A few nights later, Chrome had another nightmare. It was like the first one or at least the effects were the same, Chrome crying in his sleep, crying out Chalce's name. They hadn't talked about that other nightmare, so Beryl didn't know if Chalce's death was being re-enacted in Chrome's mind or if different scenarios ran in his dreamscape. He didn't know if artificial soldiers even had dreamscapes or dreams as humans know them; the differences between "them" and "us" were becoming increasingly unclear.
What was clear was that Chrome was in pain, psychological pain. And he wasn't waking up from it, no matter how many times Beryl said his name or even touched his shoulder.
Beryl thought about trying to shake Chrome awake but he remembered reading that it could be harmful to a person's mind to be woken abruptly and unnaturally like that. And, he reflected, waking Chrome like that could be harmful to him; who knew what Chrome's artificial soldier reflexes and instincts would lead him to do before he was fully aware.
Chrome was still crying, his body shaking with it. Beryl couldn't take it. He knew he couldn't just stand there. He tried to think what his mother would do...
Chrome was lying towards the opposite edge of the mattress, so Beryl didn't have to nudge or push him over. He tucked himself up behind Chrome, one arm wrapping securely around his torso, stroking Chrome's hair with his other hand. He thought his mother probably would have sung something soothing but Beryl didn't know any songs appropriate for the occasion so he remained quiet.
Even when the body against him stopped shaking and the sobs subsided, Beryl continued stroking Chrome's hair. He kept on with it even when he felt Chrome tense up but at least relaxed his arm so Chrome could move away without trouble if he wished.
Chrome didn't move, though. Gradually, his body eased against Beryl's, his breathing evening out and steadying.
"That feels nice." Chrome's voice was soft, softer than Beryl imagined it could be, artificial soldier or human. The softness startled him so that his hand hitched in Chrome's hair; and the softness also coaxed him to continue. "I feel." Chrome fell quiet without finishing. Then he looked over his shoulder and Beryl's hand slipped a little onto his face. "I don't know what this is called," Chrome said, searching Beryl's face as if the answer were writ there but in a language he didn't understand.
Without dislodging Beryl's arm around his waist, Chrome turned to face him fully. Beryl let his hand settle at the small of Chrome's back; he felt Chrome mirror him, Chrome's hand warm through the thin cotton of his sleeping shirt. Then Chrome moved to touch, and Beryl watched him watching his own hand as it brushed Beryl's hair from his face.
"Is this what it's like to feel human?" Chrome asked when his eyes met Beryl's again.
Beryl found himself at a loss for words in that gaze. "I don't know," he confessed. Seeing disappointment flicker in Chrome's eyes, he tried to clarify, "I don't know what this feeling is, myself."
"Do you think we're feeling the same thing?"
Beryl took a moment to consider Chrome's question. To consider the face, the eyes turned to his. The hand on his back, the one in his hair. The body so recently against his, and still in his arms.
"Yes," he whispered. And touched his mouth to Chrome's.
Chrome didn't move away. He didn't move at all, until Beryl's mouth shifted, and Chrome shifted with him. When Beryl parted his lips, Chrome did too, and Beryl realized with a small shock and thrill that it was one thing to know that a being draws breath, and quite another to feel the evidence of that breath in your mouth.
A problem arose when Beryl moved to slip his tongue into Chrome's mouth and of course Chrome did the same, so close in following Beryl's movement that they blocked each other.
Beryl broke the kiss just enough to murmur, "Yield."
"I'm not used to taking commands," Chrome whispered back, the slight bow of his head accompanying the note of apology as much as explanation.
"It's not a command," Beryl told him softly. "It's a request."
After a contemplative pause, Chrome lifted his face to say, "I accept your request," and put his mouth to Beryl's, open and receptive.
Beryl slipped his tongue into Chrome's mouth, exploring with experimental licks before flicking under Chrome's tongue in invitation, curling back into his own mouth to welcome Chrome. He pulled Chrome closer to him, legs twining as their bodies dovetailed, mouths fastening together and coming apart for breath and wet flashes of tongue.
As they took turns kissing and touching, Beryl felt something hard pressing against his hip; he realized what it could only be, and realized too that he himself was hard against Chrome. He tried to align them so their erections would rub against each other, then got a better idea and rolled Chrome onto his back, going with the roll himself. Too late, the submissiveness of the position he'd put Chrome in occurred to him. "Is this okay?"
Beneath him, Chrome felt neither tense nor relaxed and somehow both. "Is this what humans do?"
Beryl nodded. "When they." He sought the right word, rejecting the one that came automatically to mind in favor of one better suited to this occasion. "Trust," he finally said: "When they trust each other."
"Then this is okay," Chrome relaxed. And when he smiled, Beryl kissed him again.
The friction that so delighted him when they began to grind together soon became a tease and a torment to Beryl. They had on entirely too much clothing, anyhow, so he sat up from the kissing to undo the buttons of his sleeping shirt and shrug out of it.
"Should I take mine off, too?" Chrome asked.
Beryl slid back a little farther so he was straddling Chrome's thighs. "Sit up," he offered, "and I'll do it for you."
Chrome complied, and when Beryl had his shirt off he couldn't help resting his hand on Chrome's chest right where his heart would be—where his heart was, beating quick and strong. Beryl took his hand away only to replace it with his lips, pressing a kiss to that strange and rational heartbeat.
When Beryl leaned back, Chrome asked, "Should I touch you like that, too?"
"Touch me however you like," Beryl said, dropping his hands outside his thighs, his body fully exposed for Chrome.
Chrome started where Beryl had, his hand resting warm and flat over Beryl's heart. Instead of kissing him, though, Chrome began to explore, wandering over the expanse of skin, lingering over the curves of musculature, watching his fingertips memorize every angle and swell and dip. When his thumb brushed across Beryl's nipple, producing a sharp and pleasant gasp, Chrome looked up at his face, kept his eyes on Beryl's and a smile on his lips as he did it again with easy deliberation. When he kissed Beryl's body, not his heart but the raised flesh of his nipple, Chrome used his teeth as well as his lips, and if Beryl had not been shot through with thrill, he would have been consciously pleased at the improvisation.
When Chrome completed his kiss and turned his mouth up to Beryl's, Beryl met him in this kiss and pushed Chrome back onto the bed, going with him, continuing the kiss onto Chrome's skin, along his jaw, down his throat, down and down. He noted that Chrome's nipples were not prominent but that a lick there still elicited an audible intake of breath. Down Beryl went, over abdominal muscles superlative and deserving of much more attention. But Beryl was, he realized, desirous of something else now.
He sat up again when he reached Chrome's waistband. Fingertips barely tucked into it, he asked, "May I?"
"I trust you, Beryl," Chrome said.
The words should have urged him on but for a moment Beryl could only look at Chrome. Then he swung himself off to the side. Before Chrome could protest or question him, Beryl touched a reassuring finger to his lips. He stood on the bed, undid the drawstring and let his sleeping trousers slide to his feet. He stood there for another moment letting Chrome look at him, feeling as vulnerable as he ever had; and yet strangely safe in his vulnerability.
Kicking free of the clothing at his feet, Beryl lowered himself to the bed again. As soon as he was reclined, Chrome reached out a hand—but then only hovered. Covering Chrome's hand with his own, Beryl guided him the rest of the way. At first, Chrome's fingers remained in a loose splay of a curl around him. "It's okay," Beryl told him, his own fingers offering reassurances in Chrome's hair; and Chrome began to explore texture and size, gauging the length and girth.
"It's very big," Chrome finally assessed, and Beryl laughed breathlessly and kissed him for the compliment.
As they kissed again, Beryl eased his leg over Chrome's, his body following so that by the time the kiss ended, Beryl was back where he'd been, only naked now. He slid back and began to tug Chrome's pants down. When they were off his hips, Beryl reached for Chrome—and froze.
He wasn't sure of what he had in his hand and, while he was loathe to interrupt the pleasant comfort of the moonlit room, that light was not enough to see what he needed to. He leaned up for the wall switch by the headboard; the abruptness of florescent light blinded him momentarily when he flipped it on. He blinked his eyes back to sight and looked at Chrome.
Chrome was looking at him: at his cock. When he felt Beryl's eyes on him, he looked up to meet them briefly, then turned his head away. "It's not normal, is it," Chrome said softly into the bright silence.
Wordlessly, Beryl slid off to lie beside him. He looked at Chrome's cock; and then, feeling that he was staring and not wanting Chrome to feel the stare, or wanting him not to feel only that, Beryl took it in his hand.
Chrome had not been complementing him before, Beryl realized: it had been, from Chrome's experience, a genuine observation.
But it was not size that had given Beryl such pause in the dark. It was what he felt at the surface, what he saw now went deeper than the surface: scar-thickened skin, flesh marred with permanent traces of precision and deliberation.
"Someone did this to you." His words felt too loud even at a whisper.
Chrome was looking at him again. "To all of us," he nodded, and Beryl felt his turning stomach clench hard. It made sense, he supposed—no, not sense. But he thought he knew what the reasoning had been, the thoughtless logic that had led to this apparently routine mutilation and truncation of the sex organ while leaving the testicles, vessels of the paramount testosterone, intact.
Chrome's voice brought him back: "It's not normal, is it." He said again, flat. "Not human."
"The ones who aren't human," Beryl's voice shook helplessly, "are the ones who did this."
Chrome gave no sign of accepting the words, though he had to have heard them. Beryl wanted to take him back into the dark, to kiss him, to make him feel better—
Perhaps it would be better like this, though. It was too easy to hide in the dark and Beryl didn't want to hide, didn't want Chrome to hide or think he had to. So in full light, a light artificial but no less real, Beryl bent and took Chrome into his mouth.
The entire cock fit easily, barely nudging the back of his throat when he opened and pressed forward as far as he could, light musk filling his nose as Chrome filled his mouth. Beryl licked and suckled a little, then raised his head to meet Chrome's eyes and ask, "Can you feel that?"
Chrome nodded. "I can feel heat," he said, "and wet."
The scarring had desensitized Chrome's flesh, sensation as truncated as the length was—but not, it seemed, completely destroyed. Beryl felt a breath he didn't know he'd been holding escape him gently. "Does it feel good?"
Chrome nodded again: "It feels nice."
"Good," Beryl smiled, and lowered his mouth to envelop Chrome in heat and wet again. As he sucked, he felt Chrome's hands find their way to his head. Approval vibrated from his throat, the inarticulation muffled by Chrome's cock, painted onto it. Chrome responded, massaging the back of Beryl's head; when Beryl in turn palmed Chrome's scrotum as he continued to suck, Chrome responded even more, an inarticulation of his own escaping his open throat and mouth. Beryl thought that next time he would lave the attention he was giving Chrome's cock on his balls, but right now he wanted Chrome to know how just fine and how better than that Chrome's cock was.
Just as Beryl realized he'd thought the words "next time," Chrome's fingers tightened hard in his hair and then he was trying to pull Beryl off. Beryl wanted to tell him that it was okay, but there was no way to do so without taking his mouth off—and anyhow, Chrome was too strong. So Beryl let himself be pulled up. And just then Chrome came, a couple of valiant spurts reaching for Beryl's face.
"Beryl." Chrome's hand reached but didn't make contact, fingers curling toward his own palm as if they dared not touch. "I'm sorry, Beryl."
"Don't be," Beryl said. Instead of bringing Chrome's hand all the way as he had with his cock, Beryl wiped the come off his cheek himself. Eyes on Chrome's widening ones, he then licked it off his fingertips. "It's good," Beryl told him. "Normal. Human." He gathered more viscous traces from Chrome's cock and offered them to Chrome, who kept his eyes on Beryl's as he opened his mouth and accepted the finger.
"This is human?" Chrome asked, uncertain tongue lingering on the lower curve of his own lips.
"Am I human now?"
You were human before, Beryl thought, but didn't know how to say it. He didn't know how to say anything, so he smiled and kissed Chrome's lips.
"Would this come out of you if I held you in my mouth?" Chrome wanted to know.
Beryl nodded. "Or if you held me in your hand." He shifted to lie beside Chrome, guided Chrome to his cock again; showed him how to stroke, how to flick his thumb across the tip and how to close his fist over the head the way Beryl liked. He was close already and it only took a few strokes after Chrome said he could do it on his own that Beryl came himself. Chrome brought his fingers to him mouth and sampled Beryl's come.
"Does it taste good?" Beryl asked when Chrome smiled.
Chrome smiled more. "Human."
When Beryl could move, he turned off the light and settled back down.
"Are you sleeping in my bed?"
"Yes," Beryl replied, nudging him onto his other side so he could tuck in behind Chrome.
Beryl's breathing had evened, stretching towards sleep when Chrome said softly, "I don't have anything like this from Chalce's memories."
"This is a memory just for you," Beryl murmured. "Just for us." He felt Chrome nod. Felt the question unasked and answered it: "Yes, Chrome. You're human."
There would be time tomorrow to explain that this alone was not what made Chrome human. But now, there was sleep. Deep, well-earned, and very human sleep. Chrome, who had relaxed silently at Beryl's words, got there first; and Beryl was not far behind.