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Blood. Ice. Ash.

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Mercy Hartigan does not like to be touched. She never did, but her education has taught her to revile it further. The best thing she finds about being an adult is that she can control touch, her position and her attitude make her superiors unwilling to cross the boundaries she has set up, and she likes it that way. Too many people have used touch as weapon against her, a way to wield their power against her. Now she uses here refusal to touch or be touched – whether her haughty attitude or her long gloves – to wield her own power. Controlling them with their contradictory desire to touch and not to touch. No one touches her without her express permission.

~

She doesn’t quite know why she is taunting this girl. Perhaps it’s an unwillingness to acknowledge their similarities. The both understand power and sex, about using one to get the other. They just use it in different ways, one projecting ‘touch me and die’, and the other ‘touch me and it’ll cost you’.

Mercy is fully expecting a slap; arguably she probably deserves one for that comment. In the privacy of her own mind, where she can acknowledge Rosita’s beauty, she might even admit that she had been trying to provoke a slap from her. The punch that comes instead is a shock, though not necessarily the bad kind. It has been so long since someone she wanted to touch her has touched her that the thrill of it steals her breath. The pain blooms across her jaw and she tastes blood from her burst lip and it is glorious. She feels alive, as only her investigations of the technology her Cybermen brought her have done previously. Something of her thoughts must show on her face when she meets Rosita’s eyes because there is a moment of stillness between them when they do. A moment of understanding and regret that they must necessarily be on different sides.

In the background she can hear the tone but not the content of this Doctor’s words, but she dismisses him. He’s just another man come to stand in her way, he will fall like all the rest of them. This girl is the real challenge, smart and brave and so very proud. Mercy is almost embarrassed that she never saw it before. Oh there are rough edges and weaknesses (sentimental attachments to fairness and doing the right thing) that would need to be trained out of her, but there is so much potential there. At best for a loyal companion and colleague; at worst for an adversary actually worthy of Mercy’s intellect. It would be a fight, every step of the way, but that would only make it more satisfying in the end. They both know it.

~

The entirety of the collective Cybermind is contained within Mercy’s head. Now that she is severed from the network, the sheer weight of information is a bit much even for a mind as brilliant and strong willed as hers. She is drowning inside her own head.

Mercy is distantly aware that things are happening outside her body: dubious medical procedures meant to awaken her body. She ignores them. Cold water and electric shocks are nothing new or significant, they will need to try harder if they want her to spill her secrets.

Perhaps it is the contrast that shocks her into wakefulness finally. The warm, sharp shock of human touch. The crisp sting that is uniquely the feel of a good solid slap. The way the blood rushes through her veins to pool beneath the abused flesh of her cheek is invigorating, real and viscous and warm. So very human that pushes her conscious mind up through the cold depths of overwhelming information to pay attention to the outside world again.

She opens her eyes and beholds Rosita restrained. One hand still raised as though to follow up her previous slap with a backhanded one. Pulse racing and lungs sucking in so much more oxygen now that her body is no long hibernating, Mercy longs for that slap, to finish the job of clearing the cobwebs from her waking mind. Her brain, helpfully supplies her with the knowledge of just how to kill the orderly with a thought, and also with the knowledge that the medics have removed the little bits of Cyber-augmentation she had allowed that would enable her to do so. She settles for a death-glare that causes him to quail enough that Rosita easily breaks free and steps back into range. Rosita cocks her head slightly in question and Mercy forces her body to respond as to her requirements and manages a terse nod. The slap when it comes has the added bonus of knuckles to make up for being expected, and a smile blooms on her lips in line with the pain in her cheek. Her mind in turn feels clearer than it has since before she fell, there is much work still to do, but for now she is mistress once more of her own mind.

When the others are gone, Rosita sits by her bed and tells Mercy about how she’s been told that Mercy has one of the best minds on the planet. Relating how the others are afraid but that she is not, and in gorgeous detail how she will teach Mercy to control her homicidal tendencies. When Rosita meets her eyes, Mercy can see her own old plans to shape and mould Rosita into something new reflected back at her. They both know Mercy won’t give in without a fight and that will only make it more fun for both of them. One of them standing in the light, the other in the dark; continuously trying to pull the other onto their chosen side. A battle for the ages, ultimately unwinnable for either of them, but all the more tempting for it. They are alike in this.

Mercy has not the strength for much speech yet, let alone enough to return the slap, as she so desires to. Instead she turns her hand over in Rosita’s so she can hold it – strange how long it has been since she last touched anyone else’s hand without gloves on – feeling Rosita mirror the action and digs her nails firmly into the soft undersides of Rosita’s curled fingers. Rosita digs her own fingernails in, holding Mercy’s gaze steadily all the while.

There is understanding between them there and it is glorious.