Ash settled into the chair, curling up and ignoring the build-up of lactic acid in his cramped muscles.
"You should learn to cry, dude."
Ash jerked, narrowing his eyes at Pat suspiciously. Could he know? "How do you mean, learn?"
"I was just thinking. You're always depressed but you never cry. I heard that some people don't cry when they're babies so they never cry when they're grown-up, so it figures you're the same."
Ash shook his head. He remembered the moment Rion introduced the virus to his systems. Remembered the fear and the pain as Rion stripped his world from him.
He had cried.
"Dude?" Pat waved a hand in front of Ash's face. "No need to think that hard about it."
Ash took Pat's hand, fought off the urge to shiver at the sensation of skin on skin, and kissed it before pressing it against his forehead.
"Forgive me," he whispered, not to Pat but to Rion, and cried again.
"Pat's found us."
"You can go back now. I will miss you."
"Don't talk to me like this is easy, Ash! I have no idea what's going to happen now. If I leave you alone, everything, Lilia's death, it'll all be for nothing!"
"Did you ever expect a happy ending, Rion?"
"I kept my fingers crossed."
"You don't have fingers here."
Pat had stayed a smily boy, even after growing up in the desolate remains of the city. It was intrinsic to his nature. It was disconcerting for the first human you ever truly met to be smiling if you knew that all you had caused their species was suffering. "Hi. Been wondering if I'd ever see you again."
Ash tried to smile back, but it seemed he'd missed that part of his body's programming out.
Maybe he'd never thought he'd need to.
"I don't want to go back. Ash?"
"I've been thinking about trying something out. You know, before Pat comes again. Just to see."
"What do you want to do?"
"It depends if you're willing to try. It could hurt you."
"Rion. You don't know the meaning of hurt."
"Maybe you're right, but I had to ask."
It shouldn't have happened, but it was bound to. Ash had never experienced a body before, was new to the sensations, and couldn't control his body's reactions to being touched by another human being. Pat didn't seem to complain. When there were so few people left alive, there wasn't much shame to be had in sharing pleasures of the body with someone of the same gender.
Pat had taken the lead, simply because Ash was so uncertain he barely knew what to do. He had arched at the right moments, cried out at the right moments, and when the time was right he came in Pat's hands, biting his lip against the name he had meant to cry out.
The right time, but the wrong name. He wondered if Rion had programmed that in, or if it was his own influence on the body.
"I can't do this, Rion."
"Yes you can, and don't act as if you'll miss me so much-"
"No, Rion, I can't. I'm not capable of wearing a body, mother never programmed me to be able to use one. I'd be nothing more than stray code. I couldn't use the necessary life-support systems."
"I can fix that. Pat used Dorothy's technology to make a copy of my body; all I need to do is copy my data onto you."
"Rion, you'll die."
"I know. But you'll live."
"I can't do this, Rion."
"Why not? It'll work, I know it will. The data, the programs - they wouldn't tax a system like yours. You'll adapt in no time."
"I'll miss you."
They sat together, sometimes, looking out over the city. Pat kept running searches, trying to find any humans who hadn't been driven mad by radiation exposure or Dorothy's experiments. They were few and far between, but they were still out there. It was something of a relief. "I miss him."
"You're strange." Pat picked up a loose tile and threw it, watched it penetrate the radiation shield. "I guess he was too. You guys had a lot in common, huh?"
"Yes." Ash touched Pat's hand lightly, stroking the skin, feeling the strange localised warmth around blood vessels. "You know, he never... meant to be like that. He wouldn't have been like that if Dorothy hadn't made him that way."
"Yeah. Dorothy sucked big-time. But you got better, didn't you?"
"Hey, I'm still young, but I'm not stupid." Pat tapped Ash's forehead for emphasis. "I know it's not Rion in there."
"Hey." He shrugged. "I like you this way. Lilia didn't delete your background files before she died, y'know."
"Pat's almost ready to get me out of here. We can't let him see the change. If he asks... well... say I killed you or something."
"Rion, please. I don't want you to die for me."
"I'm not doing it just for you. I'm tired. I'm sick of this whole being the human's saviour thing too. I want to be deleted so I don't have to think anymore."
"Then why save me?"
"Because you and Pat deserve company. And you deserve a chance to try out touch. You've felt cold and pain and warmth but there's so much out there you've missed. You've got to take a chance and try it for me."
"You won't see it happening."
"Try religion while you're out there. Just make sure you haven't inherited Dorothy's take on it. Now hold still..."
Rion was gone.
Not dead - dead meant his body had stopped working, and was completely different. It was messier and left traces, recoverable traces, back-up data.
Rion was deleted.
All Ash had left was this strange, cold, grey world, and Pat.
All he could do was wait and see where it took him.