She had failed again today.
Hand grasping the wound at her side, she shoved her key into the lock, kicking the door open to her apartment. Collapsing to her knees, she groaned, blood seeping beyond her fingers. She allowed her body to hit the cold steel-coloured tiles in their foyer. At that moment, her identity fell apart, she was no longer Dunnock but simply Astatine.
Laying on her side, her breath grew slow and jagged. Her throat burned as she tried to swallow. She let her jaw go slack, uncaring of the blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.
What was left of her nerves concentrated on the parts of her that were still flesh and bone, her stomach muscles torn to shreds.
She closed her eyes, pained and hoping her wife would be home soon.
At any moment she knew Lionel would be pulling up the curb outside their building to drop her off.
She thought she was getting better at her damnable job. Her targets were clean, disposed of without so much as a whimper. It would take so much for her to hear any kind of pride in Lamb’s voice as she spoke to her through her radio, she was certain of it.
The frantic clack of Ms. Lamb’s heels down the hall echoed through her ears, she could hear the hitch in her breath as she entered the doorway.
Her heart ached as she caught sight of her crumpled, shivering form on the floor. Lamb stared grievously, struggling to find the courage to move. With a whispered and desperate “Oh, bruce…” She wrapped her arms around Astatine. Despite her shorter stature she was still strong enough to pick her up, hauling her up the stairs.
The white tub stood stark against the dark grey smooth stone wall of their bathroom. Astatine’s ragged breath pitched as her wife set her down as gently as she could. Her ears rang, Lamb’s voice felt so distant, her body moved mechanically as if she were a marionette being poorly puppeteered as Lamb carefully pulled off her bloody and torn clothes.
She dropped her head, her dark hair falling in front of her face, not wanting Lamb to see her bruised skin.
There was a particularly gentle way her wife touched her, reserved for when she was injured and those intimate moments between their sheets. Lamb made quick work of the wound at her side. Astatine gasped, her body jerked, chemical sting striking her nervous system.
Lamb could not find the right words to say as she wrapped a bandage around her torso. It was not as though any reassurance would take her pain away.
There was deep exhaustion set in Astatine’s eyes, worry wore her down as Lamb caressed her cheek. Whimpering, Stat squeezed her eyes shut. Her wife's warm hand rubbed her back, soft lips pressed a kiss to her temple. Her body calmed, Lamb lifted her chin and began to gently wipe away the blood from her face.
Hardly able to keep her eyes open, she grunted as her wife set an arm around her shoulders, she helped her to bed after wrapping her in a robe.
Turning away from her, Lamb took a step to their window. The entire wall was four massive panels of thick glass, looking out against the city.’s night She stared absently, a feeling of sonder enveloping her as she watched a light go out in the buildings below, people moving around in apartments, cars stuck in traffic far below honked impatiently. Here she stood, high above the city, yet her heart felt hollow. She pressed a button on the wall, a quiet hum whirred as the curtains shut, enclosing them in darkness.
Clicking on the light at her desk, she sat down with Astatine’s jacket. From her desk drawer she pulled out her sewing kit, finding that she was out of black thread, only finding a spool of dark green. She sighed, at least it matched her wife’s hair was her only thought on the matter; color-coded by the love she gave to her.
She never understood why Astatine did not just get a new jacket. It was black, made of high-grade kevlar and experimental fabric developed within the labs of Automnicon’s paramilitary division, meant to protect her from anything that would try to harm her. People were becoming more clever, creating weapons that could pierce through such a fabric, pierce through her skin, or what was left of it beyond the metalwork and plastic that framed her body. It had been torn before, many times, but Astatine insisted she keep that same one despite both of them having enough to get her a new one, a better one.
A small lump within the fabric caught her attention. Fingers searched, finding a hidden pocket. Unzipping it, she found Astatine’s wedding ring looped within a silver chain. It had been made from the diamonds that rained over Saturn, polished and cut to her idea of perfection. Astatine kept the ring around her neck since her ring finger had long since been gone, replaced with a technologically advanced prosthetic along a few of her other fingers.
Crying was not something Andrea Lamb did frequently, or ever for that matter. In her mind, the most egregious event that broke her was the day she walked into her office to find a small box on her desk tied up with red ribbon. It contained her wife’s ring finger.
She hadn’t cared who heard her as she sobbed. They had only been married a few months at that point.
Memories inside her heart were there to grieve as the diamond reflected against the light. She would never forget the expression on Astatine’s face the night she had proposed.
Astatine had been a bit tipsy, sitting on the couch, her head propped by her hand. Lamb sat next to her, not having touched her glass of wine at all.
“Stat,” She had murmured, getting up. She took a deep breath. “It truly has been a pleasure to have you by my side through every ordeal that has occurred since King took over,”
Astatine’s brow furrowed. The mildly confused expression on her face was unforgettable as Lamb quickly tried to salvage her disposition.
“I know things have been difficult, but you’ve been so resilient.” She walked around the marble coffee table, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands. Astatine still had all of her fingers back then. The happiness Lamb felt when around her was indescribable, a foreign warmth wrapping tightly around her. It was never the designer clothes, nor was it the penthouse or the expensive meals or luxurious material objects she bought for herself believing these were the things that she wanted after years of having nothing, but simply Astatine. It was her loose smile, her soft downturned eyes, the way she would always walk on her side with her still human hand so she could hold it.
It was her adaptability. She paused at the thought, realizing she was staring at Astatine’s hands. It was the way she answered to her every beck and call.
It was her obsequious nature.
Astatine was so terribly obedient.
That was not the only thing.
Her hands inexplicably trembled as she reached for the small box in her pocket. “Will you marry me?”
In sewing, she began to lose herself. Pricking herself as she hand-sewed everything with kind intention, she watched the blood bead on her finger tip. It kept her alive. It was something that made her human, supposedly. No other CEO of Automnicon knew the extent of her own metalwork. She could not dare to fathom what they would think if they knew, not with the way Penelope and Humphrey spoke in hushed tones around Astatine, judging murmurs following her every movement when she was simply trying to go about her day.
Astatine lay buried underneath the covers. Curled up, hidden away from the world.
The night would have been silent were it not for her soft snoring. Lamb found comfort in knowing her wife was with her. Unmistakably, she would always return alive, damaged as she may be.
The covers felt heavy against her body, as if her shame were pressing her down. Her dry throat scratched at her. She crawled from underneath the covers with a groan.
Lamb heard the creak of the bed as Astatine got up. “Sweetheart?”
Astatine looked blearily at her wife, feeling almost undeserving of her gentle tone.
Her wife looked so poorly, Lamb tightened her brow. She set down the jacket and walked over to the side of the bed. “How are you feeling now?”
Sometimes, better was all anyone could ask for. Meekly, Astatine asked for a glass of water, as if it were some imposition to ask for such a thing. Lamb got up, kissing her on the forehead, assuring she would get the water for her.
The revolting scent of blood stung her nose as she descended the steps. Astatine had left bloody handprints on the floor, but there was something about it that comforted Lamb, as horrible as that sounded. She exists, she is alive because she bled.
On her knees, her wife’s blood coated her fingers, she always had Astatine’s blood on her hands. How terribly on the nose it was. Her rough scrubbing could do nothing to wash away the guilt and greed that lived inside her, partners carefully dancing a waltz in a grand theatre of supposed indifference.
After, She scrubbed her hand until it was raw, her other until it gleamed a nearly brand new shine under the light.
With a deep breath, she pressed a glass to the water filter on the fridge door.
Upstairs, she stayed in the doorway for a moment, watching the covers rise and fall gently. Her efforts to keep her alive were selfish, what gave her the right to play with Astatine’s life the way she did?
Setting the glass on the nightstand, she glanced for a moment at their framed wedding photo. Pursing her lips, she faced the frame down, unable to look at their own smiling faces. She gently pulled back the blanket to reveal her.
Astatine clenched her teeth as she clawed her way back to a sitting position. Lamb handed her the water glass, sitting on the edge next to her. She finished the glass quickly, almost apologetic with the way she handed it back to her.
While Lamb left the bedroom, she reached for a pill bottle on her bedside table. Despite everything, Astatine could never forget her nightly routine. Her body bore too much metal and silicone for her to have continued using patches. While the pill dissolved under her tongue, she absently scratched her upper arm, remembering how the patches would stretch over her skin, reminiscing almost on what her arm used to feel like before it was replaced with pistons.
Her wife returned once more, this time with a pitcher of water, in case she needed more throughout the night. After tying the last knot of thread on her jacket, Lamb joined her under the covers, wrapping her arms around her.
Astatine shifted, her voice scratchy and thin. “Lamb?”
Lambs were symbols of innocence, nothing about her was like that, she felt like a wolf devouring prey with the way she clung to Astatine, her body trembling. “Yes, darling?”
“I love you.”
She covered Astatine’s body with her own, parting her robe.
The only sounds between them were the shuffling of the sheets, their quiet loving murmurs and the occasional clink of their metalwork softly striking one another. The sound was a constant reminder of her sins, she did not know how to fix her, how to make up for the things she had done to her.
“I love you, too.” She whispered, but only after all was done. It meant nothing when soon enough she would send Astatine to do her bidding once more, it meant nothing when her wife would come home bleeding. Her words, their marriage, her kisses meant nothing when Astatine’s heart would stop beating again and again.
She pressed a hand to Astatine’s bare shoulder, where her skin stretched into her exposed metalwork. Just like hers did.
She did look a little bit too much like her.
It was never her intention for Astatine to have so much metalwork, for her body to resemble too closely to her own. Did she not feel proud?
Every day, it felt like the seams were more than torn. Lamb had created her own hell, repeating the same mistakes over and over again, suffering with each passing moment. She made her home in a place where no one ever goes, a place where she had to stitch her wife together as if she were a bionic ragdoll.
It crossed her mind for a second to demand she call her Andrea. She would be playing CEO. She could not be her wife as she did not deserve to be; she did not deserve her respect after everything she had done to ruin her.
But Astatine had always been rotten, even before. Desperation for something more than what she had decayed her from the inside. A hollow metal husk of who she once was.
Though now with her wife by her side it was as if space and time became the finest point imaginable, as if time collapsed into one tiny speck and exploded at light speed. It's as if her universe began and may end with her.