"Look at him. Can't even stand up."
"Poor guy. I didn't know he was such a lightweight. No wonder he always goes for the bitch drinks."
Were they talking about him? Didn't they know who he was? Didn't they know he was fluent in three different languages, one of which was completely dead in this world? Didn't they know he understood the complexities of quantum mechanics and taught courses in molecular degradation and particle acceleration and qualitative versus quantitative analysis and and and …
"Fuck, he's annoying. Do something."
"Relax, Boone, I'll handle it."
Arcade blinked. The Courier was kneeling next to him. Where did she come from?
"What do you want?" he asked her harshly, gripping the bottle in his hand tighter. Wait, how long had he been holding this bottle? What if she wanted to take it away from him? Was he going to be in trouble?
"Gannon, give me the vodka."
"No! Quieta non movere!"
Even through the haze the vodka had formed over his vision, he saw the perturbed glance the Courier exchanged with Boone. "What exactly does that mean?"
"It means, 'don't move settled things,'" he told them matter-of-factly. "Just leave me alone, my vodka and I are quite content together."
He heard her heave a heavy sigh, then the bottle was plucked from his hands. He expected her to turn away and finish the alcohol with Boone before preparing for sleep. Instead, he felt a warm, gentle hand on his shoulder, and a soft voice in his ear said, "Come on, Gannon, I think it's time for bed."
This statement amused Arcade, and he giggled to himself. "Right," he said, and before he could stop himself, more words spewed out after that: "And when you think I've drifted off to sleep, you'll have all the privacy you need to spread your legs for Boone, eh?"
A very loud, almost ringing silence followed. And then, all at once, there was an explosion of noises and actions.
In one swift and seemingly well-practiced motion, Boone swept Arcade off the floor and pressed the scientist against the wall, white lab coat bunched in his fists. The sniper pressed his face so close to Arcade's that their noses were barely touching, sputtering in rage about invasion of privacy and putting a booted foot in places where it didn't belong. Over Boone's shoulder, Arcade could see the Courier, her face red with either anger or embarrassment, shrieking at Boone to let him down.
A second later, she let one well-aimed elbow fall directly into the small of his back. The soldier gave a pained grunt, and Arcade slipped from his hands and back down onto the floor. Instantly, she was between the two of them, her body crouched low, catlike, shielding Arcade from anything else Boone might want to try.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Boone?" she asked him shrilly.
"Did you not hear what he just said? Guy's a fucking prick." Boone tenderly massaged the area directly over his right kidney, wincing.
"So it was a prick thing to say! What are you going to do, kill the closest thing to a doctor we've got?"
He opened his mouth to reply, shut it again, then mumbled something under his breath about finding more firewood, seized their enormous rifle, and exited the building, slamming the door behind him.
The Courier rounded on Arcade, hands on her hips, practically bristling in her chagrin. He stared up at her blearily; he was suddenly feeling much more sober. What was so hard about just keeping his mouth shut? It never really had been his strong point, but this time, he'd definitely stepped out of line. He clambered to his feet, briskly sweeping his hands along his coat in attempt to brush off the dust, then turned to face her.
"Look, I -"
She waved her hand in irritation. "I don't want to hear it. For three months now, you and I have been a team. We've worked together, traveled together … fuck, you've sewn me up more times than I can count in that short of time." She turned her palms up, staring at him. "What gives?"
Arcade hesitated. He carefully straightened his glasses on his face, then ran a hand through his hair, clearing his throat. "I … I don't know."
The Courier crossed her arms, staring at him in suspicion. "What is this?" she said. "Is Arcade Gannon at a loss for words?" She held up her index finger, her eyes boring into his own as she stepped closer to him. "Listen to me. What goes on in my bedroom is absolutely, one hundred percent none of your business. It's just strictly sex, and that's all there is to it. Understood?"
He didn't answer her. The word 'sex' was buzzing around in his foggy brain as though she had shouted it, and for the first time since the day she had walked into the Mormon Fort, Arcade could see that underneath the dirt and soot and the hardened attitude and the thick leather armor, the Courier was, indeed, a woman. And those freckles …
He reached out for her. He couldn't help himself. He cupped his hands on either side of her face and kissed her fervently. It wasn't romantic or seductive or any other thing a kiss was supposed to be, and Arcade knew that if he were just slightly more sober, he would never have done it, but he was kissing a woman for the first time in over ten years.
The Courier, caught completely off-guard, at first remained completely frozen where she stood, then broke free of his grasp, pushing him forcefully in the chest.
"What the fuck, Gannon?" she shouted. "I thought you were gay?"
"You said that," Arcade shot back at her. "I've never said one way or the other."
She gaped at him. He could tell he'd struck home. "So you're not."
"Not exactly. I've entertained the idea of joining in with you and Boone on more than one occasion." He couldn't believe he was admitting it out loud.
The Courier went quiet. She was eyeing him, though in what way, he couldn't tell. It seemed as though she was torn between complete revulsion and slight intrigue. They stood that way for several long seconds, her regarding him suspiciously, him hovering in front of her, fighting with himself whether to push the matter further.
Finally, she said to him, "Best not to mention this to Boone."