Leaving the set of QQQ is hazy. Re-L only remembers fragments of some kind of argument with the autoreives, drifting in and out of focus like cereal in milk. At some point it became clear their prizes would not fit on the Centzon Totochtin. She doesn't remember who ended it or how, but they came to themselves parked in the wasteland once more. No dome in sight. There was, if not a lifetime's supply, at least several months' worth of beans where none had been previously.

Vincent said it was considerate.

How revolting.

She'd kept him company at the helm for the next few hours, which started as an exercise between shock and frustration ("Mr. Dynamite, Vincent? Mr. Dynamite?") but eventually found a more comfortable rhythm.

"To be honest," she'd said, "I didn't take you for someone who paid attention to music. That's a surprise."

And Vincent smiled in that way he did, tilting his chin down and averting his eyes like he'd been caught doing something embarrassing. Apologizing to furniture he'd bumped into, perhaps. "I like music," he answered quietly. Then, after several moments, "Mostly I listened to the same things over and over again in Romdeau."

Re-L snorted. "That shit drives me crazy." But, after a pause, "What songs did you like?"

He forgot some of the names, unsurprisingly. Most of the names. But he remembered enough of them to hum. At a certain point, Re-L remembered too.

It would have felt incomplete not to sing.

Still. She didn't expect him to take that as permission.

To be honest Vincent's voice wasn't bad. He was softer than she was, a little under his breath, the corners of his mouth tugging into a self-deprecating expression. By the time he joined in they were almost done anyhow so there weren't many words left.

"Why did you start that way, if you knew how it went the whole time?" she'd asked.

And Vincent, looking at his shoes, had only shrugged. The longer she studied him not answering, the more obvious his answer became.

She didn't ask him questions for a while, after that.

Now, with Pino above deck trying to spot the Boomerang Star through unlikely clouds, they clean dishes. Dinner was spam this time, spam and beans and instant potatoes to celebrate their victory. Re-L finds herself watching Vincent closely once more.

She has low tolerance for heat so this is one of the chores he takes. Steam rises around the bunched sleeves at his elbows. She dries.

He's humming one of the songs again, barely a whisper. It's the sort of thing that makes her think he might be worried she'll notice, or he maybe he wants her to.

She has to notice. They're too close.

But Re-L only narrows her eyes and asks him, "Why do you do that to your hair?"

It stops him in a heartbeat. He turns. Something tightens inside her, not in her throat but lower. Re-L wonders if she's sorry.

"What?" asks Vincent, lost. Off-balance.

She takes the last plate out of his hands to leave him hovering. She runs a towel over it. "Your hair, earlier. It was stupid. You did it in Romdeau too."

"S-Sorry?" says Vincent, lowering his arms slowly at first before realizing halfway through that the sink is still on. He fixes that without redirecting himself, back to the basin. Re-L puts the plate on the counter with everything else. This places her directly in front of him, which is even closer. That's fine. Vincent stares at her, mute for some moments, then manages, "I'm not sure what you mean, Re-L…"

She sighs, fast and sharp. He's not much taller than her so it isn't much of a reach.

"Hey—" begins Vincent, and all she has to do is press her lips together. He lets her continue.

It's coarser than hers, very male. Not greasy though. This conversation would have gone differently if it looked greasy. She doesn't bother with knots so much as she might have and focuses instead on smoothing him into a rough approximation of himself, as he offended her. His face looks rounder than it is this way.

Re-L pauses. Finds the strands near the back of his skull that always escape his attentions. Pokes them into place.

"Stupid," she says at last, and smiles, and cannot keep the laugh lines from her eyes. "You shouldn't do it."

They are too close.

Only close.

Vincent doesn't seem to know what to do with it. "I…" he begins. Stops. Looks away, toward the door. "…I kind of like it. It's neat."

That makes her roll her eyes, and this time she is ruthless. "Neat," says Re-L, dragging fingers and palms back and forth over his scalp, ruining all her work, "is boring. It makes you look like an egg."

"Ow! I'm not an egg!" he whines, but actually inclines his face toward her instead of stepping away.

Re-L shows her teeth. It might be too cold to call a grin. "You actually have hair that looks good when you don't bother and you do that to it. You idiot." She removes her hands, admires the gravity-defying masterpiece she's created. "Mr. Dynamite."

He actually has the grace to look appalled this time. Mouth slack, eyes wide. Crowned in a true rat's nest.

Her expression carefully, deliberately shifts into something more reserved. She makes a point of occasionally looking at other things, like the pile of cutlery that still needs to be put away. "It's really obnoxious, seeing you waste all that effort. You're better off just leaving it alone."

Slowly, he closes his mouth. She can feel him staring at her, but the cutlery is very interesting. Neither of them moves to put it away.


"Huh?" she says, finding him again. Vincent's face is red, his eyes are wide. Quickly he brings his hands up between them as if that might somehow help translate.

"N-not that I don't like how you look with it up. It's very nice, I… your taste is good. I don't mean you taste good, you taste fine, I mean your taste. Sorry! Sorry, I just mean it isn't something you need. You're not like me about it," and he laughs, redder still, stuck between manic and terrified, scanning cabinets for something improbable as an escape, "it's not stupid. You're not stupid. You just don't have to try so hard either, looking nice." He could have ended there. Maybe he really does have a death wish. "I think you're pretty when you wake up."

There's no question, he's made himself the most fascinating thing in the room now. With his shoulders raised almost to his ears, leaning back, grinning like a lunatic at the gallows, she finds herself staring. Doesn't stop.

She keeps her teeth to herself, this time. "To be honest," says Re-L slowly, as if to a moron, "I've kept my hair down for most of my life already. It bores me." Then she stops. Re-evaluates. "No, that's not true. I'm still a slave to routine. But having the help is… nice. I guess."

His shoulders lower, bit by bit. He's not leaning away anymore and his expression has softened into something she can believe in. "...I'd miss it too," Vincent murmurs. Confidential.

It is not a dull face.

So after a heartbeat's consideration she moves in, meets his cheek with her lips.

"Surprise me next time."