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Wildfire

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I've got a cold heart and cold hands,

I'll make you wanna be where I am,

If you only knew my plans,

Oh, if you only knew who I am.

 

- Let Me Touch Your Fire

 

 

Bunker Hill was supposed to be safe.

As she fumbles for some rad-away, Uri hacks up the radioactive smoke clogging her lungs. The battle had been intense… and surprising. Soldiers of all kinds surround her; pieces of synths and brotherhood power armour are strewn across the ground, twisting together, contrasting oddly against the makeshift walls of the caravaner-based settlement. Well, at least some good scavenge can come of this. A lot of the settlers are still taking cover, but Uri has always known better than to wait around - especially in a place full of scavvers.

The fight is still ongoing, and Arthur’s heart is beginning to sink. He’s not used to failure. It’s a tough pill to swallow - but the Institute seem to be more dangerous than they had first anticipated. His soldiers have come across the synthetic humanoids those meddling scientists created before. But with how many are here, still shooting at his people… It’s worse than they imagined. It makes him wonder how fast they can pump these monstrosities out, and how long they’ve been pumping them out in the first place.

He regrets coming here without his power armour as a lucky robot gets a shot in. It hits him on his lower torso, tearing the air from his lungs and singeing his uniform. The skin underneath stings hotly, and he deals with the abomination with a quick shot to the head. The only gunfire he can hear is that outside the walls, so he proceeds.

That's when the grenade goes off.

The Brotherhood Elder isn’t close enough to lose a limb, but the shockwaves throw him off his feet. His left side takes the brunt of it. He hits the crumbling monument just feet away, and with a sickening lurch he realises his dominant arm has been dislocated.

Yes, he regrets leaving his power armour.

If it was just the arm, it might have been ok. He can shoot with his right hand - and well, at that. But his ears are ringing from the explosion, and his head is clouded with a mix of sickness and pain. Arthur grinds his teeth, determined that he will not vomit.

Uri had been reaching to steal a dead synth’s laser rifle when the grenade exploded. She had been a little further from the blast, but had watched as the man not that further ahead of her was knocked off his feet. She winces as she watches his body smash into Bunker Hill’s tower, and then he’s still. He’s clearly Brotherhood - the side that seems to be done for, as synths pick off the rest of the lot. Watching him fight the pain as he tries to stand touches some long-dormant part of her pre-war self… She lets out a low growl and, against her better instincts, runs over to the downed soldier.

Then, as she reaches him, more fighters appear. She has seen enough of the Commonwealth to recognise these ones - they belong to the Railroad, and they’re taking out synthetics and Brotherhood soldiers alike. She starts to assess the damage. Wound to the torso, dislocated shoulder… As she slips his right arm around her shoulders, she wonders why he’s not in any power armour.

He lets out a pained huff as he regains some sort of bearings. His pride feels bruised as he lets the stranger help him. 

“Come on, soldier boy,” she hisses, “We need to get inside. You’re a goner if they find you.”

He lets her guide him into the monument. Climbing the narrow, spiral staircase is challenging - they make it about halfway when she lets him collapse. Arthur presses his forehead against the cool stone beneath him. He can taste blood - he must be grinding his teeth too hard.

Arthur’s not sure how long he stays there, but he hates himself for it. His soldiers are dead - defeated by the Institute’s filth. He must get back to the Prydwen… But they won’t send out a search party. In his overconfident state, he had explicitly told them not to. For the first time in as long as he can remember, he feels a spark of fear. He must make his way back…

And he has no idea how to get there, having been too reliant on the technology and officers at his disposal.

 Eventually, the woman returns. She quickly sets down a bag and begins searching through the contents, and he takes this moment to study her. His sight is still blurred by the pain, but he can see she is young - must be around his age. She has olive skin and deep, black hair that’s pulled into a tight braid at the nape of her neck. Her features are doll-like; If she were better fed and hydrated, she’d be beautiful. Alas, America’s wasteland has never been so kind. Her eyes are a hazel colour, and when she meets his gaze he’s reminded of his favourite whiskey.

“How you feeling?” She asks.

“Pain,” he rasps. Arthur watches as she preps a stimpack and offers him a couple of rad-aways. He takes them with thanks, and hisses as she injects the stim into his abdomen. 

“I have some training in medical care,” she explains, “Never finished it, like. But I know enough to know that we should reset that arm of yours - here,” she hands him a dirty rag, and he grimaces. A scoff escapes her, “c’mon, don’t tell me you’re scared of getting a little dirty. Big soldier like yourself…” 

Irritated, he snatches the cloth and puts it between his teeth. The scavver is still chuckling as she wraps her small frame around his arm, getting a firm grip on it. His breath becomes laboured as he braces for the pain…

He hates complaining, especially about injuries. But he can’t help the horrendous groan that escapes him as she pops his joint back into place.

“Hey, hey,” she says, in a tone he thinks is meant to be soothing - his head is fogging up again, and he clasps at whatever slab of rock he can get a grip on to keep himself grounded. She’s soon stabbing a stimpack into his arm, and then she’s holding purified water to his lips. He drinks fully, surprised at the fact that she let him finish it all off. 

“Thank you, civilian” he breathes, still panting. When he looks up at her, sympathy is etched across her face.

“The name’s Uri. Never much cared for generalised addresses.”

“Uri,” he corrects himself, “I’m Elder Maxson. Leader of the Brotherhood.”

From the way her eyes become saucers, he wonders if telling her this was such a good idea after all… 

--

“So - let me get this straight,” she says, pacing the short space of their camp with a bewildered frown on her face. “You - you are in charge of that blimp, and the Institute just handed your ass to you?”

“I wouldn’t put it so crudely,” he glowers, “But yes - I oversee the Prydwen. I oversee all the Brotherhood soldiers in the Commonwealth.”

“But all your friends are dead, and now you need to get back to the - the Prit… the Preedwe--”

Prydwen.

“Yeah, that.”

“Yes.”

Uri has stopped her pacing, now. But she’s still staring him as though he’s got an extra head.

“You’re crazy,” she decides, laughing mirthlessly, “Absolutely crazy.”

“What for?” He asks, unable to keep the annoyance out of his tone.

“You want to travel from here to your airship. On your own. With no weapons, multiple injuries, and wearing a huge target on your back?”

He assesses her words, and hates to admit that she is right. He’d lost his gun in the blast, and his clothing is not exactly discreet. If he were anyone else, he’d be at a loss - but he is Elder Maxson, and he must get back to his ship.

“What’s that?”

He knows what it is, but he’ll play dumb. She looks down at the device on her arm and offers him a wry smile. And he knows she has cut straight through his act of innocence. 

“A Pip-Boy. You’ll have to kill me to get a hold of this, sunshine.”

“Where’d you find one of those, scavver?”

“I’m not from a vault,” she lies, adding a roll of her eyes at the implication. He's good. “Atom above knows I’d’ve stayed there, if I was so lucky.”

“Then where did you get it?”

“Dead vaultie. Someone from eighty-one who’d been stupid enough to think they had a shot at surviving out here. Would’ve taken the suit, too. But that felt a little invasive… Basically: I got lucky. The dogs I had to put down had already killed ‘em, otherwise I wouldn’t have it in the first place.”

So, she saves people and refuses to kill for her own gain.

Interesting.

Uri can’t decide if this is bad luck or her way to upper stands riches. She is tired of scavenging. The Brotherhood must have an array of weapons up on that airship of theirs… They might even know how to survive in the Glowing Sea. But she doesn’t trust them, so she feeds him the familiar lies and makes a mental note to keep a firm eye on him.

“Alright, Sherlock. I’ll make you a deal,” she says, and he raises an expectant brow. “Travel with me a while. I’ve got errands to run. When we’ve finished, got you a gun and both of us some more ammo, I’ll help you get back to your precious ship… And I want payment when we get there.”

“What kind of payment?”

She grins delightedly, “I’d ask for a suit of that pretty power armour of yours, but I’d settle for initiation into the Brotherhood itself - for now.”

“You - you want to join us?” He blinks, surprise morphing into amusement, “Huh. Good joke.”

“Oh, I’m not joking,” She quips, “I help you back to the ship, and you let me into the fold… I’m more than capable. And if you think I’m not, you can always kick me out.” 

“You know what? Fine,” He chuckles, “You put that pip-boy of yours to good use and get me back to the Prydwen, I might even consider giving you that power armour…" 

He’s joking, of course. But it feels nice to be able to joke at all.

-- 

Their first stop is going to be Diamond City - the great, green jewel of the Commonwealth. Uri maps out the best way to travel… Sadly, ‘best’ equates to ‘fastest.’ There’s a place marked as Swan’s Pond, which is meant to be inhabited by super mutants - and a behemoth. She is confident they can out-sneak them if they go for it at night. Maxson won’t admit how uneasy this makes him. Instead, he agrees.

“And now - that coat,” She hums, bringing her finger to her chin as though deep in thought. Maxson narrows his brows.

“What about it?”

“Your logo is plastered all over it, you arrogant shit. It’s gotta go." 

“No,” he snaps, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Don’t be dramatic, Maxy boy. I know a place. We’ll store it there and pick it up when we pass back through.” 

“Why do you insist on these awful nicknames?” He grumbles, shrugging out of his beloved battle coat nonetheless. He hears her chuckle as he glowers at the leather armour she has supplied him with - which offers barely any protection at all. He straps and fastens it nonetheless. Anything’s better than nothing.

“How do I look?” She asks, and when he turns around he offers her a pointed glare - for Uri has helped herself to his coat, and slid on some shades for good measure.

“Like a synth,” he says, and a huge smile graces her lips.

“Aww, shucks - you’ll make me blush, dearest.”

He wants to be annoyed - really, he does - but he’s never met someone quite like her before. It makes him wonder whether she’s just careless, or if more people across the wastelands of the Americas are this relaxed. He turns away, battling the half-smile threatening his lips. Uri stashes his coat in a nearby safe and hands him the key… He’s not sure if this means she trusts him, but he will be careful to remain vigilant.

It’s one of those days where the buildup of bad weather hangs like tension in the air. The sky continues to darken as they progress, but it’s as though the Commonwealth skies refuse to rain. Arthur has not had chance to see much of this strange, new place. As they travel through the ruins of a once great city, he appreciates the remnants of colour that the Capital wastes had lacked. He soon discovers that Uri prefers to utilise stealth - something he hasn’t attempted for years, considering his power armour. It’s mostly raiders they avoid, which Arthur doesn’t mind… He’s not sure it’ll end well if they run into ferals, though. 

The weather worsens, but there’s still no sign of rain. The air feels clogged with that familiar pre-storm heat, and he finds himself grateful for his new, loose-fitting clothing. By this point, he imagines he’d be exhausted wearing his brotherhood uniform. The added darkness is a welcome bonus for stealth work, but as day morphs into night it becomes difficult to watch their step.

“Damnit,” Uri grumbles, “I miss street lights…”

“What?” He frowns, and she seems to break from some deep train of thought.

“I - uh, never mind,” She shakes her head, though her expression is a sad sort of wistful as she continues. “So, the pond is around that street there. The aim is to walk around rather than through - I know you brotherhood types like a good mutie kill, but there’s two of us and a whole lot of them.” 

“I may be keen to cleanse the Commonwealth, Uri. But I am no fool.”

“Says the brotherhood leader who walked into battle without power armour,” she chuckles, and he turns to hide the disgruntled colour in his face.

Silence is the only option as they move forward. They can hear faint stirrings of movement from the street to the right. From the sound of their conversation, the mutants are excitedly roasting human flesh. Arthur feels the familiar burn of hatred swell in his throat. All he has is a busted-up laser pistol borrowed from Uri, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting the filth dead.

They have almost passed into safer territory, which only has Uri tensing up further. She keeps throwing furtive glances his way; worried that he’s going to attack. Brotherhood folk can’t stand other races, and it irks her in a way that is all too familiar to her past life. She can maybe understand it for the super mutants and ferals, considering that they pose an actual threat… But ghouls? Synths?

A low, thunderous growl stirs the air, and Uri is pulled out of her straying thoughts. There, in the alleyway they now have to pass, is the enormous, gristly-textured silhouette of a mutated hound. Uri’s heart begins to thud with that familiar rush of terror, but Maxson is frozen in place.

He’s never seen one of these before.

The hound lets out a great, distorted howl, and the super mutants can be heard fumbling for their weapons. Uri grabs his hand and yanks him with all her strength.

Run!”

She is fast and agile, which compliments his intense training and stamina as they manage to keep pace with one another. The mutant is huge, but its legs are too small and fat to carry it quickly. They twist through a series of old restaurants, stores, apartments - the old mass fusion building - until they reach the harbour.

“We have to jump!” He pants. Nothing in the wasteland is stupid enough to jump into irradiated water. The mute won’t follow them.

“I can’t!” she yells, but the mutant is getting closer. She is terrified, feels completely helpless, and hates that she has to trust someone else with her life as she adds: “I can’t swim!”

“You’re fucking kidding me!” He growls, but it doesn’t matter now. He pulls her into him as the hound rounds the last corner, spitting venomously as it howls. Then he’s tossing them over the edge, and the water is freezing.

Uri has been an aquaphobe since she was six years old. Her father decided a vacation was in order, and so he flew them out to California. When she had fallen into the swimming pool, the water felt as though it was filling every crevice of her being. Her lungs had been on fire as she coughed and spluttered against suffocation, but no amount of kicking and screaming was going to save her. In the end, a complete stranger was the one to do it - and she’d refused to step foot in the water ever since.

Panic sets in as soon as she’s submerged - she screams, releasing Maxson to kick and flail against the dirty lake water. He feels his stomach drop as he loses her, and begins reaching out. He breaks the surface, gasping in a mix of breathlessness and horror. And she’s already there, sobbing and battling against the water underneath her. His relief is surmountable.

“Uri,” He pants, slowly reaching for her arm. She responds in kind, recognising that he is a form of safety at this point. She wraps herself around him; clasping her arms around his shoulders and legs around his waist. He feels a pang of sympathy for her fear as he guides them to safety. She makes it difficult with how she clings to him, but Arthur eventually manoeuvres them back to shore. Thankfully, the mutated dog has disappeared.

“Here you go,” he soothes, setting her down at the water’s edge. Tears have pooled in her eyes, and her body is shaking so violently he can’t decide if she’s cold or that terrified. It’s dangerous, but he has no other option but to start a fire. There’s an overabundance of dried, old papers in a nearby store, so he piles them together and sets them alight.

They’d left their packs on the harbour’s ledge, so he heads to them now. Once he’s settled a sleeping bag on the ground, Arthur takes one of their cans of purified water and sets it on the fire to heat, adding bloodleaves when it begins to boil.

“Uri?” he turns back to her, feeling relieved to see she has stopped shaking so violently. She raises her gaze in response - the tears have passed. “Uri, we have to get dry and warm. I’m going to find something that we can use to hang our clothes by the fire.”

“Okay,” she whispers, offering him a nod. He returns a few minutes later with a rusted ironing board frame. Uri watches as he settles it down by the makeshift fire, and then as he begins to unfasten his armour and peel off his t-shirt.

She’s not a subtle character, but seeing him like this brings unwanted colour to her cheeks. It’s something she’s come to realise wastelanders don’t bat an eye at - all forms of undress are pretty normal, here. It’s still something she’s trying to get used to. Thankfully he leaves his underwear on - some people don’t even have qualms about that - and then he hangs it all on the old board, leaving enough room for her.

She takes the rad-aways he hands her with thanks, but she knows her system is going to need more than that. Once she’s down to her underwear and hung her clothes to dry, she settles beside him on the sleeping bag and thanks him as he drapes the second over her.

They share the bloodleaf tea as she sets up an IV of rad-x. He watches curiously, but doesn’t question it until he notices a little more colour come back to her face. Arthur hadn’t realised how laboured her breath was until she relaxes, her chest rising and falling naturally instead of heaving heavily. 

“You’re quite sensitive to the radiation,” he notes. She looks at him with tired eyes, and nods.

“Guess I didn’t get those lucky evolutionary genes everyone else did,” she shrugs, “It’s always been like this. Sucks when you’re living in a radioactive wasteland.”

“Hmm,” he agrees, handing her some cooked roach meat. “We will have to share body heat for the night, I’m concerned about our temperature levels.”

“Aww,” she grins, “If you wanna spoon, all you had to do was ask.”

“I have no idea what that means, but if you’re joking around you’re clearly feeling a little better.”

“I am -” She pauses, and sincerity fills her eyes as she pats him on the shoulder, “Thanks. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d probably be dead by now.”

“Eh,” he shrugs, “I would have died in battle, without you. It’s an honorable way to go, but I still have business to attend to before I get to that.”

“You sound like an old man,” she laughs, “How old are you, anyway?”

“Twenty-two,” he says. She blinks in surprise.

“Huh. Me too. Anyone ever told you that you look thirty?”

“Only those who were not afraid of the punch to the face that would follow,” he smirks, and her laughter turns into a hacking cough. Arthur pats her back as she expels the water, and offers her more tea to clear her throat. When she’s stopped, she’s shivering again.

“Sleep,” he murmurs, gesturing for her to join him. She slides into the sleeping bag and he settles the second over them. She knows, for him, the way his arms come to wrap around her is nothing more than survival. For Uri, however, she’s reminded of a life long gone - and she sleeps better than she has in months.