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C is for Courier

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All the young, female doctors were buzzing about the guy. All tall, dark, and handsome was the way they talked about him. A little on the thin side, but he supposedly had huge hands. Arcade didn’t see him that night, but he sure as hell heard enough about him.

Making his rounds in the morning, Arcade came across a particularly hard-up junkie. His long limbs spilled over the ends of the mattress and Arcade sympathized, he knew that pain all too well. The kid was probably just into his twenties, with a thick head of black hair and pale, burnt skin. Black scribbles of tattoos peeked out from under his shirt collar and down the fine, nearly emaciated bones of his hands. The tiniest tip of his pink tongue was visible past some utterly wrecked teeth. The Wastes had already chewed this guy up good. He checked to make sure the kid was breathing, then on the other two patients in the tent and went on his way.

When Arcade finally put two and two together, that Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, was also the jet/psycho/buffout combo junkie with the skeletal hands, he literally spit out his coffee.

The guy had looked close to death while sleeping, but now that he was up and about the camp, there was no mistaking it. A couple of the young doctors were practically hanging off of him, well not too hard because he might snap in two if he did. His hair was in his eyes and he smiled down at the two of them. When they gave him too-many packs of Fixer, he turned them over and over in his shaking hands like he didn’t know what to do with them. Seriously, this kid was a mess but they were acting like he was some sort of casanova.

Weird, people were weird, Arcade thought.

In the late afternoon the junkie stumbled into Arcade’s research tent, looking kind of bewildered right from the get-go.

“Hi. If you're looking for medical help, try the other doctors. I'm just a researcher. Not even a particularly good one.” Arcade just wanted to get back to work. He didn’t need some chem junkie disturbing him. After all, wasn’t the guy packing like 20 doses of Fixer?

“Sorry, sorry!” The fear in the kid’s eyes was real, like he had committed the gravest offense on earth right then and there. Weird eyes too. Like nothing Arcade had seen.

Arcade felt a strange urge to reach out and pat the guy on the back. Someone had fucked him up pretty good, or he had fucked himself up. He had rolled up the sleeves to his shirt and track marks from psycho use were mixed in with tattoos that looked like they had been put there by some pretty suspicious needles, or just generally sharp objects.

“Julie said you are Arcade.” When just a moment ago he looked scared and disoriented, now he seemed a little more relaxed and open. His posture improved slightly and he brushed a loose strand of hair out of his eyes. “This place is really complicated, and stuff.”

He scratched the back of his neck and smiled, just a little closed mouth one, keeping those dreadful teeth well hidden, more of a smirk really. He smiled and hid his teeth and looked at Arcade with those strange eyes, right straight ahead because damn if the guy wasn’t as tall as Arcade, and that was saying something. He did all these things at the same time and Arcade kind of got where the women were coming from. Just as soon, he started speaking again and the spell was broken.

“You’re smart, you can help me do….things?” Almost as soon as the words left his mouth he seemed to get distracted by something. Prolonged chem use could really damage the ability to focus.

He felt really, really bad for the guy. But what could he even need help with? Were junkies organizing? Starting unions? Rallying to the call to protect Freeside, what the hell?

“I'm going after a man...Benny! He shot me.” His foot swirled around in the dirt, making patterns on the floor of Arcade’s tent. They were pretty, temporary things. “You’re smart, you can help me do things!” He repeated. Maybe he had forgotten he had said anything at all.

Right, because pulling bullets out of a vengeance-crazed junkie was truly a noble step up from tending to the downtrodden of Freeside. Arcade didn’t have time for this.

“You need to leave.” Arcade was firm.

With that, the junkie was on him, grabbing his wrists and holding them back while pressing his chest against Arcade’s. Fuck was he stronger than he looked. With his muscles flexed, it was clear that the kid wasn’t as emaciated as he had first appeared. There was plenty of lean muscle there. He smelled like that hard soap that all the Followers used to shower with and his body was unnaturally warm against Arcade’s. So, this wasn’t entirely an unpleasant position to be in. Even if it was with someone who clearly had trouble staying on task. Strange green eyes bore into his. The pupils were dilated as well, predictably from the chem use. He was high right now. Some nerve, coming to the Followers for treatment and then demanding things from them, getting high all the while.

“Please, please help me.” Lips closed, looking a little desperate, hair back over the tops of his eyes. Damn, what was with this guy? Clearly, charisma had nothing to do with intelligence, because this kid had one but not the other.

And that soft hair was pressed against Arcade’s neck. Nuzzling, junkie was nuzzling him, softly, chastely, but damn if he wasn’t doing it. Arcade felt guilty as hell for enjoying this. This guy needed a long rehab stay and about fifty square meals, even then, he might not be alright, and instead Arcade was thinking about what the soft pink flesh of his lips might taste like and if he could just put the mental image of his trashed teeth out of the picture. No. Arcade. No.

“Hmm. Wow. You sound like you really do need some help. Look, I can help you out, but you can't do anything stu-” And this strange chimera of a chem user cut him off with those lips, and yeah, they were soft, even if they were a little chapped. In the dry heat of the Mojave, everyone’s skin got a little dry.

As soon as it had happened, it was over. Fuck, the kid really didn’t know what he was doing. He was all affection and smiles, this time with the bad teeth showing. Arcade thought better of it and realized he would have to draw some boundaries for this guy.

“I mean, you can't... help bad people, who want to hurt the locals in Freeside. If you do, I'll leave. Does that make sense?” His tone was firm, as if he was speaking to someone much younger than the man looked. Clearly, he wasn’t quite all the way there. But a few days away from Old Mormon Fort could do Arcade some good. Run a couple errands with the junkie, try to get him turned around, yeah, this would be fine.

“Bad people, like the Legion?” Junkie perked up, wanting confirmation that yes, the Legion were bad people.

“Yeah, definitely no helping the Legion.”

The kid looked pensive, like he was thinking about something but couldn’t quite remember it. Then it was gone, he was always losing things.

“No, I don’t like the Legion. Let’s go! I’ve got people to help.” Junkie turned to leave, grabbing Arcade’s wrist and pulling him towards the flap of the tent.

“Wait, wait, I’ve got to get my things.” This whole trip was going to be like herding cats. As soon as Arcade had his hand back, the kid reached for his pack and pulled out a jet inhaler. It was too his lips before Arcade stopped him. “No, no more of that. Not while I’m around.”

Junkie looked disappointed.

“Wait, what’s your name, anyway? You already knew mine.”

He fidgeted, as if he didn’t want to share something. Well, Arcade knew all about secrets. “C...it’s for Courier.”

Arcade stopped dead in his tracks, dropping a handful of E-Cells in the process. THIS was the Courier?

--

Arcade had only spent a couple of hours with C so far and he was already regretting it. Turned out that the courier was a real menace to himself and others. How he had survived this long, much less installed a new sheriff in Primm, launched ghouls into space from the REPCONN test site, and defended Goodsprings from a Powder Ganger attack, was a fucking mystery, that was for sure.

C didn't bother to wear any armor, and while he carried about an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, he hadn't shown any evidence of knowing how to use it. Even if his hands weren't continually shaking so hard he'd have difficulty pulling the trigger, the weapon was in such terrible shape it looked like it would fall apart at any moment. When radscorpions had approached, C just ran over them with his clunky black boots, crushing their shells through pure force of will.

"So then I take this job as a courier, right? I gotta carry this package and I get a bunch of caps," C sniffled and wiped his nose on his bare arm. "But then I get kidnapped! And shot in the head. But this robot saves me. Doc said I was in a coma, that it messed up my head. But I'll tell you a secret, okay?"

They had been walking towards REPCONN headquarters and away from the Strip. C may have already forgotten that he was supposed to be tracking down this Benny fellow. At this point, Arcade was far more interested in the series of events that had reduced C to the mess that walked next to him now, and if the strange quality of his eyes was somehow related. Maybe a symptom of some larger medical condition.

C had grabbed hold of Arcade's arm, gripping it firmly as they walked. He was like a walking furnace in the already too-hot Mojave, but Arcade couldn't muster up the strength to be such an asshole when the kid clearly wanted to have some sort of human contact. Although, his heat may have been a sign of infection. Maybe Arcade shouldn't have been walking so close.

"The secret is, I remember everything." Those near-radioactive-green eyes looked focused, alert, just for a second and then they faded out again, looking beyond Arcade instead of at him. C's grip on him tightened, like he was holding onto Arcade for stability.

"Be careful." Arcade used his own hands to straighten out C's posture before they started walking again. The Courier might have even been a little taller than him, if he didn't slouch so much.

C didn't hold his arm anymore, supporting his own weight for once. Still they walked close together and their hands would brush when C swung his arms out too far. And then he would look at Arcade from under the veil of too long hair and Arcade would forget for a second this was about science. It was about science, right? Somehow?

"Arcade, you're smart and stuff, right?"

"I've been accused of such things."

The blank stare Arcade received in response was a sure sign C didn't comprehend what he had said.

"Yeah, C, I'm smart." It wasn't cockiness on Arcade's part, it was a fact. He sure as hell was smarter than this Courier.

C stuffed one of his huge hands into his dirty, dilapidated pack and pulled out a clunky object. A Pip-boy. Kid had been carrying around a Pip-boy in his pack this whole time. Expensive piece of equipment, that was.

"Do you know how this works?" C shoved the device right in the middle of Arcade's chest, probably with more force than intended and it knocked some of the wind out of him.

Arcade eyed the junkie suspiciously. "Yeah, I know how it works. Where did you get this?" They had stopped walking again and Arcade turned the Pip-boy over in his hands, inspecting it for damage, it was in good condition.

"Doc gave it to me. Said it would help me to remember stuff. But I could never figure it out. He didn't want me to leave Goodsprings. Said I wasn't right yet. But I knew I wasn't gonna be right." He had that sad, distant look again, like when he had asked for confirmation that the Legion were bad.

Arcade went to pass the device back to C, so he could store it away, but he stopped him, pressing the Pip-boy back into Arcade's chest.

"Use it, I can't." It was far too valuable a gift for Arcade to accept, even though he severely wanted it. He hadn't had a chance to play with one since he was quite young. Tech like this was suspicious to just carry around, attracted unwanted attention from locals.

"I could show you how to use it? I really can't accept this." They were really quite intuitive devices, not difficult to learn at all. Then again, C's hands were almost always shaking, it might have been troublesome for him to operate.

C shook his head and his thick hair brushed against his forehead. "I can't. I can't work it. I can't."

Arcade rethought his tactics, yeah, C probably wouldn't be able to work it. "They're expensive, you could sell it? Make lots of caps."

Again with the head shake. From the look on C's face, he was getting frustrated with Arcade. Honestly, Arcade had expected just the opposite.

"It was a gift from Doc, can't sell it. You help me out by wearing it, okay? You use it for me, yeah?"

C had clearly gotten his mind set on this and there was no convincing him otherwise. "Okay, while we're together, I'll use it. But when I got back to Old Mormon Fort, you take it back. It was a gift and you should keep it."

"Awesome, thanks, Arcade!" The junkie was literally bouncing on the soles of his feet. He looked utterly overjoyed. Bounced a few times really and then lunged all of a sudden at Arcade and kissed him, again. This time he didn't smell quite as sweet, they had been walking in the bright Mojave sun for two hours, after all. He tasted a little like dirt and sweat and chems. Son of a bitch had managed to huff something without Arcade noticing. The little shit. Arcade had a good idea what jet would taste like from the smell of it, and knowing a little about the chemical composition. But this taste was a bit more like the kid had drunk turpentine.

Pulling away, C was smiling and happy and utterly oblivious. Those eyes of his were so bright and clear, set against his uneven complexion, a mix of sunburn, naturally pale skin, some malnutrition discoloration, and a whole bunch of freckles over his nose. He bit his bottom lip and turned away, back towards REPCONN headquarters. Like it never occurred to him that you just don't kiss random strange men for no reason other than they're kind of tolerating you. Arcade should have scolded him. Being so friendly could get a guy in trouble real fast out here in the Wastes. Besides, he was pretty sure that C didn't mean it like that. But, well, it was important to track all of C's behaviors with minimal intervention...for research.

Arcade strapped on the Pip-boy and it attuned to his vital signals. When he was a kid, they had seemed so heavy and cumbersome. He had only ever worn one while playing games on it. Now, as a grown man, it didn't seem such an imposing thing. The HUD was on and C's position was reflected as a green tic beside him, blinking ever so slightly, like a steady heartbeat.

"Come on, let's get going," Arcade was ready to get out of the sun. "Why are we going to REPCONN anyway?"

"The nice robot out front said I could be a rocketeer!"

That closed mouth smile of C's was going to kill Arcade.

Another twenty minutes of walking and they were standing in front of the mostly intact building. Arcade didn't want to admit it, but he was a little excited to see what was inside the headquarters. He might be able to find a laser pistol in better condition, or at least parts that could be used to repair his current one.

"I've read about REPCONN. I think they did some work with the," Arcade caught himself. While C wasn't the sharpest, he didn't appear to be one to keep secrets either, or even understand the concept of secrets, or personal space. Over the years Arcade had been vigilant about his secrets. Some more than others, but this was the one he had to keep, no matter what. "The government...before the war. Rockets and some energy weapon prototypes, I think." Nice save.

"Do the Followers use a lot of energy weapons?" C was going through his pack again. Miscellaneous objects were moving against each other creating some strange noises.

"Energy weapons? Of course not." Not many people at all preferred energy weapons, it was a somewhat rare skill to have outside the Brotherhood or Encla...shit. No, but C wouldn't know that.

C looked at Arcade kind of funny, forgetting whatever he had been looking for. After the trek through the desert his hair was starting to stick to his forehead.

"I mean...but...we study all kinds of science and technology, so, you know, we, you...just kind of get familiar with them. Yeah." On anyone else that would have sounded like a lousy excuse. If Arcade hadn't known better, he could have sworn even C managed to be suspicious. But then it was gone and he was back in his pack, producing a pack of gum and some boxer's tape.

C offered the gum to Arcade first. It kind of looked like it had dirt on it, so Arcade declined. He chewed noisily with big, wet plops and wrapped his hands while sitting on the building's steps. Even though C's hands shook, he moved through the process of wrapping his hands like it was second nature, winding it just right over his palms and the backs of his hands, bracing his wrists. Arcade didn't realize he was staring until C was staring back at him, hunched over so he could catch Arcade's gaze. He said nothing, but smiled and jumped to his feet. Grabbing his arm again, C pulled Arcade into the darkened building.

--

For the last hour, Arcade and C had been locked into a tour of the REPCONN headquarters, guided by a friendly, efficient robot. They hadn't really had time to deviate from the path and every time C started to wander off, the bot gave him a firm command and he was back on target. It was a skill Arcade would benefit from developing if he was going to hang around with the Courier.

"REPCONN engineers were pioneers in developing fission-based..."

C vacillated between intense attention on the robot and looking in the complete opposite direction and swigging out of his water bottle. Arcade wasn't entirely convinced that it was water anymore either. Something inside the Courier seemed to make him want to focus, to understand, but he couldn't stay on one task long enough to complete it.

While the lobby had been full of dead ghouls and a damaged robot, they hadn't encountered any live threats, other than some radroaches. C dealt with those much like he had the scorpions, just running over them and crushing them. Not once had he used that assault rifle. Since the robots seemed to have all threats under control, Arcade stowed away his laser pistol and walked with his hands in his pockets.

C walked with the robot and Arcade stood a step or two behind, observing the Courier's movements and reactions. Now he was standing in front of a Protectron as the tour guide spoke about the partnership between REPCONN and RobCo, but C didn't appear to be paying attention. His chin was tilted towards the ceiling, exposing the long column of his pale throat. The light inside in building was dim, just the emergency overheads supplemented by the small light on the Pip-boy. C's throat was without blemishes, unlike so much of the rest of him. His adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed heavily. Had he managed to sneak some sort of pill into his mouth when Arcade had been distracted?

As they moved from room to room, Arcade tried to note locations where there might be parts for energy weapons to revisit. C didn't appear to have anything useful in mind and dutifully kept up with the robot. The kind of stuff Arcade would be interested in was likely to be locked away on the upper floors, rather than down here in the tourist area. As far as productivity went, this was a big waste of time, but C didn't seem much bothered. The minutes ticked by and the hum of the tour guide bot faded in and out.

They were standing under an indoor blanket of stars, C's head tilted upward again.

"This is the final stop on our tour. This model of the solar system is a small example of where the partnership between RobCo and REPCONN hopes to go." The bot kept on talking, but Arcade was transfixed by the way the artificial stars shone down on C's face. His eyes were closed and the pinpricks of light settled between his freckles, as if he could feel the stars against his face. Arcade switched off the Pip-boy light and the stars became more distinct. It was a tranquil beautiful thing. Innocent and full of hope. Arcade couldn't verify any of these things. C was a messed up kid, probably not very innocent at all. Someone had wanted him dead, after all. It was still hard to get the whole story from him.

C opened his eyes again, that haunting, radioactive-green. The robot had drifted out of the room, maybe to shut down for the night.

"They're up there now..." It was obvious to Arcade now that whenever C tried to call up memories, he became somewhat frustrated, sad, even.

"Who's up there, C?" Arcade tried not to sound breathless, like it wasn't really important what the kid rambled. But he wanted to know.

"My friends, the ghouls. They said I couldn't go with. But I wanted to." C stretched his bony fingers toward the ceiling, like he could grab the stars out of the projection.

That's right. One of the first reports of "the Courier" was when he shot the ghoul colony into space. Never in a million years would Arcade would have picked this kid junkie simpleton as the hero idolized in Novac. It just didn't add up.

"There's nothing for me here." Maybe C wasn't such an idiot after all. Or, rather, idiots could be quite kind because they couldn't understand how awful this world was. Arcade could believe it, that C had been through some rough shit. He may have even been normal before the drugs and the head injuries and all that. Arcade should have considered himself lucky for having it so easy compared to C.

"Don't say that. You've made a lot of people happy as the Courier. Mr. New Vegas talks about you all the time."

C whipped his head around, catching Arcade's eyes. His gaze was focused and intense, but it wouldn't last. C smiled, but this time he showed his teeth a little bit, slightly yellowed and chipped. For some reason, this time, it didn't ruin the effect.

"Can we stay here, tonight. Please, Arcade." He sounded very much like a child. "You can see the stars better here than outside." It was true, light pollution from the Strip rendered all but the brightest stars invisible at this range.

"If that's what you want."

C reached for his pack, and this time Arcade didn't stop him from inhaling a long dose of jet. He may have had problems, but he had done a hell of a lot more for the Wasteland as a junkie than Arcade ever had as a researcher. Maybe he was entitled to it. C put away the jet and lay on his back against the cool concrete floor of the miniature planetarium. Sitting next to him, Arcade looked up at the stars as well. They moved, ever so slightly against the backdrop of the sky.

"C, you said you remember everything, from before you were shot." Arcade regretted breaking the silence, but he had to know.

"Yeah." A faint smile was on C's lips. Arcade wanted to touch them again, feel them against his own. But it wasn't right. C hadn't meant it. He didn't mean most of the things he did. Besides, they didn't have anything in common, and Arcade wasn't convinced C would understand how to say no, that he could say no. Everything about him was permissive. He could probably take the clothes off C's back and he wouldn't say a thing, just smile and say everything was alright.

"What's your name, C? Your real name." It struck Arcade as an important question to ask, to have some concept of what the man was like before this. If he had been clever or resourceful, had a family that loved him. Been born back West or out East. Maybe, maybe if he knew something he could work on bringing C back to a place where he could function better. Where he wouldn't go around kissing strange men like he had been kissing Arcade.

C sat up and put his face very close to Arcade's. His green eyes bore into Arcade's, also green, but without the otherworldly quality, and he breathed heavily. Black strands of hair fell right in front of his eyes, softening the intensity a little bit. "Charlie."

Charlie. It was a start.

"But Charlie wasn't a good person," it was clear that Charlie was starting to panic a bit. His hands shook violently as he pressed them against Arcade's thighs and his eyes were welling up with tears. Something had caused his emotions go to a little haywire and Arcade deeply regretted being the cause. "Charlie did some bad things, with some bad people. The Courier is good though. I want to be good."

"Charlie." He flinched when Arcade spoke his name and the researcher realized he had been wrong. "C," Arcade put his hands on C's shoulders to steady him, to hold him back from collapsing, to feel his warmth under his fingertips. "From everything I've heard, you are a good person, C, okay."

C nodded and despite himself, Arcade brushed his hair out of his vivid eyes, careful not to come in contact with the kid's still fresh sunburn. The touch was supposed to be professional, but he wasn't sure that was true. "Why don't you go to sleep, you're tired, C."

He didn't bother with a pillow, or bedding of any sort. C just sort of rolled over on the concrete and became terribly quiet. Arcade watched the rise and fall of his chest in silence, making sure that he was still alive. They hadn't eaten dinner, but that was okay. Missing one meal wasn't going to kill Arcade. Shit, but watching C's still body, maybe it wasn't for the best that he skipped meals. He'd make sure the junkie had a good breakfast in the morning.

Arcade knew he was well fucked. Well, hadn't been well fucked, when C mumbled "Arcade" so sweetly in his sleep and he nearly considered that an invitation.

--

"Arcade, why are you so smart?" Charlie's voice reverberated against the metal bin.

Nope, Arcade had not been staring at Charlie's backside as he rummaged through a trash can. That had not happened.

They were in Westside, refuge for those who couldn't manage the majestic splendor that was Freeside. The air smelled like human in various stages of decomposition. At least, out here closer to the walls of the settlement it did. There was probably a body in one of the dumpsters, or maybe just tossed on the other side of the patchwork wall. Real romantic.

Charlie appeared oblivious to all of this, picking through scrap metal and other components. There was still no mention of actually going after Benny. From Charlie's off-hand comments, Arcade had determined that the Courier had meant the Benny, as in, leader of the Chairmen Benny. How this kid could get into so much trouble so quickly was insane.

"Oh!" Charlie exclaimed. "We're not in the right place."

"Of course not." It was a good thing that Charlie still had his simpleness to fall back on. Yep, prevented Arcade from doing very bad things. Especially now that he had noticed how low Charlie wore his pants on his slim hips, or the way his biceps filled out his short sleeves, even though he was otherwise fine-boned and too-thin.

"Hey, use the hand-computer-thing, from Doc. We need to go to someplace."

Arcade covered his face with his hand. This fucking kid. "Where, C, where do we have to go?" Arcade's fingers danced over the dials and buttons of the Pip-boy, accessing the map function. Even though they had only been together about 24 hours, Arcade was becoming fluent in Charliese.

Charlie had gotten awfully close, leaning in over Arcade's shoulder to get a look at the Pip-boy screen. His breath was hot against Arcade's neck, hotter than the fucking sun, that was for sure. Fuck. He put his hands on Arcade's shoulders and pressed his chest against Arcade's back, not considering at all how hot it was outside and that they were basically standing in the middle of a very public street. Too much PDA.

"Where did we need to go, C?" Somewhere between his brain and his mouth, Arcade forgot about scolding the Courier.

"Sexbot."

What the hell.

Arcade turned around, breaking contact with Charlie and pulling away to a respectable distance. Smiling, Charlie didn't seem all that bothered by it. Right, the physical contact didn't mean that much to him? He clearly liked it, but it wasn't attached to anything emotional, or at least not romantic. It wasn't like Charlie was trying to seduce him.

"I beg your pardon?"

Blank stare, Charlie didn't know that expression, it hadn't registered in his brain.

"Where do we need to go, C?"

"Mr. Garrett wanted a sexbot." He said it like there was nothing at all weird with that statement, nothing scandalous or taboo at all. With a tilt of his head and a soft smile, Arcade did that very dangerous thing again where he forgot to breathe.

"Do you know what that means?" Arcade regretted asking immediately. It was maybe better to leave the kid in the dark. But on the other had, he had some suspicion that Charlie may have already fallen victim to some less than upstanding individuals, or may in the future. Yeah, this was an educational experience.

"Of course I do, Arcade." He smiled and pushed the hair out of his eyes, like he knew exactly what he was doing. "It's for fuck-ing," Charlie exaggerated the two syllables, dragging them apart unnecessarily. He stepped back towards Arcade but stopped just short of touching him.

"Right, right. So," fuck no, was he blushing? A grown man and a doctor and the junkie had him flustered. Like most everything Charlie said, the words had rolled off his tongue in a casual manner. Maybe he didn't actually know what "fuck-ing" was. "Why do we need to find a sexbot?"

"I told you," he was a little frustrated now, that weird, seductive moment had passed. "Mr. Garrett wants one. I want to help Mr. Garrett. Tell the computer to find one."

Arcade mumbled under his breath, "Caveat samaritanus."

A perceptible twitch of recognition and Charlie looked uncomfortable again. But clearly, he was less adept at keeping secrets than Arcade was. Arcade had 30 years of practice with his secrets, Charlie was still a ways off from even reaching 30, if he could make it that far.

"I just like helping people." He looked at the ground and then back up at Arcade.

Fucking bullshit, the kid understood Latin. He needed to confront Charlie about this. No, the chem use had to be for real, Arcade could smell it on him and he had all the outer symptoms consistent with psycho and jet addiction, and there had been a bottle of buffout in Charlie's pack too. Even Legion spies wouldn't consume so many chems to keep undercover. They also certainly wouldn't reveal in such an obvious way that they were fucking spies. But maybe this was all an act, to get close to Arcade. But he wasn't important. Arcade was a nobody. There'd be no reason and there would also be easier ways.

But not here, no, he couldn't confront Charlie here. It was too exposed, open. Saying something here would certainly put Charlie into hysterics, real or not, and he'd look like the bad guy beating up on some poor kid who didn't know any better. He kind of already felt like that.

"Come on, from the map, it looks like our best shot is back in Freeside, Cerulean Electronics."

Charlie was smiling again, grabbing Arcade's arm and pressing his body against the researcher's side. This time though, those feelings of attraction and affection didn't surface. Arcade felt sour. No, Charlie couldn't be Legion now. He had called them bad people sincerely, but it had also been a question, like he needed confirmation of his own sound opinion. That didn't mean he had never been part of the Legion, though.

The alternative to Charlie being Legion made Arcade feel even sicker. The idea that he really was this sweet, cheerful man who wanted to help but had spent a childhood exposed to atrocities. This world was a sick place. Once they got inside, Arcade would have to ask. There was no getting around it now.

--

The first thing Charlie did once they were inside Cerulean Electronics was run over all the bugs that populated the building. Smashed up all of them with horrific crunching noises. Arcade could have sworn one of them screamed out in agony, called out that he had a family and oh please big scary chem fiend, don’t kill me! Arcade had to side-step radroach guts as he made his way through the dimly lit rooms. The Pip-boy light helped a little, but not much. Better than nothing though.

Charlie ran ahead and Arcade followed behind, planning on how to broach the subject of the Legion with the junkie. Sure, there were other explanations that could account for how Charlie could understand Latin. Arcade understood it and he certainly had no Legion affiliation at any point in his life. But he was also a doctor and a researcher and not a messed up addict of a kid. So there was that.

At the back of the offices, Charlie had his face pressed up to the glass of a Protectron charging station. His breath was fogging the glass and he pulled away from it, wiping away the condensation with his hand and peering through again, only for the process to repeat itself.

“Arcade, is this a sexbot?”

Fuck, why did he have to keep saying sexbot like it was a normal thing to say? Why? What did Arcade do to deserve this?

“C, come here.” Like a dutiful child he listened, tearing himself away from the Protectron and coming towards Arcade. His hair was in his eyes again and Arcade failed to resist pushing it away. They didn’t actually glow in the dark, Charlie’s eyes, though they looked like they could. If anyone had the right combination of chems and rads floating around in his system to have glow-in-the-dark eyes, it was Charlie. “We need to talk about something, okay?”

Charlie nodded and started playing with his own hair, twirling some of the longer strands by his ears around his fingers like he was a silly teenaged girl. Good. Arcade had no particular affections for teenaged girls.

“You can understand Latin?”

“Huh?” Either he was playing dumb or he didn’t actually know the word ‘Latin.’

“The language the Legion speaks, you can understand it.” He had found that rephrasing questions tended to work with Charlie.

“So can you.” Fair accusation, but Arcade had plenty of good reasons for that. It was the language of learned men before it was that of barbarians. Well, technically not barbarians, but you know, bad people. Tribals pretending to not be tribals under the care of a psychopath.

“Yes, but I learned it from books. Did you learn it from books?”

Charlie looked a little ashamed before answering. “I can’t read. Well, a little, but not well.”

Of course he couldn’t read. That’s why he could never learn to use the Pip-boy. That’s why he didn’t pay attention to any of the plaques at REPCONN headquarters. Why he kept examining the Fixer packs without understanding why he was handed them. It was silly to think that the idea of Charlie being illiterate had never occurred to Arcade.

“I won’t be mad, C. Where did you learn Latin?” Arcade tried his best to keep his tone even.

Even in the low-light the flush on Charlie’s face was distinct. He didn’t want to say, to share his secrets. Why would he want to? Arcade and Charlie had only known each other for a couple of days. They weren’t exactly best friends or anything. But otherwise Charlie had just been so open and trusting, now he was wilting, receding.

“Don’t be mad, Arcade.” Fuck, his hands were shaking nonstop, far more than what was usually induced by his chem use. “You’ll think I’m disgusting.”

Charlie grabbed hold of the lapels of Arcade’s labcoat and threw himself against the doctor, bringing their lips together. Where before the little pecks from Charlie had seemed chaste and childish, if a bit inappropriate given the situation, there was no mistaking this one. Charlie held on to him until his knuckles turned white, moving their lips against each other, frantically, demandingly, until he could get his tongue past Arcade’s teeth.

Arcade shouldn’t have been doing this, kissing this strange man back when he was supposed to be demanding answers. But Charlie was so solid yet pliable against him, reacting to every little twitch of his lips or press of his tongue. He moaned into Arcade’s mouth and it was the hottest fucking thing, to be wanted so intensely. Maybe Charlie’s chem content was so high that Arcade was just getting wasted off of kissing him. Arcade snaked his arms around Charlie’s too-thin waist, pulling them closer so they were chest to chest as they kissed and bit and touched. Fuck were his lips sweet; that could have been from Mentats. That turpentine taste from the day before was gone.

Stumbling against Arcade, Charlie pushed them both against the wall. There was a sharp, sudden pain in Arcade’s back as he crashed against a shelf and back to his senses. Charlie’s hands were still tangled in his labcoat and he was distinctly smiling through their kissing.

Arcade pulled Charlie’s hands off of his labcoat and the junkie let his arms fall by his sides. His lips were so pink now, almost red from the attention Arcade had been lavishing on them. The kid was clearly crestfallen that he had been stopped in the middle of their escapade. But if they went any further, there would be no turning back. Arcade had already started getting hard. It had been awhile and Charlie’s unique looks had certainly grown on him. There was that pang of protectiveness as well. Maybe what Charlie really needed was protection from Arcade.

“How do you know Latin.” Firm, that was the way to go.

“You don’t look at me like I’m disgusting. I see you looking at me all the time. And you don’t think I’m disgusting.”

“No, C, you’re not disgusting.” This sad side of Charlie was what made that protectiveness apparent. It would hold Arcade back from jumping the kid again, from taking advantage of him.

“You’ll think I am, if I tell you.”

“No, I won’t. Everyone has secrets, you need to tell me yours.” Charlie was too kind to ask a favor for a favor. Besides, Arcade had plenty of harmless secrets lined up to share, as long as he kept some things to himself.

Charlie looked down at his boots, covered in dirt and radroach gunk, then back up into Arcade’s eyes. He was working up the courage to speak, or trying to find the right words. He wasn’t smart, but he could be thoughtful. He thought about being good, that was for sure.

“Kai-zar’s Fox taught me.”

Okay, so not an entirely shocking revelation that there was Legion involvement. Arcade took a deep breath before continuing forward. He had promised Charlie not to get mad, that he wouldn’t find him disgusting. At least he had opened up a little bit, this was the first step to finding out just some piece of what made Charlie who he was.

“Caesar's Fox? Who is that?” Simple, direct questions were most likely to work.

“Vulpes Inculta, of Kai-zar’s legion. Greatest of his Frumentarii,” Charlie spoke those words like they had been repeated to him several times without their meaning ever becoming apparent. His pronunciation was spot-on, but that was to be expected of someone who only learned the language orally.

So, someone specific had taught him, and a spy at that. Charlie would make for a piss-poor spy though. Or the greatest spy of all time because Arcade had bought this hook-line-and-sinker if that was the case.

“Were you in the Legion, C? Did they make you fight?”

Charlie shook his head and his hair bounced around because of the violence of it. “Vulpes wanted me to, but I always said no.” Still, with the trembling hands. Arcade wanted to reach out and grab hold of his wrists to stop the tremors, but it wasn’t appropriate.

Still, something seemed off about Charlie’s story. The Legion just absorbed tribes as they tore through the East. They killed the men who wouldn’t join and enslaved the women and children. One didn’t just say no to Caesar. People weren’t given the option.

Instinctually, Charlie wrapped his arms around himself, he was shielding himself unconsciously, trying to ward off perceived threats. He perceived Arcade as a threat. Or this conversation, or something.

Without prompting, Charlie continued, sometimes he seemed to be like that. Like all the words in his head that he had such trouble getting out were just brimming over.

“He said he’d take me to Kai-zar. That Kai-zar would help me. He would see my potential.” The way he said ‘potential’ suggested he was repeating another word, without understanding it. Even clutching himself, he shook. “But I knew better. Caesar kills junkies and he kills queers. He’d kill Vulpes too, greatest of Kai-zar’s frumentarii, for fucking a junkie and a queer. He’d know. Caesar is supposed to be smart, like you.”

That last part took Arcade back a little bit. The association between the Followers and Caesar was a wound they preferred to keep bandaged. It wasn’t a personal secret, not really a secret at all, but it sent up a bunch of warning flags.

“I didn’t want to go. Because Caesar is bad. But I wanted to go, because I loved Vulpes.”

Arcade’s blood was boiling. The idea of some Legionnaire taking advantage of how kind and naive Charlie was, of subjecting him to things he really couldn’t consent to, not in this state, at least. Things that Arcade had been thinking of doing himself. That was just it though, jealousy. It was something special to see something special behind all of Charlie’s problems, the idea someone else had seen it too was disheartening.

“Vulpes looks at me like you look at me, Arcade.”

Another comparison to another Legionnaire. Charlie sure knew how to win a guy’s heart. That was for damn sure. But there was that breaking thing. Because Arcade looked at Charlie a number of ways; pity, concern, frustration, lust. None of them would be love.

Arcade’s mouth was dry. There wasn’t an appropriate response for any of this because it was a highly inappropriate situation. Here they were, on a mission to find a sexbot for a small-time pimp; Arcade was a doctor and a researcher of not-insignificant education and a family history that rightfully should have gotten him killed by now; Charlie was some Legion-victim, chem-junkie, Wasteland-hero combo pack of terrible circumstance. This was just great, fucking great.

“Please, Arcade, let me kiss you.” So needy, so desperate. Arcade should have said no. Instead, he said nothing and that was good enough for Charlie.

If there was a hell, it was meant for people like him, him and Vulpes Inculta, of Kai-zar’s legion. Greatest of his Frumentarii.

Having unwrapped his arms from around himself, Charlie instead wrapped them around Arcade’s shoulders. It was a little awkward, since Charlie was maybe a half inch taller, but since he didn’t seem to mind, Arcade didn’t either. That sweetness from before still hung on his lips.

Charlie kept his radioactive-green eyes open as they kissed, so Arcade tried to keep his open as well. The frames of his glasses clunked against Charlie’s face when he got a little too exuberant. True to form, he laughed it off and lay little pecks all over Arcade’s cheeks before returning to his lips.

As they continued on, their pace slowed, but without a drop in intensity. Arcade ran his hands over Charlie’s body, feeling here and there where bone jutted through the thin layers of skin and cotton. Clavicle, sternum, humerus, ribcage, pelvis. His hands came to rest there, at Charlie’s pelvis, much narrower than his own, and probably not only because he was far too thin. Arcade pushed the palms of his hands against the sharp ridges of Charlie’s pelvis, distinct and cutting just above where the fabric of his jeans started.

Not just hell, but a special place in hell at that.

Arcade lifted up Charlie’s shirt, just a little, just so he could lay his hands on that sharp bone through one fewer restrictive layer. Charlie inhaled sharply at the sensation of skin on skin.

“Arcade,” his moaned name was definitely an invitation this time. The brunet practically purred against his ear now that they were no longer kissing, a happy, content noise that went straight to Arcade’s groin. They weren’t stopping, not this time. Arcade knew better, but he wasn’t exactly a paragon of morality.

Moving his arms again in that gangly way of his, Charlie untangled himself from around Arcade’s shoulders and began touching him, rolling his hands over Arcade’s back, from his scapula down to his last lumbar vertebra, back up his spinal column to almost the first cervical vertebra. Arcade’s hands traveled as well, dipping just below the waistband of Charlie's jeans where his skin was uncharacteristically soft. Charlie’s hand ran through the back of Arcade’s short hair as he breathed heavily into his shoulder.

“Arcade,” Charlie’s voice was a bit of a sigh this time, slightly muffled because of the way his head was tucked against Arcade. Where before his eyes had been wide open, they were closed now, black hair covering portions of his eyelids. “I want you to fuck me, Arcade.”

This had escalated at a predictably alarming rate. Totally inappropriate. Taking advantage of someone profoundly damaged. Not professional at all. Unknown repercussions, none of them very good. Awful, simply awful.

“Yeah, Charlie, yeah,” Arcade spoke into Charlie's hair, then kissing him right on top of his head

The Courier didn’t wince at his name this time. Arcade didn’t know what that meant, if anything.

There was the small problem that they were in an electronics manufacturing lab with a floor covered in radroach pieces and not a bed in sight. Had he been a younger man, Arcade would have considered taking Charlie against the wall. But no matter how thin Charlie looked, he was undoubtedly heavy and Arcade’s late-thirties knees weren’t cut out for this.

The pause in their activities should have shaken Arcade from this trance. It wouldn’t be dissolved though. Taking Charlie by the hand, he led the junkie back out to the reception area where there was a beat-up couch. Clean enough, all things considered, though both of them being as tall as they were, it was going to be a tight fit.

Grabbing hold of Arcade's labcoat, Charlie pulled them both onto the couch, a plume of dust rising as Charlie's back hit the furniture. Arcade coughed but Charlie was undeterred, nipping at Arcade's neck.

Both were still entirely overdressed for the occasion and Arcade grabbed the hem of Charlie's threadbare shirt, pulling it up and over his head. Charlie smiled with broken teeth and his hair stuck out odd ways from the static electricity. They were such messes.

Charlie's chest wasn't quite as emaciated as he had expected. Well, from how strong he was, Arcade should have predicted. Still, his ribs were distinctly visible under the utter mess of chicken-scratch tattoos that covered his chest. Junkie paintings made with dirty needles, no doubt. None appeared to have any meaning or echo any depiction, just lines and swirls. There was one that stood out, a heavy black "x" over his pectoral muscle, over his heart.

Overcome with tenderness, Arcade kissed him just there, over a marking that may have held no meaning. Charlie laughed and snatched hold of Arcade's coat, pulling it off his shoulders. Arcade finished the gesture himself as Charlie became distracted by his lips again, biting the lower one and tugging. He shed his shirt too. There wasn't the opportunity to reflect on the changes that had overtaken his body since he was, you know, young, and Charlie clearly didn't give a damn, with the way he smiled in response and ran his hands down Arcade's chest. Those radioactive-eyes looking up at him didn't glow in the dark, but they reflected everything.

Arcade ground their erections together, still through the barrier of their pants, his hips between Charlie's thighs. Fuck was Charlie hot, mewling and gasping and raking his short, bitten nails across Arcade's skin. Little thrusts of his otherwise pinned hips intensifying the friction between them. Long legs wrapped around Arcade’s midsection, holding their bodies together forcefully. Arcade could come just like this, given the chance.

"Please, I want you," Charlie whined, thrashing his head back and forth as Arcade bit lightly at his clavicle. "Want you inside me."

"One second," Arcade had to tear himself away or he would make even more regrettable decisions today. "Wait, I'll be back."

Disengaging himself from the Courier, Arcade returned to the robotics lab, where they left their packs. Rummaging through his bag he pulled out two condoms and a bottle of lubricant. What could he say; he was both a doctor and a little bit easy to get into bed. And clearly, as this episode was proving, he didn't always end up with the most appropriate choice in partners. This wasn't really an isolated incident.

Arcade turned the corner into the reception area and was greeted by a very naked, very excited Charlie, perched on his knees on the couch. The emergency overhead lighting cast dark shadows over his skin, his whole torso a series of light and dark intersections.

Once Arcade was in range, Charlie grabbed hold of his hips and quickly worked Arcade’s pants open, dipping his head down, taking the tip of the researcher’s cock into his mouth. Fuck, that couldn’t have been a comfortable position for Charlie, all folded over like that, but the junkie rarely displayed displeasure with anything.

Charlie only worked less than half of Arcade’s cock in his mouth, wrapping his hand around the root of it and stroking it in rhythm with his mouth, curling and pressing his tongue against the bottom of the organ and slurping obscenely. His lips covered his teeth expertly and yeah, it was good, so good. Charlie’s obvious experience should have quelled Arcade’s feelings of guilt, at least a little, but maybe that guilt wasn’t as apparent as it should have been in the first place.

Those sick eyes looked up, trying and succeeding in catching Arcade’s gaze through thick lashes and even thicker, unkempt hair. Arcade tangled his hands in Charlie’s hair, soft and full and just a little long, long enough to get a good hold on. If he let the junkie continue, he wouldn’t be able to give Charlie what he had so sweetly asked for. Reluctantly, Arcade pulled Charlie back and he made a slick popping sound as his lips left Arcade’s cock behind.

Arcade did his best to calm down, just a little, regulate his breathing and think a little bit straighter. Not too much, though. “How do you want,” he didn’t have to finish the question. Charlie lay back, his shoulders against the armrest and his back on the couch, splaying his legs in a vulgar way, best he could given the cramped conditions.

“Like this, wanna see you look at me.”

Hell wouldn’t be punishment enough.

Gently, Arcade worked at preparing Charlie. All of his actions up to this point had suggested experience. With this Vulpes fellow. The burn of jealousy was still there. But fuck was he tight. It may have been awhile, or the resilience of youth, or Legionnaires had small penises. That last one sounded right.

Charlie mewled impatiently as Arcade’s fingers worked him, clearly ready to move forward. Arcade kissed the inside of each of Charlie’s knees, willing him to be just a little more patient. Of all the harm he was undoubtedly inducing, causing Charlie physical pain would be a bridge too far.

“Please, please,” Charlie gasped, “want it now.”

Arcade nodded and withdrew his fingers, reaching back onto the ground where he had dropped the condoms. Now his damn hands were shaking too, focusing all his attention on unwrapping the condom and rolling it onto himself after shucking his pants and shoes.

All of these damn things were hundreds of years expired, but doctors of the Wastes still insisted they were better than nothing. That was the theme of existence, really. Being alive in this torn up world, trying to find affection in broken down people, better than nothing.

Sliding into Charlie was almost torturously slow. He screwed his eyes shut and then would open them incredibly wide as he breathed. Arcade couldn’t tell one way or another if his most recent high had worn off or not. Once fully sheathed, Arcade willed himself to hold still, waiting for Charlie to consent to continuing. But fuck was he tight and hot and downright beautiful. Sweat collected at his brow in the increasing heat between them.

“Please, please.”

That was enough for Arcade’s control to break. Breathing heavily himself, he began pulling back out of Charlie, then bringing their pelvises together again. Charlie’s calves rested against Arcade’s shoulders and he had little leverage on his own. Instead, Charlie pawed at him, running his hands anywhere they could reach, never settling anywhere for long.

Arcade pistoned into Charlie best he could, the couch was too small and his stronger right arm was pinned against the backrest. There was no room to touch Charlie back, but he would look down into his face, his eyes mostly open, and Charlie would smile when they’re eyes met, laugh, even. He looked so happy. Good.

So far Charlie had made no move to touch himself, instead his fingers dancing along Arcade’s back, his chest, his hips. While Arcade thought himself a decently considerate lover, their awkward position made it impossible for him to do anything for Charlie.

“Charlie, touch yourself.”

The junkie bit his lip and nodded, taking his hand away from Arcade’s chest and slotting it further down between their bodies. Once Arcade felt Charlie grip his own erection, he felt better about the whole thing and started focusing his attention on his own cock in Charlie’s hot channel. Even through the barrier of the condom, it was like he could feel Charlie’s heart beating, stronger than one would think possible.

Charlie whined and twitched underneath him, so responsive. Eyes opening, closing, looking around erratically. He cried out as his came, ejaculating over his own chest and a little bit onto Arcade. It cooled and clung to their skin as Arcade continued to fuck him.

“Arcade,” Charlie was making words again, now that he had come. “Want you, want you.” His hands were all over Arcade again, between them his cock was half hard, the resilience of youth at work. “Want you to cum in me. Fill me.”

Even though they were just words, they were impossibly hot words, and the needy way Charlie had started saying just everything. Like he was saying these things for the first time, but he wasn’t. Still. It was hard to even think straight.

“Wanna be your little whore, Arcade.”

Arcade came so fast and hard that he didn’t have time to reflect on the fact Charlie had been repeating phrases someone else had taught him to say. That some sick fuck of Legion scum had taught him to say for his own pleasure. Oh fuck, but Charlie looked so pleased with himself.

Condom removed and disposed of, Arcade sat back down on the couch, where Charlie still lay, peaceful and apparently happy in the afterglow of their encounter. His eyes were wide open though, not a hint of being tired.

“Te amo, Arcade.” [I love you, Arcade]

“Malum in se.” [It’s morally wrong]

“Quid?” [why?]

Charlie would be the death of him yet.

“Plumbeus es.” [You are dull/stupid]

“Sico.” [I know]

He was fidgeting, or shaking, otherwise twitching. Charlie was still full of energy. His voice cut through the silence again.

“Cubas.” [Lie down]

Despite the lack of space, Arcade couldn’t deny Charlie’s request. They adjusted their bodies until they both barely fit on the couch, their bare legs hanging off the edge and tangling with each other. Charlie lay his head on Arcade’s shoulder, saying nothing for a long while.

In the quiet of the room, Arcade ran his fingers through Charlie’s hair, thinking through how badly he had fucked up here. Yeah, it was pretty bad.

“Charlie, there’s a doctor, just on the outskirts of Freeside. Dr. Usanagi. I think you should see her.”

“Quid?”

“Potest auxilium vobis. She specializes in implants. Makes people better than they are. I think she can help with your brain. Make you smarter.” [She can help you]

“Nihil mali est.” [Nothing is wrong] Charlie tensed against Arcade’s chest.

“Charlie, you’ve been shot in the head, addicted to a cocktail of chems for who knows how long, and you can’t stop having tremors...shaking.”

“Nothing is wrong. This is me.” Violently, Charlie sat up and pulled away from Arcade the best he could. When he realized that he couldn’t get away from the researcher on the couch, he contorted his body so he climbed off the furniture altogether. Standing by Arcade’s feet, he cut an imposing, furious figure. Arcade had said the wrong thing.

“You don’t love me.”

“Charlie,” he tried to be as gentle as he could be, given the circumstances. “You need help. Servabo te.” [I’ll save you]

“No, no!” The tremors had spread through Charlie’s hands and now wracked through his whole body. Arcade went to stand up, to go to him, comfort him. Charlie’s hands were in his hair, pulling out strands like he couldn’t feel what he was doing. Before Arcade could reach him, he darted back into the robotics lab.

There was no back exit to the building through the lab, and Arcade could hear well enough that Charlie didn’t appear to be smashing the place up, so he hesitated at the doorway. All he was doing at this point was making things worse. Something he had said set Charlie off. Long, slow minutes elapsed. Arcade threw his pants and shirt back on and when Charlie didn’t emerge, he crossed into the other room.

Charlie sat on the floor wearing a fresh pair of pants, but no shirt, rifling through his pack. A presumably empty jet canister was on the floor beside him. So yeah, another mistake, leaving an addict in the middle of a breakdown to his own devices. Good job.

“Charlie.” He tried to sound kind, he really did.

“You’re just like him. Just like Vulpes.” Unlike so many times before, Charlie didn’t seek out Arcade’s eyes. He didn’t want to see him. Though it certainly hurt, being compared to some Legion hack he didn’t even know, Arcade couldn’t help but think that Charlie was right.

“You don’t love me. You don’t even like me. You want me to be someone else.”

Yeah, it was true. Arcade wanted Charlie. But maybe not this version of Charlie. This Charlie wasn’t acceptable to him. Maybe he was when he was horny and they were alone in an abandoned building and no one knew. But outside, no, it wasn’t acceptable to love this Charlie. Arcade wouldn’t be able.

Charlie stood, grabbing his bag and his useless assault rifle, swinging both over his shoulder. He still hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt, but at least he had pants, so that was a start.

“Imma go back to Boone. Boone doesn’t like me. Thinks I’m disgusting. But he doesn’t want me to be someone else either.”

Arcade didn’t know who ‘Boone’ was.

Charlie pushed past him and walked out the door. It wasn’t until Arcade buried his face in his hands that he realized he still had the Courier’s Pip-boy strapped to his wrist.

“FUCK!” Arcade screamed and kicked the Protectron charging station. Now his foot hurt too.


Art by Overwatched