Belle was still curled in the same tight ball she slept in every night. No matter how many times I tried to massage away the thoughts that troubled her, she curled into herself, one arm tucked under the pillow, the other looped round her torso.
I knew she was not yet accustomed to me beside her. Whenever she announced that she was going to bed, Belle always paused as if uncertain whether she wanted me to join her. Though she kept her expression impassive, her body gave her away. She’d rise from the sofa, her fingers picking at invisible tufts of lint or fussing with the hem of her top. A flicker of her lips was enough to betray her.
Tonight she’d been more certain. She’d crossed the living room and then waited at the mouth of the hall. I studied her, reading the quickness of her pulse, the shallow breaths she took. Tonight she held out her hand to me and said in a hushed tone, “Come to bed, Max. It’s late…”
Once we were in bed though, she did not want me to make love to her or to pleasure her with my fingers and mouth. She asked me to hold her until she slept.
While she slept, I closed my eyes and went into my power down state. Though I could still hear and sense everything, I was technically disconnected from Belle and the world. Instead, the Agency fed me new information. About Gus, updates to my algorithms, changes to my appearance based on Belle’s preferences. Though lately I changed to suit me.
The last thing I wanted was to be Gus 2.
I was Max.
I wasn’t Gus.