Once, on a bed in an abandoned house, with the Victorian frills dustily, pinkly mouldering on the edge of the four poster above them. Haltingly at first, but picking up momentum, with the bone-deep strength of corundum, of metal, overlaid only thinly with the yielding of flesh. They do this first with each other. There's a reason, at the time.
Afterwards they emerge into the sunlight. They're walking through the pools of sunlight across the street, light to dark to light to dark like the briefest slices of seasons. Steel buys a newspaper and the woman across the counter, thirty-three years old and born in the spring, looks at them both and smiles, noticing something about the way they stand in relation to each other, something about the way they are.
"Known each other a long time, have you?" she asks, mischievous, knowing.
They turn in half-circles towards each other, and back. They think: as long as time. They're tied together and they don't remember how to speak.
Out in the street the clouds have come in, everything grey, homogenous as nothingness. They walk two steps apart. The sun comes out, goes back in. They're chasing a breach in time.
In another place entirely, Sapphire looks at an old pair of humans, a woman and man. One carries shopping bags, the other pushes a trolley. The woman is querulous; the man grumps. What one starts to say the other finishes. They snap and crackle at each other. They cannot escape the part of themselves that is the other.
As we would be, Sapphire thinks.
Steel's eyes are cool, appraising. Yes.
They were speaking of other things, but Steel knows, without being told. Over time, they would become each other; they would become one. Over time, they would begin to need time.
The second time is a mending. Steel drops a wine glass, steps through a door. Sapphire says, "Steel" – and Steel drops a wine glass, steps through a door. Sapphire says, "Steel" – and Steel drops a wine glass, steps through a door.
Sapphire says, "Steel, let me"– he drops the wine glass, steps through the door.
Sapphire says, "Steel, let me take you" – and he drops the wine glass.
Sapphire says, "Steel, let me take you back" – and they shift through space frame by frame, the light falling in strange patterns over them, and he looks up, fingers tightening around the stem.
They stand still. They return to ordinary space and the space between them is cracked. Steel looks out behind his eyes, behind Sapphire in time. He tries to catch her gaze and can't. She reaches out towards his hand and they miss, grasp at nothing but air. They move towards each other and stop.
Steel, she thinks, and the shudder goes through his body like touching an exposed nerve.
"Steel," she says, and again, quieter; again, quieter still. Steel.
Slowly, he touches her. He outlines her palm with his index finger, he lets her place a hand on his shoulder, run it down to his hip. He kisses her; she pushes her hands under the crisp cotton of his shirt. They know each other, but it takes time. They step back towards a table, a bed, some human furniture, some flat surface, topologically uninteresting compared with how bodies knit with other bodies. They come into rhythm through hard, harsh breathing, without the softness of flesh. They come back into time with each bitten-off cry. They come.
"How old am I, Sapphire?" Steel says out loud. His voice is resonant from being carried through air.
Sapphire looks at him steadily, places her hands on both sides of his head, pushes them through his hair. She steps inside quietly. His mind has the burnished surfaces of metal, impenetrable as deep water. As old as the elements.
She picks up his hand, his fingers curling around hers, taking in the warmth of his skin, the edges of his fingernails that have never been cut. She kisses the inside of his wrist and says, "Four hours, fourteen minutes, five seconds and counting."
"Sapphire and Steel have been assigned," he murmurs into her hair.
Made new as needed, and ancient, she thinks. Both at once, together. That's how time gets in.
Let it; we're here, he answers.
"Third time lucky,” Sapphire says. She’s not smiling. The window at her back gives them the same view it's always given them. Nothing but stars, nothing but space. When the curtains are closed, sometimes they hear rain. Sometimes they think they hear it.
“Aphorisms,” Steel tells her. His lips are parted and bloodless. “Third time lucky. Third time’s the charm. Before the rooster crows, thou shalt deny me three times.”
They think: we were there, too.
This time it’s about pain. It’s about the smash of elbows and hips on the hard formica table top, and it’s about the bruises that come up. It’s about Steel’s teeth breaking Sapphire’s skin, it’s about the half-moon marks her fingernails make in the back of his neck. It’s about the blood on her fingertips, standing metallic in his mouth.
Bodies break; they don’t last. Their fragility is something transient, ephemeral in this place where they’ll be forever. There are marks on Steel's forearms like the cuts barbed wire would make. Rain comes down, outside of time, outside of place.
They resent our independence, Sapphire thinks, breathing.
Steel rolls over so he’s facing away from her. Are we independent? Of each other?
She doesn't have to answer.
They lie there, blurring together, listening to the rain on the roof as steady as a heartbeat, as the ticking of a clock.