As a general warning and disclaimer, this work will occasionally feature content of a sexual nature. I deemed such activities necessary and consider them relevant to the overarching plot; everything has a purpose, and this is a story of self-discovery and the coming-of-age of a boy and a girl in a romantic relationship. As such, I will endeavor to treat the characters with the respect they deserve. Much like the anime has, I will try to keep it classy.
Updated author's note, September 2, 2018:
The story's been around for few months now. Looking back, these beginning chapters are... well, they could use some work.
When I began MitF, I was still shaking off the rust and getting back into the flow. Though the core plot threads have always been in the story since conception, quite a few details, of varying importance, did not take shape until episodes 6 and 7. As a result, these beginning chapters are somewhat sporadic and don't have the same ironclad narrative integrity that's now present in the story. I believe chapters 1 - 5 suffer from this lack of vision, in particular. Eventually, I will get around to cleaning them up and bringing them up to the level of quality seen in episode 10 and beyond.
Also, adverbs are the devil, and there are way too many in these first chapters. Ew.
My plan right now is to work through them on and off once we reach the final stretch. I'll slap an "edited on:" tag at the top once they've been looked at, and will work my way from chapter 5 back to chapter 1. That way quality only increases and doesn't vary from episode to episode.
So to any first-time readers: I apologize for the mess. I understand the beginning of this grand adventure is a little rough around the edges. I implore you to power through them - it does get better, I promise.
Regarding Zero Two's rambling thoughts: they won't be removed, but I agree with the common criticism that they're a bit too hard to read at times. When I begin editing, I'm going to try and clean them up and make them more legible, without sacrificing the purpose. Probably add some more spaces here and there, chop them up into smaller sections that are easier to process. And yes, they go away for the most part. It's part of her character development. She begins to calm down around episode 4 (chapter 5), don't worry. If you're struggling with them, feel free to skip over. You won't miss anything substantial - one of my goals was to make sure context was included at all times.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy MitF.
"Does Plantation 13 have an ocean?"
It was an innocent enough question, but it caught Nana off guard all the same. The plantation design was standardized, with no variance. They had been to many different plantations in the past, so why did the girl think this one would be any different?
"I wanna swim in some clear ocean water."
"I'm sorry to say there's no ocean there," the administrator replied. "Won't a shower do?"
"I'm in the mood for a swim."
The awkward conversation was interrupted by the transport's pilot.
"We'll be descending shortly. Please sit down and buckle your seatbelts," he said. Nana used it as a convenient excuse to end the discussion.
"Understood," she acknowledged, before turning to the teenage VIP, "Let's continue this later."
As if to express her distaste, the girl licked her wrist and grimaced, muttering something under her breath. Off to the side and looking out the window, Werner Frank idly mused at Nana's misunderstanding. Contrary to what she had told Zero Two, Plantation 13 did, in fact, have an ocean - it was the reason behind their sudden excursion.
The transport swooped down low over the mobile fortress, right above the dome guarding Mistleteinn. Whether by instinct or something else, Zero Two glanced down, her eyes locking on something infinitely tiny but extraordinarily important. She stared at it and, for reasons unknown, felt her heart skip a beat. Her eyes widened minutely.
Far below her, the ocean stared back.
Hiro felt bad for Naomi.
Honestly, the girl was just unlucky. To be paired up with him of all people - why was fate so cruel? The girl's progress had been astounding, too. She had been a late addition to the team and far behind the others development-wise, but what had taken his compatriots years had only taken her months. She'd caught up in no time at all. Frankly, he didn't think it fair for her to be the sacrifice.
What was done was done, though. After much effort on his part, they had failed the final parasite exam. He had taken her reaction somewhat poorly - he didn't think she'd be so emotional - and had retreated into the woods to re-apply his walls. If he didn't know better, he could've sworn his depression was real, what with how easily he slid back into the act. Part of him considered this charade a form of torture; none of this would've been necessary had they not been separated. So many years lost. So much potential wasted.
So many goddamn victims.
In the end he understood. Hiro recognized there was a method to the doctor's madness, as much as it pained him to admit. It didn't change the fact that he missed her. He wondered how much she'd changed. She probably still stood out like a sore thumb; red skin tended to be noticeable. Would she still recognize him, though? The asshole doctor would never answer his questions directly when he brought up the memory suppression. He assumed she'd gotten the same temporary treatment he had, but...
If she did recognize him, would she understand? Would she forgive him? He desperately hoped so. Truly, all of this was for her sake - for their freedom, for their future.
His idle thoughts were interrupted by a buzzing in his pocket. Eyes opening, he took out his communicator and activated the holographic display. He read the message silently.
Hiro felt bad for Ichigo, too.
He imagined that in another life the two girls would've been fast friends. But they had never met, and the opportunity had silently passed. Just another thing to fix, though it'd take time. Squad 13 wasn't ready for her, not yet.
He pocketed the device upon hearing an impact against the glass dome. Getting up and climbing the small but steep hill, Hiro was greeted by an ugly red stain. Running his fingers over the mark gave him his answers.
Desperate chirping alerted him to the owner. A bird lay sprawled out in the grass, wounded and immobile. Hiro felt a pang of sadness. Caged as it was, the poor thing would never fly free. He lowered his hand in a vain attempt to offer assistance. The creature wanted none of it and struggled away from him, disappearing over the crest of the hill he had previously ascended.
The loud whirling of engines greeted his ears. Shielding his eyes and looking upwards, Hiro was greeted by one of APE's massive transports. It was a vehicle designed to airlift the Franxx mechs, the klaxosaur killing machines. But its mechanical contents didn't concern him - the boy knew of its passengers.
He allowed himself a small smile, the first in what seemed like years. Ah, at last...
Several minutes later, he found himself walking on the wooded path. How would he go about approaching her? From what he knew, she didn't know he was here. The doctor hadn't given him a set meeting location either; did the old fart assume she'd find him on her own?
He narrowly missed stepping on another small puddle of blood, this time on the trail itself. Expecting to find the carcass somewhere nearby, Hiro was instead mildly but pleasantly surprised to hear it chirping in the trees above. Perhaps it would be fine.
A lake greeted him up ahead; having read the schematics of the plantations (secretly, of course), he knew of its existence, but had never ventured out to see it with his own eyes. It was too off the beaten trail, so to speak, and wandering so far from the house without purpose would needlessly arouse suspicion. But this time something decidedly unnatural caught his eye: clothing, resting on a malformed, horizontal tree trunk. A parasite's uniform, clearly, but Hiro didn't recognize the design. And was that... female underwear?
Wait, but it couldn't be! The transport had only arrived a few minutes ago! Surely they were still unloading? Lost in his thoughts as he was, Hiro didn't realize the error he'd made - he had picked up the panties.
His eyes caught a silhouette out in the lake. Though the fog obscured the owner's identity, Hiro knew enough of the opposite sex to know she was female - and judging from the clothes on the trunk, she was also naked. He averted his eyes, pointlessly, in momentary embarrassment, before realizing it didn't matter. She probably hadn't noticed him. But when he looked back at the lake, the water's stillness gave him panic. Her disappearance was almost ghost-like, but he knew what he'd seen and - wait!
"No way! Is she drowning?!"
On instinct, he ran into the lake. He didn't know who she was - he doubted it was her - but a drowning person was a drowning person!
He had only gotten a few running steps into the water when the girl burst from the water in front of him, like a mermaid. A fish squirmed in her mouth, trapped. And she was most definitely nude... but what caught his attention immediately were her other features.
Those eyes - but her skin wasn't red! Those horns - but her skin wasn't red! Her hair was a different shade; it was still pale, but not as white as he remembered. The style matched, but was just different enough to throw him off.
Was it really? Those markings by her eyes were red, though. And her horns were red too! But they weren't as big as hers, didn't have the angle or ferocity. The fish obscured her mouth - he wished he could see her teeth. If it was her, she should have fangs. Gods above, he hoped she still had fangs. He really, really liked her fangs. And her horns, and-
He didn't notice her own staring, or that internally, she was asking herself the same questions. It was only when she finally spit out the fish and approached him that the trance was broken and he realized that, Zero Two-lookalike or not, this girl was goddamn naked as fuck. He recoiled as she leaned in, apparently sniffing him and looking him up and down intently.
"N-N-N-Naked? Wait, no!" Talk about lack of respect! She probably thought he was a huge creep! He averted his eyes desperately.
"Oh. And here I thought you were dead."
Wait - what? He turned as she walked past him, seemingly uncaring about her decided lack of attire. Desperately, Hiro tried to clear his mind. He had to focus, this was important! Information, he needed information!
"A-Are you a parasite?" he asked her, "Why were you bathing here?"
The girl licked herself in the middle of her reply. "It's so weird. I heard ocean water was salty."
The hell? "Uh, this isn't an ocean."
Her lack of knowledge regarding the Earth's bodies of water was a little strange... but the Zero Two he knew was a strange girl, to say the least. She wouldn't have known the difference either, having been locked up in a room and tortured for her entire life. Hiro filed that away for future reference.
"I know that much," she said. Oh - alright. "But it's the most ocean-like place I know." She cupped her chin with her thumb and index finger; Hiro found the act quite cute. But he also made note of her oddly masculine form of speaking. He had never heard a girl talk like that before...
She turned to him, asking a question of her own. "Aren't you gonna swim?"
Hiro vaguely noted he was still standing in the lake. "Huh? Me? Nah, I'm good."
"Really? But it feels so good." While she spoke he moved to leave the water; his shorts were soaked clean through, and it wouldn't do if she noticed his, uh.
"You were staring so hard, I thought you wanted to swim, too."
Fuck! Fuck fuck!
"Th-That's because..." Honestly, what was he even supposed to say here? 'I thought you might be my long lost childhood crush and was too busy staring at your horns'?
"I thought you were drowning, so I jumped in to save you, and..."
Nice. Real nice. Wait, why the hell was she just standing there, arms crossed in front of her perfect, magnificent-
Didn't she know she was naked? Needless to say, the drastic different in their respective states of attire was making the conversation a tad bit awkward. He turned away, not wanting to stare.
"S-Sorry, but could you put your clothes on?"
He heard her sigh a bit. She did that cute thing again, cupping her chin. Her eyes narrowed a bit; clearly the girl was pondering something. After a moment she lightly tapped her fist into her palm, smiling.
"Oh, I get it!" She pointed at him dramatically. "You're a pervert!"
Wait wait wait wait whaaaaaat!
"Where'd that come from?!"
Her point lowered to his hand. He followed her finger, only to realize-
Ah. A tactical miscalculation.
But on that note: her panties were pale pink in color, the exact same shade as her hair. Cute!
"Th-This isn't what it looks like!" Desperately he tried to rid himself of her undergarments; he thrust his hand out, not daring to meet her eye. Great. She thought he was a creep. The slap comes next, right? He'd probably get court martialed too; at this point he was actually hoping she wasn't Zero Two, and just some other horned girl. Who knew, maybe there were more of them? The world was a big place.
Needless to say, Hiro was surprised when she started laughing heartily. Even her laugh was cute!
"Your face looks hilarious!"
Oh, nevermind. She was just making fun of him. But better than the alternative, right? She calmed down a few moments later, turning to him and flashing a toothy grin. Her mouth wasn't a mess of teeth and fangs, to be sure - but her canines were definitely sharper than the norm.
"But you jumped in to save me, huh? I appreciate that. Thank you."
He hoped she was Zero Two.
Hiro had sat down and was turned to the lake, giving her privacy as she dressed herself.
"That uniform... Are you a parasite, too?" she asked. Well, that answered his question. He thought his answer over carefully. Despite the similarities, he still didn't know if she was her. Better to place it safe for now, and stick with the cover story.
"So you don't pilot?"
"I can't pilot. I no longer have the ability. I even dragged my partner down with me." He bounced a rock in his palm, before throwing it into the lake; it sank into the water with a thud. "I don't have a place here anymore."
Well, that part was true, at least.
"Huh. So you're just like me."
That piqued his curiosity a bit. What did she mean by that? He turned to look at her.
"I'm always alone, too, thanks to these horns," she replied, bringing a headband up to her horns. He noticed it was a piece of tech, what with how they clamped onto the protrusions and beeped. Strange.
"If you don't have a place here, just build a place where you do," she continued. "If you don't have a partner, just find another."
She raised her hands up like claws, voice growing playful as she approached him. His attention was on her fully now; she really did remind him of...
"And if you can't -" She reached out and grabbed him, several emotions flashing on her face at once. " - take one by force!"
She leaned in close and licked his cheek. Her full weight on him and taken by surprise, Hiro fell to the lake's edge with a splash. The strange girl followed him down, her arms splayed out to either side of his head.
Up above in the trees, a bird screeched before flying away.
The atmosphere shifted. It felt heavier, intoxicating. His heart pounded in his chest. What was this feeling? It felt like he was going to have a heart attack!
"Wow, your taste makes my heart race."
What in the world? Her too? She leaned back slightly; he turned to look at her, frozen in place.
"It bites and lingers..."
"The taste of danger."
He couldn't move, couldn't think. This was...!
"Wh-What are you..."
"Would you have preferred a kiss?"
Hiro was suddenly very aware of their compromising position. She was basically straddling him - and it didn't seem like she wanted to move.
"A kiss?" She knew what that was? The idiot doctor had given him the books as part of his "preparation", but-
"Oh, you guys don't know, huh?" Ah, she thought he was a normal parasite then.
She leaned in close - so close he could feel her breath on his ear. "It's a very special thing."
His heart skipped a beat. What was she doing? He needed answers. He needed to ask her!
"I think I've taken a liking to you. Won't you be my darling?"
He misheard. He had to have misheard her - she didn't just use that word.
"D-Darling?" He asked, hoping she'd repeat it. "You mean partner?"
She held out her hand. "Your ability's probably just still dormant. I can awaken it for you."
She was her. He was absolutely, positively certain... but he needed her name. He needed to know.
"And you weren't frightened by my horns."
He couldn't breathe. Slowly, shakily, he reached out to grab her hand; a rustle of the leaves interrupted the moment. The magic was lost and she pulled away, almost longingly.
"Too bad." Her voice had grown hard, distant, cold. "Time's up."
Like fucking hell it was! She turned away, looking towards the noise. A wounded man approached them, looking like he was one slight breeze away from death. Surrounding him were several men - APE special forces, probably, judging from their attire, as well as several regular plantation guards.
"We've been looking for you," the wounded man grunted. "Why do you keep running off alone?"
"It's not like there's anything else to do until tomorrow's welcoming ceremony." Judging from her rigid posture and the tone of her voice, the girl wasn't pleased about the unexpected interruption, either. The man reached up and roughly situated a hat over her head, obscuring the horns Hiro found so mystifying.
"Well, as your partner, I'm the one who suffers for it."
An odd emotion swelled in his breast. He couldn't identify it; it was the first time he had ever felt it.
"Partner?" he asked himself. The man turned to him.
"Are you a parasite cadet?" he asked. "Your welcoming ceremony's tomorrow, right?"
One of the special forces was putting a coat over her shoulders, another one was talking to her in a hushed voice; he couldn't make out what was being said.
"Sorry she bothered you." He saw her glance over to him slightly.
"It's okay..." He searched his mind for something, anything to delay them. He still had questions.
"Um, what did you mean by 'partner'?"
"Let me give you some advice," the older man rasped. "Stay far away from her."
Hiro wanted to punch him.
"She's not the kind of pistil that just anyone can handle."
Bull-fucking-shit! They began to walk away, but Hiro needed to know. He called out to her, asking the one question that had been on his lips for the entire encounter.
"Your name! What's your name?"
And then he prayed. He hoped she knew what he meant. If she was her...
She paused, turning her head imperceptibly. "Name? Do we parasites even have names?"
His eyes widened. No!
"But, well, my code is 002. Everyone calls me Zero Two."
Hiro stared, frozen. He felt like he was going to faint.
He'd found her. At long last - Zero Two.
His Zero Two.
Lost in his thoughts, he let the plantation guards haul him off back to the central area. His mind raced. How would he get her away? How could he separate her from her guards? He needed to tell her as soon as possible, but in a location where they couldn't be interrupted, couldn't be spied upon. There were cameras everywhere. He knew he had the doctor's protection, but it was still better to be safe, rather than sorry. He couldn't risk anything.
As he was dragged by the guard, he stumbled upon a dried patch of blood. A shriek sounded through the trees, piercing his ears.
The bird was alive.
"Are you sure?" Hachi questioned. "Up until now you've been committed to leaving Plantation 13."
"Yes, I'm sure. I'm reversing my decision."
"Very well. Per your status, you have full permission to stay within Mistleteinn, Code 016."
missDARLING DARLINGsuffering unlOCKmEmorIEShurryhurryhurryhurryhurryDARLINGplEASe
klAxOSaURatTaCKingDARLINGhOME noNOnoNObadBAdBADPROTECT PROTECT PROTECT
Why couldn't everyone just leave them the hell alone? She initially hadn't cared about this backwater, hideous plantation - it was beautiful actually, because her darling lived here - but then she saw him again, after all these years! That's why the doctor had brought her here, that sly bastard! And his taste! After all this time! She'd initially only been suspicious due to his similar hair and eyes. Once she got a taste of him, though, once she got a taste!
tasteTASTETASTE DARLINGtaste sogoodsogoodneedcan'tHAVE plEAseDARLINGhurry hELpDARLINGtraPPedCaGE
She felt like she was about to cry; seeing him in such a pitiful state was heartwrenching. All she wanted to do was hold him, help him... he looked at her like a stranger and it pierced her heart, but that wasn't his fault. He was locked inside, trapped! Fucking - UGH! She had better things to be doing than dealing with this stupid beast, she needed to be unlocking his memories! Her darling was caged and it was wrong and-
The klaxosaur made a desperate move. Its mouth unlatched itself, the energy levels within the beast spiking. The tail straightened and unfolded, almost mimicking a generator in design as its internal workings because spinning and charging. The surge of energy within its body forced Strelizia from its mounted position; the stampeding Franxx managed to land on its feet and righted itself, taking up a defensive position in front of the plantation.
nOnONONONONODARLINGhOmEDARLINGDARLINGDARLING prOTEcTDARLING mOvEqUIcklyDARLINGhome
Zero Two brought the tail to the front and diverted the mech's magma energy reserves into its framework.
The blast was diverted but it had forced Strelizia off balance. The resulting shockwave sent the mech flying into the plantation. Zero Two winced in pain as she shut down the connection. She was gonna feel that in the morning. But this was a good opportunity; she didn't want to look at this stupid fodder anymore. She opened the hatch and dumped him out and - wait what.
He was grabbing at the other man, obviously worried about his health.
"Forget about him. He's done for." She needed a breather. Maybe talking to him would set her mind straight and let her concentrate. She rested herself against the cockpit hatch.
"You're... What are you doing in there?" he asked. She was touched; darling was worried! She grinned at him, tired. She had to put on a brave face.
"What, you ask? I'm going monster hunting, of course."
"You're going to pilot this robot alone?"
whaWHAwHa bADBADbad noDARLINGnono mUStpROtectnoRIDErIdEbadDARLING
"I gotta go." She really wasn't ready, but this was important. Zero Two turned away and attempted to get back to the controls so she could seal the hatch before he got any bright ideas - but then mentally cursed herself as her legs gave out. She collapsed to the floor in pain and exhaustion. Shit! Shit!
"W-Wait a second!" He had rushed to the hatch. "You can't! You're hurt!"
Her eyes widened as he reached out and grabbed her arm. nONONONONONONObaDbad
"Out of my way!" She slapped him away desperately. HITDARLINGHITDARLINGmONStERMoNSterMOnster prOTECtDARLING
But still, this time was an exception! Better to give him a bit of pain and save his life than kill him, after all. She gasped for breath, trying to get her strength back so she could get up. She hadn't hit him hard, but she knew her strength all the same; despite the situation, she was impressed at how quickly he rebounded. Yeah! That's her darling!
"This is insanity. Besides, you're by yourself now." She desperately tried to claw her way back onto the pistil controls as he talked. "Franxx can't be piloted alone!"
"I'm always alone," she tried to reassure him. "That's how it's always been. I'm used to it." Now please, please! Let her go!
"No! You'll die!"
Her head shot up. She wanted to cry. Even with his memories locked away, even being trapped... she wanted to kiss him. She wanted to cry and kiss him. She just wanted to kiss her darling!
"I'm not afraid of death. That thing's going to start moving again eventually. And when it does, everyone here is gonna die either way," she replied, trying to stress the situation. "I'm not afraid of death. I have a job to do. I'm going."
"I'll pilot that robot with you."
"I'm not about to let you go alone."
It always ended up like this, huh? They had finally met each other again, after all this time, and here they were unknowingly mimicking the same scene from their childhood. She thought it was almost poetic... but she still didn't want him dying! Time to force the point.
"Are you prepared to die?" she asked.
"I don't know. But as I am now, I don't belong anywhere," darling clutched at his chest. "That's no different from being dead."
mUSTsAveDARLINGDARLINGtrAPPEd sheRiGhtHErErightHeRE plEAseDARLINGkiSSDARLINGcoMfORtDARLING
An idea formed in her head, a spark of something ingenious. It was crazy, but what if-
"So take me with you!"
He was crying, just like all those years ago. The memory pulled itself up from the depths of her mind, nearly knocking the wind from her lungs.
Yeah, maybe... maybe just once. That's all! Just once, just one ride, and she could try. It was worth a shot, right? And - and on the crazy chance it worked, maybe! Maybe! It was a chance! Okay, okay, play it cool. Think! The hand, right! She breathed in silently, mentally bracing herself.
"Huh... You really are just like me. You and I are very similar." pleAsePleASE "It's been a long time since I last saw a human cry." She smiled at him, reaching down and wiping away the water framing the corner of his eye. He stared at her hand as it approached.
"I like the look in your eyes. It makes my heart race." His eyes widened slightly, his mouth opened, hand reaching up. Please, please! PLEASE!
"Now come to me." plEAsEpLeaSePLEaSeDARLINGDARLING
He reached out and grabbed her hand. He pulled her up into the cockpit chamber. He stared at her, seemingly dumbfounded. She smiled at him.
"Let me get a taste of you. You are now..."
His eyes sharpened suddenly. There was a shift - and she stopped leading him. With strength neither of them knew he had, darling pulled her back, to him. His free hand reached up, grabbing at her bloodstained shoulder.
His head drew in closer, his face the epitome of determination. Her eyes focused on his approaching lips.
Mother used to say,
Softly, they made contact. His eyes closed, hers widened. Something sparked, something primal: from her lips, into her head, down her spine. Goosebumps rubbed against the pistil suit.
DARLINGDARLING? whAtwAItdarling? Darling?
"You are so special."
His lips left and it felt like half of her soul had been ripped away in an instant. His hands came up and cupped her face, thumbs lightly tracing along the red skin bordering her eyes. She stared at him, dazed yet clear, lost yet found. He rested his forehead against hers, their two mouths grazing each other. His breath was hot; his taste lingered on her lips, the very same taste from that lick by the lake, from all those years ago when she had bit him. It had been foggy and muted from years of remembrance without refreshment, but not anymore. Clear, spotless, like finely polished glass.
"No one will shine as bright, my dear."
"D-Da... Dar...ling?" she breathed, choked, trepidation and desperation lining her words in equal measure.
"Everything," he whispered back, his tone comforting. "I remember everything. For years, I've-"
Will I tire of slaying endless beasts that hunt them?
Her walls shattered. Something she had so carefully erected, brick by brick, demolished in an instant by the emotional tsunami ripping through her. Everything she was and everything she'd ever wanted boiled to the surface, unsuppressed and raw. She lunged at him, kissed him desperately, hungrily, a drowned girl gasping her first lungful of air. She felt it in every fiber of her being, she felt his taste and his lips and his scent and his hands and!
DoN'tKnOW don't matter whatis no no, darling. Darling. Darling! Her darling! His taste, darling's taste! Her darling, her darling!
Will the killing rid me of these horns that disgust them?
He met her blow for blow, even as they collided against the stamen chair. Grasping hands turned to intertwining arms. Bodies pushed together as they threw themselves into their lost other. Tears ran free, mixing with blood; the hatch sealed. The ground shook and the world quaked. The klaxosaur had reactivated and was charging them.
Little demon in the forest all alone...
[STRELIZIA - ACTIVATED]
[STRELIZIA - ACTIVATED]
[STRELIZIA - ACTIVATED]
The cockpit brightened and trembled as a roar sounded out, coated with power and ferocity. The lion had finally been completed for the first time since its creation. Down below the onlookers shielded their eyes, lest they be blinded by the crimson light as the maiden revealed itself and launched itself at the threat. Its faceplate never activated. Zero Two was encompassed in the warmth of Hiro's mind and had never returned to the pistil controls. The negative and positive pulses skyrocketed, higher than they ever had before. Overflowing with energy, the mech moved of its own will to protect its occupants. Pale white skin glowed a furious red as the gleaming spear unsheathed itself and aimed at the beast's center mass. The soulmates never realized, lost as they were in the ongoing mind meld.
You were there. Now I remember!
Inside the cockpit, the world flashed. A brilliant white enveloped them. And then - silence.
Yes! You were there!