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thirteen years to the day

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Somehow the dog park becomes a safe place for secrets.

You’re not really sure how it happened, but it works for the both of you in its own way; you still have sessions with Dr. Finch, because she’s your actual psychiatrist and Chen is… well, you guess it’s safe enough to call him your friend at this point, even though you shouldn’t. It’s a bad idea and it won’t end well at all and you know it, because it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out one way or another. But you can enjoy this now despite the pain it’ll cause later.

(You’ve never been good at saving yourself and others from heartbreak. Too soft, too weak, too ready to shove mirror shards in between your ribs trying to be something that you’re clearly not.)

That, and Chen at least has a vague idea of what actually happened to you during your seven year absence. You should tell Ortega – or at least tell him as much as you are capable of – but you just can’t bring yourself to destroy your best friend that way, because it would. Guilt and anger would eat away at him. Just imagining it makes your gut twist in your own guilt like it did back in the hospital all those months ago.

But even with Chen you never go into detail. Honest but vague just like you’ve always been, because you know now that he’s not as invulnerable as you once thought, and really, looking back on it, it was pretty damn naïve of you to ever think he was.

He might fight in a metal suit but he’s not actually the tin man; Chen has a heart, after all.

(Sometimes you’re not so sure if you do, despite all the surgeries they kept you lucid and awake through. You still dream of spilling your guts – literally – in the worst way possible. Punishment for everything, for daring to think that you could ever actually be—)

Chen keeps looking at you out of the corner of his eye, and normally you’d be thinking ‘this is it, the jig’s up,’ that he finally figured out every secret you’ve been keeping (who Revenant really is, that you were created with the wrong body, that you’re a re-gene), but this time you can sense the worry that barely bleeds through the heavy walls of his mind.

You don’t smoke, but you’ve been chain smoking since Chen got here about half an hour ago.

(You’ve actually been smoking since the sun came up, but he doesn’t need to know that.)

It could also be the fact that your fingers are trembling, but even you can’t tell if it’s from the memories that plague you or from all the coffee you knocked back as if they were shots of tequila.

(You should probably call Dr. Finch. This seems like something you should call a mental health professional about, but you can’t even tell her half the things you should be. Well, you could but then you’d have to rewrite her memories and you hate doing that, especially to someone who genuinely wants to help. There’s already too much to keep track of, anyway.)

Chen looks like he wants to ask but doesn’t know how. Worried that he’ll say something to set you off and make this situation worse. He cares and that’s probably what finally spurs you into talking.

“Today is the anniversary of my first escape,” you tell him, carefully choosing your words; you’re still not exactly sure just how much he knows.

His posture goes rigid for a brief moment before forcing himself to relax.

“I wasn’t aware there were multiple escapes.” Chen’s choosing his words just as carefully as you are, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. You can tell it still blindsides him a little every time you offer up something about yourself without a fight, as if it’s always been this way between the both of you.

“There was only the two.” You smile, but it’s a horribly brittle thing. One final drag of your cigarette before you ash it and light up another one. Wryly, you add, “I didn’t grow up in the nicest place.”

You pause for a moment, letting the words sink in and waiting to see how much he’ll piece together from however much he knows. He remains silent, but he’s fully looking at you now instead of the dogs, brow furrowed.

Lifting up one hand, you wiggle your fingers so that his attention is drawn to the silvery scars that mar your skin, front and back.

“They weren’t big on making sure we were emotionally healthy,” you clarify. “I broke a lot of mirrors.”

From the moment you were fully cognizant you knew there was something wrong with your body and you had hated what the mirrors showed you. The vocabulary wasn’t there for you in the early years, but even if you had the words for it you know they would’ve just seen it as something to fix, and not in the way you wanted.

They never cared what any of you wanted.

(“Come on little lady, give us a smile.”)

“My… sisters,” you decide on, because it’s probably the closest word you can get to what the others were to you. Made in batches, you were seven of thirteen and, as far as you know, the only success. Even if they never spoke back to you when you learned to talk, never lived up to the expectations of the Farm… the others were probably the closest thing you’ve ever had to a real family. “Never understood my outbursts, but they cared more for me than those in charge ever did.”

(The Farm could use anger, not vacant minds.)

There was a lot most of your sisters never understood. Never had the chance to understand. Too many were deemed failures and disappeared one after another, probably scrapped for parts. Your sisters are dead but the horror of the Farm lives on.

“What were they like, your sisters?” Chen asks so softly that at first you aren’t even sure he’s said a word. The heavy weight of loss is evident in your voice; he knows what it’s like to lose family, maybe not in the same way you lost yours, but still.

The brittle smile is back but you force yourself to speak anyway.

“They were sweet,” you find yourself saying, eyes stinging with unshed tears. Tightlipped as usual, but there’s not a lot you can really say, not when you’re the only one who knows the full context; judging by the expression on his face, he understands. “I miss them.”

It’s the honest truth – probably the most honest you’ve been in your entire life – and you know you would’ve taken your sisters with you in a heartbeat if you could’ve, if you had found a way to escape sooner, if they were still—

But you didn’t, and they’re not.

The past can’t be changed so you have to move forward. Your heart is stuttering erratically, years of everything welling up behind your ribs, threatening to drown you, and it’s not until a synthetic hand carefully plucks the cigarette from your hand (burned down right to the filter, close to burning your fingers) and crushes it that you realize how close you are to spiraling.

“Jay,” Chen says your name and you’re bracing yourself for the impact, but nothing comes.

Instead of platitudes and condolences there is just the comforting pressure of Chen’s leg pressed gently against yours.