There was shouting coming from Elijah’s command center, and Veronica’s heart jumped into her throat. Angry Elijah was never good, but Veronica had been able to calm him down before, so she ran the rest of the way to the chamber. What she saw upon arriving stunned her, and the brunette felt somewhat like passing out.
Christine stood in front of the Elder, red in the face and her jaw tense. She looked ready to start yelling, but stood there quietly and took the verbal abuse Elijah was throwing at her. On either side of Elijah, Christine’s parents stood with outright disgust on their faces.
“How dare you!” Elijah roared, eyes flashing. “Violating the Codex is a child’s game, not a Brotherhood soldier’s! And spreading your filth to upstanding members of the Brotherhood, how dare you!”
Veronica’s blood ran ice cold. Elijah couldn’t have found out…
“I am disappointed in you,” Christine’s father interjected, shaking his head and sharing a look with his wife. “We did not raise you to--”
“Get out!” Elijah interrupted, throwing his hands in the air and pointing toward the door. “You are dead to the Brotherhood!”
Christine visibly flinched, though she didn’t step down. “Kicking me out for loving someone?!” she retorted. “There’s nothing in the Codex about--”
“Quiet, Exile!” Elijah spat, obviously livid. “Leave!”
“Leave!” Elijah yelled for his head paladins to come and forcibly remove Christine.
The young woman looked between her parents, shoulders sagging desperately. “Mom? Dad? Is this…?”
Christine’s mother turned away and burst into tears, and her father stared through her. Christine paused, then turned on her heel and ran, bumping into Veronica without even recognizing her as she fled the bunker.
Veronica stood there in the hall, still frozen by what she’d heard. Something in her chest was aching, well aware of what had just happened. She expected to be thrown out next, but Christine’s parents walked past her without acknowledging her, and Elijah seemed to instantly change from harsh Elder to the eccentric father figure she had always admired.
“Veronica! Just in time, I have a few documents I was wanting to share with you, and…”
Veronica backed away, shaking her head before running off to hide. She heard her mentor calling after her, sounding confused, but she felt like she was suffocating and like her heart was shredding itself. She’d been found out, and Christine was gone.
By the time she found an isolated room to hide in, Veronica was shaking and nearly sick to her stomach. She gasped for breath, almost choking before collapsing into the nearest chair and starting to cry. Sobs shook her, making her chest ache, and Veronica couldn’t stop the hateful words directed at her girlfriend from echoing in her mind.
It felt like an eternity had passed when Veronica finally managed to compose herself and stop crying. Her head was pounding and her face felt puffy, and she couldn’t stop her shuddering breaths.
Elijah would send someone after her. She knew he’d probably already located her through his security system. Every camera in the room was probably pointed at her, waiting for her to move.
Veronica shuddered, wanting time alone to try and process what had just happened. As much as she respected Elijah, right now she wanted nothing to do with him. Her mind made up, Veronica stood and walked out of the room, toward the bunker exit.
The stairs toward Paladin Ramos’ office seemed like an unscalable mountain, but Veronica finally found herself on the upper level. Ramos’ office door was open and he was sitting at his computer, making some notes on a clipboard.
Veronica walked toward the office, hesitating in the doorway. Ramos looked over at her, frowning when he saw the redness of her eyes.
“Are you okay, Veronica?”
The brunette shook her head, too drained to lie. “Can I go for a walk?”
Ramos shook his head. “Elder’s orders. No one in or out for the next 48 hours.”
“Ramos, please,” Veronica sniffled, wiping her eyes on the red sleeve of the scribe robes she was starting to resent. If being a Brotherhood scribe meant losing her parents and her girlfriend, all the security and technology wasn’t worth it. “Just for an hour or two. I just wanna clear my head.” When Ramos didn’t waver, she swore under her breath. “He exiled Christine. I didn’t even get to say…” Her voice caught and she looked away sharply.
The paladin shifted uneasily, glancing between Veronica and his computer terminal. It was no secret that he had a soft spot for Veronica, almost treating her like a goddaughter, and he was obviously uncomfortable seeing her upset.
“Okay,” he said finally. “But don’t stay out too long. Elijah’ll be pissed if you’re gone.”
Veronica gave him a shaky smile, thanked him, and hurried out of the bunker. The cool night air of the Mojave hit her the moment the metal door creaked shut, and Veronica inhaled deeply. It soothed her, and she fingered the laser pistol at her hip before taking off across Hidden Valley.
She didn’t know where she was going, she just needed to move. Veronica shot down a few scorpions, made the decision to avoid Black Mountain, and headed west. The abandoned prison was to her south, and a small rock bluff provided some shelter from the night wind.
Veronica started a small campfire for the warmth, then leaned back against the rocks and tried not to start crying again. Even with the entire wasteland surrounding her, she still felt like she was standing in the command center, watching Christine get exiled. Veronica tried to focus on anything except for that, settling on mentally disassembling her laser pistol. The thoughts were methodical and mind-numbing, and Veronica was grateful for the distraction.
A hand on her arm jolted her out of her thoughts, and Veronica’s eyes flew open, fists up and ready to defend herself.
Christine was crouching beside her, a weary grin on her face. The curly haired blonde held up her hands in mock surrender and sat on the dirt beside Veronica. “Hey, Vee.”
“What are you doing here? They’ll kill you if they see you this close, Chris!” Veronica’s voice caught on the words, and Christine reached over and cupped her cheek gently.
“I won’t let ‘em see me,” Christine assured her with a weak smile.
“Christine…” The ache was obvious in Veronica’s tone, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
“Come with me,” Christine pleaded, her voice desperate. The flickering firelight only made her eyes more striking, and Veronica surprised herself by considering the proposition.
“Someone has to try and talk sense into Elijah,” the brunette responded weakly, hating the way Christine’s face fell. “And I’m the only one that can get through to him.”
“Somebody else can do that,” Christine countered. “Just… Run away with me, Vee. Let’s leave it all behind and just go live our lives! Together, just you and me.” She saw the hesitation on Veronica’s face, but didn’t falter. “We can find another Brotherhood chapter. Maybe even the Circle! You’re practically a tech genius and I’m a pretty good shot--they’d have to take us.”
“They’re even stricter than the Brotherhood, Chris,” Veronica whimpered. Everything in her wished that it wasn’t true, but Elijah had made her study the Circle and their methods of justice. She knew how brutal the Circle could be, and wasn’t willing to subject her girlfriend or herself to the faction. “They’d just find out and exile us too.”
“We know better now, Vee. We won’t get caught. C’mon, please.” The desperation in Christine’s voice was starting to become visible on her face. “I don’t want to go without you.”
No matter how much she loved Christine, Veronica couldn’t leave the Brotherhood. Even if her parents were gone, the other members of her chapter were her family, and she couldn’t just run out on them. Veronica sat there sullenly, looking anywhere but at Christine. “I could try and talk to them,” she offered after a few moments. “I could try to make Elijah--”
“He won’t listen, Veronica!” Christine sounded angry now. “We’ve been over this a million times! He just won’t listen! I’m out, I’m exiled, there’s no going back for me."
"I can try!" Veronica countered, throwing her hands in the air and scowling at Christine.
"It won't work!" Christine cried.
The two girls stared at each other, chests heaving, and all the fight went out of Christine.
"I love you, Veronica," Christine murmured, already looking heartbroken.
Veronica could feel her heart breaking at the tone of her girlfriend's voice, and the defeat in the curly haired woman's eyes made her ache inside. "Chris..."
"It's not going to work." Christine shook her head and swallowed hard. "It's just... It's not gonna work." She looked away and blinked away tears. “We both know how this argument goes. Elijah’s insane, and even when he exiles me, you can’t quit your hero-worship for five seconds.”
Veronica inhaled sharply, the words stinging. She had a scathing retort ready, but it died on her tongue when Christine snorted and brushed away tears.
“Sorry, that was a shitty thing to say. It’s…” Christine turned sad eyes on the brunette. “This is goodbye, isn’t it?”
The question hit Veronica like a power fist in the stomach. “No, Christine… I--”
The shorter girl shook her head again, a hollow laugh escaping her. “C’mon, Vee, you know I’m right,” she teased weakly, echoing many of their late night study sessions from years gone by. “I have to leave, and you… won’t.”
Veronica’s mouth wouldn’t work and her head was spinning. She shook her head, reaching for Christine. “No, please, Chris, I--”
Christine moved closer, cupping Veronica’s face in her hands. Her touch was gentle and affectionate, and the blonde managed half a smile. “I love you,” she said again, the words simple yet loaded with emotion.
Veronica was terrified of what was happening, but found herself unable to think clearly. She stared into Christine’s eyes, hoping that if she silently begged hard enough, the other girl would change her mind and stay.
“Goodbye,” Christine whispered, her breath ghosting across Veronica’s lips before she closed the distance between them and kissed the brunette. She lingered there for a moment, then pulled away and got to her feet.
Veronica opened her eyes and looked up at Christine, wanting to scream and plead and beg Christine to stay. She knew she could fix this, she just needed a little time.
Christine’s eyes were glittering with tears as she gazed down at the brunette, drinking her in one last time.
“I’ll fix this, Vee. I’ll make him pay.” Her voice took on an air of determination and she backed away. After a last barely-there smile, Christine turned on her heel and left.
Veronica felt completely numb as Christine’s silhouette faded into the darkness, and it took a moment for her to realize that she hadn’t been able to say anything that she should have. She hadn’t gotten to tell Christine how much she loved her, and Veronica hated herself for not even managing to say goodbye.
An overwhelming sense of loss crashed down on her shoulders, and Veronica burst into tears, completely and totally alone in the Mojave night.