Ben sat cross-legged on the floor of the hangar. He stared at the wriggling screwdriver in his hands, the metal freezing in place as he lost concentration. Boss and Zee entered the hangar. He looked up. Normal, them coming home. His eyes drifted towards Zee, as they always did. He stared at her. At her face. At the new, reddening bruise on her cheek.
He stood. But in the moment before he opened his mouth, shocked words primed, Zee’s expression silenced him. Fear in her eyes and a shifting glance towards Boss kicked him in the stomach. Zee hurried to her apartment, and Boss huffed and escaped to her private apartments below the hangar.
Alone under the bright lights, Ben looked down at the screwdriver in his hands. It had transformed into a jagged, spiked piece of metal. He dropped it and stumbled towards Zee’s door. He raised his hand to knock, but the door slid open. Zee stood there, and when she saw him right outside she turned her face aside quickly.
“I just forgot to set the security system,” she said. She shouldered past him, but he touched her hand, warm, gentle. She stopped.
“I’m fine,” Zee said, avoiding his eyes.
He reached up and brushed away some loose strands of her hair that had fallen over the bruise. He winced. “Sorry,” he said.
Zee gritted her teeth and shoved his hand away. “What are you sorry for?” she snapped.
Zee stepped past him. She moved to the hangar’s entrance and pressed a few buttons on the security panel. The panel beeped a confirmation and when she turned around, her face had set back to expressionlessness.
Ben looked at his feet. “Why did she hit you?”
“Because I briefly forgot that she owns me,” Zee said, her voice even. “You and Rice lull me into a false sense of reality.”
Meeting her gaze, Ben shuffled. “Maybe reality is wrong.”
“You’re the dumbest person I’ve ever met,” Zee said, anger flashing in her eyes. “And a hypocrite. You jumped to Cyntha’s defense because she didn’t like what was happening to her, but you don’t stop to think if I like what you’re doing to me. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want to be Rice’s friend. I don’t like either of you. I don’t want my freedom or to be human. I just want to do my job and stay out of trouble, and I’ve had a really bad day in that regard. Excuse me.”
She stepped into her apartment, but Ben stepped inside after her and the door slid shut behind him. Zee spun around to face him, a thrill of fear speeding her heart. “Y-you can’t come in here,” she said. It wasn’t true. He could do whatever he wanted.
“Well, you can’t just run away after…”
Ben blinked and looked around. He looked at her tiny mirror, makeup masks stacked neatly in clear boxes, the straps that held her vertically when she slept, a partially open panel that housed her folded clothes. Neat writing labeled each panel and button.
Zee backed against the far wall of the tiny cylindrical room, but in the small space, that did not put much room between her and Ben. “You can’t be in here,” she said, angry tears welling in her eyes. “This is my private space.” They never came in her cylinder. Never ever. Her lip trembled. “Get out,” she said.
Ben’s gaze settled on her face and her tears. His jaw dropped. “Gods, sorry,” he said, the words cracking. Zee pressed herself against the wall, as far away from him as she could. “Uh.” Ben fumbled behind his back for the door, then turned and frantically searched for the button to open the door.
It slid open and he stumbled outside. Zee closed the door behind him.
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