The act of eating is something of an indignity. Not only does it take precious time to both prepare and eat food, so many things can go shockingly wrong. The amount of radiation that can be ingested through carelessly consuming dirty water is obscene, and foodborne illnesses are nothing to sneeze at. And that’s not even getting into the mechanical dangers -- the human pharynx is a beautiful and awe-inspiring example of the powers of evolution that also makes it remarkably easy to choke to death during the basic biological necessity of feeding yourself. And, worse, unlike breathing or sleeping, Curie actually needs to actively seek food out, which seems entirely unfair. It seems easier to let it go here and there, when she’s busy, when she just doesn’t feel like it -- how much food does she really need?
Which is probably how she spends several days getting increasingly snappish and irritable, and finally ends up standing up too quickly and blacking out; one minute she’s chatting to Nick, the next she’s sitting on the floor while Nick shoves a glass of mutfruit juice into her hands while she tries to reassure him that she’s perfectly fine, really, just a bit of dizziness!
When she finally acquiesces, the mouthful of juice explodes on her tongue and she scrunches her face up, tears coming to her eyes as she shoves it away. “They forgot to add sugar, huh?” Nick says. He keeps a straight face, but Curie hears the laugh under his words. “Sorry about that, kiddo -- let me see what I can do.” He stands for a second, rustling around above her.
When he hands it to her again, she takes a cautious sip. There’s still a bite to it that makes the bridge of her nose prickle with sweat, but now it’s tempered with sweetness and very, very good -- the bland razorgrain-and-nothing noodles she’s been subsisting off of can’t compare. “Better?” Nick asks; she nods wordlessly as she continues to drink. She had no idea there was anything out there like this.
Her employer, Aubrey, the woman from Vault 111, takes Curie with her the next time she goes to Diamond City. Curie slurps down bowls of noodles with hot sauce, tears pouring down her face as she smiles at Takahashi. “Excellent, monsieur,” she says to him, her voice watery as she wipes her eyes and nose. She eats her first hot dog in the Dugout Inn, slathered with spicy mustard and pickles so sour she has to stop between every bite as her mouth puckers too much to keep eating. Vadim watches her and hands her an ice-cold beer on the house, laughing so hard at the faces she makes she’s worried he might choke. They stop by Publick Occurrences and Curie helps Nat organize the sorts while snacking on gumdrops, each one popping stickily in her mouth with chemical sweetness, watching Piper proofread her next article.
On their first proper date, Piper buys one of every dessert on the menu before Curie can stop her. Curie watches her smile and the way her hands move as they sample each one in turn, fighting over who gets what, and hopes she never entirely gets used to this.
At first, Curie hates to be touched. She startles every time someone taps her on the shoulder, and her first hug nearly smothers her. Her clothing perpetually presses in on her. There’s no way to turn it off the way there is with any of her other new senses, and it’s overwhelming.
The first week in her delicate new body, she gets shot in the leg. She has words for pain, but none of them are enough for how much it is -- the hurt is like a second sun, physical and distinct from her, and utterly unignorable. She hears Aubrey and X6 shouting after her from very far away, but the words for burning/freezing/shock/trauma are all getting mixed up in Curie’s head and stick in her throat in one choking lump and she can’t answer.
Aubrey is better suited to fixing Curie’s old body than her new one, and X6 is designed for hurting, not healing, so Curie digs the bullet out herself. To keep herself from screaming, she quantifies the level of pain at each layer of skin and muscle as she works. She knows it must be a mistake of perception or a trick of this new nervous system of hers, but it feels like her injury expands to encompass her entire self as the rest of her fades from view; without the twin anchors of Aubrey’s hand on her back and X6 holding her leg steady, she thinks she might have disappeared altogether, leaving only so much bloody, ruined meat.
That night, she curls in on herself on her lumpy mattress and pulls the scratchy wool blanket over her head and wishes she could have her inviolable metal body back. Existing in so much fragile meat is unthinkable. It even hurts her throat and gives her a headache when she cries, which seems manifestly unfair.
The initial shock of her rebirth fades with time, and soon enough she feels comfortable in her skin. She can breathe and wear clothing and wash her hair without discomfort now, and has found touches she likes -- the warm weight of a friendly arm around her shoulders, Dogmeat’s coarse hair and velvet-soft ears, the feedback loop of her own skin. She spends an afternoon gently running her fingers up and down the hair on her arms and legs and pressing her nails into the skin, watching the marks fade slowly.
Even pain is a tiny miracle -- a reminder that she has transcended her dead-end existence in the vault. She presses the tips of knives gently against her skin, passes her fingers through candle flame, each quick euphoric bite of pain reminding her that she is alive and present to feel it.
Her favorite touches, though, are from Piper. Which doesn’t really make sense, to be honest -- her lips are chapped and dry, and rasp against Curie’s own. She chews the skin around her nails ragged and her hands are always cold, and she insists on putting them up against Curie’s bare skin to warm them up. Once while illustrating a story, she gestured so enthusiastically she inadvertently smacked Curie in the face. Objectively, Curie should flinch away from her touch, but things are just... different when it’s Piper. It doesn’t make logical sense, but Curie is starting to accept that some parts of her new existence defy traditional logic.
It seems objectively ridiculous to be so pleased when Piper pushes her against the rough wooden wall of the house they share in Sanctuary, shoving one knee roughly between her legs. It seems even more absurd to find it so enjoyable when Piper slides her hand up Curie’s shirt, brushing her knuckles over Curie’s nipple before pinching down hard. Curie makes a little pleased noise in the back of her throat, arching her back and grinding down on Piper’s leg as Piper kisses her way up Curie’s neck.
“Hey Doc, going my way?” Piper asks. Curie feels Piper’s smile against her neck.
“I don’t know, madame,” she says, pretending to consider her options. “What is ‘your way’, exactly?” Her voice has gone breathy and she’s running her fingers over the hem of Piper’s shirt and the button on her pants. The metal is warm from resting against her skin all day and smooth from years of wear.
“Well,” Piper says, her breath ghosting across Curie’s neck, stirring the fine hairs there. “I was thinking…” Her fingers undo the first button of Curie’s shirt, and she shivers at the feeling of the flannel being pulled away from her skin. “...I was thinking about taking a hike to Diamond City.”
Curie laughs in surprise, catching Piper’s face and pulling her down for a kiss. “Oh really?” she asks. “It is nicer further west this time of year, non?”
“Really?” Piper asks, undoing the second and third buttons. Her breath is warm on Curie’s neck. It’s a pleasant contrast to the chill of the room.
“Mais, oui,” Curie tells her. “Much warmer! You wouldn’t need such heavy clothing.” She pushes Piper off of her long enough to wrestle Piper’s shirt off over her head, then pulls her close again. The fabric of Piper’s bra is soft and furry from too many washings; she skims her fingertips over the back of the band, catching her nails on the clasp before unhooking it.
“That does have something to recommend it,” Piper agrees, obligingly shrugging her bra off and casting it aside. “I like the cold, though,” she says, unbuttoning Curie’s shirt all the way and pushing it off her shoulders.
“Why is that, ma cherie?” Curie asks, catching Piper by her belt loops and pulling her close, giggling and shivering as Piper’s freezing hands dance up the sides of her torso.
“Oh, well, it’s less the cold,” Piper says, pulling Curie away from the wall and tugging her towards the bed. “It’s more the things you use to chase away the cold -- hot chocolate, warm blankets, pretty girls…” she kisses Curie, long and lingering, then pulls her down onto the bed, Curie laughing and trying to touch Piper everywhere at once.
The satisfaction of knowing the Latin names for each part of human anatomy doesn’t compare to the way it feels to bury her face between Piper’s legs, feeling Piper’s entire body tense beneath her hands like she’s running a marathon, her fingers buried in Curie’s hair. She can explain how action potentials and ion channels move Piper’s muscles to let her to nip a trail up the side of her neck, each bite a sharp little point anchoring her here -- it seems beside the point, though, when her body is threatening to come apart at the seams, one of Piper’s thumbs against her clit and her arm warm and solid around her shoulders.
Afterwards, they curl tightly into each other, holding hands. The mattress is small, but they are used to it at this point and fit themselves together. Curie runs her thumbs over Piper’s fingers, picking a little at the callus on her trigger finger; Piper traces the scar on Curie’s thigh from the bullet.
“Was it worth it?” she asks suddenly. It takes Curie a second to understand the question. “Do you regret it?”
“Oh no, ma cherie, never,” she says, catching Piper’s hand and pulling it to her lips. She wants to say more, but the words catch in her throat -- how do you explain to someone the magnitude of becoming a person? So she stays there, holding Piper close, hoping she understands without speaking.
Curie loves the printing press.
It’s something she would have had to grow to love no matter what, since dating Piper means, inevitably, dating the paper. Piper guards it jealously, checks on it whenever the weather changes, frets over whether or not the dust and grime will stick in the works. “You’d give that thing shelter before you sheltered yourself, kid,” Nick said once; Piper got indignant, but she didn’t deny it.
Fortunately, it is an easy machine to love. Curie closes her eyes and breathes in deeply, running her fingers over the neat rows of sorts, each letter carefully tucked away into its own little cubby hole. The entire building smells like its function, but the smell is particularly sharp this close to the press -- oil and sweet ink and a sharp metal tang she tastes more than smells, underlying everything else.
The smell rubs off on her fingers when she’s been up late helping set the new edition of the paper. She imagines it sometimes as a tangible thing, trailing after her, anchoring her to the letterpress, which in turn anchors her to each and every person who touches the paper -- Nat shouting at passersby (dust and sweat and soap); security guards idly glancing at the front page on their lunch breaks (the warm animal smell of leather baking in the sun); the people who bang on the door shouting about inaccuracies (a smell she associates with the Upper Stands -- fancy soap, shoe polish, clean starched clothing); the people in Goodneighbor who stuff mattresses with discarded copies of the paper (the acrid chemical non-smell of Jet and the heavy weight of unwashed clothing); the fishmonger who sells deep-fried mirelurk cakes wrapped in yesterday’s paper (savory meat and the grease that seeps through the paper and turns it translucent); the street urchins using the paper as fuel for garbage fires (the dull heavy taste of smoke in the back of her throat). It’s an odd feeling, being tied to so many people, and in such an unexpected way.
None of this is new for her, exactly -- she could have told you the polymer science in a trash can fire even before she’d ever seen one -- but she’s discovered that knowing and experiencing are two very different things. Sometimes she thinks about how little she really experienced before being placed in this delicate new body of hers and it stuns her, how lucky she is to be here in the muck and life of the wasteland instead of suspended in perfect sterile disuse in the vault.
The door opens. It must have been raining -- she can smell Piper (sweat, the slivers of perfumed soap she uses to wash her hair, the chemical sugary sweetness of gumdrops, gunmetal and ink) and the heavy smells of rain and cold earth, all overlaying the warm biological smell of rot that permeates the wasteland. Piper hates it, but Curie is fond of it. How can she not be? Every part of this soft fleshy body she has inherited survives at least in part due to the chemical processes Piper finds so distasteful.
“Welcome back, ma cherie,” she calls.
“Hey Doc,” Piper says. Curie hears her shrugging off her coat and hat, setting them in the corner to dry. “Looking after our girl?” she gives the far side of the printing press an affectionate pat.
“Oui -- we were having a nice visit.”
Piper laughs. “I’d better watch out, you’re starting to like her more than you like me!” she teases.
Curie smiles. “I think not,” she replies. “She is not so pretty as you. Did you have a good day?”
Piper sighs. “A long day -- they’re stonewalling me at the mayor’s office again. I thought with McDonough gone maybe his successor would have a little more respect for the press, especially considering why McDonough fell from grace, but…”
Piper kisses her on the back of the neck and slides her icy hands up the back of Curie’s shirt; Curie smiles at the one and shrieks in dismay at the other. “Aaah! Piper! You have your own self to keep you warm, do you not?” she gasps, turning to wrestle Piper’s freezing hands under Piper’s shirt instead.
Piper yelps and laughs, stepping backwards and steering them both away from possibly injuring the press. “Well that’s what I have you for, isn’t it, Doc?”
Curie rolls her eyes and stops wrestling with her long enough to lean in and kiss the corner of Piper’s smile. “Oh, Madame,” she says pointedly, “whatever do you mean? Do you want a cup of tea? If not, you will have to explain it to poor Curie.” She adds an exaggerated pout and a dramatic flutter of her eyelashes.
“Explain?” Piper says, pitching her voice low and waggling her eyebrows. Curie laughs as Piper wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her close. “Why don’t I…” and Piper kisses her on the lips, the feeling of her dry, chapped lips as familiar as breathing. “...Show you what I mean instead?” Piper finishes, sneaking one hand down to slap Curie’s ass.
Curie gives her an exaggerated gasp. “Why, Madame!” she flutters as she runs her fingers across Piper’s collarbone, marveling at the skin warming beneath her fingers. “I would never!” she adds, pulling Piper even closer, one hand touching the back of her neck, right at the hairline. “Sweet, innocent Curie would never -- !”
Piper laughs, and the rest of the sentence disappears in her mouth as she kisses her properly. At times like this, Piper’s cold hands at her waist and Piper’s dry lips on hers, something strange and bright fills Curie’s entire chest so thoroughly she’s amazed she doesn’t burst at the seams with it. She wishes she could name it and quantify it, but all the many words she knows in many different languages seem too small to contain it properly.
When they part, Curie laughs. “What?” Piper asks, starting to laugh too. “Is there something on my face?”
“I love you!” Curie bursts out, kissing Piper again, quickly on the lips.
“I love you,” Piper says, blushing and looking away. She’s still shy about saying it, but it doesn’t bother Curie -- she can read Piper’s love in the way she smiles at Curie, and leaves little love notes around the house, and doesn’t flinch (much) when she discovers one of Curie’s biological experiments in the fridge, and trusts Curie to run her fingers along the delicate workings of the steel-and-ink heart of Piper’s life without breaking it.
Curie kisses her again, then, overwhelmed with how happy she is, pulls Piper into a dance around the printing press, both of them laughing with the joy of existing here together.