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Body Issues (Charley's Story, Chapter 29)


gregaaz

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"Disrobe... completely?" Preston asked.

 

Hidden behind the faceplate of my helmet, I was sure I looked very amused. Evidently in my absence, some of the settlers (I suspected Winter) had taken it upon themselves to move forward with some ideas that I had only half thought through. Still, it seemed they grasped the core of my vision for Sanctuary.

 

"We'll decontaminate your equipment and issue new clothing. All the housing units have showers with clean water, so you can wash up."

 

"Preston, this is the kind of crap I warned you about," Marcy interjected. I looked to her, and found her scowling at me, arms crossed over her chest. Her brother Jun was cowering behind her, eyes downcast.

 

"I don't think I like this, Marcy," he whimpered.

 

Preston looked back to me. "Listen, Charley, I appreciate what you've done for us so far, but this is kind of a surprise. Can we sit down and talk this through?"

 

I should note that while this was happening, rain was pouring down outside and I was starting to come down hard off the Med-X. Everything hurt, and while the five survivors from Concord were showing a range of emotions from hostility to guarded caution, they were all getting soaked - and this being the wee hours of the morning, just before dawn, it was cold outside. 

 

Mama Murphy broke the tension with a raspy laugh. "You kids are something else," she said as she started to unbutton her coat, "you're going to just stand out here in the freezing rain because your embarrassed to get undressed? Hurry up and get in there, I need a hot shower."

 

Preston looked a little distraught at that, looking to her with concern, "look, Mama Murphy, you don't have to let anyone pressure you into--"

 

"Pff, Preston, I never would have thought you were the kind of man to be bashful. Come on," she said, leading the way through the gate. Despite grumbling from Marcy, they only hesitated a little before they followed.

 

By this point, Winter had arrived from her home, still rubbing at her eyes a bit, and took command of the refugees, leading them up towards her house. Preston lingered behind however, waiting for the others to move within.

 

"It looks like you managed to win them over, for now at least. But can we speak a little? I have kind of a sensitive issue."

 

"Sure," I agreed. I had a suspicion about what was the matter. "How about we go back to my place and get you a hot shower, then we can chat."

 

Tracey was waiting for me back at my house, and she helped me get out of the power suit while I told Preston a little about what I had in mind for this settlement. About how I didn't want people splitting into cliques or self-competing within the community. I explained the uniforms, and the dual purpose they set - not just of literally stripping away outside divisions and loyalties, but in creating the kind of settlement where everyone's accepted for their own beauty, instead of setting unfair standards for them. I left out the part about how own desire to get back at the people who'd disempowered me and used me as an object for months... maybe years. I didn't think that would be productive.

 

Now nude except for my Neural Sentry, I led Preston to my bathroom and let the shower water start warming up. However, he still seemed hesitant to undress.

 

"That's the thing, Charley," Preston said, after a long pause, "I don't know if I'm the kind of person your settlement would accept."

 

I laughed, "are you kidding? You're smart, a natural leader, and a great shot with that rifle. You're exactly the kind of person I want for this community."

 

"No, that's not, agh, I don't know how to explain it."

 

I looked him in the eyes then. Out of my heels, we were about level in height, and I smiled gently. "Come on, Preston, the water's fine. And I think I've got a guess at what you're hung up on. Trust me, it's fine."

 

Preston's hands were actually shaking as he unbuttoned his coat, but slowly his disrobed. When he was completely bared, my suspicions were confirmed, and I shook my head slowly.

 

"Preston, you don't have to have a penis to be a fine, brave man. That was a horrible mistake we made in the old world, and its not one that I'll make again. Now get in here before we run out of hot water."

 

It took him a moment, but once Preston stepped under the jet of water the tension visibly left his body. "See," I whispered, "you're fine. I wish I had the medicine, the equipment to help your outside shape line up with what's in your heart, but I'll give you the next best thing: I'll give you acceptance. Now turn around and let me wash your back."

 

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I have to admit that I briefly toyed with trying to seduce Preston. He was wiry, with a slender build and warm eyes that I could fall into gladly. Both the short-cropped hair on his head and the thick diamond of it between his legs were tightly curled, and as I lathered him up I enjoyed the feel of it against my fingers. But if this world was anything even remotely like the one I'd left behind on that day in 2077, I was asking him to show me incredible trust... and he was mastering his fear and giving it to me. I wouldn't risk betraying that trust just for some momentary satisfaction.

 

When we finished, I tried my best to eyeball what size vault suit would be the best fit.

 

"How are you in high heels?" I asked.

 

He looked away for a moment, but then he met my eyes. "I've never worn them in my life. That's... that's women's clothes, and fancy women's at that."

 

I accepted that with a nod. "Alright, that puts you in the same boat as the other men here. Let's get your vault suit made tonight, so you can get used to it before I go to equip the others in the morning."

 

Tracey met was waiting for us in the living room, and to her credit she didn't make a show of the revelation that Preston had a woman's body. With her help, we printed Preston's gear from the Workshop and got him properly fitted, then helped him get used to walking in the heels. Tracey also had Preston's rifle for him, which she handed over.

 

"I cleaned up the carbon buildup around the emitter and tightened down the scope while you were in the shower. Should be good as new." 

 

I tried not to admire too much the way the silver sensor tape on the suit highlighted the rich dark skin of Preston's pecs. I had to remind myself that it still wasn't the time to put any romantic designs on him, no matter how fine a figure he cut. 

 

"I thought you had a 'no weapons' policy, from your sign," he said.

 

"That's for visitors, and traders. If you five are serious about joining our community, you aren't just allowed to bear arms, I encourage it. It's only a matter of time before someone decides to start trouble here." 

 

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"That's smart," he said. 

 

"It's part of being an American. They teach you about the Bill of Rights in the Minutemen?"

 

Preston nodded. "Before Quincy... before everything... we took a lot of pride in being 'the well regulated militia.' I don't know if one man counts as a militia though."

 

"Well, it won't be one man for long. Holly..." I failed to stifle a yawn that snuck up on me. "Crap, the sun's already up," I groaned, "how long were we in that shower?" 

 

That revelation brought all the pains of my Med-X withdrawals back in full force and I shook my head. "Oh.... OK. I need to sleep off those chems. Preston, I advise you do the same. Tomorrow, keep getting used to your new gear, maybe patrol the perimeter. Then I'll get you introduced to Holly, our de facto security boss. I expect you two will be coordinating quite a bit going forward."

 

Preston nodded. "That sounds like a plan." I expected him to start to leave, but he stood there for a moment.

 

"What's up, Preston?" I asked.

 

"Charley... I hope you won't think less of me, but I'm scared out of my skin right now. What are the others going to say if they see I'm not a..."

 

"Not a what? Competing with Jun Long in a dick measuring contest? You're a man enough for me, Preston, and if they have a problem with it, they have a problem with me. This isn't the kind of community that shuts someone out because they were born a little different."

 

"I don't know, Charley. I hope you're right. Listen, if... if this doesn't work out, will you be all right if I move on?"

 

"Of course," I said, "but I don't think you'll need to. We're building a new world here, Preston, and you've got a place in it. I promise."

 

I patted him on the shoulder - I felt a hug might still need to wait till I'd built a bit more trust - and then I moved past him towards my bedroom. "Get some sleep, Preston!" I called back in passing.

 

I felt so much better the next morning. The Neural Sentry had blunted the worst of the 'Med-X hangover' and the soreness was almost gone by now. After a light breakfast, I headed over to Winter's house to check in on the refugees. Sturges, their mechanic, was outside getting an impromptu shower in the rain, and I asked him if he was alright. 

 

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"I've been worse, at least once I beat the urge to play cover-up with my hands every ten seconds. Though... you got some soap?"

 

I scrutinized his bare chest and I saw what the man meant. "Is that oil? God, your clothes must have been soaked through. When was the last time you washed them?"

 

"Uh," he laughed awkwardly, "never?"

 

"Well, they better not break the washing machine. But yes, we've got soap, though I almost think we should scrub you down with Abraxo if we want to get it all off. That's caked on thick." 

 

"Ha, I'll give it some thought. For now though, this rain's good enough. Gotta loosen it up first, right?"

 

I shook my head at that. "Sure, Sturges, you do that. Come inside when you're done, I'll get you fitted out with your vault suit."

 

The rest of the crew was inside already, and I gave them a quick once over. Despite her weathered face, Mama Murphy's skin hadn't started sagging much yet and I wondered if she was younger than first glances let on. Marcy was, of course, scowling at me, and Jun looked about ready to go hide, but they were all there, all undressed, and - I hoped - ready to find their place in the settlement.

 

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I walked them through where we stood as a community - what tasks we needed more help with and what areas we still needed to fully develop. I explained how the Neural Sentries would help make rationing easier to manage and ensure they got good sleep. I asked them about their skills, and in the telling I learned that Jun Long was not in fact Marcy's little brother, as I'd assumed, but her husband. The two of them had been storekeepers in Quincy, and while I didn't know if we had the capacity to expand the trading post I promised I'd try and find them work that could use their talents. Mama Murphy was an odd one... as close to retired as someone in this would could get, she made her living doling out advice and visions. As she told it, she had 'the sight,' and when she used chems she could glimpse hints of the future.

 

I told Mama Murphy that I couldn't put her completely at leisure, but I'd try to find her light work... and I'd welcome her advice and knowledge. Then I handed out the vault suits and the Neural Sentries. Mama Murphy clicked her's around her neck without hesitation, but I could see Marcy wasn't sure.

 

"You're serious, aren't you? Gonna put us in collars and tie us up in these nothing-suits? How do I know you aren't just running a slave farm here?"

 

"Have you seen anything that makes you think I'm running a slave farm?"

 

"No..." she hissed, "but I saw what the Gunners did when they rolled into Quincy, and they said they were there to help us too."

 

Winter emerged from her room at about this time and joined the conversation.

 

"Marcy, after this I think you should go upstairs and talk to my mother. She had a lot of the same concerns that you're feeling now, and she can tell you what kind of person Charley is. Hell, mom tried to kick Charley out and take over at first, but now they work together every day. This place isn't like anything that you've seen before, and unless we all pitch in it won't be like anything you ever see again. Please, talk to my mother, you'll see."

 

Marcy sighed, grumbling, "fine. Fine, I'll talk to her. But if I don't like the answers I get, I'm leaving, and I'm taking Jun with me."

 

I nodded in acceptance. "That's fair." 

 

With that bargain struck, Winter and I helped them get into their vault suits and I left the three of them to get situated. I needed to track down Tracey about something that had slipped my mind the night before but was now really bothering me. The water situation.

 

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I found her over by the bike and I greeted her with a wave.

 

"Tracey," I said, "how's the water situation?"

 

"Well, I've got good news and bad news... and good news."

 

She explained that we had enough water for now, but that with our new neighbors we were going to run out in a few weeks. However, the good news was... well, she pointed me towards the riverbank.

 

"Head down there and see what Seth and Lila are working on."

 

I did as she instructed, and as I got closer I started to hear the purr of a diesel motor. Just as I caught sight of the pair however, I heard a rumble of thunder and my Geiger counter spiked. 

 

"What the hell was that?" I asked, almost more to myself than anyone else.

 

"Rad storm!" Seth yelled, "quick, back to the settlement!"

 

We ended up riding out the storm in the mushroom garden under their apartment, during which time we had ample opportunity to discuss their work. Using the equipment they'd salvaged from their old settlement and some replacement parts Winter had replicated for them, Seth and Lila had assembled a diesel powered water purifier that - if we could keep it running - should let us supplement our well water with cleaned river water. This completely changed the calculus on our water supply and would let us support a larger population... like the refugees from Quincy.

 

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I thanked them both for bringing such a valuable resource to us, and told them that I owed them a favor down the line. Promising to think on it, the two of them mostly kept to themselves as we sat out the last bits of the storm, before returning to their upstairs accommodations. 

 

When I emerged, I realized that most of the day had already passed, and I decided to put off my rendezvous with Jake until the next morning. I hoped he'd wait for me, but if not I could head back to now-depopulated Concord to try and find him.

Edited by gregaaz

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I'll admit, my first reaction upon seeing Preston was "what did you do to my boy?!"

 

But now, I very much approve of what you did to my boy. Charley says trans rights!

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