Cypher -- Neo. Unrequited, unbeta'd. Sue me.
It wasn't entirely fair, he supposed. The new guy had come on board slimy, bleary eyed and barely knowing which end farted, and already Cypher had known he was going to hate him.
The sliminess wasn't the problem. Everyone came in like that. The fumbling confusion wasn't the problem either. Once out of his rebuild, Neo was something like a puppy learning to walk, tottering a few steps before tumbling in disarray. At certain times it was embarrassing, at other times, amusing. Easy to play with. To play on. To slip in a word, or smirk, and to see those eyes go wide and the brow furrow in bewilderment.
No, that wasn't an issue.
It wasn't anything to do with how he looked, or acted. How he hunched his shoulders and tried to be smaller, or how he didn't have the nerve to shut up Mouse, or how he fit chair three like it had been made for him – no, these were superficial things. Initially, they were easier to ignore.
The problem was Trinity. If she'd been reserved once, now she was silent. And that, more than any of Neo's faults, irked Cypher. He'd been told, when he was younger, that he could talk through a pact with the devil and rip the bastard off, too. But Trinity would not be coaxed out of silence. Not anymore.
He'd been able to once. She hadn't come out so long before him; she'd only just had hair and control of herself while he'd been spilling slop on the floor. But he'd seen the Oracle before her. And in that lapse of time from one visit to the next, the two of them had gotten to know each other. Apoc and Switch were more or less a thing, and while Ghost was there in Zion he wasn't on the ship. Cold, lonely, and freaked out more than a little, Cypher needed someone to hold to.
The dislike started when she started skimping on meals. She'd eat quicker, eat less, and be up on her deck before Cypher's bowl was in the steriliser. The others didn't pick up on it. Dozer was too absorbed in his home brew and Tank was just too . . . juvenile. He and Mouse matched each other more than seemed likely.
Cypher had gone up on deck a few nights, telling himself he was checking she was alright when he knew quite well he was spying.
And he'd known enough code then, to read physical descriptions.
Tall. Thin. Black hair and brown eyes. Pale skin – and at that point she moved, and his view was blocked.
He didn't call her on it. Some part of him was afraid of her reaction, another part was pleased to hear her footsteps lighter, see her hair less tangled and grown out a little. But a whole lot more saw these changes and hated that he hadn't caused them himself.
So when Neo came on board, Cypher kept his eyes on Trinity, taking notes.
He wasn't sure how watching Trinity watching Neo turned into simple watching Neo. But, eventually, it happened. One day the rookie was training and Trinity was there, but that didn't matter because Neo was the one fighting. He'd flinch and twist, back arching against restraints, and Cypher couldn't help a smirk.
Because this guy had Trinity and he didn't even know it. And there he was, hurting.
It snowballed from there.
"You like watching him," he'd said to her. And she'd evaded him.
In retrospect, his words were uncomfortably prophetic.
Neo didn't always close his cabin door. Cypher knew, from sleeping in the next room, that Trinity would go by and close it right before getting her ritual 'nightcap'. It was her little habit reminiscent of a Matrix life; a glass of water before tucking the children in. But there was the space of time after Neo fell asleep and before Trinity went by. And that was the time Cypher found himself hesitating in the doorway, thumbs hooked in his belt, frowning at the relaxed pattern of shadows.
They were meant to believe in this guy? Neo, with his big doe eyes and loose hands, was going to end the eternal war that nobody knew the cause for? This was no pillar of strength, this young man sleeping face down with his socks sticking out from under the blanket. He was all rumpled material and unscarred skin, his hair as soft as a plush toy. Or at least, Cypher guessed that's what it would feel like, not having any hands on experience with either plush toys or Neo's hair.
Weak. Soft and fuzzy and warm and all that sickening stuff that had no place in this metal shell. And callused palms were harsh on that curve of hunched shoulder. Neo moved, shifted, and there was a slide of skin and old material, a tense and release of muscle, and Cypher hadn't realised the man even had muscle under all those clothes. And it was only logical then, to follow the curve along his neck and around the back of his head, and Cypher did know what velvet felt like and Neo's hair was even softer.
Then there were footsteps down the hall, and there wasn't time to escape, and all he could do was duck into the back corner and hope it was too dark for Trinity to see him before she closed the door.
This made things difficult, being huddled on the floor in Neo's cabin with the door shut and the lights out. The scent of him was enclosed, and how annoying that he only smelled warm, and that sheer warmth in a world of such cold was really beginning to make Cypher regret coming in here in the first place. And he had to be on deck to relieve Morpheus in two minutes, and of course that's why he was in such a rush to get out.
Neo moved entirely too quietly, for a bumbling puppy. Cypher almost leapt out of his chair at the sight of those broad shoulders and long back, huddled smaller under his blanket.
But what kind of puppy flinched at the sound of his own name?
Yet there was a voice, soft as his worn-out clothing, low, and smooth, asking innocent questions. Eyes earnest, trying to understand strange jokes and expectations. A slight smile, as Cypher offered a drink, and Neo looked just like a little boy at his first grown up party. And like any little boy he sputtered and lost half the stuff back into the mug.
"Good shit, huh?" a slap on the back, and my, wasn't that a dumb move? Because rough hands on soft cloth rumpled over muscles and ribs – "Dozer makes it. S'good for two things, degreasin engines and killin brain cells."
The strum of a harp was a far cry from the sound of breath within metal, and the alien sound was more unnerving than the program who wore his shades at night.
"I don't want to remember nothing." Especially not the curve of his shoulder, and definitely not the length of his back. "No-thing." And most importantly, not his eyes.
"Whatever you want, Mr Reagan."
"Little piece of advice," looking up, those big pretty eyes were guarded, now. "You see an agent, you do what we do. You run."
Doubt. Frightening, to see that in this man.
"You run your ass off."
Because that's all the warning Cypher can afford to give.
"Thanks for the drink."
A long last look at his departing back, the blanket a cloak around him.