Socks and Underwear

He had a whole drawer full of them. Full of them! And yet here he was, shambling around in the oldest, rattiest pair he had. By themselves, they wouldn't have drawn her attention since the smell didn't reach all the way up to her. But one of them – the right one – had a hole revealing his big toe as it poked through the worn, net-like material. The scientist in Re-L found it absolutely frustrating: that the mystery of man would defy all logic, order, and hygiene.

It really bothered him but it was something he'd have to deal with twice every day: in the mornings, when she very ungraciously stepped on him on her way to the bathroom and in the evenings, when she sat around waiting for her turn to wash up. It was their routine; stepping on Vincent was her way of waking him up, otherwise he would simply sleep through her alarm. That, and her strange desire for parity, which had made her decide that since she got the first turn in the bathroom in the mornings, he'd have the first turn at night.

From the experiments with the toilet seat, Re-L knew that positive punishment wouldn't get her anywhere with him. For some reason, she was unable to condition him into associating a negative consequence with the stimulus of leaving the toilet seat up. She'd even tried increasing the level of punishment every other time he flouted the rule but to no avail! She started with reminders, then warnings, then scoldings, then threats, and finally, physical punishment, but it all yielded her nothing but that hangdog expression that made her even more irate. The submissive stance – closed eyes, bowed head – Re-L wouldn't admit it to anyone, but she hated that even more than all his other hateful habits put together. She even hated it more than Pino's questions.

It bothered him because although it bothered him, he didn't want it to stop. It bothered him, but he loved it and then felt terrible and guilty for feeling that way. Sometimes, on a particularly bad day that put her into a foul mood (replete with sharp tongue and kicking) the only highlight of Vincent's day would be catching his two glimpses, one in the morning and one in the evening. On days like those, Vincent felt like it justified her kicking him off the Rabbit or letting him run off into the cold in a frenzy to find her while she watched impassively from the pocket of shadow cast by the hull of the ship.

It had to be because he was a proxy. There was no other reason for it. But it grated on Re-L to come to such a conclusion because that was cheap logic. Cheap logic was for lower forms of intelligence, such as animals and autorievs and proxies and so on. She knew that cheap logic applied to proxies, because she'd caught him answer a barrage-load of Pino's "how" and "why" questions with "that's just how it is" or "it's magic" or "…uh…I'll tell you when you're older" or "why don't you ask your m– I-I- mean, Re-L."

It didn't help that she wouldn't look him in the eye. For some reason, for the past few days – or was it weeks? It was hard to tell when they lost count, lost track, of time – she rarely made eye contact any more. She was still scowling, as per normal, but now she wouldn't even look him in the eye; her gaze was perpetually downcast. So for the past few days – or, again, was it weeks? – Vincent's spirits had been unusually low and conversely, he looked forward to those snippets of secret, guilty joy in the mornings and evenings more than ever. And then the guilt would catch up with him, and he would continue to be bothered.

She couldn't think when he was so attired, because she'd start staring at them again, and wonder without being amazed at the puzzle before her. Ordinarily, Re-L liked puzzles, but this was a four-dimensional rubix cube. After the disaster with the toilet seat, however, Re-L refused to point it out, stubbornly holding to the hope that one day she would figure it all out and her world would suddenly make sense.

He couldn't think when she was so attired, because he'd start staring, and all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts would race through his mind. They made things worse and complicated everything. Vincent felt like he was in a dream and a nightmare all at once. It was a dream come true to be stranded on the proverbial desert(ed) island with the woman of his dreams, but a nightmare that she still wouldn't budge on whatever obscure principles she had, even though he really was the proverbial last man in her world. Yet, he had to admit, that sometimes the absurdity and the sweetness of their situation got to him and they produced funny feelings that started somewhere from his depths and rose up to warm him, despite the coldness of their everlasting, windless winter. Sometimes, when the feeling hit, he would be sitting on the edge of the Rabbit, eyes closed and reveling in the experience. Other times, when they were eating their beans with dressing (or rather, now it was dressing with beans) she'd look at him a little funny, and again that sweet absurdity would tug at the lines at the ends of his mouth to form a silly grin on his face. But other times, the feeling would hit him square in the chest when he went to sleep with that image of her in his head and woke up again to the exact same in front of him. Vincent's dreams were getting rather messy and he didn't have the… uh, boldness to tell her. He knew there was no good way to put it across and even if there were, he'd never be able to pull it off and she'd never understand.

She was impatient. In general, she was impatient to be over and done with the whole ordeal, to know what he was, so she'd know what the world was, and know what she was. But more specifically, she was impatient for him to do something about the problem right in front of them. And she refused on principle to give in and demand outright that he change his behavior. That approach clearly hadn't worked at all with the toilet seat for whatever reason there could be. She would not be humiliated in trying again, especially since she was sure he must get some perverse enjoyment in denying her what she wanted. And it made her… sad, to realize that there would always be a barrier between them, always be a puzzle and mystery and an unsolvable riddle, because human and proxy - they were too different, too different to understand each other. It was all in the DNA of their raison d'être. And Re-L was sad because while hers demanded she unlock all the mysteries of the world, the only one who made up her entire world just couldn't be changed enough for her to fathom. And what she couldn't understand, she would never accept. Her efforts were as futile as spitting in the wind. Wind that wouldn't come, at any rate.

He was bluely melancholic tinged with the red-edge of desperation. There wasn't every much he could do to relieve the tension between them, the tension within him. Not when they had such minimal interaction while living at such close quarters… with a child companion to boot. B-b-because! he had to make sure that Pino wasn't left out in his attempts to engage their other companion in adult things- eh- uh, like, conversation. …Perhaps the best thing would be to start moving again. Maybe that would take his mind off things, things such as the fact that he'd probably never get what he needed. She wasn't a sadist by any means, but he'd heard that her species denied his species what they wanted as a blanket rule. He could believe it in Re-L's case, and the only comfort he had was that at least, she wasn't playing games. What he needed was probably the last thing from what she wanted, even though he had no idea what it was that she wanted. Oh, to start moving again - but the wind, as always, refused to cooperate. Vincent's attempts looked as fruitful as chasing after the wind.

It was thus, at this point neatly balanced on the peak of their frustration, that Pino decided they would celebrate Christmas.

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Author's Note: Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of my fic. (I revised it a little to make it flow better!) I know it's a little long to be an introductory chapter, but I really wanted to explore the tensions going on between Re-L and Vincent during Episode 16 and set up their personal frustration. I'll be getting to resolve the Socks and Underwear bit in the next chapter, so no, it's not done yet.