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"There’s some things only another fella understands.”

Citation: Earl Dutton, pit watcher, Huckleberry Oil Field, 1946.

It was the kind of received wisdom a nineteen-year-old from Possum Creek would pass on to an eighteen-year-old from Bee Cave to establish that neither of them were queers before introducing him to his first handjob. Not that it mattered much to Dell. He was a practical thinker, even as a kid. All it took was Earl's hand down his pants and the resulting circuit closing between his brain and his dick for him to surmise that yeah, actually, a queer was exactly what he was.

This might not have been a welcome revelation for most young men in West Texas in the '40s, but Dell had always put more value on making sense of things than thinking conventionally. Several previously unconnected elements fell into a sequence: the picture of Captain Patriot he’d slept with under his pillow when he was twelve, his sweaty-palmed admiration for Patsy Clegg's older brother, his effortless reputation as a perfect gentleman among the girls at Bee Cave High School.

Fair enough, he thought, and decided to go with it.

Truth was, he got himself laid well and often those summers out west. You wouldn't think there was more action to be found in the oil fields than on campus, but that’s how it was. There were pretty girls in the town of College Station, even if A&M wasn't co-educational yet, so there was no need for a fella to make do, or to pretend to make do. He got his dick sucked for the first time out in Huckleberry, in the back of a truck under a big old starry night sky. He discovered that kissing really could be Fourth of July fireworks when there was someone else's stubble rasping against his chin. He was with the same man for three years running and learned about the kind of sex you had when you knew someone else's body just as well as you did your own.

But being understood was something else.

"Now what would you want to go and do a thing like that for?"

Citation: Just about everyone Dell had ever met in his forty years on this earth.

Roughneck or theoretical physicist, God-fearing Christian or God-loving pervert, most folks seemed to be asking "Why?" when Dell was asking "Why not?" He reckoned he took after his grandfather in that respect. Now there was a man who didn't think something had to be broken before you tried fixing it. A whole new world had opened up when Dell came into possession of his grandfather’s papers, and so it was fitting that TF Industries ended up being the place where he finally met a few like-minded individuals.

"On the table," the doctor said briskly. "I will require a blood sample."

The team medic was a German, with a bedside manner that plainly said researcher, not clinician. He was a tall drink of water, and good-looking in that buttoned-up, kind of prissy way that Dell had a real weakness for: round glasses, front-pew posture, not a hair out of place. There was something about how he held himself that made Dell wonder if he was gay, but this could have been wishful thinking. Everybody around here looked like they knew a thing or two about secrets.

"Sure thing, doc." Dell took a seat on the examination table and then hesitated when he saw which side the doctor was going for.

He was used to keeping the old Gunslinger covered up in mixed company. It made some folks squeamish. But on second thought, he supposed there were benefits to living on a closed base. This might have been a no-names kind of job, without even a token alias like Dell had been provided during his brief stint at the State Department, but the doctor was probably going to be seeing a lot more of him over the next year if the hazard pay in his contract was anything to go by. He ultimately shrugged and then took off his glove and rolled up his sleeve.

The doctor’s eyebrows immediately leaped up when he saw what was underneath. “What is that?”

Dell fanned his metal fingers in a little wave. “Robot hand.”

“Hn.” The doctor frowned and consulted his clipboard. “There’s no mention of amputation in your file.”

Dell lay back, offering the gently apologetic smile of a man asked about his hobbies by someone who probably didn’t want to hear about them. "Thing is, it wasn’t what you’d call a replacement. More like...an optional upgrade.”

He waited for the usual look of blank befuddlement followed by the slow blink. Folks tended to take a big step backwards when they caught on to his meaning, although he didn’t know why. It wasn’t like he had cut someone else’s hand off, and it sure as heck wasn’t like he had done a bad job of it. The Gunslinger was an efficient little number that had been designed, constructed, and maintained with love.

To his surprise, however, the doctor’s frown smoothed over.

“Wunderbar!” Little wheels rattled on the concrete as a rolling chair was dragged up to the table. “Is it your own making?”

Caught off guard, Dell could only stare for a second. The doctor was smiling—had lit right up, in fact—and damned if it wasn’t a real good look on him.

He recovered and shook his head modestly. “My grandfather drew up the first plans during the Civil War. He called it the Gunslinger. I just updated it some and worked out a few kinks.”

The doctor adjusted his glasses. His eyes were the color of blue steel and bright with interest. He was close enough that Dell could catch a whiff of his bay rum aftershave, even though a five o’clock shadow was already coming in ahead of schedule on that strong jaw. He was probably the kind of man who needed to shave twice a day.

That thought made Dell’s eyes drop to the Half Windsor knot nestled snugly at the hollow of the doctor’s throat as he wondered what his chest looked like.

“Very handsome,” the doctor said, still considering the Gunslinger with interest. “Is it grafted on?”

“Nope.” Dell couldn’t entirely keep the smugness out of his voice. He was proud of his baby. “Transistors.”

He released the catch and pulled the hand off just far enough to expose the stump underneath. His metal fingers wiggled again, still within range to respond to the signals from his ulnar nerve.

The doctor had a high voice for a big fella, but it dropped like a stone to something low and husky when he spoke more quietly. “Ah, how elegant.”

“Shucks,” Dell said, hoping the sudden case of goose bumps up his arms and down his neck would go unnoticed. The infirmary was pretty cold. “It wasn’t much. The human nervous system’s pretty much just electrical work.”

All right, now he was showing off a little. He would have been ashamed of himself, but it earned him a downright dizzy grin from the doctor that bared a whole bunch of pearly white teeth and made Dell decide he really liked him.

"We must talk later," the doctor announced, clapping him on the shoulder, "when you have not lost so much blood."

“Oh, I ain’t the delicate type...” Dell began, but his words trailed off when he took in the line of 50 ml vials the doctor was setting up along the edge of the examination table.

A rubber tourniquet was snapped around his arm, and a 14-gauge syringe was jabbed into the biggest vein at the crook of his elbow without so much as a how’d-you-do.

Dell yelped. “Jeez—and crackers!”

He turned his eyes up to the ceiling and then squinted. He could swear he saw a white bird fluttering around in the rafters. Things got a little blurry after that.

Fortunately, he bounced back from hypovolemic shock sooner than expected, which was all the better, because the job wasn’t going to wait. He and the doctor soon staked out their respective work spaces on base and then met in the middle to put their heads together on a few must-haves and some blue-sky thinking. The doctor brought a blackboard and an armful of notebooks filled with sketches and diagrams. Dell brought a coffee machine.

“This,” the doctor declared, the tip of the chalk frantically spilling chemical equations across the slate, “will obscure the boundary between life and death as Man knows it and spit in the very face of God!"

“Sounds good.” Dell jotted down a few notes and a shopping list. “Might take more than a weekend to knock out, though.”

It was nice, having real projects again.

Sharing a lab was always hit and miss, but the doctor proved to be a good partner. His enthusiasm was infectious when he went off on a tear, and you could cut diamonds with his focus when he settled in for some serious thinking. He kept his papers on his own desk, didn’t steal any of Dell’s pencils, and put himself in the running for Mr. Right by brewing a fresh pot every time he finished off the last of the coffee. It didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes, especially around that caffeine-saturated point in the middle of the night when the starch was off his shirt and his tie was half unknotted, and he was slouching over an open book, sucking on the end of pen.

The doctor cleared his throat. “That is very tidy work, I must say.”

It was about two o’clock in the morning, and these were the first words either of them had uttered in hours aside from the occasional mutter of number-crunching and quiet cussing. Dell paused in brushing some stray iron fillings out of the inside of the Gunslinger’s cuff. He looked first at the ferrofluid he had just mixed up and then at his hand before his gaze did a back-and-forth between the doctor and the smooth stump of his wrist.

“Why, thank you,” he said, because his mama had taught him how to accept a compliment.

“It was done professionally?”

“Nah,” he said. “Couldn’t find anyone willing to leave the wound open long enough to get the necessary hardware installed and do a little troubleshooting. I took care of it myself.”

The doctor rested his chin in one hand and smiled at him. “What did you use?”

Dell chuckled sheepishly. “Table saw. Tied off the limb until my old hand went black and then—” He mimed a spinning blade and made a whirring sound. “Might have underestimated how much mess it was going to make.”

To his everloving delight, the doctor giggled and wagged a finger at him. “Naughty boy! It serves you right, having to clean up all that blood. A table saw, honestly!”

Dell ducked his head and laughed again as he slipped the Gunslinger back on. “A man’s got to work with the tools he’s got.”

The doctor raised his coffee cup and drank to that. He then glanced at Dell sideways, looking bashful. “I don’t suppose...I could have a look at the device?”

“Yeah, sure.” Dell set down his work and moseyed on over to the doctor’s desk. He hopped up to sit on the edge of it and laid his hand on the blotter.

It wasn’t really a come-on, sitting this close. He was just putting out feelers, the way you did. His knee bumped against the doctor’s elbow. The doctor looked up at him through his eyelashes for an instant, the way you did, before taking taking Dell’s hand in both of his own.

“Ach. Much lighter than I expected.”

“Titanium alloy,” Dell said, holding still and letting him cradle the full weight of it.

The doctor hummed approvingly, tapping a fingernail against the back of the metacarpus and seeming pleased by the tone. “You are left-handed?”

“I was. Just about ambidextrous now. It always drove me crazy, having that clumsy thing just sitting there, taking up space.”

“Efficiency is to be commended.” The doctor stroked the back of his fingers. It was enough to make a fella’s heart go pitter-patter. “How is the range of motion?”

Dell demonstrated, rotating his wrist by 30-degree increments. The hand was tuned up and freshly oiled, moving smoothly and silently. He flexed his fingers forward and then bent them all the way back.

“Sensory feedback?” the doctor asked.

“Just pressure on the articulation points.” Dell laid his palm flat against the doctor’s and pushed lightly.

The very real possibility of getting lucky tonight put itself on the agenda when the doctor playfully pushed back. Each joint was subsequently tested, methodically brought to full extension in each direction. His mouth went dry, funnily enough. No one had ever actually touched that hand before, or at least not knowingly. He usually kept his glove on and let people think what they wanted to about war wounds or farm accidents.

“Have you considered other sensory modalities?” the doctor asked, curling Dell’s index finger inwards. “It would only require a minor adjustment of your posterior parietal cortex. It would be no trouble.”

Dell bit his tongue and refrained from saying that a good-looking fella like him could do whatever he liked to his posterior parts. He shook his head regretfully.

“Nah, that there’s a feature, not a bug. This hand won’t flinch, even if I stick it in a blast furnace. You can’t beat it for welding work.”

“Ah, yes. I suppose it’s a tool, not a simulacrum,” the doctor said, sounding a little disappointed nonetheless. He then perked up and unfolded Dell’s fingers, holding them barely two inches from his eyes and peering closely. “Perfectly steady, though. And very strong, I should think.”

“Sure is.” Dell gently extricated his hand from the doctor’s grasp and reached across him, stopping just short of his left arm. “May I?”

There it was again, that twenty-decibel and half-octave drop in the doctor’s voice. “Please.”

Now, a man could certainly take the point about the benefits of tactile feedback. Dell wouldn’t have minded leading with his other hand when it came to cupping a bicep that could put a college quarterback to shame. He could feel how firm the muscles were when the joints of the Gunslinger encountered resistance, but any warmth or softness was left entirely to his imagination.

“Let me know when this gets too tight,” he said, squeezing slowly.

A touch of color started spreading across the doctor’s cheeks, and his glasses slid down half an inch, but his expression was the picture of academic interest as Dell’s fingers increased their pressure. He held out longer than Dell would have expected. That could have just been pride, but the doctor didn’t seem like the type for pissing contests. Besides, Dell was close enough to see it for himself in the flaring nostrils and dilating pupils when hurting a little gave way to hurting a lot.

Finally, with a thoughtful pause for precision, the doctor said: “Hn. There.”

Dell grinned and let go. He consulted the gauge. “That’s 11% strength.”

“Mein gott, you could have crushed my humerus!” the doctor exclaimed happily.

"Bone dust and hamburger," Dell agreed.

He couldn't resist demonstrating the fine motor settings as well. He took one side of the doctor’s glasses between thumb and forefinger and nudged them back up the bridge of his nose.

There was a spark. It was a metaphorical one, but those were good too.

The doctor stared up at him for a long moment and then looked down into his lap. He made a thoughtful sound.

“Problem?” Dell asked.

“I seem to have an erection.”

Dell blinked. He paused for a polite moment and then, figuring he had permission, craned his neck and had a look. Yeah, he certainly did.

“Well,” he said calmly, “that function’s not in the Gunslinger’s official documentation, but noted.”

The doctor squared his shoulders and placed both hands on the desk. “I will persevere.”

“You could,” Dell said, glancing back at the door to make sure it was locked, “or I could help you out.”

The doctor licked his lips, looking at Dell’s hand again. “If you would be so kind.”

Dell grinned. “My pleasure.”

The doctor stood up, fussily straightening his vest, which only drew attention back to the tent in his pants. Dell hooked an ankle around his calf and reeled him in. He smelled like coffee and something sharper underneath: not aftershave this time, but rubbing alcohol, or something else in the propyl family. His ramrod posture eased right up when Dell’s knees clamped around him, and he leaned in closer with a little sigh, his palms flat on the desk and his eyelids lowered as he watched Dell’s hands start in on the dainty work of his vest buttons.

“Very dexterous,” the doctor said breathlessly.

“Honey,” Dell said, “you ain't seen nothing yet.”

He made short work of the loosened necktie and laid it neatly on the desk beside him. The tiny shirt buttons took more concentration, but he got them open one by one from the collar down, baring a few dark curls above the edge of the doctor’s undershirt. The man had the kind of chest and arms that weren't strangers to heavy lifting, but he was going a little soft around the middle. It was kind of cute.

Dell popped the button on the doctor’s pants and unfastened his fly. His fingers slipped down into the open vee between two shiny suspender clips. The doctor let out a real sweet sigh at that. Dell wouldn’t have minded leading with his left hand here either, but there was no disputing the speed with which the doctor stood to attention under the cool caress of titanium. His eyes were fixed unblinking on the sight of matte metal against the thin white cotton of his shorts.

“That feel good?” Dell asked, tracing the rising bulge.

The doctor nodded, biting his lip and pressing into Dell’s hand.

Now that was a pretty sight. Dell could feel his own temperature rising as he spread his fingers out and watched the doctor’s hips rock. His other hand set to rucking up and untucking, finding its way to bare skin.

"You’re gonna want me to warm this up." Dell took his hand out of the doctor’s pants and huffed a hot breath on it before sliding it up under the doctor’s shirt.

“Hsss!” The doctor sucked in his stomach at the touch of cold metal.

“Told you,” Dell said, rolling the Gunslinger back and forth until the worst of the chill was off it.

Both sets of fingertips dipped under the waistband of the doctor’s shorts. He got the shorts wedged down and took a measuring look. His eyebrows quirked. He wasn’t the anatomy expert in the room, but he had an appreciation for good equipment. A little mineral oil was dug out from his pocket and shaken liberally from the bottle to keep things slippery, and then his fingers curled very carefully around the stiff, rosy length.

The doctor shut his eyes and quivered. “Mein gott...”

“Still too cold?” Dell asked, fingertips pressing at barely 1% strength.

“No, das—that’s good.” The doctor bit his lip again and briefly closed his eyes. “Very good.”

Dell couldn’t keep the smile from his face as he started rubbing: 1.75% strength now, a nice smooth back and forth with a twist from the smooth fingertips. He usually jerked off with that hand himself. It felt more like someone else, and he liked the cool precision of it. So did the doctor, judging by how heavy he was breathing now and the slick clear drop beading up and dripping onto Dell’s sleeve.

“Let me know if you want me to trade off,” he said, his other hand sliding down to squeeze a real peach of a backside.

“No!” The answer came quick and heated. “No, that’s...quite all right.”

Dell took his time. If a thing was worth doing, it was worth doing well. He kept his hand moving steadily, playing Fizz Buzz in his head with long and short strokes to keep things interesting. He was tempted to steal a little kiss or two, but the doctor seemed to like watching, his heavy-lidded gaze still captured by the Gunslinger.

It was a sight worth admiring: the contrast of metal and flesh, both glinting with oil. The doctor’s heavy breathing soon gave way to quiet, high sounds from the back of his throat. The small motions of his hips grew quicker and more urgent, and then his jaw clenched and he was thrusting into the clasp of Dell’s fingers, just about fucking his hand.

“Ja...ja...ja...” The doctor fumbled clumsily in his pants pocket and pulled out a handkerchief a moment before he came. His eyes shut and his head fell forward as he shivered hard, a lock of hair drooping over his brow.

Dell whistled low in approval and let him go when his hips slowed down. His other hand moved back and forth under the doctor’s undershirt, following the line of his backbone.

“Marvelous,” the doctor said dreamily. He folded up his handkerchief with the care of a man who didn’t want his DNA getting into public circulation and tucked it away in his pocket before buttoning back up.

He then lowered himself primly to his knees, grabbed Dell’s ankles, and yanked him off the desk onto his feet. Dell leaned back obligingly, not about to complain when the doctor got into his overalls. Down came his pants and shorts. The doctor’s glasses were set on the desk, and then his mouth was pressing, burning hot, to the crease of Dell’s thigh.

Dell breathed out hard and couldn’t keep back a moan when fingers and lips did something really nice in tandem. This definitely wasn’t the doctor’s first rodeo.

“I would very much like...” the doctor said, pausing to drag his tongue along Dell’s family jewels. “...to cut open your arm and have a look at your wiring work. When we’ve finished here, of course.”

Dell laughed softly and curled his fingers fondly around the back of the doctor’s neck. He had a feeling they were going to do some great work together.

“Sure,” he said. “Why the heck not?”