Rays of sunlight struck Lily’s face, intruding through the open window. On an ordinary day, this would have been the cue for her to wake up. Unfortunately, that was not the case. She had not slept at all the previous night. All night she had waited, hoping that Iris would join her, and her hope went unanswered.
She pushed herself into a sitting position and buried her face in her hands, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm herself down. She wanted to laugh at herself. Just one night with Iris not in her bed and she was an emotional wreck. Had she not previously spent a night in Riasode without issue? So why was this any different?
“…You know why it’s different.”
She scolded herself and her denial. This was different because Iris was clearly angry at her, at something she’d done. Likely because Iris took Lily’s fear as her not trusting in Iris’ abilities. This divide was not caused by necessity or circumstance, but instead was wholly the result of her error. That was why it was different.
She quickly put on her working clothes and hurried downstairs. She needed to set this right, and quickly. She probed the house while she walked, but was dismayed to find that the Iris-shaped void in her network was nowhere to be found within the house. A set of scenarios flashed through her mind, each with an explanation for Iris’ absence, each successive scenario increasingly frightful and heartbreaking. She forced her train of thought to stop the moment she found herself briefly considering the chances that Iris had left her out of spite. Iris would not do something as petty as that. She was far too reasonable, too responsible to do it. Clearly, there had to be a reasonable explanation.
As she scoured the house, she noticed a plate of food on the dining table, a small detail she had missed in her panic. She hurried up to it, dispersing the shimmering magic field around it that kept insects away. A breakfast of scrambled eggs and toasted white bread, accompanied by a white slip of paper that bore Iris’ unmistakably perfect handwriting.
Went hunting. Wash the dishes when done.
Lily ground her teeth. That was clearly an excuse to get away from Lily. Iris was terrible at hunting. Animals always seemed to sense her approaching, and both of them knew that while Iris had the accuracy to hit a fly from half a kilometer away, her weaponry was entirely unsuited for hunting. This, coupled with the fact that Iris had gone out of her way to tell Lily to wash her own dishes, made it clear that the android was still angry. Lily sighed and slumped down in a chair. How was she supposed to apologise if Iris was avoiding her?
After a few moments, Lily decided that slouching in a chair regretting her actions from the previous night was an extremely unproductive use of her very limited time. She was on a deadline, and Vessel’s army was not going to wait for her to sort out her domestic arguments with her lover. What was done could not be undone; She had made a mistake, all that was left was for her to rectify it. Iris seemed to be denying her this opportunity. In that case, she would carry on as per normal until the opportunity presented itself. Besides, work might help to stop her from excessively brooding on the matter.
She quickly finished up the meal and washed the dishes, hurrying over to her workshop, where she set her notes and sketches in front of her, surveying the prototype of the machine that she had developed the previous day, determined to perfect it, to take her mind off her relationship troubles.
Unfortunately, she quickly came to a painful realisation. The only remaining part of the machine for her to design was the convertor to streamline affinity-based command processing. The problem was that while she understood the theory, putting it into practice was infinitely harder, especially when magic was such an abstract existence. It helped to have a reference, but her reference was currently angry at her and apparently going out of its way to avoid her. As such, she made very little progress on the machine.
After two hours of frustration and annoyance, she decided to set aside the project. She was clearly getting nowhere without Iris’ assistance. She thought back to their post-dinner conversation, where they had discussed the possibility of upgrades for each member of their family. She had intended them as merely what-ifs, hypothetical creations she would work on if she had time left over after completing the amplifier for Tate. However, attempting to complete the machine without Iris’ help was helplessly futile. It might be a better use of her time to work on these hypotheticals while waiting for Iris to cool down. Lily moved to another workbench – one reserved for upgrades on her limbs. She sat down and placed her arm in a large clamp-like machine, which suspended her arm steadily in the air above the table. She grabbed a set of tools and began to tinker with her arm, making slight adjustments and using her other arm to sketch out a tentative design to match the armor that Prei had made her.
Thus engrossed in her work, Lily nearly dropped her arm in surprise when three raps sounded from the door. Probably Iris. Maybe she wanted to talk things out? She called out for the knocker to enter. As expected, Iris was the one who walked into the workshop, her Varia holding the door open while her hands carried a large plate of food – some kind of steak, with potatoes and a salad on the side. The sky behind her was orange, which came as a surprise to Lily – she had no idea she’d been working on her arms for so long. Iris took one look at the dismembered arm and sighed in exasperation, opening her mouth to say something, then quickly shutting it, as if she suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be angry.
She had her Varia shut the door behind her and walked up to Lily, setting the plate down on the workstation before turning to leave. Acting on impulse, Lily reached out to grab her arm – or would have, if not for the fact that her currently attached arm was holding another arm. As a result, Lily unconsciously extended through the detached arm, grabbing Iris’ arm with the hand of the detached arm. Iris turned around, took one look at the ridiculous setup, and burst into giggles, her amusement overriding her intent to be stern. Lily seized the opportunity and took the display one step further, by using the detached arm to pull up a chair next to Iris. Iris hesitated, then sat on the proferred seat, wiping the laughter from her eyes.
“Iris… are you still angry?”
Iris did not answer for a moment, her giggling stopping her from forming complete sentences. After a while, she looked into Lily’s eyes, her face returning to its serious expression.
“Not angry, per se. More like… disappointed? Yeah. Disappointed.”
“Iris, I’m sorry.”
“Do you know what you’re apologising for?”
Lily bit her lip. This was the problem. She was unsure what exactly she had done to incur Iris’ ire. She had her guesses, but those were just guesses. She decided to put forth her best guess.
“For not trusting in you, for not having faith in your ability. For hiding things from you.”
Iris shook her head.
“That’s not it. Well, that’s not quite true. All of that did make me a bit angry. But you did all that because you love me, because you don’t want me to be in danger. So I’m okay with that. That’s not the reason I’m disappointed.”
“…Then, what is? I don’t know, Iris. Please tell me. What did I do wrong?”
“Lily. You wanted me to stay away because you wanted me to be safe, right? Because you can’t bear the thought of losing me? Because you love me?”
“Of course. Of course I love you. You’re everything to me.”
“Lily, love goes both ways. I love you as much as you love me.”
Lily blinked as a thought came to mind. She was starting to deduce the source of Iris’ disappointment, and felt growing annoyance that she had not thought of it sooner. She said nothing, allowing Iris to continue.
“You want me to stay behind because you’re afraid of losing me. But Lily, I want to go with you because I’m afraid of losing you.”
“You’re going off to face an army of two hundred thousand. You expect me to be able to sit at home and drink tea while knowing that you’re risking your life on the battlefield? What if… what if you don’t come back? Will I be waiting for you, forever? Because you know that’s what I would do. I’d wait forever. Time holds little meaning for me. Because I wouldn’t be able to deal with the alternative. Because without you, there’s no reason for me to live. That’s why I’m disappointed. Because I thought you understood the depth of my love for you, but I was wrong.”
Lily threw her detached arm on the table and rushed forward, gathering Iris up in a one-armed hug.
“Oh, Iris. You know I’d never do anything to make you suffer. No matter what I’m up against, whether it’s two hundred thousand or two hundred million, just knowing you’re waiting for me at the end of the horde will give me the strength I need.”
“Lily, promises are one thing. But there are no absolutes in war. Anything can happen. And that’s what I’m afraid of. That’s why I wanted to come along. That night, when you were staying in Riasode, I felt so lonely; lonelier than I’ve ever felt before. When I think of the possibility that I might have to feel like that every night for the rest of eternity… I’m scared, Lily. I don’t want to lose you.”
Lily kissed Iris’ ear.
“You won’t lose me, Iris. I am yours, and you are mine.”
She pulled away and guided her hand down, clasping Iris’ own hand. Their wedding bands made a light ringing sound as they struck each other.
“We’re always together, Iris. No matter what happens. I swear, I will return safely. Though I suppose it’s hypocritical of me to ask you to believe in my strength when I refused to believe in yours.”
“It certainly is.”
“Well, I’d still prefer you to stay here, but if you want to, you can come along as well. So we can protect each other.”
“Now you’re willing to give in? I should have said all this yesterday, then.”
Lily returned the smile, but her mind was already racing to devise proper strategies to keep Iris safely out of Vessel’s reach.
“Still, I thought about it last night, and most of today. I’ll respect your wishes, Lily. I’ll stay behind.”
“…Really? You’re okay with that?”
“Honestly? No. But I trust you. And I trust your power. Most of all, I trust your judgement. You clearly wouldn’t be trying this hard to keep me off the battlefield unless you had reason to believe that I would be in danger there. Whether or not it’s actually a threat to me, neither of us can say. But if I were to go, you would certainly spend a good amount of energy and time worrying about me, and we can’t have that.”
Lily had no response, for Iris was undeniably correct.
“So instead, I’ll trust in you, and wait for your return. It won’t be very pleasant for me, but if that’s what you need to fight in your best condition, that’s what I’ll do.”
Lily pulled Iris into a hug again.
“Thank you, Iris… And sorry.”
“No need to apologise, Lily. Objectively, the whole ignoring approach I took yesterday wasn’t the best way to express my frustration. So I should apologise for that, if anything. I think we both learned a little from this little fight.”
“Was this a fight?”
“I don’t know. I think it qualifies?”
“I kind of hope it was. We’ve never had a fight before – it was a fresh, if unpleasant, experience.”
“Well, Lily, now that we’ve had a fight, does that make us a proper couple?”
“Of course we’re a proper couple. We’re married, you silly girl.”
With that, Lily pulled Iris’ chin close to her face and pressed her wife’s lips to her own.