As soon as TO received their meal at the cafeteria, they passed it off to GiDI and ran towards the showers to try to find DH. They only just heard GiDi call out to them, saying to find them near the flight training room when they were done. TO waved their hand quickly to signal that they had heard, then took off running.
All TO could think of was of that day when they met GiDi, of how they felt when they thought that DH didn’t need them, and of the time they spent alone in their pod; The tears, the utter feeling of failure. If they had managed to make DH feel like that…
They quickened their pace. No, they’d not let DH feel like that. They especially refused to be the cause of such pain.
They got to the showers, opened the door, and bolted in. The water wasn’t running anymore, and the room was very silent. For a moment, TO was worried that maybe they had missed DH, and that they had gone back to the dormitories already. TO was just about to leave and rush off to check the dormitory when their sensitive ears picked up the sound of fabric rustling. Following the sound, TO ran through the changing room until they found DH in a corner as they finished dressing. They were staring off into nothing as they slipped their arms into their uniform, keeping their wings extended out to prevent them from getting tangled up. Their ears were low, and their eyes were rimmed blue.
TO felt their stomach clench; DH had been crying, and they themselves had been the reason for it.
“DH?” TO said carefully as they took a step towards them. DH looked up suddenly, clearly only just noticing TO. Their ears pinned back, and they quickly looked away as they finished pulling on their sleeves.
“I was just leaving.” They said as they threw a used towel into a laundry chute. “I’ll head back to the dormitory.” They rushed past TO with their wings draped over their shoulders, their eyes looking anywhere but at them.
“Wait.” TO pleaded, reaching out and grabbing the cuff of DH’s uniform as they passed by. DH could easily have pulled their arm away, but TO relieved when they didn’t. They stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“Please don’t leave.” TO said quietly.
DH took a long, deep breath, and then turned around. They weren’t looking at TO, but somehow through them– as though they weren’t seeing what was before their eyes. “Alright.” They said, their voice steady and cold despite their low ears, and the way their wings seemed to tighten around them. “What do you want?”
‘What do you want.’ As though they needed a reason to want to be near DH. It hurt more than TO thought it might to hear them speak like that - like they were one of the synths that TO had tried and failed to befriend when they had just woken up. ‘What do you want.’ Like they demanded that there be a reason to converse. The cold tone, the blue rimmed eyes, the low ears…
Maybe DH was just done with TO. No. No, they wouldn’t be. They had thought that before, back when they met GiDi, and it wasn’t the case then! Still, that coldness made their eyes burn with tears which they blinked back rapidly, determined not to let DH see them be more of a mess than they already had in the last couple of days. They’d been so emotional lately, they knew that DH had to be getting sick of it. Besides, if TO’s actions left DH crying alone in the showers, what right did TO have to take advantage of their company to be sad anyway.
TO didn’t deserve DH’s comfort.
“I’m sorry.” They said, “I … I want to say I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” They frowned, and their eyes seemed to finally focus on TO. “Why are you sorry?”
“Because… Because of a lot of things!” They said when a quick answer failed them. “I’m sorry I’m so messed up over this whole thing! I don’t know why I am, and I can’t help it.” They released DH’s cuff and wrapped their arms around themselves, “I know it was all logical. I know that doing anything other than the dissection- “ the whole dissection seemed to play through their head in half a second, “-would be wasteful. I know that! But I can’t stop thinking about it! I can’t stop seeing it!” They looked up at DH, desperately trying to keep themselves calm as they looked into DH’s confused face. “And there’s nothing you can do! And I was mad when you said that the child would have died anyway. I know that! I’ve been told that over and over and I was just… I can’t cope! I can’t do this!”
There it was; the fear that had been creeping through their head the last two days. They couldn’t do this. They were too weak, too fragile to be properly productive. Maybe they had been excelling up to this point, but the vocational training would weed them out.
DH lifted a hand and rubbed at their eyes, “But you -“
“No, just listen. I know I shouldn’t have been angry at you. You’ve just tried to help. You always try to help! I know that, but I’ve heard the logic of it all so much, and I didn’t want to hear it from you; it just didn’t help and-“
DH took a step forward with their hands clenched into fists and their wings puffing out.
“Well what will help!” They demanded, “Because right now, everything I try to do is just making everything worse!” Even though they sounded angry, TO could still see their ears staying low as they pinned back, and could still see tears starting to form in their dark eyes. “I’m trying! I’m doing my best! I know you’re upset! I know what happened was hard, and I know you’d help me if I was upset! You can ALWAYS fix things! But I can’t! I don’t know what to do!” They took another step. “What do you want!? Tell me that! Tell me what to do-“ Their voice cracked, “-because I’m so sick of failing.”
The sound of DH’s voice cracking with sorrow, their eyes welling with tears was almost more than TO could take. They felt their guilt in their stomach like a hot rock and desperately wished they could go back to earlier, when DH had put their hand on their shoulder and tried to comfort them before they went to see their Overseer. Even if it hadn’t helped, at least DH was happy then-
No. No they weren’t. They probably hadn’t been actually happy since the dissection. TO had been so upset they hadn’t considered that. They hadn’t thought that DH might be upset as well, that DH would be worried about them.
“There’s nothing.” They said quietly as they looked away from DH. “There’s nothing you can do to fix this. It’s something that happened, and it can’t be undone.” They turned aside, “I know you’re trying. I’m glad you are- even though I was angry earlier… But there’s nothing you can do.”
“No!” TO turned back and felt their claws just slightly digging into their arms. “You can’t fix this! I can’t be fixed! I-“ they looked away, “I’m broken. I can’t do this.”
“You’re not broken!”
“I am! I can’t do this! I can’t do dissections. I can’t reprocess synths!” So much for keeping calm. Their voice was catching, and the tears they had been blinking back were starting to fall. How weak were they that they couldn’t go a day without tears. “I can’t stop thinking now that every synth that’s been repossessed has been like that, on the table, with their organs being removed and reduced to just things. I can’t do it! There’s something wrong in my head that’s keeping me from being able to do this, and I’m going to be repurposed myself, or-“
DH took a big step in, took TO by the arm, and pulled them close. They stopped for a moment as they looked into TO’s eyes and there was the strangest feeling of time drawing out as they caught each other’s gaze. DH glanced aside with their ears suddenly flicking down as they flushed blue, then they pulled TO into their chest, resting their head on their shoulder as DH wrapped their arms and wings around their friend’s shaking form.
“You’re not broken.” They said firmly.
TO shook their head, trying for just a second to pull free of DH so they could leave, so they wouldn’t be forcing more of their sorrow onto DH, but then gave up and leaned into DH’s chest. “I am.” They whispered. “I shouldn’t be mad at you. I shouldn’t be this upset about that child. I should be able to handle all of this. I haven’t seen another synth react like I do.”
DH made a low chirping sound in the back of their throat - it was similar to how TO themselves had chirped at the babies in the tanks, but lower and softer. DH had never made that noise before, and though TO was confused, they also felt oddly comforted by it. “You’re not like other synths, remember?” They said, “You’re different. You’re better. We both are”
“I’m strange. I’m different.”
“And I’m very glad for this.”
TO sniffled gently, “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be upset. I wouldn’t be upsetting you.”
“You wouldn’t be… But we wouldn’t be friends either, right?”
TO shook their head, knowing that DH was right but also knew that that wasn’t the point. “I don’t know what will make me better.” They whispered. “I’m afraid I'm going to feel like this forever; I can’t stop thinking about this.” They allowed themselves to lean into DH. “Even though… Even though I know it’s upsetting you. I know I’m just making you sad too. Or angry.”
“I’m not angry.”
“You were.” TO whispered, “I... I could tell. And GiDi said you were mad-“
TO felt DH’s arms tighten around them, and as they glanced up they could see DH’s ears pinned back. “GiDi shouldn’t have said anything.” They hissed.
“Well, they couldn’t hide it very well. I knew something was wrong in the hallway. I knew you were upset, I just didn’t know you were angry.”
DH shook their head, and reached up to put their hand on the back of TO’s neck, gently rubbing the base of TO’s skull with their thumb. It was a sudden, very relaxing gesture that TO hadn’t expected.
“I shouldn’t have been angry.” DH said. “I was just frustrated too. You can’t help what you feel. I know that. I was angry because you were angry, and then I felt bad for being angry-“
TO felt a weak chuckle escape their mouth. “If I can’t help what I feel, neither can you.”
DH stayed where they were for just a moment longer, letting TO rest against them until they pulled back, “I am sorry though.” DH said, “I was trying so hard… And even when things seemed to work, I felt like I did the wrong thing.” They looked quickly at TO’s nose, “Like punching you in the nose.”
TO shook their head as they lifted a hand to their nose. The painkillers were only just starting to wear off, so the pain was there, but it was something TO could ignore. “It’s fine.” They said, “Once the pain started to fade I was really glad that I didn’t have to go to the labs today.”
They were silent for a long moment. DH finally looked up at TO and somewhat sheepishly said, “So… I suppose I should have asked this before, but is there anything I can do? Not to make it go away, just...Is there anything I can do to help?”
TO shook their head, “I just want to be around you and GiDi. I want you to tell me that it was awful, sure, but just… Just let me be sad when I’m sad. If you’re there, it’ll be less awful.” They rubbed their arms again, “And I am sorry for shrugging you off earlier. I was upset, frustrated… I know I should be stronger-“
DH pulled them into an embrace again. “No.” They said. “No. You are strong. And it was clearly awful.” They shook their head. “It was awful, and I don’t know how awful. I can’t fix it, but I promise I’ll be here if you just want to be sad. You be as upset as you want.” They gave TO a firm squeeze, “I don’t want you on your own again if you’re upset. I’ll never… I’d never forgive myself if I put you through that again.”
“I... well, I wasn’t much better.” They muttered. “I wanted to rush here first, but GiDi insisted I get food first-“
“Good!” DH said, “You don’t eat enough when you’re upset; it worries me. Besides… I needed some time alone. I wanted some time just to try to work out stuff in my head.” They gave a joyless, sarcastic chuckle, “I needed some time to see that I was upset over something stupid.”
TO and DH heard a noise - the distinctive sound of the door to the showers opening up. They pulled apart - not wanting the extra attention from other synths as they waited to see who it was. A part of TO hoped it was GiDi, but it was just another synth heading into the showers.
“We should leave.” DH said, “No point in loitering in the showers.” They looked to TO, “To the dormitory then?”
“Yeah I… wait. No.” TO shook their head, “We have to go find GiDi.”
“They’re not in the dormitory?”
TO wiped away the last of their tears, and gave DH a quick smile, “They said once we worked everything out. They had a surprise for us.”
DH grinned, and gently pushed TO towards the door, “Well, let’s not keep them waiting! I want to see what kind of surprise it is!”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell