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Title: Tears in Rain
Author: Merci
Source: Tekken
Characters: Lili, Combot, Sebastien
Wordcount: 7,318

Written a submission to the Tekken Fight Night fanwork anthology. The volumes have now been mailed out and I have permission to post this publicly. Please check out the Fight Night tumblr to see some of the other great artists and authors who created original works for this book. It was very fun to write about characters that I've never touched before, and to get into their heads for a while.

Special Thanks: To my lovely Kat for betaing for me and making sure all the pronouns were in the right place :), also, to my dear Mr. Merci, who won't read this, but was just as excited as I was to have the opportunity to submit this, and helped me hash out the plot.
Disclaimer: I am making no profit from this fanfiction. I do not own Lili, Combot, Sebastien, or Tekken.
Notes: Apologies if any of the dance terms are not 100% en pointe *snickers* I had fun researching ballet and the different positions and movements and how difficult some are. I fell in love with Misa Kuranaga and how well she performed in the Nutcracker's Pax de Deux (my favourite musical number from that ballet). After watching other dancers perform, Misa made it look easy and f.l.a.w.l.e.s.s.




Tears in Rain

Lili poked at her breakfast, moving the fruit around on the plate. Her stomach rumbled and she pushed the plate away. She could feel her legs had grown weak while her dance studio collected dust and her ballet studies suffered. If Miss Daaé was still there she would have eaten her breakfast in a heartbeat before hours of practicing. Her teacher had been graceful, strict, and caring. Lili couldn't teach herself, and no teacher had been able to pass her father's increased security precautions since the kidnapping…

Her stomach sank. Maybe Miss Daaé had been wrong. Maybe Lili just didn’t have the skill to compete. She leaned her chin on her hands and looked out the window. It was going to be another boring... the thought trailed off as she spotted a delivery truck driving past the security gate and up towards the house. She didn’t usually care what deliveries her father received at home, but the large crate chained to the flatbed caught Lili’s attention. She pushed her chair away from the table and left her half-eaten breakfast.

She arrived in the foyer just as the delivery people were using a crane to lower the crate from the truck. Guards surrounded the truck, their electric batons buzzing at their hips. She slipped past them and found Sebastian, her butler, signing some documents.

"What is it?" She had never seen a delivery so big. The Japanese characters caught her interest and she tried to read them.

"Undoubtedly another sample from..." Sebastian struggled for the right word. "Ah, well, I suppose this is the first sample from Japan."

"But what IS it?" Lili asked, giving up on the kanji and looking for an easy answer.

"It's a business associate's attempt to prove that weapons of war can serve the individual as well as the nation." Mr. Rochefort said as he appeared in the doorway. "I'd nearly forgotten about it."

"Sounds boring," Lili muttered, eyeing the box once more before deciding to forget all about it.

"But you don’t even know what it IS, my dear. This will be your new ballet instructor!"

"Really?" Lili began to feel her excitement grow at the thought of dancing again, but then confusion set in. "Why are they in a crate, then?" she looked for air holes. "Wouldn't they come on a plane?"

"This instructor is doesn't need air," her father laughed. "I want someone who can protect you as well as teach you. One of my partners suggested a robot could do both!" He gestured for the crate to be opened. "I asked that it be programmed with many dance styles, and it can even help you keep your room clean."

"We have servants for that," Lili pouted.

The boards were pried away piece by piece, revealing a statue made of metal. Its head was shaped like a bucket, its limbs were long and lanky, and its hands were two clamps with no fingers or nails.

Lili looked at her new instructor. She had never seen anything like it. "How is it supposed to teach me?" she finally asked. "It barely looks human, and it doesn't even have real hands." She folded her arms over her chest. She wanted to make her father happy, but she couldn't help her face from twisting up and her eyebrows knitting together in a frown.

"Emilie!" Her father's exclamation startled her. "At least give it a chance. You want to dance like that ballerina, don’t you? Mimi… something?"

"It’s Misa, father. And of course I do! But--"

"Well, then you must practice!" her father interrupted her and hugged her tight. "Please try, my dear?"

Lili sighed and looked at her new ‘teacher’. She nodded, while knowing that it couldn't hold a candle to her old instructor.

Her father seemed happy with that, and left for his offices soon after that; like always.

Sebastian was busy running the house, and the servants were busy following his instructions; like always.

And Lili was alone; like always.

She narrowed her eyes and watched as the robot was moved from the foyer and off to the dance studio. Then, when it was out of sight, Lili turned and went in the opposite direction.

For months she’d spent her free time wandering around the mansion. There was nothing she hadn't seen before, but she couldn’t sit still for long. She always started fidgeting and needed to burn off the energy that would have otherwise been spent in training. Usually her thoughts would wander from one pretty thing to another, but that morning she couldn't shake that stupid robot from her mind. She slipped out into the garden and crossed over the perfectly manicured flowers towards a door that led to the library. She needed to focus, and she hoped that continuing her Japanese studies would help.

Sebastian found her around lunchtime and placed a tray of food beside her on the desk. "Perhaps Miss Lili would like to visit the dance studio after lunch?"

Lili didn’t answer.

Sebastian looked kindly on her and she felt the weight of his hopes. After a long moment, she couldn’t ignore him.

"Fine." She would go to the studio, but that was it. That thing wouldn't teach her anything.

"Wonderful!" Sebastian exclaimed. "We have placed it in the studio, when you are ready." He then left her alone.

Lili didn’t go right away. She pushed the lunch tray aside and tried to keep reading, but the characters looked like marks on the page, undecipherable with that robot in her thoughts again. After a few moments she shoved her chair back and dragged her feet as she walked down to the dance studio.

When she entered, the machine was there, silent and dark and waiting for her. She walked up to it, her eyes moving over the hard angles. How was it supposed to teach her if it was turned off?

She circled the robot, looking for an obvious switch when she noticed a light blinking at the back of its neck. She reached up to touch it, but she was still too short. She dragged a chair behind the machine and climbed up and touched the glowing yellow button.

The robot jerked to life and she leapt back, crashing on the floor as the tin man began to move. First it shook as a whirling sound started in its chest, and then its arms jerked awake, moving through their full range of motion before the legs did a similar routine. Finally, its eyes flicked on, glowing yellow before it settled down again.

"Mr. Rochefort, I'm so glad you took me up on my offer." A voice came from the robot.

"He's not here now--" Lili started, but the voice continued.

"I trust my Combot unit will exceed your expectations. It has been programmed with fifty dance styles, over one hundred and twenty culinary dishes, and it can learn new actions, replicating them after seeing them once. This model responds to verbal commands, so simply tell it what you want it to do. It has also been programmed for personal protection, as I know this is very important to you. Please, I invite your feedback after your trial."

"Combot?" Lili tried saying the name aloud.

The robot went silent, but continued to hum with life as its yellow eyes stared forward.

What was this?

She folded her arms across her chest and stared petulantly at the window. She could sense it behind her. "I don't feel like dancing," she said.

The tin man said nothing.

"I guess you can't talk, so you can't convince me," she said with a sharp smirk.

The combot stood silently.

Lili glanced over her shoulder at the stupid machine.

"Leave me alone," she said again.

The eyes flicked to green. "Leave me alone," it parroted.

Lili's smirk fell at the sound of her own voice coming from within the machine.

"It appears it can learn many things," Sebastian said from the doorway.

"Sebastian!" Lili yelped, spinning around to see him.

But Combot was suddenly between them, its eyes flashing red as it launched towards Sebastian.

"Combot, no!" Lili shouted, her eyes wide as she watched the robot stop, just inches from her butler.

It was as still as a statue, it's clamp-like hand hanging in mid-air, halted in its trajectory, inches from Sebastian's throat.

"Miss Lili," Sebastian choked out, his eyes locked on the robot before him. "P-perhaps it came with a manual?"

Lili narrowed her eyes as she looked at the robot. It had moved so quickly, and the way its limbs were positioned reminded her of something... "Y-yes, perhaps it does have a manual. Would you check the crate?" She gestured for Sebastian to go as her eyes roved over the ugly metal can that was supposed to teach her to dance. She doubted anything so unsightly could be graceful. She glared at the tin man for a moment and then turned on her heel and left. Sebastian could figure out the manual.

It wasn't until the next morning that her father asked about her training.

"That thing can't teach me anything," Lili said dismissively as she added some fruit to her yogurt.

"Perhaps not," her father said, "but you must try. After Miss Daaé left-"

Lili's spoon clattered on the table. "She didn't leave me," she snapped.

"My dear, perhaps doing your best will honour her memory. Please, give it a chance."

Lili glared at her spoon and felt her cheeks grow hot. She hated that her father was looking for replacement teachers. She would prove that this wouldn't work. "Well, if you think so..."

“Wonderful! You’ll be dancing like that ballerina you like in no time," he said as he stood and wiped his mouth. "Now, if you will excuse me, dear. I have a meeting to attend. Have a good day, dear." He quickly kissed her forehead before grabbing his briefcase and hurrying from the room.

Lili waited for his footsteps to disappear down the hall before she stood and muttered a request to be excused before she marched back to her room. She would prove to her father that this stupid machine couldn't match the prowess of the masters. They couldn't teach her to move with grace like Misa Kuranaga, it could only teach her to move like a clunky mess and make a fool of herself. She dressed for the dance hall, feeling more and more sour as she marched down to where she'd left the stupid machine.

The thing, Combot, stood in the corner by the window. It was completely silent. Was it sleeping? No, not sleeping. It was looking out the window, focused on something in the garden. She considered ignoring it and practicing her lessons as best she could, but she knew her father really wanted her to be happy, and dancing did make her happy.

"Good morning," she said. There was a light whirring inside and the eyes lit up. It adjusted its posture and lifted its arms, readying itself. It looked at her, waiting.

"Can you talk?" she asked.

Combot shook its head.

"How are you supposed to teach me?"

Combot tilted its head to the side. It looked like... it didn't understand. So it could communicate simple concepts, but nothing complex.

"You don't know anything!” Lili blurted, suddenly ready to prove she was better. “Can you even do this?" Lili asked as she raised her leg behind her in her best arabesque, being sure to keep her legs facing outward and a graceful back.

Combot replicated the move. It was technically right, but lacked the grace Lili expected to see.

"Well... That was easy! What about this?" she entered the fifth position with her legs crossed and toes pointed in opposite directions. She sucked in a breath and jumped into the air, fluttering her legs together twice in an entrechat quatre. It was the last move that she had been practicing with her favourite instructor.

Combot entered fifth position and replicated the move, clunking loudly as it landed on the wooden floor.

Lili chewed her lip. Fine. So it could technically do the movements, but it was like watching a tank try to dance.

She was about to try another move, when Combot then entered fifth position and leapt into the air, spinning twice and landing again: a perfect double tour.

"No fair, I haven’t learned that yet!”

Combot tilted its head at her and then performed the move again.

Lili glared at Combot and turned away. Her other instructors had never given her something so difficult, how was she supposed to... she stopped. But... her other instructors had never asked her to try. She sighed. OK. Well, it was a tank that could do a move that she couldn’t.

Maybe she could learn something.

Miss Daaé had taught her through mimicry as well, so maybe... "I-I don't know how to do something that advanced," she said, turning back to her… instructor. "Can you teach me easier moves first?"

The tin man moved into first position and tilted its head to her.

Lili caught herself smiling. "Fine, let's do it." She moved in front of Combot and entered first position.

Combot seemed to take that as a cue to continue and it moved to second position.

Lili raised an eyebrow and moved into second.

When Combot moved into third, she couldn’t help herself. “I already know this stuff!" Lili snapped. She immediately regretted her tone. She'd been studying for years, and going over the basic moves didn't help her get better. Luckily, Combot didn't react to her outburst. She took a calming breath and said more lightly, "I didn't mean teach me like a beginner. I want to dance like Misa Kuranaga. Do you know her? She was flawless when she danced in the Nutcracker."

The tin man’s eyes shifted to blue as it stood still, perhaps downloading the program, before switching to green again. It then snapped it’s leg out from fifth position, pointing at the ground with its toe and then dragging its foot along the floor back to its standing leg.

She nodded and copied the pas de cheval.

Combot shook its head no.

Was she was wrong? She tried again, snapping her leg out and bringing it back.

Combot shook its head and demonstrated again. It dragged its leg back, marking up the floor as it did.

Lili huffed and tried again, dragging her foot like an angry horse.

The tin man nodded. Success! Lili relaxed. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Then Combot shifted to fifth position and slid its foot out to the side before snapping it back with a little hop to stand on the foot that had slid.

Lili grit her teeth and tried to replicate the degage, jeté, coupé combination.

Combot shook its head.

No?! Lili tried again and again and again, trying to replicate the moves that grew more and more complex. Hours later, she left the studio on wobbly legs, and slipped back to her room on aching feet. Her toes hurt all over and she fell into bed, too tired to even stretch her toes out to stop the cramping. Compared to that, her grumbling stomach was far away from her mind, and she was asleep in minutes.

+++

Lili woke early the next morning. The familiar, melancholy tiredness that had clung to her eyes was gone when she opened them and stared out her window at the grey early morning sky. She was acutely aware of the pain that had seeped into her body overnight, and even sitting up in bed made her stomach ache.

But it was a familiar, happy ache that said she'd achieved something the other day. She pushed through the pain as she slipped her legs over the edge of the bed and pressed her aching feet against the floor. She took a steady breath and then gingerly walked across the room to her dressing stand where she'd thrown her leotard the night before. She felt her light feeling grow even lighter as she slipped into the clothing and rushed out the door in the direction of the studio.

She hadn't been able to replicate Combot's final move during her last lesson, and she hated that the tin man could do something better than her.

Her empty stomach could wait.

+++

As the days passed, Sebastian noticed a change in Lili. It was in the little things, like the way she thanked him for breakfast, or the way she smiled as she skipped out of the dining hall and rushed to practice. Her breakfast plate was empty every morning, and he was happy to see her appetite had returned.

"Good morning, Combot!" Lili announced as she burst into the studio, flinging the door open and marching in.

As it did every morning, Combot turned from observing the garden activity and tilted its head in her direction.

"No, no, you have to greet me properly," she sighed and threw her hands up in mock exasperation.

Combot said nothing.

"Fine, Combot. But one of these days I'd like to be told how lovely I am, or it’s a beautiful day, or something like that."

Combot, again, said nothing and moved to the centre of the room. It raised its leg out high in front of itself in a grand battement, then stopped and looked at her.

Lili nodded and resumed the position they had been practicing. She always had difficulty holding her leg so high without bending her standing leg, but she was able to kick it up easily.

Combot seemed satisfied with her effort and then performed the side kick and backwards grande battement kicks.

Lili copied the moves as best she could. She was still having difficulty looking graceful, but she was grateful that Combot didn't yell if she made a mistake, or, worse, not correct her out of fear of her family's power.

She tried again and again, pushing herself to perfect her form. She didn't know why she wanted to do well, but it was a relief to dance with a partner who was quiet and didn’t judge her.

She raised her leg in front of her, then lowered it and immediately raised it to the side, and then down and to the back. Her hip ached, but she could feel her body falling into the movements until she barely had to think about her legs and where her feet were. If she continued like this, she knew she could finally apply to a ballet company that would make her father happy and make her old master proud. She took a breath and prepared to try again. Her leg muscles burned and she had to throw herself into the kick.

She sucked in a breath and heaved her leg into the air. Her muscles twitched then and her form fell apart. She stumbled, tried to catch herself, and fell to the side and she kicked Combot in the chest. She felt the crack resonate along her leg and the robot's eyes instantly flicked red. The light air of dance cracked away and was replaced with the cold, hard energy of combat. The robot whirred around and entered the same stance that Lili had seen on that first day: a fighting stance.

Lili couldn't take her eyes from her instructor and the threatening red eyes that focused on her.

She stepped back, waiting for the attack.

But it didn’t come.

She lowered her arms and straightened her back. “Combot?”

The tin man remained still.

Lili tentatively moved forward and mirrored the stance. She turned her body and raised her arms. The moment she did, she felt a new feeling rush through her. It was as if she could take on whatever faced her.

Combot nodded and slowly moved its fist out in a slow punch before drawing it back to its body. Then it waited.

Lili did the same, watching her form in the mirror as she did. She balled her fist and pushed it out, aiming for the centre of Combot’s chest before bringing it back to the starting position.

The robot nodded and then then struck out with its back hand, its whole body looking long in the mirror as its fist seemed to connect all along its body to its back foot.

Lili studied the body posture before trying to replicate the move.

Combot shook its head no and performed the second move again.

Lili puffed out her cheeks and tried again. Success!

Then Combot brought its front hand around again in a side-punch that hooked across the front of its entire body.

Lili settled into her form and mimicked that, too.

Combot seemed satisfied, and then began the moves all over again.

Lili mirrored punches one by one, over and over. Her shoulders began to ache in the familiar way her legs usually did, but she pushed herself to continue until she could perform all three punches together without breaking stride. Punch, punch, punch, she aimed for the same spot with increasing force.

She stopped when Combot gestured they would practice a new move, and she began the whole mimicry process again, with kick and punch combinations that had Lili reassessing her form all over again.

It was challenging.

And empowering.

Lili threw herself into the lesson until she felt bold enough to spar with her teacher.

Combot gestured what she should do, and what it would do. It was simple. Easy.

And she was a quick learner.

She took her starting position and launched herself forward, throwing a kick at Combot’s torso. She felt it connect, and the shockwave travelled up her leg and into her hip. It was unlike anything she had felt before.

“I did it!” she squealed, jumping up and down.

"Emilie!" her father's voice cut through her joy. "What are you doing?"

Lili spun around and put her hands up defensively. "Father! I-I'm learning!"

"I can see that, but you are certainly not learning to dance! You know how I detest violence... and this thing is teaching you how to fight?"

"It’s not a thing! It… he's my friend!"

"It is a tool,” Mr. Rochefort folded his arms over his chest. “And tools can be returned if they malfunction."

Lili felt her whole body tense up, and it was like her world was crashing down. First Miss Daaé had been taken away, and now another teacher was leaving her, too. She felt as if a dam inside her was breaking and spilling down her cheeks. Everyone always left her. Combot, Miss Dae, her mother, her friends... at that moment her 12-year-old frame felt the weight of absolute loneliness she’d carried, and her tired finally legs gave out.

It wasn't fair.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face. It wasn’t fair! Everything muted into her tears and she barely noticed the strong arms that wrapped around her and she was pulled against her father's chest.

"I know it's not fair, dear. Would you like to come with me when I return this... Combot?"

Lili's face was buried in her father's jacket, as her sobs absorbed by the soft wool. She nodded as the tears left her along with her strength.

She had been working so hard, and she was able to perform moves that she'd never imagined she could. If it hadn't been for Combot, she wouldn't have entered the studio again... would it get dusty once he'd gone?

She didn't care that her father hated violence, but that didn’t mean that SHE hated it! Combot had never hurt her -- and he never would. She shoved her father away and scrambled to her feet. Her footsteps echoed in her ears as she ran towards the hall and slammed the door open as she burst from the studio. She flew down the hallway in a haze of tears until she was in the sanctuary of her room. She stopped long enough to lock the door behind her and she collapsed into her bed. It was just like the first night with Combot, only this time it was her insides that were aching and bruised.

That night her dreams were choppy, like changing channels on a television. She was dancing on stage. Then she was kicking Miss Daaé across the stage with all her strength. Her beloved teacher broke into pieces and vanished. The stage tilted sharply and Lili toppled into the orchestra pit that was a lake of black water. She sank in the viscous liquid, falling fast, as if a weight had been tied to her toes. She grasped for the surface, kicking her legs and screaming as the water filled her mouth. And something clamped around her ankles, pulling her back and then launching her toward the surface like a torpedo. But she never made it to the surface.

+++

Lili woke late the next day. She opened her eyes and felt the old, familiar, melancholy tiredness was clinging to her lids like anchors. She stared out her window at the grey, overcast sky and she allowed the numb pit of her stomach to throb. She closed her eyes and buried her head under the pillow, but sleep wouldn’t take her away.

She waited until her feet were growing hot and sweaty under the covers, and only then pushed one leg out of bed and touched her bare foot against the floor. The other leg followed as she allowed her weight to roll out from under the covers. She pushed through the pain, dragging herself across the room to her dressing stand, where she opened all the drawers and dumped the contents on the floor. If she wasn't going to dance, she would dress however she liked. She kicked her clothing across the room. Nothing appealed to her. She turned to her closet. Inside she found a beautiful, frilly dress. She'd worn it to one of her father's fancy parties a few years earlier. She hadn't wanted to be around the adults and their boring conversations, but her father had successfully bribed her with a dress with puffed sleeves and a crinoline that showed she was a ballet student, even out of her leotard. She shoved her feet into the dress and pulled it up, managing to fasten the ties and zipper by herself before leaving her room.

Lili had intended to go straight to the kitchen for breakfast, but she wasn’t thinking and mindlessly turned down the hall to the studio. It wasn't until she stood before the wooden door that she realized where she was. The excitement she'd felt each morning was replaced with a sinking anxiety. Why had she insisted on learning to fight? Why did she ruin the one thing that made her happy? She knew her father would never approve, and now her only friend was gone.

She felt her eyes welling with tears as she pushed against the door, looking to confirm what she knew.

"Combot..." her voice was a whisper in the mirrored room, her usual 'good morning' vanishing in her throat.

Combot stood near the window, where he always waited for her, as he always did. "Miss Lili looks lovely today."

Time seemed to stop as Lili's mouth moved, soundlessly searching for a response. "W-what?"

"Miss Lili looks lovely today." Combot repeated the phrase in the same flat, robotic cadence.

"I know how much you appreciate a morning greeting," Sebastian said from the doorway. "Even if our friend will be leaving us prematurely."

"It's not fair," Lili whispered.

"I have seen a great improvement in your abilities, miss," the old man said. "It's natural that a weapon cannot easily become something else entirely. There will always a trace of its original design in it."

Lili entered the studio and moved to her friend. She drew her hand over Combot's chest plate, tracing the faded outline of the model number and the Violet Industries logo. She didn't have to ask why her father hated violence so much -- it was the same reason she didn't have a mother anymore.

"Combot's creator worked very hard to meet your father's high expectations. However, he could not erase the foundational coding, which is how it moves and fights. However, he did his best to make it into a teacher, just for you."

"How do you know that?" Lili snapped.

"I contacted Combot's creator last night, miss. I explained the situation, and asked if we could program our friend to say something nice. He was kind enough to send an update."

Lili nodded, trying to process the new information. He looked at Combot again and waved. "Good morning, Combot."

"Good morning. Miss Lili looks lovely today."

“Also, Miss Lili, it may hearten you to know that your father has been called away suddenly, and will not return until next week. I have been instructed to return our friend, but… that can wait a few more days, perhaps?”

Lili’s vision turned blurry as new tears threatened to fall, but she smiled and wiped them away. “Thank you, Sebastian.”

“I will have breakfast prepared for you shortly, Miss. Please, enjoy your morning,” Sebastian bowed before leaving.

Lili turned to Combot. “Will you help me practice?" she asked, forcing the sadness back.

"Cawmmon!" Combot barked with robotic enthusiasm.

"W-what...?" Lili stuttered, and then started laughing. "O-of course! Come on!" It was as if a gust of happiness had washed over her and she felt lighter than air once again. She rushed towards Combot and threw herself into his arms, kicking her leg up behind her as he supported her arabesque.

Then she leapt back and entered an entirely different stance. Her feet were solid on the ground, hip kicked out and she angled her body towards him. She raised her arms before her, hands relaxed and ready to fight.

Combot's eyes flicked to red and he mirrored her stance before springing into action. He flew at her with a powerful kick.

Lili instinctively raised her arms to block and then dropped low and swept her leg out in front of her, connecting with Combot’s leg and knocking him down. She hopped to her feet with a smile on her lips. Her body felt light and she bounced, swaying her hip lightly before trying a high kick at Combot’s chest. He blocked the attack, but Lili recovered quickly and moved away from his next attack with agile grace.

They moved back and forth, trading blows and blocking and missing. He kept his attacks within the scope of what Lili had been studying, but he didn’t pull his punches, and when his foot connected with Lili’s thigh, she could feel it would bruise. She didn’t care. The pain was secondary in her mind, as everything came into sharp focus and she watched her opponent, looking for an opening, looking for an opportunity to dent his thigh in return.

Combot moved quickly, with heavy footfalls as he moved within striking distance. His feet echoed in Lili’s ears, and his metal body reflected in the mirrored walls. He turned, briefly turning his back to her before swivelling back and driving a powerful hook towards her hip.

Lili easily spun out of range and then came back with a high kick, snapping her hip to the side and swinging her foot around before bringing it down on Combot’s shoulder. She felt it connect solidly and saw her friend recoil from the blow. She stepped back and lowered her stance. Her lungs hungrily sucked in air as she raised her hand to her forehead and dabbed at the perspiration there.

Combot recovered quickly, ready to continue, but Lili held up her hands to show she needed a break. “That was great!” Lili said, laughing as she playfully tilted her head. She rubbed her thigh. It would definitely become a bruise later, but it was a familiar, happy ache that said she'd achieved something. "Can I practice dancing for a bit?" She waited for Combot to say something. Another 'cawmon' or something equally ridiculous -- she wanted to meet his creator and see if he was as outrageous as he sounded.

She caught her breath, but her friend hadn’t said anything. She raised her eyes to see Combot's eyes were still red, only his head was turned to the window again. "Combot?" she asked, quieter this time. "What is it? Do you see a bird or... something?"

Her thoughts were cut short as the next few instances happened quickly. Combot bolted towards her, his metal feet cutting grooves in the floor and he collided with her, knocking her to the ground and hovering over her just as the windows behind him exploded inward.

The shrill beat of the alarm system was barely audible through the ringing in her ears, and she was shouting for her father, for Sebastian, for anyone. They had to get to the safe room.

Combot was still over her, but now his head was turned to the doorway. Lili scrambled to her hands and knees and looked.

A gun. She wanted to look up at the man holding the weapon, but she'd never seen a gun before and it seemed to fill her whole vision.

All action drained from her limbs. She wanted to move, to run, to fight. But when she tried, her arms wouldn’t obey. She dug her fingers into the floor, and her arms tensed, but nothing happened. Instead, her legs quivered and she wanted to slink into a hole and escape.

The man with the gun barked through his mask, "You're ours now, gir--"

Combot silenced him in one move. There was the wet sound of metal striking flesh and bone and then the gunman collapsed against the doorframe and the tin man turned back to her.

He couldn’t say it, but there was something in the way that Combot stood, in his body language -- if a robot could emulate it -- that said to trust him.

Of course she trusted him! Lili pushed herself off the floor, grateful that her limbs were obeying her, and she followed Combot from the wrecked studio.

The windows along the hallway were broken as well, and they ran over glass that crunched under their feet, fleeing the angry voices behind them.

How many were there?

Why were they there?

Were they the same men who had taken Miss Daaé from her?

Would they steal Combot?

"Miss Lili!" Sebastian's voice cut through the chaos, and Lili saw him at the end of the hallway by the kitchen.

Her heart fluttered with relief. He was safe. They could get to safety together. She stepped towards him, but Combot's hand clamped around her wrist. He yanked her back, just as the windows in front of her exploded with a blast of gunfire.

She fell to the ground as more glass fell around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears. “Do something!” she yelled. “Anything!”

The gunfire stopped suddenly and her heart skipped a beat. There was a muffled grunt and then the same, sickly sound of metal on flesh. She opened her eyes and climbed to her feet, crouching against the wall beneath the window. She took a breath and peeked over the edge.

Outside in the garden Combot was making short work of one of the gunman. He moved in a flurry of flips and kicks that Lili could barely follow. One arm shot out towards the gun, taking it in his claw and yanking it back. Bullets exploded from the tip, hitting Combot along his body and up through his head.

Lili cringed, but Combot didn't register the damage as he continued his attack. He crouched low and kicked his leg out before popping up and sweeping his fist across the gunman's face and sending him flying.

Lili turned away and looked back towards the kitchen, and a new sound tore through her throat. She rushed forward towards Sebastian as he lay on the ground.

"Miss Lili. We must..." he looked at her with those kindly old eyes, the same that had watched over her, even when her father was not there.

Lili sucked in a breath and wrapped her arms around him, trying to help him to stand. She tensed her muscles as she yanked him up against the wall, but he was too heavy.

She was too weak.

"Combot!" she yelled, looking over the wall and into the garden. "Help us!"

The tin man was dodging the bullets of two more gunmen, dancing this way and that like a monkey, before getting in close and then dropping low and sweeping his leg, knocking another attacker to the ground.

Sebastian coughed violently and grabbed at his side. "Miss Lili, please, leave me."

"Combot!" she screamed again, looking at Sebastian’s wounds and hoping the safe room had a first aid kit. She looked over the wall again and saw Combot bolting towards her. The remaining gunman in the garden opened fire and Lili ducked. Combot burst through the broken window and landed beside them.

"We need to get to the safe room!" she said. Her voice was strong and foreign in her ears.

Combot stomped towards them and effortlessly hefted Sebastian up against him, placing himself between the butler and the garden.

"Protect... Miss Lili..."

"I'm fine, Sebastian," Lili said, feeling anger in her chest. "YOU are the one who is bleeding. I'll get us there." She led the way down the hall towards the library. The garden shortcut wasn't an option, and Lili mapped their course in her mind. Left at the next opportunity, then right, and right again...

They pushed forward, the alarms blaring through the speakers along the hallway, and what sounded like attackers shouting from all directions.

They turned left and then right and skidded to a stop.

"There they are!" another man shouted. “Give us the girl!” He raised his gun towards them.

"No!" Lili shouted, looking for a way out. The hallway was long. There were no windows. The doors to the adjacent rooms were all closed.

Combot grabbed her from behind and threw himself the closest door. The door splintered on its hinges and all three of them collapsed into the room, away from their attacker.

"Where do we go now?" Lili gasped as she pushed herself to her feet. The attacker would be upon them in seconds, and he was there for... her? Flashes of what happened to Miss Daaé came to her mind then; the letters, the phone calls, and her father's fear... She shook her head. She would not be taken so easily.

Combot was already on his feet and pulling Sebastian along with him. Lili rushed to the only window in the room and pushed it open. "We can get to the library this way. Through the garden!"

"But... Miss Lili, that kidnapper is still out there..."

"No, he won't be! He'll have climbed inside to come find us, he--" Combot seemed to agree and shoved Lili out the window, ending the argument.

She grunted as she landed in the shrubs before scrambling to her feet. Sebastian landed beside her a moment later, and then Combot followed. He picked Sebastian up and then looked to her. 'Where to next?' he seemed to ask.

"It really would be nice if you could talk," Lili grumbled. From their light cover she looked out over the large garden at the interior of the house. "The the library is over there," she said, pointing to the familiar door.

She looked left and right, seeing the garden was empty, but the house was lined with windows facing inward. If anyone was inside, they would be seen. She took a deep breath. There was no other way. If they could get to the safe room, then nobody could get them. She stood and motioned for the others to follow.

They would have to run.

She knew that Combot would perform exactly as he was programmed to. He would carry Sebastian safely.

She only hoped that she could perform just as well.

With one last look across the garden, she bolted. Her feet kicked off, launching her through the air and then she pushed her legs with all of her strength.

Wind sailed through her hair and she moved her arms moved to give her more speed. She was on the door in a flash and she grabbed at the doorknob, gracelessly turning and yanking it in one desperate gesture.

She toppled inside ahead of Combot and heaved a sigh of relief.

She'd won.

They were safe.

She had eyes only for the bust of William Shakespeare on the desk. The secret switch was there and, even as the alarm rang in her ears, she could taste freedom. She could feel the security of the safe room behind the bookcase. She just needed to get to that switch.

She just needed to get past the men who were already in the library, waiting for them.

"Yo, we wondered when you'd show up," one of them said, smiling widely. His face was bare, unlike the two men on either side of him. They all carried guns.

"What do you want?" Lili screamed at them. "Why do you want me? Why did you take Miss Daaé?"

"We thought the woman would be a good example to your father of how serious we are... but we think you will prove that point so much better." He reached for his belt and withdrew another gun. "Now go to sleep like a good girl."

Lili watched as the weapon moved, up and up until she could see the black centre of the barrel. It was like a pit of death. She sneered and shifted her stance. Her fists balled at her sides and she felt the fire inside her wanting to erupt and hurt the men who had hurt her. She felt her muscles tense. Her legs were ready to spring forward.

"Miss Lili... no!" Sebastian said from beside her, stumbling on his weakening legs and leaning heavily on her. "We must... get to..."

Lili grasped him tightly, channeling her strength to supporting his weight. “But these men…” She looked back to them, but Combot was in the way. His back was towards her and he was swaying slightly on his feet, arms up and ready to take on her attackers.

"Lili, we must go!" Sebastian urged her. He gripped his side and threw himself forward, dragging Lili towards the bust.

"Combot!" she yelled as Sebastian collapsed against the table and tilted Shakespeare's head back, revealing a hidden switch.

"Come with us!" Lili yelled again. Her friend was still fighting as the men shot and tried to dodge his attacks.

Sebastian turned the switch and the bookcase beside them slid aside. They had to go.

"Please!" Lili's throat grew tight as Sebastian grabbed her shoulders to pull her back. "Don't leave me!"

Combot paused in his fighting and looked at her. His head tilted to the side. “Don’t leave me,” he parroted.

Lili shrieked as Sebastian pulled her backwards and hit the panic button.

She crashed inside the room, watching Combot as the door slid closed.

"Miss Lili... looks lovely tod--"

Lili’s ears were full of silence as the door slammed shut. The alarm was not ringing in the safe room. But she could hear the gunfire start outside with bullets that echoed like thunder.

She threw her petite frame against the steel door and beat it with her fists. She screamed obsceneties and demands to be let out as her cheeks grew wet with desperation.

But the door did not budge, and her fists grew tired, and her throat grew hoarse, and she sank to the floor with her forehead against the steel and the only thing she had left were her tears.

That rain continued to fall, long after the thunder stopped.
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Merci's fics

June 2017

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