The journey passed much like how a funeral passes – in laborious silence. It was their own little funeral service, the life and death of Sarah weighing upon the minds of Lily and Iris. Prei did not say anything as she flew. With her inhuman senses, she had been able to hear every word, despite staying outside the facility. When Iris wanted to talk about it, she would. Until then, Prei would keep her questions and consolations to herself.
Dawn was already starting to break when they arrived back at their home. Unusually, the lights in the forge were switched off – it seemed like Tate was still asleep. Prei landed softly on the ground next to the lake. Instead of bending down to let them off as they expected, she abruptly jerked to the side, tossing Lily and Iris into the lake. After a few moments to overcome the surprise, Lily broke her head clear of the water’s surface and shouted at Prei with indignation.
“Prei! What do you think you’re-”
“Both of you take a bath. I’ll go prepare breakfast.”
Prei reverted back to her humanoid form while interrupting Lily’s protest with a tone of voice which brooked no disagreement.
“You should take a bath, mother. It’ll be good to take things off your mind.”
“No, but I don’t-”
“You should take a bath.”
Lily’s repeated protests were met with cold rejection as Prei turned toward the house. At this point in time, Iris, who had remained silent, spoke up.
“Uh, Prei? I don’t need a bath; I have self-cleaning functions.”
Prei sighed, exasperated, and shot Iris a pointed look.
“Please stay here and make sure mother gets clean. Don’t let her come back until she’s properly cleaned herself, okay? Just stay here and watch her, and don’t come back until both of you are done.”
She held Iris’ gaze for a while, as Iris responded with silent confusion. Then, all of a sudden, Iris flushed red and averted her gaze. Satisfied, Prei turned back to the house and walked off, leaving a confused Lily and an embarrassed Iris. Lily sighed as she began to scrub herself.
“I swear, that girl… Sometimes I don’t know what she’s thinking. I mean, I’m glad she’s grown up to be such a strong, independent woman, but sometimes I miss when she was younger. She was so cute back then. I mean, she’s still cute now, but, it’s different, you know?”
Lily rambled on while washing herself in the lake, having taken off her clothing and leaving it to dry on the ground nearby. Meanwhile, Iris had exited the water and was sitting on the ground next to the lake, watching Lily wordlessly, her face still red. Worried, Lily paused her washing and spoke up.
“Iris, you okay?”
“…Yes, I’m fine. I’m just…thinking.”
Lily frowned, but resumed washing herself. Something was clearly on Iris’ mind. Still, the girl would speak when she wanted to. Lily just had to make sure she would be there to listen.
Lily washed herself for a bit longer, but kept stealing glances at Iris. She couldn’t take her mind off the android. She was starting to feel embarrassed under Iris’ constant gaze. Finally, exasparated, she turned to Iris and asked,
“Could you help me wash my back? I can’t quite reach.”
It was a lie, of course. Lily’s arms were not bound by the regular limitations of a human skeletal structure. She had no problems contorting her arms to wash every part of her body. However, she felt that asking Iris to wash her might help to dispel some of the awkwardness that hung in the air. Nodding, Iris waded into the water. Lily turned around, presenting her back, and Iris promptly began to scrub it, pouring water over it and over her shoulders.
“…This is kind of like back when we first got out of the other world, isn’t it?”
Iris uttered a statement of reminiscence as she scrubbed. Lily smiled and replied.
“Yes. Our little group’s grown a bit since then, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed it has. We’ve come a long way.”
“Tate and Prei… they were so small when they first joined us… Now look at Prei, a grown woman, ordering me around. I can hardly believe it’s been, what, six years? Such a long time. It seems like a lifetime ago I pulled you out of that pod.”
“I remember it like yesterday though.”
“That’s cheating, you never forget anything with those memory banks of yours! That said, I remember it too.”
Lily and Iris giggled as they talked of the past.
“Iris… thank you. Thank you for staying with me, for supporting me all this while. Without you… I think I would have been lost.”
Lily quietly expressed her gratitude as Iris scrubbed her back.
“Lily. If anything, I should be thanking you. If not for you pulling me out of the Warden, I might still be trapped in that other world, nothing more than a power source for a weapon of war. It’s because you saved me that I was able to meet Prei and Tate, it’s because you took me with you that I was able to finally meet my mother again. Lily, there’s so much I have to thank you for, and I fear nothing I do will ever be enough to repay you for everything that you’ve done for me.”
Lily laughed and smiled gently.
“Please. Just by being here with me, you’ve already more than repaid your debt. You’ve saved me so many times, from enemies and from my own insecurities. Your presence is what keeps me going. You owe me nothing.”
Iris let her voice trail off with uncertainty. She stopped scrubbing, leaving Lily suddenly devoid of the soothing feeling of Iris’ hands on her back. Concerned, Lily turned around.
“Iris? Is something the- mmmph?!”
The moment she turned to face Iris, Iris had placed her hands behind Lily’s head and tiptoed in the water, touching her lips to Lily’s. As Lily’s eyes widened and her hands moved in a panic, Iris’ tongue intertwined with her own, the warm, wet feeling of Iris’ simulated tongue texture wrapping itself around Lily’s tongue, filling her mouth, undulating and rolling around, lightly skirting the edges of her teeth. As Lily’s surprise subsided, her panicking hands slowly calmed down, her undamaged hand wrapping itself around Iris’ small body. She began to move her tongue as well, matching Iris’ movements, allowing herself to indulge in the sensation of melting into Iris, their two tongues melding into one fluid entity. Their kissing became more and more vigorous, until finally Lily had to pull away to breathe.
Lily’s breath came in hot, deep gasps, her hand continuing to hold on to Iris’ back. Iris, for her part, refused to let go, and she looked right into Lily’s eyes, her non-red eye a bright pink.
“Lily, I love you.”
The utterance of those words caused Lily’s habitual doubt to surface. She wanted so much to believe in them, but something stopped her. The doubt that had plagued her for years reared its head, and her hand loosened. Iris immediately tightened her own grip, as if afraid that Lily would push her away.
“Lily, I love you.”
“Why… why now?”
“It’s not just now. It’s always been the case. I’ve always loved you. At first I didn’t know how to classify this feeling, I thought it was a malfunction, but I eventually realised it was love. I’ve never outright said it because I was… afraid, of how you might respond. But… after seeing Sarah’s memories… I don’t care anymore. I love you. I want you to know I love you, in case one day it becomes too late. In case you’re taken away from me, the same way Liliana was taken away from her. I love you, Lily.”
Lily was stunned. She had no intention of going anywhere. Iris’ emotional display tugged at her heartstrings, made her want more than ever to cast aside her doubts, but she could not. The doubt had consumed her for too long, it refused to be so easily forgotten. She shook her head, tearing up.
“I-it’s just your programming. You love me because you’re built that way, not because of true love. I… I…”
“What is true love?”
Iris interrupted Lily’s stuttering rebuttal with a single, short question.
“Let’s say I love you because of my programming. Okay. Does it matter? I don’t love you any less. I still feel like I love you. So does it matter?”
Lily was rendered speechless. Iris smiled and removed one hand from behind Lily’s head, bringing it to the front of Lily’s face and caressing her cheek.
“This isn’t a programmed response. I know because I have Sarah’s memories, and I know she never programmed this into me. This is all me. And even if it was a programmed response, I wouldn’t love you any less. Isn’t that enough?”
Lily could say nothing. She knew that she loved Iris. It had been the cause of much hesitation and unease over the last six years. Each time she wanted to bring it up, she had been stopped by her seemingly incurable doubt. And yet, now Iris was telling her that her doubts were of little consequence. Lily believed. She wanted to believe. She consciously tried to throw her doubt away, but a small, nagging thread remained. She did not want to answer Iris’ feelings if even a thread of doubt remained, for that was how much she loved the girl. As such, she took steps to dispel the thread of doubt, recalling what Sarah had said.
“Angelfall Alpha, Command Protocol Yule Seven Hammerhead One Five Eight One Initialise. Order: Stop Loving Me.”
Unlike at the facility, Iris did not freeze up or stand at attention. Her voice did not become a monotone. Her eyes did not even change colour, remaining an eerily beautiful contrasting pair of red and pink discs. Lily felt a rush of excitement as the thread of doubt began to wear thin. There was one final test. Sarah had said only she and Liliana possessed the authorisation to use it, but Sarah had also said that Lily and Liliana were similar, so there was the chance that it might work.
“My lovely angelic daughter Iris, please stop loving me, okay?”
This time, Iris giggled before responding.
“You guessed right. Your voice does work. But the answer is no. Besides, I’m not your daughter. Your lover, on the other hand…”
Seeing Iris nonchalantly ignore the command caused the thread of doubt to finally snap. With tears building at the sides of her eyes, Lily tightened her grip on the girl once more and pulled her close. Finally, she was able to say what she had wanted to say, for so long.
“I love you, Iris.”
With that, she seized Iris’ lips, and the two girls melted into one figure, sharing a passionate kiss in the center of a tranquil lake…