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Before he even met Doctor Robotnik, Agent Stone understood the undeniable rules of being his, and truly, he was his. There was a sense of belonging that came with being around the Doctor as a whole, and it was not one of compassion or comfort like one may feel in a domestic partnership. No, from the briefing he had been given on Robotnik, Stone understood that he would no longer be property of the government once he was assigned to him. Instead, he would be Robotnik’s and Robotnik’s alone, no longer his own, yet nothing to Robotnik either. To the Doctor, he was an object to use and dispose of as he saw fit, and most days, even less. That was rule one. 

Rule two was that Stone would never get so much as the time of day from him. He was not to expect sympathy or friendly affection so long as he had a pulse and he was breathing. He was worth virtually nothing until he returned to his apartment for the evening, finally unclipping his tie and letting out his long-held sigh of relief, muttering his curses to a god who did not listen or a devil who, at one point or another, looked at Robotnik and declared his work on earth done for the afternoon. He was cocky, he was arrogant, and Stone most certainly was not on the innumerable list of things that were running circles around that brilliant head of his.

Rule three was a culmination of rules one and two. While he may have belonged to Robotnik in body and paycheck, he was never intended to be anything more than that. Robotnik did not care how he treated him. It wasn’t that he was intentionally cruel or that he truly hated Stone, no, it was that he was entirely neutral on the idea of Stone to begin with and hated the complicating factors surrounding their relationship. He hated the concept of a government babysitter, he hated the idea of someone getting so irritatingly close to him, and he hated humanity. If they were within a 30 foot radius of him, they were associated with someone trying to control him, and they showed signs of life, then he hated them out of principle. Thus, Stone tried not to take it personally. Each and every time he took his shoes off in a huff, he was reminded of some higher-up’s words whenever he was first assigned to Robotnik: “I promise you, you will never cross his mind.”

As time went on, Stone found himself caring about the rules less and less. He internalized them, of course, he understood them, but he had also come to terms with the thousands of other little rules that came with being in Robotnik’s splash zone of lunacy. He got paid to be there, but that wasn’t all it was. If he was in it for the money, he could have gone anywhere else. Plenty of other people had gotten reassigned from Robotnik’s employ, and yet Stone decided that for now, he’d stay here. He’d heard insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, promising himself that it didn’t apply to him as he walked into work. He’d made it through months of being there, and he’d stick around for a little longer. One more week, he’d tell himself. One more week, and then he’d quit. He never did. Robotnik never cared about him, and he never cared much for Robotnik. That was all.

 

----

 

The day Stone first met his new charge was bright, sunny, and a complete and utter disaster from nearly two in the morning. All but his suitcase had been moved to his new apartment halfway across the country in the previous weeks, and his flight was scheduled for the day before his first shift. Now, there was something to be said about the best laid plans of mice and men as he stood at the airport, watching each and every flight on the board get canceled one by one due to the weather leaving the city. The government certainly wouldn’t be doing him any favors, years worth of service be damned, and his new flight was scheduled as a red-eye, because of course it would be. Push came to shove, he took a brief nap on the floor of an airport, sat on a cramped flight between a man who kept falling asleep on his shoulder and a small child who would not stop crying despite their mother’s best efforts, and he passed out in his bed upon arriving in a home that did not yet feel like a home. He was now thousands of miles from his family, having thrown his previous life (what little of it there was) away to continue to serve as an agent, and this was the way the universe thanked him?

As he found out hours later, yes, that was how the universe planned on thanking him. The universe was a dick. The universe also silenced his alarms. 

By a twist of fate, a few minor miracles, and several traffic violations that he could downplay if they were caught on camera, Stone made it to the lab on time. He hadn’t expected it to be nearly as isolated as it was, tucked off into some corner of nowhere that was a pain and a half to find, especially while speeding. The portable one he had seen in pictures was parked outside, along with several other vehicles and robots that he didn’t quite recognize, and- was that an airplane hanger? Ah, hell. He’d have to explore later if he had the time, sometime when he wasn’t frantically straightening his tie and speed-walking into the open door of the main lab.

The second he crossed the threshold of the door, a loud bang sounded from dead in front of him, a flash of light briefly blinding Stone and sending him a few steps back as he regained himself. His vision came back quickly, but his clothes suddenly felt just a bit too hot. The explosion had generated some heat, it seemed, and as he put himself right back together, he caught some motion across his vision. Out of instinct, his hand fell to his gun, and he only let go of it when he saw exactly who was standing in front of him.

Oh, that had to be Robotnik. He hadn’t seen a recent picture, just an old ID badge that was most certainly outdated by now, but it was unmistakable. The previously neat hair and mustache he had seen were blown wildly out of place right now, a set of comical round goggles charred over on the lenses. As for the rest of his outfit, he was- well, he was dressed like a goth supervillain. If it hadn’t been for the circumstances, then maybe he would have looked more put together. For now, though, it took all of Stone’s years of training not to start outright laughing at the rings of soot that surrounded his eyes whenever Robotnik moved the goggles on his forehead to properly glare at him. “I don’t believe I heard a knock.”

“My apologies, Doctor,” Stone replied, covering up his amusement with chipperness. “The door was open. I assumed you were expecting me.”

“Well, of course I was expecting you. I’ve known you were coming since you were within twenty miles of here, but that doesn’t account for your complete lack of respect, Agent-”

“Stone.”

“I know,” the Doctor gritted his teeth, “your name. I know precisely why you are here, where you came from, the circumstances you are operating on, and exactly how much you are being paid to sit in the corner of my lab with your thumb up your ass, all so those government quacks can be reassured that ‘ol Robotnik isn’t going to nuke them while they all sleep. I also know that you are going to need one hell of an attitude adjustment. The last twelve they sent didn’t make it through theirs.”

“I did not intend to be difficult, sir.”

Robotnik hardly allowed him to get the sentence out before he was gawking at him, although Stone could tell it wasn’t genuine. He had hardly known the man for two minutes, and he was already being made fun of. “Oh, really? Trust me, Agent, I never would have guessed that an obedient little poodle like you would avoid pissing me off. Congratulations, you are doing a terrible job.” With that, the Doctor turned on his heels, seemingly done berating him, and waved a hand in the air to vaguely gesture to a nearby leather armchair. “Have a seat.”

Everything in Stone’s body screamed at him not to listen, to turn around and go right back to bed and tell whoever he had to report to in order to leave to stuff it, but he pushed it all down. Carefully, he sat down, eyes trained on Robotnik the entire time, the Doctor perfectly unmoving in the middle of the room. By the time Robotnik was pressing buttons on his gloves, by the time that Stone could realize exactly what the whirring in the chair beneath him meant, it was too late. Within milliseconds, he was strapped to the chair, perfectly restrained, and Robotnik was descending upon him like some sort of wild animal. He had a stool in front of him in a flash, taking a seat and straightening out his hair with one hand while the other clicked something on his glove, something that undoubtedly forced Stone to look further up at him and wrenched his neck up. For a moment, Robotnik just stared, his gaze nothing but predatory until he finally spoke. “They know you won’t last a week.”

The wheeze that Stone managed was barely audible, almost impossible to be understood. “What?”

“You’re expendable,” came the response, simple and measured. “You’ll have to be replaced before your usefulness to them runs out. You could die, you could quit, or I could have you running around this room, out of your goddamn mind by the end of the afternoon. To me, you’re nothing, and to them, you’re only a little more than that. I need you to sit here for a moment and get a grip on exactly what you mean to the world, and exactly what you could be in seven days. Come on, Agent, ponder with me.” 

“I have heard you’re-” the band around his neck tightened, “-a notoriously tough case.”

Robotnik sneered. “Oh, shut up. ‘Notoriously tough case’, what bullshit. It doesn’t make you any less worthless to me.” One more click, and the restraints retracted just as Robotnik pushed himself to his feet and strutted off into the depths of his crowded, brilliant lab without hesitation. “Do whatever you’re supposed to do, you’ll know when you screw up. Any punishment you receive gets to be a fun surprise. Good talk, I hope we won’t have any more of them.” 

A talk. That’s what that was supposed to be. Stone had been strapped to a chair, and that was what Robotnik considered a civil conversation. He had been degraded before he had even formally begun working, and he had been informed that he would no longer have a job in a week. He, a highly trained agent who had seen countless assignments over the years, assignments to protect or to kill, to guard or to destroy, had been sent off on babysitting duty. Worse yet, his charge wanted him gone, content to kill him off or downright refuse to ever see him again. Right out of the gate, he had handed Stone a template for a letter of resignation, pre-approved with his signature, and he had made it incredibly clear exactly where Stone and every higher-up in the government could shove it. Already, Stone wanted to quit. Already, he could feel the spite boiling up in his chest, slithering into the gaps of his cracking professionalism. 

Oh, Stone was going to be the best babysitter they had sent after Robotnik.

 

----

 

Stone would have loved to say that one week came and went without issue, but he wasn’t supposed to lie on his reports. No, his first week with the Doctor had been a living hell. Apparently, he had been relegated to less than the position of a babysitter; at least the child respected the babysitter in some capacity. No, what Stone did for Robotnik on a day-to-day basis would put him at more of an unpaid intern status, something that he hadn’t been in years. Disrespected, screamed at, and yet still around. 

It started with coffee. Stone quickly came to find that Robotnik was significantly more tolerable whenever he was caffeinated, and right after, he found out that Robotnik had incredibly particular tastes. If he disliked what Stone handed him, he’d pour it directly out onto the floor and bark an order at Stone for him to clean it up and to get him something ‘more tolerable.’ Not like he was counting, but over seven days, Stone had to clean up sixteen spilled cups of coffee, eventually landing on something rocky that Robotnik seemed to tolerate whenever he was too deep in thought to care.

Another thing that Stone picked up from the state of the lab alone was that Robotnik, despite being a genius and the paragon of organization, the man that had made drones so deadly that the government contracted him to keep him from siccing them on the American people, was that he did not organize very well. Everything was sort of haphazard, projects settled on the corners of every table in the place and countless inventions shoved directly underneath tables. There was one prototype robot that the Doctor abandoned yet kept alive as some sort of ‘pet’ that was constantly underfoot- Stone had nicknamed it Trip Hazard- and he hadn’t even had the foresight to install a vacuum in it. Rather, he thought of it; he likely didn’t care. It took two days before Stone got sick of it all and deep-cleaned the entire first floor, and for the prolonged cleanliness and organization that the lab held for the rest of the week after (so long as Stone was the one sticking to the system), the chewing-out he received for it was almost worth it.

Speaking of chewing-outs, Robotnik had not been exaggerating when he mentioned punishments previously. His beloved instruments of torture were installed all over the lab, and the robots were all equipped to handle him otherwise. After one particularly egregious oversight on Stone’s part involving a failed store run for a part that they absolutely did not sell at Target, he was pretty sure one of them had a cattle prod attached to it. He didn’t know which one. He did not care to figure it out. Still, Robotnik preferred to carry those out on his own; Stone found himself on the receiving end of dozens of dressing-downs, pure degradation sessions that he could do nothing but stand there and take. Robotnik would yell at him, dress him down until he was red in the face and his eye was twitching, and when he was done, he’d bark orders at Stone and expect him to come and marvel at his genius. Time and time again, he had heard how intelligent the Doctor was, just how much power he held over him, and how stupid he managed to be just by existing. Whatever superiority complex he had, it was certainly healthy and alive. On the fifth day, he sat and drank his coffee as he made Stone pin himself to the wall over and over again, giving him genuine notes on his performance for nearly 30 minutes until he got it perfect. Stone’s back still ached.

On the eighth day of working for Doctor Robotnik, Stone couldn’t help but find himself a bit more chipper. He was still annoyed as all hell, how could he not be, but dragging himself out of bed was a bit easier today. He proceeded with his normal routine, the only minor edit being that he picked up coffee today instead of making it himself, and with a little bit of self-satisfied joy, he stepped into the open lab door. 

The Doctor didn’t even bother to look up from his work whenever Stone approached him, setting his coffee on the workbench in front of him and stalling directly in his line of sight. There was a good, long moment until Robotnik sighed heavily, removing his goggles as his eyes scanned over his handiwork. “Did you need something, Agent?” The Doctor’s voice dripped with sarcasm, agitation just barely edging into his tone.

Oh, he had practiced this in the mirror once or twice before the moment came, the act of keeping his face perfectly straight as he spoke these words, but now, standing here, he couldn’t help but allow himself a slight smile. It was a polite and professional one, sure, but someone like Robotnik would certainly pick up its true intentions. “I’m just waiting to meet my replacement, sir.”

That had Robotnik stalling, eyes darting up and narrowing as they locked on Stone. “Your replacement,” he echoed.

“My replacement. This is the first day of my second week here. I seem to be alive, mentally intact, and I have no intention of quitting any time soon. Still, I’ve been told you’re never wrong, and I want to wish your new assistant good luck, unless you plan on keeping me here for longer?”

For a moment, Robotnik didn’t seem to know how to react. Stone had seen the absolute spitfire with which Robotnik spoke or fired back at him, to anyone who called or stepped foot into the lab, yet for the first time since he had met him, maybe the first time in history, Robotnik was dumbfounded. For a moment, all he could get out was some half-baked response about outliers and probability and statistics never lying before he finally gathered his wits and muttered under his breath, “twenty minutes.”

Stone raised an eyebrow, straightening his posture and adjusting his hands behind his back. His smile had faded by now, right when Robotnik’s tone had turned grave. “Until what, sir?”

“You have twenty minutes,” he said, metered, calm, if only for a moment, before he stood, grabbed Stone by the collar, and proceeded to do nothing short of growl at him, “to get out of my face, work up the single most genuine apology that your feeble, useless brain can muddle through, then come back to this spot exactly and deliver it. I expect groveling, Agent, I expect tears, and you better pray to every god you can think of that I plan on showing you mercy when you return.” Oh, he hoped this wasn’t awakening something in him. “I am unfathomably more intelligent than you, not to mention your superior, and you reserve no right to speak to me in that manner. Look me in my eyes, Stone, and remember how useless you truly are to me. I’d tell you to reflect, but you’ll be able to see yourself just fine when you lick my shoes to a shine. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Crystal,” Stone sputtered, truly not all that intimidated, but he was certain the show would be made all the more better for the Doctor if he seemed so. The grip on his shirt loosened until he was let go and shoved backwards, Robotnik’s gaze still piercing right through him.

“Run. Make it pathetic,” he snapped, and with that, Stone was gone in a flash. As he headed into the next room, stopping in the middle of it to catch his breath and let the adrenaline course through him properly, he could see Robotnik’s stunned face playing on repeat over and over again, possibly the first man ever to catch him off his  feet. For that face, it was almost worth it all. Maybe he’d stick around a little longer.

 

----

 

The Doctor was a deeply private man. Sure, he would talk your ear off if you hit the right topics (which Stone never did), and he would be more than happy to share many, many details of his life if they gave him the upper hand in a conversation, but he was still somewhat awkward, Stone had realized. He didn’t talk to Stone normally, still operating in the exact same manner that he had first seen him in, and two months into his employment, Stone was beginning to believe that he was just… like that. Strange, private, touch averse, workaholic Robotnik. Stone did not know as much about him as he would have liked. He received no briefing from Robotnik himself, nor protocols on what to do in unexpected situations, because with Robotnik, everything had to be expected, didn’t it?

As Stone stared at him now, passed out on his workbench, he remembered another thing he did not know about Robotnik: where he lived. He did not know what to do with the positively grimy man who had finally passed out due to exhaustion on his workspace, his face falling dangerously close to too-sharp tools and gadgets that Stone didn’t quite understand. Had he known at that moment where Robotnik was actually meant to sleep, somewhere that wasn’t a hard table and an unyielding swivel chair, he could have carried him there. Without a doubt, Robotnik could be like a ragdoll to him, but he certainly didn’t know where he belonged. On top of that, the last time he had so much as accidentally grazed Robotnik, the Doctor full-body shuddered and proceeded to hang Stone upside down by one of his ankles for the better part of a half-hour. Once he had sufficiently degraded Stone, he was let back down, but it sure was a headache for a while, and it definitely wasn’t one he wanted to repeat. 

Still, he had been taking care of Robotnik for two months now, and it wasn’t like he could just leave him there. He knew how cold he often got, how frequently he had seen the Doctor pull all-nighters in order to get things done only to be miserable and caffeine dependent by morning. The sleep had to be good for him, but like this, passed out on a table, it had to be hurting him in one way or another.

Well, wasn’t this just a rock and a hard place? Stone internally cursed himself for not prying more, even if it would have never gotten him anywhere. In a stroke of what he would call genius, what Robotnik may have called ‘all two of his brain cells rubbing together’, he recalled a couch halfway across the lab. He had never seen it used, and it was perfectly pristine the last time he went to clean it. That wouldn’t hold up for long, of course, not with the greasy state that Robotnik was in, but it was the least he could do right now. 

As he picked Robotnik up, Stone assured himself that he was doing this to spare himself the trouble of dealing with a man who was both pissed off and sore. There was no other motivation to it; this was not in his job description, and he wouldn’t get paid extra for it. His motives were selfish. He entirely ignored the way that he felt positively freezing in his arms, lab coat be damned, as well as the way that he himself pulled him a bit closer to his chest whenever he carried him, carefully laying him down somewhere more comfortable. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a bed, but it would do. Every thought that he may have grown to take his job seriously was tossed aside, shoved into the back recesses of his mind where he kept all the things he truly didn’t care to think about. He didn’t care for Robotnik; this was just self preservation.

The blanket may have been a personal touch, though.

It was noon before Robotnik actually managed to wake up. Stone was unaware of it for a little while, only realizing when he heard the briefest of thuds from the other room. He saw no need to watch over him, having taken to reorganizing the kitchen cabinets for what had to be the thousandth time. Quickly, silently, he started up a new pot of coffee, having discarded the one he had brewed when he came in that morning. It may have been a waste, but Robotnik certainly wasn’t going to drink it.

He did not call out to Robotnik, yet the Doctor managed to find him on his own. He shuffled aimlessly into the kitchen, still squinting and attempting to adjust his eyes to the light when Stone turned for a moment to look at him. He had to suppress a smirk when he noticed the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders, as well as something else entirely when the tone that escaped Robotnik’s throat was deeper than normal, sleepy, sort of rough. “Stone?”

“Yes, sir?” he answered out of habit, barely above a murmur as he poured the cup and got to work on the day-to-day habits. 

“Get-” he paused for a moment, inhaling sharply, and something popped so loudly that Stone could almost swear he broke it, “-get the Tylenol and put it on my workbench.”

“Of course, sir. Anything else?”

He couldn’t see it happen, but he could hear Robotnik wrap the all-too-expensive blanket a bit tighter around his shoulders. He could hear the attempt at a sneer in his voice, too. “Don’t touch me.” It lacked the venom it usually did, and Stone supposed that was the closest thing to a ‘thank you’ he was ever going to get out of him.

“Noted, Doctor. It won’t happen again.” With that, he turned on his heels, holding the cup of coffee out to Robotnik and allowing him his moment to process. He watched him snatch it out of his hand, take a sip, and hum softly, just for a moment, before he walked right off, coffee still in hand. It wasn’t on the ground. Holy shit, it wasn’t on the ground.

“Adequate, Stone. Not good, but adequate. Write that one down. Meet me in the lab in fifteen minutes, I need you to hold something for me.” 

Oh, this is what they always meant by cloud nine. Whatever that was, this feeling was incredible. For once, he had managed to hit something within the absolutely tiny target that Robotnik had set out for him, and for once, he wasn’t cleaning up spilled coffee off of the ground and getting yelled at for messing up. It wouldn’t last throughout the day, and Robotnik would likely recover his usual flair once the caffeine kicked in, but for now, Stone could be a little proud of himself and his absolutely meaningless accomplishment. 

Robotnik could be as private as he liked, but now Stone knew one more thing about him on that very, very short list: Doctor Robotnik liked his coffee ridiculously sweet. For as thankless of a job as his was, that was an accomplishment enough for him.

 

----

 

The formula was easy enough to figure out from there. The Doctor wasn’t the only one who could engage in scientific activities; hell, if Robotnik could only see the notes that Stone had taken on his coffee consumption alone, Stone would like to think he’d be at least a little less disgusted and indifferent to his presence than usual. Realistically, he’d have something to say about how much of a waste of time it was, but a man could dream. A man could make damn good coffee, and he could dream. 

Stone perfected his methods one month after the first adequate cup of coffee. According to his records, Robotnik had only thrown two cups since then, with one more being poured directly onto Stone’s shoes (the Doctor did not drink decaf, and he could tell the difference). He tried countless combinations, several different types of creamer and sugar and as many brands as he could get his hands on in small amounts, experimenting over and over again with what was around the lab in a manner so meticulous that an outsider may have called him insane. Outsiders did not work with Doctor Robotnik. Outsiders had not had to replace a pair of perfectly good leather shoes. 

However, outsiders also had not perfected the cup of coffee that had Robotnik completely off of Stone’s case for almost an hour every day, the sweetest hour of each shift. Personally, it wasn’t something Stone would drink, but he knew precisely how it should taste. It was a latte, and he was sure that it couldn’t be healthy. None of the Doctor’s habits could really be healthy, but with the amount of crap he had to pour into that coffee for Robotnik to take it was absurd. He had to know, didn’t he? There was no way he thought that was anywhere near good for him, caffeine and taste or no. Drinking straight motor oil may have been more beneficial to him.

Still, day in and day out, Stone made it the exact same way. Twice a day, he would bring Robotnik his latte, his schedule perfectly curated around his arrival and his departure, right before he left for the day. As far as Robotnik was concerned, it was perfect, and as far as Stone was concerned, it was a bit of peace and quiet for him. It was ideal, and that was one of the two things the two of them could agree on frequently enough: Robotnik was a genius, and the coffee was perfect.

Still, there was a ‘but’. Goddamn, there always had to be a ‘but’ in these situations, didn’t there? Nothing could be easy around Robotnik, not around the lab. For once, the oversight had been Stone’s; this one had nothing to do with Robotnik, nor the way he was, and Stone could fully admit that this one was on him. He was dead certain that Robotnik didn’t make his own coffee while Stone was away, meaning the lack of proper materials to finish the Doctor’s morning cup of coffee was entirely on Stone. Damnit. He had materials, sure, but certainly not enough to get what he wanted out of it. It would have to be different today after almost thirty cups of the exact same thing, the one thing that he could get Robotnik not to complain about on a day to day basis.

It still had to be done, one way or another. Showing up with nothing was worse than having something in his hand, even if it was terrible, and if it ended up discarded, he could always go to the nearest coffee shop (half an hour from the lab) and deal with the repercussions (a pissed off boss). He hadn’t even been in the lab for twenty minutes, only ducking his head into the main lab to alert the Doctor of his presence before heading straight to the tiny kitchen. He certainly didn’t want to leave again, but if that was the way it had to be, so be it. It was better than replacing his shoes again.

Stone made do with what he had. There were a few more ingredients than he usually would have used, some of them different to accommodate what he was missing, but it was passable. He didn’t try it, but it was a drink, and it was more than likely sweet enough for Robotnik. He certainly wasn’t going to taste it; the last one he had so much as tried to smell had been damn near noxious, and he considered his body to be a bit more of a temple than… Well, whatever Robotnik considered his own body. A landfill, if his habits were anything to go by.

Near silently, Stone muttered a prayer under his breath before turning on his heels and walking into the lab. At the moment, Robotnik had shoved himself underneath one of his machines, music blaring from somewhere Stone couldn’t trace, his muted ramblings to himself muffled and continuing well into when Stone entered the room. Stone cleared his throat, yelling to make himself heard over the chaos. “Sir, your latte!”

The reaction was immediate, starting with a loud clang from underneath the machine, followed by Robotnik swearing profusely. He slid out immediately, face splotched with something-or-other that he’d inevitably end up wiping on the sleeves of his coat later, his head immediately snapping to look at him. With a quick press on the glove, the music was off, and the room fell deathly quiet for just a moment before Robotnik started off on the usual. “Stone, you imbecile, I was in the middle of something, there was absolutely no need to- oh, just give me my coffee and get out of my damn sight. Make yourself scarce, you’re of more use to me if you’re out of the way.” He mumbled something else about Stone being a ‘hair-brained, dickless fucking moron’ as Stone handed the cup over, Stone still sporting that neutral smile all the while. The second the cup was in Robotnik’s hand, Stone turned, heading right out of the room, exactly as he was directed. It didn’t look like running away if it was an order, did it?

He didn’t make it to the threshold of the door before he heard Robotnik’s voice cut through the air again, already calling him to return. “Stone, this is different from normal. Did someone decide to get a little crafty today? Come back.”

Stone sighed as subtly as he possibly could, walking right back over to the Doctor, much slower than he had gone away a moment before. “I ran out of the creamer I usually use, Doctor. I assure you it will not happen again.” 

Before Stone had even started speaking, Robotnik had held the cup aloft, completely prepared to ruin another pair of shoes for Stone, but something about the explanation had him pause. He sneered, and the cup stayed in the same spot, but he didn’t pour. “And how, pray tell, do you miss the fact that the bottle was empty?”

“Because I’m the first human being to be able to function properly without a brain, truly a medical marvel but an ethical tragedy?”

Robotnik rolled his eyes. “The one time I don’t want you to catch on to the same tirade I have to drill into you every day, you do. Truly, Stone, you vex me. Fine, if you want to play that game, we’ll play that game. Here’s a better question: why didn’t you replace it?”

 Why didn’t he replace it? He knew when he left yesterday that it was empty. He had put what was left in a smaller container and cleaned out the larger bottle, recycling it on his way out the door that evening, and yet he didn’t do anything about it. He knew that this is where it would land him. What didn’t he account for? “…May I please speak frankly without you taking this the wrong way?”

“You may speak frankly. I make zero promises on the other part.” 

Well, fair enough. “I assumed it would be resolved when I came in. Based on past experiences, you and the- the badniks seem to constantly have everything handled to the point where if I went out to get it, I would either be in the way or overstepping. It is entirely my fault, and I take full responsibility.”

Robotnik paused for a moment. He was processing. He never processed. After a moment, he just snorted, turning over on his cart and grasping at the table until he pulled something off of it. He uncapped a pen with his teeth, and in his hand was a checkbook. “Honestly, you expect me to do everything around here, yet you won’t go fuck yourself for long enough to let me. You know I don’t need you. You’re aware. You’re still here.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I feel as though it would create issues with the government if I simply walked away, though.” Stone raised a single eyebrow, watching the Doctor and hesitantly taking the check that was handed to him a moment later. 

He snorted again, louder this time. “I don’t care, Stone, just make sure you make the coffee properly again. I won’t be so merciful next time. Hell, I may not be so merciful when you come back. We’ll see what kind of mood I’m in.” With that, Robotnik slid back under his machine, signaling the clear end to the conversation. Stone wouldn’t be getting anything else out of him if he wanted to.

Now was as good a time as any, he supposed. Stone started out to his car, briefly running over a quick list in his head before he paused, remembering he didn’t exactly know how much money he had to handle this trip. Stopping right before he made it outside, he read the check over once… twice… three, four times, then marched right back into the lab. “Sir, do you expect me to spend all of this?”

“Stone, I do not give a shit what you do with the money, just handle it and leave me be!” came Robotnik’s thunderous reply, echoing through the hollow air and the metal walls, and Stone immediately rushed out to his car after barely managing to get an apology out, shutting the door behind him and staring at the check incredulously once more. 

Christ, this man had no idea how much coffee creamer cost. 

Stone also was not getting paid nearly enough if this was what Robotnik spent on groceries.

That was mainly what he thought about while he drove into town and shopped afterward. Any purchases he made were strictly for Robotnik, for the lab. Nothing for himself. He supposed it made sense that the Doctor had money; he was one of the government’s best kept secrets, the man that made all the drones and tech that they could ever want. His emblem was on practically everything Stone had ever been handed to make use of, and some of the technology that Robotnik passed off as the everyday ground was so groundbreaking that Stone was astounded he wasn’t much more famous. Sure, he remembered why the second Robotnik opened his mouth again, but maybe Robotnik deserved the title of ‘genius’, more so than Stone could ever possibly wrap his head around. It was still an absurd amount of money. Fuck, he should ask for a raise.

Robotnik left him alone upon his return to the lab, accepting the food that Stone made from the freshly restocked fridge and his evening coffee. Other than that, he asked no questions. He trusted that everything was in its right place, thank god it was, and the most he asked of Stone for the rest of the day was to sit beside him in the lab in silence and occasionally hand him tools. The silence didn’t last; curt conversation started by Robotnik began eventually, even if he seemed annoyed to be having it, and he kicked Stone right out once his coffee was finished. Stone made it all the way to his apartment before he realized that for the entire duration of their talk, he had been asked to hand him one thing. Huh.

Only one other thing fell out of place that evening. Stone didn’t get texts often; if his parents were going to contact him, they would call, and that was usually only ever around the holidays. He and his siblings didn’t talk much, having grown apart over the years in a way he regretted, and it wasn’t like he was a very friendly person in the years leading up to now. It wasn’t like he was leaving much behind when he moved cross-country to work with his boss, and so a text going off at nearly 11 at night caught him off guard.

The number was unsaved, and more importantly, he couldn’t see what it was. There was no contact name either, just a message attached. It was short, and there was no identifier on it, but he knew immediately who it was from. ‘Better coffee tonight,’ the first text read, one that was quickly followed up by a second. ‘8am tomorrow. Do not be late.’ 

Stone couldn’t help but chuckle. Right, the same time he got there every day, having never been late once in the time that he worked for Robotnik. He managed one more message before his phone was tossed aside for the night. ‘Of course. Goodnight, Doctor.’ It wasn’t like he was going to get a message in return, or rather, it wasn’t like the recipient couldn’t delete the message off his phone before he saw it. No, if Robotnik texted back a goodnight, a ‘good job’ or a ‘thank you’, then Stone would never see it. He’d like to think that was the case (and he liked finding out months later that he was right even more). 

 

----

 

 Rarely did they receive visitors in the lab. Before Stone had come into the picture, he had heard countless people argue over who had to go deal with Robotnik, who had to go make sure the man wasn’t losing his mind. According to his superiors, he had never been sociable, and in however many months Stone had been with Robotnik now (he stopped keeping track), he hadn’t seen anyone stop by. Day in and day out, it was him, Robotnik, and a host of badniks that the Doctor treated as if they were his own children. 

Stone had stopped counting his days with Robotnik a while ago, around the same time he stopped loathing going to work. He was unconsciously aware of how long he had been there in the vaguest of senses, only able to truly make sure if he went back and checked when he first arrived. Eventually, he simply stopped writing things down. He didn’t mark anything on the calendar for the sake of waiting for his next day off, but instead to make sure Robotnik had everything he needed, to make sure that everything was perfectly in order. It became routine, and while they weren’t friends, they weren’t adversaries anymore. Stone still got yelled at, but it was a little less frequent. Only a little.

Robotnik seemed to have settled into the routine well enough. He seemed to outright loathe Stone a little less, at least able to tolerate the few hours that he was in his presence. He never stopped working, and he never let Stone actually touch the badniks unless he needed one brought to him, but he let Stone sit next to him. He allowed Stone to talk to him, sprinkling in the occasional degradations in exchange for his half-attention. Still, it made the days a little less lonely, and the company was nice. He hadn’t necessarily mellowed out per se, but he was working on it. It wasn’t conscious. It was slow. It was still happening, and Stone would never dare bring it up to him, lest he face the consequences of Robotnik’s wrath.

Speaking of his wrath, it was almost rubbing off on him. Whenever they traveled, Stone found himself to be a bit more sharp-tongued than he used to be. He’d inadvertently gotten a little stiffer with anyone Robotnik perceived as under him, even if his smile was ever-present. He would end up repeating things that Robotnik had shouted angrily to no one in particular when something didn’t go his way, and goddamn, it was effective at keeping people away from the Doctor when he wanted to be left alone. Stone was picking up his general annoyance for humanity after a while, not out of a true hatred, but from partially understanding where the Doctor was coming from. When someone was as smart as he was, he could see why everyone was so expendable to him, so useless.

Therefore, when the doorbell to the lab rang, buzzing loudly throughout the entire lab, the deeply irritated groan that the Doctor let out from his spot beside Stone certainly resonated with him. All he managed was an eyeroll, but he could certainly do without seeing anyone today, sitting in the relative silence of Robotnik’s workspace. “Do you want me to send them away, Doctor?”

“Obviously,” he answered immediately, focusing a bit more intently on the tiny pieces of wiring he was fiddling with. “If they weren’t so dense, they wouldn’t have tried to come up here to begin with.”

“Really, who wastes the effort coming all the way out here just to bother you?” Stone asked, a hint of snark in his voice as he pushed himself to his feet. Mere moments before they had been so rudely interrupted, Robotnik had been animatedly describing to him some concept that he only half-understood, the ramblings of a madman that he certainly didn’t mind listening to. It was a damn shame, too; he had been quite enthralled in what he had to say, and now he had to go deal with whoever the hell that was.

Robotnik shook his head. “Some jackass. If we’re not lucky, the brass decided they wanted to check up on me. If you weren’t here, I would have pumped them full of lead by now.” He paused, only for a moment. “The only exception is the Girl Scouts. If there is a Girl Scout at the door, then and only then may you come get me. Otherwise, they have one warning, and you have a gun. Put two and two together.”

“Of course, sir.” That was the plan anyway, really. Stone hardly had an itchy trigger finger, but he also understood that the Doctor’s research was… delicate. Delicate and dangerous. He also understood that Robotnik did have an itchy trigger finger, and if they got past Stone, well- god have mercy on their souls, really.

He made it to the door before the bell rang again, opening it to find a man there, finger poised to press it. He straightened right back up, his suit slightly wrinkled in a way that was most certainly going to irritate Stone. “Good afternoon, Agent.”

“Afternoon,” he replied, smiling as pleasantly as he could. “I must inform you that you are trespassing on government property and ask you to leave. Immediately.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Agent.” With a quick flourish of his wrist, he produced a badge, one bearing the name ‘Agent Stanford’. “I’m here on behalf of Commander Walters to talk to Doctor Ivo Robotnik. He isn’t in trouble, but I’ve been asked to run a few questions by him, collect a couple deadlines, and retrieve a few files. It’ll be quick if you just step aside.”

Ivo. Ivo Robotnik. His first name was Ivo. God, his parents must have been just as wild as him. “And I’m afraid I can’t do that either. However, I will let you wait here until I’ve spoken with the Doctor myself. He specifically requested not to be bothered.”

“Commander Walters said that may happen.”

“Commander Walters can-” Stone cut himself off abruptly, biting his tongue before he said something he would regret. He had heard Robotnik mutter it under his breath countless times: ‘Commander Walters can at least buy me a drink before he decides to try and fuck me, and even then, he can’t afford the amount of booze that would make his dog-faced mug tolerable.’ While Stone thought it was hilarious by now, there was no way that someone else would have taken it in the same manner. “Commander Walters can call ahead of time and send someone back when they’ve been announced. Doctor Robotnik is incredibly busy with the deadlines set by the Commander himself.”

It was then that Stanford began looking a bit more frustrated, furrowing his brow. “He did.”

“Did he now?”

“Yes, this morning. 0700.” 

Oh, Robotnik most definitely ignored that call. That would explain the discrepancy, even if the short notice was incredibly annoying. Stone sighed internally, then stepped aside. “Please have a seat in the chair behind me. I’ll see what I can do.”

And to his surprise, Stanford listened. Stanford walked right over to the chair that Stone had sat in on his very first day of working for Robotnik and sat down like he owned the place. He did precisely as he was told, just like Stone had. As for Stone, he knew where the panel to lock him to the chair was mounted on the nearby wall. Stanford choked, just like Stone did. 

Unlike Robotnik, Stone left him there. Robotnik hadn’t been that cruel on his first day; Stone, however, was not his boss, nor did he need Stanford to run around and marvel at the Doctor’s genius. He marched right into the lab, arms folded behind his back, and sighed heavily. Robotnik beat him to the punch, already turned around to face him when he entered with a badnik in his lap, beeping in odd, sporadic patterns. “Did I or did I not tell you to send the interloper away, Stone?”

“You did, Doctor.”

“Then why is he in my lab?”

Oh, this better not get passed off onto him when there was a perfectly good scapegoat strapped to a chair outside. “He said he’s here on behalf of Commander Walters, who attempted to contact you earlier today. They apparently need something from you. Questions, deadlines, files.”

“That is several ‘somethings’, Agent. I swear to every holy body you can think of, if you do not-”

“I’ll handle it,” Stone interjected. Robotnik looked stunned for a moment, eye twitching, before he rocked right up to his feet out of the chair. 

“Pin yourself to the wall. Immediately.” Within an instant, Stone was against cool metal, a gloved hand grabbing him hard by the jaw. He tried to look a bit more scared than he actually was, but given the tech he knew the Doctor had at his disposal, it wasn’t all that difficult. Instead of screaming and spit flying into his eye, Robotnik’s tone dropped, much lower and much quieter than usual, a hot breath barely ghosting his face. Stone didn’t know which was worse. “If you ever,” Robotnik snarled, low and dark, “interrupt me like that again to imply that you can do my job better than me, I will make sure that not only do you leave this building in a body bag that I have custom-made to fit your absolutely massive attitude, but I will personally ensure that while you die, you will feel every nerve ending in your body light up one by one until your skin feels like it’s melting right off the bone. Then, I’ll actually melt the skin off the bone. Am I understood?”

“Loud and clear, sir.” Stone barely let a breath escape him until he was dropped back onto his feet, immediately stumbling to trail after the Doctor as he left the workshop with a dramatic flourish of his coat. They found Stanford exactly where Stone had left him and twice as terrified, and if Stone didn’t know exactly how pissed Robotnik was at the present moment, he would have sworn that he saw the corner of his mouth twitch up into a slight grin, if only for a second. “Doctor, this is Agent Stanford.”

“Seems like it’s a bad day to be Agent Stanford,” Robotnik quipped, walking directly in front of Stanford and standing over him with his arms crossed behind his back. “Don’t you agree, Agent?” On a gut response, Stone went to reply, to agree wholeheartedly and maybe to even make a joke at the trapped man’s expense, but Stanford beat him to it. Stanford nodded right along with what Robotnik had to say, using the full, very limited range of motion that the strap around his neck allowed him. “Right. Stone, what did you say our little mole rat here wanted?”

Oh, now he was asking him to speak up. Rather, he was granting permission, locking eyes with Stone for the barest of moments while Stone found his vocal footing. “Questions, deadlines, files.”

“Of course. They’re demanding something of me.” He gestured vaguely with his hand, setting his jaw. “Go on. I’d love to hear what you’re wasting my precious time on.”

“Sir-“

“Doctor.”

“Doctor, with all due respect, I think this position is a bit undignified-“

“Undignified?” he interrupted, absolutely seething already. “What’s undignified is the manner in which you speak to me, bent all backwards and up until I can’t make out a word you say to me through your own guts.”

All that Stanford could manage in response was a splutter and a confused look. Stone knew that face; he had absolutely no idea what Robotnik had said, and he was nowhere near figuring it out. Before he knew what he was saying, the words fell right off his tongue. “He said you have your head up your ass.”

Immediately, two sets of eyes were on him, and while Stanford looked stunned, Robotnik was positively leering at him. Stone couldn’t tell if it was a ‘let him figure it out himself’ or a ‘we’ll discuss this later, but the Doctor simply turned back to the man in front of him. “Bravo, Stone, you’re not the dumbest person in the room for once. Now, go ahead and ask your questions. You have no control of this situation, and you will remain there until I’ve decided that you can get up. Not your playing field, Agent.”

“I’ve-” Stanford swallowed, eyes still locked on Stone. “I’ve been told to take note of the state of your lab, as well as how you seem to be doing psychologically and emotionally. I think I had some business related questions to run over as well. There was a list in my pocket when I came in, but I can’t really reach it like this.”

“I wouldn’t waste your precious effort trying to remember. God knows the last thing I need in here is for you to blow a fuse and start smoking. Besides, do you really have any idea how long you can talk before you pass out in your confines? Run your mouth, I dare you, but it isn’t like it’ll do you any good.”

Oh, and he was still staring. Stone blinked, staring right back and casting a quick glance to Robotnik before slowly starting up again. “The Doctor thinks you’re stupid and you shouldn’t waste your breath on trying to talk to him.”

“Stone, you make it so easy on him. It’s much more amusing to watch him scramble,” Robotnik admonished, but it hardly seemed to be at Stone’s expense. “Well, if you’re going to completely drop item one, then I guess I might as well ask what deadlines you need. ‘Need.’ I’m not sending these with you.”

“Might as well move onto item three then, Doctor.”

“You are downright pathetic, aren’t you?” Robotnik snapped, so quick that Stanford hadn’t even had a chance to close his mouth yet. “Files. Files, files, files. Agent Stone, you have those reports ready to go as I asked, correct?”

“Of course.”

With one quick click on Robotnik’s hand, the straps on the chair immediately released, leaving Stanford gasping gratefully for hair as Robotnik held his hand out. “Agent, list. My Agent, I want you to take Major Pain-In-The-Ass here and take him to go get those useless little files that he decided to interrupt my absolutely invaluable time.” Immediately, Stanford was scrambling for a slip of paper in his pocket, and as he unfolded it and opened his mouth to read something out, Robotnik pressed another button on his glove. One of the badniks popped right out of the walls, swift and deadly quiet. A red dot immediately trained directly between Stanford’s eyes. “You must have met my babies before if you work in the government, haven’t you?”

“The robot?” Stone winced in sympathy, and Stanford got the hint immediately without having to look at him this time. “No, Doctor, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”

“Read me that list and you’ll find yourself on her business end. I am more than capable of making you my least favorite stain in the entire state if you don’t haul ass to follow Agent Stone by the count of ten. One, two,” Robotnik began, counting ceaselessly as Stone turned and walked off. Stanford only seemed to process whenever Robotnik picked up, “threefourfivesix,” and bolted right after Stone. Haggard as his inferior was, Stone was still the spitting image of professionalism, perfectly poised as he carried himself to the main workshop.

Stanford was right on his heels as Stone went off to the little area that was designated as his own, a computer built by Robotnik and a little plant sitting there, otherwise perfectly clean. He sat down, letting Stanford hover over him nervously as worked. It was mere moments before he spoke in a harsh whisper to him. “Jesus, how do you put up with him, never mind understanding what he has to say?”

“It’s better not to talk about someone who’s listening,” Stone replied curtly, eyes scanning over the screen. “It’s really a worse idea if that man’s a genius.”

He flinched. “Still, I don’t get what he’s saying.”

“You pick up on his vernacular after a while. I don’t know how I get it, I just do.”

“Is he always that cruel? I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes without trying to yell back.”

“You wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, period,” Stone corrected. “Try it and see what happens. He isn’t the worst job I could have been handed, anyway.”

“Seems like it is.”

Stone felt something in his chest clench as he heard that, setting his jaw as he pulled the hard drive out of the computer and handed it to him. It hit the ground with a clatter when Stanford missed Stone’s intentionally careless drop, and he turned in his chair to meet Stanford’s eye while he was still on the ground. “I have to disagree. I could be doing your job.”

Years of training cultivated to this moment. Every single time Stone had learned and relearned and struggled to turn off his emotions, to remain- well, stone-faced, it all came to a head at this very moment, his expression perfectly steeled no matter how badly he wanted to give Stanford a smug smirk. No, he had to be the mature one here. Stanford opened and closed his mouth a few times, then silently picked the hard drive up and slipped it into his pocket. “I’ll make sure this ends up where it belongs.”

“Tell them to send someone more important next time.” Robotnik’s voice split through the room, drawing both of their attention as he returned to his previous seat in the lab. In a moment, his goggles were flipped right back down, and he was back to working on what he had in his hands. 

Stanford still looked shaken, even more so now that the Doctor was there again. “Right. May I ask what you’re working on?”

“You may not. Besides, it’s-” and off he went. That was often the response that Stone had gotten during his first month or so with Robotnik; it was always a hard no followed by an incredibly technical explanation, one littered with bragging and terms that made absolutely no sense to someone who didn’t know exactly what he was talking about in the specific terms he was using. More importantly, as usual, he ended it with, “but it’s not like you understood what any of that meant anyway. Get out of my sight.”

Stanford laughed. It was tense, but it was a laugh as he glanced back at Stone again. “Did you get any of that?”

“Well-” and this part was out of the ordinary for them. The look on Robotnik’s face betrayed as much; usually, whenever Stone got one of those explanations, he would just nod along and go on with his day. Really, Stone outlining what Robotnik had said in layman’s terms had never been a necessity, but if he was asking, he may as well. “-but essentially, the robot gets a lightsaber. Now, do I need to show you to the door or can you see yourself out?” 

Stanford didn’t even bother with a full response, muttering something under his breath as he stormed right out of the lab. Neither of them spoke, and Robotnik hardly moved until they heard the front door slam. The Doctor was inevitably surveying him as he drove off in one way or another, some unseen gadget that Stone hadn’t been made privy to yet. Still, it wasn’t Stone that broke their silence. “I wasn’t aware you had it in you, Agent.”

“Oh,” Stone perked up, folding his hands neatly in his lap, “that was really just- it was nothing, sir, don’t mention it.”

“I meant all the technical know-how. How long have you understood what I’ve been saying to you?”

Stone paused, reaching up and rubbing the back of his neck. He could already feel the tips of his ears turning a bit red, no longer bothering to guard himself off from everything. “I have an engineering degree. My parents encouraged me to put the military scholarships to good use, even if I just ended up back where I started with a fancier rank. I don’t get it all, but I can pick up on what I remember from… so many years ago.”

“And everything else?”

“Well, that’s just you. I wouldn’t say I know the way you are per se, but I understand it well enough. Honestly, I don’t get how other people haven’t caught on yet.”

“I see.” Robotnik’s machine sparked beneath his fingers, illuminating his features for the barest of moments. “I’ll have to be more careful with what I say to you in regards to my work, though.”

“No need. I’m happy to play my part. I didn’t do anything with that degree for a reason.”

“So that this could be ‘not the worst job you were ever handed?’” 

Of course he had been listening to that part. “Absolutely, Doctor. Agent, bodyguard-”

“Translator,” he interjected.

“Translator: I think I’m better suited to all of them than what you do. You make it look effortless, but I know it’s not.”

Robotnik hummed half-heartedly. “You will be continuing that, by the way. Translate for me. It is so incredibly relieving to be understood without having to dumb myself down for the masses.”

“I’m sure it was exhausting. I’ll handle it.”

“You’re damn right you will.” After a moment, he set down his tools, patted the seat Stone had previously been sitting in by his side, and Stone immediately took the cue. He stood up from his own, grabbing his goggles and sliding them on as he listened to Robotnik go on again. “You will be doing everything in your power to make sure we do not repeat the last hour ever again. I’ll modify your phone to take Walters’ calls if I have to. Hell, all of those half-wits.”

“Yes, Doctor, of course.”

“Emails, too. They’re so fond of their emails.”

“I’ve gathered.”

“…The chair was a nice touch. I could have sworn he pissed himself out there.”

Now Stone could allow himself that smirk. “Thank you, sir.”

 

----

 

The arctic. It had to be the arctic, had to be subzero temperatures on a Tuesday, an excursion that he was completely unwarned about until he walked into the lab that morning and found Robotnik in more cold weather gear than Stone owned, already loading up a jet that Stone knew could get them halfway around the world in no time flat. He was ushered inside and into the passenger seat before Robotnik spoke a word on what the plan of action was, dressed in just his normal work attire and a thin pair of gloves he had pulled on as an afterthought before he left his apartment that morning. Hell, he didn’t get anything out of the Doctor for the entire two-hour (substantially shorter than it could have been) flight out into an icy wasteland, the ice and snow coming down in sheets onto their windshield in a way Stone, born and raised in the southern US, would have found incredible if it weren’t for the sheer pit of dread in his stomach. 

As they landed, Robotnik got right up out of his seat, not bothering for the jet to touch down before he did. It hit the ground just as smoothly as it would have with him doing it manually, and it was then that Stone got up and followed. “Sir, what are we making today?”

“History, Stone. Same thing as every other day.” Immediately, something was in the Doctor’s hands, and Stone could feel a rumbling beneath them. The storage bay must have been opening up, he realized. “Stop asking stupid questions and just follow along.”

“Are we going to be out there in that?”

“What did I say about stupid questions? Just follow, for christ’s sake. Maybe I want to test some of my babies without people breathing down my neck.” Without another word, Robotnik seemed pleased enough with his work, fussing with his outfit for only a moment before stepping outside, the ice-cold wind already blowing right through Stone. He really had no choice but to follow.

Plunged in darkness and tempest, Stone could hardly see two feet in front of him. If it weren’t for the sharp reds of Robotnik’s coat, he never would have been able to keep track of him. He could hardly see, let alone trudge through the stiff, frozen shit underfoot that Robotnik and his fancy, inevitably upgraded boots had no trouble with. Stone wrapped his suit jacket a bit tighter around himself, already feeling the cold starting to seep into his skin. Nevertheless, his boss moved right along, completely unimpeded, something heavy dragging itself along right behind them. Must be whatever they were working with today.

The roar of the wind was so loud that he could hardly make out anything but that dull white noise as it raced past his ears, and he certainly couldn’t hear Robotnik ahead of him, yelling into the open air. Certainly, whatever he was saying was supposed to be directed at Stone, but it wasn’t like he could hear him. What was even worse was when Robotnik threw his hands up in the air in frustration, evidently having been asking Stone for something or other that he hadn’t provided, and kicked up his pace to his usual overly quick gait. Stone tried to keep up from the start, but he was definitely not in the right shoes to handle it. He was on his face in the snow before he knew what had happened, and he hadn’t expected it to burn . He was back on his feet in an instant, shaking as he rushed to keep up with Robotnik. At least he could see the new invention in front of him now, the hulking thing having passed him. At least he could see something in front of him now. At least the shivering was starting to go down.

He damn near ran into the Doctor whenever he finally found him again, halted dead in his tracks as the machine went on. He stumbled again, but did not fall, and he could see Robotnik sneering as he righted himself again. “Have a nice trip, Agent?”

“Something like that,” he replied. His tongue almost felt heavy in his mouth, his speech slightly muddled by something he couldn’t place. “I’m fine. You don’t have to wait for me, I can handle this.”

“I would have left you in the lab if I didn’t think so. Still, I didn’t expect you to be fumbling this much.”

“I’m seriously alright, Doctor, the shivering stopped and everything.” 

Robotnik stiffened beside him, and for a moment, Stone could have sworn he stopped breathing. His face otherwise betrayed nothing, but Stone heard him curse something unintelligible into the wind as he shifted. It took Stone a moment to realize he was taking his outermost coat off; in fact, it hardly registered until it was wrapped around his shoulders, warm and thick, and the Doctor was turning right around and dragging him back in the direction of the jet by the collar of his shirt. Stone furrowed his brow, but didn’t say a word, allowing Robotnik to continue with the absolute verbal nonsense that Stone couldn’t make out.

Time must have passed faster on the way back than the way there. The walk felt much shorter, and before he knew it, the doors were sealing shut behind them, back in the bright light and the warmth, systems still purring away at a near-silent volume as Robotnik pushed him to sit down on one of the cushioned benches outside the cockpit. “Honestly, Stone,” he grumbled, placing the back of his gloved hand on his forehead and holding it there for a moment. It beeped, and he pulled it away, glancing over it briefly. “How can you possibly be so stupid, do you know nothing?”

“Doctor?”

“Don’t ‘Doctor’ me right now,” he snapped, then sighed, looking up at the ceiling. “Moderate hypothermia. You have hypothermia. Save your strength, shut up, and let me handle it, because clearly you weren’t able to figure it out. Military training my ass, what are they teaching you all?” Robotnik didn’t wait for an answer, storming off to one of the closets and digging through it. “Do you have a coat?”

“No, sir.” Why did he feel so exhausted all of the sudden? The coat was warm, sure, but it was quickly cooling down, and he had gotten enough sleep last night. 

“Of course you don’t. Why would you?” He pulled out a couple articles of clothing from the closet, carrying them back to Stone. He could see that the Doctor’s teeth were gritted, and he was positively scowling. For once, it didn’t seem to be entirely at him. “Are you telling me that you went out into the elements of the fucking Arctic,” he articulated the last two words so heavily that Stone couldn’t help but spare a soft chuckle, “without any protection from any wind, snow, ice, or temperatures, proceeded to fall on your ass, and not tell me?”

“Technically, I fell forward.”

Robotnik looked like he was about to explode. Hell, in any other situation, he probably would have blown up directly in Stone’s face, spitting and snarling, but for now, he reached up, pinched the bridge of his own nose in exasperation, and pointed to a door. “Bathroom. Go change. That’s an order, Agent, and the gloves are going to be the first thing to come off. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Doctor.” He went to stand, extremities still tingling unpleasantly as he did. The new clothes were set in his hand, and the bathroom door opened on its own. All of his wet clothes fell right to the floor when he changed, careless and stiff. He’d be the one to clean it up later, but for now, he was more worried about the Doctor’s tone of voice. If Stone didn’t know any better, he would say that Robotnik sounded downright worried about him, albeit a very pissed off sort of worried. He couldn’t be. He would never. 

The process was slow, but he finished it up eventually. To his surprise, everything fit him perfectly; it wasn’t his suit, but it felt like it was made for him nonetheless. He returned to the bench with Robotnik nowhere in sight, but a pile of blankets was sitting where Stone had been previously. He helped himself to them, covering himself up accordingly; now that his head was starting to clear up ever so slightly, he was remembering his training. Damn. He should have recognized everything much sooner. 

Robotnik came marching in a moment later, shoving a steaming cup of something-or-other in Stone’s hands silently before pulling over a chair and sitting across from him, staring at the floor with his hands clasped together in his lap. He waited until Stone hesitantly took a drink from the cup- hot chocolate, apparently- to speak. “You’re an idiot.”

“I know. I’m sorry for my ineptitude, it won’t happen again.”

“You’re damn right it won’t happen again.” His lip curled, and he looked up to meet Stone’s eye. His ever-present glare wasn’t as intense as usual, and when he spoke, his voice was still stern, but he didn't yell. He was mad, but not at him. Not necessarily. “Agent, if you are ill-equipped for a task I have given you, you bring it up to me immediately. I expect you to have to rely on me and my genius to some capacity. Get off your high horse and ask for a damn coat, for crying out loud. By now, I’ve learned to plan around you, you should know that.”

Stone shrugged idly, as much as he could in the pile of blankets he had been engulfed in. “I assumed you knew.”

“No tricks up your sleeve, no nothing?” Robotnik seethed. It was then that Stone noticed that his lab coat had been removed; for the first time, Stone could see the definitions of his body, even if it was heavily obscured by the black turtleneck he had on underneath. He almost looked casual for once. “Stone, it’s subzero outside. You could have died.”

“Now, that much I was aware of.”

“Did you really think I’m so sadistic that I sent you outside to kill you?”

The thought honestly hadn’t crossed his mind. Of course that was the opinion Stone held; he wouldn’t be the first agent that Robotnik had inadvertently killed in the line of work. He’d be the first that would have made it this long, but a nonzero number of his coworkers had left Robotnik’s employ in a body bag, and he hadn’t even been bothered to attend the funeral. No gifts to the family. No condolences. As far as Stone understood, the concept that they were on purpose were strictly rumors, but he never could have been sure. He had gone into the job knowing to be wary, but he had never gotten into a situation in which he was genuinely worried that he would die. Not until today, and even then, it was hindsight.

Evidently, he took too long to answer, or the hesitance on his face was too obvious. He watched Robotnik grind his teeth subtly, his jaw stiff as he lowered his head and stood up once more. Once again, the coldness in his voice trickled right back in, even more icy than the wasteland outside. “I’m not wasting a trip because you got cold. Recover, dress properly this time, and come find me when you’re done. I’ll be downstairs.” Without waiting for Stone to get a word in, he stormed off. Genuine, honest to god, stormed.

Time passed, and Stone warmed up properly. At the very least, the haze in his head had cleared up and he could feel his fingers again; he had performed under worse conditions in the past. His body still felt slow and heavy, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t put aside. Carefully, he untangled himself, stepped back onto his feet- damn, his shoes were probably still wet- and gathered up what Robotnik had left behind. One coat, one pair of boots, one pair of snow pants, and in the cockpit, one black, oddly warm lab coat. He folded them nicely, then found Robotnik underneath the ship as promised, focused hard on the same machine from earlier. “I’m ready. Here’s your things.”

Robotnik glanced back at him over his shoulder, then scoffed, pressing a series of buttons on his gloves. “You’re not ready. Listen to me when I speak, Agent, I told you to dress properly. There’s an open box in the closet upstairs, go put all of it on- all of it- and then you can try again. This will not be a repeat of last time. You have your uses.”

“Was that a compliment, sir?” Stone asked, only for Robotnik to raise his wrench in response, poised to throw it at him. Stone held his hands up defensively, turning and walking upstairs. As promised, the closet held a small box with his name on it. Inside sat… Well, it was damn near identical to what he had handed Robotnik a minute ago. One coat (dark blue instead of red), one pair of boots, one pair of snow pants, one lab coat, and one pair of gloves. Really, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about them, other than the fact that the coat seemed to be tossed on top haphazardly in comparison to everything else. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of silver; printed on a black button in the inner collar of the coat were the letters ‘IR’, the coat smelling of new metal and oil and that one cologne that Stone hadn’t precisely found a name for yet. Something with cinnamon in it. It didn’t fit him- it wasn’t made to- but it was another layer, and it certainly wasn’t unpleasant.

When he joined the Doctor at the door again, fully dressed this time, he froze right in place when Robotnik reached for him. Silently, he pressed the little silver and black button on Stone’s collar, his hand almost too close to his face for him to stand. Almost. “There. That’ll heat up, give it time. Your internal temperature’s fine, you’ll live without a hospital. Now, I believe we have a lightshow to get to.”

“Of course,” he murmured, undoubtedly inaudible as Robotnik started off without him. At least this time he could keep up. At least this time he wasn’t freezing to the bone, and at least this time, he knew that his needs weren’t being neglected. Unnoticed, maybe, accidentally skimmed over, but they weren’t intentionally being ignored. He had never seen what Robotnik looked like when he was hurt, but he had seen him upset; that face he had made whenever he realized that Stone didn’t trust him was certainly indicative of something, and it wasn’t resentment. Astoundingly, the most icy thing in the Arctic today was not the stone-cold scientist that he had been working with for months now. Even in the ice and snow, it seemed the Doctor’s heart had ever so slightly managed to thaw. Stone didn’t even know he had a heart under there.

When he zoned out again this time, he didn’t wake up at the jet, and it wasn’t because of the cold. The storms were bitter, but the coat apparently had some heating mechanism in it; of course it did. Knowing Robotnik, that’s likely how he wore them around the lab. No, this time, he had gotten too deep in his own head to notice anything but the grand colors, sparks, and clangs in front of him as they stopped in place, watching Robotnik’s machine do whatever it was supposed to do. Truly, it was astounding, whatever it was. He’d have to read the notes later. The wind still howled, but right at his side, he could hear the Doctor as he spoke in a tone barely above and amazed murmur. “Aren’t I incredible, Stone?”

God, he was. All Stone managed was a nod, undoubtedly open-mouthed under the zipper of his hood (it really was a fantastic little ‘light show’, but it wasn’t like Robotnik had to see that. It wasn’t like he needed Stone’s approval anyway; he knew how amazing he was, but as Stone stood there, basking in the warmth of the Doctor’s much more minor inventions and wearing the clothes that seem custom-fit for him, only on his feet and truly only alive because his cagey, misanthropic boss had decided to show him more compassion than he had received in a long, long while, Robotnik would never consider that they weren’t on the same page as to why. No, Robotnik was incredible; he’d never guess why Stone believed it. 

 

----

 

The badniks were lethal weapons. It didn’t matter how closely Robotnik treated them to cats, nor how often he called them his babies or his girls or something else with the affection that was usually reserved for small animals by a more normal person; badniks were attack drones, through and through. Stone wasn’t sure if Robotnik had seen the carnage that they could do; he had invented them, after all, but he didn’t seem to enjoy getting his hands dirty unless it was with motor oil. Stone had seen it, though. Stone had seen them fire bullets, lasers, or send massive tendrils out of their bodies and rip grown men in half like they were sheets of paper. Stone had seen the way that they could send viscera flying, the life draining from a soldier’s eyes in an instant, a soldier that undoubtedly had a life somewhere, just like Stone did. The badniks didn’t care. They didn’t have remorse, nor families. When Stone had been told that war was hell, he didn’t expect it to be a hyper-futuristic, apocalyptic, muddled-together and greying hell. He just expected the fire. 

In all honesty, they put him on edge. He had never found himself on their business end save for the one time with the cattle prod, but he knew that Robotnik could sicc them on him with a moment’s notice and the press of a few buttons on his hand. There was realistically no reason to, and the chance that he would do it was quite low, but never zero. There was always a chance. Any moment in Robotnik’s lab could be his last, and no amount of training could prepare him for what happened if Robotnik turned on him, or heaven forbid, a badnik went rogue and attacked him.

Thankfully, the badniks never went rogue and attacked him.

Never attacked him. 

Stone was never within close enough proximity to them to end up in their line of fire. Whenever Robotnik was working on one, Stone would strategically position himself at an angle where it wasn’t aiming at him. If the Doctor asked him to handle one for any reason, he’d either depower it first or he would make the handoff as fast as possible. If one was active, he tried to stay out of the same room as it. Hell, if Robotnik was fiddling around with one and didn’t need him, Stone would find a way to make himself busy just so he didn’t have to understand how those things did their killing. It was worse to get it, he thought. It was worse to learn what made them work, just what made them into the remorseless little hunters, entirely out for blood, that they were. 

That’s what today had ended up being. One of the badniks had been shot down and was malfunctioning severely, and Robotnik was so pissed that he sent Stone out of the room when he opened the box. He certainly didn’t mind; by no means did he want to be around one of those things, especially not when it was malfunctioning. He trusted the Doctor and he trusted his work, but not when it had been tampered with (if being shot could be counted as tampering). Even now he could hear him cursing at it, telling it how much of an inconvenience it was, shouting- shouting. Just shouting, preceded by a sound that Stone recognized all too well. He froze in place once he registered the exact sound of a badnik firing.

His feet were moving before he could even feel the knots forming in his stomach, running straight to the lab and drawing his gun out of habit. When he fired, he certainly wasn’t shooting blind, but with the adrenaline coursing through him, he may as well have been. It had been a good, long while since he had actually had to take anyone- or rather, anything- down, and when he found the badnik, it was up in the air, tendrils rearing and swinging wildly. He didn’t think. He didn’t care what consequences there would be, firing one shot into the exposed wires and the paneling that was pouring smoke up and to the ceiling, sending it careening across the room and straight into a wall before it flickered to a dead halt. All the lights on it went dim, then darkened completely, everything falling perfectly silent save for his own breathing and Robotnik’s.

Right, the Doctor. Stone’s gun was away in an instant, rushing over to where he had ended up. He was still standing, haggard and hunched over a few feet from his workbench, clutching his wrist. He didn’t look at Stone as he approached, but he jerked his entire body away when Stone went to look at his arm. “Don’t touch me.”

“Sir, are you injured?” Stone’s hands stalled in the air, hovering uselessly in place. With the control glove and the coat all blending together, he couldn’t really get a good look at the skin underneath. Robotnik, however, was sweating, and his jaw was clenched tight.

“Everything’s fucking peachy, Stone. Get out of my face, don’t touch me, it doesn’t matter. I have it handled, I don’t need anyone,” he said, one part after another, the words spilling out of his mouth at a rapid fire pace. 

Stone reached for his hand once more. “Please, if there’s something wrong, I’d rather-”

“Shut up, you brainless little toad,” Robotnik hissed. Stone could see the palm of his glove starting to darken, one of the buttons turning red as he not-so-subtly moved his hand. “I do not care what you think I need in this moment or whatever holier-than-thou, better than you superiority complex you’re trying to feed right now, I will not be accepting your useless help or-”

“Doctor, go sit down immediately!” Stone’s tone of voice darkened dramatically, more stern than he had ever turned it on Robotnik. The Doctor’s face reflected that, his eyes going wide as he looked up at Stone. There was a small scratch on his cheek, right underneath his eye. If the machine had hit anywhere further up, he would have been blind. Taking Robotnik’s stunned silence as an opportunity, he continued. “I am sorry for yelling. I am sorry for interrupting. I am not sorry for trying to make sure that you’re safe. This is what’s in my job description, not replying to your damn emails, so let me do my job before I have to write a report on this.” When Robotnik didn’t move, Stone stood up a bit straighter. With the way the Doctor was hunched, it almost made Stone taller than him. “Now, Doctor.”

To his shock, Robotnik listened. He shot Stone a half-hearted glare, then slunk right over to his chair, sitting down in it with his wrist still clutched tightly in his free hand. Stone pulled his own over and held his hands out, only for Robotnik to pull his back closer to his chest. “It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not mad. Do you want to take off your gloves or do you want me to?”

Robotnik rolled his eyes, muttering something inaudible as he pulled them off on his own, holding them out flat to Stone. His right hand was perfectly clean, but the left had a gash running over the expanse of his palm. It trailed down his wrist, but didn’t appear to be all that deep. It was hard to tell around the blood, and it was even harder to tell with the way his hands were shaking. Robotnik never shook; Stone was convinced that he wasn’t scared of anything, that parents may have once told their kids stories about them to scare them into going to bed, but he was still human underneath the steely exterior. Stone just looked over them for a moment before Robotnik cleared his throat. “That bad?”

Stone shook his head, gently taking his left hand in both of his own. “No, it doesn’t look awful. I’ll have to clean it out. Where do you keep your first aid kit?” Instead of responding, Robotnik pressed his fingers into the palm of his right hand once, then more insistently a second time as his brows knit together. He paused, scowling, then reached over and pressed approximately the same buttons on his right glove. In an instant, one of the working badniks floated over and dropped a kit right beside them. Stone let go of Robotnik’s hand to open it, pulling out what he needed. “Alright, any notes for me?”

“Just fix it, Stone,” he snarled, then settled back into the chair. After a moment, he spoke again. “Regardless of how it actually is, I will not be going to a hospital. Don’t make me look at it, don’t talk about it, don’t bring up what happened. Don’t even consider putting any sort of gel on it, by that point I’d rather you just cauterize it.”

“Not a Neosporin guy?” Stone picked up a washcloth and a bottle of saline out of his materials, preparing it accordingly. He didn’t touch Robotnik again, not yet. 

Robotnik snorted. “Hell no. Disgusting. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can tolerate that feeling.”

“Right, Doc. I’ll stay away from it.” He gently took Robotnik’s hand in one of his own again, pushing his sleeve back for him. The way that he flinched, almost unnoticeable, wasn’t entirely lost on him. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“I could do this myself.”

“I know you could. You’re a very capable man. I’ll be careful, you’re still in decent hands.”

He sneered at him for a moment, then looked off to the side, staring into nothing at all. “Fine, Stone. Get on with it.”

Stone didn’t bother saying anything else, cleaning off his hand silently. He heard Robotnik take in a breath, the air stalling in his lungs for a moment before he let out an annoyed huff. Stone paid it no mind, but didn’t use anything more than a light press on it. At one point, he glanced up at Robotnik again to check in on him, only to see Robotnik side-eyeing the wound. “Doctor,” Stone said sternly, Robotnik’s attention immediately snapping to him. His lip curled.

“What would you have me do?”

“You specifically told me not to make you look at it. Do you need to adjust so that you can’t see it?”

Robotnik got that look on his face, the one that Stone knew all too well; it was the one where he didn’t particularly like any of his options, but he knew it was either for the better or simply had to be done. Mostly, Stone saw it reserved for the brass, for when Robotnik was being told that his actions were either unethical or illegal, but Stone had never really seen it turned on him. Maybe it was because Robotnik never thought he was right. He expected Robotnik to say something sarcastic, but maybe not to yell at him in this state. However, the one thing that he really wasn’t expecting was for him to lean forward, drop his forehead onto Stone’s shoulders, and shut his eyes with a soft grumble. Stone could feel his hair barely grazing the side of his face in the moment that he tensed up, only to realize that the Doctor wasn’t moving. He wasn’t yelling, he wasn’t mad, at least not outwardly. He had conceded, and he was touching Stone. “Distract me,” he muttered, barely audible. Stone wouldn’t have heard if he wasn’t exactly where he was.

Gently, he resumed with his hand, letting his head relax to lean against Robotnik’s. He didn’t push away for once. “You have got to get out of that head of yours more, Doctor. I can practically hear your thoughts right now.”

“I said distract, Stone, not scold.”

“Right.” He sighed softly, grabbing a dry washcloth from the case and cleaning up the area a bit more. “What do you plan on doing this weekend?”

“Same thing I do every weekend. I’ll be right here, working on the same things that I work on every other day.”

“No fun and exciting plans?” he paused for a moment, looking over the wound. “Permission to say something about your hand?”

“Granted.”

“It could probably use stitches-”

“No,” he interrupted immediately. Stone shoved down the urge to elbow him in the ribs.

“-but we could get away without them. It missed the major veins. If it gets worse, I can either get you to a hospital or I can handle it myself. Completely up to you, but it’ll probably scar worse if it’s not stitched up. You’re not going to die, though.”

“I don’t care if it scars. My final answer is no, Agent, I don’t want anyone that close to my hands with a sharp object. They’re invaluable to me.” He could hear Robotnik’s jaw click beside him. “Besides, all the anesthetic I have in the lab is experimental. I don’t really have anything to dull that pain unless you’d like to tranquilize me. Push comes to shove, I’ll synthesize something once it’s bandaged and one of us will stitch it up.”

One of us. Not him, necessarily, Stone was an option. Apparently, ‘anyone’ didn’t include him. “Alright, Doctor. Now, those weekend plans.”

“I told you, just work.”

“Well, what would you do? If you had absolutely no deadlines, nothing you wanted to work on, and you were just taking a break for a little while, what would you do?”

Robotnik thought for a moment. “…Paris. Either Paris, or I’d stay home and find some other way to entertain myself. Truly, robotics is my passion, I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

“Of course. Why Paris?”

“I’ve always thought it was a nice city. You see it on TV and such and you get ideas in your head, then you actually see it and it’s different. I’ve never been there for any reason other than work, and if I have the means to get there faster than any other human being, I may as well, right? I can go anywhere I want, I guess Paris is just what came to mind first.”

“City of lights, huh?” Stone started with the bandages and gauze, and Robotnik nodded. “I’ve never been. What kind of ideas, sir? I didn’t really peg you as the hopeless romantic type.”

“That’s because I’m not. I’ve tried it, I don’t think it’s my style. I’m not looking for a Parisian romance or sight seeing, just… being somewhere else for a few days. I’m capable, I’m paid well, I enjoy traveling when it’s convenient, and yet I never really leave my own little haven.” He hummed lazily right after, sinking a bit more of his weight into Stone. “Or maybe I just like the food and the wine. I think I usually spent more time gorging myself there than I ever did listening to whatever political bullshit I had to sit through.”

Stone chuckled. “I can’t even imagine you doing that with your habits.”

“Stone, you will never find better food than what they serve at a government event when everyone in attendance, including the people that arranged it, knows it could have been an email. It’s the only upside to being there.” If Stone didn’t know any better, he’d almost say he could hear amusement in the Doctor’s voice. “It’s such bullshit. You have no idea. I’ll have to take you to the next one, I have the process of getting out of there as early as possible while still causing as much detriment to their snack table as I can down to a science.”

“I believe I’m contractually obligated to go with you anyway, but I would still like to see it.”

“And I’d like to have someone halfway competent to talk to. It’s astounding how ill-prepared some of the people that run the nation are to talk about it.”

“I know, Doc. It’s concerning.” With that, he ran his thumb lightly over the now-bandaged wound, glancing over his work one more time (or rather, that’s what he would claim). The Doctor’s hands were so much softer than he expected them to be, much cleaner than a brilliant inventor’s hands would have ever been in Stone’s head. “Hey, guess what?”

“I’m not playing guessing games with you.”

“Well, fine. Be that way.” He let go of Robotnik’s hand, patting him lightly on the knee. “You’re done. Please don’t make me shoot another badnik for you.”

“Yes, Agent, because that was intentional,” he replied dryly, sitting up and looking over his hand for a moment. “It’ll do.”

“Just don’t strain yourself. The bleeding stopped for now, but you don’t want to reopen that.”

“I’ll let you know if I do.” He reached for his gloves, only for Stone to grab them first. “Stone.”

“I know. I’m going to go clean them and patch the hole, I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.”

Robotnik opened his mouth to argue, then just sighed, folding his hands in his lap. “Fine. Stitch them up in front of me. I’ll be waiting.”

Stone nodded, heading right over to the kitchen sink. This one needed to be cleaned anyway, at least, and it didn’t take long for the water to start running clear after he had started. After they were cleaned off, he paused; these were waterproof, right? Thinking back to just how Robotnik had done it in the past, he pressed a few buttons in sequence with one another, and the lights in the kitchen flicked off. He powered them right back on, pressed a different sequence- the one that dried them- and slid them into his pockets before reentering the lab.

When Stone found Robotnik, he was exactly where he had left him, still sitting in his chair with his hands carefully folded in his lap, staring off at the twice-shot badnik on the floor. Stone sat down at his side, facing the table and starting to sew the sizable hole in the left one. He wasn’t the one that spoke first. “I’m not going to apologize.”

“I didn’t expect you to. It was a tough situation, and you were hurt.”

“It didn’t really hurt that badly. I just-” he took a deep breath, squinting at the badnik from across the room. “I wasn’t expecting it. I haven’t been injured by my own work in a long, long time. It’s obnoxious. I understand my machines, they’re the one thing that I can definitively trust.”

Oh. “I understand. It still wasn’t your fault, there’s no way you could have predicted that it was just going to turn on you like that.”

“But I should have been able to. If I can’t, no one else is capable of doing it,” he replied bitterly. “Hell, I was taken out by a cut on my hand. It took two bullets to get that one on the ground.”

“You aren’t made of metal, Doc.” Stone finished with the needle and the thread, closing it off and setting them aside. He set them behind Robotnik, right where his tools were. “You’re a genius, smartest man on earth, but no one expects you to be infallible.”

“That’s a shame. Truly, Stone, I am infallible.” He reached back, sliding his gloves on and moving his left hand absentmindedly. With a soft tch, he looked away from the badnik, turning back to his table and picking up something else to work with. “Dispose of that one. I’ll build them a better one and send it back, toss in a good ‘fuck you’ to the brass. I’m still better than them.”

“I’d love to see it,” Stone tried to approach the badnik without hesitation, picking it right up when he got there. God, he couldn’t wait to get rid of that creepy thing.

“Of course you would, I’m hilarious,” he waved a hand- the good one- dismissively, not sparing Stone another glance. “Finish up whatever else you feel like you need to for the day, then you have my full permission to leave.”

Stone paused, glancing back over his shoulder at him with one eyebrow raised. “Sir, I’m not supposed to leave for another two hours.”

“I know that, obviously I don’t care. Handle yourself and get out.” 

Stone didn’t have to be told twice. He got rid of the badnik in the metal crusher outside, the one that Robotnik would absolutely go into later and repurpose it into something else. Stone may have shot it once or five more times for good measure, and Robotnik would find the bullets, but Stone was certain he wouldn’t care much. He finished cleaning for the day, mopped up what little blood was leftover from the earlier incident, and replaced Robotnik’s coat for him. Even then, he still had nearly an hour once he was done. He returned to Robotnik’s side, briefly watching him work until he spoke. “I have one more thing I need to do, then I’ll leave.”

“I don’t know why you’re telling me. Do it and go before I change my mind.”

“Could you look at me, please?” Stone pulled the chair over and sat down in it again. Once he had, Robotnik sighed, turning to him and jumping when there was immediately a cloth on his face. Stone had already started cleaning up the cut on his cheek, and he immediately froze stock-still while he did. “Sorry. Forgot this one.”

“Stone, what have I said about touching?”

“Relax for a second. Let me take care of you one more time.” That one was much easier to clean, and he put a band-aid on it right after. “There. I know today’s probably been an exercise in mortification for you-”

“Probably?”

Stone grinned, holding his hands up defensively as he stood. “Fine, fine. I know it was. Sorry. I’m glad you’re okay, though, and I appreciate the extra hour at home.”

“Consider it my way of-” Robotnik scoffed, fumbling over the words for a moment, “thanking you for doing your job. I’m serious about changing my mind, though. You have thirty seconds before you’re filing paperwork, mister.”

“Done. Time me.”

To Stone’s shock, Robotnik clicked something on his glove, and he heard a soft beep come from it. “Go.” Stone swore under his breath, and for the second time that day, he was running, grabbing his keys and his badge off the hook and bolting out of the lab into the early evening sunset. Now, the thing about Stone was that he wasn’t inept. He didn’t know what Robotnik was doing all the time, but he generally caught on when he was doing something a bit unusual. Right as he was rushing out the door, he did see the Doctor reach up and touch his cheek a little too tenderly, not in pain, but in something else entirely. Amazement or awe, maybe. Stone wrote that off before he even made it to his car; while Stone was not inept when it came to noticing things, he sure was terrible at interpreting them. 

He supposed it was only fair when he had never seen the Doctor yearn before. 

 

----

 

If Stone didn’t have things written down, he simply wouldn’t remember them. His entire schedule involving the Doctor was set up on a series of reminders, alarms, and calendar notifications; everything that Robotnik wanted him to remember went on his phone first, then got hung up on the board that Robotnik allowed him to have for his desk. He had his family’s birthdays saved for both the day of and the month before to allow him time to order something in, and half the time he didn’t even recognize that it was a holiday season until he started seeing the advertisements. It wasn’t that he was bad at dates so much as he tended to neglect what the date was unless he was consciously informed of it; when every day was just about the same, it was easy to gloss over the deadlines on things he didn’t understand. As long as everything stayed in line, it was a fine system, and he didn’t really mind it.

When Stone woke up, he couldn’t help but feel like he was forgetting something. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, nothing was marked on his calendar, and he triple-checked his pockets on the way out of the door. Hell, he didn’t even have any alarms set for the day other than the one that got him out of bed. There were no projects due for review for at least another week, and a quick scroll through his phone turned up nothing in his positively bare text chain with Robotnik. No, it took quite a bit of convincing, but Stone absolutely, one hundred percent, was not forgetting anything. 

That’s what he repeated to himself as he walked into the lab, placed his keys on the hook, and made the Doctor’s coffee for the morning. Nothing was wrong, nothing was out of place. Everything was exactly how it should be outside of the main workspace, and he couldn’t hear Robotnik yelling. In fact, all he could hear was music, blaring even louder than it usually would be. He had picked some vaguely romantic pop song from the seventies, a rarity as to what Stone usually heard in the mornings. It was different, but that couldn’t be indicative. The Doctor had never really been predictable.

Like a mantra. Everything was correct. Nothing was missing. There were no strings he forgot to tie to his finger, and he knew precisely what was going on. Everything was correct. Everything was-

Stone’s mouth went dry the second he stepped into the workspace. Apparently everything was a bit different than usual today. The music continued on ceaselessly, a song that Stone had never heard before but he could sure as hell glean the sexual meaning of, and the lights had been dimmed down to a slower sort of strobe than the bright flourescence they were usually set to. The room was warmer than normal, and most importantly, Robotnik wasn’t wearing his lab coat. In fact, he was wearing none of his usual lab attire save for his gloves dressed in a white t-shirt that was already smudged with oil, black pants with the bottoms cuffed, and his goggles up on his forehead. Hell, even his hair looked a bit more casual, the usually perfect composition of it having fallen slightly out of place. The t-shirt showed off even more than the turtleneck had all that time ago, and Stone could practically see every lean contour of his body. His back was turned to Stone now, and when the lights flashed just right- god, was that a tattoo?

Stone really only had a second to look before Robotnik seemed to realize his presence, something out of Stone’s line of sight beeping for a moment before Robotnik’s gaze shot to him, and his eyes shot open immediately. Stone didn’t know who looked more stunned, him or Robotnik, but he certainly looked more scared when Robotnik started storming over. To Stone’s relief, he turned to his desk, swiping his coat off of it and loosely draping it over his shoulder as he turned the music down to a dull thrum in the background. The lights stayed dimmed, fading between purples and blues and all hosts of other colors as Robotnik turned to face him again, obviously a bit annoyed. “Stone, why are you here?”

Jesus. And now he was being asked questions, being expected to think. He straightened up, clearing his throat and setting the coffee down on the nearest table. “I work Tuesdays every week, Doctor, I don’t understand why today would be any different.”

“I wasn’t expecting you today.”

Stone cocked his head to the side, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t see why. I didn’t ask for the day off.” Like Robotnik would grant it anyway. “I don’t see what would change about any other Tuesday.”

Robotnik raised an eyebrow right back, almost certainly mocking him. “Oh, Agent. What day is it?”

“Tuesday, sir.”

“Date.”

Stone paused, pulling out his phone, and for the first time that morning, he actually bothered to look at the date. The calendar didn’t show anything because he had forgotten to put it on there; it wasn’t a deadline, it wasn’t a holiday, and it certainly wasn’t a reason he expected Robotnik to ever allow him a day off. “Oh.”

“Well, I was going to have someone else send a card to you on my behalf, but I suppose I can just say it in person,” Robotnik’s tone was harsh, but he was grinning. It wasn’t the manic, evil smile he usually had plastered on his face whenever he proved someone wrong; this one was lighter, more serene. “Happy Birthday, Stone.”

Stone hadn’t celebrated his birthday in years. He was never home with his family to spend it with them, and it was really a waste of time trying to get the day off in a government job for it. While he was serving, it simply wasn’t something that was brought up, and he didn’t receive any gifts if they were ever sent in the mail. When he first got out, the most he would do is get a slice of cake or something, but it lost its novelty when he could simply go buy an entire cake whenever he pleased. His birthday hadn’t been anything special since he was in college, and to hear someone say those words to him, in person, face to face, had him floored for a few moments. “…I completely forgot.”

“Clearly, considering you’re standing right in front of me.” He pulled the coat on, not bothering to button it before he turned around. “I’ve already planned my day around you not being here.”

“Why?” Stone circled around to the other side of the table, placing his hands on its surface and leaning forward. “You don’t seem like the kind to celebrate a birthday, let alone someone else’s.”

“You’re close.” He glanced at him, if only for a moment, then went right back to starting to dismantle the tech in front of him. “I don’t care about my birthday. It’s a formality that I keep in mind for government records and a convenient excuse to get out of meetings that I don’t want to be at. You, however, seem like the sentimental kind. You hadn’t played the birthday card yet, so I assumed that you would do it this morning or not show up at all. I thought you had a death wish, but I made peace with it, at least. It’s all paid for. Not my money.”

Stone shrugged, gaze falling to Robotnik’s hands. “I guess it’s kind of hard to be sentimental when you have no one to be around.”

That made the Doctor pause for a moment, setting his tools down silently as he turned away from Stone once more with a dramatic flourish of his coat (likely unintentional, second nature by now). He pulled up one of the many holographic screens on his computer, the kind that Stone couldn’t see through to the other side, and he swiped through it for a moment before his brow furrowed. “Florida.”

“Mhm. What about it?”

“You lived in Florida. All of your parents and siblings still live in Florida, and none of them have purchased plane tickets recently. You live here, and none of them visited you or called to say a word to you. I’m assuming they didn’t text, either?” 

“You’d be correct.” They hadn’t, had they? He knew his parents woke up early, but they hadn’t bothered to call. If it hadn’t been for the Doctor, he likely would have never realized. “Really, it’s no big deal. They’re not actually as big of a thing to me as you might think. Sure, it isn’t every day you turn- ah, crap, it isn’t every day-”

A few more taps against the keyboard. “Forty.”

“Huh, really? Wow. Anyway, it isn’t every day you turn forty, but really, that’s just how things have been for years. I certainly didn’t see a call or a present from you, and I really don’t mind, sir.”

For a moment, Robotnik looked up from his screen, staring dead at him before he conceded with a soft sigh. “I almost pity you, Stone. All alone because of a few bad assignments.”

“I wouldn’t consider this a bad assignment.”

Robotnik made a dismissive sound, a ‘meh’-adjacent noise from deep in his throat as he put the screens back down and returned to his chair. “Whatever this is, then. Look, I wasn’t expecting to see you today, I have nothing for you. Nothing to do, no gifts. You’re free to go home whenever you please without consequence and enjoy your day.”

“In all honesty, I’d rather stay here.” The words left Stone’s mouth before he even knew what he was saying. It wasn’t a lie; he’d prefer to be productive, hell, prefer to be around literally anyone than to be holed up in the confines of his apartment. Robotnik didn’t seem nearly as shocked as Stone was expecting him to be, the Doctor simply pausing in place as he sat down. With a sigh, he dropped into his seat, spinning around once before sliding into the table. 

“You’re welcome to do that as well. Just stay out of the way and I won’t make you leave.”

Silently, Stone nodded, pulling over his seat and leaning onto the table. If he didn’t have to work today, then he could afford to be a bit more casual. Robotnik didn’t seem like he was going to yell at him, not even when his eyes scanned over him lazily. “I didn’t know you even owned casual clothes.”

“I have specific attire for when people are around. Considering I haven’t slept in about,” he checked his watch, “thirty-two hours and I got hot for once in my life, plus you weren’t supposed to be here, I decided to dress down for my own comfort. This is what I normally wear when you’re not present”

“Doc, I cannot begin to describe to you how unhealthy that is.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” he grumbled, reaching over to grab his coffee and drinking out of it before Stone could protest. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead, or I’ll at least do it when I’m being paid for it.”

“Right.” There was a brief lull in the conversation before something that Robotnik had said clicked into place. He could feel the smile tugging at his lips before he said anything. “Saying that you dress down implies that you dress up on a normal basis.”

“That’s a reach, Agent, but I’ll take it. Why do you mention it?”

“You wear that when I’m not here.”

“Yes, I told you as much outright.” Almost immediately after he said it, Robotnik’s eye twitched and his head shot right up to look at Stone. “Oh, no.”

It was too late. Stone was already beaming, in a way that was overjoyed or mocking, he couldn’t distinguish. “So that implies that you-”

“No. No, I do not. Stop that immediately.”

“Doctor, do you dress up for me?” As Stone feigned flattery, he could practically see the veins popping out of Robotnik’s forehead, his teeth grinding together in his jaw. He couldn’t help but to let a laugh slip out while the Doctor processed, already apologizing to him. “Sorry, I’m sorry-”

“You’re fired,” he replied, pushing Stone’s chair away from the desk once, then twice whenever he rolled right back over. “You’re fired, and I changed my mind, you have to leave immediately.”

“Oh, come on, I apologized. You have to have some goodness in your heart, I mean, it’s my birthday, isn’t it?” He leaned right back onto the table, resting his head against his folded arms. Robotnik leered at him.

“And now you decide to play the birthday card. Don’t push your luck.” For a moment, his lip curled, and his face softened ever so slightly. “Just be aware that if I were any less acquainted with you, I’d be wiping your memory right now.”

“Haven’t you known the commander for years?”

“Not like I know you.” Robotnik turned back to his work, lounging back in his chair. “That conversation is over. Any requests you’ll allow me the pleasure of turning down on your birthday?”

Stone hummed lazily, watching as his hands moved in the same practiced and sure way they always did, unfaltering and unceasing. “Can you tell me about what you’re doing?”

Oh, even Robotnik didn’t have the heart to turn that one down. Come to think of it, it may not have been a matter of heart; with the way he lit up, Stone would have guessed that it was his birthday instead. He launched off on an explanation that Stone only half-understood immediately, and without hesitation, Stone sunk further into the desk, pretending to listen as intently as he could while he watched the way Robotnik’s body and hands moved. It was the passion more than the actual work that got to him; every inch of Robotnik was enrapturing, every word perfectly engaging so that Stone may hang off of each and every one. According to the Doctor, it was all for him. He hadn’t said it, but there was no way Stone couldn’t read between those lines.

Stone didn’t really care about his birthday. It was another date that meant nothing to him after so many years, but he’d allow Robotnik to feign apathy while he set things in Stone’s path all day. He had told Stone to order whatever he wanted for lunch, tossing the government-funded card that he reserved specifically for purchases that would piss them off and sending him on his way. He didn’t complain about what Stone got, and he kept his visible frustration to a minimum for the day. He put everything in its right places in Stone’s organizational systems for once, and funnier still, he left Amazon open on his burner phone directly in front of Stone. He knew what he was trying to do; hell, it wasn’t even Robotnik’s normal phone, but he did get a kick out of seeing the slightly miffed look on the Doctor’s face when he came back and saw it the exact same. He may have been in the lab, and he may have done some work out of sheer convenience and habit, but it may as well have been a day off for him. Better yet, he got to spend it with someone.

He left at the normal time with the Doctor’s promise that he would go to bed as soon as Stone left. He made it home as usual, if not a bit more peppy, and turned in for the night in the exact same way as he usually did. Honestly, his schedule had been no different today, but it had still been a better birthday than he had celebrated in years. The final texts he got from Robotnik that night just sealed it. ‘This is your gift. Hope you choke on it.’

To his shock, there was a picture attached. It was sort of dim, but it was undeniably a picture of a bedroom. He could vaguely make out the outline of the bed and the soft glow of the lamp on the nightstand, a couple of discarded prototypes sitting beside it. The windows were drawn tightly shut, and yet Stone couldn’t see him in it. “You’re sure you didn’t just get that picture to appease me?”

Another picture came through mere moments later. ‘Pardon my unprofessionalism.’ Now, that one certainly had Robotnik in it. He had adjusted so that he was in the picture, clearly having taken it himself as he flipped the bird to the camera. He looked tired and annoyed, but- dear god, he had the t-shirt on again. Stone could see his collarbone. Shit. 

Well, it was only natural that he sent one back. It was just him in his pajamas from the shoulders-up, grinning and holding up a thumbs up in response. ‘Pardoned. Goodnight, Doctor.’

One minute later, one final reply came through. ‘Happy birthday, Stone.’ Well, that was a decent enough gift for him. 

He wasn’t going to call Robotnik on it when the incredibly expensive whiskey arrived at his doorstep next week anyway.

 

----

 

Late nights happened in Robotnik’s lab with or without Stone. He didn’t necessarily beg the Doctor to sleep, but he knew that he would go a matter of days without going home and going to bed, working ceaselessly until he collapsed. Finding Robotnik asleep on his workbench was not a one-time incident; it happened more frequently than he would ever admit, and since Stone valued all of his limbs and organs quite heavily, he certainly wasn’t going to call him out on it.

Tonight was one of the ‘with’ nights. They had been working on this particular project all day, the first prototype due on the commander’s desk by tomorrow. Robotnik knew how it worked; he knew exactly how to assemble it, but the machine itself was so intricate that it was taking longer than normal. Stone had been tending to his every need all day, taking calls, checking emails, handing over tools when necessary, and supplying Robotnik with coffee until he had to cut him off out of a fear of killing him. He hadn’t liked that one; Stone got yelled at for almost twenty minutes, damn near eight o’clock at night before Robotnik collapsed out of sheer exhaustion onto his chair. He had muttered an incredibly brief apology, something about him simply being tired and frustrated for reasons Stone couldn’t control, sending him off to handle dinner right after. He let Stone handle what they would have (takeout) and ate it without complaint, silent and focused while Stone worked nearby, sorting through files between bites of food.

Stone didn’t know exactly when the wine came out, just that he had to have drank a lot of it. It was Robotnik’s idea; he made one of the badniks retrieve it for them, as well as two glasses, sliding one right to Stone as soon as it was poured, then proceeding to slam back almost half a glass of his own. “It’s expensive. We’re going to be here a while.” ‘We’re.’ More recently, Stone had been part of the collective, and he still wasn’t sure how to deal with it. ‘We’re’ surrounded by idiots. ‘We’re’ going to show all those government goons exactly where to shove it. ‘We’re’ going to be here a while, Stone, drink this dusty old bottle of wine that looks like it’s been sitting for a very special occasion, one that I’ve decided to make about us.

“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for me to be drinking on the job.” 

“Just drink it, Stone. I’m capable enough for the both of us. Makes the work a little bit more interesting.” 

Honestly, the Doctor’s presence was intoxicating enough. He was intriguing, something Stone could watch and listen to for hours without getting bored by now, but he was getting the impression that Robotnik was really going to insist, and it was already poured. Stone had never… damn, that wine looked expensive, more so than any other bottle he had ever seen. Without another moment’s hesitation, he took a sip and returned to the Doctor’s side, settling in for the rest of the evening.

They ate, they drank, they worked. The cycle repeated, and conversation faded into silence as the night went on. They weren’t finished until nearly two in the morning, Robotnik letting out a soft sigh once the final screw was set in place and grumbling something in annoyance as he put it up. It took Stone, exhausted and ever so slightly buzzed, a moment to realize what was happening before he echoed Robotnik’s relief. He stood up, taking his jacket off the back of his chair and going to slip it back on. “Finally. Do you need anything else from me, Doctor?” 

Robotnik paused, setting the machine in its proper place to be delivered before glancing at him over his shoulder. “You’re not leaving at this hour, Stone. You’ve been drinking.”

“Wh-” Stone squinted at him, leaning on his chair. “Sir, I had two glasses several hours ago. I’m pretty sure you drank more than me, and you still intend on leaving.”

“I did, and I do. Still, you’re staying. It’s late. You’re not in a state to be able to drive.” Robotnik started out of the workspace, gesturing for Stone to follow him. “I’ll be going home in the same way I do every other night.”

“Sir, I hate to argue, but I feel as though you’re a bit more impaired-” Stone’s voice died in his throat as he followed Robotnik out into the entryway, only to find a staircase that the Doctor was already halfway up. He gestured for him to follow again, more exaggerated this time, and without hesitation, Stone walked right up the stairs.

The second his feet hit the floor, the stairs shut behind him, sealing into the ground like they were never there to begin with. To his surprise, he found himself standing in a well-furnished living room, perfectly clean and warm. It was a stark contrast to the lab; the lights here were yellow, and nothing was the same hard metal that made up most of the downstairs. No, the couches looked comfortable and had throw pillows set on them, the shelves holding little trinkets from far off places. Unlike the lab, this place looked livable. It didn’t look lived in, but it was livable. “Stone, pick your jaw up off the floor.”

He didn’t even realize it was open to begin with. He shut his mouth, turning to Robotnik, who had moved into the entrance to a hallway. Stone followed behind without a second thought, the Doctor grabbing him by the shirt collar and pulling him along when he didn’t move fast enough. “Do you live here?”

“Obviously, Stone. It isn’t technically my primary residence, but I’m here more often than not.” He let go of Stone, stopping in front of a closed door. “There’s a bathroom on the left. Go shower, you smell like a furnace.”

Oh god. He was in Robotnik’s living quarters. He never expected to be anywhere near here, never mind being underneath it the entire time he had worked for him. No, now he was standing in his apartment, being told to go make use of his facilities by the man himself for no reason other than ‘it got late’. All he could manage was a nod, letting Robotnik open the door before Stone slid past him and went straight to the bathroom.

He wasn’t sure what he was expecting from Robotnik’s bathroom, or really, any of his place. Maybe he was expecting the same organized chaos that the lab held, but up here, everything seemed to be perfectly in line in one way or another. While the Doctor may not have been picky with where his projects went, all the products in his shower were- oh, that was so nerdy. They were labeled with little stickers and all seemed to have a specific spot. The countertops were perfectly clean, and the shower looked like it had hundreds of settings that Stone definitely didn’t understand and that he was sure the Doctor didn’t use all of. No matter. He had what he needed to clean himself off, and the shower was warm. Really, that’s all he could ask for. 

When he stepped out of the shower, a towel around his waist immediately after (there was no way Robotnik didn’t have cameras, even if he didn’t use them), there was a set of clothes sitting on the counter. Sliding them on, he found that they were tailored perfectly to him in the same way that the other clothes had been so long ago. Really, he thought of everything, didn’t he? Leaving the bathroom, he stepped into the room he had to walk through previously, taking a bit more caution as he looked around it this time. In only a moment, he realized that it looked almost familiar; the nightstand, the book (a different one this time), the bed: this was Robotnik’s room, the one from the picture. All at once, everything felt a bit too intimate in a way that hadn’t been nearly as definite mere moments ago, and he made a beeline straight out of the bedroom. 

He damn near ran into Robotnik in the hallway on his way out. Even though Stone had taken the shower, Robotnik’s hair was wet, falling into his face and not laid out like it usually was. What’s more, he was wearing pajamas, something he never expected to see him in. They were about what he would have guessed, grey plaid pants and a black shirt, but the gloves threw him for a moment. They were black as well, much thinner than his lab gloves, and missing all the buttons. Stone straightened right up once he didn’t hit Robotnik, awkwardly folding his arms behind his back. “I’m finished. You can have your room back now.”

“You noticed, then. How astute.” Robotnik raised an eyebrow, his eyes scanning over Stone for a moment before he mocked his posture. “I was coming up to tell you that you can have it for the night. If I sleep, I’ll either take the couch or-”

“If?”

Robotnik’s nose scrunched up, and he glared at Stone. “Don’t interrupt me. Yes, if. I usually wake up about an hour from now, I see no point in laying down for that short of a time to go and start working again. Really, we waste so many hours of the day just dozing. I have so much more I could be getting done.”

“All due respect, sir, I refuse. I’ll sleep in my car if that’s going to be the case. You need to sleep at some point, and you look exhausted. Go take the bed, and I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“Dear god,” he snorted, rolling his eyes. “Stone, don’t play the hero. This is a common occurrence with me, just take it.”

“I’ll take it if you do.” Christ, why did he say that? Why was the Doctor looking at him like that, entirely incredulous and confused?

“What are you implying, agent?” It wasn’t a genuine question. He heard him, and he knew exactly what he had meant by that. He was giving him a chance to revise his answer, but really, the Doctor was so stubborn that this was the only option. He could hold his gaze for another moment or two.

“I’m no stranger to sharing a bed. I’m comfortable enough around you to trust that you won’t hurt me in my sleep.”

A sigh. “Wall, agent.”

With barely a pivot and a light thump, Stone was against the wall, and Robotnik had him by the lapels. The grab was much softer than normal, and in all honesty, he was pinning him to the wall a bit more than he usually was. His expression was steeled, his eyes scanning over Stone’s face for a moment. “…Your heart rate indicates that you’re stressed, but not intentionally trying to harm me. You’re not lying, either. You’re worried enough about me and my well-being to share a bed with another man, Stone?”

Normally, Stone would feign fear, or at least a vague nervousness. Tonight, he couldn’t manage it. He was in too deep; he had made it up to Robotnik’s apartment above the lab, used his shower, seen his bedroom, and now was being held to the wall with a bit more pressure and contact than usual. It certainly wasn’t unintentional how close he was; nothing Robotnik did ever was. He swallowed once, perfectly calm, and nodded. “It’s my job, sir. Making sure you’re alive so we can both continue to be exploited includes making sure you’re not depriving yourself. If these are the circumstances, I’m fine with them.”

“You’re off the clock.”

“I don’t care.”

For a moment longer, Robotnik held eye contact with him before finally letting go and pushing past him into his bedroom, grumbling something sullen under his breath as Stone followed him. He didn’t stop all the way to his bed, taking the side closer to the door and scooting a bit too close to the edge than what Stone would have found comfortable. “We’re not touching, and if I don’t sleep, consider it a win that you got me to lay down.”

“Of course, Doc.” Stone’s shoulders sagged when he sat down, letting out a sigh of relief. His eyes stayed on Robotnik, watching him stiffly crawl underneath the covers and make certain that his back was turned towards Stone. Stone mimicked him, taking up a bit more of his side than Robotnik was of his and turning off the lamp. With a soft click on Robotnik’s end, the overhead lights turned off, plunging them into almost pitch darkness. He could just barely hear the sound of him sliding his gloves off, neatly setting them on the table beside him. “Goodnight.”

“‘Night,” Robotnik mumbled, shifting audibly behind him. Stone may have been exhausted, but something in the very back of his head told him to fight it for just a minute longer, to hold out, and his patience was rewarded when, hardly two minutes later, he heard an annoyed huff and the sound of Robotnik rolling over onto his other side. “How do you sleep with someone so close to you?”

“I’ve slept closer, sir, seriously,” he replied sleepily, suppressing a yawn and trying to focus on the minute little sounds the blankets made as they moved. It was something to focus on when Robotnik was silent. “I can get on the floor if you’d like.”

“Shut up. We made a deal. Seriously, though, I don’t think I’ve slept in the same bed as anyone, let alone someone I’m acquainted with, since-” Robotnik paused. He knew exactly when it was, Stone was sure of it, but there was hesitance to say it. “I don’t think I’ve done this since the orphanage.”

“If you tell me about it, I’m going to feel bad, because I think you’re a little drunk and you’ll regret it in the morning.”

“It’s already morning, Stone, I regret it now.” He sighed, clearly a bit agitated. “It wasn’t anything special. I was raised in an underfunded, overcrowded orphanage and I had to play nice. I had to share, and there was always someone looking over my shoulder. At least I’ve managed to train the stupid accent out.”

“Russian?” Ivo. Ivo Robotnik. That sounded Russian, right?

A moment’s hesitation. “My grandfather was. I was raised in New Jersey.” Stone felt a soft wheeze and a chuckle escape him, and Robotnik tensed up. “Not by choice!”

“Oh my god, you with a Jersey accent is the funniest thing in the world to me,” he replied, calming himself a moment later. “Still, I’m sorry. If you want me to go, I’ll go. I bet it can be annoying to have to work with someone who’s hovering over you all the time and taking up your space. Just one more human to dislike, yeah?”

Robotnik paused again. It was slightly different this time, more like a bated breath rather than something odd. No, this one was one he was considering going back on, one that he really had to think about. “Stone, look at me.”

Stone rolled over, finding himself face to face with Robotnik when he did. He looked… well, he looked vulnerable. His gloves were off for only the second time Stone had seen, and he looked smaller without the jacket on, bonier, more lithe. Hell, he wasn’t even holding Stone’s eye. “Doctor?”

“Months ago,” he began, not acknowledging that Stone had said anything at all, “you mentioned something or other about my lab being self sufficient. I think it had something to do with coffee, maybe, but right after, I told you I didn’t need you. You didn’t look all that hurt, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I said it.”

“I’m not sure I’m following.”

“I’m saying I regretted it, Stone,” he snapped, much less bite than usual as he met his eye, “from the moment I said it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I need you, but I certainly loathe you less than the masses. Trust me, if I minded you hovering and I minded you taking up space, you wouldn’t be here. Hell, with how persistent you’ve been, I’d have probably killed you just to make sure you stay away.”

“Oh.”

“Oh,” he mocked. “That’s all you can say, ‘oh’.”

“I’m just- sir, do you want something from me? I’m more than willing to provide.”

He went to get more irritated, to snap again, but he stiffened once more, sighed, and sunk into the bed, fingers fiddling with the edge of the sheets. “It’s different when it’s you. I have spent years alone, and I loved every second of it, but I’ve found that I can’t entirely hate it when it’s you. It’s infuriating, but I can’t stand-“ he took a breath, “stay. Stay for a while, Stone. That’s an order.”

Stone had seen the Doctor hurt before. He had seen him nervous, frustrated, upset in one capacity or another, but he had never seen him scared. He could recognize fear, even on his stoic boss’s face; he carried it differently than others. It was the usual tension in his jaw mixed with an uncharacteristic softness in his eyes, a slight redness to his face that he could barely make out in the darkness. It was the way his hands stilled, then started back up, then stopped all over again. It was the way that he looked at Stone like it was the last time he would ever do so. “You’re afraid of me leaving.” 

“That sounds like more of an accusation than a question.”

“Do you mind if I talk for a minute? I promise it’s relevant.” Robotnik nodded, and Stone went on. “Alright, so when I was younger, my parents were… tough. They were tough. They didn’t really believe in the phrase ‘unconditional love’, or unconditional anything, really. I love them, of course, but I always had to be something and someone all at once. Boy Scouts, ROTC, honor roll, speech and debate, cross country… if something existed, I had to be in it and I had to be the best. I appreciate it, of course, it’s what landed me here and paid for a good amount of my first few years in college, and the military handled the rest of it. I didn’t even want to be in the military, I think I just needed someone to tell me what to do, even if I didn’t really like it.”

“Mhm,” Robotnik hummed. He was half asleep already, eyes lidded and mouth slightly parted while he listened. Stone knew he’d remember it anyway, and he knew he was still in his right mind, which made the second he reached forward and carefully intertwined their fingers even more shocking. Stone tried not to let on just how electrified his nerves became whenever he touched him, with minimal contact as it was. Really, it was companionable, but it felt so much more intimate than that. He must have fumbled on his words too long, because Robotnik was the one spurring him on a moment later. “Continue.”

Stone took a second to breathe before going on. “I don’t mind it here. It’s different here, you know? When you’re telling me what to do, it’s different. I’m so used to it by now that it’s effortless, and I know you’re competent. More than competent. I know I’ll be in good hands with you. I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t really matter if you need me. I need you, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“…I grant you permission to touch me.” He wasn’t holding eye contact with him anymore. He broke it about midway through Stone’s little spiel. Stone squeezed his hand gently. 

“Aren’t we already? I don’t want to make you uncomf-“

“Stone, please,” he interjected. He’d never heard that word leave Robotnik’s lips before, and he certainly didn’t expect to hear it in this context. When Robotnik spoke again, his voice was softer, a bit more desperate. “Don’t make me ask for it.”  

He didn’t. Stone pulled him close to his chest immediately, bridging the gap between them as he wrapped his arms around him. Robotnik was tense for maybe a few moments before he adjusted, sinking into Stone’s grasp before draping his arms over his shoulders. It felt natural, almost like they belonged there, like they fit together in such a molecular way that nothing else could ever dream of achieving in that way that the Doctor did now. Right here, right now, this was what was correct. Nothing else was worth more than this moment. “I promise that they’d have to kill me before they reassign me.”

“They’d try to stick your poor corpse with someone,” Robotnik snorted, trying to recompose himself to his norm now that he was settled against another man. That much was obvious; he could feel the way his arms trembled, if only for a second. Gently, Stone trailed his fingers over the back of his neck, watching him relax just that little bit further. “I never did ask you how you ended up here.”

“Well, they’re certainly not giving me enough money to retire. I think they want to get rid of me- that’s probably what this is, honestly, and so they told me I could either go back to active duty or I could come be your bodyguard and assistant. You’re really made a reputation for yourself, the horror stories were almost enough to make me stay away.”

“But you didn’t.” 

“I’m glad I didn’t.” He slid his hand down Robotnik’s back. God, he could feel every inch of muscle under his skin, and yet he could only imagine what was underneath. Granted, he could imagine it well, but Robotnik didn’t need to know that. “Glad you didn’t kill or fire me, either.”

“You’re a sap, Stone.” He sighed softly, shutting his eyes. “Understand that this will be a one-time occurrence. We can’t do this again. It’s unprofessional.”

“We don’t have to do it right now, either. I could still take the floor.”

“Pull away right now and you’ll wish I killed or fired you.” 

Stone spared him a soft laugh, squeezing him gently. “Fine. I already told you I’m not leaving.”

“You’re damn right you aren’t.” There it was, that practiced confidence after a brief lapse of strength. “You’re the one that was so insistent that I slept.”

“I know I was. I’ll leave you to it.” He tapped his fingers against the Doctor’s back once before letting his hand fall to rest there. “Goodnight, Doc.”

“You as well, Stone.” A pause. His voice lowered again. “Your services are indispensable to me.”

Well, that was as genuine as a compliment as he would ever get out of Robotnik, and Stone was glad that his eyes were closed when he said it. That way, he couldn’t see the shade of red Stone’s face turned, nor the stupid little grin that he couldn’t manage to suppress in time. “And you’re the only one I offer them to.” 

The room fell quiet. Stone’s eyes shut slowly, hand still working lazily across Robotnik’s back as he drifted off. He couldn’t help but notice just how quickly the Doctor’s breathing slowed, just how fast he fell asleep in Stone’s arms. In one capacity or another, he felt safe there, comfortable enough to let himself be touched and held and watched over. Stone supposed he felt the same; Robotnik was certainly dangerous to the wrong people, and anyone could get on his bad side in the blink of an eye. That didn’t occur to him until the next morning when he was getting dressed and ready for the day beside Robotnik, facing the usual meaningless glares and sharp tongue. No, the last thing that crossed Stone’s mind before he slipped off into sweet, sweet unconsciousness in the darkness of the Doctor’s room was just how much he could get used to this. 

 

----

 

It didn’t end up being a one-time occurrence. No, they could have left that night there, huddled up in the warmth of Robotnik’s bed, peaceful and silent, and it could have stayed in that perfect little bubble of infinity until the end of time. Still, Stone liked the outcome better. Never again turned into once-in-awhile, once-in-awhile turned into once a month, then twice a month, then once a week, then ‘damnit, I know when you were there last, just get your ass upstairs, and make it quick’, all the way to ‘Doc, you’re out of milk again’ and ‘I know, Stone, just come back to bed before I get cold and someone will handle it tomorrow.’ It went from tense conversation in the dead of the night to Stone managing to coax Robotnik up the stairs a bit earlier than his normal workday with the promise of Stone’s hands rubbing all of the tension out of his back and neck, the Doctor sitting perfectly poised each and every time he did so and trying desperately not to look sleepy, and all of that followed by falling right into each other’s arms with a muttered goodnight and the click of the lights going off. 

Stone found himself in Robotnik’s bed for either every reason in the world or none at all. He didn’t remember passing out in it after he and the Doctor had gotten a bit too tipsy in the lab, Robotnik nursing a hangover right next to him and refusing to let Stone get out of bed until his head stopped pounding. He did remember getting back from an obnoxiously long trip that he knew had been even more difficult on Robotnik than him, the two of them apart for the first time in recent history and working their asses off, only for Robotnik to grab him by the sleeve the second he went to leave and to barely mumble a plea for him to stay the night under his breath. They had been together on Christmas Eve, both of them half-nursing a broken heart over a commercialized holiday as they exchanged one present, one present that neither of them knew they would be getting from the other, and ended up falling asleep on the couch with Christmas movies playing in the background. The night he recalled the best was one of the ones for no reason at all; he had asked for that one. It wasn’t any later than he normally would have left the lab. In fact, he was getting out a bit earlier than normal, the day having been productive enough that Robotnik seemed happy to get rid of him. Stone made it a few feet out the door before wheeling right back around, taking his spot at the Doctor’s side, and silently sliding his keys over to him. Robotnik got the hint immediately, tucking them in the pocket of his coat. “Go upstairs, Stone,” he had said. “I’ll be up for you soon.”

It was a cold March day, the coldest in all of spring, when Stone woke up with his fingers in Robotnik’s ever-neat hair and their limbs tangled together in a mess of themselves and the blankets. The sleet could pound on the window all it wanted, a grey haze hanging over the room, but here, now, it was warm. Right now, he could feel the Doctor’s breath on his neck, not yelling at him, just slow and measured as he slept, one of Stone’s hands trailing down and gently running his nails over his back. It was a cold March day, the coldest in all of spring, when Stone realized he was in love with Doctor Robotnik.

It was a cold March day when Stone ignored that thought. The realization felt like a fire blooming in his chest, like everything had clicked into place all at once and exploded immediately, but there was certainly nothing he could do about it right now. It was wildly unprofessional, not to mention a complete insult to Robotnik. He could care from afar, or maybe up close if their little song and dance kept up. For now, he could reach over and mute Robotnik’s phone when Commander Walters called, pulling him closer to his chest when he grumbled something sleepily under his breath. For now, he could lull Robotnik back to sleep in his arms until the day had to go on, until the deadlines had to be met. It was a cold March day, but inside couldn’t be more cozy. 

 

----

 

Stone was no stranger to being sent into hellish situations. With his talents and his rank, he had seen plenty over the years, and spending time with the Doctor felt like a vacation by comparison. More than once, he had to kill someone on his behalf, but that was nothing new. Plenty of people wanted Robotnik dead, and Stone wanted him alive; that was simply the norm of working for him. He sorted it out easy enough. Their assignments usually went without flaw, and both of them lived to see another day after each one.

Then there was today.

It was pouring down rain in the woods that the brass had sent them to. It was supposed to be an easy job today; there was a bit of chaos on the cliff sides of the Appilacians, and they wanted reports on how well a few of Robotnik’s robots worked anyway. Now, several catches came with this: 

One. ‘A bit of chaos’, when being assigned to Robotnik and Stone, was like being sent on a suicide mission. In this particular case, the chaos in question was a set of tech-minded, violent people who had already killed a few solo agents and police officers. They were armed with technology that by no means rivaled Robotnik’s, but was dangerous nonetheless. Anyone else would have died without question. 

Two. Robotnik did not like the idea of being sent out to test his creations. He would do it on his own, sure, but the second someone else asked him to, it was a major offense. He was the only one allowed to doubt how well his machines worked, and to be told that he wasn’t trusted (which was reasonable) deeply wounded him. Robotnik did not take well to being wounded, and when he was, he had a tendency to lash out. He was already pissed off and rash by the time they stepped out of the mobile lab, the new badnik models floating behind him. Stone couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him due to the dense foliage and rain, and the Doctor didn’t seem happy to be getting wet; the badniks, however, were waterproof. Nothing would get damaged on the way there. Robotnik fully expected to walk into the criminals’ compound, badniks and Stone handling all the dirty work for him while he sauntered along and made witty remarks, and be out before dinner. 

Three. They knew that Robotnik and Stone were coming.

That last one was a slip of information on one of the late agent’s parts. He was the last one to be sent into the compound, fully aware that if he failed, Robotnik and Stone would be the next resort. They’d be able to handle it quickly and quietly, and he knew the exact date they’d be sent out. The person running the compound told him that he’d live if he handed over this information; he lied. Since the agent never made it back, no soul on earth other than those who had been present in the compound on that day knew that Robotnik and Stone were being anticipated. There was no way that Robotnik could have known that his machines were already expected, nor that the EMP field set up around the space of the woods would render his badniks useless when it really mattered. In the same right, Stone had no way of knowing about the tranq dart with the roar of the rain above them, the one that was soaking his suit and completely dragging him down, until it hit him clean in the neck. He did know, however, that the Doctor was going to be pissed when they both woke up.

They did, eventually. Stone assumed as much; he had no idea how much time had passed since they both went down with his watch and phone gone, nor did he know where Robotnik was, but they wouldn’t have killed him. From what Stone had read, he seemed too valuable to them. Stone, on the other hand, was most certainly a bargaining chip. He was either going to be used against Robotnik (ha) or the government (double ha), but for now he was locked in a small room with no gun or tech to speak of. As far as he knew, he was off-site by now, and Robotnik was thousands of miles away at some secondary location. 

Stone didn’t have time to think of the ramifications of his current situation before the door behind him blew up. Hell, he was hardly out of his daze, still aching from the slab of metal he was laid across, jerking to sit up whenever the door blew clean off its hinges. It took a second for his eyes to come into focus, the dark shadow standing in the doorway eventually taking on features and gaining a voice when the ringing in Stone’s ears died down. “-up, Stone, god damn you, can’t you be any quicker on your feet? Step to it, we have somewhere to be and something to prove.”

“Doctor?” He squinted at the figure in question, the form eventually shifting into Robotnik. His right cheek was bruised, but not badly, and his chest was heaving as he glanced back behind him. Hair out of place, mustache no longer perfectly curled, he looked more frantic than Stone had ever seen him, energy positively electric and shooting through every limb and organ. 

“No, it’s the fucking Easter Bunny. Get up, and I need you to trust me with your life for a few minutes. Just listen, okay?” Stone would have trusted the Doctor with his life any day of the week, but Robotnik had certainly never outright asked him to. Nerves steeled, he tried to ignore the pit in his stomach as Robotnik opened his mouth to speak again, only to be interrupted by the lights all dropping to red and a siren blaring from somewhere down the hall. Robotnik’s head snapped to the left, and in an instant, he tossed Stone his gun. He caught it, hardly fumbling, and was on his feet quick enough to follow Robotnik’s order. “Go!”

Stone was out the door in an instant, clouded head be damned. After so many years of training and work, his body knew exactly where to go, his fingers trained precisely so they could move with precision and ease. He was, without a doubt, faster than Robotnik, but stayed behind him anyway, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder as he watched what seemed like miles worth of linoleum disappear behind them, systems firing at targets they would never end up hitting. Stupid machines. Stunning and relieving alike, not a soul chased them. For people who had shot them earlier, they certainly seemed to know better when it came down to it.

He hardly saw the armed man whip around the corner when he was there with the way the lights were flashing. One minute their path was empty; the next, there was someone there, and Robotnik was freezing like a deer in headlights. He certainly wasn’t useless without his tech, but it’s what he was more accustomed to. In his panic, he was likely trying to activate some weapon that was already in the compound’s scrap metal pile. Had it just been him, he would have died there. Stone did have to commend their attacker; he was quick on the draw, obviously someone who had trained with his gun for a while. So had Stone. Stone was quicker.

To his shock, they found the exit with relative ease. That’s where Robotnik came in handy; while Stone had the military know-how in a dire situation, it would have taken him quite a bit longer to get out of the absolute maze that was the compound. For all Stone knew, Robotnik had mapped it days or weeks before the mission, or maybe moments before he found Stone. The second he was outside the door, Stone went to stop, only for Robotnik to continue straight on forward, not stalling for a moment or heading for the mobile lab. Well, it wasn’t a verbal command, but it was as good as any other. Trusting his feet and trusting his Doctor, Stone continued right on, deeper into the woods, further away from the compound.

He could have sworn he heard Robotnik mutter something along the lines of ‘three, two, one’ once Stone finally got close again, and Stone almost smacked straight into him as he came to an abrupt halt and clapped both hands over his ears. Stone didn’t get a chance to ask what he was doing before an earth-shattering boom sounded from behind them, heat surging through the air and sending the leaves rustling. In an instant, the world behind them lit up, Stone’s ears ringing once again as he turned to see, way off in the distance now, the entire compound in flames, falling apart onto itself. The rain was already trying to extinguish it, smoke billowing up into the air.  Behind him sat a dead compound; not a soul would have been able to survive that blast. In front of him was a clearing; the trees fell aside to make  way for flat, clear ground and a cliff that, while not deadly, certainly wouldn’t have been a fun tumble if they needed to go any further. In front of him was Robotnik. Above him, it rained. 

Still, it was far enough from the blast site for Robotnik to march right over to the edge of the cliff and sit down, already pressing buttons on his gloves with a reckless fervor. Stone followed out of sheer habit, still too shell shocked to think for himself until he sat down, a wheeze escaping his chest. “We could have died.”

“We could have. You run the risk of that when your employers don’t respect you,” Robotnik replied bitterly, staring off blankly into the open air. “We didn’t. They did. We win, they lose.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve had to shoot someone. Holy shit, you blew up a building.”

“You’re on the clock, Stone, mind your professionalism.” Stone knew he was teasing, trying anything to lighten the mood in his own dry, stoic way. It wasn’t working. It had been a while since Stone had almost died, too.

“You blew up a building that we were inside.”

Robotnik snorted. “They were begging me to. What kind of idiot places their self-destruct button where anyone walking by can see and hit it? You’re fine.”

“Doctor, I-” Stone swallowed. It didn’t do any good. There was still a feeling boiling up in his chest. He could feel it burning at his heart, threatening to singe his lungs and surge up through his esophagus when he turned to look at him. “Are you? Your face is bruised.”

“It’ll heal. I’m more pissed about my babies, honestly. What a waste for something that they could have just done themselves.” His hands finally stilled, falling perfectly stagnant in his lap as he turned to Stone and met his eye with that smug, stupid, self important grin. “I think I’m just as shocked as you are about all of this, but we’re alive. Wipe that look off your face.”

“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on? What if I ran off and got myself killed in there?”

“You wouldn’t have.” The smile immediately fell right off his face. “I wouldn’t have let you. Besides, I told you to listen to me, and I knew you wouldn’t disobey.”

“You couldn’t know that for certain.” Closer, closer, closer still. That feeling was grazing the back of his throat. He could practically taste it. 

“Of course I did. I’m never wrong, Stone.” For a moment, he turned away from Stone to continue speaking, gesturing wildly with his hands in the way he did when he was hopped up on caffeine and exhaustion. He was just as wired as Stone was, even if his nervous energy was manifesting itself in a bit of a different way. “I mean, how long have we known one another? From day one, I say jump and you say-”

“Kiss me,” Stone interrupted. For once, he wasn’t admonished for speaking over him, nor for breaking his focus. That feeling had spilled over the threshold of his lips, and with the stiffness Robotnik had suddenly gained in his shoulders, he wasn’t the only one shocked to hear him say it.

The Doctor slowly turned his head to look at him again, two wide pairs of eyes meeting one another and locking there as he hissed through his teeth. “What.”

“Now is as good a time as ever. I’ve got an adrenaline rush, we almost just died, and you have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to-”

Stone didn’t get a chance to finish. It was Robotnik’s turn to interrupt him this time; as the words spilled from Stone’s lips with reckless abandon, razing any sense of professionalism this mission may have still been clinging onto, Robotnik planted his hands on either side of Stone’s face and locked their lips together immediately. The ‘what’, as Stone would later find, some other time when his hands weren’t sliding up to rest over Robotnik’s while he kissed him with every ounce of energy he had left in his body, was rhetorical. Robotnik knew what he meant. He knew what he wanted. He certainly knew why now was a good time. 

That’s how they found themselves for several long minutes, minutes in which nothing else on the face of the planet earth mattered. Neither of them took the time to mind the fact that they were soaking wet, the rain still coming down in a torrent, nor the building burning behind them. The danger had passed as far as either of them could tell, and this was happening far too late for either of them to take it anymore. At least the feeling had dissipated; it had settled to a heat that buried itself in Stone’s entire torso, slowly replacing it piece by piece until he was nothing but a feeling trapped within the shell or a mortal man. He was no longer there until Robotnik pulled away, pressing their foreheads together, lips close enough that Stone could bridge the gap again in a millisecond. As soon as he caught his breath, he told himself. “We’re talking about this on the ride home.”

“Yes, sir,” he breathed, loud enough so that only Robotnik may hear. There was no one else there to hear; as far as Stone was concerned, they had transcended the view of the gods minutes ago.

“You’re sleeping on the couch tonight.” 

“No, sir, I’m not.” The air surged right back into Stone’s lungs, as quickly as it had left. Stone had caught his breath, and for the second time of the day, the second of hundreds more to come, he was finally kissing Robotnik.

 

----

 

Doctor Robotnik did not like the word ‘boyfriend.’ In all honesty, Stone didn’t like it either; as a younger man, a hungry academic turned soldier, he was sure the title would one day be his favorite to assign another man. Robotnik was not that man; it felt too light on Stone’s tongue, ditzy, airy. It lacked the formality and bite that their relationship had held for years, reducing it to nothing but hand holding and awkward ‘I like you's shared by a couple of middle schoolers. Besides, they were so damn domestic right out the gate that they hardly skipped the ‘boyfriend’ phase and skipped straight to ‘husband.’ 

Neither of them were ready for that kind of commitment, not with something to kickstart it. They had settled on ‘partners’ for now. When Stone had first suggested it, Robotnik had ended up complaining about it. “What good does having a label do? It’s not like I’m going home to meet your parents or something, I’m not asking them to give their son away to me. You belong to me anyway,” he had said. 

“It’s neutral,” Stone had explained in response. “I could be your partner around the lab when you introduce me if you’d like, and it could be our little secret that we’re dating. If you want that. I don’t know. There’s problems, obviously, but it’s not gendered, not specific as to what we are, and it’s something we can be to one another rather than just boss and employee.”

“And what about the cons?”

Stone cracked a grin. “Partners would imply that we see each other as equals.”

Oh, how Stone would live to regret those words. While Robotnik was (hesitantly) cuddly and affectionate as soon as they were out of the confines of the lab, as soon as the lights shut off, as soon as Stone was clocked out for the day, that did not extend to during work hours. Sure, Stone would occasionally get light touches on his hips as Robotnik passed or kisses pressed to his knuckles after he handed over his coffee, but he still had a job he had to do. His partner was still high maintenance, dating or not, and Stone would have it no other way. No, what happened from that day forward was Stone became a more significant part of the conversation. Robotnik expected him to be a bit more knowledgeable, enough to stand in whenever he simply didn’t feel like being the genius he was for the day, and he started consulting Stone on his work. It wasn’t entirely out of spite; the immediate, unforgiving switch was, but including him wasn’t. Stone didn’t mind; he liked being a ‘we’ with Robotnik, a part of the ‘our’, and by now he was stunned they didn’t have matching ‘his and his’ doomsday devices. The problem was the sheer amount of studying he had to do to keep up, and even then, he still screwed it up from time to time. At least Robotnik found it endearing now. 

Regardless, they found themselves on equal footing as time went on. Robotnik had always respected Stone to some degree, and there were certain parts of him that couldn’t simply be smoothed out by a new title and some kisses. It took Stone some time to properly understand the softness that actually sat underneath that hard, metallic exterior, the care and gentleness with which to treat him. The Doctor himself hadn’t been in a committed relationship in years, much less with a man nearly twelve years younger than him, and that was certainly a learning curve for them. Their courtship in the beginning was careful, treading on broken glass until they found precisely the dynamic that worked for them. 

One of the snags they hit along the way was the topic of sex. At the risk of accidentally inflating Robotnik’s ego even further, Stone had offhandedly mentioned one day that he found him wildly arousing. He had never really thought about it before he realized he was in love with him or anything, but he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t crossed his mind after late nights in the lab when he was finally alone in his room again. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t watch the way Robotnik danced and wished he could have joined him, if only to feel his body against his for only a fleeting moment. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t think about the way that every inch of that stunning body would feel underneath his hands.

In response, Robotnik, red in the face, had informed him that this would not be the conversation that they had at 2pm on a Wednesday, then promptly told him to fuck off. Stone turned right on his heels and left to get an apology coffee.

It was, however, a conversation for dinner that night, sitting up in Robotnik’s apartment above the lab, while Stone had a mouthful of food. With the way that Stone choked when Robotnik said “I’d love for you to fuck me” with such a full-bodied conviction, Stone would have guessed that he planned for it. The Doctor explained that the feeling was mutual, and he thought about Stone more than he ever anticipated to admit. Hell, for him to think about someone other than himself was a feat all on its own. There was a hesitance, though. Stone could see that much on his face, and with a bit more prodding, he managed to get him to admit it. It wasn’t anything against Stone; he simply wasn’t ready. He was out of practice, he was nervous, and this, that, and the other. Stone didn’t bother memorizing every reason he spouted off or displayed in his body language, just took his hand and listened to every word until he felt as though he had justified himself enough. He was enough. Stone didn’t mind; for as long as the Doctor pleased, they’d stick to kissing and cuddling whenever he felt like it, dinner dates and staying up late with each other, basking in one another’s presence. He was here for him, not his body. Robotnik could let Stone know when he was ready, and they left it at that. 

Then Paris happened.

Stone had never really forgotten about that dreamy little spiel Robotnik gave about the city whenever he was bandaging his hand. Stone had never been, but when he said he’d be contractually obligated to go with him in the event of an assignment there (in this case, a massive convention), he was correct. It didn’t go the way he initially anticipated it, though; he had been expecting cold indifference and annoyance the entire time they set up, a note tossed on his desk that he would be forced to spend the entire weekend with Robotnik, but instead he got Robotnik helping him pick out his outfits and to hear that gorgeous, stupid laugh whenever he pulled out a novelty tie from Stone’s closet. Stone couldn’t even be offended.

The convention went about as well as expected. They flew there in record time with Robotnik’s tech, idly going over talking points for the day and making sure that everything had been booked properly. The government had handled most of it, hotel and all, but that didn’t mean things didn’t hang in the air for Stone to grab. Stone got dragged around a crowded, stuffy convention hall all day and watched Robotnik stuff snacks into the pockets of his coat, goading him into eating every single time they walked past (in all fairness, it was fantastic food). The traffic was terrible, but from what he saw, the city itself was beautiful. The bureaucrats were awful, but watching the way that Robotnik lit up whenever he got to unveil something new or show one up made Stone feel like he was falling in love with him all over again. His favorite moment was probably being out on the balcony between presentations, Robotnik taking the moment of silence to relax, and Stone got the pleasure of watching him be silhouetted by the setting sun in a brand new city. He had to ask him if they could go sightseeing before they flew back tomorrow; if this was going to be the view he got every time, he needed to have a camera next time. 

Everything ended much later than either of them would have liked, both of them getting to their hotel, jet-lag and all, at nearly 10 that evening. Keys were retrieved (Stone), luggage was collected (also Stone), and snide comments about the staff were made under someone’s breath (Robotnik) as they made their way to the elevator. Once they were inside, Stone standing stock-still as Robotnik slumped against the wall, the Doctor spoke. “You used your bodyguard voice on that bellhop.”

“My what?” Stone raised an eyebrow, glancing back over his shoulder at him. 

Robotnik smirked. “Your bodyguard voice. You have the voice you use with me at the lab, the voice you use with me at home, and then the voice you use when addressing anyone near me. Dopey, sweet, and intimidating, respectively. It’s astounding to see you switch from utter ditz to the most capable man on earth in an instant.”

“Oh, don’t act like you don’t do the same thing,” he replied, cracking a slight grin. “Besides, maybe he was a threat. I still have to do my job and keep you safe.”

“He’s not. I ran a background check on the entire staff before we got here. Their files are stunningly easy to get into, I left some ‘fuck you’s in the code while I was at it.” When the elevator doors slid open, he bumped Stone’s shoulder with his own as he slid past him. Stone was on his heels in an instant, suitcases in hand. 

“If you don’t tell me these things, I have no way of knowing them.”

“You’re a smart man, Agent.” They made it to the door, and before Stone could even get the keys out, Robotnik was opening the door with his glove and stepping inside. By all means, it shouldn’t have worked. It did anyway. “You could have figured it out yourself. You have all the tools.”

“That’s two compliments in one night, Doc, you’re gonna make me blush.” Robotnik didn’t reply as Stone followed  him into the room, and within an instant, a pit dropped out of Stone’s stomach, and he could see why. Their hotel room on the key card had been described as ‘suite lune de miel’, something that made no sense to Stone when he first read it. Looking at the dim, red lighting, the curtained canopy bed, and the rose petals carefully trailed from their feet to the head of the bed forced it to finally click. The wine, the overstuffed couch, the gorgeous balcony overlooking the city skyline, the candles that lit up various parts of the room: it had to be a honeymoon suite. “Holy shit.”

Robotnik hummed lazily, glancing up at him. Stone hardly noticed that he moved at all, too mortified to move from his spot. “Stone?”

“Right.” Stone gathered himself immediately, turning in a complete 180 before going to walk straight out of the room. A million thoughts raced through his head all at once, starting with just who’s ass he’d have to kick to remedy this. “I’m going to go get this fixed, or you’re welcome to keep this room. Whoever planned this out has crossed a serious boundary, this is wildly inappropriate-”

“Stone.”

“No, this isn’t alright, even if I have heard some people speculating on the nature of our relationship. I’m not going to let them push you around like this, not you, I just-”

“Agent Stone!” Robotnik snapped, and Stone’s head whipped around to look at him. Silently, the Doctor shut the door behind them, shutting them in the room together. The red highlighted the Robotniks’s face so well, and Stone would have been melting if it weren’t for the sheer panic he felt in this moment. The way Robotnik was frowning at him wasn’t helping, either. “…You’re very aware of my habits by now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Including the habit I have of forgetting to tell you things whenever they’re stressing me out.”

“I believe I was the one that pointed that out to you, actually.” Robotnik said absolutely nothing, sighing heavily and vaguely gesturing to the room around them. It took just a moment to click before Stone was letting go of their suitcases, hands hovering awkwardly in the air. “You did this?”

“Behind the brass’ back, of course. We can’t have them talking.” Robotnik grabbed his suitcase, getting down on his knees and immediately going to sift through it, breaking eye contact with Stone. “It would have worked better if you knew as well, I suppose. Scheduling bullshit and all.”

“I thought you said you weren’t one for a Parisian romance.” Stone paused, taking another quick glance around the room. “This, uh…”

“I know, Stone.” Robotnik picked up after he trailed off. “I’m not. I felt as though this would be the experience you would want. Shut up and let me cater. Besides, maybe I want a nicer first time than the last one I had.”

Stone felt the tips of his ears burn more vibrantly than the lights. “First time?”

“Do I need to spell it out for you?” he asked tersely before taking a breath, his body going a bit more slack before he looked up at Stone. Something was held loosely in his grip, but Stone couldn’t be bothered to check what it was, his gaze locked on Robotnik’s. “I want you to take me, Stone. Just say the word.”

“Yes,” Stone muttered breathlessly. He was hardly able to get the word out before his hips were being insistently pressed against the door, Robotnik shoving the suitcase aside carelessly, tossing his shirt aside, and remaining on his knees directly in front of Stone. Stone could feel his heart pounding in his chest already, his head reeling and trying to gather all of his thoughts into one coherent stream. That was all far out the window when his eyes met Robotnik’s once more and the zipper of his pants was suddenly in his teeth, being pulled right down before taking his slacks down with them. 

“You do have to understand,” he said, voice low and commanding despite being in the single most submissive position Stone had ever seen him in, “I’m out of practice. This may not be up to whatever horny little daydream you’ve made up in there.”

“Doc, you could give me the most half-assed, over the pants handjob right now and call me pretty and I’d probably cum in thirty seconds flat,” Stone replied bluntly, utterly fascinated with the picture beneath him already. He watched Robotnik’s face flush for a moment before he muttered something indignant under his breath, taking a quick second to mouth Stone's bulge through his underwear, seeming to take a bit of pride in the way Stone’s breath hitched.

“Then let me take care of you for a little while.”

Stone didn’t have to be told twice, hands sliding uselessly along the solid wood of the door as Robotnik’s mouth was on him again. Not an inch of his thighs or hips were left untouched, his boxers sliding off hardly a minute in. He could already feel the little bite marks and bruises forming on his legs and hip bones as his cock hardened; god, those teeth were wicked. At least Robotnik didn’t waste any time teasing him through his clothes, going straight to teasing him when they were already off with feather-light touches and a careful method of dodging around where his dick was. That asshole.

Any insults completely vanished from his mind the second a set of slicked-up fingers brushed against him, forcing him to stiffen up against the door and slap a hand over his mouth. Robotnik paused, hand stalling right where it was. “Oh? Someone’s realizing he needs to be quiet, hm?”

“I wish you blew me up.” The comment came out a bit shakier than it normally would have, parroting a joke that Stone had made once when he was irritated with the Doctor. It had carried on for months, and Robotnik always got indignant about it, but he was smirking now, breath barely ghosting Stone’s pelvis.

“I think what you meant to say is ‘I wish you would blow me.’” Oh, he was going to be getting back at him for this later. He felt the fingers on his free hand slide off the door and into Robotnik’s hair, running through it lightly as the Doctor’s wrist moved at an equal pace. It had been so long, and he had been daydreaming about the way that Robotnik would look down on his knees in front of him for months. Perfect hair screwed up, eyes glazed over, lips wrapping tenderly around his cock- he didn’t even realize that last part was happening until he snapped back to reality, having to bite the inside of his cheek to stifle a moan. God, he was just so pretty. 

He had to know it, too. He knew the Doctor had no issues with confidence, and with the way he was acting, tha much was obvious. For someone who had waited this long for this moment, he was incredibly certain with his actions. One of his hands landed on Stone’s hip, squeezing lightly as he made use of that stupid, smug tongue of his. Goddamn him. Stone wanted to show him the nicest time in the world, to make this the night of his life, but the pure frustration that was boiling in his stomach right now was making it so incredibly difficult. He wasn’t ready to be done, no; he could handle a bit of cat-and-mouse. However, he certainly wasn’t thinking with the right head right now. He wanted to show Robotnik a nice time; he also wanted to shove his cock down his throat and make him gag, wipe all that confidence right off until he was absolutely drooling and begging for more, so brainless that he’d be out of his head for just a little while. 

Maybe he’d be able to think a little less primally if Robotnik would just move. His pace was infuriatingly slow, like he was hardly moving at all, and the eye contact he was making with Stone was driving him up the wall. He knew. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly what sort of rise he was getting out of Stone when the fingers in his hair tangled there, tugging on it in a way that had Robotnik moaning around him. “I can keep pulling if you’d like,” Stone mumbled, teeth half-gritted, praying there was no one out in the hall. Maybe he wanted there to be. Maybe he wanted people to know just how he had gotten the Doctor to himself. “Face-fuck you. Direct you. Show you exactly what’s going to work.”

Stone could have screamed when Robotnik pulled off of him, having got almost all the way down right before. “You act like I don’t know exactly how to get under your skin. I’ve got you around my finger, Stone, I don’t need you to show me what’s good when you’re just so obvious.” He punctuated his sentence with a grade of his fingers across Stone’s hips and his tongue laving obscenely over the head of his cock. “I’ll let you. It’d be a good day to humor you. Allow you to ‘put me in my place’ for once instead of taking advantage of the total control I have over you.”

“You’re just as much mine as I am yours.” 

“And yet I’m not the one standing here and begging to be sucked off.” Stone heard the faint click of something opening, Robotnik’s hand falling off his hip for just a moment. “If I belong to you, then take what’s yours. I’m waiting.” 

Stone didn’t have to be told twice. Robotnik occupied his mouth again a moment later, and Stone’s other hand came up to rest on the back of his head, gently rubbing over its expanse for a moment. With the way the Doctor relaxed under his touch, one would have guessed he didn’t expect it when Stone yanked his head down, slamming home against the back of his throat and wrenching a soft gag out of him. His eyes shot wide open; he had been the one to invite, but maybe he hadn’t been anticipating him to follow through. Rarely did the Doctor look shocked in any capacity, but that just made the moment he managed to relax and take it all the more sweet. Perfectly limp, putty in his hands, mouth warm and wet all for him. Him and him alone. No one else, not now, not ever. 

Stone was finding it damn near impossible to stay quiet with the way he looked down there. What’s more, he could hear Robotnik not following his own advice, albeit likely involuntarily. He had expected him to be stoic, collected, maybe even a little embarrassed, but he had only ever heard Robotnik make sounds like this in his wildest dreams. God, he wanted more. He didn’t even have to ask for it; while Stone carried on with Robotnik, making damn good use of his mouth, he glanced away from his gorgeous, sex drunk face and saw that his hand had snaked behind himself, fingering himself open and seeming to be loving every second of it. He was ready to collapse on the spot right there.

Still, it had been a while. Robotnik wasn’t the only one without a lack of recent experience; with work and everything else in Stone’s life, it had been a matter of years since he was last with a man, and it was catching up to him. “Doc,” he murmured tersely, voice strained as he tried his best to stay quiet and composed, “god, your mouth is fucking heavenly. So- so good. I wanna cum down your throat, make you take what I give to you, is that fine?”

Robotnik didn’t reply verbally, his tongue too occupied against the underside of Stone’s cock. He hummed something unintelligible, but he wasn’t pushing him off, and his own motions continued, completely uninhibited. If Stone didn’t know any better, he would have said that the look in his eyes was pleading, just barely tearing up from the sheer rigor of it all. No, Stone didn’t know if he was actually asking him to finish, but he did know that if he was, it worked. Within a moment of their eyes meeting again, Stone shoved Robotnik down to the hilt with a hungry desperation and spilled directly into his mouth, groaning as low and as softly as he possibly could, muttering a curse under his breath.

He came back to his senses after another moment, releasing Robotnik’s head and immediately dropping onto his knees to kneel in front of him. Robotnik had brought a hand up over his mouth once Stone pulled out, his other hand dangling at his side, his gaze on the trail of cum and spit that had dripped down onto his chest before his hand made it there. Stone immediately tensed. “Do you need a trash can? Hold on, I can-”

Instead of answering, Robotnik locked eyes with him once more, then swallowed. Stone felt his dick twitch uselessly underneath him, his eyes going wide. Robotnik held it together for a moment longer, then coughed, his face scrunching up. “Don’t expect that of me every time. Jesus Christ, that’s one hell of an acquired taste.”

It took a second for Stone’s body to relax, a chuckle finding his way out of his throat. “I really didn’t even expect you to do it now. Do you not usually-?”

“No. No, I don’t.” He picked up where Stone left off. 

Stone kissed him on the cheek, his lips lingering there for just a moment before he stood. Robotnik’s hand slipped into his, and without hesitation, Stone eased him up from the ground and pulled him into a bridal-style sort of carry, one that had Robotnik scrabbling to wrap his arms around his neck. “Anything else I should know?”

“The room’s soundproof. I just like watching you squirm.” He pressed a kiss to Stone’s collarbone as an apology, hesitating to let go of Stone once he got him through the curtains and set on the bed. Stone ruffled his hair one last time before grabbing one of the bottles of wine, uncorking it with relative ease and bringing it back to Robotnik. 

“You’re lucky I’ve figured out how to put up with your antics,” he teased, straddling his lap on his knees and holding the bottle high above them. “Now, open up for me. Let’s get that taste out of your mouth.” 

What was nice about Robotnik was when he trusted someone, he would agree without hesitation. Stone’s judgement was no match for his own, but it was trustworthy enough. He’d never hurt him, certainly not in this context, and he submitted so naturally that one would have guessed that he was born for it. In this case, he tilted his head back, his eyes glazing over for just a moment as Stone poured the open bottle right into his mouth. Not a lot, just enough. It was enough to have Stone hard again, at least, and it would be enough to keep the Doctor happy until he could actually brush his teeth. None of the wine spilled from the corners of his lips, as pretty as it would have been to see. From the vision alone, Stone was the one getting drunk here, and he hadn’t even tried the wine yet.

He did when he decided he couldn’t handle it anymore, stopping the flow and pouring some into his mouth before setting it on the bedside table. His hands settled on Robotnik’s shoulders for a moment, kneading them gently, then pushed him down onto the luxurious, ridiculously plush bed, watching the way that the cushion bracketed the Doctor’s amused face. No longer was Stone straddling him; no, in this position, it’d be more like he had him pinned. He felt the faintest glimmer of pride in his heart. He reached down and stroked his face gently, running his fingers gently across the expanse of his cheek. One of Robotnik’s came up to rest over his; it was warm and bare, and Stone could see a months-old scar on it, slowly fading and healing back into the skin. Stone grabbed it without hesitation. “You’re so breathtaking. I can’t think of anything on earth more incredible than you.”

“If we’re going into what’s breathtaking, then I think we should go back to the way you were abusing my throat a little bit ago.” 

Stone snorted, leaning down and pressing a kiss to the corner of his lips, then the other corner, then his jaw, then… well, around all of his face. Every part was worth it, really. “You’re so witty. I don’t know why I expected you not to have such a quick tongue in the bedroom, too.”

“God knows you want me to be all ‘take me, Stone, I’m yours.’ you’re missing the core part of what makes up my personality.” He certainly didn’t seem to mind, shutting whichever eye he needed to when it was appropriate. “You can’t teach the oldest, most stubborn dog new tricks.”

“I don’t want to. I like it when you’re all snarky. It gives you character, and I like you just the way you are.” Stone’s voice gradually lowered as his lips shifted back towards Robotnik’s, brushing his by the time he spoke again. “I don’t care what you’re like. Just let me love you.”

They were kissing a moment later, Robotnik tasting of wine and something headier than that, all consuming and dragging him right into his sphere of influence. There was no stronger field of gravity on the face of earth, and Stone could wholeheartedly say as much with the amount of time they had spent together. Any remaining clothes were off in a matter of minutes, slower than they could have been, matching the pace at which everything else moved. His hand slid out of Robotnik’s, gliding down his body with care and precision, stroking him to full hardness again as the Doctor pressed against his mouth a bit more insistently. Right, maybe it was his turn to treat him now. 

He climbed off of him after a few intoxicating, heavy moments, pulling him onto his lap. He was panting, eyes taking a moment to focus in on Stone as he sat down on his thighs. The moment Stone’s hand trailed up his shoulder and onto his cheek, his face was turning and pressing into his palm, his eyes shutting. “I suppose you want me to take in this situation, don’t you?”

“That’s what I thought you wanted. You prepared yourself, didn’t you?”

He nodded, although there was a bit of hesitation in it. “I find it difficult to trust others, Stone, you know that. It’s been a long time.” He kissed Stone’s palm, bringing one of his hands up to rest on the back of it. “This won’t be where tonight ends.”

“Not unless we pass out right after, no. I’m not going to hurt you, and I’m not going to run away. Do you want me to stretch you out again, or do you think you’re okay?” 

Robotnik didn’t reply for a moment, reaching for his pants and pulling out a bottle of lube. He handed it to him, and Stone took it without hesitation. “Just fuck me. Please.”

Who was he to deny him?

Stone slicked himself up thoroughly, but quickly enough that the Doctor wouldn’t get impatient, tossing the bottle aside to find later. If Robotnik said he didn’t need any more prep, he wouldn’t deprive him (although he did make a mental note that he would be the one doing it next time; he wanted to watch him fall apart). He would have loved to have said that he didn’t bother with the fanfare, that he got straight to the point just as the Doctor would have liked, but he’d hate to lie. He got Robotnik over his cock, watching the way his body shuddered and reacted in minute ways whenever he teased his entrance, then the way he took in a breath when Stone finally pushed in. The slide down was heavenly, at least for Stone; by the sound that wrenched itself from deep in Robotnik’s chest, he could only guess that he felt the same way, panting heavily by the time he was bottomed out. 

Stone didn’t get a chance to get a word out before Robotnik was kissing him again, arms tossed over his shoulders as Stone’s landed rigth on Robotnik’s hips. This one was messier, a little more desperate, and it had the Doctor rolling his hips down against Stone. The sheer friction was amazing already, even with such small movements, and he couldn’t help but to match his pace, rolling up in time with him and pulling out more of those choked-out sounds as he did. God, he could live off of those. No food, no water, nothing but the absolute beauty in his lap right now. 

They didn’t speak much this time around; how could they? Half the time they were locked together at the mouth, and the other half, Stone was too mesmerized by Robotnik’s every mannerism to interrupt him. There were a million words right on the tip of Stone’s tongue, praise and words of affirmation and a simple I love you that may never find its way out, not in one of these moments. He did, truly; he loved each and every way his body moved, every shift of that lithe body and the sparking energy underneath. That brilliant mind. The heart that was kind only to him. He was so enamored with him that he hardly registered Robotnik’s quick, muttered warning before cum was splattering between them, hitting Stone’s chest and stomach. He couldn’t even bring himself to care. 

It was that final tightness that had Stone cumming again, his hips stalling against the curve of Robotnik’s ass as he moaned one final time, falling to lean into his equally dazed partner, just to breathe in one another’s air for a moment longer. It felt like an eternity- granted, an eternity he wanted to stay in forever- before he pulled Robotnik off of him, laying him out flat on the bed and flopping down next to him, exhausted. “Remember being able to do that forever?”

“I could take another one. You’re just old,” Robotnik muttered sleepily, managing a twisted little half grin and turning his head to look at Stone. “You’re filthy.”

“I’m covered in your cum, I fail to see how this is my fault,” he replied, reaching off the side of the bed. Whoever put towels directly next to the bed deserved one hell of a raise. He started with Robotnik, just to keep him from complaining, then handled himself and tossed it aside before returning to his spot. He dragged Robotnik a bit closer to him, pulling the blankets over them. “We’ll shower in the morning. Get all presentable before going out and exploring.”

“Who said anything about exploring? I don’t even know if I’m walking after any of that.”

“Oh, hush.” He started coiling a loose lock of Robotnik’s hair around his finger. “I didn’t even go hard on you. I mean, you were right when you said I seemed like the kind to want a Parisian romance. Come on, don’t you want to woo me?”

“Isn’t the knowledge that I love you enough?” Stone felt his breath catch in his lungs as Robotnik continued on. “Besides, it takes a lot of wooing over your employment to end up being treated that gently in a honeymoon suite after so much time spent waiting. You don’t need to be won over, you just want to be spoiled.”

There was a response to be said there, but Stone didn’t take it. Instead, the words that came out were, “I love you too.” Quick, murmured, punctuated by a kiss to Robotnik’s forehead. It wasn’t a set of words that they exchanged often, more just something that was understood. Stone knew it was implied in Robotnik’s every action, but it was different to hear it aloud.

Robotnik, however, decided to glance over it with a soft grumble, pressing himself a bit closer to Stone. “We’ll talk about our plans in the morning. We’ll see what we can do. Honestly, though, you’ve sort of exhausted me for the evening.”

He was making an effort for Stone, Stone’s Robotnik-to-English translator said. Of course he loved him. “Then we can talk in the morning. I’ll make sure everything’s ordered up to the room and laid out properly.”

Robitnik’s body relaxed, slumping a bit further into his grasp. “Thank you, Stone.”

“Anything for you,” came the reply, and for a moment, a set of three rules flashed in his mind, brighter than the lights of Paris just outside the windows. It was delirious, the result of jet lag and fatigue and nothing more.

Rule one was intact; he was Robotnik’s, but now Robotnik was his all the same. That had certainly changed. Rule two was- well, the Doctor certainly gave him more than the time of day now. Then there was rule three. Stone couldn’t help but let out a soft chuckle, eliciting an annoyed little sound from Robotnik as he pressed his face more insistently against Stone’s neck. “What’s so funny?”

Stone’s hands came to settle around his waist, eyes shutting. “Nothing, Doc. Get some sleep, I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Maybe they did care about one another after all.