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Caesaris Filia (The Caesar's Daughter)

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At 6 years old, you are an absolute demon – a living ball of energy, zipping around the Fort, and Caesar often thinks about attaching a leash around your shoulders as a form of restraint. Still his eyes watch you, doting and kind, as you shoot off a dozen questions in 30 seconds flat, toying with the mechanism on a guard’s ballistic fist. He notes with a fatherly pride that your Latin is improving quickly. You will make a truly great wife to the next Caesar someday, he thinks, a fitting role for his only daughter.

His gaze clouds slightly as he watches the guard’s face shift to slight annoyance. While his teachings have been that women are sub-human, he knows personally, that it is pure propaganda, meant to keep his soldiers separated from sentiment. To keep them loyal to him over their women or children. The Legion served as their only family, but Caesar was free to direct his own loyalty to his child. Your mother was long dead, a beautiful memory tied to a far away land, and he rarely thinks of her now. But the way your eyes glint in the lamplight and the shine of your swiftly growing hair reminds him of her every now and again.
You bother Lucius often, the newest addition to the Praetorian guards, and unlike the rest of them, he welcomes your intrusion. He explains the mechanisms behind the weapons he carries and though you never really understand all of it, you listen with the utmost rapture on your face.
“Pa!” You turn your attention to Caesar once more, scrambling onto his lap to show him a picture book one of the Legionaries had scavenged for you from a pre-war playhouse. He watches your fingers scrabble for purchase at a dog-eared page and point excitedly to a picture of a bright orange canid with large block print under it. “F, O, X,” you enunciate carefully, “fox.” You lift your chin to look up at him, and he knows you are waiting for his approval, and Caesar gives it willingly. You are, after all, your father’s daughter.

-

You’ve learnt by 7 years of age that your father doesn’t like you playing with the other slave girls. He tells you you’re too high in status to be seen with them, and while the sentiment feels wrong to you, you can’t say no to him. And so, he keeps you close. You spend most of your time playing with scavenged toys on the floor of your father’s tent. Sometimes he sends you to Siri with little notice, and she tells you to cover your ears when you start to hear screams and yelps of what can only be pain. Sometimes you can hear the clash of steel on steel that you hear when the recruits practice with their machetes.

Later, when Siri guides you past the huge arena, you notice something thick and dark staining the sand, and when you try to take a closer look, she tugs you by the arm, a strange look in her eyes that you cannot decipher. It escapes your mind soon enough, your attention already on something else. Sprawling on the dirt floor, you look through books and pictures that you will likely never see in real life. Sometimes you climb up the rocky outcrop when no one is looking and watch the glittering water beyond the fort, wondering if there is another little girl just like you, staring right back. Fluvius, you think. River.

When you’re caught trying to leave the gates of the fort by one of the Praetorian guards, Caesar is furious. When he smacks you across the face, you’re stunned momentarily. He had never struck you before. The slap wasn’t even hard, but the loving figure Caesar once was in your mind morphs instantly, and you will never quite see him the same way ever again. Tears spring to your eyes, but you stand defiant and hard. In the corner of your eyes, you can see the guards actively avoid the sight, their eyes cast down or to the side.
Your father immediately stands contrite, and you forgive him instantly, after all, he is your father. But the print of his palm still stings against your cheek and only when he embraces you, explaining his worry and concerns, do you allow the tears to flow from your eyes. Caesar quickly orders the guards to leave the tent. He knows you are proud, just as he is. Your father’s daughter indeed, so very like him, that it breaks his heart.

-

Caesar never hits you again. Of course, he gets angry with you constantly. You are after all, nearing 10 and learning to exert your independence, no longer happy to simply draw in the dirt, read in his lap or hide in a tent with Siri when the gladiators fight. You pretend not to hear when Siri mentions to Caesar, as respectfully as she can, that she thinks a companion would be helpful to keeping you in line.

Maintaining nonchalance, you imagine the perfect playmate, drawing a figure with a stick, giving her long dark hair, a smiley mouth and a dress. Another little girl who will let you practice braiding her hair, who will help you escape the fort to swim in the river, who will practice Latin with you and help you prank the legionary boys when they are mean to you.

The bells start to ring then, indicating a new tribe’s arrival to the fort. You dash outside before your father can say anything to see them, peering down at the group of boys huddled around the arena below Caesar’s tent. They look like drowned dogs, the lot of them, skin and bones, some with lacerations and bruises marking their pale skin. Something about it makes you very uneasy, though you cannot for the life of you place why.

One of them commands your attention, a tall, gangly boy with dark shaggy hair. His gaze is unfocused and empty, and unlike the others he has the most serious expression you have ever seen on a kid. Caesar joins you outside, and you grab his hand and point to the boy. “Look Pa, doesn’t he seem kind of like a fox?”
The idea of a companion still fresh on Caesar’s mind, he summons Lucius and tells him to single out the boy. “From now on,” he says, “his name will be Vulpes.”

-

You’re stretched out on a flat rock at the apex of the fort, just out of sight, when you hear Siri calling your name urgently. Shooting up, you make your way down from your perch to where she stands, yelling for you. She grabs your hand and ushers you towards Caesar’s tent. “Your father wants you, little one.”

You wonder what the news will be, traipsing alongside Siri and into the tent. There, as stony and unperturbed as the first time you saw him, stands the young boy. He is dressed in the simple armor of the legionary boys with a small knife in his belt. He doesn’t look at you, his gaze trained on nothing in particular.

Filia mea,” Caesar smiles broadly, proffering his palm. You slip your hand into his and cock your head to the side in a silent question.

“Vulpes Inculta, my daughter is your charge, from this day forth. You will protect her with your life.” Caesar murmurs over your head, squeezing your hand tightly.

Your head whips around to your father, mouth opening to protest, but his stern look shuts you up pretty quick. Great, you think, a boy. As if there aren’t enough of those around as is. You look into Vulpes’ eyes. They’re the exact shade of the Mojave sky before a storm hits. Fluvius. For the first time, he meets your gaze.

With as much clarity as two ten year olds can have, you both know that neither of you is happy with this arrangement.

And with that, comes a sort of reluctant kinship.

-

Vulpes isn’t exactly the kind of friend you had expected to have. Much of your time is spent chattering at him rather than with him. He says little, and the first time you hear his voice, you’re almost sure it’s a ghost whispering in your ear.

“Vulpes?” You say his name to get his attention, despite knowing he’s not likely to acknowledge you. After a pause, you continue. “Do you remember your name? Your real name. Before the Legion.” You’ve been wondering this for many months now but did not dare ask.

“Yes. But I have no need of it now.” His eyebrows furrow a little, and you catalogue it as another of Vulpes’ micro-expressions. “That is a name for a different life and a different time.”

“You talk strangely.” You mumble, and he merely shrugs indifferently. His raven hair is close cropped now, making his ears stick out. You scoot closer to try and sneak a glance at what he’s reading, but he recoils.

You move back, a little hurt, but he shows you the book he’s reading – a tentative truce. You’re aware Vulpes doesn’t really like you. He has to train to become a full legionary every day, and during his rest time, he’s expected to stay with you and keep you entertained. You know he’s not happy with that reality, and while he isn’t exactly what you’d wanted either, you’re kind of glad for the company.

“I can teach you Latin,” you tell him on impulse, “if you want.”

He hesitates, slim fingers running over the spine of the book, but meets your eyes and gives you a firm nod.

-

The first time you see him smile is nearly a year after you first meet him, in meagre lamplight, when you compliment his Latin.

“You’re almost better than me now,” you grin at him, and he smiles, bashfully.

“Vulpes!” You gape, “you smiled! I never knew you had it in you.”

Tu nescis quid.” [You know nothing] He says, levelling a stare at you, but the slight quirk of his lips gives away that he is teasing you.

You huff, “I know a lot, thanks very much.”

“Of course, my lady.” He bows his head in feigned servitude and you shove him off his chair.

He shoves you right back and before you know it, the two of you are rolling in the sand, throwing playful punches and kicks at each other, yelling and laughing breathlessly in the twilight.

Suddenly, Vulpes is grabbed by the collar and hauled off you. You hurriedly get to your feet, desperately afraid, but Lucius is already pulling Vulpes towards Caesar’s tent. The confusion lasts only for a moment, and you realise that he must have gotten the wrong idea. Blood thunders in your ears and you sprint to the tent, throwing yourself through the flaps and nearly tripping over your feet in your haste.

You pause to take in the tableau and adrenaline has slowed time for you drastically as your eyes rove over the scene. Lucius’ fist is still clenched around the back of Vulpes’ tunic and his lips are moving. You can see rage slowly spread over your father’s face and he begins to rise to his feet. Alarm spurs you on, and you throw yourself in front of Vulpes dramatically.

“What on the gods’ earth is happening, child?” He exclaims, exasperated.

“We were just playing Pater, really! Please don’t hurt him,” tears start to stream down your snotty face as you blub, “Vulpes didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not his fault, I started it! Pa, please if you have to, you can punish me instead, he really didn’t…”

You trail off as Caesar raises a palm for you to stop. “Lucius let the boy go for fucks sake.” He starts to chuckle. “They were just playing, you don’t need to be so protective of my girl. She can handle herself.”

Relief, thick and heavy, melts your bones to jelly. You suddenly feel very tired. “I admire your loyalty, filia mea. It is a good trait to have.” He looks at Vulpes, thoughtfully, and then waves them both off. “It is late, Lucius. Escort them back to bed, will you? I’ve got a headache.”

Lucius sighs and guides you back to your tent, but you quickly turn to your father, “Can Vulpes stay with me and Siri tonight? Like a sleepover?”

Caesar pauses, but then he relents to your pleading eyes, “Fine, just tonight. And Lucius, tell the Legionary Instructor he is to expect Vulpes’ absence tomorrow. Why don’t you two go down to the river tomorrow? I’m told you’re a strong swimmer Vulpes, and my daughter could use some lessons.”

Vulpes says nothing, but nods. Even when the lamps are turned out in your tent and Siri’s breathing has slowed he still says nothing.

“I’m sorry,” you whisper in his direction. He shifts in his bedroll on the floor next to your bed to face you.

“Thank you.” His voice is quiet, and on a whim, you let your arm hang over the side of the bed and your hand finds his.

Though Siri notices your tangled hands when she awakes in the morning, she says nothing, only smiles to herself a little as she exits soundlessly to start her morning chores.

Chapter Text

Vulpes grows far faster than you do. At 14 he towers over you already, and he sometimes treats you like a child, because you don’t turn 14 for another 2 months. You often find yourself sitting near the training area like a bored puppy, waiting for him to finish up with his training so you can go swimming by the river or climb up the rocky hill to look out beyond the water with binoculars. He seems to enjoy the grappling though, and his body moves with an easy grace you wish you could mimic.

Despite the Mojave sun, he never seems to tan, and his palm is always cool and dry to the touch, despite yours being warm and clammy. You’ve been inseparable for the past 4 years now but Vulpes is starting to get a little wary of you. You’ve heard the other boys tease him about his friendship with you, and you wish you could yell at them about it and get them to back off but you’re aware it would only make the teasing worse.

You watch him wipe the sweat off his brow with his sleeve and walk over to you, a little victorious smile on his lips.

“Want some water?” You ask, and he nods, so you toss him a bottle of purified water. He catches it easily, and twists the top off, downing the contents in a long gulp.

“Well,” you chuckle, impressed, “if I had known you were that thirsty, I would have brought an entire gallon.”

He rolls his eyes, a new development he has most certainly picked up from Otho, another young recruit. You don’t like Otho much, and you can tell he shares the sentiment. He leers at the pair of you from across the training ground.

Otho and his friends whistle and waggle their eyebrows at you when they catch your eye. They know better than to be overtly rude to the Caesar’s only daughter, but it doesn’t stop them from acting like a bunch of fools.

“Ignore him,” Vulpes says, and you consider it a testament to how well he knows you that he understands what you’re thinking about.

“Speak for yourself,” you snap.

He doesn’t like losing his cool, but you can tell by the way his brows knit together slightly that it bothers him. He’s your only friend and you’re deathly afraid of losing him, but you know you’re starting to annoy him with how clingy you’re getting, and so you abruptly get up and leave to go sit with Lucius in the shade.

“Where are you going?” Vulpes asks, irritably.

“Away from you.” You’re painfully aware of how childish you sound but can’t bring yourself to care at the moment.

However, Lucius nowhere to be seen and his usual spot in Caesar’s tent is empty. Your father is resting in bed nearby, so you quietly pick out a book to read, bored and lonely.

Finally, you can’t stomach the silence and you get to your feet and decide to go sit up on the rocks. Wrapping your arms around your knees, you amuse yourself by tossing rocks as far as you can into the river below. The sounds of a commotion drift on the wind to your ears and you sit up, as inquisitive as ever. You decide to follow the sound to the arena. There’s a throng of legionaries gathered to watch the spectacle and you move around the side and press your face to a gap in the fencing to see what they’re looking at.

In the arena, a man in tattered slave robes faces a legionary, a machete in hand and a sly grin on his face. The legionary advances towards the slave and with a practiced movement, the blade flashes through the air. Blood, bright and red, shoots like a fountain from the man’s severed arteries exposing bone, fat and sinew. Bile rises to your throat, but you choke it down, unable to look away. Your eyes start to burn and all you can hear is the sound of the soldiers around you, their cheers drowning out your own horrified scream.

A familiar hand claps over your mouth and Vulpes spins you around to face him. “Look at me,” he commands, and you comply wordlessly. He pulls you to him and you bury your face in his chest, your hands grabbing at his tunic. He strokes your hair as you babble incoherently, and he is the only thing grounding you in reality, even as you picture the headless slave in your mind.

Neither of you speak of it again, but you notice he makes an extra effort to stay by your side, despite the catty comments from his peers.

You never bring it up with your father, lest he punish Siri or Vulpes for letting you out of their sight, but you have nightmares about flashing steel and blood for a long time after that.

On one of these occasions, sleep remains out of your reach, so you step out of your tent to bask in the cool night breeze. You’re almost certain Vulpes is on night duty tonight, so you decide to head over to his post. You stop in your tracks when you hear Otho’s taunting voice.

“So is her pussy sweet like a profligate whore?”

Another voice chimes in, “I bet you get to put it in her all the time.”

Your cheeks burn with shame. You’ve heard the insults directed at the female slaves by some of the men enough to know what they mean, and to hear them speaking about you that way feels worse than you could have ever imagined. Your eyes prick and you press your palms to them, willing yourself not to cry, knowing that if they saw you like this, it would simply spur them on.

Then Vulpes’ voice, clear and dangerously low, silenced them: “I wonder, if Caesar heard those foul words from your mouth about his beloved daughter, would he cut your balls off himself?”

Only Otho is too stubborn to take the hint, “If you’re defending her, you’re just as bad as that dumb slut-”

You hear a choking sound as he is cut off.

“Say that again about her,” you hear Vulpes snarl, “and I will rip your gullet from your throat with my bare hands.”

Your chest swells with affection for him and you press a hand to your heart to quiet its joyful flutters. You’re so lost in your own thoughts that you fail to notice the sound of footsteps coming around the corner, and yelp as Vulpes collides with your hunched form.

He sighs when he sees you and helps you to your feet. “What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” you smile at him, shyly.

He narrows his eyes, “I assume you heard all that.”

Your smile falters and your fingers fly to your throat. “Perhaps.”

“Come with me.” His voice is stern and his grip is iron around your wrist, so you follow him to your little spot at the top of the rocks. You both know it so well that even in the dark, you both traverse it easily. Vulpes lights the lamp with him, and you can make out the lines of his face. He’s really grown since you first laid eyes on him. His voice has deepened considerably, and his cheekbones are more pronounced. His expression remains unreadable, as always.

“How much did you hear?” He asks, gently.

“All of it,” you admit, “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I couldn’t sleep and came to find you…and then I heard Otho.”

“Are you going to tell Caesar?”

“Probably not. I know you and Siri have tried to shelter me, but I know what my father’s like. I won’t be responsible for Otho’s death, even if he is an awful excuse of a human being.”

“That is commendable,” Vulpes lowers his voice. “I wanted to kill him back there.”

You shiver, without knowing why.

“Are you cold?”

“No.” You shift closer to him though, and he threads his fingers through yours.

“You are the most important thing here to me. No matter what happens, promise me you won’t forget that.”

You don’t doubt him for a second, “I promise.”

“Good.” You can sense him tensing next to you and then he ducks his head, placing a chaste kiss on your cheek.

“Oh.” You clap your hand to your cheek in surprise.

“Does that displease you? Forgive me.” He mumbles, and you realise that this is the first time you have seen Vulpes nervous.

“No,” you tell him, “not at all.”

That month, Vulpes is assigned as a legionary to a contubernium.

Chapter Text

With your 16th birthday come a variety of new trials and tribulations. Caesar gifts you a cloak of red and gold, and in it you feel hidden away, just the way you like it. Your body’s development has started to attract unwanted attention from the young legionaries and while they can do nothing, their gawking makes you incredibly uncomfortable. As such, you spend far more time learning to cook and sew with Siri, reading books and to your father’s dismay, learning to repair and clean guns and weapons with Lucius.

Visits from Vulpes are exceedingly rare these days, as his patrol keeps him away from you for months at a time. Even Caesar remarks on how fidgety and restless you are when he’s away. You’re acutely aware of the risks for legionaries out in the desert, and you keep your ear to the ground for any news of him.

This is how you first hear of Lanius. Caesar considers him a real pain. The man is known to ambush entire Legion patrols alone and worse still – his successes are numerous. When his tribe is finally destroyed, you watch through a gap in your tent as he is carried into the Fort, his body limp and unmoving. Caesar orders that he should be cared for, and has the blacksmith forge a gold-plated mask to hide his ruined visage. You’re just as shocked as everyone else when he actually pulls through.

You watch once more from the shade of your tent as he leaves, mask glinting in the harsh sun. He looks like a giant from mythology, Cyclops himself, as he lumbers through the camp, shoulders broad and muscular, clad in gleaming armor.

Instantly uneasy, you make your way to Caesar as soon as he is out of sight.

“You can’t seriously be making him Legate, Pater,” you protest. “The man is insane!”

“He is loyal to me,” Caesar waves you off, “and women have no place in politics, my dear.”

“Pa, even you can admit he isn’t fit for leadership. He has no strategy, only aggression.”

That makes him sigh, “the Legate may not be completely fit to lead, perhaps, but he is brutal in combat and a cunning strategist, despite what you may think. Besides, that’s no way to talk of your future husband.”

“Excuse me?” You splutter. This is news to you.

“You always knew you would be wife of the next Caesar, filia mea.”

“I thought that would be Vulpes!”

Caesar gives you a look. “Vulpes was meant as your guardian. He is fiercely loyal to me, and therefore, to you. But you are to be wife to the Caesar, to carry on the line. The sons of Mars must continue to rule.”

“Pater…”

“The discussion is over, child.”

You return to the safety of your quarters, hang your head in your hands and weep.

-

Vulpes finally returns and you quell the desire to run to him as you had done months ago. Instead, you leave your tent and wait for him to come to you, as a lady should.

You greet him with a falsely cheerful smile, “Good to see you back, Vulpes.”

He raises an eyebrow. You note with a hollow feeling in your chest that his shoulders have broadened, his body lean and toned. The body of a man, at 17. He reaches in his pack and pulls out a book. “I found this and thought you might enjoy it.”

You take it from him gratefully. It looks like a book about Roman history, written in English. “Thank you,” you whisper.

“My lady,” he murmurs, inclining his head, and walks away.

You carefully open the book and lift the flap of the jacket. On the cover is scrawled: ‘Cave, midnight.’ Your heart leaps into your throat and you hide the book away quickly. You mustn’t. You shouldn’t. You can’t.

At midnight, you slip out of your bed as silently as possible, stepping over Siri’s slumbering form, and tiptoe behind the camp to the rocks, climbing up as quietly as possible.

Vulpes is already sitting at the cave hideout (our spot, you think, giddy), where he had kissed you so innocently years ago.

He says nothing even when you settle next to him. You can tell he’s waiting for you to tell him yourself. He’s sure to have already heard it from Caesar.

“I’m betrothed to the Legate known as Lanius.” You tell him, unhappily.

“So I’ve heard.” He says, simply.

“I didn’t want this.” You ramble. “I hate it, it’s awful. Lanius of all people. Did you know he strikes his own slaves blind? Pater says he would never do that to me, but I would never want to be with a man like that. I don’t want him! I always thought I would marry you!

He doesn’t react to this revelation, only shrugs. “Caesar has nothing but your best interests in mind. Your protection is guaranteed.”

“Lanius is a madman,” you argue, “and you know it.”

Vulpes sighs in that insufferably ‘mature’ manner, the way he always does when he thinks you’re being stupid. “He’s not a madman, and you give far too little credit. He’s a good fighter and he is loyal. He would not hurt you.”

“How do you know?” You mumble, dejectedly.

Vulpes’ smile is kind and all-knowing. “I would not let him.”

Scooting over to sit next to him, you lean back, resting on your elbows. “Don’t you wish we could go back to being children?”

Vulpes rubs a weary hand over his eyes, “My childhood wasn’t particularly wonderful either.”

“I have happy memories of us.”

“Before that I was someone else. In the Legion I had to be born anew, moulded into a dozen different roles, given responsibilities I had previously never known.” He spits, bitterly. “You don’t know what that’s like.”

Contrite, you hold your tongue. This is the first time Vulpes has expressed any sort of resentment towards his life. “I’m sorry,” you tell him, simply because you don’t know what else to say.

“It wasn’t your fault. But I hated what you represented when we were children. And for that reason, part of me despised you.”

That stings deep in a part of you that you had never acknowledged before. A part of you that had reached out to Vulpes the moment you first spied that gangly, taciturn boy all those years ago.

You clear your throat and joke, flippantly, “I guess it’s a good thing you don’t have to marry me then!”

When Vulpes turns to you, his eyes hold an unhappy pain, and it wipes all traces of the weak smile off your face. “Do you truly believe I could hate you now?” His voice is unsteady and uncertain, a far cry from his ordinarily confident and languid manner of speech.

“I don’t want you to hate me.”

“You’re being evasive.”

“Speak for yourself,” you retort, unwilling to address the tension that hung in the air.

He pins you to the ground with such speed, it leaves you breathless and temporarily incapacitated under him.

“Vulpes!”

“I’ll let you go when you tell me the truth.”

You shove at his shoulders, but you might as well be trying to shove a brick wall for all he budges. “This is so not fair!”

His steel blue eyes glimmer mischievously, and his head dips, his warm breath coasting over your cheeks when he speaks. “Neither are you.”

You’re feeling dizzy from just how close he is to you, his thighs pressed against your waist, his fingers curled around your wrists. You wonder how you must look to him, hair wild, eyes wide, a flush spreading from your chest to your cheeks. “Vulpes.” You say his name like a prayer, reverent and soft.

You haven’t wrestled like this with him since you were both children, and something fundamental has changed, a new heat erupting in the shared space between your bodies. His eyes wander to your mouth and his tongue swipes over his lip enticingly. Your nipples feel tight against your thin sleeping shirt, every rustle of fabric serving only to tease the little nubs to hardness. You want more from him and he knows it. Vulpes lowers his head to brush his lips against yours, tentatively. They’re dry and a little cracked, but you enthusiastically return the kiss as best you can. His tongue licks into your open mouth, earning a little shuddering gasp from you, but the sound breaks through the haze of arousal, sending him leaping off you.

His eyes look like a Bighorner caught in the light of a lamp.

“Vulpes?” You prop yourself up to look at him, but he shakes his head.

“We can’t.” is all he says before vaulting over the side of the cliff and legging it back to camp.

You are once again left in the darkness with only your thoughts for company.

Chapter Text

You can’t help but feel a strange mixture of pride and horror when Vulpes is promoted to the rank of Decanus at the tender age of 19. Caesar is jovial, clapping him on the back with a word of congratulations. You smile and echo the sentiment, but it sounds hollow to your ears. Vulpes avoids you for an entire week after that, and then his century leaves to engage in a war far from the Colorado river. All Caesar will tell you is that he’s sent them to encourage a tribe to give up its claim on their land to the Legion. It’s Vulpes’ first serious mission and you’re restless with worry for ages, while you wait for him to come home.

And finally, he does. You know in your heart, somehow, when he marches into camp alongside the new captures and his century, that he always will find his way back. The thought is unnecessarily romantic and pathetic and so you tuck it away for further analysis later, in the comfort of your own bed.

For now, though, something seems off about the Vulpes’ gait. His eyes are raised forward in unhappy defiance, and his centurion, a notoriously arrogant man named Markus, doesn’t seem too happy despite the clear victory.

Markus seizes Vulpes by his hair and shoves him forward into the arena. When he speaks, he addresses Caesar, but his chest swells with the attention of the whole camp.

“Lord Caesar, this lowly Decanus is to be crucified on the charge of mutiny and treason.”

“What the fuck is the meaning of this? You better have something to back this up, Markus. These are serious accusations.”

More than anything, you’re enraged by Markus’ blustering, and perhaps unwisely, you step forward to stand next to your father. “What has he done?”

Markus looks taken aback and his gaze shifts to Caesar, but your father says nothing, only waits. Even Markus doesn’t dare question your authority, and you secretly give thanks to Mars that your father didn’t publicly oppose you. You know that above all, he values loyalty to comrades, and your loyalty to Vulpes has always been absolute.

“He disobeyed my direct orders and broke the formation to lead the century into enemy ranks.”

“Was he successful?” You ask, before Caesar can speak.

Markus ignores you and tries to continue, but Caesar pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs, “Answer her question, Markus.”

“My lord, I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Markus cuts himself off at the look your father gives him, and sighing, he affirms that Vulpes was indeed successful.

“To clarify then,” you reply, heatedly, “he stepped up to correct a failing of yours, and you wish him to be crucified for it. Perhaps you should be the one on that cross.”

The venom in Markus’ eyes when he looks at you makes your blood boil, but you refuse to look away.

“So be it,” Caesar waves at the Praetorian guards, “crucify him.” Then he turns and walks back into the tent, and you follow.

In the privacy of his tent, you bite your lip. “You aren’t angry with me?”

“Why should I be?”

“You said women have no place in politics.”

“As much as it pains me to admit this, my little one, you seem to have a knack for it.” Caesar sighs. “Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe not. But I know I can’t stop you.”

“I appreciate you backing me up, nonetheless.”

Your father glances at you, “You have authority here. You may be a woman, but you have the blood of Mars in you. They need to understand that.”

“You have a lot of qualities Pa, but let it never be said that you are consistent.”

You both chuckle at that, ignoring the screams that waft into the tent. You note, dimly, that perhaps you are not nearly as forgiving as you thought. Your father starts to cough, sinking onto the bed. You hurry to him, kneeling at his feet.

“Are you alright?” You whisper to him, and he clutches at your arm, coughing into his palm. When he brings it away, blood and phlegm speckle his skin, and your eyes start to swim.

“You shouldn’t have to marry Lanius.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry for promising you to him. It was part of our deal, that he would have you as his wife, if he fought for me.” Caesar’s eyes, a mirror of your own, lift to yours in a silent plea of forgiveness.

“You used me as a pawn?” You ask, horrified.

Caesar shakes his head, “I thought he would keep you safe.”

“Vulpes keeps me safe.”

“Vulpes cannot be Legate.”

“Then I cannot be the Legate’s wife.”

-

Caesar pulls Vulpes aside soon after and tells him he is to join the Frumentarii to undergo training. You watch from a corner of the tent and cannot help but be a little jealous of the proud manner in which your father speaks to Vulpes. You’ll never have that – daughters are to be safeguarded and kept out of the sun, but sons are lauded and raised to the skies.

You ambush Vulpes minutes later at his quarters, ignoring the way Otho and his little gang snicker as they pass you.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” you accuse him, hands on your hips and daggers in your eyes.

“Why would I do a thing like that?” His eyes slide to the group of soldiers standing nearby and he gestures to a quiet corner where you both can speak in relative privacy.

“What is going on in that head of yours?” you hiss, folding your arms over your chest.

“I owe you my life.” He sounds sad, but you keep your heart shrouded in stone, needing more than anything, to protect yourself from the unbridled ocean of Vulpes’ eyes.

“So that’s it? You’re going to forget everything we’ve been through together.” Angry tears blur your vision, and your voice cracks, “you’re going to forget that night. Vulpes Inculta, the great Frumentarius, too good for me now, is that it?”

His face is unchanged, and he says nothing.

And then you’re rambling, fiery and tempestuous in the sheer agony that grips you, too young and rash and impulsive to think of anything beyond this. He lets you rant at him and remains silent even with your insults and swears, until all that’s left of you is a burning, empty sorrow.

Drained, you roughly drag your palms across your face, sniffling wetly.

He reaches for you, but your glare stops him in his tracks. “Don’t touch me ever again.” You tell him, your voice low and quiet. “You don’t get to touch me.”

Chapter Text

You stomp to Caesar’s tent in a huff, unrepentantly moody and irritable. “I’ll marry Lanius, I’ll marry whoever, I don’t even care anymore.”

Caesar looks up from his ledger with a cocked brow. “This is quite a change of heart, filia mea.”

“Yeah well, it doesn’t matter anymore.” You launch yourself into your father’s bed, spread eagled and unladylike, and while you can sense his disapproval, he knows better than to comment.

“Are you planning on telling me why?”

You scowl into the sheets, “Does it matter?”

“Well, after today, I’m not certain that I shouldn’t just make you Caesar and be done with it.” He chuckles.

You sit up. “And why can’t I be Caesar?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t command an entire Legion.”

“Oh yeah,” you grit out, “my lack of a penis makes me incompetent, I got it.”

Your father refuses to engage you on that, instead choosing to ask, “Now why are you so hellbent on marrying Lanius all of a sudden?”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes and no. I worry that once Lanius is Caesar and when I am dead, if you are unwed…”

“I would be fine, Pa. Like you said, Mars’ blood runs through me. Surely, they wouldn’t think to touch me. And besides, you aren’t about to die anytime soon.”

“Spoken like a child,” Caesar observes, solemnly.

You frown and think about it. He has a point. Once your father is gone, there isn’t much standing in the way of you and the rest of the Legion. Not even Vulpes. Not anymore. “You’re the one who taught them this garbage,” you mutter.

“Careful what you say, my daughter.” Caesar warns, “from anyone else, that would be treason.”

You roll your eyes and groan. Sometimes you wonder if you should just take off and find your own way in the wastes. Right. Like you would last more than a minute in the Mojave.

“Urgh!” You grumble instead, curling your fists into the satin, and your father, to his credit, simply ignores you.

-

You make it your life’s mission to completely disregard Vulpes’ very existence every chance you get. Sometimes your efforts border on downright ridiculous. It gets to the point where even Siri notices. Her eyes are not unkind when she catches you duck back inside your tent the moment you spy that signature raven head around the corner.

“You can’t hide from him forever, you know.” She eyes you, knowingly.

“He’s the problem, not me.” You peek outside and heave a sigh of relief.

“You aren’t exactly giving him the chance to explain himself.”

“There’s nothing to explain,” you snap.

Siri stiffens and gives you a curt nod.

You frown, “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just on edge, what with Lanius and all.”

“Is it confirmed then? That you’re marrying him.”

“I don’t know.” You admit. “It’s kind of undecided I think.”

“And you wonder why Vulpes is upset.” Siri shakes her head. “We are all slaves here.”

She exits to leave you mulling over that cryptic sentiment.

A few minutes later, you hear a rustle as your tent flaps ease open. “What did you mean by that, earlier, Siri?” You call, still thumbing through the book Vulpes had given you.

The voice that answers is most definitely not Siri and you shoot up, clutching the book to your chest.

“My lady.” The man standing in your tent seems even larger than when you’d first set eyes on him years ago.

“L-Legate.” You stammer and rest your palm in the hand he holds out to you. His burly hands appear to engulf yours, and you force yourself to meet his eyes. He presses your hand to the cold metal lips of his glinting mask. He clearly keeps it in good condition, though fastidiousness didn’t seem to fit the profile of barbaric insanity you had assigned to the Legate Lanius.

His eyes roam your body, predatory in its gaze. You find yourself rooted to the ground but force a weak smile. “It is good to finally meet you, though I was expecting a more formal introduction.”

“That is unnecessary, my little dove. You are, after all, to be my wife.” His hand closes around yours, squeezing a mite too tight for your comfort. He brings his other hand to cup your chin, raking a careless finger across your lips and down the side of your exposed neck.

“Yes.” You whisper.

“Yes, what?” His grip tightens, and you start to feel a slight pressure on the side of your neck.

“Yes, my lord.” You hate that your voice has been reduced to a timid whimper.

“Louder.”

You repeat yourself and he seems satisfied. “Good. You’ll do well to remember your manners, little dove.”

With that, he presses your hand to his lips once more and strides out of your tent. You wipe your hand off quickly on the hem of your dress, unable to shake that slimy feeling from your skin. You check the mirror and notice the beginnings of a bruise blooming on the nape of your neck.

When Siri comes in, she finds you huddled in a corner of your bed, still clutching your book.

“I can’t marry him,” you tell her, eyes wide and blank. “He’ll fucking kill me.”

She kneels next to you and tucks tendrils of your hair behind your ear tenderly. “No,” she disagrees, “he won’t kill you. You’re too important to him for that. But there is far worse than death my child.”

Chapter Text

You decide against telling Caesar anything. His illness is starting to get the better of him, and you’ve heard the guards mutter amongst themselves that he doesn’t seem to have much fight left in him. Most of your time is spent reading to him by his bedside, as his body teeters on the cusp of failure. Lanius thankfully, is already gone. The nature of his work keeps him away for long enough that his unwanted attentions do not pose any immediate threat. You hide the bruises from your father though, knowing that the slightest shock could end his fragile life.

It has been nearly a month since you last spoke to Vulpes. There’s been too much to do, too much on your mind, and even your paths have not crossed of late. So when you return to your quarters to find a book on your bed, a pressed broc flower marking a page, you’re pleasantly surprised.

The cover reads, “Eleven Poems of Catallus,” and opening it to the page marked by the flower, you begin to read the poem that has been neatly underlined in black ink:

 

Lesbia, come, let us live and love, and be

deaf to the vile jabber of the ugly old fools,

the sun may come up each day but when our

star is out…our night, it shall last forever and

give me a thousand kisses and a hundred more

a thousand more again, and another hundred,

another thousand, and again a hundred more,

as we kiss these passionate thousands let

us lose track; in our oblivion, we will avoid

the watchful eyes of stupid, evil peasants

hungry to figure out

how many kisses we have kissed.

 

Your breath catches in your throat when you come to an additional line, in Vulpes’ meticulous scrawl:

 

“I crave your kiss.”

 

You chew on your lip, reading the same line over and over again until the details are burnt into your mind, down to the delicate flourish of his lettering.

-

A few days later, you replace the broc flower bookmark in a new page, having underlined a different poem as your answer:

Lesbia, I am mad:

my brain is entirely warped

 

by this project of adoring

and having you

 

and now it flies into fits

of hatred at the mere thought of your

 

doing well, and at the same time

it can’t help but seek what

 

is unimaginable–

your affection. This it will go on

 

hunting for, even if it

means my total and utter annihilation.

 

Beneath it, you write, “Quod me nutrit, me destruit.” [What nourishes me, also destroys me.]

You plead with Siri to deliver it personally, and she grudgingly grants the favour. As you watch her go, a hopeful excitement expands in your ribs, and your heart feels as though it’s about to leap into your mouth.

-

For two weeks, Vulpes is nowhere to be found in the camp, and the leader of the Frumentarius only says that he is out on important business. You continue with your schedule of tending to your father and reading, but his words are a constant phantom in the back of your mind. Your heart feels restless and sleep does not come easily. Your nights are often spent looking out over the river, awaiting his arrival, listening to forbidden songs on a salvaged radio. The words are unfamiliar, but the tunes are of lovers of ages past, and the romantic part of your brain insists that they ‘speak’ to you somehow.

And then one morning, Siri silently hands you the very same copy of Catallus, as well as a new tome – a book of love poetry from an old Roman author named Ovid.

You’d thought Catallus was raunchy, but Ovid’s erotic verses leave you feeling too warm in your dress.

As expected, a pressed flower – a nameless wildflower this time – marks the page. Turning to it, you notice the title Elegy IV is underlined, as is a particular verse in the poem.

“Your husband will be at our supper. May that supper be his last. So I shall only be looking on my beloved as any other of the guests might look on her. The right to caress her belongs to another.”

Your fingers dig into the lightly scorched spine of the book when you catch the little message Vulpes has penned at the bottom of the page.

 

“Let me destroy you.”

Chapter Text

You feel slightly lightheaded as you watch Siri leave, grumbling, to deliver your message, a simple word written on a slip of paper torn from a pre-war magazine.

“Midnight.”

A long, hot bath and several spritzes of broc flower scented water later, you lie under the covers, unable to sleep, checking the clock every 5 minutes. Siri already appears to know what you plan to do, and you appreciate that she pretends to be dead to the world when you rise and slip through the flaps. You can hear the thumping of your own heartbeat alongside the lapping of the water against the cliffs,

Thunder rumbles overhead, masking the sound of your footsteps as drops of rain fall to your skin. A quiet giggle bubbles from your chest and you think the rain feels like a blessing from Mars himself. As you clamber into the cave clumsily, the rain begins in earnest, but in your spot, you’re dry and sheltered even as the storm rages over the camp outside. Leaning your head against the mossy stone, you watch as lightning briefly illuminates the scene before you.

A dark, familiar head pops up. Vulpes, you note as he shimmies into the cramped space, is already drenched. He’s wearing only a thin red tunic, and a flash of lightning exposes the light dusting of dark hair on his pale chest.

Your fingers dig into the sandy ground, and you lick your dry lips. It feels almost like you’re meeting Vulpes for the first time, the way your palms are slightly clammy and your heart is hammering against your ribs.

“My lady,” his voice, familiar though it is, feels like satin in your ears.

You can’t bring yourself to meet his eyes just yet and keep them trained on your restless fingers. “Hello,” you answer, cursing yourself for sounding like an absolute idiot. He is just so much closer to you than you can handle. The little cave that had so comfortably housed the two of you when you were both children can no longer offer the benefit of personal space, and his knees are pressed against your right thigh, his shoulders hunched and knocking against your own.

You can feel the rumble of his answering chuckle in your bones; you marvel briefly at how the slightest touch from him can set you alight. As if he senses your thoughts, he curls his fingers around your hand gently. He brings your hand to his face just as the Legate had and presses his lips to your pulse. You feel his mouth move against your skin, saying something in Latin that you can’t catch. You let out a shaky breath you haven’t realised you have been holding.

Under his lowered lashes, Vulpes’ storm sky eyes watch you with ill-disguised hunger. His look alone is electric – your hair stands on end and you shudder with the intensity of the sheer want that courses through your veins. A wicked smile twists his lips.

“You’re so unfair.” You smile as he coils his arms around your waist, lifting you into his lap to straddle him. Your arms come up around his neck, your hand running over his short hair. You let your forehead rest against his and close your eyes. He smells like rain, dune grass and sweet herbs, and you inhale deeply.

Odi et amo.” Vulpes murmurs, and he pulls away to brush your hair back and kiss the corner of your mouth. His lips brush along the line of your jaw to rest on the sensitive spot on your neck just under the lobe of your ear. “Quare et faciam, fortasse requiris?” his lips continue their torturous journey down the nape of your neck to the hollow between your collarbone and you instinctively let your head dip back with a sigh. He nips playfully at the taut skin, his tongue darting out to soothe the sting.

He places little kisses up the nape of your neck and grazes his teeth lightly against the shell of your ear, holding you flush against him even as you squirm.

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.” Vulpes’ voice, husky and low in your ear, is a magic all his own and desire swirls deep in your gut, and all you can think of his voice, his touch. You yearn for more, and when one of his hands slips under your nightgown, you arch into him.

[I hate and I love. How can I do that, you might ask me perhaps? I do not know. But that's what I feel and this is torture.]

“I never took you for a fan of poetry.” You tease breathily, gasping as he jerks your nightgown over your head and tosses it to the side.

He pauses to look at you with such tenderness, it takes your breath away. “There are plenty of things you don’t know about me.”

You take his face in your hands and whisper, “I want to know you.”

He all but crushes you to his chest, growling as he bends his head and closes his mouth over your breast, his lips swirling over your hardening nipple. Your answering moan is lost to the rain and the gale. His fingers flick and coax your other nipple to full attention and you lose yourself to his ministrations, feeling the wetness of your arousal dampening your underwear.

“Vulpes,” you whimper, pushing at his shoulders, “need…please…”

It’s an awkward dance trying to shuffle yourself off him enough to shuck the rest of your clothes off, but you still pause to watch him pull his tunic over his head. His shoulders are wide and defined, and his body is toned and muscular. He catches you gaping and throws you a careless grin, and you’re ashamed to admit that you’re swooning. He is absolutely the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen, and you can’t help but stare at him adoringly.

He motions for you to lie back and you’re happy to comply, watching as he presses a final kiss to your stomach. You feel him part the curls guarding your entrance with a tentative finger, and instinctively tense.

Vulpes instantly comes up to kiss you. “I will never hurt you, I promise you that carissima.”

“I know,” you try to smile, but bite your lip in worry, “just…be careful, okay?”

“Of course.” He kisses you again, warm and reassuring. He scoots back down for better access, and then dips his head to kiss the top of your mound. This elicits the tiniest of gasps from you, and you can feel him smile against your skin.

That does not prepare you for the way he licks into you with reckless abandon. His tongue swirls over your clit, nibbling and sucking, before dipping between your folds. It feels weird but incredible and you’re torn between wanting this feeling to never end and wanting even more than this.

“Vulpes!” His name spills from your mouth as an orgasm rips through you, and you collapse against the floor, feeling like liquid.

He extricates himself from you and another wave of arousal washes over you when he licks his lips, knowing they are coated with your slick, and grins wolfishly. The sight of him kneeling between your legs, his hand pulling slowly over his swollen erection, makes you gulp audibly. You let your legs open a little wider in silent invitation.

When he enters you, you’re so wet, he glides in with little resistance but you feel every inch of him pressing against your walls. Vulpes fucks you with that same meticulous concentration that he bestows on everything that’s important to him. Even as his hips snap against yours and every pump of his cock inside you pushes you ever closer to the crest of your second orgasm, his eyes are focused on yours, dark and wide with lust, his lips mouthing your name, over and over again.

When he licks into your mouth, you lose yourself in the tide.

He pulls out right before his own orgasm and spills his seed over your stomach. You giggle and trace a finger through the sticky liquid.

“Smells funny.”

He rolls his eyes and uses his shirt to sponge it off you. “I apologise for the mess.”

“Don’t apologise,” you sigh, happily, “that was amazing.”

He lets the shirt drop from his hand and pulls your still naked body to his chest, humming happily. Vulpes Inculta likes to cuddle, you think, hiding a smile in the crook of his neck.

“Why did you avoid me before?”

The question seems to have caught him off guard and he takes a moment to answer.

“I didn’t feel good enough to face you,” he admits.

“You’re more than good enough,” you inform him, “you’re perfect.”

He shakes his head. “The things I have done in the name of war, the men I have killed, the families I have torn apart…if you only knew, my pure little rose, what would you think of me?”

“Nothing you do can make me love you less.” You insist, with quiet conviction.

He kisses the top of your head reverently. “We can’t stay here much longer.”

“I know.”

For now, dawn is still a while away. For now, you tighten your arms around Vulpes’ waist and pray that he will never be taken away from you.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It’s been a long time since you’ve felt this at peace. The radio plays smooth jazz softly in the background and your head is cushioned in Vulpes’ lap. From your vantage point, you can see entire constellations painted across the night sky. Below, the fort lies still, bathed in moonlight. You watch his slender fingers slide along the page of his book as he reads by the mellow light of his lamp.

“I wonder what Mr. New Vegas is like,” you muse. “I bet he’s got a really nice pin striped suit and wears cologne.”

“Or he’s a ghoul and smells like rotten cave fungus.” Vulpes snorts to himself.

“Have you seen ghouls before?”

“Ferals or regular ghouls?” He leans forward to press a kiss to your forehead.

“Regular.” He nibbles on your eyebrow experimentally, but you laugh and swat him off.

“There are a number of them in the NCR.” You can feel his lips move against your skin, and you almost feel his velvety voice more than hear it.

“Hmm.” That surprises you a little, but your attention slides off it, distracted by the sparse clouds lazily meandering across the sky. Your eyes close as Vulpes’ fingers wind through your hair, nails grazing lightly against your scalp. Your mind drifts to Lanius and the piercing ice of his eyes and you can’t help the tiny shiver that passes over you at the thought of the way his hand had gripped yours.

Vulpes, as always, notices even the most miniscule of your movements. He smooths the hair back from your scalp and lightly touches a finger to your nose. “What’s on your mind?”

“Lanius.” The quiet dread laced in your voice tells him everything.

“He wouldn’t hurt you.”

“It’s not about him hurting me,” you point out, frustrated, “you’re completely missing the point. How do you expect me to marry him now?”

You can feel Vulpes shifting uncomfortably. “You cannot go against Caesar’s wishes.”

You sit up, blood rushing to your head, and blurt out a thought that has been weighing on your mind for months. “And what if I was Caesar?”

Vulpes’ eyes find the heavens and he rewards you with a wry smile. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why?” Your eyes flash. “I’m as capable as Lanius is, and you know that.”

“You can’t command an army.” Vulpes shakes his head. “The Legion is a military and you are not a general.”

“Well maybe things should change. The Legion shouldn’t be an army, it should be a nation state.”

“The army, the propaganda, the discipline – it keeps the Legion bonded.”

“Siri was right,” you mutter, “we’re all slaves here.”

Vulpes says nothing, but his brows knit together, and his gaze shifts to the ground. He’s considering it, you can tell you’ve evoked a new strain of thought in him that he’s never had to deal with before.

“Surely, you want to change something?”

He stills. “What you suggest is considered treason by many here.”

Ignoring his warning, you push further. “My father isn’t going to be on this earth much longer Vulpes. And once he’s gone, then what? Lanius commands the Legion. And the war never stops. No peace, no stability, no civilisation. The Mojave will be stained red by the time he’s done with it.”

For a long time, Vulpes says nothing.

And then he lifts his swirling blue eyes to yours. “I have heard of a woman. She calls herself the Courier…”

-

Your days begin to blur together as Caesar’s coughing and seizures increase in severity and frequency. Fear, unlike any you have felt before, grips you often, as you hang onto your slowly dying father as he breathes weakly in your arms. He smells sour and stale like old fancy cakes left out in the sun too long, his breathing laboured and raspy. He barely speaks these days, and you can see the fight slipping out of his eyes with each passing day. You’re simultaneously disgusted and horrified at the decrepit shadow of a man who was once your proud, strong father.

You’re not the only one who knows he doesn’t have much longer. The vultures have begun to circle, and only Lucius, ever loyal and faithful old hound that he is, stays at your side. The rest are hungry for position and power, and they remind you of bloodthirsty nightstalkers, prowling in wait for war.

The stolen moments of intimacy lost in Vulpes’ arms are all that keep you breathing, even as the weight of an uncertain future and a slowly fading past begin to press upon you, constricting your lungs. Each time you meet, he tells you more stories of the Courier – the woman who holds the fate of the Mojave in her hands. She becomes a creature of mythos to you, the exploits faithfully recounted by Vulpes so incredible and insane that you can barely believe she’s real. In your mind, she looms, large and unknown, a beacon of hope in a forsaken sea.

And within her, lies salvation. You’re sure of it.

So when you formulate your plan, she is at the end of the road, and all paths go to her.

You can’t wait any longer when you hear Lanius is on his way back to the Fort, after a number of successful rampages on tribes near the Colorado. The time to act is upon you, and on the night of your plan, a strange, eerie calm comes over you. You can’t help feeling like you’re in the eye of the storm, chaos wrecking everything around you, moments away from blowing up in your face. With it, though, there is a budding sense of excitement that creeps into your veins.

You wait with bated breath for the camp to quieten, and as the moon ascends the starry night sky, you quietly wake Siri and tell her to come with you. She’s confused at first, but she seems to sense your solemn urgency and when you grab her arm and tug her along, she goes without complaint. Your duffel bag is looped around your shoulder, cloak drawn tight against your neck. The breeze is cool and the skies are clear, making you feel like the gods are on your side.

You keep your steps light, but hurried, making your way down the dirt path towards the large drawbridge that cuts Fortification Hill off from the rest of the Mojave. An unfamiliar emotion causes your heart to swell when you glimpse it standing proudly against the backdrop of the inky river. In front of it, two figures stand waiting and you pull Siri towards them, but she draws back.

“You're trying to leave?” She hisses. “You’re insane! We’re going to get killed.”

“It’s arranged with Lucius,” you explain, “don’t worry. He made sure he’s the only one on watch tonight. He let the guard off tonight to rest, so we’re safe. But we need to hurry.”

The unadulterated hope in her eyes almost makes you feel guilty. You were rarely confronted with the truth, but it’s impossible to deny that the Legion is the only reason Siri has lived the last 20 years of her life caring for you, when she might have had a family of her own far away from here.

“I’m sorry.” You blurt out the phrase, trying to convey that foreign bitterness that settles on your tongue, but she shakes her head as if she understands.

“You’re as good as my own child,” she takes your hand, and your cheeks are suddenly wet with your tears, “and you don’t belong here.”

“Not yet.” You whisper, and then you pull on her hand.

The feeling is so similar, just as you had pulled Siri to look at some ridiculous new toy as a child, and yet everything is about to change.

Lucius scoops you into a hug and kisses the top of your head. “I’ll send word whenever I can, little one. Be careful out there.” To Vulpes he only nods meaningfully, and something unsaid passes between them, but there's no time to dissect it and you let it slide.

It only takes one little step for you to finally be outside, in the world you had been protected from, isolated from, for two decades. Then the three of you start to run for the boat and all you can smell is brine and rust and the darkness is all there is, enveloping you and stirring something inside of you that you’ve never felt before.

Your eyes train on a far away coast that you cannot yet see, heart hammering against your chest, breaths fast and shallow. The Mojave, you think, is more than just a place. It’s a living, breathing, shifting consciousness, and now it’s an irrevocable part of your very being, and you will never be the same again.

You glance to Vulpes, his arms flexing as he rows for the shore with quiet, focused earnest. His eyes catch yours and he flashes you a careless grin, the kind he reserves just for you, the kind you know no one else has ever seen, and your heart swells.

It’ll all be worth it, you tell yourself, and that quietens your heart. It has to be.

 

 

Chapter Text

Goodbyes are always so difficult, you think. A new reality of life in the dunes and dust, it seems, and with it comes a pervasive sense of loss that is novel to you. The adrenaline of escaping the fort and sneaking past the old, creaking mess hall to climb up the hill towards Cottonwood Overlook has long since funnelled from your system. Your limbs feel cold and suddenly you are bone tired, each step a reminder of your transgressions.

There is a small sniper nest atop a cliff next to the overlook, and you gingerly drop yourself to the bed. Siri seems to sense your burgeoning sense of desolation and she plants herself next to you, arms around your shoulders. You sink your head to rest against her breast just as you had as a small child, and for one sweet moment, you’re transported to a time way back, when things were simple and all it took to comfort you was a gentle cuddle in the arms of the people loved you.

With that one little step away from the fort, you had given it all up. And for what? You’re not fully sure yourself. Your reasoning and grand ideas seem like a distant memory now and your mind comes up blank. All you can do is listen to Siri’s heartbeat and let it anchor you.

You can hear Vulpes hurriedly rummaging in bags and footlockers, so you open your eyes to watch him pull out stimpaks, healing powder and rifles, carefully arranging them in duffle bags. His eyes are trained on the task at hand, but you can read from the tautness of the planes of his back and the canyons forming in his forehead that he is stressed. And that worries you.

He pulls out some simple leather armor and boots and tosses them your way. “You’ll need to change.” He passes something similar to Siri, and the two of you get changed while Vulpes gets his own armor on behind the little shack.

It does not escape your notice that the new reinforced combat armor he wears makes his shoulders and chest look amazing – the close fit brings out the lithe muscle of his form, giving him an almost intimidating aura paired with the stern lines of his visage. You’re sure you would drool if there weren’t more pressing matters at hand. Carefully folding your cloak, you tuck it away with a murmured promise to Mars that it won’t be long before it’s draped over the shoulders of the true Caesar.

That thought brings a tiny smile to your lips, despite yourself.

Vulpes places a cool hand on your cheek and his smile is almost rueful. “You always did look beautiful in red.”

You huff a laugh and lean into his touch. “I still can’t believe we’re doing this.”

“Me neither,” he admits, pulling his hand away and running it through his close-cropped hair instead. He turns his face up to the sky, frowning. “It will be dawn soon. We need to keep moving, the sooner we leave Legion territory the better.”

“I owe you my thanks,” Siri takes your hands in hers, and there is a note of farewell in the gesture.

You turn to Siri, pleadingly. “You could come with us to New Vegas – it isn’t too late to change your mind.”

She shakes her head, sadly. “I’m sorry my little one. There are places I wish to go…people I wish to see. I can’t stay with you any longer.” You embrace for a few moments and then she steps away.

“I really am sorry, Siri.” Sorry doesn’t seem to begin to cover it, but it’s all you can manage, though the sentiment sounds painfully bland even to your own ears.

“I never blamed you. Not through any of that. You were just a baby when I was captured.” Fondness crinkles her eyes. “I looked into your big eyes, and that was all it took to fall in love.”

“I always thought of you as my mother,” you confess.

She smooths your hair back from your face. “I know.”

“I’ll see you again someday.” You tell her, and she chuckles.

“Somehow I don’t doubt that.”

-

It seems as though you’ve been walking for days instead of mere hours. Your aching feet sink into the sand with every step, making the journey even more tiresome. Vulpes says nothing, even though you can tell he’s slowing himself down to keep in step with you, and you’re secretly grateful for it. He shoulders his duffle bag with ease, despite the fact that it’s far heavier than yours, and his gait is steady. Your mind is a thousand miles away, but you’re too tired to really think about anything important.

You’re just about ready to collapse when you spy the dunes beginning to subside into open desert and a sigh escapes your lips. Vulpes lifts a pair of binoculars to his eyes and scans the horizon. What he sees appears to please him and he speeds up to what you can now tell is a rickety old shack resting in front of a rusted old windmill.

“It’s called Wolfhorn Ranch.” Vulpes sweeps his gaze over you and reaches over to take your pack. “We can stay here for a night or two to get some rest and figure out what we’re going to do in the morning.”

“Yes please,” you groan, stumbling through the tin door and collapsing onto the thin mattress. The frame creaks and you can barely bring yourself to get your armor off, so you just lie there on the dirty, stained fabric. Your vision blurs as your eyes flutter closed and the last thing you hear is Vulpes’ soft chuckle before you fall into a deep slumber.

When you awake, you’re in nothing but your underclothes and a thin woollen blanket has been tucked around your chin. Startled awake by the unfamiliar surroundings, you sit up with a jerk and swivel your head around wildly to make sense of the darkness. A moment later, the memory rushes back to you, but Vulpes is already at your side, concerned and aware.

You yawn and rub at your eyes. “Did I wake you? I’m sorry.”

“Not at all.” Vulpes drags his palms down your bare arms and takes your hands in his. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I just forgot where I was for a second.” You sigh when he brings your hands to his lips.

“You’re safe.” He says, and you believe him.

“Were you sleeping on the floor?” You ask, and he nods in reply. “Come up on the bed, I’ve missed you.”

It’s a tight fit, but you manage it on the little bed. His arms are tightly circled around your waist, his thighs pressed against the back of your legs. You can feel his breath on the back of your neck and the steady rise and fall of his chest against your back as he relaxes into you.

You think that perhaps this is what love really is, but the thought is fleeting and fades into nothingness as sleep takes you once more.

-

You come to consciousness slowly, surfacing from slumber bit by bit, coming to terms with the reality of your surroundings. Light streams in through the little gaps in the planks nailed against the windows, little specks of dust dancing in the buttery rays. Vulpes’ arm tightens around you and you snuggle back into him, relishing the way you fit against him so perfectly. Then he grumbles and pushes your hair off his face, and you speculate that you might have gotten the better end of the deal here.

“Good morning,” you greet him shyly. You’ve never shared a bed with Vulpes before, but the comfort in having his body next to yours is almost surreal. You can just about imagine waking up to this every day.

“Mm.” He grunts and burrows his face back into your neck.

You let out a flustered giggle as he noses at that spot on your neck he knows is ticklish for you. “Stop!” You start to laugh in earnest as he nips at the back of your neck, the iron grip of his embrace keeping you locked in place despite your attempts to extricate yourself from under his arm.

That’s when you feel his very erect cock pushing against the curve of your ass.

Boldly, you firmly push your bottom back against him, and you’re soon rewarded with a stifled groan. His hand wanders under the fabric of your shirt and slides up your skin slowly even as you continue to grind against him. You bite your lip when his hand comes up to trails along the underside of your breasts, lightly tracing the curve, dipping to skim over the downy skin there. You shudder at his touch, gasping when he growls an instruction into your ear.

“You should get the rest of your clothes off.”

You comply eagerly, letting them drop to the dusty floor as the mattress whines in protest at your movements. Vulpes rises to hover over you, his chest gleaming with a light sheen of sweat. His storm sky eyes focus on you, only you, and his hands are roaming over your bare stomach and he latches his lips over your nipple and your back arches. You barely even recognise your own imploring cries for more, more, more, Vulpes please. Then his tongue is flicking at one nipple, one hand curling a finger inside you, the other pinching and teasing your other nipple and the cry that accompanies your orgasm sounds far more like a scream.

You’re breathless, sprawled on the sheets, dazed and boneless. He tells you to turn and get on all fours in that same growling, lust-drenched voice. His cock, thick and lightly veined, curves upwards with his arousal, brushing against his stomach. You gulp and force your limbs to move, and you angle your hips upwards in silent invitation.

“Gods,” you hear him say, “you’re so fucking gorgeous.” Hearing him swear sends a thrill through you so strong, it forces a tiny moan to escape you.

Then he’s inside you and all you can do is grab at the covers for dear life, a stream of incomprehensible garble slipping from your lips as he fucks you into utter oblivion. His thrusts are long and deep, hard and fast, his fingers digging into the softness of your buttocks.

You feel warm come splash onto your back before long, and you can’t help but collapse on your front, sated.

“I might have gotten a little carried away there,” Vulpes admits, gingerly wiping at the come that has pooled at the divot on the base of your spine and you snicker weakly.

“I figured you would be the rough and tumble sort,” you tease, “but I didn’t know just how rough.”

“Did I hurt you?” His voice is laced with concern, and affection courses over you.

“No, of course not,” you assure him, dragging him back down to the bed, cradling his head against your chest, “you could never do that. In fact, I liked it…a lot.” You blush slightly with the admission and Vulpes snorts a laugh.

“I’m glad,” he murmurs, “I had always hoped…for this. To be with you.”

“Really?”

He looks up at you, surprise registering in his lovely eyes. “Did you not notice? I was always looking at you.”

You think about it. He’s right – no matter what you were doing, no matter where you were, Vulpes’ eyes were always on you. “I guess I didn’t think you meant anything by it.”

He hums into your skin, breathing your scent. “I always wanted you. But I thought it was impossible.”

“I love you.” And you definitely weren’t expecting to say it; shock and terror paralyse you for a second, and you can’t breathe, but in true Vulpes fashion he doesn’t even bat an eyelid.

“I’ve loved you since we were children.”

“That long?” You gape.

Vulpes seems mildly affronted by your confusion. “Until now I’ve considered you to be fairly intelligent and aware, but the fact that you had absolutely no idea of this is astounding.”

You poke him in the ribs. “I wasn’t even sure if you liked me half the time.”

He grins, a rogue like smile that makes him look almost boyish.

“I love you,” you tell him again, and the look in his eyes makes your stomach drop to your knees and your head giddy.

“Took you long enough.” He says, and smiles so wide it makes your heart hurt.

Chapter Text

You’re loath to get out of bed – your calf muscles feel like they’re being whacked with a cattle-prod every time you move, but Vulpes assures you that actually using them will eventually work out the cramps, so you grudgingly haul yourself into the outside world. Once again, you’re struck with the backdrop of the Mojave, and you take a moment to appreciate the landscape before wandering over to where Vulpes sits at a barricade made of sheeting and numerous sandbags. He’s examining a scoped hunting rifle, and you immediately notice that it’s in fairly good condition.

“Did you find that?”

“It was in a gun locker in the shed. I managed to get it open, but I don't particularly care for scoped weapons.” He shrugs. “You can use it, if you’d like. I much prefer my shotgun and thermic lance.”

“I’ve only seen a hunting rifle like this once,” you tell him, squatting next to him and picking up the gun, testing the weight in your hands, “but I’m not sure how to use any. Pa…Caesar never really wanted me to learn to fight. I think he figured I’d run off and try and fight with the rest of the legionaries. Ironic, huh?”

“You’re worried you’re doing the wrong thing.”

“I don’t know if there is a wrong thing to do, Vulpes.” You sigh and fiddle with the scope absently. “I’ve betrayed him. His own flesh and blood. I wonder what he’s thinking of me.”

“He loves you.” The statement is meant as reassurance, but it only strengthens the guilt and bitterness eating at you. Peaceful and idyllic though this morning had been, reality has inexorably made itself known and the shadow it casts chills you to the bone.

 “I don’t even know if he’s still alive.” You whisper, more to yourself than Vulpes. “My own father. I didn’t even say goodbye.” You set the rifle on the ground and wrap your arms around your head, but the tears don’t come.

The sorrow is too deep, the emptiness and shame can no longer draw tears. All that remains is a hollow feeling in your chest that you have gone down a path from which there is no reprieve.

You feel a cold hand on your arm. You lift your head from your arms to look up into Vulpes’ eyes. Fluvius, you think, the word springing to your mind, conjured from the recesses of your memory. For a moment, you’re both 14 again and Vulpes tells you that you’re the most important thing to him, and you open your mouth to say you’ve not forgotten, but the face that frames the ocean of his eyes is far older and wiser now. Age and experience have wiped away the innocence from his face but have done nothing to dull the vibrance of his irises.

His voice is even and confident, just as it always is. “There is such a thing as right and wrong. You’re not like Lanius, you’re not like Caesar. And you’re not like me.”

You huff and try to interrupt him, but he touches the tips of his fingers to your lips. “I told you that you were not a general. You have far too much kindness, too much mercy in your heart. You have a strong sense of right and wrong, despite what you may think. And where Caesar has failed, you will succeed. When they write stories about you, they will not say that you were feared. They will say that you were loved. They will say that you led a people, a nation - not an army.”

Your eyes are wide with disbelief, mouth slightly agape. That was one hell of a speech, you think, extremely impressed. “I…I don’t really know what to say to that.”

Vulpes’ eyes never waver from yours; he shuffles around to kneel before you, taking your hand in his and pressing it to his lips. “I will serve as your Legate to my death. Let them strike at you – I will decimate them, and pile body upon body.”

You are equal parts awed and slightly aroused. You manage a weak thanks, unable to pull your eyes away from him. For a moment, Vulpes reminds you of Charon incarnated to ferry forsaken souls to the depths of Hell.

“Did you just pledge yourself to me?”

Vulpes’ surprised laugh breaks the spell. “I was pledged to you the moment you laid eyes on me, amata mea.”

“I should hope so,” you tease, “after all, I gave you your name, you know.”

His eyes flicker, and he smiles slightly. “That makes it far more meaningful to me now.”

“What was your name before the Legion?”

He hesitates, and you hurriedly assure him that he doesn’t need to tell you if he doesn’t want to but he shakes his head. “It’s almost foreign to me now,” he sighs, “I know my father gave it to me. I have some memories of my life before the Legion, but…I just don’t think of myself as that person anymore, as if in a way I’ve disconnected from him entirely.”

Vulpes looks out at the horizon. “I was a Fredonian once. I don’t remember very much of home, but it was far greener than the Mojave I think. My mother’s name was Laura and my father’s name was Bill. We lived with my aunt and my grandmother. I don’t really remember them much.”

“What happened to them?”

Vulpes’ eyes cloud and he tenses visibly. “I assume they are dead. Our tribe surrendered, they picked out all the boys and the men and some of the young girls, and then I never saw them again. I don’t think about them much anymore. The Legion, in some ways, both ruined and saved me. I didn’t understand it as a child. I used to go back to the barracks after training and say my own name over and over again, as if that would make me feel like that child again.”

He shakes his head. “But I wasn’t him. I’ll never be him again. The Legion took that from me, but in return they gave me something else. Purpose. A cause. I knew nothing else for a very long time, and never had the need for anything else. I felt as if I owed my life, my being, to Caesar. So, I loved him. He was my entire life. Then I began doing exactly what he had done to me - bringing order, stability, without a thought to its cost.”

“I’m so sorry.” You whisper hoarsely. You feel like such a fool, trying to get him involved in your games and frivolity as a child while he was dealing with losing his family. “I love my father, but in a lot of ways…he just wasn’t a good person.” Entire homes, families, lives, torn apart. How did he live with that guilt?

Vulpes doesn’t respond to that, keeping his eyes trained on the grey clouds looming in the distance. “My name was Isaiah.”

You shift to close the distance between you and settle your head against his shoulder, watching the clouds darken and amass, lightning erupting in their midst. You quietly murmur his name to yourself, feeling the way it brushes over your tongue and forms on your lips. “It’s a beautiful name.” You say, softly. You feel the tension slowly dissipate from his muscles and he kisses your temple lightly.

Silence lapses once more, broken only by the distant rumble of the approaching storm.

-

Dusk draws lazily over the Mojave sky, painting it with muted purples and pinks, interspersed with the brilliant orange glow of the sunset. You’ve never seen it quite like this, with the desert shrubbery and honey mesquites silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. There is a cloying sweetness on the breeze which you identify as broc flower.

Vulpes’ fingers are loosely linked with your own, so you look down to examine his fingers in the meagre lamplight. They’re slim, almost delicate, belying the strength and dexterity you’ve often seen him display. These fingers, you think, have held and crushed the lives of his enemies and barely have any callouses to show for it. The idea scares you a little, and you frown. What other sides of Vulpes have you never seen? You only know him as a childhood friend, a lover, a partner, a person. You have never seen the side of Vulpes that enslaved entire towns and reduced NCR camps to smoke and ash.

Vulpes shakes his hand free of your grip, bringing the hunting rifle to his eye and staring down the scope. “Raiders,” he mutters, “looks like they’re just travelling.”

“How many are there?” You wrap your arms around yourself, and peer into the desert. You can dimly make out three figures in the distance bathed in the light of the crescent moon. A sharp crack rings in your ears, echoing over the dunes, and one of the figures drops. You can hear the other two yelling to each other, trying to find their mysterious attacker.

You snap your head around to look at Vulpes. There’s a tiny smirk playing on his lips, and then he inhales, holding his breath, and squeezes the trigger again, and again, but you don’t look up. You stare at the ground between your feet and try to get your breathing under control.

I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

The line pops into your head, unbidden. You’d read it once in a book,

Taking a deep, calming breath, you turn to Vulpes, who’s inspecting the gun idly. “If their bodies are still there in the morning,” he says, “I’ll go check if there’s anything valuable on them.”

You don’t respond, but you look at your own hands, palms facing up, studying the way your fingers tremble. How long until your own hands have taken the life of another in the name of salvation?

You clench them into fists. You don’t want to think about that right now.

“I’m tired.” You announce, to no one in particular.

Vulpes seems concerned. “Already? Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

But you can never lie to him, and your face is too much of an open book for that.

Vulpes sets the rifle down and rises to his feet, dusting off the seat of his pants. He extends a hand to you. “Let’s go to bed.”

You take his hand and follow silently.

“Did that disturb you?” He asks, but you know he already knows the answer.

“A little.”

“I will not try and justify myself.” He tells you, gently squeezing your hand. “But you know why I had to do it.”

“It’s not the fact that you did it so much as you looked like you…enjoyed it, Vulpes.”

The door closes behind you both, and he starts to pull his shirt over his head as you unbuckle your own trousers.

His voice is muffled momentarily. “I don’t enjoy the act of it so much as the result. I kill a raider, and to me, it’s one less chem fuelled profligate roaming the Mojave.”

You shrug. “I can’t really argue with that, I guess.”

“But it still bothers you.”

You nod.

He pulls off his pants and joins you on the bed. “I will always try to insulate you from the harshness of war, but I cannot do so forever. On the road we are on, we will have to kill people. Some of them may not…deserve death as much as the others. Some of them may be our own brothers. If we are to join forces with the Courier…”

“The Legion will come after us.” You finish.

Vulpes takes your hands in his. “Especially when Lanius is Caesar. He will hunt you for the rest of his days.”

You know the story of Lanius as well as Vulpes does. The man who hunted down the male members of his own tribe to massacre them as revenge. He would never let you get away with such a blight to his own ego and pride.

“In the Mojave,” Vulpes says, “killing is survival.”

You straighten your back, and squeeze his hand, nodding, determination colouring your voice. “We leave tomorrow.”

 

Chapter Text

Vulpes wakes you early in the morning. The air is cool, settling on your skin like a damp cloth, and you yawn as you shoulder your rucksack. Vulpes hands you a .357 revolver, and you turn it over in your hands, frowning at the cold metal. The stars are still out, but you can spy the horizon lightening slowly ahead of you. Renewed with a sense of purpose, you begin your march towards Freeside, stumbling down the dunes towards the paved road. You’ve never seen anything like it before – the road itself seems to be pre-war, but it’s cracked and dusty, and completely disintegrated in some places.

“This is so strange.” You remark, kicking at the tar.

Vulpes shrugs and takes your hand. “The NCR keeps the roads safe, so at least we won’t be running into any Cazadores out here.”

“What are Cazadores?”

“Do you recall the legionaries who were brought in with those swollen arms and faces a few years ago?”

“I think so.”

“Caesar sent a raiding party up to one of the Ranger outposts, and the scouts missed a Cazadore nest in a cave near the dunes. The raiding party had an unfortunate encounter with them after they stumbled onto the nest.” Vulpes’ nose wrinkles in an unbearably adorable way. “I despise Cazadores. They’re these flying insects with a horrible, sometimes fatal, sting. They’re mostly found at high altitudes,” he loops an easy arm around your waist and smiles down at you, “so don’t go climbing any hills, hmm?”

You roll your eyes and knock your hip into his. “I’ll try and stay away. What’s the plan anyway?”

“Well,” Vulpes’ eyebrows come together and he chews on his lip in that thoughtful manner you’ve always found so endearing, “once we get to Novac, it may be helpful to adopt an identity. We’ll stay the night there, and continue on through the 188 Trading Post, then it’s all the way onward to Freeside.”

You groan. “That sounds like a long walk.”

He hesitates. “There is another complication. We will need money to buy us passports into New Vegas, since the Courier will be residing at the Lucky 38.”

You take mental stock of you’re the bag of coins at the bottom of your pack. “I’ve got a bunch of Legion money on me.”

“We will have to trade it off as we go for caps. It is but a minor inconvenience.”

“Caps?” You snort. “Bottle caps?”

Vulpes only shrugs. “The currency of savages. I will admit, it is an effective system.”

“This is crazy.” You mumble, trying to wrap your head around how someone could have come up with that.

“There is one other matter.”

“I’m listening.”

“We will need some kind of disguise. A cover, if you will.”

“What were you thinking?” There’s something weighing on his mind, and to your surprise, a slight flush dusts his pale cheeks, contrasting starkly with his dark hair. His eyes remain steadfastly affixed to the path ahead.

“You could perhaps…if you’re comfortable with doing so that is…pretend to be my wife. It would be easier, explaining why we’re travelling to New Vegas. Many newlyweds go there for their honeymoon, so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.”

Is…is he rambling? You hide your growing smile with your hand, and press a palm to your heart dramatically.

“Vulpes Inculta! Of course, I’ll marry you!”

The colour in his cheeks deepens. “You should probably refrain from calling me that if we are going to go incognito.”

“If you say so, Isaiah.” You chuckle, but it dies in your throat at the look he gives you. You open your mouth to apologise but his mouth covers yours in a hungry kiss, his hand groping your ass unabashedly.

He pulls away a long moment later and licks his lips; the heat is unmistakable in his piercing eyes and you gulp.

“My name sounds lovely when you say it.” He smiles wickedly. “It makes me want to strip you down and fuck you right here in the sand.”

The words are positively filthy coming from his sculpted lips, but they whip the breath from your lungs all the same. You find yourself hoping, fleetingly, that he’ll follow through, but he only kisses you again and releases you to totter forward on unsteady feet. He seems to notice this, and it makes his smile grow wider.

You thwack him on the arm playfully and huff. “You’re going to pay for that later.”

His eyes glimmer and his voice is molten lava, heating you up from deep in your core. “I certainly hope so.”

You hurry to catch up with him and link your arm with his. “And I would love to be your fake wife.”

-

Novac is such a quaint, lovely little town, that you fall in love with it almost as soon as you spot the giant reptilian statue that marks the entrance. You can feel Vulpes tense up as you both walk towards it, so you slip your hand into his and hold it tight. Following his gaze, you notice a man who appears to be sitting in the actual mouth of the gargantuan figure.

“Is there someone in there?” You inquire, shielding your eyes from the sun as you squint.

“The day sniper.” Vulpes answers quietly. “His name is Manny Vargas. Former NCR First Recon sniper.”

“How do you even know that? Have you been here before?”

“It’s the job of a Frumentarius to know these things.” He replies, cryptically.

You’re denied the chance to ask more questions as Vulpes pushes open a set of double doors to the left of the main building. The interior of the front office is a little rundown, and an elderly woman seems to be manning the desk. Her severe, downturned face is framed by a halo of flyaway grey hairs in the sparse light, and while her voice is open and friendly, there’s something about her eyes you instantly dislike.

“Hi there! My name’s Jeannie May Crawford, and I run things around here. You folks looking for a room?” Her eyes glint with the possibility of earning a few caps.

“Yes, my wife and I will be staying here for a night.” Vulpes delivers his lines smoothly and effortlessly, plastering on a pleasant smile and lifting his eyes to the older lady. “We’re on our way to New Vegas for our honeymoon.”

You blush a little and shift closer to his side, a movement not entirely falsified. You’re out of your element here, and you know it’s probably best to let Vulpes do the talking.

Jeannie May nods. “That’ll be a hundred caps for the night, paid in full upfront.”

Vulpes leaves an aureus on the counter, and Jeannie May’s whisked it out of sight within seconds, replacing it with a worn looking bronze key. “Second floor, first door on the left. Y’all have a good day now, mister, uh…”

“Charlie Davenport.” He flashes her a quick smile. “Thank you for your help, Jeannie May.”

As the doors close behind you, you ask in hushed tones. “Where’d you get that name from?”

“I remember seeing it in a book once. You should think about what name you’d like to use. You can’t stay mute forever, and the ears of Caesar are everywhere.”

“I guess so. I’ll think about it tonight.”

“You could, I suppose. However, I believe there is a bed upstairs that requires extensive testing and very little thinking.” That roguish smile once again plays on his lips, making him look years younger.

You giggle and swat his hand away from your bottom. “You’re insatiable.”

“Only because I have had to restrain myself for so many years.” His smile softens as you both open the door to your room and let your packs hit the floor. The room is clean and charming in a rustic sort of way. The bed is made up in baby blue sheets and you sit on the mattress gingerly, but joyfully realise it’s far softer and springier than the one you’d endured at Wolfhorn Ranch.

“We should definitely test this bed,” you grin up at him, “but I could really use a shower right now.”

Vulpes rolls his right shoulder and stretches, in a manner rather reminiscent of a cat. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

The shower is a little grimy, but you get under the cold stream nonetheless, relishing the way the it washes away the caked-up dirt and sand of the last few days’ travels. You think about the hot baths Siri used to run for you back at the fort and sigh. That’s one of the few luxuries you’ll truly miss. Reading books by the lamplight while soaking in the steaming water, smelling faintly of herbs.

You hear Vulpes open the door behind you, and shift over for him to squeeze into the little shower behind you. He lets out a little sigh, resting his forehead on your right shoulder. You lean back a little into his embrace. The two of you stay like that for a while, under the weak jets of water.

“Are you okay?” You ask. It hasn’t escaped your notice how tired Vulpes looks when he thinks your eyes aren’t on him.

You feel him nibble at the skin on your shoulder lightly and sigh. “I’m fine as long as you’re safe, amata.”

“You can’t fool me, Vulpes.” You tell him, softly. “I know how much you’re sacrificing. Thank you.”

“I did it because I love you. I served the Legion out of love and allegiance to your father, but you have always come first to me. Now, I serve you.”

The way he makes that statement doesn’t sit right with you.

“You don’t serve me, you’re my equal.” You frown and turn to face him. “If we do this, you stand with me, not behind me. I didn’t ask you to come with me because I wanted to use you, you know.”

He chuckles and wraps his arms around you. “Faber est suae quisque fortunae. [Every man is the artisan of his own fortune] And your success will be my fortune as well as yours. Tomorrow we attempt to tame the bull with its own horns, but today is all ours.”

“You have a real way with words.”

“Tricks of the trade, my love.”

You press closer to him and kiss him. “It’s very attractive.”

“I’m glad you think so.” He turns off the shower. “Now, I believe there are more pressing matters to attend to. Ones that don’t require quite so many words.”

His fingers are brushing over your slit; desire deepening his gravel coated voice, making you thrill with the anticipation.

“Take me to bed,” you breathe, and he complies readily, hoisting you up with an arm under your butt and carrying you to bed. He’s gentle when he lowers you to the bed and kneels between your legs. He raises your left foot to his lips and kisses it lovingly. His fingers brush down the length of your calf to rest on your inner thigh, tracing circles into your skin as he kisses each of your toes, making you squirm and giggle.

He releases your foot and places his palm flat on the top of your mound, his thumb lazily rubbing over your clit as his other hand pushes an experimental finger into your wet heat, crooking it upwards. You jolt with a gasp when his finger curls into you, but he doesn’t let up, speeding the movement of his thumb against your clit. He lets a second finger join the first, stroking into you, his eyebrows furrowed with concentration.

Your orgasm almost takes you by surprise, your legs trembling with the aftershocks as you cry out. He gives you a slight smirk before pulling his fingers away and bringing them to his mouth, sucking them clean. “You taste like the river.”

This has to be cheating, you think. So you force yourself to your knees, wanting to make him as speechless as you are. “Lie down,” you command, “there’s something I want to try.”

He cocks an eyebrow at you but lies down nonetheless with a shit-eating grin. “Yes, my lady.”

You kneel between his outstretched legs and look down at his cock, really taking in the slight. The skin usually covering the tip has pulled away to reveal the head, flushed a deep pink, a pearl of transparent liquid seeping from the opening. You dab at it with your index finger – it’s a little sticky – and swirl it around the head. This elicits a tiny exhale from Vulpes and you allow yourself a tiny smile. You curl your hand around the base of his shaft and squeeze lightly, pulling it upward just as you had seen him do it. Vulpes sighs, his eyes lidded, following your every movement.

You take the head into your mouth on a whim, sucking gently, continuing the pulling motion on the shaft. You’re aware it’s probably far too long to fit the entire length of him in your mouth, but you let your jaw hang slack and take him as far as you can. You take a moment to get used to the way his girth feels against your tongue and then start to bob your head up and down, letting your tongue lick around the divot below his head which appears to be particularly sensitive for him.

His breathing has sped up, his fingers laced in your hair, lips slightly parted. You can feel the way his cock pulses and tightens in your mouth, relishing the effect you’re having on him.

“I can’t…I’m going to…” His breathing is ragged and his voice makes the very core of you tingle with sheer arousal.

Then there is a warm liquid hitting the back of your throat, and you instinctively feel like gagging, but force yourself to power through it. You swallow despite the sour taste that sticks to the back of your tongue and let his slowly softening penis slip from your lips.

He’s gazing at you with what can only be dazed amazement, and you grin shyly at him, pausing to surreptitiously look for a bottle of water. You find one on the floor next to the bed and gulp it down gratefully.

He snickers. “I apologise for the unpleasantness.”

“It’s fine,” you assure him, “it really wasn’t so bad.” A white lie, but you make a mental note to keep a bottle of water at the ready next time you decide to do that.

Shuffling up to the top of the bed, you fling yourself to Vulpes’ chest and nuzzle your head into the space between his head and his shoulder that feels almost as if it was made for you. He rests his arm over your back and kisses the top of your head.

“I love you,” he murmurs into your hair, and you hum contentedly.

You think to yourself, as you drift to sleep, that this is truly what love feels like – warm nights wrapped in each other, the crickets calling outside your windows as night falls over the desert.

Chapter Text

At some point in the night, Vulpes seems to have shifted away from you. One arm is slung over the side of the bed and the other shields his closed eyes from the rays of the morning sun that illuminate the fine hairs on his arms. His mouth is slightly open, and you smile slightly, leaning over to kiss the corner of his mouth. You ease yourself off the bed and get dressed, hoping to see a little of the town before you both have to leave. Shutting the door quietly behind you, you head down the stairs dressed in a simple pre-war spring dress, your hair pinned slightly messily behind your ear.

The steps creak gently; the wind is warm and welcoming as it stirs the sand that seems to cover absolutely everything. You can hear the bellowing of the brahmins nearby, the sun warming your skin instantly as you traipse over to the dinosaur, noting the door in the back with a few steps leading up to it. Heading inside, you greet the storeowner with a quick smile, unable to stop your head from swivelling around to inspect all the oddities that serve as décor.

“Hi there, miss. Haven’t seen you around these parts before. I’m Cliff Briscoe, and this here’s the Dino Bite Gift Shop. Can I get you anything? A T-Rex souvenir maybe?” The older man’s smile is kind, and you like him instantly.

You pick one up inquisitively. “They’re very cute. Is this what this dinosaur is called? A T-Rex?”

“Well, that’s what the box I found ‘em in says, ma’am. This T-Rex’s name is Dinky. You’re in luck if you want one, we’re running out of them!”

You survey the lines of toy dinosaurs all along the back shelves and think that seems to be highly unlikely, but you flash him a smile and tell him you’ll take one all the same.

“So, what’s the story of this place?”

“Well,” Cliff straightens some of the little Dinkys on the counter top, “before the bombs dropped, this place used to be a pretty popular rest stop for tourists, but nowadays we don’t get many travellers coming through here. Lots of merchants though, if you need to stock up on supplies.”

“Thanks for the tip, Cliff.” You give him a wave. “I better get going.”

“Stay safe out there, young lady!” He calls as you walk outside, clutching the little Dinky toy in your hand.

“I see Cliff’s managed to get you buy one of those dinosaurs.”

You spin around to find a moustached young man walking towards you, a red beret sat squarely on his head, sniper rifle slung over his back. You still, feeling threatened, but his smile is jovial so you force yourself to relax, nervously smoothing your hair back from your forehead.

“Yes,” your hand tightens around the toy, “he said he was running out; I thought I’d better get one quick.”

“Ha! Can’t believe the old man actually fooled you with that line. No one ever buys the dinosaurs, kiddo.”

“Oh,” you laugh weakly, “well, they’re cute. Not that much of a waste, seeing as they’re only a cap.”

“I’m Manny, by the way. Vargas.” He points to his cap. “Ex-NCR First Recon.” He says with a proud air, indicating this is probably a high rank in the army.

“Ah. Interesting.” Your eyes cast around surreptitiously, hoping for an escape, but Manny doesn’t seem to notice.

“Yeah, I figured after the war at Hoover Dam, I’d try and settle down somewhere. So I work here as day sniper. Well, I was day sniper.” He rolls his eyes. “Now that Boone’s left to go running around with the Courier, I’m pretty much sniper all the time now.”

Your interest is successfully piqued. “Your friend runs with the Courier?”

“Oh yeah,” Manny says, dismissively, “Last I heard, he was up in New Vegas with her.”

“You said his name was Boone?”

“Craig Boone, yeah. We were buddies in First Recon, came down here together.” Manny shrugs. “Anyway, what’s a girl like you doing in Novac anyway? You sure don’t seem like the type to be wandering through the desert.”

“Just passing through, really. I won’t be staying long, I don’t think.”

“Oh?” Manny moves closer. “You ever find yourself with nothing to do, you can come find me. I play a mean game of Caravan. You ever see inside the dinosaur’s mouth? They don’t let many people up there, but I wouldn’t mind giving you a tour tonight.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to bother you,” you mumble.

“It’s not a bother at all.” Manny winks. “Not everyday I get to meet a girl as pretty as you.”

You flush with sheer discomfort and incredulity at his come-on, but Manny seems to mistake it for interest even as you try your damndest to back away from him.

“Sweetheart. There you are.”

You fervently thank Mars and spin around to greet Vulpes enthusiastically. “Charlie!” You move towards him and he slides an arm around your waist. The movement is every bit as possessive as it is subtle, and Manny finally gets the hint.

You continue to smile. “Manny, this is my husband, Charlie. Honey, Manny was in the First Recon in the NCR. Imagine that! Oh, and apparently he knows one of the Courier’s companions.”

Manny’s face is truly forlorn, and you can’t help but feel bad for him. Vulpes nods, feigning interest. “I’ve heard good things about NCR Recon.”

“Well, we really do have to get going. It was nice to meet you Manny. Come on, we’ve got to get packed.” You tug Vulpes’ arm before Manny can get a word in.

You both turn away to back to your room, and Vulpes looks down to notice the toy still in your hand. He shoots you a look of pure disbelief. “You actually bought one of those silly things?”

“They’re cute!” You tell him, defensively. “I like it.”

Vulpes seems to almost radiate irritation at your side. It’s starting to dawn on you, and you snicker into your hand.

“Awww, were you jealous of Manny?” You tease, digging your elbow gently into his side.

Vulpes scoffs, tossing his head like a Brahmin annoyed by a fly. “Such pettiness is below me.” He throws you a sidelong look, and huffs. “I don’t like him, that’s all.”

“Uh huh.” You stretch and toss a couple of your things back into your duffel bag, picking up the .357 magnum and tucking it into your boot after checking that the safety is on. “Cliff said something about merchants if you want to go have a look before we leave.”

Vulpes rummages through his pack and frowns, deep in thought. “We could certainly use some more water, and we can get some more of those disgusting Fancy Lad Snack Cakes you like so much. We can get everything else at the Trading Post.”

“I suppose we should probably get a move on, then.” You say, reluctance heavy in your voice.

“Was there something else you wanted to do before we left?” Vulpes asks, his eyes still surveying the contents of his pack.

“Well, there was one thing…” Feeling rather emboldened by Vulpes’ jealous display from earlier, you quietly hook your thumbs in the band of your thin cotton panties and let them drop to your ankles, stepping out of them. Grabbing them, you walk over to where Vulpes is leaning on the dusty wooden planks, and drop the garment. It lands on his gear, and confusion causes his brows to knit together. He gingerly fingers the fabric; then looks up at you, a smirk curling the corners of his pretty mouth.

Letting the panties drop from his grip, he gently removes the gun from your boot, his fingers grazing against your calf for longer than necessary. Your breath catches in your throat when he slides his fingers slowly up your leg.

“Lift your dress up,” he instructs in a ragged voice, and you bunch the fabric up in your fist, biting your lip, running your free hand over his prickly head. He nips at the skin of your inner thigh and you gasp in surprise. Then his lips are sucking at your clit and his fingers are pumping wildly in your already dripping cunt and his name is all you can moan over and over again.

“Fuck.” He pulls his fingers from inside you and you groan with the ache of needing to be filled again, but he pushes you up against the wall, and yanks your dress up. Your name sounds like a fervent prayer from his lips, and you can feel the head of his cock probing at your entrance. You spread your legs wider, opening yourself up to him, and he presses inside you. His hands curl in your hair, pulling your head back and exposing your neck to his lips and tongue; his thrusts are frantic and raw with almost animalistic lust.

It’s fast and hard and so goddamn hot and even as he comes all over your ass with a grunt, you quiver with the aftershocks of it, panting and sweaty, palms pressed against the wall.

“Oh, Mars.” Is all you can manage.

Vulpes only laughs breathlessly.

Chapter Text

New Vegas – framed in the crimson light of the setting sun – is truly a sight to behold. The jewel of the Mojave glows neon, and at its forefront, the Lucky 38 rises, towering over the landscape. It’s both thrilling and terrifying, and your stomach starts to swirl with anxiety. All your planning, hopes, fears – everything – is tied to this moment. A Securitron stands guard at the massive set of double doors that serve as the entrance to the late Mr. House’s less-than-humble abode. Vulpes takes your hand in his and squeezes it tight.

“I have faith in you.” He whispers.

“You might be the only one who does.” You try for a light chuckle, but choke up with the nerves instead.

Despite the raucous and drunken catcalling and yelling emanating from the Gomorrah just behind you, you can barely hear it over the ringing of your own ears. You slow to a stop just before the stairs, and the Securitron turns to face you.

“Hi there!” it greets you, cheerily. “What can I do for you today?”

“Uh.” You pause. This really didn’t seem like an ordinary security bot. The Securitrons patrolling the Strip had a decidedly intimidating aura, and this one was quite the opposite. “We’re here to see the Courier. Can you tell me where she is?”

“I sure can! She’s right upstairs in the penthouse, through the doors!”

Vulpes appears bemused. “…Can we go in?” He asks, uncertainly.

“Sure thing! Go right ahead. I’m sure the Courier would love to see her friends!”

“Yeah,” your eyebrows knit together in abject confusion, “um…friends. Thank you.”

“Have a nice day!”

The interior of the Lucky 38 screams glamour and class with tasteful furnishings and decor. Unlike the rest of the wasteland, the tower seems to have survived the worst of nuclear Armageddon. In comparison to Novac, the place is near immaculate.

“I wonder what that was about?” You scratch your head idly while waiting for the elevator. “That security bot didn’t seem much like a…well, security bot.”

Vulpes shrugs. “It’s unlikely that a threat to the Courier’s life would be so blatant as to walk through the front door of her fortress in the heart of New Vegas, considering her influence.”

“Sounds like she has some powerful allies.” You muse.

The ding of the elevator interrupts your reverie, and you both step into it. Vulpes presses the button for the penthouse. You yawn and stretch out your aching back. A full day of walking has taken its toll on your comparatively underdeveloped muscles. A life of comfort at the Fort had done a poor job of preparing you for this kind of effort, and you’re looking forward to a well-earned rest.

And that would have been wonderful if not for the extensive array of weapons pointed at your head the second the elevator doors open. Vulpes reacts instantly, flinging his body in front of yours with his arms spread.

“We meet again, fox.” Venom drips from the Courier’s voice, and she steps forward to press the barrel of her gun against his forehead. Behind her, four other people watch, weapons raised and ready. “I vowed to myself I’d kill you the next time I saw you after what you did in Nipton. You’ve got some fucking balls coming here.”

“I come in surrender.” Vulpes says. His voice is steady, but you can see the tension in his back as he shields you.

“You must take me for a fool, Inculta.” She snickers. “There’s no way I’d ever believe that.”

You clear your throat, stepping out from behind him to address the Courier and her motley crew. “He’s not lying.”

You finally get your first clear look at the Courier. She’s much shorter than you imagined, with flaming auburn hair cropped close to her head, her pointed chin making her look rather like a pixie.

“And who the hell are you?” she sneers. “His slave?”

“I’m Caesar’s daughter.”

This seems to thoroughly irritate the Courier. “Okay, now you’re just fucking with me.”

One of her companions, a tall man with blonde hair steps forward. “The Caesar does have a daughter, Kristie. A lot of people think it’s a rumour, but some of the traders who’ve done business with the Legion have seen her.”

“What?” The Courier, Kristie, is thrown off for a moment. “I mean – even if he does have a daughter, what’s to say this is her? I don’t have any reason to trust Legion scum.”

“I know you hate the Legion, but I came to you to offer my allegiance.” You tell her earnestly. “My father is dying and the Legate Lanius is next in line. If he becomes Caesar, there’s no telling what he’ll do to the rest of the wasteland.”

“And what the fuck do you care?” She spits. “Especially your little fox boy over here. He’s every bit as bad as Lanius is. Killed a bunch of innocent people up in Nipton. Bet you didn’t know about that huh?”

This gives you some pause. The image of Vulpes’ satisfied little smile as he pulled the trigger of his hunting rifle comes to mind.

“The people of Nipton were not innocents. They were Powder Gangers, thieves and cheats. My orders were to cleanse the town of its wrongdoing, and I followed them.” Vulpes’ voice is low and steady, but you can tell his hackles are rising.

“That’s not your judgment to make.”

“Neither is it yours, and yet you do it every day. Here you are, passing judgment on my own life, and worse – the life of a true innocent.”

Kristie goes quiet, her eyes settling on you. The silence stretches uncomfortably, until the tall man speaks again.

“As much as I hate the Legion, he does make a fair point, Kristie.”

The Courier sighs and lowers her weapon. “Damn you for being my moral compass, Arcade. I ain’t about to kill someone who had the bad fucking luck to be born to the devil himself. But you, fox boy, you’re on probation. I don’t wanna fucking see you leaving the Lucky 38 until I’m sure about you, you hear me?”

The man in the back with the red beret clicks his tongue in disapproval and strides out, but the Courier ignores this clear display of anger.

“Loud and clear.” Vulpes grits out. You can tell he’s severely unhappy with the premise of the ‘surrender’ but realises he has no choice.

“Thank you,” you tell her, gratitude evident in your voice.

She cocks her head slightly, and gives you an indecipherable look. “You sure must have been real desperate to come here of all places.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” You manage a weak smile.

“Oh, and another thing. How did you even get in here?”

“Your securitron let us in.” Vulpes explains.

Kristie scowls. “Goddammit Yes-Man! I really need to update the protocols on that fucking bag of bolts.”

Chapter Text

If there’s anything you learn about Kristie over the next couple of days, it’s that the Courier does as the Courier pleases – everyone else can ‘drop dead or deal with it’, in her own words. You’re constantly enthralled by her. Her informal and often colourful language, the way her intonation lilts and flutters almost like a flute – in every way, the Courier has successfully shattered the stereotypical image of authority built from years of Caesar’s indoctrination. You’d heard some of the legionaries discuss her once, after yet another failed assassination attempt. They’d been bitter, of course, but strangely also awed, just as you are. In the orange glow of the setting sun, they had admitted they had underestimated her.

But in the heart of the Strip, people seem to adore Kristie.

You struggle to keep up with her cheery stride through the streets of Freeside, bogged down with medical supplies.

“Just a little further!” Kristie points to the Old Mormon Fort, a dusty old relic of ages past, still sitting squatly next to the North Gate.

You sigh and lug the bag across the road while Kristie chats with the NCR guard. He gives you a nod. You manage a very strained smile in return, wondering if he has any clue who you are. Kristie doesn’t seem to be very concerned about that. She lowers her voice to a bare murmur, and he listens for a moment, then holds out a folded square of yellowed paper. Kristie quickly slips it into her pocket, then leans over to place a hand on the guard’s shoulder. You wouldn’t have noticed her slip a bag of gently clinking caps into his front pocket if you hadn’t been paying attention.

“Did you just bribe that guard?” You whisper, as you both walk into the fort.

Kristie shrugs. “Information is worth more than water around here.”

The tone of her voice indicates she isn’t willing to discuss it further, so you drop it. At the far end of the camp, a familiar figure waves. Arcade stands next to a brunette with her hair slicked up into a thin mohawk that rises high over her head.

“That’s Julie Farkas. She pretty much runs this place.” Kristie informs you. “She’s pretty tight with the NCR, so try not to say anything too incriminating.” The Courier snickers to herself, and walks up to greet the two.

Julie’s smile is thin, her brow furrows slightly when her gaze coasts over you. “I see you’ve picked up a new stray, Kristie.”

The Courier chuckles. “I wouldn’t say that, these days they find me.”

Julie rolls her eyes. “Did you manage to get me some supplies?”

Kristie takes the bag from you with ease, and you stretch your aching shoulders gratefully. The two move into an adjacent tent to discuss business. Arcade smiles down at you. “Not quite used to the wasteland life, hm?”

You swipe a hand over the drops of perspiration dotting your brow. “You don’t seem that much like a wastelander either.”

“I suppose we both lived a pretty sheltered life in our childhoods.” Arcade says, vaguely.

“What do you do here, Arcade?” You ask, mostly out of curiosity.

Faciendus facio. [I do what needs doing.] Well…not that any of the work I’m doing is particularly useful in any way.” Arcade laughs to himself. “But, when Kristie isn’t trampling about the wasteland trying to kill every raider and legionary in sight, I’m here. Trying to help out.”

“I haven’t met anyone outside of the Legion who speaks Latin.” You grin, “it’s really nice to hear. You’re not worried someone might think you’re a Legion sympathiser?”

Arcade scoffs, “I’ve been quite clear on my beliefs with regards to the Legion. Besides, Latin was here long before the Legion…and hopefully will be for a long time after.”

Ave.” You say, softly, and a look of understanding passes between you both.

[Ave also means ‘farewell’]

“I understand what it’s like,” Arcade says suddenly, “to be caught between what you know and what’s right. You don’t have to be what they told you to be. You have a choice. There’s always a choice.”

“What did you choose?”

“I ran.” His voice is subdued, and his eyes are far from here. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

You look down at the sand – sand that covers everything, that gathers in the boots and creases of your clothes, that stings your eyes when the winds blow in from the east. “I can’t run from myself.” Arcade’s eyes shift to you as you continue, “I can’t run from my own blood. I have to finish it. And then I’ll be free.”

“If you can’t?”

“Someone else will.” You shrug. “People will keep fighting. Someday, they’ll win.”

Arcade offers a wry smile, “You’re awfully laissez-faire about the prospect of your possible death. I’m no mercenary, but I suppose the idea of taking out the Legion wouldn’t exactly cause me to lose any sleep.”

“I have a lot of faith in the Courier. If anyone can do it, it’s her.”

Arcade’s expression softens. “Many people do. Myself included.”

As if conjured by the mere mention of her name, Kristie pops into view, slinging an arm around Arcade’s shoulders. You catch the affection in his glance even as he rolls his eyes at her.

She winks at you. “Come on, princess! Your little guard dog is going to be missing you, locked up in that tower.”

“Don’t let him hear you talk about him like that,” you smirk, “he barely likes you to begin with.”

Kristie throws back her head and hoots with laughter, whether at her own joke or yours is anyone’s guess, but you laugh along. You’re starting to see why she’s such a well-loved character in the Mojave. There’s just something about her that makes you feel at ease, like there’s nothing in the world to worry about. It’s been a long time since you’ve felt like this.

“I had kind of an odd conversation with Arcade earlier,” you tell her. “He said he knew what I was dealing with.”

Kristie is quiet for a moment. “Arcade has had to deal with a lot. He’s an idealist at heart, but the shit he sees has worn him out. He’s a good person.”

“You must really trust him.” You observe, “I mean, you decided to let us stay just based on his counsel.”

The Courier appears to deliberate on her choice of words. “Arcade has a way of seeing further than most of us. Boone just all out hates the Legion, Vero wants to help the Brotherhood, and Cass…well Cass is Cass. She loves all the shit that comes with the wastes just as much as she hates it. But Arcade…Arcade wants the Mojave to be better. Not many people care about that.”

 

-

 

Upon exiting the lift of the Lucky 38 into the penthouse suite, you’re immediately taken aback. Lucius sits, his head in his hands, at the kitchen table, while Vulpes paces back and forth. At the ding of the elevator, Lucius leaps to his feet.

“Lucius?” You’re equal parts glad to see him, and immediately concerned.

Kristie scowls at Vulpes. “Seriously? I leave you alone for an hour and you’ve already brought another one?”

Lucius’ eyes are glassy and red; he appears not to even register the Courier’s presence as he kneels before you.

“My lady…” he hesitates, but you place a hand on his shoulder.

“My friend, please, such formalities are unnecessary outside the Fort.”

Lucius gets to his feet, pulling off his hat and pressing it to his chest. “Caesar has asked for you. He is on his deathbed. He wishes to see you one final time.”

Vulpes is at your side instantly, his arm wrapping around your waist to steady you.

“I see.” Your own voice sounds like a distant echo. Your breathing quickens, your lungs drawing in sharp, shallow breaths. “How much longer…does he have…?”

Lucius inhales deeply. “Not long.”

“I must go at once.” You mumble, fingers worrying at the sleeves of your jacket.

Vulpes shakes his head. “It’s too dangerous. Lanius will likely be lying in wait for your return, and we cannot take that chance.”

“He’s my father.”

Lucius interrupts, “my lady, whatever your decision, it must be made quickly. The Caesar has no more than a week left.”

“There’s no question about it.” Your ears are ringing so loudly, you can barely hear anyone. “I have to go.”

Kristie’s voice brings you back into focus. “Look, I hate to be getting into family drama, but I thought I would just point out that Caesar dying is probably the best time to stage a revolution.”

“A revolution?” Vulpes looks at her like she’s insane. “How do you propose we go about starting a revolution in a few days?”

“First of all, we have a week,” Kristie glares at Vulpes pointedly, “and secondly, we have an army.”

“We cannot stage a military coup in a week, Courier.” Vulpes spits, eyebrows raised high on his forehead in disbelief.

“Fucking try me, fox boy.” Is all Kristie says before she flounces out.

Chapter Text

The ocean oozes, thick and heavy like molasses, between your fingers. Dark cerulean depths are broken by tiny shards of light from the surface. You pump your arms wildly, attempting to propel yourself upwards, but there’s no give. Below you, the abyss seems to call your name, and you try to scream, but water rushes into your gaping mouth and chokes the words off as you form them.

You awaken with a jolt, gasping for air. The room is pitch black and chilly – a light wind slightly jostles the heavy curtains. Vulpes mumbles a little in his sleep and rolls over, taking the covers with him. He’s not usually this much of a heavy sleeper, so he must have been exhausted. You stretch and pad over to the curtains, lifting a corner to peer out into the desert.

Dawn illuminates the jagged dunes cutting through the landscape, starkly contrasting against the soft, pink-streaked clouds settling overhead. A brief flash of lightning signals an incoming storm in the distance. You let the curtains drop and tiptoe out of the room, while Vulpes snores quietly, wrapped in layers of duvet.

‘Let’s ride into the sunset together, stirrup to stirrup side by side…’

The music is just barely audible, seemingly coming from the kitchen. You move towards it, treading softly, so as to not wake anyone.

‘When the day is through, I’ll be here with you – into the sunset we will ride.”

You stop just shy of the open door at the sound of Kristie’s chuckle.

“Aww, don’t be a big baby, Boone – I know you love this song.”

Boone’s muted monotone answers her: “It was Carla’s favourite.”

You realise this is the first time you have heard the man speak. His voice definitely suits his image, you think. Still waters run deep right?

The Courier doesn’t respond to this statement, instead she says, “you’re upset with me.”

Boone says nothing. You start to think about how maybe you shouldn’t be eavesdropping on them like this, and just when you’ve started brainstorming ways to make your presence known without them thinking you’ve been spying on them, Kristie sighs.

“I wish you would at least talk to me about it.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. You’ve made your decision.”

Kristie sounds indignant at that. “I didn’t have much of a choice. It’s easy for you to say when you’re never the one who has to make a decision.”

Kristie appears to wait for a moment, but when it becomes abundantly clear that Boone isn’t about to engage, she continues, “you just shut me out. You always shut me out. Doesn’t matter what it’s about. This, Bitter Springs, Carla, us…doesn’t matter. And always when I need you most.”

Wait…us? Oh. Ohhhhh.

You start to backpedal. This is very obviously not a conversation that was meant for you, and you really don’t want to be caught out here.

“That’s unfair.”

“Yeah, welcome to the club.” Kristie bites, and you can hear the sound of a chair scraping back against the tile.

You leap back as soundlessly as possible, but Kristie doesn’t appear to have left the kitchen.

“I wish you’d talk to me.” She says, quietly. You frown; the tone of her voice is almost defeated, and that’s not something you would have expected from the legendary Courier. This Boone guy must be a real tough nail to elicit that kind of response.

Gentle yodelling emitting from the little radio fills the room.

Boone once again, says nothing. It occurs to you that perhaps it is possible to not say enough. You take the opportunity to creep away, filing the events you overheard away in the back of your mind. You slip back into bed, shuffling around Vulpes, who has curled up quite like a cat right in the middle of the mattress. Sleep, however, does not come, so you simply stare at the ceiling and wait for Vulpes to wake up – trying not to think about the Courier and Boone, trying not to think about your father, trying not to think at all.

 

-

 

“I think this is a terrible idea.” Vulpes mutters, pulling his shirt on over his head, “this is madness.”

“I don’t think Kristie would have suggested it if she didn’t think it was possible,” you counter.

“Be that as it may, I’m forced to conclude that the Courier severely underestimates the Legion,” Vulpes argues, “and she severely underestimates Lanius. Many before her have made that mistake.”

You bite your lip. Vulpes makes a very good point. The Courier has yet to have the dubious pleasure of meeting the Legate. She does not realise that he does not simply fight for the Legion. He fights because he thrives in war – killing isn’t a necessity; for the Legate Lanius, killing is a sport.

“I don’t know that we have any other choice, Vulpes.”

Vulpes pauses and moves towards you, kneeling between your legs. He takes your hands in his and his swirling blue eyes meet yours. “My love, there is always a choice. Just give me more time, time to prepare, to gather support…”

“My father doesn’t have time.”

“I fear that we cannot win this war.” Vulpes’ eyes are earnest, pleading.

“So be it.” You rest your palms against his face, your thumbs brushing over his cheeks soothingly. “I can’t not go to him. He’s my father and I love him, no matter what he did. I always will.”

Vulpes exhales slowly, closing his eyes. “Alright.” He presses his forehead against yours for a moment, kisses the top of your head, and gets to his feet. “Then, there is no time to waste.”

You nod and take his proffered hand. Together you walk into the kitchen. Lucius is already gone, and everyone else is milling about the kitchen, murmuring in dulcet tones. Kristie clears her throat when you enter, giving you a strained smile. It appears her conversation with Boone may have taken a slight toll – the man in question glowers unhappily in a corner of the room, leaning against the kitchen counter.

“Well,” Kristie begins, “now that everyone’s here, we can run through the plan.” She pulls out a yellowed piece of paper – the same piece of paper the guard at the Old Mormon Fort had handed her.

“The NCR is planning on making an attack on the Legion Camp across from the Hoover Dam at exactly 9.a.m. this Sunday.” Kristie reads.  

“That’s in four days,” Veronica exclaims, “call me crazy, but that sounds a little soon.”

Cass shrugs, “There’s no time like the present. No point in fuckin’ around while the Legion’s still kickin’.”

Kristie nods, apparently pleased at the show of support. “Plenty of time for us to get to the Fort and crash the party.”

“What exactly is your plan once we get there?” Arcade asks.

The Courier hesitates, “four days is plenty of time to come up with one. For now, Lucius is going ahead to gather a group of sympathisers. I suggest you guys take the time to get prepped and ready, ‘cause we’re moving out tomorrow. Anyone have any problems with that?” She glares pointedly at Boone.

“No ma’am.” He mutters.

“How ‘bout you, foxboy? Awfully quiet today, aren’t ya?”

Vulpes stiffens next to you, but you slide an arm around his waist and squeeze his side. “No.” He grits out, and Kristie snickers.

“Good.” She slams her palms down on the table and jumps to her feet. “Dismissed. Except for you, princess, we have some business to discuss.” Boone is the first out the door, and everyone starts to trickle out behind him.

You squeeze Vulpes’ side even tighter to quell any dissent and lean up to kiss him on the cheek. “I won’t be long.”

His lips press together into a thin line, but he turns on his heel and strides out. His footsteps trail off as he walks down the hall and into the room he shares with you.

The Courier sighs again and sinks back into her chair, gesturing at the chair across from her. You drop into the offered seat and lean back, waiting.

“Once we get into the Fort, you’re on your own.” Kristie says, “we’ll try our best to fend off any defending forces, but it’ll be harder to get to Caesar’s tent if we’re trying to get there in a group. Besides the Praetorians will turn on us instantly, but they won’t be hostile to you. But you’re gonna have to get to the top of the hill on your own. Think you can manage that?”

“I’ll have Vulpes with me,” you tell her, “so I think that should be doable.”

“Good.”

You’re very hesitant about your next question. “Is Boone…okay with all this?”

The Courier barks out a harsh laugh. “Hell no. But he’ll deal with it. Don’t worry ‘bout Boone. He’s a shithead, but he’s my shithead – he’ll come through. Saved my ass more times than I can count, even when he doesn’t agree with me.”

“I guess that’s what matters.”

“Boone’s got a lot of bones to pick with the Legion. Or should I say… boones to pick…” the Courier takes a moment to giggle at her own terrible joke, then continues, “my point is – he’ll come around eventually.”

“You say that a lot.”

“He disagrees a lot.”