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Could We Ever Be...?

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What a cheeky little thing.

That's the thought that rattles around his head as he drives the uncooperative brat out to Magenta, all his neat little plans for her up in flames thanks to her frankly impressive lack of cooperation. Sometimes that thought is angry, sometimes amused, but always annoyed.

He supposes he respects it, in a way.
She might be stupid, might be weak (of course she is, why else would she be in this car with him?), but at least she’s not some lifeless doll. At least she makes her own downright terrible choices rather than following the leader like some brainwashed fool.

He thinks he might hate her.
-
The savior seems to agree with his somewhat scattered assessment, bursting into peals of laughter when Saeran sullenly recounts the story of the “missing” keypad and the donkey of a girl (who spends the entire summary sitting on the floor with a grouchy look on her face). He knows that his savior demands obedience, knows that she requires her followers have perfect faith, knows she responds to defiance with reprogramming through transcendent pain. That’s why her delight at this annoying turn of events confuses him so much, at least until he sees the slightly manic gleam in her eyes.

Ah.

So the girl is a test.

A chance for the savior to demonstrate her superiority over her occasionally rebellious right hand man. That pouting, mousy-haired child easily ignored Unknown’s manipulations, embarrassing him in the process. The savior knows this, and soon everyone else will too. Everyone will see his failure every day as the girl walks the halls of the compound, a place she never would have seen if she’d just done what she was told. Saeran failed, but the savior cannot possibly be resisted. And when the savior succeeds in manipulating, and cleansing, and hurting her...everyone will remember why the hierarchy is the way it is.

Why the savior stands alone, above them all.

He definitely might hate her.
-
The savior leaves Miss Dumbass in his personal care. The angry taste of copper lingers in his mouth as he leads this walking insult into the lower levels of the main building, where she will be a special “long term guest.” She’s apparently decided that discretion is the better part of valor, following him along without complaint or comment. It’s the first smart thing she’s done, and like everything else, it annoys him to no end.

He wants her kicking and screaming against his back as he drags her away, wants to feel the welts as she claws at his face, wants to hear her choking sobs as she begs for her freedom, begs for his non-existent mercy. He wants her pain and her panic, needs them to feed his own power and peace.

He wants to hear her promise that she’ll be a good girl, and wants to watch the hope in her eyes die as he slams the security gate in her face. That’s what he wants.

But instead, he gets a silent and sullen thing, who follows him with a type of arrogant muteness that drives him crazy. It’s like she was specially designed to get under his skin. Literally everything he wants, she does the opposite. He hates this feeling, like he’s not really in control, and a small part of him hates the savior for making him dance to her tune.
-
They finally arrive at their destination: a nondescript and barren room nestled between his own control center and the cells used for lapsed believers. He pushes her inside roughly, hoping the windowless walls and windowed security door will finally spark some fear.

Bitch rolls her eyes.

She can’t possibly be serious.

Saeran growls under his breath and resists the urge to slam her face into the glass. Instead, he limits himself to twisting the hand he still has wrapped around her arm, eager to assert control, to gain some semblance of submission. As he twists her arm above her back, he savors the small whimper she lets out, her cry wetting his appetite for more. Yet...that’s all he gets. Just a whimper and a dull submission. She doesn’t struggle or plead.

How disappointing.
He flings her away in disgust.

“That’s it? What happened to all that attitude, Princess? Finally realize I’m the one in charge?”

She has the gall to shrug at the question, but at least she answers.

“I don’t fight if I can’t win. No point.”

She rubs her shoulder and looks around the room with bored indifference. He knows it’s an act. Has to be. But it still infuriates him. All he wants is to be able to categorize her, put her in a little box like all the others, and it’s annoying to no end that she’s managing to mess up his plans once again. He smirks anyway, hoping to throw her off, at least a little bit.

What a brat.
-
McDumbass has been at Magenta for two weeks now, and still hadn’t been cleansed. He doesn’t get it. She spends almost all her time in “her room” sketching in a drawing pad that some soft-hearted believer provided, doing a very cramped version of yoga, or reading paperback novels that have materialized from somewhere.

He’s surrounded by idiots.

It bothers him, how little this whole situation seems to bother her. For someone who was so stubborn about participating in his plan, she sure seems to be going along with whatever the savior is orchestrating. Part of him is desperate to ask about her cleansing time, or just dump some elixir on her himself, but that would be admitting to the savior, the girl, and everyone else that he cares about the answer, and he’s barely admitted that to himself.

He sighs and cracks his knuckles as if to rid himself of all the tension the girl has brought into his life. How much her presence is impacting his ability to work.
At least his vague sense of annoyance is keeping his inner airhead at bay.
The redhead makes a move.
He gets back to work.
-
Unknown wakes up in the wrong room. He groans the instant his eyes flutter open, only to be assaulted by offensive wallpaper and aggravating natural light. He looks down, and sure enough he’s slept in some Victorian abomination rather than his typical ‘fall into bed in what you’re wearing’ look. Stupid Ray. As he scrubs the sleep from his eyes, he raises his phone and twitches to see just how much time he lost to Sir Cries A Lot.

4 days.
4 days of letting that twerp wear his body and ruin his cred.

He throws himself out of bed as if worried the fancy drapes and quilted comforter might reach out and strangle him, stripping out of the boy’s stupid pajama set and raiding his closet for something approximating normal clothing.

It is, as always, a challenge.

Finally he’s able to slide into something that only makes him look marginally like a pirate in some cheap dinner theater show, stealing a pair of maroon pants and a white dress shirt that he leaves untucked and partially unbuttoned. He rolls his eyes at all the accessory pieces that he has to discard just to get to this semi-normal state, and honestly….

He still thinks he looks like a gigolo pretending to be a dandy.
But that’s better than looking like some Victorian doll for aristocratic Misses who are afraid of real boys, so he takes it.

As he stomps back to his real room and his real life and, God willing, his real clothes, he hopes against hope not to run into anyone.

Which is a stupid hope to have.
He should know better.
After all, when has God ever done shit for him?

Naturally, he runs straight into the damn girl.
-
She hits the floor, a small o of surprise rearranging her face as she falls in an inelegant heap. She looks up at him, takes in his clothing, and looks up as if expecting an explanation, or, God forbid, a hand to help her up.

He closes his eyes in annoyance.
Of course. She’s probably spent the last four days with McBaby totally in her control.
Bringing her flowers, reading her poetry, doing his best impression of a watering pot...
His poor dignity.
The only thing to do is ice her out and dash whatever schoolgirl fantasies that idiot has filled her empty head with.

He tries on his best sneer and looks down at her imperiously.
He’s ready for the tears.
For the insistence that the weak one is the real him.
For what always happens when anyone except the savior compares him and his other half.
He braces himself.

“Oh, thank God. You’re back.”

Wait, what?

He blinks down.
Did he hear her right?
Surely not.
Unless these damn pink pants are fooling her.

He grits out, voice like a blizzard, “Back? Hardly. Whatever…thing….you happened to meet over the last few days, I assure you he’s nothing at all like me. And he’s not coming back for you.”

She rises to her feet, running a finger against her scraped knee and popping the slightly bloody digit into her mouth as she regards him contentedly.

“Yeah, I figured. Thank God. I was seriously considering escaping.”

He blinks again, surely making an ass out of himself, fluttering his lashes like some dumb cow. Still, it’s a lot to process. She….prefers him? To Ray?

He doesn’t get it.
No one prefers him.
No one likes him.
No one.

The savior comes close, but deep down he knows, if she really liked him better, she wouldn’t keep him leashed with that damn elixir.

This girl…

It’s the first time that her always-inappropriate reactions actually please him.
It won’t be the last.
-
The girl and he develop a new understanding.
She still spends most of her time in her small room, apparently incapable of getting bored.
Must be because there’s not all that much going on in that head of hers.
At least that’s what he tells himself.
At least in the beginning.

But once a day or so, when he walks by, he pauses just a fraction too long outside her door, as a sign.
A sign that she’s allowed to follow him on his rounds, into the kitchen, or, most commonly, into the control room where he unspools his obsession into intricate webs of information, half-hearted hacks, and tracking devices.

She always accepts the silent invitation.
She never questions him.
It makes her almost tolerable.

She becomes his accomplice, silently watching his crimes with something bordering on fascination.
Sometimes she quirks her head to the side and he can feel her unasked questions pushing against him, filling the space between them.
She wants to learn.
Not just hacking, but him.
She wants to know.
He ignores that.

But he doesn’t mind, maybe, when she pulls her chair up close to his and watches him work in silence.

She calls herself his assistant.
Sometimes she brings him food and water to justify the title.
Eventually, his paranoia subsides enough that he’s even willing to eat and drink without making her try it first.
It’s not as bad as he thought.
-
She still hasn’t been cleansed.
It’s been months now.
His productivity is up and his rages are down.
He still takes his elixir, but he hasn’t needed an ‘emergency dose’ since that last bout as Ray.
She still hasn’t been cleansed.
The savior says, why mess with a good thing?
She smiles like she’s doing him a favor, and he realizes the girl is just another leash.

But this leash follows him thoughtfully, never invading his space or his thoughts, yet always there, always available for when he wants something. Not need.
Never need.
He doesn’t need her.
He doesn’t need anyone.
But she’s still always there.

He doesn’t understand, at all.
-
They’re pulling a marathon hack, trying to use C&R funds and meeting schedules to track potential guests, when she falls asleep. He only notices because all the sudden, there’s a soft weight against his shoulder, where her not-so-empty head is resting against him. She’s nodded off a few times before, but this is the first time he can remember that she’s been so obvious about it. Her computer chair starts to roll away at the pressure, and he finds himself reaching out a hand to stop it.

To keep her in contact with him.
He stares down at his hand in confusion.
He’s used to his body betraying him, but not like this.
It’s like it acted without any input from him at all.

He can’t believe she’s actually trusting enough to fall asleep near him.
In his room.

Fuck, it’s a good thing that he brought her here.
She’d definitely die in the real world.

She’s so warm.
Her hair smells like-

He tries to process those thoughts.
His eyes widen and he shoves her away.
He refuses to become Ray.

The sudden motion and lack of contact wake his useless assistant, and she looks around in confusion, trying to understand why her chair is now halfway across the room from her guardian. He refuses to look at her.

“You snore. Go away.”

Huh.

She looks at him, surprised that she can hear the lie in his voice.
He hates liars.
She wonders why he’s lying.
She wonders when she got close enough to be able to tell.

They don’t talk again that week.
-
She’s back in his room.
It’s not because he missed her.
It’s just because it hurts his productivity to have to get his own food.
It’s all about the mission.

He gets her a new chair.
It’s not like he bought it for her, it’s just an extra they had laying around.
It has lockable wheels, and sometimes…
Sometimes she falls asleep and he locks the wheels and lets her rest against his side.
Sometimes he realizes he’s counting her breaths in his head.

Not because he cares.

Not because it’s nice, to feel another person- someone who can touch you without hurt.
Not for any kind of weak-willed sentiment.
He’s not weak.
He doesn’t need this.
It’s just less hassle than having a repeat of the last time.
It’s all about the mission.

Eventually, he starts to trust her, slightly, maybe, to help him hack.
She’s not smart enough to take over.
She’s not smart enough to learn anything real.
That’s what he tells himself.

But she’s smart enough to watch the screens while he’s in the restroom, or dealing with a summons from the savior. She’s somewhat useful, maybe, as she swivels from screen to screen and makes little notes about activity, as she calls him when something big seems to be happening while he’s away.

They’re mostly false alarms.
But at least she doesn’t let anything slip.
At least she’s trustworthy.
As trustworthy as people can be, anyway.

The stupid redhead definitely would have fallen in love with her, if she’d gone along with his plans.

Idiot.
-

It’s winter now, and Saeran feels the season in a way he hasn’t before.
The lower levels have always been chilly, after all, that’s part of the appeal: keep the expensive computers and the rebellious believers on ice.
Normally he doesn’t mind, but he finds himself wincing as he walks past her room.
It’s so cold.

She’s bundled up like a marshmallow, using her covers as a third layer of clothing.
She practically sprints to his room, which also doesn’t have heating, but has the benefit of being filled with overclocked machines that come very near to being space heaters all on their own.

She abandons her comforter and instead huddles closer to him as they both stay a little closer to the screens than is strictly necessary. It’s the first time she touches him while conscious.

He refuses to let it bother him.

When she leaves to get their dinner, she comes back with her teeth chattering. She’s still not allowed to have a believer’s robe, since she hasn’t been cleansed, and the clothes she came here with aren’t really cutting it.

He refuses to let it bother him.

When she falls asleep, he locks her wheels automatically. When she nuzzles his shoulder in her sleep, he resists the urge to flinch, or worse, lean into it. She’s just cold. This is just instinct. He has more important things to worry about.

He refuses to let it bother him.

Unknown sends the traitor’s agency on a wild goose chase concerning smuggled African kittens. He hopes it ruins the redhead’s day. He’s in the process of trying to hack one of the security subroutines for that stupid bunker when she whimpers against him and grabs his hand with hers. He knows the signs- she’s having a bad dream. She’s looking for comfort, but all she gets is a too-cold, too-bony hand. He has nothing else to offer.

He refuses to let it bother him.

He doesn’t owe her anything. This whole little nightmare routine might just be an act, an attempt at getting him to turn into Ray again. A trap.


She’s not like that.
She doesn’t like Ray.
She likes you.

He pulls his hand away firmly and hits himself, hoping to clear his head of those stupid thoughts. This is convenient, for now. She’s trustworthy, for now. That doesn’t mean anything in the long run. Doesn’t mean she won’t kill him, enslave him, destroy him. Trust is just a coward’s suicide, and he’s no coward. Not anymore.

Her tossing and turning is constrained by the chair, but it’s enough to leave him distracted. He should throw her out again. Something stops him. He’s terrified that it’s pity, or worse, kindness. He tries to ignore it. Instead, when a single tear rolls silently down her cheek, he rolls his eyes and picks her up, thankful when she stays unaware.

He starts for the door, already annoyed at the weakness he’s showing by prioritizing her comfort over his work. He wants to dump her back in her room, out of his sight and out of his mind. So he can work. Work is what matters.

He turns around before he makes it past the threshold and instead drops her somewhat roughly on his own small bed. It’s not that he cares. It’s not that he doesn’t want to leave her in the cold. It’s just faster than carrying her down the hall. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like she’d ever sleep over if she wasn’t cold and unconscious.

He refuses to let it bother him.
-
Christmas is a weird time at Magenta. It’s a weird time in his life, in general, which is why he refuses to celebrate. Relationships are already transactional, people are already only interested in what they can get from you. Adding physical bribes on top of that just seems excessive.

He actually feels the urge to vomit when the savior adds mistletoe to the compound. Apparently, some of the more useless believers are so hopeless that they literally need to be forced to copulate, and parasitic plants play an important role in that travesty.

He rips down every cheery hanging trap he sees.
He’s had enough of gardening, and enough of parasites, to last him his whole damn life.

Saeran doesn’t do grateful. He doesn’t do indebted. But when he sees his assistant tossing balls of mistletoe into the furnace in direct contradiction of the saviors orders, he feels something very close to pride. He decides not to reprimand her, or tattle. After all, the savior left her uncleansed. It’s hardly his place to question that or suggest that she’s more willful than their leader knows.

While everyone else is listening to speeches, songs, and increasingly drunken toasts, he and his assistant activate fire alarms and additional security at the homes of a few very naughty individuals. While Believer A109 is declaring her love for the much older and very gay Believer C115, he’s sharing a bit of the Christmas spirit by teaching her how to anonymously and convincingly send a false police report.

They run out the clock and make it all the way to Boxing Day without a single celebration or jolly interruption, which is more than he could have asked for. He wasn’t alone, and he wasn’t annoyed. That already makes it his most successful Christmas ever.

Then, she kisses him, and the whole world stops.