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Waking Up to Ash and Dust

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He stood on the balcony, smoke drifting up from the lit cigarette in his hand, as he watched the woman stumble through the door and slam it shut behind her. She looked lost, but that certainly wasn’t uncommon. There was, however, something strange about her; he just couldn’t pinpoint it from his current vantage point. He couldn’t make out any of her features, and she was dressed similarly to most other drifters who wandered through the front door of his little town, but something still nagged in the back of his mind.

He brought the cigarette to his wrecked lips and then frowned. Putting the cigarette back down, he watched as the woman spun in place a few times. Her glances seemed frantic, and she didn’t seem to focus in any one place for very long. Perhaps she was high? Maybe they had something in common, he thought, chuckling to himself.

A movement from just beneath him caught his attention. Someone was creeping out of the shadows, approaching the stranger. Goddammit, Finn, he thought, crushing the cigarette out on the balcony and whirling around to head downstairs.

 

 

He let the other man’s body fall to the ground and took his time wiping his blade clean before replacing it in the pocket he had personally sewn for it inside his coat. When he looked back to the woman, he saw that she was now kneeling beside the man who had tried to extort her.

The fuck?

She spread her hands on Finn’s chest and then looked up at him, her face filled with reproach. He took a step back, unsure, and then swore internally. Since when was he ever unsure? But there was no denying the sorrow in her eyes, and he suddenly regretted killing that asshole, even though he’d been swearing to Fahrenheit for months that he was gonna do it.

“Why would you kill him?” she asked in a soft voice. She didn’t appear to be afraid of his physical appearance, and her gray eyes bore directly into his. For once in his life, he was at a loss for words. He wondered if he should apologize to the stranger, and thought he must be losing his mind.

“He’s been pulling that shit for weeks now,” he finally said, hoping she might understand. “I warned him that if he did it again….”

“You’d kill him,” she murmured. “I hate this world.”

Me too, sister, he thought. Me too.

Now that he was up close, he couldn’t help but study her appearance. She looked ill, and there was a quality to her features that he hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t the dark circles under her eyes; he saw that on faces nearly every day. It also wasn’t the cracked and chapped lips that looked like they might have bled recently. It was something to do with her pale skin. The word that immediately came to mind was “melted,” but that didn’t quite seem right. Truth be told, his own skin looked melted, while hers appeared soft and lacked the rough ridges and scarring that concealed his once-handsome features.

It was more that her skin just didn’t seem to fit properly, like it was a couple sizes too big. That didn’t make sense though – how could someone’s skin be the wrong size?

He noticed that the clothes she wore fit just as poorly as her skin. Her filthy jeans were held in place with a length of knotted rope, but the pant legs pooled around her shins as she knelt on the damp pavement. She all but swam in the button-down patched flannel shirt she wore. A shoddy-looking pistol was stuck in her pants pocket, cracked grip sticking out.

Her dark hair was just as much of a mess as the rest of her, frizzing out in all directions from her head, with no apparent attempt made to control it.

She heaved a heavy sigh that carried with it a world of misery, stood up, and faced him. She wasn’t very tall, but then again, neither was he. “I guess one of these days I’ll get used to casual murder,” she said, “but today is probably not that day. I doubt tomorrow will be either.”

He wasn’t sure what the proper response was and felt awkward, like he was a kid back in Diamond City, called on in class after he had once again fallen asleep. It wasn’t a feeling he had particularly liked then, and he liked it even less now. Somehow this strange creature had the upper hand over him, and he had to try to regain control. The slow drizzle (and, likely, Fahr) had kept most onlookers away, at least for the moment, but he could practically smell Daisy’s keen interest from within her shop.

“What exactly brings you to our little town here?” he asked.

“You had a gate,” she answered. “I needed something solid between me and everything that goes bump out there.”

“Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. There’s a hotel around the corner, a bar, and the best shopping Boston has to offer,” he said, showing his teeth in a sideways grin. “And if you’re short on caps, there’s plenty of free mattresses you can crash on too. We’re of the people, for the people around here, ya know?”

She glanced back down at the body at their feet then looked back up, square into his eyes. “Not all the people, apparently,” she said.

To that, he once again had no answer.