BY : Rina76
Category: Final Fantasy Anime > Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Dragon prints: 1511
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII Advent Children or any of the characters from the film. I am not making money from the writing of this story.

A/N: Hey, guys! I know it’s been a while but I’m back. Thanks to all you lovely reviewers including Gwilwileth, Ficfan3484 and Rinni. It’s because of you that I keep writing this fic (even though it’s in my own turtle-like slow pace >.<)  I hope that everyone stays patient with me and likes where the story is going.

Summary: In this chapter Cate moves into the lair and you get to see a bit more of the boys and their home life, how they act when they’re not being (too) scary and dangerous. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 12. Food for thought.

After surviving my first night in the clone-cave with a bunch of assassins, I awaken sometime in the late morning, huddled in blankets upon Loz’s massive bed. He’s still fast asleep, his large frame sprawled across the mattress as though he’s not used to sharing it with anyone else. I’m lying right on the edge, lucky he didn’t kick me right off it and onto the floor. Yawning, I sit up. There seems to be some sort of automatic lighting installed in the ceiling that mimics sunrise, flooding the bedroom with warm golden light without any switches being touched. It must be so the boys know when it’s time to get up, since there are no windows down here. The light doesn’t appear to bother Loz, who’s lying on his stomach and snoring into his pillow. I climb out of bed, quietly use the bathroom, fix my hair and put my clothes back on. He doesn’t even stir.

I didn’t actually get much sleep at all due to the talking we did, and then the steamy make-out session, followed by a spooky dream-vision I can’t remember and later on, the sound of Kadaj having sex with someone, which I do remember quite clearly, unfortunately. I hope the slut has gone home already because I really don’t feel like making small talk to anyone stupid enough to be seduced by Kadaj’s obviously evil charm. Okay, that charm might be frighteningly hypnotising and very hard to resist but it IS possible because I did it that night in the club, shoved his sleazy hands away from me and told him to get lost. I’m rather proud of myself for that, considering most other girls would have given in to his persuasive promises and let him do whatever he wanted. Like the girl in his room last night. 

But there are no strange faces to be seen when I make my way down the arched cavern hallway and peer around the doorway into the kitchen. There’s only Yazoo in his robe making coffee in one of those expensive stainless steel percolators. Though he has his back to me, he senses I am there, turning to greet me with a small smile, his lengthy silken hair way too perfect and sleek for this time of the day.

Kadaj is sitting on the bench next to him with similarly sleek hair, only in a shorter style.

He’s topless.

I try not to look but it’s difficult. His skin is so white, contrasted against the stone wall behind him like a bleached beach shell on sand. The youngest Remnant is wearing black silk pyjama pants like the ones Loz has, only in a smaller size. There’s a tattoo on his tightly toned stomach - a ninja-star. So, that’s where his is. It’s below the navel, just above his waistband, positioned to draw attention to his lower regions. It works damn well. I wonder how many women have looked at that while they’ve been sucking him off.

He glances sideways at me with cool hostility.

“Still here?” he drawls. “I thought you’d be long gone by now. I assume my brothers told you what we are.”

“That you’re all cloned alien freak-shows? Yeah, he did.” I step into the kitchen. “No offence, Yazoo.”

Yazoo smiles and shakes his head, proving that none is taken. “How’d you sleep?”

“Not so great. I had another vision. Apparently I woke Loz up with crazy-talk about some kind of arrival or reunion or something.” At Kadaj’s immediately interested expression, I add, “I can’t remember what it was about, though, or what I said.”

I sigh and pull out a chair to sit down at the glass-topped table, one hand on my protruding stomach. “I love this kid but I hate the weird shit that happens to me at random times of the day or night because of it. I have no control over those visions. That’s why I hardly ever go out in public anymore. If anyone saw me rambling like that, I’d get locked away for being a madwoman.”

“Reunion, hm?” Yazoo murmurs with his head tilted at me, seeming just as intrigued as Kadaj by what I was supposedly saying. “You could ask Loz to capture you on camera the next time you experience one of these prophecies. If we heard it, perhaps we’d be able to shed some light on the meaning of your words.”

“I already asked him to do that. I hope you can understand what it all means and why this is happening to me because I sure as hell don’t.”  I frown at him. “You really think they’re prophecies, like stuff that’s gonna happen in the future?”

He and Kadaj exchange a silent glance.

“Don’t worry about it now. I’m certain we’ll be able to figure it out in time,” the middle brother assures me, preparing some mugs and getting out milk and sugar. “Coffee, Cate?”

“No, thanks. I read that too much coffee can be linked to miscarriages.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Yazoo replies with concern. “How about tea? Is tea safe for the baby?”

“Yeah. That’s fine. Do you have Chai?”

“Actually, we do. I’m usually the only one who drinks it, though.”

“You can keep your fancy fuckin’ girly tea leaves,” Loz grumbles as he enters the room scratching his head in an irritated manner, clearly not a morning person. He’s still in his pyjama pants but has slipped on a tight black T-shirt that shows off his bulging arms and wide chest. His hair is surprisingly still in its usual swept-up style, even though it’s been slept on. That’s when I realise his hair is indestructible too, just like the rest of him. The only thing that could probably make it sit flat is when it gets wet and heavy but I bet as soon as the silver strands dry, they’d spring back into that curling pixie-peak again. That’s why Yazoo’s pearl-grey mane always looks so fantastic, with never a knot or a tangle to be seen. Despite its fineness and length, it simply doesn’t get tangled. Ever.

Yet another reason to envy the bitch.

“Good morning, Loz,” Yazoo greets his elder brother, getting a grunt in return. Leaning down, Loz pecks me clumsily on the cheek and I award him a grateful smile for making the effort. I know how hard it can be for men to show affection in front of others and I love how he’s really trying hard to be a good boyfriend. Kadaj rolls his eyes at Loz’s loving display towards me but Loz ignores him, not in the mood for his younger sibling’s immature antics. Taking the top off the burbling percolator to check how far away the new batch of coffee is, Loz then yanks out a chair and slumps at the kitchen table beside me, yawning widely, evidently needing caffeine before he fully awakens.

Yazoo opens the pantry door to fetch the Chai mixture and I curiously peek in the narrow closet, spying foil bags of ground coffee beans, boxes of sports energy bars and tins of flavoured protein shakes, the kind guys use when they’re weight training. I don’t see any cereal, pasta, rice, flour or anything you’d normally expect to find in a kitchen pantry. The shelves are practically bare. That’s single men for you.

Interrupting my scrutineering, Kadaj probes from his spot on the bench, “So, the knowledge of where we come from and what we are doesn’t bother you?”

“Well, I guess it IS a little creepy,” I confess, thinking of all the terrible things Yazoo told me about last night - what the boys are able to do, how their bodies heal, what powers they have. “Can you really do magic?”

“Of course I can.” Kadaj seems offended that I’d even ask. “I can create or deplete energy, induce visions or spellbind people with black materia and I can summon creatures, like dragons or Shadow Creepers. You want me to summon one right now?”

“No, please don’t!” I hurriedly answer in alarm as he raises his arm. “Those things are scary as fuck!”

“They’re my minions,” he states, sounding fond of those terrifying, sulphur-breathing beasts. “They do whatever I want them to.”

“Yazoo can also summon them,” I point out, clearly remembering how he brought five of them into the nightclub and sent them charging into the crowd just by lifting his hand.

“Yes,” Yazoo affirms modestly. “We share some powers. But I can’t summon dragons or do those other things Kadaj mentioned.”

“Like this,” the young swordsman says, opening his hand and spreading his fingers, a glow of blue electricity beginning to form in the centre of his palm. My eyes widen. He’s smiling in an proud, engrossed manner as the energy gathers and expands, turning into a sphere about the size of a grapefruit which he then suddenly hurls towards me. I duck, thinking he’s trying to kill me but he’s aimed it well above my head. The glowing globe streaks across the room, Loz and Yazoo watching idly, even uninterestedly, as if they’ve seen this many times before. The blue sphere hits the far wall and blows up in a shower of crackling sparks, leaving behind a burnt scorch-mark on the stone. The smell of hot electricity singes my nostrils.

“Shit,” I gulp, imagining how much damage that ball of energy would have done to a human body.

“And that’s not even HALF of what I can do. I could make your head explode like a watermelon with one flick of my wrist,” Kadaj boasts with a smirk. “Still want to stay here?”

“Nice try at scaring me off,” I dryly reply, turning to give him a defiant look. “But it didn’t work. Sorry to intrude on the neat bachelor pad you got set up here, Kadaj, but Loz asked me to move in so I guess I’ll be sticking around for a while.”

Kadaj instantly glares at his oldest sibling. “What the hell, Loz? You can’t decide something like that without us having a family meeting and voting on it first!”

Loz shrugs. “So, let’s have a vote. I vote she stays. Yazoo?”

“I second that vote,” the longer-haired male answers without looking around, busy brewing Chai tea in a white china pot.

Loz grins triumphantly at his little brother. “That’s two to one. You lose. Cate stays.”

“Wonderful,” Kadaj says with a sarcastic intonation, giving me a barbed stare. “I’m so looking forward to us becoming the VERY best of friends.”

“Be nice,” Yazoo mildly warns him.

“I WAS being nice.”

“No, you weren’t,” Loz tosses back. He glances at Kadaj’s bare torso and makes a noise of disgust. “And put a damn shirt on, would ya?”

“Why? Afraid your girlfriend might see something she likes?”

 Kadaj slithers off the counter to stand directly before me, not as tall as Yazoo or broad as Loz but still a looming, fearsome presence nonetheless, and I feel tiny and powerless in front of his potent masculinity. He’s extremely sexually alluring and he knows it. He smells just like he did in the club – all sinful seductiveness, like something very, very bad for you but something you can’t help wanting anyway. He smirks at me through the silver layers of his fringe, fully aware of my unwanted attraction towards him. I feel myself blushing and look away from his all-too-knowing green eyes only to be faced with a smooth white chest, flat male nipples and a leanly muscled stomach. His tummy-tattoo demands my attention, standing out starkly on his pale skin like a burn mark, and I can’t drag my focus away from it. I dare not glance down any further because then I’d be staring at his crotch and that’s the last place I want to be caught looking at. Oh Gods, why is he standing so close? And why can’t I look away?

Realising how Kadaj is intimidating me, Loz shoves his chair back and stands up dangerously. “Back off, Daj. Don’t make me bust your pretty little face.”

Kadaj smiles, undeterred by the threat. “Think I’m pretty, do you, brother?”

“You won’t be in a minute,” Loz growls lowly, his hands turning into fists. “I’ll mess you up real good.”

The younger Remnant humphs in a superciliously conceited manner. ““I’d like see you try, Loz. You forget I’m three times the clone you are. If anyone’s going to get messed up, it’ll be YOU. ”

In that same patiently mild tone Yazoo remarks, “Stop it, you two. Kadaj, go and get dressed. We have company.”

   “Whatever you say, Father,” he replies scornfully, but I’m surprised to see that he actually listens to Yazoo and starts walking away towards the bedrooms. “Oh, and Cate?”

Kadaj turns back around, emerald eyes slitting at me in warning. 

   “Don’t even think you can change the way things are run around here. We all have jobs to do, including Loz, and I will not tolerate any interferences or interruptions to our plans or daily routine. I’m in charge and /I/ make all the rules. You better not forget that.”

   “Wouldn’t dream of it,” I mutter acidly. “Don’t worry. I intend to stay right out of your way.”  

   “Good. And I don’t want to see your stuff all over the place, either. Keep it in Loz’s room or I’ll throw it in the lake.” With that last shot he stalks off.

   “Is he always like that?” I exclaim when he’s out of hearing range.

   “Why, whatever do you mean?” Yazoo smilingly comments, straining milky liquid into a china cup.

   “You know exactly what I mean. Is he always so…arrogant and infuriating?”

Loz lifts a shoulder. “Pretty much.”

   “You’re the first girl that’s ever been brought here. He’s just not used to it yet,” the elegant gunman tells me by way of explanation. “Give him time.”

Time. Sure. I bet even if you gave Kadaj all the time in the world he’d still never get used to me being here. However, he got outvoted so there’s nothing he can do about it but accept it. However, I’m grateful that Yazoo’s on my side.

He sets the cup of tea in front of me and I thank him. It’s steaming and the aroma is delicious - authentic, made with real leaves and spices, not some artificial pre-mixed flavouring in a bottle.

“Smells great. I really love your lair, by the way,” I add in an impressed tone. “Loz told me how you designed it all. This place is stunning, like something out of a home style magazine. You did a spectacular job, Yazoo.”

His smile is pleased yet modest. “Thank you very much. We don’t normally entertain or have visitors so it’s nice to hear an outside opinion.”

I smile back. “You’re welcome. Thanks for letting me stay.”

As I sip my tea, an odd thought crosses my mind. If I’m the first girl who’s ever been bought here, then who the hell was Kadaj with last night? I distinctly heard two voices. Two moans. Hm…maybe it wasn’t a girl. Maybe it was a boy. Maybe he’s bisexual. There were men touching him on the dance floor at the strip club and he didn’t push them away. He didn’t seem to mind. Maybe the pervy little freak likes dick too. If he was with a boy last night, I just hope Kadaj left them alive and uninjured afterwards and not dumped in the woods like a murdered prostitute. He is an assassin, after all, and hurting people seems to get him off. Perhaps the whole forest is covered in shallow graves, belonging to people that he’s fucked and killed, people who have seen the lair but not been allowed to live to tell anyone where it is. A chill runs down the back of my neck at that thought. I could ask Loz how many dead bodies are buried out there, but I’m not sure I want to know the truth.

It’s probably best if I don’t even think about it.

The coffee machine finishes bubbling and Yazoo pours Loz a big mug of it. Black. I don’t know how he can drink it that way. When I could consume coffee, I had to mix in three spoons full of sugar and a hearty dollop of cream before I could even think about drinking it. But this tea is amazing and it’s got enough spice and flavour to not need any added sweetening. If Yazoo keeps making this for me, I won’t even miss coffee.

There’s no food on the table so I assume Kadaj and Yazoo already had their breakfast. Either that or they don’t usually eat it. Come to think of it, I didn’t see a lot in the fridge last night either when I opened it - mainly milk, cold water, bottles of wine and beer. There were a couple of partially-full takeout containers on the middle shelf but who knows what’s in them or how long they’ve been sitting there. Perhaps clones don’t need to eat much. I’m ravenous, as I always am in the morning. Neither Loz or Yazoo seem to notice my hunger, chatting among themselves about what modifications they want to make to their bikes as they drink their coffee. They don’t even ask if I want anything else, assuming that a cup of tea will be enough. These guys obviously have no idea about living with normal humans, especially pregnant ones, because if they did, they’d know that we need to ingest half our bodyweight in sustenance every day. Approximately. I hate being a pain in the butt and I don’t want them to go to any special trouble for me so I don’t mention how hungry I am. Besides, I can grab something when I go back to my apartment. I have food there.

When I drink all my tea, I leave Loz and Yazoo to finish their man-talk. I need to go to the bathroom again. Damn thimble-sized bladder.

When I enter the tiled room, I stop dead in my tracks, gasping in shock and clutching my belly. “Loz,” I yell out in panic. “Come here, quick!”

He flashes over from the kitchen in a streak of blue light, sounding highly concerned. “What is it? Is it the baby?”

“No, it’s not that,” I assure him, keeping my eyes glued to the toilet and what’s sitting on the lid of it. “Look! There’s a big fucking lizard in here!”

He follows to where I am pointing and relaxes in relief, his worried frown disappearing. “Oh, that’s just Freddie. Don’t worry - he won’t hurt you.”

I blink in surprise as he goes over to the large grey lizard and holds out his hand, making a soft whistling sound. The lizard climbs onto his forearm, wrapping its scaled tail around Loz’s wrist, lazily flicking a tongue in and out. 

“Dude…That’s your PET?”

“Well, Kadaj won’t let me have a dog.” Loz lifts a shoulder, as if it’s perfectly normal to have a huge cold-blooded reptile living in one’s bathroom. “You ain’t scared of lizards, are you?”

“No,” I hastily reply. “I just didn’t expect to see one on your toilet seat, that’s all.”

“Freddie roams freely about the cave so you might see him in odd places,” Loz explains, gently scratching his lizard’s head. “You’ll get used to him. Hey, you wanna pat him? He don’t bite.”

I swallow, nodding bravely and coming closer. I love animals and lizards are animals. I’ve just never been this close to such a big one before. He’s longer than Loz’s arm. But Freddie barely even moves when I hesitantly touch his back. His skin feels dry, leathery and slightly coarse. His eyes are slitted like Loz’s but they are a creamy yellow colour with orange iris-patterns instead of mako-green.

“What’s he eat?”

“Raw meat. Bugs. Any insects that get down here, Freddie will chase them down and clean ‘em up. I only have to feed him once a week.”

Freddie yawns, unbothered by us talking about him. He has a pink tongue.

 “He’s cute,” I admit, starting to smile. “And he’s got your eyes too.”

“Funny, Cate.” Loz reluctantly grins, taking the reptile over to a chair and draping him across the back of it. After he’s put there, Freddie  raises a front leg and idly scratches his neck, returning to his former position and just sitting in one spot, unmoving except for the faint in-out motion of his ribs as he breathes.

“He’s pretty lazy. If you wanna move him out of the way, just pick him up,” Loz tells me, trailing a fingertip softly down Freddie’s spine. “He won’t care.”

Watching Loz and how carefully and lovingly he handles his pet makes my heart melt. If he can treat a rough, scaly lizard this way, he’ll have no problem handling a soft, squishy baby.

Under the lethargic eye of Freddie, Loz pulls on a pair of black jeans and a hooded sweater that nicely shows off his fit torso. I guess he’s going incognito today, leaving his leather hit-man suit in the cupboard. He shoves a gun (much smaller than his usual one) down the back of his pants, puts on his boots and takes me up the passageway to the garage, carrying me in his arms just because he can.

Boy, do I love a guy with muscles.

We leave in that rattly old truck and head back to my apartment to get all my stuff. Even though our vehicle is barely holding together with its own rust, it’s still so cool pulling out of a hidden cave-garage and roaring away into the woods like superheroes, the boulders sliding back together after our departure. The crystal forest sure looks different during the day – the trees don’t have that eerie white iridescence and it’s definitely not as scary. In fact, it might even be a nice place to have a picnic.

I soon discover that Loz drives the truck the same way he probably rides his bike – fast and fearlessly. Well, as fast as a rusty three-wheeled cart will go, anyway. At first it’s fun but then I start to become a little concerned by his reckless driving (not to mention slightly ill), clipping the passenger seatbelt under my belly and hanging on to the armrest on the door, watching trees go whizzing by at an alarming speed.

“Uh, Loz…” I venture hesitantly, starting to fear for my life. “Do you think you could possibly slow down a bit?”

He puts the brakes on when he realises how much I’m getting jolted around, profusely apologising for not thinking of my comfort and safety. I smile to let him know I’m all right but I keep my seatbelt on.

I can tell it’s new for him, having to worry about someone else. Being so strong and virtually unbreakable, Loz must be used to not caring about anything or worrying about any dangers on the road or elsewhere but now he’s going to become a father and he has to rethink the way he does everything, at least when I’m around. After that, he drives much slower and more carefully, not wanting to hurt me or the baby. He’s quickly learning what it means to be responsible. By his actions, I know he’s taking this whole fatherhood thing seriously, which is great to see. I couldn’t be with him if he refused to change his careless, single-guy ways. 

When we get to town, I direct Loz to my shit-box apartment. He parks around the back and I let him in, mumbling about not minding the mess that I haven’t cleaned up for weeks. My place is not very big at all. The whole living space is about the same size as Loz’s bedroom. Only nowhere near as modern and stylish. My apartment is old - there are cracks in the walls and stains on the carpet, there’s mould and water-marks on the ceiling and half of the lights don’t work but I’ve tried to make it as homey as possible with lots of quirky, cute things that reflect my personality. 

Gazing around at all the matching décor, Loz remarks with amusement, “One guess what your favourite colour is. Now I know why you were drinking all those purple cocktails.”

I grin sheepishly, scooping up a lavender-scented teddy bear and smelling its fluffy head. “Yeah. I’m obsessed with anything purple. I don’t know what it is. I just love it. And it’s a unisex colour so most of my baby things are purple too. It can be worn by girls, just in case I’m wrong about it being a boy.”

“You got baby things already?”

“Well, it’s due in only sixteen weeks and that time will fly by. I had to start getting prepared. Wanna see what I’ve bought?” He nods and I slide a box from under my bed. Loz sits down, peering at each item as I bring it out to show him – little outfits, bibs, socks and shoes, gloves and hats, cloth diapers and fasteners, blankets and wraps, bottles and teats, bowls and spoons, pacifiers and teething rings, as well as assorted baby bathroom products like no-tears shampoo, skin lotions and soothing creams. I also have a selection of baby toys. It’s a substantial stash of stuff but most of it is necessary. I didn’t realise how many things babies needed until I started buying them.

I had thought that Loz might be bored looking at all this girly maternity stuff but he actually isn’t, the buff biker interestedly asking questions about what each thing is,  what it’s for and how to use it. He even has a go at pinning a diaper onto one of my teddies, frowning with concentration as he tries not to stab the soft toy with the safety pins in his large fingers. With a grin of success, he holds the bear up. The diaper immediately falls off and I laugh, promising to teach him how to do it properly by the time the baby is born.

Holding up a tiny pastel purple jumpsuit with polka dots, I lay it against my belly. “Hard to believe in just four months this suit will be filled out, huh?”

“I know,” Loz mutters, sounding a bit overwhelmed. “How am I gonna hold something so small without squashing it or breaking it?”

“You’ll be fine,” I assure him, smiling at his endearing nervousness. I’ve seen and felt how tender and gentle he can be and I have no doubt that when he’s holding our son (or daughter) in his arms, that fragile child will be treated like the most precious thing on the planet.

I put the baby things away, leaving the box on my bed. Surveying everything else that has to be cleaned up and packed, I decide I need to build up some energy first, going to my fridge and opening the door. I’m friggin’ starving. Not that I don’t adore my child to bits, but if I don’t hurry up and feed the life-sucking parasite, it will start kicking the hell out of my ribs. It’s a vicious little demon sometimes.

“You want something to eat, Loz?”

“No thanks, babe. I’ll start taking things out to the truck. What do you want shifted first?”

“Leave the furniture. Most of that was here when I moved in. Except for that wooden rocking horse  - I’m keeping it.” I grab a tub of yoghurt from the refrigerator shelf. “You can start with my book collection if you like. And my music discs. And those carved animal figures on the shelves.”

“You got it.”

While Loz is loading up armloads of books and stacking them in piles to be carried out, I get some diced fruit and mix it into the yoghurt, along with a sprinkle of muesli. I also get a big glass of milk and a few oatmeal cookies.

As I’m sitting at the kitchen counter munching on my late breakfast, I query with a full mouth, “Do you and your alien brothers photosynthesise?”

“Photo-what?” Loz repeats, looking up with a wood cat statue in his hand

“Do your cells make their own food? Because I didn’t see any in your fridge. Or your cupboards. All I saw was coffee, energy bars, and protein shakes. None of which I can have.”

“You can’t have energy bars? They’re chocolate-chip flavoured.”

“They sound yummy, yeah, but they wouldn’t be suitable for pregnant women. Too high a dose of minerals or whatever in them.” I bite into a cookie. “Don’t you guys ever prepare meals?”

“You mean, cook?” Loz gives me an arched eyebrow. “We’re dudes. We hate cooking.”

“So, you live off takeout all the time?”

“Just about.”

“Healthy,” I remark in a dry tone. “But then again, being a super-creature means you’ve never had a weight problem in your life, have you?”

“Not really.” Realising that he now has to think about my nutritional needs, and the baby’s needs too, Loz reluctantly replies, “Guess we’ll have to go grocery shopping. I’ll take you to the markets as soon as we’re done here.”

“Thanks. But I’m not cooking for everyone,” I firmly announce, asserting myself now before the boys all start treating me like their live-in chef and maid. “And I’m not doing all the cleaning and washing, either. I mean, I’ll keep your room tidy, since I’ll be living in it, but as for the rest of the lair, forget it.”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t expect you to do that anyway,” Loz quickly assures, looking mildly horrified . “Especially not since you’re pregnant. Besides, me, Yaz and Daj already have a cleaning system in place – the lair is divided into three parts and we all keep our part clean. We already do all the housework so you won’t have to lift a finger.”

“I did notice that it was very tidy down there,” I admit. “You know, for  three guys living together. I thought everything would be a lot dustier than it is.”

“Well, we don’t shed skin cells like normal humans. That’s what the main cause of dust is, did you know that? Dead skin cells floating around in the air?”

“Really? Ewwww.” I wrinkle my nose, imagining breathing in someone else’s discarded flakes of skin.

“Plus, we’re so far underground that surface dust and dirt doesn’t reach down there.” Loz shrugs. “Apart from a bit of sand that falls from the roof, we hardly have to clean anything anyway. So don’t worry about it.”

I’m glad he told me that. It’s nice to know that I can spend the rest of my pregnancy taking it easy and staying off my aching feet instead of running around picking up after everybody. I’ll have enough of that to do when the baby gets here.

After I finish eating, I wash all the week-old dishes in the sink and then help Loz pack my belongings into bags and boxes. I actually have more crap than I thought. Anything that I don’t need or that isn’t worth keeping, I toss into the garbage bin. Anything that someone else can use, I leave on the floor or on the shelves. I’m betting that as soon as I’ve gone, people from the rest of the apartment building will come out like cockroaches and scavenge what’s left inside the room anyway.

As I’m emptying my clothing drawers, Loz spies an old plastic bracelet laying on top of my dresser. It used to be neon pink but it’s dull and cloudy now. Picking it up, he queries, “Hey, is this the one from the club?”

“Yep. The very same.”

He shakes it. Nothing happens. “It don’t glow anymore. Why’d you keep it?”

“Because YOU gave it to me, Loz. That’s why.” My voice turns uncharacteristically shy. “It reminds me of the wonderful night we had together.”

He stares at me with that intense half-frowning look of his. “I gotta show you something,” he blurts, putting down the bracelet and pulling out his wallet. Reaching into one of the flaps, he brings forth an earring.

“Hey, that’s mine!” I gasp, snatching it out of his fingers. “You found it!”

“Actually, I didn’t. I kinda…took it. In the bathroom that night.” Loz looks down in guilt. “Please don’t be mad at me.”

My jaw drops. “You STOLE it from me? Right out of my ear?”

“Yeah. Sorry. I thought it was pretty, like you.” He shifts his feet, rubbing his elbow in awkwardness. “You can have it back now.”

Finding the whole stealing thing incredibly adorable, I just smile and pass the dangly silver piece of jewellery back to him. “Keep it. I don’t even know where the other one is anyway.”

“Phew. I’m glad you’re not mad.” Grinning bashfully, he slips it back into his wallet. “The truth is, I just wanted something to remember you by, in case I never saw you again.”

My chest tightens, realising that he only took my earring because he didn’t truly believe I’d want to be with him a second time. He still kept it even after he thought I forgot all about him. Touched by Loz’s sweet sentimentality, I go up and hug him around the waist, leaning my head against his solid chest.

“Oh, Loz. Keeping these little mementos…I guess we really did miss each other, didn’t we?”

“I know I did,” he gruffly affirms, hugging me back and planting a kiss of gratitude into my hair. “Cate, it means a lot that you came back for me. I totally didn’t think you would so…Thank you.”

“Well, thank you for not turning out to be a jerk like your little brother. You’re a real gentleman, Lozzie.” I grin teasingly up at him. “I couldn’t have picked a better guy to fertilize my egg.”

He chuckles. “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure doing that, anyway.”

I smirk at him. “Yeah, I bet it was.”

We exchange a few playful kisses before grudgingly getting back to work, Loz refusing to let me lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar might weigh, immediately scolding me and taking it out of my hands if I try. I know he’s just trying to protect me but I am so used to doing everything by myself that’s it’s hard to sit back and let a man do it when I feel perfectly capable. I suppose I better accept his protective nature because I don’t see that part of him changing anytime soon. At least he cares and he’s right anyway – I shouldn’t be carrying heavy things in my condition. The baby’s health and safety come first, not my girl-power beliefs. 

When the truck is packed and my apartment is almost empty, I have one last look around and then turn my back on it for ever. It used to be my home but I won’t miss the place. It always leaked when it rained and the hot water system didn’t work most of the time. Drug deals were made down the hall and I regularly heard yelling and gunshots. The stench of illness and death has seeped into the crumbling walls. Half the tenants living there have been afflicted by the black, cancer-like curse of geostigma currently sweeping across the planet. Some of them were my friends but they’re gone now. The other people in the building, the healthy ones, didn’t give a shit that I was pregnant, alone and nearly dying of mako-sickness so there’s nothing much to miss here. I’m going to a new home now, one that’s warm and safe and best of all, Loz lives there.

Before returning to the cave, he takes me out to the markets where I choose a bagful of fruits, vegetables and plant-based provisions for myself and then we have lunch at a café. Loz is beginning to learn about my perpetual hunger. I guess the sound of my stomach growling like a wild beast whenever I smell food pretty much gives that away.

He’s keeping a close eye on the customers coming into the cafe, watchful of anyone who may seem suspicious. I also note that he seats us against a wall near the exit, in case we have to make a quick getaway, I imagine. With the wary way he’s acting, I assume he’s got enemies. I don’t dare ask how many. But it’s comforting to know he’s between me and the door, so that he can shield me with his broad body if anything happens. Thankfully, it doesn’t. He orders and food comes. While I’m shovelling down a vegie-burger with the lot, Loz just has coffee. He won’t even have any of my fries when I offer them to him. 

“You’re STILL not eating?” I query with a drip of tomato sauce down my chin. “Even after all that heavy lifting?”

He simply shrugs. “Our metabolism is kinda different to humans. Slower. We only require one meal a day. Mainly protein. Yazoo says we burn it off over a longer period of time so that we have a steadier, more constant level of energy.”

“Like reptiles or something?”

“I suppose.” Loz frowns in thought, his gaze narrowed watchfully on the café entrance. “Yeah, sort of like that.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if Loz and his brothers do have reptile DNA in them. That would explain their pupils, their predatory nature and the fact that Loz likes lizards and snakes so much.

“You got some… stuff…” Loz gestures to my chin and I absently wipe the sauce away, staring at Loz’s eyes again. At the moment they look relatively normal but when he goes into direct sunlight, his pupils slit up faster than a slammed door.

“We have those energy bars and shakes after training occasionally,” he continues, taking a gulp of his black coffee, “but only one solid meal and that’s at night.”

Swallowing the last of my fries and licking salt off my fingers, I lament, “Wish I only had to eat once a day. I’m hungry like, ALL the time.”

“Sometimes, when we’re really busy, we don’t eat at all,” Loz volunteers. “We got tested for that, you know back in the lab, to see how long we could survive without food. Turns out we can go for weeks without eating. The scientists starved us nearly to death before they stopped the experiment. We think they were waiting to see if we’d resort to cannibalism.”

I freeze, staring at him even harder. “You’re kidding.”

“Wish I was. Kadaj said they must have done it to the other clones before us. Those guys probably DID feed on each other. But we wouldn’t have. We’d kill ourselves before doing anything like that.” To lighten the shocking subject matter, Loz cracks a joke. “Besides, wouldn’t get much meat off Yazoo’s scrawny ass anyway.”

Suddenly I don’t feel like eating anymore. The thought of three innocent boys locked in a room for weeks with no food, slowly starving and losing hope while men in white coats stood back and emotionlessly watched it all, recording every move in their notebooks to be analysed and evaluated later… It’s horrific. I don’t want to believe such cruelty exists but it clearly does. What kind of world am I bringing a child into?

I’m quiet on the drive home, wondering what would happen if those scientists ever got their hands on my baby, and Loz asks me what’s wrong. I just tell him that I’m feeling tired, which is true. The baby demands a lot of energy from me. Once I’ve shifted all my stuff into Loz’s room, I really am fatigued so I climb into his bed for a nap. Freddie is nowhere to be seen, probably hunting bugs somewhere else in the lair. I hope he shits a big slimy one on Kadaj’s pillow. That silver-haired psycho has been glaring death-daggers at me all afternoon for intruding into his home, even though he lost the vote of whether I moved in or not.

Loz stays with me while I sleep, lying behind me, his arm protectively around my middle. Thankfully, I’m too exhausted to dream or have creepy visions.

Sometime later, he wakes me up to ask if I want dinner because they’re going to get some noodles but I’m too sleepy to drag my ass out of bed. Getting up sounds like too much effort for me, especially when it feels like I have a sack of cement tied to the front of my body. Insisting that I have some nourishment, Loz makes me a hot chocolate with extra malt, sitting on the side of the bed to make sure I drink it. He’s so sweet. After puking in a bucket for three months with nobody to empty it or wipe my clammy forehead, it’s nice to have someone actually show concern for me and my wellbeing. I definitely could get used to this.

“We’re gonna be gone for a little while. There’s something else we gotta do before dinner,” he tells me ambiguously. “You think you’ll be okay here? I can stay behind if you want me to.”

Remembering what Kadaj said about them having routines and jobs that he doesn’t want me interfering with, I quickly shake my head, not needing to piss Loz’s volatile younger brother off any more than he already is.

“No. I’m good. You go do what you have to.”

“You’ll be totally safe. Nobody can gain access to our lair but us. If you need anything, Cate, just call me.” He hands me a new cell phone. “My number’s already programmed in.”

Peering at the signal bars on the screen, I query, “You get reception from down here?”

“Yeah, works fine. Call and I’ll come straight back if you need me, all right?”

“Thanks. But I’ll be okay,” I yawn, setting the phone beside me. “Besides, I got your glow worms keeping me company.”

I glance up to where they are on the ceiling, just starting to shine like little stars in the dim room.

“Freddie doesn’t eat those, does he?”

“Nah. He can’t be bothered climbing all the way up there. See you later, beautiful girl.” Loz kisses me on the forehead before getting up, his leather suit creaking as he moves. “Bye, little dude. Don’t kick your mom too hard.”

He pets my tummy fondly. I note that he’s got Dual Hound strapped on, as well as his thigh-gun. The sight makes me uneasy. He’s probably going out ‘debt collecting’ or whatever. I don’t ask as I don’t want to know. All I say is:

“Be careful, Loz.”

He grins confidently at me, switches on his electric arm-weapon and leaves. I shouldn’t be worried about him. He’s been doing this job for years so he surely knows how to take care of himself by now. Plus he’s got Yazoo and Kadaj watching his back.

I soon hear the echoed rumble of motorcycles exiting the garage, taking all three brothers outside on their mission and leaving me alone. I suppose some girls would be afraid to be left by themselves in a strange place but I’m not one of those girls. I’ve been living by myself for months so I’m used to it. Anyway, this whole cave is about a mile under the surface and the entrance is hidden by enormous boulders. That might make some people feel claustrophobic and trapped but I don’t. I love this lair. It’s spacious yet secure, a virtual below-ground fortress, and I’ve never felt safer. The whole room is filled with Loz’s scent and it reassures me, knowing that he’s going to look after me and our baby and that he’s going to be a part of our lives, protecting us and caring for us, being the devoted father that my child needs and the loving partner that I need. I can’t believe how much my life has changed in such a short space of time. I’ve gone from having nothing and nobody, to having almost everything that I’ve ever wanted. 

If I ignore the fact that Kadaj wants to kill me and bury my body in the forest, I could probably be really happy here.

But with everything I’ve gone through in the past, I have a depressing feeling that this cruel planet won’t make it so easy for me....


A/N: This isn’t gonna be a big sappy romance-fest now that Cate’s moved in. Things are not going to run perfectly to plan and there will be a lot of conflict, I can guarantee it. Hope you liked! Please let me know what you think :)

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