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To say Ray was starting to show more emotion is a bit of an understatement.

Having been a little over a year since she and Zack were reunited, she still wears a rather vacant expression. Though, her eyes have a notable shine to them - one that seems to grow brighter with each passing day. She smiles and laughs far more than she used to, and she proclaimed that the reason for it is because she’s with Zack (which - quite frankly - embarrassed him to no end).

Slowly but surely, Ray has been opening up more and more.

At first, Zack didn’t understand it. To be precise, he didn’t understand why seeing her genuine smile and hearing her bubbling laughter didn’t make him want to kill her. If she were anyone else, the girl would have been slaughtered by his hand in an instant.

But she isn’t anyone else, because she’s Ray.

The same Ray who sees and loves him for him. To her, he’s not her future executioner or even a serial killer; in her not-so-lifeless eyes, he’s just Zack. And though he may not admit it out loud, that alone will always mean everything to him.

Sure, Zack didn’t understand this internal conflict at first. Her sincere smile sparked no murderous rampage out of him, but instead, it evoked a foreign yet not unwelcome feeling within him. Instead of wanting to take her life, he wanted to make the girl smile more. He wanted to make her happy.

And judging by her emotionless demeanor changing into one more cheerful and alive, Zack seems to be doing just that.

They still cherish their oath, of course. When the day comes for Ray to pass on, it will be Zack who takes her life. For now, though, they’ve chosen to live together. It had started with Ray declaring she won’t allow him to kill her until he’s safe from the police. She told him that she wouldn’t feel happy or at peace if he kills her with the authorities still after his head. Insisting she continue to make herself useful to Zack until the fated day she dies, Ray asked to stay with him.

And so, still on the run from authorities a year later, here they were.

(Truthfully, Zack had planned to die with Ray that night he broke her out of that mental rehabilitation facility. Even so, he didn’t stop her from proclaiming she would live alongside him for the time being. As long as he’s with her - whether it be in life or death - he doesn’t care. He just wants to forever remain by her side.)

During the year they’ve been together, Zack quickly realized Ray meant a lot to him. He’s even become so comfortable and secure around her that he no longer wears bandages when it’s just the two of them. She’s his family, and he’d go through hell and back over and over again to keep her safe. So, when she started to show more emotion, he encouraged it in subtle ways. It would come in the form of making her laugh with a dumb joke, playfully teasing her so she would smile, have her pout by making a harmless jab at her - the list goes on.

All in all, Ray was starting to open up, while Zack has realized he enjoys making her happy. This causes a chain reaction of sorts, and it’s always Ray catching him off-guard.

And walking into their hotel living room to see her messing with a hair brush and hair bands definitely caught him off-guard.

“The hell are you doing?” He asks, sitting beside her on the couch. The television is on a few feet in front of them, and it seems to be broadcasting some kid's cartoon that caught Ray’s attention.

The girl continues to fiddle with the hair ties, which are a tangled mess. Not looking up from her work, she simply answers with, “I want to put my hair in pigtails.”

“Huh? Why? Your hair’s just fine the way it is!” Zack declares, reaching a hand over to gently tug on one of her long blond locks. He didn’t hurt her, yet she still frowns up at him, causing him to shoot her a cheeky grin.

He lets her hair go once Ray releases a sigh, “Well... I guess I just want to?” She appears a bit sheepish at the admission, looking up at her companion with a small smile. “I haven’t done anything with my hair since I was really young. It’s been years since I cut it or put it up into a special hairdo… So, I suppose I just want to try it out again. Something - something different.”

Zack studies his friend for a moment, noting she has the same embarrassed expression she had back in that building, when she wanted to say goodbye to her floor forever. Geez, she gets embarrassed over really odd things.

Even so, he always caves for her.

“What’re you looking at me like that for? It’s your hair, you don’t need my permission or anything,” the man finally says, turning his attention back towards the television. Ah - damn, it seems they’ve hit a commercial break.

He notices Ray’s smile widen out of the corner of his eye. As she returns to attempting to untangle the bundle of hair ties, she lets out a small, “Yeah.”

Zack snorts before giving her hair a quick, affectionate ruffle. “Weirdo.”

The cartoon resumes a few moments later, and though it’s entertaining enough, Zack finds himself watching his companion more than the actual show. There’s a strange curiosity he has about Ray doing her hair; probably because Zack himself never really did anything with his own. His short black locks were often unruly and messy, and he only ever cut them with a blade whenever the length started to annoy him. It’s not that he particularly cares about how he - or others - present their hair, but he can’t deny that he’s… intrigued to how it’s done; especially when it comes to Ray.

So, with the cartoon mostly being background noise, Zack observes Ray finally pulling apart the multiple hair ties. She picks two of different colors - black and white, go figure - before placing the rest on the coffee table in front of them. It only takes her a matter of minutes to brush her hair apart and slip the bands in. Her friend watches, a bit astonished that she could put her long hair in pigtails with such ease - especially since it’s been years since she's done so - and, she has a lot of hair.

When she finishes her handiwork, her twintails are pulled up high on her head and pool around her waist, causing a lot of her hair to be out of her face now. She still has her bangs parted down the middle, but everything else was pulled into her pigtails. Zack notices her eyes seem bigger and brighter without the excess hair, which causes him to feel slightly perplexed. Who knew something as simple as switching up Ray’s hairstyle could make her look more alive?

The girl plays with her pigtails for a bit, testing them out. Then, she puts the hair brush next to the unused hair ties on the coffee table. She turns to Zack, and is all smiles when she asks, “How does it look?”

Her companion stares down at her for a brief moment before speaking, “You look really different, actually, but…,” he reaches a hand up to run his fingers through one of her twintails. Still soft. “It’s not bad.” He concludes, letting his hand drop.

Ray beams, seemingly happy over both her work and his answer. Then, to his surprise, one of her hands suddenly flies into his own hair.

Zack lightly jumps, a bit startled at her sudden action. He doesn’t rip himself away from her, however, but instead blinks owlishly as her hand begins to run itself through his black locks.

“T-the fuck you think you’re doing?!” He chokes out in a rather high-pitched voice. His tone is both confused and rather accusatory, causing Ray to give him another one of her sheepish smiles.

“Sorry, I guess I was just curious…,” she replies as she sits up on her knees. Moving closer to her companion, with her now towering just above his head, she begins to run both hands through his hair.

Zack frowns in bewilderment. He’s calmer now, but even more confused than before. Even so, he doesn’t move from his position, because Ray playing with his hair feels kind of… nice. “Curious about what?”

“Um,” his friend begins, slightly tilting her head to meet Zack’s gaze, “You’ve never had your hair done before, have you, Zack?”

Zack blinks once more, staring up at the odd girl before shouting in a puzzled tone, “Huh?! Of course I haven’t!”

Ray gives him a tiny smile - the same sheepish smile he’s quickly growing weak for. “Do you… want me to do your hair?”

His instincts want him to yell no , though something about her smile stops him. She has that same embarrassed look on her face, but it’s an expression that also has some hope lingering in it. It’s very… childish; kid-like.

Zack thinks back to what she said earlier, about how she hasn’t done anything special to her hair in years, and - oh. Right. Her parents, her early childhood - right. He didn’t have a good upbringing himself, but Zack knew that children playing with their own hair or their parent’s hair was quite common. Ray probably never got the chance to do that.

Zack knew he never did, either.

Both he and his companion were robbed of a proper childhood; of proper families.

But now they have each other. Zack may be twenty-one, but Ray is still fourteen - just a kid. It made sense she would still want to do rather childish things.

So, Zack looks at her and thinks: Damn, I need to let her be a kid.

Ray’s face begins to fall, and Zack realizes he’s been silent for too long. Before she can shift away from him, he quickly reaches for two red-colored hair ties. The girl’s face turns into one of shock as Zack hands them to her. He’s flustered as he speaks, “Here - if you’re going to give me those damn pigtails or whatever, you better use this color.”

His friend blinks once, twice, thrice - before giving him the biggest grin he’s ever seen. “Red it is!” She exclaims cheerfully, reaching to grab the hair brush.

As she begins to gently brush through his hair, humming all the while, Zack smiles.

Yeah - he definitely enjoys making Ray happy.