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Destroy Everything You Touch

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X6-88 wakes just as the pale, pre-dawn light streaks across the sky, barely visible through the slats in the roof above. The air is wet and heavy from last night’s rain, and as he sits up and takes a slow breath, he feels the weight of the Commonwealth, the above-world, the decrepit and filthy Wasteland settle against his skin like an oily fog.

The Institute is gone. Incinerated from within, burning outward in an explosion so huge it rocked the earth, sending shockwaves shivering through the ground. X6 hadn’t been there, had been ordered to remain behind. Forced to watch, to feel the foundations of everything he’d ever known was shatter, all in the name of his ‘humanity’.

Now it's a whole new world. He thinks he recognizes, at least partially, how the Director (ex-Director, he reminds himself firmly. That poisonous, traitorous prefix — Ex — before whatever he calls himself now) must have felt when he left the Vault for the first time. The bone-deep shock when the safeguards didn't hold and the backup measures failed, and X6 is suddenly, irrefutably alone in wreckage of his own life.

It’s unsettling.

X6 has been staying in a small house the ex-Director provided for him in the ramshackle settlement of Sanctuary, stuck in a holding pattern of ‘what comes next’. He closes his eyes against the breaking day ahead and thinks about forever. Thinks about infinity, spiraling out from this moment, the future a dark, branching chasm stretching before him, and clenches his jaw tight against the helpless scream building in his throat.

He could leave. He should leave. He could do anything, as the ex-Director is so fond of reminding him. Offered him endless choices for how his life could be in this new phase of his artificial life, ranging from the barely reasonable to the truly absurd, all of them hinging on the opaque, impossible premise of X6 having any desire to live past the moment the Institute was destroyed. After all, what is existence stripped of any meaning? Why bother when the only point is just to keep living?

X6 will be alive for a long, long time.

Rolling his shoulders as he stands, X6 slips out of the room and begins walking along the nearby stream, not wanting to stay in the claustrophobic space for any longer than he has to. The whole thing is ridiculous, he thinks with an inner sneer. As if a house was what X6 wanted. What X6 needed. Compared to the Institute, who created him and blessed him with his purpose, with the liquid-sweet rush of his own competence and power?

The ex-Director could never understand. The ex-Director is loyal only to his own circle, tiny and selfish and so short-sighted it makes X6 grind his teeth in frustration. Not even family, as X6 is now so bitterly aware of, but his ‘friends’, based on some metric X6 can’t even begin to fathom. The ex-Director flits through organizations like a prewar butterfly, changing his mind halfway through whatever task he’s on and abandoning the ideals he pledged himself to.

And now they’re here. The ex-Director, who threw away the greatest minds humanity had to offer, all so he could play the hero and dig in the dirt like an animal. And X6, living in a human settlement with people who looked at him with either revolting pity or poorly-disguised terror while he hunts and kills for their food.

Pathetic. A waste.

-----

Deacon’s the only one who isn’t afraid of him.

Or maybe he’s just the only one who can hide it. X6 has noticed the man before, has seen him slip into new costume, new roles, even a new face or two. Has seen him when he’s sure Deacon’s been unaware, has seen his face go still and quiet, fallow, only to jump to life again when someone else’s eyes were on him. It’s almost synth-like, to be in such control over one’s body.

Most humans can’t manage that. Most humans are ruled by their emotions, the hot rush of blood in their veins and their animal instincts. Deacon is different. Unusual. The smooth, unbroken surface of a lake, glittering light reflecting off the surface and disguising the depths below. Not even a ripple to give X6 a clue to what’s churning underneath.

It’s intriguing; and very few things intrigue X6 these days.

The two of them are outside, X6 sitting in a chair he dragged out to the riverbank last week, facing away from the settlement. His rifle is heavy in his hands, and he disassembles and cleans the individual pieces with methodical, practiced motions. Deacon is cross-legged on the ground next to him — he had asked, when he walked over here, if X6 minded if he joined him.

X6 hadn’t even known how to answer that question — X6 didn’t mind, X6 didn’t care, X6 wasn’t designed for having boundaries about who did or did not sit next to him. So he shrugged, and watched out of the corner of his eye as Deacon gingerly sat down on the cool ground and straightened out a creased packet of papers, making notes in the margins with the pencil pulled from behind his ear.

It’s oddly soothing. X6 is comfortable with silence, with someone working beside him absorbed in their own projects, and while he keeps his face turned toward the twisted trees ahead of him, he chances a few sideways glances at Deacon’s face. He’s biting his lower lip, almost chewing on it, and X6 is sure he’s going to draw blood if he keeps it up.

Deacon isn’t entirely an unknown quantity — X6 knew of him, even before the Institute fell. Had some amount of data on almost every Railroad agent, certainly every agent that saw as much field time as Deacon. His past is murky, almost as if Deacon had deliberately placed dead-ends and misdirection along his own trail. He was a gang member at University Point, then a farmer with a wife, then a grifter on the streets in Goodneighbor, then a caravan investor with a residence at Bunker Hill that he shared with his husband...but not all of that could be true. There are inconsistencies throughout, and the more X6 digs the more improbable it all seems.

“You hungry?” Deacon asks, breaking the silence, eyes still on his work. “I was gonna go grab something from the kitchen.”

X6 lets out a low breath, his hands steady as he clicks the last piece of the newly-cleaned rifle into place. He doesn’t like being reminded of his physical limitations, or the food and sleep he needs to survive. “No. I don’t have anything of my own right now.”

Garvey had set up a food-share program in the settlement along with the more standard barter system, but X6 had declined to participate. He’d rather go hungry than share his meager supplies with the town, and Garvey hadn’t pushed the issue. But he’s low on food, was planning on doing tracking down a caravan later tomorrow or the day after.

“Really?” Deacon says, folding his papers back into a discreet square and getting to his feet. “Well, I can’t let my Study Buddy go hungry. I can sha...I mean, I can swipe something for you, if you’re pantry’s empty.” A grin as he slips his papers into his back pocket, the light breeze ruffling the dark hair of his wig.

“No you can’t,” X6 says dismissively, glancing up at Deacon. “The kitchens are guarded almost more than the houses. You couldn’t steal anything without being caught.”

“You think so?” Deacon says, still smirking at X6, and there’s something...charming, about it all. About this human, offering to steal food for him, partly just to prove he can. “I’ll bet you a pack of Snack Cakes I can get you a well-balanced breakfast without anyone being the wiser.”

X6 stares at him for a moment, and is again amazed at how easily Deacon meets his gaze. Deacon has more reason than most to skitter away from him, and yet... “So I’d have to give you back anything you manage to take? Counterproductive,” he says with a shake of his head.

“Hmm, good point,” Deacon concedes, tapping his chin with one finger, his grin getting bigger as X6 finally stands up and holsters his gun. “Let’s alter the stakes then — a favor. Specifics to be determined at a later date.”

X6 raises an eyebrow, feeling more and more like he was being teased. “A favor.”

“Yeah!” Deacon says, shoving his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “It’s the best thing to play for, really. And it’s a total win-win for you — I have plenty of skills that could come in handy. Ask anyone.”

The sun is climbing higher in the sky, and X6 feels a traitorous twist of hunger in his stomach. “Deal.”

Twenty minutes later he’s sitting alone in his house, three packs of Snack Cakes stacked on the table and Deacon’s triumphant smile lingering behind his closed eyes.

-----

Days, weeks, months pass. X6 remains in Sanctuary for the most part, with occasional trips to Bunker Hill or Goodneighbor when the need arises. There’s a level of freedom to his life now that he’s never before experienced; all his responsibilities vanished when the Institute fell.

He’s reached a strained sort of peace with the settlers of Sanctuary, built in no small part by Garvey’s tenuous leadership. The man is too soft, too trusting, X6 thinks, but he’ll take the acceptance he’s offered. Now that the ex-Director isn’t always with him anymore, X6 hovers at the edges of the settlement, with only the angry or the naïve brave enough to approach him. X6 finds himself swinging between annoyance at the childish offers of patently false friendship, and a profound loneliness that he can’t begin to describe.

Before, he was part of a hierarchy, working toward a shared goal. Now he’s nothing. A spare part. A discarded weapon left out in the rain, frayed wires and rusted joints.

It’s not so bad when Deacon’s here. He visits the settlement often, and never fails to appear at X6’s elbow with a joke or a dry observation or even just his presence.

X6 should hate it, should hate the reminder of the organization that destroyed his life, should be repelled by someone who dedicated his life to the absurd notion of synthetic freedom.

But somehow. Somehow he doesn’t.

They don’t talk about anything of consequence, usually. Tonight they’re sitting in front of the fire, alone together after X6’s shadow had chased away everyone else. The conversation had been focused on the Medford Memorial Hospital – the ex-Director had asked him to check it over, and Deacon had volunteered to accompany him. ‘For the human angle,’ he’d said, laughing a little, and X6 didn’t object.

But then Deacon goes quiet, his gaze intent across the fluttering flames. The only sound is the crackling of the fire, the rush of water and wind across the earth. If not for Deacon’s tense, alert body language, X6 would suspect that he’d dozed off.

“So. How do you feel about a topic change?” Deacon says, tilting his head slightly and smiling, looking so obviously nervous that X6 is certain it’s manufactured.

“What do you wish to discuss?” X6 is curious, more than anything. Deacon never fails to hold his interest.

“Look. I don’t know if you want to hear this, but I wanted to say…” Deacon starts, uncharacteristically stumbling over his words, and X6 waits for him to continue.

“I wanted to tell you that…I’m sorry.” Deacon says, refusing as always to use X6’s designation, and X6 goes completely still.

“For what?” X6 replies after a long moment. “Not for the bombing of the Institute, I assume. You’ve shown no remorse for that at all.”

“And I won’t. Ever,” Deacon says, his own voice still low and soft. “Not for that. But I am truly sorry for what happened to you in there. For what they did to you.”

Oh.

A prickling sensation whispers across X6’s skin. No one had ever apologized to him before. Not even the ex-Director. “What they did to me was give me a purpose. That’s more than anyone here has ever done. The Institute made me into something worthy.”

You made yourself worthy. All they did was use you. Made you believe you’re a thing,” Deacon says evenly, and X6 feels his gaze like a physical pressure.

“Don’t speak of things you don’t understand,” X6 says, breathing slowly to keep the rising tide of emotion at bay. Anger, grief, and a hard knot of something like…shame. “You know nothing about me.”

“You’re right,” Deacon says quickly, holding two hands up as if in surrender. “You’re right. It’s not my place. I’m sorry.”

Apologizing again. For breaking their fragile peace, or for him and the life he’s lead? X6 stands abruptly and stalks away, resolutely not turning around.

Neither of them mention the conversation the next day.

-----

X6 usually fights alone. He is not designed for groups, for bonding, for the shared thrill of the hunt. When the ex-Director sends him out on these ridiculous missions, for food or technology or supplies, X6 tastes a refusal building on his tongue every time. No, he wants to scream. No, I am not fetching copper and fiberglass so these animals can live in slightly-elevated filth. I am not built for this, I will not create life for the dregs of humanity.

But he never does. He accepts everything that’s handed to him and completes his tasks with ruthless efficiency. The ex-Director doesn’t force him, doesn’t order him, and even though X6 knows why it still feels like a rejection. X6 is made to carry out orders, and this is but a pale imitation of what he craves.

So he hunts for scraps in the wasteland for people who don’t even know enough to be terrified of him. And if he happens to slaughter a party of bandits along the way, anyone not fully affiliated with the ex-Director and his precious settlements, then so much the better.

The only one he can stomach is Deacon. He fights invisibly, like X6, the faintest woosh of air around them both, and with a sort of grace and innate understanding of how X6 will move.

Deacon knows him better than anyone now. One of the few who neither hates him nor stubbornly pretends he is anything other than a Courser, designed with a singular, deadly purpose. Deacon doesn’t willfully ignore what he is, and it is almost refreshing to be in the company of someone who...understands him.

X6 could kill him in a heartbeat.

They go out together alone often enough to not arouse suspicion; he could make it look like a raider attack, or an accident. Wouldn’t even need a weapon, could wrap his hands around that pale throat and squeeze until his smirking, lying mouth finally goes slack and open and honest for the first time. Could stash the body and report that Deacon had left without saying why, and they would believe him. Because Deacon is, in a way, as unknowable as X6.

His walls are built with deflections and easy smiles and deeply unfunny ‘jokes’, rather than X6’s preferred icy silences and a flat stares, but they are solid bricks all the same. Even his own people can’t reach him, can grasp only shadows when they try, their hands empty of anything real.

Deacon makes himself vulnerable, to be so alone. He is only a human — he needs a pack, needs protection. He cannot last much longer on his own.

-----

“So have you ever had sex?” Deacon asks casually one day, fishing out a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket. The two of them are trudging back towards Sanctuary, their packs weighed down with supplies. Thanks to the ex-Director, the caravan passes are easier to get through in small groups, with multiple waystations and guarded stops along the way.

X6 raises an eyebrow. He knows what Deacon’s trying to do. Some sort of embarrassment-based bonding, designed to startle him into...something. Honesty, or camaraderie. Humans do seem fond of trading minor insults and humiliations back and forth, and it makes sense, in a way. To be vulnerable, but then spared the bite of pain is a powerful feeling. X6 has no use for it outside of coordinated interrogation tactics, but he can understand the appeal.

But if Deacon thinks X6 is going to blush and stammer and fidget under his too-personal questions disguised as friendship-traps, though, he's in for a rude awakening. X6 doesn't smile, but he feels the impulse under his skin.

“Of course,” he replies after a beat, trampling over Deacon’s inhale for more words. Words, words, words, so many words that X6 is sure he'll choke on them one day.

“Really?” Deacon says, and X6 feels a flash of amusement at his obvious surprise.

A rustle of grass to their left, and both of them go quiet, instinctively moving toward each other and drawing their guns. A rabbit skitters by, and they both relax again, eyes still scanning the ground for another rush of movement, of danger.

“Is it so shocking?” X6 continues smoothly after a moment, turning to face Deacon once he’s certain they’re not in danger. “I possess an exact replica of a human body, precisely planned and perfectly made; I can do anything you can do. Except better.”

“My, my. Aren’t we the cocky one?” Deacon says, smirking and pulling a cigarette out of the pack, letting it dangle unlit between his fingers. This close X6 can see his own reflection staring back at him in the surface of Deacon’s sunglasses, knows Deacon is looking at his own smirking face in X6’s. Endlessly mirroring each other, darkened and reversed. Railroad and Institute, human and Courser, two lines on a graph so close they're almost identical, yet can’t ever touch. Approaching infinity, together.

The Railroad may be an organization founded on a ridiculous purpose, but they had given him a fight over the years. More than anything X6 admires will, and in his own way Deacon is unstoppable. He'd have to be, to choose to go up against the Institute. Brave, of course, but effective, too, and even after everything, X6 finds he approves of this strange person.

If nothing else, Deacon’s taught X6 some valuable conversational maneuvers.

“If you're looking for a demonstration, that can be arranged,” X6 says evenly, batting the conversational ball back over to Deacon, stepping forward again to continue their steady pace toward the settlement. Hears the slight, barely noticeable hitch in Deacon’s breath behind him before he turns it into a cough, and in barely a blink he’s under control again.

Flirting. This is what flirting feels like. A shiver of unexpected heat runs down his spine, and he focuses again on the lines of Deacon’s body as he catches up to him. The pulse point in his neck, the ludicrously-colored ginger scruff just barely visible on his face.

“They really teach you guys everything, huh?” Deacon says, pulling a lighter out of his back pocket and flipping it open one-handed.

“Combat, basic scientific and technological competency, and human sexuality,” X6 reels off, pushing down the warmth in his chest at Deacon’s incredulous, fascinated expression. It feels...good, to talk about his life in the Institute, even if only briefly. Before, he’d thought it was base sentimentality to wallow in memories, but now he thinks he understands. “Among other things.”

“Man, Institute School was a hell of a lot more fun than Human School,” Deacon grins, and when he moves to put the lighter back in his pocket, his hand brushes up against X6’s.

“Of that, I have no doubt.” A small slip, a hint of the teeth and steel that thrums through him still, and even if he were as oblivious as most humans it’d be impossible to miss the flush of arousal that flickers across Deacon’s face.

Interesting.

Chapter Text

It’s different, now that he knows. Now that he’s sure Deacon’s attracted to him, that whatever pull X6 feels to him is at least somewhat reciprocated. Nothing has changed — nothing was admitted — but there’s a subtle shift in the air between them now, a jolt of anticipatory tension in every interaction, though his visits are still the same. Frequent but short, a different cover every time, dropping off or picking up messages or notes that X6 deliberately doesn’t analyze. Better to avoid digging too deeply into that, he thinks. Better to avoid the irrefutable evidence of their opposing natures and simply enjoy the sight of him today, moving through the pockets of human settlers with a thoughtless grace that X6 finds almost enviable.

X6 is not so deft. X6 lingers on the outskirts like a ghost, still unable to move closer but unwilling to disappear; a gun at his back, a knife at his throat, danger in both directions. So for now he’s still and quiet and careful. For now he takes long, even breaths in the afternoon sun and keeps his attention focused on the way Deacon absently scratches the back of his neck, probably to relieve the slight discomfort of the edge of the wig on his sunburned skin.

There’s an odd sort of pleasure in watching Deacon covertly from the treeline, though he’s sure Deacon’s aware of him already — it’s not impossible to get the drop on Deacon, not quite, but his observation skills are matched only by his paranoia, and even in this ‘safe’ place X6 is certain Deacon’s gaze was drawn to the shadowed hiding places, to potential sniper nests and ambush points.

It’s a game between them now. Come and find me, or Catch me if you can, with Deacon’s uncanny ability to be unrecognizable from day to day, and X6 stalking him along the edges of the settlement with easy, practiced maneuvers. Or sometimes Deacon will appear at X6’s dwelling, camped out in front as if they had a preexisting arrangement, the lock on the door remaining courteously unpicked. There’s an element of one-upmanship, certainly, but it’s more...playful. Fun, even, to try and figure out when and how Deacon will appear next, to plan ahead and see if he can outwit him.

Today, though, Deacon seems wholly unaware of his presence, deep in conversation with a couple who arrived a few days ago. Just as X6 wonders if he’s actually hidden too well this time, Deacon glances over at X6’s exact position with a sly smile and a tiny wiggle of his fingers, that he quickly turns into fiddling with the pen in his hands.

I see you, says the miniature wave. Gotcha, says that knowing, promising grin, and X6 can’t fully suppress the heat that shivers through him. That’s the other part that feels so good — somehow he’s both predator and prey with this odd, slippery human.

Who exactly is chasing who here?

-----

X6 eyes the cards in his hands and frowns. The Jack of Spades — useless for this round.

“C’mon now — the point of the game is play fast,” Deacon says, one leg lazily stretched out under X6’s rickety table and the other hooked around the leg of his chair. The beer next to him is sweating slightly in the warm evening air, a few droplets sliding down the neck of the bottle and forming a wet ring around the base.

Resisting the urge to bite his lip or nibble on a fingernail (he hasn’t been able to stop picking up these human tics, these stalling techniques and bodily self-comforts), X6 plays the Ace of Diamonds. The cards are so old and ragged that Deacon must have known he had that particular card in his hand — the torn corner is a dead giveaway.

“Hmmmm,” Deacon says, noncommittal as always, and when he reaches down to peek under the pile of discards X6 feels a whisper-light brush of a booted foot against his ankle. Instinctively he draws his leg back, bumping the underside of the table and letting out a tiny, mortifying sound of surprise.

A babble of voices floats up from the settlement, laughter and shouting and the faint strains of song. The corner of Deacon’s mouth twitches slightly, but he doesn’t draw attention to it.

“Ace of Diamonds is a pretty ballsy move, my friend,” Deacon says instead, and X6 relaxes fractionally. Deacon likes to tease, but he’s never poked too hard in a sore place, always avoids the softest parts of X6.

“Occasionally a show of force is called for,” X6 replies, watching carefully as Deacon plays the Three of Clubs. “A lesson you’d do well to learn, though I know you prefer a quieter approach. Your disruption of the Somerville extraction two years ago was directly responsible for Dr. Ayo cracking his keyboard in frustration, but you could’ve done more if you’d risked more.”

It shouldn’t be this easy to talk to Deacon about Institute missions, especially ones that he directly interfered with. It shouldn’t feel like Deacon understands, like the friendly banter he’d once shared with his fellow Coursers.

A moth flutters around the lamp on the table, casting shadows against the walls. Deacon’s sunglasses shine with the reflected light.

“You’re probably right but...I am what I am. You’ve got me pegged,” Deacon says, and the grin is still tugging at his lips.

“I’ve got you?” X6 says archly, and before he can stop himself he copies Deacon move from earlier, nudging his foot forward until it’s pressing against Deacon’s. Deacon doesn’t pull away, though. Deacon just smiles wider and tightens his grip on his cards and holds X6’s gaze.

“Totally,” Deacon grins.

-----

Eleven days later, Deacon’s back in Sanctuary and knocking on X6’s door. X6 answers it cautiously — this is different from their usual game — and there’s a tension in Deacon’s posture that hints at something big, something beyond his usual visit. Something’s happened.

“Yes?” X6 says slowly, tamping down his concern when he sees how tired Deacon looks. Ragged, in the late afternoon sun.

“Up for a walk? I found a pretty little bird’s nest past the creek over there, if you wanna check it out,” Deacon says, one hand shoved casually in the back pocket of his jeans.

“I have no interest in a bird’s nest,” X6 says automatically, but his voice softens despite himself. “But I will accompany you if you wish.”

“From you, that’s practically a ringing endorsement,” Deacon smiles tiredly, and X6 snorts.

They walk in silence, comfortable as X6 has ever known. If he had to pick one thing he’s most drawn to in Deacon, it’d be his stillness, but this is something altogether different. X6 is worried; he can admit that. He’s worried about what this means, if Deacon is in trouble beyond the usual Commonwealth dangers.

“So listen,” Deacon says as they step through the thicker patches of the undergrowth. “Something’s come up with...you know. And I’m gonna have to take off for a while. Maybe a long while.”

X6 exhales slowly. A long-term mission, then. Something undercover, or so far distant that he won’t be able to make his usual rounds. Something dangerous. He’ll be alone, X6 thinks. Alone and even more unprotected than usual.

“Why are you telling me this?” X6 says flatly, willing himself to go cold, to go quiet. This whole thing was a mistake.

Deacon stops, and X6 reluctantly turns to face him. Still so guarded, both of them, the crunch of twigs under their feet, and for the first time in a long time X6 wishes he still had his Courser uniform. He feels vulnerable without it, nothing to protect him from what happens next.

“So all my contacts know not to expect me for a while. I don’t want you to...I just want to keep you, well. Informed.”

Then something clicks into place for X6, something sharp and surprisingly painful.

“Ah. I’m not the only synth you’ve been keeping an eye on, then.”

It’s not a question. Stupid, to get this attached.

“No,” Deacon says without hesitation, and his hand jerks as if to reach out to touch X6. “But you are my favorite.”

And it’s so honest, so guileless and easy that X6 has to look down and away, his gaze drifting to the twisted trees around them. What they have is undefined. There’s no roadmap for anything anymore, not for him, and he’s doesn’t even have the language to describe what he’s feeling. What he wants.

If the world can’t be remade, then he at least wants to protect the few things in it he still cares for.

A long moment before he speaks, and Deacon is motionless next to him, waiting so patiently X6 can’t help being slightly flattered. It’s no small thing, for another person to be so willing to meet you on your level.

“You should invest in a higher quality beam-splitter, then. Your current weapon is outclassed by enemy fire, and will not be sufficient if you...if you need it.”

For once Deacon doesn't tease him, doesn't wink or grin or say anything other than a solemn, soft “Gotcha. New beam-splitter, added to the list.”

-----

By the time they get back to Sanctuary the sun is setting, washing the sky in oranges and pinks. The settlers seem agitated, something about a raider party spotted not far from here. X6 would normally ignore it — he is more than a match for any raider — but instead he turns to Deacon.

“You should stay for a while,” X6 says, after Deacon drops off his scouting notes to Garvey and starts eyeing the horizon. “The settlers say raiders are patrolling the area. It won’t be safe to leave for at least half an hour.”

It’s not exactly a lie, but it’s close enough to count. Deacon is more than capable of remaining undetected in the wasteland — there’s no real reason for him to stay. There’s a moment of quiet, and X6 feels flayed open, exposed. That was idiotic. How obvious could he possibly be? How stupid and naïve —

“Good idea,” Deacon says easily after a tiny pause, and only years of training keeps the surprise of X6’s face. “Wouldn’t wanna get caught in their crosshairs.”

And when Deacon bends down past him to tug at a stray bootlace, his shoulder slides along the length of X6’s arm, and suddenly a hot curl of arousal twists through him.

“Come. You can stay at my…house. While you wait,” X6 says, and Deacon’s eyebrows lift above the edge of his sunglasses.

“You’re just full of good ideas today,” he says, clapping X6 on the back, and the friction of Deacon’s palm sends ripples of sensation down his skin, even through his clothing.

“And you’re certainly full of something,” X6 replies, walking toward his house with a flush of pleasure at Deacon’s appreciative chuckle.

X6 feels lightheaded as he leads Deacon back to his little cottage, Deacon’s quiet footfalls and measured breathing a sweet temptation behind him. His heart pounds in his chest.

“Are you ever going to call in that favor?” X6 asks as they enter his house. He closes the door behind him and locks it, the dull mechanism clicking into place with a gentle thud. Turning around he feels the heat of Deacon first, before he registers that Deacon’s barely moved backward since entering the room. Bracketing X6 against the door, though not without escape.

“I dunno,” Deacon smirks, and X6 doesn’t miss the quick, hard swallow. “Anticipation is half the fun, right?”

“For you, maybe,” X6 says, leaning against the closed door. He allows himself a small, rare smile, and Deacon’s breath gusts out of him all at once with a quiet laugh.

Reaching up slowly, giving X6 plenty of time and space to disengage or redirect, Deacon runs his thumb over X6’s lips. X6 just breathes against him, absorbing an impression of Deacon’s calloused skin and trying not to shiver at the contact. He hasn’t been touched like this in a long, long time.

“You are...stupidly gorgeous. You know that, right?” Deacon says, in a rueful voice. His fingertips rest gently against X6’s face, drifting over his eyebrow and cheekbone.

“I do,” X6 says with a small, human shrug. “But it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to a human. Of course I’m beautiful — I’m very expensive. Why pour so much money and resources into something if you don’t intend for it to be aesthetically pleasing?”

There’s a reflexive twitch in Deacon’s hand, a clench in his jaw that’s quickly relaxed. “That’s not...I mean, yeah, obviously. You’re handsome. But it’s...they didn’t make your smile like that, like goddamn poetry. They couldn’t have, even if they tried. They couldn’t have known how perfect you are.”

For a moment, X6 swears his heart actually stops. He doesn’t...He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t knows what to think. Deacon’s still touching him and saying these things and he knows he’ll be leaving soon. That he could have any sort of value beyond what he could do, that his smile would be worth anything to anyone? It’s too much, it’s too much.

“I...don’t want to talk about that,” X6 says finally, and Deacon immediately pulls back, an apology already forming on his lips. Before he can completely withdraw, though, X6 places his hands on Deacon’s hips and pulls him closer.

“What…” Deacon exhales, and X6 runs his hands lightly up Deacon’s back, the other man shuddering hard against him.

“I want to do something else,” X6 murmurs, leaning in to press his lips against Deacon’s ear. “If you’re amenable?”

Laughing weakly, Deacon tilts his hips closer to X6’s, the bulge between his legs unmistakable. “Oh, I’m amenable. Can’t you tell?”

“Hmmm,” X6 says, mock thoughtful, bringing a hand between their bodies and cupping Deacon’s cock, hard even through his thick jeans. “Might need a closer inspection to tell for sure.” A gentle tug then, just enough to tease, but Deacon groans and leans more heavily against X6.

“F-Fuck,” he breathes, and X6’s own cock jerks at the sound, Deacon’s hot breath against his face sending shivers of arousal up his spine. “God, I want to touch you.”

“I’m right here,” X6 says, ignoring how much it sounds like a promise, and Deacon grins before sliding his hands up X6’s chest and and coming to rest on his shoulders, still moving slowly and deliberately, telegraphing every movement. It’s...sweet, actually, but it’s taking too long.

“So do you guys kiss? Kissin’ Coursers? Big, scary make-out sessions? Frie-”

“Yes,” X6 says shortly, interrupting the almost manic babble that Deacon seems all too willing to indulge in. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

Deacon’s hands are still on X6’s shoulders, his hands fisting in the thin fabric of X6’s shirt. “Uhh. Only if you want to?”

X6 rolls his eyes, an obnoxious human habit that is nonetheless satisfying. “Do you intend to keep asking for permission every time we move to a new activity?”

Deacon bites his lip with a wary grin, and he seems suddenly painfully fragile under X6’s hands. Breakable in a way X6 will never be, all his seams visible to the naked eye. “Maybe? I’ve never...You don't have to do any of this. I'm not ordering you to, or anything.”

X6 can't help it — he laughs, clear and unrestrained. It’s funny. Deacon jerks backward slightly in surprise, eyebrows spiking upward.

“Trust me,” X6 says, not bothering to banish the smile, letting a slightly mocking edge creep into his voice. “No matter how...alluring I may find you, I will never mistake you for my superior. You couldn’t order me to do anything.”

I’d almost like to see you try.

“But -”

“You have no authority over me. If I am actually a person to you, then I am free to make my own choices, correct?” X6 says, and before Deacon can do more than suck in a quick breath X6 captures his lips in a kiss.

Deacon’s lips are already parted and X6 takes advantage of the opportunity, sliding his tongue into Deacon’s mouth. After so many months of teasing and flirting and dancing around each other, X6 is almost painfully eager to move things along, to strip this human down and find out what Deacon’s cock feels like his hand or mouth, find out if that husky drawl breaks when he gets close to orgasm.

Moaning against him, Deacon lets more of his weight rest against X6, effectively pinning him against the locked door. When he breaks away for a breath, there’s an odd moment where their sunglasses click together awkwardly, and Deacon grins.

“Here. I think one of us is gonna have to bite the bullet here,” he laughs, and slides his sunglasses and wig off. Easily, as if was nothing to strip off all his defenses, and even through the hot, thick lust X6 feels a faint stab of envy. It’s different for them, he reminds himself firmly, and instead reaches back for Deacon.

“Let me,” X6 says, reaching over and tugging Deacon’s shirt up over his head. Deacon helps him, then leans in for another kiss, slower this time, slick and wet. X6 greedily runs his palms over Deacon’s back, feeling the bump of old scars and burns, before sliding one hand down to press against Deacon’s cock again.

Deacon rubs himself up against X6’s hand, making a strangled, breathless sound. X6 knows he’s going fast, maybe too fast, but it’s been so long since he’s felt this wanted or needed that he’s almost frantic to get Deacon naked and panting under his hands.

“H-hold on,” Deacon breathes, pulling away slightly. “You have to let me at least see you shirtless before you jerk me off, man. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.

Letting out a long breath, X6 nods, but not before noticing how blue Deacon’s eyes are, how the focus of his gaze is laser-like in its intensity. It’s strangely intimidating, and X6 is not easily intimidated. But he knows his body is beautiful, and even though he has no personal vanity attached to it he has to admit that it comes in handy.

Like, for example, when he get to witness Deacon letting out a low whistle when he tugs his shirt off.

“God, you’re unbelievable,” Deacon whispers, sounding practically drugged with lust, and X6 smiles very slightly and takes his hand.

“Come — it’ll be more comfortable in here,” X6 says, and leads him to the bedroom in the back of the house.

“Much obliged, but I can work with a closed door and a bumpy floor,” Deacon says in a low voice, following close behind.

“That well may be,” X6 replies, feeling a small laugh building up from his chest. “But I hold myself to a higher standard.” He turns and pulls Deacon toward him by the belt, unhooking it and tossing it aside before tugging his pants open.

“Ohhhh,” Deacon groans, eyes fluttering shut. “You’re the boss, cowboy.”

X6 bends down for another kiss, Deacon’s arms wrapping around his shoulders, then whispers “Really? I thought you’d fight me for it.”

X6 feels Deacon smile against him. “Nah. Control’s overrated,” he says, and licks a hot stripe up X6’s neck before kissing him again, hands fumbling with the fastenings of his pants.

With a small chuckle, X6 steps out of his pants and tumbles them both down onto the bed. The slide of Deacon’s naked body against his is electric, so hot it’s like a fever, and while X6 is distracted Deacon flips them so X6 is on his back.

Placing both his hands flat on the cradle of X6’s hips, Deacon presses his thumbs down right at the base of X6’s cock, so close that X6 lets out a long, hissing breath between clenched teeth, and Deacon’s smile is equal parts arousing and infuriating.

“You want my hands? Or my mouth?” Deacon says, and X6 can’t help the way his cock jerks at the question, at the sight of Deacon straddling him with his hard dick jutting out. Both. Either. Just do it already.

“Unggg,” X6 groans, his hands reaching for Deacon to pull him closer, or down farther, or anything.

“C’mon. God, you look so good right now, but I need to hear you say it. Then I’m all yours, baby,” Deacon murmurs, and X6 suddenly realizes what Deacon’s doing, why he’s being so damned careful.

You’re not a thing, he’d said all those months ago.

“Deacon,” X6 says after a moment, trying to catch his breath. “Deacon, I want you to suck my cock, and then I want to get you off. I want this, with you. Right now.”

A smile, sweeter and more boyish than any X6 had ever seen on Deacon’s face, and then Deacon’s kneeling between his spread legs and grasping his cock in a firm grip and taking just the head into his hot, wet mouth. X6 cries out sharply and his hips snap up automatically, Deacon’s other hand a firm pressure on his hipbone to keep him from shoving himself too far down Deacon’s throat.

“Oh, oh, oh,” X6 says breathlessly, one hand cupping the back of Deacon’s head and the other twisting in the cheap sheets, trying to hold back from mindlessly thrusting into that sweet warmth. Deacon doesn’t hesitate or tease, doesn’t test his boundaries or see what he can get out of him, just sucks him deeper and runs his tongue around the edge of X6’s foreskin and groans desperately like he’s getting off on this alone.

It won’t take much more, X6 is so worked up he’s practically there already. His own soft moans are mingling with wet, unmistakable sounds of cocksucking, and all at once the perverse reality hits him that it’s not just anyone, not just Deacon, but a Railroad agent with his mouth on him, and he a bright pulse of arousal roll through him. He’s fucking a Railroad agent and it should be bad, it should be repugnant, but it’s good, it’s so fucking good that he comes with a hoarse shout, hard and sweet.

He can feel Deacon swallowing, can feel the tiny convulsive movements of Deacon’s throat, and then Deacon crawls up and drapes himself across X6, pressing his face into X6’s throat with a self-satisfied grin. X6 takes a moment, the strangest moment of his life so far, to savor the aftershocks of his orgasm, while Deacon presses light kisses against his neck and collarbone, their legs tangled together, Deacon’s hard cock digging into his stomach.

Finally X6 shifts into a sitting position, resting his back against the headboard and smiling a little at Deacon’s questioning gaze.

“Here,” X6 says simply, indicating the vee between his legs, and pulls Deacon up so he’s sitting with his back to X6’s chest, his heartbeat pounding so loud X6 is sure he could hear it even if they weren’t pressed together.

“Yeah?” Deacon says, relaxing against X6, turning his head slightly to try and steal another kiss.

“Yes,” X6 says, and hooks his feet under Deacon’s ankles, spreading his legs with his own. Deacon sucks in a breath, tensing up again with anticipation, and when X6 takes Deacon’s cock in his hand he practically melts.

“Fuuuck,” Deacon breathes, head lolling back on X6’s shoulder, exposing the tempting line of throat. “God, that’s — that’s so good. You’re good, so good, baby.”

And there’s something there, the compliments, the praise, that X6 can’t help but crave. He’s not on the knife edge of arousal anymore, but his cock twitches anyway.

“You like it?” X6 says, and if it wasn’t Deacon, if it wasn’t just the two of them, he’d be embarrassed at how obvious and needy the question is.

“Yesss,” Deacon moans raggedly, thrusting up into X6’s hand, his cock heavy and leaking between his legs. “You’re the best, the fucking best, you’re perfect, just...fuck, just don’t stop…”

X6 could keep him on the edge for what would feel like forever. Could stretch this out until Deacon could barely speak, until he was begging. There’s a part of him that wants to, wants to keep them both in this moment for as long as possible, but the other part of him that’s desperate to see and feel Deacon come wins out.

Tightening his grip, X6 twists his hand slightly at the end of each stroke, and Deacon’s gasps get quicker and shorter as he races toward his release.

“That’s it,” X6 murmurs in his ear, almost intoxicated with the tense and frantic movements of Deacon’s body. “You’re so close, I can feel it.”

“I - I -” Deacon pants, until finally he comes with a punched-out groan, going rigid in X6’s arms, head thrown back and mouth open.

X6 holds him as he comes down, feels the moment when Deacon’s back on earth. Shifting slightly, Deacon turns enough to kiss him, eyes closed, one hand wrapping around the back of X6’s neck as if worried he’d try to escape.

With a final kiss, he opens his eyes and rests his forehead on X6’s, smiling that soft, sweet smile.

“Something to remember me by,” X6 says, and Deacon nods slowly.

“Gonna be a cold, lonely road out there,” he jokes, but they both know there’s more truth in there than not. “This’ll be the sweet memory that keeps me warm at night.”

Reluctantly, X6 untangles himself from Deacon, reaching over to grab some tissues from the bedside table and passing them over. Deacon stands and cleans himself off, holding the crumpled tissues and padding naked around the room, looking for his discarded clothing.

“I assume this isn’t going in pre-mission briefings, then?” X6 says. He hasn’t moved, hasn’t stood up to get his own clothing. The moment is already ending, it’s almost gone.

“Well, I’m not going to draw them a diagram,” Deacon says, glancing back at him with a grin. “Maybe just a blurry, impressionistic scribble. Unless you don’t want me to, I mean. But I’m not embarrassed, especially if you’re not.”

And maybe X6 is just a fool like everyone else, but he believes him.

“I - oh. No, it doesn’t—, I don’t mind.”

X6 won’t ask for details about his mission, but already he’s worried. Already he’s fighting the urge to follow Deacon, to be there as backup, but he know Deacon will never concede, and X6 won’t violate that. Not after everything they’ve both been through.

“I mean, Foxtrot’ll probably kill me when he finds out, but that’s Future Deacon’s problem,” Deacon says flippantly, and X6 bites back a lurching, nauseous twist in his throat at hearing the ex-Director addressed with a Railroad codename.

“Kill you? Why?” X6 says, after a long moment.

“Because he cares about you,” Deacon says, as if it’s obvious. “I guess I don’t know if that extends to protecting your virtue, but we’ll find out soon enough.” He’s laughing again, though this time there’s an inviting edge to it, as if Deacon assumes X6 is in on the joke, is on Deacon’s side, and X6 relents enough to let a small smile escape.

“Virginity and purity are pointless human concepts,” X6 informs him, watching from the bed while Deacon tugs his jeans up over his hips. “There’s nothing you can do to me that will change me in any fundamental way.”

“True enough,” Deacon agrees as he pops his head through the neck of his shirt, smoothing it over his stomach. There’s something different about his face, about the tilt of his mouth when he leans back over to X6. Sadness, X6 thinks. The sadness that Deacon can never quite shake; there is such sorrow there, and for a moment X6’s throat feels so tight and thick he can barely breathe.

Brushing his fingers over X6’s face, Deacon kisses him again, softly. X6 is seized with an urge to pull him back down, to curl around him protectively, to bury his nose against his neck and inhale deeply. Deacon doesn’t smell that different from any other human, except that he does, and X6 knows that now. Sweat and cheap soap and the not-unpleasant tang of dark Commonwealth earth.

“You should go,” X6 says when Deacon releases him. Deacon smiles slowly and nods, his shadow stretching across the floorboards as he walks. He lingers for a moment at the doorway, coming to halt with both hands in his pockets.

“There’s not a damn thing wrong with you, you know,” Deacon says quietly, his back still turned toward X6.

X6 exhales silently, blood thrumming through his veins, his heartbeat slowing to its regular, predictable rhythm.

“Your evaluation has been noted,” X6 says dryly, and the fractional grin he catches on the sliver of Deacon’s face that he can see sends a ribbon of warmth through his chest.

-----

Two days later, X6 finds a deck of cards placed neatly in the center of his bed. He reaches out and picks it up, a smile tug at the corners of his lips. When he slides the cards out into his palm, he spots the smudged ink on the two jokers — a pair of sunglasses scribbled over their eyes.

No note, but then, they’d never needed one before. He’d know that handiwork anywhere.