them so that I could give the back of his hand a light, brief kiss. I didn’t really have that much of a thought process behind it, still mentally being asleep– I hadn’t gone through my 20 minutes of becoming ‘human’, as humans said– and the rest of my body parts still needed to come online. But his thumb stroked the pad of mine in return, a small show of reciprocative affection telling me that it was appreciated. Then his hand unwound from mine and started to palpate my lower cheek.

“How are your teeth doing? I have always wondered whether or not your saliva would break down food like most organisms’ does. Does it ever wear down your tooth enamel? Because I assume you’ve never used fluoride. Although, your teeth seem to be quite strong…”

I pushed my upper body a little off of him, holding myself there so that my head was over his. I hoped I didn’t look silly with my hair falling into my face. “You don’t have to worry about me, I’m fine. And I still have all my chompers.”

“But I do worry about you. In general, but over specific things as well. It is how I show that I care about you. I want to make sure you’re alright.” His yellow eyes looked so unnatural with their deep black scleras, so unlike anything I’d otherwise seen. Eyes on my planet were almost always some shade of blue, with my species having the copper rings outside the iris that they called ‘Kayser-Fleisher’s on Earth. But I loved them; as much as I disliked eye contact, I loved his eyes, and I risked looking at them even if there was the chance he would be looking back at mine– because he did that a lot. He seemed to like my eyes, as well.

“Well… I know you care about me… and… it’s not like I mind your fussing…” All my bravado dissipated when the mushy feely truth started coming out. “I just, I don’t want you to think you have to do it, or feel obligated to, or something…”

“It is what my heart tells me to do.” He touched the slightly left side of his chest, then the middle of mine. “Or, more accurately, what chemicals and electrons in my brain tell me to do. But it is what I want to do, that is what I am trying to say.”

“Oh, man.” I wanted to climb out the car window and jump up and down from the aforementioned mushy feely truth. If I was alone, I probably would have waved my hands all over the place. But I didn’t want to move around and make him think he’d done something wrong, so I just dropped my head and then lowered the rest of my body, lightly kicking my feet into the air to try to alleviate my intense wiggly feeling. He was really quite comfortable to lay on– he was very solidly built, and the slight convex of his abdomen fit against the slight concave of mine like we were made to do that; his chest and arms were like a firm pillow.

Also: warm. Just, warm.

“Mmh. I have two hearts, though. So that means I get told to do things extra hard.”

“Would you like me to palpate your chest to determine the approximate combined volume of your hearts? I am relatively certain the total volume is still smaller than mine.” His voice was laced with amusement, fingers already brushing over the arteries in my neck.

I made a noise of defeat. “Alas, we have bigger fish to fry.” I very slowly and reluctantly pushed myself up into a sitting position, and he adjusted the seat to be back upright.

I started getting off of him, to return to the passenger seat, but he pulled a section of the IV line where it came out of my shirt, and I sat back down.

“I wish we could stay here forever. Why does the world have to be so hard?” he sighed.

“The fact that the world is hard is why we’re together in the first place.”

“Not, like, together or anything-! I didn’t mean-! Don’t look at me like that!”

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