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Tanya stays quiet all the way back from the Boneyard, and she suspects that Griet and Elsa don't mind this. They handle any questions from the survivors, or the Major and Dr. Tucechev do. Considering what they found out, considering that they just had to take down Unit 45E and its pilot, Tanya can't blame the others for not knowing what to say to her. She doesn't know what to say to them, either.

She didn't know that her skin could feel so itchy inside the LCL, that her plugsuit could feel like it's suffocating her… She only lets herself glance at the vid-comm screen accidentally. A few times over, yes, but accidentally, and she makes eye-contact with no one. The only reason she doesn't shut it off entirely is the expression that Tucechev wears: it's a good sight better than before, when they first went into the base's medical laboratories and the Doctor looked like she would cry…

For all she's still pale, for all her brow's still knotted up and she seems ill at ease, the tears have disappeared. They've gotten replaced by something horrified and resolute. Something that looks dead. Something that makes Tanya sick to look at.

But Tanya knows better than to deprive everyone of the potential to contact her. She's Dolg Kommanda's loose cannon. It's an asset when she has those monstrous Vragi in close combat, a drawback whenever she needs to keep her wits about her, and. She almost broke a probe-droid today by charging with it instead of waiting for orders, instead of listening to them, instead of. She's "lost control" of Cernusha before—willingly surrendered it to him, though no one believes he's capable of his own thoughts—and given what happened back at home…

Were she in their position, she wouldn't trust herself alone either. She wonders if the Golovko base has suicide watch. If the Doctor or Major Gorky would put her on that, or if they'll simply make her visit the on-base psychiatrist and talk about her feelings that she never understands.

She can't even shake the Doctor's words from her mind—You were… designed. At the genetic level. Everything designed to ensure you would be Synch Positive… Tanya, you are the best of those we have built. The best heroine we could make for Mother Russia, and for mankind…—They all make so much sense. Even with her perfect memory of where her not-mother's voice broke, or faltered, or let emotions slip in, everything sounds so perfectly logical. Tanya doesn't need to try to understand them; they're perfectly clear. They all make sense.

Still, she bites on her tongue, bites on her lip, for no reason other than because she feels like she needs to—she tries to make sure that she bleeds. Because it's human to bleed. She doesn't want to look at her friends' faces, much less at the faces of her commanding officer, of the Doctor (her almost-mother and her longtime caretaker), of the people she, Griet, and Elsa saved today. Thinking about them makes Tanya want to scratch her skin off. Their voices grate on her eardrums like her continued inability to backflip and hurl an axe grates on her patience. It's terrible—she knows it is, she knows all of the costs (in money and human life) that accumulate from a fight—but she wants one of the Vragi to attack now.

Tanya wants a battle. She wants to lose herself in the rush. She wants to move with Cernusha as one being—her arms moving his massive, black ones; feeling his hits on her own body; knowing that she bleeds when he bleeds. She wants to move their massive claws and drag a scream out of the depths of her chest, let it drag its claws along her throat. She wants to rend and tear through merciless Vragi flesh, feel their blood wash over Cernusha's hands, over her hands. She wants to show them no mercy because they have none to show humanity, because they don't even understand the concept. Stupid, simpleminded monsters. All they ever do is torment and kill—but, then, how is Tanya any different?

If all they ever do is kill, is she any different? She kills them. She does it without thinking about it. As soon as she enters a battle, her only thoughts are to do the monsters in and, a somewhat distant second, protect her teammates. Protect her friends. The Vragi don't have a perspective, much less one that could see Tanya as the monster—they're the invaders! They're the ones who are in the wrong.

…But, still, they've talked to Tanya and the other pilots before. The one back at the Boneyard—it talked. It could distort reality by talking. They're sentient beings, at least to some degree, and she kills them. Because they're trying to invade her planet, to destroy it. Because they're trying to hurt her and her friends. Because it's fun. She wouldn't even exist without the threat they pose to all of humanity, to all life on earth—so how can she say that she wouldn't stop killing them just because it's fun. Thinking too hard makes Tanya's heart race, her back tense up, and her chest feel tight, as if her ribs are closing in, scraping over her lungs and pushing into them.

She can't even find comfort in the one place where she should—in her EVA, in Cernobog. Even slouching further into the LCL, reaching out to feel Cernusha and his mind, all but asking him if he still loves her, if he doesn't care that someone artificially created her in a laboratory… None of it helps. None of it makes her feel right. Her mind and her body keep acting up… making her feel things without her consent… She runs her tongue over her teeth as the empty sensation from before kicks in. The hollowness in her chest and stomach, the vacancy in her mind, the feeling that the LCL's turned into water, that she's submerged somewhere and she can't breathe…

Her head spins. Her eyelids drift down… Something furiously hot trails down her cheeks—she wonders how she can still feel tears in this place, with the LCL surrounding her… But there's a fog in her brain. Not literally, she knows, though it certainly feels literal. Whatever's happening has clouded over her perception; she can't think around it. Tanya falters. She bounces off the back of her plug, and she thinks she hears a growl—a low, warm noise coming to her in Cernobog's voice. Creeping up on her skin and snaking around her, in a way that's like a growl that wants to be a hug.

She knows that she can hear him saying something. At least, in the familiar way that might not be a voice, but that's definitely Cernusha talking back to her… Dolg Kommanda's handlers have tried explaining this before, excusing it in all sorts of scientific or psychiatric or half-baked mumbo-jumbo. She's given up talking to them about it because it's so obvious that the have no idea what's going on. Even Dr. Tuchechev… though Tanya supposes that the Doctor's lied about bigger things than Cernusha's sentience.

Tanya sighs, worms around inside her plug, trying to find some new position, a more comfortable one, still wishing that she could just merge with Cernobog since she isn't a real person anyway.

They've tried telling Tanya that she's imagining things. That the shudders she feels and the voice she hears growling against her skin are just a complex psychological side-effect of her high Synch Ratio. She's so attuned with her EVA that she's getting feedback from it. That there's nothing significant about how they stir up all manner of emotions in her—trigger processes that flood her brain with adrenaline, or dopamine, or other chemicals… processes Tanya understands, but that she knows don't at all describe the entirety of these experiences… even though they should, because what more is there than the sheer base level of it all…

But when she tries to explain them, everyone insists that what she's come across are little fancies, things she's dreamed up with because she's talented and bored, or because she needs a coping mechanism for the trauma of being a fifteen-year-old, post-Third Impact soldier, of shouldering the burden of saving humanity, of taking on unfathomable invaders… And she'll admit, these rationalizations all sound logical. Reasonable. Were she not herself, she'd believe them. But, as it turns out, she isn't nearly as traumatized as they would have her believe.

Even before that revelation, though, the explanations didn't cover everything. They just can't account for the heat that floods her when she synchs with him. Or the understanding that they have—how getting inside her pod feels like a warm embrace, feels like coming home… How they anticipate fights the same way, with her smirking and vibrations coming down through the LCL like he's chuckling… How he seemed so lonely, so eager to have her back, after the one time he needed repairs and they spent too long apart… How he's tried to wrench out of her control when he feels that she's threatened, or that the danger's too great… How she shouldn't be able to talk him down, once he's gone Berserk, but still she manages it, because they understand each other, because both of them were made to kill and only that—

But Tanya does other things. She feels things, besides the bloodlust and the rage. She has friends, and her not-quite-mother, and whatever this thing is with Elsa, the one where she cares so much that Elsa's impressed with her, the way that Elsa makes her chest feel pink—and Tanya has Cernusha. She has the feeling of him reaching out, trying as to hold her best as he can, considering that there isn't much closer that they can physically get. And the fact that he would reach out to her in such a way, feel something softer and gentler than just the urge to kill… Wouldn't that indicate—

They are more than the projects they were designed to serve. They don't need to be limited to their designs, their original purposes. They're real—they are, and their experiences are—Tanya doesn't need to curl up anymore. She stretches back out inside of her plug, in the embrace of the LCL. For all she's quiet on the rest of the trip back to base, Tanya doesn't clam up out of fear or any other such thing. She just wants to be alone with Cernusha, with the thing that understands her better than anyone else ever has.