Mako Rutledge arrived on the scene a couple hours before sundown. An anxious crowd of bounty hunters, gang members, scavengers, and onlookers had gathered around the junker’s hovel. They seemed to be keeping their distance, Rutledge noticed, maintaining a perimeter of a dozen yards or so between the crowd and Jamison Fawkes’s hideout.
From his perch on his motorcycle, Rutledge watched as a young gang of junkers, filthy and marked with tattoos, argued amongst themselves to decide who would approach the hovel. One young man nodded and postured, grinning and gesturing for the crowd to cheer. A few did, but others loudly protested for him to keep his distance. The young man strolled purposefully towards the entrance, but only made it half of the distance before a large steel trap snapped on his leg, leaving him immobilized and howling in pain. The crowd gasped and crescendoed. Then a shout rang out from inside the hovel.
“Hold still!” the voice snarled, and then an explosion erupted beneath the intruder’s feet, leaving patches of flesh and blood where the young man had once stood. The crowd screamed.
“Back! Get back! All o’ ya!” the voice shouted from inside, muffled by the layers of tarps and sheet metal that had been patched together to create the dwelling. “I ain’t comin’ out and you ain’t gettin’ in! So bugger off! Before I blow the whole neighborhood!”
Rutledge rolled his eyes behind his mask and revved his bike, turning it away from the hovel. He should have known better than to follow this lead. It was nothing but a Junkertown rumor, an unhinged hermit of a junker, and the curious promise of an uncommonly large payout. He would certainly love to be the enforcer who brought Jamison Fawkes in for bounty, but between the crowd and the explosions this was looking like more trouble than it was worth. He turned his bike towards the desert, hoping to put in a few more miles before sundown.
But once he’d left the neighborhood, puttering slowly across the gravel road that cut across the scrublands, something caught his eye. At the base of a rock, twenty yards or so from the side of the road, a dirty backpack was emerging from the ground. Rutledge watched from behind his mask as the backpack was followed by a skinny arm, then another, and then, finally, a head. The man hoisted himself out of the hole, dusted himself off, and slung the pack over his shoulder before creeping, hunched, along the roadside. The man was far away and covered in dirt, but Rutledge recognized his wild hair, his sharp, rat-like features, from the bounty posters.
Rutledge grunted and revved his bike, speeding towards the retreating figure to catch him by surprise. At the sound, Fawkes turned with a panicked expression and hurled something at the bike. Another grenade…?
Rutledge growled and threw himself off the motorcycle, rolling roughly across the tall grass, waiting for the explosion that never came. He righted himself as quickly as he could, trying to shake the shock and dizziness from his field of vision. In his disoriented state, he stood up, took one step into the tall grass, and felt the sick crack of bone as another steel trap snapped around his ankle.
Rutledge roared in pain, the sharp intensity and surprise bringing him back to his senses at once. He stood to his full height, looking for the cuprit.
“Not another step, mate.” And there he was. Fawkes was standing some paces away, holding an empty gas can in one fist and a grenade in the other. Rutledge could see the slick trail of gasoline pooling from the ground at the junker’s feet over to his motorcycle. Fawkes’s mouth curled into a sinister grin. “Any closer and your hog goes up. Kaboom!”
Rutledge huffed at him from behind his mask. He bent down and pried the trap’s jaws open, extracting his ankle as carefully as he could before allowing it to snap closed once more. He groaned and took a quick pull from his cannister of hogdrogen.
“You’re wasting time.” he grunted, turning his face towards the town. He was sure that the sound of the crash, plus his shouts, would bring the majority of the onlookers straight to them. “They’ll be here soon.”
Fawkes didn’t appear to be listening. Instead, he was eyeing Rutledge up and down with an expression bordering on feral hunger. “I’m guessin’ not many get the drop on you, mate. Big fella like yerself? Like tryin’ ta take down a bull shark. Or… one ‘o them rhinos…”
Rutledge carefully edged to the right, eyeing the ground beneath the tall grass, trying to spot more traps. Fawkes kept babbling.
“Mask looks like a pig snout though… Hog with a hog!” The junker cackled with laughter, then gasped warningly, “Ooh, wouldn’t step there, mate - “ just as the trap snapped around the toe of Mako’s steel boot. He roared, wrenching the jaws from his foot and hurling the trap at the junker’s head.
“STUPID JUNK RAT!” he bellowed as Fawkes ducked, wincing. The junker grinned a nervous grin and cocked his head to the side, drawing his bony knees to his chest.
“Okay first of all, that is a sick ass nickname, please call me that forever,” Fawkes tittered a bit, and was that giggle ever annoying. He continued, “Second, I need your help.”
Rutledge grunted and hurled the second trap at his stupid face.
“Woah woah! Quit yer throwing things, and hear me out!”
Rutledge thumbed the edge of his hook and tossed it towards the junker. Fawkes nimbly dodged it, righting himself and holding the grenade high in the air.
“Right! One more toss ‘n I light ‘er up! KABOOM!”
“Do it, and I’ll kill you.” Rutledge growled.
“Not with the size of me bounty, ya won’t! Them others’ll kill ya for takin’ their payday, and you with no hog to escape? Sounds risky, mate.”
Rutledge moaned and retracted his chain hook sharply, menacingly. Fawkes wasn’t wrong.
“Talk fast,” he ordered.
The junker took a deep breath, “Right, so hear me out mate. We’re two of a kind, you and I. We’re head and shoulders above the rest. At times quite literally!” Fawkes drew himself up to his full height, and he was indeed taller than he looked.
“I’m gettin’ there, I’m gettin’ there!” Fawkes snarled, pouting, before he continued, “Whad’ll they pay ya for bringin’ me in? Double it. Triple it! More then that, even. That’s what I’ll pay ya.”
“You don’t have anything,” Mako snorted.
“Not on me, no, but I’ve got plans - information - secrets - treasure. Be willin’ to share, if ya like.”
“For protection! I’ve got a price on me head - been locked in that bunker for weeks - but if I had a bodyguard…” the junker trailed off, grinning maniacally, “Whad’ya say? A little violence and mayhem, a good payday - I’d even go halfsies with ya. Fifty-fifty.”
Rutledge frowned. This was beginning to sound like a good deal… if this Fawkes could be trusted, which he certainly didn’t appear to be. But he did appear to be sincere. Mako put his hands on his hips.
“Why me?” he grunted.
“Don’ see anyone else around, do ya?” Fawkes smiled and shrugged, gesturing to the empty desert around them, “‘Sides, yer the one who nearly caught me. Means yer good.”
Rutledge paused for a moment, weighing the options in his mind. While he didn’t relish the thought of this madman as a companion, he certainly didn’t relish losing his bike, or stepping on any more steel traps. And he supposed, if the junker got on his nerves, he could just break his scrawny neck in the night. Over his shoulder, he heard the whoops and hollers of the approaching mob. Looking back he estimated that they were thirty, maybe forty seconds away. He sniffed thoughtfully, looking back to Fawkes.
“Whad’ll it be, mate?” the junker grinned, gesturing to their pursuers, “Them, or the bike?”
Rutledge stood, glowering behind the mask, for a good, long second. Then, with a huff, he approached Fawkes, seizing the junker’s right hand in his own and giving it a firm shake. The young man grinned, palming over the grenade.
“Pleasure doin’ business with ya.”
Rutledge withdrew his hand, feeling a satisfying click as Fawkes pulled the pin. Rutledge spun and hurled the grenade at the charging junkers, just in time for it to explode and scatter their party across the road. Fawkes shrieked in delight, cackling and pumping his fist in the air as he leapt onto the bigger man’s shoulders. Rutledge could feel the junker’s hot breath panting at his ear, and he swore he could hear the junker’s grin as he spoke, lips gently, perhaps accidentally brushing the edge of his earlobe.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! Let’s get the fuck outa here, mate!”
Rutledge seized the bike by the handlebars, turning it upright and revving it into gear. Fawkes whooped again at the noise, gripping Mako’s shoulders tightly as they sped away down the cracked pavement of the road. Rutledge could hear Fawkes blowing raspberries and hurling insults at the still pursuing junkers. With a grunt and a resigned sense of dread, he pulled his sawed-off from its makeshift holster and passed it off to the junker.
“Hold them off,” he growled over the din of the bike. He could hear Fawkes cooing and tittering as he took the gun.
“With pleasure, mate!” The younger yelled, using the weapon to pick off the remaining pursuers.
Once they were far from Junkertown, out of sight and hopefully out of mind, Rutledge pulled the bike off-road and over towards a small embankment. When he powered down the bike and stepped off, the scrawny junker rolled off the seat, flopping in the dirt like a limp fish.
“I’m beat, mate. Totally knackered. Haven’t slept in weeks, I’m tellin’ ya.”
Rutledge grunted and went to unloading his saddlebags, setting up camp as the other man lay in the dust.
“Hope you ain’t plannin’ on sellin’ me now that you’ve got me,” Fawkes continued, staring blankly at the darkening sky, “Me life’s in your hands, mate. Puttin’ a whole lota trust in ya.”
Rutledge unfurled his bedroll and started to build a fire.
“I meant what I said, mate, I’ve got loads of plans. Show ‘em what’s what, takin’ what’s ours. It’s much better with two of us, I’m needin’ protection. And an even split of the goods. Fifty-fifty, just like I said. I weren’t just bein’ desperate. I really meant it, mate.”
At these last words, Fawkes turned his head and locked his fiery eyes on Rutledge. Mako realized that he’d stopped his preparations and himself was staring, transfixed, at the young junker. The man’s demeanor was comfortable, casual, his gaze burning right through the lenses of Mako’s mask with a pleasant, unexpected warmth. He grinned nervously, an uneven grin that crinkled the skin around his eyes. Mako realized, with a little surprise, that Jamison Fawkes couldn’t have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three. Old enough to get in trouble, still young enough to hold onto a glint of optimism. That glint burned fiercely in the young junker’s eyes.
Mako grunted, suddenly trusting every word this Fawkes had to say. “I know,” he huffed, turning back to his fire.
“Sure would hate to wake up trussed for selling, that’s for sure,” Fawkes continued, “Hope yer trustworthy.”
“Well pardon me for asking, just a while ago you wanted me same as the others!”
Rutledge shrugged. “We made a deal.”
“Yeah, but a big guy like you? Don’t need to keep a deal, just gotta take what’s yours. Never had to go without a thing in yer life, I bet.”
Rutledge gritted his teeth, biting back a hundred responses to the young man’s assumptions. Instead he just snorted, shrugging as he tried to respond nonchalantly. “It’s a good deal.”
“You’re damn right it is, mate. Fifty-fifty, all the way. What’s your name, anyway?”
Mako grunted, “Rutledge.”
Fawkes whistled. “Ru-te-ledge. Mouthful.”
Mako didn’t respond. In a few short minutes the younger man’s ragged breaths had evened out into deep, purring sighs. He really was tired. Mako busied himself with the evening meal, and after cleaning up and tuning up the bike, night had arrived. He heaved himself down onto his bedroll, stealing a glance at his new… partner? Companion? Boss? The young man was curled in on himself, tittering and mewing in his sleep. The stupid twat wasn’t even wearing a shirt, and the air was starting to cool in the absence of sunlight. Mako watched as the little rat shuddered at the cold, turning pitifully in the dust, but didn’t wake. He rolled his eyes behind his mask and tossed the rolled blanket he sometimes used as a headrest over towards the young junker.
“Oi!” The call came a second later, and Jamison shot bolt upright, scrabbling at the blanket that covered his face. He emerged from the folds, eyes bleary in the dying firelight, and he seemed to get his bearings, or at least recognize Rutledge as a friend. Without another word, he laid down and pulled the dusty blanket around him.
He thought of all this the next day, trying his best to remember the fragility, the youth, the sleeping sweetness of his new companion as he tried futilely to ignore the ranting behind him. The Junk-Rat was going on about plans and hunches, rumors and conspiracies, chattering without so much as a moment to breathe. He must have a mouthful of dust and insects by now, Mako thought, but he didn’t seem to mind. The Junk-Rat just carried on jovially, shouting and straining his abrasive voice over the rumble of the bike. A truck of junkers passed, going the other way, swerving dangerously to avoid the pair on the motorcycle. Fawkes blew a raspberry and stuck two fingers in the air.
“Out of the way, ya drongos! Roadhog coming through!”
They passed with a roar, and Mako couldn’t hold back a laugh. Jamison’s breath wafted hotly at his ear again.
“Roadhog! You like that, mate? Better than Ruteledger, whatever yer name is. Junkrat and Roadhog: Partners in crime. Ain’t no one gonna stop us, now, mate!”
Roadhog grunted in agreement.