Arrogance and Repentance

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Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, they don't like me, and I'm pretty sure the people who DO own 'em wouldn't like me either.

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Summary: She knows that eventually, she'll have a lot to apologize for. But for now, she's just going to enjoy this as long as she can. Syndrome/Mirage.

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It's an old love story, often told.

Boy meets girl.

Boy falls for girl like a ton of bricks because she's gorgeous and brilliant and a real smartass and makes him think that maybe there's a reason to go to these stupid networking parties after all.

Girl visits boy.

Security takes exception.

Boy holds gun on girl.

Girl shoves gun directly up boy's ass, Buddy thinks despairingly, his weapon sinking back to his side as his brain registers who, exactly, this unknown intruder is. Any second now.

It takes several more seconds to register that the girl pinned tightly between two stern-faced security personnel, his beautiful, dignified lover who is so used to getting her own way that she doesn't even consider other possibilities, isn't looking particularly angry. Just a little sheepish.

"Alex?" he finally manages. "What--"

"We found her wandering around the main buildings, Sir," one of the guards snaps out, evidently taking his half-formed question as permission to speak.

He doesn't know if he really likes the way the guy (Cameron? Calvin?) is squeezing her arm tighter and glaring stonily at the back of her head as she tries to twist away. But he'll deal with that in a minute. Ignoring the uniformed guards, he moves closer until he could swear that he could feel her flush of embarrassment, and half-glares at her.

"What are you doing here? Why didn't you use the number I gave you, if you needed something? Oh, crying out loud, get off of her!" he finishes impatiently, backhanding one of the men and catching her as she stumbles forward.

"All this to drop off a resume," she murmurs lightly, recovering her dignity sufficiently to smile charmingly at him and scornfully at the man eying her suspiciously from her left.

The redhead stares for a long moment, his expression a study. Then he turns abruptly away from her.

"We'll be fine alone," he tells the guards still hovering near their boss's pretty little intruder. "You can get back to work; but be ready to get back here if there's trouble."

It only takes a second for her to get her mouth closed again after it drops open in shocked anger at the implied threat, but he's already noticed, and smirks as the drab-suited men hurry quietly from the room. Then, mirth draining from his face, he wheels on her.

"Okay, Alex, you made your point: beef up security, right? Thanks for the heads-up. But don't pretend you're interested to humour me."

She's just barely taller than him, but she still has the strangest feeling that he's towering over her, waiting for one wrong move. Still shaking slightly with the indignity of being caught, of all things, she manages a smile.

"I wouldn't have gone to the effort of stowing away in your plane and sneaking in here if I wasn't serious."

"You don't even know what we're trying to do."

"You're a weapons manufacturer; what don't I already know? I'm not a child, Buddy; I know you're no saint."

He laughs, pushing a hand back through his hair, and she releases a breath she's hardly aware of holding, both relieved and disappointed that this unrelenting, cold-eyed stranger has finally turned back into Buddy. With an air that half resembles a stern parent and half resembles an excited child with a new playmate, he takes her arm and leads her to a small table at the other end of the cavernous work area.

"Have a seat," he invites pleasantly, pulling out one of the chairs, before glancing down at the resume she slides across the table toward him. "Alexandra Turetta. Now, I understand that you've worked in advertising until now."

"You met my boss just last week," she reminds him, hiding a grin.

"That man's a lecher," he sighs, shaking his head. "He spent the whole party staring at your ass."

"Not like you."

He makes no attempt to hide his grin.

"Hey, at least I'm honest about it, right?" After a long moment of silence, during which he makes a show of skimming over her resume, he looks up at her again. "All your written references look excellent."

"My managers appreciated my unique personal skills."

"Could you outline briefly what you consider your unique personal skills?" he asks, stroking his chin, exaggeratedly thoughtful, leaning forward over the table.

"Good decision-making skills under pressure, charisma, and excellent persuasive ability."

"Meaning, you could charm the pants off a nun."

"I think I might have put that on Page Three," she notes with mock surprise, unable to hide her smile when he gives a loud, appreciative laugh.

It's only a moment before he sobers again.

"Look, this isn't my favourite idea."

She nods slowly.

"I suppose that's fair. Can I ask why?"

It's a long moment before he replies, hesitantly, trying to cobble together half-formed thoughts into something coherent beneath the intense, curious gaze of those golden cat-eyes.

"It would be really easy to bring you on here. Believe it or not, I'd like to have you around all the time, obeying my every order."

She laughs softly at his second cheeky little grin in thirty seconds.

"Because you know me to be so very compliant, don't you?"

"That's just it, Alex; you're a stubborn, prissy, bossy little know-it-all. And I like that," he adds hurriedly as her expression grows outraged. "But if you were working here, you'd have to treat me like a boss. I don't know if I really want to be your boss."

"I know the difference between personal and professional dynamics," she scoffs. "And I know what belongs where. I think I might be mature enough not to sit in your lap in the middle of negotiations, or call you Sir in bed."

"I wouldn't mind that," he cackles. "Either of them."

"Then you'll consider me?"

"Alex. There's more to what we're doing than making weapons--"

"You mean, the Supers," she interjects calmly. "Yes, I know."

He stares.

"How...?"

"Subtlety isn't your strongest point."

"I'm gonna ignore that," he decides aloud, crossing his arms and eyeing her disapprovingly. "And you still want in, huh?"

"Of course."

"What's your problem with them?"

"I wasn't aware that I needed one," she replies coolly. "I'm curious as to what you plan to do. And how you're going to accomplish it. Because I know you will," she adds with a smile half teasing and half admiring. Then she shrugs. "But if you like, you can pretend it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with my mother's miscarriage in an accident one of them caused, and her suicide a week later."

He stares.

"I-I didn't know about that."

"How would you?" she asks tightly. "I didn't tell you." She smiles, although it's more of a wince than anything. "Don't worry, Buddy. I had no love for the woman, even before that. In a way, it was the most human thing I ever saw her do, even if it was a hell of a job, convincing my father that she wasn't choosing the baby over both of us by doing it. I certainly don't blame some idiot in a cape because my mother was too selfish to—but that's hardly the point."

It's a long moment before his mouth snaps shut, and the bewildered sympathy in his gaze disappears.

"Okay, so you know about the Supers, and you still want in. That's great, but—"

"And I also know that you need someone to take care of negotiations for you. The business end. You've been talking about hiring someone – and so, I'm applying. What do you think?"

"It's still not my favourite idea. I know you're good, sweetheart," he adds hurriedly as she begins to protest. "Tell you the truth, you'd be perfect. But I don't know if I should drag you into it. Look, I kind of like keeping you separate from all this. And I can't shake the feeling that it'll be the kiss of death to a year and a half."

"It's the most important thing in your life, Buddy," she says softly. "I'd like to be a part of it, if you'll let me."

"I'm…different, when I'm here."

"You're intensely focused, completely ruthless, and more than a little cruel." She sends him a smile that is pure invitation, and giggles inwardly when his ears go red. "That sounds just fine to me."

"It's hard work."

"I'm used to hard work."

He snorts disbelievingly.

"Not like this."

"I can handle it," she says adamantly, but very quietly.

He regards her carefully for a very long time.

"Okay, Alex, we can discuss it, if you're that serious. But you should understand one more thing. Once you're in, you're in. I don't deal well with people trying to leave SyndroCorp."

She hides a smile.

"One of these days, you have to tell me exactly what that name means."

He laughs.

"It means, if you call me Buddy in front of any of the others, I'll take a strip out of you. While we're here, I'm Syndrome," he adds in response to her bewildered expression.

"Right," she laughs sheepishly. "Understood."

"One more thing, babe. If it gets too much for you..." He pauses. "Just remember, this was your idea."

That, she knows, is meant to worry her a lot more than it does, but she's far past being scared away now. The only problem is, she doesn't know if she's still going with her original plan anymore – to get in, become absolutely indispensable, and then gently urge him into a different use of his uncanny brilliance.

His intense earnestness isn't a surprise, anymore than she's genuinely surprised by the meticulousness of his planning. The complete confidence and cold ruthlessness and utter, utter control, however, startle her – almost as much as the sudden, fierce desire to push him down onto this table and see how long it takes him to flip her over and pin her beneath him with his hands and his body and the heat of his mouth at her shoulder.

Stifling the urge to shatter his trust in her professionalism before she's even had her first day on the job, she meets his eyes and smiles.

"I think you're underestimating your staff, Syndrome."

He returns her trust-me smile with a rejoining grin of okay-fine-women-know-best. She hasn't got a clue, of course, and it won't be easy, when she starts figuring out for herself all the things he hasn't thought to tell her yet, but she'll understand eventually. He'll make her understand. And even if he can't, even if time passes and she still just doesn't get it, there are other ways to convince her. All he has to do is prove that he can win, and he's got her, whether or not she agrees with his reasons.

"I guess we'll see about that."

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And eventually, time will prove that they were both wrong.

She'll learn that it's hard to help someone overcome their weakness when your own weakness has gotten the better of your conscience, stifling it until only the faintest of protests manages to make it through the seductive singing of power and influence and victory.

He'll learn that sure things don't exist, and no matter how much time and effort you invest in convincing someone, people aren't like robots, and can still surprise you.

Then he'll learn that robots can surprise you, too, even when you make them specially to surprise everyone but you.

That's when he'll stop learning things altogether, and she'll want to scream long and loud until God gets tired of the noise and gives him another chance, but she'll only be able to stare at the monitors, numb with horror, because the men are present, and she never had to learn from him that impressions are vitally important.

As she leaves, much later, determined to gather herself up and live the rest of her life, she'll swear quietly to him that she's going to atone for her sins.

For breaking her promise to help him out because she was too busy being dazzled by power and drawn in herself.

Because she didn't listen to him when he tried to protest that it was a dangerous step, to involve her, and urged him to give into the far-too-easy option of letting it absorb her.

Because she wasn't there when he needed her.

And just because sometimes no amount of planning can create perfect happiness.

And somehow, she'll know that he's sorry, too.

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End Notes: This one kind of had a point (aside from the cute, banter-ey flirting I've become addicted to writing between these two). I think I was sort of trying to get at some sense of Syndrome realizing that drawing his last link to the outside world into his plans could end badly, and Mirage completely trampling (although politely and subtly) his best attempts to tell her no, he wasn't going to get her involved. I don't know if that came across at all (or if I went too far the other way and totally hammered it in), and I don't know if the connection between her refusal to stay away and his eventual messy death just seems nonsensical, but I thought it might be the kind of thing she'd be thinking in the immediate hysteria of losing someone important to her: "if I'd tried harder to help him give up on it, he wouldn't be little bits in a jet turbine". I figure misplaced guilt is a more likely reaction than "eh, he deserved it", even if she was angry with him beforehand.

Also, I am once again working with the assumption that they had a genuinely and mutually loving relationship at one point. Because I'm a fluff-bunny by nature, and angsty, one-sided love just makes my hair itch. I could also write an essay here about why I think he did still care about her during the movie, but I'll spare my dear readers, because I'm sure you're very nice people who don't deserve that kind of punishment. :)