Atop a roof, under the star-filled sky, a young woman and a young man lay side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hands laced together.
“You know I could fix it.” She whispers, afraid that if she voices her concern any louder her companion will run. As he had before several months ago.
Her companion hums, an acknowledgement, but not an answer. The tightening of his grip is her only warning before he shudders violently again. He gasps, hot puffs of air rising from his lips, his stiff hand twitching in hers as another sickening wave of energy washes none-too-gently through him.
The girl — Delilah — sighs, again, but otherwise remains silent. Her own hand — a sleek silver cybernetic leading all the way up to her shoulder — simply squeezes back. Pale, flesh-colored metal groans, but refuses to give, even under her inhuman strength.
(Of course, why would someone build a robot that could be damaged by a simple handhold?
Why would anyone build a robot capable of emotion? Of pain? A dark inner voice hisses. Delilah ignores it. As she always does. Those thoughts have no place when he is around. )
Still, her hold is careful, a steady and reassuring force against this current “attack”. As he had explained to her so very long ago. These moments when his core, his heart, his soul, overheats and burns through his wires and circuitry. When wave after wave of sparking energy rushes through his systems, over-energizing and draining him in a seemingly endless cycle of agony.
(One that will take his life one day. No matter what either of them do.)
But it does end, will end. Eventually. Hopefully. And she will still be here when it does, holding tight and forcing back her own tears and whimpers. Holding back the tide of her own fear, her worry. Even though he tells her not too. Dismisses his ever ticking countdown, his timebomb status, like it matters so little.
His shaky reassurances, comments, and pitiful bitter jokes don’t stop her from wincing along with him as unstable energy ripples through his body. It doesn’t stop the fear from tightening her throat, or keep her from wanting to drag him down to her workshop, open him up and repair all that old damage. Return him to his once perfect condition.
She knows his inner workings, has been instructed and trusted with his other repairs. Has sworn several times before that if he just allowed her to fix it —
But no. He won’t let anyone help, won’t let her help. And with his trust in such an fragile state — with him in such a fragile state — she cannot afford to push. To risk him fleeing from her again.
(She had only wanted to help. She had been sick of seeing him suffer through those “attacks”. He was dying, a concept that should have been foreign to him. Her wonderfully human machine. A robot so advanced he could very well pass for human, provided no one looked deeper than his skin.
She had been so sure she could fix the problem. Put him to sleep, repair, or better yet replace that old core. Wake him back up and let him live his life without having days where he burned so terribly hot and seized in agony. The image of him shuddering and breathless, oil and steam dripping from his lips as his insides imploded with unstable energy.
She couldn’t watch it anymore.
But he’d woken up before she got far. Head rising from the table to catch her eye, her hands buried in his chest. He’d screamed. She’d screamed. Fear turned to anger, then dropped to desperation.
They both said things they hadn’t — no. That wasn’t the problem. They had meant those words. Those broken and vicious words, they had both meant them. And in a moment of silence, in that heavy aftermath, he’d closed himself back up, in more ways than one, and fled out into the night.
He disappeared for six months. Not a word sent her way.
Then he came to her doorstep. Drenched, shuddering, seeking shelter, seeking sanctuary. The aftermath of an “attack” always left him in some form of weakness, be it physical or mental. Unable to defend himself.
Neither of them spoke of those long months. Though she had wondered of he had missed her as much as she had missed him. She had said nothing. Hadn’t asked for an explanation, not why he wouldn’t let her fix him or where he had been. She’d just held him, let him stop and catch his breath. Trust a fragile but mending thing between them.
He made her swear not to do anything against his will again.
She couldn’t face that again. She’d rather have him here, were she could see him. Where she could soothe his pain, could make his “attacks” bearable. So she swore not to do anything he wasn’t comfortable with again.)
And now here they were, several weeks later, together again. With her belief in their bond strong enough to make another “fixing” comment. She has to ask now, and she knows it’s cowardly to ask when he doesn’t actually have the strength to run, (regardless of the fact that she knew he would try) but she has to understand. And she thinks she won’t have a better chance than here and now.
(She has to know why.)
“Why won’t you let me fix it?” Delilah breathes, burying her cheek into his shoulder, uncomfortable heat reaching out even with his shirt and jacket between them. His hand flexes in hers, but he makes no move to leave.
“Because…” He pauses, huffing. Breath still heavy and hot, but finally, finally, beginning to cool. He swallows, and she raises her head slightly to look at his face, shifting closer. Watching his navy blue eyes stare straight heavenward, but not really seeing anything.
She waits, resting her other — flesh and blood — hand atop his chest, relief fluttering in her chest at the cooling core beneath the metal. The “attack” is coming to a close.
“Because there’s just too much to repair. Too much to replace.” He says with a sigh. “If anyone tried to fix it…” He cuts himself off, huffs again, and turns his head to face her. His eye meets hers and neither of them blink. “There’s too much damage.” He whispers. “You’d have to take me apart and nearly rebuild me from the ground up. Take my brain and my heart and my limbs and make new ones and sure –” He huffs. “I’d be physically fine, better even. But…” He pauses, eyes shining, and raises a hand to the one laying on his chest. He holds her hand there, lets her feel the unsteady rhythm of him.
“You’d kill me.” He says, low and painful and defeated. “I’d wake up and be someone else. If I let myself be fixed — all that would wake up would be just a very smart machine. My memory drives wouldn’t survive the trip to the new equipment.” He squeezes the hand on his chest, breath hitching. Delilah turns her hand over, and holds his tight, ignoring the awkward angle.
(She wishes he’d told her sooner. To go into that darkness, knowing when you wake you won’t be you again… To go to sleep and have someone else walk away, with your body, your voice —
She wishes he’d told her sooner.)
“I’m sorry.” She gasps, eyes wet, face hot, and not jus because of the heat from his metal, as she presses closer, nosing his neck and placing a salty kiss there.
“I know.” He breathes. He smiles, and it is a gentler look than she believes she deserves, but she accepts it anyway. Delilah accepts a lot of things where he is concerned.
A bitter laugh falls from her lips as they lay there. He hums in question, brows furrowed in concern.
“I guess you really are like us.” She says, throwing him a bittersweet watery smile. “You think, you feel, and you never know when you’re going to die. You might as well be human.” He stares at her, blinks, then turns on his side and pulls her close. Grip shaky but firm. His dark hair tickling her chin.
“Huh.” He says, burying his face in her chest. She feels him smile, and tries to keep her heart from breaking further at his grim acceptance. “I guess so.”