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And Counting

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“I have more proof.”


Rhys’ head lifts from the pillow of his arms. He tries and fails to discreetly wipe the drool from his chin. “Whuh?”


Perching on the table beside him, Zer0 sets an ECHO Recorder down. Rhys groans and lets his head fall back down to the tune of the recorder powering up.


“You’re so weird about this,” he grumbles. “I didn’t even see it this morning. Where are you hiding these?”


His halfhearted protests die down when a hand cards through his hair. Rhys tries not to be sullen about how well that works.


Pacified, he waits. A long stream of silence from the device follows, interspersed by the occasional light snore, until finally - predictably - he can hear himself talking. Nothing coherent - the sound is muffled by his arms, and even if it wasn’t, it’d be nonsensical at best.


Then, clearer and louder, he hears himself say, “Put them back!”


“God,” Rhys groans, tucking his forehead into the crook of his organic elbow. “I was so loud this time. How do I not wake myself up?”


The fingers dip down to draw playful circles over the base of his scalp, and Rhys loses his mortification in the time it takes to sigh.


Rhys,” Zer0’s inquiring tone comes in through the recorder. Sleeping Rhys doesn’t see fit to respond, and past Zer0 goes quiet. And then again, softer, “Rhys.”


“Those were mine,” sleeping Rhys responds, so petulant and childish that Rhys can feel his ears burn hot. Naturally, Zer0 traces a thumb over the red curve of one, because Rhys just can’t catch a break.


“What were yours?”


No response. The click of the recorder powering down does nothing to encourage Rhys to look back up. “I was dreaming about cookies,” he confesses, letting his head slip down a little further until his forehead thuds against the table. “These little… buttery ones. Salty, kind of? I used to eat them when I was a kid. One of our neighbors had a house full of weird exotic birds that would fly through the kitchen window and steal them. Right out of my hand, once. If I had to pick the traumatic childhood moment that led me to working for a megalomaniacal weapons manufacturer…”


Zer0’s fingers pause against the nape of his neck.


“Listen closely now,” they say, and Rhys glances up. Zer0 gives him nothing, no expressions to be read, no posture to translate, so he seals his lips. “Believe me when I tell you: that’s adorable.”


“Oh my god.” Rhys’s head thuds against the table twice more. “How many even is that now?”


“Sample thirty-seven.”


“Great. Just… awesome. Aren’t you satisfied?”


“Each new recording, only brings a thirst for more. They’re quite prolific.”


“And you’re weird.”


Zer0 shrugs with a glowing red wink across their helmet before they squeeze the back of Rhys’ neck and disappear from the kitchen. Probably to add the ECHO to the collection in the hall closet. “So weird,” Rhys groans. Then, he sighs. “And now I’m hungry for cookies.”