STOP! You have reached the epilogue. If you haven't read the previous chapter, chapter 46, please do so… unless you don't want to, that is.
Onwards to the epilogue.
"Is Bigtown really a big town?" Lana asked, nudging him with an elbow.
"No, it's small," he replied, feeling warmth ripple down his back. "It's full of dust and debris. It's seen a lot of battles. And the people are…odd. Disorganised. Noisy..." They also accepted him and his android nature. "They're good people."
"Good of you to help them, then," Lana said. On the other end of the bridge, Toby and two other guards looked out at the Wastes. They were watching for the trader caravan that was due to arrive; Crazy Wolfgang was already a day late. Seagrave, Mister Lopez, Ted Strayer and Bryan Wilks waited patiently on the bridge, peering down into the water.
Harkness lifted his face to the sky. He didn't know its exact shade of RGB. Wasn't sure what time of day it was. Couldn't tell the exact temperature. But he knew that the sky was blue, flecked with yellow. He knew it was morning. Knew it was warm out here. His system didn't provide him with answers but… it didn't have to. He could figure this out. Behind his eyelids, the blue was still in the process of ebbing away. Taking its time fading to darkness. He could still feel the throbbing in his wires. A low, quiet hum that didn't quite settle but wasn't uncomfortable. His system had reached for him last night. It darted through him with boundless energy. Danced around his core. Filled him with its charges. It was here. Activated. Alive. It operated differently than before but that was fine. He could live without needing it the same way he used to. He followed a charged thread in his head. It led him nowhere, somewhere, everywhere, a whole world that was familiar to him yet wasn't quite the same. Just like the world out here.
"How's your head injury today?" Lana asked, peering at him in concern. Her hair was shining golden, like she was wearing sunlight on her head. And he wondered if he could he ever tell her what he was. Tell her he was metal and wires underneath. Would she still smile at him like that? Would she throw him off the ship? It probably didn't matter anymore.
"I think… it's getting better," he said. Lana smiled at him. From the other end of the bridge, Toby called out to her and waved over the group of Rivetians. Wolfgang must have finally arrived. Lana straightened.
"You coming?" she asked. Harkness glanced at the Rivet City entrance behind him. Still closed. He declined, watching her re-tie her hair as she stared across the bridge at Toby.
"I'm happy for you," he told her. She paused in the middle of tucking a blonde strand behind her ear. A slow smile spread across her face. Reaching out, she squeezed his shoulder with what he recognised as affection.
"I'm happy for you too," she said and walked away with the other Rivetians. He watched her go, feeling exposed. Like his wires were showing. Like his codes were in plain view.
It was then that the door behind him swung open. He tracked the familiar sound of footsteps walking to him, Tunnel Snake radar going haywire in him. Something cold and wet dripped on his arm. He looked down to see a bottle of Nuka Cola pressing its condensation onto his skin. He traced that bottle, around the hand that was holding it, up to Butch who was staring at him openly, lips pulled into a barely there smirk. Harkness took the bottle, put it to his lips and sipped. The cola was sweet. Cold. Refreshing. Butch settled beside him, pushing both hands into his pockets. He was freshly showered. Hair combed neat. Jacket zipped and its collar popped up. There was no trace of last night on him. But he remembered what dawn looked like spilling over naked, freckled skin. And it didn't matter anymore if the cola was cold on his tongue.
Before he could hand the bottle over, Butch pushed his fingers away, stealing the bottle from his hands like the petty criminal he was. Harkness faced him.
He eyed the way Butch drank, his Adam's apple bobbing with each swallow. He traced up his neck with his eyes. Up to the curve of his lips. They were wrapped tight around the rim of the bottle as he tipped it back. A restless frisson travelled through him at the sight. Butch pulled his mouth off the bottle with a loud pop. Licked his lips.
"Y'know, we don't show up on the cameras," he said. Harkness didn't reply, unable to work around the sudden dryness of this throat. "Security cameras. They're on the bridge, right?"
"You got into the bridge tower again?"
"Hey, man. I didn't do nothin'. Your guards let me in." Butch shrugged. "They trust me or whatever. Cause we share a room," he continued, frowning.
"And… that's a problem?"
"It's just...easy, y'know. I mean, all my life I gotta..." his voice trailed off. "You make it easy." He stared at Harkness in an accusatory way. "…sometimes," he added. "Most times, you're still an asshole." Right. But nobody smiled at assholes the way Butch smiled at him.
"I can throw you off the ship if you want," he said. He could. He would.
"Try me, tin man," Butch challenged, turning his body to him; that fluid action reminded him of their connection again. The mess in him twitched. And he felt an urge to do something. To push. To shove. To grab. To slam Butch against the railing. To pin him down and stare at him. To hunt. He understood this feeling now. Recognised it. Could relate to it. It was an altered form of the urgency he had felt when he was an android hunter. An urgency he felt as the Chief of Security keeping an eye out for trouble. His system treated Butch like his mission. It regarded him as someone he had to keep chasing. Except he didn't want to subdue him or neutralise him or erase him. He just wanted to... he just wanted to claim him. Because he was an integral part of him. Something must have shown on his face because Butch leaned closer. His fingers around the bottle twitched like he wanted to touch. "I can't mark you," he said, voice deep.
"So draw a snake somewhere."
"Yeah?" he asked. Teasing and serious. Harkness nodded, relishing the way stray charges buzzed under his skin. Signalling how magnetised he felt by him. Butch's smirk widened. He wrapped his lips around the rim of the bottle again. Finished the cola with his gaze locked on Harkness. As he turned to put the bottle down, his eyes widened. "Johnny?"
Harkness turned to the bridge. Saint was indeed walking to them. He was clad in a grey jumpsuit, getting ash on it when he tapped the cigarette between his teeth. He seemed to be lugging a sack behind him.
"Chiefy," Saint greeted Harkness. He greeted Butch with "Hey, Android Fucker." Butch shoved the other Vault kid in response. Saint stumbled backwards at the force, exhaling a short bark of laughter.
"The fuck you doin' here?" Butch demanded.
"Putting Bigtown on the water route," Saint answered simply, reaching behind him. "And uh…" He tugged out a large, irregular shaped object out of the sack and handed it to Harkness. It was covered in what seemed to be canvas. It was also heavy in his hands. Hard. Oddly... familiar. Harkness unwrapped the package -
It was his plasma rifle.
"Look," Saint started. "It's not that I don't appreciate it but the only time I used it, the dead guy wasn't dead. He came back with quintuplets."
"That's just cause you suck, Nosebleed," Butch drawled. Saint acknowledged the comment with a nod. He took a deep inhale from his cigarette before he spoke again.
"I'm uh… also thinking of crashing the Talon Company's tea party." He grinned a Saint-ly grin. "Was wondering if you want to come along?"
Harkness ran his eyes down Saint's physique, looking at the lack of anything useful that he was carrying. Based on the previous times they had worked together, he doubted Saint was that much of a 'one-man army' like the rumours said he was. He glanced at Rivet City behind him. Lana would keep the ship standing, wouldn't she? Besides, the city had more guards than really required. In his room, their bag was still unpacked from when they left Bigtown, sitting on the cot that they didn't share. He looked out to the Wastes. How was Bigtown coping now that Saint, Butch and he were gone? He couldn't help but wonder about this new alliance: The Saint, the Snake and the Android. As he dropped his eyes onto his plasma rifle, he felt a strong surge of emotion holding it again. Like he'd been given another option he hadn't thought of. He felt... in control. More than a machine, more than a man.
"Alright," he said. Saint grinned.
"Hey, hey, hold up." Butch stared at him in disbelief. "You even think 'bout this for a sec? You're the Chief here." He spread his arms and swept them outwards, indicating the ship. "I mean, babe…" His voice lowered, softened as he stared at him deeply, intensely. He stepped close to grip his arm, spreading warmth up his hand. "Ain't there trouble on the ship?"
Something in his chest squeezed itself. And he curled his own hand around Butch's arm where he knew he left his mark.
"Sure," he said, feeling life thrumming underneath his fingers. "But I'm taking you with me."
Thank you very much for reading. I hope you have enjoyed this story. It has been a great experience writing it. Thank you for your patience and encouragement. Thank you for all your kind words and comments. Thank you for the favourites, watches, alerts and reviews. Thank you for all the beautiful fanart. Most of all, thank you for your presence. I appreciate it. I am grateful for it.
Take care, everyone.