The next day, after break-fast, 83618 asked him not to wander off, to stick with her for a while. And, still confused about what exactly had happened last night, he agreed. The stalls were mostly empty by this point. Not many humans stayed in them when there were humans to talk to, things to do in the paddocks, after all. 89902, a few stalls down, was busy writing one of her stories, and 85118 was pacing their stall, mumbling to themself, but that was about it, as far as humans who might overhear. Now, ghouls, on the other hand, you never knew when they could be listening in.

There was less room than usual, with both of them in 83618's stall, but 97144 was pretty sure there'd be room enough for whatever the teenager had planned.

Alright. First step in making sure the ghouls don't find out about that ability of yours. We need to figure out how you activated it.

Wait. Ability? That- last night- that was my ability?

Yeah. Didn't I- She broke off as realization dawned. "Fuck."

He squeezed her hand reassuringly, bringing her back to herself.

"Right." She nodded decisively. Anyways, I need you to think back to last night, okay, Shishi? Do you remember feeling different in any way when your ability activated?

Uh, there was this weird feeling in my chest? It was like something had hooked on the inside, but it didn't hurt.

Okay, that's good. You're doing great, Shishi. Now, we're going to try and recreate as much of last night as we can, and I want you to focus on that feeling, try and call it up again. Okay?


She further explained what she wanted him to do, and then they were ready to test it out.


"Yes, Shishi?"

"Hug me?"

He let himself sink into the comfort of her arms for a few moments before trying to let go, like she'd told him to. It was easier now that he wasn't panicking. It took a long time, but eventually he was able to get the hooks to release.

Nihachi was quiet for a little while after that, then, shaking herself off, she said Let's see if it still works if you're using the tactile language, okay?

He nodded. Nihachi?

Yes, Shishi?

Hug me?

After a few more tries, she concluded that he actually had to be speaking. It went on like that until they had to go for lunch.

You had to go to lunch. You had to go to every meal, actually. If you didn't show up, the ghouls would find you, and it wouldn't be pretty.

We're going to the feeders. Don't talk unless it's in the tactile language for now, okay? We don't want to risk you activating your ability.

Once at the feeders, they got in line for the check-in. 83618 put her ear tag into one of the scanners, which pulled it in and confirmed. He did the same with one of the ones that was lower down. It hurt some when it tugged on his ear, but at least it was over soon. She picked up a heaping tray of food, and he picked up a smaller one, and they headed to one of the tables. You could grab food from the feeders whenever you wanted, but at mealtimes, you at least had to finish what was on your tray.

They ate with one hand and talked with the other, and when they were done, 83618 brought both of the trays back to the return slot.

When they were back at the stalls, they started on seeing if his ability would work if he wasn't actively reaching for what he'd felt last night. The answer, it turned out, was sometimes yes, sometimes no.

They continued like this off and on over the next few days, so as not to look too suspicious to the ghouls. He filled the times when they were conspicuously not interacting with one another with midday naps and walks up and down the row of stalls. He was… getting kind of lonely, to be honest. Finally, at the end of the five-day, she proclaimed him ready to rejoin the rest of the humans, so long as he made absolutely certain not to ask any questions out loud.

If you need to ask anything, you do it like this. No questions coming out of your mouth. Absolutely none. Do you understand how important this is, Shishi? The firm taps of her fingers only emphasized her words.

Honestly, he couldn't fully grasp exactly why it was so important, but he could tell that it was important to her, and was somehow important for them to be able to escape, and he didn't want to disappoint her, and so he resolved to keep his mouth shut and watch his words for the foreseeable future. He'd be quiet and he wouldn't ask questions, and he'd make her proud and then they'd be able to escape and be free together. He could do it. The stakes were too high for him not to.

When he was finally able to join the other humans in the paddocks again, it was a relief. Sure, 83618 was great, and it was nice being around her more than he usually was, but all the testing (of his ability! He had an ability!) was frustrating and boring and he missed activities.

A few humans expressed surprise at not having seen him in a while, but he just shrugged. He figured that until he could trust himself to not accidentally ask any questions, it was better to speak as little as possible, just in case.

In the inside part of the paddock, there was a shelf of books, drawing paper, markers, some puzzles, and a variety of board games.

Some of the books were from the outside, carefully selected and put there by the ghouls for the humans to entertain themselves, and some of them were packets of paper, stapled together, novels written by humans long dead.

He ran his hands over the books. He couldn't wait until he could read enough to actually make sense of them. Right now he could really only look at the drawn books and even that was more looking at the pretty pictures than it was actually reading the words, few as they were. He picked out one of his favorites, one that had actually been hand-drawn with gorgeous images, (usually the bookkeepers didn't want the really little humans to have access to the books unsupervised, because paper was surprisingly fragile, but they knew they could trust him to be careful, and that made little bubbles of pride rise up in him) and settled in a cozy corner to rest.