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[personal profile] elydesia posting in [community profile] ethosa
Title: We Live
Chapter: 3
Fandom: Stripe
Rating: T
Word Count: 3,518 words
Summary: Sent out on another mission, Vettore and Albrecht visit Nisida, Italy to once again attempt at catching a Rabbit alive.
Authors Notes: This took a really long time. In contrast to how the first two parts were each written in one sitting, roughly six to nine hours each, this part was started the day after part 2, and went through many hours of sitting around since then. For more information regarding "We Live" and the world, please visit the We Live homepage.

At first everything was dark, but soon a scene began to be played. It was the world within Vettore's mind.

His head was clear while fighting the Rabbit, but the moment he crashed into the small warehouse an explosion of thick fog overcame his mind. He could feel his body moving and hear the sounds around him, but he could not see or control his body.

He heard the reinforcement agents arrive and felt them pry him off the Rabbit, though he didn't know it was the Rabbit at the time.

A hot liquid was injected into the side of his neck. Slowly his vision and motor control returned, only to be shattered into pieces like a stepped on glass mirror, the image of the battered and bloody Rabbit before him stained on his mind.

A dark shadow came down like a curtain on his vision and there was nothing more to be seen.



Albrecht pulled back her hand as Vettore began to weep. Muffled sobs erupted from him and at first the researcher just stared at her partner in awe.

"Vettore?" she whispered.

"I really... I really can't remember. It's all darkness. It's so dark." He exhaled the last few words and then coughed.

Albrecht rose to her feet and stood by her partner, resting a hand on his back. "Vettore... Vettore, it's okay."

"No, it isn't."

She bit her lip and gently pulled him into a hug.



"New mission, you two." The chief threw two folders onto his desk. Vettore and Albrecht each took one in hand and flipped through them. "One file is on the Rabbit, the other is on the location. Don't disappoint." He smiled and turned to face the wall of windows behind him.

"Chief, about the objective..." Albrecht began but was cut off by the Chief's raised hand.

"No worries." He didn't look back at them as he spoke. "We've created a special ... medicine for Vettore when he goes berserk. What happened last time, we won't allow to happen again."

Albrecht scowled. "Medicine?"

Chief Asimov turned to face them, a smug grin on his face. "It's more like a toxin, actually. We used it last time. Though it was still in an early stage of development, it worked surprisingly well. It was finalized this morning. I've been waiting weeks to finally ship you two out."

"Chief, do you, by any chance, have an interest in the research I'm doing?"

"Ooh, that's quite right. Heh. Rabbit self-preservation? Don't make me laugh! Your only job is to find out what makes them keep living, why they keep coming back. Why are their numbers not falling, but rising!"

"That's not the area I've been--"

"I don't care. Once we have their goal, the Committee will obtain it and crush them."

There was something scarily definite about the Chief's words that forbade Albrecht from talking back to him. She swallowed her disgruntled words and stood.

"Let's go, Vettore." She grabbed her partner's folder, tucked it along with the other under her arm and left.

In the hall outside the Chief's office, Vettore caught up with Albrecht and started following her. "Why are you rushing? There's a few hours until deployment."

"They're treating you like an animal. It's disgusting."

"But it's necessary. I can't be trusted." Albrecht groaned.

"Don't you start talking like that, either. Gross." She turned a corner and went down a flight of stairs before stopping outside her lab, Laboratory D2. She balled her hands into tight fist and continued with, "I'm not here to satisfy Jahiem Asimov's agenda. I have my own goals in mind, thank you." She disappeared into the lab, leaving Vettore alone in the hall.

He stood outside the research lab, bewildered, before leaving for his room.

Since Alain Coriani's death, Vettore had stopped watering his plants. Dead foliage and the lack of personal effects made the room feel hollow and lonely. Where leafy green vegetation used to color the windowsill, now sat fragile but stiff weeds. Garbage to be gotten rid of.

He sat down on his bed and stared at his clasped hands.

Was he an animal? Was he gross? Did he make others feel uncomfortable? He was afraid. Would he lose control again the next time he was sent out?

Even if he did, there was the matter of the toxin that would be injected in him. He shivered as he remembered the feeling of a fiery liquid being squeezed into his veins.

He fell back and stared at the ceiling, lost in his thoughts until it was deployment time.



The location of their next mission was in Nisida, Italy. The entire island was evacuated except for non-essential personnel of the local navy command center. Vettore and Albrecht were told to do their best at keeping damage to a minimum as long as their lives weren't in any immediate danger from doing so.

Squished into the back of a blue Casalini Sulky pickup truck, Albrecht and Vettore poured over the collection of Rabbit sightings from the island, their hands tightly holding onto the papers so they weren't blown away.

Their driver, an Italian man seemingly in his late thirties, pulled up in front of the command center's gates.

"Sicuri di farcela qui, voi due soli? Will you two be all right on your own here?" he said, sticking his head out the window. Vettore nodded his head and told Albrecht to get out.

"Sicuri. Grazie. Chiamerò con la radio quando abbiamo finito. We'll be fine. Thank you. I'll radio when we're finished." They watched the Casalini disappear along the bridge to the mainland and when it was gone, continued up Via Nuova di Nisida until Salta la Frina.

The pair took a break near the end of the road, at the top of the island, for Albrecht to rest her healing ankle and to slip on her breathing mask. Vettore took a brief glance at Albrecht and then down towards the crescent bay.

"Is your ankle healing well? You're not wearing a cast anymore."

Although surprised by Vettore's non-work related question, she answered, "It has. Since I started treatment with Dr Strathis, healing has sped up by nearly three times normal." She suddenly frowned and looked down to the container in her hands before looking back up at Vettore. "But that's not important. Can you sense where the Rabbit heart is?"

"It's in the crescent. Underwater, likely."

"That's a large area to search; it's about 200m across? Can't you narrow it down a little?" She shoved the Rabbit container in front of Vettore. "I don't want to carry this around everywhere. It was because of it I wasn't able to catch myself from falling down the stairs last time."

"I'm not carrying it."

"I wasn't asking you to."

The pair spotted a set of stairs leading to the water's edge on the west side of the crescent. "I'm not leaving you alone. Leave the container here and follow me into the water."

Vettore slipped off his socks, shoes, and coat. He folded them and placed everything together in a pile along the path before wading into the water with the rest of his clothes on.

"If the Rabbit appears I might not be able to capture it in time. When it comes out of hiding you engage it while I swim back here and set up the container. Don't overdo it this time, and don't go too fast."

"Understood."

Vettore waited for her to undress and place the container in a safe place before going under the surface. A few seconds passed before he came back up for air.

"I wish the Committee had more funding. We could've gotten a boat," she complained quietly and followed Vettore farther from shore. "Wouldn't have to worry about swimming with my ankle, or getting water in the breathing mask."

"I don't dislike it. Swimming is refreshing." A faint smile played the corner of his lips. "The water feels nice, too."

Albrecht stared at her partner's expression before he dipped back underneath. That was the first time he spoke about himself, and smiled like that. She wondered if it meant they were making progress in their friendship.

An hour passed and nothing was found. Vettore broke the surface and wiped water from his face. He noticed Albrecht's frown.

"What's wrong?"

"Aren't you tired yet?"

"A little. Let's head back."

"I bet it's because you're part Rabbit."

They began to swim back to shore, but just meters from shore Albrecht stopped moving. "Albrecht?"

"Something touched my leg."

"Your leg?" Lightning struck arm of land behind them an from an explosion of steam a heart-masked Rabbit floated roughly twenty meters above the water surface. Its circles started glowing and Vettore scowled. "Get to the shore, now!" He pushed Albrecht toward the shore and ducked under the water, just barely avoiding a ball of blinding white light.

He had to buy time for Albrecht to set up the container and to weaken the Rabbit to be captured. Vettore squeezed his eyes shut and focused on the Rabbit above him. He soared out of the water and into the air and crashed into the Rabbit with massive force.

A tumbling mass in the sky, Vettore and the Rabbit grappled mid-air. A sudden pointblank burst of energy blew Vettore away and he fell into the salty water below.

On land, Albrecht's wet fingers and nervous jitters caused her to fumble with the container's keypad hatch. After wrongfully punching in the ignition code three times, she finally had it start up and the boot sequence begin. She took out her work tablet and began recording:

"Heart type, Marker #448. Coloration, normal. Special abilities, electricity. Mission marker, Special Agent Vettore currently engaged with #448. Expedition Researcher Albrecht setting up Rabbit Capturing Device, started boot sequence, and... ready." She aimed the container at the Rabbit as it danced with Vettore in the air and pulled on the trigger, but nothing happened. The screen blinked the words UNABLE TO CAPTURE and Albrecht clicked her tongue. "Vettore, it's not weak enough!"

In the sky, Vettore barely heard his partner's words, but he understood the situation enough to realize the Rabbit wasn't weak enough. He quickly disengaged and flew to the ruins north-east of the crescent body of water. Standing on the ruin's roof, he lifted chunks of the ruin and encased the Rabbit mid-flight with his mind's power.

The stones crushed into the Rabbit, but it was not enough. Lightning struck, freeing the creature, and it soon continued its pursuit of the special agent. He was tackled to the ground, held by the neck, and repeatedly smashed into the ruins.

Vettore wasn't going to last. He felt an almost-hunger to destroy bubble within him and he knew it was the Rabbit, he knew he was going to lose control again.

He closed his eyes and let the roof crumble beneath him. The Rabbit's grip slacked for just a moment, but it was enough for the special agent to escape. As versatile as telekinesis was, there wasn't much he could do against a Rabbit with electricity. If he could somehow get it to use up all its energy, or electrocute itself, that should be enough.

Gritting his teeth, Vettore sped toward the water's surface. The Rabbit followed, trying to grab him with its teeth, but he was always just out of reach.

The Rabbit hit Vettore with an electrically charged strike but the special agent countered and threw the Rabbit into the ocean. The Rabbit was electrocuted, but so was Vettore, and both floated limply on the water's surface.

Albrecht took the opportunity to capture the Rabbit. She double checked to make sure the Rabbit was secure, and then dove into the ocean. She brought Vettore to shore, made sure he was breathing, and then requested immediate evac through her work tablet.

Vettore's clothes were ripped and charred and his skin burnt. Peeking through a particular burnt piece of clothing, Albrecht noticed something on his chest. She pulled back on his shirt and there saw the faintly glowing gem of a Rabbit heart embedded in her partner's chest.



Pain was the first thing Vettore became aware of when he woke, and second was how heavy his body felt. He opened his eyes and saw Dr Vaughn and Albrecht talking near the doorway. He couldn't make out the words they said and soon gave up trying. The bright lights were like needles to his eyes and he shut them after giving the room a brief look around.

Like before, his pain was like a blazing fire squeezing through his veins with the faint sound of his heartbeat in his ears. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he desperately wanted to wipe it off. He felt like throwing up.

"Ah, you're awake now, Vettore." He shook his head and Dr Vaughn laughed. "How are you feeling?"

"It's painful."

"Oh? Of course. You put your Rabbit abilities to use, and now you're exhausted."

"What were you and Albrecht talking about?"

"Going over the events of that day. She was answering some of my questions. Ah, and before you've fully recovered, I'd like to run some tests to gauge the extent of strain put on your body."



The door to Dr Vaughn's office swung open and Albrecht entered with a flustered face. He looked up from his desk and smiled at the sight. "Ah, I see you've made good on your word to come see me in the evening. What can I help you with?"

"I know about the gem in Vettore's chest."

Dr Vaughn shifted in his seat but kept his composure. "Did you think it was a secret?"

"Considering how no one else seems to know, it's safe to assume that's what it was supposed to be."

Dr Vaughn shook his head slowly, sighed, and stood. He motioned to a pair of living chairs to the side before taking a seat--the same chairs they sat in when Albrecht first arrived. Albrecht took a breath to calm herself and sat across from the doctor.

"Hiding it from you, specifically, wasn't anyone's intention. You understand what you've come to know is a very sensitive piece of information, correct?"

Albrecht nodded her head and leaned back into her chair, crossing her arms with a frown on her face.

"Vettore's condition was inflicted after the Rabbit-caused explosion in July. He was recovered with the gem already embedded, and no one knows exactly how it came to be there. After relocating him to a sterile facility and some days of study, we noticed a few things. Not only was the gem firmly embedded into his skin, it was also feeding a sort of energy into his body, namely his heart. Whenever we tried to remove it, even with machines supposedly keeping him alive, all vital signs dropped dramatically."

"It's a Rabbit heart, isn't it. That gem Vettore's been talking about. That's how he's become part Rabbit."

"Yes. If we were to go on various research papers, and also the work so far done of the young Coriani, we've come to a single hypothesis: the Rabbit from the incident self destructed its physical body, but in the process, its heart somehow fused with Vettore. There might be a link between this incident and how Rabbits continue to appear as long as their gems are intact."

Albrecht scowled as her body became rigid. She, too, was a researcher. She understood what Dr Vaughn was hinting at. "You think the heart was trying to revive or recreate a Rabbit body after its death, but instead it became Vettore's heart."

"Precisely. It installed itself into him, the only living thing in the area. Minus the gem in his chest, Vettore's physical and mental aspects remain human. We constantly run tests to assess his condition. The allowance of his psychokinesis is strictly due to the gem with no alteration to himself."

"You've gained an understanding of his abilities?"

Dr Vaughn was quiet for a moment before he answered with a sigh. "Not completely." Albrecht tilted her head and the doctor continued. "The Rabbit his team encountered, due to the ability to hide its miasma, had a teardrop mask."

"A top level Rabbit."

"The absolutely most difficult, and most rare. Psychokinesis was likely this Rabbit's special ability, and must me why Vettore now has it, too. We've been working with Strathis on this aspect."

"Does anyone else know about Vettore's Rabbit heart?"

"Only Chief Asimov, members of my and Strathis' labs comprising of eighteen members, and the first team on-site of eleven."

"Thirty people."

"It might sound like a lot, but the on-site team had their memories wiped. We've put a cap on the number of people for a good reason. When you first arrived here, I was afraid you already knew about the gem. 'Vettore survived due to becoming part Rabbit' ... Vague, but enough to answer everyone's questions. It was Chief Asimov's idea to hide the complete truth, to keep the Rabbit heart a secret, and to wipe the on-site team's memories. He wanted it on a need-to-know basis, and Antarctica HQ only."

"But why would you keep this a secret from me? I'm his only team member, he's my Guardian and Enforcer. I have a right to know."

Dr Vaughn's teeth gleamed in a crooked smile. "You speak as if you have nothing to hide. We all have our fair share of secrets--I have mine, and you have yours."

Albrecht scowled. "What are you talking about?"

"Stella Stone. I know for a fact she's been trying to gain permission for a transfer here. What if your past at the Equator branch were found out by your friends here? What if Vettore knew of your sins?"

"I told you not to talk about that."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Information pertaining to that event tends to... slip out every once in a while."

"Is that a threat to tell them?" she growled.

The doctor raised his hands in the air defencelessly. "No, not at all! But I carry weight with Chief Asimov, you see. I just wanted to let you know, and get you to think about some things."

Without further word, Albrecht stood up and left.



It was early in the evening when Vettore was called up to the chief's office. Upon entering he noticed a stranger standing in front of the chief's desk, both of them chatting amicably as if long time friends.

"Chief?"

Chief Asimov and the stranger both turned to the special agent and greeted him. "Vettore, this is Enforcer Stella Stone. She has an elder brother, Enforcer Sven Stone, who's currently incarcerated at the Equator branch. She'll be joining your expedition team on its next mission within the coming week."

"An older brother? So her title is Enforcer Stella?" He was reminded of Bacchus and his father, who also shared the same last name and job.

"That's right," Stella piped up. "My brother is Enforcer Stone." Vettore was slightly taken aback by the high pitch of her voice and nodded.

"She'll be joining as an Enforcer... on my team?"

"Yes. It is to my understanding you are still struggling with the task of both jobs. I'm allowing you to return to being a Guardian while adding an Enforcer to your team."

"And my Special Agent title?"

"You will keep it, as well as the badge. It signifies how different you've become since when you were a true Guardian." Vettore grimaced at the mention. "Bring Stella to lab D2 to work with Albrecht. She's helped Albrecht a fair amount back when they were at the Equator branch, I'm sure the help would be appreciated still."

In Laboratory D2, Albrecht was speaking with her lead assistants outlining the tests and areas of study they would be focusing on in the coming weeks. When the main doors opened and Stella walked in following Vettore, Albrecht lost the will to continue.

"I'll email the rest of the outline tomorrow morning. I have to go." She immediately scrambled to her desk and packed up her papers, ready to make a run for it.

"Wait, Albrecht, what about the body? It's decaying!"

"Douse it in animation preservative liquid. I'll see you all tomorrow. Goodnight."

"Not so fast, Albrecht!" Stella jumped on the nearest lab table and then leaped nearly two meters to land in front of Albrecht. "You're not going to say hello to an old face?"

"Not right now. I don't want to see you this moment." Albrecht tried to elbow her way past Stella but was grabbed by her hairbun and slammed onto the nearest lab table.

"You tryin' to snake your way out of this?" Stella growled.

Vettore was immediately on the scene, separating Stella from Albrecht. "Don't think you can be forgiven just by fulfilling your promise, Albrecht. Get your hands off me, I'm leaving!" She struggled free of Vettore and then spat at Albrecht's feet before exiting the room.

The lab was in silence as the assistants and Vettore stared at the shaken researcher, who quickly tidied her hair and excused herself.

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