Chapter 2: Pino's Colors (and Clothes Make the Man… Crazy.)
Out of the many odd customs associated with Pino's Christmas, present-giving happened to be the main one. The good news for Re-L was that Pino also expected it to be done on specific days and held in absolute secrecy. The bad news was that Pino moved on to badger them about colors.
Red and green – as unnatural in the winter-wasted land as they were on Re-L's person.
As for Re-L's moods, Vincent had learned to read it like the weather. The heat before a thunderstorm; the coolness after a sudden shower; the calm during an autumnal afternoon satiated on the mellowness of repose. This moment was quirking irritation, like the sparking of accumulated static. (Doubtless, from cabin fever.) Vincent wasted an idle second wondering if Re-L never wore socks for that reason...
"Re-L Re-L, you must, must! Must!" Pino whined, brandishing crayons in front of her face. "It has to be this color," she said, pulling out her viridian, forest green and mint. "Or this!" she continued, waving sangria, carmine red and russet. "It must either contain 53.413% Cyan with at least 9.04% Yellow or 40.918% Magenta!"
"Stop it," Re-L snapped. "I will not."
Leaning back from the Autoreiv's advance, Re-L pressed a finger to Pino's forehead, keeping her from flailing into her lap. "Pino, if you haven't noticed, I can't exactly change my clothes here. You'll just have to be satisfied with what I have."
"I could color your white coat! With these!" Pino cried, presenting Re-L with the full contents of her coloring set.
"No!" Re-L gasped, shocked. Vincent's hands hid a smile.
"Vince could share clothes with you! You could wear his clothes together!"
Re-L jerked with a start.
She grabbed her white parka off the bed, and hooded herself with the sumptuous fur.
"I'm out of here," she growled. Vincent's hands revealed a smirk, the left corner quirking.
Re-L hadn't counted on robotic persistence insisting on antediluvian cultural practices.
Her programming must be stuck in an infinite loop. Re-L thought as Pino dinned the idea of sharing clothes into her ear the next day at lunch time. Unfortunately, so am I!
"You know, Re-L," Vincent said as he speared a bean. "We could all do with some new clothes. We could find a commune when the wind picks up and get some supplies. In green. Or red," he said hastily. "If you prefer."
Re-L directed her blue gaze on him. Vincent gulped, wondering if she was going to lash out about frivolity or wishful thinking or that it would be a warm day in this wintry hell before the wind returned. He winced, bracing himself for it.
"I don't look good in green."
"Huh?" Vincent looked up, confused.
"Or red," Re-L said, as she absently tapped a fork to her chin. "Or red and green together, Creator forbid."
"I see…?" Vincent lied.
"Opposite-facing colors on the wheel are said to be very complementary!" Pino protested, upending the whole crayon set to show off the color charts on the inside of the box.
Re-L shrugged tightly.
"Really, you could wear anything. Really. Pino and I are the only ones where, and we don't care— I- I mean, not that we don't care, I just meant, it doesn't matter to us—not that it's not important!—you'd look… look… good in anything. "
"Why?" Pino asked, cocking her head to the left.
"Because Re-L is really… wait, why what?"
"Why doesn't Vince care what Re-L wears?"
"I didn't say that..."
"So Vince cares about what Re-L wears?"
"Well, I mean, I do, but not really, it's all right," Vincent beat around the bush in confusion and reddening embarrassment.
"So Vince doesn't not-not care about what Re-L wears?"
"Yes," Vincent said decisively, imagining that if he couldn't decipher that comment, Re-L probably would have stopped listening already in disgust.
"Why does Vince not-not-not care about what Re-L wears?"
Re-L flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned her chin sharply away.
Vincent later marveled at the complex infrastructure known as the female mind as his next morning broke to a Re-L mixing her eye-shadow with emerald powder.
Laying atop his beddings, Vincent watched from the floor as she crossed her legs over the bunk and meticulously brushed strokes of turquoise just above her lashes. Soft hues appeared, giving a new character to those blue, blue eyes as she painted away.
The man who was Law wondered why this was important to her.
Perhaps this was the power of ritual – established in a society that had been left behind one lifetime and two personalities ago. It was turning out to be less easy to escape these rituals as they meandered and slithered into the gaps of boredom, unmet goals and unresolved tensions, solidifying into the marble of routine. Vincent wondered how many corruptions of whim and habit had infiltrated his daily actions, developing aggressively over mankind's history to insist that they were essential. As necessary as obsessive-compulsion.
Necessary now, at any rate, to keep both of them sane. The eternal questioning, which sounded very much like Pino's nasal Why, Why, Why, Why, Why, brought certain conventions (more than others) crashing around his ears.
Coverings. Adornment. Makeup. Clothes. Decoration. Clothes.
These were surely unneeded. Traces from the ruptured past began to form and congeal into memory.
Fellow citizens! The time is now to consume. Why skimp, when you deserve more? Fellow citizens! Do your part, and make waste. Life is easier when you lighten the load. Fellow citizens! The time is...
They were so easily summoned from the back of his mind that Vincent despaired at how his Fellow Citizen Conditioning could haunt him, even now. Did it shape his thoughts, perceptions, emotions… raison d'être? So shouldn't he be obligated to free himself from such constraints?
Vincent rolled over in thought.
Without it to impose Romdeau restraint, clarity, order, two poor, bare, forked animals could plunge off the peak of an existential crisis. Give themselves over to glut their appetite and gorge every feeling, until insensate, they hibernated into the death of winter and faded out with the snow.
Re-L raised a finger to blend her makeup.
Why do you bother, Re-L? Vincent would have stopped shaving long ago, except for the fact that he'd caught Re-L staring at him do so on several occasions. Usually, she reserved this sort of attention for his feet. He'd figured that her downward stare was a loaded message; there couldn't be anything interesting about his socked feet, could there? Oddly enough, her study of him while shaving was so intent that he could return her voyeurism without the worry of discovery.
"Could it be that-she… Nah."
Vincent mused to himself, trying to reason it out. With the pedantically clean-shaven faces of Romdeau, perhaps facial hair was fascinating to her. Had she seen beards before? A mustache? Maybe it had the same effect her naked face had on him? (Mosk men never saw women without their makeup.)
Did it occur to her that he was the only one who saw her face as it truly was, and then saw how it transformed into the face she held to the world? Did she see the parallel between their situations?
Did it appeal to her?
Re-L flipped her compact case to the side and began with her lipstick.
Vincent suddenly realized that he'd missed seeing her on the way to the bathroom to get dressed. That meant he'd been asleep for two hours more than usual.
Clothing. Makeup. Consuming a total of three hours of a day. And all for… what? For whom?
Were her clothes and makeup nothing more than a thin barrier between the two of them? Illusory but effective, somehow the austerity of a zipped collar, the civility of a pin-straight tie warded off interaction. Intimacy. Instinctive responses.
Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man's life is as cheap as beast's… Pino had declaimed that aloud once from the mysterious pile of books that had appeared in the Rabbit. Huddled up on the prow of the ship, the meter of the words had caught in Vincent's mind as a welcome distraction from the strange dream he'd had with an old magician whose riddles had left him just outside the veil of truth. The shock of re-witnessing his first transformation and finding it to also be his first real encounter with Re-L had been amplified at the twin horror and joy at meeting her again in the habitable wasteland Romdeau had lied about to keep them shut up as the bubble children of the world.
Unconsciously, Re-L and Vincent both ran a thumb across their lower lips.
That first time he'd transformed hadn't been out of horror or fear or pain or rage. What had he been doing earlier? He'd been outside Re-L's apartment, wondering if pacing outside her door and trying to make up his mind whether to talk to her on some made-up immigration matter was stalking or if it would look like dedication worthy of a Fellow Citizen. He'd tried to figure out what she might be doing and imagine her response at his intrusions at the various circumstances. Interrupting her dinner was possibly the safest scenario to hope for, especially if she'd had some wine already… Then he'd heard water running… and everything had kind of gone black.
Only, now, he'd revisited his memories enough to know how to color in that missing space. He shifted uncomfortably. Re-L had every right to want to shoot him. Vincent sometimes wanted to die when he thought about giving Re-L an answer on why he'd been in her bathroom on that night of encounter. And why he'd showed up as Ergo Proxy. Sometimes, he was really glad that the other proxy had shown up when it did, for he wasn't sure what would have happened next with Ergo Proxy in charge, acting on raw feeling and instinct.
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st, which scarcely keeps thee warm, Re-L. He now watched her button her cuffs with meticulous deliberation.
But he was glad for it, knowing that he himself threw on self-control like a robe. A robe of skin, teeth, hair and blood, fashioned in the form of Vincent Law. And if Re-L could pretend that she needed the makeup and the exacting dress code of the Intelligence Bureau to be Re-L Mayer, then Proxy should be allowed to delude himself in believing that wearing the identity, the manner, the personality, the humanity of Law would really make him Vincent.
It also really mattered because he didn't want a repeat of their first nighttime encounter, when that Vincent-shaped self-control had dissolved under a barrage of baser emotions and intent. She'd looked so shocked, so frightened, so horrified, blue makeup merging into tears that rained onto skin. Marble skin. Alabaster. As soft as snow and just as cold…?
And as he continued his recollection from his view on the floor, he felt the stirrings that heralded unwelcome changes which would creep the hell out of his female companion. In more ways than one.
Up he got. Clutched his last civilizing thoughts that costumed human beings were the only complete representations of people, tried not to visualize Re-L and only Re-L –failed, burst out of the Rabbit in a tangle of blankets and pillow, slammed the door behind him, gripped an ice-crusted rail as elongating nails dug into a rapidly-changing palm. Diluted pink ran down the graying sides of his hands.
Catching the lifeline, he wrapped his image in it. That could be counted as a Re-L costume, too. Barely. His shoulders deflated.
He shoved his imagination away and willed himself to relax – all of him. The warning grayness of his skin tensed with the inertia of the change, and then deflated suddenly, waning until he was flesh-colored again. Vincent-colored.
Goodbye, Mr Id. Hyde. Whatever.
Vincent did a full circle in the snow, patting himself down to make sure his façade had been restored. He took a while as pounding in his head returned with his senses. Then he pushed the door open cautiously, his gaze meeting with curious Pino and a bored Re-L….
"Very good!" Pino cried, breaking the ice. "Re-L Re-L has green and Vince is red!"
"Wow! It's really red! How did you do that, Vince?" Pino aeroplaned to him and tugged at his knee, straining on tiptoes. "Did you put Re-L's stuff on your face again? D'joo see how he did it, Re-L Re-L? Huh? Huh?"
Re-L got up and walked to them, fingers trailing at her hip holster.
Vincent's throat clenched and briefly considered running back out the door; the entrance was only at his back, but she stopped him as she grabbed his chin.
"I was flattered."
The clench lurched down into Vincent's chest.
"Next time, just ask. We're all alone here, anyway."
She shrugged, tilting his face left and right at his chin. "You don't have to be embarrassed. It's not like this is the first time, now, is it?"
Nightmare and dream come true. She'd noticed. She knew. What was she trying to precipitate? Did she want Proxy? She was looking into his eyes and he shivered feverishly, knowing that she was staring into his soul and reading all its secrets.
"I've connected all the dots already, so you can stop with the morning-time voyeurism and move on. You have my permission."
Just above her thumb, his lip quivered. They were in the bathroom all over again, the steel in her voice and the firmness of her hand and the closeness of her heat and her trailing fingers down his neck planting themselves on his chest—
– promptly shoved him out of her way.
"Uwah!" Vincent tripped and fell backwards onto the deck of the Thousand Rabbits. On his back, he stared upwards at her, completely mystified.
Complacently, she flipped something onto his chest that landed with a light thud.
Vincent sneezed a small cloud of shimmering powder, and realized when the dust settled, that he was staring cross-eyed at her eyeshadow set.
"Knock yourself out. I think you'll want to go with green."
03/01/2012: I revised it slightly. The earlier ending really bugged me. I'm now preparing to write the next chapter and maybe redo this one if I have the time.
26/06/2011: Thanks for being so patient. I just really had no ideas about what to do until recently – I started on Mistletoe and then it went into a completely different direction. I liked the idea that self-control is a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde switch for Vince. I might redo this completely later if it hate it in the morning, so R&R with your impressions/suggestions for me to make it work better.