She has her past, her brain insists. She has her degrees and her skills, her motivation to join Celestial Being and a past that contributed to it. This is what her brain tells her, so she believes it without thinking about it.

But part of her knows it isn't true. That's the part of her hidden behind her eyes when they change colors, and the rest of her can only mostly escape it. Somewhere, she knows: there is no Anew Returner. There's only a shell.

She seeks the raw material to build a human being inside that shell. She doesn't know where she'll find it, but she has to try.

As it happens, he seeks her out first: the man the others call Lockon Stratos. His attention makes her blush, and he finds ways to make the blush brighter. That's all it is, the shell of her says.

But the emptiness inside the shell knows that's not true. There is something different about the two of them, and there is something different about the way he looks at her. She drifts toward that difference.

Anyway, even on the outside she can tell easily enough that things are different for him. He isn't one of them the way he should be. He's looking for someone else who isn't one of them. She responds to him more willingly than she thought she might. Don't the others understand that he is broken? She is drawn to that while they ignore it. Maybe they're just used to another method of brokenness.

She is used to being broken in this way, although she can't articulate it to herself. She knows hollowness. Some spark inside her sees that he is fleeing from the search for himself just as she is yearning for the search for herself.

That isn't why she lets herself move closer and closer to him, though. She does it because she's started to notice that the hesitant way he smiles at her alone is different than the smug and airy way he smiles when the rest of the crew is around. She likes that. It makes her feel special.

She can start to build something now. Anew lays a keystone: he and she, him and her, they are special and different together.

His name is Lyle. It sounds soft and gentle, much better for what she sees in him than the codename Lockon. His full name is Lyle Dylandy, and it sounds like music might. For some reason, she can't remember what music does sound like until he plays some for her.

She thinks her name sounds good against his. Lyle, Anew. Lyle and Anew. Lyle Dylandy, Anew Returner. She has no problem agreeing to call him by it, even though by Celestial Being protocol, she shouldn't. She understands already, then, that they are something separate and different from Celestial Being.

It's true that the rest of Celestial Being helps, sometimes; she can watch them and learn what people are, even if she doesn't know why she needs to learn that. She should already know. But Anew and Lyle together, they are the stuff she can build herself from.

He tells her dirty jokes, sometimes in front of the rest of the crew, sometimes when he thinks only she's listening. She can't tell if he does it to startle her or to impress her. When she is neither, only amused, he ups the ante. The jokes become more personal. What is she supposed to do?

She slaps him, once. That's what she was supposed to do, right?

But soon enough, she goes back to being amused. After a while, she's sure he figures this out and keeps doing it anyway.

The double entendres inherent in a career as a sniper are not much in the way of new material for making a self. But the way he speaks them to her with that quirky half-grin, his eyes almost closed and his expression too self-consciously smug, that might help. The way she learns how to react seals it. This, too, will be part of the project that is Anew Returner.

He suggests, while they're hiding on Earth, that the two of them go for a picnic. She suggests that they invite the others along as well, as it seems like a fun idea, but disappointment immediately leaps to his eyes. She smiles, because that disappointment warms her up inside where she's cold.

"No, you're right," she says. "We'll go together, the two of us. Thank you, Lyle." She likes it better this way. When they are alone together, she begins to feel whole.

Anew likes the picnic, too.

The food that he gathered for it is less than ideal (they've had only minimal time and opportunity to resupply), and he's not that good of a cook. "Eggs aren't meant to bend this way," he complains, making his best unimpressed face at the offending food item.

"I'm not a cook, so I don't know any better," she reassures him. It's true; she's no cook either. Her (supplied) knowledge covers food in only a dry and perfunctory way, as if she has never actually made it, and it's only when she's around him that she thinks to wonder why. But it's also only when she's around him that it doesn't matter. What he knows is what she knows, and that's good enough.

His surly looks of disappointment at the food take so little time to dissolve into smiles, special smiles just for her. That's why she likes the picnic despite the food. No, it's not entirely why. She likes the way the grass feels beneath her fingers. It's oddly new to her.

Even newer is the way the grass feels tickling her neck when he pushes her down into it all of a sudden and kisses her. But she's not thinking about the grass, then. She's thinking about the way his lips feel moving against hers. That's the newest thing of all, the two of them alone and pressed into the earth with their mouths meeting, and she likes it better than anything she has experienced before. No: now his tongue is pressing between her lips as the dirt below them mingles with her hair and she likes that even better.

That kiss, wet and fumbling, is a building block, even if she can't quite put that into words. Somewhere behind her eyes, she's very glad for the new material. What she carves out of it will be real, and it will be herself.

The first time he takes her to his quarters, he is still a little nervous. She can tell, and she knows for sure when he accidentally enters the code that turns off the artificial gravity entirely.

Lyle ends up flailing helplessly, dismayed, his earlier cool gone. He just isn't used to space. For some reason she does not know, Anew is fine with it. She takes hold of him and draws him to the bed. It isn't as if there are many other places for them to go.

"Not going to wait for me to turn it back on?" he says.

The sheets from his bed billow out around them, first dividing them, then twining them together. She holds him. "I don't mind at all," she says. "Do you?"

"No," he says as a sheet twists around him. "But I didn't realize you were this kinky, Anew."

She knows by now why he makes jokes like that, and she has not the slightest urge to slap him anymore, now that she understands. He wants attention, and at the same time he wants to push that attention away. But he has her attention already, complete and undivided, and she will never be pushed away. Not even physically: she is too adept in this null gravity to let him do it by accident. And by now, he would only do it by accident. "There's not much about me you haven't realized," she tells him.

Something darkens in his eyes for a moment, and she wonders what it means. Then the sheet rises to obscure his face, and she cannot see whether his eyes are dark are bright. It is as if she has gone dark, then. Without him, without his eyes to connect to hers, what is she? He is right to worry. There is something wrong with her.

But he pushes the sheet away and kisses her fiercely, with a passion she had not imagined until she met him (but which she alone now knows of), and she knows who she is. She is Anew Returner, as he is Lyle Dylandy. The way he touches her shapes her, makes her curves hers even as he tries to make them his. Inside what was once a shell, she continues to build.

She does not always know where her knowledge comes from. As they lie intertwined, some more of that unbidden information comes to her: in many human languages, knowing is an intimate act. It is only sometimes true for her. That information that comes to her from a past she has never needed to remember is impersonal, the farthest thing from intimate. She has never touched it.

But when she touches Lyle, Anew understands what it means to know. She traces the lines of his body with her fingers, loving the way she makes him cry for her, loving the way his skin feels on hers. She touches the muscles of his chest and the lines on his palms; she explores his face, learning the meaning of the little scar on his forehead, and just how it is a part of him. Everything is a part of him, and now it is a part of her as well.

The routes her fingers trace on his body are two things to her at once. They are both a blueprint for herself and a map to herself.

It is over a console that he first tells her, "I love you." Despite the physical distance separating them, she feels it like a shock running through her. A circuit is completed somewhere. He's made her blush again, but this time it's special. She can barely hear the shock and the congratulations of the crew around her. Somewhere, she is with him, always with him. This confirms it at last.

She cannot quite articulate the reason she feels so glad. It's simple enough, surely: the man she loves has confessed his love to her. But more than that: for the very first time, she feels whole. The Anew she has built from the ground up, piece by painstaking piece, is finally complete, with those words from Lyle.

If the command to not be herself had come from within, Anew could have resisted. There is enough of her there, now, to form the will to resist. Any command from the void inside that had once been all she'd known could easily have been shunted away by the true self she had created in lieu of it. But this is from outside, and outside (the expressions on the faces of the crew of the Ptolemy around her; more than anything, Lyle's hands entwined with hers), after all, was where she had made herself from. She never expected it to be hostile to that self.

The command brings the void in her out again. That void does things the true Anew who has grown over the past several months knows she would never do. She threatens the other crew members. She compromises their security. She plots against them. Inevitably, she prepares to fight them.

There is nothing she can do to stop it. For the first time, she knows why she was frightened, in those moments when she understood enough to be frightened. The Anew Returner she has put so much effort into building, that Lyle Dylandy has helped her create, where will this Anew go? What will happen to her? Most of all, what will happen to the man who gave her what she needed to make herself?

The end does not come in a fight, as she feared it would. The end comes in a single burst of light, and then a single perfect meeting of minds, all thanks to Setsuna F. Seiei.

Anew Returner is dying. Lyle Dylandy is living. She is frightened and more than a little sad, but she is also relieved, selfishly relieved that he will live on.

There is joy as well, in this last meeting. She touches him one last time. "We understood each other, didn't we?"

And that's when she knows. She knows where the Anew she created together with him will go. Even as she dissolves, she offers herself up to him. She put so much into creating that self, and so much of it came from him. There would have been no Anew Returner without Lyle Dylandy, only that void. She is content that, at last, he will take what they created into his heart.