The old nightingale had flipped sides. Sinclair would have been shaking his head even still, waiting for Ol Gracie to show her true colors and throw a knife in his back, if he hadn’t gotten to know first-hand the man at the cause of it all. Delta seemed to have this affect on people. Just by doing the decent thing that comes from having basic humanity - which, suddenly, didn’t look like what Grace or Sinclair believed it to be. It wasn’t CEOs or kings or religion, taking throats stuffed with cash and strolling over broken backs. It looked something more like, like a man with no face and trapped in a body not his own - ! (Which Sinclair had done everything to escape, because he couldn’t function in the body he had been born into) And sparing lives of the people who would kill him, even if there was no surety they’d change their ways.
But tide by tide the sea was changing, and she was heavy, and Sinclair wanted out of her black and quiet belly by whatever means necessary. This sorta change wasn’t the kind Sinclair preferred to stomach; he had done enough of that and the world owed him for it. It was as familiar to him as the fading gasps of his granddaddy, letting life slip away, leaving him truly alone. Delta would be the same — a man like him, he wouldn’t last long enough to make it. Life for him on the Surface was a pipe dream.
A sharp sound sliced through Sinclair's mind. A reminder that this was no world for daydreams.
"What was that?" Tenenbaum exclaimed over the radio. Sinclair realized his mind wandered while she had been talking.
"Just a whirly-bird, Doc," Sinclair replied, tensing up with each strike of the machine's blades against the train's window. He watched it bounce like a spider dangling from a string. A relentless, flashing black, waves of sick green sea light jumping off it.
"A whirly-bird - Ryan's--well, Lamb's—little fluttering metal protectors." He realized now that the slang had probably come from Pauper's Drop, and had been appropriated by the middle-upper class as a part of the vernacular the older generations and higher-class folks classified as uneducated and gawdy. It was a term used by the likes of Grace Holloway, and hadn't reached Tenenbaum. Maybe he'd spent a little too much time under the tracks after all his efforts to avoid it.
The security bot's red lights caught Sinclair like eyes. The pesky machines did remind him of birds, which he had been happy to leave behind on the Surface. Imposing, flapping, loud things, that only became more disturbing when they were still. He looked away, down at his tie, smoothing the red fabric. "Don't you worry your head, I'm safe as a pretty copper coin inside this train car."
It was just a matter of time before the big guy showed up. Sinclair had heard Poole's parting words over the radio, felt Poole's surprise when the towering diver left him, hanging out to dry by his own trembling loneliness, but alive. He couldn't imagine how life would be a relief to Poole. If Life had any fairness about her, Poole would be sorry and alone for as long as he was conscious, slowly drowning in Rapture. But that wasn't the way the world worked.
As Tenenbaum's voice filled Sinclair's head he watched the security bot throb uselessly against the window. The bottom of the ocean brought out the inevitable loneliness of things. Its red eyes were crooked and pulled apart like a face that had fallen away from itself out of disuse. It looked like a tangle of organs, a brain dissected and reassembled like a toy. Helpless. "Well, Herr Delta is on his way, yes? You are lucky to have your Märchenprinz," she said. Her tone was too friendly, like the lying no-legged dog thought she was more than just a voice on a radio. "Hold onto him. See what he will teach you. That is my advice to you."
His lip curled as the doctor referred to Subject Delta. "How touching," said Sinclair. "The Nazi with orphan blood on her hands thinks she's a bona fide preacher." He was disgusted. And when was Delta going to show up and take care of this idiot machine? He had to press the radio against his ear to hear the transmission over the clanging.
"It does not matter what you think of me, but what you think of him."
His relationship with Tenenbaum was expiring, so he no longer cared to sing her choir songs. He grabbed the radio tightly, hovering against his lips. He felt his hot breath beating back at him. "Listen, you asked how the tin can was doing, so you could find some comfort in the miserable shred of a story that those helpless little prisoners you enslaved might be just fine and dandy one day thanks to you - thanks to your sorry German-infested quacking, they'll never have a chance. I'm getting the monster you created through Rapture, that ain't a question - but that ain't gonna promise the Utopia you've cooked up in your head. Now whatever you're trying to imply, I advise you to carefully consider the next words you let out of your mouth. I find your delusions may be leading to some misunderstanding between the two of us."
"Then let there be none," Tenenbaum replied quick as a whip, her voice frustratingly calm and clear despite the accent and the relentless banging. "I believe - this Delta may be for you, Herr Sinclair, what the Little Ones have been for me. This is my observation. You may take it, or act as a man would as usual and stupidly ignore. You are being afforded something deep - something that changes your life, that hurts you - that disembowels you, of everything from which you are made - something - that frees you."
Before Sinclair could say more, there was a sound of metal being hole-punched like paper. The security bot seized up, as still as a dead and wide-eyed crow. Sinclair watched it become stone, the common feature of death; not occurring with an exhalation or release, but as paralysis, being locked up for eternity with everything you held inside. A silver point seethed through the body so jarringly that Sinclair thought he felt the dull blade skewer his face, an image entering his mind of twisting skin and muscle like spaghetti around a fork. Imminent danger, gutted. But the clanging remained like a song in his head, a scratched record that became the buzzing of flies.
The machine rose into the air, sparks twitching off it in bursts of lifeless light. It flung across the station platform with a powerful swing of the drill that had impaled it.
Left behind was a suit of armor that simmered in red light, steel freshly borne from a kiln. He was sturdy and moved slowly, like a dream that worried. The rings of the suit glowed like polished bones, excavated from the ocean's omniscient loam. If there was anything great that came from all this Rapture, it was this extraordinary, effortless exertion of power. The strength behind those arms, able to crush into layers of men; the potential of a human driving the capabilities of a suit that could live on the deepest levels of the earth. The impossible tenderness, like a lion that decided not to kill. Gently, the glowing yellow eye turned to face Sinclair. It was like staring into a search light.
The train latch came undone and the door thunked open. Delta stepped inside, clouds of debris billowing in his wake like commendation of a returning hero, biceps and thighs swelling under rippling fabric. Sinclair realized, with resentment and a dry tongue, that Delta indeed was a Prince Charming. That left Sinclair as anything but, the sort that lost it on an old, regretful Dr. Frankenstein.
The radio crackled but emit nothing more. The train lurched to life, pulling forward.
Music crawled through the air, floating like dust from the abandoned sound system. The red light had followed Delta into the car, smelling like sour blood and caked in the cracks of his suit, bright within the walls turned green, possessed by the ocean, changed. Delta had not turned from the door. He hung there, suspended from the rage that poised in his shoulders like bulls rearing their horns. Sinclair felt Tenenbaum's words tied around him like chains.
He'd handled the tin man and his severely blatant heart a couple times before; pattern was, a good drink and a cigarette would do. Despite the fact that he seemed to be simply a walking suit full of an emotional storm, Delta had eyes for one thing only, and that was Eleanor, which was what Sinclair depended on.
This time felt different. Delta was seething. He thought they had gotten past the point of Delta being the Big Scary Daddy - but Sinclair's legs were aching with trepidation. He had dusted off a seat earlier but had yet to overcome his apprehension for grime and sit down. He did so now, if anything to ease the tension within the tiny car. His voice was curt and faded. "Why don't you come on and sit with me sport, we got a ways 'til Fontaine Futuristics." He held out the bottle of Red Ribbon. Delta did not respond.
Sinclair lit himself a cigarette, keeping one eye on Delta. He tried to hide his cringe as he leaned back against the dirty booth in a show of repose, then rethought the movement and sat stiffly forward. "Well, I'll drink to you, kid - we're that much closer to reuniting you with your Eleanor. No matter what's happened, you two'll be together. You both want it too badly to not get it. I can recognize ambition that won't take no for an answer." Sinclair removed the cigarette from his lips, promptly took a swig, then tilted the bottle towards Delta. He hesitated, "C'mon now."
Delta appeared to be getting worse, not better. Sinclair felt himself sucking his cigarette dry before he knew it. It wasn't just the tin man's heart full of rage that was getting to him, though that tangible festering of emotion inside a walking war machine gave Sinclair goose bumps that made him feel like every hair was being agonizingly pulled out of his skin. It was that Nazi doctor's words, stuck to his head like goo off a fly trap. Sinclair avoided such sentiments at all costs, especially in a derelict place like the farce of Rapture. Attachments did not make a strong man. If he did have the option, he would run.
"You gonna make me beg?" Sinclair exhaled tired smoke.
Delta lurched, and the walls of the train car groaned as Delta put his fist through one of them. The giant man of armor bellowed, ripping his arm away from the crinkled steel. His fist went on flying, grabbed the nearest object, which happened to be one of the tables, ripped it off of the wall, and chucked it into the next. The car shook, its bearings heard screeching against the rails. Sinclair clung desperately to his dust-caked booth, feeling the grayed rot of Rapture coagulating beneath his nails, but the car and all its contents were rattling in the wake of this hurricane. Delta roared again, clawing and screaming at nothing but the air in front of him, jerking his head around as if he might eventually find a direction that would listen.
"Hey now," Sinclair said as he poised himself to dodge any residual projectiles. He stuttered, realizing the oxymoron of trying to speak reason to a Big Daddy. "Let's not bite off the chicken's head before we get some eggs, alright sport? We need this train to work for us. Now I understand--"
Delta roared, cutting him off and flinging a detached shelf at Sinclair's head. Sinclair threw himself off the booth and onto the floor, plunging his palms into a layer of sticky film. He quickly turned himself over onto his back, looking wildly for Delta. The floor shook beneath him as Delta stomped over him. The tin man's towering body undulated, his breathing harsh, the eruption of the insurmountable blue whale. "What is it, kid?" Sinclair said desperately even though he knew the answer. Delta's searchlight blinded him of their surroundings; the man was hunched over Sinclair. Delta twisted his fist into the front of Sinclair's shirt--no amount of ironing would mend the fabric after this--and pulled him close, so close, as if he were a bite to eat. "N-now, you can’t speak but, you and I — we can communicate, like first-class citizens, if you just slow down," Sinclair blathered. This was the first time he had been so close to Delta's physical rage. He had been fascinated in the past, watching Delta defy anything that stood in his way, and in a way Sinclair would never have dreamed. When Delta took down those Big Daddies to get to their Sisters... he'd catch the giants in his arms as they took their last fall, lower them careful to the ground, linger as if desperate to find something more he could do to make up for the horror of their last moments. Having the chance to observe Delta gave Sinclair the sense now to gently push aside his fear for the sake of that glowing faceless window. It was tantalizing, being so intimate with danger. A beguiling taste he hadn't yet had the chance to acquire.
Then he heard a cry of helpless regret shuddering through Delta, distinct from any other roar, as he hung onto Sinclair. This kind of humanity hardly existed in a human, let alone a lumbering, soulless watch dog. Stars in Heaven, Sinclair was blown away by Delta's very existence, as he hovered at the ends of two arms that spent most of their time blowing people apart.
Swallowing, Sinclair pulled out another cigarette. His hands were shaking. Delta held onto him, dead as a gargoyle overlooking a cathedral. Sinclair lit the cigarette with a couple of flicks of his lighter. After pocketing the lighter, shivering like a hairless dog, he resolutely placed his palms against either side of Delta's helmet. He stared into that big yellow eye though it blinded him, his eyes perhaps the only part of his body that managed to be firm.
A whistle of steam escaped from the helmet's seal as Sinclair unlocked it. Delta didn't move. The buzzing noise in Sinclair's head made it hard to think straight, flashing shadows and whispers and the things from which he should run. Sinclair couldn’t explain why, in this moment, he chose to chase it, watching the helmet lift.
The first time Delta had revealed his face was when Delta needed to get some food in him. He was weak, especially with the whole bond thing leaving a surprisingly large gap in his motivation, causing him to lose physical ability when his depression consumed him. Sinclair scrounged him up a can of sardines and was fit to feed him, but Delta hesitated and became immobile when it came to getting off that helmet. When they finally got it off, Sinclair batted his eyes and flirted with him to give the kid a boost.
Now the yellow window of the helmet rose like a moon. Its shadow pulled along the ocean of Delta's face. It was an ocean: murky, mysterious, melded with both natural wonder and unearthly horror.
Delta stared up at him, his face permanently illegible. He had deep, dark skin made of a galaxy of canyons and eyes as black as dead stars. Locked into them, Sinclair plunged through to the opposite side of the universe, which would happen to be just himself, staring back. He was trapped in his own reflected gaze. Delta's eyes, immobile, began to glimmer. Sinclair’s own gaze explored with a growing fondness, as Delta’s grip began to relax.
The man was beautiful, and Sinclair wouldn't accept any other point of view.
Sinclair took the cigarette from his mouth and, delicately, positioned it between Delta's swollen, asymmetrical lips. There was a certain way they had to close together. Delta heaved a sigh. A thin stream of smoke curled between them like moonlight.
"See now? You still got more humanity in you than any of us. You're what Eleanor--"
Sinclair was cut off once again as Delta shook, a vengeful cry overtaking his body like rust. He wrenched Sinclair up and forced him back against a wall. Sinclair shook, stumbling, waving his arms for balance. The muscles in Delta's face twitched, hovering towards Sinclair like an apparition, his eyes staring, mercilessly open, eyes that didn't blink but swam in darkness. He was paralyzed in there with his grief. Sinclair watched, horrified, as a tear fell down the maze of his cheek.
"I--I'm sorry," Sinclair gasped, hanging onto the wrist of Delta's palm held against his ruined shirt. His brain scrambled for what Poole had said. "It isn't right, what's happened to you. It isn't right." He blinked, staring into the lights on Delta's chest. He couldn't own up to the part he played in Delta's fate. He was terrified. "I'll do anything I can to fix this, son, I swear it," he stated firmly, bringing his eyes to the vast space of Delta's. This vision of Delta filled him. Helpless, Sinclair brushed his finger over that ridged cheek, feeling the heartbeat of a mountain inside him. In haste Delta shoved Sinclair closer to him, his chest against armor; Delta stared into him, like he was asking a question. By being with Delta, Sinclair was forced to look at himself, forced to see what he hated; but the cushion of Delta's presence, the accompaniment of such a being's affection, was too great a thrill to give up. He would face his own murdered dreams if it meant falling into the tin man's arms right here. The words came without preamble, but Sinclair couldn’t have been alone in the feeling; "God strike me down if I ever felt anything so consuming as this," he breathed.
A grunt came from Delta. If Sinclair was interpreting it right, it sounded pleading. Like he wanted something.
"I might have a mind to figure you feel it, too." He must be crazy. But he couldn't resist. He was falling for a monster with a heart of pure gold. Sinclair summed himself up, gathered his breath, placed his hands on either side of Delta's caged face, and bit the bullet. He brought their lips together, a moan springing from his chest as they kissed. Delta jerked, unfamiliar, but Sinclair held onto him. This was what it was like to kiss a hero. All the fantasies Sinclair had of his prince sweeping him away, when he was a child and the world told him he wasn't what he was, what he wanted to be; all of them were coming true much past their expiration, risen from the dead like a ghost Sinclair idolized. The feeling of Delta's abused lips, surprisingly soft and vulnerable beneath Sinclair's; the skin of his face as he held onto him, scarred and stretched like hardened clay but a shell to the most desirable mind Sinclair had ever met. The buzzing in Sinclair's head became louder. He sucked Delta's bottom lip between his teeth and held tightly onto it, realizing now his arms were twisted around Delta's head, his body held snugly between the suit and Delta's arms. He opened his eyes as they kissed, and he saw in Delta's wide stare, despite his paralyzed expression, a passionate certainty. His pupils shivered in it.
"Maybe this is just to get by, but... I'll take it, Johnny boy."
The train screeched, aching to a stop. Delta did not release Sinclair.
Sinclair motioned towards the vacant helmet. “I'm sorry, it's got to go back on.”
Delta moved, placing Sinclair on a table as if he were a Little Sister put to one of those cubby holes. Delta then took the helmet and placed it over his head. Air rushed as it fastened into place.
Sinclair got to his feet, dusting off his clothes and straightening his tie. He ran his hand through his hair, observing the sea etched into the walls, and suddenly it didn’t seem so dark and terrible. Hell, if this was what change would be like, with Delta, maybe he could manage it. Pipe dreams aside.
Delta waited in the doorway, a dutiful man of the house waiting for his send-off kiss. Was it just Sinclair’s imagination that his helmet tipped just so his gaze was pointed downwards? It couldn’t be helped that Sinclair found himself briefly imagining what Delta might look like under all that armor.
Sinclair gave him a smile, and a fond stroke along the face of his helmet. “Don't worry, we got all the time in the world. So long, kid.”