Dried grass crunched under Piper’s boots as she trudged behind Nora and Cait. The two seemed to be in good spirits despite the oppressive heat and the endless walking, which, Piper thought to herself, were doing nothing to help alleviate the splitting headache she woke up with this morning before they left on their trip back to Sanctuary. The fact that Cait made sure to remind her exactly how she got her headache every chance she had wasn’t helping either.
Geez, this weather blows, Piper thought, lost in her own head. Hopefully we’re at least getting close to Lexington by now...
“You know, we’d move faster if you kept your eyes on the road and off me arse.”
Piper sighed. “Thanks for the helpful tip, Cait. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
“Gotta make sure you’re payin’ attention back there and not gettin’ too distracted,” Cait laughed as she pointed to her backside.
Piper mumbled something under her breath and dug her hand into her coat pocket, fishing out her lighter and another cigarette from her almost empty pack of Grey Tortoises. Placing one between her lips, she noticed Nora slow her pace to match her own.
“Well someone’s definitely chipper today,” Piper remarked with an irritated scowl as she caught up to her.
“I have a feeling that Cait’s been immune to hangovers for a pretty long time,” Nora said with a smile on her lips. “Makes me wish I had the same superpower after a night of drinking. It would definitely come in handy on a day like this.”
“Tell me about it,” Piper sighed. The pounding in her head reminded her that she was definitely not immune to any sort of alcohol or the bad decisions that usually come with it.
“Speaking of which, how’s that headache you had earlier? Any better?”
“Better than it was this morning, but still pretty annoying,” Piper sighed and flicked her lighter. “Although I’m still upset it didn’t give me the courtesy of erasing any memory of last night.” A fleeting image of Cait dragging her fingers along her jaw raced through her thoughts, but she was quick to shake it away. Thanks for the reminder, brain. Real good help you are.
“We did make some crazy decisions, I agree,” Nora laughed, “but at the same time, it kinda felt good to let loose and have a good time just for the hell of it, you know?”
Piper considered the thought as they continued to walk.
“And if you don’t want to, I promise we don’t ever have to talk about it again. Consider it done.” She made a zipping motion across her lips. “Although I can’t exactly promise that Cait’ll do the same…”
They both glanced up to see Cait walking several paces ahead of them, bobbing her head and humming to herself. Is that the melody to “Sixty Minute Man?”
“You gotta admit some of the article titles she’s been trying to pitch to you are pretty funny, though.”
“Yeah, sure,” Piper responded sarcastically, “‘Local Reporter Confirms Two is Better than One’ was a real gem, Blue.”
Nora laughed again as Piper glared at her. Over the horizon, she could see the city of Lexington come into view and a wave of relief washed over her. Finally, she thought, extinguishing her cigarette under her boot. I think we all need a break.
“Hey, Piper!” Cait yelled from a few yards ahead of the two. “I thought of another title for your next big article!”
Piper groaned and braced herself.
“How’s this? ‘Local Reporter Takes One for the Team.’ Get it? They’re all puns about threesomes!”
* * *
When they arrived at the outskirts of Lexington, the three had taken extra precaution to make sure their weapons were ready for anything lurking around the winding alleys and streets of the city. While Lexington was usually a quiet stop on their way to Sanctuary, it wasn’t unheard of that the occasional Raider gang or group of stray feral ghouls would take up temporary residence in the apartments or shops nearby. Approaching the base of the apartment building, Nora stopped the other two and lowered her voice.
“I’ll scout ahead to see if there’s anything out there,” she said, scanning her Pip-Boy for immediate danger. “Looks to be all clear for now, but you know how that can change pretty quickly. You two take point and back me up from behind that hollowed out car over there.”
A quick sweep around the main block and the surrounding shops proved the city was safe for now. Nora returned to the apartments to find Cait and Piper still at the ready, waiting patiently for the all-clear. Piper was the first to see her, and nudged Cait to stand down.
“It’s secure as far as I can tell,” Nora said to the two as she approached. “A few Raiders over at Corvega, but too far away to be a threat.”
“That’s too bad,” Cait said with a look of disappointment. “I was hopin’ I would get the chance to introduce those bastards to my friend here.” She held up her rifle, light glinting off the barrel.
“There’s still a chance there could be something else out there, so we gotta be careful,” Piper cautioned.
“Exactly,” Nora agreed. “So stay alert. In the meantime, we can check out the buildings at the other end for any supplies and take a break before we head out again.”
“Yeah, I think Piper here needs a break pretty soon,” Cait interjected. “She’s been walkin’ funny ever since last night. Must be hard on the knees, I’d imagine.” She was wearing that shit-eating grin of hers as Piper’s face blushed deep crimson.
“Jesus, you’re insufferable!” Piper whispered loudly, trying not to attract unwanted attention.
The two followed Nora down the road, stepping over the hunks of rusted metal and piles of debris littering the streets. Hollowed out cars were scattered across the pavement, the parts of which had all been looted in the years after the bombs fell. As they approached the remains of a blown-out sedan, Nora glanced inside the window looking for anything useful.
“Ain’t gonna find nothin’ but shite in there,” Cait said, watching Nora as she searched the car.
“Doesn’t hurt to check,” she replied. She moved to the rear and glanced over the side to check the space in between.
Piper continued to scan the surrounding buildings for any sign of trouble and looked over to see Nora rummaging through the back seat. “See any duct tape for Cait’s mouth in there--”
“You better be doin’ your fuckin’ job or you’ll find a bullet right between your fuckin’ eyes, ya hear me?!”
The three froze in their tracks as the shout rang out from behind a building nearby. They ducked behind the car out of sight as several more voices carried over to where they crouched. Cait cautiously peeked over the trunk and scanned the area, fingers tensed around the trigger of her rifle.
“See anything?” Nora whispered.
“Not yet. Sounds like raiders, though. And a lot of ‘em.”
Shit. They must have just walked over from Corvega after the sweep. Nora kicked herself for not thinking to double check.
“Yep--definitely raiders over there behind the building, twelve o’ clock.” Cait whispered.
Nora and Piper looked over and spotted a small group hauling supplies out of the back door of a nearby shop, with one in particular barking orders to the rest.
“Looks to be seven of them, at least,” Cait continued. “We could easily take ‘em from here if they get too close for comfort.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to be ready just in case,” Piper agreed, tightening the grip on her pistol.
The leader of the group shouted at the two arguing and forcefully shoved them apart. “Knock it off you fuckin’ morons! If Jared finds out you fucked up his stash, we’re all gonna be fucked!”
Cait’s expression immediately twisted into pure shock. “ Jesus fucking shite, fuck!” she whispered forcefully as she dropped down out of sight.
“What? Is everything okay? Are there more?”
“Jared’s here at Corvega?!” Cait hissed.
“He’s one of those raider gang leader bastards that used to hang around the Combat Zone!!”
Nora and Piper looked at each other in confusion, then back to Cait.
“Uhh, so you know this guy?”
“Cait, you don’t mean…” Piper trailed off. The conversation the three had from the night before flashed through her mind: We were drinking, Cait started talking about the Combat Zone, then there was that whole thing about sleeping with that one guy’s wife who found out about it and probably wanted to kill her…
“I fucked Jared’s wife.” Cait blurted out. “It was the day before you two showed up at the Combat Zone. A couple raiders we’re sayin’ he was furious and lookin’ for me so I was plannin’ on layin’ low after the cage fight, but that’s when you two showed up and all hell broke loose. Saved my arse, now that I’m lookin’ back at it. Reckon he probably fled after the bullets started flyin’ and ended up...here…” She seemed almost apologetic, given the circumstances.
Nora and Piper both let out a breath as the weight of the situation dawned on them--if there was even a slight chance Jared was nearby and happened to see Cait, they would all be in serious trouble.
“Great!” Piper remarked sarcastically. “I don’t suppose he’s the ‘forgive and forget’ type? Please tell me you remembered to bring flowers and chocolates just in case.”
“Look, if I’da known it was Jared’s wife I wouldn’ta shagged her, okay?!” Cait snapped back. “I didn’t even know raiders could get married!!”
“Shh!! Someone’s coming this way,” Nora warned. Still hidden behind the car, the other two peeked over to see a lone raider searching the ground to check for any supplies that might have rolled away when the box was dropped. He’s gonna blow our cover if he gets any closer, she thought.
“He’s far enough away to pick him off without alertin’ the others,” Cait whispered, pointing to Nora’s pistol.
Nodding, Nora slung her bag from her shoulder and placed it carefully on the ground. “Keep an eye on him until I can attach my silencer.”
She rummaged through the contents of the bag, spotting the slender metal suppressor buried under a handful of grenades and ammo. As she reached inside to grab the attachment, several bullets rattled loose from a spare clip and rolled underneath the car out of sight.
Shit, we might need those if things go south...
Nora picked up a handful that had fallen by her knee and leaned her head closer down to the pavement to search for the others. Cait and Piper continued their argument while Cait kept her rifle trained on the raider close by.
“Seriously though--a married raider? Do they even have the capacity to express love or affection for another human being?” Piper whispered sarcastically. “How would that work? Like, ‘hey babe, when I feel a chem-induced murderous rampage coming on, I’ll try really hard not to murder you!’”
“Why don’t you ask this one if he gets any closer?” Cait whispered back. “Maybe he’d get weak in the knees hearin’ you say that.”
Peering into the dark underside of the car, Nora reached her arm out to feel around for the bullets while Cait and Piper continued to argue. She bumped against a small object, and her fingers closed around a tiny piece of metal.
Aha! Gotcha you little sucker --
Flashing lights and a loud, frantic beeping noise erupted from the underside of the car as her head jolted up to discover three hidden fragmentation mines strapped to the pipes.
“Get back!!” Nora yelled.
The car exploded in a burst of flame, igniting a chain reaction that was quickly followed by two other explosions. A surge of heat blasted across the road, knocking the three of them back as they dove away from the impact. Shattered glass and debris rained down onto the pavement while Cait and Piper desperately tried to cover the backs of their heads with their hands.
Piper shot up, dusting glass off of her coat and coughing into her sleeve. Thick smoked billowed out from the car and limited her vision, but she could just barely make out two figures lying on the ground a short distance away. She sprinted over to them, praying that they were still in one piece.
Cait and Nora coughed and sputtered in the smoke. “Blue! Cait! Are you okay?!” Piper cried out as she bent down to help.
“What the fuck just happened?” Cait coughed and grabbed her head, struggling to stand.
Nora grunted in pain as she attempted to sit up.
“Talk to me, Blue. What’s wrong?”
“M-my legs, I can’t move them,” she stammered weakly.
“Shit--Cait! Grab a stimpak, now!” Piper shouted. Cait obeyed, immediately dropping down to search through Nora’s bag. “Just hang in there, Blue. As soon as we get you patched up we gotta high-tail it out of here before the smoke clears.”
Nora’s face was contorted into a painful grimace. The explosion had crippled her legs as she attempted to dive away from the worst of it with little success.
“Uhh, I’m not seein’ any stimpaks in here,” Cait said nervously.
“They were on the table this morning!! Did we forget to pack them?!”
“Spread out and search the area!!” A voice rang out through the air. The smoke was starting to thin out, rapidly decreasing the brief bit of cover it provided.
“No time,” Piper panicked, dropping down to grab Nora under her arms, “We gotta go. Cait, help me carry her!!”
Cait threw the bag over her shoulder and dropped to her other side. Grunting, the two hoisted Nora off the ground and started to drag her to cover back to the apartment building.
“There they are!! Open fire!!”
A barrage of shots rang out, forcing them to duck behind a nearby hunk of cracked cement. Bullets whizzed over their heads and ricocheted off of the bricks behind them as they covered their heads with their hands.
“Shit! They’ve got us pinned!” Piper shouted over the gunfire.
“Get Nora to cover! I’ll keep ‘em busy so we can get the hell outta here!!” Cait shouted back. She cocked her rifle and took aim at the closest offender.
Piper’s eyes darted back and forth, searching for the nearest escape route. The exit door to the apartments looked promising, but the heavy gunfire that roared around them proved to be too risky in their current state. They needed an opening to be able to make a run for it.
“Pipes,” Nora choked out, barely hanging on to consciousness and pointing to her bag on Cait’s back, “I t-think I had a few frags left.”
“Cait! Throw me the bag, now!” Piper shouted. In one swift motion, Cait slung the bag off her shoulder and tossed it to Piper, immediately turning back to fire into the chaos.
“Whatever you’re gonna do, do it fast! Looks like there’s more on the way!!” Cait yelled between shots.
Piper grabbed a frag grenade from the bag and snatched out the pin.
“Fire in the hole!!”
The grenade sailed through the air and landed at the feet of several raiders firing away nearby. “Shit, we got a live one!!” One of them shouted. The group panicked and scattered away from the smoking grenade on the ground, ducking to cover.
A concussive blast reverberated through the street, sending fragments of shrapnel flying through the air. With only seconds of cover to spare, Piper and Cait grabbed Nora and ran toward the apartment building. Piper kicked open the flimsy wooden door and they bolted inside.
“There’s another exit on the other side,” Piper panted. “If we make it quick, we could probably lose them before they figure out where we went.”
“Looks like they already figured it out,” Cait said. Outside, the raiders had already started to regroup and head toward the building with their reinforcements. One of them spotted Cait in the window and shouted to the rest of the group.
“Fuck, we’ve got company!!” Cait yelled.
Bullets started flying, shattering the glass and spattering across the walls. Piper and Cait dragged Nora through the wide entryway as fast as they could manage, but before they could get out of sight, a raider kicked down the door and ran inside.
“Cait! Near the door!!”
Cait was forced to drop Nora and grab her rifle. She aimed and fired once at the intruder, watching him crumple to the ground. Right behind him, three more raiders swarmed into the building searching for their target.
Piper was forced to drop Nora as well as she drew her pistol and fired on the three indoors. One of them ducked behind a couch and fired back, narrowly missing Piper’s arm. Cait fired a round into the nearest raider, hitting him square in the chest.
“Shit, I’m out!” Piper yelled as the trigger clicked fruitlessly on her pistol. She furiously rifled through her coat pocket and pulled out a second mag. Cait tried to take down the others in the room, but her rifle wasn’t suited for rapid fire. The raider that had ducked to cover popped out from behind a couch, igniting a molotov cocktail and aiming in their direction.
“Too slow, assholes!!” He lobbed the glass across the room.
“Look out!!” Cait screamed, pulling Piper back. There was no time to think--they flew backwards as the explosion sent flames spreading over the floor and up the walls. Piper was quick to her feet and whirled around in a panic.
Nora was unconscious on the ground several feet away, separated from Cait and Piper by a raging wall of fire. The raiders continued to fire at the two, but the heat and smoke started to worsen as the flames licked across the ceiling. The building began to groan and creak above them, signaling its imminent collapse.
Cait fired her rifle back at the raiders, but it proved ineffective as several more of them charged into the room from the mob outside. Fire engulfed the surrounding walls, causing a few of the raiders to jump back to avoid chunks of debris falling from the ceiling.
“This place ain’t gonna hold much longer!” One of them shouted to the others.
Cait’s eyes were watering as the smoke became unbearable. “Piper, we gotta move, now!!”
“We can’t leave her!!” She cried out. The ceiling creaked loudly above them.
“Grab the girl and fall back!!” A raider barked through the room. Two of them ran over to Nora and hauled her over their shoulders as the rest of the group continued to fire in their direction.
“BLUE!!” Piper screamed out, but it was too late. Cait seized her by the collar and threw her back as the ceiling gave one final groan and buckled above them. Splintered wood and concrete rained down, blocking them off from the rest of the room and extinguishing the flames around them in a cloud of dust. Then it was quiet.
Outside, the remaining raiders waited with their weapons aimed at the building, but stood down when the few that were inside emerged.
“Business as usual, boys,” One of the raiders said. “Although the boss might wanna check this one out.” He pointed to Nora, slumped over the shoulders of the two raiders that carried her out.
“Where’d the other two go?” A voice in the crowd spoke up.
“They’re either dead, or about to be,” He growled. “This stupid fucker here decided to blow up the goddamn building and let ‘em get away.”
All eyes were on the raider that followed behind him, taken aback at the accusation. “How the fuck was I supposed to know that it was gonna collap--”
The first raider answered him with a swift kick to the gut. He fell to the ground, gasping for breath with the wind knocked out of him.
“Anybody else got any stupid fuckin’ questions?” He asked. The group was silent.
“Didn’t think so. The rest of you split up and find those assholes, got it?” He pointed at the two carrying Nora. “Except you two. We need to take her to the boss.”
* * *
Piper’s eyes opened slowly to see a cloud of dust settling around chunks of cement and splintered wood. The room had completely collapsed behind them, blocking off their exit route to the outside. She could hear Cait stirring nearby, groaning from the impact.
She shot up, remembering Nora had been taken by the raiders before Cait pulled her away from the falling ceiling. Dread weighed on her as she searched for Cait, who coughed a few feet behind her. Piper’s head swiveled around to see her struggling to stand, dusting off her pants.
“Well,” Cait coughed, “That was--”
“What the FUCK were you thinking?!” Piper screamed at her, lunging toward her shirt collar and grabbing it with her fists. “We just left her there!! We could’ve saved her before they took her!!”
“Fuckin’ christ , Piper!!” Cait grunted. “You’d be dead if you tried! The whole goddamn ceiling was comin’ down!”
Piper breathed heavily, but didn’t respond.
“If you would’ve run to her, you’d both be dead under that pile of shite right now! We’re damn lucky the raiders grabbed her when they did!!”
She’s right, Piper thought, immediately regretting her unexpected outburst and loosening her grip on Cait’s shirt.
“You’re right,” she said as she backed down and sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck. “I don’t want to take out my anxiety about losing Blue on you when you were only trying to help. I, uh...I’m sorry I lost my cool and went off on you like that.”
“No need to apologize,” Cait shrugged, smoothing out her wrinkled shirt. “I was thinkin’ it was kinda hot, actually.”
Piper sighed, forcing away her irritation. She turned to pick up her pistol from the floor and dusted it off before stowing it away in her coat pocket. “Come on,” she said, walking to the other side of the room. “We need to find a way to get upstairs so we can get the hell outta here and find Blue.”
Cait picked up her rifle from the floor and followed Piper, chuckling quietly to herself.
Piper approached the giant pile of debris from the collapse and looked to the gaping hole in the ceiling above. The second floor was accessible by climbing to it, but they’d have to be careful. For all they knew, the third floor could just as easily fall through. Piper tested the footing of the pile, and motioned for Cait to climb up when the concrete slab she stood on appeared to be solid. Piper grunted as she hauled herself onto the floor and reached down to help Cait up.
“Sheesh, this room ain’t much prettier than the one we were on…” Cait remarked, stepping carefully to avoid cracks in the floor.
“Looks like it’s been this way for a while. Hopefully that means they won’t think to look for us up here,” Piper said, studying the dilapidated furniture and torn wallpaper. “I’m gonna see if I can find the door to the fire escape.”
“Roger that,” Cait said, treading carefully around the gap and over to the windows. Looking out, she could see several raiders patrolling the area below and in the nearby buildings. A shout further down the street caught her attention as she looked up to see the raider from before still barking orders at the others. Jesus, give it a rest, Cait thought. He continued to yell at a few raiders she couldn’t see from the window, and watched as he jabbed his fingers accusingly at them. As he walked away, they followed behind him out into the open where Cait could finally see them.
“Shit! It’s Nora!!” Cait called out. Piper scrambled over to the window where Cait was standing and saw the two raiders from before carrying an unconscious Nora on their shoulders.
“She’s still out cold,” Piper said. “Where the hell are they taking her--”
“Wait,” Cait interrupted. “Somethin’s happening.”
Every raider on patrol had shifted their attention to a shout that rang out from the alleyway behind the building where the three raiders with Nora stood. A tall, domineering figure with tribal face paint and tattoos emerged from the shadows and stormed over to them. The raider that had previously been giving orders appeared to be rigid as he approached.
“That’s definitely him…” Cait said, her face twisted in a slight grimace. Piper and Cait lowered down out of sight and peered through the window, watching closely.
“J-Jared!” The raider stuttered. “I was about t--”
“What the fuck is goin’ on over here?!” Jared shouted. Every raider in the immediate vicinity tensed. “The boys at Corvega informed me of an explosion that occurred while YOU were supposed to be movin’ supplies. Do you know how many fuckin’ ferals are probably headed this way because of your fuckin’ around?!”
Jared leaned in close and jabbed his finger into his chest. “I don’t think you get it, pal . If I gotta come all the way down here to tell you how badly you fucked up, you better have a pretty goddamn good reason to convince me not to blow your fuckin’ head off.”
“T-there were three of them--in the city,” the raider choked out. “One of them must’ve set off the mine trap under the cars by the apartment while we were moving supplies. We managed to catch one but the others are still out th--.”
“ Catch one?!” Jared yelled. “Why the fuck didn’t you kill those assholes on sight?!”
“You better take a look, boss.” One of the other raiders spoke up.
Jared glared at the raider in front of him, and turned to the two carrying Nora. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled up to see her face.
Cait and Piper watched from the window holding their breath.
“Well ho-ly shit,” Jared whistled out, a twisted smile on his face. “If this ain’t a real fuckin’ surprise.”
The raiders looked on as he continued to gawk at Nora, laughing and shaking his head.
“Listen up,” he finally shouted to the crowd, “I’m very excited to announce that we have a special guest with us tonight. For those of you who don’t know, this is the bitch that killed our boys at the Combat Zone!!"
Several raiders in the crowd shouted out in anger, raising their guns in the air. Jared waited for them to calm down before he continued.
“If what this good-for-nothing asshole here tells me is true about there being three of ‘em, I got a pretty good feelin’ that there’s another one taggin’ along as well who I know I would be very happy to see again. In fact--I would be ecstatic.”
Cait gulped, feeling her stomach drop.
“Anyone remember Cait?” Jared shouted.
The crowd erupted, fists and guns waving about.
“I’m feelin’ pretty generous today, so I got a deal for you boys,” he said, gesturing to Nora. “The person who brings me my dear friend Cait alive by 3 o'clock this afternoon gets to kill the vault dweller after I kill Cait. These fucks are gonna pay for what they’ve done to us!!”
The crowd erupted again, this time with renewed vigor. Jared turned and glared at the raider.
“Take her to the square,” he growled. “Next time, I won’t be so forgiving when you fuck up.”
“Well,” Piper sighed, watching Jared walk back into the alleyway after dispersing the mob, “I think it’s safe to say he’s definitely not a flowers and chocolates type of guy.”
Cait was lost in thought and moved to the back window, surveying the open area south of the apartments. She appeared to be searching for something.
“Listen,” Cait said, her eyes locked on something, “We don’t have much time, but I think I might have a plan to get us out of here--take a look.”
Piper joined her at the window and followed her gaze. Just past the apartment buildings, several feral ghouls dotted the landscape around the outskirts of the city, staggering and swaying about.
“They must’ve heard the explosion earlier,” Cait said. “The bastards were probably too far away to find it and decided to stay put until somethin’ better came along.”
Piper watched the ghouls aimlessly wander around in the distance with a puzzled look on her face. “So you’re suggesting we lure them back into the city? Now that they’re a little closer that could probably work...but what about Blue? How do we get her out safely before that?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be gettin’ outta here soon as we can, but you have to trust me with this. It might sound crazy, but I think it’s our only chance.”
“We can’t afford to be reckless in a situation like this.”
“Which is why I need you to trust me.”
Piper hesitated for a moment, looking outside at the raiders searching the city and then back to Cait.
“Okay. I trust you.”
Cait nodded, and they ducked out of sight away from the windows.
Down below, two raiders approached the entrance of the apartment building and glanced up to the second floor windows. Peeking around an old wardrobe, Cait watched them argue about who would be the first one to climb the pile of debris. They both pushed each other into the building and made their way into the rubble. As soon as they were out of sight, Cait motioned to Piper.
“Okay. Here’s the plan.”
* * *
The sun was beating down mercilessly from the sky as sweat rolled down Nora’s forehead. A single drop made its way down the bridge of her nose and fell to the ground as she stirred awake, slowly regaining consciousness. Coughing slightly, she reignited the searing pain that radiated from her lower body.
Fuck! Nora groaned as her eyes slowly blinked open to see her crippled legs still burned and bloody. The only thing she could remember before blacking out was trying to tell Piper--
Nora gasped as she shot up, but was abruptly stopped short as a heavy rope held her fast against a rough cement block. She looked up to see that she was tied to the base of the statue in the middle of Lexington Square, surrounded by an open area with various shops and small buildings.
Why the hell am I tied up? Where are Piper and Cait?
Nora felt a pang of regret in her chest for being so careless before the explosion. For all she knew, Piper and Cait were probably killed by the raiders while trying to drag her to safety.
“Hey! Quit movin’ around over there! You’re lucky I ain’t allowed to kill you yet, otherwise I woulda done it a long time ago.”
What’s he talking about?
Nora glanced around the square and noticed several other raiders walking in and around buildings, shouting back and forth while appearing to to search for something. The one closest to where she was spoke to another raider beside him.
“Any sign of ‘em, yet? I’m itchin’ to see some more blood. Been too long since we’ve had any excitement.”
They’re looking for them?
“Nothin’ yet. Shit man, they were probably killed in the building collapse and we’re just wastin’ our time.”
Nora hung her head as she took another look at her legs, hoping that by some stroke of luck the three of them would find a way out of this mess.
Maybe they’re still alive...
They have to be.
* * *
“Jesus, why is this outfit so itchy?!”
Cait looked up to see Piper adjusting the sack hood and raider clothing she had stolen from one of the two unconscious raiders lying on the floor nearby. The clothes fit her loosely, but well enough to help her blend in.
“Don’t worry. You’re not gonna be wearin’ it for very long,” Cait said, searching the other raider for extra supplies.
“I don’t even wanna know where all these stains came from...” Piper was busy inspecting a suspicious stain and stopped briefly, finally processing Cait’s comment. Wait, was that supposed to be a lame joke?
“Just check the windows to make sure nobody else is comin’ up.”
Piper huffed to herself and glanced out into the streets below. The cloth hood only had small holes cut for the eyes, limiting her vision from the second floor. A handful of raiders walked around below, still searching the surrounding buildings.
“Looks to be pretty busy still, but nobody near this building for now. Find anything yet?”
“Yep. Got the goods right here.” Cait pulled out two stimpaks from a pocket on the other unconscious raider’s pant leg. “Looks like he had a few extra mines too.”
“The more, the merrier. Did you place the other ones by the fire escape?”
“Way ahead’a you.” Cait picked up the extra fragmentation mines and walked over to the door, delicately placing them next to a small pile of mines connected by a copper wire. Dusting her hands off, she walked back over to where Piper stood in her raider outfit, looking uncomfortable and...itchy.
“Here,” Piper said, placing a small detonator remote in Cait’s hands. “Just wait for my signal.”
Cait nodded, pocketing the remote and looking over the unconscious raiders once more. Suckers. Didn’t even know what hit ‘em. The unclothed one appeared to stir slightly, but didn’t move.
“We better get goin’ before these two wake up and blow our cover,” Cait said, handing the stimpaks to Piper and turning toward the gap. “Ready?”
“Wait--before we go, Cait, I...” Piper started. “Look, if for some reason we don’t make it out of this--”
“Hey--we’re gettin’ the hell outta here, one way or another.”
Piper continued. “Just...before we go I, uh...I wanted to say thank you. For sticking your neck out for all of us. It...means a lot to me and--”
“Alright, alright, keep your pants on,” Cait laughed, waving her hand at her baggy raider trousers.
Piper closed her mouth and nodded, understanding that she knew what she meant.
“Besides, I know a better way you could thank me when we get back,” she winked at Piper as she stepped down into the pile of debris toward the ground floor.
Cait dipped down out of sight before Piper could respond. She stood there, shaking her head and smiling.
“The only thing I’m doing when we make it back is kicking your ass!” Piper called back as she followed her down.
* * *
The sun had slowly moved westward as the hours passed with no sign of Piper or Cait. Nora watched the raiders comb the area fruitlessly as she sat tied against the base of the statue soaked with sweat. Despite the stifling heat, nobody had shown signs of stopping the search.
Jared must be one hell of a boss, Nora mused, watching them continually buzz about.
She glanced down at her Pip-Boy, straining to position her arm against the rope to catch a glimpse of the time. The display sputtered and flicked on: 2:58 pm.
A few raiders close by talked among themselves, muttering something about the heat. One looked up at Nora, then over toward an alleyway.
“Hey, it’s almost three!” A raider shouted nearby. The group seemed to perk up and quicken their pace.
What’s happening at three?
Nora watched as one of the raiders from the group pointed toward the alleyway. She turned her head to see Jared appear from behind the brick wall, brandishing a switchblade that glinted in the sun. He stopped to yell at someone by the building as the other raiders slowly made their way into the square, forming a small crowd around the statue.
Jared made his way over and pushed through, knocking a few of the raiders back as he approached Nora. His domineering figure blocked her view of the sun as he wordlessly loomed over her for several seconds. He glared at her, then turned back to the crowd.
“Would anybody here care to tell me why my good friend Cait is still missing? Anyone?”
The raiders mumbled among themselves. No one wanted to speak up and further incite his anger.
Jared shook his head. “I give you good-for-nothin’ assholes one simple job, and you still manage to turn up empty-fuckin’-handed. Looks like it’s just you and me, vault dweller. I’m disappointed your friends didn’t show up to join you."
Jared leaned down to face her at eye level. He flicked out his switchblade and traced it along her jaw as she breathed hard, refusing to break eye contact. A small amount of blood seeped from a cut where he pushed the blade slightly harder against her skin.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure to kill you nice and slow.”
A shout erupted from behind as Jared whipped around to see the crowd suddenly start to cheer wildly. A single raider had emerged, holding a gun to Cait’s temple while the others parted to make room through the sea of people. As she was pushed further through, Nora could see her hands were tied behind her back as the raider guided her forward.
Cait?! She’s alone?! Oh god...this can’t be happening...
“Heh, would ya look at that,” Jared said under his breath. “It’s a fuckin’ Christmas miracle.”
The raider finally wormed their way through the horde of shouting, stopping squarely in front of Jared. Cait muttered obscenities under her breath as she was shoved forward.
“Well, well, well,” Jared crossed his arms and stood in front of Cait with murderous intent burning behind his eyes. “Look what the cat finally dragged in.”
Cait stood silently in front of him, her eyes steeled against his.
“What, does it got your tongue, too?”
“I ain’t got nothin’ to say to you.” Cait spoke. Behind her back, her hands were shaking imperceptibly.
Jared moved in close to her face. “You got a lotta nerve actin’ all tough and shit after you fucked me over the way you did,” he growled. “You know what happens to the people that fuck me over?” Cait braced her neck as Jared held his switchblade against her rapidly pulsating jugular.
“Get the fuck away from her!!” Nora shouted.
Jared turned to see Nora struggling against the ropes. “I guess your friend here is happy to see you too,” he laughed. “So what’s the story with that? How does a fuckin’ vault dweller end up traveling with the likes of you? You’re nothin’ but a worthless junkie bitch.”
Cait spit directly in his face, lunging forward in an attempt to tackle him. Jared was quick to dodge and grabbed the back of her shirt, throwing her down to the ground and knocking the wind out of her. For good measure, he held her down with his boot.
“Hey now, relax! The party hasn’t even started!” He looked to the raider that had brought Cait and motioned for them to step forward. “A deal’s a deal,” he said, presenting his switchblade.
Cait squirmed underneath him as the raider took the switchblade from Jared. The crowd started to shout, eager for their bloodlust to be sated. Still struggling under the ropes, Nora watched the raider approach the statue.
Thoughts racing, she thought of Piper--still nowhere to be found--and Cait, who would soon be at the mercy of Jared and the crowd of raiders shouting behind her. Guilt twisted her insides as tears formed in her eyes.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this…
I’m sorry, guys. I couldn’t get us out of this mess.
Her guilt turned to fear as the raider crouched down in front of her, switchblade in hand. Her pulse pounded in her temples as the raider placed their other hand on her cheek and brushed a stray tear away. For a brief moment, Nora was confused by the small gesture of kindness.
Her confusion was cut short as the raider’s hand moved to their hood and lifted it above their face.
“Hey, doll. Miss me?”
Nora was shocked to see Piper’s face beaming right in front of her.
“Piper? Y...you’re alive?! I don’t underst--”
Piper lifted a finger to her lips and pulled the hood back over her head.
“Just play along, babe. I promise we’ll be outta here soon.”
Nora tried to sputter out several questions in her bewilderment, but Piper quickly stood up and whirled around.
“NOW, CAIT!!” she shouted.
The next several seconds were a blur. In one swift motion, Cait slipped a free hand out of the flimsy rope behind her back and pulled a hidden smoke grenade from her shirt. Jared seemed to be taken aback at Cait’s sudden movement and jerked his boot back, allowing her to quickly roll out from under his foot. She jumped to her feet and ripped out the pin, tossing it into the raging crowd.
“What the fuck?!” Jared was shocked at the quick turnaround and reached for his gun. Cait was quick to counter and punched him in the jaw, sending him reeling into the crowd.
Simultaneously, Piper worked quickly to release Nora before the crowd had time to react. Using the switchblade, she sliced through the rope and tossed it aside.
“This might sting a little!!” she yelled as she grabbed the stimpaks from her pocket. She took one in each hand and stabbed them directly into Nora’s legs, causing her to gasp in surprise. Nora’s legs buzzed with a renewed electricity as she jumped to her feet ready for action.
The smoke spread rapidly throughout the crowd as shouts of shock and anger rang out. Cait ran over to Piper and Nora as she pulled the remote from her pocket and tossed it to Nora.
“It’s now or never!!” Cait shouted as she fished a pistol out from her shirt. Piper grabbed Nora’s wrist and the three broke into a full sprint away from the chaos.
“Press the button, Blue!!” Piper shouted as bullets started to whiz by their heads. The smoke was almost cleared as the raiders realized they had escaped. Jared shouted at the crowd as they lunged forward, seething with unfulfilled bloodlust.
“Shit, do it now!!” Cait yelled. Nora almost lost her footing as she looked down to slam her finger on the detonator.
A deafening explosion pierced through the air. Fire and brick burst forth from the side of the apartment building, knocking back anyone in the immediate vicinity. Piper, Cait, and Nora were thrown back onto the road as the crowd of raiders behind them caught the brunt of the concussive blast.
Cait and Piper quickly scrambled to their feet to help Nora up. “What the fuck was that?” she choked out, taken aback by the sudden blast.
“No time to explain!! We gotta go, now!!” Piper shouted.
Smoke started to pour out of the blown out building as the raiders behind them dodged flying chunks of brick and wood. The few that had regained their footing continued to fire in their direction, sending bullets flying through the thickening smoke.
Cait squinted through the clouds to see a figure emerge from behind, pushing and shoving through the crowd.
“I’m gonna fucking kill you!!” Jared screamed out through the chaos. He pushed aside several raiders coughing from the smoke and emerged into the open, eyes filled with rage and practically foaming at the mouth.
“Shit!! This way!!” Cait shouted as Jared started to sprint toward them. The three ran toward a nearby alleyway to throw him off as rubble and bullets continued to whizz around them.
“You can’t hide from me, assholes!!” Jared screamed out. He hurtled closer and closer to the alleyway when a stray feral ghoul darted out into his path and blindsided him. “What the fuck--?!”
There was no time to react as the ghoul slammed into him and knocked him to the ground. Growling and hissing, it stood up and reared for another attack while Jared tumbled across the pavement. Behind him, feral ghouls began to spill out into the streets where the crowd of raiders were cut off by the mounting debris and smoke. Screams from the crowd rang out as several more ghouls appeared and closed in on them.
Jared quickly leapt up and sidestepped the ghoul as it launched toward him. Looking to the alleyway, he started to make a run for it when two more ghouls appeared from the shadows.
“Come get a piece of me, motherfuckers!” He shouted as the ghouls ran toward him. He reached into his jacket to grab his switchblade when he froze, realizing he had given it to Piper only a few moments ago. The smoke from the explosion continued to drift down the street, rapidly approaching where Jared stood as the ghouls surrounded him. In the distance, he spotted Cait, Piper, and Nora still sprinting away from the city almost out of sight.
“YOU’RE ALL FUCKING DEAD!!” He screamed out to them. “YOU HEAR ME?! I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL ALL OF YOU!!”
Smoke filled the air and the ghouls were upon him.
* * *
“I’m never...shaggin’ a raider’s wife...ever again...” Cait panted. The three had collapsed in an open field when they were a safe distance away from Lexington, gasping for air after just narrowly escaping death.
“I think we all would love it if you didn’t do that ever again either,” Nora breathed out.
Piper laughed. “Maybe just stick to the Gunner wives next time.”
The afternoon sun burned above them as they eventually calmed their breathing and their pulses returned to normal.
“I need to apologize to you both,” Nora spoke after a long silence. “If I’d have been more careful, we would have never been in that situation and none of that would have happened--but on the other hand, I also need to thank you because you risked your lives for me even though there was a significant risk involved.”
“Aw, christ, don’t be sayin’ that,” Cait said. “If Jared wasn’t there it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was--”
Piper interjected. “You mean if you had kept it in your pants it wouldn’t have been--”
“Not the point--I was tryin’ to say that you’ve done enough for us already and we’ve always got your back, whether you like it or not.”
Piper leaned over and kissed Nora on the cheek. “We had to return the favor some time, you know. And believe it or not, Cait and I actually make a pretty good team.”
Cait scoffed. “You’re just now figurin’ that out?”
“Er--I think this friendship has been more of an acquired taste for me."
Nora laughed and reached out to hold both of their hands. “Look--I love you both, but that was enough excitement for quite a while if you ask me. I think a much needed vacation is in order when we get home.”
“Sounds like a plan!” Piper chimed in. “I could definitely use some time to sit back and work on a new article.”
“I can see it fresh off the press now,” Cait mused. “‘Local Reporter Claims Secret to Relaxing Vacation is Easy as 1-2-3.’”
“That’s it!!” Piper shot up and chased after Cait, who took off running. “I told you I was gonna be kicking your ass when we got back!!”
“Hey, wait up you two!!” Nora laughed as she ran after them.