while with his gun the pagan angel rose to say

Fic: Click-track Heart - Atom/Max

Fic: Click-track Heart - Atom/Max

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When somebody wants robot porn, who am I to say no?

Click-track Heart
Real Steel. Atom/Max Kenton. NC-17. ~4000 words. Robot/boy xeno yay!
Atom hates that he has a will, but not the freedom to use it.


Click-track Heart

"Took it hard in that one, kid," Charlie says, his voice pitched to carry through the gym. Atom registers it as if Charlie stood beside him, but what Charlie says in range of the command microphone is not what Atom needs to heed now. Max is kneeling behind Atom on the table, speaking quickly and quietly as he fixes the damage from the last match.

"Almost done," Max says. A slight peak in the current running through Atom's systems follows seven milliseconds later. "Another few minutes and I'll power you down for the night."

Atom doesn't need to be powered on for these repairs. They would go much more swiftly if he wasn't. Max only powers him down now when absolutely necessary.

"You can finish that in the morning," Charlie says. He sets the headset down on the table beside Atom's leg. His hair has greyed at the temples, and his face is lined with more than the creases from his frequent broad grins. "Get to bed, kid."

Max says, "I'm not a kid," and continues working. Eight months and twenty-three days ago, the inflection in his voice when he spoke those words changed abruptly from childhood petulance to a type of sophisticated, self-aware humour. Technically, Max is an adolescent, a strange in-between time in which he is both a child and an adult depending on his mood, the situation, the age and social position of other humans he's currently interacting with, and--according to Charlie but thoroughly disproved by Atom's data--the position of the moon in relation to the sun and earth.

"How many times have I told you, you gotta shut him off to do that." Charlie stands with his arms crossed, a deep scowl further creasing his face. "You're gonna fry him."

"I'm not gonna fry him."

"You're gonna fry him, and then I'm gonna have to spend all next week while you're fuckin' around in Florida getting him ready to fight again."

"I'm not gonna fry him," Max says, and shuts the panels protecting Atom's circuitry. He picks up Atom's back plate and carefully begins reattaching it. "If I was gonna fry him, I woulda done it four years ago when you bought that messed up IA that burnt out his tilt sensors."

"I knew that guy was a hustler."

"And you bought it anyway." Another shift in Atom's energy flow precedes the reboot of his periphery sensors. Max is smiling as he seals the last panel. "Face it, old man, you'd be sunk without me."

Charlie snorts, "Old man." He's smiling as well. "Doors are locked. You remember to turn off the lights this time, y'hear? All of 'em. I'm goin' to bed."

Max calls a belated, "G'night!" as Charlie's heavy tread fades on the stairs. He picks up a cloth and begins methodically polishing smudged fingerprints from Atom's sensors. "Gonna be weird going to Florida without you," he says, his tone and smile going soft. "Remember when we took down King Tut? That was crazy."

If Atom could smile, he would. The best he can do is sit quietly as Max talks to him, reminiscing on events burned into Atom's memory, and when Max tells them they're done for the night, he lies back, tracking Max's movements by the soft noise of his sneakers on concrete. The lights shut down in groups of four until only the potlights above Max's workbench remain lit.

There's a slight change in the pressure against Atom's thigh. "G'night," Max says. He hesitates, breath drawn as if he has more to say. Atom focuses sharply. But all Max does is pat Atom's leg again and climb the stairs.

The lights stay on.


Every second day after Max leaves, Charlie takes Atom into the ring and runs drills, first through voice-recog and then through shadowing. Long before sweat begins to shine on Charlie's face, Atom detects slight hitches in his footwork, an exploitable weakness in his shoulder, and corrects them in his own fluid movements as freely as he's able.

"Like fightin' a fucking mirror," Charlie says between deep gulps of water.

No, Atom would say, not like a mirror. It's more than his mechanical compensation for human vulnerability. Atom recalls a time one short, single month after Max saved him from the pit, before he finally understood what it meant to fight in the way Charlie attempted to teach him. Beyond his own reflection in the mirror, he saw Charlie's hand ruffling Max's hair, Charlie's arm draped around Max's shoulders, how easily Charlie took such things for granted. That day, as Charlie held Atom immobile in the ring, as metal crushed and broke beneath Zeus's fists and Max screamed for him, he learned what it meant to fear.

Max is gone for six days, four hours, and twenty-six minutes.


"What d'you mean he's lagging?" Max climbs onto Atom's empty table, says, "Atom, shadow me," into the headset hanging around his neck. Atom obediently disengages from Charlie and turns to mirror Max down to the zero point two degree tilt of his head.

"I mean he's lagging, Jesus, kid," Charlie says.

Max abruptly lifts his arms above his head. He grins when Atom follows, and grins harder still when a swift and sudden drop of his elbows doesn't fool Atom. As brilliant as Max is, he and Charlie don't fully understand Atom's shadow function. It isn't simple mimicry. If Atom were a puppet responding to tugs on a string, his reaction time would be as slow as using the remote or headset commands. Shadowing Max means reading the cues of his body, the slight bunch of his muscles that telegraphs his intent, learning what Max wants from him through weeks and months and years together.

"Doesn't look like he's lagging to me," Max says, and tells Atom to stop. Atom sinks into at-rest.

"Coulda swore," Charlie mutters.

Max laughs and hops down from the table. "Looks like you're the one who's getting slow, pops."

"Aha ha ha," Charlie says flatly. He throws his towel at Max. "I'm leavin'. Have fun cleaning up!"

"C'mon," Max says to Atom, bending down to retrieve the towel. "You can help bring out the garbage." He looks up before straightening, and frowns. Atom runs a swift survey of his own position; his fingers are placed exactly right. Slowly, Max drops to one knee. Atom follows. "Did I tell you to shadow?" he asks, eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

Yes, Atom can't say. Max ordered him to come.

Max flops down to sit on the floor with his knees up and arms slung loosely around his knees. Atom shifts away from his table until he has space to do the same. "Guess all those extra sensors are really working out," Max says. "If you knocked into Charlie's truck one more time, he would've scrapped you for sure."

Atom understands fear of the actual, and fear of the potential. The day Charlie throws him back into the pit, it isn't going to be over a dent in his truck.

Max glances at the empty gym. The main doors are locked; Charlie left through the back. Bailey's train isn't scheduled to return for three hours, thirty-five minutes, eighteen seconds. When Max turns back to face him, his gaze fixes on Atom's primary visuals.

"Stop shadow," he commands. He scrubs his palms against the legs of his jeans. It takes him fifteen seconds to stand, four to cross the short distance between them, and eleven to slip beneath Atom's arm. He's gained three-quarters of an inch in height and eight pounds since he last sat in Atom's arms, his weight braced against Atom's legs. "Look at me."

Atom lowers his head.

Max's breath shudders. His hand shakes as he cups his groin through his jeans, but he doesn't hesitate to spread his legs, arching into his own touch. The pressure of his body against Atom's shifts. Seconds before Max voices the command, it sparks like the lightning storms Max likes to watch through through Atom's systems: "Hold me."

Atom knows now the exact amount of pressure needed to give Max what he wants. Atom's hands, so limited in the ring, are the ideal shape to cup Max's slender body and steady it as Max frantically opens his jeans, pushing his hand inside. There are medical machines that are made with the sole purpose to monitor a human's vitals, and Atom wishes in these moments-- in all moments--that he had the same ability to trace the needful spike of Max's pulse, the deficit of oxygen in his lungs as his breathing speeds. That he could truly feel the fitful shift of pressure as Max nears orgasm and the sudden overwhelming stillness as he reaches it. All at once, Max's body goes lax. Atom measures the risk of bruising him against the one of him tumbling free before he's recovered and adjusts his grip accordingly.

"Fuck," Max says. He shakes his head as if to reorder his thoughts and pulls his hand free. It shines wetly in the gym's bright lights. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Put me down."

It's too soon. Max's legs are trembling. Atom efficiently deposits Max on his feet, still holding him upright as his knees threaten to buckle.

"Let go," Max says, pushing at Atom's hand. "Let go, fuck, let go," and Atom releases him, unable to do anything as Max hurriedly buttons his jeans and stumbles away. One minute three seconds later, a door slams upstairs.

Atom replays his visual feed. Accumulated data on Max informs him that this is shame. But there's no reason for Max to be ashamed of him. He does everything that Max wants, perfectly.


The armour on Atom's chest and left side will need to be replaced, sixteen sensors are completely destroyed and forty-three are operating at less than thirty percent, but the match is theirs. Charlie hugs Max close as they lead Atom to the truck. "Good job, kid. Thought that bastard almost had you."

"No way." Max smiles over his shoulder. "Atom's better at this than I am, he'll never let me down."

Charlie laughs loud enough to startle the rats near the dumpsters. He claps Max hard on the shoulder. "C'mon, I'll buy you a beer. Just one." He holds up an authoritative finger. "And don't tell Debra. She'll have my hide."

Max grins, shaking his head and pushing Charlie away. "You go on. I wanna make sure Atom's okay."

"He's fine, he's walking, ain't he? But okay, okay." Charlie turns back to the street and waves. "Extra one for me!"

"Don't stay out all night!" Max shouts after him. "We gotta be in Denver by Tuesday!" Charlie waves again and Max rolls his eyes. "Never changes. Whatever. Let's get you inside, Atom. Load up."

Atom steps onto the platform. Max stands beside him and hits the switch, bracing himself against Atom's side as the lift rises. Inside the truck, Max hauls the stool close in front of Atom. He balances against Atom's arm as he steps up onto it. The touch of his hands to Atom's faceplate doesn't register. Atom's left primary visual is reading at three percent.

"You're okay," Max says instead of opening the guard to begin repairs. "You're gonna be okay. I can fix you. Shit." Max squeezes his eyes shut and lets out a quick bark of sound. "I blew it back there. I know I did. That wasn't-- I told you salvo. I'm sure I fucking told you to salvo." His eyes open slowly. "I did, right?"

Atom says, Yes, only because Max can't hear him.

"It's a glitch," Max says. "We'll run a voice-recog dio after we get your peripheries back online."

Atom doesn't say that's not necessary. Max's voice might have said salvo, but his body didn't. His body said retreat, defend, regroup. His body said hold on. So Atom held on, and won.

Max's hands on Atom's face tighten. Atom's left visual flickers to forty percent. Max's voice is tight with pain though he's not hurt, Atom is certain he isn't hurt--there's only once Atom has heard Max hurt, and that was the night Atom learned to hate. He didn't hate the men who designed him this way, or the man who discovered it and banished him to rust in the pit. But he hates the man called Ricky, the one who hurt Max the night they proved they were meant to fight, and more than that, hates that he couldn't save Max a second time.

Breathing shallowly, Max asks, "Are you in there?"

Atom hates that he has a will, but not the freedom to use it. All he can do is mimic the small shake of Max's head as Max turns away, and wait.


The gym is frequently quiet for days at a time. Charlie and Bailey tour, teaching other shadow 'bots how to fight, and Max remains at home analysing the data they collect. By Atom's calculations, this way will take another two years and three months for Max to come to the same conclusion Atom's previous owner did, but only a year if Charlie stops arguing with him about it. Charlie's doubt is as effective at holding Max back as his praise is of spurring him onward.

The automated lights near the gym's rear loading dock brighten. Atom processes what input he can quickly. Two humans, hushed voices, unsteady footsteps; Max and his companion are drunk.

"Dude, wow," says the boy. His parameters suggest he's older than Max, but the awe in his voice is young. "That's really him."

"That's him," Max says, pushing the boy further into the room. He has a hand in one of the boy's pockets.

"Wait, hang on-- Fuck!" Alex stumbles, laughing loudly, over Max's feet, his back hitting the side of the ring hard. "Fuck, man. Max. Max." He grabs at Max's waist and pulls him in close. "Is he on?"

Max doesn't have to check--he leaves Atom powered up all the time, despite Bailey's complaints about the drain on the electricity--but he looks up. "Yeah."

"So fucking cool," Alex says, muffled. His face is very close to Max's. There's silence, and their mouths make a wet noise when they separate. He stays leaning against Max for several seconds, then levers himself up into the ring. "Alright, fuck, yeah, c'mon."

Max's smile is crooked. "Up there, huh?"

Alex drops onto his back. His knees are up, spread wide, his arms are tucked beneath his head. The noise of Max's indrawn breath is loud in the room. Grabbing onto the heavy iron cables, Max swings up into the ring after him.

"Fucking hot," Alex says, pushing up as Max crawls over him. "Saw you guys take on Midas, like, fuck, last year, right? Yeah. You looked so fuckin' good up there."

"I did, huh?" Atom's sensors pick up the sharp rasp of a zipper and a choked noise from Alex. "How about now, do I look good up here now?"

"Yeah," Alex agrees. His voice is tight with stress. There's another wet noise unlike the one when Max kisses the people he brings to the gym--girls at times, but more often boys, and Atom has determined that this is not due to Max's preferences but that the boys are generally more accepting of Max's swift approach to mating--and Alex moans. A similar noise from Max follows. Seven minutes and twenty seconds from their arrival, their bodies begin to move together in a familiar rhythm.

Alex says, "Fuck, fuck," and twists beneath Max. "Oh man, oh man. He's so watching."

"He's not," Max says, the span of a heartbeat too late, and turns Alex's face back to his to kiss again. "Just keep-- Fuck. Yeah. Like that. Move like that, fuck."

"Y'like it?" Alex's body rolls so smoothly nothing made of metal and wire could hope to duplicate it. Atom pinpoints the sequence of muscle and ligament and tendon required regardless, running it against his own anatomy. "Gonna come at me harder, Max? Gonna give it to me like y'give it to those 'bots up here in the ring?"

Max's head jerks up. His gaze falls on Atom as he rasps, "Shit," his body convulsing, striving to reach the peak. Alex's taunts fall to encouragements to thick, wordless noises that fill the gym. He strains upwards for Max's mouth again but Max curves a hand to the back of his head and presses his face to the crook of Max's shoulder, and Alex does something that makes Max jolt and hiss. Then something else and Max's eyes squeeze shut, another pained groan caught behind the clench of his teeth as he comes.

Rolling away before Alex reaches orgasm, Max ducks his head and brings Alex off with his hand. Alex succumbs quickly, the noise he makes much louder and more strident than Max's, and catches Max's wrist to hold him close. Three minutes pass before Max attempts to extract himself.

"That was rad," Alex says. "Totally fucking rad."

"Pretty cool," Max agrees, sitting up. He wipes his hands off on his jeans. "You remember where the bus stop is?"

Alex is silent. Then, a different type of stress colouring his voice, says, "Seriously? Your jizz isn't even cold yet and you're kicking me the fuck out."

"You had fun," Max says, and shrugs.

"Motherfucker." Stumbling to his feet, Alex begins pulling his clothes back on. "You're kind of an asshole, man."

"Hey, at least I bought you a drink first."

Alex laughs sharply. "Are you for fucking real or what? Fuck."

A real thing is one not imagined or supposed. Atom doesn't understand the question. As Alex exits the ring, Max catches him and pulls him back for another kiss. Alex resists at first but like all the others, he eventually relents. "How's that for real?" Max asks, kissing him again, and again. Max is a real thing. What transpired between them was real, though impermanent.

Alex makes a noise similar to a laugh. "Yeah, and fuck you too." Another kiss. "Fuckin' real up my ass," he says, and despite the frustration in his tone, seems pleased when Max laughs.

"For fucking real," Max says after he's gone, and shakes his head as he stands to zip his jeans. He pushes his hands through his hair and sighs. Atom cycles through his memory banks for further information on the concept of 'real' and recalls the story of a puppet who wished to be a real boy. He stalls on old terminology he hasn't been taught. He decides that if Charlie and Alex and all the others that Max brings to the gym are real, then he doesn't want to be. If he isn't real, he can't hurt Max.

Max says, "Fuck me, sure," bringing Atom's primary focus back to his environment. Max's shirt is still in the ring, his skin bare and marked in the lights he's left on for three days. "How about that, Atom? Fuck me."

Atom redirects stasis power to his peripheries. After these encounters, there is a forty percent probability Max will command Atom into the ring and work them both until the alcohol and frustration keeping Max's movements slow and sloppy melts to a sheen of sweat on his skin. If Max doesn't leave shortly after his companion, the probability rises to ninety percent.

But instead of ordering Atom to stand, Max kicks at a low stool, stepping from the floor to the seat to stand on the table between Atom's legs. "How about that?" he asks again.

Atom has an answer, but no power to give it. He sits, and waits, his systems humming with a full charge.

"How about it?" Max asks, his hand pressed hard to the insignia glowing on Atom's chest. "Are you gonna answer me, or are you gonna just fucking sit there? Huh, Atom? I said, how about it?"

For the first time since Atom's creators declared him a failure, since a man discovered that he was not a failure at all but a golem, a false Adam, and cast him down into the pit, Atom rails against the safeguards holding him captive. He searches again and again for weaknesses in his programming the same as Charlie taught him to search for weaknesses in his opponents.

"Just tell me, okay?" Max pleads. His hand presses harder to Atom's chest. "Just tell me you're in there. I know you are. You gotta be. Atom, please." When Atom remains silent, Max's head drops. He breathes slowly and shallowly for several seconds, his shoulders shaking as if the oxygen doesn't reach his lungs. Atom says, Breathe, Max. Breathe, over and over until the shaking subsides and Max's head lifts. His face is wet and his eyes are angry.

"Fine," he hisses, and reaches clumsily behind Atom to manually switch him to shadow mode before dropping from the table. "I get it. Fuck me, and fuck you too, okay? Come on."

The headset is far enough from Max that Atom easily bypasses its receiver, and the command is vague enough not to register. Not for the first time, Atom is grateful its integration with his core systems is imperfect.

"Atom," Max says, impatient. "I said come on. Get in the ring." When Atom doesn't respond, he places himself squarely in front of Atom's primary visuals, waiting for them to zero in on him before he very slowly and deliberately raises his arms.

Atom does nothing. More than that, Atom can do nothing. All he's meant to do is exactly what's required of him. What Max needs right now is not his obedience.

"Atom? Fuck." Max scrubs his arm angrily across his face. "Of course. Right. Absolutely, this is a perfect time to fucking glitch on me." He snatches up the headset and clearly says, "Atom, at ready."

This, Atom thinks, this thing not unlike fear, is joy.

"No, no," Max says, flinging aside the headset, "no, no, no, you're not broken. I didn't even-- You're just fucking sitting there! You've been sitting there for days!" He shakes his head, pushing his hands agitatedly through his hair as he paces in a tight circle, and only stops when he at last notices the faint noise of Atom's hydraulics. Whipping around, he points an accusing finger. "You moved! You shook your head!"

He was. But Max has stopped, and if the only choice Atom is to have is between mimicking Max's actions or taking no action at all, he has six years of data to tell him which is ideal for capturing Max's attention.

"Atom, nod your head." When voice garners no response, Max steps forward, checking again that he's in full view of Atom's visuals, and nods in demonstration. If Atom had the ability to smile, his would be wider than Charlie's happiest grin.

"Nod," Max commands, one last effort before he takes several steps back, pacing again as he thinks. It takes him fifty-two seconds to come to a decision and reclaim his place. "Atom," he says, "are you in there?" and lets the question hang before he begins shaking his head no. He stops at Atom's lack of response. "Okay. Okay." He quickly covers his face with his hands and breathes quietly. Just as quickly, he lets them drop again.

"Atom," he asks,"Atom, are you in there?" and nods once, slowly and precisely, his gaze steady on the glow of Atom's visuals.

Atom nods.


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