"He's a blind old fool!"

He wasn't entirely sure how long she'd been ranting for, but he could hear her rummaging around in some of the nearby bits of debris and things 2 had collected over the past few weeks. The sound of her voice had really been his only company, as he himself had done something 1 did not approve of and was promptly given a firm berating, after which he'd sequestered himself away in the watchtower.

"He means well," he suggested softly, glancing over his shoulder at 7. She'd found some things to make weapons from and was already hard at work. "He's just trying to protect us."

She snorted lightly, jerking her head up to stare at him as her lenses narrowed. Her irritation didn't last long. It was hard to look 5 in the face and stay angry anyway, and the plaintive expression he wore as he watched her work was too much. "I know what he's trying to do, 5, but protection cannot be achieved through tyrany and enslavement. 3 and 4 had the right idea.."

5's expression was quiet at that. When the twins had left, 1 had been certain they had been killed or worse. "I wish I knew if they were okay..."

"I wish I could tell you, but then, it wouldn't be a secret, now, would it?" Despite her tone, 7 was smiling at him, however sadly. "Listen, 5, I can't stay here any longer. Not with 1 on this... this power trip. And I'm worried about 2... just as much as I know you are." Smiling, she stood straight, walking over to draw him into a tight hug. "I won't forget about you or any of the others. Besides, I'm not leaving right away. I might just convince you yet."

Though hesitant at first, 5 returned the hug in earnest seconds later, single lense clicking shut. "I really don't think you should go. It's dangerous out there."

7 tightened the hug. "You know I have to." When she leaned back, she lifted her hand, fingertips clicking quietly against the leather patch that covered where 5's left eye had once been. "All his running. Insisting we have no place fixing the humans' mistakes. We were made by a human, and he must've had a purpose for us. I can't let that slip past us. And I won't let anyone else suffer."

Pulling away, the slighter doll headed down out of the watchtower. How much time did he have? He would never convince her not to go, but perhaps...

He stared at the steps long after she'd headed down them, then immediately headed over to the pile of scraps 2 had accumulated. His old mentor always seemed to have this or that laying around. Quietly, he shuffled through what lay around until he found some things that made him smile. If she was going to be out in the wastelands alone... she had better be prepared.

*****

Early the next morning, 7 managed to slip away before 1 noticed she had disappeared from her room. She knew it was a long shot, but she had one last try to make to get 5 to come with her, and so, up to the watchtower she stole.

The other doll was leaning quietly against the longfinder, fingers occasionally trailing the stitchwork that held the leather patch in place. He hadn't even noticed her approach. Smiling, she slid over, leaning over his shoulder. "Boo!"

7 couldn't resist a giggle when 5 cried out, jumped, and spun to face her. But what was more intriguing... he was making a show of hiding something behind his back. "7! I... I didn't expect you to be up here so early...!"

"I told you I wasn't going to stay, didn't I?" 7 queried. "What've you got there?"

Immediately, 5 shuffled his feet, ducking his head as he tried not to look at her. "It's... well, it's..." Coughing into one hand, he shoved the object he was hiding at her with the other. It was a shield, pieced together of an old length of tubing, a steel washer, and some old copper wire. "Like I said, 7. It's dangerous out there. Maybe... this will help keep you safe."

When he shoved the item at her, 7 actually had to shuffle a couple of steps back, but her expression quickly went from startled to tender when she saw what it was. "Oh, 5." She sighed, looking up at him. "You really didn't have to do this..."

"But I did!" Moving forward, he took her right hand in his, sliding her arm through the tube. "There. You see? It's a shield! Now even though I can't go with you, I can still protect you."

For a moment, 7 said nothing, just turning her arm and gazing quietly at the rough, if not lovingly crafted shield she now wore there. Then, without a word, she turned and drew 5 into another hug, burying her face against his shoulder. "Thank you. I promise I'll stay safe. I'll never forget. But you have to promise to stay safe too."

The return hug was tight, and 5 was reluctant to let go. "I promise, 7. We'll see each other again. I know it."

This time, when 7 slipped off, 5 let out an almost soulbroken sigh, rubbing his hand against the leather patch again. His words were hopeful... he adored her. But why did he have such a sinking feeling that things would never turn out the way any of them had hoped...?