Date: LN -10 years
"She's crying an awful lot, boss. Are you sure you want to put her through this?"
"She's eleven years old. A Panzer at eleven years old knows how to handle himself - why wouldn't a human?"
"Humans are weak. I don't think you can expect them to be able deal with the same shit we get from High Command's curriculum."
"This is coming from the one who couldn't finish it?"
"HAHA! Don't you look like a fool right -"
"You. Shut it. You didn't finish either."
Alkane knows very little about dealing with children. From her own childhood she had been expected to take care of herself in the absence of her parents, doctors who had been sent to the front line of a war with increasingly rowdy rogue Panzers in the Crater. To this day, she still doesn't know what had happened to them during that long conflict, but it had certainly left her with holes in her heart where they should have been.
She knows almost nothing about being familial or being a mentor. Her instructors at Panzer Military School had been superficial at best, but she could never blame them. After watching so many students pass through those doors, they had probably seen every single kind of student under the sun - the failures, destined to drop out early and join the ranks of the rogue; the aspiring young soldier, fated to disappear amongst the nameless in the massive army; and the geniuses, outshining the rest with their prowess and ambitions. Alkane had felt nothing but heavily powdered words of praise during her time at the School, and it was to her great relief that she had managed to graduate with full marks early.
The atmosphere had been suffocating. She can't really say it was useless or unhelpful, but it had never motivated her to learn how to work with others.
And it's that lack of knowledge now that's making this more difficult than she'd have expected.
It's been a week since the girl has started her stay here, and after that long week of tears, she seems to have finally developed some comprehension of her situation. She has no choice but to comprehend at this point.
Alkane steps over to her side of the table and sits down beside her. The child visibly stiffens, but any signs of fear she might've had fades when a mysterious envelope of papers is placed in front of her on the table.
"Your Ether level test results," she says calmly, noticing the flickering confusion on the younger girl's face.
"Oh..." she manages to reply, before deftly flipping through the papers, clearly unsure of what all the red markings mean.
"Although your physical is below average," explains Alkane, rifling through the stack and pulling out the respective documents onto the table, "your Ether control is excellent." Her fingers point at a stapled pile of papers, covered in more markings than the rest. "Your educational aptitude leaves some to be desired, however."
At this, the girl bites her lip slightly, clearly distressed about what may happen next. It's like what Cyanate had said, that her emotional instability would have a negative effect on her performance during the tests, although Benzene had - in a rare bout of insight - also mentioned that the educational curriculum of humans weren't as "mindnumbingly extensive or mindfuckingly accelerated either".
"I'll have to see to it that that gets corrected," she starts, with what she had hoped to be a reassuring tone coming out more flat than anything else. "We don't want it to have a negative effect on your Enomena performance. Cyanate will teach you."
The girl bristles, but says nothing. Alkane takes that as a silent yes.
Even though her knuckles have turned white with how tightly she's gripping the end of her shirt, she's not shaking in the slightest. Her eyes are hidden by her bangs, but it doesn't look like she's crying again either.
Hm. Alkane muses, as she stands up and turns away. Maybe this girl is more brave than we might've thought.
To be honest, Cyanate has no concrete idea why Alkane signed him up for this, but he does have a hunch.
A hunch that kind of sounds like "process of elimination".
He can already hear his boss's rationale being played in his head. You're not expecting him to do it, are you? Fuck. Fuck that.
Dammit, Benzene. That little shithead psycho. Damn it all.
There's no reason for him to play teacher to a little human girl they had nabbed for her Enomena. To be fuckin' honest, he doesn't even know why they even have to teach her anything in the first place.
"We don't want anything to have a negative effect on her Enomena performance," Alkane had told him, in that calm, matter-of-fact way that both scares and infuriates him at the same time.
She says it that way, but there's nothing clear about her explanation. It's vague and way too open-ended, but when he asks her to clarify, please, his boss only brushes him off.
"I'm sure you can figure it out if you use your imagination. There's nothing more knowledge can't help."
Afterwards Cyanate had, after entertaining a great number of thoughts involving overturned furniture, ended up sulking his way to the assigned "teaching room" and promptly began his lessons as "Teacher Cyanate" to his sole student.
The little girl is quiet and obviously still recovering from the trauma that comes with not only forcibly breaking a Crosser's Link with his Stray, but also that associated with losing one's loved ones.
Before Alkane had ordered him to do it, he had never considered taking the existence of a Stray. Panzer technology had always been capable of it, but it had never crossed his mind that he should. It's one thing to kill a living thing, and it's one thing to kill a Blight, but for some reason there's like an unspoken taboo that comes with taking the life of a Stray who already has nothing to start with.
Benzene had all been too willing to though, and ultimately an order was an order.
The Stray's been obliterated. The little girl's friend, a human who had witnessed the scene, is also as good as dead, if she hasn't died already. The battle hadn't been as easy as he'd had liked, and Benzene had been terribly scarred on the side of his face as a result.
Serves that little fucker right.
Lost in his thoughts, he doesn't even realize the little girl staring up at him. She seems too scared or too nervous to say anything, and had instead settled for tugging him lightly on his sleeve for his attention.
"I'm finished," she says softly when he turns to look down.
Without so much as another word, he snatches the problems from her outstretched hands and surveys her work. He hadn't bothered to look up much from her own personal background, but Alkane had mentioned that the Crosser herself had never actually gone to school before, and had instead been homeschooled her entire life due to her physical condition.
Huh. For a kid that's had an on-off education, she sure does learn fast. As he flips through the pages with a weary eye, he remembers her staring long and hard at the last problem, clearly confused and distraught over its nature. Ultimately Cyanate's not too surprised when he discovers that she had in fact, left it blank.
"You didn't do this one."
"... I didn't know how to... I'm sorry..."
"We're here until you finish all these, and if you leave it blank, we'll be stuck here all night. It doesn't matter if it's wrong, just do it."
The girl hurriedly complies, and after several minutes of deliberation and struggling she passes him the paper.
"I... tried," she manages to force out despite her uncertainty.
He doesn't even need to look at it to know that she's not only done it incorrectly, but incorrectly from the start.
"Wrong," he says, pointing at the errors with a red pen. "You made a mistake here. Instead of substituting that, you were supposed to substitute this..."
Cyanate ends up being more patient than he would have thought. Maybe it's because he feels sorry for her because she's just a child, who's been separated from the ones she loves, her family and her friends. Maybe it's because she's just a child, who's watched some of them die before her very eyes.
Or maybe it's because she's kind of like him.
"To think I would get stuck in this shitty hellhole of yours."
Alkane's expression is hard to read as usual, but he's knows her well enough that the slightest offbeat movement means that she's angry.
"Well, aren't you surprisingly sober," she answers, her voice marked with a barely detectable steely bite. Her hand fingers the tray of polished, silver operating tools beside her, as if debating if she could get away with stabbing him somewhere painful with a knife.
Something about driving her over the edge makes him smirk in sinister delight. The fact that he's tightly strapped to the table, however, means he can't act on most of the evil thoughts spiraling around in his head.
And so Benzene settles for what he can.
"I'm surprised you even stuck me in here in the first place. What, are you that worried about my disfigured looks? I didn't know you liked me that much, Alkane."
The sharp, paper-thin tip of a scalpel embeds itself millimeters away from his neck. "I think that's just wishful thinking on your part, Benzene."
A part of him is unsettled by her voice, unwavering and never changing in volume, and never losing that soft, iced quality to it despite the slightest increasing irritation in her eyes. It's one of those things he's always, always hated about her, even from the first day they met.
This fucking bitch.
"Let me out of here," he says, his eyebrow twitching in rising frustration. "You've kept me coming and going through this bloody place for a week already; as dashingly handsome as I am, it's not fair to keep me here all to yourself."
Benzene relishes the barely-a-fraction-of-a-second disgusted look she throws him across the room in twisted triumph. Alkane fumbles with something on the counter behind her, and it's with sharp, bared teeth that he realizes it's a syringe, full of a milky, turquoise blue liquid.
"Oh, threatening me now, are you?" he quips, the canines of his widening grin glinting in the light like some kind of menacing taunt. "That your new experiment? That serum you made from the paralysis Enomena of that senile old fool? You know, the one you had me kill afterwards?"
His scathing tone makes her look away, her eyes narrowed in distaste. It's the best reaction he's gotten out of her all week, and damn, does he enjoy it in some kind of distorted version of joy. There's something about the mere thought about being subjected to someone else, of being controlled and suppressed that he's always loathed with a fervent passion. The sensation of not fighting back just because he's unable to has always, without fail, driven him up walls in frustration, and that why there's something about being able to make someone supposedly all-powerful and all-respected squirm that brings out the sadist in him.
Someone like Alkane is just perfect.
Shit, he hates her so much.
"I don't think you're in any position to be demanding anything," she finally manages to force out, watching him with eyes that don't betray any trace of interest. "You're lucky enough that you hadn't lost use of that eye of yours."
The corner of his mouth twitches, making his customary smirk look strained. Damn this woman. "Nobody asked you to help, bitch," he manages to hiss, but the expression on his face makes it sound more pained than anything else.
He hates how she's so good at lying, and he hates how every lie she makes ends up coming up as an absolute truth in the end. Her messed up willpower is a force to be reckoned with.
She'll believe no one's lies but her own. And if anything, Benzene knows this better than anyone else.
THIS. FUCKING. BITCH.
Alkane gives him that same cold look, piercing through him like he's not even there. It's like she's clearly questioning whether or not he would've preferred to die on that day, whether or not he would've preferred that she had had him thrown into the harvest bay for organ collection later.
She says nothing, and it's that silence that makes Benzene lose all sense and reason for his indisposable pride.
"Get rid of it."
Alkane raises an eyebrow in mild speculation. "I'm sorry?"
He stares her down, his tinted eyes almost glowing against the shadows on a face rendered entirely serious for once. "Get rid of this shit. I don't need it."
The gel on his face had been the reason why Alkane had called him back throughout the week, and the reason why the scars on his face had been slowly, but steadily healing. It had been a recent invention of Panzer medical practitioners, created using none other than Alkane's breakthrough research.
Research that had involved a Stray with an alarming ether recovery rate and numerous "test links" with initially willing, dead end Crossers to find the most effective combination.
He remembers it rather well, considering he was the one who had had to dispose of them in the end. Cyanate might have had nightmares after witnessing the carnage, but Benzene couldn't help but remember the feeling of power he had possessed as he watched the destruction unfold.
But that feeling of power is the farthest thing from his mind right now. Especially when his muscles strain against his bindings, his body kept in place by the state-of-the-art, fortified synthetic material that they had almost literally stretched one Crosser and his Enomena thin to make. Especially when Alkane's powerful, tranquilizing drug is running through his veins to keep him from breaking out anyway by keeping his adrenaline low, an effect he only knows from watching countless Panzer test experiments be subjected to the same treatment.
That overwhelming sensation of being suppressed just like another one of her test subjects gnaws at his insides.
"You - "
"Get rid of it," he commands again, the razor-sharp inflection in his voice cracking through the air like a whip. "I don't need your fucking help, Alkane."
The dog in question is silent, and for a brief instant he notices that she's holding herself in this stiffened way, and that something like dismay flits across her face. For that brief instant, he can't help but notice that she almost, almost looks like she really, truly hates him from the bottom of the blackened mass of her heart for once.
It must be a trick of the light though, because in the next, Alkane steps forward with an vaguely resigned air and roughly turns his head up to face the ceiling. Her fingers are cool to the touch as she feels along his face for the now dry end of the gel, but he can't even remember to hold back his hiss of pain as she rips off the clear substance in one smooth, clean motion.
He doesn't even need a mirror to tell how red and raw the scarred part of his face must be now. FUCK.
His grimace of pain only deepens when he feels a sharp pierce on his chest, right above his heart. His vision swims before he can barely make any sense of what's just happened, but with all of his remaining willpower he manages to spot a syringe full of a familiar, milky turquoise fluid plunged into his chest and Alkane's eyes, boring into his from above.
"You asked for it," she whispers, the short, chopped ends of her hair just barely brushing his face as he blacks out.
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