M-21 exhaled as the big metal door swished open, revealing a pristine lab behind it. He didn't recognise some of the machines on sight, but it was still a lab, from the tiled floor to the bare walls. No windows. He knew they were underground from the flight of stairs he and Frankenstein had taken down from inside the house, and he'd hated every step.
He'd spent three years trying his hardest to stay out of labs and here he was, walking into one.
Not willingly, but Frankenstein had 'suggested' a check-up and he'd been so tired he couldn't think of a way out of it.
He was back in a lab and this time, the scientist knew he could transform. He couldn't run: Frankenstein and his master were too strong, and where would he go? He would end up in the Union's hands otherwise. Frankenstein wouldn't be much better -all scientists were the same- but at least here, M-21 hadn't been the cause of death of some of their favourite modified humans.
Frankenstein had slipped on a white lab coat while he'd been distracted and M-21's gaze skittered over it. Not a single stain marred its appearance and dread squeezed his gut as he made himself walk closer. This was it. Now the scientist was going to play with his insides like he was some toy.
"If you could lie here please," Frankenstein said, gesturing to a flat metal bed attached to a machine taller than M-21. The machine had a hole big enough to crawl through that looked like the bed would slide into. No restraints. Was he going to be drugged during this? But that would be a kindness scientists didn't have.
M-21 lay on the table, sucking in a breath when his back hit the cold metal. Concentrate on that. The feeling wouldn't last for long, but it would be a distraction and he needed anything he could use.
"This won't take long," Frankenstein murmured, pressing a button on the machine. That's what all scientists said. They weren't the ones being experimented on.
The machine whirred, waking up, and lights snapped on at his head. His bed hummed and slid him into the machine.
Shit. Shitshitshit! Automated surgery? If he moved wrong... Or was Frankenstein controlling it from outside?
M-21's blood roared as a band of light passed over him, his heart trying to smash out of his chest again. It was going to start soon; he had to brace hi-
The lights shut down and the table moved out of the machine.
Frankenstein was standing next to the table as M-21 came out, a smile on the scientist's face. The scientist knew how much that had panicked him and was enjoying every - there was something black folded in his hands. Clothes?
"That'll be all for today," Frankenstein said, holding the black thing out for him.
M-21 sat up, swinging his legs over the table to collect what Frankenstein was handing to him. He shook it out and it was a long-sleeved black top.
"That's it?" escaped his mouth, and fuck, he had to be exhausted if he was saying stuff without thinking first. Why question an easy time with a scientist?
Frankenstein nodded, going back to the one of the monitors on the machine. "You have enhanced healing—" M-21 was able to hide his scoff; his was nothing compared to well-made recently modified humans. "—and you're mending nicely."
Frankenstein studied the monitor for a couple more seconds before turning to him again. "Master awakening you also healed more of your wounds," he added. "There's not much for me to do but monitor your progress in case something goes awry."
Waiting for him to be at full health before examining how his body had been modified? That...was considerate.
That wasn't how it worked in the Union. Where were the threats, the demanding of answers, the taking of whatever they wanted?
Or maybe...the scan had been enough? Frankenstein had his data now. Maybe his scans could pick up different information than Union ones. Shit. What use did he have to Frankenstein and his master now? Was that it? Was he going to be killed now?
Frankenstein looked at him, one eye brow raising slightly. Frankenstein was expecting something from him. But what?
"Is the top too small?" Frankenstein asked, his gaze going towards the clothing in M-21's hand.
...Ah. M-21 pulled it on. It fit, almost like it had been made for him. Frankenstein must have gotten the measurements while scanning him as well and picked something out.
"That'll be all for now," Frankenstein said, turning away and M-21 stared at his back before he pulled himself together.
"All right..." he said, leaving the lab.
...What just happened...?
M-21 made his way back into the house part of the front, letting out a small breath of relief once the door shut behind him. He was still inside an organisation building, but he wasn't in a lab anymore.
His feet lead him to the living room area, and he paused at seeing Frankenstein's master there, a steaming cup in his hand.
Frankenstein's master looked at him, and then his gaze drifted down to the floor, like he was looking through it.
Frankenstein's master closed his eyes and sighed, setting his cup down. "Frankenstein is distracted, so I will show your room."
His room? M-21 followed him up another flight of stairs. There was a balcony at the end of the corridor with a number of doors along each side and Frankenstein's master led him to one of the centre ones.
Inside was a desk and chair, a chest of drawers, and a single bed in the corner away from the window.
Clean, like the lab. Unused. No-one else was there.
In fact... He'd only seen Frankenstein and his master during his time here. That was strange.
"Where's everyone else?" It couldn't be because it was the middle of the night: there was always people around.
Frankenstein's master blinked at him. "There is no-one else. This room is yours."
That...wasn't what he was asking, but...
Frankenstein's master walked off before he could say anything else and M-21 retreated into the room before he made a fool out of himself. Again.
This room was...his? And only his? His room in the Union had been twice the size, but he'd shared it with his comrades. They hadn't had beds either.
He shook his head. This had to be a trick to lower his guard. There were no mirrors, but they would have hidden cameras watching him. They always did.
His gaze wandered to the bed. The single bed. Because there wasn't a need for another.
M-21's breath stuttered, his heart aching at the thought of '24.
He couldn't cry here. They were watching. He couldn't show more weakness than he had. He'd grieved enough already. He had to keep going, like every other time his comrades had died. The ones who had gotten lost in their grief were useless to the Union and were killed for that. He couldn't afford to break down.
Even though -
Even though '24 had been his last -
M-21 scrubbed at his eyes. He couldn't cry again.
Through blurred vision, M-21 checked the rest of his room. There was a clothing cupboard built into the wall with a sliding door, and he even had his own bathroom.
The bed was...nice. Sturdy. With a blanket and a pillow. All this was for h — no, it wouldn't be. M-21 shook his head again. There would be a catch for all this, something M-21 would have to pay back later.
He didn't have anything else to leverage aside from some basic knowledge about how the Union worked and maybe information of where some of the Union labs were in the world. But he was still able to follow orders. He wasn't as strong as other modified humans, but he would be able to do most things.
He hurt... Everything did. And it wasn't going to be something that that went away as easily as his physical wounds.
M-21 climbed on top of the blanket, his back to the wall and curled up there, trying to control his breathing.
M-21 jolted awake and he blinked, taking in his surroundings. Empty room, lots of space, no-one else there. What—? He'd fallen asleep?
He turned his head towards a knock, coming from the door. He waited, but nothing else happened.
"M-21?" Frankenstein's voice was muffled through the door. "Are you awake?"
"Yeah." M-21 moved so his feet were over the side of the bed and he wiped at his eyes with the heel of his palm, making sure to get rid of the dried tear marks. Must have happened while he was sleeping.
"Can I come in?"
M-21 stared at the door. Why was Frankenstein asking? This was his building. Frankenstein didn't need his permission to go anywhere.
"...Yeah," M-21 said as he stood up, placing his hands behind his back, standing at ease.
When Frankenstein opened the door, he paused at seeing M-21. "There's no need for that," Frankenstein said as he walked in, shaking his head.
But Frankenstein was a scientist. That was what he was supposed to do when interacting with them. M-21 had tested the boundaries earlier (and had gotten a phone out of it), but Frankenstein was going to give him an order now. This was different.
But Frankenstein had also said he didn't have to stand at ease...
M-21 relaxed, dropping his arms to his side, watching the scientist.
Frankenstein smiled at that. Huh. It wasn't a test to see if he would stop being obedient with him?
"Now," Frankenstein said, "breakfast will be ready in ten minutes so we'll see you downstairs then."
M-21 blinked. He was getting breakfast? "...All right," he said, seeing Frankenstein leave.
What was he supposed to do for ten minutes? He could get ready, not that there was much to do.
This all had to be a cruel joke, one that was going to revealed soon. He didn't actually have a room of his own and he would be led to the box where all the other low level agents were.
His nose twitched when he opened the door, smelling food. That part had at least been true...
He followed the scents and paused at the living room. The table had been laid out with food, three empty plates already in front of chairs. Not a cafeteria? M-21 looked around, just in case, and Frankenstein was bringing another plate of food. Frankenstein's master was sitting at the end of the table, gazing at the big bowl in the middle. Ramen?
"Ah," Frankenstein said, smiling at M-21 while putting the plate down. "Take a seat."
At the table? With noblesse, and one of them was a scientist? Scientists didn't share food or tables with modified humans, let alone a low agent like him. But it was an order, so M-21 nodded, taking the seat closest to him. It put his back to the door, but so did the other seat.
They must have asked him to sit with them so they could observe him more, or they'd done something to the food, so he couldn't fuck up here.
Frankenstein served his master the ramen so that was safe to eat.
"You can start," Frankenstein said, chuckling. "No need to wait for us."
"There's a lot of food here," M-21 said, stalling. Though he wasn't lying: the entire table had been filled with plates that each had a different kind of food on it. There was enough to feed him for an entire week.
Frankenstein peered at the plates before choosing some meat from a centre plate. M-21 reached for that as well. "Really? This should be enough for the three of us, but if not, I have more in the kitchen."
There was more? Did noblesse eat differently from humans?
It wasn't something he had to respond to, so he didn't. He followed what Frankenstein and his master ate (though Frankenstien's master only ate the ramen), taking from the same plates.
When M-21 was halfway done, Frankenstein said, "How did you sleep?"
M-21 paused, the chopsticks hovering in the air. He glanced at Frankenstein to double-check he was talking to him. Frankenstein was looking at him. "Fine." What was he checking for? Why was he asking?
Frankenstein nodded, taking more food from different plates. "If there are any problems, just let me know."
M-21 almost snorted. He would never willingly go to a scientist's lab and admit he didn't feel his best. "Of course."
It had been a few minutes since he'd started eating and there hadn't been any adverse effects. Good. He'd chosen the right ones.
It didn't take him long to finish the rest of the food on his plate, and he set the chopsticks down.
"Have you finished eating?" Frankenstein asked, filling his own plate again.
"All right. If you leave your plate in the sink, I'll wash it once we're done."
M-21 blinked, then nodded. "...All right," he said as he stood up. That was all Frankenstein was going to say?
He did as Frankenstein ordered and left the room.
But there wasn't much to do in the room they'd given him but stare at the walls or dwell on his still healing injuries.
Which left him to think about M-24.
He couldn't. He couldn't do that. Not now.
He had to do something. Get out.
But first he would have to tell Frankenstein or his master.
He found Frankenstein in the kitchen area, putting the last of the plates away. "Is there something you need, M-21?"
M-21 nodded. "I'm going out for-" Shit. He didn't know how long. "-a bit."
"Ah, before I forget..." Frankenstein dried his hands on a small towel before patting one of his pockets and pulled something out. Frankenstein lobbed it M-21 in a straight line.
Small. Shiny. Something that rang with a metallic jingle. M-21 caught it and glanced at what he'd caught.
It was a set of keys. "You're just giving me these?" He hadn't been here for even a day. He'd never been allowed to have that at the Union, always having to confirm his identity at the front door when he entered.
"The alternative would be for you to break in," Frankenstein said. He continued on, muttering, "And I've had enough trouble with that already."
Someone had tried to break into an organisation's building? "Fine." Frankenstein hadn't mentioned patrolling the area and he wasn't going to bring it up.
"Be sure to be back for dinner — the table will be set at seven."
No question of being exact on how long he'd be outside. ...He was going to get two meals in one day?
Still thinking that over, M-21 left the house after pocketing the keys.
M-21 wandered the city. Taking to the rooftops was fine, his injuries not hindering him that much.
It didn't help with distracting him from thinking about M-24.
This was what he used to do with '24 between missions: gaze out at the horizon from on top of the tallest buildings they could find, away from as many people as they could. They usually couldn't sleep at night, one person waking up from nightmares, so they would watch the sun rise together instead.
He was free as he could be from the Union. He was in a different organisation, but at least for the moment, he didn't have to stress about Frankenstein locking him up in the lab and examining him after finding out he could transform.
But he didn't want to be free alone. That was why he had stayed when his body had rejected the pills. He could have ran once he realised he no longer needed the pills, but that would have meant leaving '24 behind, and he had lost too many of his comrades already.
M-21's breathing was hitching and he tried to control it again. This organisation seemed to be a better place, less tense, but he would have preferred being in the Union if it meant he was still with '24, if it meant '24 was still alive.
He closed his eyes, feeling tears building up.
But...'24 had sacrificed himself for this. For him to be free. So he had to keep going, make sure he lived and stayed out of the Union's hands to not waste '24's sacrifice.
It still hurt to think about and M-21 couldn't do anything to repress the hurt in his heart.
He could only open his eyes and stare up at the sky, watching the clouds drift overhead.
M-21 wasn't sure how long he stayed there or what he did afterwards, just drifting around, letting his feet decide where to go, but when he returned to Frankenstein's house he had a clearer head.
"Ah, just in time," Frankenstein said, smiling, when he entered the house. There were two filled plates in Frankenstein's hands. "Dinner will be ready shortly."
M-21 nodded, waiting. There were no orders to help, even though Frankenstein continued to carry the food over.
Dinner had been the same as breakfast, but with different food, except for ramen being made again. It was served first to Frankenstein's master as well, so that had to be his favourite food.
There had been no effects from when M-21 had eaten the food either. They were probably waiting for him to lower his guard before adding anything to the food.
When M-21 went to the room that had been given to him, he stared at the bed.
He didn't want to lie on it. That would have him in a too vulnerable position if he was attacked during the night. He curled up with his back to the wall instead, listening.
The room was too quiet.
He was used to '24's presence, his breathing, hearing him moving around.
M-21 closed his eyes, trying to listen for familiar sounds that would never come again.
Breakfast the next morning was the same as the previous day's. The exact same.
There were no heavy hints about what he should be doing, no covert or overt threats either. Only Frankenstein asking him how he'd slept.
They had taken him in for a reason. To work at Frankenstein's school, but that hadn't been mentioned again. So what did they want him for? There had to be something he was missing, something he hadn't picked up on yet.
Somebody would have given him orders by now... He hadn't seen anyone else in the building apart from Frankenstein and his master.
Only those two in an organisation building in the middle of a busy city? It didn't make sense. If it was just the two of them in the building, then they needed all the help they could get.
So why hadn't they made him do anything yet?
M-21 wandered the city after breakfast. He...didn't know what to do.
He was used to the waiting periods between missions, relaxing with what little free time he had with '24. But that was waiting for something they would know would come.
Now, he didn't know what to expect, when it would come. He just knew that something would happen to prove that Frankenstein and his master were the same as being in the Union.
Because it couldn't be this perfect. Frankenstein and his master had to want something from him and they were building up favours that he couldn't refuse to pay back. Not that he would be able to refuse an order anyway since they'd taken him away from the Union.
Or maybe they'd kept him on a loose leash because they were expecting him to run back to the Union. To prove he'd betrayed them, or maybe to attack the building. Whichever.
M-21 snorted, the wind starting to pick up. He was never going to return to the Union.
Though... He traced the familiar lines of the tattoo along his wrist. He was going to have to at one point, to fulfil his promise to his comrades. But he wasn't going to return to rejoin the Union.
When M-21 returned to the house front, it was noisier than usual. So some other scientists had finally arrived?
He walked in and paused.
It was the brats from before, clustered around the table, food and drink piled over it.
They were laughing at something, the red-haired one flailing his arms as he squawked an answer. They had none of the slowness or distractibility he was used to seeing from people who had been given the Union memory pill.
The power of a noblesse was that strong and precise, huh...
"Ah, ahjussi!" Fuck. The brats were smiling at him, their eyes wide. "Come join us! Ik-han needs all the help he can get!"
The one with glasses whirled on the redhead. "Hey! I could beat you by myself!"
So they didn't recognise him at all.
Frankenstein's master glanced at him while the brats bickered and M-21 recognised that look. Of course he wasn't going to reveal what the brats had been made to forget.
"Join Ik-han's side, ahjussi!"
"Ah..." A quick glance at Frankenstein and his master showed they were willing for him to play along, neither of them warning him away.
"Great! You sit there and we'll get started. You know how to play this, right?"
'This' being a board game. There was a winding path leading from the edge of the board curling in towards the center, two stacks of cards placed on the side.
"Yeah." It looked easy enough, and he should be able to figure out what other additional rules there were by observing what the brats did.
The game was as easy as M-21 thought it would be but the hairs at the back of his neck prickled at an aura pressing down in the air.
He peeked out the corner of his eyes and Frankenstein was standing there, his whole body stiff with a forced smile on his face, a muscle in his cheek twitching.
Shit. Whatever Frankenstein was angry about, the scientist would take it out on him once the brats left.
"Is that the time?" one of the brats exclaimed, and the three brats tumbled out the house, waving at them in goodbye.
The room was silent once they were gone, and M-21 sat there, waiting for the scientist's explosion.
It didn't happen.
"How can three children make so much mess in so little time?" Frankenstein muttered as he picked up the wrappers that had been left behind, stacking plates on top of each other.
Frankenstein continued to mutter, but none of it was directed at M-21 and there were no orders to help clean up either. Had he forgotten M-21 was there?
M-21 slipped away when the scientist turned his back to throw the wrappers in the trash.
Frankenstein's master watched him leave but didn't order him to stay, and M-21 was a little glad for that.
M-21 sighed as he sat back on the bed that had been given to him. So he knew what set off Frankenstein's anger now, but what did he know about the scientist's master? He hadn't spent much time observing him.
Shit. He'd been lax, too distracted by '24's death.
He was an a new but old situation. He needed to get his head together and figure out what the dangers were and how to avoid them.
There was a knock at the door and M-21 blinked, looking at it. "I'm here."
Frankenstein opened the door, and M-21 tensed. Had Frankenstein cleaned up the mess before deciding to take his anger out on him?
There was a folded pile of clothes in Frankenstein's arms and M-21 tried to figure out what they were. One of them was striped white and blue, M-21 could see that much, but that was about it.
"I realised you only had one pair of clothes, so I brought you some spare ones."
M-21 stared at Frankenstein, not quite able to grasp what was going on. That was it? "What do you want me to do?" Because there had to be a catch.
Frankenstein frowned, tilting his head. "Well, I would prefer if you took them from me," he said, his voice wry.
...There was no catch? Nothing he had to do or give for them? He'd had to demand a phone before but he was just being given clothes? ...He hadn't had to do anything for Frankenstein or his master for the phone either, in fact...
"All right..." M-21 took the pile from Frankenstein, who then left with a smile, and M-21 closed the door again, still staring at the clothes. They smelled new. No chemicals, no blood. He checked the inside and the hems and nothing had been adjusted or added to them to hurt him.
He'd...just been given new clothes for no reason?
After Frankenstein had been angry? Why hadn't the scientist taken his anger out on him?
M-21 changed into the new clothes and they fit. Just what was Frankenstein doing...?
Shit. M-21 shook his head. He couldn't find anything out by sitting in this room or avoiding them. He had to know what the landmines were and what to do to butter the pair up.
He went downstairs to the living room area and found Frankenstein's master sitting on the sofa, reading a book with tea in front of him.
Frankenstein's master didn't acknowledge his presence, continuing to read his book.
M-21 stayed there for a few minutes but that was all Frankenstein's master continued to do.
He would need to observe at a different time, maybe when the brats were around again.
M-21 had nothing to lose going to see Frankenstein. The scientist already knew he could transform and had his current data. M-21 closed his eyes and exhaled. He'd been far too distracted lately: he hadn't even tried to hack into Frankenstein's database to change his information.
And he should start paying the scientist back for everything the pair had done for him before the scientist started making demands. At least M-21 would have some control then.
As M-21 walked deeper into the lab, he paid more attention to his surroundings than the last time he had gone there.
It...didn't feel like a Union lab. There was no chemical bite in the air, no blood or fear. The only scents he could smell were his own. In fact... It just smelled of food?
What was Frankenstein creating here?
Frankenstein was there, in a white lab coat again. When the scientist noticed him, Frankenstein's face lit up. "Ah, just in time! You're the person I need right now."
Shit, there it was. M-21 braced himself for whatever order the scientist was going to give him.
"This way." The scientist led him deeper into the lab, the machines humming and steaming away as they made whatever they were told to.
But... There was still no chemical taint in the air; it smelled of vegetables and there was a faint bite that scratched the inside of his nose.
M-21 was led to a different room with a machine that took up an entire wall, a conveyor belt connected the different parts.
"Now," the scientist said to him, pressing a button on the machine, the conveyor starting to move, "this is of utmost importance and I will need your input, so please be truthful about your comments."
Hah. Unlikely. He would say whatever the scientist wanted to hear.
Out of one of the machines trundled - a bowl of ramen? M-21 stared at it, trying to understand what he was seeing. Maybe the scientist was testing if a poison was undetectable by scent and taste.
"You want me to eat that." Maybe the scientist wanted him to bring it to his master, or comment on the presentation.
The scientist nodded, pulling out a set of chopsticks from beside the machine. "Yes. Is that too much? I could give you smaller portions if you like."
...Was the scientist that oblivious? "It's fine," M-21 said, taking the chopsticks the scientist offered him.
The hairs on M-21's neck prickled, knowing the scientist was watching him as he went over to the bowl. Should he have taken the smaller portion? It would mean he would have gotten less of whatever the ramen was laced with. Maybe the ramen was the distraction and it was the chopsticks that had been altered with something.
The bowl was hot to the touch, but M-21 ate quickly to get it over with. The scientist hummed, which made M-21 eat faster, wanting to leave.
He hadn't felt anything reacting by the time he'd finished. Not a big enough dose?
The scientist peered at him, a clipboard in his hand. "How did it taste?"
"Fine." It hadn't made him gag, at least.
The scientist hummed again. "Not too salty? Nothing overwhelming the taste?"
"No?" M-21 hadn't paid attention to the taste, more focused on the early signs of his body being affected by whatever was in the ramen.
The scientist nodded and wrote something down. "Thank you. If you could come again tomorrow for the next batch, it would be much appreciated."
M-21 blinked as the scientist turned away, switching the machine off. That was it? He'd just wanted a bowl of ramen eaten?
The scientist didn't say anything more at him, so M-21 left the lab, full after that meal.
What did the pair want from him? Neither of them seemed interested in using him, not for missions or ordering him to do something.
Then why was he here? What was his purpose? Was he being kept around with nothing to do because he was that useless? Then they should have killed him.
He couldn't predict what they were going to do, and that was what also set his teeth on edge. If he couldn't predict what they were going to do, he couldn't plan how to avoid it. It was how he had survived in the Union for so long.
What was he supposed to do? Ask when they were going to use him? Remind them they hadn't done anything with him, when that could make them realise how useless he was? No, he couldn't do that.
Maybe there was a pattern to their actions; he just couldn't see it yet.
M-21 went back to the living room, intent on observing Frankenstein's master again.
Frankenstein's master was in the same place he'd been in before, except he'd finished his tea now. M-21 watched him as he refilled his tea and then sat where he had been before.
He knew Frankenstein's master had seen him; he'd been standing in the kitchen area. He hadn't tried to hide, but Frankenstein's master hadn't given him an order to even make his tea either.
If they weren't going to order him around, why was he here? What did they want from him?
"We do not want anything from you," Frankenstein's master said, and M-21 blinked, focusing on him again.
He really was slipping. He was that easy to read? M-21 scowled, covering whatever expression he'd had before. "Yeah? Then why'd you take me in?" They had to have something in mind for him. He had to be useful for something for them to want him there.
"You had nowhere else to go."
M-21 didn't have an instant retort to that comment as he stared at Frankenstein's master. It...was true, but that couldn't be their only reason.
Frankenstein's master gave him a long look before sipping his tea and turning back to his book.
So that was the conversation over.
M-21 had a lot to think about anyway, so he retreated back to the room he'd been given.
He hadn't been there for long before there was a knock at the door.
M-21 turned away from the window. "You can come in." He was getting used to saying that. Was this what it felt like to be a scientist, making someone else wait on the other side for his approval to come in? But it was Frankenstein that had more power than him...
Unsurprisingly it was Frankenstein at his door, with another set of folded clothes in his arms. More clothes without a catch? What did they want from him?
"Why are you doing this?" M-21 asked before Frankenstein said anything. He couldn't understand the pair, what was going to happen in this organisation, and that was what worried him. Scared him. Nothing the pair did made sense.
"All the guards at the school have to wear a uniform unfortunately," Frankenstein said with a light chuckle.
That wasn't what he meant. Again, Frankenstein answered like he didn't understand what M-21 was really asking. He was supposed to earn his keep here, but it wasn't being held over his head like a threat like it would be in the Union.
Frankenstein gazed at him before looking down at the clothes. "Do you know how to put on a tie? I can show you if you like."
M-21 snorted. "Yeah, I know." He'd been made to help a few scientists with their ties before. He'd never worn one himself and wouldn't want to. It was too grabbable.
Frankenstein smiled as M-21 took the uniform from him and then left.
He was still no closer to figuring the pair out.
Did they really want nothing from him? M-21 put the uniform on the desk, sitting next to it. They hadn't demanded anything from him. Frankenstein wanted him to work at his school but hadn't made him start instantly. Neither of them had kept checking on him, suspicious he was doing something wrong. Being given keys so he could come and go whenever he wanted.
And for the meals... He thought they'd wanted him to eat with them because they'd wanted to observe him, or test food on him. But if that wasn't it... Then he'd been eating with them like an equal...?
Was that why he couldn't understand them? Because he'd been thinking about them wrong, making the wrong assumptions? The Union scientists had always wanted something from him. A use. Always reminding him of his inferior position.
Frankenstein and his master weren't doing the same, because they didn't see him like that.
He wasn't just an agent for them to order around to them?
But if he was wrong about that assumption as well...
M-21 closed his eyes and sighed. He would need to confront them. If he was wrong and the pair were the same as the Union, then at least he would know. If he was right... It would then stop most of his confusion.
It was easy to find where Frankenstein was — all M-21 had to do was follow his nose.
Cooking again? It was near the time for dinner, so it made sense.
Frankenstein was in the kitchen like he'd expected, going between multiple sizzling pans with a practiced air, humming as he did so.
M-21 wasn't sure what gave him away, but Frankenstein turned towards him, smiling. "Yes?"
M-21 squared his shoulders. "You don't act like the Union," he said. Frankenstein wouldn't react like he'd expect. He knew that. But there was another part that was waiting to be proven right, that Frankenstein and his master were the same as the Union, just on a smaller scale.
Frankenstein snorted, putting a lid on one of the pans and switching the fire off. "I should hope not. We don't act like those people at the Union because we're not."
"You're still a scientist," M-21 said, frowning. They were all the same. He'd seen Frankenstein's lab.
"That may be the case," Frankenstein said, "but I put a far higher value on life and the treatment of such than Union scientists." His voice was disparaging, his eyes narrowed. He snorted again. "Not that that's hard to do in comparison.
"Science is meant to be used to help people," Frankenstein continued, "not exploit them."
M-21 crossed his arms. "It still gets used that way." It didn't matter how it was 'meant' to be used if other people used it to hurt others.
"Yes," Frankenstein said, his shoulders slumping slightly. "Unfortunately it does."
M-21 studied Frankenstein, still unsure what to make of him. Was he being sincere or was he putting on an act to gain his trust?
"So..." M-21 said, watching Frankenstein. He had to make sure. "That room is mine?"
Frankenstein blinked, his eyebrows drawing in in confusion. "Of course it is."
"And the clothes."
They'd...been telling the truth this whole time? "There aren't any cameras in the room?"
Frankenstein actually grimaced at his words. "As I said: that room is yours. What you do in there is none of our business."
M-21 stared at him. Frankenstein sounded like he was telling the truth, but what he was saying...
What else had he assumed that was wrong?
"You said I needed to earn my keep."
Frankenstein cleared his throat, ending in a soft chuckle. "You'll be paid of course, but some of the expenses will be taken from that."
M-21 was never going to get used to this. To all this that was being given to him. "I'm being paid?" He was getting money as well? Regularly?
"Of course you are," Frankenstein said. "Were you expecting-" He halted, gazing at him, his eyes wider.
M-21 shrugged, not liking that look of dawning realisation of what his life must have been like. Frankenstein really hadn't understood his questions before. "We didn't get money from the Union aside from some money for food."
"I see..." Frankenstein sighed, shaking his head. "We're not the Union," Frankenstein repeated, and this time, M-21 felt like he might be able to believe that. "You're a person here and you'll be treated as such."
"...Yeah." Unsure of what to do or say, M-21 retreated.
He spent dinner in a daze, not checking what Frankenstein or his master ate first before putting it on his plate. Because he knew he wasn't being tested. That the food would be fine.
It was freeing.
Afterwards, he went to the room - his room. It was his room. It...belonged to him.
He sat down on the bed, hands fisting the cover under him. All his.
He leaned back, staring at the ceiling.
What would '24 think about all this? He would think they'd been extremely lucky finding this pair. Probably laugh over how wrong they'd been. With every thought, M-21's chest hurt more, but he couldn't stop, tears welling up. Because he could cry again now. No-one was watching. No-one else was there with him.
They would have had two beds, or had maybe been given two rooms. The building was big enough for it. They would have slept in the same room anyway, because that was what they'd always done.
He curled up on the bed with stuttering breaths, squeezing his eyes shut as his tears flowed from them.
M-21 stared up at the ceiling, sunlight through his window hitting it.
He felt better than he had in a while. Not because '24 was gone, but the tension of living under constant surveillance and checking what he had to say and do was gone.
He didn't know what the new day would bring, what Frankenstein or his master would do. The only thing he knew was it wouldn't be what he'd expect.
He could live with that.