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What's a Name to a Science Experiment?

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He's seated at a corner booth, nervously drumming fingers against the table, his milkshake untouched. Cousin sits across from him, tiny fingers tapping away at a phone. This was supposed to be a date, but Anti had found himself having a hard time talking today. But admittedly, there was a lot on his mind.Things that he didn’t have a good way to answer for himself.

Maybe that was part of why Anti was choosing to come to Cousin about this. about something that he hadn't talked to anyone else yet. Not Bravoman - not that he'd talk to his rival on friendly terms, because they were obviously not really friends - not Camo, and certainly not his dad. No, none of them would understand, he thinks. But Cousin? Well, if anyone could relate to what he was going through, it was Cousin.

He fidgets uncomfortably, thinking about how to approach the subject.His mouth opens and closes, the movement hidden behind his ragged maroon scarf. Fingers clench and unclench in a fist. A knot twists in his stomach. What if Cousin doesn't understand though? What if they laugh in his face tell him how much an idiot he is. Oh gosh, oh, they probably think he's an idiot anyways. This is stupid. He's stupid. He needs to leave he never should have even considered bringing up -

Small fingers lightly brush up against the back of his hand. He lets out a totally uncool squeak, suddenly realizing how quickly and shallowly he was breathing. His eyes dart down to his hand, where a smaller, pink-covered hand was now resting against his knuckles. He follows the arm up to look at Cousin’s face, a distinct look of concern in their features.

“Anti,” they begin quietly. “Is everything okay? Do you need to go?”

The anti hero shakes his head quickly. No, he can’t embarrass himself in front of Cousin like that! He’s cool and collected. Not anxious and cowardly and socially awkward, right?

“No no, I’m fine,” he stutters. But his voice comes out in a nervous squeak. Cool and Collected. He carefully pulls his hand away, so as to not offend his not-quite-datefriend, and finally pulls his scarf down as if to sip on his milkshake, but instead, he finds himself fiddling with the straw, sort of swirling it around in the thick drink. With his other hand, he props his cheek up.

Cousin frowns. “You don’t seem fine,” they point out. “Do you want to talk about it? Is someone from your old school heckling you again?”

“No, it’s nothing like that…” He trails off, eyes shifting to the side. How embarrassing that would be though, having to get cousin to pick his battles for him.

He needs to be open. He promised to be more true to himself, to who he wants to be.

He chooses his words carefully, finally breaking the silence. “I guess… I’ve… told you a little bit about my origins, right?”

Cousin blinks once. “About how you were created in a lab, and about being the byproduct of a science experiment that was interrupted by space energy or something like that?”

Cosmos, how stupid that sounds. What a fluke. “Yeah, that…”

“Is it something to do with that?”

“Sort of,” he admits, shifting to sit up slightly. The hand that he had propped himself up with drops to the table, tracing small circles over the faux wood grain. Fake, like him. Poetic, maybe. But his fakeness wasn’t the conversation topic. Or… maybe it kind of was.

“It's just… do you ever stop and think that maybe you base yourself too much on someone and you compare yourself to them. And then you start to realize that maybe some of those things you thought about yourself aren't quite right?”

Cousin sits up a little bit straighter. Their expression is… kind of unreadable actually. “I think I sort of get where you're coming from,” Cousin admits. “In my family, there's a lot of expectations for us to be good at katamari rolling. It's sort of what we do. And I’m… not that great at it, admittedly. Sometimes I find myself comparing my skills to Prince. And I know it's not healthy but… it's hard to let those feelings go, you know?”

He nods slowly. He can understand that feeling too; his dad sent him to supervillian school, after all. “Yeah… I get what you mean… but that’s… not really what I wanted to talk about, actually.”

“Oh?” The alien tilts their head and clasps their hands in front of them. “Well, if you want to explain, I’m all ears.”

Deep breaths, Anti. “I just… I don’t know. I’ve been Anti-Bravoman ever since my dad realized that I was a counterpart to Bravoman - which was not long after I was created. Anti-Bravoman . I didn’t really get a say in that, although I guess at the time I was okay with it. Somehow, I had Bravoman to blame for existing, and I had all his powers, so then it felt natural that I needed to take his name and prove myself superior, prove that I was more than his shadow, you know?”

He pauses, his gaze drifting downward as he absentmindedly pokes the straw in and out of his shake. “But lately I guess… I guess I’ve been thinking… Why am I Anti-Bravo man? Am I really a man? Does a lab experiment really have a need for a gender? Why does it matter? I…” He looks up at Cousin, noticing their intent stare, and suddenly his confidence and courage collapses into an embarrassing little puddle.

“I-I’m sorry. This is dumb. I’m dumb. Sorry for wasting your time.” He begins to quickly scoot out of the booth, only freezing when he feels a hand take hold of his and give it a gentle squeeze. Eyes trail back to his friend’s face, which has softened into a concerned frown.

“Anti, you’re not dumb,” Cousin gently coaxes, giving his arm a gentle tug to get him to settle back down. “None of what you just said is dumb.” They grab his hand with their other hand now, clasping one on each side. “Let me just… Let me just ask you this. Do you consider yourself, do you feel like a man?”

The anti-hero considers for a moment. “I… I don’t know,” he answers flatly, though his voice slowly raises to a sound of distress as he continues. “I mean, I always thought I was. Everyone called me a man. I called me a man! But why am I a man? I don’t know! I don’t know if I really am anymore I-”

“Anti!” Cousin cuts in sharply, before continuing in a more gentle tone. “Let me ask this instead. Do you want to be a man?”

“That’s just it, I don’t know!”

Cousin gives his hand another gentle squeeze. “That’s alright then, you don’t have to know. Let’s try… Do you feel like a woman?”

Anti considers for a moment, then shakes his head. “Not really. I’m… I’m pretty sure of that, at least.”

“Okay, that’s progress,” Cousin says. They begin to rub small circles in his palm. “Maybe… I can’t speak for you, but just maybe, if you don’t really feel like a guy or a girl, maybe you’re non-binary.”

“Is… Is that really okay? Is that really something I can be?”

“Of course it is. I’m non-binary Anti, why couldn’t you be?”

“I just thought that… maybe it was an alien thing,” Anti admits.

“No, it’s not an alien thing,” Cousin replies. “I promise.” They hesitate for a moment, then very carefully, they lean forward to reach up and cup the side of Anti’s face.

“Like I said, I can’t answer for you, but maybe non-binary fits you better. You don’t have to know right now, but it’s just something you can think about. And whatever you decide, I’ll be here for you.”

Anti nods slowly, letting the words sink in. At once, he feels a weight lifted from his shoulders. He doesn't have to know. At least, not right now. He can take his time to figure this out, and Cousin would be behind him, supporting him.

A thought occurs to him. “There’s just one thing…”

“Oh?”

“What would my name be, if I’m not Anti-Bravoman? Anti-Bravonon-binary just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”

Cousin stares for a moment, blinking a few times, then their mouth turns to a smile and they let out a giggle. “Oh, Anti. We can work on that.”