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The merits of tactile stimuli

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By the time Nate found X6 on the roof of an apartment complex, the rain had been pouring for a full day. He hadn't even fully stepped outside yet, the lock of the door giving way under his efforts eventually, that the rain drenched him from head to toe. Visibility was reduced to near zero. Heavy winds shook parts of the building loose. On his way over he almost fell into a hole, so deep it's bottom disappeared in darkness. Nate swallowed. Even without a fear of heights this was frightening. He didn't want to imagine what X6 had to be going through, who grew squeamish climbing ladders a few more rungs above average.

Through the torrential rain it was hard to spot anything, but eventually Nate glimpsed a sad heap of black shining leather in a corner surrounded by two half fallen walls. He hurried over, fell to his knees before the synth and pulled him into a hug. X6 resisted at first, Nate had no idea what he thought was happening, but when he recognised Nate he sagged into his arms, clinging tightly to his shoulders. He shivered so much it nearly shook Nate along. He cradled X6's head, noted displeased that the leather was soaked.

"It's gone, sir. It's all gone." X6 whispered almost too low to understand.

Nate did anyway and closed his eyes in agony. Countless lives had been lost during the assault on the Institute. In the aftermath, rifling through rubble, pulling out few survivors and many bodies, Nate asked himself time and again if he could have prevented this bloodbath. If he should have tried harder to persuade the other board members to his way of thinking. In the end though the suffering of synths had to stop. Even of those who didn't know they were suffering.

"I know." he said. "Come on. We have to get you out of this rain. Can you stand?"

X6 nodded but when he got up he nearly toppled over, clinging to Nate in silent horror as his eyes were drawn the long way down.

"Look at me. Don't look down, focus on me." Nate said, holding tightly to X6 as he guided him back to the door, choosing safer routes over faster ones, the rain making the floor slippery, unsafe. One step after the other they made it to the relative safety of the apartment interior, starting the long climb down. With each step bringing him closer to secure earth X6 calmed down. He still shivered, his gait uneven. There was no telling how long he'd spent on that roof. If the emergency teleport brought him directly there and he hadn't dared to move away or if something had forced him to flee up. But his lips were chapped and eyes bloodshot. He was likely dehydrated and would have found no rest up there, with panic keeping him alert. The sooner Nate got him somewhere safe and warm, the better.

 

The closest place was an abandoned Railroad safehouse, stocked with food, clothes and other necessities. Most importantly it was at ground-level and had a fireplace. Nate pulled the door shut behind them, locking it tight while X6 stumbled a few steps inside, coming to a wavering stand. The towels weren't the fluffiest he'd ever used but they would do.
"Hold onto me." Nate said as he stripped X6 of his clothes. "You can sit down in a moment, just need to get you out of these clothes."

The gloves were first to go, followed by the coat which landed with a heavy smack on the floor, water immediately pooling around it. Nate could count the number of times he'd seen a courser without his coat on one hand and would have four fingers left over. It didn't surprise him much to see they wore stark black jumpsuits underneath and those, he knew from experience, were a bitch to peel off wet skin. Careful not to pinch X6 with the zipper he pulled the garment off. By the time he reached his boots X6 leaned on him with both hands, breathing heavily from the exertion. Nate couldn't imagine how much it took for a courser to become this weakened.
Soup, Nate decided while he pulled off boots and jumpsuit, he'd try and scrounge together some soup for X6. He guided him to the bed, which had a real mattress and more blankets than anyone could ever need. Many synths who first escaped the temperature regulated Institute were overwhelmed by the cold nights of the Commonwealth. The Railroad acted accordingly. He got started on the fire after he wrapped X6 in about half of the blankets until all that was left of the courser was a head sticking out of an orange spotted cocoon. Only now did he notice that his sunglasses were gone. Lost in the panic of people trying to escape the Institute or sometime after, Nate had no idea.

It wasn't really important. Soup took priority. Using some unreadable old world books as kindling - he still felt a pang of guilt when he did - he started up a decent fire, bathing the room in warm, flickering light. The process of making soup went all but automatically. In the last few weeks he'd made a lot of soup for synths who'd been lost, afraid and tired. He'd been searching for X6 all along but with the signals from their chips coming in mangled, they had to follow every trail blind. They'd saved dozens of synths and Nate felt horrible for not being as glad about it as he should have been, knowing that X6, his synth, was still out there.

"Talk to me, X6. How are you feeling? Physically and emotionally." he clarified, knowing otherwise he'd never get an answer as to what was going through that synth's head.

"My body temperature is still below the recommended range” X6 replied immediately as if flying on autopilot. “Though I am no longer in danger of going into hypothermic shock. I am mildly dehydrated and in need of sustenance. I've sustained multiple mild abrasions and cuts while fleeing a horde of super mutants."

X6 rattled off his status report, speech somewhat impaired by the constant chattering of his teeth. When Nate turned around to look at him, waiting for the water to boil, he saw his body wracked with shudders every few seconds.

"And emotionally?" he reminded him softly.

This time the assessment took longer. Nate gave him time, stirred the pot, sliced some vegetables, remembering which X6 liked best.

"I am relieved you survived the hostilities, sir." X6 said finally.

"X6, you ... I gave the order to destroy the Institute."

"I know." X6 simply said. The reaction took Nate by surprise. Many synths attacked him on sight for what he did to their home. Especially the coursers were furious. The Institute instilled into them an even fiercer loyalty than in their regular synths. They were programmed to end any and all threats to the Institute with a vengeance. And here was X6, showing as little outward emotion as he always did.

"Okay ..." Nate said. If X6 wasn't angry with him, he sure wouldn't argue. "But there's more going on, isn't there? Tell me how you feel, X6. We practiced this."

X6 bowed his head, as much as that was possible with the blanket cocoon reaching up to his chin. His serious attitude looked nothing short of hilarious in that position. But Nate kept his smile to himself, knew that X6 could be remarkably sensitive about not being taken seriously.

"I feel ... sorrow. No."

He paused, searched for the right word, knew that Nate would give him time. It wasn't that he lacked the vocabulary or even the understanding of emotions. He had all of them. But any deeper emotional issue used to be dealt with by memory wipes and reassignments or, in the worst cases, decommissioning. X6 felt disgruntled when Nate forgot to bring the cakes he liked, but true anguish was foreign to him. He was concerned when Nate got hurt during a battle, but grief was buried under Institute brainwashings long before it could manifest.

It was a painful process getting X6 to identify his stronger feelings and help him work through them. More than once X6 cornered him, demanding to be reconditioned, begging Nate to stop torturing him. Nate, who decided on the day of his appointment as a director that reconditionings were a thing of the past, remained hard. It was fortunate now. X6 was miles ahead in his emotional learning curve than any of the other coursers. He could help Nate put them back together.

"I am hurt." X6 said, using a broad term when the words wouldn't come to him. In some way, Nate thought, X6 was calmed by this exercise. It was an order to follow, something to set his mind on. Despite his insistence of being mostly a soldier and only secondary an infiltrator, he enjoyed using his head to think through problems.

"Many resources were destroyed along with the scientists able to reclaim them. The technological advances of the Commonwealth were set back decades, perhaps even centuries."

The soup was finished and Nate carried it over to the bed, staying silent as he let X6 work through it all.

"The process of synth retention will be much harder to accomplish without the ability to teleport or fall back to a secure location."
Nate didn't have the heart to tell him that there would be no more synths to reclaim. They were free now, even X6, though he'd likely oppose the idea. Instead he helped X6 wriggle one arm out of the blanket cocoon so he could eat.

"Did you have any people you cared for specifically at the Institute? Someone you considered closer to you than the others?"

"I did. But he survived." X6 said between careful sips.

"How do you know?"

To that X6 didn't reply. He pretended to be fully concentrating on drinking spoonfuls of soup, chewing the vegetables in it. Not that he needed to give an answer. Nate would have liked him to acknowledge his feelings for him more openly, whatever their exact nature, but if negative feelings were a hardship, positive ones were downright impossible. To a certain degree the Institute encouraged anger, ruthlessness and the like in their coursers. It made them more efficient. But even the hint of something that could be construed as a willingness to show mercy was harshly punished. The reconditioning process, basically just a series of Pavlovian cues meant to provoke or subdue certain reactions, wasn't pleasant. Even less so when done with the purpose of discouraging mercy.

The rest of X6's meal was spent in silence. Nate watched and made sure his still shaking hands didn't spill the soup and otherwise let him be. The last weeks had been hard enough on him. But when Nate took away the empty bowl and placed it somewhere it wouldn't get in the way, X6 spoke up:

"I want to go home, sir."

Nate didn't know what to say. His home was gone, blown to pieces at Nate's own hand. Before he could formulate an answer, X6 continued.

"I know it is an impossibility. And yet all I want is to escape this irradiated shithole and return to what I know."

X6's speech lacked a great deal of emotional intonation, but there was no mistaking the despair with which the statement was spoken. Worst of all, there was nothing Nate could do to make things right for him. He couldn't give him his home back any more than he could go back to his own time. He was forced to watch X6 break apart without direction or a place to return to. It had been the right choice, but God, did he know how he felt.

"Lie down on your stomach." Nate said, acting on an impulse. Maybe he couldn't bring back the Institute, wouldn't want to even if he could, but he could do something to make X6 feel better. The synth followed the command without question, discarding the blankets and settling on the bed, arms ramrod straight at his sides, face turned to the wall.

"Make yourself comfortable." Nate said while he searched his pack for the little magic bottle he'd found days ago in an abandoned shelter, miraculously preserved and begging to be used. A small amount of shuffling told Nate that X6 at least tried to figure out how to be comfortable. It wasn't really a concept he had to worry about before. No one cared about a synth's comfort, least of all that synth himself. When Nate went back to the bed he saw X6 had folded one arm under his head while the other lightly grasped the sheets. The position was suspiciously similar to how Nate liked to sleep. Well, one battle at a time. He sat down by X6's side and drew some of the blankets over his hips and legs, swallowing hard as he tried not to look at those gorgeous long legs and firm ass. Not to mention his balls, barely visible between his slightly spread legs.

Keep your mind out of the gutter Nate reprimanded himself.

"I want to give you a massage." he said and gently touched X6 between the shoulder blades. "Loosen up those muscles a bit. Do you think you'd like that?"

"I don't know." X6 answered promptly. "I have never received a massage before. Is it like a sensory response test?"

"How did that test work?" Nate asked. He'd made the mistake once before assuming an Institute procedure was as innocent as it sounded, resulting in a synth panicking when he told him he had to appear to what Nate had assumed to be a simple interview, rather than prolonged psychological torture. Not that anyone of the robotics department described it as torture when he asked them.

"We are subjected to short pain stimuli of different kinds to measure our physical reflexes, immediate mental responses and decision-making processes under duress. We are touched a lot during this procedure." he added, thankfully not seeing Nate's horrified shudder. Now he remembered why he decided to blow that place to hell.

"This won't be painful. It can be intimate, though, so I want you to tell me if you identify feelings of discomfort or things you don't know where to place, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

Nate knelt over X6, uncapping the bottle and covering his hands in quickly warming oil. When he first touched X6, placing his hands on his shoulderblades, he twitched and tensed.

"Relax. Not going to hurt you." Nate assured him. X6 relaxed immediately and Nate chastised himself for forgetting that a single word could be perceived as a command. He'd wanted X6 to calm on his own accord.

He dragged his hands down, pushing into the hard muscles, spreading the oil. A sharp breath was the first reaction he got, drawn in and held as if X6 waited for the other shoe to drop. Nate worked his way up again, kneaded the cold and tension out of his back. It, like the rest of his body was flawless. No scars thanks to the advanced Institute medical technology, even though years as a courser would have provided ample opportunity to collect them. Just dark glistening skin making Nate think decidedly impure thoughts. His hands rubbed warmth back into X6's quivering shoulders, traced his nape and the sharp line of his hair. Back again, down his arms, intertwining their fingers for a moment before going back to his task. A first forray to his waist was rewarded with muffled laughter. Nate halted, astonished. Then brushed his fingers below X6's sides again. X6 twitched, laughed, squeezed his eyes shut as he swatted with one hand for Nate to stop.

"I didn't know you were ticklish." he said, doing it again just to see his mouth break into a wide smile.

"I ... didn't either, sir."

Despite what must have come as a shock X6 didn't appear to be distressed by this involuntary physical reaction. On the contrary, he grew lax under Nate's fingers, even hummed pleased when Nate caressed the arch of his waist in a sweeping motion, ending up in the dip of his back and following his spine to his neck.

As he continued his massage he wondered if X6 had ever been touched in this manner before. He didn't dare ask, for fear the answer was yes. During his extended stay at the Institute Nate learned more than he liked about the day to day life of Institute synths. Relationships between them were strictly forbidden and if discovered resulted in an immediate memory wipe.

Two synths had been found in such a situation shortly after Nate arrived. Shaun had used their case as a way to illustrate how little synths resembled humans. Nate remembered them sitting huddled together in their sleeping quarters, fearful submissiveness apparent on their faces.

They hadn't been able to name the manner of relationship they had or describe the simulated feelings. Neither were they familiar with even the most basic forms of physical affection, had called each other 'efficient' and a 'great help' because those were the only forms of endearments they knew. Where Shaun saw machines ineffectually mimicking human life, Nate saw two people exploring the connection they could have with one another in an environment that punished harshly every deviation. It took all the self-control he had not to argue with Shaun right then and there and even more not to try and save them after. He never learned what had become of them.

X6 stopped shivering, the warmth in the safehouse and Nate's efforts finally rewarded. He watched him sag into the mattress, breathing slow and deep, as peaceful as Nate had ever seen him. For someone who showed deliberately little response that was practically a standing ovation to Nate's massaging skills.

As loyal as X6 was to the Institute and its doctrines, it was unlikely he would have ever sought out or allowed intimacy with another synth. If he ever had been touched beyond their tests, it would have been by a scientist. The thought alone made Nate's stomach churn.

"How are you feeling?" he asked to distract himself from that line of thought.

"Good." X6 replied with barely any hesitation. Nate smiled, found fewer hard knots in his shoulders.

"Want me to continue on your legs?"

This time X6's response was less immediate. He deliberated in silence, during which Nate patiently kept working on his back and arms. There was no telling what went on in his head but even with little to no exposure to even the most casual forms of intimacy X6 still had a sense of vulnerability. Considering the only experience he could equate a massage to were painful stimuli in a testing environment, Nate understood his hesitation.

"You are allowed to decline, if-"

"No. I would like you to continue." X6 said, adding belatedly: "Sir."

Nate wondered if it was the informal atmosphere or the strain on his conditioning that made X6 speak up like this. Before the Institute's destruction it would never have occurred to him to interrupt his masters. Nate chose to take it as a good sign and shuffled down, uncovering one of X6's leg and wrapping his hand lightly around his ankle. The urge to start on his ass, to knead his cheeks and finger him until he was a moaning mess was strong. Nate withstood, worked his way up, along his calves, as hairless as the rest of his body. Whoever had been in charge of designing synths apparently disliked body hair. Not that Nate was about to complain. With no hair to get in the way, Nate could admire that silky expanse of X6's skin wholly. He'd never get enough of it.

Obviously X6 didn't mind him marveling at his skin physically. When he rubbed his thumb in circles over the crook of his knee, X6 sighed, the most substantial reaction as of yet. That was all the encouragement he needed to start in earnest, his motions becoming wider and harder as he went from one leg to the other. X6 was boneless beneath him, forgotten the stress from fleeing the Institute and ending up in one of the few places he genuinely dreaded.

His hands traveled upward and dipped into the line between his ass and thighs. X6 inhaled sharply.

"Sir." he said, his voice trembling minutely. "You told me to inform you if I experienced any unusual emotional responses."

Nate paused, kept his hands lightly on his legs.

"Is it a good feeling or a bad one?" he asked, beginning with what he'd found to be the best way to guide X6 through new emotions.

X6 opened his mouth to answer, but hesitated. He frowned and pursed his lips as he attempted to work through the problem.

"It is hard to tell. The sensation itself was not unpleasant. And yet there was a sense of vulnerability. As if you bypassed my defensive capabilities."

Nate stayed below his knees, massaging the calves as he thought about how to frame his next question.

"Were you ever ... X6, have you felt something like this before?"

"I ..." X6 stopped and to Nate's unending surprise, nodded. He turned his head away so Nate couldn't see, his fingers gripping the sheets a little tighter. That gave Nate the last clue he needed.

"You know what the feeling is, don't you?" he asked softly. He hadn't stopped touching him throughout, was even gentler now. When X6 nodded again, hesitant and almost as tense again as he had been in the beginning, Nate leaned over and placed a kiss on his shoulderblades.

"It's alright. That's a good thing. You want to do this or keep it simple? Your choice.”

It was a little known fact that a pulse could be taken not only from the neck or wrists but various other points on the body. At the moment Nate felt the quick thrumming of his heart through the veins in his ankle. He wondered how long X6 buried these feelings, if he ever thought about bringing them up. Perhaps he'd known that with the Institute still standing there was no way they'd ever meet as equals.

“Continue, sir?” he said.

Nate smiled, drew a line along his legs up to his ass, squeezed the flesh carefully, listened for every little response he got. X6's breath hitched, his eyes wide, mouth a small o. Nate spread his cheeks, used more oil and dipped between, circling his rim. X6's gripped the sheets tighter. He was plenty worked up already, had probably suppressed every unwanted reaction up until now. It was clear how desperately he tried to stay quiet as Nate with oilslick fingers breached his hole and pumped his finger slowly in and out. With his free hand he kept up the massage, stroked his thighs and hips meant to calm him. He shivered under his careful ministrations, bit his lip when Nate crooked his finger and grazed the nail of his thumb featherlight over his hole. X6 sucked in a sharp breath, blush visible even in the half-light. His hips bucked near imperceptibly against Nate when he added another finger.

“It's alright, don't hold back. This is all about you.”

Even with the permission X6 held back as much as he revealed. He lifted his hips a little, allowing Nate to see his cock hard and flush against his stomach leaking precome. Made the tiniest noise when Nate thrusted his fingers in faster, crooking them to drag along his inner walls. He was hot and wet, his hole clenched around Nate's fingers. His lips moved, to grasp words Nate wasn't sure he couldn't name or was embarrassed to speak. Eventually, through a broken off moan, he managed:

“Please, more …”

Nate grinned, scissored his fingers and jammed them in to the last knuckle. X6 keened, louder than the sheets ripping under his iron grip. He pushed back against Nate, rutted against his fingers, cheek pressed into the mattress, eyes screwed shut.

“God, look at you.” Nate said, unable to hold himself back. “So needy. So damn gorgeous, with your ass in the air like that.”

“S-sir …”

The little stutter made Nate almost cum in his pants. This was supposed to be for X6, but damn him if he didn't get his share out of this. He reached for the bottle, dripped more oil on X6's ass and watched it drip down his thighs. When he couldn't withstand the lure any longer he reached out and spread the oil, covered his free hand in it and then, kneeling behind X6 to get a better angle, reached around and wrapped his hand around his cock.

A breathless gasp was his reward, followed by a pleading whine when he rammed his fingers into him fast and hard, jerking him at the same pace. X6's hips stuttered, movements erratic as he looked for an unripped piece of the sheet to hold onto.

“Sir, I … I'm …”

“You're gonna cum?”

X6 nodded, moaned and shouted when he came thick spurts all over the bed. Nate fucked him through it, didn't let up until he started shivering from the overstimulation. He pulled his fingers out, caught X6 with one arm and made him lie down on the side away from the wet spot. X6 let himself be manhandled, had his eyes open and lazily followed Nate's movements as he climbed into bed and drew him into his arms. With one hand Nate cradled his head, drew little patterns along the roots of his hair.

“How do you feel?” he asked when he felt his breathing even out. X6 groaned.

“Not now, sir.”

Nate grinned.

“That good, huh?”

X6 only smiled and rolled his eyes.