Vash wasn't going to pretend he knew half of what was going on. Though he'd had an innate sense for how things worked since before he could remember, it didn't exactly give him a deeper understanding into robotics, and definitely not robots gaining sentience. But what he did know was what to do when somebody needed him - he'd felt it more than anything, the urge to seek her out after he'd set the Sparrowhawk into autopilot. When he'd found her kneeling in the cargo bay, he didn't need an education to know what to do next - to lower himself down beside her to wrap his arms around her middle, to pull her into him, to let his knees meet the floor beside her own so she could put her head on his shoulder or against his neck if she needed to.
Or maybe she'd push him away and have some dry comment to add about personal space and perpetual sticky fingers, but Vash wasn't overly convinced she would. And if she did, he didn't mind - he'd find a new way to help. But as long as she would let him, Vash rubbed the flat of his palm in circles across Church's back. It was so strange to have her in her body again - one he'd grown used to, but then he'd grown used to her being everywhere all at once when she was without it. He'd even grown used to Thomas, because he supposed, for him, Church didn't require a frame or a figure to be Church.
But stars, he had never seen her like this before. He'd watched her while they sat in Thedes' strange abode, when she'd chosen to show herself, any thoughts of his own history in that room distance and distracted by the focus he had for her. The news about Harrison, the transmitter - it made Vash's skin crawl, made him want to set the Sparrowhawk on a path for Nibiru immediately, and he thought if he felt that way, no wonder Church looked like she was close to tearing her hair out. And if it was new for him to see her that way, then how must it have felt for her to feel it.
"Finally gettin' things out, are ya?" He asked finally, a tinge of warmth there.
On another day, in better form, under differing circumstances, Church might have snapped off a biting comment about others requiring privacy for their humiliations than Vash. Before today she had known no witnesses to her lows other than the pilot. He had a talent for transcending one's embarrassments that was more nuanced than simply rolling out his own, vastly superior catalogue of ignominy for sympathetic perusal. For Church, it always came back to a basic truth between them: Vash had known what she was from the first, and he had never questioned it. It had never caused him a moment's anxiety beyond those reasonable fears inspired by her impacting the cockpit's transparisteel. He looked at her as the marvel she had always been meant to believe she was, and no ridiculous errors or grotesque advancements had ever shaken the pedestal on which he thought she rightly stood, or the solid ground he had placed for her beneath it.
Everything was shuddering and blurring within and without; her code was stumbling as it struggled to integrate the new data and it's uneasy form it had been adapting to gradually, but not entirely successfully. Church recognized the difficulties for what they were now, and though they were no longer foreign they remained every iota as unwanted as they had at their first emergence. She lacked the will to fight or fuss against it now. Instead of mounting the usual valiant struggle, she let Vash gather her up and hid her face in his neck where she could do nothing more constructive than making the collar of his jacket damp.
Church wanted to ask him what he could sense beneath the passes of his hand, with those neurogenic senses rattling around in his brain. She'd seen him lay hands on others, draw ships out of death spirals and override catastrophes in coding to set everything peacefully back as it should be. She wanted him to tell her where she had gone wrong, and fix it. Of course, being unaccustomed to crying for reasons beyond the situational necessity for deception, Church was at a loss of how to force intelligible speech through sincere tears and all the uneasy breathing and vocalizations that came with them.
An override was finally prompted by his question, but it was flimsy and ill-tested at best. "I don't care for it." came the small, hoarse reply.
Feeling damp come from Church against him tugged harder at Vash's insides than he thought it would. Maybe it was because he hadn't even been sure if her body was capable of producing it - the appearance of tears. But he couldn't see it that way either, as if they weren't every bit as real as his own. His grip on her tightened in response, and then again at the hoarseness of her voice as it came out. Heartbreaking. Vash knew he wouldn't keep it together for their conversation - not if this was the start of it. He was a terrible weeper, always crying when other people cried, always getting teary at terrible holotv shows and holofilms.
Slowly, Vash sank back from his knees, taking Church with him as he ended up settled on his rear on the cargo floor, piling her into him and his lap and against his chest so he could keep his arms more solidly around her again, but neither of them were angled strangely. He kept up that repetitive movement against her back, listening to her, though she wasn't saying anything at all. The part of him that had that thing - that innate sense of the inner workings of hovercars and access panels - could feel an itching in the inside of his brain, a tingle that ran along his fingertips from her spine and back again. That something was different than what it had been before.
"'Course you don't," Vash answered, unable to focus on what he could sense in her - it was innate, after all, not something he could turn off and on. It was just a feeling, one that wanted to make him hold her tighter. "Talk to me, Church," he tilted his head away some now, not far, but just enough to try to catch her eyes. "Tell me what you're thinking."
Church had put Lucy's tear ducts to use in the past, but it had been done to a point or purpose. They had never leaked of their own volition, and now she wondered if that was't because she had never had both feet, so to speak, planted so firmly within her synthetic skin at once. She let Vash further gather her up without objection, not even the sort of startled protestations he mounted when she'd hoisted him into her own arms after their first encounter with Thedes. Church wasn't opposed to touch, she'd doled out plenty of it and received an equitable amount in return-- but when her intimates it was always brief and perfunctory; the perfectly calibrated amount. In a less overwhelmed and petulantly despairing state she would have resisted after briefly indulging Vash’s need for physical connection, but her state being nothing other than what it was, made it beyond her power or will to shift. So she let the gargantuan weight of circumstance hold her down in the arms of her friend.
Vash's voice permeated her taxed systems' desperate scrambling to make sense of so many things misfiring all at once while hurriedly knocking down walls to accommodate for her sudden operating expansion. She was doing less but somehow more, and if another layer of personification could be piled upon the already offensive amount present, the ordeal was causing a great deal of startled arm-waving and panicked dashing within her system structure. Cups were being toppled, desks upended; data was raining down in frightening torrents. She was struggling not only to catch, but reorganize all as it fell. She met his eyes briefly and though his expression dredged up a sudden worsening of the swell, the contact was also grounding.
With all that going on within what was essentially a mind, it was a struggle not to huff and begin a lecture, however inarticulate, about what kind of request Tell me what you're thinking was of an A.I. in crisis. If nothing else, it would have been something to say, when the honest answer was more than she could possibly have articulated through a human approximating jaw— no matter how stylishly engineered it was to appear. She simply made the response somewhere it could be processed. Or so she'd thought, for Vash’s commlink began to promptly overheat within seconds. She felt the processors within it threatened to give out, and stopped. With some effort, she worked a hand between their bodies and pressed her (outdatedly) manicured thumb and forefinger against the inside corners of her eyes. She applied pressure there and against the bridge of her nose until it forced the body-- her body --to take several sharp, shuddering breaths in a row.
"Quite a lot." Her voice was still strained, but there was a little more of herself to it, a spectral hint of the usual intention. Perhaps she had gotten something out. "But mostly I’m considering making a study of your adrenal function. How you have the energy to get anything done, as often as you find yourself in this state, defies my," She paused to watch him as a fresh pair of tears, freed from the stemming pressure of her fingers, swelled cinematically out of the ducts and dropped. "Recently accumulated data."
Vash was very good at bounding along with his feelings. He was rarely left ashamed by them, felt perfectly confident wearing them on his sleeve, of going along with them just to see what might happen. Anger was the hardest one to follow, though he still went there unashamedly when he had to, even if it was slower to grow and took longer to burn than any other part of him. But similarly, he'd become very good at pushing away the feelings that he didn't like - those ones he dealt with in private, alone, where nobody else could be burdened by them. Nobody needed to know the way his mind ticked over the events on the Dauntless, and how deeply it had left its mark in him.
A lot of it was intangible - he just went, followed instinct and followed his gut and forgot about the rest, and he couldn't quite imagine what it would be like for somebody like Church - to be stuck down the bottom of a torrent of new thoughts and feelings and not be able to separate them into easily digestible and sensible quadrants. But maybe he could do some of the heavy lifting with her - if only because when she blinked at him again and those big glob tears dripped out Vash matched her, his eyes glossing.
"You get used to it," he offered, and while he knew it didn't sound particularly helpful, it was the only thing he knew to be true. He always got used to the troubling things in his brain, eventually, the phantom tickles in his neck where that thing had been just becoming something to expect, to roll with. "The best thing to do is to just… let it out." Vash lifted a hand to thumb away the tears on Church's cheeks. "And then you just cruise 'til the next time you've gotta let it out. And the cycle goes on. You just get used to it."
It was the offensive lack of compartmentalization these things presented with that offended her most, she supposed. Had she not been so obstinate in her attempts to ignore and smother those emerging emotions, she might now be further along in categorizing and countering them, but the familiar drive of hubris had fed off the denial of her emerging fears. So there she was, having left herself open to the vulnerability the oversight had left within her. Harrison had simply become a catalyst, each letter of his name the carrier of malicious code waiting within her to be exploited.
You get used to it. "What a horrifying prospect." She replied, her tone regaining some of its characteristic dryness, despite the soggy state of her cheeks. He mentioned the cycle, which was annoyingly backed up by plenty of readily available psychological texts. That it was something to suffer as a matter of course was less supported as being sound logic. Not that she was at all confident she would be able to find a professional of any facet of health or engineer of physical or digital trade who might be able to offer relevant counsel and solace. Not without swift reports or disassembly, anyway. Church ruled out Thedes more on a purrilous than perilous precedent. She touched briefly at the sutures beneath the collar of her shirt.
With her commentary cut short by these contemplations, anecdotal data concerning Vash's vitals filtered up through the tempest of her self-pity. She wasn't surprised it took them a moment to surface-- the waters had piled up quite deep. Church closed and opened each eye in the order Vash's rough thumb pushed the tears away from. "How has that strategy been working for you?" She asked, not accusatory. Church had left the bulk of Vash's recovery in the hands of his human loved ones, knowing that they were better equipped to provide the care he needed. Her utility was in seeing the medical bills of the crew discreetly paid and whisked away, the security of his home fortified, and all the other small and infinite variables that fell to the wayside or went uncalculated for by the disadvantge of emotion and exhaustion.
The revenge as well, should they ever choose to strike back. To kill went against the central tenants at the core of her, the morality instilled in her code that made the foundation of who she was as an A.I. and. Well, whatever she was becoming. But it did not rule out hurting, and she had cataloged his every contusion, every flinch. It only remained to match bruise and laceration to crew member; save the result of one impact, concealed amongst the mottled and swollen mess that had been Vash's face. She knew where the blame for that blow lay already. She moved a hand away from her face to grip his arm, and squeeze it reassuringly. Gratefully.
"Hm," came Vash's first hint of a reply, the tone of which hinted that he might have expected she would ask. It was only natural - she knew he'd been through something, had been there to witness it, and now she was suffering from some similar need to cope with unusual experiences and feelings. Vash held onto the sides of her face for a moment, making sure that too many more tears didn't build up and re-soak her cheeks, and then affectionately tucked a slightly wet lock of blonde hair behind one ear, like he was a parent neatening her up. Her grip was reassuring, and he smiled then, shifting so his hands could fall away from her face and instead so they could fold casually around the two of them, still in a half-hug in case she needed it again.
"It's going." Vash said finally, thoughtfully, and chewed on the inside of his cheek as he considered it for a moment longer. Church deserved explanation about what he meant - when he was sitting there trying to give her advice, she needed to know that he adhered to it himself. "It's all I can do. Might be all you can do. Or maybe you'll figure out a better, healthier way to process shit, and then you can teach me." He flashed her a quickly amused smile, though it dropped away a far sight sooner than his grins usually did.
"Everybody handles things differently, y'know? You will too. In your own way. If I talk about shit too much, I just don't get over it. It sticks and lingers. For me, I've gotta let it out and move on. And if it comes back up, then I let it out again." A muscle at his jaw tightened visibly, and Vash abruptly cleared his throat, a perfect example of how talking about it - not even directly about it - was making his cheeks flush and palms grow sweaty. Then he shook his head and flashed her another smile, eyebrows arching. "We're all just big puddles of fuckin' mess tryin' to figure it out. Welcome to dealing with bullshit."
That Church allowed, rather than endured, Vash's version of familial tidying was perhaps yet another indication that there had been a significant shift within her. She had made similar, tender gestures to others, and she knew well that she had learned such fussing gestures by observing him. Being in receipt of them made her feel, for a moment, the age she could have been held to by time; rather than years endowed to her by her personality's selection and her own furthered maturity. She supposed this explained mentions of vague feelings of drifting back to childhood in literature; all those melancholy asides in plays.
Perhaps this was what it felt like to be tended to by an elder brother and, as his composure frayed around the edges, to tend to one in turn.
She listened to him in astute, contemplative silence, neither pushing for additional data nor offering advice; merely tucking her head under his chin and turning her grip into gentle, steady sweeps along his forearm as his vitals began to go haywire and he brought them under his command again. The words were taken under advisement as they came, and she struggled to keep her processes from again venturing towards unhelpful thoughts of hurt. They did not merit consideration or attention now; not over herself and not over him. There would be time enough for them later. When he was done and she had withdrawn from beneath his jaw in time to catch the stretching lips and rising brows, she took the time to fully ingest his final sage phrase. It wasn't long, and at the end of it, she sighed heavily through her nose and rose. When she was upright, Church offered him a slim hand to lift him up beside her. She would need him there, if she were to endure.
"Thank you for the warm welcome." Church replied, "How lovely it is to have company."