Frankenstein had just switched the kettle on when he heard the living room door opening. That was strange - Master was – it was M-21 paused in the doorway, his hair tousled, the shadows were under his eyes darker than the last time Frankenstein had seen him.
"Is there something wrong?" Frankenstein asked, pulling a mug out of the cupboard. M-21 should be in bed – it was three in the morning.
M-21 stiffened and then shook his head. "Nothing." The word was clipped, hissed behind clenched teeth.
M-21 hesitated for a second, and then squared his shoulders. "I'm going out."
"Very well," Frankenstein said, nodding.
He was about to turn back to the kettle when M-21 said, "That's it? You're not going to ask-" He stopped, his lips pursed.
"Where you're going?" Frankenstein filled in. The muscles around M-21's eyes tightened. He'd guessed correctly. Frankenstein shook his head. "You live here – you are free to come and go as you please."
M-21 stared at him for a few seconds. When Frankenstein turned his attention back to his tea, M-21 left the house.
Haaah… The signs said M-21 had difficulty sleeping and Frankenstein could hazard a few guesses of the cause. The problem was Frankenstein was sure M-21 would treat any remedy he offered him with suspicion.
If he were to keep him busy, however, that could help stop M-21 from dwelling too much.
So what should he ask M-21 to do…
* * *
"Are you busy?" Frankenstein asked.
M-21 gave him a blank stare. "I'm standing in a balcony at seven in the morning – what do you think?" He didn't know what time he'd come back in the morning, but Frankenstein hadn't been waiting for him. Which meant Frankenstein's words hadn't been a test and he'd actually meant it. Somehow.
"That you might feel like doing something," Frankenstein said, holding the paper out towards him. "Here's a list-" Of people he wanted dead? "-of items I need for dinner tonight."
M-21 stared at the piece of paper again. "You want me to go…shopping." That was it?
Frankenstein nodded, a small smile curving his lips. "Yes. You will be able to find all the items in the main supermarket. Can you read all of it?"
He scanned the list. That was the neatest writing M-21 had ever seen. "Yeah." There were a few words he didn't recognise, but he would be able to find them.
"Good. Now," Frankenstein said, reaching behind him and taking out a wallet. It was filled with paper money and Frankenstein pulled a number of them out, "this should be enough for it all."
…That was more money he and M-24 got to spend for an entire mission. And Frankenstein was just giving him all this?
"And you can keep the change."
There was the catch. Of course there was one. "For the next time you send me out." He had a limited amount of money so he had to be careful with it.
Except there was no answering smirk on Frankenstein's face. Only slight puzzlement. "No – for you to spend however you want."
…What. That didn't make any sense.
"Ah, and one more thing," Frankenstein said, patting himself down.
Now what? Not be seen? What?
"Here." Frankenstein held up a set of...keys. "You'll need this when you return. This is for the front door. You turn it to the right to open it."
M-21 stared at him again. That...didn't make sense. In all his years at the Union, he had never been entrusted with keys before. He had never been trusted with anything before.
"The only requirement is that the groceries are in the kitchen before we return."
That was about nine hours. He had nine hours for a shopping trip. "And that's it?"
"That's it," Frankenstein said. "Master and I need to get ready for school, so we'll see you when we get back." He inclined his head and left.
M-21 glanced at the list again. He should do it as soon as possible, in case something went wrong. Then he could figure out what to do afterwards.
* * *
He put the bags on the counter, hearing the plastic rustle as the items inside settled, the tickling clock the only other sound in the room.
There was still hours until Frankenstein and his master came back from school.
Hn. Frankenstein had said that all he had to do was make sure all the stuff was in the kitchen. Which it was. But he'd taken a few of the items from the freeze, so he should put those in the fridge in case they spoiled.
Though M-21 still hadn't figured out why Frankenstein needed so many fruit drinks at once…
* * *
His living room however…
"Yeah! We won that round!" Ik-han cheered, celebrating with Yuna. He pointed at Shinwoo with a grin. "Loser has to get the next round of snacks."
With a loud grumble, Shinwoo got to his feet and went to the fridge. "I'll win the next one!" he called out over his shoulder.
"That's what you said last time."
Shinwoo poked his head into the kitchen. "There's – fruit juice? No."
Frankenstein sighed at the sound of Shinwoo moving the bottles to the side. He'd hoped he would be able to get the children to eat some healthy food.
* * *
"You did well this morning, getting everything on the list."
And even when he didn't let his guard down, Frankenstein still surprised him. M-21 shrugged, looking away. "It wasn't hard." Appearing competent was a double-edged sword – it meant he was still useful so there was less chance of him being killed; the problem was if he was given more to do because of it.
M-21 blinked when that was all Frankenstein said. Why…Why was it always like this? Frankenstein and his master didn't act like he was used to. He dropped his gaze and prodded at some of the rice on his plate.
Frankenstein chuckled and when M-21 glanced at him, Frankenstein indicated the food spread with a sweep of his hand with a smile. "Feel free to eat whatever you like."
That sounded familiar. With a sigh, M-21 double-checked which plates the other two had already eaten from and started eating from those.
* * *
Frankenstein's master was there, reading something on the sofa. He didn't greet M-21 so he didn't either and he went to the kitchen. Frankenstein had said he could eat anything in there and so far Frankenstein hadn't lied to him.
The first thing M-21 spotted at the front of the fridge was the fruit drinks. It was the same number as what he'd put in so that meant it should be fine if he took one.
He had just drank from it when he heard the soft exhale from Frankenstein's master. He looked over and Frankenstein's master had placed his hand on the open page in front of him.
"Frankenstein tends to work late when he is in his laboratory," Frankenstein's master said and M-21 could take a hint.
"I'll tell him," M-21 said, recapping the bottle.
It meant stepping back into a lab, but it was better knowing what to expect than pretending it didn't exist.
* * *
He stopped at the sound of the doors opening behind him and he turned around. "Mast-" That wasn't Master. "M-21? I'm surprised to see you here." With his history, Frankenstein had thought M-21 wouldn't enter his lab unless he was forced to. His body language was stiff, his arms close to his sides, the – ah, it was pleasing to know someone was drinking the fruit juice. It hadn't been an entire waste.
"You going to sleep soon?" M-21's gaze drifted towards the machines, studying them.
Frankenstein blinked at the question. That was also unexpected. "You're worried about me?"
M-21 snorted. "No. Your master is."
"Oh?" M-21 had picked up on that? Master hadn't said anything to him. Frankenstein checked the link between himself and Master and amusement answered back.
I thought it would be best if he grew accustomed to you.
So you sent him down. Frankenstein sighed, removing his glasses. "This can wait until tomorrow." It wasn't something urgent that needed to be finished as soon as possible.
Master's pleasure thrummed down their link and as he and M-21 left the lab together, the tenseness in M-21's shoulders disappearing.
* * *
And he was going to try and keep it that way.
* * *
"Avoiding punishment as well as winning and being 'the best' out of all the participants is an enjoyable feeling," Frankenstein said while wiping the table down with a cloth.
Put it like that…that sounded like it made sense. M-21 could understand that.
"Group activities and doing things in general can be fun," Frankenstein continued.
Hm. "And they do this every night," M-21 said, sweeping the floor.
He saw Frankenstein stop. "Not quite, haha…" Frankenstein cleared his throat. "Sometimes they and Master go to the local PC bang and spend their afternoons there."
And didn't make a mess here.
They didn't sound too bad, so long as he got some warning first.
* * *
He was used to doing something, even if it was waiting, because that waiting led to something. Meeting someone for the mission, for the information to come through, that one pause that stretched out a person's nerves before they broke or he killed them.
Frankenstein and his master had proven they weren't the Union; he had seen sides of them no Union scientist would allow him to see without punishing him, and Frankenstein hadn't reacted to his backtalk like he'd expected either. Frankenstein gave as good as he got, but he never went further than M-21 did. And then there were the times Frankenstein didn't respond to his snipe, deflecting it with a different topic and M -21 was left floundering, unsure what to do with the anger bubbling under his skin with nothing to vent it out towards.
There was one thing left he needed to check. Then he would know if he could trust the pair or not.
M-21 went down the stairs to Frankenstein's lab. The air was clean as it had been the last time he visited, but it didn't hold the chemical smell that made his nose itch, pretending it could mask the terror etched into the Union lab walls. …There was something else in the air, something he couldn't identify.
The door to Frankenstein's main lab opened as M-21 approached it and Frankenstein was standing next to one of the large machines near the back. It was a head taller than Frankenstein and looked wide enough that several people could fit in it standing up. M-21 couldn't place what it was, even after all his years in the Union. How had he gotten it and what did it do?
"M-21," Frankenstein said, smiling at him. "What is it?"
Squaring his shoulders, M-21 walked closer. "Do you need any help around your lab or with the experiments?" Now he would find out Frankenstein's true nature.
Frankenstein's eyes lit up and M-21's stomach sank. Dammit, he'd thought-
"I do have one experiment that would require your assistance. Just one moment." Frankenstein turned around and pressed a button on the panel he was standing in front of. The machine hummed for two seconds and M-21 could hear some kind of slurping coming from it. What was it doing?
The machine dinged and a panel slid up on the machine, revealing… What.
"Now then," Frankenstein said, and M-21 tore his gaze away from it to see Frankenstein holding up chopsticks. "Taste this and tell me what you think."
"That's it?" M-21 said, taking the chopsticks from Frankenstein's hands, watching the steaming bowl of ramen inside the machine again.
…He could do that.
* * *
M-21 paused, putting his bowl in the designated washing basin. "What?"
Frankenstein smiled at him. "I thought I had forgotten something – your documents have been processed and your uniform has arrived. You are free to start working at the school tomorrow if you wish."
M-21 didn't move, his eyebrows furrowed. "You're saying that like I have a choice now."
Frankenstein watched M-21's expression clear.
"Yeah, I'll do it."
Frankenstein smiled. "Then welcome to the Ye Ran security team."
* * *
He turned his head at a scuff and he saw Frankenstein was walking in his direction.
"How was your first day at work?" Frankenstein asked as he fell in step with him.
How was his first day? "…Better than I expected." And it was. There was none of the stress he'd experienced in the Union. He wasn't threatened with death if he failed. The leader of the security team was annoying, but M-21 had dealt with worse.
"Where are the children?" M-21 asked, looking around. He thought they all arrived back at the house with Frankenstein.
A muscle on Frankenstein's face twitched. "They're home. With Master. And bags of sweets they decided to bring over."
So he knew what he would be doing for most of the evening then…
* * *
M-21 was walking into his lab, his hands stuffed in his pockets.
"I don't have a new batch of ramen ready, I'm afraid," Frankenstein said. He still needed to finalise what his new recipe would be.
M-21 huffed. "That's not why I'm here."
"Oh?" M-21's body language was more relaxed compared to the first time he had come down into the lab, which was a good sign.
"Are you going to sleep soon?"
Frankenstein arched an eyebrow at the question and then directed his attention towards his connection with Master. Master was immersed in his manual and Frankenstein got a muted query? back. He hadn't asked M-21 to do that.
M-21 tensed, pursing his lips. "What."
Hm, he would need to pay more attention to his own expressions, in case M-21 got the wrong impression. But maybe some gentle teasing was in order, to diffuse the situation. "Ah?" Frankenstein said, a small smile curving his lips. M-21's eyes narrowed, and Frankenstein continued before he said anything. "You're looking after me now?"
He had kept his voice light, and he had to stop his smile from widening when M-21 only blinked rather than go defensive. The surprise lasted a second, and then M-21 rolled his eyes. "Tch. And?"
Frankenstein chuckled. "Nothing. Well then," he said, sliding his glasses into his coat pocket, "I do think it's time to retire for the night."
"I really am going to have to check on you every night," M-21 said.
Frankenstein shook his head, smiling. "I don't think it should come to that."
This time, M-21 raised an eyebrow at him, and Frankenstein could hear Master's amusement ringing in his head as they left the lab.