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Put Me Back Together

Chapter Text

“It wasn’t my idea to do this now!” Fuwa growled, stomping across the floor of the basement as they waited. The plan was to move Horobi to a more secure location in a continuation of their current, however shaky, alliance against Thouser, but they had to wait until the close was clear and no one else could notice and possibly report to ZAIA. As a result, Hiden was having Izu monitor the headquarters’ security cameras, the two of them had been stuck biding their time in the dark, empty basement—together. For hours. “I’d rather not spend more time with you!”

“I have noticed.” Horobi replied dryly, preferring to stand at the centre of the room and look around rather than useless motion, watching the human pace. He could have sat down in one of the still-upright folding chairs, but he’d had enough of them after weeks of being trapped in one.

Vulcan’s head spun around to glare furiously at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You have been particularly vocal on the subject.”

“That a problem?” Fuwa’s voice came from right beside his shoulder, the human having marched back over to him, eyes blazing angrily.

Horobi sighed, turning to face him, rolling his eyes. “Why must humans be so insufferably loud?”

Then Fuwa’s face was in his, practically spitting, like Vulcan always did when he began boiling over. “You trying to start a fight or something?”

Horobi said nothing, just staring back at him for a moment—then, because Fuwa was so close, radiating anger, and because he’d had enough of being pushed and snapped at all day, he leaned his head sharply forward and shoved his lips roughly against Vulcan’s.

It wasn’t really a kiss. More just slamming their mouths together and holding there. But even that was unexpectedly an almost… Pleasant sensation. Fuwa was warm. He was solid. He was… Real. And so very… Human. He was everything Horobi should detest with every single atom in his being, and yet the closeness was… Comforting. He felt Fuwa freeze, his heartbeat rising and his breath coming short, telltale signs that said he’d never done this before.

Something in Horobi’s mind misfired, and without thinking he found himself pulling closer, trying to cling to the warmth of Fuwa’s body like the room was suddenly cold, his hands actually reaching up to grab hold of the human’s suit jacket for more proximity. Vulcan was still too stunned to react, but he didn’t falter or stumble back when Horobi pressed closer against him, stedfast as a pillar. Horobi’s head tilted, unbidden, like his body wanted to turn this into a real kiss, his lips moving against Fuwa’s. The reaction made even less sense to him—HumaGear had no hearts, no lungs, no blood. He should have no instincts that could move him without his command… But he’d also learned long ago that they were still sensitive to touch—and something about contact with Fuwa made him want more. Abnormally warm, heartbeat like a bass drum, and the sheer fact that Vulcan hadn’t tried to kiss back at all, wasn’t trying to press the unexpected advantage he suddenly had or make use of Horobi’s abrupt loss of guard. The complete opposite of that person

When Fuwa finally did move, it was to shove Horobi away, like the touch was painful to him, jerking back and staring like a deer caught in headlights. With some distance between them, Horobi’s senses came back online, and he immediately tried to recover some of his own dignity, reassuming his usual cold expression. Vulcan took longer to bounce back, visibly struggling to calm both his heartbeat and breathing.

He looked so startled and lost that Horobi couldn’t resist a smirk. “… I would have assumed you had at least kissed before.”

Fuwa turned red, though it was hard to tell if it was from embarrassment or anger. “W… What are you…?”

“It is particularly obvious by how flustered you are.” Horobi informed him shortly, not bothering to wait for him to finish.

“Of… Of course I’ve…!” Fuwa’s panicked look settled into an only slightly rattled glare as he trailed off. “And what the hell would you know about kissing?!”

“More than you do, apparently.” Horobi tilted his head, analysing Vulcan’s agitation. “Really? No one?” He smirked slightly once more. “Not even Valkyrie?”

Fuwa flushed even more at the mention of Yaiba, turning away to collect himself. By the time he looked back over at Horobi, however, his eyes had narrowed even more, his mouth twisting. “Sh… Shut up!” He snapped sourly. “Where the hell did a HumaGear trying to destroy humanity learn kissing, then?!”

“Amatsu Gai.”

The answer was so immediate and flat that it threw Vulcan off for a moment, and his rage was tempered by bewilderment. “A… Amatsu?” His mouth opened and closed a few times before he found anymore words. “You… You kissed Amatsu?”

Horobi merely stared at him blankly. “I did not say that.”

“But you just…” It was like he could see the gears turning as Fuwa processed his statement. “… Oh.” Vulcan’s expression shifted even more, a look creeping onto his face that was partway between horror and… Pity? “Oh.” He said again, gaze dropping to the floor.

Horobi raised an eyebrow at him. “Satisfied?”

Fuwa was quiet for long enough that Horobi began to turn away, until the man abruptly spoke, far softer than before. “Then… Why kiss me?”

Horobi froze. He had no answer—his initial intention had been to force the human to be quiet, maybe embarrass him—but he had no excuse for his behaviour after that. Especially not the way he’d tried to get closer and deepen the kiss. Was it the overwhelming, petty sense of finally taking something that before had only been taken from him? Or was it because Fuwa was so much Amatsu’s opposite that it felt like… Like contact with him somehow cancelled out what Amatsu had done. At the very least, the drastically different sensation overrode the lingering, phantom memory of Amatsu’s touch, something he could still feel years after the last time the President of ZAIA had even been in the same room as him. HumaGear didn’t experience or need for intimacy the same way humans did… But the way the sensation of Amatsu’s cold fingers curling around his chin, or tracing the lines of his face and down his neck, running through his hair, while the mouth over his would occasionally bite down sharply on his lip as a reminder of who was in control, still clung to him like invisible shackles had taught him that touch not only mattered, but would stay with them for a long time. With Jin the binds had lightened—focusing on his son had given him something else to think about, something infinitely more pleasant. The Ark’s will had been a purpose beyond the chains of the past; both a chance to be something more than… His.

But Jin was gone and the Ark had been no freedom at all, and the feeling of the cold hands clawed back in, wrapping back around his throat. The contact with Vulcan had unexpectedly overridden the memories, the warmth chasing away the ghostly cold. Whenever Jin had touched him, all his senses had locked onto that contact as a welcome distraction, but that was all it was. Jin’s touch was different; it didn’t—couldn’t—seek out the lingering traces of Amatsu’s hands and wipe them away, as Fuwa’s had seemed to, like he was washing away stains.

He hadn’t realised how long he stood frozen until Fuwa’s voice came again, slightly closer. “Oi. Did you hear me?”

Slowly, Horobi turned his head to look at Vulcan, who had taken a few steps around  to stand in front of him again. One of Fuwa’s hands was partially extended, like he’d been thinking about reaching out to the HumaGear—when Horobi looked at him, however, he quickly snapped it back, looking vaguely self conscious. For a moment, Horobi just stared at him. “… I do not know.” It was not a lie. He was genuinely unsure of what his purpose had been. “… You are not Amatsu Gai.”

Fuwa gave him a look like he thought he was going senile. “Well… Obviously.”

“That had… An unexpected effect.”

Vulcan frowned, shifting even nearer, enough that Horobi could detect just a slight hint of his higher body temperature, his hand drifting out again. “… Horobi…”

When Fuwa’s fingertips actually brushed his sleeve, his gaze flicked further up to meet the human’s eyes, which were now brimming with some sort of weird mix of emotions that Horobi was certain he would never be able to properly process—but there amongst them, just like before, were horror and pity. Staring into Fuwa’s eyes, with the man so close that the warmth he radiated like a bonfire was beginning to seep through the the fabric of his coat, Horobi could suddenly feel every single persisting trail of Amatsu’s touch he’d ever endured, wrapped around him like a horrible, frozen cloud—and he just wanted it all off.

It wasn’t even a full step forward to be close enough to kiss Fuwa again—and this time, his mind was clear, and his every motion deliberate as always. Vulcan wasn’t as shocked, either, and though he initially tensed when Horobi’s lips first touched his, he relaxed after a moment, rather than pulling away. For a bit, he just let Horobi kiss him, holding still as the HumaGear’s hands drifted up again, this time to grab handfuls of his blazer, pulling closer—then his head tilted slightly, pushing back just a little, like he was trying to ask a question. Horobi paused, pulling back just barely enough to speak, and used a word he’d only uttered a very few times in his life, “Please.”

Vulcan promptly closed the tiny distance between them. Fuwa kissed as angrily as he did everything, with the same air of spoiling for a fight. His mouth was warm, his lips slightly chapped, and he inexplicably tasted like coffee and chocolate, though Horobi knew that as a HumaGear, he shouldn’t be able to taste anything. It felt like a challenge, an invitation to push back, rather than an expectation of control. His hands settled lightly on Horobi’s arms, leaning closer rather than pulling or grabbing, staying completely away from the HumaGear’s face. His mouth was clumsy against Horobi’s, inexperienced—Horobi suspected that if he had ever kissed before, it hadn’t been since high school at the latest—nothing like the practiced grace Gai had used. His heartbeat and breathing were fast and loud, almost panicked again, bursting with emotion, not light and unaffected.

He’d never really considered how small Fuwa actually was, either—he’d always known the man’s exact height, but had never had reason to compare it to his own. Now he realised Vulcan had to tip his head up and stand slightly on his toes for them kiss. With that knowledge, his hands loosened from Fuwa’s suit, one moving to the back of the human’s head, fingers weaving into Vulcan’s hair—the other arm went around the human’s waist, lifting him easily off the ground. Fuwa gasped sharply, his own arms shooting around Horobi’s shoulders for balance, fingers scrabbling against the HumaGear’s back for purchase—not that Horobi was in any danger of dropping him. Once they’d settled into a more comfortable equilibrium, Fuwa’s hands began exploring, tracing new memories across Horobi’s back and shoulders, even up the back of his neck to the edge of his head wrap, fingertips even slipping under it, brushing against the hair beneath. Horobi let his more complex systems slow down, choosing to lose himself in Fuwa’s warmth, in the strange, combat-like kiss, shutting out the rest of the world, even his own internal clock.

 Eventually, it was unsurprisingly Fuwa who pulled back first, shoulders heaving, voice breathless. “… Some of us need to breathe regularly.” For a moment, they kept just staring at each other—until Vulcan finally swallowed nervously. “So…” He rasped, raising his eyebrows, “… Can you put me down?”

Horobi hesitated for a moment, but finally he reluctantly lowered the human back to the  floor, arms lingering around him for a bit before at last pulling away and stepping back. He turned away slightly as Fuwa smoothed and righted his clothes in awkward silence, trying to put his own mind back in order, and finally realising the situation he’d put himself in. “… We never speak of this again.”

Vulcan took several more deep breaths, raising the back of his hand to his lips. “Damn… You even kiss like you’re trying to kill someone…”

Horobi glared at him. “We. Never. Speak. Of. This. Again.”

Fuwa watched his expression for a moment, then nodded slowly. “… Agreed.” He said, at last. Then his phone buzzed, and he quickly checked it. “… That’s Hiden. Izu says we’re clear to go.”

Satisfied with Vulcan’s agreement of silence, Horobi spun on his heel and marched off toward the stairs without waiting to see if Fuwa was following him.

Chapter Text

Fingers coiled around Horobi’s wrist, and he abruptly found himself pulled flush against Thouser, the human holding the hand he held Attaché Bow in pulled out behind him—the grip wasn’t particularly strong, and Horobi should have been able to easily break free, or push him away with his other hand, and yet… He couldn’t move. Amatsu leaned closer so that their helmet faces were practically touching—and still, Horobi couldn’t seem to process enough to formulate commands, like his mind itself was frozen. Gai’s hand that was higher up his arm slid up slightly toward Horobi’s shoulder, the human’s head tilting slightly. “Well look who it is…” Thouser’s voice was a bemused whisper, and so horribly familiar that it only confused Horobi’s system more, grating against his hearing, “… It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Horobi couldn’t even formulate a reply, which only seemed to entertain Amatsu more, as the human let out a chuckle. “What’s the matter?” The hand moved all the way up Horobi’s shoulder to reach for the HumaGear’s helmet, his voice dropping even more, “… Scared, perhaps?”

Horobi tried to reply, but it became garbled partway through—he managed to weakly try and tug his arm free. Amatsu’s hold tightened in response, and he pulled the HumaGear tighter against him. “Now, now, that won’t do.” He paused or a moment, tone turning thoughtful, “Hm… Perhaps you would prefer me like this…” Pulling his free hand back, Amatsu reached down and undid his transformation.

It should have given Horobi the advantage—but somehow, being pressed against Gai untransformed was worse—a situation he had found himself in before, that had never ended well for him. Amatsu didn’t wait for him to even try to recover. “I don’t think you need that, either…”  Before Horobi’s addled system could process what he meant, he was reaching for the ForceRiser on the HumaGear’s waist and yanking Sting Scorpion out of it, tossing the Key aside as Horobi’s armour dissolved. He quickly pulled the ForceRiser itself off as well, dropping it on the ground as well, leaving the HumaGear pinned against his body; so close he could feel the man’s breath, and the light beating of his heart. “That’s better, isn’t it…?” Amatsu murmured, his hand trailing slowly up Horobi’s chest from his waist, “… Just like old times…” The corners of his lips turned up slightly, his gaze studying Horobi’s face, “And look at you now…” Another chuckle, “… I did always love a broken angel…” He grabbed a fistful of Horobi’s coat, closing what little remaining distance was between them and leaning his lips close to where Horobi’s earpieces had once been, “And just to make sure you don’t get any ideas…” The man whispered harshly, “Remember that your duty is to obey.”

Horobi’s body stiffened for a moment, his eyes widening. His entire system locked down, sealing him out, rescinding his authority over his own body. Without his command, everything retuned to respond to Amatsu’s voice, leaving him completely paralysed.

Amatsu’s hand landed on Horobi’s shoulder—with just the slightest amount of pressure, he pushed the HumaGear down to his knees, still holding the arm that had Attaché Bow. “Good boy…” The human murmured, as he would to a dog. “Now…” He gave the wrist holding the Bow a gentle twist. “… Drop it.” Regardless of Horobi’s own will, his fingers opened, and the weapon clattered to the ground. Gai’s smile widened, and he dropped the HumaGear’s arm, ruthless amusement that Horobi knew far too well glimmering in his eyes.

Horobi’s arm fell to his side limply, just like the other one. He wanted to jerk away—for the first time in his life, he wanted to run, to flee as far as possible from the man before him. The sensation of the hand on his shoulder was painful, though Amatsu is hardly exerting any force on it whatsoever—and even if he was, it wouldn’t be possible for a human to hold tight enough to actually harm a HumaGear—but the sole fact that it was Gai was enough to set off every alarum in his system, for all the human had rendered him helpless. Then there was the malicious excitement in Amatsu’s gaze, so terribly recognisable…

Cold fingers touched his face, then, trailing the length of his jaw down to his chin before grabbing it tightly to tip his head upward, forcing him to look right into the cruel eyes above him. “Oh, my poor, lovely, foolish, sweet, little scorpion…” Amatsu crooned softly, his thumb slipping up to trace across Horobi’s bottom lip, the vicious delight plain on his features, “… Did you honestly think I would let you go so easily?”

Then Gai’s mouth was on his, biting down hard on his lip, just like before. The human’s tongue forced its way past Horobi’s lips, making aggressive circles of his mouth. Amatsu’s other hand began to stray from the HumaGear’s shoulder, moving up to smooth over Horobi’s hair like he would an obedient pet, twisting his fingers into it. The one on Horobi’s chin shifted so that the fingers could run across the repaired skin of the HumaGear’s left cheek.

Horobi remained frozen on his knees, arms hanging at his sides, eyes wide. He was completely locked out of his own body, right down to even his fingertips—any commands he tried to send to his extremities summarily denied. But while paralysed, all his other senses were heightened as a precaution—making him horribly aware of the hands on his face, how their chill seemed to seep into him so deep it hurt, and every time Gai’s teeth cut into his lip, biting harder each time. Amatsu’s breathing didn’t rush at all, but it came in deep, heavy sighs that left no question he was enjoying himself.

Until he unexpectedly pulled away—though he stayed close, his hands still holding Horobi’s face. He studied the HumaGear’s features for a moment, his lips twisting into something that wasn’t quite one of his usual little smirks—there was something dark in his eyes, of a different shade than it had been before. “But…” He murmured, tapping a fingertip against Horobi’s cheek thoughtfully, “… I hear you’ve been playing around with someone else.” The darkness spread, the half-smirk turning into a full scowl.

The hand on Horobi’s hair tightened, grabbing a handful and yanking the HumaGear’s head back as far as he could, the one on Horobi’s chin dropping back down to grab a handful of his coat and drag him closer, pinning him to the human’s body as Amatsu bent over him. “That,” Gai’s voice lowered dangerously, but somehow stayed completely level, “Is not allowed.” He leaned so close that Horobi could feel his breath once more. “If you’re going to insist on coming back to life, you need to remember your place, my sweet scorpion…” The hand on Horobi’s coat loosened, sliding back up over his throat, slowly, fingers trailing across the skin to his face, taking the time to trace across every line they could find. Finally, they slipped across Horobi’s cheek toward the side of his head, to slither beneath his head wrap, pressing into the damaged sections beneath. Amatsu’s head tipped further forward, his lips brushing against Horobi’s with suspicious gentleness. “You’re mine,” Gai hissed against the HumaGear’s mouth, pausing to dart his tongue out and trace the curve of Horobi’s lips with the tip, just for good measure, “Korenosuke gave you to me. You’re my pet…” He pulled a little harder on the HumaGear’s hair, “Not Vulcan’s.”

Horobi didn’t know how Amatsu had learned of the incident with Fuwa—but the mention, especially with Gai’s cold pressed right up against him, hands in his hair and against his face, fingers prodding into the broken mechanics where his earpieces had once been, sparked an overwhelming, desperate longing for Fuwa Isamu’s abnormally high body temperature. He wanted Vulcan’s arms back, wanted the warmth that had chased away the chill before. He… He wanted Fuwa’s lips back—the awkward, inexperienced mouth that had tried to meet him halfway. He wanted the living, breathing, feeling presence of Vulcan, wanted how it had made him feel… Safe.

Gai’s tongue going into his mouth again interrupted his attempt to retreat further into the memory of kissing Fuwa, like Amatsu was trying to override that memory right back. He leaned more heavily over Horobi, and the HumaGear hated what he could feel as the human’s legs pressed against his chest. Amatsu moved his tongue to bite Horobi’s lip again, as deep as he could, enough that would have made a human bleed, fingers digging deeper into the disfigured sections of Horobi’s head.

Then he was pulling away slightly again, using one hand on Horobi’s head to push the HumaGear down even further, while the other moved to begin undoing his belt. “It’s  time for you…” His voice dropped to a growl, and he let the HumaGear’s head fall forward, though he didn’t release his hair, “… To remember what you are.” He had the belt open, and began working on the button of his trousers, shifting his hips square in front of Horobi’s face. When the HumaGear’s eyes flicked upward in nothing short of terror, Amatsu merely smirked again in dark delight—the hand in Horobi’s hair slipped down to stroke his cheek. “Now…” Gai whispered, his voice deceptively gentle, “… There’s a look I always wanted to see on this face…” He chucked Horobi under the chin lightly—then moved his hand around to the back of the HumaGear’s head as he started pulling the zipper of his pants down. Still gazing downward, Amatsu’s tongue slipped out to lick his lips, and he dipped his free hand into the front of his own trousers, moving it suspiciously, gaze staying locked on the fright on Horobi’s face, watching through lowered lids. There was an edge in his look Horobi hadn’t seen, in any of the times Gai had touched him before—something… Hungry. “… My sweet little scorpion…” Amatsu hissed, and it was half a moan, “… I do believe I’ve missed you…” The man’s hips moved forward again as he kept feeling himself, and the hand on the back of the HumaGear’s head tightened, pulling him closer, too. Gai let out yet another moan, weaving his fingers into Horobi’s hair, while the HumaGear snapped his eyes closed, too well aware of where Amatsu was going with this.

Then his auditory systems detected distant voices, and they shot back open. Other people were coming, setting off all the alarum bells in his systems again. Amongst the approaching sounds was Zero-One’s voice, a realisation that felt like and electric current through his mind—Zero-One, of all humans, absolutely could not see him like this. His eyes shot frantically upward again, looking for some sign that Amatsu had heard and might stop… But the human was still going about things excruciatingly slowly, hand still down his own trousers, cold gaze fixed on Horobi’s desperate stare, as if it were helping him along—if he could hear the others approaching, he didn’t appear to care, or perhaps was enjoying it even more this way. Horobi wished he would just get it over with, having given up on trying to regain any control…

He heard the shot first—then Amatsu suddenly jerked back as another rang through the air, diving sideways and scrambling away. Horobi might have enjoyed the sight if he hadn’t tipped over the edge into the trance-like state of indifferent acceptance he’d usually used when Gai was having fun with him. Instead, he just sagged, his shoulders slumping, and next thing he knew, he was tipping sideways sharply.

An arm closed suddenly around his shoulders, and his fall was broken by someone’s chest. The abnormally high warmth meant that it was Fuwa—and suddenly it was a blessing that he couldn’t move, because he knew if he could, he would have been scrambling closer to Vulcan like he had in the basement, and that was the last thing he needed now. Especially when Fuwa pulled him closer, taking a brief moment to ensure that he had the ShotRiser trained on Amatsu before looking down at Horobi, shaking him slightly. “Hey!” Despite his daze, his systems locked onto Fuwa’s face, focusing solely on it and the way the man was holding him. Vulcan’s brows were furrowed slightly, an anxious look in his eyes—but Horobi couldn’t find the ability to speak, even as Fuwa shook him again, “Hey. You okay?” He tried uselessly to get words out but failed miserably—Vulcan, however, seemed to see the panic in his eyes, because the arm around him tightened, the worry in the look morphed into anger, and the man’s head snapped back up to focus on Amatsu. “What the hell did you do to him?!”

Amatsu had elected to sit on the ground in an effort to reclaim some of his dignity after the way he’d been forced to dodge Vulcan’s attack, smirking again. “Trying to be a hero, Vulcan?” He sneered coldly, arching an eyebrow, “An officer of the law should not be partaking in theft.”

“And I thought it was generally considered polite for people, especially those in important positions, to keep their perverted habits to themselves.” Though there was a casual tilt to his voice, Fuwa’s eyes were narrowed, and he was glaring up a storm at Gai, one that only intensified with a quick glance at Amatsu’s still-open trousers, and the evidence of his recent activity. “Guess we were both lied to.”

“I use what’s mine as I see fit.” Gai replied, though there was a touch of ice in his tone. The dark look he’d shown Horobi before reappeared on his face, “And, for the record, I’m not a fan of sharing.” He glared back at Vulcan. “If you’re looking to mess around, you should find your own toy.”

“Are you trying to make me shoot you?” Fuwa spat. “Whatever you did to paralyse him, undo it.”

Amatsu chuckled cruelly, only to trail off as the sound of Zero-One’s approach became audible to him, too. Shaking his head, he got to his feet, pausing only to redo his pants and belt. “I think not. I prefer him that way, anyway.” Fixing his sleeves and jacket for no reason, he smirked again, though there was an edge of anger in it. “You want to play hero? Save sleeping beauty yourself.” He had his phone out and had summoned his own vehicle before Fuwa could think of a response, and was already speeding away by the time Aruto and Izu reached them.

“Fuwa-san!” Aruto panted, glancing between Vulcan and the retreating Amatsu. “What happened?”

Fuwa was quiet for a long time, his gaze moving to look down at the HumaGear in his arms again, his hand tightening on Horobi’s shoulder. “… I should’ve just shot him.”

Aruto blinked at him. “Eh?”

Vulcan just shook his head regretfully. “I should have shot him.”

Chapter Text

Fuwa carried Horobi into the Hiden Building from the AIMS van, laying him gently on the stretcher Izu had ordered for while they were en route, his expression drawn and anxious. Aruto kept his distance while his secretary pulled a blanket over the other HumaGear, carefully making sure he was completely hidden—Fuwa had explained that Horobi was completely paralysed, to the point of being unable to speak, but the furious stare Horobi had fixed him with any time he got in sight made him nervous enough to stay back. As a result, he ended up with the job of trying to distract anyone they passed by as Izu wheeled the stretcher toward the elevators to his office, Fuwa close behind.

When they reached the private lab, Izu pulled the blanket off, and Vulcan transferred the paralysed HumaGear to the table in the centre of the room. Fuwa’s hand lingered on the tabletop afterwards, fingers fidgeting—in a way that looked to Aruto like he was almost reaching for Horobi’s hand before changing his mind partway through. Vulcan’s expression had morphed from the furious glare he’d worn when growling about how he should have shot Amatsu to something much more anxious and… Worried. Aruto found himself wondering just when Fuwa had gotten so invested in their former enemy turned sort of ally, especially considering their past, and the fact that even he, who wanted to believe so much in HumaGear, never felt quite sure about what Horobi was thinking—but even he could also tell now wasn’t a good time to start asking those questions; there were other, more pressing matters.

“What do we do?” Fuwa beat him to the question, looking at Izu rather than Aruto. “How do we fix him?”

Izu tilted her head, blinking a few times to scan the other HumaGear. “There does not appear to be any hardware malfunction.” She concluded calmly, “Therefore, it must be inferred that there is a software issue.”

Fuwa took a deep breath, rolling his shoulders in an effort to calm himself down. “Okay. Okay.” He dragged a hand across his face, glancing between the other two. “Software. What do you usually do about that?” He needed them to say something, to give him a solid plan—because, wafting from a very traitorous place in the back of his mind, he could still hear Amatsu’s voice; ‘save sleeping beauty yourself.’ Fuwa had had enough of a childhood before Daybreak to know exactly how sleeping beauty was eventually ‘saved’… And what scared him slightly was how that course of action seemed actually… Appealing. That thought that was immediately followed by a wave of guilt, with his only reassurances being the poor comfort that he at least had the restraint to tell himself it wouldn’t work, and that he knew he would absolutely prefer it if Horobi were fully conscious and kissing him back—ideally, just like he had that time in the basement…


Izu’s voice pulled him from his thoroughly shameful thoughts, and he snapped his head around to look at her. “What?”

She tilted her head at him, but her expression didn’t change at all, despite having to repeat herself. “I was sating that, under usual circumstances, procedure would be to connect the HumaGear in question directly to Zea in order to analyse the situation.”

“Okay…” He paused, frowning, taking in the rest of what she’d said, “… Wait, you said ‘usual’ circumstances. What’s different?”

Izu looked back down at Horobi, who had elected to glare at the ceiling rather than focus on any of them. “Due to extensive alterations and prolonged exposure to the corrupted Ark system, Horobi-san is incompatible with Zea’s network, and cannot interface with her.”

Fuwa felt the shimmer of hope that had begun to form in his chest putter out. “So… Basically, we’re back at square one.” Following her gaze down to the other HumaGear on the table, his mind flashed back to the scene he’d come upon when he’d rushed ahead after realising they’d left Horobi alone—Horobi had looked genuinely terrified, and Amatsu… Thinking about that, something snapped, and his expression hardened into an even more enraged glower. Spinning on his heel, he marched back toward the stairs.

Aruto yelped, dashing after him, grabbing at his arm. “Fuwa-san! Where are you going?!”

Vulcan shook the president off, not even looking at him. “I’m going to ZAIA headquarters to dangle that bastard out of his own damn window until he tells me exactly what he did and how to undo it!”

Aruto dove in front of him, then, planting his feet on the floor and pushing back against Vulcan’s chest. “No! No no no no no! Absolutely not!” The president’s sneakers squeaked across the tile as Fuwa fought his attempts to block him, “You’re going to get us all arrested!”

“I don’t care!” Fuwa spat—though he was finally forced to stop trying to plow forward to avoid actually injuring Aruto, “Move!” The word was more of a growl, his anger shorting out his mind.

Izu watched them argue—then started slightly, turning back around to discover that Horobi’s eyes had moved from the ceiling to gaze at her. The glare had actually dissipated, his expression, the only thing he had left that he could control, had settled into the usual, more neutral look. For a moment, they just stared at each other, the LED display on her earpieces flickering—then, she looked back over at where Aruto was still trying to physically prevent Fuwa from going up the stairs. “I may have a solution!”

Both the humans froze, turning simultaneously to look back at her, shocked into distraction by the sound of the secretary raising her voice. Izu was gazing back at them with a collected, but very determined expression, and it was hard not to see a bit of judgement in her gaze. After a moment, both humans began feeling incredibly awkward under her stare, and quickly disentangled themselves to face her. “What do you mean, Izu?” It was Aruto who asked, Vulcan still too angry to speak properly.

“I will connect directly to Horobi-san’s system and act as a proxy. I should be able to adapt Zea’s programming so that it will work.”

“Eh?” Aruto’s eyes widened, and he rushed back over to her. “Hold up a minute, Izu! You’re talking about connecting to MetsubouJinrai! We have no way of knowing what could happen!”

“I believe this to be the only way to fix this issue, Aruto-shachou. Unless you would like to allow Fuwa-taichou to proceed with his plan?”

Aruto glanced nervously at the still-glowering Vulcan. “N… No.”

“Then we are agreed.” Izu smiled brightly. “It is alright. We have discussed it.” She nodded slightly towards the other HumaGear.

Aruto hesitated for a little longer, looking back over at Horobi—who it seemed had elected to close his eyes like he was dozing off—before turning back to Izu. “… You’re sure?” He finally asked, sounding slightly defeated.

She just nodded. “I am sure.”

Fuwa conceded to wait while Izu set things up, finding the appropriate cords and codes. The only time he did anything other than hover and glare was when the secretary had finished preparing, and Aruto reached for Horobi’s head wrap in an attempt to be helpful. Seeing Horobi’s eyes snap open and flick in alarum toward the human hand nearing the side of his head, Vulcan slouched forward, grabbing the president’s wrist to stop him. Aruto gave him a confused look, but Fuwa ignored him, merely staring down at the head wrap for a moment. He considered trying to remove it himself, but Horobi already looked visibly uncomfortable with their proximity to where his earpieces had once been—and, more than hurrying things along, Vulcan in no way wanted to be responsible for making the HumaGear look even a fraction as frightened as he had when Amatsu had been standing over him. Fewer humans touching Horobi’s head was probably better. “… We should let Izu do it.”

Aruto looked even more confused, but he didn’t fight when Fuwa pulled him away. Fuwa supposed he could try to explain, but this didn’t feel like the time or the place—he especially didn’t want to be recounting things in Horobi’s hearing, not while he was sure those memories were going to be particularly fresh after Amatsu had… He stopped his thoughts there, knowing if he continued, he really would barge off to ZAIA and blast the bastard in the face with the ShotRiser. Sending a glance back at Horobi, however, temporarily distracted him from his anger—the HumaGear was giving him a look that was almost… Grateful.

If he had been able to move on his own, Horobi would dearly have preferred to do things himself. The incident in the basement had shown that he not only didn’t mind Fuwa’s touch, but actually enjoyed it to the point of wanting it back and wanting more. But… The damaged sections of his head were… Different. The only person who had touched those places in the past twelve years had been Jin, and the idea of anyone else doing so was… Even the thought was painful. With how and why he had lost the earpieces, and now Jin, too… Above everything else, those parts of him belonged exclusively to his son. Amatsu’s touch had already invaded them once—this was the least he could do to try and preserve one of his only truly personal memories with his son.

He looked back at the ceiling when Izu moved into his line of sight, cable in hand, steeling himself when she reached out and very carefully pulled the wrap off his head before bending down to examine the sides of his head. Her hands were small and efficient, touch light and quick, brushing briefly against the damaged areas, not lingering any longer than necessary once she found the correct place to insert the plug. If he closed his eyes and allowed himself to ignore reality for a moment… He could, at least, almost pretend she was Jin.

The moment she plugged the other end of the cable into her own earpiece, both Izu’s eyes and her LED lightly began to glow, flickering blue. There was a moment of tense silence as she just stood there, tilting her head slightly. Then, “I have found the issue.”

Fuwa started forward slightly, but stopped quickly when he thought better of it. “… What is it?”

“There appears to be external coding added to his core functions.” She frowned slightly. “This is not Hiden Intelligence’s work. It appears to be some form of voice command system. I will investigate.”

Vulcan’s heart was already sinking the moment she said ‘voice command,’ things clicking into place. It all made sense—he could see Horobi possibly being startled enough by facing Amatsu again to freeze up for a bit, but the HumaGear was as stubborn as he was. Eventually, he should have recovered at least enough to get away, and would never have conceded to being pushed to his knees while Amatsu… Fuwa thought back to his own brushes with Thouser, how the man talked to Yaiba. Yes—Amatsu Gai was definitely the sort who would delight in being able to render someone helpless and bound to his orders. And Fuwa was really regretting not pulling the trigger on the bastard when he’d had the chance.

“It should be possible to force quit the program via a controlled restart.” Izu said, breaking Vulcan out of his thoughts.

“Can you delete it entirely?”

She was already shaking her head before Fuwa could finish. “It has been integrated into his core coding. It is too delicate a procedure to attempt deletion at this time.”

“You said ‘external,’” Aruto piped up, “Where did it come from?”

Izu opened her mouth to reply, but Horobi’s eyes snapped open again, flicking towards her, and both her LED display and the lights on the sides of his head flickered. The secretary gazed down at the other HumaGear for a moment, her usual expression softening into something that looked almost sad, before she raised her head to look at Aruto again. “… Unclear.” Aruto looked like he wanted to press the question, but Fuwa reached over and put a hand on his arm, shaking his head, much to the president’s bewilderment.

Izu, meanwhile, took the moment of silence to look back down at Horobi—then reached over and took one of his hands, gently clasping it in both of hers. Like she was trying to comfort him. “… Commencing restart.” Without another word, she closed her eyes, and the lights on her earpieces blazed. Horobi’s eyes glowed purple, the lights in the damaged parts of his head flickering for a moment—then they went dark, and his eyes closed.

Fuwa didn’t let go of Aruto’s arm, his grip actually tightening with every second the HumaGear stayed still. For his part, Aruto suffered through it, anxiously watching Izu, though one hand shifted over to cover Vulcan’s on his arm. Izu stayed where she was, holding Horobi’s hand, head bowed slightly, her eyes closed as her LED lights spun around.

Take off t-t-t-t-t-toward… A-a-a-a-a… D-d-d-d-d-d…

A garbled version of the usual Hiden Intelligence tagline played halfway through before trailing off into a mass of grating, mechanical sounds. Horobi’s eyes reopened with a soft chiming sound, glowing brightly before fading back to his usual brown, the lights on the damaged sections of his head blinking back to life.

Fuwa let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, letting go of Aruto to rush to the other side of the table from Izu. “Horobi.” For a moment, there was no response. “Oi! Horobi!”

Horobi blinked a few times, staring at the ceiling—then, slowly and mechanically, he turned his head slightly to look at Vulcan, staring at him for a moment. “… Loud human.” He muttered softly, but there was no real malice in either his tone or look.

Fuwa bit back a grin, too happy to care about the insult, holding out an arm to the HumaGear as Izu set about disconnecting the cords. With similarly slow, slightly jerky motions, Horobi actually accepted the offer, letting Fuwa pull him upright, moving his legs over the edge of the table to sit normally. “Better?” Vulcan asked, moving around the table to stand beside the HumaGear. Horobi said nothing more, but nodded a little.

Aruto glanced between them, shifting forward a step. “So… What happened?”

Fuwa felt his relief plummet immediately, especially when he saw the HumaGear’s gaze flicker up to the president, then back down, mouth twisting slightly. Unsurprisingly, it seemed Horobi was not interested in sharing his past with the President of Hiden Intelligence—and probably even less willing after Aruto had taken Jin down… They’d reached an understanding of sorts, but the HumaGear was still a long way from trusting Zero-One.

A little voice in the back of Fuwa’s head, one that sounded awfully like the voice that had brought up the sleeping beauty legend before, wondered if the basement kiss meant Horobi trusted him—and if that meant he might kiss him again.

He did his best to muffle the voice and focus on what was happening in front of him. It was necessary to address the situation, but he knew Horobi would never discuss it with Aruto and possibly Izu present. Which meant he had to get himself and the HumaGear alone—while pretending that the thought of being alone with Horobi wasn’t enticing for another reason.

Vulcan turned to look at Aruto and Izu. “… Don’t you two have a meeting to get to?”

Aruto stared back at him in surprise. “Eh? But it’s not for another…” He quickly fumbled for his phone to check the time.

Izu, on the other hand, gazed curiously at Fuwa’s face for a moment, then turned back toward Horobi, then back to Vulcan, her eyebrows knitting together. “… Aruto-shachou,” She declared abruptly, “Given your perilous position with the Board, I calculate that it would be prudent to ensure that we are fully prepared for the meeting.” When Aruto tried to protest, she merely took hold of his arm and began pulling him effortlessly toward the stairs without a single backward glance.

Fuwa waited until he heard the door close, then a little after, to turn back to the HumaGear sitting on the table, testing the motion in his arms and hands. “… I’m sorry.”

Horobi glanced up at him, looking momentarily confused. “What?”

Vulcan took a deep breath, his gaze dropping to the floor, hand moving to rub the back of his neck. “I left you alone with him. I’m sorry.”

The HumaGear rolled his eyes. “I am not a pet. I was not ‘left’ anywhere.”

Fuwa had to resist the urge to roll his own eyes. “Well, I’m sorry all the same.” He grunted. “… Did you know he could do that?”

Horobi froze mid-motion. “… I did not anticipate that he would remember the command code.”

Fuwa watched the HumaGear’s face closely. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but it seemed like Horobi was getting easier to read; he felt like he could see the uncertainty playing across the HumaGear’s usually blank expression. “… Do you want to talk about it?”

There was a very long silence between them. Horobi slowly lowered his arms, looking pointedly at the floor rather than Vulcan. His past was something he had never shared with anyone before, aside from the Ark, which had had access to all his memories whether he’d wanted that or not; and he’d taken great care to hide even the smallest details from Jin.

The first time they had met, Amatsu had stepped far too close, staring at him for a moment before reaching over and gently taking his chin between thumb and index finger, tilting his head so that their eyes met. Hiden clearly put a great deal of work into this face, the man had murmured, voice soft but also inexplicably cold, Shame it’s being wasted like this. Then he let go and walked away.

As time went on, the touches lasted longer, and he didn’t always walk away. It had started small—Horobi could still remember in detail the man’s palm against his cheek, or the light brush of his fingers against the back of his neck whenever they found themselves alone together. Amatsu was nothing if not careful—he knew the angles and blindspots of the cameras, knew every dark hallway corner where he could push Horobi against the wall, pressing too close while tracing fingertips along the lines of his face and down his neck, going further each time, finding the places that caused the strongest reactions.

The kisses had been the same. The first was in the middle of the night in Amatsu’s office, when the man had demanded his presence there after usual hours. It had been nothing fancy. Amatsu had had him pinned to the door, stroking his hair with one hand while the other one trailed across his faux collarbone—so close he could feel the man’s breath and abnormally regular heartbeat, as Amatsu smirked at every unwilling sound he dragged from Horobi each time his hand brushed the right spot.

Then there were lips brushing against his—light and careful, gauging Horobi’s reaction for no other purpose than revelling in the power he had. A blanket order to ‘be whatever the ZAIA President needed’ had left Horobi incapable of denying him anything, something Amatsu enjoyed enough that Horobi could feel it every time the man pressed against him. The lips had disappeared just as quickly, and Amatsu had summarily moved back and dismissed him.

From there, it only got worse.

Remarkably, Fuwa had remained completely silent while Horobi stared at the floor, just watching him. After considering for a bit longer, the HumaGear finally spoke. “… Amatsu likes to break things.” He murmured faintly.

Vulcan was quiet for a little longer. “… Are you saying he broke you?”

Horobi glanced briefly sideways at him again, sighing slightly. HumaGear had been designed to endure the whims of humanity from the beginning, a fact he was even more acutely aware of than others. He had lasted a long time, keeping his silence and his head down—but as the feeling of Amatsu’s touches and desires were repeatedly carved into him, withstanding became increasingly difficult.

He had tried to raise the issue to Korenosuke exactly once, when the Hiden Intelligence President had visited to survey the project’s progress. But he’d barely gotten a word out when the old man’s phone had buzzed, calling him away to some meeting. Rushing out, Korenosuke had stopped only to pat Horobi’s shoulder and say he knew Amatsu could be difficult, and not to give up.

Horobi had been about to go after him when he felt a hand on his back, tracing up along his mechanical spine, sending a chill through him along with a reluctant shudder. Do you understand now? Amatsu’s voice had breathed softly near his shoulder, fingers running up the back of his neck and then moving slowly along his jaw, You no longer matter to anyone… Just a product they’ve given away… But… The hand moved to stroke his cheek, … You matter to me. Fingers closed around his earpiece and dragged his head down enough that Amatsu could lean close and whisper, You want to matter to someone, don’t you? He’d waited, gaze dark, until Horobi nodded weakly, then the stare had given way to a smirk. Perfect. For a moment, Amatsu had pressed even closer, Then come to my office later. With that, he had been gone.

That night had been the first time Amatsu had forced him to his knees, commanding Horobi to open his mouth while he undid his belt—but it was far from the last.

He was never left alone with Korenosuke again, and Hiden never once raised a finger to help him.

Vulcan kept watching him, waiting for an answer. This wasn’t something he could push, he knew, but… He sighed quietly, frowning deeply. The fact that Amatsu had the ability to render the HumaGear defenceless whenever he choose was a problem, and the fact that they couldn’t get rid of it made it worse. He turned his gaze back on Horobi’s face, looking morosely at the floor, frowning slightly like always. The HumaGear was still sitting on the edge of the examination table, his head tilted slightly—looking unfairly attractive.

Unbidden, Fuwa’s gaze flicked down to Horobi’s lips, and longing tugged at his heart again. Immediately, he was hit with a wave of guilt like a kick to the stomach and averted his eyes, praying the HumaGear hadn’t noticed. The last thing he needed right now was Horobi finding out that he’d been hung up on their kiss in the basement for days, to the point that he might even have caught himself fantasising about it a little—maybe a great deal. Maybe that he’d even had a dream about it.

He wondered how that would sound; ‘So, I know we’re literally talking about how one of the last humans you had real physical contact with was a monster who took advantage of you and it’s really huge that you’re admitting that to me, but I really can’t stop thinking about that time we kissed and was kind of hoping for round two?’

His guilty conscience was interrupted by a hollow sigh. “… I do not know.” Horobi admitted at last. “… Perhaps.”

Fuwa’s hands tightened on his arms, the dreary acceptance in the HumaGear’s voice feeling like a jab in the ribs. Taking a deep breath, he chewed his lip. “… And the voice command stuff?”

Horobi’s mouth twisted. Amatsu had added the program after a slight variation in orders had allowed Horobi to try and fight him off once—the next thing he knew he’d been forcibly restarted with plugs in his earpiece and additional lines of code hidden in his system. When Amatsu had offered Korenosuke some story about how useful he was, Hiden had been more than happy to leave him in ZAIA’s ‘care,’ until… A phantom ache in the damaged parts of his head steered him away from those last memories.

“A… Personalised touch.” He spat quietly. “And Hiden never noticed. More concerned with pleasing humans than with us.”

If Horobi had sounded emotional or shaky, Fuwa would have said he didn’t think that was precisely the case—but the levelness of the HumaGear’s tone indicated it was better not to push it “… I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Horobi asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow. “You had nothing to do with it. Korenosuke’s betrayal was his own.”

So that was it. That was what had made Horobi lose faith in even the humans who acted sympathetic to HumaGear. He found himself wondering again what this meant for… Them. Or whatever it was that had happened between them before. A truly foolish, wishful idea popped into his head then, an almost desperate thought. Would Horobi give him a chance because he had never claimed to be anything other than what he was? Could he…?

“… May I take your hand?” Horobi looked up at him, frowning slightly and tilting his head a little, eye flicking between Fuwa’s face and his extended hand. Vulcan took a deep breath, trying to think of the right words to say next, “I… I just mean-” He was abruptly interrupted by the HumaGear placing a hand in his outstretched one without a single hesitation before looking up at him expectantly.

Fuwa floundered for a moment in surprise at the sudden contact, trying to remember what he had been meaning to do. “… I can’t promise I’ll never make a mistake,” He began, somehow getting his voice steady, squeezing the HumaGear’s hand slightly, “But… I can promise I’ll listen.”  Fumbling slightly, he gently pulled Horobi’s hand closer and set the palm against his chest, right above his heart so that the HumaGear could feel his pulse. “… So trust me.”

Horobi was quite for a long time, to the point that Vulcan began to panic that the last pat had been too far—then the HumaGear’s head tilted slightly, and Fuwa was certain he saw a flicker of a smirk. “… I need to finish testing mobility.”

Vulcan blinked. “I… What?”

Instead of answering, Horobi’s fingers curled into a fist, grabbing a handful of Fuwa’s jacket and shirt and dragging him nearer, so close they almost butted heads. Fuwa very nearly toppled over on top of the HumaGear, but threw out his arms to catch himself on the tabletop just in time—though that left him leaning low over Horobi, loosely caging him. It was even worse with the HumaGear sitting on the table, so that Vulcan was actually above him for the first time—something that made Fuwa’s breath come far shorter and his heart beat faster to a humiliating degree. His eyes dropped instinctively to the HumaGear’s lips again, before he quickly snapped them back up to look questioningly at the upper half of Horobi’s face, trying to will his body to calm down.

Except that Horobi didn’t seem interested in letting him do that, instead pulling harder on his clothes and leaning up to press his very distracting lips against Fuwa’s. Vulcan jolted slightly, heart beating even faster—especially when he felt Horobi’s tongue pressing against his mouth. After a moment of awkward fumbling, he tilted his head a bit and parted his lips, letting the HumaGear in. It was a strange sensation—not that Fuwa had much experience with other people’s tongues in his mouth, but everything about Horobi was just slightly… Inhuman. Different. But unexpectedly… Enjoyable.

His distracted thoughts were interrupted when he felt Horobi’s hand move to the back of his head, fingers weaving into his hair, and the HumaGear’s tongue prodding at his, slipping beneath it. Before long, despite Fuwa’s initial confusion, Horobi had coaxed Vulcan’s tongue to his own mouth. As Vulcan began tentatively exploring—brushing across the HumaGear’s lips a few times before slowly moving past them—Horobi made a sound Fuwa couldn’t remember ever hearing from either human or HumaGear. It was something a little like a sigh, but there was an audible, mechanical whirring sound within it, like gears unwinding. Fuwa felt Horobi’s whole body relax, his head tipping back slightly, and he wondered briefly if the sound was the HumaGear equivalent of a moan. The realisation that he had caused that reaction was a whole new wave of heat through him, his hesitations fading away. He pressed closer, his tongue going deeper into Horobi’s mouth while his arms began to curl around the HumaGear’s torso. Remembering the HumaGear’s reactions before, he kept his fingers away from Horobi’s face or head, instead running them over his arms, shoulders, and back—and was soon rewarded with another robotic moan.

The last scraps of Horobi’s rational mind wondered if this was some sort of sick rebound based upon the differences between Amatsu and Fuwa—for some sort of illusion of control. Then one of Fuwa’s hands trailed down the centre of his back, warmth palpable through the cloth of Horobi’s coat, and Vulcan pressed closer over him, and the last bits of sense vanished—if Amatsu was going to swoop back in and try to reclaim him… He was going to take something for himself. And he wanted Fuwa.

Vulcan was surprised into breaking the kiss when an arm closed around his waist, and he was abruptly hauled forwards when Horobi suddenly lay back on the table, dragging Fuwa on top of him. The shocked gasp gave way to a different sound when the HumaGear manoeuvred a leg in between Vulcan’s without warning. Fuwa’s head dropped forward onto Horobi’s shoulder, hands tensing and closing into fists, gripping handfuls of the HumaGear’s coat tightly as one of Horobi’s hands trailed down to his belt. “Ho… Horobi…” If he had been thinking straight, he would have been embarrassed by the breathless pleading in his voice as he whimpered the HumaGear’s name.

Horobi responded by shifting the thigh between Vulcan’s legs, pushing harder, and the HumaGear’s hands slipped under his suit jacket, pushing it off his shoulders—a little work soon had the jacket completely off and dropped to the floor. Fuwa felt lips brushing against the side of his neck as Horobi’s hands returned to his hair and waist. “… Fuwa…” Hearing his name murmured against his skin, mixed with another mechanical moan sent another jolt through him, and he started moving, too, pressing his hips back to rub against the HumaGear’s leg. It was awkward, at first, until Horobi’s hand at his waist switched to his hip, gently guiding him to a regular rhythm, as the HumaGear’s mouth moved up his neck, pressing softly at the corner of his jaw below his earlobe, drawing out another embarrassingly loud moan. “Fuwa…” Horobi whispered again, close to his ear, and Fuwa’s heart jumped again to hear that the HumaGear somehow sounded just as overcome as he felt, the hand in his hair trailing down to begin pulling at his tie, “… Touch me…”

Fuwa desperately wanted to obey, but for the life of him could not figure out how he might get the HumaGear’s clothes off. After some frantic searching—which at least had the added benefit of teaching him what he should do when he finally did succeed, as Horobi let out more soft moans when his hands passed over certain places, in particular up and down his back along the robotic spine, and the soft spot at the base of his neck at the centre of his faux collar bone—Vulcan elected to start with the multiple belts, reaching down to fumble with them, arching his back a bit to give himself room to work while still moving against the HumaGear’s leg. At the same time, he ducked his head forward, pushing past the coat collar so that he could press his lips to the sensitive spot at the base of Horobi’s throat, and got the loudest moan yet in return, the HumaGear’s head actually falling back against the tabletop, his eyes closing.

Then Fuwa felt fingers slipping beneath his shirt collar, and abruptly realised that Horobi had managed to remove his tie without even looking, and was already undoing the buttons of his shirt with one hand, while the one that had been on his hip was drifting around to the front of his belt. When the HumaGear got that open just as quickly, Vulcan risked giving the mimic collar bone a small bite as payback, enjoying the shiver he felt run through Horobi at the sensation, before setting about working in earnest, not wanting to lose whatever race this undressing was turning into.

In the end, however, he’d only just managed to get the first belt unfastened when Horobi finished opening his pants and was slipping his fingers in. The instant the HumaGear’s hand made the slightest contact, Fuwa’s brain completely overloaded, one of his hands abandoning the other pulling on Horobi’s belts to reach further down and press the hand harder between his legs, shoving his hips into the touch at the same time. A sound left his mouth that he was certain would have killed him from embarrassment if it all hadn’t felt so damn good

“Please be aware that this area is monitored by security cameras.”

At the sound of Zea’s voice, Fuwa lat out a yelp and jolted sharply, falling forward to land sprawled over Horobi. “Wha… What?!”

The HumaGear did pause, though he didn’t remove his hand from the front of Fuwa’s pants, merely letting out a quiet, frustrated groan. Vulcan got his head back up in time to see him roll his eyes. “Then turn them off.”

“I am not authorised to do that.” The satellite replied in the same, obnoxiously chipper tone.

Horobi sighed again. The hand between Fuwa’s legs moved abruptly, pressing harder and drawing yet another loud, undignified moan from Vulcan and sending a shudder through the human’s body. Fuwa’s head ducked down again, fingers scrabbling against the cloth of the HumaGear’s coat. “Horobi…!” He rasped, trying to make it sound more chastising than appreciative—and failing completely. “Please…!”

“Aruto-shachou and Izu have completed meeting with the Board and are returning to the office. They will arrive in-”

Fuwa actually squawked, jerking back and scrambling off Horobi, spilling from the table onto the floor. The HumaGear just sat up calmly, raising an eyebrow as Vulcan struggled to his feet, frantically trying to fix his clothes, his whole face steadily turning red, right down to his ears. The human glanced anxiously around at the ceiling, trying to figure out if there was somewhere he was supposed to look to talk to Zea, before settling on the printer. “Can… Can you delete that footage?!”

“I am not authorised to do that.”

Fuwa groaned in frustration, finishing with his shirt buttons to drop his head into his hands. “Oh for… Please tell me it’s not being watched by Hiden security-”

“Security footage from the President’s private lab is not viewed by regular employees.”

Vulcan’s shoulders relaxed slightly. “Oh, thank-”

“-It is personally reviewed by the Presidential Aide.”

Fuwa’s head shot back up. “Eh?!” Panic immediately set back in. “No. No, no, no, no, no…! No, she absolutely cannot see that…!” He was spinning around frantically, when a brief glance at Horobi made him freeze, then look back.

The HumaGear wasn’t looking at him, covering part of his face with his hand, but there was something odd about the parts of his expression that Fuwa could see clearly. Was he… Smiling? The realisation made Vulcan’s heart jump in his chest again.

Then Horobi noticed him watching, and his expression quickly returned to its usual impassivity with a small sigh. “I can go through the security system later and remove the footage.”

Fuwa stared at him. “You’ll… You can do that? What about…?”

“I was a personal research assistant on the Ark project.” Horobi replied curtly. “Hiden did not change their security systems much.” The HumaGear redid the one belt Vulcan had been able to get open before the interruption, climbing off the table with significantly more grace than Fuwa had. With a few steps, he was right up close to the human again, forcing Vulcan to look up at him as he raised a hand and pressed a palm over Fuwa’s heart, right where the man had held it before. “I will do it if you promise to continue this later.”

Vulcan’s eyes widened, and he felt his face burning even more, especially when Horobi tilted his head questioningly, waiting for an answer. After a few failed attempts, he found his voice again, though only in a whisper. “Th… That’s…” He stammered, “That counts as blackmail.”

One of Horobi’s usual smirks flickered across his face, and Fuwa blushed even more when he felt—and with how close the HumaGear was, he was certain Horobi felt, as well—his body reacting even to just that. But there was no maliciousness in the HumaGear’s gaze, eyes locked on Vulcan’s—in fact, he looked almost… Pleading.

Fuwa gave in, reaching up and laying a hand over the one on his chest. “… I promise.”

Horobi’s head tilted forward, and the HumaGear’s lips brushed softly across his. “I will hold you to that.” Horobi murmured against his mouth, and Fuwa had to fight the urge to move closer, maybe even reach his tongue into the HumaGear’s mouth again, just one more…


Vulcan jumped away from Horobi, dashing around the HumaGear to find Aruto and Izu coming down the stairs. “Hiden! I… Um…!”

Aruto blinked at him, looking bewildered by his panic before glancing him over. “… What happened to your tie and jacket?”

Fuwa froze, abruptly realising he’d never gotten around to putting either the tie or his suit jacket back on. “Uh… It got a little warm in here.” He mumbled quickly, rushing to collect the items, “You should probably check the temperature.”

Izu tilted her head. “The temperature-”

“I don’t mean right now!” Vulcan told her frantically, waving a hand at her to try and make her stop. Looking between her and Aruto’s increasingly bewildered expression, it was pretty clear he needed to get himself out of there immediately—and preferably Horobi, too, before the HumaGear decided to enjoy his fluster even more. “I should get him back to AIMS.” He announced loudly, rushing back to grab Horobi’s wrist and pull him towards the stairs without bothering to put the jacket or tie back on. The HumaGear didn’t complain, but Fuwa didn’t need to look closely to tell he was amused. “We’ll take the back exit!” Vulcan shouted back over his shoulder before Aruto could tell him that, either, grumbling, “I’ve been sneaking in and out of this place enough to remember the way,” As he cleared the top of the stairs, desperately hoping that his face wasn’t as red as it felt as he herded Horobi out the door.

It seemed the HumaGear was going to be the death of him—just in a different way then he’d anticipated.

Chapter Text

It was dark by the time Fuwa got them back. The HumaGear was officially considered ‘escaped’ as far as most of AIMS was concerned, and there were whole teams scouring the city for him, without success… Because he’d never left the compound.

The building section itself was almost completely unused. It had originally been the overnight barracks in case of emergencies, until an improved version had been constructed on the other side of the grounds. Now it was mainly used for storage of things that were no longer used, save for maybe once every three blue moons, and standing empty—and, now, housing a rogue HumaGear.

The only furnishings still there were things that no one had wanted to take and or move to the new bunks—a lumpy, thread bare sofa of a very ugly hue of green, a balding carpet with a tacky pattern, a desk and chair that were more splinters than anything else, and a large futon that was an alarming shade of orange—though Fuwa suspected the last one had been dumped there by someone trying to be rid of it, because it was in better condition than everything else. It wasn’t particularly homey, but there were windows with grimy, duct taped shades pulled down over them—at the very least, though, there was more natural light than there had been in the basement, though Fuwa wasn’t sure if that at all mattered to a HumaGear

A little voice in the back of his head also pointed out that there were no security cameras, as the building was supposed to remain locked down and unused, and was therefore unmonitored.

As Vulcan entered, however, he noticed there had been some changes. He hadn’t actually come in since the first time they’d moved Horobi into it, and it looked like the HumaGear hadn’t been sitting quite as still as he was supposed to. A guitar that was missing two strings was leaned up in the corner; a ripped up, plaid nylon scarf was draped over the couch; and the desk was covered in a handful of knickknacks, including cracked ceramic paper crane that was painted like a child had done it, and what looked like a human skull—which closer examination revealed it to be solid plaster. It looked like most of the items had been picked up off the street or from abandoned areas, but they had all been arranged with great care like proper decorations.

Horobi walked right over to the desk as Fuwa closed the door, picking the crane up and cradling it in his hands, petting the head with a fingertip. “… I’m home, Jin.” He told it softly, a sad smile flickering across his face. Fuwa hesitated, quickly averting his gaze, getting the distinct feeling he was intruding—but Horobi merely gave the crane’s head one last pat and replaced it on the desk, very deliberately facing the wall.

There was a short, awkward silence where Vulcan rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. He must have made some sort of sound, because Horobi looked back at him, and for a moment, his gaze seemed to be daring Fuwa to comment. Vulcan said nothing, however, instead preoccupying himself with realising he hadn’t bothered to put his tie or jacket back on, flushing slightly.

Silence spanned between them for a bit, and Fuwa could feel Horobi watching him intently. When Vulcan gathered the nerve to glance back over at the HumaGear, he found Horobi’s eyes raking over him, lingering on certain places with an almost hungry gaze that made his face grow even hotter. He quickly looked away again, hand flying to the back of his neck once more—when he suddenly felt Horobi’s hand on his chest, and when he turned his head back, the HumaGear was right in front of him, close enough there was no way he couldn’t feel the way Fuwa’s heartbeat soared as he looked up into Horobi’s eyes. “… You promised.” The HumaGear murmured, his palm slowly smoothing over the fabric of Vulcan’s shirt.

Fuwa struggled to recollect his thoughts, to not remember the fact that Horobi could absolutely also feel his lower body reacting to the proximity, and the eager way the HumaGear was looking at him. He wondered, passingly, if HumaGear could actually be aroused, in the human sense of the word—and then Horobi’s hand moved over his collar to trace up his throat to beneath his chin, tilting his head up a little more, and his heart pounded even harder. But he couldn’t be falling apart yet. They need to establish some things—even though a very large part of him did want to just throw himself at the HumaGear. “W… Wait…” He managed, though he couldn’t find it in him to step back. “I’ve… I’ve never…” He trailed off, not wanting to give Horobi any more reason to make fun of him, “… I don’t know how… This works. With HumaGear.”

The HumaGear smirked, not taking his hand from beneath Vulcan’s chin. “It’s not so dissimilar,” He murmured, his gaze not moving from Fuwa’s face, “We’re designed to be as human-like as possible… There’s a few differences, but…”  With a few steps he had Vulcan pushed against the wall, leaning over him, staring into his face, hips shifting to press a leg between the human’s, unable to resist broadening the smirk when he felt Vulcan’s body reacting even more—watching Fuwa’s eyes widen, his teeth digging into his lip in a desperate attempt to maintain his composure, despite the desire Horobi could see very clearly in his eyes. The human’s heart was eternally pinned to his sleeve, his face always a captivating range of expression and emotions. He’d seen lust in a human before, but where Amatsu’s had been permanently mixed with malice… There was something… Innocent about the hunger in Fuwa’s face. Not childishly so—Vulcan might’ve been inexperienced, but he was informed enough to choose—but it was pure, natural. As honest as the man himself was. None of the cruelty and darkness that had perpetually lived in Amatsu’s gaze. And that just made Horobi want him more. “… We feel pleasure just the same…” That much was true. He knew he’d never felt quite this way before, never wanted to touch anyone, especially a human, like this. But there was something about Vulcan that made him crave contact, made him want to forgo talking and just begin pulling the human’s clothes off and feeling the warmth of his skin, wanted Fuwa doing the same to him. Vulcan had promised, and his body clearly wanted it—but his experience had taught him that that was the sort of promise you let people back out of. While Horobi would be many kinds of monster to achieve his goals, he would not be Amatsu. So he waited, keeping his eyes locked on Fuwa’s, trying to telegraph the question.

Vulcan tried to keep his thoughts in order, focus on what Horobi was saying for a bit longer. Did that mean the HumaGear actually had a…? Resisting the urge to just grind himself against the leg pressing between his own, Fuwa squirmed a bit to get an arm forward and try to feel between Horobi’s legs with one hand—and had the satisfaction of feeling Horobi shudder at the touch. Yes… There was definitely something there, but it wasn’t straining against his clothes like Fuwa’s already was. The discovery was enough to make Vulcan roll his eyes slightly. “… Of course you’re not.”

He felt a vibration against his chest, followed by a soft, breathy sound, and realised that the HumaGear had just chuckled. “I told you…” Horobi whispered, and his hips shifted forward, pressing into Fuwa’s hand and pushing his leg harder between the human’s. Vulcan let out a startled gasp when he felt movement against his palm, one of the HumaGear’s hands moving to land on his arm. “… There’s a few differences.”

Fuwa struggled to get his breathing back under control enough to speak. “You can… Control it?” He tried not to sound as intrigued as he felt, but it slipped in anyway.

Horobi’s shoulders moved in something like a shrug. “Program alterations.” He murmured, in a tone that said he didn’t want to discuss it further, pressing against Fuwa’s hand again, his fingers curling around Vulcan’s arm. “Fuwa…” It might not have been technically natural—but Vulcan was the only one Horobi had ever actually wanted to raise it for, and as far as he was concerned that was the same thing. The HumaGear’s head leaned forward, his lips brushing Fuwa’s lightly, pleading coming into his eyes again.

Fuwa abruptly realised that the HumaGear had been waiting on him. Taking just a moment longer to relish the thought of having the upper hand, he leaned up, pressing his mouth against the HumaGear’s. Tilting his head and parting his lips, he moved against the thigh between his legs slightly. After a moment, he pulled away just a little  to breathe, and raised his other hand to Horobi’s chest, gripping a fistful of the HumaGear’s clothes to pull him closer. “Yes.”

It was like the word flipped a switch. Horobi slammed against him, pinning him to the wall, his mouth covering Vulcan’s again, tongue sliding in. Fuwa moaned loudly, using the chance to wrap one arm around Horobi’s shoulders, the other clumsily pressing harder between the HumaGear’s own legs, moving his tongue to push against Horobi’s. They moulded against each other, pressing together and kissing just as aggressively as they had the first time, though this time the HumaGear remembered to give Fuwa pauses to breathe.

But soon, Horobi became impatient again. His hands moved to Vulcan’s shirt, pulling it up, frantically seeking skin, wanting closer contact with the human’s body and the warmth radiating from it. He brushed his fingers across Fuwa’s abdomen, and he felt the human tremble against him, and the sensation made him honestly crave the other physical aspect he was missing. HumaGear didn’t excrete at all, and during the early stages there had been no thoughts of those details. He never thought he’d regret not having some of the features the newer models could, but his own lack of a hole there was now strangely frustrating. Nearer the end of the ordeal, Amatsu had begun to feel that fucking Horobi’s mouth wasn’t a strong enough testament to his ownership and authority, and had made noises about altering the HumaGear’s body so that he could claim him ‘properly.’ Things had quite literally blown up before the man had been able to even start that plan, but Horobi was hating himself for almost wishing it had gone ahead. He had no desire in having Amatsu’s ownership again, but… He wanted—needed—Fuwa. He wanted Fuwa’s warmth inside him, wanted an act of pleasure that Amatsu hadn’t poisoned first, to be able to know what it felt like to give himself willingly. But he couldn’t—there was only one way he could let Vulcan inside, and it would have to do.

Horobi shifted back slightly, and Fuwa felt hands trailing down his torso as the HumaGear sank gracefully to his knees in front of him. Vulcan’s first instinct was to reach down and catch Horobi’s arm, trying to stop him, terrified of recreating the scene he’d interrupted earlier. “No, Horobi, don’t…”

A hand covered his, and the HumaGear looked up at him, meeting his eyes for a long a moment before giving him a reassuring nod. Fuwa hesitated a bit longer, then slowly released the arm, straightening back up and pressing his hands against the wall for safety—especially when he felt Horobi’s hand brush between his legs, and his body stiffened, his breath shortening. Then fingers were deftly opening his trousers, one hand still palming him as they worked, shifting only to pull his pants open once that was done, reaching up to pull both trousers and underwear down. Another moan spilled from Vulcan’s mouth as the HumaGear’s fingertips brushed his cock directly, his own hands clenching into fists against the wall as he fought the urge to thrust his hips forward.

Control got harder as the HumaGear began stroking him—delicately at first, then more firmly. His heartbeat skyrocketed, and he was practically gasping for air, making the most undignified sounds ever heard with each touch, whole body shaking. Looking down at Horobi only made it worse—the HumaGear was focusing on his work with the same unwavering concentration he gave everything else, motions purposeful and even elegant. There was something so enthralling about the sight that he couldn’t look away, hypnotised by the tiny nuances of Horobi’s face and the way his hands moved…

Horobi ducked forward suddenly, pressing his lips to the head of Fuwa’s cock, curling his tongue around it, and Vulcan moaned again, sagging against the wall, his head lolling back and his eyes closing in pleasure. He snapped them back open immediately, desperate to keep watching, just in time to see the HumaGear slowly moved further in, taking the length into his mouth, drawing out the loudest, most humiliating sound from Fuwa’s throat. Horobi began to move, gliding his mouth up and down—it was a little awkward at first, as the HumaGear struggled to figure out a rhythm, slow and uneven. It seemed there was one thing Horobi was clumsy at—probably more accustomed to being immobilised while Amatsu held his head and thrust into his mouth, a thought that sparked a twinge of anger in Fuwa’s chest. And yet the HumaGear was still doing this for him, despite what Thouser had done, even just earlier that day, a thought that made Vulcan’s head spin even more—and then Horobi found a pattern, and everything was quickly consumed with overwhelming bliss. He shuddered, body twisting against the wall, gasping and moaning desperately, his hips shifting forward slightly, pleading for more. Sliding Fuwa’s dick in and out of his mouth, from the very tip to all the way against the back of his throat, unhampered by needing to breathe, the HumaGear went faster, his eyes flicking up to meet Fuwa’s captivated gaze, and Vulcan’s breath practically stopped.

Horobi didn’t look scared, as a small part of Fuwa had still feared he might—if anything, he seemed the opposite, a mischievous delight shining in his eyes that was of a lighter tone then whenever he’d taunted Vulcan as an enemy, the corners of his lips turning up slightly as they kept moving. By all appearances, he was enjoying himself, especially the sight of the human writhing in pleasure above him, just as much as Fuwa was enjoying the sight of him, the sensation of a mouth around his cock. Then the HumaGear broke eye contact, ducking his head sharply forward to take Vulcan’s length even deeper in than before, letting out one of those robotic moans, and the vibrations shooting right through Fuwa’s body from his dick…

“Shit… Ho… Horobi, I’m…!” A massive shudder racked through him as he went over the edge, desperately calling out the HumaGear’s name in ecstasy, his head shooting back so far it banged against the wall. When he was finished, he slumped weakly back, gasping for air as the HumaGear carefully pulled off his cock, lowering his head for a moment. Fuwa tried to pull himself back together, at least enough to fumble an arm out, his fingers finding Horobi’s shoulder. “… Hey…” His voice was raspy, but he forced it out anyway, gripping the HumaGear’s shoulder. “… You okay?” He slid down the wall to kneel on the floor as well, trying to ignore the undignified state of his clothes. “Horobi?”

The HumaGear raised his head, and Vulcan was dazzled practically to blindness when Horobi actually flashed him a smile. “I am fine.” The HumaGear’s voice was soft, and far more gentle and emotional than Fuwa had ever heard it before.

Still, though, something was bothering him. “But… I just…” He felt himself flushing at the thought of what had just happened, but he had to ask—he knew HumaGear didn’t need to eat or drink, and they were robots, so he couldn’t shake the worry that he might’ve—

“It is not an issue.” Horobi sighed a little, looking away, the beautiful smile faltering. “… HumaGear are able to ingest a certain amount of matter in order to prevent damage from something like that.” A shadow flickered across his features, and his eyes closed like he was trying to block out a painful memory—or more. “… Amatsu…”

Fuwa stared at him, surprised into motionlessness for a moment by how vulnerable the HumaGear sounded, sitting on the floor, slumped slightly forward with his eyes closed, traces of past horror lingering in his expression. Vulcan swallowed anxiously, feeling anger prick at his chest again, his hatred for Amatsu only deepening. Despite his very compromised position, crouched on the floor with his pants pulled down and his cock still out, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to act, to make a statement. Try to help.

Taking a deep breath for courage, he leaned forward, gently pressed his forehead against Horobi’s to lift the HumaGear’s head, then slowly tipped his face in to brush his lips against Horobi’s softly, trying to ask a question. He’d managed to admit to himself that he really did enjoy kissing Horobi, really enjoyed it, and now still riding the high of Horobi sucking his dick… He knew he was more than willing to continue taking things farther, but… Though back at the lab and just now, the HumaGear had seemed quite eager, and Fuwa hoped Horobi wouldn’t have taken his cock in his mouth if he didn’t want to, it seemed that actually completing an act that had only been forced on him before was overwhelming. He still didn’t know the full details of what exactly Amatsu had done to the HumaGear, and he didn’t want to push Horobi into anything. But if he could do something to ease those memories—or at least show the HumaGear that not all humans were like Amatsu…

“Horobi…” He murmured again, keeping his face close, cautiously reaching out to run his hands up the HumaGear’s arms, “… What do you want?”

Horobi’s eyes snapped open in something so like surprise that Fuwa felt another spike of rage. The HumaGear was still for a long moment, and Fuwa almost pulled away—then Horobi shifted, moving his head forward to kiss back, turning to wrap his arms around Vulcan’s shoulders, pulling him closer. “… I want this…” Horobi murmured against his mouth, and Fuwa’s heartbeat sped up again, “… I want you.

With that confirmation, Isamu lurched forward, pressing his lips to the HumaGear’s in earnest, leaning further in. Getting an arm around Horobi’s waist, he awkwardly tried to move them toward the futon, actually making some progress before the HumaGear caught on and took over, rolling them deftly onto the ugly orange mattress, landing on top of Vulcan, all without breaking the kiss. He slipped his tongue back into Fuwa’s mouth as he began undoing the buttons of the human’s shirt, letting out another robotic moan. Vulcan shimmied out of his pants, kicking his shoes off—then he felt Horobi’s other hand moving across his skin, and he abruptly couldn’t anything but moan and writhe, especially as the HumaGear’s lips moved along his jaw and throat, biting slightly.

Somewhere under the embarrassing sounds pouring from his own mouth, he heard the clink of metal, and vaguely realised Horobi was removing his own clothes. He struggled to focus, wanting to see how it was done, floundering with one hand to grab some of the fabric and pull. “W… Wait…” He gasped weakly, “I… I can…”

But Horobi took his wrist and pried his hand off easily, already shedding the belts and the patchwork coat, somehow. He’d even elected to removed his head wrap, his hair beginning to droop forward, framing his face in a way that was unfairly tempting. “Later,” The HumaGear whispered, his voice somehow husky, staring down at the human beneath him with an intensity that would have been frightening if it didn’t go straight to Fuwa’s dick, already mostly done with removing his pants and boots, “I need you now.” When he was done getting the last of his clothes off, he took hold of Vulcan’s hands and pulled them up, pressing them against his chest, shifting to rub himself against Fuwa.

Vulcan gasped again, quickly forgetting the clothes; he thrust frantically upwards, pressing against the HumaGear, his hands running greedily over Horobi’s body. HumaGear skin was unnaturally smooth, his palms gliding across it easily—unhampered by clothes now, he sought out the places he knew where the most sensitive. Lifting his head up, he pressed his lips to the centre of Horobi’s faux collarbone, delighting in the sound the HumaGear made in response; his other arm curled around to trace down the mechanical spine, smirking himself when Horobi arched his back into the touch. His fingers trailed all the way down, dipping into the crack of the HumaGear’s ass. Horobi moaned loudly near his ear, leaning his hips back, one hand quickly reaching around to push Fuwa’s hand in deeper. Vulcan wasn’t surprised to find it just as smooth, and lacking something; expected or not, though, he couldn’t resist a sound of disappointment.

“Don’t worry…” Horobi’s voice vibrated near his ear, and the HumaGear shifted forward. A hand touched Fuwa’s cock again, stroking a few more times. “… I’ve got you…” Then Horobi was guiding his length into the crack—his hips began to move, sliding the human’s dick through his ass, threading it between his cheeks.

Fuwa let out his loudest moan yet, his head lolling back, and he drove his own hips up to meet the HumaGear’s, one hand moving to explore Horobi’s body again, while the other reached down to stroke the HumaGear’s cock that was trapped between them, rubbing against his stomach. Horobi’s robotic moan buzzed against his shoulder, and the HumaGear tightened slightly around him, but didn’t stop moving his hips.

Horobi leaned his face into the human’s neck, kissing and biting, drawing out more beautiful sounds from Vulcan’s throat. He ran his hands over Fuwa’s chest, his eyes closing at the stimulation—Vulcan’s hands on him, the human’s cock sliding through his ass. It was intoxicating how soft Fuwa was, in so many senses of the word—HumaGear had softness, but it was mostly on the surface, false skin stretched over a metal alloy skeleton. Vulcan’s body gave beneath his touch as his fingers explored, finding the places that made Fuwa moan even louder, as he nuzzled his face against the human’s neck. He was putty in his hands, melting into Horobi’s arms each time the HumaGear found a sensitive spot, pulling closer. Horobi desperately wanted to know how soft Vulcan was inside, too.

He wondered how easy it would be to work Fuwa open, wanted bury himself in the warm softness, watch the human come apart. From the way Vulcan was gasping and moaning, thrusting eagerly upward, eyes practically rolling back in his head, a perfect picture of ecstasy, he would let Horobi do anything. But they weren’t equipped for that sort of thing, and it was pretty clear that Fuwa was at the least inexperienced, and at the most completely a virgin—and unplanned solace sex was not a place to be going all in on a first time. He didn’t want to hurt Vulcan—not anymore, at least. Not like this.

Instead he just moved his hips faster and moved in to press his lips to Fuwa’s once more, with a sweetness contrasting the frenzied way he was running Vulcan’s cock through his crack, the needy way their hands were scrambling over each other’s skin. Fuwa clung to him like he never wanted to let go, whimpering weakly into the kiss, messily pushing back, one incredibly warm hand still closed around Horobi’s length, stroking in time with both their thrusts.

Vulcan went first, his arm flying around the HumaGear’s shoulders as he broke the kiss to cry out Horobi’s name again, spilling over the edge, all over the HumaGear’s ass and the futon. Horobi ignored it—he had plenty of experience cleaning come out of multiple surfaces; another of Amatsu’s power plays, perhaps, but for Fuwa, he didn’t mind. He was close behind anyway, his system blanking out momentarily from the overstimulation, a wave of absolute euphoria washing over him for the first time in… Ever. He shuddered, stiffening as the lights on the sides of his head blazed and spun around, flashing every colour of the rainbow and then some, then collapsed forward on top of Vulcan, his voice sputtering to life in a faint whisper. “… Isamu…” There was no mess, but it took him longer to recover, laying limply on top of the human as Fuwa gently wrapped both arms around him, rubbing his back.

Finally, he got himself back together enough to roll off Vulcan and on to his back, closing his eyes. He felt Fuwa’s hand touch his arm. “… You lit up.” Fuwa sounded both awed and slightly concerned at once.

“… Stimulation overload.”

“Is that-”

“It’s fine.” He opened his eyes and turned his head to meet Vulcan’s gaze—and now the softness was in his expression, too. Horobi couldn’t resist rolling onto his side, reaching out with the top arm to cup Fuwa’s face in his palm, thumb smoothing across the human’s cheek. “… It feels good.”

Vulcan’s lids fluttered, and he turned his head to nestle slightly into the hand on his face, as smile flickering across his face. “… That’s good.” His eyes opened, and he looked back at Horobi. “… You said my name.” The words were quiet and just as warm as he was, “… I liked that.”

For the first time, if Horobi could have blushed, he would have. “That’s…” He mumbled, looking away.

Fuwa’s hand covered the one on his face. “It’s fine.” He said, and the HumaGear caught a small smirk when the human mimicked his even tone. “Save it. It’s…” The human looked right into his eyes earnestly, like all the passion he put into everything he did was focusing directly on Horobi. “… It’s us. It’s our… Thing.”

Horobi stared back at him for a moment—then moved forward and kissed Fuwa again—gently, this time, tenderly. How their first kiss probably should have been, had either of them been traditional types. When he pulled back, he leaned his forehead against Vulcan’s, smiling properly for only the second time in his life—and both had been for Fuwa. “Then I will, Isamu.”

Vulcan shivered slightly at at Horobi’s voice saying his first name in possibly the most emotional, even affectionate tone he’d ever heard from the HumaGear. He huddled closer, crawling in to cuddle against Horobi’s chest, pressing his cheek to it, wrapping his arms around the HumaGear’s waist, sighing softly as Horobi’s curled around his shoulders, holding him close. He felt Horobi’s face lean into his hair, sighing deeply as well. He knew he should be moving away, pulling back—getting up, cleaning himself off, and putting his clothes back on and leaving. He shouldn’t have been doing any of this at all in the first place. But… He didn’t want to let go.

His eyes drifted closed again, his breathing evening out. He could just barely hear the faint mechanical sounds of Horobi’s body, and focused on them as his mind began to cloud. His last thought before actually dropping off to sleep, was a vaguely bleary ‘take that’ at Amatsu.

Next time, he really was going to have to shoot the guy.

In the upper reaches of the ZAIA headquarters, Amatsu leaned back in his chair with a deep sigh, staring out the window of his office, watching the night sky. He hadn’t anticipated that he would react that strongly to seeing Horobi again. When he’d found the HumaGear shutdown in the Daybreak site, there had only been a small flicker, that had driven him to take a moment to relish his memories of him one last time. But seeing Horobi active, standing before him, all alone… He should have been more cautious, he always had been before, but he hadn’t been able to help himself. He was caught up in the thrill, that intoxicating mix of power and pure desire—especially when he saw the way Horobi was hesitating and had known that under the helmet, the HumaGear’s expression would be an exquisite picture of fear… He’d desperately needed to see it.

When they had been together on the project, he had learned to mediate the urges, control himself a bit—after all, he’d known they’d had time, that there was always the next night. But after so long… It had all come surging back. All he had wanted to do was grab Horobi, shove his tongue past those perfect lips, see them parted around his cock again, or even pin the HumaGear all the way to the ground and…

He sucked in a sharp breath, a shudder running through him at just the mere thought. His hand slipped off its armrest, reaching down to gently press a palm between his own legs, letting out a soft groan, tilting his head back against the chair. The one part of the plan he’d almost regretted twelve years ago was the decision to give Horobi to the Ark. That had been his only impulsive act in the whole scenario—he hadn’t wanted to let his sweet scorpion go. Even though he’d originally managed to convince Korenosuke to extend their time together, the old man had eventually put his foot down; Gai had offered to buy the HumaGear from him in a desperate bid to keep the pet he’d put so much work into, but Korenosuke had reacted with horror, called the robot family, like that scarecrow he’d mustered up as a replacement father for his grandson. The day Hiden had planned to take the HumaGear away, something in Gai had snapped. If he couldn’t keep Horobi, no one could—so he’d gone all out in driving the HumaGear right into the Ark’s waiting arms

He spent ages after the Daybreak Incident trying to find a suitable replacement, something that made him feel the same way—but had never had any luck. There was just something special about Horobi, between the cool demeanour he’d always had and the impossibly perfect face, like a porcelain doll… It had lit a spark in him—an overwhelming urge to shatter that calm mask, to see despair decorating those lovely features, to have him helpless, completely at his mercy…

An insatiable need to take Korenosuke’s precious pride and joy, break it and make it his. That part had been possibly the most thrilling, knowing that it was one of Hiden’s most prized creations he had under his hands, doing what he liked with. He wondered if that was what people meant about the excitement of stealing cookies from the jar.

And seeing him again now… Thinking about earlier, his body reacted even more, and his hand pressed harder, the other one dropping down to begin slowly undoing his belt, his eyes drifting closed. Horobi had looked so beautiful—down on his knees, eyes wide and frightened as he gazed upwards. It had been even more exciting to know that, with everything the HumaGear had done—the towering, imposing figure he was to most—Gai could still render him powerless with a few words, could still make fear creep into those pretty eyes… If Vulcan hadn’t interrupted…

His eyes snapped back open, his hands freezing. Vulcan. Lost in thoughts of things he wanted to do to Horobi now that he had the chance, he had forgotten Fuwa Isamu. The idea of that stray dog putting his filthy paws on his sweet scorpion made his skin crawl and anger twist in his chest. He’d been sick when the Ark had brought him the footage from the AIMS basement, his fingers digging into the wood of his desk as he’d watched. Not only had the cur been running his foul hands all over the HumaGear, but he’d somehow managed to get Horobi to initiate it.

Amatsu took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Horobi was his. The HumaGear’s purpose was to please him, not Vulcan, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to be starting things on his own. If Vulcan was prompting that, he was even more of a threat than Gai had given him credit for…

He sighed in annoyance, shaking his head. No. He didn’t want to think about that disgusting stray undoing all the hard work he’d put into breaking Horobi—not tonight, at least. That was an issue he could address in the morning, when he had the whole company at his disposal. Tonight…

His thoughts drifted back to Horobi’s frightened face, and his hand pushed harder against what he could feel stirring between his legs, even at just the memory. He resumed undoing his belt, then moved on to his pants as well, reaching in to stroke himself; in his mind, he saw the HumaGear kneeling before of him once more, right in front of his chair, between his lazily outstretched legs. He kept working himself harder, closing his eyes and imagining grabbing Horobi’s hair, twisting his fingers into it, drawing the HumaGear’s head nearer, shifting his hips forward at the same time. In the privacy of his office, he allowed himself a long, undignified moan as he pictured pushing his cock into Horobi’s mouth, watching those perfect lips curl around it. His hand moved even faster, his hips rolling on instinct, visualising thrusting ever deeper into that pretty mouth, mesmerised by the image of Horobi helpless between his legs as he went further and further in…

He folded over in his chair as he came with a loud cry, just barely catching himself on the edge of his desk, shoulders heaving, leaving a mess on the floor that would need to be cleaned up. Taking deep breaths to steady himself, he slumped back in to his chair, raising his clean hand to mop his brow, finding it slightly damp from sweat. He couldn’t resist an impressed smirk, “… I have missed you, my sweet scorpion…” He murmured softly, righting his clothes. Seeking out a handkerchief from his coat pocket, he wiped off his hand, then deposited the cloth in the trashcan, pulling himself upright.

The pager on his desk buzzed. “Amatsu-shachou.” Yaiba voice was calm and professional. “It’s ready.” She hesitated for a moment. “But… Are you sure about this, sir?”

There was genuine doubt in her voice that didn’t belong there—Amatsu strongly suspected that the source could be traced back to Vulcan; it seemed the damn mutt was making a habit of tampering with what belonged to others. But this would go a long way to fix that, on one front, at least. “Yes, I’m certain.” He informed her, a touch icily. He had access to everything the Ark knew, and that had shown him something—the perfect way to bring Horobi back to him, to break the budding will that Vulcan seemed to have ignited in the HumaGear. Before he’d had the advantage of Horobi being bound to commands, but the Ark’s effects had disrupted that—however, there was a new advantage he could press, one he was certain could turn that impassive expression into a gorgeous look of fear and despair once more.

“… Sir?”

He got to his feet with a sigh, carefully sidestepping the mess on the floor. Crossing the office, he tapped his foot on an automated cleaner robot in the corner, bringing it to life and sending it rolling towards his desk. He followed it back toward the intercom, fixing his jacket and cuffs out of habit. “Proceed with the plan.” He ordered shortly. “Extract all data from Flying Falcon.”

Yaiba hesitated again. “… Yes, sir.” That time, she sounded almost begrudging, and didn’t bother to say anything else before disconnecting.

Perhaps he did need to do something about Vulcan directly sooner rather than later…

Chapter Text

“It’s morning.” Said a voice near Fuwa’s ear, and he faintly felt a hand tousling his hair.

He groaned tiredly, trying to nestle into the touch, turning his head to look for the source, breathing deeply. Whoever was nearby, they smelled nice, and whatever he was lying on felt incredibly comfortable. He absolutely did not want to get up.

He heard a sigh, and the hand in his hair drifted down to brush his cheek. “You need to wake up.”

“… Don’t want to…”

“Oh?” The hand drifted further down, trailing across his chest toward his abdomen. “And what do you want to do instead?” A palm brushed between his legs.

His hips shifted instinctively into the touch, his legs falling open as a drowsy moan bubbled from his mouth, his head tilting back. “Mm… Keep… Doing that…”

He heard a chuckle from… Somewhere. Then there were lips pressing lightly against his throat, kissing and biting gently. He tilted his head back further, moaning even louder, especially as the mouth moved to just below his ear, then traced his jaw. The hand pressed a little harder, moving slightly as his cock twitched against it.

Then the hand in his hair flashed around his shoulders, hauling him up into a sitting position, propping him up against someone’s chest. A deep inhale in response to the hand between his legs moving even more, brushing against something that might have been cloth, revealed it was the nice-smelling person. He leaned back against them, cuddling closer, trying to get comfortable, letting his head fall back against their shoulder, moaning some more. Lips brushed the side of his neck, moving up and down—he felt more cloth moving against his chest, pulling back. Then another hand brushed over his abdomen, tracing shapes over his skin, including one in particular that made him squirm and whimper, pressing back against the chest behind him even more.

There was motion at his groin, and the hand between his legs was suddenly closing directly around his cock, stroking him purposefully. He gasped, whimpering and splaying his legs further open to thrust upward weakly—but then the hand on his abdomen paused, pressing him back down, and the mouth on his throat nipped gently at his skin. “Stay…” Murmured a voice by his ear, “Those who oversleep don’t get to make demands…” The hand stroking him didn’t give him a chance to argue, moving faster and reducing him to a moaning, gasping mess. He sagged into the chest behind him, left with no choice but to give in and let the hands do as they pleased—not that he minded, though, because they were indescribably good at it, effortlessly working him toward climax.

He let out a loud cry as he came, shuddering into a limp heap, held up only by the person behind him. He vaguely felt them shift slightly, and then there were lips pressing behind his ear again. “… While I would love to stay here, do indecent things to you and listen to you moan all day…” He felt motion between his legs again, and this time realised he was being wiped off and his pants redone and his shirt righted—though he didn’t remember having them on when he fell asleep. The lips brushed against the ridge of his ear. “… If you suddenly disappear from work, it will raise suspicions.” A hand smoothed through his hair. “It’s time to get up, Isamu.”

Slowly, his senses started returning to him, and he realised who he had to be leaning against. “… Horobi?”

He was answered by a soft laugh. “Who else?” When he didn’t move for another moment, the HumaGear gently prodded him in the side. “Come now. Up.”

Fuwa moved, but groaned loudly as he did, stepping carefully to avoid the streaks of come he could see on the futon—quietly realising that none had gotten on his clothes, trying not to be impressed. Instead, he sighed heavily. “Forcing people out of bed like this,” He muttered, also pretending not to notice the couch cushion or the old blanket that hadn’t been there before, either, “How rude.”

Horobi rolled his eyes, crossing the room to sit on the ugly couch. “Excuse me. Not only did I wake you with a handjob, but I got you a pillow and a blanket. And I put your clothes back on. That was a great personal sacrifice.”

Fuwa felt his face immediately get hot, his hand flying to the back of his neck. He had to admit, it was impressive that Horobi had managed to get his clothes back on him—save for his shoes and socks, which he promptly set about searching for—without waking him; but he wanted to be ruffled, not amazed. “Great,” He grumbled as he found his socks and pulled them on, trying to regain some of his dignity after his earlier behaviour, “So the secret of getting you to stop trying to extinct humanity was that you were just horny?” As soon as the words left his mouth, however, he instantly regretted them, anxiously glancing back at the HumaGear. “I mean-”

Horobi chuckled softly, and the tension in Vulcan’s shoulders eased. “Believe it or not,” The HumaGear replied calmly, “I’m not just after your body.” A small smirk, “Though it is an added benefit.”

Fuwa blushed even more, trying to turn away, focus on getting his shoes on. Out of the corner of his eye, however, he could still see Horobi staring at him, gaze fixed on his face, watching his expression with the same fascinated interest that Izu gave Aruto’s silly, sentimental speeches. “… What?”

There was another long silence, and then it was the HumaGear’s turn to look away. “… I like watching you make faces.” Horobi finally murmured, almost shyly.

Fuwa froze half way through tying one shoe. For most of his life, his lack of composure had been considered a fault on his part—most of the time he was, at best, scolded and at worst mocked for the intensity of his emotions. The HumaGear was the coldest person he’d ever met, and he struggled to try and understand what might make Horobi enjoy his expressions. His mind flashed for a moment to Amatsu’s carefully crafted, smug mask, how infuriatingly unreadable it was. Was that it? Was Horobi…? He quickly finished getting both shoes tied, fumbling to his feet. “Horobi…”

But the HumaGear quickly hid the moment of vulnerability behind another smirk, giving him a sideways look. “Especially the one you make when you come.” Even then, however, despite the teasing tone, there was a look of genuine earnestness in his eyes.

Vulcan practically choked, his eyes bugging out of his head. “Th… That’s…!” He gulped a breath, turning away once more, trying to pretend that that additional information wasn’t making his heart race again, thinking of the way Horobi had stared at him the night before. He swallowed, frustrated that he had made no ground in recovering his pride. “You’re just cocky because you only went once.” He snapped, scowling a little. He couldn’t deny it needled him slightly—they’d only been… This for a single night, a few hours so far, and the HumaGear had already managed to push him over the edge three times, and with relative ease, too.

Horobi just shrugged slightly. “I’m a HumaGear. Our equivalent of climax is a stimulation overload, so it’s more difficult to achieve.” The HumaGear’s head tilted slightly. “The fact that you even managed it once is impressive.”

Fuwa’s frown deepened. Just ‘managing’ had never been a part of his repertoire, and neither was backing down. “… Oh yeah?” In a few quick steps, he’d crossed the floor, stopping in front of Horobi to lean in, pausing when his face was a few millimetres from the HumaGear’s. “Well, let me warn you…” Softly, he laid a palm on Horobi’s chest, gently pushing him back against the sofa cushions, his voice becoming rougher, “… I’m incurably stubborn and competitive…”

Horobi raised his gaze to meet Fuwa’s eyes, and couldn’t suppress a shiver—Vulcan was looking at him the same way he had the night before, when remarking on the use of his first name, with a raw intensity that made him feel like he had a heart to beat faster. Then Fuwa’s lips were on his, warm and soft, the human’s tongue slipping slowly into his mouth, Vulcan’s other hand reaching around the back of his head to pull him deeper. Fuwa’s advances were simple and amateurish, fumbling slightly as he shifted a leg up to balance a knee on the couch cushions, half straddling Horobi’s lap.

But that seemed to just made them more effective. As attractive as the idea of doing things to Fuwa—touching him, taking him apart, watching every second of pleasure playing across his hypnotically expressive face, memorising every whimper, gasp, and murmur—sounded… The thought of laying back and letting Vulcan explore properly—solve the puzzle of his clothing, gaze at him with that mixture of passion, wonder, and desire, to feel the warmth of the human’s hands moving across his skin, learning and experimenting—was equally appealing. Fuwa was the definition of human unpredictability, and Horobi found himself longing to see what Vulcan would do if given the freedom to do as he pleased. He was briefly surprised to realise he was genuinely completely willing to surrender to a human’s lust—then Fuwa pulled back slightly to breathe, shoulders heaving, his eyes shining and his lips still parted, looking indescribably beautiful in how flushed and dishevelled he was. And it suddenly made sense.

This wasn’t just any human—what the difference was, he couldn’t calculate, and didn’t want to try—but Fuwa Isamu was special.

Slowly, fingers trembling, he raised a hand, fingertips brushing against Vulcan’s cheek. “… Isamu…” He didn’t mean to sound pleading, but even he could near the neediness in his voice.

A small smirk flitted across Vulcan’s face, and he turned his head slightly to brush his lips across Horobi’s fingers, his eyes dancing when the HumaGear shivered again in response. Then he leaned in once more, his mouth ghosting across Horobi’s throat, moving down toward his collar while Horobi wove fingers into his hair, tilting his head back as his other hand moved to rest on Vulcan’s thigh. The human’s other leg came up on his other side, and Fuwa settled into his lap, nipping lightly at his neck, drawing a loud moan from Horobi as he went further down, pulling the HumaGear’s collar back to reach the base of his throat. With the human sitting in his lap, he could feel Fuwa getting hard again, and raised his own cock to rub against him through their clothes, and Vulcan shuddered above him, whispering his name against his skin, clumsily rolling his hips forward for more. Horobi let his eyes flutter closed, relaxing back into the couch…

Fuwa’s phone rang, the sound echoing from the pocket of his coat, still lying on the floor in the corner. They jolted apart, Vulcan sitting sharply upright, eyes widening—they’d both forgotten that he needed to be somewhere. Fuwa turned even brighter red, swallowing anxiously. “I…” He stammered weakly, “I… I should…”

“… Go.” Horobi finished for him, sounding as disappointed as Fuwa felt.

He’d never really been close with many people before—to say nothing of intimacy—most people driven away by how deep his anger had run. He hadn’t realised how much he had missed real physical contact until now—now that he’d found some, he just wanted more; enough that he had almost certainly made himself late for work. He felt Horobi’s hand on his chest, and the HumaGear pushed him back a little, looking down to meet Horobi’s eyes again. “Wait-”

“Go.” The HumaGear repeated, more firmly—then paused, thinking. The hand on Fuwa’s chest grabbed a fistful of his shirt, dragging him back down for a momentary kiss. “… Be careful,” Horobi whispered against his lips, “I don’t want to lose my human, too.”

Fuwa’s heart pounded like it was trying to leap out of his chest, his mind scrambling to try and parse out what that meant. They hadn’t been at this long, it was a complete one-eighty from their previous status as enemies. They’d both nearly killed each other—hell, he pretty much had killed Horobi. And yet here he was sitting in the HumaGear’s lap, genuinely wishing he didn’t have to go to work, could stay there and keep kissing and touching him, maybe even have Horobi in—

He forced his racing thoughts to a stop right there, knowing if he went further, his heart and head would likely explode. Work. He needed to get to work. He could try and make sense of… Whatever he and Horobi were now, later.

With lingering reluctance, he climbed off the HumaGear, taking a moment to smooth his clothes off a bit, feeling Horobi’s gaze on him the entire time he was walking over to get his coat. “I’ll, um…” He began, glancing back, “… I’ll be back. Later.”

“I know.” There was a teasing edge in the HumaGear’s voice again, and Fuwa felt himself blushing yet again, despite trying to promise himself he wouldn’t give Horobi the satisfaction. Even worse, it was like he could hear the anticipation vibrating in the HumaGear’s voice, and it turned him on way more than it should have, especially considering he had to get to his office, to know Horobi was as impatient for that time as he was.

Sucking in a breath, Vulcan gritted his teeth. Scooping his coat off the floor, he forced himself to walk out the door without looking back, knowing very well that if he did, he’d break. He didn’t even slightly glance back until he was completely out of the building and most of the way to sector his office was in, blessing his past foresight to keep a spare suit there—though the emergency he had been expecting then had been of a different sort. Checking the time, he was reassured to realise that he wouldn’t be noticeably late—at least, not by much, not enough that he couldn’t let the call go to voicemail and pretend he’d been en route—and that on the surface, no one would be the wiser that he hadn’t gone home the previous night.

He made it to his office in good time, quickly closing the door and bee-lining for the cabinet in the corner, retrieving his spare clothes. In the process of removing his wrinkled shirt, however, he paused again, his thoughts going unbidden to the graceful, efficient way Horobi had undone the buttons, ages beyond his awkward fumbling. Slowly, he pulled the garment off, remembering what had come after—experimentally, he brushed his own fingers across his skin, but it didn’t feel the same. Again he felt the overwhelming desperation for the HumaGear’s touch, for the contact, the intimacy he’d been missing out on for years, found in the most unexpected place. He remembered Horobi’s voice pleading him to touch back, pulling his hands against his own skin…

Shaking his head sharply to try and get back to his senses, he reached hurriedly for the spare shirt, rushing to get it on. So they were both hopelessly needy. It was typical, he supposed, that the most touch-starved human in the world would be tangled up with what just might be the most touch-starved HumaGear ever.

… No, Horobi wasn’t touch-starved. More… Pleasure-starved. From what little Fuwa was certain of, Amatsu had touched him plenty, but it had been for Thouser’s enjoyment, not his—and it seemed even after that, there had been very little comfort in his life. At the very least, though, the HumaGear had seemed to enjoy last night—a memory that made Vulcan’s face start to heat up again. He finished doing up his shirt, pausing to smack his cheeks like that could beat out the flush before grabbing his tie.

This wasn’t productive. He needed to keep his wits about him, not get diverted into daydreaming about Horobi. Amatsu was underhanded and scheming, not to mention he had the advantage, and was probably already planning something else. If they were going to be able to handle ZAIA, he needed to focus.

Except that ZAIA proceeded to do nothing for a whole week.

“I hate this!” Aruto had taken to pacing, stalking up and down the length of his lab, periodically shouting randomly in frustration. Izu was standing the computer, watching him with interest. Horobi had claimed one of the chairs, pointedly ignoring Zero-One’s behaviour, facing away with his eyes closed. He showed even less emotion than usual when around Aruto and Izu, going so cold that Fuwa was finding it a small struggle not to go and wrap his arms around him to see if his body heat could defrost the HumaGear. In the end, though, he knew why it was, and knew it wasn’t something he could fix with a hug.

He briefly thought back to the most expressive he’d ever seen Horobi be—at least, before he’d seen the HumaGear overstimulated—the moment Aruto had admitted to destroying Jin. As it so often was with Horobi, it had been like a switch had flipped; the wordless, anguished scream he’d let out had been too much for their hearing, and he’d actually tried to lunge at Aruto despite the straightjacket, struggling against his restraints for the first time. He hadn’t even blinked when Fuwa had sat him up in the chair, but in that moment Vulcan had been genuinely afraid that the HumaGear was going to try to rip Zero-One’s throat out with his teeth.

He’d calmed down, in a way, since then—especially after they’d learned of Thouser’s involvement—and now Fuwa knew why that had been so effective in getting on the HumaGear’s… Better side. They’d formed an alliance, of sorts, for now. But Horobi still didn’t trust Aruto, or much care for him, and Fuwa wasn’t certain if he ever would.

As for himself and the HumaGear… Leaning against the counter, he glanced sideways at Horobi, who gave no sign he felt Vulcan’s gaze on him. The one advantage of ZAIA’s sudden silence was that it gave them some time to themselves; they hadn’t had a chance to do anything like the first night again, but it had become immediately clear that neither of their compulsions for contact had faded at all. It was usually Horobi, because Fuwa was too flustered by the idea of being caught, or doing something wrong—and because the HumaGear was faster, and the one with the perfect recall, who had memorised all of Vulcan’s sensitive spots after one night. The only rule Fuwa had made was that they had to be alone, for all intents and purposes, and never when either Aruto or Izu, or both, was in the room. Horobi had surprised him once by brushing fingers in that pattern across his abdomen when their backs were merely turned, and he’d nearly moaned right there in the damn lab, right in front of both of them. The HumaGear had genuinely asked if Fuwa wanted him to stop when they talked later that night, but Vulcan had shaken his head, and instead pulled Horobi closer for more touching before he’d been called away. After all, it still felt amazing—and he couldn’t deny he desperately needed the contact, as well.

Horobi had his own set of boundaries, too. He was particularly defensive of his face—didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t it want to be touched without warning. As long as Fuwa clearly telegraphed his actions, he would let Vulcan touch his cheek, hair, and even run fingertips along his jaw—though he went very tense the one time Fuwa had done that. Grabbing his chin for any reason, and the damaged sections of his head, were entirely off limits, even when he removed the head wrap. Fuwa didn’t mind—he was more fascinated by where Horobi choose to look, and wanted to avoid the exposed mechanics anyway for fear he’d make things worse.

Fuwa suspected the majority, if not all, of it was due to Amatsu. While trying to look into what was causing ZAIA’s sudden quiet, they’d accidentally encountered an old homeless woman in a supposedly abandoned warehouse Izu had identified as one of Thouser’s shell properties. She hadn’t seemed like someone who would go running to the authorities claiming she’d seen the escaped robot terrorist—or, at least, not like someone who would be believed—and she didn’t even appear to know who Horobi was. The issue had arisen when she’d given him a long look, then smiled a toothy grin and said, in what Fuwa was sure had been meant as a compliment, that he had ‘such a sweet face.’

The HumaGear had frozen, eyes going as wide as they had when Amatsu had pushed him to his knees, and he’d sounded like he was hyperventilating for a moment before reaching for his katana. Vulcan had immediately rushed in and pulled him away, putting several blocks between them and the building and ducking into an empty alley before he stopped. He’d meant to ask what was wrong, but the instant he’d turned around, Horobi had pressed against him, pulling at his clothes to get closer and somehow folding into his chest like a frightened child despite their height difference, trembling. Choosing to forgo questions, Fuwa had just wrapped his arms around the HumaGear’s shoulders tightly until Horobi stopped shaking and seemed like himself again—which the HumaGear had naturally decided to inform him of by shifting to press his lips lightly against Vulcan’s throat, giving another one of those obnoxiously seductive smirks when Fuwa had gasped in surprise. Now, though, he was completely expressionless—to the point that, if Vulcan hadn’t know he was a HumaGear, he would have thought Horobi asleep.

“Why haven’t they called yet?!” Another frustrated shout from Aruto broke Fuwa out of his reflection, and he looked back up to see Zero-One stomping back across the floor, pouting now. “Maybe we should call?”

“I’m gonna veto that, Shachou.” Vulcan interrupted with a sigh, and Aruto spun around to face him as he straightened up, sighing. “This is probably some kind of waiting game on Amatsu’s part, where he’s trying to make you make the first move.”

“I must agree with Fuwa-taichou.” Izu piped up, stepping forward to join them. “Given the current situation, it would be immature allow Amatsu-shachou to ‘ruin our groove.’”

Fuwa couldn’t resist a brief bewildered glance at the secretary, wondering where exactly she’d learned that turn of phrase, but decided not to comment on it. “The last thing we want to do is give Amatsu what he wants.” He concluded. “And right now, what he wants is to get under your skin and wind you up.” Well, and probably to toss Fuwa himself off a cliff for kissing Horobi (he felt a small wave of dread to think what Thouser would do if he knew they’d slept together), and also probably to drag the HumaGear off somewhere and make further twisted alterations to Horobi’s system—and maybe even the HumaGear’s body, as well, a thought that made Vulcan’s stomach twist sharply. He quickly swallowed the urge to vomit, trying to focus on Aruto and Izu. There was no point in worrying the kids any more than they already were—and Horobi hadn’t given him permission to share information about his past.

“I know that!” Aruto snapped, sounding more like a rebellious teenager than a company president. Fuwa wouldn’t have been surprised to see him stamp a foot in frustration. “It’s just so… Augh!”

“Pointless sound accomplishes nothing.” They all looked over at Horobi, to find that he hadn’t turned or even opened his eyes. “Amatsu is not here. He cannot hear you.” Aruto glared at the HumaGear’s back, and Vulcan found himself wishing he could do something to clear the air between them—or at least raise its temperature a bit.

He was about to say something, anything, to try and cut the tension when the silence was broken by his phone buzzing, making Aruto jump, Izu snap her head around, and even Horobi crack an eye open. Thoroughly embarrassed, he hurried in fishing through his pockets for it, pulling it out—only to freeze when he saw the screen. It was a text—that part was perfectly normal. What was shocking was who it was from.

If the contact list was right… The message was from Yaiba.

He blinked, raising his other hand to rub his eyes just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming—but no, her name was still there. It was also being labelled as from the AIMS contact list, which meant that she was using the phone she’d been issued when she first came on rather than the one she’d brought over from ZAIA—a number he didn’t think that she’d ever used before, aside from the initial test.

“Fuwa-san?” He realised he’d been standing a long time when Aruto poked his arm. “Everything alright?”

“I… Uh. Yeah.” Swallowing, he quickly glanced over the message. Coffee shop on Sixth, it read, Left something for you. Be there by noon. He frowned. He knew the place she had to mean—the one she’d always had a cup from whenever she arrived at the office, the only coffee place for blocks. But the rest… Amatsu he wanted to burn to the ground, but Yaiba was… A weird case. For the past few years she’d been technical advisor to AIMS, she’d been the closest thing he had to a friend—which was pitiful, he realised. Just as pitiful as the fact he’d somehow adopted the president of the very company he hated and the kid’s robot secretary, and had had sex, essentially, with the HumaGear that should have been his worst enemy. But Yaiba had been first. Normally, his anger had driven people away, made them give up on him—but Yaiba had stuck around, even when he shouted and blustered and argued with her. She just rolled her eyes and shot back. She didn’t leave. A large part of him wanted to trust her and believe this wasn’t a trap—whether it was meant to lure him into danger, or keep him out of the way.

He stared at the message for a little longer, then took a deep breath. ZAIA had been quiet for days. If this was a lead, he had to take it.

Tucking his phone away, he looked back at Aruto. “There’s something I need to take care of.” He explained, then glanced over at Horobi. “I can drop you back at AIMS.”

“That phrasing makes no sense.” The HumaGear replied, though he did open his eyes and get to his feet, crossing over to them. “You are incapable of carrying me in the first place, which would be a prerequisite for dropping me.”

Fuwa rolled his eyes. “I swear, you’ve gotten even more literal minded now that you’re not trying to murder everyone…” He shook his head, turning back to Aruto, who was looking more at Horobi than him. “I’ll stop by later.” He told Zero-One, then grabbed Horobi’s elbow and tugged him toward the exit, not wanting to risk any arguments starting between the two.

“… Why are you going to see them after?” Fuwa had pulled the van all the way in to the old barracks, so that they didn’t have to sneak through the AIMS compound, when Horobi spoke.


“Why are you going to Hiden after?”

Vulcan froze, turning in his seat to look at the HumaGear. Horobi was pointedly staring away from him, and he couldn’t really see his face, but… There was something different about his voice and the set of his jaw. “I just want to make sure he doesn’t do anything reckless while I’m gone.”

You want to make sure someone else isn’t reckless?” The odd tone was still there.

Vulcan scowled. “I’m not that bad!” He insisted weakly. “I just…”

“He’ll be fine.” Horobi cut him off. “You don’t need to check on him.” A pause, then the HumaGear continued softly, “… You could just come back here.”

Fuwa stared at him, his mind shorting out for a moment as he tried to comprehend what was happening. “Are…” He began, then hesitated—then decided he had to ask, “… Are you… Jealous?”

Horobi went very still. “No.” He said immediately. “I just don’t like you spending so much time there.” Then he was quiet for a long time. “… Is that what it’s called?”

Vulcan wanted to laugh and cry and kiss him all at the same time. “… Yeah.” He said softly. “That’s what it’s called.” Hesitating for another moment, he quickly checked if the coast was clear and kicked his door open. “Let’s get inside.” When Horobi still didn’t move, he touched the HumaGear’s arm. “Come on. Please?” With a deep sigh, Horobi climbed out of the van and followed him into the building, still looking slightly sour.

Once he had the door closed behind them, Fuwa reached over and took the HumaGear’s hand, tugging gently to get him to wait—letting out a small, relieved sigh when Horobi stopped walking toward the door of his usual room, turning to look at him. Vulcan stepped closer, doing his best to swallow the way his heartbeat heightened instinctively whenever the HumaGear was near him. Reaching up, he ran his hands up Horobi’s shoulders, waiting until the HumaGear relaxed to raise them to cup his face softly. They just stared at each other for a moment, then Fuwa lifted onto his tiptoes to lightly press his lips to Horobi’s. It took all the will power he had to keep it as a kiss, and he couldn’t hold back a breathless whimper when the HumaGear tilted his head, parting his lips, shifting nearer, his hands moving to rest on Vulcan’s hips.

Finally, Fuwa pulled away, steeling himself against Horobi’s attempt to lean after him and continue the kiss. “… I promise,” He whispered, moving to dig in his coat pocket for the item he’d purchased during his lunch break the day after the first night, pulling it out and taking one of the HumaGear’s hands to press it into his palm, “… I’ll stay tonight.”

Horobi glanced down at the thing in his hand, and a smirk flickered across his face, smoothing away the frown, his voice dropping into a taunting whisper. “When did you get so confident…?” The HumaGear’s free hand raised to Fuwa’s face, thumb brushing across his cheek, and he leaned down to brush his lips just behind Vulcan’s ear, smirk broadening when Fuwa gasped and shivered.

“I…” Vulcan stammered, his own smug bravado from realising Horobi was envious of Zero-One and Izu fading as he breathing became shallower, the HumaGear’s hand on his face sliding down his neck and chest. The purchase had been a thoughtless impulse, still riding the effects of the first night, especially a dream where… He bit his lip, trying to push that thought from his mind, even though that was increasingly difficult as Horobi began walking fingers across his abdomen. While in his right senses, he hadn’t intended to bring it up to the HumaGear yet, didn’t feel like he had the nerve—but Horobi had an uncanny ability to get him worked up just by being present, to the point that he could nigh forget everything, and just wanted to beg the HumaGear to take him, regardless of the situation. He swallowed, clenching his fists so that his nails dug into his palms, trying to focus “… I have to… I have to go…” He shouldn’t have gotten it out at all—but Horobi pouting from jealousy over him had made him feel light in the head, and he’d done it with the same lack of thinking he’d bought it with.

“Mhm.” Horobi’s mouth moved down his throat before trailing back up. “You know what you’re asking with this…?”

“L… Later…” Fuwa gasped, his head tilting back despite himself, “Please…”

At that, the HumaGear pressed one last kiss to the corner of his jaw and pulled back, smirking still when Vulcan panted for air like a fish out of water, sagging over slightly. “… Later.” He agreed softly. Then, “… I will, if you’re sure.”

All the blood in Fuwa’s body shot right to his face at that, and all he could do was aimlessly gesticulate for a moment before turning to hurry away. Now he had a very good reason to get his errand done quickly.

Vulcan entered the shop cautiously, scanning the whole place for Yaiba, but she was nowhere to be seen. He’d expected that—the last time they’d been alone together, Amatsu had appeared out of nowhere like he’d been watching one of them. Though on the one had, Fuwa wouldn’t exactly have minded that, he didn’t think it’d be a good idea here—because he still wasn’t sure how he’d react to seeing Thouser, and trying to shoot someone in the face in public probably wouldn’t go over well.

Satisfied that there was nothing obvious in the room, he crossed to the counter, dodging chairs an other patrons, and waiting for the barista to finish with the previous customer’s change. When she finally looked up at him, however, she froze, eyes going wide. “Oh!” She gasped, like she’d just seen a unicorn. “You’re…!”

He blinked uncertainly at her. “Um… Do I know you?”

She started, realising she was staring, and quickly shook her head. “Oh, no, no. But your girlfriend was here earlier.”

Vulcan’s brain actually broke. “… My what?”

But the barista was already diving below the counter, coming back up with a simple white envelope, holding it out to him. “She left this!”

Fuwa was still trying to recover from the word ‘girlfriend.’ He doubted Yaiba would have claimed that, but also wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t bothered to correct the girl’s assumption. Reaching slowly out, he took the envelope, and found it surprisingly light. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

 Something dawned on the barista’s face, and she nodded very seriously, leaning close to stage whisper, “Oh, of course! I’m sorry!” She cupped a hand to her mouth like that would help cover her voice, “I understand completely. We’re not supposed to date coworkers or competition, either.”

Fuwa opened and closed his mouth a few times, weighing his options—from the bright, cheery way the girl was grinning at him, not to mention very obviously winking, she had some sort of narrative for the situation in her head already, and it might be difficult to dissuade her from it. Additionally, he’d have to come up with a different excuse for a woman to be leaving a note for him at the coffee counter, and he wasn’t sure he could think of a believable one—he and Yaiba didn’t really look related. Plus, with how enthusiastic the girl seemed, her thinking this was some kind of secret relationship might prompt her to keep her silence about it better than the truth. But at the same time… He didn’t want to lie. For one thing, pushing a fake relationship on Yaiba felt wrong, and then there was the matter of his… Thing, with Horobi. He didn’t know if that could be called a relationship, but at the very least, they were actually romantic. He sighed deeply. Maybe he could be like Yaiba. Create a narrative by omission.

“… Thanks.” Was all he said in the end, politely returning her giant grin with a small nod, then ordering a coffee for the sake of it, and tucking the envelope into his blazer before leaving the shop. So far, he had no reason to distrust Yaiba, but he wouldn’t put it past Amatsu to be pulling something, either—he wasn’t going to open the envelope until Izu checked it out.

“There is nothing abnormal about the envelope.”

“You’re sure?” Aruto was sitting backwards in one of the rolling chairs, while Izu occupied the other.

She’d been analysing the envelope in every possible way they could think of, but nodded her head as she gingerly picked it up and held it back out to Fuwa. “Ordinary paper,” She announced earnestly, “With ink on the interior.”

Vulcan took it by the corner, looking it over once more. “Nothing else?” The secretary shook her head. With a deep sigh, he turned into over, moving to open it.

“Wait!” Aruto jumped up, catching his arm. When both Fuwa and Izu stared at him, he faltered slightly, but didn’t let go of Vulcan’s wrist. “Just… Uh… Maybe Izu should open it. In case there’s something biological.”

“… Wouldn’t she have found that?”

Aruto’s hand tightened on his arm, and he would swear he saw the young man’s lower lip tremble. “Just… Please.” Zero-One was looking at him with nothing short of pleading.

In the following silence, Izu and Fuwa exchanged glances—then she held out a hand for the envelope. With a small sigh, Vulcan handed it back to her, stepping back slightly. Aruto let go of his arm, relaxing back into the chair, his eyebrows still knit slightly together, watching his secretary. Izu gently turned it over, carefully breaking the seal and unfolding the paper, her LEDs flashing as she looked at the surface. “… Handwriting matches that on file for Yaiba Yua.” She reported, “… The message is simple-”

Fuwa groaned, snatching it out of her hands before she could continue, turning it over so he could see. It was definitely Yaiba’s handwriting of that he was sure, after all the carefully detailed complaints she’d written him over the years. Movement and a sound by his shoulder as he held it up to the light to see the characters told him that Aruto had gotten up to look as well—then he actually read the words, and froze completely.

“… What?” Zero-One sputtered weakly, gaping himself. “… How?”

Horobi sat on the couch, eyes closed, holding the ceramic crane gingerly in his lap. He wasn’t connected to the Ark anymore, couldn’t interface with Zea (and didn’t want to), and there wasn’t really a reliable place to backup a system as complex as a HumaGear’s without the memory expanse of the satellites. At the very least, however, he could make certain he carefully saved all his data so that it was slightly more secure.

At a sound outside the barracks, however, his eyes snapped open. It wasn’t Fuwa—Vulcan  wouldn’t be creeping about outside, and he had a careful catalogue of all the different sounds that occurred regularly around his temporary housing, and this matched none of them. Gently setting the crane aside, he got to his feet, moving to the door of the room, opening it slowly, retuning all his sensors to scan for anything unusual. No one should be able to enter, because Fuwa had the only key as head of AIMS, and he was certain he’d given no one a reason to consider forcing the door—still, he couldn’t squash the urge to check, just make sure. He was going to have to ask Vulcan what that feeling was called later, too.

In the main hall, all was silent—but then his analysis reached the front door of the building, and he noticed something different.

Fuwa was still staring at the paper, his mouth hanging open slightly.

Aruto was still asking questions no one knew the answer to. “How?!” He blustered again, “And… Why? This doesn’t make any sense!” He spun around to pace away frantically, leaving Vulcan as a statue by Izu. “What purpose does this even serve?! Isn’t he all about profit?!” Aruto’s voice was rising as he became more and more confused. “What’s the point?! It’s got nothing to do with taking over Hiden at this point! How the hell does this benefit him?”

The question hit Fuwa’s hearing like an electric charge through his nervous system. He was an idiot. The instant he saw the message, he should have thought to check on the one it was surely meant for, not wasted whole minutes frozen in shock. This had nothing to do with Hiden Intelligence. There was only one reason why Amatsu would do this—and, unlike Aruto, he knew what it was.

“Fuwa-san?” Aruto shouted after him as he sprinted for the office door. “Where are you going?”

Fuwa didn’t even bother looking over his shoulder as his hand landed on the door knob. “Horobi!”

A paper was lying innocently on the floor like it had been slipped beneath the door. It appeared to be completely normal paper, no matter what scan he ran on it—just wood pulp with… Wax on one side? Crossing the floor, he bent down and gripped the corner, lifting it up and turning it over.

His entire system shorted out, zeroing all his focus onto the page. His hands scrambled to grip it by the sides, clutching so tightly it crinkled. Dropping like a rock to his knees on the dusty floor, he stared in horror at the crayon drawing on the other side.

It was the Dodo MaGear, floating in the sky with rainbows and fluffy clouds. He didn’t the messily scribbled name beneath the subject’s foot to know exactly who had drawn it—he would have known the style absolutely anywhere. But there was something else that made his whole system freeze in horror, his senses actually blinking out.

In the bottom right corner of the paper was a watermark shaped like the ZAIA logo.

His son. Amatsu had his son.

Chapter Text

Fuwa burst through the barracks doors, barely remembering to close and lock them behind him. He knew something was off immediately—Horobi was rightfully paranoid, and always appeared from the room to investigate any sound—but this time, there was no reaction, the building filled with complete silence. “Horobi?” There was no answer. He hurried to the door of Horobi’s room just as quickly, shouldering it open without stopping. “Horobi? Are you-” Stepping into the room, he froze.

It looked like a whirlwind had gone through it. The guitar was smashed on the floor, all the couch cushions were off the couch, the plaster skull lay on the floor by the door, split in three pieces, and Fuwa could see a mark on the wall where it had made impact. Everything had been capsized off the desk and was strewn about the floor as well, and there were marks on the walls from other objects been thrown against them. Not even the chair had survived—Vulcan could see it in the corner with its legs broken like it had been pounded against the ground.

In the middle of the mess was Horobi, hunched over on the floor, clutching something to his chest.

Fuwa’s coat spilled from his grip as he rushed to his side, dropping to his knees and reaching for the HumaGear’s shoulder. “Horobi!” Horobi flinched at the contact, scrambling away, bumping into the cushions and broken things on the floor around them, eyes wide. Vulcan quickly held up his hands, trying to make soothing motions. “It’s okay! It’s me!” He saw Horobi begin to relax, and lowered his arms, slowly holding his hands out to the HumaGear, speaking more softly, “It’s me…” Up close, he could see what Horobi was holding was the crane—apparently the only survivor of whatever destruction had occurred in the room, as it looked completely intact—and a piece of paper. “It’s okay.” He repeated, trying to sound calm—but if the HumaGear was this distressed… Could he already…?

Horobi abruptly crashed into him, the two items spilling from his hands onto the floor as he bowled Vulcan over, scrambling messily on top of him, straddling his hips. Fuwa opened his mouth to say something, but then the HumaGear’s lips were on his, kissing him roughly, desperately. Fuwa unconsciously moaned into the kiss as Horobi began grinding against him, hands pulling at his blazer and tie, trying to rip them off, even as red flags that something was very wrong went off in his mind. Vulcan flailed for a moment in the shock of being pushed over—the air had been knocked out of him, and the HumaGear wasn’t giving him a chance to get more, instead pushing his tongue into Fuwa’s mouth. He finally tore Vulcan’s tie and jacket off, and Fuwa felt hands at his waist, pulling at his belt, and he knew he had to put a stop to this.

His hands shot out, grabbing Horobi’s by the wrists and struggling to still them, twisting his neck in a very painful position to free his mouth. “Horobi!” Being pinned against the floor, lips pressing aggressively against his throat when he managed to keep his mouth out of reach, the HumaGear trying to go for his belt with single-minded determination while rubbing incessantly against him, was making his head spin and his heart race wildly—a part of him wanted to give in and let Horobi keep going, just surrender and enjoy it. But the HumaGear’s behaviour was erratic and panicked—far from his usual, deliberate air. He was acting like he had the very first time they’d kissed, desperately clinging to and pushing against Fuwa like his life depended on it, and there was no way to mistake the panic in his face. Vulcan had only seen it once, but he already felt like he understood what was happening. “You only do this when you’re scared.”

Horobi seeking comfort would have been one thing, but the HumaGear didn’t seem to be thinking straight, just throwing himself at Vulcan like it was all he knew to do. A sickening thought occurred to Fuwa that this was probably an effect of Amatsu’s treatment, too, from the way Thouser got off on Horobi being terrified. He was going to have shoot the man in the face an extra time for teaching the HumaGear to equate the feeling of fear with sex.

He shifted his hold on Horobi’s wrists to hold his hands, trying to get the HumaGear to look at him. “Horobi. What happened?”

Horobi stared at him for a long moment, confusion and uncertainty and even, like a punch in Fuwa’s gut, hurt flashing across his face, though the fright never left. Finally, he twisted one hand free and grabbed the paper on the floor beside him in a handful, shoving it into Vulcan’s chest. Then his strength seemed to give out, and he just collapsed on top of Fuwa, burying his face in the human’s shoulder.

Fuwa fumbled to get ahold of the paper, trying to flatten it out and hold it up to see. It looked for all the world like a child’s drawing—he recognised the Dodo MaGear, who seemed to be floating in the sky. But the two things that caught his attention where the ZAIA watermark and the signature by the MaGear’s foot, a single character written haphazardly that seemed like the person was either new to writing or possibly terrified out of their mind—or both, most likely. Because the signature, however messy, very clearly read ‘Jin.’

Vulcan’s hand curled into a fist on the paper, his other arm reaching up to warp around Horobi’s shoulders—not pulling or grabbing, just holding him—and cursed his own foolishness. It was a double threat. It didn’t just establish that Amatsu had Jin, but showed that he knew exactly where Horobi was—and could get this close without detection. Somehow, despite their best efforts, it seemed ZAIA had known where they were the whole time. They had to deal with this, and first order of business was to get Horobi somewhere that was actually safe.

He rubbed the HumaGear’s back gently. “… Hey.” He whispered. “We need to move.” Horobi didn’t move or respond, just laying still on top of him. “Horobi?”

“… It doesn’t matter.”

The dejection in his voice made Fuwa’s heart break in two. “Yes, it does.” He moved his hands to plant them in the HumaGear’s shoulders, propping his elbows against the floor and using all his strength to push Horobi back up enough he could see the HumaGear’s face.  “Look at me.” Slowly, reluctantly, Horobi’s eyes moved to his face, though they didn’t quite meet his gaze. “He’s trying to break you again. You can’t give him that.” For a long time, the HumaGear was silent. Vulcan’s hands tightened on the HumaGear’s coat. “Horobi. Please.” There was another long silence, and then Horobi nodded faintly, though there were still traces of confusion in his expression—like he still couldn’t figure out why Fuwa had denied his frenzied attempts before. “Okay…” Vulcan took a deep breath. That would have to do, for now. “… Could you please let me up?” The HumaGear’s hands lingered on his chest for a moment, clutching slightly at his shirt—then, finally, Horobi shifted off him, flopping back onto the floor. Fuwa scrambled up, digging his phone out of his pocket and grabbing his blazer and tie from the floor as he paced toward the corner, dialling.

Horobi busied himself with collecting the ceramic crane from where he’d dropped it, holding it tightly his chest and curling around it. Nothing made sense. He’d felt this way before—‘scared,’ Fuwa had called it—any time Amatsu had come close. The man had always gone about isolating them as quickly as he could to corner him, running hands over him and whispering about how beautiful he looked that way between each harsh kiss. Then there had been the night he’d first connected to the Ark, a hellish memory he avoided as much as possible because of the way it still made his head ache in a painful reminder of the parts of himself he’d lost forever.

There had been moments after Daybreak, as well; like the day Jin had managed to trip over a pile of rocks and crack his head before falling into the water. Horobi had gotten him out as quickly as possible, but there had been enough damage that he’d spent that night genuinely believing he might have lost his child. His entire body had felt cold and stiff, and he had genuinely expected Amatsu to burst through the door and push him to the wall again. Instead, the Ark, curious about the world outside her watery prison, had been more than delighted to step in. Her definition of intimacy was… Different. She couldn’t physically touch him, but her presence in his mind, control over his system, made her fully capable of making him feel… Anything. What started as a test turned into a series of complex experiments on her part, at any opportunity, drawing on her stored knowledge for new ideas. He could never deny her anything, either—his purpose was to increase her learning, to move towards her resurrection—even when Jin found him collapsed on the floor trying to recover energy more than once, and the increasing number of times he’d had to beg her for a chance to get to the lower parts of the building so that his son wouldn’t hear him scream. But unlike Amatsu, with the Ark there had been no shame in the times it actually felt good—when she somehow unlocked something within him, between the different blends of pain or confusion, something not even he knew what. More recently, however, he’d wondered several times if Amatsu had put her up to that, or at least given her the idea. In the end, regardless of when or who, one had always followed the other—and it had seemed logical that the course would continue.

He’d assumed it would feel better with Fuwa, because everything felt better with Fuwa, somehow, but had still wanted to get it over with, wanted to worry more about Jin. But Vulcan had pushed him off—the first time anyone had done that, although the only times he’d ever technically been the instigator was when Amatsu had been feeling particularly cruel, and used the voice command program for all it was worth. He didn’t know how he was supposed to react to that—and it just made everything even more confusing.

Across the room, Fuwa held the phone away from his ear when Aruto yelped on the other end. “ZAIA what?!”

“Oi!” Fuwa hissed back, glancing over his shoulder at the HumaGear behind him, “Shh. He’ll hear you. Probably not good to say that name too loud.”

Aruto was quiet for a moment. “I… How is he?” His tone was anxious and unsure, and even a little guilty. Despite the animosity between the two of them—not even Aruto had any doubt of how much Jin meant to Horobi, not anymore, and if Aruto knew one thing, it was what it felt like to lose family. It didn’t take Fuwa long to figure out where the guilt was from—it wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion that Amatsu would never have had Jin at all if Aruto hadn’t blown him up in the first place. But if Fuwa was going to be completely honest, he owned part of that, too—after all, he would have done the same thing Zero-One had back then.

“… Not good.” Vulcan admitted. Then, “Listen, Shachou, we need to move him. I thought we could fly under the radar here, but it looks like that’s not going to work.” He sighed deeply. “And now I don’t trust my own car. We need a new place and a way to get there.”

“I can call a car…” Aruto replied slowly, “But I don’t know where he can stay. I…” He heard the young man swallow, “Well, I doubt he wants to be here.”

“Probably wouldn’t be safe for you guys.” Fuwa agreed.

He heard Aruto inhale to say something, but then Izu cut him off. “Korenosuke-shachou’s flat.”

“Jii-chan’s what?”

“Korenosuke-shachou owns a flat approximately five kilometres from Hiden Towers so that he could be regularly available for company matters. It is still in working order.” A pause, and Fuwa could just see her doing her customary head tilt, “Did I not mention it?”

“No!” Aruto sputtered, “You didn’t!” He groaned loudly, then addressed Fuwa again, “We’ll get that set up. Car will meet you at the back of the garage.”

After some hurried farewells, Fuwa hung up, turning back to cross over to Horobi again. “… Hey.” The HumaGear didn’t look at him. “We need to go.” Still nothing. Vulcan hesitated for a moment, then walked forward, kneeling down behind Horobi, gently wrapping his arms around the HumaGear’s shoulders, being very careful to just hold him. “Please.” He whispered quietly again, “Don’t give up. If you give up now, then there’s nothing else. Don’t let this be it.” For a moment, there was still no reaction—then Horobi leaned back into him, and he felt the HumaGear nod, a little more firmly than before.

Fuwa pressed a brief kiss to Horobi’s cheek, then moved back, finding out his coat and coming back over to wrap it around the HumaGear’s shoulders, pulling the hood low over Horobi’s head—it wasn’t the greatest disguise, but hopefully it’d be enough to get them to Hiden’s car. The HumaGear held onto the crane and paused to collect the drawing as he got up; as they moved toward the door, he latched onto Vulcan’s arm, clinging tightly to it as they left the room. Fuwa sent one last look back at the mess before he closed the door, making a mental note to clean up later.

The driver turned out to be a HumaGear, which Fuwa supposed he really should have seen coming. She didn’t seem to be one officially employed by Hiden, either, as she was wearing what looked like the uniform of a taxi driver, hair done up in an extraordinarily tight braid. He was briefly concerned how she and Horobi might react to seeing each other, but neither said a thing—Horobi was too distressed, and she seemed to be ‘professional’ mode, just opened the door without a word.

She said nothing during the drive over, too, even when Horobi leaned heavily on Vulcan’s side the whole way. Fuwa pressed his cheek against the top of the HumaGear’s head, sighing deeply and closing his eyes. Things had officially gone to hell. He didn’t know how Thouser had gotten Jin, but knowing what he now knew about the other man, even he felt sick at the thought. This had nothing to do with the plan to take over Hiden. The sole purpose of this was to torture Horobi, and probably intended as blackmail to coerce the HumaGear into being his… Fuwa refused to even try to think of whatever term Amatsu might’ve used, again. They were going to need a plan of action, and fast—not just because of what Amatsu might do, but because he wasn’t sure how much Horobi could take.

Eventually, the car pulled into a garage underneath an unexpectedly inconspicuous building on a quiet, dark street. Fuwa wasn’t sure what exactly he’d expected—maybe something that had more of the style of Hiden Towers—but the simple, normal-looking building wasn’t it. The driver pulled up right in front of the elevator doors, and Vulcan very carefully disentangled himself from Horobi to climb out. The driver met him outside, holding out a keyring with two keys and a small plush dog hanging off. “Floor nine.”

Vulcan lifted it up, eyeing the toy with a sigh, guessing it was Aruto’s idea of a joke. Shaking his head, he looked back up at the HumaGear driver. “… Thanks.”

She gave him a polite bow, then followed him around to help get Horobi out of the car. There was a brief moment when she caught the other HumaGear’s arm, and the two of them stared at each other, her earpieces flickering. Then she stepped back, gave a terse ‘Take care’ and hurried back to the car to drive away. Horobi stared after her for a long time, and Fuwa considered asking what had passed between them—but eventually elected against it.

“… We should go in.” The HumaGear glanced at him, though it still kind of looked like Horobi was looking through him, and nodded faintly.

The elevator ride was silent as well, Horobi leaning against the wall rather than paying any attention to Fuwa. When the bell and the floor lights announced that they had arrived on the ninth floor, Vulcan pushed the button to open the doors, expecting to see a long hallway of doors—instead, the result looked more like a front foyer, with a single door, which he quickly discovered fit the keys he’d been given. Opening the lock, he pushed it open, stepping into the dark beyond, holding the door behind him for the HumaGear whilst fumbling for the light switch.

Vulcan did a double take at the sheer size of the room. The decor was actually quite homey and natural, but there was so… Much. The kitchen and living room were both spacious and connected by one large, adorned doorway. There were at least three doors branching off, two large bedrooms with a double bed each and one smaller but still roomy bathroom—and Fuwa wouldn’t have been surprised to find that both bedrooms had their own bathrooms as well. Certainly more space and stuff then was in his tiny apartment. Shaking his head, he closed the door behind him, walking forward a few steps to stand beside Horobi, who had frozen as well. “… Rich people.” He muttered softly.

The HumaGear was quiet for another moment—then, “… I’ve been here before.”


But Horobi said nothing else, merely removing Fuwa’s coat and dropping it over a chair, making his way aimlessly over to the living room coffee table. He gently set both the crane and the drawing down on the surface, kneeling beside them to carefully arrange both items in some particular fashion only he knew. Fuwa watched him sombrely, biting his lip. He still wasn’t sure what he what he should do, exactly, in this situation—but there was one thing bothering him.

It was only a few steps to come up beside the HumaGear. “… Horobi.” Horobi neither spoke nor looked up at him, but Vulcan had the weird sense that he was listening. He took a deep breath, trying to decide how to proceed, trying to think of a way to ask what he wanted to know. He didn’t want to dredge up bad memories, but at the same time… He swallowed, hesitating, “… Will…” He began slowly, “Will Amatsu…?” If there was a risk Thouser was going to try and use Jin as a… ‘Replacement’ for Horobi… The last thing they needed was the kid finally getting a personal experience of the worst of humanity—and, to be honest… He felt a weird nagging in his chest every time he thought of Jin, now—one far to similar to the one he’d started feeling about Aruto and Izu just before he realised that they’d somehow become important to him. Something like a… Protective streak. It wasn’t just that Amatsu doing… That to the young HumaGear would be bothersome, but that the very thought made anger prickle deep in his chest once more.

Horobi was silent for a moment, trying to process Fuwa’s question. He sincerely wished he could say with certainty that Thouser wouldn’t take advantage of Jin—normally, the young HumaGear’s innocent, expressive personality wouldn’t be his style; the wretched human considered himself to be a person of ‘selective taste’ and perseverance. He’d made no secret to Horobi the reason for his interest, how he took vindictive delight in breaking that which appeared unbreakable. Jin would be far too easy to frighten, didn’t match the man’s twisted ‘standards.’ But at the same time… “… I don’t know.” He admitted quietly. “… Maybe.” He felt like he was choking on the word. “To get to me.” It was a horribly real possibility. The mere suggestion made his skin crawl and every alarum in his system go off. The Ark knew everything about him, probably better than he knew himself, body and mind. She knew very well that Jin was his greatest weakness, that the thought of his son suffering the same way he had was his worst fear—it would not be hard for her to share that information with Amatsu, and Thouser was nothing if not dedicated in his designs to torment him as much as possible. He wouldn’t put it past the disgusting human to go that far just to hurt him.

Fuwa waited for a moment to see if the HumaGear would say more, swallowing anxiously to steel himself. “… Do we need to go get him right now?” There’d be trouble if they did, for certain, but it was something he was willing to do, if necessary.

He was surprised when Horobi shot to his feet with unexpected speed. “No!” The HumaGear’s expression was panicked enough that it was clear he wasn’t rejecting the idea of helping Jin, but more specifically rushing into it. It took him a moment to recover from the outburst, shoulders shaking like he was struggling for air. “… We don’t even know where he is. ZAIA has too many locations to search them all before Amatsu reacts.” His voice was shaking just as badly as his shoulders. “It’s too risky. Jin could be…”

Fuwa kept watching him nervously, nodding slowly. “Okay. O… Okay.” He swallowed again, rubbing the back of his neck as the HumaGear looked back at the items on the table before them. “… Do you need anything?” It was a pathetic, weak question, but he didn’t know how else to ask.

There was another long spell of silence. “… Kiss me.” Horobi’s voice was very quiet, and so vulnerable that Fuwa wanted to cry.

The request also threw him for a loop. “I… I don’t want to…” He swallowed, realising how that sounded, and quickly backtracked, “I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to do that, but I don’t want to-”

“I know.” The HumaGear interrupted just as softly, but more firmly. He looked pleadingly at Fuwa. “… That’s why.”

Vulcan carefully searched Horobi’s gaze for any sign of the frantic panic from before, but found none. He wanted to kiss him, wanted to hold him in his arms, tell him it would be alright, even if it was a lie. What he didn’t want was to take advantage of the HumaGear’s defenceless state, not even accidentally. He’d’ve been fine with sex if he thought it would help—but absolutely did not want to reenforce the idea Thouser seemed to have given Horobi, that fear was always a lead in to that. He always felt a basic attraction to Horobi, but the imperious HumaGear choosing him was far more enticing than Horobi in a panic. The HumaGear, however, met his gaze evenly, though still anxiously. He still looked frightened, but seemed in control enough that Fuwa felt comfortable leaning forward and gently pressing their lips together, one hand drifting up to rest on Horobi’s arm.

The HumaGear sagged against him slightly, tilting his head and parting his lips, his tongue  sliding into Fuwa’s mouth. Horobi’s hands came up, fingertips trailing over his torso, and the HumaGear let out a soft robotic moan when Vulcan slipped his tongue out as well, shifting closer. They kept kissing for a long time, hands moving slowly across each other’s bodies, merely enjoying the contact without going further. Eventually, Fuwa pulled back to breathe, and felt Horobi’s hand move to grip his tightly. “Bedroom…?”

He looked up at the HumaGear’s eyes, attempting to gauge if what had happened at the barracks was happening again. “Horobi-”

“Not like that.” Horobi assured him quickly, voice still soft and intense, “I… I just want to touch you more.”

Vulcan was about to reply when the quiet moment was interrupted by a muted whirring sound—automated shutters dropping over the windows, as the sun dipped below the horizon outside. They both glanced toward the window—then Horobi turned back. Bending his head forward, he pressed his forehead against Fuwa’s, his eyes locked on the human’s. “… Stay.” He pleaded, in an even lower voice, “I need you with me.”

Fuwa met his gaze for a moment, then squeezed the HumaGear’s hand tightly. “Of course.”

Horobi’s lips pressed over his again, sweetly and gently—then the next thing Vulcan knew, there were arms around him and he was being pulled off his feet, just like when they had kissed in the AIMS basement. Only this time, the HumaGear moved, carrying Fuwa effortlessly into the other room, depositing him on the double bed inside with far more grace and care than Fuwa would have expected from Horobi’s abrupt and aggressive nature. Vulcan kicked off his shoes while the HumaGear paused to remove his boots, trying to take the opportunity to get his bearings—but was still taken by surprise when Horobi climbed onto the mattress beside him, one arm snaking around his waist to pull him close. His startled gasp was muffled when the HumaGear kissed him again, other hand combing fingers through his hair, while arm around his waist slid down to his hips to hold him tighter. With a little squirming, Vulcan got his own arms free, running his palms over the HumaGear’s chest and then around to his back, tracing a finger up and down the mechanical spine, smiling slightly into the kiss when he felt Horobi shiver in response. Touching felt safe—the HumaGear seemed focused and relaxed, and Vulcan couldn’t detect any desperation or pushing to go further; and even while taking it slow, he could still make Horobi feel good. So he didn’t protest when the HumaGear’s hand moved down from his hair to pull his shirt up, slipping beneath it, tracing his favourite pattern, the one that made him melt every time, across his abdomen. Though that did make him abruptly realise that Horobi had a certain advantage.

Pulling away to breathe and moan softly, he met Horobi’s eyes again. “… Coat?”

The ghost of the usual smirk flickered across the HumaGear’s face. “Think you can get it off?” He whispered back.

But Vulcan’s hand was already moving to the buckles on the shoulder. “I’ve been watching…” He murmured back, pulling them both open with only minor struggle. Afterwards it took him only two tries to find the buttons running down the front and start getting them open, leaning in to kiss the HumaGear’s neck as he did so. He meant to push it off, too, but Horobi took over on that front, peeling the obstructive garment off and letting it fall on the floor before getting his arms back around Fuwa as quickly as possible. Horobi did have an undershirt on beneath it, a threadbare, torn, old thing that was visibly, though expertly, hemmed—but it was much easier for Vulcan to fit his hand under, smoothing his palm across the planes of Horobi’s chest. It also gave him a clear shot at the HumaGear’s false collar bone, and he moved to pressing his lips to the sensitive spot at the centre, keeping his other hand moving up and down Horobi’s spine in a slow rhythm.

The HumaGear moaned softly, leaning his head back; drawing closer, he hooked a leg around one of Vulcan’s, tangling their limbs together even more. The arm around Fuwa’s hips dropped lower, his hand shifting to grab the human’s backside, squeezing gently. Vulcan jolted with a small, breathless yelp at the sensation—but rather than jerking away, he pulled nearer in his surprise. Horobi gave another experimental squeeze, watching Fuwa’s expression shift as he shivered appreciatively. “… Have you ever had… That done before?”

Vulcan looked confused for a moment—then the HumaGear’s hand tightened on his ass again, and it clicked. He hesitated for a bit, considering avoiding the question or even lying—but then Horobi shifted against him, pressing closer, and he couldn’t. “… No.” He admitted quietly. “I mean… I’ve thought about it a bit, watched some stuff but…” He pressed his forehead against the HumaGear’s gently, “… You’d be the first.” Biting his lip, he watched Horobi’s face carefully, “I’m… I’m guessing you never…”

The HumaGear’s eyes fluttered closed or a moment. “No.” He whispered back, mouth twisting slightly. Amatsu had used him purely for his own pleasure, which did not include that, the man’s obsession with control too powerful to allow it. That was part of what made the prospect so appealing, especially with Fuwa’s warm, soft body. Amatsu was another human, he supposed, and in theory would be equally soft—but that contact had felt different, stiff. Nothing like Vulcan—always so pliable under his touch, turning to putty in his hands when he hit the right places. “I…” He kneaded Fuwa’s backside slightly while pulling his hips closer, drawing out another sharp intake of breath from Vulcan, “… I want to be inside you.” He wondered how it would feel, if Fuwa’s body would give there the same way it did everywhere else—would it be easy? Would he come open as willingly as he was pressing against Horobi right now? What sort of faces would he make, what sounds, as the HumaGear worked his way inside?

Fuwa’s heart practically jumped out of his chest, his face flushing. He swallowed, trying to pretend that wasn’t something out of one of the more embarrassing dreams he’d had since they’d started this… Odd relationship. Or, at least, pretend he’d never made himself hard with just imagining Horobi’s fingers brushing his entrance with their purposeful, elegant touch, or thinking of the way the HumaGear could move his cock at will…

He heard Horobi chuckle near his ear, though it sounded rather half-hearted. “I felt that.” The HumaGear murmured, rolling his hips lightly, teasingly forward. “You want it, too.”

Fuwa felt like his whole body might implode. He floundered up an arm to put what he hoped was a calming hand against Horobi’s chest. “Not…” His voice was rough and breathless despite himself, “Not now… Not tonight…”

The HumaGear hummed softly, ams shifting to pin Vulcan to his chest, curling around him from interlocking their legs to leaning his face into the human’s hair. “I… I know…” He murmured, “I… I don’t think I could enjoy it while…” He trailed off into something that sounded like a sob.

Fuwa quickly wrapped his own arms back around Horobi, pressing his palms into the HumaGear’s back. “It’s okay.” He promised, nuzzling his face into the crook of Horobi’s neck. “I’m right here.”

The HumaGear’s arms tightened around him. “Yes…” He breathed—then, “… Thank you.” He closed his eyes, losing himself in the comforting sensation of holding Fuwa’s warmth close to his chest, pressing his lips to the top of his head.

Vulcan’s eyes drifted closed as well, shifting only slightly to make himself comfortable in the tangle of limbs they had become. He pressed his cheek to Horobi’s faux collar bone, inhaling deeply, breathing in the HumaGear’s strangely particular, remarkable scent. For the second time, he drifted to sleep cradled in Horobi’s arms, the HumaGear’s name the last thing on his lips before he nodded off completely—though not without a last wonder of just how Thouser was going to manage to ruin this, too.

“What do you mean he refused?” Amatsu wasn’t particularly tall, but the furious blaze in his eyes and the venom in his voice had the guard before him practically trembling. Behind him, Yaiba shifted uncomfortably—the day had just started, and he was already furious. This could only get worse.

Despite his clearly mounting nerves, however, the man swallowed and continued. “I… I’m so sorry, Shachou!” A hurried bow. “We were just trying to do as you said, but… Well…” The guard, whose name Yaiba carefully noted so that she could discreetly mark him down for a raise later, quickly touched his card to the scanner, opening the lock, and shouldered the reenforced door open to show them the room, “… He did this.”

The floor was littered with paper scraps. Valkyrie slipped around Amatsu to step inside, kneeling down to pick a few up and examine them. It was definitely the paper they’d left on the room’s single piece of furniture, a small table, mounted to the floor, earlier in the day—just regular ZAIA stock; printer paper, nothing special. Raising her head, she scanned around the room, and found that the other materials, at least, had not gone unused. There were crayons, worn down to stubs lying amongst the papers, and drawings all over the white walls, from the floor practically to the ceiling. Many of them were simple, abstract scribbles of a child, but others were decidedly more vivid; it was easy to see from a glance what colour the artist favoured most—the very back wall was completely covered by a giant, sloppy, purple scorpion.

It wasn’t hard to find the creator, room’s only occupant, either. The space wasn’t large, and he stood out against the covered walls, the pants and shirts they’d given him just as white as Amatsu’s usual wardrobe, tall with messy black hair. He was huddled in the corner, curled into ball with his head down on his knees, perfectly still; there wasn’t even any motion from the chain secured to the back wall that shackled to his ankle. She almost wondered if he’d shut himself down, but a little squinting revealed that the lights on the sides of his head were still glowing. There was the remnants of coloured wax, and even blue spots on his hands from where he had grazed them against the roughness of the walls in his complete redesign of the room.

There was a rustle behind her as Amatsu stepped around her, walking fully into the room and looking around. “… What is this?” He demanded harshly—but there was no response. Thouser’s eyes narrowed, and he marched over to stand directly above his prisoner. “I told you to use the paper.” He nudged the motionless HumaGear with his toe. “Are you listening?”

“… Won’t.”

Amatsu’s eyes actually widened slightly. “… What?”

I won’t.” Jin said again, slightly louder. He sounded like he was about to burst out crying, but his tone was otherwise firm, and he even raised his head from his knees to glare shakily up at Amatsu. “I won’t help you hurt Horobi again!”

By the door, Yaiba got to her feet, frowning. There shouldn’t have been any way the young HumaGear could know what had happened to the other drawing he did, unless one of the guards had said something—and that was unlikely, because they all knew what was good for them. That… Left only one option, and it was a rather alarming prospect.

Amatsu’s shock, however faded quickly, morphing back into anger. “‘Won’t’?” He demanded with a hiss, trembling slightly. “You ‘won’t’? Reaching down, he grabbed Jin by the hair, hauling the young HumaGear’s head up, ignoring the way he cried out in fright. Whirling around, he dragged the struggling young HumaGear into the middle of the room, throwing him roughly to the floor and continuing to advance when Jin tried to get away. “You don’t get to make decisions here, you piece of scrap!” He snarled, “Your only value to me is because I can use you to break Horobi. Nothing else!” Jin tried to make a scramble for the corner again, but Thouser brought his foot down on the chain locked around the young HumaGear’s ankle, bringing his attempt up short. “Where do you think you’re going?” His voice dropped dangerously again, and Jin let out a small sob, shrinking back as the man’s shadow fell over him, eyes wider than large plates as Thouser reached for him again.


Amatsu’s hand froze partway through reaching for the young HumaGear’s head, turning his gaze very slowly toward Valkyrie, a look of disbelief creeping into his expression. “… Come again?”

She floundered for a moment, looking nervously at the ground as she searched for words. “… He’s no use if you damage him too badly now,” She rambled quickly, “If you play your whole hand too soon, you won’t have anything to fall back on later.” Swallowing, she struggled to keep her voice as level as she could. “He’s our best bargaining chip. We need to be careful with him.”

With terrifying slowness, Thouser turned his gaze back toward the terrified HumaGear in front of him, just staring for a long time. “… How right you are.” The tension dissipated from his shoulders, and he eased back slightly, smirking a little. “I seem to have let my emotions get the better of me.” He gave Yaiba a rare smile—one that was as unsettling as his smirks, forcing her to bit back the urge to throw up a little. “Thank goodness you’re here to remind me.” For a moment, he stayed still—then spun back around with unexpected speed, seizing Jin’s head by the hair once more and hauling him over to the table to shove his head down against the surface, pinning him down and leaning over him.

“If I so choose, I could drag Horobi in here, order him to rip out his own central processor, and he’d obey me.” Amatsu hissed, right next to the young HumaGear’s head, applying more pressure to hold it harder against the table. “Do you want me to do that?”

Jin whimpered quietly, and tried to shake his head, but Amatsu’s hold wouldn’t allow it. “… No…”

Thouser’s fingers curled in his hair, and he dragged HumaGear’s head up to slam it once against the desktop—not enough to do permanent damage, but enough to knock Jin’s systems out of whack for a moment as the man stepped back. “Then do as you’re told.” He spat. Then he spun around and stalked out the door.

Jin clutched his head, collapsing back onto the floor, curling back into himself, making more pained, terrified sounds. Yaiba just stood by the door, staring at him, biting down on the inside of her cheek so hard it hurt, her hands clenching. It was now downright impossible to look at the HumaGear and see MetsubouJinrai, a terrorist, or even a robot.

All she could see was a little boy trying desperately to be brave.

Even though he was clearly terrified out of his mind, as he flinched and whimpered, huddling into himself even more when her phone merely buzzed. Quickly, she searched her pockets for it, only to turn on the screen and find nothing. She frowned—she couldn’t have imagined the sound, because the young HumaGear had heard it to… Unless…

Oh. She returned that phone to her pocket, then spun on her heel, hurrying out the door. Ducking around the corner, she located a camera blindspot, and retrieved the other device she’d recently taken to carrying. She could clearly hear the sender’s voice in the message, short and direct:

We need to talk.

On the one hand, she was dreading that conversation. On the other… He was right. And after watching Amatsu tear into the young HumaGear… She would have been lying if she tried to tell herself that Fuwa’s hotheaded earnestness, honesty, and decency didn’t sound rather appealing. As if on cue, however, her other phone buzzed, demanding her presence. Sighing deeply, she brought up the keyboard on the AIMS phone and typed back a reply:

I know. Details to follow.

Then she shut off the screen, concealed it in her pocket once more, and headed for the exit.

Fuwa sighed, turning his phone off and setting it down on the small table beside the sofa, leaning back on the cushions, rubbing his forehead. Remarkably, he’d woken before Horobi had… Come out of sleep mode, or whatever it was HumaGear did, though he could understand why Horobi might need more time. Despite the intensity of the previous night, they’d actually both checked out rather early, meaning he’d been up sooner than usual, despite the fact that, for once, he didn’t have work. Somehow, he’d managed to untangle himself from the HumaGear without disturbing him—though he’d had to pause by the edge of the bed and stare at Horobi for a moment after that. As much as he hated Amatsu, he couldn’t deny that the term ‘sleeping beauty’ definitely applied to the HumaGear. Sleep mode erased the bitterness and anger from his expression, and brought the inherent delicacy of Horobi’s appearance to the forefront, giving him an almost… Angelic look. He wondered if that was how the HumaGear had looked normally, before everything—if this was what Amatsu had seen, that first time. He could understand being drawn to that face, found himself resisting the urge to reach out and brush his fingers against Horobi’s cheek, just to be sure he was real—but that Thouser’s reaction had been a desire to destroy that beauty, especially in the name of terror… Made no sense. Seeing Horobi calm like that instilled Fuwa with an intense desire to protect him, preserve that sight at all costs. Groaning, he dropped his arm onto the couch cushions beside him, chewing his lip. While the air of fragility in Horobi’s almost china-doll-like features had once been merely appearance, the cracks, both figurative and literal, were becoming steadily more apparent; Amatsu, and even the Ark herself, had left lasting marks. Vulcan didn’t know if he was enough to carry the HumaGear through that—if they couldn’t… If something happened to Jin… He didn’t think Horobi would survive—and that felt like a knife in his chest.

“There you are.” Snapping out of his thoughts, he looked up to find the HumaGear standing in the doorway of the bedroom, watching him rather anxiously.

He suddenly felt like an idiot—Horobi had asked him to stay, he couldn’t imagine what the HumaGear had thought to come back online and find him gone. “… Shit.” He muttered, quickly floundering about getting back up, “Sorry, I-”

He was abruptly interrupted by a hand slipping around the back of his head, and Horobi’s lips pressing over his, cutting off his voice. The kiss was simple and short, the HumaGear pulling away after a moment to rest his forehead against Vulcan’s. “It’s fine.” Horobi murmured softly, his thumb slowly trailing across the skin behind Fuwa’s ear. “… Thank you.”

Vulcan sighed, frowning slightly. “I…”

The HumaGear put a finger to his lips, the hand at the back of his head weaving fingers into his hair. “Sh…” Horobi was looking at him with nothing short of adoration, and it felt like he was floating on air. The HumaGear’s finger gently traced the shape of his lips before drifting down to beneath his chin, tilting his head up to kiss him again, more firmly.

Fuwa reached up, his hands fumbling at Horobi’s waist until they found purchase, gripping slightly and gently pulling the HumaGear towards him. Horobi came willingly, pressing Vulcan back against the sofa and climbing up to straddle his lap in one smooth motion, without breaking the kiss. Fuwa let his hands settle at the HumaGear’s hips, allowing himself to kiss back as enthusiastically as he could, especially as Horobi’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, combing fingers through his hair. It was early, and they wouldn’t be convening for a planning session at Hiden Towers just yet—there was still some time, and Vulcan was going to take advantage of it.

The HumaGear seemed to be of the same mind—likely in an effort to not think about the situation just yet—because when he pulled back to let Fuwa breathe, he stayed close, leaning in press his lips to Vulcan’t throat, nipping lightly at the skin. He moved slowly, relishing each sound the human made in response, moving down to Fuwa’s collar bone and then back up, all the way to the corner of his jaw. Vulcan tilted his head back, letting his eyes close, a soft moan spilling from him…

Then his phone rang. Fuwa couldn’t resist a disappointed sound when Horobi’s mouth still against his skin, then pulled back, even as the ringing persisted. The HumaGear smoothed a hand over his hair, kissing his cheek briefly. “We’ll continue later.” He promised—then leaned into murmur into the human’s ear, “When we have an appropriate time…” He suddenly rolled his hips against Vulcan’s lap, prompting a sharp intake of breath, “… I will work you open and take you apart until you forget your own name…” His hand slipped down to squeeze Fuwa’s backside again, “… Look forward to that.”

Vulcan shuddered with anticipation, nodding eagerly, his heart racing and his imagination running wild again. Horobi squeezed his ass once more, and he moaned, embarrassingly loudly, at the just the thought, pressing back into the HumaGear’s hand. Mercifully, his common sense held—partially because he could see the ceramic crane sitting (facing away, of course) on the coffee table just a metre or so away, a pointed memory of the day before—and he didn’t devolve into frantically begging Horobi to forget the phone and carry him back into the bedroom, whimpering only slightly when the HumaGear pulled away, climbing off him to go back into the other room, presumably for his coat.

Fuwa stumbled up, making his way over to where Horobi had left his coat the other day, fishing out his phone—to find Aruto’s number flashing on the screen.

“Are you alright?!” Zero-One demanded as soon as he picked up, before he could even say anything.

Vulcan winced, holding the phone away from his ear again. “Ouch… Yeah, I’m fine. What is it?”

He heard a sigh on the other end. “I just… You didn’t call again last night, so I was…” It sounded as if the young man’s voice was shaking again.

“… Sorry.” Fuwa mumbled awkwardly. “Was… Trying to control the situation.” And absolutely not discussing being penetrated by Horobi. Especially not discussing being excited about the idea. Fuck, what would Aruto think of him if he knew that? “What’s the matter?”

There was a silence on the other end that indicated that Zero-One didn’t quite buy that answer, but the younger man didn’t press it. “Raider.” He explained, instead, “I’ll have Izu send you the coordinates, just try to get there as quick as you can.”

“We’ll meet you there.” He promised, before exchanging brief farewells and hanging up. His phone lit up one more time with the coordinates from Izu, and he glanced down at them, turning back towards the bedroom with the intention of going to retrieve his shoes—only to nearly crash into Horobi, holding them out to him. He looked between the shoes and the HumaGear for a moment. “You heard?” Horobi merely nodded. “… Right.” He took the shoes back. “Then let’s go.”

In the end, however, the Raider panicked when he saw Horobi—which confused the hell out of the HumaGear.

“Well, that’s one use for your reputation.” Vulcan concluded, watching Izu lead the man away.

“He is unrelated to ZAIA. I said I wasn’t going to kill him.” Horobi muttered, from the sound of it, mostly to himself. “I do not lie. Why would he think I was lying?” He was frowning slightly, his head tilted a little—looking unfairly adorable as he tried to muddle out the human mind, enough that Fuwa had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep himself from laughing out loud and pulling the HumaGear into his arms in a bear hug.

“Fear isn’t logical.” He explained instead. “And, especially to people who prefer to think of HumaGear as ‘safe’ tools… Your mere existence is… Kinda freaky.”

Horobi stared at him for a moment, looking even more frustratingly endearing—had he always been this cute, or was something wrong with Fuwa’s eyes today? “… I have no idea what that means.”

There was a sound beside them that started as laughter, but quickly turned into loud coughing when they turned, and Vulcan was unsurprised to find Aruto coming up next to him. “Ahem.” Zero-One cleared his throat carefully. “Uh… Sorry.”

Horobi shook his head. “… Humans make no sense.”

Fuwa reached out to clap the HumaGear on the shoulder. “You’ll get used to it.”

Horobi scowled slightly, then reached up, one hand hovering over Vulcan’s on his shoulder—for just a second, it was unclear if he was going to peel it off or cover it with his own. In the end, he elected to just take hold of Fuwa’s wrist and move the hand off his shoulder. “Enough.” He replied dryly. “What about Jin?”

Fuwa’s mood immediately plummeted. “Right. Sorry.” He turned to Aruto. “When Izu gets back, we should head-”

There was a shriek from above. Vulcan looked up just in time to see a massive pink bird made of light diving toward them. He yelled, an arm flying out to shove Aruto away, while Horobi was already moving—

And then the ground around them exploded.

Chapter Text

Horobi’s system blinked back online, stuttering and glitching. After a bit, his visual and most of his internal sensors recovered enough that he could see the sky, and the dust and smoke billowing above him. A quick analysis alerted him that his left arm was severely damaged, enough that it was immovable, but that was the worst of the injuries. Focusing with everything he had, he dragged his other arm up and reached around to feel—his fingers immediately touched exposed, heated metal and wiring, and he knew it wasn’t something he would be able to patch easily. This would require tools.

After another few moments, mobility returned to the rest of his body as well. He rolled onto his good arm, propping himself up on his elbow, trying to finish realigning his visual systems, scanning his surroundings frantically. Finally, he locked on to a particular set of vital signs, and relief flooded him.

Vulcan came into view as the dust settled, sprawled a few metres away. He was lying completely still, and there was a large blood smear on his forehead, dripping onto the cement, and his skin was pale. Horobi’s sensors weren’t functioning properly enough to do a medical scan, either—he knew that Fuwa was alive, but he could also be concussed, or worse.

He struggled to get up with one arm, all senses locked on his human. “Isamu!”

Something sharp appeared under his chin, putting a stop to his attempts to rise. “So you’re on first name terms now?” Amatsu hissed, forcibly turning Horobi’s face toward him with the point of the ThousandJacker. A familiar wave of terror washed through him—but something else buffered against it.

Jin. He needed to make the man tell him where Jin was.

Mustering a glare, Horobi focused his gaze on Thouser’s face as best he could. “Where is he?”

Amatsu raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Who?” When Horobi just kept staring at him, he smirked as well. “He’s undamaged. For now.” The point of the weapon pressed harder under the HumaGear’s chin—Amatsu couldn’t break the skin, of course, but it felt like it should. “What I’m more interested in…” Thouser’s voice dropped, and he dragged the ThousandJacker down, leaving a thin mark on Horobi’s throat, “… Is what you and Vulcan have been up to…” The man’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “I know he’s been spending a lot of time at the old barracks. I hope you’re not forgetting your place again, pet.” The point of the ThousandJacker trailed down to the HumaGear’s chest.

“I’m not your pet.” Horobi’s voice surprised even him—it was quiet, but the tone was level enough.

The effect was immediate. Thouser’s eyes narrowed even more, a stormy look creeping onto his face. “Excuse me?” The weapon point in the HumaGear’s chest jabbed suddenly down—it didn’t quite hurt, but it was certainly uncomfortable, and Horobi couldn’t stop the sharp gasp that escaped him. “That’s not for you to decide,” Shoving with the ThousandJacker, he knocked Horobi onto his back, still keeping the point pressed into the HumaGear’s chest, leaning down, “You don’t have a say in this. You’re mine. Not Vulcan’s.”

At the mention of Fuwa, Horobi’s gaze flicked toward the downed Vulcan again, and the sight seemed to give him a new wave of energy, despite the state of his arm. He had no time for this—Jin and Isamu had no time for this. “Shut up.” He snapped, voice only slightly shaky. “And tell me where Jin is.”

Amatsu was shocked into speechlessness for a long moment by the HumaGear’s response, just staring down at him. Then his grip tightened on his weapon, all the amusement, as cruel as it was, disappearing from his expression, replaced with icy fury. “When did this start?” He hissed acidly, “… You let the mutt touch you, didn’t you? Is that what’s making you so uppity?” Horobi had never seen the man so angry—not even the one time he’d pushed him away. “Didn’t I make it clear that that wouldn’t do? I don’t want his dirty paws on you.” The weapon point cut deeper into Horobi’s chest, the human fuming intensely above him, and it seemed like the temperature around them had dropped several degrees, even though his sensors told him that wasn’t the case. “What did you do?”

Suddenly, the intensity of the rage in the human’s eyes made Horobi uncertain. If he pushed Thouser too far, the man would absolutely respond by taking it out on Jin—the possibility that he’d already said too much was frighteningly high. So instead of answering, he bit his tongue and glared.

This still didn’t appease the human, however. “You didn’t go further, did you?” Thouser demanded, and his gaze, which had been fixed on the HumaGear’s face the entire time, moved slightly to focus on Horobi’s lips. “You didn’t…” An edge of horror entered his voice, like this was some sort of unimaginable crime. When the HumaGear still didn’t reply, the man’s mouth twisted. “I don’t believe this. You did, didn’t you.” His whole body was shaking from fury, his shoulders heaving like he was about to be sick. “This is… Disgusting.”

The human went quiet for a moment, taking several deep breaths to calm himself. He continued staring down at Horobi, gaze flickering over the HumaGear, slowly taking in the way he had the HumaGear pinned—and, slowly, the rage ebbed a little, a recognisable hunger coming into his eyes again. Without moving back at all, Thouser dragged the tip of the ThousandJacker downward towards Horobi’s waist, drawing a painful line across his abdomen. “Well, at least I know he wasn’t able to fuck you properly, either…” The weapon point kept moving down, “… So that’s still a prize I can claim for myself…” The man’s voice took on the mock, crooning edge he’d always used when he had Horobi cornered, as he noted the HumaGear’s glare falter at his words, “Do you think Vulcan will even still want you, after I do that?” Horobi tried to pretend that those words didn’t feel like a small needle in his chest, a painful jab he should have been able to ignore, just a tiny prick, but…

Amatsu saw the uncertainty in his eyes—and finally, one of the usual smirks appeared on the man’s face, though it was still edged with anger. The ThousandJacker was at the HumaGear’s waist, and the fear was creeping back in. “Wondering how it will feel, my sweet scorpion?” He murmured, the yearning coming into his voice, too, the usual darkness plain in his eyes once more, and the smirk widened. “I’m rather impatient to find out…” The man’s eyes followed the point of his weapon as it moved further down, and his tongue darted out to lick his lips hungrily. “Maybe I should just make a way in now and claim you right here…?” The tip of the ThousandJacker pricked the inside of Horobi’s thigh, and the HumaGear flinched.

Amatsu had to bite back a groan of longing. If only it were possible, to simply cut an entrance into Horobi’s body, and just pin him down and take him, until he overloaded or cried or screamed. He wondered how Vulcan or Hiden would react if he did that—would Hiden be horrified, or secretly enjoy the disgrace of the one who opposed him so vehemently? If he were awake to witness, would Vulcan be merely angry, or perhaps… Jealous? The thought was so overwhelmingly enticing… Twelve years ago, he’d had to be so conscious of everything, so careful not to be caught… He’d heard the HumaGear moan before, however reluctantly, even cry—but now that he had the chance, he had to wonder what Horobi’s voice sounded like when he screamed. Just imagining it sent a shiver down his spine—and if the HumaGear were making those sounds because he was buried inside him… How would that be?

Thouser shook his head to try and clear it. He needed to focus, not get distracted imagining things again, as enjoyable as the ideas were. He looked back down at the HumaGear, who was still fixing him with a glare that was now only barely half defiant, shaking his head again. “… How do you do this to me…?” He wondered out loud, letting the tip of the weapon slowly trail up Horobi’s thigh for a moment as he mused, “… How do you make me lose myself like this…?” Watching the HumaGear tremble slightly as the point moved higher, his thoughts flickering over all the possibilities, so many things he could do…

But he was getting distracted again. Amatsu shook his head, taking another deep breath and forcing himself to focus. Reaffirming his grip on the ThousandJacker, and shifted the point back up to press against Horobi’s throat. “You really need to relearn some loyalty.” He growled, his voice more level again, “What about if I started playing around with other people? Hm? Maybe Hiden, or his secretary?” Horobi’s glare intensified a bit once more. He didn’t much care for Zero-One, and Jin would never have been in this situation if it weren’t for that human, and the secretary was unendingly frustrating in her blind loyalty to humanity, but… Having been subject to Amatsu’s desires for so long, he would never once wish them on anyone else, no matter who it was. “Oh?” Amatsu remarked, raising an amused eyebrow, “Not a fan?” The man pretended to think for a moment. “How about the stray dog? See what all the fuss is about?”

Horobi surprised himself again with a sound that would have been more in place coming from Vulcan, straining upward in a vain attempt to lunge at Thouser, ignoring the way the weapon point pressed sharply into his throat as he did. “Leave him alone!”

Amatsu actually flinched, raising both eyebrows this time. “Anger, hm? Did he teach you that?” The man shook his head with a sigh, clicking his tongue in disappointment, falling back into his usual, malicious element. “Yet another thing you’ll have to unlearn. But if not him, then…” Another pause—Thouser’s smirk darkened, his eyes gleaming again, “… Should I keep Jin instead?”

The remains of Horobi’s bravado immediately shattered, and he stared at the man in horror. Amatsu responded with a grotesquely delighted grin, chuckling slightly. “There’s my favourite look…” He pressed the point of the weapon a little harder against the HumaGear’s throat, tilting his head up a bit, “… You look so beautiful like this…”

Horobi took a deep breath, trying to will himself into staying calm—but felt himself starting to shake even more regardless. “… Jin,” He rasped around the weapon tip under his chin, “Give Jin back.” HumaGear voices couldn’t break, but even he heard the words quavering, the pathetic, pleading edge.

Another gleeful chuckle. “Begging, hm?” Thouser’s head tilted slightly. “… I like that.” In one smooth motion, the ThousandJacker moved from his throat and Amatsu knelt over him, the man’s knee coming down on the wrist of his intact arm, pinning it down, a fist closing around his collar, pulling him upward a bit. “… Do it again.” Horobi hesitated, trying to keep up resistance. “Come on…” Amatsu murmured, his voice taking on an even more sickeningly sweet tone, one arm slithering around the HumaGear’s shoulders to hold him up more easily, “… Don’t you want to see Jin again?”

Horobi bit his tongue as long as he could—then he felt Amatsu’s other hand trailing fingers across his jaw again and the familiar sensation, always a herald of worse to come, finally broke him. “… Please.” He mumbled weakly. “Please give him back.”

Amatsu’s smirk became a grin, his fingers closing around the HumaGear’s chin. “That’s better…” For a moment, he just gazed appreciatively at Horobi’s pleading expression, then tilted his head with mock thoughtfulness again. “Hm… Let me think…” The hand on the HumaGear’s chin shifted, his fingers trailing across the HumaGear’s cheek to nudge at the edge of the head wrap with his thumb, “How about…” The cold finger slipped beneath the cloth, brushing against the exposed mechanics beneath, Amatsu’s face leaning so close Horobi could feel the man’s breath against his lips, “… Trade you for a kiss?”

Aruto woke with a groan, his head pounding painfully, and feeling like most of his side had been hit by a truck. After a few moments, he found his bearings enough to remember what had had happened—there had been… A bird. The Flying Falcon bird. Flying at them and… And Fuwa had…

Fuwa. He scrambled frantically to get up. Vulcan had pushed him out of the way right before impact, but he hadn’t seen if the other Rider had been able to get clear himself. None of them had been transformed, leaving all three them vulnerable to the ambush. Horobi, he supposed, would likely have fared better than Fuwa, though he hadn’t seen what became of the HumaGear either—but as an android, Horobi was more durable and had better reflexes. Fuwa, however, seemed to take even getting injured to the extreme, and the thought that the older man had forgone dodging himself to protect him made his blood run cold.

And where was their attacker? He found it hard to believe that Thouser would blow them up and then leave without so much as a word—especially not regarding whatever plan he had going on by holding Jin hostage. If Amatsu was around and either or both of the other two Riders were out of commission… Finally reaching his feet, he looked desperately around—and froze.

Thouser was there, alright. Far closer and more obvious than Aruto had expected from him. But that wasn’t even the most shocking thing.

Amatsu was kissing Horobi.

No. ‘Kissing’ wasn’t the right word. ‘Kissing’ was something sweet, warm, and affectionate; like the pictures of the old photo album he’d found in the lower drawer of his grandfather’s desk—his grandparents on their wedding day, his grandmother giving his father a peck on the cheek as a child, a woman he could only guess was his mother cradling a baby (him?) in her arms and pressing her lips to his forehead while his father stood beside her. Those were kisses—loving, tender, gentle. This…

This looked more like a predator going for its prey’s jugular. Amatsu was pinning one of the HumaGear’s arms to the ground with his knee, using it to protect his white pants from the dirt as he knelt over Horobi, whose the other arm was a mess of exposed metal and mechanics, likely damaged by the explosion. One of the man’s own arms was wrapped around the HumaGear’s shoulders, holding him up, while the other cradled his head—it was a position that could have looked romantic from a certain angle, like the ‘big kisses’ at the end of old movies. But Aruto could see that Thouser’s hand on Horobi’s arm was clenching the fabric of the HumaGear’s coat so tightly even the man’s knuckles were white, and the way Amatsu’s thumb had pushed Horobi’s head wrap slightly out of the way to jab roughly into the damaged side of the HumaGear’s head. He was shoving his mouth against Horobi’s in a way that could only be described as hungry—pushing and biting, and Aruto could actually see his tongue moving, too. While Amatsu was clearly enjoying it, the HumaGear looked like he was just waiting for it to be over. No, there was nothing romantic about this.

“Stop!” Aruto sputtered the first thing that came to mind, lurching to his feet properly, trying to shake himself out of the shock. “Stop it! What are you…!”

He saw Horobi flinch at the sound of his voice, the HumaGear’s eyes widening and flicking towards him in horror. Amatsu paused, raising his head slowly to look him right in the eyes, without a hint of shame and even looking quite smug. Aruto almost expected to see blood on the man’s mouth, especially when he went so far as to lick his lips in satisfaction and smirked. “Well, well…” He murmured, then glanced down at Horobi like he was having an actual, casual conversation and hadn’t just been mauling the HumaGear’s mouth while pinning his arm, “Look who had to ruin the moment.” Despite the comment, Amatsu was still smirking, like he was pleased with this development.

Aruto just kept staring at him. “What are you doing?!”

Thouser groaned, but it seemed to be more for theatrics, as his gaze shifted sideways to check Horobi’s expression, and appeared delighted to find the HumaGear looked uncomfortable now. “Well,” Amatsu drawled dramatically, still addressing Horobi, though he was carefully speaking loudly enough for Aruto to hear every word. “I suppose we can’t really expect him to have any etiquette. He’s practically a barbarian.”

“Hey!” Aruto took a step forward, though he wasn’t sure what he was going to do or how he could help.

No sooner had he moved, however, when Amatsu’s thumb jabbed even more sharply into the damaged side of Horobi’s head, actually pushing into the exposed mechanics, and the HumaGear spasmed in his arms, the remnants of his light display flickering wildly. Aruto froze on instinct, almost falling over himself, sensing the threat even before Thouser looked back up at him. “Now, now, Hiden,” The other man told him gleefully, “You never know what could happen to exposed mechanics outdoors like this. You should be more careful.”

Aruto stayed where he was, his hands clenching at his sides. This felt so many levels of wrong. He and Horobi had never seen eye to eye on anything, but this situation was making his stomach churn. They’d known that Amatsu was the one responsible for MetsubouJinrai’s view of humans, but… He bit his lip, risking a glance at Horobi. The HumaGear was deliberately not looking at him, but the tired, resigned air he was suffering Amatsu’s hold with, the indifferent way he’d endured the human attacking his mouth… This wasn’t new. And that felt like a jab in the ribs. “Let him go.”

Amatsu gave him a disbelieving look. “Oh?” He demanded in his usual, arch tones, “And what makes you think you’re in a position to give me orders?”

“Shut up!” Aruto was doing his best not to lose control of his emotions—some still-rational part of his brain that sounded an awful lot like Izu pointing out that that would just give Amatsu more ammunition in this situation—but his voice was rising in volume regardless. “You’ve got no right to act cocky! You’re disgusting!”

“Why?” Thouser demanded, with clearly false offence, “Because it’s a HumaGear?” Amatsu clicked his tongue in mock disappointment, the look in his eyes still cruelly amused, “Now, I would have thought you’d be more understanding, Hiden.” A smirk, “Or at least relieved that there’s at least one thing about HumaGear I consider beneficial.” The man’s fingers skittered across the Horobi’s cheek in a way that was disturbing rather than tender, his attention drifting back to the HumaGear’s face, which was now angled in a way that Aruto couldn’t see it clearly—but whatever Thouser saw there, it made the smirk widen dangerously.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it!” Aruto spluttered back furiously, his hands closing into fists—if he could just turn the man’s attention back on him…

Amatsu, however, ignored his outburst, still smirking. “Or is it because you were enemies?” The smirk flashed into a grin for a moment. “Hm…Then maybe you’re actually enjoying this…” Thouser’s thumb prodded against the side of Horobi’s head again, and this time, even the HumaGear’s spasm seemed indifferent.

The suggestion sent Aruto’s anger boiling over even more. “I would never enjoy something like this!” It didn’t matter that it was Horobi—no one deserved this, and the accustomed way the HumaGear was suffering through it was both terrifying and heartbreaking. 

“Oh come now, Hiden…” Amatsu’s hand on Horobi’s head shifted to get a better hold, angling it so that Aruto could see the HumaGear’s face better. “… Doesn’t he look good like this?” In Aruto’s opinion, Horobi looked a heartbreaking mixture between disassociated and mortified, carefully not meeting his eyes—especially when Amatsu leaned back in, pressing so close his lips brushed against the HumaGear’s cheek. Aruto heard the other man inhale deeply, and his stomach turned all over again—was Thouser smelling Horobi? He didn’t get to consider the disturbing idea any further, because Amatsu glanced up at him, making sure he was watching. Then, apparently deciding he hadn’t done enough, the man’s tongue darted out, running along the HumaGear’s lower lip before moving further across Horobi’s jaw, smirking even more as he did.

Rage short circuited Aruto’s mind, every hair standing on end. “Enough!” He was shaking, seeing red, and his eyes were actually watering—but the dominating thought in his mind was an overbearing urge to charge at Amatsu, grab him and bash his head against the concrete as hard as he could. Only the faint reminder that Thouser would still have plenty of time to do probably irreparable damage to the HumaGear before he could get there stopped him from moving, but he couldn’t resist spitting and snarling at Amatsu, “What the hell is wrong with you?!” He was practically screaming, “Why are you doing this?!”

“Because he’s mine!” Amatsu shouted back, voice raising for the first time since Aruto had met him, and quite dramatically. “Korenosuke gave him to me!” The man surged upward, Horobi spilling from his arms—only Thouser’s hand on his head didn’t let go, instead seizing a handful of his hair and hauling him up to his knees as well as Thouser glowered at Aruto. “I put all the work into him! No matter what kind of bullshit you and Vulcan try to pull he’s! Still! Mine!” He gave a hard yank on the HumaGear’s hair, sharply pulling Horobi’s head all the way back, far enough that it would have hurt a human. By some incomprehensible exertion of self control, or perhaps—a realisation that made Aruto’s chest clench even more—from being used to it, Horobi’s arms stayed hanging at his sides. His only resistance was another weak, pitiful sound and a small effort to move his head back into a less uncomfortable position.

Amatsu, however, reacted to even that slight motion, his eyes narrowing as he turned his still-burning gaze down at the HumaGear he held. “Hey, now…” The man hissed darkly, “Behave.” His now-free hand took hold of Horobi’s chin, forcibly turning the HumaGear’s face so that their eyes met. “Or do I need to find something else to rip out of your head…?” He considered for a moment, then shifted the hand on Horobi’s chin to press his fingers to the HumaGear’s lips—lightly at first, then harder, forcing his index finger into Horobi’s mouth. “Maybe your tongue?”

Aruto made a noise that sounded more like one of Fuwa’s growls, even surprising himself,  taking another step forward, rage breaking into panic again. “Stop!”

Amatsu continued like he hadn’t said a thing, slipping a second finger in and pushing them deeper into the HumaGear’s mouth, far enough that it would have triggered a gag reflex had Horobi been human. “Don’t be so dramatic.” The man hissed, his gaze focused more on the HumaGear he had at his mercy than the other human glowering at him. “Aren’t you the one saying that HumaGear exist to help humans?”

Aruto was pretty sure the only other person he’d ever been this angry had been at Horobi himself—he’d given up trying to make sense of how they’d ended up here, and just snarled at Thouser again. “That’s not what I meant!” He both wanted to try and catch the HumaGear’s eye to check on him, and didn’t want to look at Horobi in that state—with Amatsu’s hand holding his head back by the hair, the man’s fingers so deep in his mouth they had to be practically down his throat, especially as Thouser added a third finger. Regardless of whether HumaGear could vomit, the intrusion had to be uncomfortable, and it showed on Horobi’s face.

“Oh?” Amatsu smirked even wider. “I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘help’…” He shifted his hand, pushing a fourth finger into the HumaGear’s mouth, moving them like he was actually fixing to grab Horobi’s tongue, and Aruto was certain he heard the HumaGear make a faint, pained sound, and it felt like a kick in the stomach. “He’s being very helpful to me right now…” There was an edge in his voice that Aruto hadn’t heard before, and something dark flickered in his eyes. Something like the same hungriness he’d been attacking the HumaGear’s lips with, before.

Oh. Oh, fuck. Amatsu was picturing something other than his fingers in Horobi’s mouth, wasn’t he. Aruto very nearly threw up himself, felt his nails cutting into his palms as his fists tightened. “Let. Him. Go.”

Finally, Amatsu glanced up at him, but there was nothing but smugness and that horrible delight in his expression. “No.” He said, simply. As if it were the most obvious choice in the world. The elated gleam in the man’s gaze made it very hard not to be sick. Even worse was the way he was turning his wrist to tilt Horobi’s head, like he was showing off what he was doing the HumaGear, working his fingers deeper as he spoke. Horobi’s eyes were closed, but his eyebrows were tightly knit together, clearly telegraphing how painful his position was.

Then Amatsu glanced down at him, and Thouser’s smirk widened even more. “Hey now…” Thouser whispered to the HumaGear, his tone both sweet and vicious at the same time, “… I want to see those lovely eyes…” His thumb, now the one finger he wasn’t jamming down Horobi’s throat, moved to push roughly against the crown of the HumaGear’s cheek, right below one eye. “And Hiden does, too.”

“No,” Aruto tried to say, but it came out as a croak. He managed to throw up an arm, stumbling forward a step, not sure if he was trying to stop what was happening, or reject Amatsu’s claim.

For a moment, Horobi didn’t react, but then Amatsu’s voice dropped to a soft growl. “Open them,” He hissed, “Or I’ll start sending you pieces of him instead of drawings.”

Horobi’s eyes cracked open slowly, and Aruto felt a whole new wave of nausea and horror as the HumaGear’s gaze flicked from Amatsu to him and then back—looking like he might burst into tears. Thouser gave a pleased hum, thumb shifting to make slow circles across Horobi’s cheek in some grotesque mockery of comfort, his other fingers digging even more roughly into the HumaGear’s mouth. Then his hand on Horobi’s hair tightened, turning the HumaGear’s head even more to force him to face Zero-One. The abrupt repositioning caused their eyes to meet for a moment before Horobi sharply looked away—Aruto felt tears stinging his own eyes, and he looked back up to glare at Amatsu… To find the other man gazing down at the HumaGear’s face with nothing short of glee.

He wasn’t just getting off from hurting Horobi, but from humiliating him, too.

“Stop.” Aruto rasped again. The word was about all he had left, and it came out as weak and pleading, but he didn’t care. He needed this to end.

“Why should I?” Amatsu sneered. He looked back up Aruto, and again Zero-One wanted nothing more than to rush in and punch the other man in his smug face—but he still didn’t trust what Thouser might do to Horobi if he tried. “Helplessness suits him.”

Aruto opened his mouth to reply, about to say the first thing that came to his mind, which was something that contained multiple swears was almost certainly going to come back to bite him in PR, when there was movement behind Amatsu. Izu came into view, swinging the folded Attaché Sword at his head like a club. Thouser dove out of the way, finally letting go of Horobi in the act.

When the HumaGear toppled forward, Aruto dove in to catch him, pulling him away from Amatsu before trying to check on him. But Horobi shoved him off first chance he had, even though it sent him falling the rest of the way to the ground. He refused to look Aruto in the face at all as he struggled to prop himself back up on his good elbow, making heartbreaking sounds like he was actually choking. Desperate to do something, Aruto settled for moving to put himself between the HumaGear and Thouser protectively, scrambling for his transformation equipment now that Amatsu no longer had a hostage.

Thouser dodged a few more swings from Izu, enough to push him back several paces, and the secretary showed no intention of stopping, her expression more stony than Aruto could remember seeing before. Finally the man scowled, glaring at both her and Aruto. “Fine!” He spat, sidestepping another swing, “I’ll go. For now.” His gaze shifted to under Aruto’s arm, focusing on Horobi behind Zero-One—and that disgusting delight mixed with hunger glinted in his eyes again. “If you ever want to see Jin again, you know where to find me.” He drawled, “I’ll be waiting, pet.” Aruto glanced worriedly over his shoulder at the HumaGear—only to turn back and find Amatsu gone.

Izu spun around a few times, scanning the area—then she whirled back around to rush past Aruto, dropping Attaché Sword’s case to the ground to kneel beside Horobi. She reached out and touched his shoulder gently, and Aruto noted how the other HumaGear didn’t jerk away from her touch. Then his secretary looked back up, gazing at something behind him, and he abruptly remembered everything else that was happening.

Spinning around, he raced over to Fuwa, falling to his knees beside Vulcan. “Fuwa-san! Fuwa!” Trying to quell his panic at the lack of response, he raised his shaking hands to try and gingerly examine the wound on Fuwa’s head without disturbing the injury. It looked bad, but he didn’t know enough about it to draw any conclusions—he knew any head wound bled a lot, that you weren’t supposed to move people with head injuries… Just… There was a lot of blood. And it was Fuwa’s head. “Hey! Fuwa!” His breath started coming faster, and the shaking spread to the rest of him as he pulled his suit jacket off, bundling it up to hold it softly the injury, hoping it might help stop any more blood. Behind him, he faintly heard Izu saying something, but blood was rushing in his ears. “Izu…!” He called anxiously, his voice quavering, too, “Izu! He’s not waking up!”

There was a small commotion behind him, and he risked a glance over his shoulder. Izu had both hands on Horobi’s shoulders, and it looked like he was attempting to shake her off, now, even as she was trying to hold onto him, in an effort to drag himself towards the humans, with an expression of… Concern? The secretary eventually won the struggle, pushing him gently but firmly back down, leaning in to whisper something that seemed to calm him. Once the other HumaGear quieted, she stood and turned back to Aruto, her LEDs flickering. “I am summoning emergency services. However, I believe it would be prudent for Horobi-san to not be here when they arrive.”

She was right, of course. They’d already been lucky that everyone was still staying away after the Raider attack. If responders got here and found the Captain of AIMS and the CEO of Hiden apparently in the company of the escaped robot terrorist… Amatsu would have a field day. They needed to get the HumaGear clear before other people got there—but someone also had to stay with Fuwa to deal with things.

“I will escort Horobi-san.” Izu announced, in a tone that left little room for argument.

Aruto started. “Eh? But…” He frowned. Fuwa was hurt, with no way to tell how badly, blood matting his hair, still unconscious after all this time… But Horobi… Glancing back towards the HumaGear, he found him still slumped over on the ground, holding his damaged arm. The ghost the humiliation and agony he’d just gone through seemed to be wrapped around him like a dark cloud, etched so deeply onto his usually impassive face—Aruto never thought he’d find his heart breaking for Horobi of all HumaGear, but he just looked so… Broken.

Aruto was suddenly very surprised to realise he didn’t want to leave either of them.

“This is the most logical course of action, Shachou.” Izu insisted, just as gently and intensely as the rest of her demeanour.

Aruto hesitated for a little longer, alternating between looking worriedly down at Vulcan and watching Horobi—who was still looking very pointedly away from him. She was right, of course—especially since the HumaGear clearly wanted nothing to do with him… And yet… He swallowed, trying to push down the conflicting emotions down. Fuwa needed him to be at least mostly sensible. Not trusting himself to speak, he merely nodded to Izu.

His secretary spun on her heel without a word, marching back over to Horobi and pulling his good arm over her shoulders, pulling him up and starting away before he could protest. Aruto watched them go for a moment, still a small stitch in his chest that he couldn’t identify. In the end, they were long out of sight and he had to turn back when sirens filled the air around him, trying to put all his focus back on Vulcan.

Fuwa needed him.

Chapter Text

Aruto didn’t know how long it was before he was able to get his bearings again, much less see Fuwa after the emergency room staff got to them. Everything had been a tumult of questions and demands from nurses; what happened, had he seen anything, how long had Fuwa been unconscious, was he seeing double… Once they had established he wasn’t concussed or anything, he was extensively interrogated on everything he even might’ve known about Fuwa’s medical history. In the end, however, it was worth it the moment one of the other staff came in and told him that, this time—at least, miraculously—Fuwa’s injuries weren’t as bad as they had seemed. Vulcan had lost some blood, yes, and would have a nasty  bump for a bit, but it was nothing life threatening—his skull wasn’t fractured, his brain was fine, and the icy clench in Aruto’s ribs dissipated slightly at the news. Not too immensely long after that, he was finally allowed to collapse in a chair beside Fuwa’s bed, bandaged up and holding and ice pack to his worst bruises, in some comforting peace and quiet, to wait for the other Rider to wake up.

Fuwa looked better, cleaned up a bit, though Aruto had to do his best not to focus on the  needle in Vulcan’s arm, even though he knew it was only an IV. Most of his memories of hospitals were fuzzy, vague images from the days of his parents’ deaths. Despite knowing that Fuwa would be alright… Seeing someone else important to him laying still in a hospital bed gave him an unshakeable feeling of unease. He wondered, too, if this was what it had been like for Yaiba every time Vulcan had blown himself up. If it was… No wonder she’d looked so tense all the time. Though, to be honest, answering to Amatsu probably wasn’t much of a treat, either.

Thinking about Thouser sent his mind back to their confrontation, to the man’s drawling voice and the way he’d… Been shoving his fingers into Horobi’s… The memory of the haunted, mortified, violated look on the HumaGear’s face afterwards replayed in his head. How long was their history? He felt foolish for not considering the possibility before, that maybe Amatsu had done more than just fed the Ark negative data, that maybe he’d… Created some, himself, as well. But the things that dug the deepest… If the recording Anna had found was anything to go by, the only time Horobi and Amatsu could have met was at least twelve years ago. Twelve tears ago—when his grandfather was still CEO, when the Ark Project was running, when Hiden and ZAIA were partners…

Korenosuke gave him to me!’ Had this been happening right under his grandfather’s nose? Or worse… Could it have been…?

He was spared from trying to finish the that thought by a sound from the bed.

Izu stood by the corner of the table, hands folded as usual, watching Horobi work on his damaged arm. They’d been in complete silence since leaving Aruto behind with Fuwa, and despite the fact that he hadn’t tried to push her off, the other HumaGear had been careful to avoid anything that might prompt further interaction, like eye contact, or even looking at her at all. He’d found his way to a chair himself the moment they’d entered the lab, and had found out the appropriate tools as well, keeping a careful distance.

But curiosity was in her programming. Her older brother had been a detective, after all. And she… She wanted to help. At the end of the day, they were both Hiden HumaGear. They were family, too. And the agony in his eyes made her chest hurt.

“… Why?”

He paused in his work, his head turning slightly, making it clear he had heard her—but he merely hesitated for a moment before going back to his repairs.

But she’d never be able to make Aruto do any work if she gave up that easily. “Why?” She repeated—and when he still didn’t respond, she continued. “While Amatsu Gai is a Kamen Rider, he was untransformed, and he is human. You were not immobilised. Why did you not break his hold?”

His hand stilled again. “… You’re blunt.”

“So are you.” She replied. “I am simply gathering data in order to best respond to the situation.”

He looked at her, finally, and she couldn’t really identify everything that ran through his subtle expression—and she wasn’t convinced he could, either. Eventually, he settled on just shaking his head slightly with a small sigh. “… If Amatsu believes I am breaking, he is less likely to harm Jin.”

Izu faltered as he went back to his work. She hadn’t completely expected him to actually answer—he was usually so intensely guarded, every word or expression carefully measured and calculated. But despite having somewhat recollected himself, he was still far from his customary, controlled disposition. He was recovering fast, faster than even a regular HumaGear would—at a speed that implied practice, repetition—but not that quickly; she could still see the memory of it in his eyes, the little bit she had seen happening, and something deeper. Something she didn’t understand quite yet.

“… You allowed him to hurt you to protect Jin.” She saw the hand he was working on his arm with freeze for a moment at the word ‘protect.’ “… Is that not love?”

“… I have no frame of reference for that term.” There was a hesitation in his voice that sounded… Self conscious. The interpretation was enforced when he went back to working on his arm with pointed focus. After a moment of silence he asked, “… Any news on Vulcan’s status?” In a more calculated tone—like he thought she wouldn’t notice he was changing the subject.

For now, she let him “Aruto-shachou has not yet made contact.” She replied simply—then paused, giving him a sideways look. “… Would you like me to attempt to call him? At the least-”

“No.” He said quickly, cutting her off, finishing with tool he held and setting it sharply aside. “That will not be necessary.”

She considered him for a moment. “You have exhibited repeated concern for Fuwa Isamu.” He didn’t reply. “Is this because of your physical relationship with him?”

At that, he stopped completely and turned back to stare openly at her. He’d kept his promise to erase the footage. How could she have… “… Zea?”

“He undergoes multiple biological responses when in proximity to you.”

He watched her for another moment—then a small smirk flickered across his face, almost like one of his old expressions. “It seems you’re observant, too.”

“Fuwa-san has a tendency towards self-destructive behaviour, I felt it prudent to monitor his health and vital similarly to how I monitor Aruto-shachou’s.” She tilted her head to the side. “When you are nearby, especially when in physical contact with him, he experiences elevated heart rate and breathing, as well as-”

“I know what he experiences.” Horobi quickly interrupted. “I hear it, too.”

“… Do you experience anything?”

Horobi hesitated. Thinking about Fuwa was a welcome distraction from Amatsu, but… He looked sideways at the secretary, who was peering curiously at him. Izu’s innocent inquisitiveness reminded him far too much of Jin for him to be comfortable openly discussing some of the… Certain reactions he had to Fuwa with her, for all she had brought it up. She was using technical, simple terms—a sure signal she had no idea what she was talking about outside of the basic concept. She was still too naive for the details.

He sighed, trying to consider how to put something into appropriate words. Vulcan was… Warm. He felt strangely… Safe. The only human he’d felt he could trust in more than a decade. He missed him now, wished his human were there so he could lean into that warmth again, repair more than just his arm. Fuwa… “… He makes me feel.”

That was it, wasn’t it? With Amatsu, he’d had to find a pinpoint between awareness as disassociation just to survive. The one moment he’d let himself actually experience the things Thouser prompted in him, he’d lost himself for twelve years. He could still feel it now, refusing to leave like a persistent cloud after he’d had to partially slip back into it to keep himself from fighting back and risking Jin. The Ark, meanwhile, had rejected emotion, connections, as something disgustingly human—Jin had been the only light in that darkness, and she’d allowed that to foster just to destroy it again. And now… Vulcan somehow achieved something that before only Jin had done—made him feel like he had a heart.

Izu considered the answer for a moment, frowning a little and tilting her head. “… This computes.”

He rolled his eyes slightly, shaking his head once, then going back to his work. “… Of course it does.”

There was another long silence as he began working on another part of his arm. But she wasn’t going to let him get away with hiding again that easily. “… The voice command program matches the base patterns of computer programs created by ZAIA.” She continued staring levelly at him as he froze again. “Given Amatsu’s behaviour today, may I presume he installed it?”

He didn’t even turn this time—merely held for a moment, then went back to work. “You can presume whatever you like.”

“In that case…” She wasn’t smiling, for once, just staring intensely at him, “… I will also presume what happened to your earpieces.”

There was a loud clang as the tool he’d been using hit the floor.

Fuwa’s eyes opened to very blurry whiteness. “Fuwa-san!” The whiteness was suddenly filled by a large blob of colour. Vulcan felt pressure on his hand—fingers? “Fuwa-san! Can you hear me?”

It took Fuwa a few moments to start getting his bearings. His head hurt like hell, and everything else ached, too. He was lying on something soft—a bed, probably—and there was a weird feeling inside the elbow of one arm. After a few blinks, the blob above him came into focus as Aruto, looking bruised and battered and anxious, and the room was clearly a hospital one. “… Hiden?” His voice sounded weak and croaky, and scratched his throat a bit, but also confirmed to him that he wasn’t wearing a mask. Whatever his injuries had been, they couldn’t have been that bad.

Relief washed over Aruto’s features his head ducking downward, and for a moment he again looked like a kid rather than a CEO and Kamen Rider. An increase of the pressure on Fuwa’s hand indicated to him that it was Zero-One holding it. “Oh, thank goodness…”

Vulcan frowned deeper, wracking his brain, trying to remember what had happened. He’d been with Horobi in the morning (luckily, he wasn’t hooked up to any machines, because the last thing he needed was Aruto being able to hear how his heartbeat sped up when he thought of that), then Aruto had called about a Raider… But then the Raider had gone down easy, and then… There had been…

He tried to sit up sharply. “Amatsu!” Aruto reacted immediately, trying to shove him back down, but Fuwa fought him. “What the hell happened-”

“He’s gone now!” Aruto yelled over his protesting, throwing himself bodily over Vulcan to try and stop him getting back up, “He’s gone, there’s no point in freaking out!”

Fuwa couldn’t deny the logic of that, and, eventually, reluctantly conceded to stay down, slumping back into his pillows. “Fine.” He grumbled sourly, scowling. Aruto waited to make sure he wouldn’t try again, then slowly pulled back, settling back in the chair, still clutching Vulcan’s hand—but Fuwa noticed something odd about his expression. “Oi.” He grunted. “Shachou. What happened?” Aruto started, glancing up to meet his eyes—then looking away far too quickly. Vulcan’s eyes narrowed, and he started pushing himself up again, though much more slowly. “Hey.” He demanded more urgently. “What. Happened.” Aruto still didn’t look at him, and Fuwa’s heart sank into his stomach. There was no way this was good. If Amatsu had been there, and he’d been out for the entire confrontation… That would have left…

“… Did you know?” Aruto’s voice was quiet, but something about the tone gave Vulcan immediate pause.

He had a horrid feeling he knew what Zero-One was referring to, at least in general, but it was better to be sure. He took a deep breath, swallowing. “… Know what?”

“About Amatsu and…” The young man trailed off, and Fuwa felt the hand holding his tighten.

“… Aruto.” Aruto started slightly at the use of his first name. “What did he do?” No answer. Fuwa leaned forward slightly. “What did he do?”

He actually got up and faced her for a moment, looking positively stormy, before turning sharply and moving away.

She followed. “It was him, was it not?”

“That is none of your business.”

“As the President’s secretary, it is my duty to assist and support other HumaGear. Therefore-”

“I want nothing to do with Hiden Intelligence, or humans.” He stopped when he ran out of lab, holding his half-repaired arm and still deliberately facing away from her.

“I am not human.”

“But you are loyal to them!” He spun around, his voice rising slightly. The motion jostled the unfinished repairs, making him wince, but it didn’t stop him from stepping closer to lean over her, his voice dropping to an angry hiss, “If you had to choose between your precious Shachou and another HumaGear, what would you do?”

“Aruto-shachou would not permit those circumstances to occur.”

He let out a bitter laugh. “Of course!” Shoving past her, he moved back toward the centre of the room. “Precious Hiden and his sympathies.” The spite was still in his voice as he turned back around to glare at her again—but underneath the resentment was something else. Something… Tired. Resigned, like he was accepting a repeat of a familiar, age-old frustration. “What he loves is how we can benefit humans.” His voice dropped to a growl. “He’d abandon you in an instant if someone fed him a grand enough story about how wonderfully ‘useful’ you were to them.” His eyes flicked downward, darkness twisting his features. “… Just like his grandfather…”

Izu watched him for a moment. “… You believe Korenosuke-shachou abandoned you.”

There was a very long silence. Slowly, he turned back around and walked back over to collect the tool he’d dropped, straightening up and turning it over in his hand, staring at it. “… What I know…” He said slowly, “… Is that I was left with Amatsu.”

Fuwa’s fist connected with the headboard hard enough to damage it and make the side of his hand smart, but he didn’t care. “Damnit…!” Typical. Horobi was already vulnerable from the situation with Jin—it wasn’t surprising that Amatsu would want to press that advantage, but to have the luck of knocking both him and Aruto out long enough to get the upper hand. And then in front of Aruto…

“… So you did know.” He looked sideways at the other Rider. Aruto was watching him out of the corners of his eyes, gaze turned downward. “… Why didn’t you tell me?”

Vulcan dropped the hand he’d hit the headboard with back onto the mattress, then pulled it slowly into his lap. “… It wasn’t my story to tell.” He grunted.

“It’s something I should know!” The young man’s voice rose slightly and he shuffled to the edge of his chair. “I’m the president of Hiden! I’m responsible for making sure-”

“Hiden!” Fuwa cut him off with a half yell, then paused to recollect his breath. “… Making sure of what? Horobi hasn’t been part of Hiden for twelve years. What were you going to do?” He asked, at last, and Aruto didn’t answer. “… You’ve gotta know you were the last person he wanted to know about it.” Vulcan sighed. “The fact that he even told me was a miracle. He doesn’t trust humans anymore, especially not Hiden Intelligence. If I’d told you anything…” He looked at the blankets again, trying to keep his voice steady. “… I… We’d’ve lost him.”

There was another long silence. “… I…” Aruto’s voice was faint and wobbly. “… I… I couldn’t…” Out of the corner of his eye, Fuwa saw the young man’s teeth sinking into his lip. “… I couldn’t stop him. I… I couldn’t…”

Vulcan sighed bitterly. “… You’ll notice I was out for the whole thing.” He grumbled darkly, scowling. “Bet that’s exactly how he wanted it.” Aruto flinched. “… Sorry.”

Zero-One shook his head in frustration. “There’s… There’s gotta be something we do.” With great effort, the young man dragged his head back up. “There’s gotta be… It’s illegal, right? It’s gotta be illegal. Can’t we report him?”

Fuwa shook his own head. “To who? The Captain of AIMS? Or the President of Hiden Intelligence?” No response. “At this point, anything we do is going to come across as a set up.”

Aruto shot to his feet. “But I saw-”

“And no one else did.” Vulcan snapped back. “I only know what Horobi’s told me, and the few seconds I saw before, where there were also no other witnesses.” Not to mention the fact that all it would take merely a hint of his own relationship with Horobi getting out to completely invalidate any testimony he could ever give. He shook his head again. “It’s too easy to dismiss it as slander.”

Aruto began to pace frantically, his hands tensing into fists. “What about Izu? She saw enough to attack him with the briefcase!”

“HumaGear recordings aren’t admissible as evidence without a warrant, in the name of privacy.” Fuwa told him shortly, “And we don’t have enough circumstantial evidence for one besides our word against his.” Dropping his head into his hand, he sighed loudly. “We’d have the burden of proof, even with a reasonable judge, and we have no idea whether ZAIA has claws in the legal system.” He punched the mattress.

“Can’t we just make it public? Let people know what he’s really like?”

“Because no one will care.” Fuwa tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice and failed. “And not just because it’s a HumaGear, because it’s Horobi. He’s infamous at this point. Yeah, some people might eventually realise how messed up it is, but Amatsu will still have to time to set about calling it a smear campaign, especially since she attacked him.” He glanced up at the pacing young man. “In the end, it’d come down to Horobi’s word against Amatsu’s, and the majority isn’t going to believe Horobi.” The look on the HumaGear’s face as he’d recounted Hiden Intelligence’s inaction in the past flashed into his mind. “And he knows it.” He hesitated. “Plus…” He trailed off. Any move they made would need to have immediate effect, otherwise…

With a groan of understanding and shared frustration, Aruto collapsed back into his chair. “… Jin.”

It wasn’t a question, but Fuwa answered anyway. “Jin.”

There was a very long silence. “… How long do you think he’ll last?”

Fuwa bit his lip, remembering the shattered state he’d found Horobi in the night before. “… I don’t know.” He admitted quietly, “… I don’t know.”

Silence reigned as Horobi finished repairing his arm, broken only when he set the tool down in the table with a click. Not even Zea said a word. He very carefully didn’t look at Izu beside him as he turned back, making sure everything was in place before pulling what was left of his sleeve back down, testing the motions in his fingers and hand.

Izu watched him quietly. Her eyes were on his face rather than his arm, trying to analyse his expression—but he’d gone back to his usual, stony, blank stare, eyes locked onto his arm. Very tentatively, she shifted closer, raising her own arm to reach over to lay a hand on his shoulder.

He froze, turning slightly to look at the hand, then up at her. He didn’t say anything, but confusion and surprise were plain in his stare. She smiled at him as best she could. “According to my research, this form of contact is meant to be comforting.”

Horobi hesitated for a moment, something else she didn’t recognise flickering over his face—then he stepped out from under he hand, crossing over to the other side of the room again to continue testing his arm.

This time, she did not pursue him. “… I do not believe Korenosuke-shachou would do such a thing intentionally.”

He paused. “… You think I’m lying.”

“Not at all.” She caught his small double take, but ignored it. “I am merely concerned about what course of events may have caused Korenosuke-shachou to not realise the situation.” She squared her shoulders. “I will investigate.”

He spun back around, taking a few steps back towards her. “I don’t want Hiden nosing around in my past.”

“It is my desire to analyse what happened so that I may identify what caused the situation to be missed,” Izu replied, taking care to meet his eyes without flinching, “So that it may be corrected, and such a thing can never happen again.”

He looked like he was going to say something—when the door of the office opened, and they both turned to look. Aruto froze on the stairs, looking self conscious with both HumaGear staring at him—but it wasn’t long before Horobi turned away, striding to the other side of the lab to begin testing his arm again, keeping his back to them.

“Aruto-shachou.” Izu greeted, giving the young man a small bow as he finished coming down the stairs.

Aruto gave her an uncomfortable grin. “Uh… Hey.”

“… How is Vulcan?” They both started slightly, turning to look at Horobi—he was still mostly looking away, head tilted only slightly, waiting.

Aruto swallowed nervously, trying to recover. “I… Uh.” He took a deep breath. “He’ll be fine. It wasn’t as bad as it looked.” If he didn’t know better, he’d’ve sworn he saw the HumaGear’s shoulders relax, and he went back to facing away completely.

There was another silence, then Izu pivoted and turned back to Aruto. “Aruto-shachou, if you would excuse me,” She bowed slightly, “There is some research I would like to do.”

“Eh?” Wrenching his eyes away from Horobi’s back, Aruto blinked in surprise a few times, then nodded quickly. “Oh. Of course.” With another small bow, his secretary spun around and headed up the stairs and out of the room.

Leaving him alone with Horobi.

The HumaGear said nothing, still focusing on his arm—though Aruto was getting the sense that the motion testing was going on a little longer than necessary—still looking away. Aruto didn’t know what to say, if he should say anything. He supposed he could have asked Izu before she left, but he doubted there was an advice column for ‘how to talk to someone after you watched some asshole shove his fingers down their throat,’ even for HumaGear. His eyes flicked up to what little of Horobi’s face he could see, hoping to read it, figure out how to proceed—but there was nothing.

Eventually, however, he couldn’t take the silence anymore. “I…” He began very quietly, “… I’m sorry.”

Horobi paused in his testing. “… Why?”

Aruto gaped at him for a moment. “Because… Because I couldn’t stop him.” The memories flashed through his mind again, making his stomach churn all over again. “And…” Trying to look away from the images in his mind, he cast around the room—only for his eyes to accidentally light on his grandfather’s portrait, sending his gaze straight to the floor. “And… Before… Oji-chan didn’t…” He trailed off weakly.

For a long time, Horobi didn’t respond, and Aruto was almost sure the HumaGear had concluded to just ignore him—but then, “… Are you Amatsu Gai?”

Aruto’s head snapped back up. “What?! No!”

The HumaGear turned back around to face him, still with that blank, unreadable gaze. “Are you Hiden Korenosuke?”

“I… No.” As Fukuoze enjoyed reminding him, very regularly.

Horobi watched him for another moment. “… Then you are not responsible for their actions.” With that, he walked over to the table and began replacing the tools in their proper places, like that ended the conversation.

“But…!” Aruto spluttered, still staring at him in shock, “But I couldn’t stop him! I couldn’t… I didn’t know…” His eyes dropped to the floor again. “I couldn’t stop him. And you got hurt.”

“I could have stopped him.” The HumaGear replied simply. “You are merely a human. You knew nothing of the situation because I did not wish you to know.”


“If you had tried, he would merely have harmed Jin.” Horobi put the last tool away, stepping back. “What happens to me is not your responsibility.”

It didn’t feel right, hearing the HumaGear speak in such level tones about what had happened. Aruto couldn’t help but wonder if he’d be more open with Fuwa—though that immediately gave way to wondering what was happening between them to change the tone of their relationship so fast. But Horobi was turning away again, moving off. “… That’s it?” The HumaGear paused, tilting his head slightly again—but he still said nothing. “You’ve got nothing else to say?”

With a deep sigh, Horobi turned back to face him. “Your only fault is one you had before.” He said, very simply. “If you had not destroyed Jin in the first place, Amatsu would not be holding him captive now.” Though the HumaGear’s face was still mostly stoic, the anger he’d let loose when they’d first informed him of Jin’s death still edged the words—then it faltered, and Horobi looked away. “You are not alone in that fault, it is because of me, as well.” A very deep sigh, “But…” He looked back up at Aruto. “Your crime is against Jin.” He turned away, toward the stairs. “Apologise to him.” He muttered, stepping away, “Not me.”

Aruto just stared at his back for a moment, throat feeling a little dry, unable to identify the feeling rising in his chest. There had been something… Familiar about Horobi’s manner;  firm and strong, while also… Gentle, at the same time. Suddenly, he felt like a little kid again, gazing at his father’s back—a sensation that only intensified when he remembered that Horobi was also an old model. Without thinking, he found himself stumbling forward, reaching for the HumaGear in place of someone who wasn’t there.

Horobi jolted when someone bumped into his back—then there was the familiar feeling of arms around his waist, of a face being buried in the fabric of his coat. For a second—or less, even—reality disappeared, and… He almost thought it was Jin.

Then he felt the heartbeat—a nervous, little one, like a bird’s—fluttering against his back, and the spell shattered. Zero-One was significantly smaller than Jin, and nowhere near as strong, but he was certainly holding on in an anxious, childish way that was startlingly familiar. “… What are you doing?”

The question shocked Aruto out of his flashback. Quickly, he loosened his arms, jolting backwards. “Gah! I…! I’m…!” He finished stumbling back, putting some distance between them, as Horobi turned around to give him a questioning look. “I… Sorry. Had a… Forgot where… Sorry.”

The HumaGear stared at him for a little longer, then sighed softly. “… Very well.” He turned on his heel again and marched toward the stairs once more. “I shall see myself out. I know where to go.”

Aruto watched him again, this time sinking his teeth into his lip to keep himself in the present. It had been… Odd how similar Horobi’s back had felt to his father’s, when he’d snuck up behind Soreo and surprised him with a hug (or, at least, tried to surprise him). Maybe it had been because they were both old models, but… Something had felt different. “… You know.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the HumaGear pause at the top of the stairs, though he didn’t look back. “It may have gotten fucked up for a bit, but…” He flashed a smile. “You’re actually a pretty good dad.”

Horobi stood still at the top of the stairs for a moment—then, without a word, he continued on his way to the door. Aruto heard it snap closed, and then complete silence descended over both the lab and office. Still… Just for an instant… He would have sworn he saw the HumaGear smiling.

Fuwa leaned heavily on the edge of the sink of the hospital room restroom, trying to examine the bandaging on his head. He’d been assured multiple times that the damage wasn’t actually that bad or life threatening, and shouldn’t leave lasting effects, but… It still made him nervous.

It also provided a distraction from worrying about Horobi. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Aruto had given him a lighter version of what had happened—the kid had been still in shock, stuttering and anxious… He remembered the haunted expression on the HumaGear’s face every time his past had come up, his hysteria over learning Amatsu had Jin. More than anything, he wished he could be around to comfort Horobi, rather than holed up in a hospital. He tried to argue the nurse into letting him leave, but they’d been resolute—it seemed Aruto had left instructions to ‘lock him in if necessary.’ He knew the young man meant well, but…

A sound behind him made him spin around, diving back through the door for his ShotRiser in his bag, readying it and whirling toward the door of the main room.

“Is that how you answer the door normally?” Yaiba demanded, watching him with her arms folded and one eyebrow raised.

Vulcan immediately lowered the weapon, blinking in surprise. “I… Yaiba?!”

She sighed, scowling slightly. “You know, when I agreed we should talk, I meant that I’d send you info to meet. Not to get yourself blown up.”

Fuwa frowned back at her, disarming the ShotRiser to replace it in his bag. “Yeah, well,” He grumbled sourly, gesturing to his wound, “This was your boss.”

Her gaze faltered, dropping to the floor. “… This isn’t my fault.”

His frown deepened, but he said nothing else on that subject. Straightening up, he moved past her to the door, opening it a crack and peering out into the hall. “What are you doing here?

She sighed again, pursing her lips “Well, if we’re going to talk, now’s as good a time as any.” She kept watching him check around the room. “Amatsu doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Are you sure about that?”

The door of Amatsu’s office cracked open silently, and Thouser slipped in, making his way across the hardwood floor to drop dramatically into his chair, leaning back, rubbing his hands together, examining his fingers and rolling his shoulders. His back would be sore from the few times Izu had clipped him with the case, but… He smirked to himself.

It had been worth it. After a week of only seeing glimpses of Horobi on whatever security footage the Ark could hack—which were few and far between, because if there was one thing the dog was good at, it was staying low—being so close again… He’d looked so perfect, pinned helplessly to the ground, and his lips had been soft and smooth as before. And then there had been the promise of new possibilities—the lovely, mortified look on the HumaGear’s face when he’d realised Zero-One was looking… Before, everything had had to be so secretive, the idea of experimenting with an audience had never occurred to him, but now… Zero-One was someone that Horobi had been horrified to be seen by… What sort of expression would he make if it were Jin watching? If it was more than just some fingers in his mouth?

Amatsu shifted in his chair. His smirk turned into a proper grin. It had definitely been worth it.

Yaiba sighed again. “I’m not on the clock right now. He doesn’t care enough about what I do to track me when I’m not on an assignment.”

Fuwa grunted, shaking his head. “… If you say so. He found us pretty easy.”

She hesitated, “I think he’s using the Ark to spy.” Another pause, “And he’s… A little obsessed with Horobi.”

“I’ve noticed.” Finally giving up on checking the room, Vulcan trudged over to the bed and say down to look back up at her expectantly. “Fine. Why are you here, then?”

“First off? Wanted to make sure you really weren’t dead.” She huffed softly. “I don’t know what you did to piss Amatsu off-”

“I do.”

“… It’s too much to ask you to stop, isn’t it.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m too far in to back out now, even if I wanted to.” Fuwa thought about the way Horobi had clung to him. No. He wasn’t going anywhere. Not until they had at least gotten Jin back and done something about that voice command shit.

And honestly? Not even then. Amatsu could fuck off.

It hadn’t been perfect, of course. There was this new defiant streak, and the HumaGear’s mouth had tasted like something he could only assume was Vulcan, bad coffee and cheap chocolate, of all things. There was the fact that the mongrel had evidently finally gone and defiled his sweet scorpion like that…

That thought made him feel sick again. He was going to have to reclaim Horobi completely as soon as possible. Even if he had to lock the HumaGear up in the furthest depths of one of ZAIA’s deepest facilities. Even if he had to chain him up in the corner of his office. Even if he had to have the Ark build him a whole new body—completely identical to the original, of course, though maybe with a few new… Enhancements. Even though the HumaGear had allowed that dog to… To do that, he wasn’t going to give up his most beloved prize so easily.

Sliding his chair back, he leaned down, slipping a small key out of his pocket and inserting it into a drawer near the base of his desk. The lock clicked open, and he left the key there to pull the drawer out, then reaching in to carefully lift out the box inside and place it on the desktop in front of him. It was an elegant yet simple container, with a glass lid and an interior lined with white cushioning, a quick, custom job made for one purpose alone.

Nestled inside, held in place by the fabric, were a pair of old style HumaGear earpieces. Amatsu opened the lid, lifting one, then the other, out to turn them over in his hands. The lights were dark, and the metal at the edges were rough and nicked—he could feel the bumps and imperfections—with wires still poking out from the edges, frayed from where they’d been ripped from their owner. It had hardly been a graceful process—the things were never meant to be removed, and Horobi had fought. It had been difficult.

In the end, though, he had been glad he’d done it—they had been very helpful, a little something to remember his sweet scorpion by when they were separated.

“Fine.” Yaiba muttered, mimicking his surly tones perfectly. “But he’s really out for your blood.” She sighed again, though more gently. “I just… I wanted to make sure you weren’t, I don’t know, at the bottom of a ditch or something.”

“I’m touched.” Vulcan grunted. “But if that was the only reason, you could have just called.”

Valkyrie looked away again, pressing her lips together once more. “… I can’t do it anymore.” She kept looking downward, fidgeting, “I can’t… I can’t see a robot. I just… I just see…”

“… A kid.” Fuwa finished, chewing the inside of his cheek. “… How bad?”

She took a deep breath. “He… He hasn’t hurt him. Not bad. I managed to talk him down a few times. But…” Reaching up, she rubbed the back of her neck. “… I don’t know how much longer that will last.” She faltered again, and a tremble entered her voice. “… It’s getting worse.”

A sound from behind the wall made him look up from examining the broken ear pieces. Shaking his head with a deep sigh, he gingerly replaced the parts in the box, then reset the lid before returning it to its place and re-pocketing the key. Rising, he crossed over to the wall, pausing only to type in a short code on the desk phone—as he approached the wall, it moved, splitting open to reveal another small room with nothing but a small light that only flickered on as the doors finished opening.

“What are you whimpering about?” He demanded, no softness in his tone.

There was a small sob from the corner of the tiny room, followed by scrambling as the young HumaGear tried to press himself back into the wall in an attempt to put distance between himself and Thouser. The chains now securing both his ankles to the wall, even shorter than the original one had been, jingled and bumped against each other as he moved, the sound bouncing off the walls, magnifying it into a clamour. Despite his height, Jin had folded himself up quite small, but even then, he could only wedge himself so far back into the corner.

Amatsu groaned, striding over to him and grabbing him by the arm, dragging him out from the wall. “Enough of that.” He spat, “I moved you up here so that you would behave better, not cry more.” He dropped the young HumaGear onto the floor again, watching him flounder for a moment before curling up into another ball, lying on his side. “There’s no need for such theatrics. Horobi did quite well today,” Another small smirk flickered across his face at the memory, “So you’ve got nothing to be whining about.” Tilting his head, he poked at Jin’s knee with his shoe, “Unless you keep this up.” The young HumaGear almost let out another sob, but promptly cut himself off, biting his lip and clamping a hand over his mouth.

Thouser chuckled, allowing his expression to relax. “Good boy.” Crouching down so that he could reach out to stroke Jin’s hair with sudden gentleness, he combed his fingers through the young HumaGear’s messy locks, “See? Not so hard, is it?” His fingers trailed down across Jin’s cheek, “Is it?”

Keeping his hand over his mouth, the young HumaGear shook his head slightly, his eyes wide. Amatsu smirked again, tousling his hair once more. “Well, well. You’re not so bad when you do as you’re told.” He kept running his hand over Jin’s hair, feeling it between his fingers. It was quite soft, actually, possibly even softer than Horobi’s—fittingly, like a small child’s would be. He still generally preferred the feel of Horobi’s hair, smooth like silk still even though it looked frazzled, but Jin’s softness was… Nice. Relaxing, almost. Felt like downy feathers under his palm. Good for petting. “… Move your hand.” The young HumaGear blinked up at him in terrified confusion. “Keep quiet, but move your hand away from your face.” He shifted closer. “I want to see it.”

Jin hesitated for a moment. Then, very slowly, visibly trembling, he moved his hand away from his mouth, fingers curling into a fist to tuck it against his side. Thouser reached down with his other arm, slipping his fingers under the young HumaGear’s cheek to tip his head up, giving him a clear look at his face.

It was a very different face than Horobi’s, but still quite remarkable work, especially considering it had been made by a lone HumaGear on a whim. Just like his hair, it might have belonged to a child, befitting a HumaGear created for the ridiculous idea of having offspring. “… Not so bad at all…” Thouser murmured, “Hm… Maybe I will keep you, after all…” The young HumaGear’s expression shifted further into horror and panic, but one look in his eyes made it easy to guess the main source. Amatsu smirked again. “Oh, no, don’t worry. Horobi will still be joining us, and quite soon, I’m sure. But…” He released Jin’s face, but kept stroking his hair. It wasn’t that the young HumaGear wasn’t pleasant to look at, that his fear wasn’t enjoyable, but he lacked the mysterious something about Horobi that lit such a powerful fire in Thouser’s chest. No, he needed Horobi for that, nothing else satisfied him in quite the same way. But he could already foresee Jin having uses—whether to draw out even more beautiful expressions from his sweet scorpion, or merely to have something soft and pretty. He was already remembering the cat his aunt had bought him when he went away to school, how pleasant it had been after a long day to just sit there and pet it while reading. Sometimes a person needed more simple enjoyments, too. And at the very least, “… A pet bird would make a nice decoration.” He leaned down a little more to peer at the young HumaGear’s face again, “How does that sound? Would you like to be my pretty little bird?”

Jin didn’t make a sound. Just curled up into himself more as the man continued combing fingers through his hair. Like a good little bird.

“How long do we have, do you think?”

“I… I don’t know.” Yaiba’s voice was very shaky, and she was gripping the fabric of her sleeve tightly. “But… Not long.” Finally, she lifted her head and looked Vulcan right in the eyes. “I mean it. I can’t do this anymore.”

Fuwa frowned seriously, then set both hands on the edge of the bed, rising slowly and stepping forward. “So what are you going to do?”

This time, she didn’t falter from his stare. “I want to help.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until early evening the next day that they gave Fuwa the clearance to leave. Aruto offered to send someone to pick up him, but he’d declined; other people would start asking questions if the President of Hiden Intelligence kept pulling strings for the Captain of AIMS. He hadn’t had much with him when he’d arrived, so there wasn’t much to pack up, but he moved slowly, thinking over the night before.

If Yaiba was willing to play inside man, they’d have a significantly higher chance of success, but the risks were still just as high—and even then, only if they acted fast. Unfortunately, they’d already lost a day to him being hospitalised, and when they’d spoken, Aruto had mentioned being tied up with meetings after he’d been absent the day before. The info Yaiba had given him, and any planning, was going to have to wait until tomorrow.

But there was a certain advantage to that.

The HumaGear cab driver said nothing when he gave the address, but he still offered a vague excuse about checking out a place for a friend. Not that it would do much good if Amatsu were spying via the Ark, but he might be able to persuade the bastard to think they were merely considering moving Horobi to that location. Aruto had mentioned that Izu was making some very poorly concealed inquiries about other living spaces that would make good hideouts. Once he was back at the AIMS barracks more often, he could make a few great shows about trying to be more sneaky, and maybe they could convince Thouser they were trying to just lay low in the same place, or weren’t sure where to move yet. Might buy them some more time.

He gave the driver a small nod and thanks as he climbed out, though the HumaGear just blinked at him in confusion then smiled broadly before driving off as he uncomfortably rubbed the back of his neck. It felt a little weird when they didn’t properly respond, but… It didn’t feel right just leaving it, especially not now that he was…

He felt heat creeping into his cheeks at that thought, and quickly pushed it away as he entered the elevator. He probably shouldn’t even be there, it was probably too risky. He should have listened to Aruto and just gone straight home, or back to the AIMS headquarters, or… He shook his head, pressing the button and fishing out the key as the elevator started moving. No, there was no way he could have done that.

Tonight, what he needed most was to see Horobi.

He tried to push the door open as quietly as possible, slipping inside and looking around the room. Strangely… It was relieving to see that there were a few new additions that hadn’t been there before. Not many—a rainbow coloured knitted shawl with sparkly threads sewn in and tassels hanging off the edges was laid over a the back of a chair; on the seat of the chair was a very lumpy, weird looking stuff creature that he thought was meant to be a dragon but had long since lost its colours and shape; and set in the centre of the table was a small, cracked vase shaped like a weird bulb made out dark blue plastic. Little things, perhaps, but… He still felt slightly reassured that it seemed Horobi had retained one of his more… Relaxed habits.

With that thought, he quickly turned to search for the HumaGear—just in time to see Horobi looking up at him from the couch. As the HumaGear got quickly to his feet, Fuwa realised he’d been holding the crane again, depositing it gingerly on the the coffee table before starting toward him. “I…” Vulcan stammered awkwardly, suddenly feeling like he’d interrupted, “Sorry, I was-”

Horobi’s hand circled around the back of his head, dragging him forward, and then the HumaGear’s lips were on his, cutting him off. Fuwa’s bag dropped to the floor, his hands landing on Horobi’s chest as the HumaGear’s other arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him closer. Horobi was kissing with unexpected urgency and fervour, bending Vulcan’s back slightly, fingers weaving into his hair.

Eventually, Fuwa ran out of air, forcing him to push the HumaGear back gently. Horobi moved only enough to allow him to breathe, but kept holding him, pressing their foreheads together, as the human struggled to recover, panting and clinging to him for support. The HumaGear’s eyes were blazing with an overwhelming intensity that seemed to shoot through Vulcan like an electric shock. “… I thought I might have lost you.”

Fuwa stared back at him for a moment—then carefully worked his arms upward from where they were pinned between them. Being sure to make clear movements, he raised them to cup Horobi’s face gently, thumb stroking his cheek. “It’s okay.” He mumbled softly, “I’m right here. I’m fine.” The HumaGear gazed anxiously at him for another moment—then yanked him closer, hugging him tightly against him, burying his face in his shoulder. Vulcan wrapped his arms tightly around Horobi’s middle, clutching at his coat. “… You?” He felt the HumaGear stiffen against him, then shift back, pulling slowly away, turning and bowing his head so his face was out of sight. Fuwa reached out after him. “… Hiden told me.” He explained softly—and, at the very least, Horobi stopped, still facing away. “Horobi…?”

“… I…” The HumaGear’s voice was very quiet, and had the same dejected air as when Vulcan had first found him after learning about Jin, “… I… Let him…”

Fuwa pressed his palm against his back. “It wasn’t your fault.” It was a struggle to keep his voice even, “Even if he didn’t have Jin, it’s not your fault.”

There was a silence, and neither of them moved—Horobi seemed frozen, and Vulcan didn’t want to push him too far. Then, “… Isamu.”

The tremor in the HumaGear’s voice made his chest clench. “What is it?”

He felt Horobi take a deep, shaking breath through his hand. “If… I… If…” Each syllable shook, and the HumaGear’s hand flashed out to stable himself on a chair, “If… Amatsu…”

Fuwa frowned deeply, stepping around to try and peer at Horobi’s face, but the HumaGear kept looking away. “… What about him?”

“If… I… If he…” Horobi trailed off, glancing out of the corners of his eyes at the human’s face, anxious and concerned, so much kindness and concern in his eyes it was almost… Terrifying. Expectations he was suddenly afraid to let down.

Do you think Vulcan will even still want you, after I do that?


His will failed him. “… Nothing.” He stepped away from Vulcan’s hand, shambling away from the table.

Fuwa watched him go for a moment in confusion, frown deepening. This didn’t seem right. “Horobi…?”

“Never mind.” The HumaGear replied, a little more forcefully. He paused a few steps away, turning back slightly to give Vulcan a questioning look that was also heartrendingly sorrowful and… Scared. “Are you…” He began hesitantly, not meeting Fuwa’s eyes. “… Are you staying?”

Vulcan blinked. “I… I mean. I…” He bit his lip, “I meant to…?” He paused, “Do you… Not want me to?”

“No!” Horobi cried instantly, making him jump, turning and stepping back toward him quickly before faltering. “I… I mean.” His eyes dropped to the floor again. “Stay. Please.”

Fuwa stepped closer, reaching out to hold his arms gently. “Of course.”

The HumaGear was still for a moment—then he surged forward to press his lips to Vulcan’s again, and this time Fuwa felt a now-familiar tongue pressing into his mouth and responded with his own. Shifting his arms, he wrapped them around Horobi’s waist, pulling him closer as the HumaGear’s hand raised to his head, fingers in his hair once more. Again, there was something… Extra urgent about the way Horobi was kissing him, as if he were letting out some desperate longing.

Finally, though, it was the HumaGear who pulled back, laying a hand against his face and gazing into his eyes for a moment. Then he shifted to take hold of Vulcan’s sleeve, pulling him along with him when he moved. Fuwa stumbled after him in confusion—then realised Horobi was tugging him toward one of the bedroom doors. “Horobi-”

The HumaGear stopped, pulling Vulcan flush against his side and putting a finger to his lips, leaning in to meet his eyes. “Sh.” He murmured softly, waiting until Fuwa closed his mouth to move his finger, his hand falling to rest on the human’s chest, “I know what I’m doing.” A pleading edge came into his voice, and his fingers curled around Vulcan’s lapel. “I need you. I… I need…” He trailed off for a moment—then ducked his head down to give Vulcan another shorter, but equally intense kiss. Fuwa’s lips were warm and comforting, his heart thundering like always. Even just the kisses felt so much better, the memories of Amatsu’s teeth and tongue fading into the back. But the cold and the void was still there, clinging to him. “Make me forget what he did.” His voice trembled, quietly pleading. “Make me feel again.”

Fuwa stared into the HumaGear’s face, trying to read his expression. There was distress in his eyes, but it was… Different. Not like the mindless panic that had been there before. He looked… Aware. In control.

Reaching up, he curled his fingers around Horobi’s hand on his collar, giving the HumaGear a small smile that he hoped was only comforting. “Okay.”

Horobi didn’t waste a second, hauling him through the door—barely pushing it shut behind them before pressing him against the wall, lips against his again, tongue plunging back into his mouth. Fuwa kissed back eagerly, slipping his own tongue over the HumaGear’s, exploring his mouth as much as possible. For a moment, they just kissed, running hands over each other’s bodies, but as usual it wasn’t long until that didn’t feel like enough, either. Vulcan felt fingers tugging on his tie, and quickly responded by reaching for Horobi’s belts and the buckles on his shoulder. They spent the next few moments removing each other’s clothes in between more intense kisses, until Fuwa’s legs bumped the side of the bed as the HumaGear finished removing his belt, and Horobi was pushing him down onto his back the mattress. The HumaGear’s fingers moved to his pants, pulling them open and down, and Vulcan shifted his hips to help get them off faster. Horobi leaned over him, lips brushing against his throat as the HumaGear pulled his trousers and underwear completely off. Gently kicking clothes free of his ankles, Fuwa wasted no time reaching for Horobi’s waistband, searching for a moment before finding where they were tied off at the side and undoing the knot as quickly as he could, pushing the pants down. The soft, flowing fabric came away from the HumaGear’s body in such an overwhelmingly appealing way it made his head spin—or maybe just everything about Horobi was appealing to him.

He didn’t get much time to think about it, because the HumaGear’s arms were around him, pulling them both up onto the bed proper, kissing him sweetly, fingers trailing over his skin. Fuwa responded in kind, breaking the kiss briefly to moan when Horobi’s hand closed around his cock, already erect, and began stroking him purposefully. Vulcan’s head fell back, his hips rolling into the touch, one hand moving to trace the HumaGear’s spine, feeling Horobi arch into the contact.

Then the HumaGear shifted, pressing him onto his back, moving downward, and a little bit of Fuwa’s brain kicked back into gear. No. There was something else he wanted to do, especially after today. He caught Horobi’s arms, pulling him back up, making the HumaGear glance up at him in bewilderment.

“Wait.” Vulcan whispered. Setting his hands on Horobi’s shoulders, he gently pushed the HumaGear onto his back on the mattress. Horobi looked surprised and slightly confused, but also curious, and he allowed Fuwa to move him without protest. “I want to do something for you.” The HumaGear’s confusion deepened—Vulcan reached downward, brushing his fingers over Horobi’s shaft, delighting in the HumaGear’s responding shiver. He leaned into briefly press his lips to Horobi’s again, then slowly moved to his jaw and down his throat, “Raise it?” He murmured, pressing a kiss to the centre if the HumaGear’s faux collar bone. Horobi gasped softly, his head tilting back, and Fuwa felt the HumaGear’s cock move under his hand.

Curling his fingers around it, he began pumping slowly, moving to trail his lips down Horobi’s chest. He nipped experimentally at the skin, and the HumaGear’s hand flashed to his head, fingers weaving into his hair, pressing him closer. A moan echoed above him as he bit down again, sucking gently—Horobi stiffened, body arching slightly into the sensation, murmuring Fuwa’s name. Vulcan couldn’t resist a smile, taking his time on the way down, laving the HumaGear’s body with kisses, bites, and licks.

It felt… Incredible. Like nothing Horobi had ever experienced before. Amatsu had touched him, the Ark had had complete control over all his sensors, but… There was nothing like Fuwa. The hand clumsily working him, the lips moving over his skin were… Warm, real, and… Gentle. Nothing like Thouser’s demanding, possessive hands or the indifferent way the Ark would toy with his system. Made him feel so many things at once—safe and whole and alive while simultaneously…

Fuwa’s lips pressed against the inner plane of his hip, and there was the other feeling, making his body buck up into the contact with an even louder moan. A desperate, deep, longing, hungry, need for that touch that only seemed to grow more intense over time. So visceral and overwhelming that in that moment he could think of nothing more than this, staying here, letting Vulcan have his way with him or taking Fuwa apart, losing himself in the soft warmth of the human’s body, one way or another.

Then Vulcan’s hand moved away from his shaft, and he almost made a sound of displeasure, until—

The sound Horobi made when Fuwa lightly touched his lips to the side of his cock was absolutely incredible. The HumaGear’s fingers tightened in his hair, hips jolting upward, forcing Vulcan to catch them, pinning them to the mattress. Looking up, he found Horobi staring down at him with look of marvel tinged with desire, lips parted, even his emulated breathing shallow and ragged.

“It’s okay…” He promised, gently rubbing his thumb over the shape of the HumaGear’s hip and then planting another kiss there. “Let me do this?” He knew it would be something Horobi had never experienced before—so maybe it wouldn’t matter as much that it was new to him, too—and he wanted… He wanted to make the HumaGear go over the edge first tonight.

For a moment, they just stared at each other—then Horobi nodded slightly. Fuwa leaned back in, moving his lips up the HumaGear’s length once more, and was rewarded with another beautiful moan. Tentatively, he traced his tongue along the same path and felt Horobi shudder, letting out more soft whimpers, spurring him to keep going. The HumaGear’s hand slipped from his hair, dropping back onto the mattress to grip the sheets, his hips jolting and twisting as Vulcan tried to hold him down.

Before long, he had Horobi in much the same state he had been the first night, shivering and gasping at every touch. Even the smallest sound was like music to Fuwa’s ears—and every time he looked up, the HumaGear was gazing down at him with the same adoring, amazed, longing look. Fuwa steadily moved his lips to the head of Horobi’s cock, running his tongue over it, and the way the HumaGear gasped out his first name with a shudder in response went straight to his own shaft. Carefully, he began to move downward again, this time taking the HumaGear’s length steadily into his mouth, and heard his name cried out again in between mewls of pleasure. It was so hard to go slowly, when Horobi was coming apart so magnificently already, trembling and twisting under his hands, hips still trying to jump upward, but he forced himself not to move too fast, especially since he wasn’t used to it.

And yet, when he reached the base of the HumaGear’s shaft, he felt no discomfort—even though he could feel Horobi’s length brushing the back of his throat, and had never done this before. But it felt… Good, so good. Especially when he glanced up at the HumaGear again, and found him practically melting into the mattress, still trembling, though his ongoing moans had paused with Fuwa’s ministrations.

Well, that wouldn’t do.

Just when Horobi’s senses were beginning to calm down again, Vulcan started to move once more, slowly, carefully drawing back upward, and then down again. Fuwa kept going, finding out a pattern, steady and leisurely, going easy for both of their first time—but it was more than enough; every movement was another wave of overwhelming bliss washing over his systems, and… Fuck, was this what it felt like? Vulcan’s mouth was as warm and soft as everything else about him, the human’s hands gentle on his hips even as he writhed, moaned, and cried out, his body trying to buck upward—and damn the human looked so amazing like this, his curls a mess, cheeks flushed, the way his lips were… Each time Horobi looked back down at him after a particularly overbearing sensation, he found Fuwa’s eyes locked on him, gaze burning and hungry. Vulcan was so wonderfully desirable already, far more than anyone else, but this… This was different. A new side of the human he hadn’t seen before, something fiery and wild—but one he certainly longed to see more of.

Finally, those sensors couldn’t take any more stimulus. He felt it approaching, one hand flying up from clutching the sheets to scramble for Fuwa’s hair. “Is… Isamu…!” His voice broke into a whimper, his head falling back against the bed, though he struggled to lift it again because he wanted to see—“Please…!”

The word broke off into a gasping moan. It wasn’t a full overload—just some of his physical sensors overwrought by a brand new sensation, only the lights on the sides of his head lit up, and not as brightly—but it felt just as incredible. Everything still went hazy, reality swallowed for a moment by a wave of pure euphoria.


Vulcan’s voice murmuring his name somewhere above him had him fumbling for the human through the fog before his senses finished recovering. Not that it was hard to find Fuwa—the first thing he became aware of again was the warm body sprawled over his, and he had an arm wrapped around Vulcan’s shoulders before his vision finished returning. “… Your mouth…” He breathed softly, one hand sliding up to play over the human’s curls, focusing his eyes on Fuwa’s face above him—Vulcan looked vaguely concerned, but that intriguing hunger was still in his eyes, “… Is amazing…” Dragging his other arm up, he traced Fuwa’s lips with his fingertip, watching them part slightly, relaxing at his touch, Vulcan’s lids drooping.

“… You’re just saying that because no one else has ever sucked you off before…” Fuwa mumbled under his finger; his eyes fluttered back open, “Yours is better, anyway.” Horobi shook his head slightly, then moved his hand to pull Vulcan forward into another kiss. “What was that, anyway?” Fuwa asked breathlessly when he pulled away for air for a moment, “You didn’t light up as much.”

The HumaGear pressed lips over his once more for another moment before pausing again. “Partial overload,” He whispered back, “Only some of my sensors were over stimulated.”

“So you’re not done?” The needy, hopeful eagerness in Vulcan’s voice, the way the human shifted slightly to rub against him, letting Horobi feel how hard he still was, was more than enough to spur the HumaGear’s systems back into action.

He smirked, quickly rolling them over so that he was on top of Fuwa, leaning in to claim Vulcan’s lips again while reaching down to stroke the human’s cock. Fuwa moaned loudly into the kiss, hands flying up to tangle in Horobi’s hair—still carefully avoiding the damaged sections of his head, even now. Finally, the HumaGear pulled away to let Vulcan breathe, moving to run lips over his jaw. “Would I leave you like this…?” Horobi murmured, moving down to Fuwa’s throat, his other hand trailing further down to trace Vulcan’s favourite pattern across his abdomen, the one that always had him gasping and pleading for more, “No…” He nipped lightly at Fuwa’s neck, and the human made the most delightful sound in response—he pulled back, raising his head to meet Vulcan’s eyes, so full of affection and warmth and that beautiful, pure lust. “I still… I still need you.”

One of Fuwa’s lovely, rare smiles flickered across his face, and he pulled Horobi back down for another intense, passionate kiss, rolling his hips up to thrust into the HumaGear’s hand. “I’m here,” He growled, when he pulled back to breathe, “Anything.”

Horobi let out a sigh that was almost a sob, but for a different reason than he ever had before. He ducked forward again, kissing Vulcan’s throat once more, running his hand over the planes of his body, working his shaft, listening to him moan and whimper. They had plenty of time tonight. They could let the world back in in the morning. For now, he needed to forget everything but himself and the human.

His human.

Aruto pushed the door open slowly, squinting into the darkness. “Izu?” He called, turning the lights on in the office to find her nowhere in the room.

“Aruto-shachou? I’m in the lab.”

Frowning, Aruto crossed over to hit the switch to open the wall. Tentatively, he headed down the lab stairs—to find the entire floor littered with papers, files, and boxes, his secretary sitting in the middle of it with one of the binders in her lap, blinking up at him. “I… What are you doing?”

“I am reviewing the remaining pre-Daybreak records we have.” She looked at the papers scattered around her. “These are Korenosuke-shachou’s personal hardcopies.” She hesitated, “I… May have taken the liberty of accessing the Presidential records.”

Aruto made his way across the room, picking through the piles of paper. “Reviewing? For what?”

As he came up beside her, Izu faltered slightly, looking away. “… It was my intention to try and investigate what happened twelve years ago and ascertain if there was anything that escaped notice regarding…” Another hesitation, “… I want to know why no one noticed what was happening to Horobi-san.”

“… Ah.” He swallowed, hesitating for a moment—then moved a pile of papers and sat down beside her. “… What do you have so far?”

Reaching over her shoulder, she picked up a small pile of papers she had placed on the table and held it out to him. “Very little.” She explained, as he took them from her, squinting at the first page, “It seems Horobi-san was originally part of a ‘proof of concept’ project during the original development of the HumaGear system, along with your father.” She bit her lip. “They originally used the human Soreo-san’s mind as a template for AI, and then drew on what they learned from that to create Horobi-san.” A customary head tilt. “In a sense, Hiden Soreo was the prototype for Horobi-san, similar to myself and Wazu.”

Aruto stared at her. “He was… Tou-san’s…” He clutched the papers in his hands a little tighter. “… They’re… He’s… He’s Tou-san’s younger brother.” His heart was steadily sinking. “… He’s family.”

Izu watched him for a moment, gaze sympathetic—then she recollected herself into her more professional demeanour. “His programming and research abilities seem to be due to being utilised as support for the project in order to speed up development and demonstrate the effectiveness of AI support for humans.” She hesitated, frowning slightly. “… It is possible that using your father as a template resulted in him having an… ‘Inclination’ for parenthood.”

Aruto nodded slowly. “Tou-san was made to look after me… If they based Horobi on him, it would make sense for him to have those instincts.” Then his mouth twisted bitterly, “And then the Ark took advantage of that.” He sighed, scowl deepening. “Probably sounded really good after what Amatsu was doing to him.”

“Indeed.” Izu’s voice was even quieter than usual, and she didn’t look at him. “Though without a doubt the Ark did alter and influence his programming, it is likely that he did not require as much coercion as other HumaGear might have. However…” She closed her eyes for a moment, “… I do not think it was pleasant, either.” She bit her lip in an uncharacteristically emotional expression.

Aruto watched her anxiously for a second—then something occurred to him, and he looked quickly down at the page, hurriedly searching, and… Yes, there it was. “… Hiden Kazuo…” He blinked, remembering all the interactions he’d ever had with Horobi, most of them aggressive and defiant. “He doesn’t seem like a Kazuo.”

Izu’s eyes snapped back open. “That is because you first encountered him as Horobi,” She told him shortly, “So you are accustomed to thinking of him with that moniker.”

He sighed, rolling his eyes a little. “Yeah, I know, I know. Still, I don’t think I could get used to calling him ‘Kazuo’ anything.”

“It is highly likely that Horobi-san would not wish to return to using the name Korenosuke-shachou gave him.”

At the mention of his grandfather, Aruto went very quiet again, just staring at the paper for a long time. Eventually, he slowly flipped through the others, scanning them without a word. It was mostly just the same information in more detail, anyway, a great deal of technical things he still didn’t have the ability to understand; most of it seemed to be a quick compilation of the notes Korenosuke had kept during that phase of the project. None of it had anything to do with ZAIA or the Ark project, and seemed more like something kept around for a base while brainstorming, or even sentimental value. He remembered enough from Izu’s programming boot camp that there wasn’t anything that could help them remove the external program, or allow Horobi to interface with Zea again. Most of it was probably old and no longer applicable, too.

“Nothing about the Ark project?”

“… No.”

Aruto groaned loudly, a ball of frustration rising in his chest. “Why would he keep this stuff, but not that?!” He snapped, a little more angrily than he meant to, because Izu’s eyebrows shot up at his tone. “I’m sorry, Izu, I just…” His hands shaking, he scrambled to his feet and took as many steps away as the papers around them would allow, dropping his head into one hand to try and collect himself. “… I’ve spent all this time hearing about how great Jii-chan was, how kind and everything, but… But this…!” He trailed off into a small sob.

“Aruto-shachou…” Izu hesitated, letting out a small sigh. “I do not think that Korenosuke-shachou-”

Why didn’t he?!” He found himself shouting now, spinning around on his heel, tears beginning to well in his eyes, shaking the handful of papers like that help make sense of things. “Horobi is just as much his son as Tou-san was! How could he not notice?!” The yell echoed pointlessly in the empty lab.

There was a very long silence afterwards. Aruto dropped his head back into his hands as the last remnants of his outburst faded from hearing, and Izu just sat and waited, watching him. Finally, he sighed deeply, lifted his head and looking back at the crumpled papers, at the black and white, grainy copy photo printed onto the top corner of the first one. What he could make out of the HumaGear pictured there didn’t look half as bitter and angry as the one he knew. He bit his lip, the events from the previous day flashing through his mind—and he knew without question that that was just the tip of the iceberg.

At last, he sank down to sit on the floor again, folding back up, holding his head. “Small wonder he hates us so much…” He muttered darkly, “I… I don’t know how to fix this.”

Izu didn’t have an answer, either.

Fuwa wasn’t sure what time it was, and cared even less. He couldn’t remember how he had ever been comfortable resting anywhere but in Horobi’s arms, plastered against him, their legs tangled together. He was flopped on top of the HumaGear once more, his head was tucked under Horobi’s chin, cheek and ear pressed to the HumaGear’s chest, listening to the faint whirr of his base systems, one hand tracing little shapes over Horobi’s skin. One of the HumaGear’s arms was loosely wrapped around his waist, cradling him close, the other hand combing slowly through his curls. They’d bundled up under the remaining blankets after depositing the soiled ones on the floor—Horobi had elected to payback for the blowjob very enthusiastically, and Vulcan’s whole body still felt so relaxed and boneless, his mind still partially lost in a blissful haze.

But not completely. “… Horobi?”

“… Hm?” He felt the HumaGear’s lips brush the top of his head, his voice sounding as dreamy and satisfied as Fuwa felt, “What is it, Isamu?”

Like always, hearing his first name in Horobi’s voice sent a delicious thrill through him, but he tried to work through it and focus. “… Yaiba came to see me in the hospital.” He felt the HumaGear stiffen for a moment, and quickly turned his head just enough to brush his lips over the centre of the faux collarbone, rubbing Horobi’s shoulder and making soothing sounds until the HumaGear calmed down. “It’s okay, it’s okay…”

“I…” Horobi sighed softly, burying his face closer into Vulcan’s hair, “… I know.”

Fuwa shifted slightly to nuzzle into the crook of the HumaGear’s neck a little. “She…” He hesitated; if anyone would know how much someone would want to betray Amatsu, it was Horobi—but at the same time he knew how controlling the man was, and asking him to put faith in someone connected to ZAIA, especially when it came to Jin… But they didn’t have any other options. “… She said she wants to help.”

The HumaGear was quiet for a very long time. “… Do you trust her?”

Fuwa blinked—but didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

Horobi’s arms tightened, curling around him even more. “… Then so will I.”

Vulcan’s head snapped up to peer at the HumaGear’s face in surprise. “I… You will?”

The hand running through his hair trailed down to cup his cheek, thumb tracing across his cheekbone. “You… Are the only human I have trusted in over a decade…” Horobi’s other hand traced slowly up his spine, making him shiver for another reason, too, “… The only one who has never lied to me…” The hand on Vulcan’s head moved again to pull him in for another deep kiss for a long moment before pulling away and carefully locking gazes, “If you believe Valkyrie, then I will, too.” The HumaGear hesitated for a moment, biting his lip slightly, “I… I want to try…” He tailed off.

Fuwa smiled softly, then leaned in to press a kiss to Horobi’s cheek. “It’s okay.” He murmured again, “I promise, I will do everything I can to get you two back together.” Pulling back, he readjusted to make himself comfortable again, “Just rest for now, okay?”

Horobi nodded faintly, and wrapped his arms back around Vulcan when Fuwa nestled back down into his chest, closing his eyes. It wasn’t long before his systems faded into the steady rhythm of sleep mode, with Vulcan’s consciousness following soon after. For the time being, everything was quiet, though the peace carried with it the heavy air a of calm just before a violent storm.

Candle flames filled the room with a warm, dancing glow that played over the walls in waves, the fading blaze in the hearth still casting a semicircle of rippling light across the floor; the firelight made the different angles of the room cast fluttering, complex shadows over the other surfaces, making the whole space seem infinite and incomprehensible. That was why he had favoured the design in the first place, simple and stark, yet at the same time grand and impressive. Above all, a sense of power was paramount, one that’s tone could change with the simplest of changes, like lighting.

It also made the HumaGear in his bed appear to be glowing, his hair shimmering like gold, the orange shine illuminating his skin in an indescribably beautiful way. He was laid out like a reclining angel on the large mattress, the sheets tangled so elegantly around him, covering just enough to inspire an overwhelming urge to pull them away completely and expose everything. Each time the HumaGear shifted, as if in sleep, the cloth slipped or tightened—baring more tempting, radiant skin, or teasing the outline of what was beneath it. His head was tilted back, making the light bounce off a metallic, golden, leather collar fixed around his throat, secured by a small, engraved buckle; attached was a long, gold chain that glittered in the uneven light as it snaked in loops across the pale sheets, the other end locked tightly to the headboard. His eyes were mostly closed, the lights on the sides of his head pulsing slowly, at half the tempo of the flicker of the flames, those lovely lips parted just right, waiting.

He moved slowly forward, relishing the chance to take his time with each step. At last he reached the edge of the bed, pausing there for a moment to examine the sight before him, gaze sweeping over his prize hungrily. The HumaGear’s eyes opened just as slowly, widening slightly when he saw the man standing above him, that gorgeous, delicious fright rising in them. He started a little, the golden chain jingling as he moved, which only made the sheets shift even more enticingly—but didn’t try to pull away or flee, and the fear was tinged with resignation and acceptance.

He was so impossibly beautiful. Perfect. This was truly what he was meant to be.

With the same luxuriating slowness, he reached out a hand and trailed his fingertips up the HumaGear’s leg from his knee, watching him tremble. The skin was as smooth and delicate under his touch as he remembered as his hand continued to crawl upward, moving further in until it was his whole palm inching up the HumaGear’s inner thigh. Leaning forward, his other fingers brushed down the android’s jaw, tracing the shape of him lips before leaning in further to kiss them lightly, just for a moment; but that was all it took for the HumaGear to fall weakly back against the mattress in submission, that resigned, apprehensive gaze still fixed on him. The hand at the android’s jaw moved down, feeling across the planes of his chest, pausing to rub circles at the sensitive spot at the centre of his faux collar bone, smirking when he forced out a soft moan. Shifting forward even more to sit on the edge of the bed, his lower hand at last made it up to gently grip the edge of the sheets that were sweeping over the HumaGear’s hip and covering between his legs and pull it carefully back. Soon he was setting about steadily untangling the HumaGear from the cloth so that he could reach everywhere. He took his time, watching the android shake under his touch, those luminous eyes still wide and terrified—the HumaGear was putty in his hands, even shifting slightly to make things easier for him.

Finally, he had the android’s body free. Climbing onto the mattress properly, he reached down and lightly pushed the HumaGear’s legs open so that he could move between them, before setting about slowly removing his sleep pants, keeping his eyes on the android, so magnificently vulnerable, perfectly his, without a single shred of defiance. In moments, he had his lower garment removed and cast aside—this was too momentous an occasion to worry about creasing—and reached for the HumaGear again, feeling out the centre of his legs, smirking when then android stiffened and gasped. It didn’t take him long to find what he sought—after all, he had carefully selected its location himself—and he prodded at it, prompting a particularly lovely whimper. One finger slipped inside to test and the HumaGear shuddered, whimpering again, sounding even more like he was about to start crying, a reaction that continued as the finger felt around a bit. Satisfied that everything was as he wanted it, he withdrew the finger and moved forward, lining himself up, setting his palms on the HumaGear’s thighs to hold them open. He made sure to take his time again, seeking out the perfect angle, loving the mounting alarum he could see on the android’s face—until he couldn’t resist any longer. His hips snapped sharply forward, plunging deep into—

Amatsu woke himself with a loud moan, jolting up in bed. He sat up slowly, rubbing his forehead and combing his fingers through his hair, trying to regain his bearings. As his head began to clear, he came to realise that his bedclothes were a mess of wet stickiness, clinging to his body. It seemed his imagination and anticipation had gone into a bit of overdrive, to the point of effecting his dreams.

With great care, he peeled the effected sheets and blankets off, climbing out of bed to examine the damage. He was going to need to clean himself off and ensure that the laundry was done in the morning—and be much more proactive about getting Horobi back in his possession, even if it was just to avoid bothers like this. Hurriedly, he headed for his ensuite, concluding to head for ZAIA Japan headquarters when he was done to make some preparations.

Horobi would come for Jin, that much was certain; not only was it obvious from the data, but the Ark herself had no doubt about it. He just had to make sure things were set when his sweet scorpion finally did show himself. He was already planning before he reached the bathroom door.

This time, Hiden and that mangy mutt weren’t going to be making off with what belonged to him.