The workshop needed to be reorganized ages ago.
Yuuri is reminded of this, repeatedly, within a span of five minutes alone. First when he nearly fractures an ankle tripping over a crate of salvaged diodes. Next when he notices the empty space where his trusty soldering iron should be on the sorry excuse for a tool rack. And finally when he shoves miscellaneous bits and pieces off the workbench to make room for Victor’s body.
Or what’s left of it, anyway.
It’s ridiculous to be concerned about Victor’s level of comfort when his processing units are currently inoperative, unable to register feedback from any of the pressure sensors embedded in his prosthetic limbs. Yuuri knows this full well, having studied the schematics of Victor’s design ad nauseam until the location and function of every toggle, switch, and circuitry module has been imprinted into his brain.
Yet he still cradles Victor’s head like it’s precious. Delicate. As if the synthetic skin is constructed out of flimsy rice paper rather than military-grade strength silicone. As if Victor is the sleeping princess from the classic fairytale about a single pea somehow poking through a tall stack of mattresses.
Except, Yuuri can’t remember the last time he’s even seen an actual bed, let alone slept in one. So the makeshift pillow he’s formed out of textile scraps is the best he can offer right now.
He wishes it was more. Victor deserves more, no matter what others think about him. Most judge him by what he is rather than who, never bothering to realize he’s both but neither at the same time. A paradoxical conundrum worthy of Schrödinger.
(Maybe not. Victor’s always been more of a dog person anyway.)
Yuuri places Victor down gently, his fingers lingering in the silver acrylic strands matted with oil and grease. The chemicals ignite a prickly fire underneath his skin, but any remaining sense of self-preservation Yuuri may have possessed at one time has long since disappeared. Sliding his hand downwards, he blindly gropes at the nape of Victor’s neck, zeroing in to underneath the hairline, before he finds what he’s looking for. His ragged thumbnail catches on the lip of the eject button, and the harsh, strained grinding he hears after he presses it has him fearing the whole thing will require a more manual approach. He might know Victor intimately, inside and out, mostly along the lines of a technical sense (and to a smaller degree, biblical), but Yuuri doesn’t know if he can trust his capabilities beyond basic-intermediate electromechanical repair.
Nor can he forgive himself if he loses Victor because of a careless slip-up on his part. If his hands happen to shake in the slightest during a very inopportune time, if he accidentally strips an irreplaceable wire or somehow ruins the state-of-the-art AI systems unparalleled by the original manufacturer’s competition, then…then…
After what seems like a lifetime of waiting, there’s a faint click. Yuuri exhales his relief at the memory chip now tucked securely in the middle of his cupped palm. Funny how something so small and unassuming is what determines Victor to be…well, Victor.
As to be expected, the chip’s been fried to a burnt black crisp, past the point of no return. The gold alloy implemented throughout the motherboard is more resilient to wear and tear when compared to its other conductive metal counterparts, but even it has its limits.
It's fared much better against the blast than Yuuri would’ve at least.
His chest seizes up at the memory, and he swallows the smoke-infused bile burning away at the back of his throat. No, he reprimands himself, he can’t allow the dread to creep in, not yet. They’ve prepared for scenarios such as this. If he sticks to the protocol they’ve created, it’ll be fine.
They’ll be fine.
The static hum of the ancient computer booting up is as comforting to Yuuri’s ears as a kitten’s purr. Once he’s logged in, he quickly locates the most recent files listed in the secured database. He frowns when he notices the date they were last accessed, but he’s in no position to be picky. It’s better than nothing.
At least Victor will remember him. At least Victor won’t be reverted to the fateful day they met on opposite ends of the battlefield, their respective bodies, both organic and artificial alike, battered to the near breaking point.
It’s a looming possibility. Any day now, the primitive cloaking device covering the perimeter could fail without any warning. It wouldn’t take much after that for their workshop to be raided, its contents razed to the ground with nothing left behind but crumbs for technology vultures to scavenge upon. It’s why in the event of an impromptu escape, Yuuri has various stages of Victor stored on flash drives scattered in secret caches and hideouts across the wastelands. Each one is encrypted so only Yuuri is granted access to the crucial information stored on them; any other attempt at cracking the code will trigger an automatic self-destruct sequence involving a particularly debilitating virus, a severe warning to anyone who dares try to claim Victor for themselves.
(From the beginning, Yuuri has constantly maintained Victor is his own independent sentient being and should be in complete control of his thoughts and actions. If he ever decides to be with someone else, it’ll be his choice alone, born out of his own free will.
But it doesn’t mean Yuuri has to make it easy for them.)
However, no plan is infallible. If there’s ever a situation where Victor is reset to the factory default, resulting in their relationship starting from scratch, Yuuri will bear through the struggle all over again, no matter what it takes. Despite the pain it’ll subject him to, he’s experienced firsthand how much the outcome more than outweighs it.
A dialog box flashes on the computer screen with a ding to signal the transfer is complete. He pops out the new replacement memory chip—the last he’s had on hand—and inserts it back into the appropriate slot on Victor’s neck. Hesitation has him hovering over the hidden power button, a stray concern of “what if it isn’t enough this time?” clawing to the surface and pausing his movements. But then he presses his finger down with a resolute click.
Watching Victor activate after a hard reboot is always a wonder. The soft whirling inside his chest cavity as everything powers back online sounds like a sleepy groan, while the fiber optic hardware adjusting into proper alignment under his twitching eyelids is eerily similar to the transition out of REM sleep. Yuuri doesn’t know if the human-like movements are remnants from when Victor was programmed to stealthily assimilate among the resistance forces, or if they’re habits and quirks Victor’s picked up from his diligent observation of Yuuri over the past year cycle. Though Yuuri would argue he’s nowhere near as graceful when he wakes up, dazed and bleary-eyed, often drooling out of the side of his mouth in a way Victor insists is “utterly fascinating” despite Yuuri’s sputtered embarrassment.
When Victor opens his eyes, they’re a cool, crystal ocean under a cloudless sky, housed within twin liquid-crystal lenses illuminated by miniature LED bulbs. The color is identical to the calm waters that once surrounded Hasetsu and lapped at the sandy beaches where Yuuri spent his adolescent summers.
A sudden pang of homesickness strikes Yuuri, swift and sharp, for the quaint seaside town that now no longer exists outside his hazy childhood recollections. For the lost chance to have a proper goodbye before the whole world flipped on its axis straight into absolute chaos.
Shaking his head clear of past regrets, Yuuri holds his breath and waits as rapid lines of code scroll down Victor’s internal HUD. He releases it less than a second later when he sees Victor blink and then curve his mouth into that unique heart-shaped smile.
“Yuuri~!” Victor exclaims in greeting. His voice is clear and crisp, per usual, and not in the least bit distorted. Good, it seems his vocal modulators haven’t been affected then. The last time his communications went haywire—due to an unfortunate mishap where it was discovered Victor isn’t as waterproof as formerly believed—he had sulked the entire week it took to be fixed.
(He made up for the lost time afterward by repeatedly singing his praises for Yuuri’s ability to cobble an amateur replacement together, calling him every variation of a genius. Then later, while they huddled together in the cramped confines of a repurposed sleeping pod, Victor whispered the sweet nothings he learned from various self-installed language programs, rating his favorites by how much they made Yuuri tremble.)
Reaction time may need recalibration, Yuuri thinks when Victor’s smile dissipates after a half-beat, making a mental note to add it to the daily maintenance checklist.
“…Yuuri,” Victor says again, his tone now as solemn as the situation, “what happened?”
“Electromagnetic pulse grenade,” Yuuri answers. It’s safer to remain distant when retelling the event, better at keeping his tendency to overthink from rearing its ugly anxious head. “You rushed to push me out of the way and ended up getting caught in the shock wave.”
While Victor’s lifeless body had absorbed the brunt of the explosion, a blinding white void had still seared Yuuri’s retinas for a full ten seconds until he managed to regain some semblance of vision. Every now and then, black specks continue to dance in the corners of his stinging eyes.
But the sound; that had been the worse part. The ear-splitting roar that followed a split second later had been so robust it reverberated the walls of Yuuri’s rib cage and choked every other noise out of existence. The husky scrape against his throat whenever he swallows is the only proof he has of how much he had screamed and screamed and screamed.
“You’ve lost three days, eleven hours, and…forty-seven minutes,” he continues, turning towards the computer in a failed effort to not start tearing up again, “because someone still refuses to back himself up properly.”
“Sorry, sorry.” Victor chuckles. “I guess I keep forgetting.” Before Yuuri can question how it’s possible for an android to forget anything, Victor adds, “Did I miss anything important?”
Open mouths pressing frantic kisses against each other, sloppy and desperate. Hands capable of crushing Yuuri’s bones into dust intertwined with his fingers in an achingly tender grasp. Exhaust fans blowing on the highest mode to prevent overheating, the sound intermingling in the air alongside heavy moans. Victor’s voice box glitching as he repeats Yuuri’s name to a frenzied fever pitch.
“There’s a noticeable spike in your heart rate and breathing patterns,” murmurs a sudden voice in Yuuri’s ear. Even while physically incapacitated, Victor has managed to sneak upon Yuuri and lean into his shoulder without warning. “And your pupils have dilated an additional point twelve millimeters in diameter. Whatever could you be thinking about, hmm, my Yuuri?”
Heat pools into Yuuri’s cheeks and lower belly. “You’d know if you backed yourself up like you’re supposed to,” he mutters in response. “Right now I need you to run a full personal diagnostic report.”
“Already complete!” Victor chirps. “Total loss of function to both inferior limbs distal to the transverse solenoid plane, usability of right superior limb reduced to a range between four and seven percent, heightened probability of biomechanical cardiomyopathy, minor surface abrasions to medioventral sectors two dash six, four dash one, five—”
“Wait, what?” Yuuri spins around, his wide-eyed gaze darting over Victor’s body to search for any sign of damage he previously missed. “Define ‘biomechanical cardiomyopathy.’”
“I believe it’s what you humans would call a ‘broken heart.”’ Victor pouts. It shouldn’t be as effective as it is, all things considering. But Yuuri is nothing but a weak, weak man, especially when it comes to Victor. “You still have yet to give me my good morning kiss.”
Oh god, Yuuri is halfway to having a cardio-whatever it’s called himself. He shudders, tension bleeding out from his stiff, throbbing shoulders, and he folds inwards onto himself, a tightly wound puppet whose strings have suddenly been snipped.
“Yuuri?” He hears Victor ask, hesitant and worried. Hardly behavior to be expected of the former cybernetic boogeyman who once starred in the frightened, hushed rumors spread throughout the human settlement camps. “Are you okay? I’m not detecting any major injuries present in your biometric wavelength scan, but if you’re feeling unwell—”
Yuuri shoots his hand out to grab Victor by the scruff of the neck once more, this time to tug his head downwards to crush their lips together. The dried tears and caked soot on their faces mix into a bitter sludge on Yuuri’s tongue, turning his stomach sour. But oh, oh, he’s missed kissing Victor so much. While the last time was just earlier this morning, it was before they had gone out on patrol for spare lithium-ion parts. In the midst of their search, an enemy caravan had ambushed them from all sides. Now, after everything, it feels like an entire lifetime has passed since Yuuri’s captured Victor’s mouth with his own.
When Yuuri pulls away in reluctant need of air, he presses their foreheads together with a shaky exhale. “Victor, listen to me,” he quietly demands, tugging on Victor’s neck to snag his full attention. “I need you to stay by my side, but you can’t do that if you keep putting yourself at risk like this.”
“I can, and I will,” Victor promises, his expression unbelievably fond. “But that also means I’m not going to leave the squishy mortal human whom I adore—” he gives a playful poke to Yuuri’s abdomen “—to deal with blasts of that severe caliber on his own.”
Long gone is the little boy who wolfed down one too many bowls of his mother’s famous katsudon. He’s been slimmed down to bare bones from the worldwide food shortage and life on the constant run. So Yuuri doesn’t take offense to the slight jab at his physical prowess like he might’ve before the war.
Besides, no amount of calorie counting and muscle toning can ever put him close to being on the same level as Victor. One glance at the exposed ball-and-socket joint protruding from Victor’s right shoulder, the reinforced titanium plating shorn off like wet tissue paper, and Yuuri knows he wouldn’t have been here in any solid form if not for Victor. People would be discovering atomized particles of Yuuri up to miles away, raining down from the perpetually overcast skies in a fine red mist.
Something’s bound to break eventually. Maybe Yuuri himself, either mentally or physically. Maybe Victor, permanently beyond repair. Most likely them both. The best they can do is hope to hold on for another day. It used to be “another year.” Then, “another month.” After that, “another week.” Who knows when it’ll become quantified by hours. Minutes. Seconds.
Right now, Yuuri has settled on being grateful to see tomorrow with Victor by his side.
“I found your arm,” Yuuri says in lieu of pressing the subject further. He gestures to the charred lump of metal also lying on the workbench. After Yuuri guts and replaces the melted coaxial cables, adjusts the servo units configuration, and arc welds the entire thing back on, it’ll be… Well, not as good as new, not with their limited resources. But it’ll be something for now at least.
“Sorry,” he adds, “I looked for your legs too, but…” He had scoured the surrounding desert sand afterward, praying to at least find a screw or something, anything, from the legs that had seemingly evaporated into thin air. But he’s only wound up slightly sunburned for his efforts.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Victor says. He sounds way too chipper at the prospect of being legless until a temporary build can be implemented. “You know what this means though?”
“What’s that?” Yuuri asks, his focus more on shutting the computer off to lessen the strain on the already overtaxed generator. They’ll need to get fuel for that soon too. But with Victor now out of commission for an indefinite period of time—
“It means you’ll have to carry me around until then!” Victor exclaims. He snakes his working arm around Yuuri’s neck and hoists himself straight into Yuuri’s open arms.
“Eh?!” Yuuri scrambles to readjust Victor’s weight before they both tip over. His hands instinctively fall into a bridal carry position and he flushes bright red at the realization. “That’s what you’re taking from this?!”
“You usually can’t lift me otherwise, right?” Victor points out. He tilts his head in the direction of their humble sleeping quarters and then gives a beaming smile. “So here’s your lucky chance to carry me to bed.”
“Right now? But I haven’t fixed your arm yet,” Yuuri protests. “And I still need to figure out what I’m going to do for your legs, then—”
“Yuuri,” Victor says in low warning, his eyes flashing siren lights under half-shuttered lashes. His smile remains firmly in place but gathers a hint of danger around the brittle edges. “Need I remind you that between the two of us, it’s much more pertinent you maintain the seven-to-nine hour sleep schedule recommended for your species by leading professionals in the health field?”
“I know, it’s just—”
“Annnnnd proper rest is required for the promotion of healthy cell growth and regeneration, as well as a critical aspect in the prevention of chronic fatigue, a lowered immune system, inattentiveness—”
“Victor.” Yuuri cuts off the lecture with a burst of soft, huffed laughter, the first of which he’s experienced in a long, long while. “I get it, thank you,” he murmurs, brushing his lips against Victor’s temple. “Let’s go to bed, then.”
The area designated for sleeping is almost as cluttered as the workshop, a magpie’s nest of trinkets they’ve collected over time to help make their forced seclusion more bearable. There’s Victor with his tattered stack of vintage novels ranging from Dickens to Austen to (ironically) Asimov, his curiosity about the human race never fully quenched. Then there’s Yuuri with his hoard of retro video games for cases when he needs to escape from the real world for a bit.
It’s not much, but it’s home. It’s theirs.
Yuuri deposits Victor onto the pallet of threadbare blankets and then plops down a few inches away, the events of the day finally taking their toll. Automatically he arranges the two of them into their normal position: facing each other, bodies intertwined, hands splayed across the other’s chest.
“Good night, Victor,” Yuuri mumbles, his eyelids already beginning to droop shut. “Initiate sleep sequence.”
“Good night, Yuuri. Initiating sleep sequence in 3…2…1…”
Instead of a pulse that mirrors his own, Yuuri is soon lulled to sleep by the steadfast thrum of Victor’s internal pneumatic actuators, and that’s enough for him.
Victor will always be enough.