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Crazy He Calls Me

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1.They Can’t Take That Away From Me

We may never, never meet again

On the bumpy road to love

Still, I'll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife

The way we danced 'til three

The way you changed my life

No, no, they can't take that away from me

 

Her heart was pounding and she felt sick to her stomach about all the people she had been forced to leave behind but stepping into the open air, into real sunlight that blinded her, something seemed to click inside, something she hadn’t realized had been left out of place until that moment. The sheer amount of space she was looking at as her eyes adjusted pressed the ache of loss down to something she could ignore, replaced by giddy curiosity. She didn’t even notice when she stopped crying, the tears drying up in the heat of the August sun.

This “outside” was different than she’d imagined. It wasn’t the green wonderland that the history books said it once was, nor was it a total wasteland like the Overseer said. Everything was bleak and washed out and destroyed, true, but even in this desolation, she got the sense that life had fought on. It was different, maybe, but life had found a way.

Of course, that moment as she stared in awe across the wasteland was when the bullet wound across her arm had decided to flare up. She clenched her teeth together to bite back the whimper of pain, not entirely sure how safe it was. Twisting around to peer at it, she saw the red staining the brilliant blue of her Vault suit and the tear in the fabric.

“Damn, I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Trying not to move her injured arm too much, she dropped the backpack from her shoulders and pulled out Butch’s jacket. She stared at it for a few heartbeats, fingers lightly tracing the stitching on the back.

Even though the black leather was well maintained and gleaming, it was still less obtrusive than the blue Vault suit. And really, why did Vault-Tec think it was a good idea for that very obvious blue to be the color of the jumpsuits? Not that they could have known way back when how badly anyone who wore a Vault suit would have stuck out in an irradiated wasteland and yet in the Vault, it hadn’t seemed as bright as it did in the sunlight. Clearly the Simu-sun lighting was a pale comparison to actual sunlight and no one in the Vault knew any better. She snorted aloud at the awful pun, hearing Butch’s groan in her mind.

For the first time in years, she felt a genuine hunger to learn and pull apart the way the world worked.

First things first, however. She needed to stitch herself up and she needed to get to Megaton. Probably in that order, though. She knew from experience that blood loss made her an idiot.

She fished through the front pocket of her backpack, retrieving the needle and thread she’d taken to carrying around after she got stuck in a vent and ripped a massive hole in the side of her Vault suit. Still, her fingers holding the needle spasmed from the pain as she pressed the tip to her torn flesh. A strangled whimper yanked itself free from her throat and for a brief moment, she feared she’d crack her teeth from the way she’d clamped down. Still, she persisted, sweat streaming down her back and face and making it all the more difficult to hold onto the blood-slicked needle and whining desperately against the urge to cry out. When finished, she snipped the thread with shaking fingers and pressed a rag to her arm, feeling the sting and blinking fresh tears from her eyes.

Okay. Outside meant a place where she had to willingly put a needle through her skin instead of having a little dose of Med-X and letting her father stitch her up, just like he had when-

She yanked away from that line of thinking, instead touching Butch’s jacket again. She pressed her nose to it, eyes closing at the smell of pomade and smoke. A genuine sob rose up in her throat. Instead of letting it take over, she slipped the jacket on, careful of her wound. It would do her absolutely no good to turn into a blubbering mass. Dehydration was probably a huge problem outside and her dad had drilled it into her since probably before she could remember that she needed to always drink as much water as she could. She smiled before the thought provoked a pang of anger. She couldn’t afford to lose any water on something so unnecessary as tears, not when she needed to find her dad and yell at him.

As she knelt down to pick her backpack up, tendrils of her hair that had escaped her shoddy bun fell into her face. She froze, eyes widening with every second that she remained motionless. With a barely muffled yelp, she yanked the strands forward so she could better see the color. She’d never seen anything that color in the Vault. The closest thing she’d ever seen was fire when Andy accidentally exploded an oven years ago. But the glow of her hair surpassed that out in the sunlight. Hey, Carrots. Butch’s voice echoed in her head, the teasing from before her hair had darkened to what now accounted to an actual beacon in the washed out landscape. “What-I-How?” She lost her balance, sprawling on her ass in the dust. She groaned loudly, head dropping into her chest. Her tense neck muscles protested against the pull. “Inconspicuous for once in my life, please.” One hand blindly reached for her pack and she fished through it, hunting for the battered baseball cap she’d gotten as a present for her sixteenth birthday.

Pain pulsed up her injured arm when she raised it to tuck her hair up underneath it. Wound taken care of, sort of. Check. She pulled up the files she’d transferred to her Pip-boy from the Overseer’s terminal. “Okay, Megaton.” She lifted her head, scowling briefly at the sun overhead before she turned her attention to the southeast. A sprawling mass of metal rose in the distance. She glanced back down, studying the information before nodding. Her eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun as she looked back up. “That’s gotta be it.”

She tipped her head back to look at the sky, at the sun. Steeling herself, she hauled herself to her feet and dug her teeth into her lower lip as she dragged the backpack onto her shoulder and started off across the Wasteland.

Chapter Text

2. Atomic Cocktail

You push a button, turn a dial

Your work is done for miles and miles

When it hits-it's bound to shake 'cause it feels just like an earthquake

Sweat rolled down her face, tracking rivulets in the dust and grim. She paused, lifting an arm to wipe her forehead off before returning to her task. Butch's jacket lay discarded at her side, next to a toolbox, and she'd stripped the Vault suit to the waist, exposing her formerly pristine white tank top and her formerly nearly as white shoulders. The temperature was way, way too hot to leave her Vault suit up all the way during the day and it turned out that the Simu-Sun lights had done literally nothing other than let them see. Within hours of leaving the Vault, her exposed skin had turned almost as red as her hair and even days later, her too red, too tight skin itched and she could have killed for a cold shower. Forget hot water, all she wanted was actual cold water. The lukewarm, slightly irradiated water Moira had was okay but she still itched. She'd never been this unclean in her life and it was just unlucky that her work forced her to be in the sun when she'd far prefer to be in the shade and sheltered from the sun.

Still, she guessed that she'd be finished with the pipeline leaks before the sun went down, barring any unforeseen traumas that could come up. She paused again to readjust the salty cap on her head. She might be willing to traipse around in the too blue Vault suit, but after being gawked at last night, the hat was staying on. Besides, it shielded her face from the sun as she worked.

"B!" She looked up, eyes squinting against the light. Little Maggie bounded up, childish enthusiasm and energy on display. Her heart gave a pang which was quickly shoved back. With a glance down to make sure that the pipe wouldn't produce a fountain of water in the next few minutes and ruin all of her work, she set the tools down and wiped her hands on a rag she preferred not to think about.

"What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Gob said there was a new man in the saloon and that you might wanna talk to him."

That put a frown on her face. "Why on earth would Gob care who I do or don't meet?"

Maggie leaned in close. "Mr. Gob thinks he's here about the bomb but doesn't think it'll look too good if he goes and talks to him. On account of his bein', ya know."

Startled, B swiveled to look at the atom bomb sitting there rather innocently in the pool of radioactive water she'd bathed in for Moira yesterday. She liked Megaton for the most part and a stranger that Gob didn't like and was paying a little too close attention to the bomb? She frowned at the sudden sinking feeling in her stomach. That bomb going off, even if it didn't kill her or ghoulify her, would destroy the work she'd done trying to keep the water purifier from going kaput and mean she'd gotten a sunburn for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

"Did Gob mention anything else about him?"

"Yeah, he said that he'd been talkin' to Miss Nova for a couple of hours today. Asking about you."

B frowned at that. "How'd you find out then, if they were in the Saloon?"

"Went to ask Billy if I could have some caps for a soda at the Brass Lantern." The girl patted her pocket where B assumed the caps were.

She forced a smile on her face, fished out a couple more from her own pocket, and handed them to the girl. "Thanks. I'll pass some on to Gob when I see him next."

Maggie beamed at her. "I'm glad Billy let me talk to you 'cause you're a real nice lady."

The fond smile on B's face faded as the girl scampered off, probably to go play with Simms' kid. She huffed out a sigh, readjusted the cap on her head again, and set back to work. Pipes first and hopefully she'd figure out what to do about this man in the meantime.

The sun was just sinking below the horizon when she finished and her thumb still throbbed from where she'd hit it with a hammer. If she was lucky, it would just bruise. If she wasn't, she'd lose her nail and spend the next few days trying to keep her thumb nail bed clean. Just outside the saloon, she stopped, took a deep breath, and pulled her baseball cap off her head. She stuck it in the back pocket of her Vault suit. Carefully, she took out her bun. She tipped her head back and shook out the mane of flame bright hair that had attracted so much attention before. Moira had red hair too, but the very strange merchant's hair was darker, not nearly as healthy, and not nearly as red to start with. Just another way to set B apart.

B grimaced as she pulled her hair back up again, in a ponytail this time. Her natural curls, augmented by the fact that she'd had a hair in a bun all day and been sweaty, bounced behind her and softened her face. Even still, she hated her hair, always had. In the Vault it had reminded her father of her dead mother and gave the Tunnel Snakes and Butch an endless source of teasing. Out here? Every eye was always pulled to her and right now, she needed that even though it scared the living daylights out of her. On the other hand, her skin was nearly as red as her hair and it just couldn't be attractive. Though...she wasn't sure if she could go through with what she had come in to do.

She strode in, eyes flicking around. She saw the newcomer first and forced her eyes away. Nova leaned against a wall near the door, idly smoking a cigarette.

"Hey, Nova," she greeted her.

"Hey, B." There was fear in the older woman's eyes and that was not something she was accustomed to seeing. She'd always been protective of her friends and that more than anything had led to the various trips to the infirmary between her, Butch and Wally over the years. Seeing the fear on her face immediately made her want to approach this unknown man aggressively, probably with a punch. But that wouldn't solve the problem and would probably get her kicked out. She wouldn't survive on her own out in the wasteland. She sighed, glancing at the corner where the man sat. Yeah. That was decided. She had to.

"Could you hold this for a moment?" She handed her Butch's jacket even as she was loathe to give it over. But she knew she had to show as much skin as possible without being obvious if this was going to work, even if it was red and hurt. Everything in her wanted to recoil and bolt but she had to know, had to try to keep the people who had been kind to her safe. No matter what she'd gone through, she'd never really been able to kill that instinct.

"How come?" Nova asked though she took it and folded it over her arm.

"I'm going to convince the new guy that Megaton is beneath his interest."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Nora dropped her voice, eyes flicking to the stranger. "There's something off about him."

"Which is why he needs to leave. Don't worry. If he tries anything, I can handle it." She pulled out a switchblade, not unlike the one Butch carried, and flipped it around her fingers, needing to do something with her hands.

"Be careful."

B flashed her a grin that felt as fake as it probably looked. "Aren't I always?"

"I've known you for two days and in one of them, you sat in a pool of radioactive water. What does that tell you?"

"Alright, bad example. Wish me luck?"

"You look absolutely fuckable. Even with your skin red as a tato."

B tossed her head back with an actual laugh, the sentiment behind the language clear. She turned and faced the newcomer for the first time, slipping the switchblade back into her pocket. Suit, sunglasses, hat, thin lines around his mouth. Even though she couldn't see his eyes, she knew that he was watching her.

Wordlessly, praying that this worked, she sat in the chair across from him, plucked the open beer from in front of him, and placed it at her lips. She tilted it back, exposing the slender column of her throat. It was warm and disgusting and burned despite her previous experience with Butch's scotch so she took a much smaller swig than she appeared to, before gently setting it back down, hearing the bottle chink against wood.

"Most people wouldn't take an unknown man's beer. I see that you're not from around here. Am I mistaken?" His voice rumbled at her. The rough edges in it told her that he was older than she first thought. That didn't make her feel much better. Allan Mack and Alphonse Almodovar had both made her life hell.

"I'm not most people."

His head tipped to the side just slightly. "That didn't answer my question."

She leaned forward, an eyebrow arched. "And I don't even know your name."

His sunglasses caught the light in a lens flare as he settled back in his chair. She sensed more than saw him spread his legs under the table. "Burke."

Okay. Receptive. She wanted to throw up but unfortunately she was on a mission. "Not from around here, no."

His mouth curved in a slight smile. "What's your name, sweetheart?"

That word from his lips threatened a disgusted shiver down her spine but she held her smirk. "B." He lifted a curious eyebrow at her response.

"Is that short for something?"

"Just B."

"Well, since you're not from around here, I might have a proposition for you."

Finally. "I'm listening."

"I'm sure you know about the bomb in the center of town."

"You'd have to be blind not to see it," she replied smoothly, feeling her heart pound.

"Quite. Well, Megaton is rather an eyesore and it wouldn't be missed if that bomb were to go off."

B's nervous tapping against her knee, hidden by the table, stilled. Quickly, her mind ran through implications and scenarios. Before she could second guess herself, she leaned her elbows on the table, steepling her fingers beneath her chin. No smile. There was just the faintest grate to her voice. "I don't know. I might miss it."

"What could a charming, young woman want with this dump, especially if she isn't from here herself?"

"I needed a home after I lost my old one. The people here have been good to me." Now, she brought to mind Susie's ridiculous flirting with Butch. She held back a shiver of disgust up her spine. She would never be able to be Susie, or Christine or even Amata. When she'd finally gotten the courage to start flirting, she'd quickly lost the taste for it. But maybe… She traced the mouth of the beer bottle with a finger, eyes occasionally flicking up to meet his sunglasses. "You wouldn't want to destroy my home, would you?" She hoped he'd read the husk and tremor to her voice as coyness, attraction. Not fear. If this man sensed her fear, he would be all over her and even now she wasn't sure if she could handle it.

She held her breath, waiting, watching. "Well, I-I mean- Of course not. I must admit, I've never met a woman quite like you before." Despite the way her heart was thrumming in her chest like a generator, she couldn't hold a smile all the way off her face but only a smile curled the corners of her lips. His head tipped to the side just a little again and she got the distinct impression of a bird of prey she'd read about in the Vault. Eagle? No, wait. Vulture. Yep, that pretty much described Burke. "Hmm, I suppose this changes everything. I'm not sure what I'll tell Tenpenny." He smiled at her and she supposed it was supposed to be seductive but B was too busy fighting the urge to bolt to be able to respond to it anymore than she already was. "I'll think of something. You wait here, my dear. I have some important business to attend to. But you won't be waiting long. I'll send for you soon."

She held back a shiver when Burke stood and caressed her jawline. Then he strode out, tipping his hat to Nova as he did.

B sat there for a moment, recognizing just how much adrenaline she had pumping through her veins. That would have made her hands shake regardless but, well, she couldn't believe that she'd just done that. She'd just flirted, sort of, and she hadn't combusted or dropped dead of a heart attack. She lifted her left hand and watched the violent tremor for a moment before closing that hand in a fist. She did it. Burke would be moving on. She didn't realize exactly when she had started to think of Megaton as her home but it didn't really matter. Still. Just because Burke was gone didn't mean that someone else wouldn't come eventually and she wasn't always in town. She'd started going on tentative scavving missions, always staying close to Megaton's vicinity. Or worse, what if the next one wasn't so easily (hah...) swayed?

B dropped her head onto the table and heaved out a heavy sigh. She heard footsteps approach her and turned her head to the side just enough to be able to see who it was.

"What was all that about?" Nova asked after glancing to make sure that Moriarty wasn't around to see her not working.

"He wanted something I wasn't willing to do." B stood and held her hand out for Butch's jacket, which she pressed to her chest and clung to like a lifeline when it was back in her grasp. "If you'll excuse me, I've got some business with a thing."

Chapter Text

  1. I Don’t Know Enough About You

Jack of all trades, master of none,

And isn't it a shame,

I'm so sure that you'd be good for me,

If you'd only play my game!


It had been a very long time since she’d been up this late working on one of her tinkering projects, especially a potentially explodey one. Not that she’d ever worked on something with the devastating capabilities of an unexploded nuclear bomb from two hundred years ago. Was it Chinese or American? There was unfortunately nothing that could clue her into the answer to that question but did it really matter?

Not really.

But nuclear reactors were sort of similar, at least in results if something went ass over tits, and she’d had enough experience with those over the past two and a half years learning to keep the vault from completely falling apart. Still, she’d had manuals then, and Stanley, for all that he hadn’t been all that much help. Right now, she didn’t have any of that, except for a new awareness of mines and several she’d taken apart and put back together. Though, to be fair, she hadn’t tested them out to make sure that they still worked after a dismantlement and that was child’s play compared to this.

She knew she’d had an exhausting day. If she’d learned one thing outside it was that the sun proved to be at least equal to any actual work she could do. All she wanted to do was curl up on Moira’s couch and pass out. She didn’t dare leave this unfinished until tomorrow though. If the Church of Atom had any idea she’d even attempted this, they’d probably try to set it off themselves or kill her. Or, worse, the bomb might go off accidentally just because it was touched. She knew she had to finish this tonight and awareness of that was really the only thing that kept her eyes from shutting. She was getting to the point where it was taking almost as much concentration to keep her eyes open as it was to not accidentally explode the bomb. She blinked against the green light of her Pip-boy as she worked.

Guided by her so far spot on instincts and dragging out every bit of experience she had ever had, she slowly, carefully, deactivated the bomb. A fierce smile curled her lips when a tiny, red light flickered out, and she breathed a slow sigh of relief. The faint burst of adrenaline she could feel made it slightly easier to stay awake. But it was more than that. No one could detonate it now, unless they went to the effort of reactivating it, and she didn’t need to worry about it going off in the middle of the night. They were all safe from that thing, other than heightened background radiation. She had done that. More importantly, Maggie and Harden would be able to grow up.

She stood there, near the bomb, hearing her Geiger counter gently tick. A quick glance confirmed that she was only in a slightly higher spot of background radiation, nothing immediately lethal. She could do a Radaway flush in the morning.

She couldn’t deny the pleasure she’d gained from doing this, even if it was inherently selfish. Just like with Walter’s water purifier. Although...maybe, just maybe she could use what skills she’d learned in the Vault to do more than just help keep the water purifier from biting the dust. Maybe she could prove that she could survive out here. Maybe she could help other people survive out here more than she was already doing with Moira, assuming that would work. Everyone else had more experience with the Wasteland than she did, sure, but she’d already been helping the Vault stay alive so that they could worry about other things. She could do the same thing here.

This bomb was just the first step. What if-

A sharp swat to her ass had her spinning, smile dropping from her face, muscles tensed, and side instantly aching.

Just one of the settlers and by the look and smell of him, he’d been thrown out of Moriarty’s. B tried to keep the sneer off her face and keep the vicious, berating thoughts out of her head.

“Well, sweet thing. How’s about you come with me and I can see what you look like under that Vault suit?”

She tried to nonchalantly wave a hand under her nose, the reek of alcohol and body odor making her nauseated and dizzy. Dimly, she wondered if someone could get drunk on fumes alone. “How about you go sleep this off instead?” She could tell that he didn’t have the coordination to really do anything to her from years of experience with Butch and Wally. Still, she wasn’t about to let her guard down. Not ever. Again, that voice was in her head and she fought to keep from cringing.

“Girlie, I can show you a Wastelander good time. Ruin ya for all other men.”

“I’ll pass.”

As she turned back to the bomb, the man grabbed her by the upper arm, fingers digging in enough that she knew they’d leave bruises and her heartbeat flew from 0 to 60. “I ain’t finished with you yet.”

The man found himself pinned on his back in the irradiated water, switchblade held at his throat. “I may be a Vaultie but I’m a quick study. And even in your disgusting state, you should recognize that no means no and if you don’t recognize that, you’ll understand that the knife at your neck is not good. Understand?”

The man swallowed, glazed eyes wide in the light of her Pip-boy. He made some sort of a squeak that B took to mean he did and released him. “You’re a crazy bitch!” He scrambled away from her, sloshing in the water.

“You might want to take some Radaway!” she called after him. She could feel the burn of the scar down her ribs under the adrenaline. Her hands started shaking. B pressed her hands against the still warm metal of the bomb and closed her eyes, trying to will herself into calming down. The faint ticks from her Geiger counter increased in volume. Ironically, that helped to ground her a little. “I’m not helpless anymore. I’m not helpless anymore.” A lump in her throat formed and for the first time since she left, she actually wanted back in the Vault, at least not solely because of who she missed with a deep ache in her chest. She knew who the creeps were and she had someone at her back. Several someones, really. For all that everyone her age had fought with each other, sometimes literally, they’d had each others’ backs for the most part. Only now was she realizing how much she’d taken for granted that support system.

Movement up near the top of the walkways caught her attention and she switched off her Pip-boy. Eyes straining, she fought to see who it was. It took a few moments and some rapid blinking for her eyes to adjust and a couple more to recognize who it was.

Leo Stahl. What in the world was he doing heading up to the water purification plant?

Then she remembered the information she’d weaseled out of Doc Church. From what she’d seen of him, Leo was a good person, maybe a little high strung and strung out, but he wasn’t like Butch’s mom. And she liked his siblings too, even if Andy could be rude sometimes.

A sudden desire to take control of something, anything, propelled her towards the water purification plant and Leo.

When she finally caught him, he was seated at the desk near the snoring Walter and quickly shut one of the drawers on the desk. He grinned at her, all teeth, but she knew by the blown out pupils and glassy stare that he was high on something.

“Heya, little lady!” He didn’t approach her, which she figured was probably for the best tonight. Her nerves likely wouldn’t take much more. Instead, he rose from the chair to sit on the desk itself.

B’s eyes narrowed and she folded her arms across her chest, the slight protest of Butch’s jacket the only sound she made. And continued to stare at him long enough that she could actually see the moment when he realized something was up.

“Is there a problem?” He licked his lips nervously.

“Is there?” She didn’t mean to ask with such a bite to her voice but she’d never been able to do anything for Butch’s mom. The woman had never gotten over James DeLoria’s death and everyone in the Vault knew she was trying to drink her way to an early grave but so far hadn’t managed it. She and Butch had both tried to reason with her. If Leo wasn’t too far gone, which she didn’t think so based on what Doc Church had said, she might be able to convince him to stop, maybe help him where she’d never been able to get through to Ellen.

“No! I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Leo glanced back at the closed door, voice dropping back to a whisper when Walter’s snoring stuttered.

B arched a disbelieving eyebrow but her voice was soft. “I know, Leo. I know about your chem problem.”

Leo flushed, embarrassment or anger she wasn’t sure which. “So I’m a junkie. Big fucking deal. It’s not like I’m hurting anyone.”

Sharp anger pulsed through her and her hands spasmed. Too many emotions, not enough sleep. Damn. She thought she’d gotten over that. Quickly, she linked her fingers together in front of her and pressed her palms together, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “Leo, my dad is a doctor. I know what chems do to people. I know what addictions do to people.”

His eyes zeroed in on her hands. “What’s wrong with you?” Clearly he was more perceptive than she thought he’d be.

Another tremor went down her spine and she briefly closed her eyes, trying to force her body to cooperate. “A drunk that got kicked out of Moriarty’s got a little handsy. Scared me a little. I’m fine.” Her eyes focused on his, fear present. “I’m more worried about you.”

“I’m fine.” He mimicked the slight sharpness that had crept into her voice. She held back a groan. Getting defensive wasn’t going to help her case. So she lowered her voice, gentle, the way she’d spoken to Monica Kendall when the little girl had scraped her knee three years ago. A lifetime ago.

“You’re hurting your family, Leo. Even if you don’t think you are. Jenny and Andy care about you. They’re your family. What if something happens to you and you overdose on accident and you die? You have no idea how much that will hurt the people that love you.” Her voice cracked a little and she winced, blinking back sudden tears.

He frowned and this time, B could tell it was shame that darkened his cheeks. “I...I guess you’re right. I have to tell them about my problem, don’t I?”

Her shoulders slumped in noticeable relief. He had a shot, then. Now she just had to make sure it was actually his decision or he’d slide right back into his habit. “I could tell them for you.” Her voice was still gentle, still soft. And he was responding to it. She could see that.

“No. No, I should do it. I just,” he exhaled roughly, looking more and more sober. Apparently he hadn’t taken much before she got to him. That was good. He might even remember this for the most part. “I just don’t know what to say. I’ve been stealing from both of them for years. Where do I even start?”

She smiled gently and hesitantly, cautiously, reached out to lightly touch his arm. “Do you want me to come with you? Moral support?”

“I think I need to do this on my own. I’ll figure something out.” Leo had blue eyes, she noticed. It wasn’t a bright blue, sort of faded and almost greyish. Another pang flicked through her chest as Butch’s particular shade of blue eyes entered her mind but she pushed it to the side. There was silence long enough that B began to slowly step away from him, expecting the conversation over. Leo stood up, startling her. “Look, I wanted to thank you for your help. I guess it took a complete stranger to show me what an ass I’ve been.”

He held out a hand, offering to shake. Her first real smile of the day spread across her face and she bypassed the proffered hand to pull him into a hug, noticing the way he went stiff in her arms and felt panic begin to jolt through her. “You made the right choice, Leo.” She let go quickly, hiding a yawn behind her hand, and missed the way he looked at the loss of contact. She didn’t look directly at him again, feeling the sharp bite and need to run, hide, disappear. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go crash on Moira’s couch. It’s been a long day.” Her attempt at casual seemed to work because he didn’t reply.

She nodded a farewell at him, still not looking directly at him. After a glance at the door behind which she could still hear Walter’s snoring, B turned on her heel to walk away. She didn’t get to see the dumbfounded expression on his face, nor the way he seemed to sway in her direction as she walked off.

Chapter Text

4. Just In Time

Just in time, I found you just in time

Before you came my time was running low

I was lost, the losing dice were tossed

My bridges all were crossed

She hadn't slept in two days, but that was okay. Well, no. It wasn't. She was exhausted. But she had to keep moving. Had to keep going.

Assuming she didn't run into any problems or trip over something she didn't see in the dark, she didn't have much further to go until she got back to Megaton. Her pack was heavy with what she'd scavenged but she walked at a steady pace as long as she didn't think. At her side padded the dog that had saved her life from one of those big, green things. Supermutant, maybe. She'd have to ask Billy Creel for a description.

Dogmeat, she'd read on his collar. He seemed to respond to it so that was probably his name.

Occasionally, he'd bump into her. She didn't know why.

She was so tired, tired enough that she wasn't exactly watching where she was going.

And she walked right into a raider camp. She stopped dead in her tracks as the one sitting around the fire looked up at her, eyes widening. Dogmeat began to growl.

For a moment, both she and the raider were frozen, staring at each other. Then he began shouting, rousing his fellows and she bolted. Adrenaline coursed through her, pushing her tiredness away. Dogmeat whined then followed.

Gunshots sounded behind her and she ducked her head, forcing herself to go faster. As luck would have it, she tripped over a rock, sprawling into the dust. Butch's jacket took the brunt of the fall but he'd taken such care with it that it only scratched a little. The sting in her palms only served to wake her up further.

She lifted her head as she felt more than heard the eruption from the ground behind her. B rested her forehead back on the ground, closing her eyes briefly before she rolled her pack off her back so she could get up, pulling her pack up with her. She had to get back.

It was one of those giant scorpions and it was now facing off against the raiders who kept missing. It seemed ridiculously hard to miss something that went up to your knee and she didn't understand how they were managing to do that. She turned to see a second scorpion rising out of the ground.

"Run!" she shrieked at Dogmeat. The scorpion struck out at her as she fled past.


Two days. She'd been gone for two days with no sign of her. Leo had absolutely no reason to be worried. None. The Vault-girl was a stranger and had managed to completely turn Megaton upside down. Good riddance.

It made absolutely no sense, then, why he was sitting next to the door to the Wasteland at two-fucking-thirty in the morning with his hands beginning to shake and head beginning to pound. He should be sleeping this off and he wanted nothing more than to have a hit of Jet but B had taken his stash, picked the lock to do it, and done who knew what with it.

But here he was, waiting. He didn't even know why, not really. Andy would probably be pissed in the

He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting there but he must have fallen asleep because he jolted when the door creaked open, scrambling to his feet and nearly falling over.

He didn't recognize the dog whining at her heels but he recognized the person stumbling in beside it. Too bright Vault suit that glowed in the light of the near full moon and red hair washed with silver where it peaked out from underneath the ball cap. One hand pressed against her side.

Her foot caught on something. Both hands flashed out to catch herself as she fell, one gleaming darkly. She cried out at the impact, unable to stifle it as her pack clattered off her shoulder.

In a flash, Leo knew. Quickly, he stooped down behind her, one hand snaking around her belly to find and press against the slickness at her side and the other braced against her back. The sharp, metallic scent of blood hung in the air. The dog whined from its position at her side, nudging her with its nose.

"Gotta get you to Doc Church," Leo grunted as he hauled them both upright, head swimming and he had a moment of panic when he thought he'd drop her.

Feebly, she wiggled, protesting, whining. "House...right there...fine."

"No, you're not fine." What was wrong with this Vault girl?

Against his better judgement, he obeyed, managing to drag her with him into her house and up the stairs despite her whimpering. Somehow he got her onto her bed. In the dim glow of her lights, he could see the dark stains on her Vault suit and her paling skin, evidence of the toll this was taking on her. "Pack," she groaned, reaching out blindly. The dog pushed Leo aside and dropped her forgotten pack within reach. "Good boy."

She shuffled around in the pack until she withdrew an inhaler. Leo recoiled, baffled, thinking it was Jet she was offering him even though he wanted nothing better than to snatch it out of her hand. She made some sort of high-pitched noise, throwing her head back against the pillow. Again, more insistently, she flicked her wrist toward him. "Doc'll explain. Help addiction."

Conflicting emotions boiled inside Leo and he ran from them, and her, ignoring the worried whirs from the Mr. Handy on the main floor. He skidded to a halt in front of Doc's door, pounding on it.

When the doctor opened the door, grumbling, Leo just dragged him out.

Back at B's side, Doc Church glanced at the inhaler still held in her bloody, limp hand, eyes widening. "Addictol. Haven't seen any in years."

Guilt surged through him, now the strongest emotion as he finally took the offered inhaler. "Can you help her?"

"Should be able to."

Leo helped him pull the leather jacket off of her. "No, no, no, no, no." B thrashed her head from side to side, an agonized wail breaking free from her throat. The ball cap she kept on her head fell off in the movement and her hair seemed to fucking glow. Her hand caught hold of the sleeve as Leo tried to take it away and gripped tightly. Leo turned to Doc Church, uncertainty painted across his face and when the grizzled doctor shrugged, turning back to his patient, Leo stepped a little closer so the jacket hung between him and B. Doc unzipped her Vault suit, exposing reddened skin and a bloodstained white tank top.

A few quick snips of his scissors and he exposed her torso when he peeled the tanktop away to reveal her injuries and almost impossibly white skin dotted with faint, barely there freckles. She was also wearing a bra, something he knew not many women did anymore. He'd been with a couple who did, usually the ones who'd been well-fed enough since birth to think their breasts warranted them but out here, almost no one did. On those women, the bra looked out of place. On B? Even with her bloodstained and pale, her bra looked...good on her. A thin scar, older, stretched from her hip bone to disappear beneath her bra strap. Doc Church nudged him out of the way to wipe away the blood as Leo stared.

She'd been shot, not stabbed, Leo finally realized, and he noticed that his breathing was a little faster than usual. Made no sense. He wasn't the one who was hurt. "Are there exit wounds?" Doc Church asked, noticing a remarkably clean set of tweezers on the desk next to her bed.

"How the fuck would I know?"
"Don't mouth off at me, boy. Check the damn jacket."

Oh. That made sense. Leo quickly glanced over the back of the jacket, seeing the sewn snake and wondering about it for the first time but it was intact. "No holes."

Doc Church grunted. "Need whiskey and a lighter."

"Doc, I don't think she smokes. Or drinks."

"See what she has. Now."

"I believe ma'am keeps her liquor in the cupboard downstairs," the Mr. Handy helpfully informed them. He hovered just outside her bedroom door, heat from his repulsors blasting across the floor.

"Does she have a lighter too?" Leo dropped off the side of the stairs, ankle twinging when he landed a little awkwardly.

"I would check in the spare room. She keeps all of her little doodads and knickknacks there to fuss with in her spare time."

"How the fuck does she have spare time?" Finding a near full bottle of whiskey, he bounded back up the stairs and into the bedroom next to B's. He set the bottle down near the doorway and began rustling through the the dressers and various containers, more and more frantically until, in an small table drawer, he found a small collection of lighters. His shoulders relaxed just slightly.

The surgery to remove the bullets took the rest of the night. B had long since passed out; whether from pain or blood loss, Leo wasn't sure. But her heart continued to stubbornly beat and she continued to breathe, albeit rather shallowly.

After removing two bullets and a radscorpion stinger he would have missed had the area not started swelling after pulling the Vault suit away, Doc Church finally dumped the remainder of the whiskey into her wounds before stitching them up and heavily bandaging her. There was no visible reaction from the unconscious B but Leo, one hand resting on her throat at her pulse point, felt the twitch in her heartbeat. He also knew that it was likely the radscorpion sting had probably kept her alive. Their venom reduced blood loss, caused swelling, and with how much she'd been bleeding, she probably would have bled out without it. And her Vault suit had kept the sting from swelling and killing her.

The Vaultie had tremendously good bad luck, it seemed.

"I won't stimpack her until after I know if she's gotten them wounds infected. I'll come by this afternoon to check up on her." Doc Church paused as he turned back to his patient then shook his head. He grumbled something under his breath as he passed.
Leo remembered seeing a chair in the room next to hers and he dragged it in, wincing at the grating sound of the legs against the floor. He glanced down at her when he set it next to her bed before settling into the uncomfortable chair. She didn't respond. The inhaler in his pocket seemed to press against his leg, demanding his attention. She could still die and if she did, she'd gotten hurt to try to help him. People just didn't do that.

When she woke up shortly before noon, Leo was slumped in the chair, head on his chest. When he woke up, it was to her yelp as she tried to push herself up into a sitting position.

"What the hell are you doing?" He stood too quickly, clambering to his feet, and his head swam. She reached out and gripped his outstretched arm, nails lightly digging into his skin. The pain shocked him out of the pounding in his head.

"You okay?" Her voice was quiet, but strong and the clear concern in her bottle green eyes completely belied the fact that hours earlier, she'd been in surgery and fighting for her life.

"Jet," he grunted before narrowing his bloodshot eyes. "And you shouldn't be sitting up. What the fuck's wrong with you?" He placed one hand next to her on the bed and she released his other arm.

"I need to talk to Moira."

Leo gaped at her. "You've got to be fucking kidding me. You are in no fucking state to be fucking going anywhere. Why the fuck do you think you need to go see Moira?"

B scowled at him. "She asked me to, well, injure myself. I wasn't going to do it on purpose and I figured it would happen eventually. I just wasn't expecting this to happen." Again, she tried to sit up but her nostrils flared and an agonized, breathy whimper left her. Enough. Leo pushed her back down into the bed. She didn't have the strength to fight him and he saw it in the panic in her eyes and the blood draining from her face. He pulled his hand away and though she didn't try again, the frightened Radstag look didn't leave. A sick feeling sank in his stomach as a thought entered his head.

He sighed, anger deflating. "Look, I can go grab her. You just stay here, alright?"

"Don't you need work? I can get there. It's not far." Her words were beginning to slur a little and that worried him more than he wanted to admit.

"Andy and Jenny won't care much. 'Sides, Doc Church would have my hide if you tear your stitches and I have to wake him up."

A mulish gleam entered her eyes but she didn't try to sit up again. "Fine. Go get her."

Despite his misgivings, and he had plenty given that Moira seemed to be using the Vault dweller for whatever little project she was currently on, Leo left her alone and retrieved the eccentric woman.

Upon seeing the bloodsoaked young woman, Moira's eyes widened and then an awful glee entered them that Leo didn't like one bit. "Look at you! Tell me, how do you feel?"

B closed her eyes and made some sort of noise he couldn't put a word to. "Peachy keen," she croaked. "Adrenaline blocked out some of the pain and focusing on what I had to do kept me going. But I don't recommend getting caught in the crossfire between raiders and those giant scorpions."

"Interesting. I don't know if many people will be able to think like that but that is some good advice." Leo stared at Moira in disbelief as she scribbled something down on the clipboard she was carrying. And then she unhooked a small sack from her belt, laying it down on the bed. "Here's some supplies and I doubt Doc Church gave you any so have a Med-X on me."

She handed the thin syringe to Leo before patting B on the shoulder and leaving. B exhaled, closing her eyes and laying back. "Is she insane? I'm pretty sure she's insane."

"You're the one working with her."

B made a laughing noise through her nose that could have been one of pain. Then she turned her head and studied him with sort of glazed green eyes. Almost like heat warped bottle glass. "You haven't taken the Addictol. Why?"

Leo blinked, feeling the presence of the inhaler in his pocket burn into his skin. Guilt. He was surprised to feel it and if he didn't know better, it was stronger than when he'd had to tell his siblings about both his drug problem and the thefts. "You actually got that for me?"

"I was the one who convinced you to go off the chems. We had it in the Vault so I figured there had to be some out here somewhere. Figured it was the least I could do and I just got lucky finding it. Still a bitch to find though." She shifted her weight on the bed, face twisting in a grimace and breath coming out in soft pants. "Can I have the Med-X now?"

He gently pressed the needle into the crook of her arm, almost embarrassed by how well he knew how. As the drug flooded her system and he pulled the needle away, she laid her hand on his, thumb gently stroking his rough skin.

"Pretty face," she slurred, barely able to keep her slow blinking eyes open. "Glad be okay." She went limp again, breaths evening out, and Leo just stared at her. He looked over her bloodstained clothes and body, the way her muscles were just starting to show real definition. The Vault suit was starting to look a little loose on her too. She didn't belong out here.

He didn't know why she'd left but he found himself wishing she'd stayed where she'd been safe.

You wouldn't have nearly died in there.

Chapter Text

  1. Too Close For Comfort

Be firm, be fair, be sure, beware

On your guard, take care

While there's such temptation

One thing leads to another

Too late to run for cover

She's much too close for comfort now

 

There were a lot of things that made it painfully obvious where B had grown up. The absurd cleanliness. The white teeth. The healthy hair even after weeks of living above ground. The Vault suit. The painfully sunburned skin that only now was starting to darken into a tan after blistering.

Nothing made it more obvious than the fact that she needed sound around her. When the Pip-boy on her arm wasn’t picking up the GNR station and she didn’t want to listen to President Eden, whoever the fuck he was, on the Enclave station, she hummed. Or she would quote things. Or she’d just talk to herself as she fiddled with whatever she fiddled with.

But the point was, she had to have noise around her and if she wasn’t getting it, she was making it.

In fact, as she strolled into The Brass Lantern in her dusty boots and a pair of jeans that hugged her ass in a way that should be illegal, blue jumpsuit thrown over her arm as she carried it, she was humming. A couple of the settlers in the bar area glanced up, curious, but their heads went back down to their drinks at Leo’s arched eyebrow.

“I think I’m annoying Moira.” B sat down on a barstool with a wince, spreading the Vault suit over her lap and settling in like she owned the damned place. She had a bad habit of doing that, taking up a ton of space, making herself look bigger than she was. The dog she’d found, rescued, whatever, sat down next to her almost like he was her guard. Two days of her coming in and he still had to remind himself that she wasn’t taking that ball cap off. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter. Leo wasn’t sure he liked it but didn’t think she’d take kindly to having it pointed out. Even if he wanted to see what her hair looked like when she wasn’t half-dead and bleeding out. “That or she thinks I should spend time with you. I can’t tell with her.”

Leo blinked, bringing himself back to the conversation. Moira. The damned woman had flashed him a bright, not at all subtle fucking grin yesterday when he’d stopped by to pick up the supplies from the caravan that had come through. “No one knows with her,” he grunted, starting in on cleaning the bar.

She made some sort of noise, possibly in agreement and then fell silent as she began stitching up one of the holes in her Vault suit. It was quiet in the Lantern, almost peaceful, broken only by bottles being set down on the bar or forks on plates.

And then the humming started again. She had a decent voice even as soft as it was. But it was distracting. Leo quickly looked away when she glanced up, missing the smile that appeared on her face. One song became two and two became three before she paused in her work, stretching sore muscles and still healing wounds. The movement drew his eye before he could stop it.

“Do you know how hard it is to find thread out here?” She turned her head and he was struck by the wistful bite in her green eyes, “And I’m getting tired of having to repair my Vault suit.”

“What, you don’t like wearing jeans?” Because you look mighty good in them. Leo just barely kept that thought where it belonged: in his head. What the fuck was wrong with him?

B blinked at him slowly. Without looking at the Vault suit in her lap, she wove the needle into the fabric, turned to face him, and gestured to the faded blue jeans she wore. “Moira managed to find me jeans that are both comfortable and not completely threadbare. She has got to be a magician or something to accomplish that.” Her fingers fluttered like she was ghost flipping her switchblade that he was sure was in her pocket. “But I’ve been living in Vault suits basically my entire life. That’s what I’m most comfortable in, even if I have to stick out like a sore thumb because of them.”

Leo shrugged, setting the glass he had been cleaning down and reaching for another. “You don’t look half bad in them,” he told her, feeling his heart begin to pound for some reason.

B gave a snort, returning her attention to the blue suit draped across her lap. “You don’t need to try to flatter me, you know. And don’t worry, I’ll be gone before dawn.”

“Gone?” Leo’s head snapped up before he could stop it.

“Not gone, gone.” Her eyes peered at him from under the brim of her ball cap. “I do have a house here, Leo.” She turned her head, staring at the door. Her hands stilled. “But I wouldn’t expect you to understand. You’ve had the sky and clouds and the moon and stars and freedom your entire life. I’ve lived in what amounts to a cave in the ground with an overbearing Overseer who for some reason has always hated me.” She turned back to him, her head lifted so that she didn’t the normal shadows on her face. The sunburn had finally started to fade, revealing a night sky’s worth of freckles that she hadn’t had the first time he’d seen her fresh out of the Vault. Then she returned her gaze to her jumpsuit, hands resuming their mission and her freckles vanished from sight. “When I got out here, I thought having so much space would be terrifying. But it isn’t. There is so much out there to see and do and I can’t sit around and wait for any of it.”

“Even if it’ll try to kill you.” The thought distressed Leo more than it should have.

B shrugged. “Occupational hazard out here, I guess.” She bit through the thread and tugged on her jumpsuit, testing the knots and the repair job. “There. Done.” She hopped off the stool and one hand immediately went to her side as she hissed in a pained breath.

“Are you sure you’re up to going back out there?” Leo asked.

“I’ll be fine. Doc said that as long as I had almost full range back after the stimpack tonight, I was good to go. Besides, I convinced Jericho to take me out and properly teach me how to shoot something other than a BB gun. I’m not bad but I’d honestly prefer not dying out there.”

His stomach sank. Jericho was bad news. Still, judging by the way she kept literally all of the men in town further than arm’s length away, she wasn’t dumb enough to let her guard down around the ex-raider. “How the hell did you manage that?”

“I told him that it would be the easiest way to keep me out of Megaton. If you and Moira think I’m annoying, imagine how much he wants me out of his hair. Or whatever. Since he... Besides, he’s lived outside city walls his entire life if he’s to be believed. Who better to teach me to survive?” B barely touched the back of his hand with her fingertips. Any more pressure and he would have called it patting. But it was barely there and then gone. She smiled brightly, eyes laughing underneath her ball cap, and walked out the door. One of his feet shifted with the urge to follow her.

He heard her greet Jenny before the door closed between them. “You were staring at her ass.” Leo jerked his head around at Andy’s comment, feeling his cheeks heat.

“Wouldn’t you?” he shot back. His brother just laughed and shook his head in exasperation.


B settled into the chair beside her bed. Alone, with only Wadsworth around to hear, she let herself whimper as she lowered herself. The muscles in her belly burned where her gunshot wounds were healing and gouge where the bullet had gotten lodged between her ribs and subsequently taken out stung every time she breathed.

She lifted up her shirt, exposing the still red wounds. She slid the needle of the stimpack she’d picked up from Doc Church between them. Her teeth clamped down on her lower lip to focus on pain elsewhere. The hot tingle that erupted at her gunshot wounds brought tears to her eyes but she refused to cry out. It took less than a minute for the agony to fade but still, echoes pulsed across her nerves. At her side, Dogmeat whined, pressing his head against her thigh. Trembling fingers patted him on the head, letting the dog know she was okay.

“Ma’am? Your cloth has been prepared,” Wadsworth called up from the main floor.

“Thank you, Wadsworth,” she responded, voice higher than usual. She took a moment to clear her throat, closing her eyes, and breathing noisily through her nose.

“And a Mr. Leo Stahl is here to see you.”

Panic flared through her and she jerked in the chair. Her torso, not quite ready for the movement, throbbed and she couldn’t quite stop the yelp. “B? You okay?” Leo’s voice drifted up.

“I’m fine. I’ll be right down.” She stood, fingers wrapped around the back of the chair tight enough her knuckles turned white. Yanking her tanktop down, she took a moment to steady herself before she went downstairs. Dogmeat beat her down the stairs, a couple quiet yips before he sat, tail dusting the floor. I have to sweep again? Ugh. Leo waited for her at the bottom, a can of cram in one hand and a Nuka Cola in the other.

“You didn’t come by to grab dinner so I figured I’d come by, make sure you eat.”

B blinked at him. “You didn’t have to come by. I was going to roast some molerat so I had something to munch on while I’m out tomorrow.” Dogmeat barked. She smiled, looking down at the dog. “And so Dogmeat has something to eat too.”

“Oh. I’ll put them in the kitchen then for you.” Leo went to go through the space left between her body and Wadsworth but brushed up against her ribs. Still tender but not in pain, she grimaced. The expression caught Leo’s attention and he turned to her. “I know you’re not fine.”

“Stimpacks just hurt. I won’t even notice in a few minutes.”

Leo’s brow furrowed and he started to smile. “Stimpacks don’t hurt.”

B rolled her eyes, reaching out to gently poke him in the shoulder, hand withdrawing quickly. “Maybe for people used to them. I never stimpacked in the Vault. Look.” She took the Nuka Cola from him and slid her hand into his.

It was the calluses that caught his attention, rough under his touch. He had assumed that as a Vaultie, she’d be soft but when he lifted her hand, it was covered in burns and scars and calluses. He gently rubbed his thumb over some of them. At his confused look, she lifted her other hand and showed him the fingers wrapped around the bottle. Several of those were crooked but carried the same story. Her hands knew work.

“There weren’t a lot of kids in the Vault so I sort of worked as a Jack of all trades in maintenance.” The confused look deepened. She sighed, nibbling on part of her bottom lip. The admission still hurt years later, like she was a failure even if she knew she was exponentially better suited to working with anything but people. He didn’t know her past though. Didn’t make it any easier. The gentleness in his eyes though…  “I worked with electronics and plumbing. I did repairs and I had new projects that I did. I worked with the Mr. Handy and he broke down a lot.” Wadsworth whirred worriedly. She smiled at the floating robot, trying to force the sudden blackness of her mood away. “Don’t worry, Wadsworth. If anything happens to you, I know what to do to fix you.”

Leo stared at her, still baffled, still gentle. “So why wouldn’t you use stimpacks then?”

She gave a short laugh. “I broke my arm when I was seven. Fortunately, my dad was the Vault doctor but it was my first time getting a stimpack for anything and it hurt a lot. After that, I didn’t want to get any stimpacks for anything. Even after I fractured my hand a couple of years ago, I healed the slow way. The overseer flipped his lid because my productivity dropped.”

Her gaze dropped to her hand still held in his and when she lifted it, she suddenly realized how close they were standing. Leo seemed to realize it too by the way his eyes flicked down to her lips.

She immediately jerked back, the back of her knees hitting the stairs and she landed on her ass. Too close, too close, too close. Fear lurched into her throat, threatening to close off her breathing. “B, are-”

“I’m fine!” She scrambled backwards, feeling the twinge in her side but it wasn’t enough to override the flood of adrenaline. Throwing herself to her feet, she took in his confusion and the flicker of hurt before she was launching herself up the stairs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Leo. Just leave the cram in the kitchen.”

Her door slammed shut.

Leo stared at the door for a few moments before setting the cram down on the steps and walking out her front door, shoulders hunched a little.

Wadsworth turned his eyes up to her door and then to the front door. “Oh, dear.” He picked up the can of cram and floated into the kitchen to put it away. Dogmeat pawed at her door, whining.

 

Chapter Text

  1. Mississippi Mud

What a dance do they do!

Lordy, how I'm tellin' you

They don't need no band

They keep time by clappin' their hand

Just as happy as a cow chewin' on a cud

When the people beat their feet on the Mississippi Mud

 

For how hot the wasteland was during the day, it got cold at night. Before dawn? Colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra.

B shivered, flipping the collar of Butch’s jacket up around her neck. Oh, come on, Nosebleed! She smiled at the protest in her head. The boy drove her crazy but he was nothing if not predictable. Even if right now he was only part of her imagination. She couldn’t imagine him being out here too. And then, because she apparently enjoyed torturing herself, she started seeing Leo and Butch side by side in her mind. Two sets of very different blue eyes.

At her side, Dogmeat stopped, nose to the sky and ears cocked.

She didn’t notice until he started to growl softly and she froze. His hackles lifted. B pulled her head up, searching. At first, she didn’t see anything. Then she saw the glint of metal in the moonlight. A chill went through her body that had absolutely nothing to do with it being night time.

Raider. Probably more than one if recent events had taught her anything. Her ribs ached where she was still healing.

B glanced down at Dogmeat. “Think we’ll be able to go around?”

The dog continued to growl.

She didn’t know how the dog knew the good guys from the bad guys. Or the sort of decent people from the bad guys. Or the ones who weren’t going to immediately shoot her on sight. Or the ones who-

She shook her head away from that line of thought. It was too easy to be afraid of everyone. She didn’t want to be afraid of everyone. Especially not that way.

But these guys… If she trusted anyone’s judgement out here, she trusted Dogmeat’s. If he thought these guys were a threat, then she didn’t want them this close to Megaton. Not with Harden and Maggie there.

She crept forward, hoping her ball cap kept her hair from being too bright and using the rocks for cover. When she got closer, she paused. Obviously she could go in with her baseball bat and it would save precious ammunition. But one of the raiders in the Super Duper Mart had had a big rifle and apparently it could do some damage at close range, considering the damage she had done to the shelves and building. B really didn’t want to get shot again, not this close to being fully healed, and if one of the raiders had one of those guns, she’d be screwed.

Dogmeat went silent though he was still looking aggressive so she unholstered the 10mm she’d gotten in the Vault. Her hands were shaking and she had to wipe her palms on her jumpsuit so she could actually hold onto the grip. Jericho’s gruff voice filled her mind and she carefully aimed down the sight. Inhale. Exhale. Hold. Fire. The gun kicked a little but didn’t distract her from the way the raider’s throat tore open, blood painted silver as it fountained out. She’d missed what she was aiming at but hadn’t missed him. Horrified fascination kept her eyes on the spray even as the other two raiders began shouting. She forced her head down, ducking behind a rock. Her heart rate kicked up and saliva filled her mouth. This wasn’t her first kill; that distinction had gone to a raider in the Super-Duper mart. But it was her first kill without being attacked first and her first kill with a gun.

Cold-blooded killer was what she was now. She’d already earned the badge of mass murderer. And now, thoughts skipping like a bad record, she realized that she might well be a serial killer on top of that. Assassin? No. Not assassin. She didn’t think. What was the difference?

“Oh, God…” She was going to be sick. Dogmeat, hunkered down beside her, whined softly, pressing his wet nose into her slack, empty hand. The shouting drew closer and that was what made her shift her shoulders back and shove the nausea to the side, praying to whatever listened that she wouldn’t lose it in the middle of a fight. “Fine. I’m good. Can’t say great. But good.” B inhaled roughly, reholstered her gun and pulled her baseball bat from where it had been stuck in her pack. “I can throw up later.”

The sun was just starting to glow on the horizon when a bruised and battered B made it to the spot on her map Lucy had marked as Arefu. Dogmeat yipped, bounding forward. Dried blood matted the fur on his muzzle from when he’d torn into one of the raider’s legs.

“Dogmeat, what are you- Oh, gross!” Her face contorted as the dog rolled onto his back, pressed against the belly of one of those two-headed brahmin things. Then he rubbed against the torn, rotting body.

That did it. Bile filled her mouth and she dropped to her knees, gagging. Her eyes slammed shut as she tried for control. Waves of heat radiated up her body and she swallowed frantically, breathing through her nose. Of course, it didn’t help that while she was exhaling, a broad tongue swiped up her face. With her startled inhale came the rank reek of death and decay wafting over her. She promptly twisted away from the dog tongue and threw up, emptying her stomach of its contents and ribs groaning in protest.

Balancing on three limbs, she pressed a hand over the wound on her abdomen. Between the recovering gunshots and her new bruises, her body ached. The pain nearly made her feel ill again but she shoved herself to her feet, teeth digging into her bottom lip to keep the whimper of pain inside. Regardless, she couldn’t stop the harsh exhale through her nostrils. B glared at the dog sitting near her, tongue lolling out as he panted at her. “I may not smell all that great anymore, but you’re just gross. Rad-X for the both of us and you are getting a bath.”

Dogmeat whined.

B glared at him all the more fiercely.


“‘That’s what dogs do,’ he says. If I’d known they were that ugh, not sure I’d have brought you along, even if you are a pretty good companion.”

Dogmeat shook, spraying her with water from the Potomac and flecks of suds. She quickly shut her eyes to avoid getting any of the radioactive water in them and the Geiger counter in her Pip-boy began ticking more insistently.

“Stop that. I didn’t dose us both with Rad-X just for you to spray me with water.” She glared at the still lathered canine. “And you know what else? I didn’t really understand what those old books were talking about when they mentioned the smell of wet dog.” B began to scratch his sides more vigorously, bound and determined to get every last trace of dead brahmin from his fur. “Of course, I thought it was an exaggeration. There was no way it could possible smell that bad.” She dumped another bucket of water over Dogmeat. “But they’ve never smelled wet dog and decomposing Brahmin. Not that you only smell like wet dog. I’d rather you did but beggars can’t be choosers.” She scooped up another bucket of water from the river, feeling the mud of the riverbank sink into her Vault suit a little more as she shifted her weight on her knees. The pain from her various wounds had faded to a constant ache but still she was cautious to not fill the buckets up too far.

The hairs on the back of her neck lifted and Dogmeat began to growl, soapy hackles lifting. B froze and turned slowly to see a giant mutated...thing bearing down on her, claws raised menacingly.

She yelped, throwing herself backwards, bucket falling from her grip. Her palm hit the Potomac with a splash and her Pip-boy started going crazy. The creature lunged at her, claws splashing down harmlessly next to her. Dogmeat turned, snarling, and leaped at it, teeth and claws clacking uselessly against the creature’s carapace.

Gun! Gun! Gun! The word shrieked through her mind and she dove for her pack, safe out of the water’s reach. A swipe of a claw tore against her bare shoulder. She pulled her 10mm out and rolled awkwardly to keep the gun off the ground but she ended up mixing dirt and sand into the bloody gash. On her stomach, facing the creature that had become distracted by Dogmeat’s teeth catching on a chink in the armor, B took a moment to try to settle. Inhale. Exhale. She was sighting through the exhale, even before holding her breath. First shot went wide, disappearing with a puff of dust into the dilapidated shack to her right. She swore softly. Second shot embedded in a claw raised to swipe at a crouching, snarling Dogmeat. The creature turned to her, beady eyes glinting blackly in the sunlight reflecting off the Potomac. There. She forced herself to still, feeling her heart hammering away wilding and feeling as though she were about to faint. For a moment, she heard Jericho in her head, snarling at her to keep her gun steady even though her hands shook. It moved toward her, uninjured claw raised. Her heart catapulted upwards. She emptied the rest of the clip into its face, a high pitched screech breaking free from her throat. Her forearm burned from the effort of squeezing the trigger that rapidly.

It stopped, swayed for a moment, then fell forward. The tip of its raised claw caught her cheek as it swung down, tearing through her skin. She barely registered the sting of the new cut. Her chest heaved, fear and adrenaline and fight burning through her blood as she stared at the creature lying in front of her. Dogmeat whined, licking her face on the uninjured side. There was a thin, shallowly bleeding cut across his nose.

A laugh started deep in her chest, bubbling up into near hysterics. “What the hell was that?” She dropped her forehead into the mud. “I’m alive. I’m alive and I don’t know what the hell that was.” She started laughing, breathing in the smell of mud and life and she was alive . Still. Against pretty much all odds. “Dogmeat, I’m not finished with your bath. You’re still soapy.” She lifted her head, grin still on her face and twisted to look up at Arefu. “Wonder if they’ll pay any caps for this thing.”

Hours later, B stumbled into the Brass Lantern with Dogmeat forever at her side, soaked in sweat and mud and almost perfectly sure that her shoulder was already infected. She could feel the heat of it despite the chills shivering through her body. Even still, the thrum of surviving hadn’t left her. Really, it was probably the only thing keeping her on her feet at this point.

“Leo,” she croaked, trying to ignore exactly how strong her relief was at seeing him..

His eyes flicked up but he didn’t really see her, distracted by the dinner rush. She frowned at her own disappointment and the disappointment for her disappointment. He is working. You can wait. “Just a second. Here’s your salisbury steak and your beer, my good man. Let me know if there’s anything else ya want.” The settler grumbled a thanks and sat down at the bar.

She tried again now that he had started to wipe off the bar. “Leo.”

“You just missed the caravan, B. If you run, you can probably catch up with them if you wanted something.” He still wasn’t looking at her. Is he ignoring me? Her temper spiked a little.

“Leo!” Dogmeat clamped his teeth down on Leo’s jeans and tugged him toward B at her shout.

“What?” he finally looked up and blanched. “What the fuck happened to your face?”

Ouch. “Ran into something called a mirelurk, apparently. Not the point, though.” Now that he was actually paying attention, she realized how disgusting and exhausted she probably looked. Then started berating herself for being ridiculous. She didn’t need his approval. She didn’t.

Leo moved around the counter to cup her face in his hands and peer at the disfiguring red gash. B stopped breathing at the proximity, stiffening up. “I’ve got a stimpack if you-”

“Can’t.” Her voice cracked and she cleared it, feeling her cheeks heat up. “Have to go and see if my shoulder’s infected. You don’t need to worry. I’m stitched up and I’m not really bleeding anymore. But Wadsworth is out of purified water and I don’t really want to drink that irradiated crap since I ended up in the Potomac earlier. And because I throw up every time I drink it and I’ve already done that once today.”

“What the hell were you doing?” Without asking permission, Leo released her face to pull on Butch’s jacket. He was rough only until her yelp and Dogmeat’s answering growl. Her face contorted, prompting another flinch. But he gentled, rough fingers brushing against her collarbone.

“All I was trying to do was deliver a letter, I swear. The only surviving recipient is with something called the Family. I was trying to find them.” She let him pull Butch’s jacket off, barely able to control the impulse to zip it up and desperately trying to ignore the curious onlookers still eating or drinking. Or pretending to in favor of watching the show.

Her Vault suit was tied around her waist, leaving her shoulders bare other than her tank top when he tugged the leather jacket away. B stiffened, fists clenching at her sides. Her left shoulder was bandaged, not well, but the yellowed cloth was bloodstained. Leo winced in sympathy.

“Did you?”

“It was starting to get late. I didn’t- I don’t want to be caught outside at night again.” His eyes lifted and met hers, following the torn gash on her cheek on their way up. She shifted uncomfortably, realizing how close they were. His eyes flicked down to her lips before he took a step back to give her some space, space which relaxed her tense muscles.

“Oh, come on. We’re dying of radiation poisoning sitting here watching you two dance around each other. Kiss already!” Other patrons in the bar started laughing at the complaint.

B squeezed her eyes shut, ignoring the way it pulled at her cheek, mortified and grateful that her sunburn hid the violent blushing. Leo whipped his head around to glare at the man who’d spoken, pink blooming on his own cheeks. “Out.”

“But-”

“Out.”

The man stood, half-full beer in hand, stumbling. “You young kids need to learn to stop taking things so slowly. Damn. Ain’t got much time out here.”

Leo rubbed the back of his neck, trying to remember what the hell they’d been talking about. “Well, I, uh, I don’t blame you.”

One eye opened cautiously.

“Not traveling at night. You’re still healing up from your gunshot wounds.”

Her other eye opened. “I was due for my last stimpack tonight. Guess that’s not happening.” Her shoulders were tense again. “Leo, I appreciate this and all but I need water. Please. I can pay you the caps in the morning.”

“Oh, right. Yeah. Sure.” He reached back behind the counter and tossed her a bottle of water, not thinking.

She caught it with her injured shoulder and let out a whimper. “Son of a-” She exhaled roughly, shaking her head. “Thanks. I need to go take a dose of Radaway.”

Leo blinked at her. “Why? It’s not like you went swimming. You should be fine.”

B’s shoulders inched further upwards. “I’m not a Wastelander. If you guys have any resistance to radiation, I don’t have it. I’ve already gotten one mutation and I’d prefer not getting another. So I’m going to go take my Radaway and settle in for the night.” She looked over at the still amused patrons who wisely weren’t saying anything before her head jerked back towards Leo, left hand shaking. She pulled Butch’s jacket back on protectively. “I’ve already got a meal, you don’t need to worry about it. Dogmeat!” She whistled sharply and turned on her heel. The dog licked Leo’s hand and bounded after B. She was limping, Leo noticed, favoring her left foot.

Disappointed sighs filled the bar as she left.

Then her words registered. “Wait, what mutation?” The door closed before he actually got the words out. A rag hit him in the back of the head.

He whirled around to see Andy turning his back to his older brother. “Quit gawking after the Vaultie and get back to work.” Leo threw the rag back, feeling heat creep up his neck again. Work. He had work to do. Right.

 

Chapter Text

  1. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

I wish I could share

All the love that’s in my heart

Remove all the bars

That keep us apart

 

Another day of trying to get that stupid letter delivered. She suspected that she’d gone in entirely the wrong direction from where Evan King had told her to go yesterday. Or she’d bypassed them entirely. Oh, well. This just gave her more landmarks to navigate by.

The only reason it had taken her so long to get back to Megaton with Leo’s Addictol was because she’d gotten turned around twice before she’d started logging landmarks into her Pip-boy. Had she done that to begin with, she might not have been injured and have neat little scars on her belly. They were still pinkish but probably wouldn’t minimize much more except by age.

Still, here she was at a train yard,

“You know, it’s a good thing I was so fascinated by pre-war things,” B told Dogmeat, not really expecting any sort of an answer. She rounded a railcar, heading for the stone hills so she could get the layout of the land and figure out where she was going. “Otherwise I’m pretty sure that I would be so- Shit!” She spun around at the sound of shifting dirt behind her; B knew it from years of working with Stanley down in the bowels of the Vault.

Despite the fact that her left shoulder was mostly out of commission for a few days, her body reacted before she finished vocally responding, one-handed swing at the precise height that a molerat would jump. I have the scars to show for that knowledge. There was a sickening crunch as wood connected to flesh and bone and the molerat flew back, smacking into a railcar with a thud. Her right shoulder groaned in protest from both the impact and force. Dogmeat lunged at another, jaws closing around its neck and he shook. Bone snapped.

He dropped the limp body and peered up at B, tongue lolling out in a doggy grin as he wagged his tail. “That is really gross but thank you.” She stared at the bodies, lips pursed together. “I don’t want to carry them around. Why couldn’t they have waited until we were already heading back to Megaton so I could dump them off at the Lantern?” She sighed, tipping her head back to gauge the sky. “Okay, Dogmeat. Go get wood so I can cook this. Fetch wood.”

The dog let out a low woof and bounded off. B flipped open her switchblade and set to work.

Eventually, a low fire was built and chunks of the remaining meat from her shoddy butchering job were skewered and cooking. B sat near the fire, every sense straining outward for danger, fingers nervously tapping her thigh. Both pistol and bat lay within easy reach. She’d toughened up a little but didn’t think she’d ever feel anywhere close to safe outside at night. Not that it was dark out yet. But she knew from reading in the vault that night was when the big predators came out to play and she’d just set up a beacon alerting anything with a nose that there was fresh meat nearby.

Dogmeat lifted his head and gave a soft warning growl. B twisted, right hand resting on the bat. She opened her mouth to call out and quickly shut it. Not until she knew what she was dealing with.

Seconds ticked by into minutes. Occasionally, she’d glance down at Dogmeat. The dog had gone silent but he was still alert, miscolored eyes focused on the nearby ridge. Finally, B couldn’t take it any longer. “If you aren’t going to try to kill me, I won’t hurt you.”

A head finally poked up over the rocks. Human. Good. She could work with human. “How do I know I can trust you?” Male voice, but it sounded rough, unused.

“Because I’m not some lunatic raider and I haven’t been out of the Vault all that long.”

He shuffled forward a bit, exposing his shoulders, and even from this distance, she could see how gaunt he was. “You…from a Vault?”

“That doesn’t mean I’m an idiot,” she warned. “I just haven’t been out here that long. I’m learning fast.”

He inched a little farther. “I-I could smell your meat. I ain’t eaten in days.”

“Oh, my gosh. Come down here and I’ll share.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop to think about it. In her next breath, she wished she hadn’t because she didn’t know him and she wouldn’t put it past raiders to try a bluff like this.

But the way he perked up, exposing an obviously makeshift bandage around his arm and the disbelief in his “Are you serious?” pulled at a part of her that she thought she’d buried years ago. Apparently they weren’t as gone as she’d hoped.

Who was she kidding? That was always going to make her chest ache.

Shoving memories aside and blinking back sudden tears, she gestured down to the fire. “I’ve got plenty and I will send Dogmeat up to drag you down if you don’t come willingly.”

The last time B had seen anyone move that quickly was about three days before she was forced out of the Vault. Butch had accidentally walked in on her and she’d been stripped down to just a bra and her underwear. The look on his face had nearly been worth the humiliation. This time, though, she wasn’t completely mortified. B held a hand over her mouth to hide the smile as he scampered down the ridge. She scooted over so he had room on the rock she’d been sitting on.

“I have no idea if they’re fully cooked or not. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out this whole survival thing.” She pulled one of the skewers out of the fire and handed it to him, wincing in apology at the blackened meat. When he opened his mouth to tear off another bite, B saw that most of his teeth were broken or missing. Worse, now that he was this close, she could see how horrible he looked and it horrified her. She had no idea humans could survive in that condition. The man was about as skinny as some of the wild dogs she’d seen, dirt crusted hair matted and she couldn’t tell what the original color was. And he reeked like he’d never been clean in his life. “What’s your name?” she asked, pitching as much kindness into her voice as she could.

He froze, eyes flicking toward her before fixing on the ground. “Don’t got one. Ma died birthin’ me and the Slaver never bothered.”

B blinked. “You can’t have been called ‘Hey you’ or ‘slave’ your whole life.”

He shrugged.

Her eyebrows lifted. Then what he’d said registered and her brow furrowed together. “Wait. You’re a slave?”

Now he was hunched defensively over the near finished skewer of meat, a guarded look in his eyes. “Was. Ain’t no more.”

“You’re a runaway.”

“So? What’s it to ya?”

B stared at him long enough that he began to inch away, preparing to bolt. “Nothing,” she finally said. “I was only trying to figure out if I cared how much trouble I’m inevitably going to get in for helping you make a new life.”

“You’re-what?” His jaw dropped.

“You heard me. I’ve got a house in Megaton that you can live in while we figure things out.”

He just stared at her, eyes wide, mouth open. She handed him the second skewer and it took him a second to start eating.

As he ripped off a piece, B dug into her pack, looking for a gun she’d picked up from one of the raiders she’d killed on her way over here. It wasn’t in good shape and she’d been intending to take it apart to figure out how it worked so she could clean and maintain, maybe even tinker with, the ones she sometimes used, but if they ran into anything, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to protect both of them, even with Dogmeat’s help. She didn’t think that she’d be able to do it with a healthy pair of shoulders as it was, let alone with one out of commission. She slid the gun over to him, careful to make sure it wasn’t pointed at him.

She didn’t realize how much of a potentially terrible idea that was until she’d already slid the gun halfway over. “Here.”

Once again, he froze. “Don’t know how to use one. I weren’t-“

B waved her hand, cutting him off. “You’ll learn. I did. But I’m not heading directly home. I’m trying to deliver a letter and it’s not as easy as it sounds.”

He stared at her, obviously trying to figure her out. “So...you want me to come with or somethin’?”

“It’s probably best. That way you don’t accidentally end up dead.”

The runaway slave finished his last bite of molerat and B tossed the skin and attached fat that she’d been charring to Dogmeat, who caught it in midair with a snap of his jaws. As she slung her pack onto her back, B paused. “More importantly, you need a name.” A small smile curled her lips in response to the grin that grew on his.


B still wasn’t back when Andy locked up the Brass Lantern. Leo leaned against one of the supports outside, trying to look nonchalant and not like he kept eyeing the door as he took a long drag of his cigarette. His younger brother glanced at him, shook his head, and pocketed the key. “Girlfriend not back yet?”

Leo stiffened and snuffed out the cigarette on the support. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

“And yet you knew exactly who I was talking about.” When Leo didn’t respond, Andy just sighed. “Look, just be careful. She’s a Vaultie.”

In the fading sunlight, Andy saw Leo’s jaw tighten but he was silent long enough that he thought he wasn’t going to reply. But despite their close proximity, when he did, Andy had to strain to hear his brother. “She doesn’t belong out here.”

“Neither did Mom. I thought-”

The door to the Wasteland creaked open and they immediately swiveled to face it. “-radroaches. Absolutely terrified of them. Leo!” B broke off whatever story she’d been telling when she saw him. Her limp was more pronounced as she bounded and slid down the ramp into Megaton but other than that seemed to have no new injuries. Following her was a man who looked like he’d come out of the wrong end of a Brahmin and even at a brief glance was jumpy and nervous. Both brothers put their hands on the pistols at their sides. “Relax.” B hugged Leo, still clearly favoring her left shoulder. Her lip curled as she used that hand to pull his away from his gun but didn’t make a noise in pain. “He’s a friend.”

“Friends out in the Wasteland aren’t always friends,” Leo leaned back, eyeing the man suspiciously.

Bottle green eyes narrowed at him and she clicked her fingers in his face. “By that logic, I shouldn’t have made friends with either of you. Yet, here we are.”

She turned and waved the man over. He’d been hiding behind the Brahmin, trying to stay out of sight but still be able to watch what was going on. Cautiously, he crept into view fully. “This is Adam. He’s sorta like me. Not a Vaultie, obviously, but he does need some help getting acquainted with the Wasteland.”

The man straightened a little but he still looked like he was ready to bolt. After a moment, Leo held out his hand. “Leo.” At his side, his brother tightened his stance.

Adam stared at his offered hand, eyes flicking uncertainly to B. “Shaking hands is how you greet someone,” she said gently, nudging him with her good shoulder.

“Oh!” If he grabbed Leo’s hand a little too hard, no one commented on it. If anything, B just beamed pride. “Sorry, I’m new at all this.”

“It’s okay, Adam. Why don’t you go into that house up there? Wadsworth will show you my spare room. It’s a bit cluttered but we’ll figure things out. Wadsworth is the Mr. Handy. The robot.” Immediately, he looked absolutely terrified but he swallowed and nodded. B waited until she couldn’t see him anymore to turn back to Leo. “Is your hand okay?”

“It’s fine.”
B nibbled on the inside of her cheek and eyed Andy. “How would you like to make a deal?”

Andy relaxed, lifting an eyebrow. “Business?”

She nodded. “Adam’s a runaway slave. WIll you hire him so he can get some working experience? In return, you’ll have first pick of whatever scav I don’t need before I sell it to Moira.”

“Working experience. Sorry, it’s not in our best interest to pick up someone with no skills.”

“Except he does.”

“What?”

“He wouldn’t have survived as long as he has if he was entirely useless. He’s just...skittish. He needs to be around people.”

“And how is him working in our bar going to help us?”

Leo threw a glare at his brother but Andy ignored him, completely focused on B. For once, she didn’t seem overly concerned by the attention. Shoulders relaxed, slow blinking, straight back.

“You and I both know how much you hate Moriarty. The reason he can do what he does is to pay his ‘workers’ next to nothing. Adam needs to be around people who are not going to hurt him, kill him, or turn him into his masters.”

“So why us?”

Leo doesn’t miss the way she briefly glances at him.

“The only other person I’d trust him with is Moira and I’m not sure he’s ready to be subjected to her personality quite yet. Look, I’ve been talking to him and he’s not educated but he’s got a great mind for numbers and he’s incredibly orderly. Take him into your bar, let him learn how to be around normal jackasses. Right now, you don’t even need to pay him that much. He’ll be living in my house. Wadsworth has an outstanding order to make sure my kitchen is stocked with food while I’m gone. Most of his expenses are going to be going to him learning how to live out here on his own wind. But I will expect him to get paid more as time goes on.”

Andy hummed, scratching at the blonde stubble on his chin. Leo stared at him. He was actually considering this? How was she convincing him to take this gamble? “What kind of scav are we talking about?”

“Anything I pick up. I never know what I’m going to find. Actually, I’m working on a more efficient generator right now, something closer to what we had in 101 but a lot smaller. If I can get it working, I’d also be willing to sell you one before I sell the plans to Moira. Deal?” B tipped her head to the side, eyes shadowed beneath the ballcap.

Andy deliberated for a few minutes, turning things over in his mind. “Deal. But if this thing with Adam doesn’t work out, I’m done.”

B smiled. “That’s fair.” The two shook hands and Leo wondered why she looked so smug. “I have to go get him settled in. See you later, Andy.” She nodded to them both.

When she turned to walk away, Leo leaped up after her, clamboring up the slope. Catching her by the arm, loosening his grip at her hissed inhale and tensed muscles, he turned her around to face him.

“Are you sure you’ll be safe with him?” he asked lowly.

Her eyes narrowed and she stiffened up. “He won’t be sleeping with me. He’ll be in the other room. Dogmeat actually sleeps in my bed and I’m pretty sure that even if I’m a deep sleeper at home, he isn’t. Plus I sleep with my switchblade under my pillow. I’ll be fine.”

“And if you’re not?”

“I will kill him before he has a chance to do anything.” The hard promise in her voice finally convinced him. She’d be okay. Maybe.

She moved to walk away and again he stopped her. “About what happened the other night-”

She shook her head, cutting him off. “It’s fine. Really. We don’t need to talk about it. Just forget it happened.”

Normally, Leo would have agreed. The Wasteland wasn’t suited for messy emotions. He flicked the brim of her cap. “Why do you wear this all the time?”

“Stop that.” She batted his hand away. “If you haven’t noticed, my hair is kind of bright. Obnoxiously bright, if you will. I’m trying to blend in a little.”

Laughter rolled through Leo. “You couldn’t blend in if you tried. You’re too clean.”

B opened her mouth to protest, then remembered the cold, sort of bath she’d been looking forward and glared at him. “I’m not too clean,” she grumbled.

“B, you’re so clean we can smell you coming.”

“That’s not even possible. You can’t smell clean. You can smell dirt though.”

“Everything smells basically the same out here except for you.”

“Just because I smell normal-”

“Darlin’, nothing about you is normal.”

They both realized at the same time that they were standing close enough that the brim of her cap nearly brushed his forehead. “You’re standing a little close, Leo.” Even to her, her voice sounded a little breathless and she cleared her throat, hoping he wouldn’t notice.

“Are you going to run away again?” His voice was low and it sent a shiver down her spine.

Her chin lifted, defiance making its entrance. Defiance and something else. “I didn’t run away.”

“What was that then?” He shifted a little closer.

“What is this, Leo?” she retorted.

He searched her face, and saw heat and curiosity in her eyes but enough fear to give him pause. It was an old fear there and Leo took a step back, which forced him to be half a head shorter than she was. The relieved slump of her shoulders told him more than anything she could have said. “Do you need anything?”

She was quiet as she stared at him, eyes searching his shadowed face. “No, thank you,” she finally said.

“I’ll come by in the morning, make sure you’re okay.” He touched the brim of her hat with two fingers, before rejoining Andy, who poked him in the forehead. She stayed a few moments, watching as he glanced back at her, a pensive look on her face. Then she finished the climb up to her house.

 

Chapter Text

  1. Learnin’ the Blues

But you can't forget her - soon you even stop tryin'

You'll walk that floor - and wear out your shoes

When you feel your heart break - you're learnin' the blues

 

The Wests’ bodies had been taken out of their home, burned or buried B didn’t know. Hadn’t asked. But she’d found no sign of the Family at any of the locations Evan King had suggested, though she had found a ghoul that wanted Sugar Bombs for a reason that still didn’t make sense to her, and so here she was, sitting on the floor just next to the door, head in her palm.

“I just don’t know, Dogmeat,” she murmured with a heavy sigh. At the sound of his name, the dog thumped his tail on the floor. “I mean, I like him and he makes sure I’m okay, but after the Butch thing, I don’t know if I like him for him or because he’s taking care of me. You know?”

He rolled over, showing her his belly. She smiled despite the pensive mood she’d been in, reached over, and gave him belly rubs. Then she returned her gaze to the blood streaked floor. She was almost alarmed that a blood streaked floor didn’t even faze her anymore but she just sighed again.

“Oh, Dogmeat. Everything would be so much easier if we- Wait.” Her hand stopped moving and after a few moments, Dogmeat rolled back over and put a paw on her knee, thumping his tail again. She ignored him, standing up and going over to a section of the floor that had something black streaked into the floor alongside the dried blood. B knelt, reaching down to touch it. She rubbed her fingers together slowly. “Soot. Soot!” Soot like this came from the combustion of coal to make steam, the primary power source before nuclear fission and fusion. Which meant an old train station, two hundred year compensation and it would still be old, but outside and not a subway station. The Family lived in an old train station. Finally an end to this.

She scrambled out of the Wests’ residence, completely forgetting to shut the door. “Evan! Evan King!” The man turned from his lookout post when she slid to a halt beside him. “Are there any train stations around here? For actual trains, not necessarily in a subway?” She didn’t bother trying to explain. Most people couldn’t keep up.

“Just the one that I know of. It’s called, oh, what’s the name…” Evan King scratched his chin as he thought.

“Meresti?” The trainyard where she’d met Adam. She’d seen the rail cars, but hadn’t thought… Hadn’t known the information then.

“That’s the one! Good job, missy! Eh, why did you need to know?” He stared at her, frowning. His whole face sort of dropped forward and if she wasn’t riding an intellectual, light bulb sort of high, she might have giggled

As it was, she couldn’t hold back the bright grin as she stared down at him. “Because I know where the Family is.”

Dogmeat woofed, tail wagging. B tapped the brim of her hat and then she was gone.

Unlike nearly every other trip she’d taken across the Wasteland, this one was uneventful save for a couple of of Bloatflies. With her shoulder almost fully healed except for a ropy scar, she enjoyed the way they’d exploded in a squishy mess when she hit them with her bat. What she did not appreciate overmuch was the goo on her face that almost immediately began stinging where it touched the disfiguring scar. She gripped her bat between her thighs and wiped the goo off with her fingertips. She flicked her hands to splatter most of it on the ground. Her Pip-boy gave a few half-hearted clicks.

She looked down at her hands and a wry smile curled her mouth. There were a few new calluses from shooting practice and a few new scars. The one from the stab wound was particularly noticeable but mostly healed. A stab wound . B heaved out a breath, almost a chuckle. “I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore, Toto.” She leaned down to wipe her hands on the lower legs of her suit. “Come on, Dogmeat.”

When they arrived at Meresti, she was covered in dust from a slip down some rocks and her foot ached. Blood still splattered the ground where she’d killed the molerats the days before. They took a moment to scout out the area and found nothing, though B wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed. She paused, tipping her head to the side. “If I were the Family, where would I be hiding?” Inside the train cars would be too vulnerable. She’d heard Three Dog on the radio say something about super mutants and from a conversation between Billy Creel and Jericho she’d overheard, they were huge and dumb for the most part but dangerous. Wastelanders trying to live safe wouldn’t be dumb enough to expose themselves like that. They’d be pinned down like whatever passed for meat in a can of Cram. I really need to ask Billy what they look like.

Instead she turned her attention to the building. One eyebrow lifted and she took a couple steps back. Door. She whistled and Dogmeat came to her side. B took a moment for her eyes to adjust, crouching low near the floor, hand tangled in Dogmeat’s fur. He remained still, nose lifted to scent the air, only moving when she began to creep through the tunnels.

The way forward was blocked, deliberately or by collapse over the years she didn’t know. What she did know was she had to go left. She and Dogmeat carefully skirted a metal trap but the baby carriage in front of her had her head tipping to the side.

When the sound of a baby crying reached her, she was moving forward before logic could caution her. A foot away, she heard a low ticking under the cries and blinking red lights in the carriage. Dogmeat grabbed a hold of her arm, whining and trying to drag her away.

Two precious seconds passed. B’s eyes widened as she remembered Minefield. She grabbed Dogmeat and threw them both back as the mine exploded. The force of the explosion shoved her a couple extra feet, almost dropping her in the metal claw trap they’d avoided scant heartbeats before. Heat and shrapnel washed over them, one piece nicking her over her right eyebrow.

She sat there, arms wrapped around Dogmeat, eyes wide, feeling stunned. One tear fell, then another. She buried her face in Dogmeat’s fur to smother the choked sobs that wrenched through her body. A deep primitive longing for 101 and its inhabitants gripped her.

“I can’t go back. I can’t go back. I can’t go back.” A low keening wail broke from her throat. At that moment, had she been able to, she’d have given just about anything to go back to the Vault and not have to live in a world where there were booby-trapped baby carriages. Baby carriages made to sound like there were abandoned children in them.

It took her precious time to get herself calmed down but she wasn’t sure any amount of time would be enough to make her not feel the gnawing bottomless pit of grief in her soul, such a vast difference from the high she’d been riding up to this point.

The nick was still bleeding so she used the rag that was forever in her back pocket and pressed it to the wound. That made it sting but she used her other hand to wipe away what was left of the blood.

Whatever otherworldly being was left in this godforsaken world was watching over B after that. None of the remaining traps did much damage after that. Even the swinging lump of Brahmin only clipped her shoulder. It would leave a bruise but one bruise she figured she could live with.

Emotionally, she was completely drained. When she found a gun pointed at her face, she felt only a vague stutter of fear. “Are you part of the Family?”

“What’s it to ya?”

“I have a letter for Ian. I know he’s here.”

The guard hesitated before lowering his weapon and stepping aside. “We’ll be watching you.” The growled threat was not lost on B but all she could muster was a tired shrug.

She kept going through the tunnels, following the sounds of voices, and laughter. “I’m looking for Ian.” Her voice echoed slightly.

Heads turned in her direction, eyes bright in the reflected light. Dogmeat, close at her side, gave a soft grump.

“You’re new. I thought I knew everyone in the Family. I’m Justin.” The one nearest to her hopped over a bench and stuck his hand out.

“B but I’m not part of the Family. I’m just looking for someone.” She had the sense that she’d just stepped into a radscorpion nest and the slightest misstep would cause major trouble for all involved parties. Well, mostly her. Almost exclusively her. Carefully, she placed her right hand in his and shook.

“How the hell’d you find us, anyway?” Another man circled up close, curious. Her left hand began to tremble and she quickly clenched it into a fist.

“There was soot in a house in Arefu.” The people exchanged quick glances with each other and B curled in on herself a little before forcing herself to not show that fear. She knew that she was only trading one set of tells for another but  “I figured it could only come from a train station and Meresti was the only one close enough that wasn’t solely a metro station.”

“You’ll want to talk to Vance, then.” A woman that immediately reminded B of Nova with slanted blue eyes jerked her chin upwards. B followed her gaze to see a man in a long coat looking down on them.

She took a deep breath, lifted her head, and headed toward him. “It is not often we have visitors from the outside world.” He peered at her with interest though not the kind that made her skin crawl. “Welcome to our home. My people call me Vance. I lead this group of weary travelers and outcasts who need a home. And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

B hesitated, cautious but curious. He sounded kind of ridiculous, like in an old vid. “This place isn’t like other settlements I’ve visited.”

Vance smiled warmly, proudly. “What you see before you is the last bastion of hope for the downtrodden and misunderstood. It is a sanctuary for the oppressed and a beacon of hope for the tyrannized.” He gestured out to the station floor, at the people. “We are the remnants of society cast aside like the clean-picked bones of a hunter’s feast. I led my flock beneath the sun-baked sands of the Wasteland to keep them safe and to teach them my ways.” He reminded B of the Overseer but there was a kindness to this man where there hadn’t been to Amata’s father. Still, the aggrandizing? Not a fan. “Men of science would call us cannibals, eaters of human flesh. Society labels us monsters, demons, and the unclean.” A chill ran down B’s spine and she suddenly worried about what she’d gotten herself into. Though, now the marks on the Wests’ bodies suddenly made sense despite the fact that there was still something not quite adding up, something itching in the back of her mind.

“I know what you are,” she said quietly, fear she couldn’t quite disguise showing in the tension between her eyebrows.

Vance saw the fear and disappointment crossed his face. “Oh? You do, do you?”

She hesitated, seeing the disappointment and feeling the need to bolt coil more strongly in her gut.

At her hesitation, he smiled though the expression was more than half bitter. “I am afraid that the knowledge required to appreciate our true nature is far above your level of comprehension.” Her spine stiffened and the fear gave way to indignation.

“Wait a minute.” She paused, trying to figure out what she was most irritated about. “Teaching your ways implies that there is something wrong with what they’re doing in the first place. So you’re reforming them.”

Vance smiled, amused, and shook his head. “Your words illustrate why the hardships persist for my people. Reforming implies something is wrong with them and needs to be eliminated. I think of my teachings as more of an improvement, a way to transcend our cannibalistic nature.”

“An improvement on cannibalism.” Fifteen shades of crazy. But he didn’t seem crazy. She pulled back, not wanting anything close to a fight. She was the outsider. She’d get the blame.

“Yes.”

B lifted an eyebrow. Okay, then. Down the rabbit hole we go. “If, and that’s a hypothetical if because this seems kind of crazy and I grew up in a Vault with all kinds of crazy, but if I accept that you’re no longer cannibals, then what do I call you?”

Vance was still amused but she had impressed him somehow. “Your open-mindedness is very rare for a human. I find that fascinating.” Do you become something other than human when you’re a cannibal, B wanted to ask but bit her tongue against the question. “Allow me to bolster your insight with a lesson in objectivity. I say we are no longer cannibal, only consuming the blood of our prey. What would that make us in your eyes?”

“A vampire. But that would be ridiculous since they don’t exist.” She shrugged. “I don’t know what else to call you.”
“Then that is a mystery you will have to solve on your own.” The humor died and she stared at Vance. “In ceremony, each member of the Family must speak one of the Laws. It is theirs to remember and enforce. Perhaps from these Laws you can discover what we are. Return to me when you are ready.” He turned and it was as effective a dismissal that B had ever heard.

Her gaze flicked down to the people below. One on one, they shouldn’t be too bad and she felt reassured when she looked down to see Dogmeat sitting at her feet, tongue lolling out. He would protect her.

One by one, she spoke with the members of the Family, learned their names, and realized that they were probably the most civilized people that she’d encountered since she left the Vault. It was while speaking to Holly, Vance’s wife, that B caught sight of a computer to the side of the room. Holly followed her eyes. “If you need more information, you can look.”

B turned back to the older woman and didn’t understand the sad, sympathetic smile she received. Still, she dipped her head and thanked her.

At the computer, she got the same information about the Laws that the Family had told her and she gave a little snort at the idea that they actually had them memorized. It was almost cult-like but these people didn’t seem fanatical in anyway. And she grew up in the Vault. She knew fanatical. But the word “Arefu” caught her attention and she opened the file. Her eyes flicked over the words. Cold washed down her back as she realized what had happened and she sat back in the chair, stunned. A cold nose on her hand roused her and she clicked out, mind spinning.

At the top of the weird stairs once more, she faced Vance. “Well, what have you learned?” he asked, voice a little breathless, like he was waiting for something.

“Okay. You asked me what I thought you were. But really? Do you really believe that you’re vampires?”

Disappointment radiated from Vance. “Do you think I believe I can turn into a bat and fly away? Of course not. Do I cast my image in a mirror?” Dignity, or perhaps indignity, seemed to wrap around the Wastelander like a coat. “Now ask me if I believe these individuals from every corner of the Wasteland need me to give them a sense of identity and purpose. I have shown these people the ways of the vampire. I’ve provided them shelter, organization, and a sense of belonging.” His voice, so measured and calm before, had started to rise and B immediately thought of the people below who would surely defend Vance if they thought he was threatened. Cult even if they seemed normal and non-fanatical. Still a cult.

Her left hand began to tremble and she clenched it into a fist to hide the shaking. “So you do that by convincing them that they’re mythical creatures.”

Anger flashed across his face and B barely managed to hold her ground, the ghost of a slap blooming on her cheek, a mere memory but one that had reached deep and scarred. “Now you disappoint me. You need to open your mind and think before you pass judgement.” He leaned in closer and B’s jaw tightened. “I have reigned in their cravings and taught them to eat not of the flesh but to drink of the blood. Most importantly, they have a Family. A place where their quirks are tolerated and accepted.”

B watched him as the temper smoothed out and in its place returned the man she’d first met. Still, that didn’t make her feel entirely better. But...she did understand the need for a family. And Lucy needed hers. “I get that. Believe me, I do. But why and how is that different than eating people? Cannibalism itself causes all sorts of problems and there are all sorts of blood transmitted diseases that I’m fairly certain run rampant out here.”

Vance studied her and B lifted her chin despite the trembling in her left hand. “You are genuinely curious.”

“Of course I am. You’re...reformed cannibals. And I don’t mean that in the something is wrong with them way,” she added when he stiffened, eyes narrowing. “I mean that in the no longer that type of way. Revised. You say you aren’t cannibals. Fine. And since you didn’t immediately pounce on me or try to convince me that all of you are normal, despite the lack of time in the information I have, I don’t believe you’ll feed on me or even hurt me unless the situation warrants it.”

“You have a scientist’s mind.” Something about that pleased Vance and B found herself relaxing a little.

“Yeah, my dad...he’s a doctor. And I was an engineer in the Vault, if you want to call my position that. I learned bits of just about everything but if you give me electronics and pipes, there’s no one better.”

“Indeed. Would you mind, then, if we borrowed your services? Our generator has been acting up and it would be...unfortunate if it failed.”

“Of course. But not until I’ve done what I came here to do.”

He tilted his head to the side. He had to look up at her, nearly everyone out here did, but it didn’t negate the way he wrapped himself in control and authority. “Which is?”

“I’m looking for someone. His name is Ian West.”

Vance smiled and she couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing. “Ah, yes. My newest charge. What would you want with him?”

“I have a letter for him, from his sister. It’s taken me a ridiculously long time to find him.”

“Then a part of his human family still remains? Even more of a reason he needs to remain in isolation.”

“Is this because of the Arefu incident?” For a moment, startled that she’d be that bold, they both stared at each other. Then his chin dipped in a slow nod, reluctant to admit it, maybe.

“Ian is at a critical moment in his life right now. After all that occurred in Arefu, he is scared and confused. It would be ill advised for me to allow you to speak with him while he decides what to do.”

“Vance, where is he? I just want to talk to him, and Dogmeat and I can take care of ourselves.”

He lifted an eyebrow, amusement or surprise lingering there. “Ian’s hunger for flesh overwhelmed him and it drove him to kill his parents. Because of my intervention that night he stopped just short of being lost forever to his cravings for flesh.” Matching boldness for boldness. B would have been lying if she said the honesty hadn’t taken her aback.

“And you covered it up by blaming it on the Family. I already figured that out. It doesn’t change the fact that I need to talk to him and give him the letter from his sister.”

He smiled again, warmer than the last one. “I suppose I shouldn’t condone your invasion but it is rare to find such initiative.”

“So Ian killed his parents because he got,” she hesitated on the word, “hungry.” She paused, not entirely sure how Vance would take her next question. “Does that mean he’s an actual cannibal and not just whatever you guys are?”

The smile faded. “I am telling you he will no longer be labeled as such. He has become one of us, a member of the Family. The hunger that drives us must be kept in check. It is one of the most difficult things to teach. Ian lost control because there was no one around to guide him. His own family was alien to him.”

“He knows a different way now, right?” B saw the acknowledgement on his face and pressed on. “I’m not going to pretend I understand all of this and some of it is honestly kind of crazy. But I am not going back to his sister and tell her that I can’t give it to her because you won’t let me see him. I am not doing that. I will give him this letter whether or not you give me permission because he deserves to know and Lucy deserves this contact. Family deserves to be around each other and you are not the only one he has.”

B didn’t realize that her voice had gotten louder until Holly came over and rested a hand on her shoulder. B flinched out from underneath it but the woman didn’t seem to mind. Instead, when B looked over, she had a broad grin on her face. “I think you might have met your match, Vance.”

“Ian needs-”

“Ian needs his sister’s love.” Holly tipped her head up to look at B. “I assume that’s why you are so determined to get it to him?”

“She’s worried about him. He didn’t send a letter to her when he was supposed to and she wants to make sure he’s okay. And I’m not leaving without being able to tell her I’ve seen him and he’s fine.”

“See? Besides, you tend to reward the kind of loyalty she’s showing. I don’t see what the issue is.”

She lifted an eyebrow, daring Vance to contradict her. Finally, he sighed. “I still do not think this is a good idea. But you may go and speak to Ian. Second room on the left.”

B smiled at them both, tipping her hat. “Thank you. Come on, Dogmeat. We have a letter to finally deliver.”

Exhaustion dragged the lines of her shoulders as she walked away but tension still lingered in the stiffness of her spine as she turned her back to Vance and Holly.

She walked deeper into the station, the entire Family between her and the exit.

 

Chapter Text

  1. Somethin’ Stupid

The time is right, your perfume fills my head, the stars get red and, oh, the night's so blue

And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid

Like "I love you"

 

The hole in her chest from the baby carriage in the Meresti tunnels didn’t fade despite her triumph and her negotiation for peace and mutual aid between Arefu and the Family. She should have been pleased.

She should have been something other than aching inside.

Alas, when she found herself in Megaton later that evening, sun still enough in the sky that she hadn’t felt more than a flicker of anxiety coming back, she flinched away from Lucy’s grateful hug. Guilt spiked in her gut when she looked down at the Lantern but she slid into Moriarty’s with her head down and blinking tears out of her eyes.

She couldn’t fucking deal with him right now. Not when everything she’d lost was ripping into her like a feral dog.

She wanted to curl up on her bed and cry but didn’t want to feel it. Any of it. She’d been out of the Vault for near on a month, no nearer to finding her father, and after today the losses had stacked up to the point she understood why her father and Ellen drank like they did, why Butch was the way he was.

She thought she’d understood before but now… She got it now and it fucking sucked.

She planted herself on a stool, slid some caps across the counter, and asked for scotch. She heard the tremor in her own voice and sighed at it. Dogmeat curled himself around the base of the stool, somehow understanding. Gob’s mutilated eyebrows lifted but he complied, sliding the bottle over the bar. “You okay, kid?” he asked.

B took a swig, coughing at the burn that slid down her throat. “Not really, no. Today was… I mean, today was good. I stopped fighting and Lucy and her brother are back in touch.”

“You know how much I don’t believe that you feel that way?”

She looked up at him, one eyebrow lifted just a little.

“I’m a bartender. Therapist is pretty much in the job description.” He glanced back at Moriarty’s door where the Irish man had holed himself up with a caravan guard that had come in.

B sighed again.

“I keep hoping that I’ll find something of where my dad went but nothing. I asked Simms when I got to town and he said he hadn’t seen anyone new that he could remember.” She dropped her head on the bar, trying not to think of what she was putting her face into. Gob tried to keep it clean but-

“Middle aged guy, dark hair, lab coat?”

Her head shot up. “Yeah. Have you…?” She let the question die off, hardly daring to hope, feeling something enter the black hole she was carrying around inside.

Gob’s face twisted into a regretful grimace. “Sorry, kid. I can’t say anything or Moriarty’ll have my head. You’ll have to ask him.”

The tentative hope vanished and her head reconnected with the bar. “I hate him.” She ignored the fine tremors that shook her left hand, merely tucking it under her thigh.

“So do we, B. But he’s got us under his boot. I didn’t realize you’d met him.” Nova leaned against the bar at her side, like she was aware that B didn’t want to be touched right now.

“I haven’t. But I’ve seen the way he treats you two. It isn’t right.”

“He’s-”

B lifted up a hand, ignoring the way her pain splintered through her forearm from the angle. Gob immediately went silent. It made her feel guilty for a second before that too was swallowed by the black hole. “Don’t. If you’re going to make excuses for him, I don’t want to hear them right now.”

There was silence briefly. “We might be able to find you another way. He’s got a terminal in the back but we can’t give you the password,” Nova said slowly.

B’s head shot up, red mark across her forehead. “I don’t need one.” The corner of her mouth quirked up. This was something familiar, something she desperately needed. “Haven’t met a computer yet that I can’t get into.”

Gob and Nova looked at each other then the ghoul’s dark eyes flicked to Moriarty’s door. “We’ll keep an eye out, try to keep him from going back there” he said, gravelly voice low.

Nova turned, eyes on the door. “We didn’t see you, sweetcheeks. Couldn’t have stopped you.”

B sat there for a moment, thoughts flicking through her mind. She gently laid a hand on Nova’s wrist and nodded her thanks to Gob when she stood.

The ghoul turned his eyes down to the radio, fiddling with it. Nova tapped the back of B’s hand with a finger before uncoiling from her position against the bar to slink towards the only other occupant in the room.
B slipped around the bar, into the back room.  She sat in the chair carefully, holding her breath at the slight creak it gave. Fingers flying over the keyboard, hidden by the large cupboard, it took only seconds for her to hack into the computer. She waited for the computer to log on, fingers lightly thrumming against the desk. She was settling and if she wasn’t feeling so high strung from the stress of possibly getting an answer, she’d have laughed at the fact that hacking made her feel normal.

One eyebrow lifted as she skimmed through Moriarty’s files. Despite the urgency, curiosity had her sniffing through the secrets of Megaton. “Doc Church. Need to keep an eye on Adam around him.” The words were whispered just under her breath with a scolding click of her tongue. She hadn’t gotten a distrustworthy sense from him and it didn’t surprise her that other people had secrets too. Hers didn’t matter as much, not out here anyway. Andy and Leo both had files, no surprise, though it did surprise her that Moriarty had known about Leo’s addiction but hadn’t done anything. Jericho had a heavy debt apparently though she didn’t know if that would ever be relevant to her.

Then she found what she was looking for. Near breathless, she read it once and frowned. Quickly, knowing she had to finish this, she read it again, getting more and more confused. After the third time, B plugged her Pip-boy into the computer to download the files. Her Pip-boy chirped softly as it started the download.

She heard a door shut and froze, eyes locked on her Pip-boy. If she was caught in here… Her left hand began to nearly spasm and the scar down her ribs suddenly burned. Careless boot stomps came down the stairs and her mind started to race to come up with a defensive plan if he came in here.

“Do you need a drink?” She heard Nova ask.

“No drink, just a smoke.”

The entrance opened and shut.

B released a breath she didn’t know she was holding just as her Pip-boy chirped again. Download complete.

She unplugged and walked out into the main room on shaking legs.

“Well?” Gob asked.
She shook her head, trying to get back to some semblance of calmish focus. “It doesn’t make any sense. The file makes it sound like he knew Dad before but Dad’s never been out of the Vault. At least I didn’t think so. He wouldn’t have had a reason to come out here. He was a doctor, for crying out loud.” She turned to the door, grimacing, unconsciously leaning away from it. “I have to ask him about it.”

Gob grabbed her arm. B’s hand twitched for the knife in her pocket but resisted the urge. “If he finds out you-”

“He won’t.” She flashed him a bright grin with too white teeth front and center. “I’m a clueless Vaultie, remember.”

Moriarty, as predicted, leaned against the railing overlooking his perceived domain. The reek of cigarette smoke drifted towards her and she tried not to wrinkle her nose. “Mr. Moriarty, sir?” She made sure to keep her eyes as wide and guileless as she could despite the glare of the sun on all the metal of Megaton when he turned to face her. “I’m looking for my father and Lucas Simms didn’t know anything. But I heard that if anyone knows anything about him, it’s you.” She made sure to blink for good measure.

Moriarty puffed up, swelling with self-importance, and just the thought of having to flatter the man made B ill. Then he took a look at what she wore beneath the leather jacket that was as much a staple of her appearance as the ball cap. She could see the exact moment when something dawned on Moriarty; she didn’t know what ‘it’ was but she saw it on his face. “You’re the doc’s kid! Heh, it’s been years since I’ve seen you. Course, you were just a tyke then. Call me Colin.”

B blinked, startled, the conditioned reply slipping from her lips easier than breathing. “Dad and I were born in the Vault. No one comes in, no one goes out.”

Moriarty snorted. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard all about that Overseer brainwashing. ‘You’re born in the Vault, you die in the Vault.’ Am I right?”

Hearing those words come from his mouth, with that weird as hell accent too close to her dad’s, B frowned. He had no real reason to lie to her. And worse, things suddenly made a lot more sense: why the Overseer singled her out for hatred when there were so few young people in the Vault that they were all needed, why her father had discouraged curiosity of the world outside the Vault even though he had wanted her to learn as much as she could about everything else. Her world fell out from underneath her feet and she grabbed hold of the railing for support.

“But-” It couldn’t be true. But it had to be. Her father had vanished in the short amount of time it took for her to get outside. He had to be familiar with the Wasteland, otherwise she’d have found him. Why had it taken her so long to figure that out?

Moriarty sympathetically patted one of her white-knuckled hands and B couldn’t even shiver. “There, there, lass. It’s understandable. Everything you thought you knew has turned out to be a lie.” He paused long enough that he wouldn’t seem overeager before asking, “Did your father ever mention me?”

She was instantly on alert, alarm smashing through her confusion. Even though the voice was different, the tone was the one she heard in her nightmares. “Oh, yeah. Of course. I just never knew who he was talking about. I didn’t know a Colin in the Vault and no one ever mentioned one but him.” She watched his face carefully  after that bald-faced lie, fingers itching against metal for her switchblade.

“Well, I suppose you can be forgiven for a misunderstanding. What was your name, lass? Such an unusual name. You’d think I’d remember it.”

B grimaced. “I go by B out here.”

“Well, that’s easier than what I remember. Wait. You’re B? I’ve got a letter for you.” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and he handed it to her, scowling. “Do I look like a fucking mail service?”

B flinched back. Mercurial moods. Not good. “No, sir.”

He smiled but it was less comforting to her than threatening and her fingers dug back into the rail to keep her in place. “Hey, lass. You’re fine. Listen, I wish I could help you find your dad but I don’t know where he is. Last I knew, he was heading for the old GNR building in the DC ruins and that was right before you showed up.”

Still wary, B frowned as she leaned away from him. “Do you have any idea of how to get there?”

“I think you’ll have to take the old metro systems. Be careful, lass. Between the freaks and the mutants, they’ll kill even the most alert scavver. Wouldn’t want your pretty face eaten off, or worse.”

A shudder eased its way down her spine. “Thank you, Mr. Moriarty.”

“Please, call em Collin. Your dad and I are old friends anyway.”

No way in hell. But she put on a polite smile and backed away.

When the Brass Lantern closed for the evening, Leo accompanied Adam to B’s house. Wadsworth as waiting when the door opened and Dogmeat bolted out, slipping around both men and the robot as he escaped the house.

Adam skittered up the stairs to B’s workshop-turned-bedroom. When no other sounds of life could be heard, Leo turned to Wadsworth. “Where is she?”

“Ah, Miss B? She said she was going out to get some air. She looked a bit pale when she left. Would you mind terribly if I asked you to go check on her?”

“Do you know where she went?” Leo turned, hand on the door.

“She mentioned a vault. Miss B seemed distraught and I offered to go with her but she said I should stay.”

Leo made sure to close the door behind him but made a beeline for the entrance to Megaton. There he found Dogmeat whining and scratching at the door.

“Let’s go find her, dog.” As soon as Leo opened the door a little, Dogmeat shoved the door with his nose open enough to get the rest of his body through and he was gone. “Dogmeat! Get your ass-ah, fuck it.” Again Leo was careful to shut the door behind him but then he was running across the Wasteland at night, chasing down a baying dog.

It didn’t take Leo long to realize the years of living in Megaton and more than likely the chems too had made him soft but he kept running until he found B sitting in front of an open door leading to a dark tunnel.

His chest burned and he tried to gulp in air as quietly as he could so he didn’t disturb her.

She had her knees drawn to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. Her ballcap lay on the ground next to her and for the first time since he’d met her, Leo got to see her hair down. It had to be something about Vaults because the last person he’d seen with hair that didn’t look scraggly and damaged was his mother.

Then he realized she was crying. Quickly, he knelt down beside her, ignoring Dogmeat’s growl before the dog went back to frantically licking her hands. “B?”

She started lifting her head and he heard the wail tear itself from her throat before she clamped down on the sound. Then she threw herself at him, head burying in his shoulder and continued sobbing. Leo froze briefly before hesitantly wrapping his arms around her. The leather jacket she wore was cool under his fingertips.

He wasn’t sure when the embrace changed from comfort to something charged. He did know that she responded to it. Hands gripped his tee shirt a little tighter, twisting to give her the leverage she needed to press her lips against his.

The kiss was wet and hard and hungry and she pulled herself up to settle more comfortably in his lap. Leo felt himself harden embarrassingly quickly as she wiggled around. It could have been seconds, minutes, even hours later when B pulled away to breathe but then she was pulling off the jacket that she’d become as known for as that ball cap of hers.

He put his hands over hers, stopping her movements when they went to the zipper of her Vault suit. She looked at him, eyes big and dark and gleaming wetly under the Wasteland moon. “Please.” The whispered plea cracked into pieces, and without waiting for a response, she pulled him back to her.

The next morning, Leo woke in B’s bed. His arm stretched out lazily to find her and pull her in close to him but the only thing he found was her side of the bed, cold. He bolted upright. The first thing he noticed was her Vault suit folded on top of her desk with a slightly charred piece of paper above it. Her beloved ball cap sat abandoned to the left of her suit. He clambered out of bed and lunged for the paper. There was a single word written on it in neat handwriting. It took Leo a moment to read it but when he did, his heart clenched.

‘Sorry.’

He slammed the door opened and made a beeline for Wadsworth. “Where is she?”

“I’m afraid Miss B did not inform me as to her whereabouts. She merely told me to keep her house clean and safe while she was away though she did not tell me how long that would be.” The Mr. Handy whirred softly, peering closely at Leo.

With a snarled curse, the man punched the set of lockers near the front door, almost immediately hissing at the pain in his knuckles. Adam peered out of his room, eyes snapping wide open as he quickly averted his gaze. It was only then that Leo registered his nakedness. With a groan, he rested his head against the lockers and held back the urge to thump his head against them.

“Sir, I do believe that it is rather dangerous to disturb that locker. Miss B stores her weaponry there.” Wadsworth swiveled to adjust an out of place bobblehead. “Including several missiles and at least one mini nuke if I’m not mistaken.”

Leo recoiled. “She has a fucking mini nuke in there? Seriously? What the fuck?”

“Against my advice, yes. However, I must warn you against disturbing the contents of any containers in this house. I will be forced to defend it.”

The robot floated up the stairs to ask Adam if he wanted anything for breakfast.

Leo shifted uncomfortably. “Shit.”

After the...warning, days passed in a new routine. He’d come by B’s house to retrieve Adam, and Adam, with a nervous shake of his head, would tell Leo that she hadn’t come home yet. They’d work all day in the Lantern until sunset when Leo and Adam would come back to a still empty house save for the ever faithful Wadsworth.

Adam slowly became less closed off, occasionally offering a smile or a shy duck of his head when a settler or a caravan guard would flirt with him over their meal. The young man would never be entirely handsome by Wastelands but he was gentle and kind and Leo watched him charm patrons without attempting to, without even realizing he was doing it. Still, anything too aggressive from anyone and Adam immediately scurried to a back room to hide out until they’d gone. In those moments, Leo found himself being the one covering rather than being the one needing to be covered. Andy wasn’t an idiot but he stayed quiet because Leo was pulling in more customers and had proven himself to be good with the books.

Leo knew B would be proud of the progress her ward was making.

Nearly three weeks since he’d seen her had passed but he still came by every morning to bring Adam to work. At that point, he’d given up hope of ever seeing her again so when she was there one morning, plasma rifle in his face and only lowered once he saw the recognition in her eyes, he didn’t know which to be more surprised about. There was no apology, no greeting smile. Her flame bright hair was shaved on one side, the rest chopped off to just below her shoulder. Exhaustion and dirt lined her tanned, freckled face, green eyes hard and narrowed. Behind her stood a massively tall ghoul towering over both of them, impressive since she was the tallest person around. The ghoul had a shotgun cocked and aimed at him despite the fact that she had lowered her weapon, disfigured face impassive but Leo felt the threat in his black eyes shudder down his spine.

She wasn’t a Vaultie anymore, Leo realized with a swallow. The Capital Wasteland had claimed her. “You’re alive,” he whispered.

“You should listen to the radio more often.” Even her voice was damaged and when she lifted her chin, he saw the reason. Claw marks stretched over her throat. A sour smile curled her mouth, twisting the scar below her eye. “Feral ghoul caught me by surprise in the metro tunnels beneath DC. I survived. He did not.” The explanation was not calming.

“Three weeks, B. Three weeks you were gone and no one knew what had happened to you!” Relief gave way to anger.

Her eyes narrowed. “Do not shout at me. If you listened to the radio, you’d have known. Gob and Nova probably did.”
“What, were you on the Enclave shit? Because that’s the only station that fucking works!”

Her face twisted before it smoothed out into a blank mask.

“Do not say that name.”

Leo twitched in surprise. The big ghoul’s voice was deeper than expected. B’s nostrils flared, the only outward sign of her emotions. “Take Adam and leave. I want to be alone.”

As if on cue, Adam scurried down the stairs, hugging the wall and staring at B and the ghoul with huge eyes. Damn it. Adam had almost stopped keeping his back to every wall he could. Leo didn’t join him when he left. “What about the ghoul? He leaving too?”

“Charon stays with me.”

“You’re not fucking him are you?” He shouldn’t have accused her. Not with the ghoul’s shotgun almost in his face. She lifted her chin again.

“Who I fuck is of absolutely no concern to you.” Her rough, almost maybe disused, voice was cold enough that it could have chilled any number of Nuka-Colas in the Lantern. She turned her back on him, facing the clothing locker, the one without the mini nuke. Right. Excellent reason to not be shot by a shotgun right there.

Leo stepped back. “But I thought… What happened to you, B?”

She froze. He watched her shoulders lift beneath the scuffed jacket, making the snake stitched on the back move with the motion. Misplaced curiosity flickered until a shudder trembled through her body. Her shoulders squared. She turned back to him, and he blinked in surprise to see the tears and barely restrained fury gleaming in her green eyes. “My dad died.”

 

Chapter Text

  1. Just One of Those Things 

So goodbye, dear, and amen

Here's hoping we meet now and then

It was great fun

But it was just one of those things

 

Three Weeks Earlier

 

Staring at the Vault suit and naked as the day she was born, B just felt like an imposter. Truth had a funny way of doing that to her but all those years wearing one, living in the Vault, they’d been lies. She was nothing more than a pretend Vaultie. For all her clean teeth and clean habits and healthy hair, she was a Wastelander, just like everyone else out here. The girl she’d been had been left behind in the vault with her name.  Maybe she deserved to be there. She was the fake, the liar, the Nosebleed with the ridiculous name and something to prove because of it. She’d always had something to prove.

In there and out here.

Then her eyes fell on the raider clothing she’d cleaned and prepared to sell to Moira. There were only a few bloodstains she hadn’t been able to get out and as much as the idea of wearing a dead woman’s clothes made her skin crawl, she didn’t want to stay in her Vault suit. She...couldn’t. She didn’t belong in the Vault. She didn’t. Tears prickled in her eyes as grief crept back into her heart and she took a shaky breath as quietly as she could.

With a glance back at Leo sleeping in her bed, she dressed. Every time Leo’s snores stuttered, she froze, once with the uncomfortably short shorts halfway up her legs. B had lost weight since leaving the Vault and it showed in how loose her Vault suit had gotten. But even then, she had to suck in her stomach to do up the button. There were buckles and straps and she had no idea what to do with most of them.

It was while she was pulling on her boots that her hair fell into her face. Her heart sank further but she ignored it until she finished, when she braided her hair over her shoulder and tied off the end with a leather strip. She didn’t want to cut her hair off. But if she was going to be off traveling, she didn’t want to be sleeping on a bun. B went to put on her ball cap and paused. She folded her Vault suit, carefully laying it on the desk in her room. One hand stroked along its familiar lines, then she set the hat next to it.

It was time to stop hiding.

Butch’s jacket lay in a heap on the floor. She picked it up and went to hang it over the back of her chair but found herself unable to let it go. Her entire life may be a lie but that jacket was a much needed reminder of what she had been, and what she’d left behind, what she would always leave behind.

She didn’t bother to try to stop the tears slipping down her cheeks when she turned to look at Leo. He deserved better than this. Any of it. Her leaving in the middle of the night like this was a dick move and she knew that. But she also knew she couldn’t stay.

The ache between her thighs was something she’d felt before and she was grateful that this time she didn’t want to cry with every tiny movement she made. This time had been...enjoyable. This time she didn’t want to claw her skin off to remove his touch. Still, she also knew what she could have just done and couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid. There were a lot of stupid, regrettable things she’d done in her life, even in the safety of the Vault. There were several things that she regretted above all others but this? Sleeping with Leo was hands down the single dumbest she’d ever done. If anything had...happened, she needed her dad. He would know what to do. Even if… She knew it was more dangerous out here. Her mom was proof of that.

If it hadn’t been for her-

B shook her head, cutting off those thoughts. Literally no use feeling that guilt again.  She couldn’t change it.

She opened the door, wincing at the creak. Dogmeat, lying outside her door, lifted his head. “Come on, boy. Let’s go,” she whispered.

“Miss B, are you well now?” Wadsworth whirred as one of his eyes peered up at her.

“Volume down 30%,” B ordered quietly. “Wadsworth, I need to go away for a bit. I finally have a lead on my dad and I can’t… I’ve already wasted too much time here. I need you to keep an eye on our house, guard it, keep it clean. Adam and Leo are fine to be in here, same as Lucas Simms. The kids are okay although keep one of your eyes on them if they come in. No one else.”

“Do you know how long you will be away?”

“No. I’ll come back though. I hope.” B opened her front door and turned back to the Mr. Handy. “Thank you, Wadsworth. Volume back up to normal levels.” She closed the door, Dogmeat at her side. She exhaled, looking up at the setting moon. Then she and Dogmeat set off.

The sun was peeking over the horizon when she stopped at Meresti, making her way back through the tunnels. “B? What’s up with that getup?” Robert asked her as she approached.

“I’ll explain later.”
“Hold you to that.” He dipped his chin and moved to the side.

When she entered their stronghold, Holly was nearest and turned in her seat at the sound of footsteps. Her eyebrows lifted. “You look damn good but what’s the occasion?” She stood and sauntered over.

B swallowed hard. “I’m trying reality on for size. I don’t quite know how it fits yet.”

As flimsy as the teenager’s attempted smile, Holly’s smile was just as tender by comparison. “Come here.” She opened her arms and after only a moment’s hesitation, B stepped into them, ignoring how much taller she was than Vance’s wife. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her lower lip wobbled. “If you need to stay here for a while, you can. The dog too. We might even promise not to eat him.”

B laughed at that, pulling away with a watery chuckle. “I’d have to shoot you if you tried.”

“You might wear the Wasteland yet. What did you come down into the tunnels for?”

“Oh!” Brightening immediately, taking any opportunity to focus on something other than her compounding losses, B unslung her pack and opened it. “I’ve got some bloodpacks for you. One is fresh. The others I picked up while I’ve been out and about. Sorry.” She winced apologetically. “I’m going traveling and I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to resupply so if you have anything to spare-”

“I thank all of our lucky stars that you came out of that vault when you did.” B looked up to see Vance descending the stairs.

She didn’t have a guarantee that she would have died in the vault if she’d stayed. But she also probably would have only lost her dad, rather than also her dad. “I wouldn’t say lucky. Unless we’re talking bad luck.”

“Only if you choose to look at it that way. What did you need from us?”

“As many stimpacks as you can spare and I may need more Radaway. And if you have any ammunition for my gun. I have a bad feeling I may need it.” The muscles in her jaw tightened as she looked down, unwilling to meet anyone’s eyes.

“You sound like you have a journey ahead of you, young one.”

B frowned as she lifted her head. “I’m heading into the DC ruins to look for my dad.”

Gasps echoed around her and the low buzz of conversation came to a screeching halt. B closed her eyes just long enough to remind herself that she trusted them before straightening her back from where she crouched, hunched over her pack.

“You’re not going into the tunnels, are you?” Justin asked, bounding up to her. It was only at her slight flinch that he didn’t completely invade her personal space.

“I’m trying to get to the GNR building. So if that takes me through the tunnels, then yeah.”

Horrified glances were exchanged. Vance’s eyes closed and he bowed his head, just a little. “Oh, sweetie.” Holly’s face had enough sympathy to drown a cat.

“It can’t be that bad,” B insisted as she stood, wanting to hear that she probably wouldn’t die there. The fact that everyone seemed to want to avoid the DC ruins pretty much just made everything worse and she just wanted someone to say that she had a good chance at survival. Even if they were lying.

“Have you ever faced super mutants or ferals before?” Justin asked. Even as dim in their home as it was, she could see his eyes darken and mouth pinch at the corners.

“No?” She remembered that she’d never asked Billy Creel if what she’d seen had been supermutants. She hoped so. They were ugly enough that she didn’t want to find out what they were called if they weren’t.

“Super mutants are dumb as shit and can’t see too well, but they hate humans, especially Vault Dwellers. They eat some and drag others away. We don’t know why or where,” Holly told her. Dumb as shit, can’t see well. Yup. That sounded like the things Dogmeat had saved her from.

B blinked. “And no one’s tried to study them?”
“If anyone has, they haven’t survived it.”

“Ferals are just as bad,” Justin interjected. “If you get swarmed by them, you’re done for, and they infest metro tunnels like radroaches. Don’t let them get close.”

B paused to consider. She could tuck her tail between her legs and return to Megaton, deal with the situation with Leo that she so didn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. It would be the safer option, the option least likely to get her killed. Theoretically. Andy might kill her on principle for hurting his brother and she knew leaving would have and boy, if she didn’t have enough guilt over her decision. People didn’t just say... that … They didn’t in the Vault and out here where survival wasn’t guaranteed, she doubted it was said any more frequently. But on the other hand, while her having been born in the Wasteland was, based on available information, the most likely conclusion to be drawn, she still needed him to confirm that. Moriarty could have lied, told her what he had to manipulate her. More than that, though, she didn’t want to deal with possibly being pregnant out here alone. Pregnant. She sighed, kicking herself for acting emotionally and recklessly. She knew better.  “I need to find my dad. I need answers and he might be willing to give them to me now.” The fact that she knew she was running away didn’t change that. Ironic that her fear of pregnancy was greater than her fear of death considering the two went hand in hand in her experience.
Holly put a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. B twitched under the contact but otherwise didn’t dislodge it. “If you make it back out alive, stop by. You’re always welcome, B.”

B’s eyes went to Vance who nodded with all the solemnity she was starting to associate with him.

Dogmeat remained at her side while she picked up her supplies and settled them into her pack. When she was ready to head out, she paused, looking back at the gathered Family. “Be careful.” Vance said, hand lifted.

She nodded, eyes flicking to Justin. “Let Alan know that I’ll be gone and can’t bring them supplies.” At his low murmured affirmation, B shifted the weight of her pack on her shoulders and headed back out.

She ran into a couple of molerats that Dogmeat scared off to his disappointment, but otherwise the trip was entirely uneventful, and despite Butch’s jacket, she grudgingly admitted that the raiders had a point. The breeze when it kicked up actually cooled her off instead of making her sweat more like her Vault suit did, and she could feel the wind against her skin, which was nice. Unfortunately, her new duds resulted in her feeling more exposed and actually being more exposed to everything. This included bullets, and the sun.  She didn’t dare stop to check her legs, knowing that while she’d had a while to get used to the sun, at least her shoulders had, her legs had never seen the light of day in her life. Or well, maybe they had, right after she was born but she could already feel them burning and found herself praying that her skin would be fine and she wouldn’t get skin cancer or something like that. Because that would be her shitty luck.

She abruptly forgot about the sun when she rounded the corner of a partially collapsed building and came face to face with the single most hideous mutated creature she’d ever seen in her life. Dogmeat snarled and whined, backpedaling into a rock. B and the mutation stared at each other. B could hear the slick slide of the tongues as they moved.

Then it lunged. B tried to avoid its lashing tongues ( tongues! ) as she stumbled back but one brushed across her chest, another slapped against her upper thigh and the wounds burned. Almost immediately her leg gave out and she cried out as she dropped to the dirt. Pebbles and grit dug into her knee, barely a pinprick compared to the acid spill sting from her other wounds. Then Dogmeat was there, teeth and claws tearing into the creature. It was slow turning on its human hands and Dogmeat was never in the same place, dancing around the monstrosity.

B fumbled for her 10mm. Pain had her hands shaking but she fired at its head, once, twice, three times. It collapsed, twitching, a trail of reddish blood leaking from the bullet hole dead center in its forehead. One out of three. That was crap. She fell back onto her forearms, eyes screwed shut and every muscle in her body tensed. She didn’t dare look at her thigh. The tongue across her chest had only scorched the shirt but even just the damp fabric burned. Dogmeat retrieved a stimpack and nudged her until she took it.

She braced, muscles tensing, and then she jammed the needle into her thigh, compressing the syringe. One heartbeat passed, then two, and then the prickling sting started. She clamped down on her lower lip hard enough that she worried she’d drawn blood to hold back the scream building. Damn stimpacks. The sting moved to her chest though the majority remained down in her thigh, stitching back together her skin and muscle, accelerating the healing. A high-pitched whimper tore out of her throat. If this was anything like an acid or radiation burn, she knew that it would scar.

“I hear something!”

Of course . Super mutants. Had to be. She eyed the monstrosity near her side. Was it like...their dog? She hadn't had a chance to actually look at it and, holy shit, it had so many hands . B started to get a little nauseated and put her head down into her hands. The corpse might have reeked too. She wasn't sure. Everything smelled disgusting out here.

She grimaced as the prickling started to migrate to tiny little scrapes. “Come on, come on, come on, come on.”

“Human smells!”

“Hungry!”

“Where is it?”

Two? Was that three? B couldn’t tell. They all sounded alike but she was pretty sure there were at least two. Maybe. Her knuckles creaked and she loosened the tight grip she had on her pistol. Carefully, trying not to make much sound, she checked the number of bullets.

Not enough time to reload. Shit. Okay.

She looked at Dogmeat. The dog was silent, hackles raised, ears forward, eyes on her. If she had to guess, it almost looked like he was waiting for her cue. She’d never had the chance to test out how smart he was. No time like the present because otherwise she didn’t think she’d survive this.

I hate D.C.

 

Chapter Text

  1. It’s A Most Unusual Day

Well, there's only one thing to say

It's a most unusual, most unusual, most unusual day

 

“I fucking hate super fucking mutants,” B snarled, leaning against a shattered building. She closed her eyes, feeling her heart thrum in her ribcage. She was in DC, finally . She’d survived several patrols of super mutants, a bunch of those hideous, mutated things that grated against every science and medical nerve she had. Everything ached, stung, or throbbed. She suspected she had at least one broken rib from a wall collapsing on her and scraped from that incident covered her exposed skin. Blood crusted over her sunburned legs. She hoped it offered some sort of protection but she was in too much pain to really care.

B slid down the wall onto her butt, and winced as she let out a heavy sigh. Dogmeat rested his head on a newly formed bruise on her shin. She made a sharp noise and moved her leg out from underneath him. “I’m so done. So very, very done with everything trying to kill me.”

She flipped the radio in her Pip-Boy on, volume low enough that the sound wouldn’t carry far. “- bathtubs, street cars, taxis; noise in my ear …”

She smiled though it faltered when her side twinged at her attempted deep inhale. “All quiet, Dogmeat?”

The dog woofed softly in response, tail wagging in the dirt.

“Okay. Good.” She flipped over to her status screen and grimaced at what she saw. Right leg nearly crippled, torso crippled, left arm nearly crippled. She pinched the bridge of her nose between her forefinger and her thumb. “Ugh.” She hated the whine she heard in her own voice. She hated that she wasn’t fast enough or strong enough or knowledgeable enough about the outside to make it without injuries. She hated the way she had to fight for survival nearly every moment.

She stabbed another stimpack into her upper thigh, teeth baring at the bite of pain. A high pitched whine ripped its way out of her throat and she knocked her head back against the wall. Bursts of intense prickling, worse since she’d already had one, shuddered into her body. She tried to keep breathing. In, out. In, out. Slow and steady. She squeezed her eyes shut and a tear slipped down her cheek.

“You’ll hear a tune that lives in the heart of a bluebird and you’ll find happy times.” God bless Bing. She focused on the words, the music, reminded of a time in the vault, years ago.

Do you ever think about what our future’s going to be like?

We’re fifteen, Amata. Why are you worried about it?

You don’t think about the future of the Vault?

I’m not the future Overseer. I’ll...probably end up as the next doctor.

Boo, you’re so good with electronics. Why would you waste yourself on medicine?

It’s easier. What about you? You don’t have to follow in Alphonse’s footsteps.

No, but...I don’t want to leave the Vault without guidance.

You’re not the one whose mom died in childbirth, Tomato. Me, I don’t think I want kids. Besides, no one in the vault gives me a second glance that is halfway kind. More to the point, was that Paulie Hannon I saw giving you eyes?

I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.

Uh huh. Keep denying it, Tomato. You’re kind of blushing.

Something carefree. One corner of her mouth twitched up briefly. She missed that even if she didn’t actually miss the vault.

Eventually the effects of the stimpack eased though it left her nerves hyper aware. She slowly exhaled, noting the twinge at her rib but it didn’t hinder her breathing. Better than expected.

She got to her feet and started walking, limping. “Where is a damn metro station? Heh. Wouldn’t it be funny if the old people used to say that?” She looked up and felt her adrenaline spike. The sun was setting. She needed to get underground now.

“What was that?”

B froze and looked down at Dogmeat. The dog’s hackles were lifted. She closed her eyes and wished with everything she had in her that she would be able to go anywhere without running into raiders just once. She checked the ammunition of her 10mm and tried to quiet her movements as she moved toward the raiders. Cautiously, she peeked over part of a wall. Shit. They were holed up over a metro station entrance. Was that the one she wanted? Probably. That seemed to be her luck.

Still, she wasn’t in top shape, or top form. She could have kicked herself for leaving before she was ready. Between the stimpack still prickling along her nerves and the adrenaline tearing into her, she almost didn’t feel her injuries. That wouldn’t be the case in an hour or so, assuming she survived, but for right now, she’d take what she could get.

She cautiously lifted her head, cursing her bright hair, and she saw at least five raiders when she peeked. There were probably more and these didn’t look like they were drunk or high or any of it. She ducked back down. She nibbled on the inside of her cheek and looked at Dogmeat then looked down at her gun. That wouldn’t work… would it?

One of the raiders caught sight of her as she lifted her head again. She ducked reflexively at the shout and fortunately the bullet penetrated into the chunk of building she was hiding behind. “Dogmeat, go!” she hissed. The dog bolted, tearing toward the raiders. As they focused on him, B launched herself halfway on top of her barrier and fired back. One raider dropped. Another fell back, turning to face her. He didn’t look like he was holding his gun right. She ducked back down, fumbling to reload. She couldn’t remember how many times she’d shot and her pulse was pounding in her ears. Dogmeat’s growls softened as another raider hollored. She yanked her head up in time to see the raider held by Dogmeat lifting a knife. The one beside him kicked, foot colliding with the dog’s side.

Dogmeat yelped and dropped the raider’s leg.

“No!” Fear jumped through her and emptied the clip in that direction. Both raiders dropped. More bullets came in her direction and she ducked again. “Shit, forgot that one.” Gun reloaded, pulse pounding, hands shaking. When the firing stopped, B popped back up and took enough time to aim before she pulled the trigger again. The last one fell.

B shook her head, trying to clear her hearing. Getting in close was messier and more dangerous but at least it didn’t leave her ears throbbing and shrieking in protest. “Dogmeat, you okay?”

She heard an answering bark and slumped against the broken wall, relieved.

“You named the fucking dog ‘Dogmeat’? What kind of sick fuck are you?”

B’s head shot back up to see a raider perched in a hole in the second floor of the next building over. He was lowering a massive...gun...thing. B stopped breathing, staring at it.

She’d never spoken to a raider before. This was the first one who hadn’t immediately tried to kill her on sight. He’d been going to. She knew that. But he’d stopped. Why?

“I didn’t name him. That’s the name on his collar,” she called back.

“No shit? Stay there, I’ll be right down.”

Wait. “What?”

The raider didn’t answer. She watched as he vanished from sight. Some loud cursing later, and he was exiting the building, the...she had no idea what that was supposed to be but it was even bigger as he got closer. She looked down at Dogmeat, panicking a little and wondering what the hell was going on in her life right now. Raiders didn’t talk. If they did, they just hurled insults while they tried to kill her.

Raiders certainly didn’t walk towards her calmly, hands held out like he was trying for peace. Was he just making it easier to stab her? Why didn’t he just shoot her with that massive whatever the hell it was?

Her chest heaved from the fight, making her aware that she needed to hole up and properly assess her wounds.

He was halfway attractive, filthy in the way that most Wastelanders seemed to be and- God damn it, this is not the time or place in any way, shape, or form, you idiot! With her treatment of Leo and her goddamn stupid ass decisions hanging over her head, B didn’t want to go anywhere near making more stupid ass decisions. Not with this man. She shouldn’t even be in the vicinity of thinking she can trust him. Raider. Raiders try to kill her. That was how it worked.

Her eyes narrowed and she leaned back, settling her weight lower.

The raider stopped in his tracks, hands still up. “I ain’t gonna hurt you.”

“You’re a raider. I have a hard time believing that.” She kept her hand on her pistol. The raider dragged his fingers through his hair, scratching at his scalp.

“Look, you trust your dog, dontcha?”

“So?”

“So he ain’t growlin’ at me. Are ya, Dogmeat?” The raider held out a hand to let Dogmeat sniff.

B felt tension coil in her near enough to breaking when Dogmeat crept forward. Her reflexes weren’t good enough to protect him if the raider went for him. And if anything happened to Dogmeat, she’d be stuck out here, alone, without any sort of protection. That was, of course, assuming she survived this encounter.

Dogmeat cautiously sniffed the raider’s hand. Slowly his tail started to wag. “There ya go. See?”

“You’re still a raider.”

“True. But I didn’t kill you.”

“You’re expecting me to believe that you did that out of the kindness of your heart?”

The raider shrugged. “I like dogs.”

B stared at him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The raider grinned at her. Halfway decent dental hygiene and seriously, this is why I don’t get close to men. What the everloving hell? “I like you.”

“I’d-I’d really rather you didn’t.”

“The name’s Nip. Who’re you?”

B stared at him. This was not how she was expecting this day to go. She was chatting up a raider. A man that Dogmeat didn’t seem threatened by. And now he was asking for her name. Honestly, right now this sounded more like the plot of an alternate universe science fiction story than any sort of reality she’d ever lived in.

" " Okay, it seems the settlement of Grayditch has gone quiet. Residents haven't come out to trade with the caravaners, and attempts to make contact have been met with silence. So if you're out by Grayditch, you may wanna pop in and see what's what. "

B winced at Three Dog’s cheerful recommendation. Nip’s eyes flicked to the Pip-Boy on her wrist and grinned wider. “You’re that kid from the vault.”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“Sure, you don’t. Heard about what you did for Megaton. Some brains you got. Thought you’d be younger though.”

That stung. She straightened up and felt her heart rate increase a little. “Yeah, well, I don’t see you doing the things you’ve done.”

“Put the claws away, pussycat. I like a bit of a fight,” he winked at her, “but not the kinda one you’d give me right now. What’re you doing out here?”

“How much do you know?”

He took a step closer and she tensed up again. Nip paused, appraising her. “Three Dog says a cat crawled out of a vault over by Megaton but he wasn’t the only one. Little Miss 101 came out after him. Same one who disarmed that bomb.”

B’s gaze slid to the orange sky. “Okay. Fine. Yes. That was me. Happy?”

“More than you’d know. I think I’m gonna head a bit west now that I’m rid of this gang.”

“West? Why-why west?”

“Megaton’s out that way.”

“Why-why-why would you want to go to Megaton?”

Nip shrugged. “I ain’t always been a raider, ya know. ‘Sides, that’s your place. Might as well keep it safe for ya until you get back from your search.”

B scowled. He was smarter than he looked. “I appreciate the gesture but-” The sound of footsteps broke off her train of thought and she twisted around, biting back a hiss.

A handful of men showed up in black armor. Something about them had the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. The one in front, shorter than the others, regarded her curiously. “We were told you’d be in a vault suit.”

“Who are you?” she asked slowly.

“This ain’t your business, friend,” Nip said, moving in front of her.

“Actually, I’m afraid it is our business. You see, we were hired by someone who is rather disappointed in you.”

That wording. B frowned, trying to place it.

“Hired to do what?” Nip crossed his arms over his leather armor.

“Teach her a lesson is all.”

B took a step back. She hadn’t done anything.

“Nah. I don’t think so. I think you’re going to walk away.”

The leader of the black armored men laughed. The others shifted behind him. “And why would we do that?”

Nip shifted the gun thing into his grip and...cocked it? She wasn’t sure what was happening but she watched the way the other men backed up quickly, looks of horror on their faces.

“You don’t need to do that,” the leader said though the fury filtering through made B’s blood run cold.

“Run back to whoever sent ya and tell them that she’s off limits.”

The leader sneered, eyes flicking to the gun thing. “What happens when you’re not here to protect her?”

Nip rolled his shoulders back, like he didn’t have a care in the world. “She can take care of herself.” The leader glanced at her with a disbelieving scoff. “I see ya don’t believe me. Kid’s smarter than she looks. Tougher too. Not many people can go toe to toe with a mirelurk and survive. She doesn’t need me.”

Why. What. HUH? B struggled to maintain a halfway neutral expression on her face. Nip had to have an endgame or an angle or something because what the hell was going on?

The leader looked back at her but this time his expression was more appraising. She lifted her chin, panicking more than a little inside and hoping it wasn’t visible. For a moment, the only sounds were the radio on her Pip-Boy and the wind. “I suppose I’ll need to consider it.” His eyes narrowed and B didn’t quite manage to suppress the shiver. “I believe we’ll be seeing you later.”

B didn’t relax until they’d faded from sight and even then, her muscles didn’t come off survival stress until Dogmeat sat down and his ears pricked forward gently rather than alertly.

Nip put the gun thing back on his back, head tipped curiously toward her. “Y’alright there?”

“You’re a raider.”

Nip laughed a little at the baffled statement. “Yep. Raider.”

“Am I crazy or did you just save my life?”

“You’d have figured out a way to survive if I hadn’t been here.” He shrugged. “I just helped it along.”

B stared at him. “I don’t understand. Why?”

He smiled. “I know people.” He started to walk away, but tossed the words back over his shoulder. “Next time you’re in the neighborhood, check me up.”

“What neighborhood?”

“Megaton.”

B’s mouth gaped open as he disappeared. What the hell had just happened.

Chapter Text

  1. Troubles, Troubles, Troubles (Alternate Title “I’m Fairly Alarmed Here”)

Troubles, trouble, troubles, troubles is all in the world I see

Troubles, trouble, troubles, troubles is all in the world I see

Oh sometimes I wonder, wonder what is gonna become of me

B was lost.

She was lost and panicking and hungry and exhausted. But she had to keep going.

The first night she holed herself up in a closet and passed out, fingers tangled in Dogmeat’s fur.

Yelping and clawed fingers woke her up.

She scrambled for a weapon, bucking the feral ghoul off of her. Then it was back at her, radiation soft teeth sinking into her thigh. B made a sound somewhere near a scream but harsher than any sound she’d ever made before. The base of her throat burned and throbbed.

Somehow she killed the ghoul, its blood spraying over her. She lay there, chest heaving. She kicked the dead ghoul off of her.

Dogmeat nosed her, muzzle sticky. “No, I’m...I’m good.” Her voice rasped harshly and she winced at the sound. Every swallow made it feel like she had a lighter against her throat again. Lying to a dog. Great. This was an all new low for her.

She spied a long dead skeleton slumped in an office chair. A broken bit of mirror was still clutched in one bony hand, the remains of the mirror on the floor. She crawled over to the mirror, every movement causing her thigh to throb, and angled it so she could see the damage to her throat, fingers carefully carefully probing. A thin line of blood oozed out from the deepest point, staining her shirt further. But it didn’t look like it was anything but a superficial wound, for which she was grateful and apparently very lucky. Still, she stabbed a Stimpack into her leg just above the bite. She didn’t depress the entire syringe into her system, enough to nearly close up her leg.

The next night found her barricaded in a former office as a pair of massive supermutants bellowed and pounded outside. Blood ran down Butch’s jacket from a bullet hole in her upper arm but she ignored it.

Teeth bared, straining to keep the door closed, B was braced against it even as she tried to get a filing cabinet in the way. The only blessing that she had was that the two super mutants were too stupid to just open the door but they were strong enough to break it down.

It was only a matter of time before one of them got smart or lucky or both. Probably lucky but anything could happen. Grunting from both pain and effort, her eyes fell on her pack. An idea slammed into her mind but it was so completely insane that she almost dismissed it.

But then the metal door frame cracked.

“Dogmeat.” The word sent licks of fire through her throat but the injured dog lifted his head at his name, whining. “Hide.” Dogmeat picked himself off the floor, favoring his shot hind leg, and limped over to a desk shoved in a corner. He slipped underneath it.

B closed her eyes, feeling fear and adrenaline thrumming through her blood. “One. Two.” She lunged for her pack. Thud. She fumbled at her pack for a pair of grenades. Thud . The metal groaned and the outline of a large fist appeared when she glanced at it.

“Puny human!”

The voice was low, harsh and she nearly dropped one of the grenades. Then an even more insane idea popped into her head. Pulse mines wreaked havoc on machines and that was the common use for them. But they could also cause temporary paralysis in living creatures.
And she’d just happened to have found one that wasn’t live.

She set the grenades down to fish it out of her pack. Thud . The hinges began to creak. Despite the thumping sounding in her ears, B flattened herself as much as she could on the ground. Clever, scarred fingers set to work arming the mine.

Thud .

With effort because of the buckling metal, B didn’t bother to second guess the insanity of what she was doing and forced the door unlocked. Before the super mutants thought to take advantage of the now open entrance, she tossed the mine out of the door. She quickly backed away and to the side, planting herself against the stone wall as much as she could and careful not to touch the door itself.

“Hey, what’s this-” One of the super mutants must have tried to pick it up or poke it or something because B felt the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as the pulse mine blew. Shielded as she was by the door and the wall, she was mostly unscathed though her skin buzzed.

Still, she wasn’t done. They were still alive and she didn’t think she’d be able to aim with a gun. She scrambled for the grenades again, landing heavily on her knees and feeling them bruise as she landed. She pulled the pins out and tossed them through the open door as well. Time seemed to slow down as she scrambled backwards, fleeing back towards the wall.

And the grenades went off just as the tingle down her spine from the pulse mine faded. The door blasted open, catching her in the arm and wrenching her shoulder when it kept going, temporarily pinning her against the wall. The stones cracked closest to the blast. She heard them even through the boom and her ringing ears.

An agonized bellow told her that at least one was still alive so she peeled herself off the wall, teeth gritted against the deep throbbing pain in her shoulder. She picked up her gun and snaked around to the entry. B looked the remaining super mutant in the eyes before she raised her 10mm and fired. A neat hole appeared in its forehead, greenish blood trickling as it slumped forward.

She lowered her gun, staring at her dead enemies. It should have worried her that she wasn’t feeling anything. Well, pain. Lots of that but emotionally, nothing. Though she supposed that if she was feeling something, she wouldn’t be worried about not feeling it.

Emotions were funny that way.

Her knees buckled and it was only then that she realized under the pounding adrenaline was bone shaking exhaustion. She hit the floor, wincing. She reached for her pack, missing a couple times which prompted an irritated growl, and pulled out a stimpack. “Here, Dogmeat.” She watched and waited as he dragged himself out from underneath the desk and over to her. It was a testament to his living out in the Wasteland his whole life and the care his former master gave him that he didn’t seem to notice the stimpack as it healed his leg.

B looked at the dead super mutants and her nose wrinkled. Staying here meant risking scavengers showing up to eat them. If anything was brave enough to eat super mutant. She certainly wasn’t and from the way Dogmeat didn’t even sniff in their direction, neither was he. And he’d tried to eat the rotting brahmin corpse after his bath.

She sighed. “Let’s go, Dogmeat.”

She finally made it out of the metro system on the third day. She didn’t know how long she stood there, head tipped back soaking in the sunlight until she began to sweat under Butch’s jacket. But being under the sky, feeling the hot wind and sun on her face soothed the stress she’d been under.

“Little human!”

Her eyes snapped open and she dove behind a pile of rubble that only on second glance did she realize was pockmarked by bullet holes gouged into the stone. She growled a noise, readied her gun, and slid from cover with a sharp whistle to Dogmeat.

 

Her next foray into the tunnels was easier, a little more sleep, fewer big enemies. But the walls started to press in on her mind and her skin crawled with the need to get out . During the day, Dogmeat eased her anxiety with tail wags and gentle energy. At night, curled up at his side, it was Butch’s jacket that kept her sane when the silence made her want to scream. If she’d wanted to risk attracting attention, she would have turned on her Pip-Boy’s radio. But she didn’t. She couldn’t.

It was night when she got out, scrambling up the stairs and throwing herself to the ground, pack sliding off her shoulder to hit the ground with a clatter and a thump. Dogmeat whined, pressing his nose against her cheek. “I’m good. Good. Yeah. Fine. I don’t want to go back in. Tunnels aren’t...No.”

Her hands began to tremble so she pressed them more firmly against the stone. Eventually, the tremors faded and she stood, brushing off her knees and wincing when her hands made contact with the bruises she had. Gunshots and a number of whooshing sounds started up. B frowned. It didn’t sound like a normal firefight. The whooshes, whatever made that sound, were clustered together while the gunshots were as scattered as normal.  A burst here, drawn out there.

She looked down at Dogmeat. “Well, what do you think, boy? It’s a really bad idea to investigate but I think that’s in the direction we’re supposed to be going.”

He woofed at her, tail wagging.

“Okay. Well…” She bobbles her head, debating. “We haven’t died yet.” Another cluster of whooshes. “And I want to know what that sound is so I can identify it later. Definitely for survival and not because I’m curious. Curiosity killed the cat. I’m not curious.” Dogmeat cocked his head and whined. “Shut up. I’m not.” She hauled her pack back onto her shoulders, adjusting them so the weight wasn’t sitting on the bruises there.

The silence was eating at her but now that she was out of the tunnels, she turned her Pip-Boy radio on, making sure that the volume was low. When she got close enough, she could hear voices. Human and super mutant. She rounded a corner to see super mutants fighting people in...were those suits of power armor? What on earth? She watched the fight. Some of the super mutants had giant gun that spun and sprayed bullets. Whatever the power armor was made of wasn’t allowing the bullets to pass through. Or maybe the guns wasn’t working properly to allow the normal amount of force because they looked like they should just shred through the metal plating like paper. B’s eyes narrowed. Who were these people?

They fired on the super mutants, answering one of her questions. The whooshing sound came from the rifles the power armor wearing people used, rifles that shot red energy that lit up the darkness. Laser rifles? She thought those were just a stunt used in propaganda vids from before the war.

One of the humans darted forward, surprising for how heavy the power armor looked, to grab the gun from one of the super mutants and tossed it in her direction. B yelped and dodged out of the way, incurring notice from one of the humans. She was close enough that even though it was dark out, she could tell that one, the one nearest to her, was a young woman, maybe about her age, hair shorn short.

The gun smashed into a brick wall, showering her and Dogmeat with bits of brick. Another cluster of whooshing, a heavy groan from one of the super mutants and then silence save for the radio on her Pip-Boy. B shook her head, dislodging some of the debris from her hair. “You there!” B lifted her head at the call. Another of the humans stomped over, probably not deliberately but power armor didn’t look like it it was built to be anything but hulking and loud. Then again...she eyed the one who had moved in close to the super mutant. “Look, I don’t know who you are but you don’t belong here.” The woman stopped in front of B.

B straightened, glaring up at the woman. Blonde, burn scar across one cheek, probably from a laser rifle. It wasn’t very many people B had encountered out here taller than her but it seemed likely the power armor helped with the height, making the woman look more formidable. B gestured at the woman’s scar. “Excuse me? At least I’m surviving out here without a tin can suit of armor. You don’t know anything about me.”

“You’re a Wastelander. I’m Brotherhood. That’s all I need to know.”

Brotherhood. Three Dog had mentioned them. Something about “fighting the good fight.” Whatever that was. Her eyes narrowed further. Who gave her the fucking right to act so superior? “So you’ve gone head to head with a mirelurk with no armor and a pistol? Congrats. I misjudged you.”

The woman paused. “What’s your name?”

“I’m called B. You?”

“Sarah Lyons.”

B couldn’t help the small smile. “As in African big cat with the mane?”

“No, that’s i-o-n-s. I’m y-o-n-s.”

B paused to spell it on her head, gauging it against pronunciation. Then she shrugged. “Okay. Who are these people?”

Sarah took long enough to speak that B raised an eyebrow. “Lyons Pride.”

The words were quiet. B smiled more broadly. “Nice pun. I like it. So what are you doing here?”

“The Super Mutants have overrun our brothers at the Galaxy News Radio building, and we're headed there to back them up.”

Again with the superiority. “Galaxy News Radio. Cool. That’s where I’m going too.” B grinned broadly, making sure to show her white, straight teeth.

Sarah paused again, looking a lot more uncertain. “You can tag along if you want. But keep your head down and try not to do anything... stupid.”

“I won’t if you won’t.”

One of the men started chuckling and B’s attention immediately snapped to him. “Man, I like this one.” Her muscles uncoiled a little though she couldn’t have ignored the way her heart rate had picked up a little. “Can we keep her?”

Sarah glared at him. “Let’s just move out.”

B kept to the back of the group, watching their dynamics. The man who’d spoken, Paladin Glade he told her though the title meant nothing to her, seemed to enjoy her company. She was surprised by how quickly she warmed up to him. But she asked questions about the weapons she’d seen that she hadn’t had words for and he seemed to relish answering. The thing Nip had carried was a missile launcher and never was she more grateful he decided to talk to her instead of firing it. She also had words for miniguns, sometimes carried by the super mutants and sometimes by other members of the Brotherhood, and what Glade carried. He showed off his gatling laser with pride when asked.

When they came across super mutants, the uglies usually paid full attention to the Pride, allowing B to slip around to the side or the back. Dogmeat would pull one to the ground, teeth sinking into a calf so B could shoot it in the head twice.

After the third pack of doing that, the rest of the Pride seemed to, grudgingly, accept that she was halfway useful.

“You’re doing good, kid,” Glade said, bumping her in the shoulder with his gauntlet covered fist. She stumbled but quickly recovered.

“You guys are bright shiny targets. You’re doing all the work.”

“Still. Too bad you don’t have the build for heavy weapons.”

B had absolutely no desire to be on the front lines and visible like that. It was nice that he thought she could do it though. “But then what would you do?”

Glade boomed out a laugh. “A witty tongue. Lyons, would you-”

“It’s a bad idea, Glade.”

“Just think about it.”

“Are we getting close?” B asked as the sun started to lighten. She needed to get some sleep but getting left behind had less appeal.

No one answered her. She looked to Glade only to see a grin on his face. They rounded the corner and B sighed.

The GNR building. Yup. Naturally she asked moments before her question would have been answered. Way to make herself look competent in front of the tin can soldiers, and damn it, Butch needed to get out of her head . If she called them that out loud, she doubted they’d be amused.

Still, she slumped against a wall, watching Sarah Lyons give orders to her Pride. The end of the journey was so close but now...she hung back, eyes on the door to the building. The Wasteland had taught her hesitance.

When a shuddering roar rumbled through the ground managing to resonate the little pebble-type debris, despite the fear that threw her heart into her throat, she closed her eyes and pinched her nose. Nothing was ever easy. She opened her eyes to hear shouting, laser fire, and to see Reddin go flying past her to hit the fountain in the middle of the square.

A missile launcher clattered out of the woman’s grip a couple feet from B.

She slowly raised her gaze and immediately recoiled, pressing back up into the wall she’d been leaning on.

It looked like a super mutant. Maybe. If super mutants were...how tall was that? Eighteen feet? Twenty feet?

“Behemoth!” Sarah shouted over the whooshing of the laser rifles. Big, hulking, and stupid. Seemed apt.

“Like we couldn't see that!” Glade bellowed back. His face lit up in the glow of his gatling laser. If she looked closely enough, it looked like there were heat waves coming off it. Which made sense. Light produced heat and-

B shut her eyes, clamping down on the panicking science babble in her head.

“Get the damn missile launcher!”

One of the soldiers who had been outside her goal thudded across the square, only to be knocked to the side by the piece of building the monstrosity was using like a baseball bat. His flailing foot knocked the missile launcher closer to B.

She had to do something. She had to- But if they were getting batted around like they weighed nothing, she had no chance of survival if she got hit by the behemoth. She pressed closer to the wall, sheltered from sight, Dogmeat wrapped around her legs.

But. The behemoth was paying attention to the Brotherhood. She eyed the missile launcher. I don't know how to work it! But she had to try. She couldn't just sit there if they all died because then she wouldn't find her dad and Dogmeat wouldn't make it. That was the thought that spurred her into movement. She slid her pack off and shed Butch’s jacket. Except for her hair, she was in bland, nondescript colors, and her hair was darkened by sweat and washed out by dirt and debris. The jacket just made her stand out more.

“Stay, Dogmeat.” The dog whined, but sat.

B didn't look up, didn't look at the behemoth as she darted for the missile launcher. She grabbed it, muscles screaming at the unfamiliar weight. But she stood her ground. Metaphorically, of course. She was crouched, bruised knee pressed into the ground. The pain was on the backburner to the fear pounding in her ears. She remembered how Nip had held the missile launcher and lifted it up onto her shoulder. She adjusted it so that she was looking through the sights. Her forefinger found what felt like a trigger. She had no idea if they worked by trigger, had no idea if there was a safety she had to turn off.

She swung her new weapon up to look at the behemoth in the face. And then she dropped it, sighting at its neck. Necks were vulnerable.

She tensed up when she held her breath, pausing. The behemoth tipped its head back to roar. Injured? Didn't matter. She pulled the maybe trigger and was thrown onto her butt and skidding backwards. Dirt and rock embedded into her skin, slipping into her shorts and underwear.

Ears ringing she blinked through the smoke, barely registering a pained bellow. “Oh, boy.” Shook her head, trying to reorient herself, B heard what might have been shouting. Who? What?

A steel covered arm scooped her up around the middle, startling her enough that she dropped the missile launcher. Don't drop the fucking gun in the dirt! She heard Jericho’s snarl in her head again. Then, she found herself pinned between warm metal and a wall.

B went limp, panic overriding everything else. An earth shifting thud threw a wave of dust and dirt over her and whatever, whoever had a hold of her. She coughed, starting to struggle. Have to get away. Have to escape have to-

“Whoa, hey. Easy there. Fight’s over. You’re safe.”

The words were tinny, didn’t make sense. Not safe. He’s back, he’ll always be back, he’ll always-

B was released and she staggered away. Breathing. Control the breathing. No passing out.

Then Dogmeat was there, pressing up against her leg. Her fingers tangled into his fur and she dropped.

Shaking. Was she shaking? She couldn't tell. Panic attack. Hadn't had a real one in a while. Yay. She put her head between her knees, keeping a grip on Dogmeat. Sound. She needed sound.

She flipped the switch for the radio by rubbing it against her chest, other hand occupied by Dogmeat’s fur.

“The boys and girls in Steel are looking on edge and I've been hearing a firefight outside. It's quiet now so I'll bring back the music. Keep fighting the good fight, children!”

Three Dog drew out that last word like he always did and while that normally irritated her beyond belief, right now it was something familiar and she relaxed infinitesimally. Jack Shaindlin came on and B’s left hand fell to the ground. She scratched at the cracked concrete before clenching that hand into a fist that still trembled violently. Her ribs burned along the scar running nearly the length of her torso.

When her heartbeat stuttered, she closed her eyes. Someone spoke to her. She didn't know who, couldn't make out what was being said. Three songs later and B felt okay enough to uncoil from her upright fetal position. She opened her eyes and lifted her head.

Glade was crouched near her, not near enough to touch and she felt gratitude wash over her. “Better?” he asked, voice rumbling low. She was surprised when she didn't flinch from it. But it was different enough that it sort of made sense. No. No, she was really just lucky it didn't set her back off. She thought she was over this. Apparently not. Still. She hadn’t drawn blood this time.

She nodded slowly, eyes not leaving his. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize. You’re not the only one.”

B blinked, startled. The idea that someone else had her...issues… She frowned, trying to wrap her head around that.

He pointed back at the GNR building with this thumb. The gauntlet didn’t quite allow him to make a full, proper fist but she got the gist. “You ready to stand up yet?”

B turned her head and pulled her head back a little when she made eye contact with Sarah Lyons, who had a surprisingly kind expression on her face. Understanding.

“I’ve got some tips for when you fire a weapon. If you’d like,” she said, tone gentle.

B nodded once before twisting around to look the other way to see the behemoth dead, leaking masses of greenish blood all over the ruined concrete. It had narrowly missed Reddin’s body but she frowned upon seeing the scene. Her eyes went over it and then saw the missile launcher barely poking out from underneath the shoulder. That was where she’d been crouching. She couldn’t even muster up a jolt of adrenaline. She turned back to Glade, who immediately schooled his face away from a grimace. That position couldn’t have been comfortable.

“Who saved me?” she asked.

“Gallows. He was the closest one.” Glade indicated a helmeted soldier standing at the perimeter, maybe keeping watch. For a moment, the helmet turned towards her and she could see the barest dip into a nod. She returned it and the helmet went back to looking outwards.

“That can’t be comfortable,” B said, raising an eyebrow at Glade.

“Just wanted to make sure you were alright. Can you stand?”

B’s legs were shaky when she rose but she could, hand still on Dogmeat’s back. The dog bumped his head gently into her, cold nose touching her leg. Oddly enough, that helped to ground her in the here and now. It was so far beyond what she’d known that it was a good reminder of the person she was now. She still wasn’t where she’d hoped to be but this one lasted a much shorter length of time than the last one had. She looked up at the building, the one that she had fought to get to. She staggered, exhaustion suddenly blasting over her.

Maybe her journey was really over.

 

Chapter Text

  1. See See Rider

Well, I'm gonna buy

Me a shotgun

Just as long as I am tall

La-la Lord

She’d been worried about the DC ruins being infested with super mutants, even when she had first started scavving all those weeks ago. She should have paid more attention.

Dogmeat was tearing into a centaur while its greenskin bore down on B with a two by four studded with exposed nails. It bellowed, furious, greenish blood oozing from a cut at its temple from a stray bullet. B backpedaled, heartbeat fast in her ears, bat in hand. She’d dropped her 10mm after being thrown into a pile of rubble. She ducked under a swing, twisting to strike at the mutant’s arm. It connected and it clearly hurt the mutant but the impact against the thick muscle shuddered down her spine.  Its other arm moved and before she could get out of the way, the super mutant grabbed her. She couldn’t keep a hold of the bat; it fell to the concrete with a clatter.

It lifted her up, peering at her. She could feel the individual finger points digging into her back and the thumbs pressed up into her belly. B had gone limp trying to hold the panic at bay but with how shallow her breathing was, that wasn’t proving to be an easy job. Then it seemed to sniff her. “Vault human.”

B’s blood ran cold. She didn’t know how the super mutant knew. Maybe she didn’t smell like radiation, although sitting in the nuclear bomb pool should have helped that. The how didn’t matter so much as fact that the super mutant caring that she came from a vault was not a good thing. She was always being targeted because she was from a Vault.

Weaponless, she could only dangle as the mutant turned. Then she remembered her pocket knife and a jolt of relief burned through her that the super mutant had not pinned her arms.

She pulled it out from its trusted place next to her heart and with a well practiced flick of her wrist, opened it. She waited until the super mutant swung her closer before she lunged forward, trying to ignore the way her bruises screamed at her. She wouldn’t have been able to do this fresh out of the vault but now she was strong enough that she was able to pitch herself forward and drive her pocket knife into its neck. The super mutant roared deafeningly and B barely had the presence of mind to keep her grip on the knife when it yanked her away. Her scream when its grip tightened cut off as she lost air.

It let go of her with one hand to try to stem the spurts of blood. B started to only hear her own blood rushing in her ears and she began thrashing, soundless screaming shredding her throat. That was when the super mutant dropped her and she barely had time to suck in air before she hit the ground, driving whatever air she’d gotten back out. Her body burned from the abuse and frantically she tried to breathe. She wasn’t sure how much air she was actually getting; she just knew it wasn’t enough. The super mutant teeteered, whimpering and then it fell forward.

Time seemed to slow down. Her survival instincts, raw and preoccupied as they were, had her rolling out of the way, sharp stones digging into her skin where it was exposed. On impact, the super mutant sent shockwaves through the ground.

Dogmeat barked, alerting her to the figure making its way to her. Her vision started to blur but she thought that she could see a rifle drawn. “Damn.” Now she had to find her weapons. Or just one. Something. She coughed and fire licked through her ribs.

“Hey, tourist! You doing okay?”

The voice was female but she hadn’t heard a rasp like that in days. “Ghoul?” Her own voice hadn’t fared much better it would seem.

“Yeah, what’s it to ya?” The potential threat was evident but not a raider or she’d be dead already. Probably. Nip seemed to be an exception. And if the voice belonged to a ghoul, likely, wasn’t feral otherwise she’d be dead. And she wasn’t dead. So not a raider and not a feral.

Something wet and cold pressed against B’s face and she tried to jerk away, only to further aggravate her ribs with a wheezy gasp until she realized it was Dogmeat nosing her. B grappled with her body trying to push the pain away enough to find something for help. “Underworld,” she finally managed.

“What was that?” The figure leaned down and the smell of ghoul smacked B in the face. That answered that question.

“Gob...help...Underworld…”

The ghoul grunted. “Okay kid. I’ll get some help to drag you into Doc. Don’t die while I’m gone.”

Doc...Dad?

As the figure left, B whimpered a protest. Her eyes slid closed against the blurriness of her vision. She drifted in and out of consciousness. She barely registered being lifted until panic blasted like an alarm along her nerves. She thrashed, voice lifted in a steady keen that rasped and scraped in her throat, trying to escape the hands that held her.

There was a prick in her neck and she instinctively wiggled away. Voices broke through her daze, none of which she recognized but before she could do anything, her body went limp and everything faded.

When she awoke, it was with a jolt and she didn’t recognize where she was. She knew the smell, chemicals and cleaning. But this wasn’t the vault. She could feel her heartbeat begin to pick up as panic set in. There was something she was forgetting, something important. “Hey, smoothskin! Cool it.” She froze other than to yank her head around, feeling the skin on her neck pull. One ghoul stood at a computer, another sat nearby reading something. She wasn’t sure which had spoken and so she remained still and alert. Eventually, the sitting one put aside the book and peered at her. “What is your name?” Ghouls. Her expression twisted a little at a disappointment she didn’t understand.

She blinked slowly. “B.”

“Short for something?”

“Yes, but it’s just B.”

The ghoul made a raspy hum and moved closer to her. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

B took a deep breath, feeling her ribs ache. “Super mutant. It-it grabbed me.” A surge of panic had her struggling upright before the ghoul gently pushed her back into the bed. Her fear didn’t abate. “Where’s Dogmeat?” The raw husk to her voice had eased some but with the snarl she used to ask, she sounded remarkably ghoul-like.

“The dog? Willow said you mentioned Gob so we took him to Carol to watch over.” The ghoul at the computer didn’t pause in her typing as she spoke.

“But he’s okay?”

The ghoul sitting next to her snorted. “We’re ghouls, not savages.”

“I-Yes. I know. Thank you.” She took a deep breath, preparing to sit up but froze when her torso began to tingle unpleasantly. B froze. She still wore Butch’s jacket and her tanktop wasn’t stiff with dried blood so stimpacks without bleeding meant- “How bad were my injuries?”

“Broken ribs and heavy bruising, most likely internal bleeding as well. I didn’t care to cut you open to find out.”

Shit. Her head fell back. “How many stimpacks did you use?”

“Only two. You may experience some acute discomfort and pain.”

She nodded wearily. She was getting so used to pain in her torso that it didn’t even matter anymore. “Is there somewhere I can get a hot meal around here? It’s been a while.”

“Try Carol’s Place. I’d advise you to take a couple days to heal but scavvers aren’t really known for staying in one place long. So just be careful and try not to do much more damage to yourself.”

B didn’t expect the fact that he didn’t recognize her as a former Vault dweller to hurt like it did. It hurt but...she was relieved too. Why? She thought back to what she could remember. Fear. Super mutant. Hitting the ground. Her mind itched like she was forgetting something, something important.

Still, she got herself into a sitting position, teeth bared and nostrils flared against the pain in her torso. “How long was I out? She grunted, settling into a position that reduced the strain on her tender ribs.

“Only about five hours. Considering your injuries, I would have expected you to remain unconscious for a few more hours.”

She exhaled a laugh and then grimaced. Even Doc Church was constantly surprised by her refusal to stay unconscious. I stopped surprising Dad two years ago. “Thanks, Doc. What was your name?”

“You’re remarkably polite for a smoothskin. I’m Doctor Barrows and she is Nurse Graves.” He gestured to the ghoul at the computer.

“Your name is B, you said?” She turned around and peered at the human.

“Yeah?”

“What is it?” Barrows immediately went over to her, sparking unease in B.

“That sample you took off her? She’s clean. I mean, really clean.” What does that have to do with my name? “But look at that right there. Minimal radiation present but I’ve never seen that outside of a ghoul.”

Barrows hummed, turned around to peer at B with narrowed eyes. “Have you ever been heavily irradiated?”

“Once. My friend, Moira, gave me some sort of concoctions after I sat in irradiated water for hours. Cleaned me right up but she said I got a mutation from the whole mess. I didn’t ask much about it at the time. I’m sorry. You said you took a ‘sample’?” Something about the thoughtful gleam in his dark eyes set her teeth on edge.

“Hmmm. I wonder if you’d allow me to irradiate you again and see what happens.”
“No!” she squawked, eyes wide. Barrows cocked his head to the side. “I mean, I didn’t really enjoy it the first time and I’ve done pretty much everything I could since then to stay as radiation free as I can.”

“Pity. It would have been interesting to see what would happen near Meat and Ethyl.”

B followed his eyes to see two ghouls, distorted by thick glass, but they were glowing.

She started, hissing as the pain in her ribs spiked. “What are those?”

“What kind of scavver are you to not know about Glowing Ones?” Barrows stared at her.

“Glowing Ones are feral ghouls who have been extra-irradiated. Hence the glowing and the name. Doctor Barrows and I suspect that many of them are pre-war and made when the bombs fell. There’s no real way of knowing because they heal themselves and any other ghoul in their vicinity so they could easily be two hundred years old and show no signs of it. Except of course the rotting brains.”

“So radiation heals ghouls?”

“We aren’t sure why,” Barrows admitted. “But yes. It does.”

“A few days ago, another ghoul told me that chems don’t affect you like they do us, what did he say, smoothskins. I assume that means people like me who haven’t turned ghoul.”

“It does.” Barrows nodded.

Graves shrugged. “Usually it’s not a problem. Unless you’re like Snowflake.”
“Snowflake?” B knew from reading pre-War books that a “snowflake” was a type of cold precipitation, though she hadn’t encountered any precipitation since she'd come out of the Vault. Which was weird now that she thought about it. The movies in the vault kind of implied that it rained pretty regularly. She’d never experienced rain before.

“If you won’t allow us to irradiate you, can we have some samples from you to test?”

“Other than what you already took from me?” He nodded and she paused. “I feel like I’ll regret this.” B sighed. “But sure. Just not right now.”

“No, no. Of course not. The amount of trauma you’ve suffered would almost certainly skew any tests we run. After you’ve recovered, we’ll draw some blood, take some hair, maybe some tissue-”

B’s eyes bugged out. “Wait. Whoa there. Blood, whatever. Tissue samples?”

Barrows blinked. At the computer, Graves began snickering before it turned into full-fledged laughter. B looked at her, uncertain. “Your face, smoothskin!”

“I don’t-” She swung her head back around to see Barrows smiling, revealing weird looking teeth.

“It was a joke,” he told her. “We can probably get everything we need from your blood.”

Probably was not very reassuring. She sighed.

"Is there somewhere I can get a drink?"

A flat look of disgust crossed Barrows' face. "Ninth Circle. Be careful of Azhrukul."

Even the name didn't sound pleasant. "Who?"

"He'll probably try to rope you into some scheme of his. Or worse. Get your drink and get out." B's eyebrows shot up at the hostility in the doc's voice. "You're a weird one. I don't want you dead before I can run tests."

"Thanks for the concern," B said, chuckling, warming up to his honesty like a...she didn't even know what sort of analogy to make. But it was refreshing. And even though she should have been completely on edge, she kept meeting people that weren't trying to kill her. Megaton, the Brotherhood of Steel, Nip, and now Barrows and Graves. It was kinda weird but who was she to argue?

Chapter Text

  1. Jump Session

When you're really flying high

Don't you think about touching the sky

Mama, let me tell you

Just fall right into that groove

It was with triumph that she emerged from the tunnels and took a lungful of warm, salty air, immediately grimacing at the stench of...something. It reminded her of dead mirelurk but that wasn’t it. She sniffed, trying to figure out if she could place it.

Oh, well. She’d probably be able to ask people the next time she saw any.

She shook her head and folded the surprisingly intact map she’d found. “You know, Dogmeat, pre-war people clearly had their issues, but they weren’t dumb,” she said. “I don’t know if you know about the bombs. Probably not something a dog cares about. ‘Specially since it wasn’t your species that tried to kill the planet.” She peered down at the wagging dog. “But they had actual maps for that labyrinth. What the hell were their lives like?” She carefully tucked the map into her pack and reshouldered it, standing with one hand raised against the sun’s glare.

She exhaled in a huff, twisting to look around. Nothing. No sign of living people. Obviously there were signs of people and civilization, but nothing recent.

“No point in standing around. Kay, Dogmeat. Find people.” The dog woofed at her, tail wagging low, before heading off at a slow trot. B stood there for a moment, blinking at him before she followed, walking only a little bit faster than she normally would. She'd asked just because she'd gone so long in near silence that she was expecting to monologue about how ridiculous it was for her to be talking to a dog. And had clearly forgotten that it seemed like he could understand just about everything she said.

That wasn't always her favorite thing ever.  He’d seen at least part of what had happened between her and Leo but as long as he didn’t suddenly gain the ability to speak, she figured things would be fine. Plus, once she found her dad, she wouldn’t have to go back to Megaton and see Leo again.

God, even thinking about Leo had her stomach twisting up in dread and self-loathing and no small amount of guilt.

As they walked, there were signs of both raiders and supermutants (was it murder when she killed them? She still wasn't sure on that point) including a fairly fresh corpse that had been ripped apart by something big with knife-like claws. Dogmeat stopped to sniff it. B tried to stay away, curling her lip at the stench. The spilled innards had been mostly devoured but it was still dead meat lying in the sun for who knew how long.

Ugh.

Dogmeat suddenly whined, ears going back and tail tucking between his legs. B froze, senses suddenly on high alert and even worse, an insistent curiosity to find out what had shredded the person. She had to kill just about everything that she crossed paths with but this? This was a death wish waiting to happen. And she knew that but it didn't stop her from wanting to know.

She shook her head at her own ridiculousness. “Let’s go, boy.”

The dog slunk over to her, hackles raised and body as low to the ground as he could make it. He led the way but stayed close to her, fur occasionally brushing her tender but tanning skin.

They rounded a corner and she stopped dead, blinking in surprise. Her mouth fell open into a little o. No one had told her Rivet City was built out of a ship. Even decaying and in half, it was still magnificent and huge. She knew from one of the more recently banned books in the vault that the old US had used ships like this in war but coming face to face with one was…

“Wow. Oh, wow.” She just kept staring. “What kind of weapons did they have if these didn’t destroy the world?” Her question floated out, unanswered. The bomb in Megaton came to mind but it was practically harmless. It was just...there. Her geiger counter got a little pissy when she got too close but it was a fixture, especially now that she'd essentially neutered it.

Where did it come from? Why didn’t it detonate? She remembered the skeletons at the entrance to the vault. Were they people who didn’t survive the bombs that detonated? Or were they the ones who survived and died anyway because of...something?

Dogmeat barked at her, bringing her attention back to the here and now. Still awestruck, she tripped over a rock she didn’t see, but began the climb up the structure.

When she got to the top, she looked down, startled. A man sat there, filthy with sunken cheeks and wild eyes. He was in better shape than Adam when B had first met him and he was closer to her father’s age than he was hers, but she still had that painfully familiar ache in her chest. He asked something, voice grating in his throat and rendering the word incomprehensible.

She leaned in, careful to stay out of arm’s reach. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

He cleared his throat and B winced at how painful it sounded. “Water. Purified. I can’t...take...that radiated shit anymore.”

“Oh, of course!” She dug a bottle out of her pack, trying to ignore the last bottle she had.

He squinted at her. “Ain’t got caps to pay for it.” She shook it at him more insistantly. He slowly reached out to take it.

“That’s fine. You can owe me a favor instead.” She lifted her head to stare at the ship again. A breeze picked up, moving blood and sweat stiffened strands into her face. Grimacing, she tucked them behind her ears. But the breeze felt amazing on her skin and she basked briefly in the feel of wind and sun, eyes shutting and trusting Dogmeat to warn her if this man tried anything. The nagging push to find her dad interrupted her before she was quite done and she opened her eyes with a disappointed sigh. “I’m trying to get in there. Am I going to have to swim across or…?”

“There’s a button type deal.” He pointed, the other hand keeping a tight grip on the half-empty bottle. “Press it and talk into the box.”

B smiled gratefully at him. “Thanks.”

An intercom. Her muscles relaxed a little. She walked over, studying it. It wasn’t much different from the ones in the vault and when she pushed the comparatively large red button, it stuck a little.

“Hello?” she asked.

Silence. Then “Who are you?” Male voice, impatient, smoke roughened.

Her heart began to pound a little, hope and trepidation mixed. “My name is B. I have stuff to trade and I’m looking for someone.”

“B, huh? Alright then. Cross the bridge when it extends.”

B didn’t have a chance to ask what bridge when the ship made a grinding noise, or at least some mechanism on it did. Metal strafing extended across the gap between ship and shore.

She stared at it, eyebrows slowly pinching together and lips turning down. Dogmeat bumped up against her leg. “You’re right, boy. I got this.” Crossing the extended bridge was nerve-wracking to the extreme. By the time she got onto the boat, her palms were sweaty and her heart thrummed like it was trying to run away out of her body. The relief that she had made it to the other side left her weak-kneed.

Honestly, she wasn’t sure how she made it across. But the fear verging on panic shooting through her veins was probably part of it. The fuzziness, not the fact that she was on the other side. She had clearly put one foot in front of the other. That’s how walking worked. Shit, she was not okay.

The man in combat armor standing on the side studied her. “Welcome to Rivet City.” The sound of his voice sent a shiver down B’s spine and she clamped down hard on the hysterics trying to break out of her throat. He paused, blue eyes moving over her again. “Are you okay, miss?”

Instead of answering, B just slid to the floor and dropped her forehead against the shade cool metal in a frankly impressive display of flexibility.

“Miss?”

“Peachy.” Her voice sounded squeaky, even to her own ears, and she cleared her throat. “Fine. I’m-I think I might have a fear of heights. It’s a new thing. Very, very, very new. It’s new. A lot is new.” She squinted at him. “What was the question?”

“If...you were okay.”

“Oh! Right.” She clambered back to her feet. “Yes. No, yeah. I’m fine. How-how-how are you?”

“I’m...good.” By this point, B could easily read the hesitation, confusion, and concern on the man’s face. She smiled at him, just a quick flash of her teeth, but the confusion on his face only deepened. Her lips pressed together self-consciously when she remembered her vault white teeth. “Are you here for trade?”

“I’m actually looking for someone. A Dr. Madison Li?”

The man frowned again and B found her breath catching in her throat at how attractive he was before she firmly shut that down. God, what the hell was wrong with her? He was frowning for God's sakes. She had no business even considering him given the monumental fuck-up that was her personal life. “Why are you looking for Dr. Li?”

“Well... It’s a long story. I’m not actually looking for her. I’m looking for someone else and I was told that she could help me.” B shifted so that her back was to the empty space behind her, so she couldn’t see how high up she was though the emptiness and the height clung to her mind like a centaur in her face.

He released his rifle with one hand so he could scratch his chin, studying her. B shifted her weight uneasily, unable to meet his eyes. “She’s probably in the science lab. Try not to cause any disturbances.” B straightened up, eyes widening. “If you need something, just find me.”

“Do you have a name?”

“Harkness.”

Bit of a weird name but then, she really had no right to judge. “Harkness. Okay, then. Nice to meet you, Harkness. I’m B.” She smiled, keeping her lips carefully pressed together. No need to make him more confused between the scar on her face and the neatness of her teeth.

His lips twitched to one side and she could definitely have a moment to be grateful that she wasn’t going by her full name anymore. No one would take her seriously. “Is that short for something?”

“Just B.”

His eyebrows raised curiously as he looked her over. She tensed but there was nothing untoward in the look. He stepped to the side, allowing her to be able to pass without worry. “Welcome to Rivet City, B.”

 

Chapter Text

15. Never Again

No, never again

Never the strange unthinking joy

Never the pain

And then, finally, she stood in the doorway of the science lab. Her eyes closed and she breathed in the smells of science being done. For all that her father was a doctor, a healer, he was almost always trying to improve life in the vault beyond just the physical health of the inhabitants. She hadn’t realized how much she missed the stringent smell of cleaner and antiseptic. And plants. They were growing plants. Actual, green plants. Plants that were still irradiated but they weren’t dead.

B felt her eyes tear up looking at them. This was apparently what she’d actually been missing from the vault besides the people. Some of them, anyway.

There was a slight woman standing at some equipment, her back to B. She was clearly a scientist, lab coat, and that sleek yet frazzled look she remembered from her own father, from nights of having to coax him to eat because he was too focused on his work to pay attention to his own needs.

B slipped down the stairs, not wanting to disturb the others she could see quietly working.

“Hello?” she asked, dipping her head uncertainly. It didn’t hurt that the motion put her closer to the other woman’s level. “Are you Dr. Li? Dr. Madison Li?”

“I’m busy. Talk to one of the others.” The woman glanced at B, quickly turning her attention back to the clipboard she was writing on.

Then her head whipped around and the clipboard fell to the ground with a clatter. B straightened up, a little intimidated by the intensity in her eyes. “Catherine? Please tell me you’re not a ghost.”

That answered that question. Also, she was definitely from out here. That answered that question as well. Damn it. Moriarty hadn’t been lying. “Catherine was my mom.”

The woman peered more closely at her. B knew what she would see. She’d spent enough time in front of the mirror trying to figure out what of her face was her father’s and wondering how much of it was her mother’s. The scar may have been distracting and a little concealing but she knew her face and what Li would see even if she didn’t know what would be recognized. “You’re James’ daughter?”

“I go by B out here. It’s easier.”

The woman still looked like she was looking at a ghost, that or Catherine had come back from the dead. B wasn’t sure. But she relaxed a little. “B.” She smiled. It was a little thing, barely an upwards tilt of her lips. But it was fond in a way she hadn’t seen in a while. Not since the Vault, anyhow. “I don’t blame you. Catherine found a book on British monarchs when she realized she was pregnant with you. You’re lucky. If you’d been a boy, she wanted you named Charlemagne.” She bent down to pick up the clipboard and rest it on the desk she stood at.

B grimaced. “Really? That’s...Really?”

“Well, James was born there. She wanted to make sure that you had a connection to your dad’s home.”

B tok a couple steps closer, still far enough away that Dr. Li didn’t have to crane her neck to look B in the face. “I guess you knew my mom and dad pretty well, huh?”

Dr. Li rolled her eyes. “He didn’t talk about me. Figures. I was the one who introduced them. James was useless around Catherine until they got to know each other.”

“Dad doesn’t talk about Mom much either. I-I didn’t even know I wasn’t born in the Vault until I got out here.”

The woman considered the taller teenager. “Oh. Yes. I am Dr. Li. I’m not sure if I answered you before.”

“No, you didn’t but I assumed that that’s who you were. She was supposed to know Dad. You know Dad.”

“Good guess.” B could see the intelligence in her eyes, intelligence and education, something she hadn’t really seen since she left the vault. She liked this woman. “James said he left you in the Vault. What are you doing out here?”

“He...did leave me there. But things...I had to leave. He left a mess behind him.”

“Of course he did.” Dr. Li sighed. “He did that here too.”

B frowned. If she didn’t know better, she would almost think Dr. Li had a thing for her dad. There was an old wound there, more than just a professional one. It would probably be nicer to just ask her where James had gone.

But this was her first real chance to find out about her parents, find out what was so important that he would abandon her in the Vault. “What did he leave behind here? Other than you.”

Dr. Li winced, confirming B’s suspicion. But she looked around, and whatever she saw… “Come with me.” She led B to a what looked like a bedroom and shut the door behind them. B tensed up unconsciously but when she realized what she had done, she forced her shoulders to relax. Li faced her, dark eyes serious. “Your parents had an idea, a fool’s dream. Clean water for to the Capital Wasteland. Project Purity, they called it.”

“What happened? Because I’ve been in the Potomac. It’s still pretty irradiated.”

“You happened.” B stared at her, confused. “Your birth. Catherine’s death.” Oh. That made sense. As far as anyone was ever concerned, the two things were one and the same. She’d never really been able to celebrate her birthday because it was a constant reminder that she’d killed her mother. “He didn’t,” Dr. Li sighed, again, “It wasn’t just because of you. We were having problems. Everything worked on the small scale but every simulation when we went big failed. Super mutants were causing problems. The Brotherhood was starting to withdraw because we weren’t producing results like they wanted or like James promised. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Catherine died and James couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take anymore. He packed you up and abandoned Project Purity. The others and I tried to keep it going but here we are.” She didn’t even try to hide the bitterness in her voice.

B blinked thoughtfully, trying to process all of this information. She knew the Brotherhood from her run-in with Lyon’s Pride. She’d gotten the impression that they weren’t likely to really just help out. Though no one out here was that way. Did something draw the super mutants to the memorial? More importantly, where were they coming from if the Brotherhood had been here for at least twenty years but hadn’t managed to eradicate them?

And then there was the entries in his work computer talking about water, but they were all dated after-

“Was it a problem with the delivery system?” B asked, heart sinking. Her jaw tightened.

“Yes. Why?”

“Son of a bitch!” B exploded, shaking her head viciously and stalking around the room, fists clenched. “Son of a fucking bitch! This is bullshit!”

Dr. Li’s eyebrows shot to her hairline. “Language.”

B stopped, momentarily. “Sorry.” Then she was shaking her head and pacing again. “No, you know what? No. I’m not sorry. I thought he-” She turned on Dr. Li, eyes narrowed. “Where is he?”

“The Jefferson Memorial or at least that’s where he was headed when he left here. That’s where we were based and he left everything there when he left with you.”

“And you never thought to retrieve them?” B asked, voice sharper than intended.

Dr. Li’s eyes narrowed in response. “You have no right to pass judgement on me.”

“No. But you were in a position to keep the research safe and you didn’t.”

“There was no point. No one else in either the Brotherhood or our team could make up for the loss of Catherine and James.”

B paused, head tilting, distracted. “What- What was her role?”

“A tinkerer. I’ve never met anyone as good as she was with machines. She promised to teach some of the Brotherhood scribes after they were done, to share what she knew. But...”

“But it was never completed,” B murmured. That explained the look of pain James would get on his face when she did something she was particularly proud of. Her mother’s talent she’d apparently inherited plus the Vault education had produced a fertile ground that in turn had birthed the solution to the delivery system problem he’d given her when she was back to working full-time in the depths of the vault.

“No. That broken promise is why the Brotherhood left so soon after James left with you.”

B couldn’t help it. She winced at the accusation sitting there.

A thought popped into her head and she took enough time to consider the ideas before she was saying the words. “Madison? Er- Dr. Li? You’re a doctor, right?”

Dr. Li gave a snort, gesturing at the lab coat. “You think I wear this for the aesthetics? Yes, I’m a damn doctor.”

“Are you also a...a medical doctor?”

B shuffled under Dr. Li’s suddenly sharp gaze, looking away from it. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“Can you, ummm… Would you be able to…” Her throat closed up in fear every time she tried to choke the words out. Dr. Li just kept staring at her, silent. Eventually, B took a deep breath, trying to hold the dread at bay, and dropped her hand to the faint stretch marks below her belly button, where the last real fat vestige she had from the Vault remained. Her fingers curled protectively around it.

She swallowed hard before she lifted her head to see Dr. Li staring at her with a strange mix of horror, sympathy, and understanding. “Oh, Bou-”

“It’s just B,” she cut the other woman off sharply, feeling heat rising to her ears.

“Was it…?” Her voice was oddly gentle.

B shook her head. “No, it was...mutual.”

“Are you sure?” Li’s voice was still gentle and she kept her distance.

“I know the difference between sex and rape, Madison,” B snapped, shoving the hand cradling her belly into a pocket on Butch’s jacket. “And I’m not going to take any blame for something that I didn’t willingly participate in.”

Her defense seemed to take Li back, before B watched her shift into doctor mode. “Do you know what the date of conception is?”

“Course I do. Sperm fertilizes egg and the zygote is then implanted in the uterine wall.” B’s voice and eyes flattened out as she recited dutifully. Dr. Li’s mouth twitched into a smile.

“And when would that oh so clinical sounding event have occurred?”

B pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to count days. “Six? No, five. Maybe six. Either five or six.”

“That’s pretty early. Do you-”

“Can you at least do a blood test to see if I have elevated hormone levels?”

Li studied her. “I can’t guarantee you’ll get an answer.” She frowned, looking at B. For a moment, the doctor facade slipped and an almost motherly  concern came over her face. But then...B realized Li had probably been there at her birth, might even have expected to take over mothering duties when Catherine died. Instead, James had run to a Vault.

B swallowed back a surge of fury at how selfish her father was and then remembered some of her own choices. Her anger went out like a light, leaving behind only a deep grief for everything that had been lost.

“That’s fine.” Mentally she winced at how dead her voice suddenly sounded. “I’ll be able to tell in a couple weeks anyway, right?”

“Bou-B,” Li corrected herself, shaking her head.

B just blinked at her before a smile twitched to life on her face. The smile transitioned to a snicker, and then it erupted into a full-body guffawing. She bent in half, unable to breathe. Her pack, much lighter and jingling a little after trading, swung off her back and hit the floor with a solid thump “Boobie!” she gasped out. “You said ‘boobie’!”

“Oh, for- Really?”

Eventually, after about five false starts and pained abdominal muscles, B recovered and managed to get herself into some semblance of serious though she still had bright eyes and a barely restrained grin. “Sorry, Madison. I just… You said ‘boobie.’” Her voice cracked a little under the strain of keeping her laughter under control. “It was, ahem, it’s funny.”

“You’re, what, nineteen?” Dr. Li was doing her best to sound miffed but she couldn’t quite disguise the smile on her own face.

“Turned nineteen last month, actually. Why?”

Dr. Li groaned, running a hand over her hair. “God save us from the minds of teenagers.”

B shook her head, still thoroughly entertained by it all and started to shrug off Butch’s jacket. “Okay. Happy feelings. Let’s get you your blood and then I’ll be on my way.”

“You’re not going to stick around to find out the results?”

B shifted her weight, glancing at the metal wall. “Ah, no.” Her smile drooped. “I’ll wait to find out until Dad’s back or I end up back in Rivet City. Thank you, Madison.” She’d know in a couple weeks anyway, one way or the other.

“You be safe out there. Your dad is better than most at not being seen when he doesn’t want to be but you clearly don’t have the same skills.” Li nodded to the scar going through B’s cheek.

“I’ll drag Dad back so you can yell at him. You’ll have to get in line though. If he thinks he can just waltz out of my life, he’s got another damn thing coming.”

Dr. Li smiled as she pressed a needle to the crook of B’s elbow. “You look a lot like Catherine, even sound like her sometimes. But that? That was all James right there, sweetheart.”

“You’re lucky he’s the one I’m most like. The people I was around in the vault, whew. Attitude adjustments the lot of them.” B grimaced as her blood began to fill the little syringe. “None of us were entirely stable. Kind of what happens when you grow up in a metal prison. One of my best- ow! God damnit!” B swore as the needle left her vein.

“Again, all James.”

B gave her a curious look. “Dad swore?”

“Like a raider. He stopped when Catherine got pregnant. Said he didn’t want his child growing up with his mouth.”

Huh. B smiled again at Dr. Li, eyes flicking down to the syringe against her will. Ugh. She really didn’t like the sight of her own blood. “Thanks. Really. I’ll let you get back to work.”

“I’ll have the results when you get back.”

As B walked out, she couldn’t help but compare her life to her parents. She was literally walking in her father’s footsteps but she could see enough of her mother’s past in the present that she couldn’t help the worry that she would die the same way.

Especially after she and Leo… And she was living in the wasteland. Medical treatment was nowhere near what it had been in the vault and people still died in childbirth there. With the stress of living in what essentially amounted to a warzone? Problems. So many problems.

“Excuse me.”

Her head snapped up to see an older man standing at the door. Her muscles tightened, wary. He was dressed way too well and had some sort of bodyguard. Something about him reminded her of Burke and her gut screamed at her not to trust him.

“You can help me, can’t you?” He wet his lips, looking irritated. B shifted her weight back, eyes going to the bodyguard. The man had an oddly blank expression but she could see vicious intelligence there despite that. He wasn’t...right.

“Depends on what you want,” she answered slowly, one hand resting on the holster at her hip. Not inherently threatening, and she watched the bodyguard zero in on the movement. She expected him to relax when she didn’t pull it. He didn’t. She looked uncertainly to the too well-dressed man.

He smiled, showing too white teeth. “You see, I seem to have lost something.”

Chapter Text

16. Little Girl Blue

It's time you knew

All you can ever count on

Are the raindrops

That fall on little girl blue

The Vault was supposed to be there. Vault 112. The Vault of Stanislaus Braun and the next waypoint in her quest to find her father. The memory of her vault's walls, gray and cold and metal, unfeeling, played on repeat in her mind as B stood in the light of the setting sun. One hand was raised to try to minimize the glare as she studied the small building crouching relatively unharmed in the desolation surrounding it and the rusted remains of a Red Rocket station to the right of it.

She knew what a garage was supposed to be only from holotapes. Words above the blocked off entrance read "Smith Caseys" but she didn't know what a Smith Caseys was supposed to be. Above those words stood a broken, painted board, an advertisement of some sort for a car something that she could barely read but didn't understand. It frustrated her, knowing that there was mechanical knowledge there that she didn't have and might not ever know.

She eyed the rusted car skeletons in front of the garage, picking her nails anxiously. Once she got her father back and everything settled down, she wanted to try her hand at rebuilding one of those cars. The prospect thrilled her as much as going down into another vault scared her.

Rivet City had been bad enough. An actual vault? If it wasn't as warm as it was, B knew that she would have broken out into a cold sweat, heart thumping quickly in her chest. Vaults were unknown. She knew hers, but she also knew that everyone she'd met out here had only a vague idea of what they were. Their existence wasn't so much a secret as their contents were. And most of the vaults she knew were empty of their Vaulties.

She'd never heard of this one. She could be walking into another group of people who had no idea they could live out on the surface world or the Vault could have died from a no longer viable population.

Her thoughts went back to the people she'd left behind. Their numbers were too low to sustain much longer. There were too few of them left, unrelated, that could still reproduce. With her gone, even if she wasn't supposed to have been there in the first place, their chances were dropping with every second that passed.

The Overseer had known that and yet she had still been driven out. He didn't make any sense. Even if her father had opened the vault doors, if she'd stayed, her Wasteland genes should have been invaluable to try to keep the Vault going. And if she…

It hurt to think of herself just as her uterus, but the Overseer should have overlooked her past for the good of the Vault like he had always said. Her entire life, every other sentence out of his mouth had been about the good of the Vault. Anger began to burn in her gut before fear began to override it. She could be walking into a breeding program.

Maybe that's what had caught her father. He was still reasonably young and clearly could...have kids, judging by her own existence.

Her lip curled in disgust as she thought about her dad having sex. Ew. No. Just no. Ew. It was bad enough when she'd figured out how babies were made with the subsequent two and two making four. Or one and one making three, as it were.

She winced, remembering the insanity of having sex with Leo and considering the possibilities of being put into a breeding program. Scarring, of course. But it wasn't like... She shuddered, heart pounding hard suddenly. Something just wasn't right with the world when she feared rape in a vault more than she did out of it where the worst of humanity was supposed to be.

Her hand went up to her breast to gauge its sensitivity through the hardened leather over her shirt. There didn't seem to be a change. Yet. B sighed. If she was actually...well, it wasn't like she could get anymore that way. If she wasn't, then death in childbirth was probably the best thing she had to look forward to.

She shook her head. No. It was stupid to think that way. If she got dragged into some sort of breeding program, she wouldn't be alone. Her father would be there. Between the two of them, they'd be able to figure out a way to escape. She wasn't the same girl who'd left 101. Her scars proved that. She'd killed to defend her own life for months now and she hadn't taken the same oath as her doctor father.

No child of Leo's would be raised in a box in the ground. If she had to break the vault to get back out, she would, and she figured it would be easier to break two-hundred-year-old machinery than repair it.

She looked down at the dog sitting at her side and her heart ached.

She knelt to talk to him, scratching his neck fur and trying to stave off the loneliness and fear threatening to choke her. "Okay, Dogmeat. I'm going in here and I might not be back right away. I don't know how much of this you understand." B paused, swallowing back tears and fear and a whole mess of emotions that she couldn't, wouldn't, deal with right now. Dogmeat whined, bumping his nose against her cheek. "I want to take you with me. You're my best friend, boy. Best of all the good boys." Choking on a sob, she lunged forward to wrap her arms around his neck and bury her face in his fur. "But I can't," she said, voice muffled by his fur. "I don't know what I'll find down there and I don't want anyone to hurt you."

An idea popped into her head and she made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a groan. "Damn it." She shook her head. There was one person that she felt like she could trust with Dogmeat, and the fact that he was a raider just added to the insanity that was her life. "I really hope you're as smart as I think you are."

She pulled away from him, feeling tears drip down her cheeks and a small part of her winced at the waste of water. "Go back to Megaton, Dogmeat. Find, damn it, find Nip. The raider? The one that liked you."

It took everything in B to let go of the dog and rise to her feet. And she walked into the garage and shut the door firmly behind her. She could hear Dogmeat immediately start to whine and scratch at the door. "No, Dogmeat. Go to Megaton. Find Nip."

He barked at her, scratching more fiercely at the door.

"Please, Dogmeat," she whispered, the sound catching as she fought against her tears. The door remained closed. She slid down it, feeling her heart break. A nearby skittering had her head lifting and grabbing for her gun. The radroaches appeared, attracted by the noise.

B shot and killed all three in quick succession, ears ringing from the sound in close quarters. Outside, the noise had stopped. Or maybe she just couldn't hear anything. She supposed it didn't really matter. Still, she forced herself to stand and start investigating, starting with an intact computer sitting on the front desk thing. Whoever had last accessed it, probably her father, hadn't bothered to lock it or sign out.

She took in a shivering breath and set to work, forcing herself to tuck Dogmeat away into the back of her heart so that she could actually work. She could work with boxes. It helped. Boxes always helped when she had something to work on.

Most of the files were about the garage business. They didn't make sense, not to her, anyway. Maybe for someone who understood how cars worked.

She lifted her head, eyeing a rusted motorcycle sitting in the corner. "People want to survive when they have something to live for." She didn't necessarily care about Project Purity. Her mother had and she'd died. Her father had and he'd run from it.

She hummed speculatively as she turned her attention back to the computer, letting the puzzle go on a backburner. She was stalling. She knew she was.

Within a minute, she'd found what she was looking for, hidden under some encryption that she broke through without too much difficulty. Her eyebrows lifted curiously as she began to read. The vault wasn't in the garage somewhere, like her father had thought. The vault was under the garage. She slowed down to read the entries carefully, frowning. Stanislaus Braun had gone into this vault before the bombs ever fell. But that...they…

It didn't make any sense. Something wasn't right. The vaults were opened, populated and sealed when the bombs fell. She knew the history of the vaults. Every resident had to sit through that stupid vid every Founder's Day. The bombs fell on October 23rd, 2077, and those selected entered their vaults. The cream of humanity. But Braun had gone into this vault before the bombs fell, not in response to them falling.

"What?" She leaned back, frowning. She felt her world shifting out from underneath her. Again. But this time, it was much bigger than her own insignificant speck walking around on the surface of the planet. The Overseer had never been a model of authority for her. But she knew that she was still conditioned to see the old-world government as the pinnacle of authority.

These entries made it sound like they knew. They all knew what was on the horizon with enough foresight or foreknowledge to get Braun into the Vault 112 before the bombs actually fell. Well, no. Obviously there was some foresight there given that the vaults were constructed in the first place. She'd seen the still-standing boards advertising the vaults, had read the barely legible acceptance letters in Springville.

"Holy shit," she breathed. Her jaw dropped open. Her hand leapt for her Pip-Boy and quickly flipped to the other radio station, the one for the Enclave and whoever this President Eden guy was.

There was a slight burst of static as the signal was picked up before she could hear the same overly patriotic music that played every Founder's Day and every Fourth of July in the vault. She sat down on the filthy floor, adjusting her weapons and other things out of the way.

And she waited. At the end of the song, she leaned forward, focused intently on what she was hearing and not seeing the floor in front of her. Then she was listening to what could have been the voice of this man who claimed he was the president of the United States, two hundred years after it fell. As she listened, cold and dread crept up her spine to grip the back of her neck.

Let's talk about government, shall we? Or, more specifically, YOUR government, dear America - the Enclave. Just who is the Enclave? Why, now, that's simple. The Enclave is you, America. The Enclave is your sister, your aunt, your friend, your-

B turned off the radio, breathing shallowly. Vault-Tec was tied up with the Enclave somehow. She didn't know how or why or when or how. She didn't even really know for sure but she felt it deep in her gut and her gut had yet to be wrong. There was a connection there. She straightened up, putting the computer back into sleep.

Whatever was waiting for her in 112 wasn't going to be like 101. And even if it was, she'd crossed this hellscape three times trying to find him. She'd survived being shot and stabbed and bitten and stung and irradiated. She would survive 112.