K-2 understood the mortality of organic lifeforms. He knew they were fragile, some more so than others but even the sturdiest among them had nothing on the hardiness of droids who could be uploaded into new frames or kept in storage for hundreds of years till someone bothered to repair them.
He had always known this and been bothered by it.
Yet somehow K-2 had assumed he would be able to protect Cassian from the worst of his own organic fallibility.
He had thought danger would come in the form of Stormtroopers or the Lullaby pill he insisted on carrying, or even from his reflexes being too slow after he had once again insisted on foregoing proper nutrition and sleep. K-2 had thought danger would come in the form of something he could affect.
The sickness had started without warning and Cassian had been among the first to show symptoms.
It started with aches and tiredness which he stubbornly ignored and didn’t admit to until K-2 confronted him with his below average performance. By the time K-2 had convinced him to see a med droid he was already at the fever stage.
It was a slow, creeping decline from there.
K-2 tried to ignore the medbay filling up until Cassian, young and healthy and very athletic, had become one of the less worrisome cases and was sent back to his quarters. They needed the bed for people whose bodies were succumbing faster.
“I’m not going to let you exhaust yourself,” K-2 said firmly when Cassian reached for the flexis that had been piling up in his absence. Bringing work to medbay had been strictly forbidden.
Cassian scowled at him. “I’m sick, not dying.”
K-2 thought of the organics in medbay whose fever had risen so high they were being cooked alive in their own skin. Bacta did nothing. Nothing they had tried helped, at best it bought them a little bit more time.
He plucked the flexi from Cassian’s hands and placed it back on the stack. “Go to bed, Cassian.”
There were deep, dark circles under Cassian’s eyes. His skin was waxen and covered in a thin layer of sweat. His shoulders slumped in defeat far sooner than they should. “Alright.”
That he didn’t have the strength left to argue frightened K-2 more than the dying organics in medbay.
K-2 watched over him while he got into bed, he placed a glass of water and painkillers within easy reach on his bedside table and Cassian’s commlink next to it.
He was nearly to the door when Cassian called out in a rough, far too frail voice, “stay?”
He turned back. “I have orders to return to medbay. Most of the medical personnel are working on finding a cure.” Which left untrained staff to help out with caring for the patients, and droids had preference for this as they were immune to the disease. K-2 didn’t care that he was immune, but he was glad for it all the same. As long as he could make himself useful he didn’t feel quite so helpless.
He sat down anyway. Cassian would always be his priority.
Cassian’s hand was far too hot as he reached for him. He trembled slightly, the walk from medbay to his quarters had taken everything out of him. K-2 cursed himself for not having insisted on carrying him, never mind his protests.
They mourned the first victim of the plague two days later. There was no grave, they still had need of the body.
Soon, they had more bodies than they knew what to do with.
K-2 sat at Cassian’s bedside and ran large metal fingers through his sweat-slick hair while Cassian tossed and turned in his fever delirium.
He was starting to understand that this was an enemy he couldn’t fight.
When a new treatment broke his fever long enough to let him regain clear thought, K-2 cradled Cassian in his arms and told him he loved him.
Cassian’s laughter was wheezing but bitter. “Why now?”
“Because…” He trailed off. For once, he did have a filter, simply because he couldn’t stand to give voice to his own thoughts.
Because his simulations told him the probability of Cassian’s death and no simulation said that telling him would make a difference, but he hoped anyway.
Cassian’s fingertips traced his faceplates with infinite tenderness. A pattern of green lines was spreading on the back of his hands. “Thank you.”
Thank you was not what you wanted to hear when you told someone you loved them. Overcome with the sudden urge to run, K-2 wanted to pull away, yet he remained frozen in place by fear. He couldn’t waste a single moment with Cassian, no matter how much it hurt. Their moments were running out.
“Thank you for not letting me die thinking I’m the only one.”
Despair drowned out all joy he might have felt and he just felt very close to numb as he looked into Cassian’s eyes. “You won’t die. I won’t allow it.”
Cassian smiled. He pressed his lips to K-2’s vocoder grille.
K-2 stayed till he had fallen back into a restless, feverish sleep.
Then he went back to incinerating corpses.
When Cassian and he arrived, there had been 39 organics and 14 droids on this listening outpost at the edge of Wild Space.
For the first time, the droids were in the majority.
K-2 watched them go about their tasks, their optics dimmed and movements sluggish from energy saving mode, unaffected by the disease in every other way but lacking the time to spare for full recharge cycles.
He missed proper recharge cycles. When he was charging in the droid bay, he could pretend life on base hadn’t changed at all.
Then he returned to Cassian’s side and registered that his vital functions had decreased again, and he ran simulations based on the new data before he could stop himself.
“Promise me,” Cassian said in one of his rare lucid moments now, his eyes gleaming with urgency.
K-2 clung to his hand. His hand, like his entire body, was covered in the net-like green pattern. “Whatever you want.”
Cassian opened his mouth. Before he could say another word his far too thin body was wracked by a coughing fit. By the end of it, his lips and hospital shirt were splattered with blood. He fell back onto his pillows, eyes closing in exhaustion.
K-2 would never learn what Cassian had wanted him to promise.
He was not tired. He was not sick. He was untouched by sickness, his frame unblemished.
K-2SO had been built to kill. By now it was no longer strange to him to care for the dying.
Every round through the medbay started and ended at Cassian’s bedside.
He had stopped calculating his probability of death. Now he was only calculating the time he had left.
He sat at Cassian’s bedside and watched him, burned every moment into his memory. He couldn’t touch him anymore. Even a tender touch was agonizing.
4-8, one of the med droids, joined him at Cassian’s bedside. “They are not built to last,” she said, sympathy in her voice.
K-2 thought of tearing off her arms and showing her that droids weren’t built to last either, but that wouldn’t save Cassian, it would just cost him another few precious hours for decreasing the quality of his medical care.
There would be no miraculous rescue. The doctors were all dead and their med droids weren’t programmed for research. They were still trying, but he could calculate the odds. He knew the truth.
“Help should arrive any day now.”
K-2’s optics dimmed. “There will be no help.” He had come to that conclusion days ago. The likelihood of saving the few lives left was too low, the risk of the plague spreading too high.
The med droid left. K-2 stayed. They both knew it wouldn’t be much longer now.
Droids were built to last. Shut off, they would outlast centuries, whether they wanted to or not.
Once the incinerator had cooled, K-2 set a warning message to be transmitted in an infinite loop.
Do not approach.
He returned to Cassian’s quarters and shut down.