Warm. It was warm.
The air wasn't faintly chilled like it should have been, didn't smell sterile and remind him of needles. It tasted almost humid, sweet and earthy. Outside Yoglabs. Cave, maybe. Didn't feel dank enough for a cave. Forest?
Xephos didn't want to move, regardless. He was so unbelievably tired. He rarely slept, ran mostly on coffee and adrenaline, but this was something else entirely. His brain was sluggishly trying to keep up with sensations as they reawakened. His skin came back into focus, nerves reawakening.
Fingers. In his hair.
Delicately carding through it like he would break. They felt lovely, even though it was likely ruining his hairstyle. He didn't really care.
"Lalna..." He breathed into something warm, and a soft, familiar laugh reawakened his ears.
The hand in his hair kept moving, trailing through each lock and running across his ears with deliberate strokes. His skin gave a slow shiver that cascaded down his spine. The voice above him gave another soft laugh that was sweet and familiar.
"Where have you been?" Xephos mumbled, finding his body too sluggish to move. He opened his eyes halfway to a blur of colour that set his head into a spin.
"I've been here, Xeph," a finger trailed over his forehead, almost sticky in texture. Strange.
"I've never left."
The silence stretched between them, warm and soft and sweet, the same as it had been before.
"I love you," he whispered, the world swimming back into focus.
"I love you too, Xeph. Always."
Sticky fingers in his hair. Lips that pressed to his forehead, lingering just above his skin with the softest exhale.
Before was a word for the past.
Xephos wrenched himself fully awake, eyes wide as he stared confusedly up at Lalna. He was somewhere in Lalna's lap, head comfortably rested on his thigh. The world other than that was a grey and brown blur. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, but the world wouldn't focus.
Lalna glanced down with those pretty eyes that were as green as fields. As green as acid. As green as-
Lalna's eyes were never green.
He tried to pull away but it was agony to move, a ripping and tearing at his heart that left his head spinning. Lalnable hushed him, pressing a finger to his lips and smiling, his unnatural gaze flicking across his face like he was savouring it. His fingers were bloody and Xephos didn't know whose it was. It didn't look fresher than a few hours.
"What do you want from me?" Xephos hissed, his throat seizing up.
Lalnable only hummed, his fingers so heart-achingly familiar in his hair. The touch was sweet and feather soft, utterly at odds with his bloodied hands.
"Lalnable," he said, trying to make his uncooperative voice dangerous. The blonde clone gave him an innocent smile that made his heart ache, though his eyes hardened when he didn't stop at Lalna.
"I don't want anything from you," his tone was so conversational. He wasn't allowed to talk like a person. He wasn't one. He wasn't allowed to pretend.
"Then why am I alive?"
Lalnable gave an almost offended laugh, "I don't kill people for no reason, Xeph."
"You killed Honeydew for no reason."
"The ginger one?" Xephos nodded sharply, his head still rested in Lalnable's lap. He didn't like not being able to move. He didn't like being at someone's mercy.
"I killed him because he would've died anyway. And he didn't really die, anyway-"
"What do you mean he would have died anyway?"
"He would've died protecting you from me, Xeph," his hand rested in Xephos' hair, the skin below it tingling, "he would've fought until his last breath. And he just respawned, so it's not exactly a pity."
Xephos didn't believe that fact fully, and that scared him. Honeydew would do anything for him. Why would he doubt that? He-
"Selfish, selfish Xephos," Lalnable chastised, his eyes half lidded behind short lashes, "you wouldn't do the same."
"I'm not selfish," he hissed in response, "you were the one who killed all those testificates. You-"
"You told me to," Lalnable said, shaking his head, "You said that they knew too much, planned against us all. You promised me."
He gave a quiet, breathy laugh, his brows raising, "Then you locked me up and told them all I was evil."
"You lied, you know," Lalnable still sounded conversational, as if all of what he said could be replaced with a chat about the weather, "You're lying now. I'm Lalna. I've figured it out."
Xephos twitched his fingers, the feeling slowly returning to them. If Lalnable noticed him move, he didn't show it. Lalnable was wrong, anyway. He wasn't Lalna. He wasn't even a person. He'd been far too unsure before, and to hell with his excuses.
"You gave me another name because you did this to me," the hand was still infuriatingly casual as it carded through Xephos' hair, "and you didn't want them to know."
"You were a dead clone!" Xephos could move his whole hand now, gingerly swiveling his wrist, "You were brain dead!"
"You infused my cells with ender pearls and chemicals," Lalnable cocked his head to the side, a half-smile on his lips, "you could've just euthanised me instead. I've seen you do it before, Xeph."
"We were out of viable test subjects, and you were... like that. I figured I could-"
The whole world slowly reawakened into focus, colours becoming shapes- a cabin of some sort, if the roof was anything to judge by. Wooden. He flicked his gaze across the wall, setting it on a window with its kitschy gingham curtains drawn. Dark outside. Approximately eight hours since he passed out, then. Give or take.
"I was brain dead? Funny, I remember all the scalpels."
"I even remember you slicing open my chest and ripping out my-"
Xephos yelled and slammed his head up into Lalnable, their foreheads connecting with a sickening noise. Pain exploded behind Xephos' eyes but he dragged his body up, throwing himself off Lalnable's thigh and connecting hard with the floor. He tumbled across it, gasping hard.
He managed to catch himself with one hand, his head spinning with something that would surely be a bruise. Xephos pushed his screaming body up, just on his knees and then more, the birch wood door he found so close he could almost touch it. He grabbed at the copper knob, turning it with urgency.
A hand caught his leg and tugged, sending him crashing to the floor, his head slamming into the door on the way down. Xephos' vision was eaten by static and stars behind his eyes, and he gasped hard as it went entirely black, his intakes of breath faster and faster. He wasn't blind. He wasn't blind. He reached out for the door and met only the air.
Lalnable sounded almost concerned, Notch damn him, his hand's weight resting on Xephos' leg again with gentleness. The spaceman kicked back as forcefully as he could, scraping hard at the floor with blunt fingernails. Lalnable sharply inhaled as Xephos' foot connected solidly with some part of him, but gripped tighter.
"Let go of me!" Xephos was panicking, his voice rising in pitch and urgency, scraping at walls to try and feel his way out. The world was interrupted by bursts of static and black fog, fading back in only to burst away like fireworks. He sobbed and scratched hard at the floor, his eyes squeezed shut so he could pretend that the darkness in his vision was just his eyelids, and not his eyes deteriorating until he'd be left in the shadows, all alone and helpless-
Static, blur, blackness again.
The fuzz in his vision faded, light filtering back into his eyes and leaving his chest heaving around a sob.
"Shh, Xeph, you're fine, you're fine," Lalnable's voice was hushed and urgent, one gloved hand resting on Xephos' mid back.
How dare he.
Xephos sat up, swatting the hand away and leaning back against some kind of cupboard or door. He didn't care to check. Lalnable crouched right in front of him, and looking away would be letting him win.
"The door's locked. I'm not stupid."
"Why are we here, Lalnable?" Xephos hissed, slowly working his hand down his leg towards his boot. Lalnable stood and rolled his eyes.
"Because they'd kill us both otherwise."
"Both of us?" Xephos had reached the end of the material of his pants now, the soft black of his boot so close, "I'm the joint CEO, in case you've forgotten."
"You were meant to be in there changing some anaesthetic. Look where that got you, friend."
"I am still the CEO!"
Lalnable raised his eyebrows, "It's not that unusual to be killed for disobeying orders though, is it? On a scale of one to ten, it's about a twelve."
Lalnable slammed his foot down on Xephos' hand unexpectedly, the diamond knife he'd gripped onto clattering away across the floor as the spaceman howled in frustration. His hand burned, still trapped under one dirty boot. He balled up his other fist to throw a punch at the other man's shin but Lalnable stopped that just with his expression.
He was pissed.
"You really think I'm stupid, don't you?"
Lalnable increased the pressure, stepping down on Xephos' fingers harder and harder. He hissed out in pain, kicking at Lalnable's ankles and achieving nothing. The air grew greener and Xephos could taste the static fuzz of it.
"You really, honestly, think I'm mad?"
"You're honestly fucking deranged," Xephos snarled, prying his hand out from under Lalnable's boot. He rolled to the side as the blonde clone kicked hard at where his head had been.
"No, no," Lalnable was laughing, and it was disturbingly sane, "I'm not mad. I'm furious."
Xephos tackled his legs and drove him to the ground, straddling his waist as fast as he could. His throbbing fingers closed around Lalnable's neck and squeezed hard. Lalnable just smiled like it was nothing even as his breathing stuttered, a toothy and unpleasant grin on his features. He seemed to make no effort to escape before reaching up to grip hard into Xephos' hair and rip it back, distracting the spaceman enough for them to switch positions. Xephos' head was slammed hard into the floor, twice, he thought, but he wasn't sure. He saw hundreds of stars behind his squeezed-shut eyelids.
Lalnable's bulkier frame held him down easily, his hands grasping feebly at any part of Lalnable he could reach. He settled on digging his fingernails sharply into the veins of Lalnable's wrist, though the clone didn't mind for a moment.
"One on one fight, no weapons," Lalnable whistled as if he was impressed, his fingers closing loosely around the paleness of Xephos' throat, "against me. Notch, it's almost like you really do think I'm Lalna."
Xephos resisted the urge to spit in his face.
The hands on his throat didn't squeeze, just rested there like the threat they were obviously intended to be. Xephos didn't struggle. He couldn't win this. Of course he could go for the gun concealed in his coat, but he didn't know what that would accomplish. He'd shot Lalnable in the head before, bullet after bullet until his skull was a bloody mess and he scarcely had a brain to call his own. The mess had been unbelievable.
He'd been dead for two solid days, and then he'd shown up at a staff meeting.
Pretending to comply seemed like a better idea.
He swallowed and the clone's fingers twitched at his throat, though it was more likely nerves than anything else. His eyes were lightning sharp, the green of them flickering as he regarded Xephos.
"I... I'm sorry."
"You're not," Lalnable said, interrupting his lie, "if you're the Xephos I know, you wouldn't be sorry."
"I'm not heartless, Lalnable."
"Could've fooled me."
Lalnable reached inside Xephos' coat with one bloodied hand, finding the pistol he'd considered easily within his concealed pocket. He held it with little care, throwing it away with a clatter, the gun leaving Xephos' sight without so much as a wink of effort or precision.
"Do you really need all of these?" Lalnable remarked, his hand resting on the holster at Xephos' hip. The spaceman shifted in discomfort.
"Do you... Do you want me dead?" Xephos whispered, and the surprise Lalnable reflected was greater than he expected.
Lalnable regarded him with a baleful look in his eyes, the nuclear green of them dimming to blue, "Never."
"Could've fooled me," he mimicked, much to Lalnable's apparent ire.
"Xephos, if I wanted you dead, you would be twice dead by now."
"Hm." Xephos adjusted himself under the heaviness of Lalnable's body, thankful that the clone's labcoat was specifically designed to prevent splatters. He'd likely be covered entirely in blood otherwise, and the iron of his hands stank enough of decay.
"If you're not going to strangle me, can you get off me?"
Lalnable looked almost reluctant to move, not changing his position at all for a few moments before giving a deep sigh and hesitantly removing himself, his hand on Xephos' hip lingering moments longer than anything else. Xephos sat himself up against the nearest wall, Lalnable taking up a position opposite him with his hands firmly in his pockets. This didn't do a thing to hide the blood.
"Where is the blood from this time?"
Lalnable stared down at his hands like he'd never seen them before, and made a small noise of affirmation.
"One of your testificate guards shot me. It's mine, mostly."
"You can clean them, you know."
"You didn't let me keep my gloves, so it was bound to happen."
Lalnable rubbed his hands hard on his lab coat, the majority of the clotted blood coming off the more he scrubbed, eventually resorting to fingernails to scrape off the harder bits. Xephos made a noise of disgust.
Lalnable gave a quiet snort of amusement, "You've seen worse, Xephos. All those tests with vivisection, yeah? The ones you told me to do."
"You didn't have to do-"
"Xephos, why did you make another Lalna?"
"Because you're not right. We can't kill you, we can't clone you. Any clone of you would be corrupted. Not Lalna, just like you."
"I- I could be, you know-"
Xephos gave a growl of frustration.
"Friend," he spat the word, "you're not Lalna. You're Lalnable. The one who was brain dead and drank the blood of a testificate once just to see how it tasted. The one who ripped apart someone because he though he'd look pretty that way."
There was a pause for a moment, the air stilling.
"We kissed the first time in a lab, and you almost stabbed me with a scalpel in shock."
Xephos' face crumpled, eyes widening at what Lalnable had said. He didn't have any words that would come out of his throat, though his mouth opened like he meant to speak. His thoughts slowed to a standstill.
"You told me that sometimes you wondered if anything you did mattered," Lalnable said, his tone far too even, "if you were even doing the right thing."
"You are bloodthirsty and afraid of yourself, and I know. I understand."
Lalnable inched his hand closer to Xephos', only patches of blurred red left on its surface.
"I've felt it."
"You're a liar and a killer," Xephos swore his voice shouldn't sound so pitchy.
"I've lied and I've killed, I suppose. But hasn't everyone at Yoglabs? Is this because it's personal?"
Lalnable touched the top of Xephos' hand with three fingers before gently taking the hand in his own when there was little resistance beyond a noise of empty discomfort.
"I love you," Lalnable said, words sweet on his tongue.
Xephos took in a sharp breath, meeting Lalnable's eye in silence. His mouth clenched shut with indignation, but he said nothing. Lalnable raised Xephos' hand and kissed his palm, eyes flickering up to gauge his reaction. He stared back with something burning in his eyes that felt like loathing.
"You're going to stay silent, then? Fine by me," Lalnable shrugged, a noncommittal smile on his features.
"You know, maybe the reason you remember all those scalpels," Xephos spat after a few moments, "is because those were my efforts to kill you when I found that you were corrupt."
"What did I even do to make you decide I was corrupt?"
"Other than use all that static whatever and those superhuman abilities you somehow got? Not a bloody thing."
"Maybe that's what you decided was bad-"
"Shut up. Just shut up!"
Lalnable stopped immediately, mouth snapping shut.
"I wanted you to be Lalna, and that's not a lie. There wasn't one Notch damned moment where I don't try to pretend!"
Lalnable's eyes widened, fizzing with green.
"And if you think that I would hurt Lalna if it wasn't necessary for him to live-"
Lalnable pulled him in and kissed him. Soft, chaste, hesitant. Compared to what he'd done when he escaped last, it was little more than a peck. Xephos still turned beet red, touching his lips with two fingers and furrowing his brow. He felt anger boiling up in his chest.
"How dare you." Xephos hissed, ripping his hand out of Lalnable's loose grip. The clone blinked innocently at him, looking for all the world like Xephos was the one who'd done something wrong.
"Are you sure you're angry? You 're blushing, it's very cute-"
"Lalnable," he emphasized every syllable of the name, and static was at the corners of his vision, "You're playing a game you shouldn't be, friend."
Lalnable practically cackled at that. He tipped back his head and almost roared with laughter, his eyes obscured until they came back blazing green.
"Am I? Am I?" Lalnable practically hiccuped the words through his laughter, "Oh, Xephos. You still think there's a glass box!"
"And that's why you're not Lalna," Xephos said those words with finality, knowing he'd have the last word, "because you need one."
Lalnable's face was blank and shocked for a few sweet, silent moments before it slowly crept into a smile, teeth flashing.
"Perhaps we can share it then, Xeph. They haven't made yours yet."
Xephos didn't have the heart to fight when Lalnable wrapped his arms around him.