“Did it hurt much?”

‘Hm?“

She ran light fingertips along the dark ink sunk into Tes’s skin, a red and black koi that began on the right side, curling around back and ending just above the shoulder blade. Gooseflesh prickled along Tes’s skin through the ink in her fingers’ wake.

“Some of it,” Tes admitted. “But mostly, I didn’t notice it.” She didn’t have to know the pain Tes did feel getting any of the tattoos was sometimes as good as a quick fuck. Sometimes better. Tes had never been one to seek pain out, not that way. There were better alternatives to fall back on when release was the goal. Still not good, as this current girl liked to remind Tes of, often. The thought was starting to creep through like a vine, strangling as it went, why Tes kept seeing her. Amelie, was her name, and she was starting to become too much like a relationship for Tes’s taste. Relationships were bad news–or, at least, Tes was bad news for relationships. Too much settling down. Too much investment in something bound to fail. Too much waiting for them to start using accusations like a knife.

The itch to get the fuck out and move on was crawling up out from under skin by the time the gooseflesh faded beneath Amelie’s fingers. Fading with it was Tes’s patience with the girl and her skin-deep concerns.

“Ah–how many do you have?” It was an innocent questions, come from a soft round face, and it snipped the last thread of nerves.

Tes sat up, drawing a quiet gasp from Amelie, watching as her suddenly-irritated bed partner stood and drew on a shirt again.

“I gotta go.” There was no excuse in the words, no preamble and no obvious provocation for their hostility. The jacket came next, smoke stains and leather wrapping around in safe, protective familiarity. A welcome barrier between Tes and the rest of the world.

Amelie stood as well, breasts still bare, their tips taught in the cool room. “What? Why? What happened? Was it something I said? I–I’m sorry, if I offended you, Tes–”

A tendon tightened along Tes’s jaw. “Stop. Save your breath. I gotta go when I say I do, and all you’re doing is telling me how overdue it was.”

There were tears in Amelie’s eyes, and she stepped forward, reaching for Tes’s arm. “Please, don’t go, I–”

“Don’t say whatever you’re going to say.” The words came flying like bullets, each one finding a mark. “I don’t want to hear it. I gotta go. Don’t PDC me.”

And that was the end of it. There was no pleading that would change Tes’s mind, no words that would stop the inevitable. It was a scenario that had played out often enough that Tes felt nothing from Amelie’s soft tears as she sat back down on the bed. A quick tap to the entrance pad and the apartment door slid open, providing escape from another interpersonal nightmare waiting to happen. A frown cut across Tes’s mouth as long strides brought the lift at the end of the hallway nearer.

This was why machines were always better. Tes could rely on them, on how they would break and knew how to figure out the way to fix them. Couldn’t do that with people. Emotions were too tangled, too unpredictable.

Wires and harddrives and core generators any day of the week over hearts and ‘I love you’s’.

The hollow echo of Tes’s boots mirrored that sentiment down the rest of the old hallway to the lift.