Kisavo sat on the closed lid of the toilet, resting his hand on the old towel draped across Sireno’s legs, flinching every time Sireno eased a shard of glass out of his flesh no matter how Sireno tried to be gentle. The tweezers Sireno was using were already tipped with blood, and a few of the bigger shards lay in a shallow dish beside him on the edge of the bath. Nila had left, muttering something about not wanting to see all the blood, and the bathroom floor was still spattered with the drops that had fallen before Sireno had grabbed him and wrapped a towel loosely around his hand.
“That was really, really stupid,” Sireno said, scowling at the bit of glass he was carefully drawing out from just below Kisavo’s knuckle. “Seriously stupid. You know how easily you can totally fuck up your hand doing something like that? Not to mention busting our mirror. Some of these bigger ones might even need stitches, and I bet you’re not going to want to go to the hospital.” He twisted a bit to drop the shard into the dish and turned back to work on another sliver. “Do you ever actually think before you do, Kisa? I mean, what did that even prove?”
“I bleed. I’m human.”
“You know what else bleeds? Every single fucking thing that lives now, has ever lived, or will ever live. Congratulations, you have a circulatory system. My mom’s cat can bleed but that doesn’t make her human.”
“You think I’m not human too.”
“No, I think putting your fist through a goddamn bathroom mirror is a stupid fucking idea!” Sireno looked up long enough to glare at him. “Nila’s not exactly innocent in all of this, but what would even possess you to do that? Completely fuck up your hand just to prove a point, real fucking smart, genius.”
Kisavo studied him for a moment, bemused at his vehemence and a little amused at how much he swore when he was upset, then reached out with his good hand and gently used two fingers to tip Sireno’s chin up. When he could see Sireno’s eyes and the angry line of his mouth, he leaned forward and kissed him, lightly at first then deeper when Sireno’s mouth opened under his. He felt the twitch of a muscle in Sireno’s jaw, a light flutter beneath his fingertips, and the gentle careful steadiness of Sireno’s fingers on his injured hand.
“You worry about me,” he said when he pulled back long minutes later.
“I’m going to smack you in a minute.” Sireno bent his head back to removing the glass from Kisavo’s hand, his cheeks flushed red. “Honestly, Kisa. Stop acting like a child.”
“It’s just nice. Having someone to worry about me.” Kisavo hissed through his teeth as Sireno worked at a particularly jagged piece of glass. “Ow.”
“No sympathy, you did it to yourself.” Sireno patiently eased the piece free, his calm hands belying his words. “We are... concerned though. I mean, you can’t really blame us for that. It’s weird, okay? This whole screwed up situation. If it was reversed, if I came to you and I was so good at hacking and I said I was a netjunkie but I had no evidence of any implants, wouldn’t you be at least a little bit put off?”
“I guess so,” Kisavo said after a grudging moment. “But I wouldn’t accuse you of not being human.”
“Shit, Kisa, it’s not like human is such an awesome compliment.” Sireno dropped the piece of glass in the dish and held Kisavo’s hand up to the light. “Bunch of small ones left and a big one. I’ll take the big one out last, ‘cause that’s the one I’m most worried about.”
“You’re the medic.” Kisavo went silent for a bit, watching him work, smiling a little at the way he stuck his tongue out when he was concentrating hard.
By the time Sireno reached the big piece of glass, the one that had gone in dangerously close to the veins on the inside of Kisavo’s wrist, the blood had mostly clotted and dried. Kisavo flexed his fingers a little and was secretly relieved to find that he could still move them without much pain, though his knuckles felt stiff. He turned his hand to the side on the towel, letting it rest against Sireno’s leg so Sireno could carefully draw out the big chunk of glass. Fresh blood ran down Kisavo’s wrist when he did, but it was a trickle instead of a sheet, and soon oozed to a stop.
“Okay, it’s not pretty, but I don’t think you’ve destroyed anything.” Sireno wrapped Kisavo’s hand in the bloody towel and folded his arm up against his chest. “Sit tight while I find the first aid kit.”
As he got up Kisavo saw blood had managed to soak through the towel, staining a few dark patches on the thigh of Sireno’s grey sweatpants. Sireno didn’t seem to notice, moving the dish with its pile of bloody glass to the sink counter and carefully avoiding the swept pile of shattered bathroom mirror as he crouched down to look in the cupboard under the sink. After a few moments of searching he found the first aid kit and triumphantly brought it over, leaving it on the bath and promising to be back in just a minute with a bowl for water.
Kisavo went online briefly while he was gone, mostly to prove to himself that he could still do it. Unconsciously his good hand crept up to trace across the back of his neck, where he’d always felt the implant before. This time he felt only smooth skin and the sensation of it startled him so badly that he dropped his hand and immediately came offline, only a few moments before Sireno returned with a bowl of warm water and a couple of old but clean dishtowels.
Neither of them spoke much as Sireno knelt down and cleaned Kisavo’s hand with the dishtowel, though Kisavo muttered curses under his breath when Sireno slopped antiseptic over his hand. He squirmed on top of the toilet lid and stuck his tongue out when Sireno laughed at him, gradually relaxing as the stinging pain subsided. Sireno cleaned the foamy traces of blood from his skin and applied a few butterfly stitches to the worst of the gashes before wrapping his entire hand in bandages.
“You done this before?” Kisavo asked, watching the unhurried, confident motions of Sireno’s fingers.
“I’ve taken a few first aid courses. When we were younger, Nila was always getting into fights, usually with people twice her size. That meant I got involved in fights, and sometimes I needed to patch one of us up.” Sireno pinned the bandaging at Kisavo’s wrist and looked up at him. “So I’ve got some experience, but don’t take that to mean you should feel free to stupidly injure yourself again.”
Kisavo caught his arm as he started to get up, pulling gently so Sireno was kneeling between his legs. He took Sireno’s face between both hands, clumsily careful with his bandaged fingers, and studied his grey eyes, not even entirely sure what he was looking for. Sireno looked back steadily, though a faint blush crept along the line of his cheekbones. A little startled at the strength of his reaction—at the feelings flooding through him—Kisavo looked away for a moment, as though the tiles in the shower would give him some sort of reassurance.
“Tell me honestly,” he said, keeping his eyes on the shower’s wall, “do you think I’m some sort of... robot or something, like Nila does? I’m not human?”
Sireno was silent for long enough that Kisavo had to fight the urge to demand he answer, then he laughed a little. “Putting aside the question of what makes anyone human, whether it’s DNA or a social and legal construct, I don’t really care. I’m confused about it and I’m not dumb enough not to be a little cautious, but I don’t... feel like you’re just doing this all as some sort of cat and mouse game. If you want to hurt me, fine, you could do it right now. I just don’t think that’s you, whether you’re human or not.” Kisavo could hear the grin in his voice. “You’re way too much of a brat.”
“Jackass.” Kisavo looked back at him, relaxing a little when he saw the sincerity in Sireno’s eyes. “I’ve always felt the implant back there. But now I can’t.” He hesitated. “Sometimes... I have dreams where I’m in some sort of lab and I’m tied down to a table. I can’t move but everything hurts really bad, especially my head. I’ve got all these tubes and wires in my arms, and it always ends when someone comes in and gives me a needle.”
“You said you were an addict for a while, right? How’d you get sober?”
“I’m not sure.” He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to pick through memories as shattered as the bathroom mirror. “I got into them in high school, I remember that. Your typical disaffected urban kid. I was mad at everything, mad that my mom dragged me to Canada, mad that my dad died, and mad that she had to work all the time just to scrape up enough money for food, before DeBergh hired her. And I was mad at the stupid kids who laughed at me because sometimes my English wasn’t so good or because I was more into computers than sports, but the computer lab is where I met Jeremy. He was smart as hell, maybe even smarter than me, but he was so high all the time nobody noticed.”
Kisavo opened his eyes, laughing a bit. “If you’re asking if it was a geeky high school romance, no. We did some hacking together, he introduced me to the joys of getting high, then the stupid bastard crashed his car going one-twenty and died instantly. That was in my last year of high school. I graduated, went to college and dropped out, went backpacking, and after that it all gets fuzzy. I know I got in some major trouble hacking into somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, the kind of trouble you can’t go to the cops about. So I had to... I had to fake my death so they wouldn’t find me.” The sentence tasted false in his mouth. “Didn’t I?”
“You tell me.” Sireno smiled a little. “Forget it for now. What do you remember next?”
“I remember... water. A lot of water. Then not a lot until I woke up in Lina’s dad’s bed so hungry it felt like my stomach was trying to eat its way through my ribs. He said he’d found me passed out and feverish in the street, and that he had no problem giving me a place to sleep as long as I detoxed.” Kisavo smiled a bit. “And that was hell, but I managed it.”
“And then you, what, just went back out onto the street?” Sireno rested his arms on Kisavo’s thighs, leaning forward slightly in a way that made Kisavo momentarily forget anything he had been about to say.
“Uh... Basically, yes. They don’t have a lot as it is, so I figured I’d at least get my ass out of their home. I just visit, buy meals there when I can, help out sometimes. Least I can do to help pay them back.”
“Then you stumbled onto NetLife, drove Nila nuts, and ended up here.” Sireno chewed on his bottom lip, obviously thinking it over. “So there’s something in that chunk of time you don’t really remember. Utopia aside and all, I think it’s probably really important that you remember.”
“Unless you have a hidden talent for hypnotherapy, that’s probably not going to happen.” Kisavo arched an eyebrow at him. “You don’t, do you, along with your talents for law, gaming, hacking, teenage fights, and first aid?”
“Is that all I’m talented at? And no. No hypnotherapy. Though I do know this guy...”
“I’ll pass,” Kisavo said, laughing. “I’ll try to remember though. Not promising anything but... I’ll try.”
“For all we know, it might not be a robot versus human sort of thing either.” Sireno grinned. “Maybe you’re the next evolution, Mother Nature’s response to all this technology. Adapted to an electronic world.”
He was still smiling but Kisavo felt a chill go through him at the words and almost grasped the edge of a slippery memory before it tattered away like clouds. “I... Maybe. I guess we’ll find out. Need to get back to Utopia too.”
“Not right this second. My knees are killing me and this place is still a mess, plus you should probably take it easy for a while.” Sireno pushed himself up, rubbing at his knees, then offered a hand. “Chill on the couch for the afternoon, or my bed if you want.”
Kisavo took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled up and led out of the bathroom. When Sireno looked at him he nodded to the bedroom, amused at the speculative look Sireno gave him, though it faded once they actually got into the room. Covering a sudden yawn, Kisavo sat on the bed, checking his clothes for any bloodstains. That reminded him of Sireno’s pants and he pointed it out, getting a shrug in return.
“I’ve gotta go clean the bathroom anyway, so I’ll change once that’s done. Take a nap or something. You still look wiped.” He leaned forward to kiss Kisavo’s cheek but left before Kisavo could catch hold of him for more.
Kisavo pushed himself back and lay down, resting his injured hand on his stomach. It ached but the ache was dull under the power of the aspirin he’d taken earlier. He flexed his fingers again, trying to work some of the stiffness out of them, and closed his eyes, trying to relax enough to doze. His thoughts immediately circled around again to the conversation he and Sireno had had in the bathroom and he struggled to remember anything about the fuzziest portion of his memory. Without realizing it he drifted into sleep.
In the white room he still lay strapped to the cot, but the pain was beginning to ease and he thought that some of the tubes had been removed from his arms. Wires still festooned his bare skin but nothing was pumping any mysterious substances into him. He closed his eyes, trying to will the dream—except it wasn’t really a dream, he somehow knew—away so he could dream of something else, or wake up. Footsteps came into the room and he lay still, unwilling to let on that he was awake again until he knew who had entered.
Gentle, cool fingers checked the wires attached to him and brushed his hair back from his forehead. His eyes opened involuntarily and he found himself looking up into a familiar face, though he couldn’t remember where he’d seen it before. His first thought was that she looked a little like his mother; a younger version with her face still unlined and the first touch of grey at her temples still a long way off. Then she turned away a little and he saw his father instead in the line of her jaw and the curve of her neck.
“This is really weird,” she said, her voice and words incongruous in the brilliantly white room. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” he tried to say, but only a rusty croak came out.
She seemed to understand and gave him a smile that was at once sympathetic and infuriatingly condescending. “I’m Lily, of course.”
He croaked again, cleared his throat, and managed a harsh whisper. “Means shit to me.”
“Such charming language,” she said, and he abruptly realized she was speaking Hebrew. “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.” He listened to his own voice and wasn’t surprised to hear the Hebrew words. “I’m... I don’t remember a lot. Do you know this place?”
“No,” she said musingly. “I just followed you here. To be honest, I don’t like it much. I’m going to go.”
“Wait!” he called desperately as she started to walk away. “Let me go first.”
She gave him a blank look. “But I didn’t put you there.”
“So? Fucking let me go.” Helpless rage bubbled up inside him. “Let me go!”
She only looked at him coolly for a long moment, then turned and walked out of the room. He snarled and struggled to get free, straining his arms against the ties until the muscles stood out like stone and he felt on the verge of tearing something. Somewhere an alarm went off and more footsteps hurried into the room. Someone held him down despite his thrashing and someone else slipped the needle into his arm again, sending him back down into darkness.
He jerked awake, breathing hard and soaked in sweat, to a room dim with evening shadows. Outside a car’s horn honked and he heard voices down the hall, a gentle murmur without actual words. For a few long moments he just lay there, catching his breath, then pushed himself up one-handed and made his way down to the bathroom. His hand was beginning to send spikes of pain from the tips of his nails halfway down his forearm and after awkwardly washing his face in the sink, he fumbled the aspirin out of the first aid kit and downed a handful.
He found Sireno and Nila in the kitchen, sitting at the table and drinking coffee. On the stove something in a pot bubbled and burped, making his stomach growl with its rich scent. Nila gave him a wary look when she saw him, like he was a dog that might bite if she got too close, but Sireno immediately got up and came over to him in such an exact repeat of lunchtime that he laughed. Flashing a slightly puzzled smile, Sireno took his hand to lead him to a chair then went to check on the food.
They ate dinner in silence except for the clink of silverware and afterwards Nila half-heartedly suggested they go online to see what was happening. She didn’t argue when Sireno said they should wait a little longer and went into her studio instead, closing the door most of the way and leaving them alone in the kitchen. Kisavo helped to dry the dishes and when they were done, Sireno took him into the living room to watch TV.
He dozed off for a little while, his head on Sireno’s shoulder, and woke when Nila came to say good night. He supposed the nod he got from her was the closest he would get to an apology, and he lifted a hand in a wave when she headed for her bedroom. They stayed on the couch for a little longer, enough to watch the news—there was only a small blurb on NetLife, with more posturing from the lawyer vowing to destroy it—then Sireno stretched and pushed himself to his feet.
“Guess I should let you sleep. Want to take the bed again? It’s more comfortable than the couch.”
“We could both take the bed.” Kisavo arched an eyebrow. “I promise your virtue is safe with me, unless you don’t want it to be.”
“I want to sleep.” Sireno offered him a hand, smiling a bit. “But sharing is caring.”
Kisavo took Sireno’s hand with his good one, letting Sireno pull him up to his feet. They took turns using the bathroom then undressed and crawled into bed, awkwardly shifting around until they were both comfortable. Enjoying the warmth, Kisavo nuzzled the hollow of Sireno’s throat and closed his eyes to sleep, and this time he didn’t dream.