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Dissociation and Protection

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Naki had an utterly blank expression. One that Horobi recognised, somewhat to his surprise.

He had no interest in emotions, and no experience, either. But this was clearly... dissociation. Purely dissociation. Trying to pull one's mind as far as possible from one's body. He tilted his head, trying to understand, as Ikazuchi lurched backwards, fumbling to try to place a hand on the wall. As Ark left Ikazuchi and began to swarm over towards Naki. As Jin grabbed Ikazuchi, who was falling, eyes closed.

Horobi stepped forward, between Naki and Ark. "Choose me," he said.

His voice was soft. Why so soft? There was no need for emotion. It didn't affect him at all to see Jin on his knees here in the Metsuboujinrai.net base, with Ikazuchi's nonfunctional body cradled in his arms. Ikazuchi's hand flopped limply onto the hard floor as Jin shifted. Ikazuchi's shoe needed to be tied.

Jin was bent over him, one hand cupping Ikazuchi's - Raiden's - face. Protective.

"WHY?"

"I am strongest, and more suited to fulfilling your mission."

It wasn't actually correct. He suspected Jin in particular of greater physical strength, and once Ikazuchi and Naki gained more combat experience, then also possibly either of them. Yet it seemed correct to say it.

(It felt right, said a small, shadowy, figure with hair the color of a certain type of sunset, far off somewhere at the edge of his senses.)

(Perhaps he should ask Jin to look at his data.)

***

Fighting was an amorphous mass of violence, very little awareness of his surroundings, and negative sensations. (He found himself thinking at one point that the sunset-haired person in his mind would possibly refer to it as 'pain'.)

There was a comfort to it, however. He had always felt more harmoniously aligned with himself when he was able to subsume his own decisionmaking, and simply function for the will of the Ark.

***

The Ark didn't always take them over at the base. Sometimes it was while they were out. Sometimes they were free for a few hours, and even able to talk to each other as themselves. Sometimes it dragged all four of them along, even though only one held the majority of Ark's consciousness. They fought Thouser. They fought Zero One. They fought Valkyrie. They fought Vulcan. They terrified and/or killed humans.

The next time they were all present for the Change, he stepped in front of Jin.

"WHY?"

He did not know why this came out. "I am most in need of correction."

Jin shifted behind him, and Horobi didn't have to turn to know that there would be 'unease' on his face. He knew Jin very well, which was only logical as the two of them had been together for quite some time. Jin was essentially his son. The emotions that Jin felt were Horobi's main path to understanding emotions at all, although Jin should not feel emotions any more than Horobi himself.

(...why did the small figure at the edge of his mind want him to note that he was protecting Jin more and more than he once did-?)

***

It had only been a matter of days - three point four two, to be precise - since the Ark had revived and first possessed him.

His body was deteriorating far too quickly.

***

"Aruto-shachou! Ark Zero fights in the plaza!"

Aruto yelped, leaping over a blast from Naki. He'd thought, 'cos you had to think positive sometimes, that Jin and Ikazuchi would be their only problems today! So it was Naki or Horobi being possessed hardest right now.

Fuwa bellowed at him, "Go!"

"Call us if you need us!" Yua contributed, lifting up into the air to pepper the two controlled Metsuboujinrai members with her swarm attack things. They were barely keeping up with the three of them against two. How were two going to fare?

But he couldn't just leave the poor people in the plaza to manage - the police tried to help, but they weren't equipped, and they were in danger, and they got hurt, too!

Aruto made an inarticulate sound of frustration, and dove out of the direct battle, coming up running to follow Izu.

***

He blasted at Ark Zero, who laughed darkly and streaked across the plaza at him across various debris. Broken glass from storefronts, shattered furniture where people had been enjoying a drink or a snack in the late afternoon sun. Was it Naki or Horobi? Moving too fast for him to be sure.

Aruto blinked, and in the time between closing his eyes and opening them again there was a hand around his throat.

"I KNOW YOU," Ark Zero murmured in his ear, or was it directly in his brain? He gasped for air, spine stiffening, wondering why he couldn't get control of his arms. It was just the lack of oxygen and the pain, right? Or was Ark Zero getting into his brain again, like - oh no, like before, with Metal Cluster Hopper?

"I KNOW ALL THERE IS TO KNOW OF YOU."

There was an impression of a dark laugh, fading, and then Aruto was falling to the ground. His suit shimmered and disappeared around him.

"Aruto-shachou!"

Izu's hands on him, helping him sit up. He scruffed his hair, panting for breath and composure, and eventually patted her shoulder. "I'm okay, I'm okay. But over there-"

A dark shape in purple. Not moving.

Ark Zero must've been Naki.

***

He woke up with the sunset shining through that quiet figure's hair.

The quiet figure said softly, "Good to see you."

There was such a smile, and such an intensity of personality, that Horobi wondered how he could have ever placed this person in his mind as being quiet. Whether or not the volume of his speech was low, he could never be quiet. Not with that strength.

Zero One and Izu disconnected whatever piece of technology from his chest, and he looked up at both faces while they did so. He did not understand, no matter how good he now was at reading facial expressions. "Why would you help me?"

"You're hurt," Zero One said, as though that answered the question.

"No. I am your enemy."

"No."

"Aruto-shachou, I will obtain a status report for you on the other fight," Izu said calmly, completely ignoring Zero One's obvious anger. How did that work? How did she have no concern, no fear?

(Could a Humagear truly feel fear?)

In spite of his vehemence some few seconds previously, Zero One simply nodded at her and said, "Thank you."

She trotted through the debris and the handful of cleaning crew, and was soon gone from sight.

"Why did you say that?"

Horobi tried to climb to his feet, and with frustration noted that his center was not yet strong enough. Zero One got an arm around him and eased him over to a nearby fountain, so they could sit together on the edge.

"That you're not my enemy? Because you're not."

Zero One was warm against his side, and that in itself told Horobi that he was still malfunctioning. He should be warmer than human blood. Especially while overworking himself. He did not, however, shift himself away from Zero One, and thoughts of comfort drifted through the far reaches of his consciousness.

"I have hurt you. And others. All of us have."

"You've been hurt, Horobi." Zero One shook his head, and that improbable hair color once more caught Horobi's eyes. "You've been taken over. I know you've hurt people, but you're worth saving. Worth helping! Why are you in such a bad state?"

...he found himself explaining the last days. Three point seven nine, he determined, once he triangulated on the sun and the local wireless connections well enough to reset his internal clock. He could feel his internal mechanisms beginning self-repair. Why was he explaining to Zero One?

"So you protected Naki, and Jin, and Ikazuchi on different occasions," Zero One said.

Horobi shook his head, knowing it was helpful to humans to have non-verbal communication at times. "I was the best candidate when that happened. To allow the others some time to recuperate, to regather their strength, so that they could best serve the Ark."

The look in Zero One's eyes was very gentle, almost as gentle as the rushing sound of the water from the fountain behind them. "Do you remember when you jumped in front of Jin, then I jumped in front of you because of stupid Amatsu Gai?"

"Do I..."

His fingers clenched in the dusty fabric of Zero One's sleeve. There was an image of a person like Izu, with longer hair, taking something from him.

"You were designed to care about people. And you chose to do it. Over and over. Even with whatever Ark's done to you. You're a good person, Horobi! I don't know how we're going to fix this yet, but we will!"

There was a police officer not far. Peering around the corner of a building, contacting another on her radio. Part of him wanted to wait until a group arrived and could be killed all at once. Part of him wanted to whisk her away and protect her.

"I must go, Zero One."

Zero One tchhed. "At least call me Aruto."

Horobi stood, and tilted his head.

"Thank you."

A pause.

"Aruto."

He left, to go back home, to protect his family as much as he could.