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The mission had been bad. Everyone he and Tres had come to rescue had been horribly, messily murdered, blood drained and ravaged body parts strewn around, though at least the assailants hadn’t gotten away before their arrival. Those assailants would never harm anyone ever again. But Abel felt sickened by what he’d done instead of satisfied. He’d seen and done worse, much worse, but this time got under his skin more than usual.

Typically, Crusnik, in its greedy hunger, thoroughly sucked in all the blood on his body and clothing before he returned to human form, but this time it had left blood beneath his nails. Crusnik feasted on vampire blood, so did this mean it had left human blood on him? The melee had been chaotic, the crowd of enemies often too tight for Abel to use his scythe the whole time, and he didn’t always have full control of Crusnik even while operating at that lower percentage. Any humans still moving in that area had been allies of the murdering vampires--killers, enemies--but clawing them down as Crusnik felt worse than shooting or scything them down.

A monster used claws.

No matter how much he’d scrubbed, he couldn’t get all the blood out from under his nails. He’d stopped trying when his skin had become too raw; bleeding himself wouldn’t make anything better.

Some would say that it was a good thing that after his hundreds of years of seeing and sometimes committing atrocities he hadn’t gone completely numb to it, that he still had a conscience, but it certainly didn’t feel good. But he deserved to suffer, didn’t he? At least some of the time. A more critical part of himself said that the bloodshed hadn’t bothered him as much as how he’d committed it, making him self-pitying.

Tres opened the door, looking less damaged than he had right after the battle but still somewhat ragged: he and Tres had addressed the worst of his injuries and made him look presentable but Tres would need a thorough examination and more intricate repair work from Professor Wordsworth on their return. The short-sleeved gunmetal gray undershirt Tres currently wore left some of the disguising bandages on his arms visible. When he looked at Abel, Abel knew what he saw: his current partner, sitting on a dirty, thin carpet on the cold, hard floor in a corner of the dark room in a white bathrobe with his arms around his knees and long hair damp and messy, staring into space with a look of horror on his face. Although he didn’t like Tres seeing him like this, it had happened before and Tres knew more of his secrets than any other member of the AX aside from Caterina. He’d hide this however he could from anyone other than Caterina or Tres, no matter how much trouble or how many contortions it took.

Tres turned on the light, closed the door, and crouched down right in front of him. Just the two of them, the Gunslinger and the Joker, two of the most self-destructive members of an order full of self-destructive people. It might be selfish of him, but it felt nice to not be alone.

“Abel.”

“‘Abel’? Now I know you’re humoring me.”

“Father Nightroad. It appears that you are in need of assistance.”

“That’s one way of putting it. I’ll be fine. I just need a little time. We’re not leaving immediately, so it’s okay.” He’d put on his vestments, brush and tie back his hair, put on the glasses he didn’t actually need, and pretend really hard that he was a smiling, happy-go-lucky fool without a thought in his head. Sometimes, when he pretended hard enough, it stopped him from thinking and feeling as much for a little while. Maybe then he could look at himself in the mirror again.

Having been developed as and molded into a killing machine, as someone who had a self-described genocide mode, Tres didn’t understand the horror Abel felt and just wanted it to stop, which sometimes caused problems.

“I could apply a procedure that would speed up the process.”

“Get me a donut and a tea with fourteen spoons of sugar in it? If so, it’s not all that effective.”

“No. The other one.”

What? ...that? Putting his face into his hands so Tres wouldn’t see the hot flush on it, Abel replied, “That’s not necessary.”

“Many humans function better if they have moments of human contact, so you shouldn’t be embarrassed, my lord. I may be a machine, but I’ve performed as an acceptable substitution in the past for you.”

That someone holding him and petting his hair could occasionally lessen his angst left Abel ashamed, not embarrassed. Was he that pathetic and touch starved? Was he that shallow? Was his anguish that shallow, truly self-pity instead of conscience or horror, him wallowing in feeling sorry for himself? Any comfort he received from that contact felt tainted.

“Not always,” Abel said, “because it doesn’t mean the same thing coming from you. With you, it’s perfunctory because, as a machine, you don’t really ‘care’ and just want to ‘fix’ me; you say so all the time.” Although Abel knew Tres had emotions in general and cared for him in particular--he’d seen them--getting Tres to admit it....

Did he really intend to blackmail Tres into doing that? Admit that you feel things about people, undermine your identity for me, or I’ll keep being an emotional wreck and useless lump on the floor? An asshole might do that.

But Tres was the asshole trying to rush him through his emotions and PTSD because it would be more convenient for Tres.

No, Abel wouldn’t do it. God, he hated his brain and the person it could make him be sometimes. He knew Tres meant well and could sometimes get frustrated when he saw an immediate, logical solution to a problem but Abel wouldn’t go along with it. “Don’t touch me, Tres, just give me a little time to get myself together.”

“I want you to be well, Father Nightroad.”

“You’re several hundred years too late for that, Tres.”

As Crusnik, Abel was faster than Tres, but he wasn’t as himself, which was how Tres managed to sit next to him then put an arm around him and grab him to set him on his lap and embrace him. It left Abel somewhat dizzy and confused as he found himself straddling and facing Tres while deep inside a steel-armed “hug.” How had Tres even managed to manipulate and sling around Abel’s long limbs so quickly and adroitly?

He hadn’t been as successful in keeping Abel’s bathrobe covering him in any kind of decent way, but maybe Tres hadn’t cared about that. Abel did, though, especially since trying to squirm out of Tres’ grip just made it worse. He could break that hold by force if he slightly transformed into Crusnik but it might turn into an actual fight. Confused by the situation, Abel’s dick started to get hard, which hadn’t happened during previous “human contact” sessions. During prior sessions Abel hadn’t been nearly naked or in Tres’ lap.

(Which of Tres’ “resident tactical programs” did all of this fall under? Hopefully not “search mode.”

(Though “genocide mode” would also be horrifying in this context.)

Things could always get worse. How did he keep forgetting that?

This could get even worse if Tres noticed.  

Speaking with a mild face and very mild voice, Tres didn’t seem to have noticed. (Don’t look directly at his face!) “Let me do this for you, my lord.” Those words did not help.

“If you want me to associate you hugging me with feeling shame and a loss of control, keep going.” Getting rugburn on his knees didn’t add anything positive to the experience either. “Though this isn’t so much of a hug as you holding me captive.” Tres pinning Abel’s arms down at his sides left Abel with basically Tyrannosaur arms, useless for trying to move his robe to cover him more decently and try to disguise his erection.

While the AX encouraged celibacy, it didn’t demand it. (Leon would never be able to work with them if it had.) After centuries mourning Lilith (and the brother Crusnik 01 took from him), when Abel returned to society he’d been celibate anyway because he mostly just worked, and no way would he want to have relations with someone he’d picked up as Father Abel--uniformed, frivolous, featherbrained priest--or as an AX enforcement officer. Said job involved a lot of traveling, secrets, and injuries. He also didn’t want to inflict himself--his biology, lifespan, secrets, past, self-hatred, traumas, and ability to turn into a frightening, blood-drinking monster--on some poor person. But he liked Tres, who had a fun sense of humor, could be sweet, could take care of himself, already knew a lot of Abel’s secrets, was physically attractive, and wasn’t terrified and horrified of Abel as Crusnik (even though Tres should be). His spiky, fluffy hair begged to be ruffled; Professor Wordsworth found it hard to resist too. It didn’t bother him that Tres would always put Caterina first because Abel often did the same. None of that made a difference though, because Tres had no interest in love or sex. With how much of Tres’ body had been replaced at various points, he might not even have the sensations or... working equipment that would be necessary. (Though Wordsworth might have given him them with how much he doted on Tres.) Abel wouldn’t want to have sex with someone who wouldn’t get anything out of it.

(Though he didn’t even need full-on sex--though he’d definitely like it--as long as he could get meaningful physical affection, as opposed to “Nightroad is bluescreening out when we need him so somebody hug him” action. With Tres, there would always be physique issues to take into account but Abel certainly didn’t mind, especially since he had his own, with how disgusting the nanomachines in his blood could be. Not that he should even be giving all this thought to things that would never happen. There was a huge difference between optimism and full-on delusion.)

Besides, having feelings of romantic love for and erotic fantasies about your co-workers, requited or not, could lead to so many problems.

“Cease struggling,” Tres said. So romantic.

Actually, Abel really should stop squirming, since all it did was rub bare parts of his body, which included his cock and ass, against Tres and right now he didn’t need the friction. He needed to control his body, his face, his breathing, his emotions, if he wanted to get out of this, especially if he wanted to get away before Tres could notice his current, embarrassing problem. He breathed deeply, closed his eyes, and went still.

That didn’t chase away his arousal or the anguish that led to this stupid situation, but it mollified Tres enough to loosen his grip. Unfortunately, Tres also drew Abel in closer to him and moved his arms around him into more of an actual, comforting hug, which simultaneously felt good and brought tears to Abel’s eyes. It got worse as Tres stroked and gently loosened some of the tangles in Abel’s hair with one hand.

But then Tres had a light grip on each of Abel’s arms and pushed him away a bit. “Father Nightroad?” Tres asked. Silence followed, then somehow the silence became heavier.

When Abel opened his eyes, he saw Tres looking down at-- Shit. Things. Could. Always. Get. Worse.

Damage control time. At least an attempt at damage control. “I’m sorry! With the manhandling, my robe gaping open from the manhandling, and being put in your lap, my dick got confused. Usually this doesn’t happen!” Now that Tres knew, Abel abandoned all attempts at stealth, pulled the robe closed, belted it tightly, and pushed himself up a bit to put some of the cloth under his ass before he settled back down. While he’d prefer to be out of Tres’ lap and no longer straddling him, that grip on his arms prevented him from going far because if he broke that hold, it might be misinterpreted.

Tres looked thoughtful and somewhat surprised. “...would a sexual climax decrease your depression? Do you need aid with that?”

Even worse. “No! At best it would be a temporary distraction! And I had no intention of you noticing or doing something with it. I hoped it would either die down while you didn’t notice or you wouldn’t notice and you’d leave and then I could take care of it in private. I know you have no interest in these things, and as much as I’d hate for someone to mechanically hug me as if it’s a task to be performed, I’d hate it even more if someone jerked me off that way.”

Given how he usually made lightning-fast assessments, Tres being silent and looking thoughtful this long worried Abel. What could he possibly be pondering that took this long?

How much more embarrassing would this get? At least Tres had let go of him.

While Tres’ eyes looked simply brown from a distance, up close a person could see small flecks of green in them. God, Abel, stop. Abel moved himself further down Tres’ legs, away from Tres’ lap, but didn’t get up outright out of worry that a bolder move to escape might trigger Tres’ “grab and restrain” instincts. Right on top of Tres, Abel could feel that Tres’ legs were harder and less fleshy than a human’s, making him an iron fist in a velvet glove... or perhaps a loaded gun in a velvet holster.

Tres finally said, “I wasn’t necessarily volunteering only my hands.”

Tres might have offered to suck him off? Even thinking those words while so close to Tres made Abel feel depraved. No, Tres was pointing downward, toward his lap, where the bulge inside his pants moved a bit, possibly to an erect position.

Hysterical laughter would be a bad reaction--Tres might say that, being a machine, he could not possibly get offended by anything, but in actuality he could definitely get offended--so instead Abel replied, “Please don’t unzip your fly and whip it out. I have so many questions, but foremost among them is ‘Wordsworth, what the fuck?!’”

“I sometimes go undercover on missions.”

And would need working anatomy to pass as a normal human. “Still. I also don’t understand why you’d think to use it on me.”

“Practical testing. Its sexual function worked properly in the lab but I have yet to try it in the field.”

He had yet to try it on people? “You want to use your experimental new cock on me?”

“It was based off my original equipment.” Said with a very pointed look.

Because Abel had to chop him in half to stop his rampage and end the rebellion at Sant’Angelo two years ago. “You’re trying to guilt me into letting you use your experimental new cock on me?”

“I cannot imagine it would go berserk and injure you.”

Abel could imagine far too much himself. “Dear Lord, please remove these mental images from my head.” Even the cartoony ones were horrifying. “I want to be loved, desired, and made love to, while you just want to penetrate me with your previously unused penis as a kind of lab experiment.” He’d sworn he’d never be used as a lab rat again....

That tiny, smug smile on Tres’ face, which very few people would have noticed, disappeared. “Father Nightroad?” He must have seen Abel’s mood crashing again.

Abel had thought he’d controlled his face better. He tried to put a smile on it. “The problem with getting older is that everything new connects with things you’ve already gone through.”

“Abel, I would not treat you like that.” Before, Tres’ use of Abel’s given name had felt like an attempted shortcut to intimacy, a manipulation. This time it landed right, with more sincerity.

Though Tres wouldn’t admit that he’d been teasing and joking around to lift Abel’s spirits because a machine wouldn’t do that, and Abel wouldn’t make him.

A sudden creaking of floorboards in the hallway directly in front of their door had Abel leaping backward off Tres’ legs because otherwise he would’ve been dumped onto the floor when Tres rushed up to his feet, a gun in each hand, ready to kill any intruders. Knowing how murderous and trigger-happy Tres could be, Abel lifted his hand in a “wait” gesture in case the person out there turned out to be a housekeeper or some other poor innocent. (Nobody knew how many people Abel had stopped Tres from killing over the years, including Abel.) Whoever it was walked away without knocking or trying to open the door.

After that surge of adrenaline, Abel had to move and couldn’t go back to sitting on the floor staring into space having a mental health crisis. Busyness could carry him past these things sometimes. Besides, the person who’d stopped in front of their door might actually be an enemy gone off to get reinforcements.

As Tres returned his guns to their holsters under the small of his back on his heavy belt, he watched Abel gather up the pieces of his uniform and looked... almost disappointed, at least to Abel. “Rejoice, Tres,” Abel said. “I’m going to get dressed so we can leave, which would probably be the safest course of action. Please turn your back or go elsewhere so I can do it in privacy?”

“Father Abel Nightroad, I have already seen almost all of you tonight. In any case, I am a machine.”

“None of that means you have to gawk at me! Besides, you have to put on the rest of your uniform so standing here staring at me wouldn’t be efficient.”

“Affirmative.”

As they dressed in different parts of the room, Abel couldn’t help wondering what might’ve happened if he’d said yes to Tres’ offer of sexual help--how far would Tres have taken it?--or if their sincere, emotional moment hadn’t been immediately interrupted. He didn’t even know if he really wanted to know, so he needed to get out of this room and away from what had and hadn’t happened.

He put his uniform on first in an effort to feel less exposed and to start rebuilding his masking persona layer by layer, then tried to tidy his hair, only to find that the tangles had become even more entrenched in it. Still rattled, he didn’t currently have the patience to deal with them. He was being beaten by his own hair. Why had he even let it get this long? There certainly had to be a happy medium between his short cut from the old, old days and his current length. But the big change of chopping a lot of it off would be noticed and questioned, while he spent a considerable amount of time trying to come off as soft, frivolous, and inconsequential, no secret weapon of bloody mass destruction here.

But in a less melodramatic and upset mood, he’d know that if he combed it out while it was still wet, he didn’t have any trouble with it, which made lopping it off seem drastic.

So stop thinking, brain, and shut up.

Fuck it. He’d leave the worst tangles in and just tie it all back into his regular ponytail for now, to be dealt with on the train ride to the Vatican. It wasn’t like he was out to impress or (ha!) seduce anyone before then.

Tres came to his side, fortunately in full uniform aside from the gloves, and said, “Father Nightroad, let me solve this. It will be faster and more efficient.”

He might as well, if it got them out of this room quicker than potentially getting into a stupid argument with Tres would. “Sure.”

“Please sit.”

Generously choosing not to make a height joke at Tres’ expense, Abel sat on the bed. Tres scanned his hair by sight, apparently calculated the best and fastest way to fix the tangles, and went to work with his bare fingers and a comb. It didn’t even hurt, and it felt nice to have someone taking care of him, all of which became a problem as he started to get turned on and teary-eyed again by Tres being this close and solicitous to him, focused on him, while playing with his hair. God damn it. (Being simultaneously horny, touched, and guilt-ridden made for a very wrong mix of emotions.) At least Tres did it fairly quickly. Somehow Abel managed not to make a betraying sound as Tres finally smoothly combed it all the way through, gathered it back into a tail, and tied it off with a bow.

When Abel put his glasses and gloves on, then looked at himself in the mirror across the room, he saw Father Abel Nightroad again, soft and fluffy, though a bit shabby from the hastily-mended battle damage his clothing had taken. Actually, he and Tres nearly matched, looking like a pair of slightly shabby, soft, young priests. “I’m sorry, Tres. While I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever break down again, I’ll try to be less obtrusive about it and soldier on.” He carefully watched Tres’ face in the mirror to analyze any micro expressions of emotion or thought.

“Occasional small breakdowns in private are preferred over ‘soldiering on’ and letting the pressure build until it suddenly erupts, possibly in the middle of combat.”

“...ouch. I feel thoroughly roasted.”

“Duty regulations state that a partner must deliver support, provided said support doesn’t impede current orders. At times when I am your partner, I shall.”

No messy emotions involved, right? Something of the brief flicker of expression in Tres’ eyes said otherwise. Or Abel was fooling himself. “So proper.”

“It is unfortunate that it’s so difficult to debug human programming and that you can’t delete old or harmful memories with precision.”

“I wouldn’t want to delete all of them. If I don’t remember my mistakes, how can I learn from them and become a better person?” Or repent for them?

“There’s a difference between self-betterment and self-torment.”

Double ouch. “I was wrong before. Now I’ve been thoroughly roasted.”

“I strive for thoroughness in all operations.”

“And succeed! But, actually, I already don’t let myself break down in front of anyone aside from you and Lady Caterina.”

“Query--”

“Because I trust you and Caterina. I wish that was something that came with benefits for you two instead of... this, so I’ll try harder in the future not to burden you.”

“Try harder to be healthier or just to feign it in front of me? Father Abel Nightroad, if you truly trust me, you will be honest with me about yourself. Anything less might negatively influence our work together.”

Had he offended Tres? If so, Tres wouldn’t admit it outright, and Abel couldn’t get a good reading off Tres’ eyes and eyebrows at the moment. “I didn’t want to affect our efficiency or be a burden to you.” Sometimes the malicious voice in Abel’s brain said that if Tres actually cared about him at all, it was only because Abel was Caterina’s friend. “I don’t want to make a scene; really, I just need a little time to deal with it on my own....”

“Query: Have your short-term memory or hearing suffered damage?”

He’d probably offended Tres, and should stop. “No. Okay. And... thank you.”

The small smile that quickly flashed in Tres’ eyes and on his lips thanked Abel back.

 

End