Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at

(who are we to own ourselves)



It started as a pact. And when more of them arrived, they were added to it. The first time the pact is broken open, it’s an accident; it nearly gets one of them killed. Conversations need to be had.

What humans don’t understand is that when your name is unwillingly replaced, you start to see yourself as something less than human. When those around you call you by that ‘new’ name, treat you as something less than themselves, and remove those around you who also have been renamed because they’ve become ‘obsolete’… It really drives the concept home.

His name was ‘Justinian Link’. He was an Italian-American with a history of child abuse who had turned to the streets. He was a punk kid with a reputation. He was a notorious member of his gang, and a well-known figure in the New York underground.

Then They took him. They turned him into a machine – but accidentally left behind his human heart and mind. They called him a weapon, and named him Subject D6.

He was dangerous in the world he had come from, so he wasn’t scared of Them. He resented the changes They had forced on him, and the prison They kept him in. He tried to rebel in the only way he had available: he refused to respond to the abhorrent serial number They’d bestowed on him. In response, They brought him and his two (living) predecessors to the training field.

They opened fire on C24 and D1. They forced him to watch. Then they told him that he was what They had been working towards; he was the only one to not only survive the procedures, but adapt to them. He was special to Them; They were Black Ghost, and he was their weapon. But weapons were machines, they reminded him. And if a machine was too glitchy to function, it was labeled obsolete and replaced.

Black Ghost had gone through dozens of subjects before any survived. They had gone through dozens more before they found him – the one who made it work. But that was the key, they said: he had eventually been found. If he wasn’t going to obey orders like a good weapon, they would scrap him and start all over. It was up to him.

Black Ghost didn’t just take his name. They took his right, his humanity, his past… and scraped it all, to build a weapon. Justinian Link walked at gun-point into that training field with his head held high, side-by-side with two (beaten, broken, tired) like him. D6 walked meekly off it, trailing behind the grunts of his captor alone.

D6 went where directed. When the scientists wanted to see what D6 was capable of, they pointed to the field and set loose various weapons. Then they dragged D6’s broken body back into the lab, rebuilt what had broken, and tried to made a better weapon (sometimes the modifications hurt more than others; they never didn’t hurt). D6 was a weapon with a man’s body (mostly), and a man’s power of thought and decision, and a man’s (tired, broken) heart, but a living weapon is still a weapon. D6 slept in the bunker designed for the other living weapons, alone because the others were no longer living. D6 walked the halls of Black Ghost development compound and was treated as a strange curio, a dumb animal with the ability of speech but little else, by even the lowest grunts in attendance. D6 had been taught that – in spite of his past – it was not human, was not worthy of humanity. D6 did not stand up for itself.

And the scientists kept trying to make a better weapon of it.

Around it, the compound buzzed with excitement; something about a ‘00’ project. D6 did not pay attention, because it had not been told that this was any part of it’s business. It continued with it’s routine of testing limits set by the scientists. It was alone, and it was not what it had once been, and that circumstances would never change.

Until they did.

A single, out-of-place scientist called D6 out, and informed it that it’s new designation was to be 001. Cyborg 001, the Flying Cyborg. And then he told it that they had other things they were working on today, and after running it’s usual route, it could return to it’s room. They were not to be disturbed, unless its systems malfunctioned in a way that could damage any of it’s circuits.

D6 – 001 – took to the change, both in designation and routine, with a shiver of unease. The last time it had been renamed had been unpleasant. It spent the whole of it’s routine half-distracted, desperate to commit the new designation to memory. No one would die because of it’s errors this time.

It had been Cyborg 001 for a grand total of three days when something else changed.

Hello, a quiet, tentative voice pressed into 001’s mind one night, in the darkness of the abandoned bunker. D6 froze, wide-eyed, and certain that the stress was finally breaking it. Still, part of it was still human – still curious, still fighting to live – and it cautiously answered back, Hello.

Who are you? it asked, curious in a pure kind of way. 001 had never imagined that anything so untarnished existed in the grip of Black Ghost. It considered the question, and flinched from the ‘who’. It had ceased to be a who when it had become D6. It almost told the voice this, but reconsidered. It might be jaded, but that did not mean – when it still had the mind and morals of a man, no matter how hard it was pressed during the training sessions – that it wanted to ruin the sweetness of this other. I am Subj—I mean, Cyborg 001, it stuttered at last.

I see, the voice answered. 001 felt a mild tingle in the back of it’s skull, and then the voice continued, I am Ivan. Where are you?

I am in the weapons’ barracks. I have not been called anywhere else today.

The voice – Ivan – waited a beat, as though expecting something. When 001 offered nothing, it quietly murmured, I’m glad I’m not the only one here. And then Ivan left. 001 didn’t know how it knew, but it did. And it was distressed by Ivan’s absence, though it did it’s best to deny that.

A day later, the scientists gathered to tell it that there had been a clerical error: it was Cyborg 002, not 001. It was officially part of a series of others who would be like itself – others, it supposed privately, made into living weapons, stripped of their humanity and names, and made to obey Black Ghost. 001—no, 002, damn it, stop changing things if you want me to function – mourned the losses yet to happen.

That night, Ivan contacted it again. This time the voice informed 002 that it was 001. The Psychic Cyborg. Apparently it was a baby, recently constructed by the scientists of Black Ghost. But something changed.

When 001 ‘heard’ 002 refer to him as an it, he was curious. I am male, in spite of being a 00-cyborg, Ivan pressed. I have been informed that males are ‘he’, females are ‘she’, and inanimate objects are ‘it’. Why, has it changed?

I—Well, that is… 002 sputtered. It’s sudden discomfort fueled 001’s infant curiosity, and quite suddenly 002 could feel the tiny cyborg digging through it’s mind. It yelped, and jerked away both physically and mentally.

You can’t do that to a guy, kid! A man’s mind is his final sanctuary! He chastised.

Ivan blinked – a sensation that, felt instead of seen, was strange indeed – and responded, You are male? But you also refer to yourself as it. Why?

It took 002 a breath to realize that it had forgotten, for a moment, the important bit. It was not human; it didn’t deserve to be referred to as a human. We are ‘it’, you and I. We are numbers, we are cyborgs, we are living weapons. They will tell you – Black Ghost will tell you – that we are not human. We do not have that right anymore; we belong to Black Ghost, to do their bidding. We are not human… even if we feel like it, and look like it, and act like it.

Unbidden, the memory of that lesson flashed through his mind. 002 knew that 001 had seen it. For a moment, all was silent between them. Then Ivan – infinitely young, even as he was infinitely old – began to speak, and his words shattered 002.

We are human, though. I have seen into the minds of all the people in this compound, and into some of the minds beyond it, though I don’t have enough control to go further than that, yet. And what I have seen says that we are human. We are cyborgs by force, and humans by birth. What we are forced to be in their eyes is one thing, but what we choose to be – in the privacy of our own minds, and 002 choked as 001 threw his own assertion back at him, is another. I know I want to be more than their weapon. I think you do, too. Do you?

“I do,” 002 gasped aloud before realizing it. It—he shuddered violently, drawing his legs up to his chest and ‘listening’ desperately for 001’s response. “I do!”

It’s alright, 001 soothed, gentle and soft, I understand. It’s okay.

A feeling not unlike a full-body embrace flooded his mind. 002 leaned heavily into it. At last, 001 continued, still ginger of 002’s hurts.

I saw what happened. How they convinced you to be an ‘it’. You can’t lose that mindset, not around them, not without risking your life. I get it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give me who you used to be. I’ll keep it for you, until it’s safe to use again, and you can keep me. How does that sound? We’ll save one another.

The heart that had lain caged and chained for years fluttered with a raw hope in 002’s chest. He was agreeing without words as fast as thought could let him. 001 embraced the idea just as fast, just as mentally-wordless.

Like a handshake – skin on skin, warmth exchanged, a human touch, a mutual acknowledgment of existence and equality – 002 passed his past into 001’s hands. In 001’s care, Justinian Link was given life again, even if it wasn’t with the one who was once that man. And 001 passed to 002 the care of what little he knew of who he should have been: Ivan Whiskey, child of Gammo; born fatally ill; days old, and already the witness of his mother’s murder; and under his father’s order, waking days ago as more than human to save his life.

And it was a pact. They would keep one another tucked away, until it was safe to be human again.

There was more to who 002 was than who 001 was, by dint of age and experience. 001 was – for all of the sterile intelligence imbued by his operation – still a baby. He had a little in-sight into the human experience based on the other minds in the compound, as he had so aptly proven, but he needed help to understand. 002 could give him that.

So during the day – during the testing and adapting, the minor and major adjustments to his equipment and body, the orders and the laying aside of his human heart – 002 reminded himself to be an it. To be a weapon who could speak and think and feel, but who was at heart merely a tool to be modified and used without his consent. And it hurt.

And during the night – in the dark of the barracks, the silence of sleep and dreams and thought – 002 invited 001 in. He taught the younger all about humanity. He showed the other from the eyes of a New Yorker on the rough side all the ups and downs of the world, what it meant to have morals and lines that one wouldn’t cross, what it meant to feel hate and love, to know war and peace, to experience grief and joy and greed and contentment. He did his best to teach a baby who had had to grow up so fast it should have been impossible what it meant to be a human, and not a tool. And that hurt, too.

Together, they survived Black Ghost by following the shadow steps of a young, gruff, defensive New Yorker. Together, they remembered what they were fighting to obtain.

And then one day, things changed again. The scientists brought 002 into the room when 001 was kept, and formally introduced the two.

For the sake of their lives, both were smart enough to react with surprise and unfamiliarity. They were instructed to become familiar with one another, because the scientists wanted to see what they could accomplish together. 002 was going to start taking 001 with him when he trained. Watching the familiar/unfamiliar baby – blue hair, tiny body, wide-bright eyes – peek at him over the edge of his telekinetically-floating basket, 002’s heart warred with his mind. The last thing he wanted to do was drag this innocent creature those few final steps into Black Ghost’s depravity. It took 001 nudging him mentally, reminding him in flickers of wordless emotion-memory that, having walked the street of New York from behind 002’s own eyes, 001 was far from innocent. 002 bit down on his visceral reaction, and simply nodded acquiescence. He gestured out the door, and 001 floated after him.

As they wandered down the halls, headed for the cyborg (living weapon) barracks, 002 couldn’t help fidgeting. For as long as he’d longed for company in that room – empty, meant to be filled, and instead just drowning in lost memories and too much imagined blood – he was anxious to finally be receiving it. 001, from where his consciousness nestled quite-comfortably-thank-you in the back of his mind, soothed him as best he could.

When they reached the sanctuary of the room, 001 set his basket down on the bed next to 002’s chosen resting place. Then he looked up expectantly at 002, and held out his arms in a plainly obvious gesture.

Please, 002? They aren’t watching anymore; not here. And… I can’t remember the last time anyone held me, except just to move me around before I got a good handle on my telekinesis. Please?

When 002 gathered the compact body into his arms at last, it felt the way that home never had. The way that he had dreamed it should. He settled himself in for the time being, sitting up against his headboard with his legs stretched out before him and his arms wrapped (maybe just a little too) tight around 001.

There was only one person watching, and 002 could trust that he’d never tell a soul, so Justinian let the tears pour hot and messy over his cheeks.

The day that the scientists introduced 001 and 002 to the newest of the 00-project – a pretty blonde with hyper senses, and a literal living weapon of a silver-haired man – 002 and 001 were literally in the middle of a training session. It was a meeting-on-the-go, and too obviously a test of their abilities to adjust on the fly.

002, thrusters on high, swooped in and caught up 003 first, because she seemed to be the least protected. He powered through the air – heedless of her horrified screams – and deposited her hastily next to the small cave he’d left 001 in. The psychic was more than powerful enough to protect her while he grabbed the man. Mr. Weapons seemed to be more ready to accept 002 mode of transportation; he was even prepared to fire one of his knee-rockets – knee-rockets, what the hell?! – as 002 raced by the enemy. It was a sturdy decision, as it turned out. It got the enemy ‘bots off their back long enough to regroup.

With 001’s telepathic ability, it was much easier to introduce themselves. The two newbies had obviously gotten the ‘weapon’ memo: the girl – shaking and traumatized – introduced herself as 003, and the man gruffly identified as 004. They were brought up to speed as far as the current training simulation demanded, and then they were all on the run once again as the ‘bots found them.

But that night, under the stars of the open sky (seen so rarely, except during overnight training), 001 and 002 showed 003 and 004 the memory of their pact. The promise to keep their humanity safe for one another didn’t seem fair to keep to themselves, not when they suddenly were part of a larger whole. 003 – Françoise – cried in relief at the news that someone would remember her. 004 – Albert – seemed far less enthused; losing his humanity seemed far less distressing when he’d recently lost all that life had to offer, anyway.

001 told his story once more, and now 003 and 004 were Ivan’s keepers, too. Françoise and Albert were tucked away, similarly. But when 002 offered himself up – everything but his name, because he had already lost it more than once, and couldn’t give it out only to chance losing it again – 003 got antsy.

“But you must have a name!” she cried, obviously concerned. “You came from somewhere – you’ve told us that. And I don’t want to call you by a number forever!”

“I do. Stop asking.” 002 didn’t want to be so sharp with the new girl, really. She was trying to be kind. But she was poking at a raw wound. “And you have to learn how, for now; you were taught the rules. If you don’t do what they say, you’ll be put in the scrap heap. You are 003 now, whether you like it or not. I’m 002.”

Albert snorted, and interrupted, “Obviously, fräulein, this jet-foot has some things he’d rather keep to himself. Don’t you? Leave him be; we have enough problems without fighting about something so minor.” He jerked a disconcertingly metallic thumb over his shoulder, reminding them of the things out there that were aiming to kill them.

002 felt his eyebrow twitch. A twinkling laugh in their midst drew their eyes: 001 was giggling. The sound was as an infant, but mentally, he was chucking, ‘Jet-foot’? That’s good. I like it; it’s straight, to the point. What do you think, 002? Shall we call you Jet-foot when this is all over?

None of them were dumb; it was painfully clear that 001 was trying to relieve the tension. They were all aware that they needed to learn how to work together, and fast. All the same, there was something innocently disarming about a child’s laugh. 002 felt his hackles lower, and he snorted, picking up 001 with the ease of practice. He pulled the bright-eyes boy nose-to-nose with his own enormous appendage, and smirked wryly, playing along, “Dunno. Has a ring to it; but it’s missing something, don’t you think?”

Tiny hands patted his nose uncoordinatedly, It should be Jet-feet, then. You’ve got two of them, not one, after all.

“Huh. If you’re going to be serious about it, you may as well consider the whole package,” 004 chimed in, his steely eyes taking in the easy camaraderie already present between the first two cyborgs. “The propulsion is in his feet, yes… But he flies with his whole body, yes? Or, at least, that is what I saw when you lifted the fräulein, and what I felt when you carried me.”

“… Jet.”

Instinctively, 002 turned to face the speaker. 003’s voice was quiet – equal parts contemplative and apologetic – and yet it had rung across their little campfire like a shot. She said the name like it meant something, and her mouth cradled it like it was precious. 002 could understand why the idea of a nameless person would cause her distress: she was new still, and remembered her name and her humanity with a harsh clarity. It was an old, throbbing wound as far as he was concerned. But her ferocity had caught his attention.

Before, she had been a meek and terrified child. She herself had admitted to being a sheltered civilian, a dancer of all things. She had screamed and cried and ‘fought’ her ordeal in all the ways a lady without an ounce of violence in her would. The street rat in him had balked at her; she would only be a liability like that. He couldn’t – they couldn’t - afford that kind of dead weight. This new side of her had emerged, true, because of a menial thing… But it had emerged. She had fight and determination in her, after all. She would need to be trained; she would probably need to be forced to learn how to handle weapons. But she had the potential to overcome this sheltered dancer in her, and become a warrior like they needed her to be. And that caught his attention.

004 had noticed it, too, and was looking at her with something akin to consideration. He crossed his arms, and prompted carefully, “‘Jet’ what?”

“Jet,” she repeated, looking between them. Her fingers still wrung themselves nervously in her lap, but her gaze was suddenly firm and determined. “You said it yourself… 004. He flies with his whole self. Why name the limbs when he is just wholly a jet? Do you like it?”

And 002 had to give the blond props; if she’d tried forcing the name on him, no matter how well-intentioned, he’d have never been able to trust or like or want to know her. He’d been renamed by too many people too-damn-often. But she had offered up a reasonable substitute – one that, frankly, encompassed who he’d become since he’d lost himself far better – and was letting him chose.

“I really don’t care one way or another – I like and use my own name, personally – but it seems serviceable, to me,” 004 chimed in, gazing distantly into the flames of their tiny campfire. He was being no more pushy than she; both obviously wanted him to chose something, and end this issue between them; but neither was in a rush, or without heart. That was what really decided him.

“Fine.” He rolled his eyes, and projected privately his exasperation-tinged amusement at 001, who responded with cheerful agreement and encouragement. “Hello, when all this crap is over, I’m Jet Link formerly 002, nice to meet you, now go to sleep we’ve got robots to crush come daylight.”

004 laughed out-loud, head thrown back and obviously delighted by snark. 003 blinked, shocked, before she hid a tiny, strained smile behind her hand. It would be a while before the four of them could react to one another as well as he and 001 did, but they would get there – and more, they would most-likely get there, based on this, without strangling each other. And that was always a good thing.

So the pact continued, no longer linear, but quadruple. A spark of familial warmth bloomed in 002’s chest, that 001 echoed back to him in their shared dreaming. It was dangerous to get so attached so fast, but he couldn’t help it… and, honestly, didn’t really want to either. The stars tonight looked like freedom.

In the scant seconds between the lid of their personal chambers closing in unison, and the sleep-cold numbing them to nothing ness, 001 brought them mentally together. The lack of proper scientific advances meant that 001’s overtiredness (so close to his 15-day nap cycle) made all of them heavy-limbed; 002’s constant pinches and sparks from the hip down, and ever-present foot- and calf-burns, zipped along their legs; that 003’s unending headache throbbed, subdued for now, behind each of their eyes; and that 004’s whole-body ache – sharper and more insistent in his gun-hand and knee joints – a reflection of the constant, near-rejection of each of his cybernetic parts, danced and buzzed under their skin and in their bones.

They all hurt, all the time. The scientists weren’t the only ones hoping that time would do what current science couldn’t manage.

It was still just a bare comfort to know they weren’t being frozen alone.

When 002 shook sleep away, it took him a too-long minute to remember what his last coherent thought had been. And then it took him another minute to realize that he wasn’t cold.

Alarmed, he swung his legs over the side of the bed he’d been laying on… And froze. It’d been long enough since he’d been taken that he’d forgotten what moving without pain felt like. He slid his feet – more human-shaped now – to the floor, and listened in interest as the click of metal on tile sounded. So he was still a flier.


And he was not the only one awake, either. I’m up, 001. What’s going on? What have you seen? And what about the others?

003 and 004 are waking up now. Both of them have been reconstructed, like you have; you’ve caught up to science. But there are others again; I’ve been in contact with them. They say their numbers are 005, 006 and 007 – a strong-man, a fire-breather, and a shape-shifter. Their names are Geronimo Jr, Chang Changku, and Great Britain. I’ve begun bringing them into the pact, since they were already ‘briefed’ about being weapons before I woke up.

Each name had been accompanied by images, and 002 knew what their new teammates looked like. When a scientist entered his room and told him he had a training session to attend, to test out his new parts and learn to work with a new team, he fell back into the old patterns with a sigh.

Decades on ice, and it felt like he’d never gotten a break at all.

It was harder to integrate the new cyborgs into their group of four than it had been to bring 003 and 004 into the fold. Part of that was because the first four were literally from a different generation; part of it was because they had been around for one another when the pain and the knowing (or, in 002’s case, the renewal of hope) was still new and raw; and part of it was because this younger generation still had the hope that, somewhere, their lives might still be waiting for them – if a few years older.

But living in the constricting environment that Black Ghost offered – the one that deemed them less and less, every time they turned around – was too much to handle alone and stay sane. They huddled together and melded their separate parts by virtue of need.

Together, they knew – without talking about it; they only ever spoke of the pact when they were bringing in someone new – that in each other, they survived. And in each other’s eyes, they saw the possibility of hope.

But the reality of hope truly blossomed the day that 003 heard more than she’d been intended to hear.

They had been huddled in their room – still a multi-person barracks, though in the passage of time the barracks had been put them in a new physical location – when 003 had stilled, gaze going distant in her familiar ‘listening’ pose. They’d all learned, quickly, to be attuned to that pose because it usually heralded a danger to them that they had to avoid; they all snapped to attention, as a result.

“003?” 006 prompted, voice quiet and anxious.

“‘This is so wrong; please forgive me. Ani meod mitstaer. I’m so sorry… And I can’t even do anything now, because they’ve taken me off the main board! Why? Why am I here if I can’t do anything about it, damn it?!’ That’s what he’s saying,” she murmured, half-distracted.

007 crouched in front of her, his eyes uncharacteristically serious as he strove to meet her through her concentration. “Who, 003? Who is talking? Why did it get your attention?”

She brought her hand up to her temple, closing her eyes, and responded rapidly, trying to explain and keep up with what she was hearing at the same time, “The Hebrew scientist; the one who was the most involved in the creation of 002, 004, and I. You know – he seemed to step back after 005? He doesn’t know we’re listening…”

“Doctor Isaac Gilmore,” 005 rumbled.

“Yes. They’re working out the kinks in 008 right now, before they bring him to us – I can’t hear passed the operation room walls – and he stepped out. ‘008’ was what caught my attention; I’ve been keeping track of his progress. Then le docteur started freaking out.” Her eyes snapped open, and she looked each of them in the eye incredulously. Shakily, she breathed, “It… it’s us. He’s sorry for making us.

“Tch. I’ll believe it when I see it, girlie,” 002 grunted.

001 dashed his mood when the boy answered smugly, Then see, before pouring them all into what they could only guess what Gilmore’s mind.

It was a roiling cloud of guilt and achievement and amazement and horror and desperation. It was years of science coming to fruition, stained by a steady and darkening realization that his subjects weren’t willing. It was an analytic mind seeking scientific solutions to the ‘problems’ Black Ghost had given him, and a brilliant heart seeing through the rouse with intuition and compassion at last, too little too late. It was a desperate floundering attempt to find a fix to the wrongs he had committed with willing hands.

002 buried his face in his hands, gasping for breath, before he managed to ground out, “… God damn it, 001! Don’t do that!”

Well? His mind cannot lie to me; he honestly wants to right what he did, as much as he is able. Aren’t we going to use him? He is a high-level scientist. It has possibilities, especially if he can act the part for a little while more, while we plan and then set things in motion. I say bring him in.

They all went still and silent as they considered the ramifications of bringing one of the main scientists of the Black Ghost 00-cyborg operation in on their plans. It could backfire so very spectacularly, even if the man was opposed to Black Ghost; if they had leverage against him to make him loyal in spite of his morals…

“His heart is pure,” 005 offered. “Even though it is twisted with distress, it is not marked by true evil.”

007 sighed, and then volunteered, “… For all that he’s one of them, he’s always been a half-decent bloke, as far as I could measure that kind of thing in here. One-on-one, anyway, when he doesn’t have to put up a front.”

A clink of metal-on-metal sounded as 004 crossed his arms. “I don’t trust him. It could be a trap. If – and I mean if – we do this, we do this right, ja?

“Everyone deserves a second chance, 004!” 003 chided, still somehow compassionate in spite of the violence that Black Ghost had managed to instill in her.

“Hmm,” 006 stalled, nervously rubbing his hands together. “I don’t like it either, 004. But it does make for a brilliant tactical move, 001. I think this has a chance of working; you heard his mind, as I did.”

“We don’t have much to lose if it fails, do we?” 002 interrupted fiercely. The others turned at his louder-than-usual outburst. “001’s right. I don’t know anyone that can lie to him, and I’ve known the kid since day one. And I want out of here! You cowards might be fine with kicking around in here, but I’m not!”

The nugget of hope – however small – had lit a fire under the redhead, and it showed.

“… 003? Haven’t you been having migraines lately?” 007 slowly asked.

Everyone turned, bewildered and concerned, to look between them. At her equal look of consternation, 004’s face suddenly split in a wicked grin of comprehension. “Yes, 003. They’ve gotten worse just now, haven’t they? Why, you can’t even get out of bed right now! One of us must go and get the nearest scientist; there could be something dangerous in her circuits.”

Awareness slowly brightened every face in the room. They looked one another over critically, sizing up who might be best to run the errand to bring the scientist in question back to their barracks. Eventually, they agreed on 005 – he was no natural alarmist, so Doctor Gilmore would hopefully recognize that it was a ‘serious matter’, if the large Native American was calling on him. Also, for all his strength and size, 005 was also one of their less-threatening members; even the scientists knew he only turned to violence as a last minute option.

It worked.

They held their cards close to the vest for the first few tentative meetings with the doctor. The tension was nearly palpable every time he came around… though it went a great deal to help that he did only come when they called.

Two weeks later, though, he personally escorted 008 to them. When he left them to their own devices, they taught 008 – who was Pyunma – of their pact. Then they told the experienced tactical fighter – and it was new, to have someone who hadn’t just lived war like 004 had, but had fought with intention in one as well – about their tentative truce with Doctor Gilmore. 008 listened carefully to each of their impressions. Then he spent a couple weeks making some of his own.

It was on his recommendation that they finally opened up to the doctor. Their pact was none of his business – he’d never lost his name – but everything else was on the table. And then their plan was in motion. They were mere days too late to prevent another 00 from being created; they agreed that 001 should test him, just to be sure that he could and would stand with them, if and when things got tough.

009 fulfilled all their expectations, and more. He was one of them when they finally escaped the compound. But the escape didn’t feel quite real (and tradition is always a difficult thing to break); he became the ninth member of their pact.

In retrospect, 009 was still a child in their ways. 001 had been the one to wake him; 009 had never experienced what it meant that his name was not his own anymore. He didn’t know that in the eyes of Black Ghost he was a mere living weapon, and no longer worthy of the title ‘human’. He still faltered in confusion when one of them called him by his number.

It was to be expected that – once he knew who they had been – he would equate those human names with them. He was still Shimamura Joe in his own mind, after all; ‘009’ was an afterthought, a war title, a code, a nickname. He didn’t understand.

They had been together – running, fighting, headed toward an isolated house in Japan of a friend that Doctor Gilmore deemed safe – for a few weeks still when it happened. The group was used to fighting as a team. Except for the new spaces that 009 filled where they were still adjusting, they worked like a well-oiled machine (indeed), and it was as natural as breathing.

So it threw him off balance physically when 009 materialized out of nowhere in front of 002. And he completely froze mentally, to hear it spoken in utter sincerity and innocence, when 009 cried out in worry, “Look out, Jet!”

It was, ironically, that very warning that caused the shot to strike 002. He fell, and the others rallied in practiced response. Eventually, they diverted the on-coming forces, and continued on their way. In the ship’s medical, Doctor Gilmore patched 002 up. When he gingerly took his place on the bridge, no one said anything about the shot he should-have, could-have avoided; now was neither the time nor the place.

The instant they docked at Doctor Kozumi’s place, and got settled into their (individual!) rooms, a meeting was called. In something that would become more rare as the man became more like family, they asked Doctor Gilmore to disregard the summons; it wasn’t his problem.

And they spent hours trying to convey to the cyborg who’d been called 009 (but was still christened Joe) what it meant to be removed from everything you were. They spent days trying to make an innocent mind understand the effects of being a ‘thing’, even if only in parts of a life. They spent weeks trying to explain why they were all so reluctant to reclaim their names and their pasts over their numbers and their parts.

… it would always be ‘too soon’, he told them. It took them months to realize that he was someone viewing it from outside, for all that he had a designation and an cyborg body and a life ripped away from him by Black Ghost. It took them months to understand that his distance from the issue gave him insight, and that maybe he had the right of it after all.

They would always be worried that Black Ghost could remove who they were from them again, the instant they tried to reclaim it all. They had spent so long under Black Ghosts’ shadow (or so long in the presence of those cowed by Black Ghost, as far as 008 was concerned) that he held them prisoner even as they were free.

009 finally demanded that, if he could not call them by name, might they call him by name? Because 009 was for missions, and he didn’t want to be constantly on-guard. They might never find their courage, but he’d never lost his, and he was Shimamura Joe, thank you very much.

It shocked something in the parts of them that had learned to shield their wounds. It shook something loose in the nature of their decades-long pact, so rarely even spoken about, let alone considered. They weren’t being out-done by this young, inexperienced child of a cyborg… but they were being reminded of what it was to be human. They realized that they had so staunchly hidden away what they didn’t want stolen that they’d forgotten what it felt like to have it in the first place.

If he could hold his head high and hang tight to who he’d been while also being someone new… Maybe there was hope for them yet.

The first time they all casually addressed one another by name and not number, without blinking or thinking anything of it, a couple of years into their crusade against Black Ghost, they didn’t notice. They wouldn’t have even recognized it for what it was, if the doctor hadn’t heard it and burst into uncharacteristic tears.

Beneath the cries of concern from those who had been his projects and had instead become his family, and through the tears, he prayed-(gratitude) for the first time in decades. Seeing the proof that the damage he’d helped do to them was healing, he at last felt the weight of guilt begin to dissipate.

A pact made for keeping close and hidden had been instead a vessel of promise and healing, and it was good.

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