RP Making New Friends


Resident Witch
Staff member

ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, “Peppers”; ACF-1003, “The Sleeper”; Dr. Cody Redd, A-Class-D, Head of Research L-14
EQUIPMENT: A notepad, pen, and a pair of craft scissors.
PURPOSE: Supervised introduction to ACF-1003

Pepper was decidedly a people person. She got along with just about everyone she met, and if she didn’t get along with them, they at least tolerated each other fairly well. Laine was a great example of someone who she didn’t necessarily see eye to eye with, but she knew that if the two of them were stuck in a room together, she’d be able to find something to talk about with the younger woman. Cody was a great example of someone she got along with well. If they were stuck in a room together, they could probably talk for hours. Granted, half of it would be jokes about science, but that was one of the things she liked about- No.

Pepper was decidedly a people person, and she was pretty sure that was why Cody had chosen her to join him for that day’s conversation. Conversation, because there would likely be no experiments today. Not yet. Those would come later after the girl was well acquainted with Pepper. For now, it was time to make friends with the girl and convince her to talk to Pepper. Apparently, that was the big issue. The girl, Ira, didn’t like to talk to anyone but Cody. Honestly, she could understand why. The goal today was to get Ira to talk to Pepper so Pepper could possibly run more effective experiments with the girl.

This was the last of the real risky class anomalies that Pepper had been approved to tackle so many years ago. God, it had nearly been five years since then, and she had never gotten around to being introduced to Ira. That was, of course, because Ira hadn’t started talking again until recently. The only restriction was making sure you weren’t in the radius after a certain time. So you weren’t caught in her field. According to her files, that led to certain death. Well, in all but one case.

Pepper looked at herself in the mirrored office wall as she passed by and adjusted her sweater. That day, she had worn a friendly pink sweater with clouds embroidered on it, a white button-down with a lacey collar, and a pair of light-wash jeans. She figured that maybe looking approachable and normal and less like a researcher might help her to connect better with Ira. She continued her walk until she reached Cody’s office. She stopped short outside, a sudden wave of butterflies rising from her stomach and into her throat.

Why did this have to happen every single time?

She swallowed it down and knocked on the door, pushing it open. She was right on time, as she always was, so she was sure that it was fine for her to open the door. And if there was someone else there, well, she would wait. Her cheeks flushed slightly as she looked through the opening she had made and caught sight of him. “Cody! Hi, I’m here. I’m ready to head over to Ira when you are.”

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Cody wasn’t ready.

It’d been a busy day by all standards – small breach in the low-grade riskies, quickly resolved, but resulting in a lot of research influx. He had the appointment marked with a red pen on the calendar beside his desk. He still had his lab coat on, and he was frantically typing at his personal laptop. He’d gotten fast with words over the last few years. He’d had to.

He wasn’t late, yet. He wasn’t late until the clock hit the next number, which it had not. He saved the report he was working on just as the knock came, and he pushed himself back in the rolling computer chair as Peppers stepped through the door.

"Let the record state that was not finished late," Cody announced, partly to her, as he ran a hand through his hair. He kept it just short enough that he wouldn’t have to worry about tying it back for lab purposes, but it was still long by most fashion standards.

He didn’t care much for fashion standards, as indicated by the white t-shirt that read, “Mr. Nerdy? I think neuron to something!” when he slipped out of his chair, leaving the lab coat behind. He snatched up a can of RedBull from the desk, and finished the rest of it in one go and dropped it in a can invisible behind the cluttered desk itself. He reached down and picked up one gift bag, then hesitated and looked up at Peppers through the door.

"Did you bring a gift? I’ve got a spare in case you didn’t. It’s not exactly in the file, she just doesn’t usually talk until after tribute."

If she hadn’t, he’d pick up a second bag. His was another, slightly different movie-monster, kid-friendly halloween bag, while the one he’d picked out for her was very similar to her sweater, pink with little stars. He glanced at her outfit while he pulled on the chain for 255, bringing it over the collar of his own shirt.

"You look nice," he noticed, then caught himself, "not that you don’t always look nice, but I feel like I never see you without the lab coat. I like the sweater."

Almost as successful a save as that fist bump from the first time they’d met. Local Idiot Cody Redd, everybody. But in his defense it wasn’t like he talked to girls that much outside of weird nerd sh- stuff. He wasn’t exactly paying attention to someone’s outfit when they were discussing the order of organ failure for an anomalous disease, or the approximate speed at which something would tear your throat out.

Science was way easier than girls.
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“I’m afraid I didn’t bring anything. I wasn’t aware we had to pay tribute.” She stepped a little further into the office, her hands clasped nervously together in front of her. She was trying hard not to let herself get distracted. This was important. And important things got put above feelings.Until the feelings are too much. Ira was the primary concern for the day, and Pepper was damn well dedicated to the mission. She could be an adult about things. With that, she straightened out a bit and unclasped her hands to accept a gift from Cody to bestow upon the anomalous child.

And then it all tumbled down as Cody complimented her. Was he complimenting her or was he complimenting the sweater? Which should she respond to? There was a beat where she should have answered, and she missed it. Then on the next beat, she smiled at him and said, “Oh, thank you. I uhm, I made it myself. I make most of my clothes.”

She had chosen to take it as a compliment on her sweater. With Cody, it was hard to tell if he actually liked her, or if he liked her the way everyone else did. He would say something, then immediately explain what he actually meant by said thing. It could be… frustrating because then she would respond with something silly because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut and– “We could always go out sometime without the lab coats. Then it wouldn’t be such a rare sight.”

If Cody was observant enough to notice, he would have caught Pepper’s face turning precisely the color of a tomato before she turned away. Why did she say that? You say what you mean, always. Dr. Kallie taught us that. She looked out the door with her shoulders stiff and said with a much more neutral tone. “Okay, well, uhm, off to Ira then?”

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Cody was double checking the gift in his bag as Peppers mentioned she made her own clothes. That took a lot of talent, which was why he wasn’t surprised by the fact. She was very talented in a lot of areas. And it explained why it all fit her perfectly. He glanced up and glanced at her clothes again, still smiling easily.

"You did a good job," he told her, which sounded kind of lame once it was out, but was meant sincerely. When she suggested they go out sometime, he actually laughed a little. It wasn’t hard to make him laugh, but this one had an unfamiliar twinge of nostalgia. "Y’know, it’s been a while since I’ve been out of the location. It probably couldn’t hurt. There was this pizza joint Isaac and I found in New York we’d go to whenever we passed through for field work…"

Cody then just started talking, and started walking, keeping her pace. He let the conversation wander away from the pizza place and into other threads, other field work, other cities. He had liked traveling back when he first came on. Now he didn’t much mind the lab. He was very good at filling the silence, and was using that as the excuse to give Pepper space to breathe. He could tell she was nervous. He’d been nervous the first time he’d gone in to see Ira, too. She was notoriously difficult to work with, but this wasn’t work. It was a friendly visit, and he tried to preestablish that vibe.

While he left room for her to fill in when she felt like it, he would keep the flow of words going until they got to CU-14-1003.

Here Cody finally paused, and nodded to the security agent. The agent nodded back, and made a signal to the camera that this was an authorized, if unscheduled, visit, and there was an alarm beep to let the hall know the door would be opening. Cody gestured for Pepper to step in first – so she wouldn’t come across as a tagalong, but Ira’s main visitor – and then followed behind.
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A soft music played on the old radio in the corner as Ira sat next to it. The clock above her head had finally burned out, but Ira knew from habit that it was currently one of her many 'free times.' In this free time, she had chosen to listen to a single song on repeat. Quietly, she hummed along to it as she heard her containment unit's door slide open.

At first, she opened her eyes to look for the expected sight of Cody. Upon gazing at the form of someone decidedly not Cody, Ira frowned and closed her eyes again. She was not in the mood to conduct tests at the moment, even though she had corrected her own files to say that she wanted to be tested. That change had been brought about by the urging of her better half, but that didn't mean she was happy about it. A second set of footsteps caught her attention and she opened her eyes once more to see the form of Cody coming in behind the new thing.

Rolling her eyes, she sat forward in her beanbag throne just enough to get a good look at who was coming into her room. A woman, with blonde hair, a sweater, and jeans. Pink wasn't a terrible color on her. Cody wore the same casual clothes he normally wore with a shirt containing some kind of joke Ira didn't understand. No lab coat on Cody though, so a cordial visit? Closing her eyes, she leaned back in her chair and simply continued humming along with her radio. The music was not particularly loud, as Ira was lounging right next to the player, so it could be easily spoken over if that was anyone's intention.

But Ira would refrain from addressing her visitors, it was not the position of a Goddess to introduce themselves to new comers. It was the position of the guests to beg and prostrate themselves for her attention, so Ira would allow them a chance to do so.
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The girl was so much smaller than Pepper remembered eleven-year-olds being. She sat in a big bean bag chair, her eyes closed. Ira wore some plain white cotton clothing with the ACF logo on one shoulder. Her long black hair was only matched by her nearly black eyes. For a moment, Pepper wasn't entirely sure what to do. Ira didn’t quite seem like she wanted to talk to them, based on the way she had disengaged before they had even finished coming into the room. She thought for a moment and looked at the bag in her hands. Then she briefly looked at Cody before stepping forward.

“Hello, Ira. My name is Pepper. I have bright you a gif- a tribute.” She took another step forward and placed the bag gently next to the radio. Cody had said she didn’t talk until after the tribute. Hopefully, she was doing all of this right. Maybe she should have waited to see what Cody did. No, this was meant to be an introduction between them. That was why Cody had ushered her into the room first. Pepper was a good enough researcher to not flounder in front of her superior.

After placing the bag on the table, she took a step back, giving the girl her space. Crowding someone who didn’t really enjoy talking to people in the first place was never a good idea. It was always best to give them their space and allow them to come to you when they were ready. So, she applied that logic to Ira, who decidedly did not want to talk to Pepper.

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Cody followed Pepper with the same smile he always wore when visiting Ira, which was the same smile he wore most of the time. He still had the tiredness from his last visit, but this time, there wasn’t any business to take care of, unless Ira decided she didn’t like Pepper at all, in which case he’d have to have a talk with her about being more open to new researchers, especially after the latest email from Jupiter to Isaac on the fact that she was open to research at all.

Not that Pepper would actually be coming by for research all the time. If this went well, Cody would be happy to bring her around for casual visits again in the future.

"Hey, Ira," he said, in his usual manner, as if he was an afterthought of Pepper’s. "Pepper’s a friend of mine. I thought she might want to come in and say hi."

He stepped in and set his bag down beside Pepper’s, and then took his usual seat on the floor at Ira’s feet. He didn’t openly invite Pepper to join him. He’d been invited to this part, the first time. He could wait for Ira to invite Pepper if she felt so inclined.

Ira’s stuff mostly consisted of art tools, and Cody’s bag had a set of new crayons with more exotic colors as well as a second tub of new magic sand, as a supplement to the old one. He had made sure to keep his gift fairly simple and unimpressive, albeit satisfactory. He had something big on the way for his next visit anyway, partly to make up for it if this one flopped.

In the meantime, Pepper’s bag had a cow in it.

Or, well, the parts for a cow. The kid’s first sewing project kind, with blunt needle and thick thread and stuffing provided, as well as detailed and illustrated instructions. Cody hadn’t known that Pepper sewed all her clothes, but he had known that she could sew, since he was in charge of the budget for her recreational supplies. He’d gone looking for a gift that both giver and recipient would like and, well, maybe an excuse for Pepper to come around again. He gave no indication in his face or smile that he’d put any thought into it at all, though. Theoretically it was Pepper’s tribute. He was just here for the ride.
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Ira continued to wait as the pair of them spoke, the woman introducing herself first before Cody heralded her presence. Strangely, she felt as though she already knew who this woman was as the name came to her. Closing her eyes, she waited for another entire rotation of the song to play across the radio as she combed through memories to recall who this -Pepper- was to her. Then, finally, it hit Ira.

She roamed about Cody's memories. That made so much more sense. Opening her eyes, she stood up and moved toward the gifts of tribute. Wordlessly, she unwrapped the gift bags and took out each and every item. The sand elicited a tiny, temporary smile from her. The coloring utensils, a nod. The cow-

Her face curled into a snarl at the cow.

Throwing up her hands, she let her emotions run wild as she beheld the self-assembly cow. Picking up the box, she declared directly to Cody, "COWS?! COW! CODY! COW! Why?! You plague me! It plagues me! I see it- within my waking world! It contains within stomach-upon-stomach-upon-stomach-upon-[EXPLITIVE]-STOMACH! Aaaghhh!" She screamed and held the package aloft before, suddenly, breathing deeply and regaining control of herself. It was as if someone had just whispered in her ear 'unGoddesslike behavior' and Ira, naturally, self-corrected. Gently, she set the kit on her bed and moved back over to the beanbag throne.

Looking to Pepper, she motioned for the woman to sit beside Cody as she addressed the both of them. "Tribute is, acceptable. Acceptable. Cody, explain, your steps bring with -you- a, what? Researcher? This is, new partner? You deserve better. I do not approve. Understandably to -me- you bring, your- uh, what is word? Not wife..." Ira looked away for a moment, trying to come up with the concept and failing. Waving her hand as if to dismiss the thought, she looked directly at Pepper and spoke, "Speak only truth. I demand it. Your steps bring -you- to -me-. Why?"
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So she had done it right. That was good to know. Pepper took a step forward and sat on her knees next to Cody while the girl talked. After the near tantrum about the cow doll, Pepper wasn’t sure she would accept the tribute. She’d also never heard a child, even an eternal one, use such a foul word before. As she got comfortable, the conversation took a turn that Pepper wasn’t ready for. The words “new partner” and “not wife” hit her like a bag of bricks.

Her response was almost immediate. There was no suppressing or hiding the violent blush that crept up her neck to her hairline. All of the noise in her brain suddenly went fuzzy, and she almost missed when Ira turned her attention directly onto her. Almost, but not quite. The “goddess” wanted to know why she was there. “Oh. Oh, uhm. Wow, is it hot in here? I’m, uhm, I’m here to meet you, Ir– Goddess. I’d like to be your friend.”

Pepper winced at the sound of her own voice. It had risen an octave, and she could feel her hands shake. How in god’s name did this eleven-year-old, this eternal eleven-year-old, know about how Pepper–? Why did she think that she and Cody were–?? What on Earth did that mean?! She covered her mouth with her hand to try and conceal the blush as much as possible. She chanced a look at Cody, her green eyes flashing with barely concealed emotion. Maybe you should just tell him, if you’re going to act like a child about it.

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The fact that she threw a fit over the cow was a good sign.

She was saving face. If she actually hadn’t liked it she would’ve just closed her eyes again and not responded until they left. Of course, these were new parameters, but she tended to have predictable reactions to things she found actually distasteful. She also knew it was from him, which was understandable. He’d visited often enough she’d recognize his work. Maybe next time – if there was a next time – Pepper could bring something she’d made, or something from outside that Cody wouldn’t think of.

Then again, after – not the cow, but the wife comment? Which immediately followed? Maybe Pepper wouldn’t be coming back.

The side glance would find Cody processing. He blinked, long and hard, and he had turned approximately the color of his name or the ruby on 255. He looked like he was having trouble focusing his eyes, and that he didn’t know whether to laugh or become flustered and had therefore just frozen halfway in between.

He saw Pepper move beside him. Oh, fuck, what would she think about him right now? From the corner of his eye he could tell she was bright red. Was he that red? Oh, fuck, nice fucking job, Codes, you just embarrassed someone that close to you. What the hell had made Ira think Cody liked Pepper? He did like her, but not like that – he was her manager for fuck’s sake, he couldn’t like her like that without being super weird. And Ira had just crossed that line, but she didn’t know it, it wasn’t her fault. He was just desperately trying to figure out how Ira had come to that conclusion.

Pepper stumbled through an answer that didn’t touch on the ‘wife’ question. He really wished she’d just laugh it off. This was much worse. He decided to try to reconcile the question by turning to Ira.

"She’s not– she’s a girl, and she’s my friend, but Pepper isn’t my girlfriend, Ira." And she definitely wasn’t his wife. He frantically apologized with his eyes as he glanced at Dr. Krasniqi – he had to think of her as Dr. Krasniqi right now, that was the only way he was going to recover from the shock. He closed his eyes for a second and adjusted his glasses, finishing the recovery as he felt his face cool off. "She might start coming by, in her off hours, same as me. Not for research but for–conversation."

When his eyes reopened, there was just a little bit of warning behind them. If you’re going to try to turn her down for that, at least be polite about it. She might not be his girlfriend, but she was still Cody’s friend, and he did want Ira to at least respect her enough to let her down easy.
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Ira's eyes flicked to Pepper's red face, then to Cody's red face, then back to Pepper, then, finally, back to rest on Cody. Rolling those flickering eyes, Ira snapped back after Cody spoke, "No."

She did not elaborate on exactly what the 'no' was to as she stood up and moved over toward her radio. Gently, she placed her hands on the dials and turned the music off. In the few seconds of silence that followed, Ira sighed heavily and threw her head back in frustration. Turning to the pair of them, looking directly at Cody once more, she reiterated. "No! You-! Do not lie. Not to me. Ulterior motives, I smell them! Not want new friends! Do not need! I have you, enough. No more. -I- do not -want- 'girl' 'friend.' And-! AND!" Ira stepped forward, pointing an accusatory finger in Cody's direction. "Do you, in your steps, perceive me fool? Mhm?! Or- are you fool?"

Stepping forward, she grasped his amulet for a moment, "Searched depths of your mind, I have. Everything, everything, about this amulet. Every memory within you that- that- uhg, connected! Connected to -this-!" Letting it go rather forcefully, she walked back toward the beanbag throne while ranting, "And- you! You! Never! Take! It! OFF! I know all! Ahg! I know- too much." At that, she plopped back down on her throne like an old man having some sort of drawn-out conversation with a child who simply didn't understand the fundamentals that their conversation was being built on. Rubbing her eyes, she pointed to Pepper once more.

"Last chance. Tell only truth. What do -you- want?"
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She winced externally while Ira examined their faces. That hurt. A lot. She couldn’t deny that. Even though it was true, it still hurt to hear Cody say that they were just friends. A soft sadness settled into her eyes as a bit of her hopefulness died. Then, she took in a deep breath and held it. When she released it, she released the thoughts into the ether. Now wasn’t the time for that.

Pepper’s face calmed down during Ira’s rant. Ulterior motives were what she was worried about. That of course meant Pepper would have to be honest about why she agreed to this. Which meant being emotional in front of Cody. Which was the last thing she wanted to do in a thousand years at that very moment. She was quick to move on when Ira declared it her last chance, however, and placed a hand over her chest while she spoke.

“I grew up as an anomalous child. I grew up in this same facility as you. I grew up lonely. I had no friends. My family died when I was young, young enough that I don’t really remember it. I had Dr. Kallie, but she was never my friend. Even though she’s like a mother to me, there are things that you talk to your friends about that you don’t talk to your parents about. I never had that. And when I look at you– when I look at this room– there’s an echo of loneliness here. You should have friends. I want to be your friend, nothing more. I swear that’s the truth.”

Pepper tried to blink back the tears that welled in her eyes. Now wasn't the time for crying. It didn’t matter that she was suddenly swimming in memories. She had no idea how Ira might react to tears. She might take offense and think they were tears of pity, and not see them for what they truly were. The reason that Pepper could identify the loneliness in the girl was because she was still lonely herself. She shut her eyes and realized she had to be fully honest.

“I only have Cody and Dr. Kallie. They’re the only real relationships I have. So I guess part of the reason I want to be your friend, Ira, is that I’m lonely too.”

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Cody actually blinked as Ira said ‘no’. He frowned, and sat back with one palm on the floor. But it got his attention, and he listened to the rest she had to say. His face cooled as his expression did, and something came into his eyes that Ira might not even remember from their entanglement. It was colder, harder, not quite anger, but something like stone, something to hide behind while he compartmentalized.

There was a lot he could say, to what she’d said. Even with the reflection of his memories, she didn’t know Pepper. He felt something tighten in his chest as he realized that he did know Pepper, but some memories started to crop up like forgotten diseases through 255. Had she snuck a sideways look that time, or was she seeing if he was getting the same results? Did she flinch, in the periphery of his vision, or was it just offense like he’d thought it was before?

Oh, powers, had she asked him out on a date?

But then Pepper started to talk. She talked about the loneliness growing up here, of only having Dr. Kallie, of how– of how Cody was one of her only real relationships. Could it be a real relationship, if she wouldn’t tell him how she felt? She definitely still felt it, even after he was such a fucking idiot.

He could spend all day beating himself up over that. He could also take off the Medallion, put it in Ira’s lap, and leave without another word. That thought did cross his mind.

Or he could mention his own childhood – how his own dad would’ve done that in a heartbeat, never communicated, just spread the guilt and blame. How he’d always been friends with everybody, and how that meant he’d been good friends with nobody. How his only real relationship had died of a heart attack before Cody could graduate, but by doing so had inadvertently saved Cody’s life.

No. None of that. He was better than that.

That wouldn’t be fair to them.

Cody pulled himself up to one knee. Not the knee of a beggar, asking for grace, but the knee someone took when they wanted to be on the same level as someone else for something serious, one wrist on the back.

"Last time you had only one friend," Cody’s voice was quiet, but stern. Unexpectedly stern, maybe, even for Pepper. She’d likely never had to see this side of him. "Last time you didn’t talk to anyone for thirty years. I won’t always be here, Ira. I don’t plan to go anywhere, but – things happen. I don’t want you to be alone again if anything happens to me."

For once, the Medal didn’t flicker when Cody’s mind turned dark. It was just him, and his sad but steady eyes from behind his glasses, holding the Goddess’s. This visit wasn’t about him, or Pepper. And Pepper had left plenty of room to bounce off of.

"I don’t want that loneliness for you. I can’t be everything you need. I’m sorry for that. I’ll be what I can while I’m here. And I care about you a lot. Let other people care about you, too. Please? Can you try for me?"

Was it an apology to Ira, or to Pepper? It was definitely directed to Ira, but maybe Pepper wasn’t as blind as he was. Although, given it was for Ira, he may have blinked and slipped into puppy dog eyes. Not a full pout, but a pleading clarity, combined with a disarmingly earnest smile.
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Turning away from the pair, Ira would begin to think for a long time. This, perhaps more than anything else, would be the test of whether or not Pepper would be able to be friends with Ira. To speak to Ira, to have a relationship with her, meant exercising an incredible amount of patience. Because Ira was slow to a fault sometimes, and she didn't have patience for those who found themselves lacking. So, looking away and closing her eyes, Ira began to think.

There were many things Ira was, and many things she was not. She was, if she had to put it into her own words, an all-powerful and infinite Goddess beyond the scope of any understanding. She was amazing and terrible and everything in, beyond, above, and around the fabric of existence. She was the one considered the oldest of the old by the oldest and most terrible eldritch abominations, even among those whose very names had been lost to time. That is what she would call herself- how she saw herself.

Yet, listening to Cody and Pepper, Ira was forced to face a little bit of this reality. The bit that reminded her with a still, small voice, that she was not all those things. Not here. Here, by her own choice, she was a child. She had cut just enough, the bare minimum, of her soul out. A single aspect, the child, and placed it into a place where her powers would be nonexistent. They had to be nonexistent for her own safety. She knew this. For a long time, she believed she would be ok with this. Until that is, she met Holtzheim. He was more than a friend. The man had reached down into her soul and dredged up memories of a time so long ago now that the child could count on one human hand the number of living beings just old enough to see the end of that era.

And he had reminded her of how lonely the child was.

Now, so many years after his death, when she once more thought she was above and beyond such memories and feelings, they were being dredged up again. It was her curse, she knew it. Ira was the aspect of the child, and the child had been separated from her family for the first time in all of her time. To her surprise, it turns out there were still new things she could experience and find she did not like. For example, being alone. Ira, the aspect of the child, found she very much did not like being alone. The other two tried to comfort her, but they were her. When she returned to the waking world, she felt a sense of wholeness that she could not achieve here, but that feeling of loneliness remained.

Enki had helped, but Enki was Her project. Enki was the child of Her desire, not Ira's. While the little thing had grown on Ira, it did not replace a friend for herself. Ira had relinquished control of having friends in the waking world, that, she thought, would not bother her. It did. But, could having more friends here would compensate for that? Cody mentioned that Ira had stayed silent for thirty years, did he not know she could be silent for eons longer than that? That she had been silent for eons? But... Maybe silence was not good forever. It had been so long, those infernal memories nagged at the back of her skull as she turned Cody and Pepper's words over in her mind. Those infernal memories of HIM.

She shook her head, dashing it from her mind's eye. Focusing on the now, Ira made her decision. Perhaps, she could have one more friend. Perhaps more, in time. Perhaps...

Turning back to Cody and Pepper, Ira looked them both up and down and declared, "Emotional, both of you! Do that less! I demand it. Unacceptable. Fine, believe you, I do. 'Pepper.' I will, attempt, friendship. And you-" Pointing to Cody, "Guilt me not! You will live forever. I demand it. And, if you don't, I will punish you!" Walking over to the bed, she picked up the cow set and wiped her eyes.

wiped her eyes?

She pulled her hand away from her face. Her fingers were wet... When did that happen? Was she leaking? Was she crying?! What the hell?! This was very unGoddesslike behavior. Furiously scrubbing her eyes, she growled and rubbed until her face was thoroughly dry. Then, unceremoniously, she plopped herself down on the bed to sit and open the cow sewing set.

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Pepper was taken aback by the sudden seriousness in Cody’s face. Even though they had been friends for five years, she had never seen this side of him before. Or maybe, she had never done anything to prompt it. But Ira, who almost seemed on the verge of a tantrum, had provoked it. So she watched, silently as Cody told Ira the truth about the situation. And, for a brief moment, Pepper remembered something. It was something deep down in her well of memories, so deep she never thought she’d ever remember it again.

It was her father. It was her father the day that the people from the ACF had come to collect her. It was her father, down on his knees to look in her eyes and tell her they wouldn’t leave her, even if she had to go somewhere far away, because they would always be with her.

That had been a lie. Not an intentional one, but they had gone and died in a car accident on their way to visit her on one of their designated days.

Cody was reminding her not necessarily of her father but of the energy of a father. The energy of a father who was being serious with his child, who only wanted the best for them but could only convey it through being as serious as possible. It was clear how much Cody cared about Ira. Pepper felt strange about that. Not a bad strange, but a kind of strange she didn’t have words for. Something about seeing Cody be so parental made her feel, for lack of better words, a certain kind of way.

Then, he said something that caught her attention. It was the way he phrased his apology to Ira, the way he said it more than what he was saying. There was no way he was talking to her– his eyes were fixed on Ira’s own black ones – but something about it felt like, well, it might have been for her too? Pepper brushed the thought away. That would imply that he believed Ira and had put it together that she liked him as much as she did. Pepper had liked Cody, or at least figured out she liked Cody, for four out of the five years they had known each other. He had never once put together her hints or her cues. It would be a miracle if he figured it out before she told him.

As he finished speaking, Pepper directed her full attention back to Ira. The girl turned away from them and was silent. Very silent. There was a moment when Pepper felt like she should speak up, but she trusted her gut and stayed quiet. Maybe the girl was just trying to process the concept of multiple friends. After a while, the girl turned and declared, like a tiny tyrant, that they were both to stop being emotional. Pepper sighed a little in relief as she also declared that she believed Pepper. Crisis averted.

As the girl turned away, Pepper could see her rubbing her face. Tears, she assumed. It made Pepper want to hug her so badly. Maybe she did understand the loneliness that Pepper had expressed after all. She watched as the girl opened the cow kit, and a small smile broke on her face for the first time since Ira had first spoken.

“Do you know how to sew, Ira? I can teach you if you don’t. That is, if you would like for me to.”

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Ira was quiet for a long time. She was deep in thought, and Cody was long since used to it. Pepper didn’t need a glance from Cody to do the same – she sensed what he’d sensed the first time, that Ira needed space. She needed to collect herself. Immortal things, in his experience, often didn’t remember how time worked. Then she was back to herself in an outburst, and he smiled a little more and nodded half-obediently as she demanded he never die. That was an issue that would have to be addressed – later. Now she had agreed to be friends with Pepper, and that was a success.

He was almost glad she was too busy taking care of herself to see the sadness in his eyes or hear his gentle sigh as he sat back on his heels. Pepper might have, and the way his fingers curled over 255, but nothing else changed, and when Ira went and picked up the cow – as he’d predicted – Pepper said what he’d hoped she’d say. Everything was going smoothly, for once, and that was good.

He stood up silently while Pepper talked, slow enough not to distract from her. He sat down on the bed, just close enough that if Ira wanted to take the open invitation of someone to lean on, she could. It would hurt her vanity to reach for her first, especially in front of Pepper, but he hoped that she was more a child than a goddess right now.

Now wasn’t the time for him to talk. Now he had to just be here, and honestly? That was okay with him. He’d promised, after all.
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Ira tore open the cow sewing set and began laying each item out on the bed as Pepper spoke and Cody slowly, gently, sat near her. She did not speak immediately, though her body tensed and bristled as she seemed to register how close the pair of them were to her. Then, as if someone had whispered calming words into her ears, she relaxed.

She could be a child, at least for a little while.

Looking at Pepper, her face now as solemn and unreadable as she typically was, Ira replied, "I, know. Yes. But, this body is inferior. I would accept assistance. Marginal, small. Just to adjust. This, infernal form. Unbecoming and restricting. Deal with it I will." Then, in a move that Ira thought was incredibly smooth, the young girl scooted closer to Cody to allow room for Pepper to sit on the other side of her. Leaning into the other researcher ever so daintily, she patted the bed and motioned for Pepper to approach.

As her fingers picked up the blunt needles and arraigned the strings, Ira began to gently hum a tune to keep the voice in her head pacified. She appreciated Her own advice, but did not want to talk to Herself over the presence of her new friend. Potential new friend, at least.
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Pepper’s face split into a smile, and she got up off the floor. She settled onto the bed next to Ira and looked at the pieces for the cow as they were lain out. The construction of it was very simple, and it even came with its own stuffing. It was altogether cute and wholesome, especially given the rather macabre artwork on the walls. She watched Ira string the needle and then grip it in her hands.

Upside down.

Pepper giggled a little and pointed to the needle. “You’ve got this upside down. The part where the thread goes through the head is the back of the needle. The tip goes in first..”

While Pepper watched Ira correct her hold on the needle, or not, she paid attention to the room. Lots of art supplies were scattered on the tables, and she had a small succulent growing under a light. That, Pepper knew a bit about. It was a hens and chicks if she wasn’t mistaken, a kind of Sempervivum. She wondered briefly how much of this stuff was tributes from Cody. Obviously, the magic sand must have been, as he had brought her more. But was the succulent? Why a succulent? She’d have to ask him later.

She looked up at him and smiled briefly, a smile of happiness that Ira was trying to accept her, before she returned her attention to Ira’s handiwork. “So can I ask you why you don’t like cows? What’s wrong with them having multiple stomachs?”

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As Ira pressed her ‘infernal form’ up against him, Cody – much more smoothly – rested his hand behind her on the bed, obviously for support and not to give her a more comfortable position to lean back in as Pepper joined them. He smiled a little as Ira threaded it and maybe a little more as she picked it up the wrong way. If she looked at him, though, he’d certainly not look amused. Just…happy.

He was happy, here, like this. Even when it was stressful, being around Ira made him happier. Being around Pepper made him happy, too, and he’d always attributed it to the pure joy that she radiated. Right here, right now, was different from either kind of happiness he’d felt before. It felt different than anything he’d felt before. It wasn’t something he could place. It couldn’t be family. Family was hard. The love of a family was pressure occasionally eased by a soft interjection, that’s all it had ever been to him. Family either broke you or shattered you and you didn’t know until years and years later.

He wasn’t sure what he was feeling, beyond the happiness, although to try to name it seemed like an insult. He thought back to what Pepper had said about him and Kallie. Maybe he didn’t need to name it, to be real. A real relationship. Two, right here. Two people with joy that he could bask in and who could look at him to see if they were doing it right and he could smile because no matter how they were doing it, it felt right, and that’s what mattered, that’s what made it real.

Yeah. Even for a researcher, that was enough of an answer.
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