In the wake of it all, the earth was still. Flowers grew, bloomed, let their seeds fly far away into the distance, and then withered softly away as the snow blanketed the earth. A long time passed, as this cycle carried on.
More complicated life, as well. The animals were hardly bothered by it. They didn't know the name of YoRHa, or the reason for the war. They didn't really even know the difference between androids and machines. It didn't matter to them. Their lives carried on regardless.
But around them, scattered about but still real, still present, there were survivors.
Anemone greeted the horizon with a sigh, eyeing the report she'd received from her scouts this morning. The wind rose up to whip at her, but she just tugged her scarf tighter. Below, the other resistance survivors were combing the dunes, looking for anything buried by the ever-shifting sand.
The scouts had spotted another android, far off in the desert. And not just an android. A YoRHa model.
Anemone grimaced. There was too much desert to search, and every hour out here cost more maintenance than a day in the city.
Still. Her fist tightened around a necklace. Dog tags.
Rose. Gerbera. Margaret. Lilly. Erica. Sonia. Dahlia. Shion. Four. Sixteen. Twenty-one.
It'd been a very long time, but she hadn't forgotten in the slightest. Not them, and none of the ones before.
She hadn't forgotten Number Two, either.
Still, there were plenty of YoRHa androids beside A2. Even if the report had been accurate, the odds of finding her out here were...
Not good. Not in the least.
And it was feeling less and less likely each hour they searched.
The captain looked up sharply, to see one of her soldiers running up the dune. "Yes? What is it, Amelia?"
Amelia saluted sharply, her chest heaving as she recovered from the sprint.
"We... found them," she said.
Anemone let out a long sigh of relief. "Oh good," she said, then, "Wait. Them?"
There was void.
A2 had known death more than once. Caused it, certainly. Felt it, too, in a metaphorical sense. The death of purpose, the death of meaning, the death of—
Believe me, I appreciate the sentiment. But now isn't the best time for navel-gazing.
You need to wake up, A2. You aren't dead just yet.
Then, there was infinity.
A2 gasped, choking on water as a wave rolled over her. She blinked, forcing herself upright. The sea stretched out before her, the silver expanse marred only by the wrecks of old buildings rising up at decreasing intervals from the waves. She looked back, finding the familiar city behind her.
She... should not be alive.
She put a hand to her face, feeling her fingers and her eyes. She stood, brushing the salt and sand off her legs, off her body. She felt... tired. Sluggish. Like she hadn't slept well.
Of course she hadn't, sleeping on the beach. Why had she done that? How could she have been so careless...?
It came back to her slowly, accompanied by a creeping sense of dread. 9S. The machines. The tower.
Had she killed 9S? She couldn't remember. She remembered the fight, remembered how lost he looked, how... rabid. Infected and twisted and... tragic. But she couldn't remember the end of it, precisely.
She glanced around, her teeth set. Her hand searched for the sword that should have been on her back, but she found nothing. No sign of it up or down the beach.
She was unarmed. For the first time in a long time, she felt naked.
But there were no machines, either. No androids. No annoying pods. Not even the cries of seagulls. Nothing here but the waves, and the wind.
A2 stared out at it all for a long, long time.
Eventually, she spoke. More to hear a voice, than anything. "Is this death? Or, some kind of simulation, cooked up by the machines? Torture by isolation... well, I'm used to it at least." She frowned, clasping and unclasping her fingers, feeling the sensation of it, of mechanisms shifting beneath worn time-worn skin. "I can't... have actually lived through that, right?"
"You're right. You didn't."
The voice grabbed A2's neck like fingers made of ice. She gritted her teeth, shut her eyes, tried to pretend she hadn't heard it. "So I am dead," she said.
"Well, yes and no."
She opened her eyes again, and turned to look.
"If you're here?" she said. "That's a yes."
2B smiled a thin smile. "Unfortunately for us both, it's a bit more complicated than that."
Panic sizzled at the edges of his sight. The sand was hot all around him, the light scorching his skin, but that was irrelevant. Utterly, utterly irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was right here, in his arms, and they were not going to take her from him again.
"Stay away from her! Stay the fuck back!"
One of the androids—were they androids? Or more machines like Adam and Eve. He couldn't tell. It didn't matter—raised his hands. "Easy, we're not coming any closer. We're just checking on any survivors to make sure they're not carrying a logic virus."
Who gave a shit if he was infected? Or if she was infected? All that mattered was that they were... together?
9S looked up. Anemone, the resistance leader. He recognized her, recognized the concern in her eyes and on her voice. "Y-yeah," he said.
"Are you alright?" she asked. She took a step forward, gingerly, obviously. Not trying to sneak anything past him.
He nodded. His head was swimming things were... jumbled. He remembered A2, and him, fighting, but... something had been off. There were machines, they were in some kind of structure, and...
"What about her?" Anemone asked.
9S blinked, and finally looked down at what he was holding in his arms. He felt something in his chest break it's shackles and soar. His shoulders, tensed so long they felt like solid steel, finally slumped down into something like rest, and as the resistance members approached him and got him to stand up, leading him back towards the closest thing to home left in the world, he cradled her in his arms and cried without the slightest shred of shame.
She was okay. 2B was okay.
The obvious question only hit him later, once they were more than halfway back to the camp.
Why isn’t she waking up?
"You're fucking with me," A2 said.
"Well, yes," 2B said. "Just my being here is probably doing a lot worse than that at this point."
"No. No. I know I... I picked up some of your memories, but—"
"Focus, A2," 2B said. She walked forward, or, she appeared to, anyway. "I am not here. You are alone on the beach. I'm hacking into your visual processor, and the only reason I can do that at all is because I only exist inside your head."
"Prove it," A2 said.
"Punch me," 2B said.
Before she'd even had a chance to close her mouth, A2's fist sailed through it, emerging from the back of her head like she was no more than a hologram.
"You really don't like me," 2B said, raising an eyebrow as A2 withdrew her fist.
"You've caused me a lot of trouble," A2 said, grimacing as she flexed her knuckles.
A pause followed.
"What the hell do we do now?"
2B frowned. "Good question. My memories are a bit hazy, but I take it YoRHa... isn't much of a concern anymore."
There was a pang in those words, A2 noted. She couldn't relate. She nodded.
"In which case," 2B continued. "It would probably be best to check in with the resistance."
A2 let out a low growl. "Why? I'm not their goddamned keeper."
"You don't even want to check? To make sure they're alright? To make sure Anemone's alright?"
A2 froze, her eyes tracking slowly to 2B and filling with all the overflowing rage in her heart. "If you've touched my fucking memories I will rip you out of my skull and—”
“She told us,” 2B interjected. She glanced away. “From the way she talked, I got the sense you two were close. I apologize for assuming.”
A2 really, really wanted to go find some machines to stab right now, but instead she was on this empty fucking beach, stuck with this... uncomfortably familiar-looking android who was apparently living inside her skull. And since she wasn’t particuarly well-versed in the art of removing passengers from her brain, she didn’t have a whole lot of options with respect to solving that problem at the moment. And, anyway...
She... really hoped Anemone was okay.
A2 sighed. “Yeah, yeah. That’s... yeah." She clapped her hands, resolving to process all sometime firmly in the future when she wasn't possibly recovering from death. "Not the worst plan. And anyway, unless I read things wrong, you're hoping we run across a certain scanner model too, aren't you?
2B still didn't meet A2's eyes, but after a moment, she gave a quiet nod.
A2 sighed again, and cracked her knuckles. "Alright. Sure. Fine. Fuck it. Good enough for now.”
“The path is back through those buildings, through one of the—”
A2 smiled mirthlessly. “Hey, 2B? If you keep backseat driving I swear on humanity's fucking corpse I will find some way to rip your goddamn tongue out."
"Ah. Lead on then."
She started off, leaving 2B standing on the beach. No footsteps followed.
“Aren't you gonna follow me?” she called back, only to look forward again and find 2B standing next to the path in front of her. “Oh. Right.”
“You’ll get used to it,” 2B said, offering a shrug and a wan smile.
A2 brushed past her, off towards the city where it’d all gone wrong. “Let’s hope I don’t have to.”