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These Wild Fires

Chapter Text

—Now—

 

The moon was new, but the stars made up for it.

On a flat ridge in the middle of Zion Valley, Eddy sat back on her elbows in the red dust and stared into the glittering sky.

It was a vertical middle. Not so low the soft rush of the Virgin sang her to sleep. Not so high the wind whistled hard and urgent between gnarled juniper branches. Only the snores of a few Dead Horses on their pallets split the silence. Let her know she wasn't alone.

Never imagined it could get so quiet here. There were spots out in the Mojave where, if a dust devil didn't spin up and spit dirt at you, you wouldn't hear or see anything move for miles and miles. When you did, it was a radscorpion. And then what you heard was your own gunfire.

No natural human noise. No sweet river or soft cottonwoods. Even the yuccas didn't budge.

Zion, though. If you climbed up high and swept your eyes around the whole canyon, it looked just as empty. But it wasn't. Bighorners and yao guai, dragonflies and fish, cattails and rushes. The whole damned valley seemed to sing with wind and water.

There were green plants here, flowers and bushes—pretty ones, deadly ones, but green and everywhere.

And the Sorrows didn't stay in their caves anymore. Now that the White Legs were gone—dead, mostly, though a few made it out alive—the people of the tribe weren't afraid. They knew the valley better than anyone else, and it was theirs to roam.

Well. Joshua Graham said the valley belonged to God. That awestruck, whispery way he described God, and all his works and meanings, Eddy could almost believe it. Zion was that beautiful.

She'd leave it soon. The fight was long over now. They didn't want anything else from her. She could wind her way back to the passage where she entered the valley, back to the long road, alone. Back to Vegas, and her friends, and her enemies. Unfinished business that needed finishing.

She sighed, and stretched her head to the side, her shoulders tight. Truth was, she could have left weeks ago. Follows-Chalk had already gone, headed to Vegas or maybe even the Hub, making his own way without any map but the one in his head.

She'd packed her satchel and got ready to walk, more than once. Something pulled her back, every damn time—one of the Sorrows women asked for her help with an unruly bighorner, or Daniel needed her Pip-Boy to check one of his hand-drawn maps.

Or she went to fill her canteen and Joshua was reading by the water. And his sharp blue eyes watched her every move, she could feel it. Suddenly she was hesitant, and afraid. Of what, she wasn't sure.

Something wouldn't let her walk away yet.

Guess it was worth staying a while longer for a night like this.

The thin air was warm on the ridge and Eddy, in a dirty buttoned shirt and corduroys she picked up from a Ranger station, was comfortable enough to leave her Followers coat, and her hat, back in Angel Cave. Where all her things were, even the Pip-Boy.

The little silver 9mm was stuffed into the back of her pants. She'd never leave that fucking pistol behind, no matter what. That was the gun that shot her dead. She never let it out of her sight.

The lady on the grip prayed while she stomped all over the moon, and the boy. She was a menace.

It could get cold in the valley, colder higher up in the wind, but this night it was nice. Like a warm spring. The caravan had found one of those on the way in, and dipped into the water, when they cut away from the Long 15. Pah Tempe, the signs said. Hurricane. Joshua told her they were old words, from old languages.

Eddy stretched out her legs and kicked up dust. Everyone was asleep. The Dead Horses at this campsite were tucked away in the caves, but some liked the open air, and spread out along the ridge on their horner hide and grass beds.

Torches lined the paths along the hillside, pointed out the shaky rope bridges that crossed the gaps, but they were just dots of light in the dark valley. The red cliffs glowed purple at night.

There were no clouds. The stars were bright enough to see by, and damn but there millions of them. A big, messy stripe of them, a blur. She could see why they'd called it "milky," in the moldy science books the Followers collected. Looked more fuzzy, to her. Dirty white fur. A cat, maybe. In space.

Maybe the blurry stripe was the cat's tail. The old books showed other shapes for the stars, and she'd memorized a few: the bear, the bull, the scorpion.

The white cat could swallow them all.

What would Joshua make of this clear, star-filled sky, if he were around? The heavens are God's glory. They show us the magnificent reach of His hand. Something like that. His voice was in her head. Been stuck there for months now. She could have a conversation with him when he wasn't even nearby.

That scared her. But maybe less than it should have.

Then there was a faint, faraway flash in the corner of her vision. She turned to the patch of sky where she thought it had been, but nothing was there, only the same stars, and they didn't move.

Until one did. It just fell through the sky—or shot, like a bullet. A streak of light, and it was gone.

"Wow." If there were two, she guessed, there might be more. She pulled off her glasses and wiped them on the tail end of her shirt. They were dusty, and greasy, and the shirt didn't help much. But she could see all the points of light sharper with them on. Without, they were a smudge, like that cat's tail.

As soon as she balanced them back on her nose, there was another star shooting down the sky. Then another, right after, to the left, over the sharp point she'd never seen past that edged the valley.

She laughed to herself. It was so strange, these falling stars. She'd never seen anything like it. But there was no voice in the back of her mind that said bad, worry, not right. It did feel right. There was nothing to be afraid of.

Her gut was tense from a year or two of racing around the Mojave with so much to lose. It was hard to listen to it sometimes. Easier, out here, where she was nothing but a little bag of bones between earth and sky.

Arcade would have liked to see these stars. She'd wanted to bring him here. She'd come to depend on him, for his brains and his heart, which she loved with all of hers. But there was value in being alone for a while, he said. And Wisdom's self oft seeks to sweet retired solitude.

He pulled that from some book he'd stashed away. She learned a long time ago he never said anything original.

Maybe, what with everything that happened, and the people she found here, it was best he didn't come. The rest of them, too. She didn't think any of them would understand why she stayed here. Why she let Joshua Graham walk around breathing air, instead of putting him down in the dirt.

Maybe Arcade's dusty old saying was right, in a way.

Another star flickered and sank into the night.

Taking the Happy Trails job on her own had been an escape. A self-imposed exile. No one knew who Eddy was, or the crazy fame she'd acquired, despite all best efforts. No one cared about her, or asked her for anything but to read a map and shoot a gun.

She'd done that a lot, before all the bullshit. Never out this way, or this far.

Zion was a vacation. Even with the war, the White Leg assaults, keeping the tribes safe, and... everything else. There was something here that soothed her. Something that made the endless blood and scratching for power and caps dissolve into background noise, like a broken radio.

It let the pain in her head fade. It let the wide canyon hold her quiet and still. It let her sleep.

But sometimes it was too beautiful to let it pass by without watching.

"Like tonight," she said to herself.

"You're awake."

A deep, hoarse voice, dark and warm as the night around her, spoke out. Joshua.

She sat up and brushed the dust from her elbows as he approached. His snakeskin boots stepped softly over the red soil.

You're awake. It was the first thing he ever said to her, after she woke up in Angel Cave on a rickety cot. She'd passed out right at the mouth of the cave, in that boy's arms, from the blood loss and the pain. Joshua saw to her wounds while she slept.

He made her nervous then. That fact had not changed in the months since. Maybe the degree of it had, or the reason for it.

He stood next to where she sat. "Watching the skies?" he asked, and folded his arms. "Good night for it. But they usually are, here."

Eddy gave an affirmative grunt. "There's something strange going on."

"Oh?" He was interested, or sarcastic, or patronizing. Hell, she couldn't figure it out. She could swear he made inflections no one else did, or could, and all at once sometimes.

"Just watch for a piece. Maybe you'll see it. The stars are falling." She pointed up at the sky, but there wasn't one direction they'd fallen from, or to.

He hummed, curious, and shuffled his feet. Pebbles rolled away under his boot.

She hugged her knees close and kept her eyes on the sky. It was the right kind of thing to focus on, instead of his closeness, and his unknowableness, and how white his bandages were against the burned red of his visible skin, in the pale starlight.

So focus she did. She narrowed her eyes and scanned the stars, waiting for another to fall, until her eyes were sore from not blinking. Joshua was silent beside her. It seemed like a long while.

Then a little flash. A short one, it fizzled into nothing almost before she saw it.

"There!" she said, pointing to the dark spot where the star had been for a moment. "See that?"

"Yes, I did." He let his arms fall to his sides. His hand nearly brushed her shoulder. That took her focus from the stars. She stared at his bandage-wrapped hand, and the raw, scarred fingertips he left uncovered.

"And there's another," he said. Quickly, she turned her gaze back to the sky, but of course it was already gone.

"Ever seen that before?" She looked up at him from the ground.

"Yes. Long ago," he answered, and met her eyes. Even in the starlit dark, his own were as clear and blue as the water that rushed the rocks at the Narrows gate. "But not like this. It's... beautiful." His voice was softer then. Soft, when he spoke to her, and looked at her.

Eddy sat up straight and stared out into the canyon. She didn't want him speaking softly to her, under the stars, all alone. Like they were kids, or idiots. Even if some part of her liked it. She knew what she was—a woman too far gone and too hard for any other life. And him? Well, just look at him.

Joshua stepped away then, like he'd heard her thinking about him. That wouldn't shock her. He made his way quickly up the ridge toward a cliffside path. Maybe, she thought, he was embarrassed. Wanted to get away from her.

But he stopped at the bottom of the upward slope and turned back. "Come this way," he said. Ordered. He wasn't soft anymore.

She didn't move. She didn't take kindly to orders. "No. I'm watching the—"

"I know a better vantage point. Trust me."

Eddy sighed and pushed herself off the ground. If he said it was so, it was probably so. Anyhow, if there was a more peaceful and open spot in the canyon to watch the stars fall from the sky than right here, she wanted to see it.

She'd learned to trust him by now. In the beginning, there was no other choice.