TO sniffed at the tiny fruit they held in their hand. It was the first one selected to be eaten and since TO had done all the research it was determined that TO should be the first to taste it.
“What if it’s poisoned?” DH protested, “What if it’s been poisoned by the insurgency?” Despite the music playing, DH still lowered their voice. TO was only glad that the recording devices couldn’t tell the difference between background noise and their own voices. At least, that’s what TO had figured out from C12’s warnings.
“That wouldn’t be very smart.” TO commented, “it’s got information on each package tracing back to where this stuff was made. It also has some call numbers on it, see?” They pointed at some print on the discarded label, “hrk83. The first three letters represent the planet that the stuff came from, and the numbers represent the synth that inspected and tested this stuff.” They sniffed again at the small fruit, which was bright red and had a thin skin that allowed the light to filter through it slightly. “I think maybe someone tried to poison King Decon a long time ago, so now everything is rigorously tested.”
“... Are you sure you want to try it?” GiDi asked. Even Avery, who had been pressing themself against the edge of the couch they were sitting on had leaned forward to watch.
TO took a deep breath, and bit off half of the fruit.
Sweetness. They had forgotten sweetness. That was something that they remembered from when they were in the tank and trapped in a dream; The taste of something sweet on their tongue. It was crisp and juicy, and TO could even feel the juice running down their chin. They sat there, just letting the fruit sit on their tongue before they slowly started chewing with their eyes closed. They wanted to just enjoy the taste, to savour every second.
They didn’t realize that food could actually taste like this. A part of them assumed that it was all something their head had made up back when they were dreaming of a forgotten life.
“TO? Are you ok?” There was a slightly frantic tone to DH’s voice and that was probably the only thing that could have drawn TO out of their daze that the sudden burst of flavor had thrown them in. They opened their eyes halfway, turned to DH, and held out the other half of the fruit.
“...You have to try this.” TO managed to say after the finally swallowed.
Hesitantly, DH took the fruit and popped the rest into their mouth.
All period, TO had been worried about this plan. They had been worried that they’d get discovered taking food out of Shipping and Receiving. They had been worried that the food would all go bad somehow, or that it would taste awful. They had been worried that it would make them sick. They had been worried that someone else would find the food hidden away and report them.
The mixed expression of shock and joy that lit up DH’s face for a split second before melting away into contentment as they slowly chewed made all that worry worthwild.
“Pass the bag here?”
TO’s ears flicked down and flushed as they realized that somehow they had entirely forgotten that GiDi and Avery were still there. They nearly dropped the bag, but managed to catch it before they sheepishly passed it over.
TO wasn’t sure how much time had passed. The music had become background noise as they chattered about the food they were sampling. They were taking their time and working through the variety of treats that TO had managed to hide away. The vacuum seal packaging was discarded on the floor and while they knew they’d have to dispose of it, they weren’t worried about that at the moment.
It was all very calm and relaxing until DH suddenly started making pained, desperate gasping noises. TO got up instantly and took them by the shoulders. “What’s wrong!?” They asked. There was something wrong. DH’s face and ears were suddenly bright blue, their eyes were watering, and they had their mouth wide open as they desperately gasped for air.
“What is it! Are you choking?” GiDi asked as they got up. Avery leaned forward, unsure if they should do something to help or not.
“Hot!” DH gasped, “Why is it hot!? Why is my mouth burning!?”
It was Avery that started laughing. When TO shot them an angry look, they sheepishly gestured to their open file. “I always wondered about what stories meant when they talked about “Spicy” food being very hot. I knew it wasn’t temperature, but-“
“But what! What’s wrong?” TO didn’t mean to snap, but they were worried. Before Avery could say anything DH had reached out, grabbed TO’s water bottle from their belt, and started chugging the water.
“... Like that.” Avery said, “Certain foods can taste hot and leave your mouth feeling like it's burning.”
TO looked down at the bright yellow fruit that DH had taken a bite from. As DH continued to chug TO’s water, they knelt down, picked it up, and held it to the tip of their tongue. Seconds later, heat bloomed inside their mouth. TO pulled the fruit away and threw it to the ground as they took back their water bottle and finished what was left. DH reached for their own water bottle on the table, but found it was already empty.
“Mine’s empty too.” GiDi said as their ears flicked down, “I just finished it.”
“Here.” Avery passed DH their own water bottle, “You can have the last of that.”
As TO finished their water they were suddenly struck with an idea. “We’ll go get more water.” TO said as they caught their breath. They reached out and took GiDi’s water bottle, “it’s no problem.”
“DH and I. They might need more water.” TO glanced up as DH finished Avery’s water, “And they can help me bring it back. I don’t want to juggle four water bottles.
“I do need more water.” DH said as they finished, gasping for air, “Now. Yes. Let’s go.” They took the water bottle and started for the door, their face and ears still blue from the heat, their pointed tongue sticking out of their open mouth.
“We’ll be right back.” TO said, happy that they didn’t have to convince DH, or make further excuses.”
The moment they got to the water fountain DH turned it on, dropped the water bottles to the floor, and stuck their head under the stream of water. The water poured over their face as DH repositioned themselves to drink up. This time, TO couldn’t help their laugh. “Is that helping?” They asked. DH responded with a noise that TO assumed could potentially be an affirmative.
TO leaned against the wall, bottles in hand as they watched. Thankfully, their own mouth wasn’t burning in the same way as they hadn’t actually chewed the food.
After a few long minutes, DH finally rose up from the fountain, breathless and gasping.
“I hated that!” DH said, “Why did you bring that!? I thought you said you checked everything to make sure it was safe!” Though they were trying to be angry and their ears were pinned back, there was a plaintive whine to their voice.
“I did!” TO insisted, “I checked it all. Everything is safe! Some of the descriptions of the food said it was, as Avery said, spicy.”
“I hate spicy.” DH grumbled. They grabbed a water bottle off the floor and started filling it, “I hate spicy. Who could possibly enjoy that?”
TO felt a wave of panic run through them as they realized that they were away from the music now, and that their chips were listening to them. They pointed to their chip and held a finger to their lips. DH nodded.
“Still.” DH whispered, “I hated that.”
“You’re going to be ok?”
“Yes. My mouth still hurts but it’s tolerable.”
TO nodded. They didn’t want to say anything out in the hallway, but when they got back to the observation deck they were going to find something especially sweet for DH to try. TO liked sweet foods well enough even after the novelty had worn off, but DH adored them.
They filled their water bottles in silence. When they were done TO sat down in the hallway and leaned back against the wall.
“Shouldn’t we get back?” DH asked, “They might be waiting for their water?”
“Oh yes.” TO said, “Well go back… Just maybe not right away.” They grinned and patted the spot on the floor next to them, gesturing for DH to sit down. After a moment of confusion, DH sat next to TO on the floor.
“...Why are we waiting?” DH asked.
TO lowered their voice until it was only just above a whisper, “I want GiDi and Avery to have a little time alone.” TO said.
“Why?” DH whispered back.
TO’s ears dipped down. They had been so worried about DH being bothered by the thoughts that had been floating around their own head that somehow they had forgotten that they might be bothered if anything romantic happened between GiDi and Avery. “You know why.” TO whispered back, “I want them to have some time to…get to know one another.” They frowned as DH just stared back at them, “You know… regarding what we were talking about? About how they’re like Snout and Flit?” TO preferred to use the nicknames, just in case they were overhead.
DH’s ears perked up as they finally understood, They glanced away, staring down at the floor. “Are… you sure it’s a good idea?” they whispered back, “Is it safe? Or… or do you even…” They frowned, their ears flicking back and flushing slightly, “Are you sure you’re right about them?”
TO desperately wanted to tell DH what GiDi had told them; that GiDi had kissed a synth, and that they were fairly certain that it was Avery that they had kissed. “As sure as I can be.” they said.
“...How do you feel about that?” DH asked, their ears flicking down in concern as they asked.
“I just want GiDi to be happy.” TO said as their stomach clenched with anxiety “...Do you think that’s wrong?”
“No! No no, not at all.” DH looked away, “No. I think it’s good. I just…” they frowned, “If you’re right, and if it works as you hope it will, then I just hope it’s safe for them.” They glanced up at TO, “Do you think it’s safe to pursue that kind of thing here?”
TO felt their grip on their water bottle tighten. Was DH trying to discourage them? No… no, regardless about how DH must feel about all this, TO was certain that in the end they only wanted GiDi to be happy.
“... I don’t know?” TO finally said after several long moments of thought. “Is it necessarily safe for us to be as close as we are?”
“Well, C12 did warn us-“
“I know. And I know you said that if it came to it, if you thought something terrible would happen to me, then you’d stop talking to me altogether. Regardless of safety, I don’t know if I could live like that.” they looked up at DH, “Could you?” DH didn’t answer, they just looked away, their ears down. “I think it must be worse if you feel…” they lowered their voice further, “-romantically inclined towards another synth and can’t do anything about it.”
“I think so.”
“...So… do you think that… I mean, hypothetically... Say they did feel that way about one another, you think they should tell each other, despite the dangers?”
“... I think they should be careful.” TO admitted, “But… in the end, yes, I think they should.”
“... but what if you’re wrong?” DH asked, “What if they don’t feel that way? Or…. or what if only one of them does? What if Avery does, and tells GiDi, but GiDi doesn’t feel the same and they never want to talk to Avery again?”
The tenacious image of DH gently stroking TO’s ears played through TO’s head once more. Confused and embarrassed, they looked away from DH. They thought that maybe they wouldn’t have that issue anymore, that those thoughts were gone now and things could return to normal. They could feel their ears burning, and suddenly felt like DH knew exactly what they were thinking, and what they were feeling.
Maybe this was DH’s way to warning TO.
“...If I wasn’t entirely sure, I’d keep it to myself.” TO finally said.
“But could you?”
“I think so.” TO said as they quickly glanced at DH, trying to gauge what they thought about that. Their ears were twitching with worry and TO was filled with sudden dread that they knew for certain. “I know so. I’d never want to make someone I was close to feel uncomfortable.”
“Right.” DH said in an almost deadpan tone, “You’re absolutely right.”
“... Still! I imagine that not everyone needs that.” TO said with a false happiness in their voice. “I mean, you and I are plenty close without being like that, right?” They felt like they were trying to convince themself more than they were DH. They leaned against DH, “I mean, we’re as close as possible, but we’re not like that.”
DH stiffened, but after a moment allowed themself to lean against TO as well.
“Yeah...” They said slowly, “Yeah, you’re absolutely right.”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell