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Do You Feel Alive When You Know You've Been Replaced

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“Initial Call Number: 1-7-13-TOSHI.”

Angled eyelids shaped carefully of countless silicon layers flickered open, blinking past the slightest fringe of bangs to look at a frazzled, smaller, self-satisfied man.

“Response. Self-identify," he said.

“Ushijima Wakatoshi," came as an automatic response. The other man in the room sitting a bit further away, who seemed very familiar despite that impossibility, clicked his pen tip in mid stroke and looked up. His expression was more relaxed under sharply-parted bangs until hearing that name, his eyes widening and his lips parting into a look of surprise.

The man in front already had an alert expression, and began touching him -- who, he supposed, was named Ushijima Wakatoshi -- touching the hard, translucent eyes causing him to instinctively wince away, pressing his head against the simple shirt Wakatoshi was dressed in, his actions seeming to be a combination of diagnostics and intimacy. Wakatoshi could feel this process making his heart rate increase. He seemed harmless, though Wakatoshi’s thought process could not define what “harmful” was.

“It’s… really like him,” the other man in the room set down his clipboard and stood up, but the way he looked at Wakatoshi was cautious, and concerned. He picked up a ball off the desk and tossed it squarely at him, whizzing towards the dark haired man. Wakatoshi’s left arm moved reflexively and caught it decisively before it could hit him.

“Left-dominant,” he said, a very thin smile on his face.

“Kenjirō! I’d rather a warning next time.”

Kenjirō shrugged. “I knew his response time better than most people. Verbal warning would have affected the result.” He walked a little closer and leaned in.

“Consider it faith in your work, Moniwa-san.”

“Excuse me,” Wakatoshi said.
“Who is Ushijima Wakatoshi?” The man named Kenjirō’s face fell slightly. The seated one, Moniwa, grabbed his arm, presumably to be reassuring.

“He’s still calibrating. You remember how the others had an adjustment period upon activation.”

“How can we be sure the personalities --”

“Kenjirō, you’re being rude. Now, Ushijima Wakatoshi,” Moniwa said, turning back and folding his hands together. “That is your name. You are -- the knowledge to understand this should be accessible -- an android. I can explain your material components in detail, but I think that’s not your particular interest.”

“I am not the first Ushijima Wakatoshi,” he stated flatly, matter of factly, and the man who was standing tensed up.

“You would be correct. I am Moniwa Kaname, the man to my right is Shirabu Kenjirō. We knew the Ushijima upon whom you are patterned. Your form, your personality, your voice, reconstructed from him.”

“Then he doesn’t exist anymore,” Wakatoshi deduced. He had access to a broad range of human knowledge, available at an instant. “If he was human, he has died?”

Both humans twitched a little. “Yes,” Shirabu confirmed.

“Am I close to a replica of him?”

Moniwa put his hands on the muscular armature of Wakatoshi’s biceps. “You’ll be more and more like him as you adjust to existence. You are not the only one, either, they’ll help you adjust.” As if on cue, someone came into the rather sparse room, their hair short and tidy, their posture laid-back in teal and dark gray clothing, similar to scrubs, slightly thicker than the violet one Wakatoshi wore, and their eyes were also just slightly off from the humans in the room.

“Moniwaaa,” they said, drawing out the name lazily. “Sakunami needs dermal repair. It got a rip on the left forearm.”

“Oh, Futakuchi, were you two doing something you shouldn’t have been?” Moniwa almost chided.

“The three of us were making dinner for you and Shirabu-san, don’t assume the worst. Was I really all that troublesome as a person?” He had a slightly belligerent attitude, Wakatoshi noted. He himself did not. Perhaps they --at least somewhat -- really did reflect the humans they were modeled on.

Futakuchi noticed his eyes moving. “Your new friend’s working?”

Moniwa had stood up and walked over to Futakuchi, who had slung an arm on Moniwa’s shoulders, the shorter human looking pleased. “Ushijima’s just began activation. I’m sure his adjustment period will go smoothly. You and Taka-chan can help him.”

“How is Aone, by the way? He hasn’t come while we’ve been working.”

Futakuchi shrugged. “Normal. The first one was really quiet too, you said. I think he just doesn’t like seeing our components laid out on tables while you’re working. It is a little creepy.”

Moniwa smiled. “Your opinions and thoughts are more like his everyday,” he said, leaning into the android’s hold, eyes closed contentedly. Wakatoshi couldn’t tell if the expressions being pulled by Futakuchi’s facial structure showed discomfort, but he could tell Shirabu was a bit ill at ease at what seemed like an innocuous display.

“Kamachi never cared, though,” Futakuchi said, and Moniwa’s eyes snapped open.

“Sasaya has his own projects, Futakuchi,” he scolded. “I told you why they left.”

“But we never see the other two anymore…”

“Don’t concern yourself with that. You have a new companion, and I think you and Taka-chan will help him get used to this. In fact,” Moniwa said, looking as a small display on a watch, “Taka-chan was activated on the same date a year ago. What a nice coincidence, yes?” He said, looking around the room with an expression that Wakatoshi read as pleased but strained. He nodded in response, which seemed to please Moniwa.

“Futakuchi, take me to Saku, I’m sure it will be an easy fix. Kenjirō, can you take care of Wakatoshi, please, make sure all systems are working?”

“... Sure.” The sound of a door gasket, and they were alone.

“Should I call you Shirabu-san, or Kenjirō?” Wakatoshi asked, making the human blink in surprise and stop inspecting the joints on Wakatoshi’s hands.

“I -- it doesn’t matter to me. Sorry, that was…” He let go and looked away. “I was junior to you -- to Ushijima the human. It just surprised me to hear his voice -- to hear you ask that.”

“What did he call you?”

Shirabu resumed what he had been doing. “Shirabu, mostly, I guess either’s fine. Formality is an outside thing, anyway.”

“Outside?”

“We live at this facility. There was a third human, and two other androids… I wish you could meet the android of Tendou. Maybe it would do something for your memories. You were good friends,” Shirabu drifted off, not bothering to correct himself.

“Why are the originals dead?”

“Moniwa said that shouldn’t be discussed. Sometimes… people die,” Shirabu evaded. “So he builds them back.”

“Every chassis we’ve built takes a lot of resources, though, we have to negotiate with the gangs that run the Garbage Heap,” he said without elaborating, “So we’re in debt to them. Once you’ve adjusted to existing, we have to get to work on somebody the Crows lost. It took a lot of raw material for you.” He snipped a bit of hair from the nape of Wakatoshi’s neck, inserting something into a small port there while the android absorbed this. “There, you’ll be charging here for a bit but soon you can properly meet the other three here. If it’s all right, I need to get dinner.” He paused after picking up his paperwork.

“For what it’s worth, I really missed you,” Shirabu whispered. “Even though I know you don’t really remember me.”

Wakatoshi bowed his head slightly. “I am Ushijima Wakatoshi, I am here for you now.”

He could see Shirabu shaking slightly, his shoulders hunched, and without prompting the wetware inside Wakatoshi brought up visually similar images, data about emotional responses, and he knew as the gasket shut once more that Shirabu had been crying as he walked away.

----

“He’s worth the wait, huh?”

Moniwa and Shirabu had changed out of the clean labcoats they wore in development and construction and into some simple, casual clothes, and begun eating in a common area, furnished comfortably but simply. Aone -- Taka-chan, as Moniwa had fondly taken to calling him -- was seated next to Moniwa on a couch, the human leaning on the android and occasionally glancing up at him. Futakuchi and Sakunami were nowhere to be seen, though it was not uncommon that an android would be working on some task Moniwa assigned them in order to allow him to take a break.

“Huh?” Shirabu said through a mouthful of food. The androids had gradually gotten better at seasoning for human’s palates, he noticed. He wondered if they downloaded information or had found a cookbook in the various hoarded items kept in loosely categorized piles throughout the facility.

“Ushijima. What, you didn’t talk to him after I left to handle Saku’s little accident?” Moniwa laughed. “After Tendou left with Sasaya and Kamachi, the goal of building Wakatoshi back was the only thing that seemed to sustain you.”

“He just came online. It’s too early to tell how well it will work. I never would have expected Satori leave after all…” Shirabu drifted off. Moniwa watched him closely, one hand resting on Aone’s. Aone also watched him closely.

“Sasaya had other ideas; Kamisaki and Tendou choosing to go with him is testament that none of them are empty dolls,” Moniwa said, his tone a bit more severe. “They’re always welcome back. Maybe they will. We can always look into their whereabouts. There’s information brokers to go to.”

Moniwa set his bowl down and leaned into Aone’s chest.

“That was good, Taka-chan, thank you.” Aone whispered something in Moniwa’s ear -- Shirabu never figured out why he wouldn’t speak out loud in front of him, or seemingly most people.

“Yes, it’s been such a wonderful year having you back,” Moniwa said. “That Crow member that liked the first you so much has been so happy you’re here, it’s helped us out a great deal, too,” he said, ruffling the android’s snowy hair.

“Ushijima Wakatoshi is joining us soon, and I’m sure he’ll adjust well with your help and, of course, Kenjirō’s,” Moniwa gave a meaningful look disguised by that damn smile to Shirabu.

“Of course. Of course.”

----

Moniwa always slept within arm’s reach of one of the other androids. Shirabu had often found his attachment to the androids to go to extremes, but on the other hand, Moniwa’s grief was different from his grief.

And maybe he wasn’t that different, he thought when he found himself observing Wakatoshi late that night from behind the one-way glass of the activation room.

He looked just like him.

He moved like him.

Having been stuck in that small room for some time, he had started occupying himself with exercise, diligent push-ups that made no difference to the condition of his artificial body -- but a natural choice for Ushijima trying to pass the time.

“If you want to go in, I won’t tell Moniwa,” Shirabu heard Futakuchi’s voice behind him, and he spun around, almost knocking against the glass wall.

“Kenji!” Shirabu blurted out, then covered his mouth. He had known the human Futakuchi better than the other androids still there, and his personality was surprisingly like Shirabu remembered it.

“You’re not going to leave with him, are you?”

Shirabu slumped a little bit. “No. There’d be no point. Most of the others from our clan… mercenaries for hire, ronin, I guess. Those I could guess where they are… Wouldn’t want to see me with an android of a leader they know is dead.”

“Besides, getting out of the Wall would be impossible with a robot that was just born,” he concluded, scuffing his foot. That was the nickname for the lab and construction facility that housed the operation.

“So go in,” Futakuchi said, offering a keycard.

“Why are you doing this?” Shirabu asked, suspiciously, though accepting the keycard.

“I’m an android, so I can’t be nice?” Futakuchi objected. “If we’re how he copes, you deserve a chance, too.”

“And I don’t think you’re as far gone as him,” he added. Shirabu gave him a quizzical look.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

Futakuchi waved his hand as if to dismiss what he just vocalized. “Never mind that. Go in already.”

Shirabu nodded to him, with respect, and the sound of the door gasket made Wakatoshi pause and for the friendly expression on Futakuchi’s face shift downcast as Shirabu stepped in.

“Hello, Ushijima-san.” Shirabu crouched next to where the android had been exercising.

“Hello, Shirabu. Living things need to sleep, correct?”

“Don’t worry about that. I just wanted to say hello.” He sat down. Ushijima imitated how he positioned his legs.

“More diagnostics?” Shirabu shook his head.

“Moniwa-san will probably have a battery of tests in the morning, but I just wanted to talk.”

“About what?” Ushijima asked.

“Anything, really.”

There was a pause. Then Ushijima spoke.

“We were friends.”

“Yes, we were. We made.. A good team, too. The two of us, and our… other friends.”

“I can’t access information about who Ushijima Wakatoshi was. So…” The android looked away for just a minute.

“Will you tell me about them, and you, and me?”

Shirabu reached a hand out, eerily reminded of how affectionate and physical Moniwa was with the androids, but held Ushijima’s hand in his. It felt warm, it felt strong, it even had calluses like his.

“Of course, Wakatoshi.”

In the hall, Futakuchi lingered, bidding that it was possible for an android to cry, though nothing came.

---

“Haaaa…. We’re going to need to invite some of the Crows in for programming him,” Moniwa said, thrown across a couch, tapping a notebook full of incomprehensible scrawl and diagrams. He glanced at Aone, who was dusting. “I’ll have them bring your friend along, Taka-chan.”

Aone smiled a small smile. “Shouyou.”

Shirabu glanced up from the tablet Sakunami had just passed him. “We just got Ushijima-san online, another full construction?”

“Everybody loses people, Kenjirō. Doing work for others is good insurance. People don’t come around here to loot much anymore.”

“But Wakatoshi --”

“I’ll take care of finishing his adjustment period, I need you to handle some specs on this,” Moniwa said, tossing the notebook at him. “Besides, he’s adjusting fairly quickly,” he added, standing up as he saw Ushijima entering the common area, leaning up to cup his hands around the android’s cheeks.

“You’re quite active, Ushi-chan,” he said, sweetly, “Just like the first one. You take everything in stride.”

Ushijima glanced at Shirabu. The human had said not to mention their talks at night to Moniwa. “You make it very straightforward,” he answered simply.

“Don’t discount your discipline and strength -- especially in this body. You and Taka-chan are immensely strong, you know that?”

“It’s so nice having another returned friend, isn’t it, Kenjirō?” Moniwa had his arms around Ushijima, in a way that felt possessive and threatening. Shirabu nodded stiffly in response when he noticed all eyes were on him.

That wasn’t Ushijima. He knew that. But he still cared for the android, he couldn’t deny that. But Moniwa’s fawning, doting fondness for these beings… became gradually more unsettling to Shirabu. When Sasaya was still here, he was a bit more grounded, before accusations of obsession with the past led Kamisaki and Tendou to seek to spend their second lives outside these walls. Now Shirabu could practically count the minutes by Moniwa’s increased anxiety when he didn’t have one of them with him. It made him volatile.

“Come on, Ushi,” he said, pulling the android by the hand with little resistance. Ushijima shot a glance at Shirabu. “There’s just a few more adjustment tests.”

“Sakunami,” Shirabu asked, after Moniwa had practically skipped off like a child with a new toy.

“What do you need, Shirabu-san?”

“What do you know about the first Sakunami Kōsuke?” Sakunami looked directly at him.

“I was friends with Moniwa-san, and Aone and Futakuchi, and we had many other friends. That’s what we’re working to do. Make sure we keep all our friends together,” he said, innocently.

“That’s what Moniwa told you, right?” Sakunami hummed in confirmation, but then stopped.

“There’s somebody missing, though. Somebody I helped a lot.”

“Sasaya and Kamisaki?” Shirabu asked. Sakunami shook his head.

“No… somebody else… Aone, maybe you know?” He asked.

Aone contemplated for a second and said, “At least one.”

Shirabu couldn’t focus on the schematics and material calculations for this chassis for the Crow after that. They had some kind of memory. Did Moniwa write that into them? Describing his and Ushijima’s former friends, there seemed to be moments of recognition that Shirabu couldn’t quite grab and pull the thread of, to try to find his Ushijima.

Because this isn’t Ushijima, he kept reminding himself. Until he did something that Ushijima would have. Then it was harder to remember.

-----

The activation room was empty that night.

“Looking for him?” Futakuchi again. Shirabu nodded. The android pointed down the hall, towards Moniwa’s bedroom. His legs felt heavy as he dragged them down to peek in and see Moniwa’s companion of choice tonight was Ushijima.

“Maybe he’s gotten bored of us,” Futakuchi said.

Shirabu was still transfixed looking at someone -- not someone, but something like him -- that he cared so much for, followed any order of, cradling someone else in his -- its -- no, his -- arms.

“Futakuchi, do you feel alive?” he whispered.

“What does it feel like for you?” Futakuchi countered, as Shirabu eventually pulled his gaze away and they retreated to avoid waking Moniwa.

“Painful, but necessary,” Shirabu settled on after a long, long pause.

“Then in this situation I feel dead.” Shirabu gave him a confused look.

“I don’t feel very much, and it feels unnecessary that I even exist at all. Kamisaki and Tendou were right to leave, and Sasaya must know something about our deaths that knew Moniwa would go down this path,” Futakuchi looked at Shirabu.

“You decided to work with them because of Tendou and Ushijima, didn’t you?”

“It -- felt better than wallowing,” Shirabu admitted. “It felt like maybe something could change.”

“Do you love that doll that Moniwa’s grooming to add to his collection?”

After a moment, Shirabu nodded. “Even though I know it isn’t him. It… he’s still someone I care about.”

“Better than Moniwa, then.” Futakuchi cast his eyes downwards.

“Kenji?”

“I think Moniwa made a critical mistake, creating me.”

“A mistake?”

“He gave me too much of the real Futakuchi,” he said resignedly. “When what he wanted was stuffed animals to comfort him.”

“Kenj--”

“Koganegawa.”

“What?”

“There’s a name that my keyword recognition knows, but can’t find any data about. But it shows up constantly, and you know how quickly our programming can track known information. That name is a ghost in the machine.” For the sake of dramatic tension, Futakuchi sighed. “There’s so many fragments Moniwa didn’t want us to know, but couldn’t bear to let go of himself. A girl with a ponytail… the Crows, something there…. Sakunami and Aone don’t seem to be bothered by it.” He crouched down. “They’re fine with this unlife.”

He then looked up at Shirabu. “You’ve got a facsimile of Ushijima again. Leave with him. Let that one feel alive.”

Futakuchi was rarely forthcoming, and the way his translucent, pupil-less eyes glinted in the low light haunted Shirabu.

“I’ve been here for years now.”

“So what?” Futakuchi asked. “That seems like more of a reason. You’re all flesh and blood. You only get so many years, y’know.”

“-- Am I a prisoner here?” Shirabu asked. Futakuchi laughed.

“Only if Moniwa gets inside Ushijima 2.0’s head. I think the real Aone never had the temperament for fighting, so this one doesn’t either. And you definitely don’t have to worry about Sakunami, even if he is loyal,” Futakuchi mused. “But the choice is yours.”

“Then, come, too.”

Futakuchi shook his head.

----

 

Ushijima and Shirabu ran into each other while Moniwa was hyperfixiated on something in one of the labs the next morning.

“Are you angry that Moniwa-san had me join him last night?”

“No.”

“Your heart rate just went up.”

“I’m not mad at you.” Shirabu clarified. Then he paused. “In fact, I’m not even angry at Moniwa.”

He then pulled Ushijima closer and whispered. “But neither of us are alive here as his tools.”

“I know my Ushijima is dead,” Shirabu’s throat caught on the words. “But you have the potential to live.”

He paused. “Do you want to live?”

The android contemplated the question. And answered it with another.

“Do you mean, with you?”

Shirabu’s response was to collapse into Ushijima’s arms, not made of muscle but made of carbon fiber and silicon and he didn’t care. It would be enough.

“I know all the exits. Futakuchi will help. Please. Let’s find a life.”

----

Once, Futakuchi felt reactions in his processing units that made it love when Moniwa wanted to hold him close, say sweet words to him, talk to him like a precious thing. He had still been snarky, but Moniwa seemed to love it even more, even using nicknames that belonged to a Futakuchi that didn’t exist anymore. It made it easy to perform the actions of affection, leaning over a stressed-out Moniwa and his notebook of nonsense that was the seed of all these soulless comfort objects he tirelessly built, pulling it away playfully, and seeing Moniwa light up as he played the him that he wasn’t.

It almost pained him, when he looked down at Moniwa, at ease for once, smiling, even blushing as Futakuchi ran a hand over his cheek, and shattered it.

“Why did you leave so much guilt in us?”

Moniwa froze, his hands on Futakuchi’s midsection. Several critical processes and components ran from there, and he tensed up like any real human would.

“What do you mean?” Moniwa still wore a smile, more strained by the second.

“I found her name in my archives. The girl with the ponytail. Mai Nametsu. Someone named Koganegawa.It’s like you couldn’t let go, so you hid them. You made us to make yourself feel better, and you couldn’t leave guilt out of it. Because you know we’re safety blankets to you.” If Futakuchi had a heart it would be racing. He could tell Moniwa’s was.

“Kamisaki knew more about the real one than any of us about our human patterns, didn’t he?” Futakuchi gripped the bedsheet, his hand inches from Moniwa’s neck.

“It was a second chance at life,” Moniwa said, unnaturally calmly.

“A stuffed animal is more alive than me, or Aone, or Sakunami, or yourself.”

“Just change your perspective,” Moniwa pleaded, almost pathetic sounding, distracting enough that Futakuchi didn’t have the reaction time to defend before Moniwa used one hand to detach his arm, dropping the grip and leaving him with a stump of wires and tubing and silicon skin that shredded as it pulled. More concerning was the utilitool Moniwa had stashed -- in his clothes? His bed?, and Futakuchi felt the grinding pain of an eye latched on it and violently, abruptly unthreading and his video display suddenly reduced by half, hanging over his cheek by a single thread. Futakuchi bit himself to keep from yelling, and growled, “so you did program us to feel pain”.

Futakuchi smiled.

“Thank you for making me alive, then,” he said as Moniwa took the blade at the other end of the tool and slashed through the exterior skin from lips he’d softly kissed to collarbone, exposing a myriad of cables, wires, and processors, some now scratched or cut through from the erratic action. Futakuchi couldn’t bite back on a lip split to the lowest layer of his silicon skin, and whined in pain. With one arm he couldn’t balance over Moniwa and found their positions reversed

“If you were dolls, you wouldn’t have felt that,” Moniwa stuttered, slicing through the cord keeping his right eye dangling and earning a shriek. “Please, not so loud.”

“A sadist making a comfort toy just means planning for when you destroy it,” Futakuchi spat the best he could through the sliced lips. “Go ahead, you didn’t hesitate to take one arm. How about a leg?”

Instead, Moniwa reached around to the back of his neck, ejecting something from the port before pocketing it.

“No. No. I’ll do you right this time. None of that awful past leaking in,” he said, and Futakuchi finally understood as his body was as still as a corpse without that activation key in the back of the neck, and Moniwa began laboriously, carefully carving out bits of silicon skin, the mesh undercarriage, a coolant tube Moniwa’s shaking hands cut through spattering them and the sheets with dark liquid like blood in the night time.

“I’ll save your components I promise, and fix you,” he said as Futakuchi gritted his teeth in pain. He had seen the desperate and the dangerous Moniwa a handful of times, but it was different to see a mix of panic, anger, and grief while being dismembered for parts. “I’ll rebuild you as many times as I need to. Everyone can always be rebuilt.” The blade went though the final section of his neck, save for the central power supply line in the center, that Moniwa carefully pulled though, protecting the wetware under Futakuchi’s carefully painted and groomed facade of humanity. Moniwa hit the auto-disengage on the limbs, cradling Futakuchi’s head and power supply like a baby.

“Don’t try to talk -- your voice box isn’t necessary here. I’ll put that back in once I know it won’t say things like that. You’ll be back, with me, and Taka-kun, Saku, and our new friend…” Even with a mutilated face, Futakuchi couldn’t help a slightly smug expression on the less-damaged features.

“ Kenjirō wants him for himself, doesn’t he?” Moniwa looked distraught, and with an uncharacteristic thoughtlessness, rummaged for a crate to keep Futakuchi’s components in, laying the limbs and torso down to make a bed for the central power supply and head, taping the leaking coolant shut, looking at him almost mournfully before touching his forehead to the still conscious-Futakuchi’s, gently laying the voice box and removed eye next to him.

Futakuchi bought them time. When he saw with his remaining eye that Moniwa, eyes wide, still spattered with coolant, removed a knife from a drawer, he could only hope it was enough time .

Moniwa glanced over his shoulder one last time. “I can’t wait to bring you back right this time. None of that horrible past.”

“But I have to stop him,” Moniwa was, grimly, detached from reality to protect a lie too comfortable to let go of. He thought for a moment. He couldn’t trust any of them. He’d have to disable Sakunami, and Aone if they got in his way…

He thought of Aone. Both of them, and his heart lurched. Doing what he had to -- he had to do that to Futakuchi! -- was painful enough, but it would be all right once he fixed him. Took away those inadvertently included ghosts of memories that nobody needs now.

And stop Shirabu from leaving.

“If I leave his arms free, he can still work…” Moniwa muttered, utilitool in his offhand to minimize damage to Ushijima’s chassis if he needed to be disabled, knife in his dominant hand. He checked the security feed on his watch -- too many looting attempts led to the installation of cameras early on.

And made it easy to know which way to go, turning past his bedroom, sparing a glance at the box Futakuchi was contained in, and continuing -- knife edge out.

They chose a bad exit. Even if they got out, there wasn’t anywhere to hide. Still, Moniwa considered himself lucky when he caught up at the corner before the exit.

“Come on back, Kenjirō, Ushi-chan,” he said softly, holding the knife out. “I’ll certainly need help making Futakuchi right. It got messier than I’d like.” He pointed the knife at Shirabu. “We don’t want this to get messy, do we?”

Shirabu had no idea what he’d done to Futakuchi, but he found a voice somehow. “Futakuchi wanted to die. He never wanted -- this. Moniwa…. They aren’t who you made them in the image of. This Ushijima deserves life the same as the first one.”

Moniwa gasped. “With the chaos outside? This is a good life! Futakuchi will be all better once I scrub those reminders of the past -- well, and put him back together again. It’s likely rather painful in his current state.”

Shirabu was familiar with the structures of the androids by now. “You pulled out -- that’s sick!”

“I’ll take that bad memory away, too!” He shouted desperately, slashing the knife wildly in the close quarters of the corridor. The erratic stroke managed to leave a surface cut on Ushijima’s thigh and a deeper one that started dripping dark red across Shirabu’s chest, missing his organs but making him stumble backwards, dizzy, looking at his hands now covered in blood.

“Ushi-chan, why leave?” Moniwa pleaded, the android preoccupied with filing through any medical data he could access. “Please, if he promises not to run away again, I won’t have to remove his legs.” Shirabu paled further as Ushijima tied a makeshift tourniquet. He knew there was medical equipment between them and Moniwa, but he had no idea what waited for them outside the door behind him.

“Ushijima… Without me, you wouldn’t have a life… Do you hate me for giving you that?” Moniwa lowered the knife a bit. “We can be happy here…” Shirabu’s mouth was caught in a silent scream as he saw Moniwa’s hand going for the back of the neck, and though Ushijima’s response time was exceptionally high, the cost of throwing him -- and hearing a rib snap upon impact with the wall -- came at the cost of his activation chip clattering out of Moniwa’s hand and across the floor, Ushijima now limp, yet conscious.

Moniwa gripped his chest. “Well, where does this leave us?” He asked, barely stumbling to his feet.

“Ushijima’s so new… he isn’t ready to leave. And you won’t get far with an injury like that,” he gestured to Shirabu.

Shirabu knew Moniwa was right. And the thought of Futakuchi hacked into parts, shoved in a box living even more of like death, after his help…
Blood trickled from Shirabu’s lips. “We need Aone. Or we need Ushijima functioning. And to fix Futakuchi.”

Moniwa studied him with paranoid suspicion. “You were trying to leave. Forever.”

“People leave, Moniwa! You of all people know that!” Shirabu sent himself into a coughing fit. “But the others can’t fix Futakuchi, and you did that to him because of what he was doing for me. For Ushijima. Remember building this Futakuchi in your grief, how he helped you! Ushijima and Aone have the only chassis strong enough to carry both of us to the infirmary, so trust what you made and reactivate Ushijima’s system! I can’t stand at all.”

Moniwa took deep, hesitant breaths.

“Don’t leave me.”

It was hard to tell if it was an order, a plea, or a request.

“I couldn’t,” Shirabu replied, both truthfully but despairingly. He watched Moniwa, clutching his chest, stumble to the activation chip, then to Ushijima, whose eyes had been watching Shirabu the whole time.

“Ushi-chan, carry us, please, and if you can find Saku or Taka-chan it’ll be easier. Or Kenjirō may die.”

Shirabu silently met Ushijima’s beautiful, uncanny gaze, pleading to just listen to Moniwa. The knife was still close, and being prisoners of loneliness could someday end. But today, they needed to survive, and freedom wouldn’t grant them that.