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Two Sides of the Same Coin

Chapter Text

Another day, another hangover…’ RJ MacCready thought to himself as he walked through the door to the Third Rail. 

“Good to see ya, MacCready.” Ham, the ghoul bouncer of the bar, said as he tipped his hat towards the merc.

RJ gave him a nod as he made his descent down the steps of the old metro station. He usually arrived around mid-day to early afternoon, he hardly ever was awake before then anyway due to his drinking pro- ‘No, not a problem… more like a hobby.’  He trudged along the floor of the establishment past the tables to his usual hub, but glanced behind his shoulder to Magnolia- she was the only thing decent about Goodneighbor. Besides Mayor Hancock, of course. He stood in the archway connecting his area to the main bar and glanced around. There were always drifters and drunks, ghouls and gamblers-the usual. But there was one patron who was out of the ordinary. They sat at the bar, right in front of Whitechapel Charlie and had their head faced towards Magnolia. He assumed it was a woman since there was a long ponytail of unkempt and curly brown hair, and they didn't have a super large stature- in fact, their feet hardly reached the floor of the relatively low barstool. They donned a brown leather jacket and some taupe cargo pants that were tucked into brown combat boots and had some sort of assault rife on their right side in almost a side-satchel sort of situation. But, most interestingly, there was a large german shepherd dog laid at their feet. The dog brought its head up as MacCready stared at it, and MacCready stared back, blinking. ‘Can that mutt read my mind?’ He thought, shaking his head.

Some time passed shortly afterwards as he sat on his couch in his back room-as he always did. This shtick was getting really old, but he needed to stick around. After all, he was in a very dangerous neighborhood in the Commonwealth and if there was anyone with just enough caps and just vicious enough to hire a mercenary for a quick job, this was the place they would be. Besides, it wasn't like he could go back to his old job. 

In a sickeningly ironic moment after he thought about those good-for-nothing Gunners, two of their douchiest bags walked in. ‘Jesus Christ..’ He thought as he took a swig of some mediocre beer out of a shanty metal tin. He eyed them menacingly as they approached him.

The pair- Winlock and Barnes- were some of his former colleagues, with a very heavy emphasis on the former- and they certainly weren't anyone he wanted to see anytime in his life. 

The one with the worse haircut, Winlock, crossed his arms as he looked around the room. It had a red glow due to the fluorescent lights and was poorly decorated. “Can’t say I’m surprised to find you in a dump like this, MacCready.”

He snorted. “I was wondering how long it would take your bloodhounds to track me down, Winlock.” He placed the tin on the wooden desk next to him. “It’s been almost three months…” He eyed them with a mischievous look in his eyes. “Don’t tell me you're getting rusty?” The pair just glared at him. “So…” he continued, “should we take this outside?”

“It ain’t like that.” Winlock replied instantly. “I’m just here to deliver a message.”

MacCready licked his lips in irritation and stood up. “In case you forgot, I left the Gunners for good.”

Winlock snorted. “Yeah, I heard.” He took a step closer towards the merc. “But you're still taking jobs in the Commonwealth. That isn't going to work for us.”

“I don’t take orders from you… not anymore.” He pointed at Barnes, still facing Winlock. “So why don't you take your girlfriend and walk out of here while you still can.”

Barnes snapped his head at his comrade. “What?! Winlock, tell me we don't have to listen to this shit…”

“Listen up, MacCready-“ Winlock said, a furious fire in his eyes, stepping merely inches away from his face. “The only reason we haven't filled your body full of bullets is that we don't want a war with Goodneighbor.” He gestured towards Barnes. “See, we respect other people’s boundaries… we know how to play the game. It’s something you never learned.”

MacCready smirked at him. “Glad to have disappointed you.”

Winlock chuckled. “You can play the tough guy all you want. But if we hear you’re still operating inside Gunner territory, all bets are off. You got that?”

RJ raised his eyebrows. “You finished?!”

“Yeah,” Winlock said, turning around and towards the exit. “We’re finished.”

It was only then when the pair got out of his personal space that he realized there was someone else in the room-it was the stranger he noticed, and her dog. She was leaning against the wall beside the entrance to MacCready’s little hub with her arms crossed, and she was staring right at him. Her piercing blue eyes were trained on him even as the Gunners brushed past her. “Get a haircut,” she spit at Winlock as he passed her.

He swiveled around, gawking at her. “‘Scuse me?!”

Unfazed and still staring at MacCready, she untucked one of her arms only to reveal a .44 pistol and nonchalantly poked it against his ribs. “Keep walking.”

Winlock huffed like a child, looked back at MacCready for some reason, then stomped forward, muttering “…isn’t worth it.”

The woman’s facial expression didn't move as she holstered the pistol at her hip, then crossed them once again. “What was that about?” She asked coolly. Her face was one he couldn't seem to read- her lips were ever so slightly downturned into a frown, but it looked a little forced. She had quite a few lip scratches, now that he noticed, and she had a few scars scattered over the left side of her face with one beginning on her hairline, across her nose, and almost to her jaw line. ‘Damn, what’d she do?!’ He stood where he was and looked down at the german shepherd, who was now sitting obediently next to the woman. “Forget it.”

She cocked her head and pursed her lips. “Why, do they make you nervous?”

He was taken aback by her boldness. “How bout you back off, or tell me what you want?”

“I heard you’re taking jobs.” She said cooly. “And I’m offering you one.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What for?”

She shook her head. “You’ll find out. I have caps, though, and can pay you upfront for your services ahead of time- and, if perform adequately, you’ll get 100 more every week.”

RJ snorted. “IF? Look, lady, I know my way around with a gun.” He looked her up and down. “But what about you? How do I know I won’t end up with a bullet in my back?”

The woman shrugged. “You don’t. That’s part of the risk right.”

He nodded. “Can’t argue with that.” He cleared his throat. “Well, price is 250 caps, if you’re paying upfront-” He was interrupted as a cloth bag flew towards him. He caught it, and as he did, he could hear the familiar and beautiful sound of Nuka-Cola bottle caps rustling around in the bag- and it was a big bag.

“I assume that’ll suffice?” She said, her husky voice asking him, a grin creeping on her expression.

MacCready grinned. “Yeah, that’ll do.”

She sauntered her way over to him, a smile on her face as she looked up to him- she was tiny. “Excellent.” She extended her hand. “Gemma. Gemma Slade”

He took her hand (which was much smaller than he had thought) and shook it. “That sounds made up, but hey, you're paying the bills now, right? RJ MacCready. All right, boss…” He said, the bag of caps being held delicately under his arm with his free hand, “You point, I’ll shoot.”

Gemma smirked. “That’s the plan.”

He returned his hand to his side and looked down at her. “So, where to?”

She had a wicked gleam in her eyes. “The Institute.”

The sack of caps nearly dropped to the floor as soon as she spoke. He blinked at her, wide-eyed. “Excuse me?!”

Gemma grinned. “Let’s go.” She turned around, the dog immediately following behind her. 

MacCready stared after her as she walked. ‘What in the goddamn have I gotten myself into?’

Chapter Text

It had been around four weeks since the arrangement between Gemma and RJ had happened, and he still asked himself the same question that he had asked himself moments after said arrangement was made. She was still just as mysterious, just as crazy and confident, although he was a little less drunk than he was before. And, not to mention, she was deadly serious about the Institute. She hadn't given a specific reason, only an intensity that he hadn't seen anyone have towards the Commonwealth Boogeyman and to find it, which was something that absolutely no normal person wanted to do. They rarely had actual conversations, just a few quips and one-liners every once in a while and just some small talk over the occasional drink at whatever closest establishment that served alcohol. He had learned that the pistol she had shamelessly aimed at Winlock that evening at the Third Rail had been taken off of a man she had killed, and that her trusty canine companion was called Dogmeat, amongst a few other things. Not that he had been particularly open about his life, mannerisms or personal details, mind you. After all, he hadn't been paid to be her friend. He was by her side in the promise of a bonus, nothing more.

The two were currently stepping into the marketplace of Diamond City for some reason she hadn't disclosed with him as of yet. MacCready hadn't been inside the walls of the step-above-a-shantytown in years, and he was a little worried that some past memories he had would come back into his brain that he definitely didn't want to think about. “So, boss, what’s our game plan?” He asked her as he looked to his left at an overly energetic child who was standing on a box and waving a newspaper high above her head.

Gemma shrugged. “Dunno. Wanted to take a breather while I figure out what my next move is for the long run.”

RJ pursed his lips in confusion. He didn't know why she was so secretive, and she was never at all clear with what her idea of a “game plan” was. There was even a time she’d sent him back to Goodneighbor for a few days with no word of where she was going or when she would return. But he figured if she showed up again, he’d continue to get paid. And he needed every cap he could get his callused hands on. “Are you ever gonna let me in on what’s going on in that head of yours?”

She stopped walking to face him. “Yes. But not until I’m ready to tell you everything.”

He raised his eyebrows. “You say that like it’s supposed to mean something.”

Gemma grinned, one corner of her mouth curling up more than the other side. “It will.”

“Wh-” He started, rubbing his temples. “What the fu- hell does that even mean?!”

“I promise, MacCready, everything will make perfect and complete sense in due time. Until then, I need you to continue to trust in me as your boss and employer.”

He stared into her hazy eyes. There was a tiredness he hadn't really noticed before in them, so he just sighed and lazily extended his arm. “Lead on…”

“Thank you.” She nodded solemnly at him. “I know of a place here right down this way. Innkeepers are a riot, but they make some damn good moonshine.”

MacCready nodded in approval. “I can live with that.” There was a part of him that wondered if she was talking about the same innkeepers he had known from all those years ago, but that had to be a coincidence…right?

Turned out, she was definitely talking about the same people he had been thinking of- the Bobrev brothers, whom he had last seen when he came with… ‘No, we’re not bringing that up…’ He shook his head thinking. “Hey,” he said to Gemma, “I’ll catch a table for us.” He figured it’d be safer to try duck out of the way for as long as he could before the two brothers realized he was there.

She shrugged. “Sounds good to me. I’ll get you some of the moonshine they got here- it’s unreal.” 

RJ returned her grin and he picked a table as far away from the bar as he could and sat in a chair that had his back facing it. It was probably unlikely that they’d recognize him- it was probably six years, after all. But still, just to be safe. He didn't want to relive his past and he certainly wasn't keen on having someone he'd only known for a brief time reliving it either. 

His thoughts were interrupted by Gemma placing a jug of a yellowish colored liquid in front of him. “Tastes better than it looks, I promise.” She smiled at him.

“No matter what it tastes like, I’m sure it’s better than anything at the Third Rail.” He took a sip from his beverage and nodded in approval. “Not watered down… receptacle isn't covered in dust… yeah, this’ll do.”

They both had a few more large gulps in some silence, the other bar patrons’ conversations and the distant noise of songs playing from an old radio across the room setting the ambiance for them. Drinking was something MacCready definitely wasn't a stranger to, but only recently had he remembered what the experience was like when it wasn't just yourself. She was a good drinking buddy, he gave her that- she was no light weight and could hold conversations well enough for a while without seeming tipsy.

“So,” she finally said, sitting back in her chair and folding her arms, “you ever been to the old Great Green Jewel?”

He snorted. “Well, I wouldn't call it that per say, but I’ve been here before, yeah.” He paused. “Not for some time. But let me tell you, nothing’s changed.”

“So why’d you choose Goodneighbor to hide out?” She asked him.

“Honestly, this town kinda drives me nuts. The Upper Stand crap… the synth paranoia… not my style. Goodneighbor is at least a little more laid back.” He took another long drink, finishing off the moonshine. “Plus, there’s not really a demand for a lot of mercenary work out in this side of town.”

She nodded. “I respect that.” She pointed a finger at his jug. “Want another one?” She asked him.

RJ nodded. “Yeah, why not.” He grinned. “If you’re buying.”

“Sure, sure.” She pushed some of her curly brown hair behind her ear that had fallen in front of her face. “Not like I’m paying your salary already or anything.” She turned her attention over to the bar and whistled uncomfortably loudly, waving her hand in the air. “Vadim!” 

MacCready’s heartbeat stopped as she yelled for him. ‘Dear God, why…?’ He looked down at his lap.

“Another round, please!” She called out with a dazzling smile.

“Ah, my Gem!” Vadim Bobrev boomed. “Anything for you.” He was a fairly large man, but looked bigger than he was due to the oversized coat he was wearing. He always seemed to have a goofy, broad smile on his face and, as the locals would tell you, never stopped talking. “Are you staying the night again, huh?”

She beamed at him as he walked over to her. “If you and Yefim will let me, I’d be just delighted to stay at your inn for the night.”

“Ha!” Vadim bellowed as he approached their table. 

MacCready was sweating as he continued to look down, just hoping that Gemma wouldn't make a scene involving him, but he kind of knew that that happening was severely unlikely. She loved to talk to people, it seemed. But they always liked talking to her too, which was more than he could say for himself.

Gemma extended a hand diplomatically to RJ as she looked up the bartender. “Vadim, this is my associate, RJ MacCready.”

‘Dammit all to hell…’ He thought. He had no choice but to look up, and when he did, Vadim was gawking over him. “MacCready?!” He said with some disbelief. 

“Vadim!” He answered weakly. He awkwardly tapped his empty jug. “Still killing people with your moonshine?”

“MacCready!” Vadim bellowed again, bending down to give him a giant bear-like hug. “Is good to see you, tovarisch.” He released him from his hug, still beaming down on him. 

Gemma blinked. “You two know each other?”

RJ nodded. “Yeah, it’s a been a while, but-”

Vadim interrupted him. “How is Lucy? She still as beautiful as I remember?”

There it was. RJ’s heart sunk and he could feel his face flush. He licked his lips trying to figure out how to respond, and he briefly made eye contact with Gemma, who had one of her eyebrows raised in confusion. “No, uh…” He began, balling his fists up and placing them on the table. “She didn't make it, Vadim…”

Vadim’s face sunk in sorrow. “I am sorry… mouth tends to be faster than the brain.” He patted his hands together anxiously, then placed a gentle hand on the merc’s shoulder. “Tell you what, I give you both a drink on the house… for old times, eh?”

MacCready smiled weakly. “Thanks, old friend.”

Vadim nodded at him, then to Gemma, took their jugs and walked back to the bar. Gemma was staring at him, he could feel it, but he was only looking down at his lap. After a few painfully silent moments, she asked very quietly, “Who’s Lucy?”

RJ shook his head fiercely. “I don’t have to tell you.”

“You’re right.” She said gently. “You don’t owe me anything.” She sat, thinking, for a while.

He glanced up at her, and he could see some hesitation in her face. “What?” He said a bit aggressively.

“You know,” she began, almost in a whisper, “I was married- a long time ago.”

He looked at her. “Really?” She didn't seem like the type to tie herself down with something like marriage.

She nodded, smiling weakly. “I was. To a wonderful man named Nate.” Gemma’s eyes shifted to lock with MacCready’s. “He didn't make it, either.”

He sat in silence, letting her words sink in. “I’m sorry.” Was all he managed to say.

She inhaled deeply, then reached across the table and put one of her hands on top of his. “I’m sorry for you, too, RJ.” She grinned at him, that twinkle coming back to her eyes-but something was off. He studied her eyes, and he realized it wasn’t a twinkle, but eyes that were glistening from the beginnings of tears. She smiled genuinely at him, patted his hands, then sat back into her chair once again. “Well, we came here to drink, not to mope, yeah?” She asked him quietly.

MacCready nodded. “Agreed.” She had a faraway look in her eyes as she sat. “Hey,” he said loudly. She glanced up at him, to which he responded with a warm smile. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

 

~~~

 

Some time had passed since their brief heart-to-heart and the two were both getting settled into their respective rooms in the Dugout to stay for the night. MacCready was changing into a t-shirt and some loose cotton pants for the night as he reflected upon what Gemma had told him. He hadn't explicitly said that Lucy was his wife, yet she seemed to know for certain. I mean, it could've been a sister or a neighbor… no, that was stupid. She had been married. She knew. He rubbed his temples again, pacing slowly around the cramped room. He had been closed off from everyone for such a long time, even having one person know this one thing about him just had his brain rattled. The more he thought about the situation he'd gotten himself into with Gemma, the more upset he became. He had stupidly taken her job without asking her anything about herself, the job, nothing. For all he knew, she could be working for the Gunners, too.

‘Could be why Winlock just walked away after she aimed a damn gun at him…’ He thought to himself. He shook his head. “That’s it.” He told himself. He walked out of his room and rounded the corner where a door with a large 2 was sloppily painted on and knocked. “Hey.” He called out. Nothing. He pounded the door again. “Hello?!” He waited a few moments. “Jesus Christ…” He mumbled under his breath as he turned the door handle.

Gemma sat at a desk in a spaghetti strap and some jogger pants with a dim lamp over her head, a pen in her hand. She seemed to be writing a letter of some kind. “What are you doing in here?” She asked him when she realized he had more or less barged in. Without taking her eyes off of him, she took the piece of paper she had been writing on and shoved it  inside the desk. “I didn't tell you could-”

MacCready stomped over to the desk and tried to open it. “What’re you writing?!” He demanded. The only reason he could think of for her to be so secretive meant bad things for him and someone else he couldn't bear to let bad things happen to.

Gemma stood up, inches away from his face. “You’d better back up, man.”

“Why?!” He practically yelled. “Hiding something?!” He reached behind her back for the desk drawer and put his hand on the handle.

In a second flat, her pistol was under his chin. “I said back up.” She said coolly. She was breathing heavily, her nostrils flaring. 

His eyes darted from the drawer to her face as the pistol was still pressed up against his throat. His mouth trembled in agitation as the gears in his head spun frantically- he had to be quick. In an instant, he brought up the hand on the desk and grabbed her wrist, twisting it behind her back as she grunted in pain, and his left hand darted for the back of her neck and he slammed her face down onto the desk’s surface.

“GET OFF OF ME!” She screamed at him.

“WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?!” He screamed back. “Huh?! Gunners?! Finally coming to take me back?! Well too bad!” He twisted her wrist even further and she winced.

“I don’t work for the Gunners, you fucking idiot!” Gemma shouted. “I’m trying to keep you AWAY from them, goddammit!”

He clenched his teeth as he confined her beneath him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Gemma huffed, then swiftly brought up her left leg in a devastating kick square beneath his legs, and he instantly released her. 

She stood above him as he fell on his knees, holding his privates, gasping for air. “Wh-WHAT-” he said, almost gagging. “WAS THAT FOR?!”
“To get you the fuck off of me!” She retaliated, balling up her fists in anger. “You come in here barging like a psychopath, act all hostile and get mad at me for defending myself?! Come on!” There was a vein next to one of her eyes that was bulging out as she breathed, teeth gritted. She put a hand on her forehead in exasperation as she caught her breath. She stared down at him. “You want to see what was in there so bad?!” She hissed at him, who looked up at her with a livid expression. She angrily yanked the handle of the desk, reached inside, and threw the piece of paper down on the ground. “Fine. I wasn't ready to dig into things but if it’s going to stop you from attacking me, so be it.”

Still in a tremendous amount of pain, MacCready grabbed the paper. At the bottom there was some sort of insignia- a heart inside of a target of some kind, and it looked like it was bleeding.

‘Mags:

I’m expecting to be short on caps in several months, so prepare for a visit from me in the very near future. I trust that you will have gathered the sufficient funds from your various operations within the park to cover my expenses. If you have any knowledge of what a Courser is, you will know that to plan on killing one, I will need more efficient weapons to complete the job. If you need to reason with the other two gangs, do it- I’m going to need every cap I can to supply myself and my new colleague for the foreseeable future. And, should you fail to comply, keep in mind that Nuka-World can easily be run by another group, should I give the word.

Regards,

Your Overboss’

 

MacCready glanced up at her in disbelief. “What in the goddamn?!” He held up the letter. “What does this mean? You’re some kind of- of-”

“Raider?” She finished for him. She nodded, pursing her lips. “I’m kind of their boss over there at Nuka-World, if you’ve heard about what goes on over there.”

“Jesus…” he mumbled. “Only stories. Really, really awful stories.”

Gemma sat down on her bed. “Yep. That’s where your payment comes from.”

He finally stood up, then took a step back, staring at her in shock. “This doesn't make any sense…”

“It doesn’t? I’ve heard way stranger things. Have you heard about the old charter school? Now that is some creepy shit.” She said. She still had her hands on her pistol as she sat. She cocked her head. “Told you it was complicated, didn't I?”

He scratched his goatee, deep in thought. “How are you a Raider?! How-why did you hire me?!

She pursed her lips. It was an extremely valid question- but she was still peeved at him for being so hostile with her. “Haven’t I shared enough information with you for one evening?” She asked him instead.

“No.” RJ shook his head fiercely. “You give me answers, and you give them to me now, dammit. I used to run with the Gunners, but at least they didn't kill for fun. I don’t care how much you’re paying me, I refuse to work for and with Raiders.”

“Damn, MacCready, what more do you want from me?” She demanded. 

He shook his head furiously. “Why in the hell does a Raider BOSS need to hire some gun at a run down bar in a crappy neighborhood?!” She shrugged. “You obviously don’t need me, so why go to all the trouble?!”

She pursed her lips as she stared at him and nodded slowly. “Okay. Fine.” She gestured to the seat at the desk on the adjacent wall for him to sit down.

He took a deep breath as he did so, hunching over with his elbows on his knees. “So?”

Gemma rolled her neck, placing her pistol down next to her. She rolled her palms together on themselves as she inhaled, then looked straight at him. “So, we didn't meet by accident.”

He fell silent, taken aback. “What are you talking about?” He said quietly.

“Well, as you now know, I have a pretty decent operation going on in Nuka-World, but we’ve been expanding into the rest of the Commonwealth in order to maximize profits.” She sighed. “I’d sent a group towards Diamond City to ambush any couriers- you know, to hear about any new settlements to obtain or if there’s any valuable dead drops trying to be coordinated. And…” she paused, biting her lip. “My scouts came back with, amongst other things, a message that some Gunners were sending to Mass Fusion. It said they were going to talk to a former member who had left, and if he he didn't cooperate, to move in on Goodneighbor to forcibly take them back.”

He looked back at her in disbelief. “Wh-what?”

She took another deep breath. “It also… said…” She struggled to find the words. “It mentioned something that there was a young boy… back in the Capital Wasteland…”

MacCready’s heart sunk, eyes widening in shock. “No…” He breathed, shaking his head.

“Said they think they know where he was, and that if the member refused to cooperate still after Goodneighbor, they’d…” She hesitated, a strange pain on her face. “They’d use him.”

At that very second, RJ broke. He took his head in his hands, and he could feel his eyes welling up. His breathing quickened and he struggled to keep himself together.

Gemma pursed her lips, obviously distraught. After a few minutes, she said quietly. “And I couldn't let that happen.”

MacCready looked up at her in between sharp intakes of breath, dumbfounded. But he continued to listen.

“I…” She pushed her hair behind her back. “I was close to Goodneighbor scouting out a few new settlements to establish a new base of sorts closer to the East. I knew I needed to do something, so I went there and… asked around… and found you, right in the nick of time” She bit her lip, thinking. “So I hired you, mostly to get you out of there. And don’t worry about Mass Fusion either- I sent some of my people to clear it out. And the message from the courier has been burnt to ashes.” She shook her head. “I don’t know where it came from though, so I couldn't do anything about the sender.”

He looked down at his hands, trying to wrap his head around everything. “Why?” He asked her quietly. “Why did you do that?” He glanced up at her.

She shrugged, sighing heavily. “Because when I was asking around the Third Rail, everyone just said you loaded up whatever caps you could get your hands on and send them off somewhere with someone called Daisy.” She nodded. “I connected the dots… you were doing it- doing everything- for your son.”

He stared at her, a little rage welling up in his chest. “Why the hell do you care though?! You’re a raider.

Gemma laughed, very breathily. “Yeah. I am. For the same reason you’re a mercenary.”

MacCready tilted his head. “What are you saying?”

She sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “Overboss… the settlements… the Institute… all of it is because I’m trying to get my son back.”

Chapter Text

Maybe it was because of shock, or because of the emotional episode he had, but somehow Gemma had forced MacCready out of her room before he could get any more answers out of her. Her words rang in his mind throughout the night and prevented him from getting an adequate amount of sleep. What little sleep he had received had been plagued by visions of his beloved boy in the Gunners’ grasp, and there was a brief vision of his new boss dressed like one of those ruthless raiders- the kind who lured innocent settlers into death traps for fun.

He lay on his back, staring at the raggedy ceiling above him. His eyes stung from the lack of sleep and his tears from the night before. There was a part of him that also resented the fact that he had let himself be so vulnerable in front of anyone, let alone someone he barely knew. He was also thoroughly confused by her last statement- she had a son, too. But what did that have to do with the Institute? This was possibly (but most definitely) the most confusing job he’d ever been offered, and considering once he was offered a few hundred caps by some haggard trader to find an escort for the evening, that was saying something.

His train of thought was interrupted by a pounding on his door. He groaned, rubbing his eyes tiredly, as he sat up. “What?” He grumbled, just loudly enough to get his voice to carry from the bed to the door.

“You decent?” He heard Gemma’s voice.

He glanced down at himself to check- shirtless, maybe, but he had pants on. Good enough. “Yeah, come in.”

Gemma pushed the door open. Her face had little life in it, and she was dressed in tattered, dark green hooded rags. Some of her shorter pieces of auburn-brown curls could be seen framing her face, and he could see a knife attached to her hip. She was holding another set of the rags, though they were blue, and threw them at him. “Put these on. We leave in ten.”

MacCready raised an eyebrow as he caught the rags. “What’re these for?” He stood up to put the shirt on, still staring at her in confusion.

“I’ve got business to attend to.” She sighed, crossing her arms irritably. “And since you’re so damn nosy and you know what business I run, now you get to come along.”

RJ snorted. “Doing what, masquerading as a caravan trader?!” He quipped.

Without any hesitation, she immediately responded with a monotonous “Yes.”, turned around and roughly closed the door behind her.

“God!” He furiously grumbled to himself. ‘She’s such a child…’  He shook his head as he finished putting on the clothes. If she wasn’t paying so well, he’d probably pump her full of lead. He sighed. No he wouldn’t. She pulled him out of Goodneighbor so he could have a chance to save his son- although that wasn’t any less suspicious.

He was way too tired to do any sort of traveling, but she hadn't mentioned anything about gearing up for a fight, so he figured it wouldn't be too difficult of a trek. He made his way out of the inn room and out to the main bar area. Gemma was seated in an old chair, looking down and reading a newspaper. He gingerly walked up behind her and peered over her shoulder. “Publick Occurrences, huh?” He chuckled.

“It’s interesting.” She replied. She glanced up at him. “You like it?”

“Me?! The news?!” He exclaimed with a laugh. “No, the world’s already got so many problems, why dwell on them?”
She raised an eyebrow. “So you’d rather bury your head in the sand? Until what? Until someone you know is taken?” She held up the paper so he could see. “Diamond City has had over a dozen kidnappings within the past three months. That’s something to worry about.”

He rolled his eyes. “No, it’s not. I’ve read that garbage before. Piper, girl who writes that sh-“ He grumbled. “That crap, she’s just paranoid. Three years ago, there was an influx of anxiety ridden ex-citizens of Diamond City trying to get into Goodneighbor because she said that the mayor was one of those synths. And then,” he added with a chuckle, “two years ago, she writes a paper that a vault dweller from before the bombs fell came to Diamond City that was tested on with a thousand guinea pigs in a vault up north.” He snatched the paper from Gemma’s hands, crumpled it, and threw it on the ground. “She likes to stir up trouble. People are more paranoid now than ever before because of this. I’m not gonna have it.”

Her lips were almost pouted, eyebrows furrowed. She nodded her head slowly. “Okay. Think what you want. But I know what I know, and what’s in those pages is more truthful than you can imagine, and you shouldn't ignore what’s going on.” She stood up and locked eyes with him. “Some people have really suffered. And I know that you have things you care about, too. Imagine if those things-or people-” she said, raising her eyebrows at him knowingly. “wound up in the paper like that.”

MacCready’s blood boiled. He grabbed her arm aggressively, tightly, and gritted his teeth as he brought his face almost against hers. “Don’t you ever bring up my son again.” He spoke quietly as to not make a scene. “I know you already connected those dots, but don’t you ever even mention, even allude to him again-” He lowered his voice menacingly, “-or I won’t be held responsible for my actions. You got it?”

There was a fire in her eyes, lips curled into a grimace. “Take your fucking hand off me, or I won’t be responsible for my actions either, you prick.” She smiled ever so slightly. “And I’m not afraid of stabbing or shooting you right here, in this bar, or in this settlement altogether.”

A few tense moments passed between them, still staring at each other with dead intensity, until MacCready finally yanked his arm down to his side. “Fine. Lead on, Slade.”

She took a few steps past him, readjusting the sleeve on the arm he hand been holding. “Oh, and another thing,” she added, a hint of malice in her voice, “where we’re going is Raider territory. Mines, bullets, and turrets should be everywhere. Don’t be an idiot.” And she continued walking.

He looked up at the ceiling, pursing his lips together so tight in attempts to prohibit himself from screaming in irritation. He rubbed his face as he began to follow her. Maybe it would be a challenging day after all.

 

~~~ 

 

The two continued to move towards Goodneighbor once again and had done so with a tension filled silence. Gemma took point, leading him through various alleyways and alternate routes than he was used to. (“I’ve been on the road way longer and way more recently than you have.” She had told him, to his annoyance.) 

“So, care to say where we’re headed anyway?” He finally asked.

“Ever heard of the Shamrock Taphouse?” She asked him, eyes ahead.

He ducked under a barbed wire fence with a hold on the underside, following her every move to maneuver through the side street she was taking them through at the moment. “Well, that’s where I was heading before I intercepted the Gunner message and went to collect your sorry ass.”

He stifled a grunt with a heavy intake of breath. “Why’s that?”

“Well, as you know, my operation exists in the entirety of what’s left of Nuka-World. We’re trying to expand out here, so we’re taking over Raider settlements- and some Gunner ones, actually- and using them.”

“How does that make sense?” He wondered. “Aren’t you all raiders? What’s the difference?”

Gemma glanced back at him. “The ones that work for me aren’t like the ones in the regular Commonwealth- they’re organized, they stay within their own designated borders, and when all needs are met, they cooperate with each other and keep to themselves.” She looked forward once again, but stood still. “The ones I’ve chosen to be by my side take jobs and set up operations that are mostly harmless, but they pretty much are mercs who are focused only on how to get money. Kind of like you, I guess.”

MacCready shook his head, baffled. “Well damn…” He mumbled.

“So we’re trying to take over the existing raider settlements so we can continue our operations out here and keep making money. Besides, who wouldn't want a gun for hire, right?” She said sarcastically.

“Okay, you know-”

“Shut up.” She said coldly, nodding ahead. The street opened up in front of them to a plaza of sorts, and there were several raiders outside of a building with a large neon sign above it’s door. “This is the Taphouse.” She brought up the rifle she had been carrying and looked around the plaza. “There’s a few turrets, too…”

MacCready took the few paces to close the gap between them to stand beside her and observe the scene for himself. “If you hit the spotlight, those shouldn't be a problem.” He said in a lowered voice.

“They’ll know where we are if we do that.” She looked through the scope of her weapon, which was something that MacCready really didn't recognize.

“What kind of gun is that, anyway?” He asked in a hushed voice.

“Splattercannon.” she said nonchalantly.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Calm your tits, RJ. It’s a modified rifle made by some of my guys back at the theme park.” She scanned the area looking through the scope, then looked over at MacCready. “I count four.”

He lifted up his own sniper rifle to observe the scene, when he noticed a previously sitting raider stand up from behind a cement wall. “Five.” He corrected her.

Gemma snapped her head to the clearing to check. “Okay, that’s fine.” She cleared her throat a little bit then turned her attention back to the merc. “We’re not protected enough armor wise for a full on fire fight…let’s find a little higher ground. From there, I’ll take the three closest the building, you get the two more off towards the turrets.”

He nodded. “Got it.” He was tempted to ask her about her remark about the armor since she was the one that forced him to don the clothes of a homeless scavenger in the first place, but he figured it was wasted energy and stuck to following her for now.

The two backtracked to the back end of one of the buildings they had been in between, and luckily one had a utility ladder on the side. It was only a two story, but it was good enough to get a leg up on the raiders. She climbed up the ladder with remarkable ease, RJ close behind her, and she held the Splattercannon firmly in her hands as she kept low on the rooftop. MacCready watched her move, and it seemed too organized for a regular waste-maiden, too polished for a raider, no matter how “civilized” they were.

Gemma lay flat on her stomach near the edge of the rooftop and positioned her weapon in front of her while MacCready did the same. “Still count five hostiles, two turrets on either side.”

He peered down and nodded after a few moments of scanning. “Looks right.” He glanced over at her. “How do you want to play this one, Slade?” He asked, voice barely above a whisper.

She paused in thought. “You should keep your voice at that same volume all the time, RJ. I tell you, it’s great.”

“Are you kidding me?!” He hissed. “Making jokes when-”

“On three. Find a target, and fire on the third count.” She whispered decisively. “One…” She aimed her weapon. “Two…” Her finger lay on the trigger. “Three!”

The two pulled the trigger at the same exact moment that it sounded as if only one gun had been fired, though simultaneously two of the five raiders had a sudden outburst of screams as an explosion of red came out of the back of their heads. Before the next two could even turn to look at their fellow scumbags, they also fell down with the same colorful array of mess came out from behind them. Gemma didn’t even blink in between her three she had shot, and no more than an instant had passed before all five of the raiders guarding the entrance to the Taphouse lay dead in a puddle of their own blood. 

She hadn't been holding her breath either, and it was only when she felt a hand on her shoulder she remembered to breathe.

“Not bad, Slade.” RJ grinned as he shot the turret spotlights. “I was expecting worse.”

She snorted. “Well, thanks.” She picked herself up and rolled her neck around trying to crack it. “Hope you’ve got more in ya, because the inside is going to be hell.”

He had a fire in his eyes. “Good.”

 

~~~

 

Gemma opened the bright green door to the Shamrock Taphouse ever so slowly, peering inside. There were creaks echoing from upstairs as the two stepped into the abandoned bar. She had positioned the Splattercannon onto her back and in exchange held her knife in her hands. She glanced back at MacCready. “We’re here to clear this place, but I don’t want to alert any others before we have to, so try to remain in stealth mode as much as possible. Understood?”

He nodded. “Yup.”

The downstairs was fairly empty and only at the end of the corridor was there a hint of light. He walked along the right side of the corridor and she the left in deadly silence, each checking the booths they passed. As they approached the end where the light was, Gemma stopped in her tracks- she heard some breathing. 

RJ watched her as she stopped, then immediately followed suit and crouched down on his knees to remain undetected. He held his rifle firmly in his hands and aimed it towards where she was. He remembered her words about stealth as he did so. ‘Everyone needs some back up, though.’ He thought. He watched her ever so slowly peering into the booth just out of his view, and he saw her tense up and squat down even lower to the ground. She took a silent but deep breath and vanished into the booth. MacCready inched forward, a little annoyed, but still worried. He made sure to check the booth to his right before glancing over to the one Slade was at and his jaw dropped at the sight- she stood behind the raider scum and had somehow gotten them on their knees with her left arm coiled around their nose and mouth. Their hands clawed at her own and tried kicking her from behind, when she brought up her right hand with the knife and promptly slit their throat in her grasp. She waited a moment before releasing them, the body sliding on the ground, and then stood up once again. She stopped mid turn when she saw he was staring at her. “What?” She yelled in a whisper.

He shook his head. “Nothing.” He replied. They rejoined in the middle of the corridor. “Just wasn't expecting that from you, honestly.”

She grinned. “Is that a good thing?”

He shook his head. “Dunno. But you’re scary, Slade. Reeaaal scary.”

She stifled back a chuckle as she switched back to the Splattercannon. “Thanks.” She nodded up ahead. “Should just be a staircase with the upper floor up ahead.. but it’s curious there aren't more of them.”

“Isn’t that something we should be thankful for?”

“I suppose.” She frowned. “Just stay alert.” She led him once again out the main door to (sure enough) the staircase she had spoken of. She held her weapon close and had it up and ready to shoot. There were some faint voices that seemed distant as she ascended the case until she got to the top, where there were multiple doors on each side of a very long hallway. “Damn.” She said under her breath. “I hate this game.”

RJ caught up to her. “What game?” He was only half paying attention to her words, a light on the roof flickering maniacally.

Gemma stepped a few paces ahead of him. “Okay, so here;s now it’s going to go down…”

Gemma’s instructions faded into a blur- one thing she was very gifted at was drawling thing out too long before getting to the point. He turned  to the first door on the left and put his hand on the doorknob. A high pitched noise echoed as he did so, and he opened it further. The noise suddenly shifted into beeping. “Oh no…” He said quietly.

Gemma’s heart skipped as she snapped her head at the sound. “MOVE!” She cried, lunging for him, as the beeps became closer together. She grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked him back just as an explosion erupted behind her. She flew back with the blast, her back slamming against the wall behind them. Smoke filled the hallway and her ears were ringing. She panted as her ears rang- she should've seen it coming, placing a mine on the back of doors was a raider trick for beginners. She gritted her teeth as she looked down at her abdomen, where she saw the outer ridge of a Nuka-Cola bottle cap sticking out of the fabric of her rags. “Fucking cap mines…” She said, seething. She looked over towards the stairs, where MacCready, too, had been thrown back from the blast, but had landed further down the stairs due to her yanking him in that direction. He came nearer to her, and she could see his mouth moving, but her ears were still ringing.

“Oh for…” He grumbled. He brought his gun up again as the raiders began to pour out of the remaining rooms. “HEY!” He screamed down at Gemma.

She cried out in pain as she reached out for the Splattercannon, which was a few feet in front of her. Her hands trembled as she adjusted it in her grasp. She lifted it slowly and it shook furiously as she tried to aim. She clenched her teeth together, her eyes stinging as she tried to hold back tears. There was still a deafening ringing in her ears. She screamed, not knowing how loudly and frankly not caring, and pulled the trigger of the Splattercannon and did not release it as she moved it back and forth.

Between MacCready’s actual aiming and Gemma’s “Spray and Pray” method, the rest of the raiders were taken care of within the following minute or so, especially once the smoke began to dissipate from the hallway and their targets became clearer. Dead raiders scattered the hallway, some stacked on each other, but undoubtedly it was a blood bath. Red stained the walls and there was a decent sized puddle on the floor, and the rancid smell of blood became very prominent.

RJ still had his rifle up, heart pounding. He hadn't been in a real firefight in a very long time-most of his jobs were stealth assassinations. Luckily for him, the majority of the raiders had decided to equip melee weapons so he was, for the most part, unharmed. He glanced over at Gemma after a few moments of silence. She was still slumped along the wall, clutching her side, and she had dropped her weapon on the floor beside her. He knelt down next to her once he figured there were no more hostiles coming. “Slade, are you okay?”

She was breathing heavily, but it was staggered. She looked up at him slowly, daggers in her eyes. “What… the FUCK… is wrong with you?!” She spat. She had a sharp intake of breathe as she tried to turn more towards him. “Ah!” She hissed in pain, resting her head on the wall in defeat. “You didn’t… wait for me to finish…”

“I’m sorry,” he started, that same slight feeling of irritation rising within him. “But you tend to take forever talking before taking action.”

She choked trying to laugh. “FUCK, MacCready!” She screamed. “It doesn't matter how fucking long it takes, you don't take action without orders!”
“Okay, you know what?!” He cried. “You can’t just berate me all the time! You’re difficult, Slade. You don’t make any damn sense, you’re overly secretive, and you’re never direct!” His nostrils flared in frustration.

Her eyes rolled ever so slightly. “Fuck… fine. Sorry. Sorry you’re so used to being the one calling your own shots. But it’s different now. You want respect? You fucking earn it. You do as I say and I gain your trust and that’s how this works, okay?” She whimpered trying to straighten up.

His heartbeat was quick with tension. He opened his mouth to retaliate, but before he could, his eyes focused on her face- it was twisted with an expression he knew all too well. She was masking her pain, or trying to. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.” His voice was low and sincere as much as he could get it to be coming straight down from an outburst. “Look, I’m sorry, okay?” He looked down to where she was clutching her side still. “Let me see.”

Her forehead was sweating a bit, but she acquiesced and took her hand away. “Fine.”

He inched forward to get closer to observe. “What was that thing anyways?”

“Specialty made bottle cap mine,” she said amongst scattered breaths. “They attach them to the backs of doors and it has a special trigger for when it’s opened.” She but her lips as RJ reached for the bottle cap. “Classic raider trick.”

He shook his head. “Kay, this might hurt,” he warned, then gently took the edge of the bottle cap and lightly tugged on it.

“ARGH!” She screamed, immediately pushing his hand away. “SHIT!”

He put his hands up defensively, keeping his calm as best as he could. “Okay, Slade, we have to try to remove this or it’s only going to get worse.” He leaned in closer, his nose an inch or two away from where the cap was. “It’s like it’s embedded into your tunic.”

She shook her head, licking her lips, still rapidly breathing. “I don’t even care. Take it off. Just please try to fix it.”

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Please?’ He thought to himself. That was certainly not something he remembered her ever saying. “Okay, let me know if it hurts too much. I can head to Goodneighbor if I need to-“

“Just do it, RJ.” She hissed.

He hesitated, then undid the belt that had been securing the loose and oversized green shirt she was wearing. Sure enough, the cap had lodged itself into her skin and had dragged the fabric in with it. He gently grabbed some of the tattered material around the rim of the bottle cap and tugged as lightly as he could. She winced, teeth seething, definitely trying not to emit any noises of pain. He sort of shimmied it back and forth in an attempt to free it from the cap’s edges, also glancing up at Gemma every so often to check to see if she was hurting too bad. “You still doing okay?” He decided to ask.

“Peachy.” She said through the gritted teeth.

He nodded, rolling his eyes, continuing to manipulate the fabric. “Are there anymore of those caps stabbing you?”

She snorted. “I don’t know man, I can’t really feel much besides a burning right now.”

“Fair enough…” He was just trying to keep her distracted.

Finally the tunic slipped into his hands, and she grunted as it freed itself. “Now get it outˆ,” she demanded.

RJ grabbed the bottom hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head and was dedicated to trying to stay focused, but that quickly faded away once he got a good look at her torso (the torso visible between her sports bra and pants, anyway)- it was horrifically scarred, some long and thick, other short and jagged looking. Hell, there were even some burn marks. He shook his head, settling for asking her about it later rather than at that particular moment. His eyes fell of the red cap, which had lodged itself fairly deep into the skin right in between the bottom rib and top of her pelvic bone. “This is going to hurt, Slade.”

She nodded, covering her mouth with her right hand. She shivered as his fingertips pinched the aluminum. “Okay.” She barely breathed and inhaled sharply as he yanked the cap. She screamed into her hands- she could feel the ridges of it scraping the inside skin as it moved, and she instantly played down onto her right side once it was removed. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply, with her left hand at her side. It was now bleeding, where the bottle cap had been, but it didn’t feel so bad now.

RJ had taken the ragged scarf around his neck and held it where the blood was. “Here. We should get you back to where an actual doctor can patch you up a little bit better.”

She nodded silently, feeling a little dizzy.

He licked his lips hesitantly, then reached out and touched her shoulders in a somewhat affectionate manner. “Thank you… for sticking your neck out. Our roles should've been reversed. So I’m sorry.”

In the midst of her pain, Gemma managed a grin.

 

Chapter Text

MacCready had figured out why he had been forced to wear the tattered rags that Slade had given to him- after they raided the Taphouse, they took anything somewhat valuable and had joined up with a traveling merchant called Cricket near the entrance of Diamond City and had actually pretended to be a part of her trader posse to sell them for some extra caps. They blended in rather well with the rags covering their faces, and especially now that they were covered with dirt and dust from the explosion. Gemma’s wound was still being covered by RJ’s scarf and was still holding it every so often. He was adequately annoyed at the whole process and was still slightly irritated at Slade for making him cosplay a haggard woman’s sidekick. They had been camped outside Diamond City in the Fens for the better half of an afternoon and had been growing steadily anxious. Only when they had returned the Dugout Inn did his angst get a little more under control.

“So, boss,” he asked lazily as they walked through the hallway of the establishment, “what’s next on your brand agenda?”

“We’re taking a trip.” She said shortly.

“Oh, boy!” He cried with feigned enthusiasm. “Where are we going?”

She gave him a side-eyed glare as she stopped by the port-a-diner. “Back to Nuka-World to stock up.”

“Stock up?!” He asked. “For what?”

Gemma sighed as she reached into her side pouch for a few caps. “You snooped on my letter, didn't you?” She looked over at him and, in a lowered voice, added, “I have to kill an Institute Courser.”

He shook his head, befuddlement on his face. “What? Why?”

She rolled her eyes and stalked towards Yefim Bobrev. “Damn, so many questions.” She handed the innkeeper a handful of caps. “Two rooms, please.” She flashed him a smile.

“Sorry, Slade,” Yefim said with a heavy sigh. “Only one vacancy for tonight. Is that alright?”

“Yeah, that’s fine, sure.” She handed him the bottlecaps. “If you have any spare pillows or blankets around this place, I’d love to rent them from ya to make myself a makeshift sleeping space on the floor.”

MacCready snorted. “I got the floor, Slade. Don’t worry.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m used to nights sleeping without a bed underneath me.”

“Oh, yeah?” He smirked. “When I was a kid I lived in a cave. So please just take the freaking bed.”

“Room 4. Enjoy your stay.” Yefim said blankly as he stared at a newspaper.

Gemma raised an eyebrow with an interested grin. “A cave? Why did you live in a cave?”

RJ cleared his throat. There he went again, letting some random person into his past. “Doesn’t matter, let’s go.”

He walked through the door Vadim sat next to towards a door with a 4 painted on it with Gemma close behind. “Hey, still wanna hear about that cave, dude.”

“And I told you, it doesn't matter. So just drop it, okay?” He grunted, standing next to the door. He slumped against the wall, untucking the hem on his raggedy shirt out of his pants. He was more than eager to get out of those stupid clothes.

She walked next to him, keys in hand, and turned with her back against the door. She tilted her face to look at his. “Why won’t you open up? At all?” She said with an exasperated sigh. “I mean, look, I get not wanting to dump your life story on someone out here, but a little insight on who you are wouldn't kill anyone, would it?”

He cocked his head, brows furrowing. “No offense to you, Gemma, but you haven't been exactly open with me either. I don’t think you have the right to demand that kinda info when you’re withholding almost everything from me, too.” He stood straight. “Please just get the door open. I’m tired and we should check out that scratch of yours.”

“Scratch?” She scoffed. “An entire bottle cap was lodged in my skin, and don’t forget,” she said, her voice lowering, “it’s because YOU didn't listen to ME. So watch it.”

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Right. Yup. Sorry. Now please open the door.”

She puckered her lips at him then spun around and inserted the key into the rusty lock. She pushed the door open and gestured her arm for him to go inside. “There.”

RJ walked into the musty room lazily and sat down at the beat up chair at the desk- it was the same room he had been in when he found out she was a raider to begin with. He put his head in his hands and took a deep breath in. 

Gemma flung her pack on top of the old bed, unwrapping the scarf tied around where her wound was. It was stained red at this point and her side was as well. “Yikes…” she whispered to herself. It had been almost half the day and as soon as she took of the rag, she could definitely smell it. She coughed as the smell of old blood came up to her nose. It wasn't anything unfamiliar to her at this point, but it still reeked every time it came up. She shook her head and pulled up her tattered green shirt over her head. There was a small hole where the cap had been and it was caked with dried blood, and there was a trail of a red stream from the hole that snuck down to where her pants were. “For the love of…” She seethed as she pulled her loose pants down. She glanced at an old water fountain in the corner of the room and strode over to it with the shirt in her hands, pouring some water down to wet the cloth.

The noise from the fountain caused RJ to glance up. “Woah…” He said in shock, shaking his head. “Why are you naked?”

She snorted. “Last time I checked, I had my boobs and my bits covered, so check yourself next time.” She turned around facing him, the wet cloth in her hands. “And second, it’s for this.” She gestured down to her wound and gently pressed it to the dried blood. She had a short intake of breath when it touched her skin, but she wiped it off and continued to do so for the rest of the blood trail.

“Do you have to be almost naked to do that, then?” He asked.

“Seriously?!” Gemma gawked. “Can you not be mature about this? This is your fucking fault.”

“I didn't make you take your damn clothes off,” RJ said bluntly.

“Like you haven't seen a half undressed woman lately?” She snapped.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?!” His voice grew loud as it grew angry.

She pushed a few curls back from her face. “Oh, come on, RJ. I doubt you never got needy getting drunk off your ass at the Third Rail every night.”

The blood boiled in his veins. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Gemma unpacked a large shirt out of the bag and threw it over her head. “Yeah? Tell me I’m wrong!” She dared.

His lip quivered, clenching his fists. “I need you to stop talking.”

She snorted. “I knew it.” She sat on the bed, a very smug look on her face.

He stood up very abruptly. “Shut up.”

“Was she a ghoul?” Gemma asked.

“I’m warning you, Slade.” He took a few steps closer to her, pointing a finger at her face.

“I’ve heard that’s a fetish.” She shrugged, eyes furrowed. She knew she was getting under his skin. “I also know that’s just something people are into when they’re desperate.”

“ENOUGH!” MacCready shouted, making up the distance between the two of them. He  got right up in her face, breathing heavily. His teeth were gritted together. “STOP IT!”

“Just tell me if I’m wrong!” She laughed. “Because you’re acting like a fucking bratty teenager!”

He stared at her, heart beating within his chest. “Fine.” She swallowed hard. “You’re dead wrong.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?” She asked softly, disbelief in her tone.

He nodded. “Really. Not like it’s any of your damn business, Slade, but not once did I ever. Not in Goodneighbor, not in the Commonwealth, not in the Capital Wasteland, not since Lucy-” He stopped dead in his tracks. He closed his eyes and looked down.

Gemma was quiet as she looked at his forehead in front of her. “Since Lucy what?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

She sighed. “Please just tell me. I…” She pursed her lips. “I’ll let you in on my life if you finish your sentence.” She reached up with some hesitance and put a hand to the side of his face. He recoiled at her touch, snapping his head up and taking a step back. She tucked her hands under her arms. “Sorry…”

He shook his head again. “You’re…” He, for once, was at a loss for words. “I just don’t know.”

She rocked on her feet. “Trust is a two way street. And if this is the street you want to walk on, it’s going to be a very long road ahead,” she said quietly. Her voice got raspier when it was soft, and it was obvious she was being utterly sincere.

MacCready slowly turned around and made his way back to the chair at the desk. He wasn't breathing as heavily as before, but there was now a pit in his stomach that he most certainly didn't want to have. He sat down and leaned forward on his knees.  His head kept bobbing back and forth for a few minutes, Gemma staring him down the entire time. He took a deep breath. “My beautiful, darling wife, Lucy-” he paused, eyes shutting tightly. “She died a little over five years ago. Killed, actually.”

Gemma sat down on the bed once again, crossing her legs. “I’m so sorry.” She said quietly.

“That’s…” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “I’m not going to say anymore.”

“You don’t have to. I’m sorry.” She rubbed her hands together. “I know how you feel.”

He glanced up at her, letting out a breathy, incredulous laugh. “You couldn’t possibly.”

She bit her lip and nodded. “Well…” She shrugged. “Three years ago, my husband Nate…” She tapped her fingers on her knees. “He was shot right in front of me.”

MacCready stared at her, a little bit in disbelief. “Really?”

Gemma nodded, the faintest smile curling on her lips, more out of sympathy than anything. “Yeah. He was holding my sweet baby boy in his arms, and um…” She raised her shoulders and shook her head slowly. “Someone tried to take my baby. Nate refused to let him go, so he was shot for it. And I couldn’t do anything about it.”

“Oh, man.” He said quietly. “I’m sorry. It’s a pain felt by way too many.”

“I agree.” She locked eyes with him and smiled. “That’s why I stalked you out in Goodneighbor.”

He chuckled. “Oh, yeah?”

“But, boy, I didn’t know I was going to be stuck with someone with such an anger issue…” She smiled.

“Right,” he grinned. “Sorry about that. I was a hot-headed kid and I guess it didn’t really cool down.”

“Ah.” She tilted her head back. “I see.”

“Sorry for blowing up on you.”

She rocked on her knees. “Thanks for that. I bet that’s hard for you.”

He snorted. “Well it wouldn't be if you weren't a brat if you kept making it hard like that,”

She chuckled. “A couple of sad sacks like ourselves need some sarcasm every now and then, right?”

He grinned and nodded. he hadn't realized the pit in his stomach wasn't there anymore. “Absolutely.”

“Long roads aren't nearly as boring when there’s someone there to harass.” Gemma said, ruffling her curly hair.

“I guess they aren’t.” He sat in thought for a few moments, then stood back up. “Well, I’m going to see if I can find a pillow or something.”

“You do that. You’re going to need the rest.” She pursed her lips. “Tomorrow we’re heading to Nuka-World.”

 

Chapter Text

The following day was a complete and wild ride, literally and figuratively. Gemma and RJ had taken the monorail to the Raider infested Nuka-World, where Slade was treated like the freakin queen upon their arrival. The otherwise savages stopped in their tracks if they saw her walking throughout the hell hole that used to be a nice theme park, and would fall silent if they had conversations amongst themselves. MacCready felt severely out of place with his hat and his duster, mostly because he didn't look like he was going to murder someone that very same minute. Not that the theme park in itself wasn't unsettling enough, but the poor traders with collars around their necks with a flashing red light on it kind of threw him over the edge- slavery wasn't even that common back in Goodneighbor, which was saying something considering it was lackluster in rules and moral ethics. The pair was approaching a rundown mountain when he finally turned to face his employer.

“So…” he began in a somewhat hushed tone. “What the hell are we doing here and when can we leave?”

She smirked as she continued sauntering. “Can’t say for sure. At least a day.” She pointed to a yellow lift that was positioned at the edge of the pond they had walked around. “We’re going up.”

He rolled his eyes and dutifully stepped onto the metal lift. “Sure.”

She stood next to him and hit a red button, immediately sending them up. “You’re about to meet one of my associates,” she began.

“Oh, hooray…” He mumbled.

“Hey.” She snapped, elbowing his shoulder. “I’m not going to have any of your attitude here.” She shook her head. “And I wouldn’t test it when we’re out and about- the residents here don’t tolerate smart remarks as much as I do.”

He raised an eyebrow. “What the hell does that mean?” He didn’t get an answer though, as the lift had stopped at the balcony of the large mountain. A sturdy looking man sat on an old couch and was facing them, rifle in hand. He had a shoddy looking metal replacement of an eyepatch slung over his right eye and was wearing a ridiculous set of armor that, to MacCready, reminded him of a construction site. He had a tuft of brown hair beginning at his forehead all the way through his mohawk section and had a grin that RJ didn't care for on his face.

“Nice to see you there, Boss.” The man said.

Gemma smiled. She gestured towards the merc standing beside her. “This is my newest hire, MacCready.”

The man stood up with a grunt and walked over towards the two of them. “MacCready, eh?” He asked, extending a hand.

RJ took it with some hesitance. “That’s the name.”

“Gage. Porter Gage.” He replied. He had a weird deadness in his eyes and his demeanor was just sort of laid back, something that an always on-edge MacCready wasn’t used to. He took his hand away from the merc and looked back to Gemma. “So, I heard you’re lookin’ for some heavy firepower?”

“You could say that.” She replied, her husky voice seemingly lower than before. “And also to check up on all of you, making sure everyone isn't at each other’s throats.” She flashed Gage a grin.

He chuckled in response. “Well, the Pack and Disciples are never fucking satisfied for long. Haven’t attacked each other, though, if that’s what you’re gettin’ at. Pack’s still switchin’ between animal fights an’ fightin’ each other, and I think Nisha’s got her folk still doin’ tests or some shit to the traders.”

“Yeah, that’s fine.” Gemma said, seemingly undisturbed by Gage’s report.

MacCready blinked at her, stunned. “Where the hell am I…?” He mumbled to himself.

“What else is happening?” Slade asked the raider.

“Well, we got some gatorclaws still lurkin’ out by the Anaconda. Haven’t come close to any of the main settlement around here, though.” He drawled.

“Damn gatorclaws…” Gemma huffed. “I thought we got rid of them?”

Gage shook his head. “Apparently not, boss.”

Gemma exhaled an exasperated sigh. “I’ll deal with it some other time.” She turned and made eye contact with Gage. “I got other fish to fry while I’m here.”

“Fry? Or shoot till they’re bleeding dry on the floor?” He asked in response.

“Well,” she began, “have you ever heard of a courser?”

Gage scratched his chin, shaking his head. “Can’t say I have.”

“Like from the Institute?” MacCready answered instead. “Didn’t you mention before you needed to kill one?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Mention?!” She snorted. “No, I didn't mention it-you snooped into my shit and found my letter to Mags.”

“Mags?” Gage said, a slight frustration in his tone. “What’s she got to do with any of this?”

“She’s the leader I trust most.” Gemma said simply.

Gage chuckled and put a hand on his chest. “And what am I, the fuckin’ side option?”

Slade’s eyebrows furrowed. “You weren’t the right person for this task, Gage.” Her voice had turned deadly serious, her eyes piercing into his. “Don’t complain just because I don’t call you for every little assignment I have. I don’t need your whining while I’m here.”

“Easy there, boss,” Gage said in annoyance. “Just thought you had a little more faith in your right hand man.”

Gemma stared at him for a solid five seconds before her face slowly melted into a warm smile. “Keep telling yourself that’s your position.” She leaned forward menacingly. “You have to earn it.” She hissed the last few words.

MacCready stood wide-eye throughout the entire encounter, equally amused and too afraid to try to say something witty to lighten the mood. So he simply continued standing.

“Earn it?!” Gage cried in outrage. “It’s because of ME you’re runnin’ this fuckin’ show. And it’s because of ME that you keep winning your matches.” He pointed a finger at her. “If you wanna keep it that way, you need to stop undermining me, Slade.”

She took a step further towards him, a wicked smirk on her face. She looked absolutely tiny next to him, yet her face was so utterly unafraid and determined. “Don’t forget why you keep it up, Gage. You know why you wanted me to beat Colter. You don’t want to go messing up that chance, huh?”

Gage stood silent, huffing his chest in fury. He bit his lip ever so slightly, then looked down at the ground, growling.

Slade smiled sweetly, then put a hand to his cheek. “There ya go.” She patted his cheek. “Now why don’t you show MacCready where he can put his gear?” She glanced over to the merc, who remained stunned and standing several feet away.

“Oh, you don’t have to-” he began, his voice cracking ever so slightly.

“Follow me.” Gage bellowed, turning towards the rest of the mountain.

“Okay…” RJ mumbled. He slowly followed the raider, staring at Gemma the whole way. Once he got closer, he whispered, “What’s his deal?”

“Don’t worry about it for now.” She replied quietly. 

“Oh, right,” he hissed with sass, “I’m not allowed to know things right away; I have to send in an application for info and wait 5-7 business days for a reply.”

“RJ, go.” She said, effectively ending the conversation.

He grumbled something she couldn't quite make out as he disappeared into the interior of Fizztop Mountain, but she didn't care. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. In truth, she was glad MacCready was there- Gage was acting more agitated than usual, and if she knew one thing, it was that if he reached his boiling point and decided to do something irrational, the other Raiders in the Park would not feel obligated to help.

 

~~~

 

“So,” MacCready finally said, looking around in a desperate attempt to make himself less uncomfortable. “How long have you been here?”
Gage glared at him, a deep annoyance in his sunken eyes. “Too long.” He said shortly. “But once the Boss finds what she’s lookin’ for, I’m gettin’ the fuck outta this piece of shit park.”

He nodded. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“The Institute.” He answered. His arms were crossed over his armor. “And all it’s abominations.”

RJ’s gears in his head turned- albeit, they were rusty. “Yeah… she… hates them.” He tried playing it off like he knew why she had her self-proclaimed mission.

Gage raised an eyebrow. “Well, I dunno bout that.”

MacCready cleared his throat, embarrassed. “Well, you know what I mean.”

“How long she been paying you, kid?” Gage asked suddenly.

His eye twitched ever so slightly. ‘I’m not a kid…’ “She approached me like five weeks ago.”

Gage chuckled. “You’ve got a lot to learn then, boy.”

“Oh yeah?” He huffed. “Like what?”

“Like who the fuck she is.” He said in a very matter-of-fact tone.

RJ shook his head in bafflement. “Okay, you say that like I’m supposed to know what that means.”

“It means,” Gage growled, “that you oughtta get your bearing’s with the Boss.” He leaned against the wall. “There’s a lot more to her than you’d think.”

“In what way?”

A hint of a smile appeared on the raider’s face. “Lots of ‘em. She’s one of a kind, let me tell ya. Definitely somethin’ else.”

MacCready shifted uncomfortably where he stood. “Good to know…”

Almost on cue, Gemma opened the doors and marched in. “Gage.” She barked. “Siren’s going off.” She had a wicked look in her eyes.

Gage put his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. “Alright!” He cried happily. “Let’s get this show on the road!” He grabbed his rifle again and looked over at the merc. “Might wanna come with us, hotshot. Could learn somethin’ or two.”

“What the hell’s going on?” RJ asked to no one in particular.

Gemma cracked her knuckles, extending her arms in front of her and rolling her neck. “We got someone running through the Gauntlet.”

MacCready licked his lips and took a deep breath. “So,” he said in exasperation, glancing up at the ceiling in frustration, “I hate playing the question game, so care to explain what the Gauntlet is?”

Gage chuckled menacingly, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “Means we get to see a show.” He patted his shoulder and followed Gemma out the door.

RJ stood, stunned. He didn’t swear anymore, but boy was it tempting now. “Load of sh…” He shook his head and headed towards the other two. 

The three piled onto the lift to go down, Raiders scattering on the ground, all headed in the same direction. Some resembled each other, but their sales differed greatly from each other. “Gotta say,” MacCready said, a fake smile on his face, “I don’t have the greatest feeling in my stomach.”

 

~~~

 

Unluckily for the hired gun, that feeling would only get worse. A short time later he stood by himself behind a caged wall of a psycho looking arena with old and non-functioning number cars. Raiders were everywhere he could see, and the facility had two levels with the caged barrier and there was a decent amount of them actually clinging to it, suspended in the air, while others just were grabbing the metal and shaking it. All of them were yelling, seemingly with excitement. “What have I gotten myself into?” He mumbled to himself. He was in a room of some kind with a terminal beside a locked door that led into the arena and another locked door behind him from where he had entered, and frankly all he wanted to do was get out of it. Opposite the arena, there was another door that seemed to be attached to a room much like the one he was in, and there was a man who was in it that was pacing back and forth in a frenzy.

Gage walked in through the back door a moment later after unlocking it. “You ready, kid?” He asked.

“To be honest, I still don’t know what the heck’s going on.” He replied honestly. He pointed to the man across the arena. “And who’s that?”

Gage shrugged. “Just some poor sucker who was conned into comin’ to the park. That’s what we do.”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Well, we got one of ours over at the monorail station back in the Commonwealth to trick travelers into coming our way. Pretends his family’s over here and are prisoners, some shit like that. Those that’s stupid enough to believe him come. And we roughen ‘em up a bit- well,” he said, sighing, “those that can survive through the Gauntlet.”

MacCready blinked. “How many make it through?”

Gage eyed him menacingly. “Not many.”

“So what’s this, then?”

“Those that survive have to go up against the current Overboss in front of the residents here, sort of like the grand finale.”

“That…th…that sounds crazy,” RJ stuttered. “And something a psychopath would do.” He sighed to himself. “I want to get out of this hellhole…”

“Oh, relax. You’re gonna like it.” Gage chuckled and walked to the terminal and hunched over it, typing in a command. “Redeye,” He said with a booming sense of authority, “Boss is heading my way right now. Start the intro.”

Almost instantly, a very enthusiastic voice echoed throughout the arena. “It’s almost time!” It bellowed. “After a run like that, this ought to be the best tussle yet!”

The raiders screamed with joy, some whistling and others clapping.

“Now remember,” the voice continued, “our newest Overboss has changed the rules to only hand on hand combat, but in a fight that only ends with a surrender- or DEATH!”
The raiders howled with delight, a chant coming from several of them that sounded like a gorilla or some kind of animal.

“Longest survival time against Slade still stands two minutes and forty three seconds!”

MacCready turned to Gage, slightly horrified. “What happens if she loses?” After all, she was still paying his salary…

Suddenly the door behind them opened once again, barely audible over the roars of the raiders in the stands. “I won’t.” Gemma said confidently.

RJ looked to her voice and had to mask his surprise- if he didn't know she was a raider at this point, there was no questioning it now. She had on a bright yellow jumpsuit underneath a set of metal armor that had almost a turtleneck neckline and high shoulders, and her curly hair had been styled into two long braids that fell out of a green rag that was swept up over her head. She had bright red grease paint smudged over eyes and her lips were painted black. 

Gage was grinning as she walked towards them. “You ready boss?”

“Always am.” She replied shortly. She glanced to MacCready, who was still looking at her like she was some mutated mole rat or something heinous. “What?” She asked him.

“You look scary,” he said quickly, somewhere between sarcastic and serious.

She chuckled. “Thanks, RJ. Just wait here until the fight’s over.” She walked to the door to the arena as Gage began typing something into the console.

“Ladies and gents!” Redeye boomed. “Please make some noise for your leader- OVERBOSS SLADE!

The raiders howled as the door opened and Gemma walked through it, arms raised high above her head. She sauntered about ten feet across the floor, rotating as she did so, smiling as she looked around at the spectators. “DISCIPLES!” She screamed, her voice somehow filling the entirety of the arena. “Are you ready for blood?!”

Her call was met with a sick chant: “Death! Death! Death!” From a portion of the crowd, getting faster and faster all the while.

“And the PACK!” She yelled again. “Are you ready for things to get wild?!”

Loud cheers and howling emitted from the stands, several of them thrashing wildly as they clung to the fences in front of them.

“OPERATORS!” She cried once more. “Are you ready to see me notch another low-life?!”

MacCready stifled back laughter as Gemma’s showmanship was greeted with a halfhearted applause from the last group she called to, but she didn’t seem to mind.

She turned and took a few more paces forward. “And YOU-” She screamed menacingly towards the door opposite of where she stood, “Are you ready to SUFFER?!”

The door opened and a man that looked fairly haggard already walked through it, fists at his face in protection. 

He charged at Gemma, who’s face was curled up into a mischievous smile as she, too, ran hastily towards him. Luckily for her, he wasn’t terribly taller or larger than he was, though that meant he most likely survived the Gauntlet through agility and being nimble rather than strength and endurance. At the last possible moment, she dodged a swing from him by ducking underneath it and shifting her stance so she was directly behind him. She grunted as she kicked him in the back of his knees, forcing him to kneel down and took his head in both of her hands, slamming it down onto the hard floor. 

The crowd cheered and howled as she stood up from him and took a step back. The prisoner jumped onto his feet, spitting to the side. The two walked slowly in a circle, fists up, as the raiders kept yelling and cheering. He suddenly ran towards her, shifting into a handspring at a speed much faster than Slade had anticipated- the crowd of raiders simultaneously “OOOOH!”’d as his foot made contact with her chest, knocking her onto the ground on her back no less than six feet away directly onto one of the old bumper cars, MacCready looking on horrified.

“Is she okay?!” He asked Gage.

“Calm your tits.” He got back in response.

“Jesus…” Gemma said to herself. “Didn’t see that one coming.” She gritted her teeth as she moved her knees towards her chest and swung them down, propelling herself off of the car and landing back on her feet.

He yelled as he ran towards her, bringing his arm up to strike. She too ran towards him, unexpectedly and abruptly sliding onto the ground at the last second, her feet in front of her, successfully causing him to fall on his face to the ground. She picked herself back up as leapt up and around to face the man. He turned around, pausing briefly to bring up his hand to his nose- it was bleeding. She yelled as she leapt into the air during his own distraction, landing squarely on the guy’s shoulders and locking her legs around his neck. She grunted as she pounded her fists against his face, each blow causing him to stagger back more. She felt his knees becoming weak below her, so she bent backwards, placing her palms on the ground before uncoiling her legs from his neck and gracefully bending back until she was again on her own two feet. The raiders were howling at this point, cheering her on. She took a quick but deep breath, grunting loudly as she rotated her body, and swung her leg up into a roundhouse kick that perfectly hit him in the chest. He fell backwards, his body falling down against the bumper car. She waited a moment, breathing heavily and baring her teeth as she waited for him to get back up- he didn’t.

“AND THAT’S IT!” Redeye yelled, the arena filling with cheers and applause. “Overboss Slade has once again defeated one of the Wasteland Wannabe’s!”

Gemma put up a fist into the air and walked around in a quick circle in victory.

“Holy crap…” MacCready breathed.

Gage chuckled. “Ain’t the Overboss somethin’ else?”

His eyes widened. “Oh my god…” He mumbled. “I really do work for the Raiders…”

Chapter Text

RJ paced back and forth atop Fizztop Grille as he had a mental debate on his current employment situation. On the one hand, it was paying handsomely- he hadn't had this large quantity of caps in years, let alone in such a short period of time- and that was something he held near and dear to his little heart. But on the other hand, he worked for someone who had most likely actually ripped out other people’s hearts and probably put them on display. Gemma Slade was certainly something else, especially after seeing her kick another grown man’s ass in a spectacle arena in front of bloodthirsty raiders. 

He was still thinking to himself when the lift from the balcony came into view with Porter Gage and the Overboss herself on it. Gage was more or less carrying her, her arm slung around his shoulder and he was definitely supporting all of her weight. “‘Sup, Greedy.” Gage said slowly as he walked carrying Gemma out of the lift.

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t know if that was a joke, but it’s actually Cready, but most people call me Mac anyways. Don’t know where you got the idea to take the last half…” He shook his head. “It’s irrelevant.” He pointed at Gemma. “What’s wrong with her? She was fine a few minutes ago.”  Indeed, she seemed right as rain when she completed her fight. RJ had left basically immediately after that had happened, but it wasn't a drastically long time he had been away.

“Ah,” Gage drawled, “this always happens. It’s part of the trade-off.” He slung her onto a moldy looking couch, where she immediately curled up into the fetal position, eyes lazily looking over at the two men.

“Trade-off? For what?” He glanced at Gage, eyebrows cocked in confusion.

“For winnin’.” He grinned back.

RJ scratched his head. “Can you just once get to the damn point? I don’t like playing twenty questions.”

Gage shifted, puffing his chest and standing straighter. “Boss is tough, but she can’t always beat them outsiders who make their way through the Gauntlet. Did you see that bastard?” He coughed. “He was fuckin’ huge. No way she could do that without a lil help. That’s where the Psyhobuff comes in.”

Psychobuff?!” MacCready cried. “You pump her full of Psychobuff before matches?!”

“I don’t do nothin’ the Boss doesn't want me to do.” Gage said, growling lightly. “And she wants to win. So what if this is how I get her to do that? And I need her to win them matches, okay? Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little cheating.”

MacCready snorted. “You’re insane. She’s going to become an addict, if she isn’t already.”

“She’s fine!” Gage gestured over to Gemma, who still had her eyes open. “Aren’t ya, lovely?”

Tongue sticking ever so slightly out of her mouth, she barely raised her hands for a thumbs up. “Yyyeeep!” She said slowly.

“See?” Gage said matter-of-factly. “Just fine.”

MacCready shook his head and walked over to the old couch, crouching down next to her. “Slade, how often do you do this?” He asked her quietly.

She blinked, her eyes rolling when she opened them. “’S hard ta say,” she said, inhaling deeply. “Prolly… like… sometimes?”

“You’re insane.” He told her shortly.

She cackled lazily. “You’re cute, Micky.”

He sighed heavily, rolling his eyes. “Jesus Christ…” he mumbled.

Gemma gasped. “WHERE?!” She pulled her head up and looked around.

Still crouching, RJ shifted his body to face Gage. “So this is fine?”
He shrugged. “She’s been worse.”

“How worse?”

Gage hesitated. “She’s blacked out a couple’a times.”

MacCready looked back over at Gemma, who had laid her right side of her face down on the couch, eyes closed. “And what do you do when that happens?”

“I dunno…” He shrugged. “Depends.”

RJ eyed him curiously. “On what?”

Gage bit his lip and chuckled to himself. “Guess on if she’d wake up or not.” 

“What the hell does that mean?!” He asked angrily.

“Oh, come on.” He said lazily with a wicked grin. “It’s a free pass.”

RJ absent-mindedly clenched his fists. “Excuse me?”

“Listen, kid,” he said, a menacing look on his face, “there ain’t many chances given to ya out here to get inside a girl like that.” He said in a low voice. “She’s different. Nobody like her out here. So I take whatever chance I get.”

MacCready stared at him in disgust. “So you get her blacked out with crazy chem mixtures so you can rape her?”

“I got business to take care of.” Gage said sternly and began walking back to the lift. “Tell Boss I’m goin’ to the Zoo.”

MacCready watched him in awe, feeling that familiar heat in his blood when it began to boil. If he didn’t have warm fuzzies for Porter Gage before, he most certainly did not have them anymore.

 

~~~

 

Gemma suddenly awoke from a nightmare she had had frequently, one she was used to but never become less frightening, and one that she would almost certainly wake up feeling bitterly cold and heartbroken. The nightmares were more expected after the use of any form of psycho, she had come to notice, but the risk to stay in control as Overboss was worth the nightmares. After all, if all went as planned, the bad dreams would hopefully end soon enough for her. She opened her eyes ever so slowly, the image in front of her already spinning as she blinked. “Fuck…” she grumbled to herself. She tried to steady her vision, a swirl of taupe and deep green floating in front of her. 

“How ya holding up, Slade?” She heard a familiar voice ask her.

She blinked hard and exhaled deeply. “I’m fine,” she replied, “just cold.”

“It’s sunset.” MacCready rolled his eyes. “And you have a blanket over you.”

Ever so slowly, the face of the merc became clear, and he looked just as irked as he always did. “You seem like you're in a poor mood.”

He snorted. “I haven't been doing anything for half a day, I’m bored out of my mind.”

“Well what have you been doing?” She asked lazily.

“I’ve been here, your highness. Waiting for you to wake up.”

She adjusted her elbows under her so she was sort of sitting up. “Why? You could've gone out and explored.”

“Explore?!” MacCready exclaimed. “What, and get killed?! Yeah no thanks.”

Gemma smiled slightly. “You scared of Nuka-World?”

“Raiders don’t scare me.” He said confidently. “I don’t like how unpredictable they are, and I’m just really not keen on dying.”

“Not Raiders, huh?” She said with a smirk. “Then what are you scared of?”

He licked his licks and shook his head. “Nothing in the Commonwealth, that’s for sure.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“What are you afraid of, then?” He asked boldly.

She ran a hand through her curly locks and sat up straight. “Nothing, anymore.”

“What about Shaun?”

Her heart skipped a beat, head snapping to face him. “Excuse me?” She whispered weakly.

“It’s a fairly simple question,” he muttered.

“Why did those words come out of your fucking mouth-AH!” She seethed as she finished her question as the anger swelled in her head and resulted in a sharp pain shooting up to her forehead. She placed her fingertips gently on where the pain had surged, breathing heavily. “Why did you say that?” She asked again, this time much quieter.

“You kept mumbling ‘Shaun’ while you were in your chem-induced funk,” he replied with a hint of frustration. “You also mentioned Nate, but you’ve already talked about that…”

She took a deep breath and glanced around. “Where’s Gage?” She asked, diverting the question.

“Don’t know.” He replied shortly. “He left a long time ago.”

“Dammit…” she said through gritted teeth. “He was supposed to give me a rundown on the park maintenance.”

MacCready scratched his sideburn, shaking his head. “Why the hell is that something you need to know? Aren't you like the dictator or something?”

“I’m not a dictator.” She said flatly. “I am the Overboss. That means I’m in charge of all the inhabitants of this park as well as making sure the park itself is in functioning condition. We’ve had problems in the past, but it’s up to me to make sure the different sections of the park are clear and safe for the different gangs to set up shop in.”

“What infringes the safety?” RJ asked. “Aren’t you Raiders the only people here?”

Gemma shook her head as she turned her body to face him. “Didn’t say anything about other people, did I?”

MacCready lifted his head back in exasperation. “No, you didn’t.”

“Did Gage say where he went?” 

He sighed once again. “I think he went to check on the Animals or something.”

She pursed her lips. “Was it the Pack?

He pointed at her. “That sounds right.”

“He’s probably checking in- seeing how the new recruit is doing.”

“What does that mean?” MacCready asked, perplexed.

“At the end of the Gauntlet,” Gemma began explaining as she completely sat up straight on the couch, “I changed some rules. Before I got here, it was to the death.” She shook her head. “Not my style. So, whoever loses is placed in the loving care of one of the gangs here.”

RJ blinked in horror. “And they do what with them, exactly?”

“Whatever they want them to do.” She frowned. “Pack usually puts them through initiation in the Zoo, prove their strength- I doubt you’d want to witness that, though, since it’s animal fights…”

“Jesus Christ…” He mumbled, rubbing his temples. “Okay, say no more.”

“For now, I guess we’ll just wait here for Gage to come back.” She stretched out, arching her back and reaching her hands behind her. “After that we can see what the maintenance requests are.”

“So now I’m a janitor?!” He snickered.

“Hey, calm down.” She barked. “After the handyman work, we can get the weapon modifications I’ve asked Mags for and we’re back to the regular Commonwealth in no time.”

“Good.” RJ stood up from sitting beside her. “I’ve been getting bored.”

Gemma rolled her eyes furiously. “So I’ve heard.” She took some of her hands and began twisting it in her fingers. “How long ago did Gage leave?”

“A few hours, at least.” He replied. He pursed his lips for a moment. “You know,” he said slowly, “I wouldn't trust him as much as you do.”

She squinted at him. “He’s my right hand man. Why do you say that?”

“How did he become second in command?”

“Well,” she sighed in exasperation. “He helped me overthrow the last Overseer. He was unbeatable- he told me how to stop it.”

“Why did he do that, though?” He asked curiously.

Gemma shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Colter was an asswipe. He wanted someone who could get shit done around here. He’s helped me lead the park and run it.” She eyed him. “What’s all this about, though?”

“He just…” He shrugged and crossed his arms, looking slightly away from her. “I don’t like his vibe. He’s said and done a few things that just left a bad taste in my mouth, you know?”

“Like what?”

He sighed, fidgeting his fingers. “Just gave the impression he’d rather fond of you when you’re blacked out is all.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Pretty much exactly what I said, Gemma.”

She stared at him blankly. “Care to expand upon that?”

He shook his head. “Y’know, it’s none of my business and I could even have misunderstood him.”

“Well why even say anything if you-”

“Because you asked, that’s why.” He snapped back.

Gemma licked her lips in aggravation. “Why do you care?” She asked him quietly. “If you’re implying what I think you’re implying, why do you give a damn what he does?”

His breathing was quick and heavy. “I don’t know.” He shrugged, shaking his head. “But it seems you’re not bothered by it so I’ll leave it alone. Hell, I’ll even leave you alone here to do your business if you want.”

“It’s not that I’m not bothered,” she explained, “it’s just that I don’t think Gage would do that.”

“What lead you to believe that?” He asked her.

She looked wide-eyed at him, mouth slightly parted. “I trust him.”

He nodded, lips pursed. “Just out of curiosity, do you trust ME?”

Gemma locked eyes with him, though momentarily. “Of course.”
MacCready stood up, grunting as he did so. “Well, then just keep what I’ve said in mind.” He turned towards the lift.

“Where are you headed to?” She barked.

“The arcade. Need to blow off some steam.” He turned to look back at her. “If you want an answer,” he said softly, “I don’t think you deserve that kind of treatment. It’s sickening. And I know you haven’t known me as long as him, but I know a rat when I see one. So for your own good, be cautious, okay?”

Gemma looked down at her hands as she heard him leave and bit her lip, his last question floating through her mind. There were few people she trusted anymore… but she was beginning to question that list in her mind now, too.

 

~~~ 

 

Overboss Slade had a fairly busy afternoon that she spent, for the most part, by herself. She set out to where the Operators dwelled to get the special weapon that Mags Black had promised her- and boy, did she deliver. It was nearly identical to her trusted Splattercannon, though the bullets now exploded upon impact, which she knew would give her the edge she would need to take down that Institute Courser. Along with Splattercannon 2.0, the Operators also graciously donated some of their own custom handmade rifles in mint condition and some good old fashioned cap mines.

After she had hauled everything back to her home base at the Grille, she had asked around about the maintenance, and apparently the biggest complaint was that there was yet another outbreak of feral ghouls back at Kiddie Kingdom. Which, in her mind, was wild because she thought that she and Gage had defeated their leader shortly after she had become Overboss in the first place. Gage… she had rare bad feelings about him before, but never like this. After all, he had too much at stake to abuse her… right? But on the other hand, RJ had nothing to gain from telling her what he did. Speaking of the merc, MacCready was still no where to be seen, as she had checked the arcade after he’d left and he was not there. She hoped dearly that some rabid Disciple hadn't gotten to him by now…

She stepped onto the lift at the bottom of the Old Fizztop Mountain and pressed the red button near it, Splattercannon hoisted over her shoulder, and it began to rise steadily. She always wished that they’d go faster, but they never did. It jolted as it came to a halt at the top of the balcony, when she looked up and saw Gage.

“There you are, Boss!” He said with a grin on his face.

She swallowed heavily. “Where have you been?” She asked him anyway.

“Me?” He chuckled. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” She snapped back at him.

He help his hands up defensively. “Woah, there,” he cooed, “what’s going on?”

She lowered her weapon down and held in firmly in her hands. She eyed him as she walked over to the couch. “Nothing you need to bothered with.”

“Okay, whatever you say…” He mumbled.

“But, speaking of explaining,” she began, her eyes narrowing, “I have a question for you.”

He glanced down at the Splattercannon, which was aimed uncomfortably close towards him. “Sure, Boss.”

Gemma cleared her throat. “Have you ever wanted to fuck me?”

Gage’s shock was evident as his good eye widened and his fingers twitched. “‘Scuse me?” 

“I’m not gonna ask you again, Gage.”

He glanced up at the ceiling for a brief moment, his mouth opening and closing at trying to figure out how to answer. “What…” he started. “What brought this on?”

She frowned, shaking her head. “It’s a question.”

Gage clenched his fists and let out a low, grumbly laugh. “You perplex me, Boss. You really do.”

She smiled sweetly. “You flatter me. So, what’s your answer?”

The wheels spun in his head as he bit his lip. “I…uh…” He scratched his head, breathing out a laugh. “I’d be lying if that thought ain’t crossed my mind.”

She nodded slowly. “I see.”

“Why d’ya wanna know, Slade?” He asked her curiously, taking a few steps closer to her.

She sighed deeply- she needed to play this just right. “I want to know.” She replied in a quiet, husky whisper. She aimed her weapon away from him… for now. Immediately he drew closer to her. “How would you do it?” She breathed.

He chuckled, barely breathing. “Can’t I show you?” He brought his firm hands on her waist, her rifle right in between the two of them. He tugged her body closer to him, and she could feel his breath on her face.

Gemma grinned. “Is it anything like you did today?”

“Today?” He asked, a quizzical look on his face. “Nothing happened today.”

“Hmm…” she pursed her lips. “Must’ve been a dream, then.”

“Oh, yeah?” He said with a grin. He was closer than ever before, his head bobbing down around hers, a certain kind of hunger evident in his demeanor that sent unwanted chills down her spine.

“Yeah,” she breathed. 

“This is a good thing we got goin’ on here,” he rumbled. His left hand left her waist and gently pushed the Splattercannon to the side, gripping it and tossing it onto the couch behind her. “What brought this on, Boss?” His hands traveled back and rested firmly on her ass.

She swallowed hard. “I just heard something odd today that made me wonder if you ever wanted to…” She tilted her head ever so slightly. “You know.”

“And what was that?”

“I heard a crazy rumor that we’ve actually fucked before,” she whispered. His eyes narrowed and the obvious excitement in his stance and in his face grew dim as she spoke. “But the crazy thing is, is I don’t recall ever doing so.”

“Who the fuck’d you hear that shit from?” He asked, his voice louder and angrier.

“Does it matter?” She retaliated. “Unless, of course,” she paused, taking the tiniest step back away from him, “it’s true?”

His lips coiled. “It was that new guy of yours, wasn’t it?” He was seeking through his rotted teeth. “God DAMMIT!” He yelled.

Gemma’s breathing became rapid. “So it IS true?!”
Gage licked his lips, eye twitching. “Fine. You know what? Yeah, it’s true.” He suddenly gripped her arm so tightly that a whimper came out of her mouth. “But you know what?! Fuck him. FUCK HIM!” He screamed.

“Gage, get your hand off of me.” She said as calmly as she could, her voice cracking near the end.

He twisted her arm around as she yelled in pain, forcing her to turn around towards the couch. “And you know what-” Gage gritted through his teeth as his right hand reached around for her front. “-you woulda never FUCKIN knew if you hadn't hired that-” He fumbled around for her zipper when she squired in his grasp in a struggle. “HEY!” He screamed. “Don’t you FUCKIN’ move!” He moved his left hand from her forearm to the back of her neck in a second and slammed her head down against the top of the couch. “He just HAD to go on and tell ya.” He unzipped her pants with his right hand and slid them down to her knees. “He leaned forward so his face was closer to hers. “I’m gonna kill him when I’m done with you.”

“GAGE!” She cried, her shrill scream mixed with evident terror. She wailed as she felt her panties being pulled down too. “GAGE, PLEASE!” Her voice cracked again as tears welled in her eyes, her whole body shaking. She felt immobile- like she couldn't control her arms if she wanted to. 

“Shut your fuckin’ mouth, Slade!” He yelled, spit flying out of his mouth. He unzipped his own pants in rage and stepped out of them. “And I swear to hell if you even try to fuckin move I’m gonna kill you too.”

Her sobs were only interrupted with her shaky intakes of breath as she felt his cock up against her ass, moving it down in between her legs. “Gage,” she swallowed. “Please don’t- AHHH!” Her plea was cut short by her screaming as she felt him inside her, a hot and sharp pain searing through her body and sending chills through her body. His free hand shot underneath her shirt, gripping her breast with a brute force she never anticipated. She moaned, not in pleasure, but in agony at his sheer brutality. Her auburn curls stuck to her tear-strewn face as he thrusted in her over and over, her sobs barely audible over Gage’s animalistic noises. 

She closed her eyes, lips trembling as she shut them tight as well, desperately trying to think of something else. Oddly enough, the only thing she could muster in her thoughts went to the last time she’d had sex… it was so long ago, and with her beloved Nate, and it led to… 

She shook her head, the past sharply interrupted by the horrendous present. She wailed again as her ass was slapped- rough- by Gage, who was still making unholy noises. “You- don’t have to…” she whimpered in between his thrusts, her voice breaking.

“Not gonna happen, doll,” he grunted, his hand moving from her breast down to her clitoris and began rubbing it furiously. 

She gasped at the sensation, yelling in torment. Her body reacted accordingly to his actions, though her mind protested as she wriggled further into the couch.

“You made me do this, Slade.” Gage said with a guttural tone. “I’m gonna make you come.” His left hand shifted to the front of her neck, bringing her face directly up as he choked her.

She gasped for air as he continued rubbing her cunt, howling as best she could through his grasp. She breathed in a panic, and did something she hadn’t done in years- she sent a quick prayer up to heaven, or to wherever someone who could help her would hear it.

“Moan for me.” He ordered her through gritted teeth.
“Never.” She seethed.

Gage almost pulled completely out of her, then slammed back into her with such a force that caused her to scream profanity.

“That’s more like it,” he said sickeningly.

She continued sobbing as he continued, truly wishing she was deceased. This was worse than anything she had experienced in the Commonwealth- the Gauntlet, the deathclaws, the Raiders, Gunners, and of course, the Institute and what they might be doing to-

Suddenly, miraculously, a gunshot echoed deafeningly close. In an instant, she no longer felt Gage’s grip on her neck or on her front, and suddenly she felt him slip out of her. The last thing she heard was a thump before her legs buckled beneath her, her mind spinning into black.

 

~~~ 

 

Her eyelashes fluttered lightly, her lips parting open as she breathed deeply. RJ sighed with relief as she did so, his right hand gently pressing against the side of her face, his thumb tenderly stroking her cheek. “Gemma?” He whispered.

She made a soft noise as she stirred, finally opening her eyes. It was dark outside, the noises of night becoming clearer. She squinted her eyes to focus, looking right at MacCready’s face, his blue eyes staring at hers. “RJ…” She became aware she was lying next to him on that stupid couch, his arms around her. “Where did you-?”

“I had a weird feeling and knew I needed to come check on you.” He told her softly. “Glad I did, when I did.”

Gemma’s mind was fuzzy, but when the memories of the day became clear, she felt the heat of tears welling up in her eyes. “Gage, he-”

“I know, Slade.” He hugged her tightly, but affectionately, with a sincerity she didn't know he possessed. “I know.”

“What happened?” She asked him in a whisper.

He hesitated. “I… shot him. I didn’t know what else to do,” he explained in a quiet voice. “I was worried he might’ve killed you if he knew I was there.”

She nodded, sniffling through hitched breaths. She rested her head against his chest. “How’d we wind up here, then? This is... weird.”

“Well,” he sighed, “after I did that, you were pretty hysterical. You looked like you were going to pass out. So, I wanted to make sure that you didn’t fall and hurt yourself, so I talked you down a bit and got you dressed again…” he paused. “Then you just… cried on me. I didn’t stop you, then you fell asleep.”

She went to curl her hand, then realized it was in his left one. She glanced up at him in confusion.

“You did that while you were sleeping,” he told her, knowing she was going to ask him.

“Oh.” She nodded, taking her hand away from his, placing it near her face on his chest. “Sorry.”

He gave a breathy laugh. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

They sat together for a while, the quiet night ambiance providing some comfort. “RJ?” Gemma finally asked.

“Hmm?”

“Why did you do it? Do it all, I guess?”

He scratched his facial hair. “What do you mean?”

“I just-” she struggled for the words. “You could’ve just walked away. You didn't even have to tell me earlier. Why did you?”

He inhaled deeply, smiling to himself. “I’m not as awful as you think I am, Slade.”

“No, that’s not what I meant!” She grinned to him.

MacCready shrugged. “I know.” He sighed. “Truthfully,” he began quietly, “it… reminded me of Lucy.”

Gemma’s heart skipped a beat. “How so?”
“It’s weird.” He said, looking straight ahead. “I used to try to protect her from everything I could…from the world.” He swallowed hard. “She wound up paying the price for me failing to do that.” There was a sorrow in his voice that sent chills through Gemma’s body. “I couldn't live with myself if I failed someone else, too.”

She sat in sad silence, reflecting on his words thoroughly. “What happened?” She breathed. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

He thought on her question for what seemed like an eternity, before finally simply saying: “Ferals.”

“Oh…” she said. She shuddered at his response; anything to do with ferals was horrific, and if it had to do with Lucy’s death, well… “I won’t pry.” She concluded.

He nodded solemnly. “Thanks.”

“I’m so sorry, RJ.”

“Robert.” He answered back.

She lifted her head from the warmth of his chest to look at him once more. “What?”

He shrugged, a grin on his face. “That’s my name.”

She smiled at him. “Really?”

“Don’t laugh.”

“I’m not!” She said, shaking her head. “Why’d you tell me this, though?”

“Dunno.” He chuckled to himself. “Call it ‘lost in the moment’, if you want.”
She laughed, sniffling as she did so. “Well, I appreciate it.”

“Just don’t go spreading that to everyone, though.” He told her. “That’s some info for the few I trust.”

She smiled, resting her head back on his chest. The two sat in the night for a while. MacCready glanced down at her and grinned to himself- it had been quite a long time he had had this kind of contact with anyone, let alone a woman. He didn't know what it was about her that got him to open up so much about himself, about his past… but in truth, it was kind of a relief to have someone there with him.

“Thank you.” She interrupted his thoughts with her simple words.

“What for?”

She looked up at him again. “For saving me,” she breathed.

He smiled down at her and hugged her. “Anytime, Gemma.”

 

Chapter Text

There were few sights that MacCready remembered vividly throughout his life, and the gruesome event from the previous day was one of them. Truthfully, he didn't want to kill Porter Gage; it’s not like he had been wanting an opportunity to pump his head full of lead or anything, it sort of just… happened. But he didn't know what else to do when the lift came to a stop and the view of Gage, his back to him with his pants around his knees and just emitting foul sounds of some kind of feral hunger as he did unspeakable things to the woman in front of him, and then Gemma, who he could hear; her screams and sobs were in themselves heartbreaking, but when he caught a glimpse of her face- glistened with tears and distorted in different forms of pain and pure sorrow- it was too much. Gage was far too preoccupied to notice the sounds of the lift behind him and there was a ferocity in the tone of his voice speaking to Gemma in such a demeaning way that haunted MacCready’s thoughts, and he knew he only had one option. So, without really thinking, he took his shot to the Raider and ended it. He didn't ever think he’d forget the way she was trembling, her knees buckling from under her once Gage didn't have any hold on her- it was devastating, and that was a word he rarely used for things anymore. She was hysterically sobbing when he ran over to support her, and she just fell into him, holding onto him as he tried to quell her with his words of comfort, only slowing down once he helped get her decent once again and the two of them had shifted onto the couch in each other’s embrace and fallen asleep.

That same vivid scene was the one that jarred RJ out of his sleep, very abruptly and without warning. ‘Jesus…’ he thought to himself as his consciousness came to him. There were distant sounds of gunfire, which he came to expect in this hellhole of a settlement, as well as occasional screeches or shouts from Raiders throughout Nuka Town USA. He sleepily opened his eyes, yawning rather loudly, looking straight into the eyes of a woman he’d never seen before.

“Good. You’re up.” She said cooly. She had very light blonde hair, half of which was pulled back into a purple bow. She looked clean, which was uncommon amongst the raiders in Nuka-World. Her mixed hazel-blue eyes seemed to pierce into him. She stood a little too close to the couch for his comfort.

“Who the happy hell are you?!” RJ asked in a frenzy as he sat upright, now most definitely awake.

“Mags. Mags Black.” She answered, crossing her arms over her bullet covered vest. “I’m the new number two around here.”

“Wait,” he mumbled. “You’re the one she wrote to, right? And with the weapon modifications?”

She gave him a slight grin. “Guilty as charged. And you’re the one who blessed me with the promotion, so I believe thanks are in order.”

“Erm… you’re welcome, I guess.” MacCready rolled his neck around and slowly stood up to face Mags. “I’ve gotta say, I wasn't expecting a thank you for murdering your… manager.”

“Gage was no manager,” she snorted. “If you ask me, he had it coming. He didn't play by the rules and his work was getting sloppy. He relied on the Overboss far too often and her trust in him got to his head. I’m glad that son of a bitch is out of the picture.”

MacCready glanced around the room in confusion. “Hey, so speaking of, where… is he?” He hesitated. “I didn't really move him after… well, you know.”

“My brother, William, came to collect him. We’ve generously donated his corpse to an auction between the Pack and Disciples. Winner gets it.”

Chills shot through RJ’s spine, causing him to shudder. “Jesus.”

“You’re in our territory now, kid.” She told him menacingly. “And if you want to stay in the game, you’ve got to put on a tough face.”

He nodded slowly, still feeling queasy. “Where’s Slade?” He asked, effectively changing the subject. “She was with me before.”

“Yes, I know.” Mags said sternly. “She approached me at the Parlor earlier this morning and explained what happened.” She paused, lips twitching momentarily. “Nuka-World is a brutal place, but what Porter Gage did was beyond unacceptable. Now, she’s preparing to head back to the Commonwealth, I believe, and taking care of a few minor things back at Bradberton’s office.”

“I thought she had to, I don’t know, exterminate or something?”

“I will be taking over that assignment on her behalf.” Mags told him. “She wants to go back home.”

RJ tilted his head. “Home? The Commonwealth?”

Mags pursed her lips. “Yeah, to her house.”

“I-” he shook his head. “I thought she lived here? I guess in a more permanent sense than back across the pond.”

“Well, you thought wrong.” Mags said simply. She gave him a quick smile. “But, I imagine you’re going back with her. Go see if the Overboss needs your help.”

He merely nodded and headed towards the lift, pushing the red button when he got to the edge of the balcony.

“Oh, and one last thing-” Mags said loudly, turning to face him.

“Oh yeah?” He replied, hands in his pockets. “What’d that be?”

She glared at him, her eyes piercing seemingly into his very soul. “If you create problems for Slade, you create ten times more for yourself.” She lowered her head menacingly. “You understand?”

He nodded slowly as the lift jolted to a stop beside him. He pursed his lips as he stepped on it and pushed the button again. “Lovely meeting you, doll.” He said with a smirk, tilting his hat towards her as the lift descended. Once she was out of sight (and earshot), he shivered. “Weirdo…”

 

~~~

 

MacCready tried his very best to ignore all of the death glares and the gestures implying he’d be killed by the many Raiders as he walked to NukaTown USA, though it was difficult. Most of the Disciples’ eyes couldn't even be seen since they wore helmets that covered their faces and/or eyes, yet he could still feel their menacing eyes on his back. It seemed like an eternity before he reached an old office with the ridiculous mascot of Nuka-Cola, a giant bottle cap with eyes and ligaments, standing beside the door. There was a speaker and a talk button next to Cappy, which he figured was how he could gain entrance inside. He pushed the red button and waited for a response.

“What is it?” He heard Gemma’s voice ask.

“Hey, boss.” He replied, clearing his throat. “Wanna let me in?”

There was no answer, but the sounds of maglocks coming undone could be heard from the door. MacCready grinned to himself and walked through the narrow doorway, hearing a horrendous recording of a pre-war message from Cappy. He couldn't be sure if it was because of it being post-war or not but it seemed especially creepy with all of the old propaganda for the soft drink lying around, countless Cappy mascot-littered items staring at him.

He hesitated as he looked around the entry room. “Slade?” He called out. “Where you at?”

“Upstairs.” Was her simple response.

He wade through the hellish altar to the soft drink and quickly found a set of stairs, which he ran up. “Oh, yikes…” he mumbled to himself. If he thought the downstairs was rough, it was merely a preparation for the actual office of the creator of Nuka-Cola. The whole room was bathed in a dim red light, with glass cases holding some of the more unique flavors of the drink within it and of course a life-sized model of Cappy (“Because of course it does,” RJ thought to himself). Posters with the blonde pre-war bombshell in the classic rocket suit adorned the walls, and right near the opposite wall was a desk, which Gemma was seated at, staring at a terminal. She stared at him blankly for just a moment before returning her attention back to the screen. There was a kind of dead in her eyes that the light of the screen really emphasized and it made RJ a tad bit uncomfortable, if he was being honest. She looked a little crazy, truthfully. She was back in her psycho raider Overboss garb she wore against her fight with the guy from the Gauntlet, though her hair was a little more hectic than usual, a few strands of frizzy curls falling in front of her face. He stood a few feet away from the desk as she sat unmoving for a few minutes before he very evidently and obviously coughed and cleared his throat, staring at her.

She glanced over at him. “What?”

He laughed incredulously, mostly air coming out. “You’re kidding, right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Feel like I am a ghost.” She mumbled. “I’m just tired… running out of steam, you know?”

He nodded slowly. “Is that why you want to get out of this…” he hesitated. “charming park?”

“Yeah.” Her voice was low and husky, her eyes darting away from his gaze. “I’m just sending out a message to the gangs.” She bit her lip. “I’m afraid of how they may react hearing that Gage is…” her voice broke. “Well, they might-”

“You can place the blame on me about him,” RJ scoffed. “Piece of trash human deserved it.”

Gemma snorted. “They’d kill you before we could get back to the monorail station.” She said coldly. She rubbed her face with her hands and looked back to him. “Listen,” she began, a sort of tone in her voice he hadn't heard her use before, “Whatever happened yesterday- what happened last night,” the last part she emphasized, a desperation for an understanding in her gaze, “I want both of us to forget.”

MacCready blinked, a little stunned. “Okay…” he said slowly. “Why last night?”

She began cracking her knuckles, looking down at the desk. “It was unprofessional, and it was a moment of weakness on my part. For that, I wanted to apologize to you.”

“Wh-” He stuttered, still very confused. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m your employer, nothing more.” She spat. “Anything more than that is just…” She hesitated. “Something I’m uncomfortable with.”

He raised an eyebrow, a bit annoyed. “What are you implying?”

“Let’s just make sure nothing like that happens again, okay?” She asked sternly?”

“Which part?!” He asked angrily, his voice louder. “Me saving you from a rapist?”

Her nostrils flared, a sudden tension immediately filling the room.

“Because, as crazy as that sounds, that seemed like a good deed in my book!” He yelled.

“Stop it.” She said.

“But nope!” He continued on anyways. “Always doing something wrong in your book, Slade. You didn't seem as mad about it last night when-”

A loud slam interrupted him- Gemma had stood up, slapping her hands fiercely down on the desk. “That! That fucking part, okay?!” She screamed. “The fact I was fuckin’ laying on top of you! God, RJ!” 

MacCready laughed. “Oh, don’t flatter yourself, Gemma.” 

“I just-” She huffed, darting her eyes back and forth from him to the desk. “Fuck. Never mind.” She leaned down and pressed one final key on the keyboard. “Get your shit.” She told him, bending down and grabbing her colorful rifle and her pack. “We’re going back to the Commonwealth.”

He took a deep breath, analyzing her. She would briefly look up at him as she moved around the office, still in a tizzy. She was acting more unusual than normal. Something in her eyes… in her face… it was a little unsettling, something almost sad? He wasn’t sure. 

But then again, with Slade, he never was.

 

~~~ 

 

The sky was melting into evening, warm oranges and pinks overcoming the blues, when they finally were well into trekking the ground of the familiar Commonwealth once again. The ride back was tense to say the least, the pair barely spoke to each other- but it was a good opportunity for MacCready to catch up on some most needed sleep. She was leading them in a northeast direction from the station with nothing else much besides the occasional mongrel pack or a handful of raiders on the road hindering their walk. He didn't even bother asking her where they were headed at this point since she hadn't ever given him such a clear answer in the past. The few days they were in Nuka-World didn't feel real- more like something from a surreal and hellish fever dream you’d get after too much Jet… or radiation, for that matter.

They came up over a hill, where a Red Rocket was a few hundred feet away. He’d never been this particular way in the wastes before, and he hoped to God Slade knew where she was going, especially since she began picking up her pace.

She nearly gave him a heart attack when she suddenly whistled, very sharply and loudly as they approached the truck stop. “Dogmeat?” She called out sweetly. “Where are you, boy?”

A dog’s bark echoed and the sounds of scurrying on dirt became clear before the German Shepherd he’d seen her with that first night at The Third Rail came running around the corner to Gemma. “Ah!” She cried happily, kneeling down besides one of the old gas pumps. She held her arms out lovingly as the dog ran into her, rolling around on her knees and desperately licking her face. “I’ve missed you too, buddy!” She said, a huge smile breaking out as she pat him. “It’s been way too long, I know. How you doin’, bud?” She asked him as he began to settle down a little bit. She nodded at him as she spoke, “You ready to go, Dogmeat? Yeah? Okay, let’s go!” The dog happily ran away from her as she stood up, only to run back beside her feet.

RJ stared at the spectacle, mostly confused. “You sure got that thing wrapped around your finger, eh?”

She glared back at him. “I found him over two years ago. He’s my family.”

He nodded, following her and the dog. “Right…” He looked around the old stop. “So this is where the dog goes when you’re on your own?”

She looked down at Dogmeat. “He likes to come over here, but it’s not where his dog house is.” She smiled at him. “Huh, boy?”

He barked happily at her, still loyally next to her legs as she walked.

RJ grinned. “He’s got a dog house?” He chuckled.

“Sure.” She glanced back at him. “Why, you want a bed?” She joked.

“Very funny.”

They approached a bridge, mostly intact, that was over a low river. Up ahead looked like… houses? ‘Where are we going?’ He thought to himself. A sign, though faded, still stood at the end of the bridge at the beginning of a pathway in between the houses. “Sanctuary?” He asked aloud quietly. “Like from the stories? Before the War?”

“Yeah,” Gemma answered quietly. “Sanctuary.”

“How’d you find this place?” He asked, looking in awe around. “It seems abandoned.”

A few moments passed before her answer came. “Luck, I guess…”

His brows raised at her reply. He wanted to ask a follow-up. but figured it wasn't worth it. They walked for another minute or so when they Gemma seemed she was walking towards a particular blue house- strangely enough, with a Mister Handy robot floating outside.

“AHHH!” It cried, it’s arms spinning as she approached it. “Miss Jenna, how was your trip?” It asked her inquisitively.

She sighed heavily. “Could’ve been better, I suppose.” She looked towards the hired gun. “Codsworth, this is MacCready. I hired him in Goodneighbor.”

“Mr. MacCready!” The robot delightedly bellowed. “A pleasure! Could I get you a refreshing drink, a water perhaps?”

RJ nodded. “That sounds great, thanks.”

“Well, come on in, Miss Jenna! Welcome home!” It began floating towards the door. “I’m happy to report the nasty bug infestation is under control and the old home front remains safe from intruders!”

She smiled at the robot fondly. “Thank you, Codsworth. I appreciate it.” 

Codsworth led the trio inside, where Dogmeat promptly jumped up onto a somewhat intact couch and curled up. Gemma turned towards RJ and gestured around. “Welcome to my home, I guess.” She said.

“Who’d you kill to get a place like this? In the Commonwealth, no less.”

She chuckled, though not answering. She walked down a corridor and disappeared into a room. 

“Mr. MacCready,” Codsworth said, “here you are!” His robot arm extended a canister of water.

He grabbed it, a little bit of apprehension in his movements. The whole situation was a little bit crazy, and only getting weirder by the minute, He took a seat at an old countertop stool and looked around. It was definitely Pre-War, and it was nice. He could tell, since usually old places destroyed by the nuke looked especially awful. This still looked better than half of Goodneighbor.

“Miss Jenna told me you were going back to that amusement park.” Codsworth said. MacCready didn't know that robots made small talk; WhiteChapel Charlie only talked to you if you were getting a drink, and K-L-E-O only wanted to murder people.

He took a sip from the water and raised an eyebrow. “Jenna?” He mumbled.

“Why, of course! Miss Jenna.” He replied.

As if on cue, Gemma re-emerged into the hallway. Her hair was back in a braid and she was wearing a very loose sweater with casual pants and boots. She was holding onto a much smaller sack that looked like it had a heavy object in it. “Codsworth, I’m going up the path through the gate.” Her voice was soft and quiet. “Please show MacCready your famous hospitality while I’m gone.” She very quickly walked out the door, shutting it behind her.

RJ sat, puzzled. “Can I have a look around?” He asked the Mister Handy.

“Why of course, sir!” He replied.

He thanked Codsworth, jumping out of the stool and towards the room she had been in. For being a part of a ruined house, it was pretty intact- there was still a bed in the corner and a dresser near a window. He looked around, a weird and solemn vibe chilling his bones. He shivered but slowly walked over to the wooden dresser, where a few undisturbed pictures in frames were still placed atop. “Damn…” he whispered to himself. These were from before the War- they had to be. He picked one of them up to examine it, a photograph of a young woman. He froze.

It was her. It was Gemma. She was younger, for sure. But it was unquestionable- the curly hair, though it was to her shoulders, the way her lips pursed into a smile, and the light eyes staring back- most mysteriously, her freckled face wasn’t riddled with scars. He shook his head in confusion. “What the hell’s going on…” he breathed. He placed the photo back down on the dresser and looked at another one. This one had the woman with a man, a very large man with dark hair and light eyes, and the two were embracing each other in front of a house. It was blue with pristine paint, and bright green foliage surrounding it. “This is impossible,” he said to himself. His heart was racing, a feeling he was unfamiliar with welling up within him.

He put the picture down and walked briskly back to the kitchen and living room. “Where did she go?” He asked Codsworth. “I mean, where did she say?”

“Er, she usually prefers to go by herself-”

“Please tell me.” He protested. “It’s important.”

“Very well,” Codsworth said slowly. “Down the road, to your right, is a bridge leading to an uphill path. Follow it. That’s where mum will be.”

MacCready nodded in thanks and headed out the door. His mind was swimming with about a million questions, getting louder as he began running in the direction Codsworth had led him. And he wanted answers this time.

 

~~~ 

 

Codsworth’s directions led him on top of a hill overlooking Sanctuary with a giant metal platform right near the edge, which he had used to descend down into a vault. He knew vaults all too well, but he wasn't expecting to be near one or inside one as an adult… The mystery he was following only grew thicker as the platform jolted to a stop, a deafening silence following the clunking of the platform’s gate rising. A few stairs were in front of him. He rose them slowly, his breathing feeling like it was on a loud speaker. The place was abandoned, skeletons scattered around the entrance to the vault. He walked along the pathway with arrows on the ground carefully when a hallway opened up in front of him. He stopped in his tracks when he saw Gemma up ahead- she was standing still, her face in her hands.

He took a deep breath and slowly and quietly took a few steps forward, an iciness filling the air as he walked through an archway.

“…I’m trying.” He could hear her say. Her voice was shrill, obviously in tears. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Her face was flushed. “But everythin-” She choked on her tears as she tried speaking. “I’m running out of leads…” She shook her head, then hung it as she continued crying. “I don’t know if I can-” She sniffed. “Be able to find him.”

RJ took a few steps closer into the hallway, his heart stopping again as his boot stepped into a puddle making a loud splashing noise. “Fu-shoot,” he breathed.

Gemma looked up at him once he made his presence known, but didn't speak. She merely looked ahead once again. 

MacCready stood frozen, unsure of what to do. It seemed like an eternity had passed in his state of uncertainty.

“Before the War,” Gemma said quietly, her voice a little stronger, “there was a man named Nate Hale.” She swallowed and took a few deep breaths before continuing. “Spent time in the Sino-American War and came home, where he met a girl who had big plans to be a lawyer.”

RJ’s heart sunk a little as he slowly walked towards her.

“He thought her name was Jemma, since she had bad writing and she wrote her N’s too close together. Everyone in her family’s names started with a J.” She sighed, folding her arms. “But her name was Jenna. They fell in love and got married.”

She squeezed her lips shut, shaking her head as RJ got a little closer. “And on May 3rd, 2077, they had a baby boy in their lives. Moved to a new housing complex called Sanctuary.” She continued, the pain clear in her trembling voice. “The bombs fell five months later and the new family rushed to this vault, where they were told they’d be safe.” 

MacCready approached her gently, his gaze falling to the right. In some sort of pod was a frozen body of a man, a patch of red in his side. He recognized him from the photograph…

“They weren’t.” Gemma whispered, staring at the body in sadness.

He remained silent as he stared at her dead husband.

She took a deep breath. “It was a fucking experiment,” she continued, a new anger in her tone. “Vault-Tech froze us. All of us. for two HUNDRED years.” She was seething through her teeth. “The bastards came back at some point. They wanted my baby.” Her eyes glistened. “Nate was holding him, and they wanted him…” Her voice broke again. “And they shot him. They killed him. Right in front of me.” A single tear rolled down her cheek. “And then they took him. They kidnapped my boy, Shaun. And then they left me frozen again.”

“Gemma…” He said, voice barely there. “I’m… really sorry. I didn’t…” He trailed off, unsure of how to finish his sentence.

In both of their silences, the pieces of the puzzle finally became clear to RJ- especially the pieces involving the infamous Institute. The Commonwealth Boogeyman was notorious for kidnapping people, and he didn't doubt their evilness would stop at an infant.

“I’m trying to find him.” She finally said. “I’ve been trying ever since the cryopod malfunctioned. Over two years ago.” She shook her head. “I have… one more option. And I don’t know if it’ll work.” She shrugged. “Or if he’s even still alive, after all this time…”

He looked over at her. “You’ll find him. You will.”

The two stood in silence once again, staring at Nate. 

“This is the last time-” Gemma said fiercely, looking at her husband’s face. “The last time I have to tell him I haven’t found our son yet. No matter what it takes, I’ll find out what happened to our boy.” And with that, she pressed a button beside the pod, causing it to close shut.

“Gemma,” RJ began, “I’m really sorry-”

She walked briskly passed him, ending his apology.

He stared at her as she passed, a lump in his throat. He couldn't help but feeling guilty for how he’d treated her., everything he'd said to her. He’d always wondered why she acted the way she had, why she always was on the defense. He had asked himself  why she chose him… of all people, him. Why she rescued him, even. All her secrets and her unspecific orders…

But now he knew why. And he wasn’t sure he finding out the answer was worth it.

Chapter Text

“Can I talk to you?” 

Gemma looked up where she sat on her bed in the rundown blue house at Sanctuary Hills at RJ, who stood in the doorway solemnly. She was hugging her knees against the corner wall, the dim light from late dusk spilling through the window adjacent to her as Dogmeat lay, seemingly asleep on an old raggedy rug on the floor beside it. It had been a very quiet return back to Sanctuary from Vault 111 amongst the two; he seemed too afraid to speak, and she too upset. “Why not?” She responded quietly.

He entered the room slowly, noticeably absent of his signature green duster and hat. He’d changed into a grey sweater and loose cotton pants, confident there wasn't any more action happening for the rest of the evening. He hesitated as he stopped at the opposite edge of her bed and gestured down. “Can I?”

She merely extended her hand in response.

He sat down and crossed his legs in front of him, facing her. “I wanna just…” He sighed. “This kind of thing isn't something I’m used to, but here goes, I guess.” He  looked down, rubbed his hands together nervously. “I wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Sorry?” She asked quietly. “What the hell for?”

He chuckled. “For quite a few things, actually.” He glanced up to look her in the eyes. They were so forlorn, she looked so different from the woman who threatened a Gunner inside a bar from nearly two months ago. “To start, I guess just for my short temper.” He shook his head. “To be honest, I used to be a really angsty kid and that turned into a very angry and resentful teenager which has morphed to… well, you’ve seen it.” 

She let out a little laugh, barely some air coming out of her nose with the faintest hint of a smile on her face as she listened to him.

“Secondly, I want to apologize for not listening to you back at the Taphouse.” He swallowed. “I didn't listen to you, and you could've died from it. You nailed it right on the head; I’d been on my own for a long time before you entered the picture, and I don't take to people telling what to do so easily. I also don’t know if I ever thanked you for getting me out of the way from that mine.”

Gemma shook her head. “You don't have to thank me,” she said quietly.

“Well I am regardless.” He smiled. “I’m sorry for anything I’ve said to you that’s offended you. Don’t have much self awareness, I guess.”

She looked at him, tilting her head slightly. “Why are you apologizing for so much all of a sudden?” She asked him. “This is very out of character for you.”

He shrugged. “I guess things are more…” he hesitated. “In perspective.”

“What do you mean?”

“I…” RJ paused, unsure how to proceed.

A few moments passed as she stared at him. “This is because you saw Nate.” She told him, not asked. 

“Yeah…” he sighed. “I guess you could say that.

“I don’t need false sympathy,” she told him coldly, her voice low and somber.

He was taken aback. “What are you talking about?”

“This is how it always goes, isn't it?” She began, her voice barely above a whisper. “The apologies are always first when people find out that you’re a sad sack with a tragic past. Then they start treating you like one. That’s why I try to hide it.”

“I’m not doing this because you’ve got a tragic past,” he told her, shaking his head incredulously, “I’m doing this because now I know that you and I are… more alike than anyone I’ve ever met, and that I need to be less of an assh…erghm.” He stumbled on his sentence, closing his eyes in irritation. “I need to be a little less of a jerk.”

She blinked. “You think we’re more similar now after finding out I lived before the world was a shitscape of a hellhole and was frozen for two centuries?” She widened her eyes. “That can’t possibly be true.”

He chuckled. “Well when you put it that way, it sounds crazy.”

“You don’t have to-” she struggled for words, shaking her head as she made eye contact. “I don’t know, pretend we’re closer now.”

“Joke’s on you, Slade.” He grinned. “I’m not pretending. So stop trying to interrupt this brief moment of sincerity before I change my mind.”

“Fine.” She said with a gentle smile.

“This is something I…” He looked down briefly, taking a deep breath. “I’ve never gone into detail telling. To anyone… 

 

 

“Robert, I don’t think camping here was the best idea you’ve ever had.” Lucy said, the worry evident in her tone.

He opened his eyes, very groggy and very tired, rolling and yawning over to look at his wife. God, she was so beautiful- her ashy blonde hair, her piercing blue eyes- he still couldn't believe it. She was caressing the head of their son, Duncan, between them on an old sleeping mat they were laying on, nestled right against a pre-war train that had toppled over on its side on the tracks. Duncan was barely over a year old, and MacCready was still coming to terms with the fact that he was a father and husband. It was a life he’d never thought he would have for himself. Hell, he didn't deserve this kind of life. “Don’t worry, babe; we’re safe in here. Well, safer than we would be out there.” The new family was trekking for a safer and better life outside of the Capital Wasteland and had found themselves holing in an abandoned metro station for the night before continuing their journey the next morning. Lucy had been growing more and more anxious every day and was still apprehensive about her husband’s plan on moving them to the so-called “Commonwealth”. He leaned over, kissing his wife tenderly on her lips. “Go to sleep, love.I won’t let anything happen to the two of you.”

“But what about you?” She asked him earnestly. “We can’t do this without you.”

He gave her his classic smirk. “Don’t worry about me. Just get some sleep. I promise, everything is going to be just fine.”

She nodded, a little unsure, but rolled over so her back was facing him. His attention shifted to their son, laying in between them, who was fast asleep. He gently pulled Duncan in closer to him, holding him as he fell asleep.

It had seemed only a moment had passed when a hideous sound abruptly woke Robert up, making him jerk his body so violently that Duncan opened his little eyes. He sat up, holding Duncan against his chest and looked around the old station. His heart beat deep within his chest as he scanned the tracks as the sound seemed to get louder, and more of them bec-

Out of thin air, a feral ghoul flung itself over the top of the toppled train and landed right on his precious wife. 

“LUCY!” He screamed, Duncan beginning to cry, as he scrambled for his pack which had his gun it.

Lucy had awoken, screaming in terror as another ghoul joined the first, and the two began attacking her, violently stripping away at her flesh. “ROBERT!” She cried out. “SAVE DUNC-”

Her last words were cut short by… well, he couldn't be sure, but by the time was able to hold both his infant son and his weapon to try to defend his beautiful wife, it was too late. She was being ripped apart by those fucking ferals, right in front of his eyes. 

“NO!” He screamed in agony, tears flying out of his eyes. Duncan was crying violently in his arms, and it only took a brief moment to look down at the boy in his arms to heed Lucy’s last request to run and get the two of them out of the metro station. So, he sprinted.

And he didn't look back.

 

 

“Took everything I had to escape with Duncan in my arms.” MacCready spoke, barely a whisper, a tear reaching his chin as he concluded telling Gemma his story. “After we got out of that damn metro station, I just went straight back to our farm. I didn't know what else to do at the time, so I figured that was something.” He wiped his face with his hand and inhaled deeply. “Spent a few more years scraping by until I finally decided to wander further north so I could support him and give him a life where he could be happy and not have to worry. I knew it was too dangerous to take him with me…” He looked at the woman in front of him somberly. “He’s with a friend of mine now, we go way back.” He shook his head. “So that’s why I’m here. To provide for Duncan.”

Gemma sat, mouth slightly open as she listened to him. Her eyes were glistening as he finished speaking. “How old is he now?” She asked him, her voice cracking.

“He’s six. I haven't seen him in a few years, though.”

She bit her lip. “RJ… I’m so, so sorry about Lucy.” 

“Don’t be. It’s my own fu-” He grumbled, shaking his head. “My own damn fault. If I hadn't led them in there-”

“Hey, don’t think like that.” She interrupted him. “You may have lost your wife- which is heartbreaking and tragic, I know from experience-but, RJ, you saved your son. That counts for something.”

“Maybe. I don’t know anymore.” He sighed. After a few moments of silence shared between the two of them and after Gemma looked down to fumble with her sweater, he finally spoke again. “You know, he’s the reason I even started running with the Gunners in the first place. They payed well, and it was the first gig I came across. I didn't know how insane they were when I joined… after I got out with them, I honestly didn't know if I’d be able to give Duncan a passing chance at a decent life back home. But you’ve given that to me.”

She looked back up at him in surprise. “Wh-Me?”

He chuckled. “Yes, you. With the caps you’ve been paying me, I’ve been helping him out, too. And it’s more than I thought I’d ever make when I came out to the Commonwealth.” He raised an eyebrow apprehensively. “Well, I wasn't expecting to be in business with a Raider Lord and her shifty operations, but it’s more than I ever could have hoped for.”

She weakly smiled at him. “I’m more trouble than I’m worth, but I’m glad to hear I’ve done something for someone in the three years I’ve been alive.” She paused. “Well, not alive alive, but awake. Since before the War.”

“How long have you been alive, anyway, Slade?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to ask a woman her age?” She responded playfully.

“Oh, come on. It’s just a question.” He said, the joke flying right past him.

“Fine, fine.” She rubbed her hands together. “Excluding the 210 I was frozen for, I’ve lived 28 years.”

“Ah, interesting.” He nodded. “I’ve got you beat.” He pointed to himself. “29.”

“Truthfully, I thought you’d be younger due to your mannerisms.” She admitted.

“Oh, well thanks for that.”

She laughed. “I’m sorry! But it’s true.”

He nodded slowly, smiling. “Hey, can I ask you something?” He asked after a few moments.

“Sure.”

“How the absolute hell have you survived out here on your own for so long?” He asked her incredulously. “I mean, all of us out here have been dealing with this kinda crap since we were born. You probably didn't have to deal with anything even close to the Wasteland before the bombs fell, right?”

“That’s the question, isn't it?” She let her head fall back against the wall. “Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. Nate taught me how to shoot a few different kinds of guns before everything went to hell, but most of my defensive skills kinda just came in on their own once I woke up.”

“What did you do? I mean how’d you even make it to Diamond City?”

“Well,” she said, twisting some of her hair in her fingers, “I spent the first month or so just working with Codsworth on the house and fixing some of the appliances so I could actually live here again. Every now and then I would venture out to test the waters, but it scared the hell out of me every time.”

“I don’t blame you.” He laughed. “It sucks out here.”

“You could say that again.” She smiled. “One day, I came across a trader who told me there was a place called Diamond City and that if I needed help, that’s where I should go. So I made my way there, barely making it past a few mutants when I got to the Fens. I met Piper Wright and she kinda took me under her wing for a while as I got adjusted there.”

“Piper?” He said, his eyes rolling. “Oh boy…” He shook his head, when a thought came into his mind. “Wait a minute… that paper she wrote about the Vault Dweller- that was you, wasn't it?”

Gemma smiled, closing her eyes, and stifled back some laughter. “Yeah, it was.”

MacCready sat up straighter. “This whole time I thought that was a load of crap!” He paused. “Wait, she wrote that the vault was filled with guinea pigs?”

“I made that part up.” She shrugged seeing his dumbfounded reaction. “I was having a bad day, okay? I found out that my favorite ball park was a shanty-town, you cant blame me.”

“I can’t believe it.” He crossed his arms. “I have another question for you, if you don't mind.”

“Sure, why the hell not.”

He cracked his knuckles in his hands. “I’m still not sure why you would drop everything for some smart-mouthed mercenary in a bar- even knowing about my son, it just doesn't seem normal to me.”

She nodded. “Fair question. I wish I had a better answer.” She shifted so she was cross-legged as well. “I’d been running the show over at Nuka-World for the better part of a year and..” she seemed lost, looking past him at the wall behind him in the bedroom. “Once I saw the letter from the courier, I don’t know. It just made me re-prioritize things, I suppose. Finding Shaun had kind of come to a halt after a while- I didn't really know where to go from the last clue I had- so expanding the operations at the park in the Commonwealth was keeping me busy. It made me realize that I needed to keep it moving. And of course, I couldn't let those bastard Gunners get to an innocent boy. I figured if I could help a fellow parent for the benefit of helping out their child, maybe the universe would send some good karma my way. Not to mention once I got to Goodneighbor and asked around about you, they all had glowing things to say about your skills.”

He grinned.“That makes sense.” 

“Oh, don’t flatter yourself.” She retaliated.

He swallowed. “So… what does a Courser have to do with finding your son?”

“Oh, Jesus.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s a story.”

“I like stories.” He said with a smile.

“Well, do you remember when we first started working together? I left for like four days and left you in Goodneighbor.”

“Yeah, that was annoying.” He sighed.

“I was in the Glowing Sea.”

Gemma thought he was going to topple out of bed in shock. “Wh-WHAT?” He cried, eyes open. “Why the-the hell would you go there?”

“I was tracking down a rogue Institute scientist. He told me, theoretically, how to get into the Institute.”

“A-and…” MacCready stuttered. “Why go there?”

“Shaun’s there. That, at least, I know for certain.” Her voice had that husky tone it held whenever she was being sincere. “The scientist told me that the Institute uses some version of teleportation to get its Coursers in and out. If I can find one, kill it, and obtain it’s chip-” she inhaled sharply, a frown appearing on her face. “If I can do all that, I might be able to use my Pip-Boy from the vault and hack into the teleportation frequency they use and get myself inside instead of the Courser.”

RJ scratched his head, looking as if it was about to explode. “That sounds ludicrous.”

She nodded in agreement. “I know. But it’s the only lead I’ve got, and I need to make sure I take it.”

He leaned in closer to her. “And you’re sure that’ll work?”

She bit her lip in hesitation and shrugged. “Guess I have to be, huh?” She grabbed her left arm gingerly as she sat. “After that, I’m screwed.”

“Well, whatever happens, I’ve got your back, Slade.” He smiled.

She returned his smile with a weak one of her own. “I’m really sorry I dragged you into this confusing fucking mess.”

“It may be confusing, but it’s not a mess.” RJ told her, his signature smirk on his face. “Not like everything else in this world is confusing. But I feel like we’re finally on the same page, don’t you?”

Gemma grinned. “Yeah, I do. Feels kinda nice to have everything out in the open.”

“Couldn’t agree more.” He replied. “Didn’t ever think I’d say that about opening up, but jeez has partnering up with you been full of surprises.”

“Oh, shut up!” She laughed. She looked to her right out the window, where the deep blues of the night filled the spaces between wrecked blinds. “It’s getting kind of late. We should probably both get some rest.”

He looked to where her gaze was. “That’s a good idea.” He grunted as he extended his legs off the bed and stood up, and Gemma did the same. The two walked towards her bedroom door slowly, and he stopped just as she put a hand on her door to close it. He stood in his tracks, his head down.

“You okay?” She asked him gently.

He swiveled around to face her. “I know I tend to be a pain in the ass-” he closed his eyes sharply, inhaling deeply. “I mean, I know I tend to be arrogant and I come off like I want to be left alone.” His face looked almost sad, looking down at Gemma’s, merely inches away. “But nothing could be further from the truth. Being alone scares the heck out of me.”

She tilted her head. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Now that we’ve been traveling together for a while,” he began, “I’m beginning to realize how much I missed having someone I could depend on.” He looked at her with the greatest sincerity she’d ever seen. “I just wanted you to know that I’m going to do everything I can to see that it stays that way.”

The corner of her lip pulled up with a quiet smirk. Maybe she should have told him everything about her past long ago- this new man that stood in front of her was much more calm and… almost affectionate towards her. She didn't blame him, though. After hearing his story, he seemed like an entirely different person as well. She hadn't had this kind of closeness, someone who related to her so much and wasn't so different underneath all the sass and quips after all. It was refreshing. There seemed to be a sudden change in the air, and suddenly she felt her heartbeat just a little quicker than before.

MacCready smiled at her. “Well, that’s all I had to say. Hope you got something out of all of… that. I know I did.”

She bit her lip with a smile. “I sure did, RJ. Thank you.” 

He nodded down at her and seemed to hesitate where he stood.

“What?” She asked him softly.

Much to her surprise, he unexpectedly pulled her into a hug, holding her in his arms yet again. She rested her head against his chest as she returned his embrace, sliding her hands and holding his back within them. The quiet sounds of the night from outside became louder somehow in the brief moments the two stood in the doorway before he finally pulled away from her, a grin on his face. “Night, Slade.” And with that, he turned and walked down the hallway.

She held a balled up hand against her heart as she quietly closed her door and made her way back to her bed. She threw an old blanket over her as she closed her eyes, the faintest hint of a smile on her face, as confused as she was, as she drifted to sleep in Sanctuary.

Chapter Text

Four weeks had passed since the heart-to-heart chat that RJ and Gemma had shared, and things hadn't been quite the same since. He wasn't so hot-headed and she had a lot more smiles on her face than he’d ever seen her wear before. The two spent those weeks in Sanctuary hills taking a much needed break from Raiders, Gunners, and everything else in the Commonwealth that seemed keen on murdering everyone as she was waiting for something, always checking the map on her Pip-Boy. They tended to the crops she had planted in the house across the street, fixed a water pump, cooked some fresh food, and got to be a little less serious.

As for today, well… today was different.

“Alright,” Slade said in a hushed tone, looking down at her left wrist at her Pip-Boy, “courser signal strength is at 87%. We’re getting close.”

The two were chasing down an Institute Courser- arguably the most dangerous creation that the science boogeyman had produced. It’s design was to locate other synths and bring them back to the Institute. They were notoriously ruthless and didn't have a reputation for being beaten in a fight. And yet, here she was, with MacCready following close beside her, looking for one. The rogue scientist she met up with in the Glowing Sea had given her all the tools she needed to find one; the only difficult thing was destroying it. They had prepared, though, gearing up with a little heavier armor than either of them was used to, and Gemma had brought the modified machine gun from Mags that had bullets that exploded upon impact she had called ‘Spray ’N Pray’ as well as a knife she’d plucked from a serial killer, a backstory which MacCready regretted asking for immediately. 

“Now, I’m no expert, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say we’re headed in there.” RJ gestured with his rifle at the large green tower of a building a few hundred feet from where they stood.

She nodded, pursing her lips. “Nice guess.” She looked back down at the Pip-Boy. “Greentech Genetics…” She murmured to herself as they got closer to the building. “I’ve never been here before.”

He shook his head. “Same here. Let’s hope we’re not the only ones and that it’s empty, yeah?”

She nodded in agreement as they approached the front doors and she hesitated, stopping with her hand on the door handle.

“What’s wrong?” He asked her.

She swallowed and looked over to him. “This is going to be really dangerous. Are you sure you want to come with me?”

“You point, I shoot.” He raised an eyebrow, smirking. “That was the deal.”

“I’m serious.”

“So am I.” 

She shook her head, a weak smile on her face. “Okay. Let’s do this.” She pushed the door open and stepped cautiously inside, he following suit.

There was a narrow hallway right as they walked in that led to a larger reception area, though she stopped at a desk not twenty steps from opening the door. A dead body lay on top of the desk, blood still dripping from a hole in it’s head. “This isn't good…” She breathed. “This one’s just been killed.”

MacCready came up behind her, his heart skipping a beat. “Slade… this is a Gunner.”

She snapped her head to him. “Are you sure?”

He merely nodded; of course he was sure. He looked around the first floor, his face becoming just slightly paler. “I don’t like this…”

She took a deep breath and kept walking. “Me either.”

The place was a wreck, much like most buildings still standing since the bombs fell. There was a second story with a walkway they could see above them, but the apparent stairway to it had collapsed right into the main reception area. There was a lit up doorway to the right where she decided to follow, leading to a flight of stairs. She had ignored the few other bodies of freshly killed Gunners scattered on the first floor, keeping the Spray ’N Pray in front of her and keeping her stance low and her focus high.

They had barely reached the balcony on the second floor when a booming voice came up over a loud speaker. “The Courser’s on the second floor. Kill on sight.” It said. “Send reinforcements to the Lobby in case there are more.”

“Shit-” Gemma cursed to herself. “We’re not alone, RJ.”

“Let’s hurry, maybe we can cut ‘em off and still get the Courser first.” He told her.

She nodded apprehensively and walked a faster pace than she had before to another archway and crouched in the frame to observe the scene. Up ahead there was a hallway with a few people running down it. “There!” She said. “Let’s go!” Gemma picked herself up and sprinted across the narrow walkway connecting the two hallways, turrets beginning to fire on the pair as they ran. 

“MOVE!” MacCready yelled, narrowing missing a shot that one of the turrets had fired. The two nearly slid into the safety of the hallway, crouching down beneath the broken window as the turrets continued rapidly firing at them. “Oh, great!” He growled as a few Gunners aimed their guns at them up ahead.

“For fuck’s sake!” Gemma yelled, firing her weapon. The Gunners seemed to explode when her fiery shots hit them and combusted- just a red, liquidy mess mixed with a lot of yells and screams filling the hallway.

“What’s going on down there?!” The voice over the intercom yelled. “How many are we dealing with?!”

“Come on!” Gemma yelled over her shoulder, continuing to run forward down the hallway as it curved.

“YEAGH!” A Gunner had leapt out of room through it’s door to her left and struck her down with a hard melee push of his weapon onto the floor as she grunted.

“Whoah, woah, WOAH!” RJ yelled, aiming at the unwelcome Gunner’s head and pulling the trigger, instantly sending him dead to the floor with a thud. He rushed over to Slade, who was holding a hand to her head. “You okay?”

She nodded, her face strained. “I’ll be fine,” she hissed. 

“The Courser is now on the third floor!” The voice bellowed. “Reports of the second intruder in the east wing near the courtyard!”

“Fuck!” She cried through gritted teeth. She pushed herself off the ground and re-stabilized herself just as another horde of Gunners came down a set of stairs several feet in front of them.

Between Gemma and RJ, their foes were mowed down fairly quickly, especially thanks to the Spray ’N Pray’s effectiveness at completely obliterating anything in it’s path. 

“Nothing like a good old firefight to get the blood pumping,” MacCready said with a smirk as the last one fell. “Kinda missed the regular Commonwealth action!”

“Now’s not the time for your weird nostalgia.” She told him shortly as she ascended up the stairs, reloading her machine gun. “Jesus Christ, how far do you think the Courser’s gonna go before it stops going up?!”

He shook his head, exhaling a bit and regaining his composure. “Only one way to find out.”

Gemma led the two up the stairs and nearly made it to the top, when two figures in two separate doorways caught her eye. “HIT THE DECK!” She yelled right as they began firing at them.

MacCready listened and dropped instantly, once again barely missing an incoming shot. “How many more of you jerks are there?!” He yelled at them as he shot at the Gunners, who seemed to keep appearing.

“Barricade stairwells and hallways if you haven't already.” The intercom boomed over the crossfire.

“I’m gonna find-” Gemma grunted in between crouching to evade a shot and retaliating fire. “Whatever motherfucker is making these damn announcements and personally pump ‘em full of lead!” She quickly got up and scurried around the corner to her left, taking cover beside another stairway in front of her. She grinned and leaned over, firing her gun and instantly taking out three more who tried coming down the stairs.

MacCready hurried next to her, shooting two additional bodies down. “Yeah!” He cried. “That’s how we do things around here.”

She rolled her eyes, a smile on her face. “Let’s go.” She made her way up the staircase where she saw a terminal up ahead. “I’m going for that!” She told him, sprinting towards it.

“I got your back!”

Gemma stood in front of the terminal and stared at it. She hadn't hacked into one in quite a while, but if it could turn off even one of those damn turrets in the next courtyard, it’d be worth it. There seemed to be three or four firing already, and she could see more Gunners running across a platform another story above. “Come on, Slade…” She said to herself as she furiously began typing. She glanced over at MacCready standing at the base of yet another set of stairs in the middle of the area they were in, firing his rifle and quickly going in and out of cover shooting more down. She took a deep breath and continued working, carefully typing anyth-

“AH GOD!” MacCready screamed.

Gemma’s heart stopped and snapped her head back to RJ, who was now on all fours on the ground seemingly picking himself up, a large man with a bandana over his mouth looming over him with a gun pointed at her partner’s head. If that weren’t enough, there was another Gunner standing beside that one-this guy had his gun aimed right at her.

“HEY!” Gemma screamed at the man. “You and your pal better fuck off before I blow your fucking brains out of that stupid bandana on your face.”

“Calm your tits, doll.” The man said in a deep voice, his gun still aimed at RJ. “I ain’t gonna shoot no one, so long you stay outta the way.” He briefly turned his aim to her. “So let’s get that gun of yours on the ground, whaddya say, sweet stuff?”

The second Gunner held his aim more towards her head as she hesitated, and she could’ve sworn she’d seen him before...

She growled, but acquiesced, slowly laying the Spray ’N Pray on the ground. Her brows furrowed. “Out of the  way? Of what?”

“Two things-” He said, the other guy sauntering over closer to her, getting closer until he forced her up further away into the wall behind her. “You go back from where you came from and leave us and the Courser alone. And two-” the second guy held up a laser gun up to Gemma. “We’re taking MacCready with us.”

“Good one, Winlock.” RJ quipped, finally back on his feet. 

That was it- these were the two guys from the Third Rail, Winlock and Barnes, the ones who were supposed to drag RJ back with them. Her eyes widened.

“You shut the fuck up!” He yelled, slugging him in the face.

Gemma reacted instantly, smacking the laser gun out of Barne’s hand during the split second he watched his companion, turning him around and kicking him in the back of the knees and slinging her left arm around his neck while simultaneously reaching for her modified knife with her right, holding it against the guy’s throat. “Say another word to him, this one becomes another bloody mess,” she seethed.

Winlock chuckled underneath the bandana. “I like your spunk, lady.” He leaned forward. “I dare ya to do it.”

The man wriggled in her surprisingly tight chokehold. “Dude?!” He cried incredulously. “What the hell!”

“Shut it, Barnes.” He told his colleague. “She won’t do anything while I still have-”

He stopped in shock seeing Gemma stab through Barnes’ neck with the knife, her face twisted with rage whilst making eye contact with Winlock. He made a few choking sounds, struggling for the last seconds of his life before he fell limp down on the ground. She remained where she stood, eyes still piercing through him. Her nostrils flared. “Let MacCready go, or you get the same treatment.”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed, but no can do, sweet stuff.” He looked down at the merc. “We need him for some critical operations.”

“I don’t work for you idiots anymore!” RJ yelled from the ground.

“Fall back to original positions!” The voice over the intercom said. “The Courser’s nearing the elevator!”

“Well he’s my hire now, so you’ll have to go through me to earn him back.” She told him through gritted teeth. 

RJ looked at the scene, his eye squinted from the blow he’d received. Things didn't look too great for Slade at the moment, and he knew that Winlock rarely went easy on opponents.

“Let’s make a NEW deal, doll.” Winlock said coolly. “I can tell you’re after the Courser. Our guys are gonna get to him before you can, clearly. You let me take this one, I leave you alone and you can blow through everyone else in the building like you’ve proven you can do, and you’ll get the son of a bitch for yourself.”

She furrowed his brows at him. “Why would you offer such a thing?” She swallowed, glancing at RJ. “Wh-why’s he so important to you?”

“We’ve got a few contracts that, as much as I don’t wanna admit…” he sighed. “Unfortunately no one in my squad has the skill to complete. We need a sniper; he’s the best we’ve known.”

“Well thanks, old chump.” RJ said, rolling his eyes. “But I told you, I’m never working for you ever again.”

“I don’t think it’s entirely up to you, now is it?!” Winlock shouted.

“Counter-offer:” Slade began. “Mac and I take out your contracts ourselves and we split the profits 85 and 15 and you leave now, or I fucking knock you sideways.”

Winlock laughed. “You?!” He cried incredulously. “No offense, darling, but I don’t think you’re capable of taking out a so-called ‘Raider Overboss’.”

MacCready quickly looked to her. “Slade-”

She raised an eyebrow curiously. “What kind of Raider boss are we talking about here?”

“One that keeps sending hordes of psychopaths to hi-jack our operations, re-staking Gunner AND other raider bases and one who sends people to ambush our couriers. One from out west, apparently.”

Gemma looked briefly back at RJ.

He locked eyes, and shook his head. “Slade, don’t-”

“From Nuka-World?” She asked Winlock fearlessly.

He glared at her. “Yeah… how’d you guess?”

She grinned, beginning to chuckle. “Oh, boy, you Gunners are even more pathetic than I thought.”

“Excuse me?!” He spat.

“You put a hit on the Overboss of Nuka-World and don’t even realize when she’s crashed your Courser hunt?” She smirked at him. “You bastards are really remarkable.”

Winlock stepped a few paces towards her. “You?!” He cried. “You’re the bitch who’s been causing hell for us?!”

“Call it a grudge.” She hissed.

“Slade,” RJ plead. “Get out of h-ARGH!” Winlock had spun around and bashed his head with his gun.

Gemma sprinted across the floor, sliding and jammed her knife through Winlock’s boot, causing him to scream in fury. He turned around to aim down at her, but she had already jumped up and slugged him straight in the face. He stumbled backwards as she kicked him square between his legs, resulting in him growling in angry pain, sinking to his knees and just vulnerable enough to have his gun be taken out of his grasp by Gemma. 

“On the ground!” She yelled at him. 

He glanced up at her, a fire in his eyes.

“Did I FUCKING STUTTER?!” She screamed at him, using the butt of the rifle and slamming it down on top of his head.

Winlock cried out in pain, collapsing onto the ground.

“That’s better, princess.” She hissed, aiming the rifle at his head. “Now that we’ve-“

“The Courser is gone!” The intercom bellowed. “How the hell did it get away?! All of you, what the shit happened in there?! Regroup back at base.”

Gemma’s heart skipped a beat. “Gone?!” She whispered. Her breathing quickened, a sinking feeling overwhelming her. “No…”

“Slade…” RJ said weakly, holding a hand to his head. “We need to get out of here, the others will be coming back this way.”

“No, it can’t end like this…” She breathed, her face screwing up in anger. “This was the last chance I HAD!” She kicked Winlock on the ground and brutally shot him several times in anger, yelling in fury all the while, before stomping back to grab the Spray ’N Pray. “God DAMMIT!” She screamed.

MacCready approached her carefully. “We need to leave, Gem.” He told her quietly, grabbing her shoulders gently. 

She looked at his eyes, one of which had intense bruising on it already. She slowed her breathing and nodded. “Fine. Let’s go.”

RJ took point, stepping over Winlock’s body as they returned down the stairs. “You know,” he said as he looked at their faces for the last time, “I’m really glad I’ll never have to deal with these damn goons any more.”

 

~~~

 

It seemed that the journey back northwest to Sanctuary took half an eternity, mostly because it was an entirely quiet one. Gemma was practically fuming out of anger and RJ figured it best not to exercise any excess energy, not to mention his head was pounding. Once they got to her blue house, she had immediately went to her room and didn't seem keen on coming out. MacCready had been spending the time she was barricading herself away with Codsworth and Dogmeat out in the living room.

It wasn't until around evening that Gemma finally emerged from the back of the house, her hair in a loose braid and wearing a plain white shirt and jeans. Her face looked flushed as she entered the kitchen, placing a pistol on the counter. “Codsworth, could you please get me a cold water?”

“Of course, Ms. Jenna!” He replied. “Are you alright, mum?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”

MacCready looked up from the couch, where Dogmeat had curled up beside him. “There you are!” He said with a smile. “Almost thought you forgot about me.”

“Didn’t forget.” She said numbly, grabbing a glass that Codsworth was extending to her. She took a deep gulp. 

He pet the dog on him, considering what to say. “How are you holding up?” He finally decided upon.

“I’m here, aren't I?”

“That wasn't really what I was asking-”

“It’s still my answer.” She took another sip, putting the pistol on her hip hilt and walked out of the front door, closing it behind her.

Codsworth hovered out of the kitchen into the family room. “Whatever has gotten into mum?” He asked sadly. 

RJ shook his head. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Please be kind, Mr. MacCready.” He asked the merc earnestly.

He gently pushed Dogmeat off of him, eyeing the robot curiously. “Why do you say that?”

“Ms. Jenna hasn't quite been the same woman she once was.” Codsworth explained slowly. “She’s been through quite a bit of adversity within the past few years since she emerged from the vault, and the world in which she found herself in has not always been kind.” He hesitated. “She’s simply trying her best; though I do fear she’s ready to throw in the towel, so to speak.”

RJ nodded, a moment of quiet passing between the two of them as he grabbed his rifle off of the ground before he too exited through the front door. He crossed the old and broken street as the sun began to set to the yellow house just across from hers and made his way to the backyard where her garden was.

Sure enough, she was kneeling down in the dirt, carefully patting down some earth. He merely watched her for a minute or so until she finally looked up. “I’ve been thinking a lot today.” She declared as she stood up, wiping excess dirt off of her jeans.

“What about?” He asked, walking closer to her.

“The bullshit that went down back at Greentech.” She crossed her arms. “That Courser was my last chance at finding Shaun. And now it’s gone.”

“Gem, that’s not the only Courser the institute’s pumped out. It can’t be.”

“Here’s the thing though-” She said, obviously getting upset. “I’ve been thinking about it, and why would they send another anytime soon after it was attacked by two separate groups at the same access point they threw it out of?” She shrugged. “I only knew about the C.I.T ruins. I don’t have a backup plan; I don’t know where to even begin to track another one down.

“Slade, I’m-”

“I’m done. I just can’t keep chasing leads that are dead-ends for the rest of my life.” She said, shaking her head. “I don’t think I’ll be running anymore dangerous operations out here. I might just go back to Nuka-World. I don’t know; maybe not.”

He stared at her in confusion, his head tilted. “What’re you getting at?”

She took a deep breath. “You’re free to go.”

Truthfully, that took him by surprise. “What?”

“I’m not going to keep you tied down in this mess of mine. I know we had a deal, but if you don’t want to be here anymore-”

“Are you serious?!” He interrupted, somewhat laughing.

“Yeah.” She replied quietly, staring down at the crops at her feet. “I’m really sorry for everything I’ve put you through.”

“Well now you’ve really gone crazy.” He chuckled. “Slade, I’m not going anywhere.”

She glanced up at him. “What?”

“Why would you think I’d want to leave you?” He asked her honestly.

“I… I just…” She shook her head, unsure of how to respond.

“After everything we’ve been through? Trust me, I wouldn't still be on the same job for half a year if I didn't want to be there.”

“Why would you still want to be here, though? It’s been nothing but close calls and people trying to kill us.”

“That’s exactly why!” He exclaimed. “Because I’d rather be out causing trouble than sitting around doing nothing. Not to mention, I’ve invested quite a lot of time and energy galavanting around with you; and whether you like it or not we’re a team. Sure, it’s not exactly what I signed up for and the objective’s changed, but I’m still your gun, Slade.”

“RJ-”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

She felt a lump in her throat, overwhelmed. “I don’t know what to do next, though.”

“We’ll figure something out, but it’s far from over.” He quickly wrapped his arms around her. “We’re going to find Shaun. I promise. And I’m going to be with you every step of the way.”

She hesitated before returning his hug. “I have so many issues…” She whispered in protest.

“I’ve got my own, Gem. But I’m here to help.” He pulled back from her and nodded to her in affirmation. “Okay?”

She swallowed, the faintest smile curling on her lips. “Okay.”

He clapped his hands together. “Well then, that’s settled. Anything else on your mind?”

She sighed, staring to the side. “I’ve been worried about the Gunners. There’s probably footage of us in the building; what if they come after us?”

“Well then we’ll deal with that IF it comes up. But I like our odds. The way you took out Winlock and Barnes was damn impressive, if I’m being honest.”

Gemma laughed. “A compliment? Well that’s a surprise.”

He rolled his eyes, a grin on his face. “I have my moments.”

“I’m glad, otherwise I might-” she paused, turning around. “Did you hear that?”

He stood silently, listening. “Hear what?”

She pulled out her pistol holstered at her side and walked through a half destroyed gate of the picket fence behind her. “Footsteps…” she mumbled.

MacCready stood for a few more moments until he heard distant voices getting louder. “Oh, sh…” He jogged to bridge the gap between them, grabbing his gun from his back and holding it up. They approached the main road of Sanctuary Hills as the sun was nearly set, but could make out five figures crossing the bridge up ahead.

“Come on.” Gemma beckoned him to follow her, which he did. She led him to the side of one of the first houses on the block, hiding in cover at the side of it. 

The voices became louder.

“…Sanctuary. Didn’t think it was real.” One of them said. They sounded close.

Gemma hopped out from behind the house, MacCready right beside her, both aiming at the group. “That’s far enough.” She said loudly.

The man leading the group held his hands up. “Don’t shoot; we don’t mean any harm.”

“What do you want, then?” She asked him curiously.

He had a weird outfit; it looked WAY way Pre-War, almost colonial, complete with a bizarre looking hat. Man, Gemma thought she was a woman out of time…

His eyes were pleading with an earnest sincerity. “My name’s Preston Garvey; last of the Minutemen. Please, we need some help.” 

 

Chapter Text

“The MINUTEMEN?” Gemma asked in disbelief. “That’s still a thing?”

Preston Garvey nodded solemnly. “Barely; I was able to get myself and these folks here out of Quincy during the massacre that happened there. We were holed up in Concord for the past week, being hassled by raiders. We heard about this place and are just looking for refuge.”

RJ was still holding up his rifle at the group, as was Slade with her .44 pistol. The group didn't look particularly menacing- Preston looked like he was cosplaying a cowboy, one man looking like he’d seen a ghost and could collapse at any moment, a woman holding onto him with a frown on her face that didn't appear to have a weapon on her, another man with overalls who looked like a handyman, and then an old OLD lady who he frankly was surprised was still standing. Then again, people were unpredictable.

“How did you hear about Sanctuary?” Gemma asked them.

“This is Mama Murphy.” Preston said, gesturing to the old woman. “She… has a gift. She had a vision that this place would be safe, so we found our way here.”

MacCready snorted. “A vision? Oh, what a load of crap.”

The tiny woman very lightly shoved Preston out of the way, dragging her feet on the ground as she walked, and stopped in front of Gemma. “You…” She said in a croaky voice. “Your energy is tied to this place.”

“My energy?” She snorted. “God, I hope my energy is BLUE.”

“You’re a woman out of time. And right now, out of hope, too.” Mama Murphy nodded. “But all’s not lost- I can… I can feel your son’s energy. He’s alive.

Gemma’s hands trembled. “Where is he? Where’s Shaun?!”

“Oh, I wish I knew kid. I really do. But it’s not like I can see your son. I can just.” She hesitated, waving her hands in the air slowly. “Feel his life force, his energy. He’s out there.”

“You really gonna believe this lady?” RJ asked, obviously in doubt.

“I don’t-”

“Oh, wait-” The old woman says again. “I can see you, the mighty huntress. You’re on a hunt, but it ain’t an animal, or a man… Is it?”

Slade swallowed, slowly lowering her pistol.

“It’s something different, maybe something more than human. But what’s this?” Mama Murphy continued. “I see a man, standing over your prey. And he says something… He says…” She closed her eyes, shutting them tightly. “Z2-47, initialize factory reset. Authorization code Zeta-5-3-Kilo. And then he falls… And he’s still.” She took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

Gemma didn't realize she wasn't breathing until she made eye contact with the stranger. “Oh my god…” She whispered.

RJ looked over at Slade in disbelief. “The Courser,” he breathed.

She looked back at Preston. “Fine, you people can stay here. At least for tonight. We’ll talk more in the morning. But if any of you try to pull any funny business-”

Preston shook his head quickly. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Thank you, seriously. We’ve all been struggling for quite some time; this is such a relief. And what was your name again?”

“You can call me Slade.”

RJ took a step forward. “MacCready.”

Preston smiled warmly. “Nice to meet you both. This is Sturges-” He gestured to the man in the overalls, who waved. “And these are the Longs, Jun and Marcy.” The couple clung to each other, Marcy merely nodding, Jun still looking numbly ahead.

“Cool.” Gemma said flatly. “Well, that blue house up ahead is occupied, but whatever other shelter you can find something to sleep on inside you can grab.”

“Thank you so much. We owe you our lives.” Sturges said with a grin on his face.

“I promise you we’ll make it up to you,” Preston added.

“Woah, don’t jump to conclusions gents.” RJ raised an eyebrow. “She said tonight, don’t make promises you won’t be able to keep.”

Preston curled his lips into a thin smile, nodded, and gestured for the group to follow him.

The pair turned and watched them as they walked down the street, searching the houses past Gemma’s blue one. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to let them stay here?” MacCready asked her.

She stared blankly at the group. “I don’t think they’re full of malice; if they were really holed up for a solid week by raiders, they probably have limited weapons and ammo to begin with to attack us. Probably would have right off the bat if they weren't being honest.”

“I don’t know, I still don’t really trust them.”

“You don’t trust anyone, RJ.”

“I trust you.”

“Bitch please,” she chuckled. “No you don’t.”

“I mostly trust you.”

“Ah, there it is.”

The two trudged back to Gemma’s house, mostly in silence, though they did make sure to watch the new settlers until they finally seemed to find a house they liked and didn't come out for a few minutes. Dogmeat was laying down in the living room by the back door and raised his head as they came in, then made an excited noise before nuzzling his nose back down and closing his eyes. MacCready grunted as he leaned his rifle against the couch and started unlacing his boots. “Where’s Codsworth?”

“He usually shuts himself down at night; I don’t normally need him until the morning.” She answered.

“Ah.” He nodded. “By the way, I gotta ask, for some reason I didn't think of it until Preston asked you, why’d you switch up your name? I mean your real name.”

She stopped in the hallway and crossed her arms, swiveling around to look at him. “Because I’m not the same woman who went into that vault. I’m not Jenna Hale- the cute suburban mom and soon-to-be lawyer with the war veteran husband, with the white picket fence outside her house. I’m not her anymore, I’m a crime boss who’s  probably killed more people than my husband did in war, who steals and lies and is just a terrible person.

“Nate always called Jemma since when we met he thought it was my name because of my shitty handwriting, so I just adopted that and… I don’t know, Slade just kinda happened somewhere along the line. Makes sense, since I’ve definitely done more slaughter than I ever thought I would in my life.”

MacCready stared at her, frowning in sad quietness.

“I don’t think I’d be okay with what I’ve done in the Wasteland in my… ‘past life’, I guess you could call it.”

He nodded slowly. “I can get that…”

“I think another part of it was that I became scared. Once I figured out the paranoia with the Institute, I figured it was best to distance myself from any evidence I was Pre-War. That’s asking for someone to kill you, god forbid, because you might be a synth.”

“I get that. People get so worked up these days it’s insane.” He sighed, taking off his second boot. “Not that I can blame them, anyway.”

She shrugged, frowning. “They’re just scared. It really takes a toll on you when someone you love gets nabbed from you in the middle of the night.”

He quickly looked back at her. “Oh, god, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“I know you didn’t. Until you personally go through it you can’t exactly know what it’s like.”

They both remained silent, unknowing what to say. MacCready reached down for his pack he’d acquired for his personal belongings, stood up and shrugged off his duster, tugging out his grey sweater and pulled his undershirt up and over his head.

“Hey, by the way;” Gemma finally said. “You don’t have to keep sleeping here. I mean, we can go to the vault and haul a nice bed up back this way, but if you wanted your own space, you can take over one of the other houses.”

“Oh… thanks.” He hesitated. “I was fine here, but I’ll get out of your hair if you want me to.”

“Oh, you’re fine here.” She said quickly. “I thought you’d be itching for some personal space, is all.”

“Nah, I’m doing fine. And remember, I mostly trust you. It’s dangerous to be in a space by yourself- especially with weird strangers nearby.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, be nice. They haven't done anything.”

“Yet.” He added without skipping a beat.

“Why do you think everyone has an agenda against you?”

“Pretty much everyone I meet is either trying to shoot me in the face or stab me in the back; the latter usually happens after the whole ‘trust’ element is involved.”

She leaned against the wall in the hallway. “That can’t be true.”

“You’ve seen how the Gunners operate. They’re not exactly folks you want to be friends with; once it’s outed I used to run with them…” He shook his head, sighing. “People just hate me. I can’t afford to let my guard down out here, you know?”

“Have you tried connecting with people?” She asked him.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re so keen on your stance, but I have a hard time believing that you’ve genuinely tried to develop any sort of trust with anyone.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Am I right?”

“I’ve sort of been trying with you.”

Her face screwed up with disbelief. “I cannot be the only person in the Commonwealth you’ve sort of bonded with?”

MacCready opened his mouth as if to try to speak, then exhaled some air and curled his lips into a flat line, looking at her in the eyes. He shrugged.

“You’re serious?”

He scratched the nape of his neck. “Guess so.”

She nervously grabbed a piece of curls near her hand and grabbed it. “Why me?”

“Haven’t I already answered that?”

“Not really,” she breathed, a slight airy laugh in it. “You hated me before. You would grab my arm and yell at me, constantly argue with me… even after Gage raped me at Nuka-World, back in the office, you got really angry with me.” She shook her head rather quickly. “Only after we came here and you found Nate did you open up and more considerate.”

“Yeah, because I realized we’re both in a similar boat.” He said a bit defensively.

“There it is.”

“There what is?!” RJ asked in annoyance.

“You’re only kind of trusting me because you found out about Nate.” She raised her voice over his scowl. “It’s true! If you never saw him, you would NEVER have had such an attitude switch towards me!”

“What do you want from me?!” He cried. “Do you want me to keep being a jerk? Because I’ve been trying really hard to change that-”

“I don’t need your fucking sympathy!” She yelled back. She inhaled sharply, her lip trembling slightly. “Why did that change everything for you?”

“Why the hell are you getting so worked up on… what, me being nicer to you?!” His face was screwed up. “You’re so backwards!”

She held her hands up. “Fuck this. I’m done.” She turned on her heels down the hallway and slammed her bedroom door behind her.

MacCready stood, his fists balled up in anger. “GOD!” He whisper-yelled to himself. He couldn't understand her mentality; what could she possibly want him to say that he hadn't already? He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in. She seemed fine with every other aspect of the conversation…

He shook his head to himself and switched from his day pants to his joggers. She was so unpredictable; sometimes she just broke down, other times she got frustrated and fuming, other times she was fearless and downright scary. He sat back down on the couch and made eye contact with Dogmeat, who had woken up from the commotion. “What?” He asked the dog quietly. “What did I do?”

Dogmeat merely made a curious sound, yawned, and rested his head back down on his crossed paws.

RJ let his head fall against the back of the couch as he slumped down into it. He truly didn't know what Gemma’s problem was, but the more he sat thinking about it, the more it ate at him. He didn't particularly like arguing with anyone, let alone her, and he sort of felt bad that the air felt rough between them. He rubbed his face with his hands and decided it best to talk to her and make peace before he fell asleep. He grunted as he stood, and sleepily walked down the hallway, knocking gently on her door. He waited patiently for a response, but didn't hear one. He knocked again.

“What?” Came her voice, very lightly.

“Gemma, can I come in?”

“I guess.”

He opened the door slowly, peering in. She was under her covers, laying on her side facing the wall. He hesitantly walked in. “Can I sit?” He asked her.

She didn't respond.

So, he did anyway. “I wanted to make sure you were fine.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Her voice was low and soft. “Thanks.”

He sighed. “What did I do?” He asked quietly. “I’m… I’m really trying, Slade, but I just don’t get what you want from me.”

She remained silent for a while as he sat, the night noises echoing from outside. “It’s not you.”

“It’s not? Because it sure seems like I did something to upset you.”

She sniffled and rolled onto her back, pushing herself up so she was sitting and facing him. “It’s just… a difficult topic for me.”

“And I get that, you know I understand that.” He told her softly.

“No, I know. It’s just…” She bit her lip, obviously holding back tears. “You treating me different, it’s just a result of Nate’s murder. I don’t want to be reminded anymore of his death than I have to be. I know it sounds fucking crazy, but I just miss him so damn much.” She seemed to break, suddenly seeming hard to breathe and tears filled her eyes. “It’s just another confirmation he’s gone.” She covered her face with her hands as she began to sob. “And I’m sorry… for… taking it out on you.”

“Aw, Slade.” He mumbled quietly, crawling towards her on the bed. He settled down next to her, putting his arms around her sides and locking by her shoulder. She melted into him, sobbing, burying her face underneath his chin. “Gem, I know how you feel. I do. It freaking sucks and I’m so sorry you went through what you did. I wasn’t trying to make you upset-”

“Oh, god.” She said, taking her hands away from her face and inhaled sharply. “I know you didn't mean any harm. I’m just garbage and didn't express how I felt. I’m sorry.”

“You’re not garbage.” He told her, rubbing her shoulder. “You’re still going through the grieving process.”

Her breathing was staggered in between her sobs. “When will it be over?”

“When will what be over, Slade?”

“The pain.” She whispered.

He took a deep breath. “Honestly, it never truly will be. Believe me. The pain of losing your spouse… nothing compares. It lives with you along with your love for them; it doesn’t ever fade.”

“What do I do then?” She asked him desperately. “How can I make it less painful?”

“You don’t.” He said simply. “You just try to find something that will help you forget.”

“Like what?”

He frowned, thinking. “Other things you can get yourself to care about.”

“I don’t know how to do that anymore.” Gemma said sadly.

“That’s not true, surely.”

“It is.”

“You’re telling me you don’t care about anything?”

“Not as much as Nate.”

He swallowed. That was fair. 

She paused. “Maybe Shaun.”

“Of course, Shaun.” He told her. “Nothing stronger than a mother’s love.”

“I don’t know about that; for all I know he’s already dead.”

“Don’t say that.” He snapped.

“It’s true!”

“That weird witch lady thinks he’s still out there.”

She laughed some air out through her nose. “Oh, so now you believe her?”

“I never said I didn’t. She seemed to know about the Courser. She said you were a woman out of time and that’s true, too; why wouldn't what she said about Shaun be true as well?”

“I guess.”

“We went through this earlier- you’re not giving up. I’m here to help you.”

She glanced up from under his chin at his face. “I know, and I appreciate that.”

“You do?!” He asked in surprise. “Because earlier you tried to get rid of me.”

“I wasn't trying to get rid of you, I just really thought you didn't want to be here anymore.”

“Hmm.” He smirked. “Next time, ask. I’m full of surprises.”

“You’re still fairly predictable, RJ.” She said slowly.

“Can’t say the same about you.”

She sighed. “I know. I’ve kinda been unraveling lately.”

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know.”

He sat, unknowing what to say. He wasn't an emotional person by any means; even with Lucy he struggled a lot with talks that involved feelings and thoughts. “Well…” He sighed. “If you’re not right now, you will be. It’ll be okay.” He patted her shoulder one more time and scooted off her bed.

She didn't respond to him as he got up. In fact, she kept the same expression on her face, staring blankly ahead and didn’t move.

He walked out the door back to the couch, thoroughly confused, but glad he went to clear the air. He had to remind himself that it took him a long time to grieve over his wife’s death, too- and he didn't have to adapt to a whole new world. If it were him, he thought, he wouldn't know how to feel either.

 

~~~

 

Gemma was out and about somewhat early the next morning, checking on the garden and fixing any weapons that needed it. Another reason for this, of course, was to keep an eye on the Minutemen settlers. The group had remained quiet throughout the night with no sign of an attack imminent, but she kept an eye out for the end of the street regardless. She still had her trusted pistol and knife on her just in case (as always).

After a few hours, she finally saw Preston emerge, walking in her direction. She put down one of the automatic rifles that the Disciples back at Nuka-World had thrown together for her on the workbench that she was working on and turned to face him. She was right across the street at the same yellow house with the garden- just in case things got out of hand, she had quite a fearsome stash of goodies in her house just yards away.

Preston approached her slowly. “Good morning,” he called as he got closer.

“Yeah, you too.” She kept her face neutral; she still didn't know what his game was.

“I just wanted to thank you again for letting us take a breather here,” he told her earnestly, a small smile curling on his lips. “It’s been hell for us, and this truly was just a relief.”

“Don’t mention it.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Speaking of, how long were you planning on being around here, anyway?”

He shrugged. “Well, to be straight with you, we came here with the hope and the intent on turning this into a new home for the Minutemen. Of course, we didn't realize that there were already settlers here.”

She laughed. “Yeah, you can’t set up shop here. I’ve been camped here in Sanctuary for… a long time, and I haven’t had any trouble. Bringing in hordes of people will jeopardize that.”

“Yes,” he admitted, “I understand that. Me and the other folks were talking, and we’re wondering if you’d be up for partnering with us.”

“Oh, god…” She mumbled to herself. “You- you can’t be serious?”

“Absolutely.”

“Why the hell would you want me to join you?” She asked him, a look on her face that resembled horror.

“You seem really well-handled, and you’ve already shown us that you have good in you. That’s hard to come by these days.” He sighed. “Besides, we need all the help we could get right now.”

She shook her head quickly. “I can’t be a part of your Minutemen operation, Preston.”

His expression shifted. “Why not?”

She bit her lip and leaned forward slightly. “Because, I’m a fucking raider.” She told him in a hushed tone. “I got my own loyalties with them.”

Preston instantly tensed up, going a shade lighter. “You-you’re a raider?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

He took a hesitant step back away from her. “I… I…”

“I’m not gonna hurt you, Preston.” She said, crossing her arms. “I’m not a savage.”

“I haven't met one that isn’t.”

“Well, allow me to change your mind.” She sighed. “I don’t go on massive massacres; I’m more in it for the mercenary side of things- you know, the business side.”

He raised an eyebrow. “There’s a business to being a raider?”

“There is where I’m one.”

“Where’s… where’s that?”

“Nuka-World.”

“Oh my god.” Preston shook his head. “I’ve heard about that place.”

“Yeah…” She said slowly. “Word’s gotten around. But I’m the one who runs the show around there.”

He swallowed. “Dear Lord.”

“It pays the bills.”

“I am deeply sorry if we invaded your home-”

She put a hand up. “Oh, don’t apologize. It really wasn’t a problem; and you didn't ‘invade’ anything. I’m just not sure about people other than me living here.”

He tilted his head. “What about that other guy?”

“Which guy?”

“The guy that was with you last night.”

“Oh.” She chuckled. “Yeah, he’s my business partner. He’s got a pass.”

“Gotcha.”

They stood, both thinking thoroughly about each other’s words. She could understand his apprehension; she usually didn't announce to people she was a raider, but she figured it was a good time since he wanted her to become some dumb Minuteman. To be honest, she was a little shocked he hadn't tried to attack her already. 

“I…” She sighed. “Look, you folks seem nice enough, but I just don’t know.”

He nodded solemnly. “I understand.”

She rubbed her chin, thinking. “What if…” She struggled. “What if I let you guys stay here for, I don’t know, three days? See how it goes?”

Preston’s face lit up. “You’d do that?”

“You’re not scared of me?”

“Not yet,” he joked. “You showed us a kindness, and I don’t take that for granted. That showed me more about who you are than you telling me what you are.”

Her lips curled into a quiet smile. “Well, thank you. I really appreciate that.”

“So you’ll let us stay here?” He held out his hand.

She nodded. “Why the hell not. Let’s give this a try.” She took his hand and shook it- all the while wondering if she would end up regretting doing so.

 

Chapter Text

“You didn’t.” MacCready said disapprovingly.

“I did.”

“You don’t know these people, Slade!”

“Well you don't either, huh?” Gemma said, crossing her arms.

RJ rubbed his temples, closing his eyes. How in the absolute world did she think this would end in anything but disaster? “These people are probably just trying to pull a fast one over your eyes! What the f- erg- the heck did he say to you?”

“I think he’s being genuine.” She told him. “And what damage could they possibly do? They’re ill equipped and out of energy.”

MacCready’s eyes rolled so intensely far back, for a split second Gemma thought he was going to pass out. “That’s how they get you!” He cried. “They play the victim card, and the next thing you know, they bring in more people, more weapons, and take you out while your back is turned.”

“This sounds like a personal matter.” She said, raising an eyebrow.

“Doesn’t matter what it sounds like, that’s the way this story always ends.” He huffed.

“It’s only a few days, Jesus. Calm down, will ya?” She walked past him to get to the hallway of her house towards her room.

He turned around as she did so. “Calm down? You let a handful of misfit strangers into your life, invite them to stay at your house, and you’re not even the tiniest bit concerned?”

She paused in her doorframe as Dogmeat came and sat down at her feet, tongue hanging out happily. She pat his head. “Of course I am. But not every stranger has an agenda against you.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Are you?” She spat back. “Look who you’re talking to, RJ. I walked right up to you in Goodneighbor, you followed. I invited you in my literal home, too. I haven’t shown any interest in turning on you… have I?”

He bit his lip. “I…” He shook his head. “I mean…”

She raised her eyebrows. “Am I wrong?”

“That’s different.”

“How?!” 

“Because I didn't come waltzing into Sanctuary with a herd following behind me!” He insisted. “Gem, they’re only gonna grow in size if you let them stay; more and more settlers are going to come and it’s going to become a nightmare for you. More people means a bigger target.”

“Show a little faith, will you?” She yelled at him. “Just like I did in you!” She stomped into her room, the dog following behind her and she shut the door loudly behind her.

MacCready was clenching his fists, as he usually did when she acted irrationally. He wondered briefly if he was the crazy one for being so concerned, but quickly dismissed the possibility. If there was anyone who knew about being played and pulling cons, it would be her- wouldn't it? As a raider Overboss, he was certain she’d had her fair share of being the puppeteer of a game that he was nervous Preston and his ragtag team of misfits were trying to play. Well, one thing he knew for certain was that it was getting overly annoying that she just stormed away these days when she got a little pissed off. He sat down on the couch and slumped down, taking a deep breath. She was so different from when they first met each other. She used to be so tough and bossy and so confident- now, she was more emotional and tired, almost nonchalant. Certainly not the woman who pointed a gun at a stranger in a bar. Of course, he knew part of the reason was because she was tired and he probably wasn't helping anything with his hot headed personality. He sighed. Another reason, he concluded, is because she had come to know him well enough to let down the Overboss persona with him- because she had faith in him.

“Dammit…” He mumbled to himself. Why was she always right? It was maddening.

He decided some fresh air might do him some good, so he grabbed his duster and hat he’d draped on the end of the couch, laced up his boots, grabbed his trusty rifle, and made his way out of the door.

RJ very shortly regretted stepping outside upon seeing the unwelcome guests all huddled by the house across the street, save the old woman. They all were staring his way, even Jun Long, though his eyes still looked dead. He waved apprehensively and very slowly began walking over to them.

Sturges waved back at him. “Mornin', my man.”

He did his very best to resist rolling his eyes. “What uh, what are you guys doing out here?”

“Just tryin’ to figure out how we can repay y’all.” Sturges said back with a grin.

“What do you mean?”

“Was that not clear enough?!” Marcy Long huffed.

“Marcy,” Preston scolded.

“Lady, I don’t like your attitude.” RJ glowered at the woman who had a permanent scowl on her face.

“Don’t mind her, please.” Preston said, glowering over at Marcy. “She’s dealing with some personal problems and has been having a hard time acclimating. But she’s not going to give you any trouble, right?”

Marcy’s lips coiled into a flat line defiantly, crossed her arms, and looked down at the ground.

“Well ANYWAYS,” Sturges continued, “I’ve been lookin’ around the place and looks like your water system could use some upgrades.”

RJ tilted his head. “What kind of upgrade?”

“From what I’ve seen, it’s typical pre-war plumbing, so most home units- well, the ones still intact- should be able to be fixed if it ain’t too banged up already.”

“So…” MacCready shrugged.

“Sturges thinks we might be able to fix it. You know, get some running water, hopefully fresh, in this place.” Preston told him.

He blinked in surprise. “You’d do that?”

He smiled. “Of course. Slade’s helped all of us in a time of need, and this is what the Minutemen are all about- helping others.”

“She hasn't decided to join you, has she?” RJ asked hesitantly.

“No, she told me about her… other commitments.” Preston said slowly.

He raised an eyebrow. “So you know?”

“Yes I do.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Absolutely.”

Sturges glanced over to his buddy. “What did I miss?”

Preston returned his look. “Don’t worry about it. We’re here to repay these folks, that’s all that matters.”

RJ turned towards Sturges. “You’re not messing around? You really think you can get some running water around here?”

He grinned. “Not much I can’t do when it comes to nuts and bolts.”

“That would be fantastic. I’m sure Slade would really appreciate it, she’s been here for… well, forever.”

“Where is Slade, anyway?” Preston asked.

“She’s in her house.” He replied, sighing. His tone of voice was less than pleasant.

Garvey picked up on it. “Is she okay?” He asked, his brows furrowing.

“Yeah, she’s fine. Nothing you need to worry about, anyway.”

Preston pursed his lips. “Okay.”

A few awkward moments passed before RJ cleared his throat. “Well, do you need anything for your project?”

“We’ll let you know if anything comes up we can’t handle.” Sturges told him.

He nodded. “Alright. Well, good luck.” He turned away and headed down the street towards the bridge. 

With everything that had happened recently, he needed to shoot something.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Gemma sat on her bed, Dogmeat laying down beside her. She held the picture of herself and Nate in front of their house- they had just moved in, just barely married, and blissfully happy. She looked upon her old self and sighed. Her curly hair was just above her shoulders and she was wearing her favorite blouse she had (it was ivory with ruffled sleeves), and everything was pristine and clean. Nate had a blue button-up, the one he always looked incredibly handsome in. He was tall, clean cut with dark hair, well-built and had the kindest blue eyes she’d ever known. There was green foliage all around the house and there weren't any cracks or fallen down logs in the street. The thing that really stuck out to her was the absence of the overwhelmingly prominent scars she now wore on her face- the lip scratch she received from a wild mongrel once about a year ago, the one that spread from her hairline across her nose and almost reaching her jawline from a swipe from a knife held by a berserk raider shortly after she awoke in the Vault, amongst a few minor ones that frankly she couldn't even remember what were from.

Now, well… she was in a different world. She brought the picture closer to her and longed for the life she once had; the one where she was married and her husband held her in his arms with smiles on their faces, one where they had dreams, plans, and hope, one where they could take cute photographs and have a house that wasn't halfway destroyed. She looked around the bedroom they once shared, a heavy sadness in her chest. As much as she felt like sitting down all day, she figured it wouldn't do her any good to do so. She moved off of the bed and placed the photo carefully back down atop the dresser by the window when she noticed the settlers outside at the workbench across the street, and was briefly reminded of what having actual neighbors used to be like… most of the ones she had didn’t make it into the Vault before the bombs fell. She swallowed deeply and took a deep breath amongst her recollection of the past. 

She felt broken.

All this moping around wasn’t good for her mental health, she knew that. Ever since Shaun was born, she had been having bouts of depression and anxiety… She shook her head and walked towards her bag that she took with her when they journeyed out in the Wasteland with stimpacks, RadAway and her chosen weapons on the floor, grabbing her pistol. Gemma looked at it for a moment longer than she should have- it was the one she had taken off of the body of the man who murdered Nate. Kellogg was a piece of shit and she regretted absolutely nothing. She checked the magazine, figured she wouldn’t need it completely full, and headed out of the bedroom towards the living room. Dogmeat hopped off of the bed and trotted behind her as she made her way out of the back door past Codsworth, who was in the kitchen, and went to the back of the house.

She needed to shoot something.

There were often mole rats lurking about at the Red Rocket across the way, so, with Dogmeat by her side, she headed in that direction with a pained, angry sorrow in her heart. She went around the back of all the houses, not particularly wanting to be seen or have contact with anyone for the time being. Unfortunately for Gemma, that didn't last too long.

As she came around the last house on the block and at the foot of the bridge, a courier with a large bag slung over his shoulder approached her. “Are you Slade?” He asked.

“Depends who’s asking.”

“I have something for you from one Ms. Black. Took a while to get to me, I guess she’s pretty far away, but the word was I could find you here.” He reached into the pack  and pulled out a decent sized sack with the Operator insignia on the back. “This for you?”

“Yeah,” she said flatly, grabbing the package from him. “That’s me.” She reached into the sack, which she knew would have some amount of caps in it, grabbed a handful, and handed it to the courier. “Thanks.”

He nodded in appreciation. “Good evening.” He turned around and began walking away.

Gemma stood with the bag in her hands for a few moments, Dogmeat staring at her curiously. He wanted a walk. She looked down at him. “We gotta take this back, buddy. Then we can go out, I promise.” 

He yawned.

With a grin on her face, she patted his head and walked towards her house, once again the back way- this time, to make sure the settlers didn't see the package she had in her hands. For Wasteland standards, she was pretty wealthy, and most people would do anything for a quick influx of caps. 

“Ms. Jenna!” Codsworth bellowed happily as she came through the back door. “Good to see you!”

“Morning, Codsworth.” She replied lazily, walking straight to her bedroom once again. Glancing out the window, she noticed the settlers were no longer outside. ‘Good.’ She thought. Didn’t want anyone seeing her movements.

Gemma crouched down in front of the dresser with her beloved photos and gently plied a large portion of the floorboard up, which came into her hands with ease. She opened the package to inspect its containments- a few hundred caps and a letter. She removed the letter and lowered the bag into the space below the floor where she kept all of her valuable assets. It was filled with similar bags, all of caps, some Pre-War relics that would be worth a fortune today, and a box she hadn’t opened in years- the one that held both her and her husband’s wedding rings. Once placing it inside, she took the piece of the floor and put it back into place, pushing down so it was unnoticeable to an unsuspecting eye. She stuffed the letter into the dresser, deciding she would read it once she returned home, as Dogmeat was eager to get moving.

“Alright,” she said to herself as she stood up. “Let’s go get some mole rats, eh?” She looked down at the dog, who barked happily.

 

 

~~~

 

 

MacCready had traveled fairly far away following the main road that eventually fed into Sanctuary Hills, but something astronomically important during his trek had more or less paralyzed him for the better part of the day, weighing him down and preventing him from even thinking of moving. But, of course, he had to go back at some point, so he’d found the strength to leave the rundown diner he’d been able to rest in and headed straight back to the settlement. He was now passing the front of the old Museum of Freedom in Concord, feeling incredibly numb. He couldn't really have any other thoughts, he felt like he almost couldn't even see or hear properly, and the weight of the letter he’d received from that courier felt like a thousand pounds inside his duster’s pockets. His eyes were barely avoiding tears, but he couldn’t cry out in the open. So he quickly walked. Frankly at this particular moment, there could've been someone firing a missile launcher and he probably wouldn't notice it until he was already dead- but that would mean even worse consequences, now that he had received that update…

He shook his head and bit his lip. The news changed everything, and he was hounding himself with hatred for not taking action sooner. ‘I’m such a coward. I could’ve done something…’ He thought as he approached the Red Rocket. Well, one thing was absolutely clear- he needed to go, and he needed to go quickly. No more screwing around, no more being afraid. Of course, he’d have to let Gemma know that he’d-

‘Gemma…’ His head lifted up, a wave of brief panic overwhelming him. She still didn't know. He hadn’t told her. God, should he have? He wasn’t sure of anything now. ‘Maybe… maybe she’d come with me?’ He thought desperately. Would she be willing to go there? It was infested with those abominations, the kind of place not many people would go willingly. Not to mention, eluding this very important fact from her for so long might break her trust… ‘No… that doesn’t make sense…’ Does it? He couldn't be sure. But, he figured, she deserved to know- not like he had many other options now. He stepped onto the bridge leading towards Sanctuary Hills, the sun beginning its decent down from the sky. He hadn't realized he was trembling ever so slightly until he looked down and adjusted his grasp on his rifle that had nearly slipped out of his hands. Gemma was outside of one of the houses on the right side of the street, several away from her own. She was seated at a cooking station, stirring something in a pot, and Dogmeat was sat loyally beside her. The dog barked when he saw the merc, bringing her eyes up and on him.

“Hey,” she called out to him as he got a little closer. “Just finishing up cooking a bit of mole rat chunks, you hungry?”

He didn't reply, only making his way to the bench she was at and sat beside her. He stared numbly ahead, his face close to breaking.

“Hey, you okay?” She asked him softly.

“No.” Came his quiet reply.

She stopped stirring, taking her grip off of the wooden spoon and turned to face him. “What’s up?”

He closed his eyes tightly and frowned, lowering his head. “I… There’s something I need to tell you.”

Her eyes widened. “What is it?”

“It’s… very personal, and something I probably should've told you a while ago. I just… No one really knows.”

“RJ what’s going on?” She frowned slightly, her worried gaze falling on him. He was never like this...

He swallowed hard and looked up to face her. “I… I didn’t come to the Commonwealth just for money.” He inhaled deeply. “I came for a very… specific reason, and-” He shook his head.

She blinked a few times, a little distraught, and shimmied over closer to him. “RJ, what’s wrong?” She asked quietly.

“It’s about Duncan.” He could feel her tense up the moment his son’s name came out of his mouth. “He’s sick.”

She had a sharp intake of breath, her face falling. “Oh, god…”

“I-I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” He continued, voice cracking slightly. “One day, he’s playing out in the fields behind our farm, the next he took a fever and these blue boils popped up all over his body.” He looked at his feet, shaking his head. “Last time I saw him-” His eyes began to glisten. “He was too weak to walk. When I decided to come out here, I didn't dare ask him to come with me.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve before reaching inside of his duster, pulling out a letter. “Courier came this way, and gave this to me.” He handed it to her.

She took it in hesitation from his hands and opened it cautiously. She didn’t read it in detail, but her eyes caught on to a few key words and phrases: Worse”, “Won’t last”, “Near death”, “Need to hurry”. Her heart broke as she glanced back to him. He was silently crying. “RJ, I’m so sorry.” She hugged him from the side, her head resting on his shoulder. 

He couldn’t help the audibility of his tears now. So, he just let them come as  she held onto him.

He felt broken.

“There must be something we can do.” Gemma whispered.

Amongst his pain, his heart skipped a beat. ‘We?’ She was willing to help? MacCready turned to her, their faces merely an inch or two away from each other. “You-you’d do that? For me?”

“Of course I would.” She replied instantly, removing her arms from their embrace.

He smiled weakly. “I- I don’t know what to say.”

“How can we save your son?” She asked softly.


RJ felt breathless, a new sense of hope lifting his spirit up. He wiped his eyes again. “A long while before we met, I bumped into a guy named Sinclair who claimed his buddy caught some kind of disease. I thought he was wasting my time-until he said the guy broke out in blue boils. They dug up information about some sort of cure at a place called Med-Tek Research.”

“Med-Tek?” She said, a hint of a smile on her face. “I know exactly where that is. I actually went there before the War for…” She hesitated. “Well, it doesn't matter now. But most hospitals and facilities like that are usually locked down from protocols activated when the bombs fell, it’ll be tough getting through.”

MacCready perked up. “That’s the amazing part- Sinclair and his buddy even managed to grab the building’s lockdown security codes. Unfortunately, his partner died before they could break in. I checked it out shortly before I started working with the Gunners, but-” He paused abruptly, unable to continue.

She waited for him to continue for a few moments, but it didn't seem he was going to. “But what?”

He shook his head. “It’s crawling with ferals. I panicked. After Lucy, I haven’t been able to bring myself to facing them alone. I mean, who’s going to help Duncan if they kill me, too?”

“Hey, don’t give up hope, okay?” She looked straight at him, eager for him to listen to her words. “If there’s a cure in there, we’ll find it.”

He was so happy, he could cry- again. It was one of the few times the hired gun was speechless, so he just hooked his arms underneath hers, placing his chin on her shoulder, and held her tight. “Thank you.” He whispered. “What you’re doing, what you’re willing to do for me… no one’s ever cared that much about me before.”

Gemma locked her arms together around his back just below his head and closed her eyes, smiling. “We’ll save him. I promise.”

“Even if it takes me the rest of my life,” he told her quietly, “I’ll repay this debt to you, I swear it.”

She just held him tighter, closer to her, instead of replying. She couldn’t perfectly relate to what he was going through, but she wasn’t about to let a parent lose their child under her watch.

Not again.

Chapter Text

 

Gemma and RJ decided they would rest as much as they could and head out towards Med-Tek Research in the early hours the next morning. They figured it was their best bet for traveling back to Goodneighbor in a timely fashion and delivering it to Daisy before she closed down for the evening, as time was something they couldn't really afford to waste. Slade had voiced her apprehension of giving it to the ghoul trader in the less-than-favorable town (she personally didn't trust anyone enough there to handle any of her business), but MacCready had quickly reassured her that Daisy was the most reliable person that could get the cure to Duncan on time.

Now that there were the extra settlers in Sanctuary, she also had to come up with another plan since they themselves would most likely not be back for at least two days, possibly more if they did any other errands or business. She had talked with Preston Garvey and had told him that an urgent matter had arisen they needed to take care of, and begrudgingly was convinced by him that they could stay until she returned, though not without a few promised threats she’d carry out if they stepped out of line or brought more trouble while she was away. He also mentioned that himself, Sturges and the Longs were working on some project to better Sanctuary Hills and MacCready seemed to vouch for them, so she took their word for it-at least for the time being. 

After receiving the initial news from RJ about Duncan and that shock and heartbreak had worn out, as they packed their traveling bags with equipment Gemma couldn't help but feel a little bit betrayed. After everything he had seen, that he’d been told about her life and her past, he still wasn't willing open up with her? To share that very critical information with her? She felt a little bit like she’d been stabbed in the back, but tried to push that feeling away as best she could- there were more important things she needed to focus on rather than pettiness and misplaced bitterness.

Night had fallen and she was in her bed, restless to say the least. There were lots of uncertainties about this particular mission- whether or not Sinclair’s intel was good, or if the cure was there in the first place, if they’d survive the trek to the facility to begin with, and about a thousand other fear-driven thoughts that came to mind. The wind outside suddenly became incredibly strong, making the window shake, and causing her to tremble from being startled. Her heart pounded more heavily than it usually did as the noises of the wind became louder and more furious, sending her nerves spiraling out of control. It didn't used to be like this… ‘When the hell did I get so soft?’ She thought to herself. 

There was a knocking at her door, causing her to jump up from laying down into a sitting position. “Jesus!” She yelled in a whisper, clutching her chest. She waited a moment for another one.

The door creaked open. “Hey, Gem?” MacCready called out quietly. “You up?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I talk to you?”

“Of course,” she said, her heartbeat returning to a more normal pace. He came and sat down beside her on the bed as she scooted closer to the wall to make room for him. “What’s on your mind?”

He sat holding his knees close to his chest in thought. Maybe it was just the darkness but he looked different somehow. His hair was a little messier than usual, his scruff a little thicker, his eyes a little bluer than usual. Maybe it was just different because she wasn't used to him wearing that grey sweater, only that old duster, and seeing him absent of his hat.

“I can’t sleep.” He finally mumbled. “I’m just so nervous.”

“Me too,” Gemma admitted. “But everything is going to be okay.”

“What if it isn’t?”

She glanced over at him. A twinge of guilt flooded her stomach as he echoed her thoughts she had moments before he came in. Somehow when he said them, it seemed like a ridiculous ‘what if’. “Don’t say that.”

“I’m just trying to think of a solution where everything winds up in my favor, and it’s feeling like a really slim chance at this point.” He shrugged. “There’s a lot of factors I can’t control.” 

There was something in his voice that didn't seem quite right. “Is that your biggest issue with everything? That you think it’s up to chance?”

He waited several moments before responding. “Yeah.” He said blankly. His face told a lie, and she picked up on the quiet deception he was trying to put out.

“RJ, look at me.” She demanded.

He obliged, and turned his head to face her.

“What’s really bothering you? Something’s off, I can tell.”

His fingers twitched. “I- I have a rough time, ya know with um… with ferals.”

She bit her lip. “I know, and I understand. But I’m going to be right there with you, beside you, every single step of the way; and I’ve got your back. We can do this, I know we can.”

“I’ve been trying to fall asleep, and I just can’t.” He spoke quietly, softly. “Every time I close my eyes, all I can see is what they did to Lucy…”

“I know how that feels…” Gemma muttered. “And I know it’s probably worse tonight.”

They sat in silence, the sounds of the windy night filling the moments. RJ took his face in his hands after a few moments and rubbed it, groaning softly. “I don't know how I’m gonna get through this.”

“You will.” She told him. “You’re tough, MacCready, and you’re not a quitter. We’re going to do this, together, and you’re going to make it through the day. I promise.”

“Ah, God.” He shook his head. “I feel like I’m gonna vomit.”

She folded her arms and really looked at him- he looked vulnerable, shaken. It was a look he seldom had, save the first time she told him she knew he had a son and when she heard Lucy’s name at the Dugout Inn. It was heartbreaking to see. She sighed, scooted over as close to the wall as she could, and patted the space next to her. “Lay down.”

He snapped his head up and glanced at her. “What?”

“You’re not going to be able to rest if your head is running in circles. You’re nervous and anxious and those things don’t mix well, trust me I know.” One side of her lips curled up in a half-smile. “I just figured you might be able to calm down if you know you’re not alone.”

RJ swallowed, mouth slightly ajar as he contemplated her offer. “I thought that this bothered you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember back at Nuka-World when we fell asleep together? You told me the next day that wasn't happening again.”

She exhaled through her nose, nodding. “Yeah I remember. I was feeling a lot of things then; I was… bitter and scared and mortified about what Gage did, and when I woke up next to you, I-” She hesitated.

“What?” He asked quietly.

“I don’t know, I just- I hadn't woken up with anyone beside me for a long time and it wasn't something I was accustomed to, I guess. It was just a shock to see a face that wasn't Nate’s next to mine when I opened my eyes.” She shrugged.

“That’s kind of what I figured.” He admitted. “So while I appreciate the sentiment, I think it’d be better for you if I stuck to the couch.” He said with a smile.

“Seriously, I’m okay. That was just… a bad time in general for me. Things are okay now, and I trust you more than anybody.” She sighed. “Truthfully, I haven't been close to sleeping either and this wind keeps scaring the shit outta me for some reason. Obviously you can’t sleep, and I think deep down you know you don’t want to be by yourself right now, or else I don’t think you would've come in here to talk in the first place.”

His lips curled into a flat line as he stared at her. “Am I that transparent?”

“No. I just know how you feel.” She grinned at him. “Now let’s try to get some sleep. Lord knows we’re gonna need it.”

Gemma shimmied and laid down under the covers on her back, head faced towards the hired gun as he sat still in a few moments of hesitation before he finally (but slowly) pulled up the covers beside his feet and moved his body so he could lay underneath them. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” She said sharply.

“Oh, shut it.” He chuckled, shaking his head. He watched as she turned onto her side, facing the wall next to her. “Night, Gemma. And thank you. I don’t know how if I’d be able to go through this without you.”

She smiled to herself as she closed her eyes, listening to him moving onto his side and relaxing beside her. 

All of a sudden, the wind didn't sound so loud anymore.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

The pair had made it to Med-Tek around 3:30 the next morning according to Gemma’s Pip-Boy. She brought it along as she figured it could help detect any ferals nearby thanks to it’s built in geiger counter, which came in handy before they even step foot into the building. Just as MacCready had said, it was crawling with the ghouls. The ones outside weren't so much as a problem since he easily sniped them out of the way, but they both knew that was probably just the beginning.

“Alright,” he said a little nervously once they were inside. “Let’s find that executive terminal. Sinclair said that’s the only way we can override the lockdown.” He was very on edge, even more than usual, and the loss of familiarity of his duster didn't seem to help. At Gemma’s insistence he’d traded it for a set of boiled leather armor with a jumpsuit she’d nabbed from the Disciples to be on the safe side.

“Got it.” She nodded. She looked around the lobby of the old facility, half of the lights out and pretty much everything a haphazard, ruined mess. She, too, wore leather armor over some basic raider clothes, but had made sure to pack extra RadAway and stimpacks just to cover all the bases. There was a reception desk with a terminal in front of them, though she figured that was too easy. “It’s probably on one of the upper levels; odds are it’s in a CEO or president’s office.” She muttered.

“That sounds right.” He echoed. The place gave him the creeps, but there was no turning back now. She was leading him as they passed behind the desk, both of them with their rifles up, as they scanned around them for unwanted visitors.

Gemma walked cautiously down a hallway into a room that had a decontamination chamber prominently taking up most of it’s space. “This might be worth checking out…”

“Won’t work while building is still locked down, though.” 

“Dammit.” She said to herself. “Right, sorry.” She went down a hallway on the right and tensed up near the opening of the next room- a feral was crouched down on a pile of rubble. She brought up her assault rifle from the Disciples and quickly fired at the ghoul, a wretched cry coming from it as it fell in a bloody heap. “One down…” She said as she looked over at her shoulder.

MacCready seemed paralyzed with fear, barely nodding. “Yeah…”

“Hey.” She said. “We’re okay. It’s going to be fine.” She smiled at him.

He swallowed hard and tried his best to come up with a grin. “Right.”

She took a deep breath. She knew she was practically going to be carrying this out on her own, but she needed him to be responsive at least. “You know, I can just try to find it if you want to wait here and-”

“No, I’m with you.” He interrupted without hesitation. “I- I’m okay. Let’s go.”

Slade stared at him for a moment before walking ahead and leading them up a flight of stairs that opened up into a large space, a collapsed balcony of the next floor right beside them. 

“That’ll work,” RJ said quietly. “It’s basically a ramp.” 

She hurried up it as he ended his sentence, crouching down, her eyes forward. Immediately as she rose to the level ground, a horde of ferals growled once they saw her emerge. “FERALS!” She cried fiercely, bringing up her weapon and beginning firing.

MacCready ran up behind her, a wave of panic briefly overtaking him as the zombie-like creatures scuttled in a frenzy towards them. He shook his head furiously and brought up his rifle, looking down the scope and executing a few clean head shots and effectively taking several of the ferals out.

They stood, both breathing heavily, waiting to see if any others crawled out of wherever the hell they always seemed to crawl out from for a few moments, until Gemma lowered the modified rifle she had and turned to face him. “See? We’ve got this.”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice a little louder than before. “Let’s find that office. It’s gotta be around here somewhere.”

She nodded and entered through the next doorway where a pair of elevators stood on the right side and took a mental note of their location before stalking to the next hallway. Her heart was beating loudly and she wasn't sure exactly why; it wasn't like she’d never dealt with feral ghouls before. There was a door shut in front of her, so she adjusted the rifle to her left hand and pulled at the side of the door with her right- only to be met with one of the ferals lunging at her as soon as there was enough open space. “FUCK!” She cried as it swatted at her, fumbling for a solid grip on her weapon. She was knocked down onto the ground by the thing in her hesitation and it growled over her. 

“SLADE!” MacCready screamed as more ferals from the next room were made aware of the humans and came scrambling towards them. His breathing was staggard, furious, as he began hastily shooting the others whilst Gemma was kicking the one that pinned her down off.

“Calm DOWN, ya freak!” She yelled at it once she was on her knees, and made a devastating shot to its chest at point blank, one last echoey cry escaping it’s rotten mouth.

“Are you good?!” RJ called to her in between shots. 

“Yup.” She responded shortly, taking a few quick steps back as another one leapt towards her. She shot it instantly. “God, I- HATE- these fucking things!” She yelled through gritted teeth, bashing her weapon in a melee push against another one. MacCready finished that one off, and the two remained, mostly out of breath- Gemma from the shock and RJ from the fear. Not that he would admit that, anyway.

“Man, you think these things would've tried to get out of here by now.” He mumbled. He glanced over at Gemma once he was certain there weren't any more of them hiding. “You’re bleeding! Are you okay?”

She looked at her arms- sure enough, there was a decent gash on her right forearm. “Well would you look at that.” She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, it’s okay. I didn't even know it was there.”

“Do you want a stim?” He asked.

“Let’s save those for a bigger injury.” She decided.

He raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

She moved some of her hair out of her face. “Yeah… are you okay?”

He paused a little too long. “‘Course.”

She looked down at her feet, taking a deep breath in. There was no point reiterating the fact he wasn't the most confident, so she didn't ask a follow up. Instead, she stepped over the corpses of ghouls, further entering the room. There was a terminal on a desk, with a portion of the floor collapsed in front of it. “I think that’s it.” She said loudly.

His heart skipped a beat. “Only one way to find out…” He mumbled, picking up his feet and hurrying to the desk.

“You’ve got the codes?” Gemma asked carefully.

MacCready inhaled deeply and removed his cap slowly from his head and plucked one of the two bullets that were lodged into a band near the brim, unscrewing the end. “Absolutely.” A rolled up piece of paper fell out of it, old and sloppy words written upon it.

“My god,” she asked with a smile. “It’s a fake?”

He grinned at her. “I prefer the term ‘deception’.”

“This whole time, I thought it was for some sort of revenge plot.”

“Still can be.” He held the piece of paper in his hands as he hunched over the terminal.

She stared at him as he kept glancing at the scrap then back to the screen, unable to keep her smile on her face. “How long have you been holding onto that?”

“Almost two years.” 

She pondered the answer- he’d known about a cure for his son for nearly two years and hadn't bothered to even check the inside of the facility out? She sought out her own son immediately after waking up from the cryo… She shook her head. What the hell was the good with the negative questions? He was just doing his best, and he wasn't the same parent she was.

“Oh my god, I’m in!” He exclaimed in a laugh, a wide smile erupting on his face.  “I can’t even believe it.”

She walked up beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Alright, let’s override that lockdown.”

He began looking through all the files on the terminal screen, swallowing hard.

Gemma could feel him tensing up, so she gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Breathe, RJ. Breathe.”

At her words, he inhaled sharply. “Right, thank you.” 

She looked at his face, which was filled with desperation. His movements were sharp and quick. “Just… take your time. We’re okay.”

“We don’t have time to waste.” He insisted. “And if I can’t find this shutdown-”

“Let me take a look, maybe I can help. I deal with terminals all-”

“I’ve got it.” 

She licked her lips and took her hand off his shoulders. His tone of voice was very aggressive and a little too harsh. “Okay.” She stalked off back to the hallway and found a moldy couch near the elevators to wait on. She knew he was stressed, but after leading him to Med-Tek in the first place and dealing with all the ferals mostly on her own thus far, she thought he wouldn't revert back to his old ways of having outbursts at random times. She closed her eyes as an annoying light above her flickered furiously as she sat patiently. She tried to put herself in his shoes- how she would be acting if Shaun was speedily losing time on his life and she needed to rescue a cure. It pained her. Everything about it; even the look on RJ’s face that he began wearing the previous night and hadn't taken off quite yet. He was so broken, it really hurt her heart to see him this way. She kept musing to herself until she heard the quiet sounds of footsteps coming towards her. She stood up slowly as she opened her eyes once again, MacCready walking up to her. “Did it-”

“I’m sorry, Gem.” His words were soft.

She blinked in surprise. “Thanks.”

“Really, I… I just can’t believe I’m this close to saving Duncan; I need to calm down and… and remember I’m not alone.” He gave her an honest half-smile.

“Where do we go now?” She asked him instead. She’d deal with his attitude another time.

“We need to find our way down to the Sub-Level,” he explained. “According to the terminal, that’s where Med-Tek should be storing the cure; they call it ‘Prevent’.”

Gemma nodded. “Got it. Let’s get this show on the road.”

The two walked back down the ramp and towards the decontamination chamber they’d seen earlier in their exploration of the building and, after a minute of hacking away at its terminal, went inside and began being sprayed.

“Jesus GOD,” Gemma said, coughing and swatting around her face with her hands.

“Does this actually do anything?” RJ echoed as he, too, coughed.

“I have no fucking clue.” She cleared her throat as the mist began to dissipate and the next door opened. “Guess we might find out on our way back up- SHIT!” She screeched as an energy shot hit her shoulder. Luckily the armor absorbed most of the blow, but the impact was still forceful and hurt like hell. She grunted and dashed behind a desk to her left in the corner of the room for cover as more shots spat out. “Turrets,” she said to herself through gritted teeth, rolling her shoulder back to loosen up the tension. “Fucking turrets.” She heard a loud blast and looked over her left shoulder, where RJ was standing with his rifle in his hands. He made a shot, and another blast echoed throughout the space.

He jogged over and knelt down next to her. “Are you alright?” He asked.

She nodded, inhaling deeply. “Sure, sure. Just give me a second.” She closed her eyes, face scrunching up in pain as she continued working her shoulder around. Her eyes were slightly crossed when she opened them, but it only took her a few seconds to stand back up. “Kay, let’s keep going.”

There were lots of closed doors on either side of them in this room, as well as one directly ahead. “We’re okay right here, there’s nothing to hurt us; you sure you don’t want to sit down for a while longer?” MacCready asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m fine. If I sit, I stop. I’m not keen on stopping now.” Came her reply. She walked in between the doors, her Pip-Boy beginning to click as the geiger counter detected radioactivity once she got close to one. “There’s more ferals in here… what do you think these people were doing inside once the bombs fell?”

He shook his head. “No clue; but something inside my gut tells me I don’t wanna know.”

She approached the door at the end of the hallway, the one they needed to go through to continue further into the facility. “Locked.” She mumbled in agitation. 

“I’ll check out the terminal.” RJ began to look over at the screen. He shook his head. “There’s only one command- it’ll open all the doors.”

She blinked. “That’s a fucking stupid design flaw.” She rolled her eyes. “Whatever, let’s get this shit over with.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

After trying to navigate the rundown facility and a few more unwelcome feral attacks, Gemma and RJ were finally in an elevator that was descending down into the sub levels of Med-Tek. She was reloading her assault rifle for good measure, he was panicking.

“My god, what if it isn't here?” He asked quickly. “If this is all for nothing, what am I gonna do?”

“Am I going to have to slap you?” She looked over to him as she finished reloading. “Seriously, you need to calm down a bit. If you keep giving into your nerves and your fear, you’re not going to be able to perform, and that means all of this will be for nothing. Everything is going to be fine.”

“There’s probably even more ferals down here, too.” He thought out loud, seemingly impervious to her words.

She sighed and swung her backpack to the front and pulled out a jar, unscrewing the lid. “Take another one.” She held out a Rad-X pill in her hand to him. “Please. It’ll at least help a little bit if there are.”

He took it and gulped it down, shivering. “I’m just so nervous.”

“I know, but it’s going to be okay. I promise.” 

The elevator made the sound it had stopped and the doors slid open. They walked into an open room, some of the walls collapsed. MacCready gagged as they stepped out. “Ugh… smells horrible.” He looked around. “I think we’re the first ones down here in a long time.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she said as they made their way over a pile of rubble and into a hallway. “Most wastelanders don’t like venturing into medical buildings.” Her Pip-Boy began ticking, though its pace was slow-for now. “More radiation.”

“Great,” he mumbled sarcastically. He was leading the pair now; he felt terrible that she had taken most of the hits so far since he was too afraid before. He was walking fairly quickly (mostly out of nerves), but tensed up and immediately shot down more turrets attached to the ceiling upon entering the next area. This part of the building also had locked doors that eerily reminded them of cellblocks, but there were at least stairs where they could make their way further down into the depths of Med-Tek. “Is it just me or does it feel we’re kinda just… not really making any progress?”

Gemma looked up at her brows and sighed in exasperation. He had become increasingly pessimistic the further they adventured and it was becoming rather bothersome. “We’re in the sub-levels, RJ. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

He remained silent as they walked down the steps and debated which new hallway to try (“Wish they had a fucking map for this maze,” Gemma had muttered after a few failed attempts).

After some time passed, the pair finally found a set of stairs that they quickly went down where they were greeted by a very enthusiastic ghoul that growled and charged at MacCready. “Aagh!” He spat as the feral took a swipe at his chest and staggered back, where he steadied himself and shot it properly in the face. The creature stumbled back a few paces before it collapsed onto its back. “I hope this means we’re close.”

“Me too.” She agreed. “You good?”

He took a quick breath inward. “Hanging in there. Just anxious at this point.”

They walked briskly down a hallway with a flickering light and rounded a corner when her Pip-Boy began clicking furiously. “Just say the word if ya start feeling sick.” She advised him. “The last thing we need is a damn mutation between one of us.” Almost on cue, another ghoul sped around the corner and flung itself at her feet in a surprise attack. “HYA!” She grunted as she kicked it in it’s face while it was still on the ground and shot it, though it rose up and swatted at her, making that horrific noise that haunted MacCready’s dreams.

He watched her as she fought the feral. There was a fire in her eyes he hadn't seen in her for a long time, probably since he saw her fight in the Gauntlet at Nuka-World. She was fierce, brutal, and wasn't holding anything back. She knocked it upside the head with her rifle and wound up grabbing her knife with her right hand, switching the rifle to her left with seamless ease and jabbing it straight in the face as it cried out before it crumpled to the ground. She was seething as she stood over it, still in a combative stance, taking heavy breaths and looked over at him. “What?” She asked him.

He shook his head. “You’re scary sometimes,” he admitted with a grin.

She managed a smile and a hint of a laugh. “Thanks.” She put her knife back in its sheath on her belt and turned the corner. “Hey, there’s a terminal here.” She paused. “And a dead end ahead…” She looked back at him.

“This has to be it,” He breathed.

She nodded. “It is.”

“Oh my god… this is it.” He swallowed. “Oh my god.”

“Stay with me, Mac.” She quelled him as she went to the terminal. “We’re not done yet…” She began searching for the command to unlock the doors to the next room.

RJ walked beside her, though not in front of the door, and stood with his back against the metal wall.

“You okay?” She asked him gently, pausing in her efforts at the terminal.

“I… I don’t know,” he said in a whisper. “I don’t know what I’m feeling, but I mean there’s hope in there, too.”

She grinned. “That’s all you need. Focus on that.” She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s finish this, okay?”

He inhaled deeply and gave her that half-smirk of his. “Yeah.”

She turned her attention back to the screen and typed for a few more moments when the sliding of unlocking maglocks sounded and the door opened. Immediately sirens started blasting and flashing lights erupted from the room. Gemma pulled up the rifle and stepped to the side to approach the room, the geiger counter clicking so fast it was almost one continuous noise. “Oh, god,” She breathed, squinting her eyes. “Rads…” RJ said, his face screwing up in disgust. He felt the burn of radiation protruding from the room.

She began shooting, a look of terror on her face. “RJ…”

“What?”

“Dear god-”

He rushed over to her, a wave of panic searing through him. A green, glowing ghoul was in the corner of the lab as other ferals rushed at them. “What the hell-?” He began firing at the normal ones, charging at the pair and causing them to retreat back into from the room in their haste to attack.

“It’s a glowing one!” She shouted as a ghoul approached her, swinging it’s limbs at her. She grunted as she staggered back; this one was strong. “Fuck-” She panted. The glowing ghoul was making it’s way over to her.

MacCready had backed himself into a corner by the terminal, well away from where his partner was fighting. “Agh!” He grunted as three ghouls simultaneously attacked him, one scratching his face as it swatted, a fiery sting overcoming him. His panic began to set in- he felt boiling, hot fear as he struggled to get a single shot at one of them in their brutal assault on him. He hastily pulled the trigger, successfully hitting one near it’s leg, giving him enough of a gap to kick it back and give himself some breathing room. 

“MACCREADY!” 

His heart stopped as he heard Gemma’s scream, glancing over in a split second- she was on her back on the ground, that glowing one on top of her. He quickly sent a rapid fire of shots at one of the ghouls that was on him, sending it down. “Gemma!” He yelled back.

She was audibly struggling as the glowing ghoul screamed at her, pinning her down as she wriggled in it’s grasp. “I- I need help!” She cried.

“Okay-” He panted as he took a few more shots to one of the feral’s heads, it screeching as it’s head bled profusely before it fell to the ground. “I-One second!”

The glowing one spat out radioactive goo onto her face, causing her to turn a sickly green color and her eyes to begin rolling. “Too… much… rads…” She weakly called out. Her face twisted in anger in a last ditch attempt to muster her strength and knee the ghoul. It growled, stumbling backwards, as she crawled past the original ghoul she struggled with towards her weapon that the green one had smacked out of her hands. She frantically looked up at MacCready, who had turned a deathly shade of white. He seemed frozen; he could easily shoot and kill the remaining ghoul, but he seemed too petrified to take a shot. “RJ…” She managed to get out before the glowing one scrambled back and struck her behind her head. She fell back on the ground, facedown. “MACCREADY!” She screamed.

His heart felt like it had dropped, his vision felt blurry. “I…” The ghoul took a strike at him and he grunted in pain. Everything was turning black…

“PLEASE!” She cried to him, turning herself over and managing to look at her companion. “HELP ME!” The glowing one threw up more radiation, and she felt as if her insides were melting. She could feel the rads twisting her stomach inside out and the acidic burning in her throat began to overwhelm her, and she instinctively turned her head and she herself vomited onto the floor as the ghoul continued to torment her. She began choking, coughing between her throwing up and the radiation. “R-RJ…!” Her mind raced on how to get to him. There had to be something to get his attention, anything. Something that he would know meant she was in danger… and that’s when she remembered.

“ROBERT!”

Time seemed to stop when he heard his name, his real name. His mind flashed back to the last time it had been called- it was Lucy, and she was in trouble. She was being ripped apart, right in front of him; but the voice that said it now didn't sound like Lucy…In a second, reality struck him in the moment he was currently in, and he saw Gemma, eyes closed, as that glowing feral ghoul was scratching at her face. “NO!” He yelled in fury. “NOT THIS TIME!” His body surged with adrenaline and his vision cleared. He clenched his teeth in a newfound fury as he shot the feral in front of him at least five times. He turned to face the green one and shot it’s shoulder. 

It looked up at him in a screeching pain as it stood up, it’s mouth dripping with the radioactivity and it shuffled rapidly over to the merc. But he was ready.

He yelled as he fired, never stopping, as the thing came closer to him. It seemed like it was impervious to the bullets, it didn't slow down even while being shot at. It was bleeding, however, and that was all RJ needed. It was close enough to hit him, and amongst the fact that it’s radiating glow made his skin feel like it wanted to melt off, he swung his rifle with all his might to knock down the ghoul, grunting as he did so. He took several clean shots straight to it’s head, but it still growled. “DIE, YOU SHIT!” He screamed. He fired more rapidly until the noises the ghoul made became more and more quiet… then it stopped moving, and the glow it gave off began to dim.

He was breathing heavily, his weapon still aimed at the thing, when his last cry came back to his mind. He closed his eyes. The first time he swore, the first time he broke his promise… he tried to justify it with the cause of revenge, but he knew he probably wouldn't be able to forgive himself for breaking that promise. But, he figured, if he could get the cure and save Duncan, it would at least in a small way make up for it. 

RJ dashed over to Gemma and knelt beside her. “Oh god,” he breathed to himself. She was still that horrid green tint and was covered by the ghoul’s vomit. Her Pip-Boy was chattering away furiously, so he quickly reached for his pack and pulled out a scarf he had brought along. “Come on, Gem…” He whispered, more to himself than to her. Radiation was a hard thing to take care of, not like, say, a gunshot wound. He began wiping off the goop as well as what looked like her own sickness she had thrown up from her face and exposed skin as best he could, though she was still laying beside a few dead ghouls. He scooped her up in his arms, leaving his rifle on the ground, and took her over back to the hallway and on the landing halfway up the stairwell where her geiger counter finally fell silent. “You’re going to be okay, Gem.” He told her, knowing full well she was unconscious. He laid her down carefully on her back, though he’d taken off her own pack so she was lying down directly on the cool metal. He knew she had RadAway on her…

He reached around for the bag and immediately yanked it out when he felt it and made sure that the IV and the needle were still intact. He took a deep breath- he wasn't used to needles, he hardly ever had to use RadAway (he stayed away from that kinda crap), let alone on other people. “Okay, here we go…” He muttered. His fingers trembled slightly as he took the needle in his right hand, holding one of her arms out straight with the left. He carefully injected the needle into the crook of her arm where he could make out a vein and waited breathless until he could see the orangey liquid running through the tube down to where it needed to go. “Please, God…” He whispered, looking up to the ceiling. “I can’t lose her, too.”

He waited, heartbeat still racing, as the fluid continued to enter her bloodstream. RadAway didn't always work immediately, and he was nervous it would wind up being several hours before her eyes opened again. He’d never wanted to see her blue eyes more… Her chest was still rising and falling so he knew it was only a matter of time, but god he was a wreck. Her face had a strained pain on it even as it was in her unconscious rest. It was saddening to see. And it hurt him even more knowing he could've stopped it from happening; if he hadn't been so paralyzed, if he’d been a little braver, maybe. He could've at least helped fend off that glowing one, and taking out three almost-zombies should have been a breeze for someone with his experience and skill.

But no. She was suffering from radiation sickness all because of him.

The guilt swam through him and his chest felt heavy once again. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered to her. He held a hand to her face and cupped the side of it gently, moving his thumb by a new scratch by her temple. “You don’t deserve this.” He gently propped her up against him slightly as he himself sat with his back against the wall, her head resting back against his shoulder.

He held her as his thoughts attacked him for what seemed like an eternity. In an instant, Gemma’s eyes fluttered open and she gave a horrendous cough that came deep within her lungs. She coughed amongst wheezes as she found herself breathing once again, the sting of rads tainting her air supply.

“Oh my god!” MacCready cried out in relief. “Thank god you’re alive.” He turned himself and pulled her into an embrace that he tried not to put too much strength into, as she was struggling for a decent breath right now. He held her head with one of his hands and her back with the other and he could feel himself shaking. “I thought I lost you there, Gem.” He could feel his throat clench up like it usually did before tears came and held onto her closer to him for a few minutes as they both breathed heavily.

She steadied her breathing, clearing her throat and coughing once again. “Where’s the… the cure?” she croaked out.

“I- I needed to make sure you were okay first,” he stammered, lightly loosening his grip on her and looking at her face. He couldn't help but feel… well, something, in his heart- she nearly died, nearly became a ghoul, and the first thing she was concerned about was him. About Duncan. And it was at that very moment he realized that after everything she had gone through, and now especially what she had done for him, that she was the most selfless and brave woman he’d ever met and that she somehow in some capacity had come to care about him. It suddenly dawned on him as he held her in his arms that they were two sides of the same coin- and of course deep in his heart he missed Lucy to death… but at some point, he figured, she would want him to move on. And… as much as he didn't want to admit it, having Gemma as close as she was had made him happier than he’d been in a long time- perhaps than he’d ever been before. He suddenly felt very breathless and felt himself flush. “I couldn't just leave you on your own.”

“Go get it, RJ.” She said weakly. She propped herself up and was breathing heavily. Her eyes wanted to close but was fighting to keep them open. “I… probably need to… to rest for a minute.”

“Are you sure?” He asked her quietly. His voice was soft, sincere.

She nodded. “Absolutely.” She flashed him a broken grin, the best she could muster against her pain and sickness.

His lip trembled as he released her from his arms against the metal wall, where she slumped into the corner of the stairwell. “I’ll be right back.” He told her as he stood up. He opened his mouth to say what he had on his mind, then decided against it, and hurried down the stairs back to the lab.

This was not the place nor the time. And he had a cure to retrieve.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Never had the shoddy neon sign above the door and gate to the entrance of Goodneighbor looked so welcoming. The journey back to the settlement had taken most of the remainder of the morning once they emerged from out of Med-Tek as well as the majority of the evening, especially since they stuck to side streets and ducked into alleyways since Gemma couldn't handle another round of fighting with Mutants or Raiders or Gunners or whoever was eager to shoot something passing by. Luckily the RadAway had flushed her system of most of the radiation she’d absorbed in a fairly timely fashion, but she was still feeling incredibly weak and looked paler than she usually did. She was not in a particularly good mood either when a punk approached her the second she walked through the door.

“Hold up there.” He growled as he sauntered up to her. “First time in Goodneighbor? Ya can’t go walking around without insurance.”

She rolled her eyes as far up as they could go. “Not my first time, and even if it was, I definitely wouldn't need anything you have to offer.”

“Why don’t you listen first, huh?”

She sized him up and had a look of absolute annoyance, holding her rifle firmly in her hands and ever so slightly in his direction. “You better back off you fuckin’ asshat-looking putz,” she growled at him as she kept walking towards his direction to pass by. “Or you’re the one who’s going to need insurance.”

“Now don’t be like that, babe.” He cooed, standing in her way. “I think you’re going to like what I have to say.”

“Get out of my damn way, or I’ll crack your fucking skull wide open.” 

“Damn, what’s your problem?” The drifter asked, some malice in his tone.

“She said back off, dude.” MacCready said loudly as he stood beside Gemma. “Go back to whatever trash can fire you crawled out of and try to find someone as gullible as you are ugly to give your stupid sales pitch to.”

“Oh, so that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?” He snarled, taking a step closer to Gemma. He was far taller than she was (though to be fair, most people were), though she looked up at him with a fury in her eyes. “Well, why don’t I teach you assholes a lesson? You hand over everything you got in them pockets, or ‘accidents’ start happen to ya. Big, bloody ‘accidents’.” He began to reach for a pistol at his waist.

Before RJ could even react, Gemma had slung the rifle to her back and pulled out her serrated knife, jabbing it straight into his wrist that was grabbing for the weapon.

“AGH! GOD!” He screamed in pained anger.

“On the ground. Now.” She demanded.

He acquiesced begrudgingly and growled as he did so. “What’s your fuckin’ problem?”

“You were. Won’t be anymore though, won’t you?” She said with a menacing grin.

“Go to hell.” He spat at her feet.

Her face screwed up. “Wrong answer, fucknut.” She harshly twisted the blade before she pulled the knife out, making sure to drag the serrated edges against his raw flesh she had previously carved into and kicked him square in his face. He yelled again as he fell on the ground onto his back in pain. She knelt over him, hands on her knees, as she smiled. “Now tell me, was that the worst sales pitch you’ve ever given, or what?”

RJ stood, looking absolutely stunned. “Well, that was quite the spectacle.”

“Impressed?” She asked him playfully.

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Hey!” A familiar husky voice called out.

The pair looked to where the voice came from and saw a ghoul wearing a red waistcoat and a tricorn hat sauntering over to them.

“Hancock!” RJ bellowed with a smile. “How’s the coolest ghoul in the Commonwealth?!”

“Not too bad, MacCready!” The mayor of Goodneighbor said with a smirk. “Not too bad. Hope Finn here isn't giving you too much trouble?”

“Nothing I couldn't take care of.” Gemma responded, fastening the knife back into its place on her belt. “Sorry for the mess.”

“Don’t worry about it, doll.” Hancock said. He stopped beside Finn, who glanced up at the ghoul with pleading eyes. “I thought I told you to stop it with all that extortion crap?” He said to the drifter menacingly.

“I just-”

“Let’s have a chat, you and me. Fahrenheit’s gonna take you to the State House.”

A woman with a half shaved orange head of hair approached the mayor and grabbed Finn by his ear, yanking him up. “Are you gonna be long?”

“Nah,” he told her. “Just gotta say hi to the one who got away.”

“Ah, Hancock, I’m flattered.” MacCready joked with a grin on his face as the woman left wit Finn.

“Slade, long time no see.” Hancock said to Gemma as he walked to her with open arms, disregarding RJ’s comments.

She very awkwardly backed up and away from him. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t hug you right now; Soaked up a lot of rads today, John. But I promise I’ll give you a proper hello later.”

“Why, where have you been?”

She glanced over to MacCready, expecting him to answer.

“She was helping me with something,” he said quickly. “We were at Med-Tek Research and it was swarming with ferals and she got attacked pretty badly by this glowing, green one.”

“Jesus Christ,” Hancock mumbled. “Go get yourself some rest, sunshine. Don’t want you to wind up as ugly as I am.”

She laughed. “Oh, don’t say that. You’re wonderful.”

“Well, I’ll catch you both later. Gotta deal with some bad neighbors, if you catch my drift.” He pointed at Gemma. “But don’t you go leaving again without stopping and saying goodbye, okay?”

“Of course, John.”

The ghoul nodded and turned to MacCready. “Always good to see you, my man. Hasn't been the same around here without you.” He flashed him a thin smile with what remained of his lips and walked back towards the Old State House.

“Sounds like you two are pretty tight, huh?” RJ said as he glanced over to Gemma.

She watched the ghoul as he disappeared from view. “You could say that.”

“Well, that sounds like it has an interesting backstory.”

“He’s the reason why I have my knife,” she explained. “I told you I wiped out an art gallery full of raiders, right? And then the serial killer they were after, Pickman, he gave it to me as a gift. Hancock is the one who assigned me to the job in the first place.”

He stared at her in disbelief. “I didn't know you were one of Hancock’s puppets?”

She shook her head. “It’s not like that; he’s sweet. I did it so he could help me out by getting me into see Dr. Amari at the Memory Den sooner rather than later. He took a liking to me though, so I mean…” She shrugged, smiling. “I keep in touch and drop by when I’m here.”

“Ah. I see.” He pursed his lips, then exhaled as he looked over to a few vendors across the street. “Anyways, let’s get this to Daisy so we can eat and finally get some rest.”

“God, that sounds nice,” she muttered to herself as she followed him. 

He went quickly to an open building where a ghoul woman with auburn hair in a bun stood.

Her face lit up when she saw him, her black eyes squinting as she smiled. “MacCready!” She cried happily. “I haven't seen you in a while. You haven't been avoiding me, have you?”

He chuckled. “Now how could I stay away from someone as cute as you, Daisy?”

“Ugh, you’re a lousy liar.” She told him, crossing her arms. “But I’ll just play stupid and pretend I don’t know that. So, what did you need?”

He licked his lips, a smile erupting on his face. He leaned forward towards her. “I got it, Daisy.” He said in an excited hushed voice. “I found the cure to Duncan’s disease.”

“Oh, my god! That’s wonderful news!” She held a hand to her heart, a little breathless. “How did you do it? Last time you tried to go, there were too many ferals, weren't there?”

“I didn't do it alone.” He smiled over at Gemma and place a hand on the small of her back. “My friend here got me through Med-Tek.” He turned his attention back to Daisy. “Now all I need to do is get the cure into Duncan’s hands. Can you help me?”

She nodded dutifully. “Of course, MacCready. You’ve saved my behind more than once, it’s the least I can do.”

RJ waited a moment before reaching into his duster, extracting the Prevent carefully. He looked at it as his hands trembled before handing it to Daisy. “Here.”

She took it out of his hands delicately and placed it under her counter out of sight. “I’ll get the sample on the first caravan leaving the Commonwealth.” She promised him. “The driver owes me a few favors and he’s reliable. It will arrive at your homestead in no time, hon.”

He let out a breathy laugh. “Thanks, you’re a doll.”

“While we’re here, can I purchase some clean clothes from you?” Gemma asked. “These have been contaminated by radiation and I’d like to get out of them as soon as possible.”

“Sure thing.” Daisy nodded. “You need some too, MacCready?”

“Hm?” He asked. “Oh, yeah, sure.”

Gemma looked over at him. He was grinning from ear to ear and seemed lost in his own mind. “Go outside, get some fresh air. I’ll be right out.” She told him.

He nodded. “Alright.” And he began walking.

“What kind of clothes were you looking for?” Daisy asked.

“God, anything loose and comfortable,” she whined. “We’ve both been wearing protective clothes and armor all day.”

“I’ll bet.” She responded as she began searching through a chest near the counter. “You know, that was a very kind thing you did for him. Going through Med-Tek.”

“It was nothing, really.” Gemma mumbled.

“But it was. Besides him and his friend taking care of Duncan, I am the only one who knows about this. Trusting you with that, and then having you with him, means more to him than anything, I’m sure.”

“Well, I care about him. I wanted to do whatever I could to help.” She said with her half grin.

“I can tell. It’s been a long time since he’s opened up his heart to someone like he’s no doubt done with you; just be careful with that.” She heaped a pile of clothes onto the countertop- two baggy long sleeve shirts and two pairs of loose cotton pants. “Will this do?”

“That’s perfect. What do I owe you for them?”

She gave the raider a smile. “On the house.”
“Wh-Really? Why?” She pondered.

“MacCready’s one of the good ones, and I can tell you’re special to him. It’s the least I can do to help out my friend.” 

Gemma took the clothes with the slightest bit of apprehension. “Wow, I really don’t know what to say…”

“You don’t have to say anything.” Daisy locked eyes with the human. “Just take care of him for me.”

She blinked for a second, soaking in her words. She smiled and nodded. “I will. Thank you.” She headed out of the shop and found MacCready sitting on a nearby bench. “How you doing?”

He jumped up with glee and wrapped his arms around her. “We did it…” He whispered with a smile on his face. “Holy crap, we actually did it!”

She laughed to herself as she held onto his back, the clothes in her hands. “Of course we did, RJ!”

“No, you don't understand- we just gave Duncan a fighting chance to live! I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to pay you back for this… I owe you big time.”

“I don’t know, you’re already running up quite a tab.” She said, a playful grin on her face as she looked up at him, their embrace ending.

He laughed. “I know I am. I’ve always been better at taking than giving.” His nodded as he continued to look at her face. “Maybe one day I’ll learn to get my priorities straight.”

“Sure, maybe one day.” She chuckled. “But for now, let’s go to Rexford. I’m dying to get myself rinsed off and get a warm meal.”

“God that sounds nice.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

MacCready was sitting on the bed of one of the rooms at Hotel Rexford, waiting for Gemma so the two could head out and get dinner. They were sharing a room since she was carrying a limited amount of caps on her at the moment and figured they would rather get more to eat than sleep in separate rooms. Besides, they’d already slept together the night before and it wasn't uncomfortable or strange, so it didn't seem as weird of a circumstance now than their previous travels. She was in the bathroom rinsing off in the shower (thank God the Rexford had running water) and he had already done so while she gave herself another round of RadAway to be safe. The clothes she’d gotten from Daisy were quite comfy and soft, something he wasn't really used to, but being clean and not being caked in a thin layer of Wasteland filth was even more of a rarity. 

He hadn't realized how tired he was until now, though he figured the majority of it was probably that the adrenaline coursing through him for the majority of the day had worn out now that he could settle down and relax. He still, in truth, couldn't believe that the cure for his sweet son’s disease was actually on it’s way back to him. It seemed too good to be true, more like a dream than what should be his reality. Part of that was largely due to Gemma. If she hadn't sought him out all those months ago, he probably wouldn't have been able to get through Med-Tek on his own. She had changed everything for him and had made his life better, and he still didn't know how he could make it up to her.

The sound of the running water stopped, which RJ took as his cue to start lacing up his boots to prepare to head down the street to the Third Rail soon. He hadn't been around to the old place since the day she scooped him up with only her name and her offer of caps. ‘Was that my only standard back then? How much they could pay?’ He thought to himself. Of course, he realized it was true. He reflected on their partnership, and he stuck with every crazy thing she did solely because she was paying him handsomely. Now, well… he stuck around for her.

It was then that she emerged from the bathroom, wringing her curls out in a towel as she leaned over. She had on the clothes from Daisy, though she was swimming in their largeness. She had apparently rolled up the pant legs (several times it looked like) and had tucked in the blue long sleeve into the hem of them in an attempt to prevent herself from looking like one big blob. The neckline was still so wide on her that the sleeves hung slightly off of her shoulders. “God, I feel so much better.”

He grinned, standing up and walking towards her. “Good.”

“Though I’m still hungry.”

“Well, we can do something about that.”

“Is the Rail still open?” She asked as she flipped all her hair back.

Her face, now clean and free of grime, took him back. “You’re scratched up…”

She shrugged. “So are you.”

“Where?”

She reached out and lightly touched a long scratch on his face with her middle and index fingers. “Right there.”

“Yeah, well-” He did the same, pointing to several on her face and stopping on a particularly prominent looking one above her right brow. “Right there, there, there, there and there.”

She grinned. “Well, that’s what happens in a fight.”

“It shouldn't have happened.”

“It’s okay.”

“You didn't have to let-”

She interrupted him, placing a hand on the side of his neck, rubbing underneath his jawline. “I did. And it was worth it.”

His breath hitched at her touch. “Why?”

She bit her lip. His clean face looked so baffled by her words. “Because I care about you, RJ.”

He swallowed. “Why me?”

His sincere question took her by surprise. “Why are you so confused that I’d care about you or what happens to you?”

“Because no one has cared about me as much as you do.” He said quietly. “Even after knowing what a piece of sh-erg- what a piece of crap I am, you still somehow don’t mind I’m here.”

“What do you mean?” She shifted her hand down, laying it flat on his chest.

“You know… everything about me, Gem. No one else has, no one else does; not even Lucy did. She didn't know I was a hired killer, she didn't know how awful I was. You do. And you’re still here, and I can’t figure out why.”

Her eyes darted between her hand and his eyes. “Because you’re funny and you have a good heart, and…” She hesitated. “You’ve saved my life a few times now and I feel… safe when I’m around you. I haven't felt safe since I woke up in the vault. Last night, I couldn't sleep and I was scared and the wind startled me. Once you came and was beside me, all that went away.”

His heart raced as he processed what she had said. “You know, back at Med-Tek, I thought I was going to lose you.” He brought his forehead down, resting it against hers as she looked up at him. “I was so scared I was going to lose you.” He whispered. “And when you opened your eyes… Gem, I- I can’t even tell you how happy I was.”

Her lip trembled in its smile as she listened, her eyes beginning to glisten. “Really?”

“Yes. Having you this close to me has made me happier than I think I’ve ever been before. That made me realize how deeply I care about you. You give me the courage I needed to press ahead… to never give up. I didn't think I’d feel that way again when Lucy died…” He reached up and cupped th side of her face. “Then I met you.”

Gemma felt a tear escape from her eye. “I feel the same way, RJ.”

He grinned, wiping off the tear with his thumb as it traveled down her cheek. “Really?”

She nodded desperately. “Yeah.”

MacCready’s heart beat a mile a minute, but now was as good a time as any. He slipped his other hand to the small of her back and pulled her against him as their lips met. Her arms coiled around him as he kissed her sweetly, relishing his touch. He could feel her reach up to the back of his neck, sliding her fingers through his hair as he kissed her again. For once, he wasn't aggressive and at last she wasn't being rough- it was quiet moment that they had stolen from the night, and they both were smiling happily as they slowly pulled away, both a little flustered and still in each other’s arms.

“So, um-” RJ finally said, clearing his throat. “Should we, uh, go eat.”

She bit her lip with a grin and nodded. “Sure.”

He couldn't help but taking her hands within his own and brought one of hers up, placing a gentle kiss on the back of her hand. “I’ll let you grab your things, I’m gonna catch my breath in the hallway.”

“Okay.” She breathed. She watched him go and close the door to their room behind him, and once he was gone she held a hand to her heart, a smile erupting on her face and a warmth within her.

The day had definitely been a long road, but, she thought, the longest roads were the craziest ones that led to somewhere interesting.

Chapter Text

MacCready, for the first time in quite a while, had gotten a night’s worth of uninterrupted and deep sleep. He went to sleep clean, well fed, and next to someone he cared for and whom he had found out felt the same connection with him. That being said, however, falling into said sleep took some time. Knowing that Daisy was sending the cure to Duncan… it was nerve-wracking to say the least. It was only a matter of time before he would find out if his son’s life threatening illness would be cured or if it wouldn't and it was too late. There was nothing more he could do now other than wait for (most likely) a few days, possibly a week, until whatever news came back to him.

RJ woke up but didn't open his eyes as he stirred, the thought of Duncan overwhelming his mind. He could feel his heart beating deeply within his chest and swallowed. He blinked his eyes open, squinting from the light pouring through the windows, and there was a brief moment of surprise when he opened them to see Gemma’s face, still sound asleep, inches away from his own. She had a hand curled up against her chest as she slept, the other one underneath the pillow and under her head. It took him a second to recollect the events after giving Daisy the cure from the previous evening, and it dawned on him- he’d kissed her. A wave of shock washed over him upon remembering the fact, but it wasn't a bad feeling. The corner of his lips curled up into a half-grin as he gazed upon her. ‘Damn.’ Her auburn brown curls were swept away from her face and over her head as she slept, her face was relaxed and peaceful. Her freckled face was riddled with several fresh cuts from their exploration of Med-Tek, the one coming into her right brow particularly nasty. He still felt guilty about them. She’d insisted he stop worrying about her injuries, but the weight of her pain still fell upon his conscience. He lifted one of his hands from underneath the covers and put a gentle finger to it.

Gemma inhaled deeply, a slight grimace on her lips as she stirred. Her eyes fluttered open and they fell upon MacCready. “Hi.” She said softly, a quiet grin on her face. She yawned.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he told her in a whisper as he moved his hand to the side of her face and began rubbing right underneath her jawline with his thumb. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” She began to move more towards her back, hissing. “Oh damn-” She gritted her teeth.

“You okay?” He asked quickly, sitting himself up on his elbow to look at her.

“Mmhmm.” She nodded (rather unconvincingly). “Just really sore…”

RJ closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.” She told him.

“It is, though.”

“Oh, stop it.” She rubbed her eyes. “I don’t want to hear anymore of that.”

He sighed, a look somewhere between angry and sad on his face. “I’ll drop it; at least for now. Can I do anything to help?”

Gemma yawned again, lightly stretching her arms above her head, ending it with a tired yet happy expression on her face. “Maybe in a bit you can run to the Third Rail to get us some breakfast. I don’t think I’m going anywhere for a while.”

“That I can do.” He adjusted himself so he was sitting up straight and looked around the hotel room briefly as he sighed before looking back down to Gemma. “How are you feeling? I mean- besides the soreness.”

She shrugged as best she could before emitting a pain-induced intake of breath. “I mean, I stopped throwing up pretty quick after we got back last night.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You were throwing up last night?”

“Yeah, you don’t remember?”

He shook his head. “No… I-” He paused.

She waited for several moments. “What?”

“Well, I don’t remember anything really after we… we kissed.” He didn't look at her, not quite knowing why. Deep down, he was worried she wouldn't recollect it- or worse, decide it was a mistake or take back the things she said the night before.

A small grin spread across her lips. “Aw. That’s sweet. To summarize, we got dinner at the Rail and I threw up all over everything- right in front of Magnolia, mind you- and Whitechapel Charlie asked us to leave, so we came back here where I threw up in the bathroom. You passed out basically right away and after I was confident I was done, I cleaned up and came to join you in the bed.”

RJ nodded. “Sounds like I missed out.”

“Oh, yeah.” She rolled her eyes. “Quite the party you skipped out on.”

He sighed. “So, are you hungry now or do you want me to wait for a bit?”

“Can you hand me my Pip-Boy? Knowing the time will be helpful.” She watched him as he got up from the bed and went to their belongings scattered along the wall beside the window. He picked up her device and gave it back to her. “Oh wow…” She mumbled as she stared at the screen. “It’s already past noon.”

His eyes widened. “Seriously? Damn…”

“Yeah, I should try to get something in my system soon; especially after I didn't really keep any food down last night.”

“I’m on it.” He grinned at her. He was still wearing the clothes Gemma had gotten from Daisy. It wasn't his usual look that the citizens of Goodneighbor had come to know and love, but it was fine for a quick run to get something to eat. He tugged down on the sweater and went to his boots he’d thrown on the floor the previous night and began to lace them up. “What do you want?”

“Hmm.” She scrunched her face up in thought as she still laid on the bed. “I think some kind of soup or broth would be easy on my stomach.”

“You got it.” He reached for a small sack of caps beside him and picked it up.

“You’re a lifesaver.” She grinned.

He walked over to the side of the bed closest to her on his way to the door and smiled down at her. “I’m only trying to return the favor, Gem.” He knelt down on the floor so he was level with her, stroking her hairline gently. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Her eyes seemed to twinkle as she gazed up at him, lightly grabbing the wrist touching her face. “Thank you, RJ.”

He smiled, leaning down and placing a kiss on her forehead, lingering for a moment or two.

Gemma closed her eyes blissfully. “Hurry back.” She whispered to him as he pulled away from him.

He stood up, nodding. “Trust me, being without you by my side is something I want to keep to a minimum.” He gave her one last grin before heading out the door, his pace a little quicker than it usually was.

 

 

~~~

 

 

It was the time of day in Goodneighbor where the drifters and scavengers and everyone in between were usually milling about doing Lord knows what. That being said, the rundown streets were suspiciously lacking of residents when he walked out into the open. He looked around, that old familiar feeling of unease creeping its way up from his stomach, as he took slow and quiet steps. ‘I mean, Goodneighbor’s sketchy, but not THIS sketchy…’ He could only imagine what was causing the absence of people, and his mind went in about a thousand places before he was nearing the entrance to the Third Rail and finally could hear some sort of commotion coming from further away. He picked up his pace and made his way back towards Daisy’s shop and rounded a corner to see a horde or residents, ghoul and human alike, all seemingly unhappy and crowded near the entrance to the town. 

MacCready managed to snake his way through the crowd until he could hear distinct voices- one was definitely Hancock, there was no denying that, but the other (otherS? He couldn't be sure,) he had no idea of whom it belonged to.

“…not gonna give you the satisfaction of roaming around my town after the kinda fuckery you and your gang of bullies put my people through.” Hancock’s gritty voice had more malice than it usually did.

RJ had only a few more people to pass before he could see what was going on, and after the mayor’s remarks, the people around him had a mixed reaction of applause and booing. Suddenly he felt a tugging on his sweater and was yanked hastily to the right. “FU-Jesus!” He exclaimed quietly. 

“Relax.” It was Fahrenheit. She was still dragging him in the direction of the Old State House.

“What the hell’s going on?” He asked her.

“The Brotherhood of Steel’s here.” She growled.

He groaned. ‘Oh for shit’s sake.’  He shook his head. “Why?”

She finally stopped once they were in the front of the crowd, and now he could definitely see a few of the no-good “soldiers”. There were three of them, two men and a woman. One was wearing the staple of the Brotherhood, the suit of power armor save the helmet, and stood slightly in front of the other two. He was definitely in charge, though.

“They’re here looking for a rogue Knight.”

“Well that’s stupid. Why would they be here?”

Fahrenheit crossed her arms. “Because the big guy there has been here with her before.”

RJ raised an eyebrow. “The Brotherhood came voluntarily? Here?! Wait, who?”

She looked briefly over to the scene, then back to RJ. She leaned close to him, her lips almost touching his ear. “They’re hunting down Gemma Slade, MacCready.”

His heart stopped. “What?”

“She defected a long, long time ago, but-”

“MacCready!” Hancock called out. “Best headhunter in the Commonwealth.” His eyes narrowed, a subtle hint of mischief in his face. “These visitors are looking for someone. Why don’t you join us in my office to discuss it?”

He couldn't hide the look of befuddlement on his face, though Fahrenheit invisibly elbowed him. “Sure thing, Hancock.”

“Great.” The ghoul turned back to the three Brotherhood. “Follow me.” He walked up to the merc and slung his arm around his shoulder. “Just play along, RJ.” He whispered “We ain’t selling her out.”

He could only nod, glancing behind him. The one with the power armor was in the lead- he had dark hair and a tough looking face that he wondered if it permanently stayed that way or if it was just for show. Either way, he was wishing he hadn't left the hotel room at all.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Gemma awoke with a jump, gasping for air and covered in sweat, yet incredibly cold. She had the dream she’d had a thousand times, though usually it was fueled with the Psychobuff that Gage gave her before matches at Nuka-World. It was the one that plagued her with sadness and reminded her of the hell her life now was, and it was insulting every time her brain made her remember it. It was the dream where she was back in her cryopod in Vault 111, waking up, and witnessing Nate’s murder and Shaun’s abduction. She’d seen it over and over again through the dreams- not like it wasn't something she thought of often, but it was most definitely an insult to injury. 

She felt the achey pain surge through as she began to attempt swift motions of rolling over and hissed. Med-Tek had been one of the hardest hits she’d taken thus far in the Commonwealth, but she knew it was a small price for Duncan’s life. Her right shoulder in particular had that burning, fiery pain from the turret shots she’d received and was the biggest offender at the moment. She made her way onto her back, sighing deeply. She wasn't sure how long she had fallen back asleep for, but her rumbling stomach reminded her that MacCready had gone out to get some food and still was not back. 

Gemma’s mind drifted to the previous night-their kiss more specifically.  Butterflies erupted in her stomach thinking about it, but she tried to rationalize things a bit in her head. She had been swept up in the moment and she undeniably felt a connection with him she hadn't felt in a long while, though she had to ask herself if it was a wise thing to have let happen, especially since it wasn't the first time her feelings got in the way of things. She enjoyed traveling with him and wanted to keep doing so, but she wasn't sure if pursuing something more than their professional status would hinder her goal of gaining access inside the Institute. It was complicated to say the least. There were a lot of emotional and practical factors to be considered, and she realized that laying down in a shoddy hotel room combating radiation sickness and the pain of her injuries wasn't the time to do so.

Luckily her mind remained relatively calm for the time being. Usually after her nightmare, she would feel bitterly cold for hours upon awakening or she would be consumed by the memories and have them be on repeat until something else could occupy her thoughts. Right now all that was really on her mind was the fact that soon she would have some food in her belly.

She didn't have to wait too much longer as her thoughts drifted until the sound of the door creaking open caused her to snap into reality. RJ walked through the door, carrying a small pot with him. “Welcome back.” She said to him with a smile.

“Sorry I took so long.” He said, his tone a little more bitter than usual. He placed the pot down on a dresser and began shucking off his boots.

“I actually fell back asleep,” she laughed. “So don’t worry about it.” She did her best to sit up against the bed frame, biting her tongue to hold back any audible sounds as she fought against the hot pain.

“Well, I got you some radstag stew.” He placed the pot near her on the bed followed by a long spoon, a smile erupting on her face. “Might not be piping hot, but it’s something.”

She grabbed it happily. “You’re the best, RJ, thank you.” She dipped the spoon in and quickly got as much as she could onto it before shoving it in her mouth. She gulped. “God, that tastes so good.”

He sat down next to her atop the bed, staring at her. “How are you feeling, Gem?”

“Still really sore… that turret really fucked up my shoulder, but hopefully it’ll be okay tomorrow.”

RJ sat silently as she ate. She was so preoccupied that she didn't seem to notice he hadn't brought food for himself- that was because Hancock had arranged for their little meeting with the Brotherhood bozos to be catered. The mayor led with a flourish, that was for sure. He hadn't learned all the details about Gemma’s affiliation with them, since it wasn't “necessary” apparently to the wannabe soldiers, but they seemed to be under the impression she was a synth and that was good enough to warrant a Commonwealth-wide manhunt. The leader of their little squad, Dancer or something, seemed really keen on figuring out every minute detail of her escapades in Goodneighbor- when she was last in town, who she spoke to, where she went, why she was there, how long for, etc. The woman with him, Hay-something, wasn't quite as serious, but the dude with them whose name he couldn't remember honestly looked like he was angry for no reason and only spoke in negative, almost complaint-like sentences or questions. Hancock was adamant about not giving anything away but still grazed the truth- he told him that the last time she was in town she said had mentioned to the ghoul she needed to go to the Glowing Sea, which was true enough, however the fact that it was over seven months previous remained unsaid. Fahrenheit kept with the mayor’s story, and RJ had settled with his old shtick of hanging around the town waiting for a someone who needed a mercenary to come along. It was bizarre to say the least, but he still didn't know how, why or when Gemma had ran with them. As he watched her eat and some color return to her face, however, he decided he would ask her another day when she was feeling better. The Brotherhood clowns said they were going to leave Goodneighbor sometime before the day was over, but he couldn't be sure, so his head swam through different ideas of how to keep her inside the hotel room until he knew for certain.

“You okay?”

He shot his eyes up at her. He hadn't realized he’d drifted off into space. “Yeah, just a little drained,” he told her.

“I can imagine. It’s been quite the few days, hasn't it?” She slurped up the last remaining bit of stew and laid back against the headboard of the bed, sighing in satisfaction. “Thanks again for bringing me some lunch.”

He grinned. “Anytime, Gem.” 

She grimaced to herself  as she tried to shift up to sit with her legs crossed to face him. “How…are you… doing, though?”

“Please lay down,” he said flatly seeing her struggle. “You can stop your tough gal act around me, you know.”

She let out some air through her nostrils in an effort at a pity laugh. “I’m fine.”

“How can I help? Is there anything I can get you to lessen your pain?” He frowned. “I don’t like seeing you so frustrated.”

“The only thing I can think of is Psycho…” She paused, a hesitation in her eyes. “It works, but I get bad dreams when I take any form of it- like bad memories, played out for me in my dreams. I, uh… I had one already when you were gone.”

He sighed, crawling closer towards her. “I’m sorry… I… I get those too, sometimes.” He reached out and touched her face lightly. “But I’ll be right here next to you. I’ll make sure you’re okay. I promise.”

She took hold of his wrist and took a deep breath. “As long as you’re with me.”

“Right beside you. You have my word.” He smiled.

“Okay.” She whispered. “Then I’ll try the Psycho.”

He nodded. “I’ll get some for ya. I won’t be long.” He began to get off the bed as she laughed.

“Ain’t that the truth.” There was a chem dealer in the main lobby of the Rexford, for Christ’s sake.

“Alright. I’ll be back.” He once again grabbed the sack of caps as he headed out the door, shutting it behind him.

Gemma sighed, staring blankly at the door. She hadn't taken the drug in it’s pure form in ages, but she knew whatever happened, MacCready was probably going to experience a crazy side of her very soon.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Normally, at least in RJ’s experiences, Psycho caused a lot of bitterness and unnecessary anger for whoever took it. He’d even succumbed to using it himself several times, though he wasn't particularly fond of it. Gemma, on the other hand, became absolutely delirious. Shortly after he administered the drug to her she became very airy and if he hadn't known her beforehand probably would've assumed she was overly intoxicated. She was more so under the side effects than he’d seen her have back in Nuka-World, most likely due to it being a hybrid of Psycho and Buffout at the time. In any case, she was certainly a handful for the several hours it took for the drug to settle down in her system and she began to act a little more like her usual self.

MacCready monitored her until she began to fall asleep once again on the bed and decided to take a shower before she awoke. After all, he wasn't used to taking showers, and the Rexford didn't charge extra for water usage, so he figured he might as well take advantage of the opportunity. 

RJ turned the handle downward, water pouring out of the shower head above him. Once it was a comfortably warm temperature, he pulled his sweater up and over his head and began to unzip his pants and stepped out of them once they were undone. This shower had the bonus luxury as doubling as a bathtub, though right now he simply didn't have the time for such a thing. He stepped over the cracked porcelain wall, inhaling deeply once he felt the water on his skin. He let it soak through his hair, which reminded him once it stuck to his forehead that he needed to get it cut, and bent his neck down to let it wash down his back. He hadn't realized he was a bit sore as well; he figured he’d been so busy running around and focused on Gemma that he couldn't really have noticed.

His mind wandered to Slade. Ironically enough, he was in almost the exact same situation before they met. He practically lived at the Rexford, though was too tired or drunk to refresh himself often with a shower. Before he met Gemma, he spent most of his time in the V.I.P room of the Third Rail waiting for clients-at least when he could get himself out of bed, usually hungover. Man, life sure was different now… It hadn't seemed as long as it was since that past lifetime, though there was no denying he preferred the present life he had now that she was in it. 

‘What did a screw-up like me do to deserve her?’ He was baffled she cared for him in any sort of capacity. He couldn't believe she’d kissed him back the previous night. He swallowed, tilting his face up and closing his eyes as the water fell on his face. He could still see it- she was crying softly, her lips were parted ever so slightly, and she had already looked out of breath. He exhaled deeply as he thought. Should he have kept kissing her? If he did, would it have become more intense? Would she have wanted something…more?

RJ could feel a heat travel down within him. “God, calm yourself, MacCready…” He scolded himself in a whisper. It was useless, though, as his mind was already three steps ahead of itself. He could imagine it in his mind- the two of them, still passionately kissing, undressing each other while getting closer to the bed. He resented the fact that he had already seen her in just her underwear before, though so long ago, because it only fueled the image in his mind of Gemma in just a bra and her panties-

He cursed to himself as he could feel his erection now, prominent and hard and aching. God, he only wanted to shower. 

His eyes shot open. ‘This isn't fair.’ He thought to himself. She was near unconscious right outside the door, for God’s sake. He couldn't do this. He quickly pulled the handle up, promptly shutting the water off. 

RJ stood, a little out of breath, as the cold air swept over him and he more than happily let it take his mind off of Gemma. The heat inside of him began to cool down as well as he focused on the quiet drips of water that the shower head had left on it. He rubbed his face with his hands and let his head rest against the tiled wall in front of him. He stood in the cold and the quiet for much longer than he intended to, but he needed to get his mind- and frankly his body- completely calm down before he could even think about returning out to the room. He didn't trust himself for the time being to finish his shower properly, so he decided he’d at least begin to dry himself off. He’d placed a towel on the closed toilet seat so he reached over and grabbed it, immediately bringing it to his hair, running it wildly to shake some of the excess water off. He briefly went through the motions for his arms, his chest, then his legs before finally tying the towel around his hips when the door to the bathroom suddenly swung open.

“FUCK-”

His eyes widened. “Gem- Wh-”

“I’m sorry!” She said quickly. “I thought you’d left again, I couldn't hear anything and-”

“It’s fine.” He said with a sigh. “I’m assuming you needed to come in here?”

Her hand was on her chest, probably from being startled. She nodded. “Yeah, I just needed to use the restroom.”

“Well,” he said decisively, stepping over the bathtub wall, “don’t let me get in your way.”

“I’m sorry, I really didn’t know you were in here.” She said earnestly, looking down at her feet.

He grinned as he approached her, using a hand under her chin to tilt her head up so she could look at him. “Hey, my eyes are up here.” He teased with a playful smirk.

She rolled her eyes, a smile creeping on her face. “Oh yeah, that’s what’s going on here.”

He feigned shock. “It’s not?!”

“Oh, shut up.”

He caught her eyes darting down towards his chest. “Ah, so this IS what’s going on here, huh?”

“Oh, come on-”

“I knew it.”

“Well, it’s distracting when-” She stopped, realizing her mistake. She exhaled in defeat, closing her eyes.

He raised an eyebrow, his smirk still on his face. “When what?”

She opened her eyes again slowly to look at his. “When you’re… just…” Her voice trailed off, letting her gaze fall back to his bare chest, this time rather unabashedly. She quietly place her hands on his abdomen, her breath shaky, the trickle of water drops behind them.

Upon feeling her touch RJ had a sharp intake of breath, his eyes watching her face intently. She was studying him for the first time, and her face had an expression of fascination he could not explain. He relished the feeling of her hands sliding up his stomach, making sure to feel every definition, every scar, his chest rising and falling heavily. For a moment he wondered if he’d fallen asleep and this was just some weird sexual dream he was having, especially after his shower. But there was no denying he could feel her touch. His body and hair still weren't completely dry, but she seemed not to care.

She looked back up into his face, hands still placed against him. She had such a wonder-like expression, blue eyes wide open and her lips slightly parted just like they had been the previous night.

He inched closer to her, still breathing heavily, lowering his head so their lips were just barely apart, touching his forehead against hers and slipping his hands around her waist. “Are you feeling alright?” He whispered.

“I’ll be fine,” she breathed. She craned her neck up so that their lips met.

He closed his eyes as she kissed him, her hands sliding up and around his neck.  His fingertips dipped under the hem of her sweater, grazing her skin. She ever so slightly gasped at his touch, and he swiftly moved his lips away from hers and planted a kiss on her neck. She rolled her head so he had the entirety of her neck to continue kissing her. He could feel her hands move to his back, the tips of her nails dragging along his skin as she breathed out of her mouth, light gasps of pleasure escaping her lips. He held her head in one of his hands, moving up her neck and grazing her earlobe with his teeth. She inhaled sharply.

“RJ-” She managed to get out.

“Yeah?”

“Is… are we…” She moaned quietly as he softly bit her ear, his warm breath causing her to shiver in his grasp.

“Up to you, doll.” He purred in her ear.

She swallowed. “I.. haven’t…”

He pulled away from her neck slowly, holding her face up so he could look at her. “Haven’t what?”

She bit her lip in hesitation. “Well, it’s… it’s been a long time since-”

He interrupted her by kissing her lips again. “Me too, Gemma. But I want to explore this again with you.” He rubbed her cheek with his thumb. “If you don’t want to, then we won’t.”

“It’s not that I don’t… I just-”

A loud set of knocks at the door to the hotel room made both of them jump.

“Should I answer it?” She asked him quietly, staring out into the main room.

He took a deep breath. Of course he wanted to immediately say no, but another series of knocking came as he was about to answer, so he just let out a sigh. “Fine. Probably just a scavenger looking for some extra caps. I’ll uh, put some clothes on and be right out.”

She bit her lip with a grin. “Don’t put everything on. I’ll be right back.” She gave him a playful smile before turning on her feet, shutting the bathroom door behind her, leaving him entirely breathless.

“Damn.” He whispered to himself. What a woman.

Gemma shook her head to compose herself as she walked to the door. She knew it had to be later in the evening, perhaps even later at night, and wondered what kind of person would be behind the shabby plank of wood. She grabbed the knob and pulled it towards her, immediately freezing in her movements upon seeing a large man with dark hair, facial hair and a stern expression on his face. She thought she knew who this was, but seeing him in a flannel and pants and not in a suit of power armor caught her immediately off guard.

Her lips trembled. “D-Danse?” She said slowly. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Jenna, I-” His voice was softer than she’d remembered it. “Can I please talk to you?”

She shook her head. “I think you should leave.”

“Please, I risked a lot to come here.” He said earnestly. “I’ve come on my own and I didn't bring a weapon of any kind. I simply need to talk to you.”

She was at a loss for words. “H-how did you find me?”

“I came here earlier today with Rhys and Haylen. We met with the mayor of this town and a man called MacCready about your whereabouts around here. I knew this MacCready character knew where you were- the way he spoke and how protective he sounded, I drew my own conclusions that you must be with him.”

“You tracked me down just by what some guy told you?” She hissed. “You’re unbelievable.”

“It’s how I talk about you, how I lie for you when I’m around the Brotherhood, Hale.”

She felt a wave of shock over her as her real name came out of his mouth, and it only then occurred to her he’d called her Jenna. “You have five minutes.” She told him quietly, opening the door further. The paladin walked past her just a few paces into the hotel room before turning back around to face her as she closed the door behind her. Her back was to the door and he was a little too close to her for her liking. “Now what the fuck was so important?”

“I need to know you’re alright.” He simply said. “I think about you every day, Jenna. I fear every day that I’m going to hear the news that the former Knight Slade has been terminated.”

She could feel her face screw up in anger. “Is that all you have to fucking say for yourself?!” She spat.

“Please, I-”

“You chose your side, Danse. You had an option and you chose wrong.” Her lip trembled and she could feel the sting of tears coming.

“I know. I regret what I’ve done every day I’m alive, but I don’t know a solution to stop this hunt for you.”

She shook her head slowly. “You could've stopped it before it began,” she whispered. “But you didn’t.”

 

 

Knight Slade and Paladin Danse returned back to the old Boston Police Station after a long day of fighting off a super mutant horde at a pre-war super market. He’d sponsored her  about six months back to join the Brotherhood of Steel, and it was the perfect start to search for her son under the radar. They had firepower, technology and the assets for her to find any information she could about the Institute- which she had just discovered was where Shaun actually was.

She had gone to an appointment at Dr. Amari’s clinic at the Memory Den several weeks before and had swam deep in the remnants of the memories of the sick bastard who killed Nate and realized that he worked for the Institute before seeing her son-now a child- teleport out of thin air away. Unfortunately for her, she had brought Danse along and had no idea her past life would be introduced to him. He saw with his own eyes that she was trapped in a vault, her husband’s murder, child’s abduction, and had witnessed her true name being said aloud. He hadn't said a word to anyone about her identity since and kept it a secret.

“Outstanding work today, Slade.” He told her as they settled down into one of the old offices. They’d taken the room up as living quarters for the two of them that they resigned to in between missions, and the rest of the Brotherhood soldiers were either outside keeping watch or sleeping during the night. They were lucky enough to be able to sleep when it was actually dark outside.

“Not too bad yourself, Paladin.” She said with a smile. She had her hair in a bun and began to undo it, the frizzy and curly mess falling down so it was just a little longer than her shoulders. “I’m absolutely beat, though.”

He had left his suit of power armor outside the door as it was too large along with the both of them in the small office, so it was a rare occurrence of Danse being in only the standard Brotherhood uniform. “Well you fought well against the mutant scum, so I’m not surprised.” He stood against a desk, unfastening his hood. 

She stood beside him and began unbuckling her boots, glancing up at him momentarily. “We make a pretty good team, huh?”

“Absolutely. I’m pleased you’ve joined the Brotherhood’s efforts.”

She pulled her second boot off and stood up straight. “Me too. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn't here.”

He looked at her, a rare hint of a smile on his face. “Can I… be frank with you?”

“Of course, Danse.”

“I’ve seen a lot of soldiers come and go throughout my time in the Brotherhood, but I’d…” He seemed like he’d forgotten how to speak. “I had never considered them to be a good friend until I had met you. It’s a good feeling, but it frightens me all the same.”

She frowned. “Why?”

He sighed. “Having a bond with someone and then losing them… it changes you. I don’t want to go through that again.”

She was taken aback by his vulnerability. “It would never be that way with me,” she assured him, turning so her body faced towards him. “I… I care about you too much to let that happen.”

He blinked in surprise. “I… didn’t know you felt that strongly about our-” He shook his head. “Well, about US.”

“Well, yeah,” she let out a breathy laugh. “You’re the most important person to me right now. I’d be lost without you.”

“It’s strange,” he began slowly, quietly, “but I think I feel the same. I don’t know if it’s just the kinship or something deeper than that, but I can’t deny that I’m feeling closer to you than anyone else I’ve ever met.”

A smile slowly curled on her lips. “If I’m being honest, I feel more than just… kinship.”

He inhaled slowly, nodding. “I… I do too.” He swallowed, adjusting his stance so her face was just a few short inches away from his. “The feelings I have towards you are some I don’t think I’ve ever experienced… Jenna.”

She bit her lip. It had been a long time since she’d had romantic feelings for anyone, and she wasn't expecting them to return so quickly. Danse reminded her so much of Nate- his stature, his facial features, she couldn't help it. The paladin’s lips drew close to hers, lingering before they met. “Is this what you want?” She asked him quietly.

He didn't respond verbally- he kissed her instead. It was sweet and a little clumsy though she understood. For once since she woke up in this new world, she was happy.

* * * *

“Jenna, I need to speak with you right now.” Danse grabbed her hand and led her to their usual office room and slammed the door behind him.

“What’s the matter?” She asked him worriedly.

“It’s Knight Rhys. He discovered our relationship, and now he wants you out of the Brotherhood for good.”

Her heart sunk. It had only been a few weeks since they had kissed… “How did he find out?”

“He observed us one evening and saw our physical contact, and now he’s threatening to expose us, or…” He frowned.

She frantically shook her head. “Or what?!”

“He’s going to tell Maxson that he’s learned you’re a synth.” He sighed, his face in agony. “He doesn't have proof, but most Brotherhood members won’t need such evidence to exterminate the suspect. It would be chaos.”

She could feel tears well up in her eyes. “Oh, god…” She felt shattered. The Brotherhood was all she had. Danse was all she cared about… and either way, one or both were going to be taken away from her. “Can’t you present a case to Maxson?”

“With what information Rhys has on me? I unfortunately doubt it.” He said sadly. He took her hands in his. “I don’t know what to do.”

She looked up at him, a spark of frenzied inspiration on her face. “We could go,” she told him. “We could go somewhere together, I have my home back-”

“Jenna, I can’t just leave the Brotherhood.” He told her with a stern tone.

His words stung and she struggled for something to say back. “So… where does that leave us?”

He exhaled in sorrow. “The Brotherhood is all I’ve ever known. It’s my life, I can’t just throw it away.”

She pulled her hands away from him, taking a step back further from him. “So you’re going to let them HUNT me down?!”

“What do you expect of me?! I’ve dedicated my entire life to the Brotherhood, and to be frank, you just recently came into it. What would you do?”

She hadn't realized she was holding her breath. “This isn't MY choice to make. It’s YOURS. YOU have to decide which life you want to live.”

“I don’t know anymore!” He exclaimed. “My dream was to be an Elder, and I was on my way, but then you came into the picture.”

“I’m really sorry I did.” She spat. “I can tell it’s caused you a whole lotta damn GRIEF!”

“I don’t know what else to do!” He exclaimed. “I care about you, Jenna, I just-”

“Fuck you, Danse.” A tear escaped her eye and she plucked her bag off of the floor. “I hope you get everything you’ve ever wanted.” She stalked past him, yanking the door open and storming off to the entrance of the police station.

“SLADE!” He called after her, running to catch up to her. He chased her outside past the defenses of the building, out of sight by the rest of the squad. “Slade, please.” He tried to stop her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

She spun around, her face glistening with tears. “MAKE YOUR CHOICE!” She yelled at him. “What’s more important to you?!”

His mouth trembled. “Jenna, please…” He didn't have anything else to say

“That’s what I thought.” She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her uniform. “Goodbye, Danse.” She turned back around and briskly walked down the streets of Boston back towards Sanctuary, a hole in her heart.

 

 

“You didn’t even find me to apologize?” Gemma asked him quietly. 

“That was one of the reasons.” He admitted.

Her lip trembled. After all he’d done, after everything he’d been to her… She couldn't control herself. “YEUGH!” She grunted as she slapped him hard across the face.

“Gemma!?” RJ’s voice echoed from the bathroom. “You okay?”

She breathed heavily, her fists balled up so tight her knuckles were turning pale, as she watched Danse bring a hand up to his cheek. “Was it worth it?” She hissed at him.

MacCready burst through the door (entirely shirtless but had put his pants back on for decency purposes), causing Danse to turn around. “HEY!” He yelled at the paladin. He grabbed his rifle that sat near a dresser and held it up at the intruder. “Step away from her.”

Danse held up his hands. “I mean neither of you harm.”

“That’s rich,” RJ snorted. “You told me earlier you wanted her dead.”

“You knew he was here?!” Gemma craned past the large man to glance at the merc.

“It came up when I went to get your food.” He said, his grimaced face still staring down Danse. “I thought that you left town, tin-man.”

“I had, but I returned. I needed to talk to Jenna.” He said quietly.

RJ froze. “What did you call her?”

“He… he knows.” She pushed past Danse so she was just barely between the two men and sighed. “He knows everything.”

His face twisted. “Why didn't I know this?”

“I’ll explain later, but this isn't the time.” She turned back to Danse. “Now, you still haven't told me what the fuck was so important you’ve come back to say.”

Danse sighed. “During our meeting today, the mayor said you had your sights on exploring the Glowing Sea. Rhys has deduced that I’m to explore that path you went on on my own.”

Gemma’s eyebrows raised. “How? You’re his commanding officer, he can’t tell you what to do, can he?”

“He still has the blackmail of us over me. If I wanted to remain in the Brotherhood, I have to keep up the ruse that I personally wish to find you and exterminate you.” 

She frowned at him. “Well, do you?”

“I never wanted harm to fall upon you.” He admitted, his voice sincere.

“So what are you planning on doing?” She asked curiously.

He took a deep breath. “There’s an old listening post up north, and I intend to go there once I leave Goodneighbor. I can’t keep living like this.” His face had a pain and a tiredness she hadn't seen before. “I’m going to go rogue, be on my own. This isn't the life I wished to lead.”

She was truly unsure if he was telling the truth. “That’s a big deal. You can’t bullshit me like this.”

“I’m not lying.” He told her simply.

She raised her shoulders in a shrug. “So why find me?”

“I wanted to extend my apologies… for everything. I never should have let you leave. It’s haunted me ever since, there’s been a piece of my soul missing since the day you went away.”

She could feel the tears coming back. “What are you saying, Danse?”

“What I should have told you a long time ago and what still rings true.”

She shook her head furiously. “Don’t you fucking dare. Not now.”

His eyes softened. “I loved you before you left, and I’ve loved you every second you’ve been gone.”

She flew her fist at his face, socking him so he grunted in pain. “After everything?!” She yelled furiously at him through her sobs. “NOW you tell me this?! Why couldn't you have done this two years ago when it could've mattered? It’s empty now!”  Through her tears, she turned back and looked at MacCready, who’s face looked like a cross between anger and devastation- it hurt her heart. What she would've given, way back when, for Danse to tell her that. How much easier life could've been. She wouldn't have had to become a goddamned raider. She wouldn't be struggling to avoid the Brotherhood of Steel. She could’ve found her son by now. Through all her pain, she knew there was one silver lining to Danse’s betrayal, and it was the man looking at her blue eyes with his own.

She looked back at the paladin. “You’re too fucking late. I’ve moved on. This-” She pointed to RJ, who still had his weapon aimed at Danse. “This is who I belong to now. He’s everything I have and way more than you will ever be.”

“Jenna, I-”

“No. It’s time for you to go.” She had a fury in her eyes.

Danse looked at her pleadingly. “Please-”

“Ey!” RJ whistled. “She said get the hell outta here. Scram, tin can.”

The paladin licked his lips. “Have you found Shaun?”

Her lips quivered. “How fucking dare you. I should kill you, you know.”

“I know a group that can help you now-”

“Fuck you.” She turned away from him, arms crossed, and walked back towards the bed.

“‘Follow the Freedom Trail’- I think they’d help you.” He turned towards the door. “I’m sorry, Jenna. For everything.” He turned the knob, and within an instant, Paladin Danse was gone.

Gemma threw her head back in agony, swallowing back tears. She slowly sunk to the ground, burying her head in her knees and hugging them close to her.

MacCready regained some of his breath back. He was stunned by what had just occurred. He lowered his rifle down and looked down at Gemma. “Why didn't you say something when he came in? You should have gotten me right away.”

She sniffled and lifted her head, strands of curls sticking to her face. “Because I’m a fucking moron, that’s why.” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I expected…I guess… I guess I was hoping for a little ounce of closure. I was wrong.” Her face screwed up as she wept.

He inhaled deeply and laid his weapon back on the ground where it had been and slowly walked over to where she sat. He slumped down next to her and put an arm around her. “It’s over now.” Was all he came up with. “You don’t have to worry about him coming back ever again. If he does, I’m for real shooting him.”

She managed to laugh in between sobs and she nestled her head up under his. “I’m sorry. I should've told you about all this way sooner.”

“I mean, it could've saved me a lot of confusion.”

“Are you mad at me?”

He paused. That was a loaded question. He was certainly hurt, but he wasn't sure if he would've told her had their roles been reversed. “That’s tough, Gem. I think I need some time to think about all of this, but I don’t think anything… bad I’m feeling is at you. You still stood up for me- and for us- to that guy, and that absolutely counts for something.”

“I’m sorry,” she sniffled.

He rubbed her shoulder. “It’s been a long day. Let’s get some rest. Hopefully that Psycho won’t make you too restless; I can be a very light sleeper.” He said with the faintest hint of a grin. He stood up and went back to the bathroom.

She wiped her face with the sleeve of her sweater, somehow hating Danse more than she did already. But after everything that had happened, RJ still came and sat beside her, comforted her, and still was willing to lay down beside and protect her. She smiled to herself as she looked at him put his own sweater over his head. Danse may have made the wrong choice so long ago about her, but she had most definitely made the right one with MacCready.

Chapter Text

Gemma awoke instantly, gasping in shock, eyes stinging. She knew that sleeping after the Psycho was going to make the night hell, but the whole situation with Danse made it simply unbearable. She and MacCready barely spoke after the odd encounter, and she had a difficult time falling asleep without some heinous memory plaguing her conscious. Her nightmares varied whenever she did succumb to sleep with new dreams in the mix- they cycled through the regular experience within the vault, though she now relived her encounter with Porter Gage, and finally her time with Danse in the Brotherhood. The one from Nuka-World was the most recent offender.

She clutched her chest, breathy gasps escaping her. She and RJ were facing away from each other on the bed with some distance in between them, understandably so. She couldn't believe Danse had shown up with arguably the worst timing there could have been. She and MacCready had been in an intimate moment that was disastrously ruined by that asshole, and now he was upset at her. She knew why, of course, but it still hurt her heart. Especially now that she was awake, scared, and had that heaviness of spirit, she felt alone.

Gemma hadn't realized she was sweating, but wasn't shocked. She usually was after her nightmares. She moved her head around, letting her eyes wander. It seemed to still be in the early hours of the morning as the hotel room was still dark. She growled to herself and carefully got out from under the bed covers so she wouldn't wake RJ and made her way to the bathroom. She wasn't as sore as she remembered she was the previous day, but it still lingered more as an annoyance now rather than a hinderance.

She stood in front of the sink, her reflection in a cracked mirror looking back at her. There were dark circles under her eyes, no doubt from the combination of brutal sleep and the Psycho. She shook her head, turning on the faucet in the sink, and splashed some water onto her face. She felt as if her world was shattering again, and the nightmares were driving her insanity further. Her sweater and baggy pants clung to her sweaty skin, and she forcefully removed them in a haste in an effort to calm the hell down in any way she could.

She inhaled deeply, tossing her head back slowly, as she felt the cool air overwhelm her. Goosebumps formed on her skin, but it was the first sensation in days that wasn't plagued by pain or discomfort, so she remained standing in the open for a few moments longer. 

After a minute or two in the bathroom, she began to feel chilly after standing in the cold in just her bra and underwear and looked around for her sweater. ’Where the hell did it go…?’  Her eyes felt hot from crying and the lack of sleep, it was agonizing. She knew she’d haphazardly tossed the damn thing aside somewhere. She felt dizzy, whizzing her head back and forth looking for it, she felt like she was losing her mind right then and there.

GodDAMN it!” She whispered to herself in a scream. “Get your fucked up self together, Jenna.”

She froze.

Jenna. Where did that come from? She put a balled up fist to her chest, swallowing hard. She backed up against the wall, just a tiny space between the bathtub and the door, and slowly sank down onto the floor. In the back of her mind, she knew it was probably filthy, but she felt as if she was going mad. She could feel the air struggling to enter into her lungs, all her worst memories drowning her. She clutched her arms, burying her head and her massive rats nest of hair into her knees. Everything was going dark…

‘At least we still have the backup.’

“Gemma?”

She gasped, struggling for air, the awareness of her surroundings suddenly clear. She heard it as clear as day, the words Kellogg said to her. That was genuinely the first time she’d heard them since they happened so very long ago- usually in her nightmares her screams blocked it out.

“Gem?! Where are you?”

MacCready’s voice was louder now, with much more fret in his tone. She lifted her head up, still breathing out of her mouth. “I’m here.” Her voice was small.

His footsteps became heavier the closer he came until he nearly jumped into the bathroom. He looked concerned as he looked down at her on the floor. “Jesus, god, you scared me.”

She looked at him, a sad confusion prominent. “W-why?”

He sighed deeply, briefly throwing his head back in tired relief. “I woke up and you weren't there. You weren't making a sound, I thought you left… or someone took you.” 

“Why would I have gone?” She asked him quietly.

He rubbed his facial hair. “I don’t know…” He mumbled, crossing his arms. “I guess I didn't deal with what happened with…” He rolled his eyes. “You know. I don’t always handle things with grace like I should. I thought you might have gotten so upset at me you’d…”

She tilted her head in disbelief. “You thought I’d leave you?”

He walked to the toilet in front of her and sat down on the seat cover. “Well, I guess I was just nervous. I mean, it really looked like you were gone and-”

“Why on earth would I want to leave you here?” She asked him quietly, her husky voice barely above a whisper.

“I don’t know.”

“RJ, you know how I feel about you.”

His eyes moved away from her, a sadness in them. “I guess that whole thing with Danse just threw me for a loop. Why didn't you tell me about him? About the Brotherhood at all?!”

“I don’t know.” She admitted. “It happened so long ago. It was brief, and I thought when I left that that would be the end of it.”

He hunched over, rubbing his hands together, elbows on his knees. “I just…. I need some answers on this.”

She pushed some hair back behind her ear and nodded. “Absolutely.”

“When were you even in the Brotherhood? How did I not know that?”

She sighed, finally pushing her legs away from her chest and out onto the floor in front of her. “I found them three months after I woke up. They had technology, I thought that they might be able to help me find my son. It was just a security to have someone watching your back, you know?”

He blinked. “Where um… where are your clothes, Gem?”

“Oh, god.” She rubbed her face in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I was really hot and sweaty and you weren't up and I have no idea where I threw them!”

He couldn't help a chuckle. “Why am I not surprised?”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, shut up.”

“I’m just saying, that’s a classic Slade move.”

“Do you want me to find them? Would that make you feel better?”

He didn't answer for a moment too long. “You’re fine. I was just caught off guard.”

She smiled quietly to herself. “What other answers do you need?”

He inhaled deeply. “How long were you two together for?”

She hesitated, her mouth slightly open as she determined how to reply. “Well… we kissed about a month before I left, so I guess a month. It didn't last long.”

He could still see how difficult it was for her to talk about this, but he desperately needed to know what happened. “Did you love him?”

“What?”

He simply stared down at her. She looked like he had spoken to her in a different language.

“Why would you even ask that? It was a month, it couldn't have-”

“That was when you were together. Not how long you had feelings.” He had a very stern facial expression.

“Of course I didn’t,” she said flatly. “And as you can see, it was short-lived and a grave mistake.”

“Why did it end?” He asked.

Gemma bit her lip. The truth was something she did not want to tell him at the moment, but she knew the repercussions of skirting it would only make their relationship work. “One of… of the knights. He saw us kissing one day. He didn't like me from the get-go, so it was an opportunity to get me out.”

“If he hadn’t, would you have kept seeing each other?” His voice was quieter than before.

“At least for a bit, probably.” She whispered.

The pair sat in the silence of the night for a minute or two. MacCready felt… betrayed? Maybe that wasn't the right word. But he was hurt that she hadn't told him. She made him feel so damn special… he felt a fool to think he was the only one who she’d caught some kind of feelings for. It bothered him to think of her with someone else. ‘Oh, dammit. That IS jealously.’  He shook his head. “Did you sleep with him?”

Her eyes widened, brows furrowing. “Excuse me?”

“Did you sleep with Danse?”

“No!” She exclaimed.

“Really?”

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“Did you want to?”

She froze. “No.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure.”

She tensed up, swallowing. “I didn’t, whether you want to believe me or not. Danse would never, and even if he wanted to, it was way too soon for me. I’d barely had a child- with my recently murdered husband- not even a year before. It was a month of a stupid, tiny relationship that I let happen because I was sad and alone and-”

“Gemma, that man said he loved you!” He yelled.

“That’s not my fucking fault, is it?!

“How could he feel that for you if it was a stupid relationship?”

She stared at him in disbelief. “He doesn't know what love is! He probably only thought he did! He-”

“You don’t know that!”

She stood up suddenly, gaining height on him. She glowered down at him. “Why is someone else’s feelings that I DO NOT have control over MY fault?! Even if he did love me, I don’t have to reciprocate feelings for everyone who has them for me!”

There it was. He let out an airy laugh.

“What?” She said, a little bit of fury in her tone.

“Nothing.”

She rubbed her face in her hands. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or am I going to have to make a thousand guesses?”

“I don’t let people in!” He yelled. “I don’t get close to people! I- I’ve put everything on the line with you, you know that?!”

She shook her head, dumbfounded. “What the fuck’s your point? I know you have!”

“You don’t know what it’s like to put everything on the table and- and have a chance it just winds up blowing up in your face!” He avoided her eyes.

“Why would it blow up?!” She sounded offended.

“Oh, screw this. I’m going to go to bed.” He began to sit up.

She stepped forward, planting her hands on his shoulders and pushing him back down. “You’re not leaving, RJ! Not until you tell me what the fuck’s the matter with you!”

“I’m done talking tonight.”

“What are you so afraid of?!” She was nearly out of breath, staring him down with a fiery intensity. 

He was breathing heavily as well, still in her grasp. He looked up at her, and slowly his expression shifted from angry to somber.

She kept looking at him, still a little upset. “Is it the same reason you were worried just now? Because you thought I left?” Her tone was more abrasive and loud than he expected.

RJ didn't answer, but his pleading eyes locked with hers, and he simply hung his head ever so slightly.

Usually her compassionate side kicked in with these kinds of actions from MacCready, but with her lack of sleep and short temper, a weird anger took the reigns. “Oh for shit’s sake, RJ!” She growled at him. “What do I have to do to prove that I have feelings for you?! REAL ones, and that- that I don’t intend to or want to leave you, you dumb, handsome moron?!”

He still wasn't answering, even with the compliment she managed to weasel in. It was one of the few times the sarcastic gun didn't have anything to say.

Her grip on his shoulders loosened. “Fine. You don’t want to talk, I won’t waste my time.” She straightened up, taking her hands off of him. “Just know that if you didn't mean something to me, I would've sent you back to the Third Rail a long time ago. I don’t keep you around for the extra help, you know- it’s because I actually want you with me.” He still wasn't looking at her, so she just sighed and walked back towards the bed. She’d had enough for one day, she didn't need this too.

Gemma tucked herself back underneath the covers, that sinking feeling still inside. She hadn't bothered to continue the embarrassing search for her sweater and it wasn't like it was anything MacCready hadn't seen already, and frankly she was just too damn tired to care. She faced the wall beside her, sweeping her hair up and over her head and neck and onto her pillow, nuzzling her left arm underneath it and tucked the right up against her chest. She’d always slept in the fetal position, she wasn't quite sure why.

She was very well nearing deep sleep when the rustling beside her brought her back awake. ‘Oh, for the love-’ She didn't move, feigning her slumber. RJ was moving around, laying down, and she could feel him a little closer to her side of the bed than she wanted at the moment. Her heart beat a little quicker as he came closer to her, and she let out a quiet and breathy gasp when one of his hands fell on her bare waist and his body touched hers.

“I don’t like being scared.” He spoke softly, quietly, his warm breath on her exposed neck. “I don’t like being vulnerable. I never trusted anyone growing up, and I never could be trusted as an adult. I don’t share feelings because when I have, they’ve just been thrown back in my face. I told myself that I would never let myself get close to anyone-have feelings for anyone- and I did. When she…she was taken away, I promised myself I wouldn't let it happen again; I had too much to lose.”

Gemma breathed slowly out of her mouth as she listened. Her heartbeat seemed way too heavy to be healthy.

“It’s been… well, it’s kind of been scaring me lately with how I feel about you.” He sighed. “I didn't think I…would ever feel anything close to that again and I have been. I don’t know what to do about it; It’s scaring the heck outta me that I could lose you now, too.” He paused. “And I guess I’m still kinda doubting that you would even be interested in a piece of sh- erghm- in… well, me. And I’m sorry I keep saying that, and you’ve told me why, it’s just- I don’t- I just-” He took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m worth much at all, and you’re just… in a different league. Hell, we’re not even playing the same sport. It seems too good to be true. I guess seeing Danse talk about being with you… I don’t know, it just made me feel really intimidated. He’s this huge guy and I’ve seen the photos of Nate and he looks sort of like him, it just rattled me a bit. And I mean, you still love your husband, don’t you? That’s unfair of me to think otherwise…

“Listen, I know I tend to come off arrogant. I do. I don’t mean to. I’m just insecure and try to hide it as best I can. That’s why I’m still having a hard time believing in any case I get to be here with someone like you. I really shouldn't be, I don’t deserve to be. Yet here you are, still listening to all my complaining and ranting every day. I’m sorry if it seemed like I was mad at you, I… I don’t know.” He let out a breathy laugh. “But I mean… the fact that we found each other makes me think-for the first time, really- that something like fate actually exists. I can’t explain it, but I…I’m not gonna try to deny in any way I have feelings for you.” He sighed. “And I don’t even know if you’re awake, so I’m going to stop dumping all my feelings on the table with you because I feel a little crazy.”

Gemma remained motionless for a moment, simply overwhelmed. He’d never been that open and honest. She had no idea he was self-conscious and the fact he was apologizing to her about the whole ordeal last night was fairly shocking. She wondered if she should just embrace it and let it be, if it was worth responding to now. Everything he had said swam around in her mind. Her stomach felt uneasy.

“Would it bother you if I still love Nate?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

She waited for a reply, but none came. She looked over her shoulder- the merc was fast asleep. She sighed. Perhaps it was for the best for now. After all, the amber tones of morning began peeking on the walls, and she hadn't slept a wink throughout the night. She curled back up, but took comfort in the fact that he was right beside as she finally fell asleep.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

“Can we leave?” Gemma asked.

“Nope.” RJ replied sternly.

“Dammit.”

The pair had barely left the Rexford for breakfast- though it was midday so basically lunch- when Mayor Hancock had drifted onto his balcony above the Third Rail and began calling for the citizens of Goodneighbor to come together, even singling a few people out. They were standing against a brick wall in the back, and she desperately just wanted to eat. Several more minutes passed by until the whole town was gathered to watch the ghoul speak.

Apparently Hancock was satisfied by the outcome, and cleared his throat. “Now,” he started, “I know you’re all doing your own thing. But I don’t want anyone here to forget what matters.” He looked around at the crowd authoritatively before leaning over the edge of his balcony. “We freaks gotta stick together!” He bellowed, shaking a fist. The ghouls, humans and robots below cheered. 

“You tell it like it is, Hancock!” One shouted.

“And the best way to stick together is to keep an eye out for what drives us apart, you feel me?! I know we had a situation with those Brotherhood of Shit-

“FUCK THE BROTHERHOOD!” A drifter cried, earning a hearty cheer from the others.

“Exactly!” Hancock yelled back. “Now I know the lot of ya were angry as hell when they walked through that gate. They wanted one of our own, eh?! And what did we do?! We told those assholes to fuck off! We protected our kind. That’s what we gotta do around here.”

More applause followed the mayor’s words.

“Does this happen often?” Gemma asked RJ in a hushed tone. She grabbed one of her braids (her bushy hair was getting too wild for her tastes) and twisted the ends of the stray hairs in her fingers.

“When he’s feeling particularly inspired, sure.” He mumbled. “Guess this is one of those times.”

“But they ain’t the ones we gotta be lookin’ out for!” Hancock continued. “There’s a bigger threat to us than even the crappy Brotherhood. Now, what out there in our big, friendly Commonwealth would want to drive us apart?! What kind of twisted, un-neighborly boogeyman would want to hurt us? Our peaceful community?”

“THE INSTITUTE AND THEIR SYNTHS!” A drifter right beside Gemma screamed. His voice was so staggeringly loud but also sounded calm, it was strange.

She glared over to him.

“That’s right! Who said that?” Hancock cried happily, looking out in the sea of citizens. “Come on up to my office, later. You’ve earned yourself some Jet.”

“Sick.” The drifter said casually.

Gemma stared at him. She’d never seen this guy before, she’d know it if she had. He was bald and had sunglasses covering his eyes- she hadn't seen anyone ever wear sunglasses; at least not after the vault.

He looked at her, nodding. “‘Sup?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Nice shades.” She said calmly.

“Thanks, dude.” He swiftly looked back up to Hancock.

“They’re the real enemy!” The mayor continued. “Not the Raiders, not the Super Mutants, not even those tools over in Diamond City. Now, I want all of you to keep the Institute in mind.” He placed his hands on the railing, peering over at the crowd with a serious expression. “When someone starts acting funny. When people are doing things they don’t normally do. When family starts pushing you away for no reason- We ALL know who’s behind that kinda shit. And the only way to stop it is to stick together. They CAN’T control us if we’re NOT afraid!” He screamed.

The crowd began cheering, clapping furiously, getting louder as Hancock spoke. “Now- who’s scared of the Institute?!”

“NOT US!” The citizens of Goodneighbor bellowed together.

“And which town in the Commonwealth should the Institute not fuck with?!” Hancock slammed his fist down on the railing.

“GOODNEIGHBOR!”

“And who’s in charge of Goodneighbor?!”

“HANCOCK!”

The mayor nodded, as everyone in the crowd joined him in unison: “OF THE PEOPLE! FOR THE PEOPLE!”

Hancock nodded as everyone cheered, and sauntered back into his office. Just as quickly as everyone had come together, they began to disband. They all went their own separate ways- everyone except for the drifter. He had his arms crossed, leaning against the wall beside Gemma and RJ.

“Wanna eat?” MacCready said.

She ignored him, looking over at the stranger. “You been in town long?”

“A few days yeah,” he replied nonchalantly. “but I rarely make any occurrences in public anyway.”

“Sure.” She pursed her lips- something was off about this one. “How do you feel about synths?”

His face fell into something like shock, but not quite. “That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? I mean, who knows who you know has been a synth- and for how long.”

She tried her best to mask her eyes rolling- this guy knew something. “I’ve heard that there are Institute synths that track down other synths. Ones that escape.”

“You don’t say?” The guy questioned. “That’s intense.”

“Gem-” RJ nudged her arm. “Are we-?”

She touched his arm, not letting go of her gaze on the drifter. “You think there’s other people who care about those synths?”

The guy nodded slowly. “You know, I was in Diamond City a stint back and I overheard someone saying something about the…” He rubbed his chin. “Shit, what was it… Oh! I think they said the Railroad? Apparently it’s some super secret group of synth-lovers. Try to save them, I guess.”

Gemma blinked. “Really?”

He held up his hands defensively. “Dunno if they were right, that’s just what I heard through the grapevine.”

“Sounds like you get around.” She said suspiciously.

“I get antsy.” He gave her a quick grin. “Well, I’m late for a doctor’s appointment. See ya around.” He walked off towards the Memory Den in a fairly brisk pace.

MacCready stared at Gemma, who was watching him until the red doors to the building closed behind him. “The hell was that?”

She pursed her lips. “I’ve dealt with my fair share of rats in my day. Call it intuition.”  She darted her eyes back to the gun. “Anyways, let’s go.”

They began walking to the entrance of the Rail. “You think he was lying?”

“Nah.” She shook her head. “Not about everything, anyway. No, he’s much worse than a rat.”

He blinked. “How?”

“That guy’s a mole.” She sighed. “He was waiting for me to talk to him. He wanted me to hear exactly what he told me.”

“What- what does he want you to know?”

She glanced up to him as she pushed the doors open to the bar. “I need to do some digging into this ‘Railroad’.”

“How do you propose to do that?” He asked.

“MacCready!” Ham, the bouncer, exclaimed. “Good to see ya again.”

“You too, Ham.” They passed the ghoul and descended down the staircase. “So what are you gonna do?” He turned to Gemma.

“I swear to god I feel like I’ve heard someone else talk about the Railroad.” She shook her head. “I don’t recall where though…”

“We could ask around town?”

“That’s too risky.”

“Why don’t we ask that guy more about it?”

She paused in thought. “We could try that. We’d have to be quick though; moles move fast.”

“Well then, that’s the first thing on our to-do list after lunch.”

“Thank god, I’m starving.”

They walked into the bar, a familiar sight to RJ’s eyes. Magnolia was in the corner as she always was in her red gown, WhiteChapel Charlie was behind the counter with his little hat, probably complaining to the patron he was serving. It felt like the first time walking back in- the real first time. He’d of course been in the past couple days, but he literally didn't remember the dinner they’d had after delivering the Prevent to Daisy, and yesterday his mind was the furthest away from the Third Rail as possible after talking with the Brotherhood of Steel. It was a strange feeling, being completely sober and in the moment for once in this place.

“Hey?” Gemma was standing a few feet away from him, a puzzled look on her face. “You coming or what?”

He blinked. “Yeah, absolutely.” He hadn't realized his mind had drifted in reminiscence. “Sorry.”

She stared at him. “You okay, RJ?”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “Just, eh, thinking.”

She grinned. “That’s not something you’re known for.”

“Har, har.” He rolled his eyes as he walked with her to find an empty table and eventually found one near the old V.I.P room that he practically lived in before Gemma waltzed into the picture.

A ghoul waitress approached them shortly after they seated themselves across from each other. “MacCready!” She said. She pushed her blonde hair out of her face with a flourish. “I didn’t know you were back in town.” Her face lit up in a sweet smile and had not yet acknowledged that he wasn't alone at the table.

Gemma’s lips curled up slightly into a smile. She knew where this was going immediately. She put her elbows on the table, resting her chin on her intertwining fingers.

RJ, on the other hand, seemed much more oblivious. “Riley! Good to see you; yeah I just got in the other day. Might stick around a few days.”

Riley seemed to perk up hearing the news. “Well that’s great! It hasn't been the same around here without you. Why’d you leave? And-and what are you doing back?”

He gestured to Gemma in a nod. “Got myself a traveling gig with a boss that doesn't like being alone.”

The ghoul finally turned to see the merc’s companion, her face dropping ever so slightly.

Gemma flashed her a smile. “Hey there.”

Riley seemed flushed for only a moment before expertly regaining some composure, but she definitely seemed deflated. “Hello! You new to our town?”

“Sure am.” She replied nicely. She didn't want to be rude to this nice girl, but fuck she was hungry.

“Well, welcome!” Riley said as enthusiastically to the newcomer as she could muster. After another pity-grin, she turned back to RJ. “You must be hungry after all that traveling, huh? What can I get for you two?”

“I would kill for some grilled radstag right about now.” He replied. “Oh, and a Gwinnett, if you could.”

“I sure could.” Riley said with a smile. She turned to Gemma. “And what can I get you?”

“I’ll take a ribeye.” She paused. “And what the hell, I could use some vodka.”

Riley nodded. “I’ll get it done. I’ll grab your drinks as soon as I can.”

“Thanks, doll.” RJ said to the ghoul, though looking across over at Gemma. She had a playful look on her face.

“No problem.” She hesitated. “Maybe, if you’ve got some time, we can… ya know, catch up?” She asked him.

Gemma watched, part of her feeling sorry. She couldn't have been more than twenty two before she became a ghoul. She was probably lonely now, and probably had her entire life taken away when the bombs fell before she even got hers started.

RJ seemed a little rocked by the offer. “Uh, yeah. I’m not sure what’s on my agenda, but sure. Sounds fun.”

Her little ghoul face lit up. “Cool! Well, I’ll uh… go put your order in.” She scurried away, a grin on her face.

Gemma stared at the merc, eyebrows raised and a mischievous smirk on her face, still holding her chin up.

He blinked. “What?”

“Sounds like you’ve got yourself a date.”
“What the hell’re you talking about?” He asked innocently.

She sighed, rolling her eyes. Sure, he had the charm, but his skull was thicker than his ego. “She likes you, RJ. She just asked you out.”

Gemma could almost see the gears in his head turning for a second or two before his eyes widened. “Oh, GOD.”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“Why didn't you stop me?” He rubbed his eyes with his hands, shaking his head.

“And say what?!” She cried, stifling back a laugh.

He looked back up, his face a significantly redder shade than it was before. “I don’t know, you could've said that we were busy?”

“Why is that my job?”

“Because you’re my boss?!”

She nodded slowly. “Ah. So we’re back to square one, is it?”

“No, that’s not-”

“Hey, I’m joking. But honestly, you wanted me to break that girl’s heart for you?”

He shook his head, a look of dread evident on his expression. “Well, since you didn't I guess I have to now, right?”

She feigned a frown. “Guess so.”

He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, no…”

Gemma took the loose hair in her braids and fiddled with it in her fingers. “Did you really not pick up on any of that?” 

“Any of what?” He asked, his voice muffled.

“Her… flirtations?”

He looked up at her, looking completely over the situation. “Do you really think if I had, I’d’ve kept giving her… I dunno, hope?

She glanced down at the table. “Well, sometimes you’re a bit difficult to read yourself.”

He was about to retaliate when Riley walked back to their tables. “Here’s your shot-” She placed a shot down in front of Gemma. “-and your drink. I remember you used to get refills often, so I got you a little extra.” She smiled at RJ. “Just don’t tell Charlie.”

He seemed immediately uncomfortable, and his eyes darted to Gemma in desperation. She only looked at him. “That was a nice gesture, but you shouldn't go breaking the rules, Riley-”

“Oh, it was nothing. You used to bring in business all the time, it’s the least the Rail could do for you. Plus, you’ve been gone for so long. You deserve it.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been missed around here.”

He swallowed hard, and glanced back to Gemma- her head was tilted back, downing the shot in one go. She placed the glass back down on the table. “Sorry to be a bother, here, but could I get another?” She asked the waitress.

Riley seemed peeved at her presence, but still smiled. “Of course. I’ll be right back.”

RJ held his arms out in confusion at his partner. “What the hell?!”

She blinked. “What?”

“You gonna help me out here?”

She furrowed her brows. “What’s my role here to you? To fend off intruders for you? I only came here to eat, man. Though getting a few more drinks in at this point works, too…”

“Gem, I-”

“All I’m saying is sometimes you need to lay in the bed you make.”

“But you’re here and maybe it’ll-”

She leaned forward. “What if I wasn’t? You two would've talked up the day away. Hell, she’d probably take her break and sit down and try to win you over right here and now. Cuz that girl has liked you for a long time, RJ. I can tell this isn't new. And now she thinks she’s got a chance.” She shrugged. “That’s not my problem.”

He sat in silence as Riley came back once again. She tried to talk to him once more, but he wasn't as responsive. He just told her that he had business to discuss with Gemma, and that seemed to work. After they’d gotten their food, they both ate in silence, mostly due in part that they were both hungry, but also now there was some sort of tension between them, so he simply watched Magnolia in between bites of food and sips of his drink. Gemma was a few shots in, and it was finally starting to show. It wasn't anything crazy, though she was significantly more calm than before.

“You almost ready to head back?” RJ asked her a few minutes after they had both finished their meals.

She nodded slowly. “Sure. Unless you wanted to talk to anyone else here.”

“Come on.” He growled. “Don’t be like this.”

“I wasn't trying anything!” She said honestly. “You clearly meant a lot to this town; and if you haven't noticed already, there’s been a lot of eyes your way. I’m sure if you looked around there’s someone you’d want to at least say hi to.”

He pursed his lips, but took on her challenge. Ironically enough, Magnolia was finishing up her set (he knew it by heart at this point) and he knew he could go up before anyone else got the chance. “You’re sure?”

“Oh, yeah.” She smiled. “You do whatever you want.” She turned around as much as she could in her chair, surveying the room. “I’ll, uh…” She stopped scanning and narrowed her eyes. “I’ll figure something out.”

“Okay, I’ll grab you when I’m done?” He asked.

She nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

RJ got out of his chair and headed straight for the barstools, where he knew Magnolia would go once she was done singing. Goodneighbor sucked half the time, but she was the best thing about hanging around the Rail all day. She had a lovely voice and she was intensely charming, so it wasn't shocking she was usually in such high demand for people to talk to. He settled down into a stool, spinning around to watch her. The song was nearly over. He smiled to himself- it was a good one, one he hadn't heard for a while. His eyes wanted to dart over to Gemma, but when he turned the other way, she no longer was seated at the table. ‘Of course.’ He rolled his eyes. He wasn't even going to bother thinking of where she could've run off to…

“RJ MacCready.”

He turned back, the familiar voice in his ear. “Hey, Magnolia. How’re you doing, doll?”

She had a smile on her face as she sat in the stool beside him, her black hair making her lipstick and red dress stand out. “Much better now I get you all to myself.”

He chuckled. That’s the Magnolia he knew. “Ah, you’re too kind. But I could say the same thing about you.”

She happily sighed, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve been gone for too long. Where have you been?”

“Hell, where I haven't been would probably be a shorter list.”

“Why’s that?” Her sultry voice pondered.

He cleared his throat. He had forgotten what it was like to chat with her. “I just go wherever the boss leads me to.”

“Ah, that woman you’ve been around with?” She asked.

He nodded. “That’s the one.”

“She’s very beautiful,” she said, a mischievous smile creeping on her face. “I suspect she’s more special than just a boss now, though.”

He drummed his finger on the bar counter. “Eh, it’s complicated.”

“Isn’t it always?” Magnolia chuckled.

“Well how have you been? Anything new?”

“Oh,” she sighed, “you know the gig. I enjoy it, I’m married to the stage. I couldn't ask for more- perhaps just that you stop by more often.”

He smiled. “Wow, I guess I’m more popular around here than I thought.”

“How do you mean?”

“Apparently- I mean, Gemma thinks that- I guess Riley gave off the impression that she’s got a crush on me, or something.” His cheeks turned pink as he tried to keep his composure.

“She may have told me a few things regarding that, sure.” She grinned. “I’m surprised it’s taken you so long to pick up what she was putting down.”

“I’d really appreciate it if you didn't phrase it quite like-”

A sudden crash and a few gasps caused both of them to turn around, where a table in the corner of the bar was on the ground on its side, with shattered glass and bits of food around it. And, un-shockingly to RJ, Gemma Slade was in the middle of the debris, laying on her back. A man much much larger than she was stood looming over the table at her.

The patrons all had their eyes glued on the scene (although they weren't the type of people to stop a fight, so they all just proceeded to watch), the only one seemingly upset was WhiteChapel Charlie who was just complaining about another glass broken. She picked herself up, wiping her face with her hand. He noticed when she brought them down briefly at her sides once more before balling them into fists that it was red. 

“Oh my god!” Magnolia cried. “Is she alright? Does she need help?!”

He watched as Slade rolled her neck around and forcefully kicked the table at the man, who stepped back and against the wall behind him to avoid it, and picked up one of the glass shards and jabbed it into his thigh. 

“She should be fine…” He mumbled, glancing briefly at Magnolia, whose hands were covering her mouth out of shock.

“Good Lord-” She whispered.

He looked back, where Slade had subdued her attacker and had pinned him against the wall, holding him up by the shirt collar now his leg had been stabbed, bashing his face against the wall with her fists. “DON’T- EVER- THREATEN- YOUR- BOSS- AGAIN!” She seethed at him in between blows, loud enough for the whole establishment to hear.

Riley came rushing over to RJ and the singer, a terrified expression on her face. “Isn’t that your friend?!” She asked him hurriedly.

He nodded, his lips in a flat line. “Sure is.”

Gemma released her grip on the guy who slumped down unconscious on the ground, breathing heavily, and looked around at the people staring. She bent down beside the man, picking up a large pouch, and slung it over her shoulder. She walked casually, stepping over the mess, back to the table they’d eaten at and picked up the last shot glass she’d been given, downing the last of her shot in yet another go.

“She’s a little… scary… and violent… isn't she?” Riley asked slowly.

RJ broke out into a grin as he watched Slade. “Sure is. Part of why I’ve fallen for her, actually.”

Magnolia smiled at the merc, though the young waitress looked defeated as Gemma casually walked over to the trio with blood on her face. “You ready to head out?” She asked a little clumsily, a few patrons still staring at her in mixed confusion and horror.

He shook his head with a chuckle. “You can’t go anywhere without getting in a fight, huh?”

“Guess not.” She said with her half-grin.

MacCready turned to the other two. “Ladies, I’ll see you both soon.”

Magnolia gave him a wave. “Don’t wait too long this time.”

Riley simply waved.

“Alright,” he said, standing up and beside Gemma, “let’s get you back to the room. You’re a mess.” He rubbed her back as they began walking.

She noticed that he was gazing at her more than usual. “What?”

“Nothing.” He replied. “Just happy I’ve got you here with me this time around.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

Gemma had insisted that they head straight to the Memory Den to find that strange drifter from the rally, but MacCready had insisted she’d broken her nose from being socked straight in the face and convinced her to at least go back to the Rexford to wash the blood off of her face.

“What was that even about, anyway?” He asked her as she stood over the sink in the bathroom.

She put a hand under the water and then rubbed small circles below her nostrils and snorted. “Now you’re asking? That question’s a little delayed by now, isn't it?”

“Better late than never, I suppose.” He sat down at the foot of the bed, watching her wash off. “I kinda just wanted to get you out of there to begin with, then had to go head-to-head with you on coming back here, and you’re so damn stubborn I guess I was just glad I won that decision and forgot to ask until now.”

“Oh, shut up.” She mumbled, wiping off her chin.

“So…. what happened, anyway? I swear I was gone for like a minute.”

“Ugh.” She filled water in her clasped hands like a basin and threw it onto her whole face this go around. “Well, I knew Mags was going to send someone out here to bring in the big caps- we don’t use regular couriers for larger packages like that- and I’m guessing that the guy she sent went to Sanctuary first and was pointed to Goodneighbor by the Minutemen.”

“So, he’s a raider?” He asked slowly.

“Oh, yeah.” She wiped her face with a nearby towel. “Nickname’s Snake. Fitting, for sure. I saw him watching me and I went to talk with him, and he tried to get me to give him thirty percent.”

“What, why?”

“I guess some of the other raiders over at the park are getting irritated at the Overboss’s absence. He said if I gave him the cut, he’d report back that I was out here kicking ass and making dents in operations, then threatened me when I told him to fuck off.”

“So extortion?”

“Basically. I stood up to take the bag, then he punched me and flipped the table over onto me.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I saw the repercussions of that.”

“Was it bad?

“You’re joking, right?” He laughed in a cough. “I’ve seen fist fights, knife fights, I’ve even seen someone get shot in that place. It was just in the shoulder but still. Trust me, that was far from the craziest thing I’ve witnessed at the Third Rail.”

She sighed in relief, a smile on her face as she turned back around. “Good. That makes me feel better.”

“How? I mean, about what?”

She gestured down to her white shirt, now speckled with red. “I mean…”

“That’s nothing, though.” He reassured her.

“You said it yourself, I can’t go anywhere without getting my hands dirty.” She crossed her arms. “I dunno, I guess I just feel like I look like a barbarian. I didn’t used to be like this. It’s just weird sometimes that I… fight so many people now.”

He frowned. “You’re just doing what you need to to protect yourself out here. I’m sure you didn't have to before the bombs fell.”

Her expression deflated. “You could say that again.”

“But you’re doing a hell of a job doing it, Gem. You have no idea of how strong you are, physically and… well, everything else. It’s really crazy to think of what you’ve accomplished in a few years what others take a lifetime to do in the wasteland.”

She smiled weakly. “Thanks.”

“I’m serious. You may not think so, but it’s true.” She had a forlorn look on her face and he figured she was doing some dangerous reminiscing, so he decided to bring her mind back to somewhere productive. He stood up. “Alright. Since you’re all cleaned up and we know your nose isn't in dire need of medical assistance, let’s go get that weirdo at the Den.”

She still looked upset, but nodded. “Absolutely.” 

Gemma seemed very eager to find this stranger, she was practically running the whole way down through the Rexford and down the street to the Memory Den. 

It was a very strange establishment to say the least, and she had already had a no-less than bizarre experience within its walls. Just like always when they pushed through the door, the owner of the Den, a woman called Irma, was laying down on her side like a goddess on a regal love seat in the center of the room. There were pods on either side of the rooms with chairs in them, and she had no urge to sit in one ever again. They were tools in reliving memories; something she no longer felt a desire to do.

“MacCready!” Irma swooned. “Good to see you’re back, sweetheart.”

“Hello, Irma.” He replied, tipping his hat. “Good to see you, doll.”

She turned to the raider. “And I remember you, love. I’m sorry that your last experience here wasn't as pleasurable as it should have been. If you’d like, we can put a new memory through for you. Free of charge.”

“Well that’s very kind of you.” Gemma said, trying to be polite but also seemingly agitated. “Though we actually came here looking for someone who I think was here for an appointment- tall guy, bald, flannel shirt, had sunglasses on?”

Irma scrunched up her face in thought. “That doesn't sound familiar… when was he here?”

“Just now.” RJ said. “He came here right after Mayor Hancock’s speech ended.”

“That’s… That can’t be right.” She said quietly. “We haven’t had any clients yet today.”

Gemma looked over at MacCready, dumbfounded, then back to Irma. “We saw him walk in here not an hour ago. Right through your doors.”

“I- Well, I just don’t know what to say. There hasn't been anyone but myself, the good doctor and Mr. Connolly. Well, and you two, of course.”

“You’re sure, Irma?” RJ asked pleadingly. “No one else even slipped into the door?”

“I’m sure, honey.” She said with a frown. “We keep an eye on that door- surveillance, you see- and we know who comes in and who goes out. There was nobody until you two.”

Gemma turned her back to the two and stepped away a few paces, putting her face in her hands. “Fuck.” She whispered to herself. “Fuck it all.”

RJ looked back to her. “It’s okay,” he said trying to calm her down. “I’m sure he’ll turn up again.”

She shook her head. “No. No, he’s gone. I know the likes of him, he won’t turn up again until he wants us to see him.”

He took her hands in his and pulled them away from her face. “Gem, it’s fine. We’ll figure something out.”

“No, no, no!” She told him. “Don’t you get it? He told me that the Railroad looks for escaped synths. And what have I been trying to find?! Something that’s looking for the same thing. I bet he even knows I’m looking for the Institute… And he probably knows that the Railroad can help!” She scowled to herself. “God, he probably gave me everything I needed to know to start looking for the Railroad I just can’t-” She froze where she stood. “-Remember.” The gears shifted in her head for a moment, a little breathless. She turned towards Irma. “On second thought, I’ll accept your offer.”

“You sure?” He asked, a little surprised.

Irma looked a little astonished, but covered it with a smile. “Alright, darling! Let’s get you in one of the memory loungers.” She stood up from her seat and down from her pedestal-like stage. “Now, was there a specific memory you wanted to see?”

“Yes. From earlier today. I want to see what that stranger told me after the rally.”

“Is that it?” Irma asked. “There’s nothing else you’d like to see as well?”

Gemma hesitated. Whenever she thought about her past, it usually only made her more upset. Maybe she was thinking about it all wrong. She had good memories, too. Maybe it was worth it to remember them. She licked her lips in thought, thinking what she wanted to see again. Finally it came to her- with all the struggles and tribulations she’d faced, perhaps it might help to hear some words of comfort. “Actually, there is. Yeah… it was around 3 years ago.”

“Well, if it’s clear enough to remember, it’ll show up on the screen.” She smiled. “Just go ahead and take a seat.”

MacCready walked with her to the lounger. “Can… would it be okay if- I mean if it’s personal, I’ll go away, but-”

“You can watch, yeah. It’s not anything too exciting.” She grinned to him as she carefully climbed in and sat down in the chair (though it was very close to laying down). 

“Alright, Dr. Amari!” Irma called to the rear of the building. “We’ve got a client ready to be plugged in!”

Gemma sat, breathing rapidly, in the pod- she didn't have good experiences in pods. A screen was right in front of her face, flickering, with “PLEASE STAND BY” on it. She swallowed hard as she could hear the doctor’s voice saying something, but was very nervously shaking. She looked behind her where she saw RJ standing. He gave her a thumbs up and smiled warmly at her. She took a deep breath as she began to feel herself, her mind, fading away…

 

 

It was quiet. For the first time, it seemed, the whole day, it was quiet. She and Nate were finally in bed, relishing in the silence of their baby fast asleep.They were watching the news on their television.

“More of the same…” Nate mumbled as the newscaster was covering some story.

She looked over to him as she sat beside him. He was so handsome, sometimes it hurt. And he was her HUSBAND, the father of her SON- it was such a wonderful life she was living. He was a fantastic father, too. Always was helping with the diapers and cleaning up and making sure Shaun was happy and healthy.

Amongst all that, she was stricken with the familiar gloom that she often felt. Having postpartum depression while trying to adjust to their new house in Sanctuary Hills hadn't made things easier on anyone, and she felt less than qualified and deserving to be a mother at all sometimes when she was immobilized by her mind. Nate really went above and beyond for her in making sure she wasn't too overwhelmed with the depression as well as their newborn son, and she really couldn't be more grateful.

He looked over at her, his blue eyes looking tired. “What’s wrong?”

She could already feel the tears coming and looked down at her hands. “I… I just don’t know how I can do it.”

“Do what, sweetheart?” He sat up straight and put a hand to her cheek.

“Everything. I’m a lousy mom and I feel bad-”

“Woah, woah.” Nate interrupted her. “Jenna. Jenna, look at me.” His voice was stern.

She acquiesced and brought her eyes to his. “What?”

“Don’t you ever say that again, okay? Because that is absolutely not true.” He took her hand and gently pulled her closer to him and wrapped her into his arms. “Don’t EVER say that again. I… I know you can’t help but think that right now with everything, but someday you’re going to realize you are- and have been- a wonderful, loving, and dedicated mom to that little love bug we have across the hall.”

She closed her eyes, her face against his chest. “I just feel like I haven't even been around him. He doesn't deserve that.”

“You know what he deserves? Two, loving parents who would go to the other side of the world and back for him. That’s what he has, Jenna. I know you’d do anything for Shaun. And you may not know it now, but you’re strong. You really are. You’re capable of incredible things. That boy has the best mom in the world.” He kissed her forehead lovingly. “Whenever you feel less than, remember you brought a baby into this world. That’s a miracle. And when it gets tough, you need to remember you aren't alone. I’ll always be with you, right here-” he squeezed her gently with a smile, causing her to giggle. “-to help you. I promise.”

She felt overwhelmed with love, and for the first time in a while, she felt hope. The scene began to melt away, slowly, until her mind was blank…

 

 

“Alright, I’m redirecting you to your more recent memory.” Dr. Amari’s voice sounded overly loud in her head, but didn't have time to think about it before the scene from earlier that day came into view…

 

 

“OF THE PEOPLE! FOR THE PEOPLE!”

The drifter hadn’t joined in for a single word of the part of Hancock’s speech where the other citizens joined in, not even during the uniting phrase that concluded it, after his screaming about the Institute,. His face was unchanging, though. He was just staring blankly ahead. A bit of his eyebrows were visible, they looked like a strawberry blonde color, but she couldn't make out his eyes underneath those damn glasses.

“Wanna eat?” MacCready’s voice came behind her.

She chose to keep looking at the stranger. “You been in town long?” She asked him.

“A few days yeah,” he replied nonchalantly. “but I rarely make any occurrences in public anyway.”

There! That was the first giveaway. She knew he was dropping clues. He emphasized those words… why?

“Sure.” She pursed her lips. What was he hiding? “How do you feel about synths?”

His fake shock was pathetic. If he was trying to be discreet, he was doing a poor job of it. “That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? I mean, who knows who you know has been a synth- and for how long.”

What a response. What a bullshitter. “I’ve heard that there are Institute synths that track down other synths. Ones that escape.”

“You don’t say?” The guy said in a severely patronizing tone. “That’s intense.”

“Gem-” She felt RJ touch her arm. “Are we-?”

She swatted him blindly, the drifter trained in her sights. “You think there’s other people who care about those synths?”

The guy nodded slowly. “You know, I was in Diamond City a stint back-”

There it was another time. He said said the location more slowly than the other words, his mouth hinted at a smile. ‘Okay. What else we got?’ She thought to herself.

“-and I overheard someone saying something about the…” He rubbed his chin. “Shit, what was it… Oh! I think they said the Railroad? Apparently it’s some super secret group of synth-lovers. Try to save them, I guess.”

That was incredibly specific information. Didn't seem much like a guess, more like he knew. “Really?”

He held up his hands defensively. “Dunno if they were right-”

THERE. He emphasized ‘right’. Right… why?

“-that’s just what I heard through the grapevine.”

“Sounds like you get around.” She said, a little unsure.

“I get antsy.” He managed to give her a hint of a smile. “Well, I’m late for a doctor’s appointment. See ya around.” He walked off towards the Memory Den too quickly to be nonchalant..

She watched him go through the red doors, the memory slipping away.

‘Oh, I’ve got you. I gotcha all figured out….’

 

 

Gemma gasped in shock as she came back into reality, sighing in relief. She smiled to herself. Finally, FINALLY, she knew what her next move was. The pod opened up with MacCready and Irma standing right outside of it.

“How are you feeling?” The latter asked her softly.

“Incredible. Seriously, thank you so much.” She gave Irma a thankful smile. She pointed at RJ. “You. We need to talk.”

He briefly raised his eyebrows in intrigue. “What’s up?”

She took him by the arm and dragged him a few paces away out of earshot of Irma. “He gave me everything I needed- Diamond City, Public Occurrences, Right… It’s Piper. Piper Wright.”

It took everything in him not to groan. “The reporter?” He asked in apprehension.

“Exactly!” She was more excited than she’d been in a long time. “She’s the answer- or, she has them! But I have a new lead!” She laughed happily. “I… I think this could be a way to find Shaun.”

He didn't want to be pessimistic, but he at least needed to be realistic. “Gem, I’m saying this because I care- I don’t want you to be disappointed if it isn’t. I mean, what if that guy is just leading you on a wild goose chase? How do you know if you can trust anything he says?”

Her face dropped, and she stared at him with careful intensity. “RJ… I have to do whatever I can. You didn't know if Sinclair was telling the truth either, did you?”

He felt a sting, but swallowed past it. “I guess not.”

“I just…” She shook her head. “I need to go and at least see. I know I can trust Piper, if anything else. She’s a close friend, and if anyone has any information on a secret Railroad, it’d be her.”

MacCready inhaled deeply. “If you feel it’ll lead anywhere, I suppose it couldn't hurt.”

She smiled. “Okay. Okay! Alright, once we’re all done in Goodneighbor, we’ll head to Diamond City.” She bounced on her feet excitedly. She stopped, and groaned. “Though I really should head back to Nuka-World for a few days. If the raiders are really getting anxious about me being gone, I should probably stop by and remind them who’s in charge.”

He grinned. “Well, I think when Snake heads back and has to explain why his face is screwed up now it’ll be a pretty good reminder.”

She laughed. “Oh, yeah. That’ll hurt his ego. But still, it would probably be good to go; plus I’ll be able to restock on ammo and caps.”

“The only two essential things in life.” He smirked.

She rolled her eyes and turned towards the exit. “C’mon. We’ve got some planning to do.”

Chapter Text

It had been nineteen days since Gemma and RJ began their stay in Goodneighbor. Each day had several eager trips to check in with Daisy in hopes of news from the Capital Wasteland, though every day was the same with no new news. It was agonizing for a haunted father like MacCready to have to wait on news of life or death, and every day that passed seemed to mentally drain him more and more. Slade had picked up some odd jobs here and there for herself to do to keep their supply of caps moderate (and quite frankly to keep both their minds off of their respective parenting situations), especially since it was uncertain to how long they would be staying in the settlement. He knew that she probably was antsy herself to leave for Diamond City, yet she was still waiting in the rundown neighborhood with him. After the puzzle of the Railroad stranger was solved, she had promptly told him that she was going to wait to to go to the Green Jewel after finding out if his precious Duncan was alright, and she hadn't mentioned pursuing her own son’s absence since. 

RJ felt as if he was losing a small sliver of his sanity with every passing day, and the same went for that particular morning. He had felt empty when he awoke, sort of numb. Gemma was still fast asleep-she’d pursued some sort of job that started later on in the evening and he was sure it ended in the hours of the morning. He felt too tired to join her and she seemed fine with doing it alone, so he had stayed behind and had hung around the Third Rail with Riley and Magnolia until he was just tipsy enough to notice and had gone back to the hotel to get some rest. He’d barely seen Slade the past week or so with their opposite schedules of being in the Rexford and he felt more empty than ever. He knew it wasn't the best idea and it was eerily similar to how his lifestyle used to be; but it was only for a short while until he heard back about Duncan, so how bad could a few more drinks than normal be?

Well, even if it was bad, he still wound up back at the bar in barely past noon with a glass of whiskey in his hand. Riley was seated across from him on her lunch break as she blew on some radstag stew to cool it down in a spoon. He enjoyed the company and she usually managed to get a break whenever he turned up. She’d smuggled him some toast as well, which was especially helpful to his growling stomach. Magnolia was singing her midday set as usual, and the normal crew of drifters and whoever the hell were enjoying their normal time at the Rail as well.

RJ smacked his lips together in satisfaction after a sip from his drink and sat it down. “How’s the morning been?” He asked the ghoul lazily.

She nodded, the spoon in her mouth. “S’good,” she said shortly as she swallowed. “Nothing too noteworthy. That kinda stuff usually only happens when your friend’s here.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The young ghoul shrugged. “She attracts a lot of attention.” She said, a hint of annoyance in her tone.

He stared at her fiercely. “Usually remarkable people do.”

“I don’t know if that’s the phrase I’d use.” She mumbled.

“What’s your deal?” He said, brows furrowing. 

“How long is she going to be in Goodneighbor?” She asked in exasperation.

“Why do you care?” He asked before taking another swig of his whiskey angrily.

“Just curious, I mean it’s been- what, a two weeks? More? Usually travelers don’t stay that long unless there’s a reason.” She took a bite of her stew.

He blinked at her. He could feel his frustration. “Well, there is. She’s still here because I’m still here. She’s here with me, and we’re waiting for a delivery from Daisy that hasn't come yet. That’s why. As soon as it comes, we’re gone; so you’ll get your wish of Gemma leaving.”

She shook her head. “That’s- no, that’s not what I want. I just don’t think she’s good for you to put all your effort into.”

“Why do you think that?” He asked.

“She’s unpredictable and she seems problematic! I’ve seen her around, and she just seems sketchy!” She leaned forward. “That’s not you, RJ! You’re not some low life who gets in bar fights and threatens every person they see!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Threatened? Did Gemma threaten you?”

She sighed. “Not me personally, but I’ve seen her be aggressive to basically every other person around whenever she comes in.”

He snorted. “Sure.”

“I’m not lying! She’s hostile!”

“Let’s back up. I’m not going to take this sh-” He took a quick but deep breath. “I don’t have to defend my partner to anyone, let alone you. I know you’re interested in me, and that’s fine, but I’m not gonna sit here while you bash on Gemma just because-”

“Because she’s using you?” She interrupted.

He stared at her, most slightly ajar. “That’s awfully bold of you to say. What for, I reckon?”

“From what I can tell, she’s got a reputation for ditching companions!” She nearly yelled. “RJ, I don’t want you to wind up being thrown away by someone like you're nothing.” She took a deep breath and her face shifted into an odd smile as she leaned forward. “You deserve more than that.”

He felt her fingers on his leg underneath the table, and he stared at her in confused anguish. “What the hell are you doing?” He grabbed her wrist under the table with aggression. “Don’t-EVER-” He seethed through his teeth. “Touch me again. You got it?!” He shoved her hand away from his legs and scooted further away from her in his chair. “God, what the hell’s gotten into you?! I should tell Hancock and get you fired.” He stood up, a disgusted expression on his face.

What remained of her lips shifted into a pout. “All you’ve done for like two weeks is come in here and spend time with me, RJ. You never show up with what’s-her-name anymore, don’t blame me if I took that as a sign from you.”

“Oh, so that’s what the groping was for then, was it?!” He nearly spat.

“GROPING?! No, you led me on! That’s why-”

“Riley, I was nice to you! That’s what happened!” He grabbed the glass on the table and downed the rest of his whiskey in frustration and shook his head. “I’m really sorry if you took that as me showing some sort of interest in you, but that’s just not the truth! I spent time with you because you’re good company, that’s all!”

The ghoul scowled. “Sure it was. All that talk about me being so amazing and cute- and that one night when you said that the other girl drives you crazy made me think you were liking to me.”

He blinked in momentary confusion. “I don’t remember saying that about Gemma.”

“Well, you did. There’s more, if you’d like to hear it.”

“I really wouldn’t. “

“Why not?”

“I don’t have to defend myself or her to you.” He mumbled. He adjusted his hat on his head and began to turn around. “I’m leaving.”

“Just think about what you really want.” Her voice was chillingly threatening as she called out to him.

He stopped, and turned back to face her. “What’s that supposed to mean?

“I know you were married and had a child.” Seeing the shock in his eyes, she nodded furiously. “Yeah! You told me so! AND you said you wanted another child, a family! She’s not the kind to help you fulfill those dreams, RJ.”

He looked up at the ceiling to keep from absolutely losing his cool. He didn't remember confessing those things to Riley, but there’s no way she could've known- especially about the desire for another child- just on her own. “You don’t know anything about Gemma. In fact, you couldn't be more wrong.”

She took another spoonful of her stew and pursed her lips. “All I’m saying is that I know she was with that Brotherhood jackass, I’ve heard rumors about her hooking up with Magnolia, and I’m pretty sure she and the Mayor have a closer bond than they let on. When you two came to town, some of the Watch guys swore she was Hancock’s fuckbuddy from a few years back.” She shrugged. “I don’t want her to use you; it seems that’s what she does with people she works with.”

He narrowed his eyes at the ghoul, a little unsure of how to react. “I don’t believe you.”

“Sorry that I don’t want you to get hurt again-” She lowered her voice. “-especially by some wasteland whore.”

His blood boiled. “Excuse me!?” His voice was so full of anger it almost wasn't audible.

Riley stared at him in the eyes, her face firm. “RJ, I’m just-”

“How dare you?!” He spat. 

“Don’t be mad at me for trying to look after you!” She said, a little more pleadingly.

“After me?!” He laughed. “No. You’re looking after yourself.”

“You’re not listening to me, I-”

“Yeah, not anymore, I’m not. I think you’ve said enough. You’re selfish, Riley. That’s all you are.” He began to stalk away.

She popped out of her chair as he walked and jumped in front of him. “Please!” She cried. “She’s not right for you! She’s just going to get you in trouble!” She seemed frantic, her withered face looking even more devastated. “I just…”

RJ had never thought he’d ever shove a woman that wasn’t trying to murder him, but once Riley smashed her lips against his and tried to pull him against her, that’s exactly what he did- with more force than he’d expected, too. She flew back from him once he pushed her away. “Stay the hell AWAY from me! You got it?!” He screamed at her, pointing sternly at the ghoul. “And you’d better leave Gemma alone, and if you don’t I swear to God I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

Riley was crying now, holding her arms. “I’m sorry, please, I-”

“Save it.” He said shortly, barreling past her up the stairs. 

He could vaguely hear commotion coming back down from the bar, but he really didn't care. Quite honestly, he was kicking himself for even leaving Gemma in the first place at this point. Now that he was upset, a bit too drunk for an afternoon, and in a bad mood, the only thing he wanted to do was go right back to her.

 

 

~~~

 

 

MacCready’s head was pounding, though whether it was because of his aggravation or from one too many shots of whiskey, well, he couldn't be sure, when he closed the door to the hotel room and pressed his forehead against it. What he was sure of was that there was no way he was going to the Third Rail anytime soon, let alone by himself. He knew spending time with Riley wasn't the best idea- he figured it was probably leading her on, but no way was he expecting that to come about from it.

He exhaled through his mouth loudly and turned around back towards the main room. Gemma wasn't there, but he could hear the distant sound of the shower so he figured it was only a matter of time before she came out. He rubbed his face in exasperation, shrugging off his duster and walking towards the rest of their belongings on the wall furthest from the door, then undoing and removing his boots. Damn, his head hurt…

He figured he should let her know he was back so she didn't have a heart attack whenever she came out, so he took his hat by the brim and tossed it onto his duster and trudged to the bathroom door. His hand was almost knocking when he paused-

…too much is falling in mine…”

She was singing. He smiled softly to himself.

Into each heart some tears must fall, but some day the sun will shine…”

It wasn't full on belting the song like Magnolia- it was quiet and soft and sweet and suddenly his head didn't hurt as badly as it did before. He continued listening to her voice for a minute more until, to his dismay, no more lyrics came. He waited another moment and knocked on the old door. “Hey, Gem?” He called out.

No response came.

He sighed. “Gem?!” He yelled a tad louder.

Still only the sound of the running water came through the door.

He pursed his lips, gripping the doorknob and opening the door ever so slightly, a wave of steam stinging his eyes. “Hey, Gemma!” He called.

“FUCK!” She screeched back, hidden by the shower curtain, immediately shutting the water off. “RJ, that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me.” He replied sheepishly. “Ironically enough, I didn't want to scare you, but-”

“You didn't succeed,” She mumbled.

“Sorry, I’ll let you get back to things.” 

“Any news?” She asked, her tone more hopeful than he thought it should be.

“Not yet.” He said sadly.

“Damn…” She mumbled. “Well, it’ll come.”

“Hopefully soon.”

“Yeah.” She paused. “Hey, so I’m freezing, I’m going to return to my shower now.”

“Sure, sure.” He grinned to himself. “Lovely singing, by the way.”

The shower curtain whipped open as Gemma moved it, holding it against her, as she popped her head out to look at him. “Fuck off, you nosy little shit!”

He grinned mischievously. “I’m serious. I enjoyed it.”

“You eavesdropped on me?” She asked a bit incredulously. 

“That’s a more negative word… I feel like it was more observing.”

She blinked at him. “Well that’s even creepier.”

“Can’t you ever take a compliment, Slade?” He asked with a sarcastic smirk.

She put on an angry face, though it was utterly see-through. She was smiling underneath her pout. “Don’t patronize me, MacCready.”

“Do you take requests?” 

“Oh, fuck off!” She yelled with a laugh, gripping the shower curtain tighter to her body.

He closed the toilet seat beside the shower and sat down on it, a smugness on his expression as he faced her. “Not before an encore.”

“Oh, an encore’s what you want, eh?” She asked him quickly. “Fine.” She pushed the shower curtain back so she was invisible yet again, and suddenly the sound of the water running came back.

“Can you do ‘The Wanderer’?” He yelled. “That’s my-AUGH!”

Gemma popped back from the curtain, the shower head in her hand, and sprayed him right in the face. She laughed to herself as he shot up from sitting down. “How’s that one?!” 

He stared at her in disbelief. “What the hell?!”

She took the shower head back into the designated showering area, a smile on her face. “That’s what you get, you nosy bastard!”

His lips pouted into a flat line. “I just wanted to-”

She shot more water at him, drenching his clothes on the spot. She giggled in maniacal glee. “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET!” She cried again.

“Stop it!” He said, grimacing as he took his shirt that was now clinging to him off. “We’re going to be charged for water damage if you keep doing that!”

“Then get the shit out!!” She shrieked. She raised the shower head again at him spitefully. “You dumbass!”

“Well now that’s just mean.” He reached out to grab the shower head, only to be met with another hit in the face of water.

“Stay back!” She yelled.

“Gemma-” 

“I SAID STAY BACK, YOU HEATHEN!” She kept her aim near his face, still laughing tremendously.

His eyes were nearly closed as he tried to grasp the shower head. “You- still think this- is funny?” He reached out, gripping her hand on the handle.

“NO!” She wailed, tugging it back, still trying to keep the shower curtain covering herself adequately. She staggered back in the sudden tug of war. “Give it back!”

“HA!” He grinned as he turned the water onto her face. “How’s your own medicine treatin’ ya?!”

“Go away!” She growled, pushing it down so the stream wasn't in her eyes. “RJ-Give it-back-!”

He tugged on the shower head as she did. “Not a-chance-!” She was taking this playful banter way too seriously- she was holding onto that shower head like her life was dependent on it. He rested a foot up on the wall for the bath, pulling it back towards him. “Give up!” He teased.

She huffed in dissatisfaction, frowning as she tugged back, though much more aggressively. “Why can’t you-juARGH!”

Gemma had tugged at the shower head with so much force that MacCready’s balance on the tub wall gave way, and both of them slipped, he into the tub and her backwards into it.

“JESUS!” RJ yelled as he fell, gripping Gemma’s shoulders in an effort to keep her, too, from falling as her feet slipped around, desperately trying to grasp the shower curtain to no avail. It all happened in an instant and neither of them really knew what happened in the second they lost their grip and had fallen, but when the shock of the fall evaporated, he had wound up on his back in the tub, with Gemma right on top of him and the shower head rested upside down near the bottom of the tub, still spraying both of them, most of it hitting Gemma’s back.

MacCready and Slade stared at each other, neither quite knowing what to do.  His heart was pounding within his chest- she was very much naked on top of him, and he was very much unsure of how to proceed. He could feel her chest as she breathed heavily against his, and he swallowed hard as a knot of heat formed in his stomach. Her expression right above him looked somewhere between utter shock and fascination as she looked at him, and abruptly he could feel himself losing control and hoping to god she couldn't feel the sudden hardness below her.

Gemma slid her hands from his shoulders to the sides of his neck slowly. “This is your fault,” she said quietly.

His initial shock melted into a mischievous grin. “Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, Slade?”

She leaned down and kissed him deeply, his hands resting on the small of her back. “You taste like whiskey,” she breathed.

“Mmm. Is that bad?” He managed to get out in between kisses.

She smirked and gently bit his lip, pulling it upwards towards her, earning a small moan from him as she did so. “I love whiskey.” She hissed playfully.

Jesus…” he murmured as she stroked his hairline, giggling at him, before she dove back and placed her lips against his own. 

His hands roamed around her bare back, slightly out of breath. Her tongue was dancing around his, her body occasionally arching against his, bringing in the warm water from the shower head into play. Her hands searched for any bare skin on his body, and when she reached his still soaking pants, she tugged at them fervently. “You aren’t supposed to shower with pants on, you know.” She breathed.

He took the hint, not even bothering to try to retaliate. She sat up, sitting on her knees above him, wiping her wet hair out of her face as he began to shimmy his trousers off.  “It’s so much more difficult… to take clothes off when they're wet.”

“Do you need help?” She grinned.

His eyes focused up as he looked her over, an awe-struck expression upon his face. “Fuck…” He said it so quietly, almost reverently, that the automatic curse almost went by Gemma unnoticed.

She tilted her head. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that.”

“Well, I couldn’t help it,” he breathed with a stupid grin. 

She couldn't help but smile, her cheeks turning pink. She waited patiently for him to take off his pants, but he was having some difficulties. “Maybe try standing up?

He nodded. “Agreed.”

Gemma got up off of him, grabbing the shower head and reaching (standing on her toes) to put it back into place as he stood up behind her, desperately attempting to wriggle out of the soaking trousers. She rolled her eyes and turned back to adjust the shower head some more as he seemed to make some progress. She barely adjusted it before she heard the peculiar sound of the wet pants plopping on the ground behind her and felt his arms wrap around her waist and his body brushing up against hers. “Oh, shit…” She whimpered, feeling his cock up against her backside.

She craned her neck back where his lips were eager to meet hers as the water fell down on them, and she reached up behind her to run her fingers through his hair. His hands moved slowly, the left one moving to her breast and the other one going downward. She gasped quietly, breaking apart from his lips when his fingertips grazed over her nipple as he squeezed her breast in his hand. Her eyes closed, head rolling back to lean against his shoulder, as he pinched it in his fingertips. 

MacCready kissed her neck as she leaned further into him, slowly sliding his right hand in between her legs. She let out a faint whimper when his fingers grazed over her clit. ‘Good GOD…’  He thought to himself. The noise she made in itself was enough to drive him mad, and he was hard and hurting more than he was before. He rubbed little circles on her clit, immediately sending Gemma moaning, her fingernails digging lightly into his neck, her other hand pressed firmly against the wall in front on her. 

“Do you-want me to-?” He managed to get out.

“Fuck, please,” she begged.

He briefly moved his left hand to her neck, tilting it back so he could kiss her.  before he rolled her nipple within his fingertips. There was a new hunger in the way her tongue moved. Her lips lingered on his as she anticipated his fingers again, and let out a cry when he slipped one inside of her.

Fuck,” she breathed, her legs already beginning to shake.

He kissed her deeply, continuing to move his finger moving faster as she let small moans out into his mouth. He slipped another finger inside her, and she clenched her teeth together as she tried to suppress her wails of pleasure. 

“Shit, RJ-” She whispered in between kisses.

“Not done yet, knockout.” He growled. He inserted a third finger and curled them, thrusting them faster into her as she cried out. He could feel her breathing becoming quicker and quicker, and she nearly screamed when his left hand left her breast and used those fingers to rub her clit.

“Oh, fuck!” She screeched, her breath coming out in desperate pants and whimpers, her noises drawing closer and closer together. “RJ-” She breathed out through her teeth, her nails digging deeper into his neck.

How she said his name could've been enough to cause his own release, and he kept pumping his fingers faster in desperate attempt to hear it again.

She closed her eyes, fingers gripping at the wall in front of her. “Oh, shit…” She panted. “I-I can’t-”

“Come on, Gem,” he purred into her ear, rubbing firmer circles onto her clit. She gasped as he felt her beginning to clench around his fingers her legs trembling heavily.

“RJ-” She breathed. 

“Please,” he gasped, curling his fingers just a bit more. She leaned over slightly as she whimpered continuously, her body fervently shaking. She squirmed as her breathing hitched as she became even tighter around his fingers.

“Oh, fuck!” She cried as she tossed her head back against his shoulder as her came, her face contorting into an expression he would not soon forget, her mouth gaping open as she trembled in his grasp.

He took his fingers out of her as she wound down from her orgasm and wrapped his arms around her stomach and pulled her to him, feeling her heavy breathing. They stood together as the water ran over them for a few silent moments, both of them regaining their breath. Her head was still in the crook of his neck, and he  rested his cheek against her forehead as he held onto her. 

“You okay?” He asked her quietly.

She grinned, turning around to face him. “You could say that.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and brought him down, kissing him deeply once again. She pressed her body firmly against his, and he let out a curse under his breath.

“You’re incredible, you know that?” He whispered, placing a hand on the nape on her neck.

Gemma bit her lip. “Why do say that?”

“Because it’s true.”

“You’re sweet.” She giggled before kissing him. “You’re not too bad, yourself.” She smiled playfully, sliding her right hand down his chest. “And, jesus, if I’d known you were going to do that when you came into the bathroom I would've sprayed you right away.”

He chuckled. “Ironically enough, I really did just want to hear you sing.”

“Didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I was naked?” She asked him in a hushed tone. Her hand traveled down further, causing him to stifle a groan.

“N-not really,” he mumbled. “But I mean I’m glad you we- oh, shhhit…” His voice trailed off once her fingers were wrapped around his cock, and he swallowed hard. 

She pulled gently, earning a guttural moan from MacCready. He let his head fall and pressed his forehead against hers as she stroked him, beginning in long pulls, and ever so slowly picking up her pace.

“Feel good?” She whispered into his ear in a deliciously bold tone.

He could only muster up a growl of pleasure, his hands holding her face. She had obviously done this before- she was talented, to say the least. Her other hand reached in between his legs and cupped his balls and he immediately felt his knees weaken. “Sweet Jesus…” he muttered. He ducked down from her forehead and kissed her with a passionate intensity as she massaged his balls and continued stroking his dick. “God, I-”

She panted into his mouth as her hands worked, emitting her own pleasured sounds as she touched him, gritting her teeth when his fingers gripped her face harder in short spasms. She felt him tense up against her- she knew he was close. Unfortunately for him, that’s not what she had in mind. “You like- to be teased?” She breathed with a devilish grin on her face.

“God, please Gem-” he winced. “Don’t-” He let out a dissatisfied sigh when she began to slow her pace, her other hand leaving his legs and snaking up around his neck. “So mean…” He whined.

Her hand had neared to a stop, but she kept her fingers wrapped around him. “Don’t complain,” she advised him, her husky voice sending chills down his spine.

RJ’s heartbeat was calming down after her tease, his mouth gaped open as he waited to see what she was going to do next. “You got a plan?”

Her eyes glistened mischievously as she grinned at him. “Turn the water off.”

He wanted to question why, but thought against it as he obediently reached behind her and shut off the water. The new silence of the absence of the stream and new chill of the air sent a weird electricity through his spine. “What now?” He asked her quietly.

She brought his face down and kissed him, standing on her toes and standing with her legs slightly apart. She carefully guided his cock in between her thighs, sliding it along her folds. “Ah-”

“Oh, god…” He muttered. He wasn't sure if it was entirely the water or if it was just her, but she was so slick. He bent his knees just enough so she didn't have to stand on her toes and began moving his hips back and forth.

“Shit…” She muttered softly, holding onto his shoulders desperately. Her eyes fluttered shut as he moved in deliberate motions, and gasped loudly when his tip grazed her entrance. “RJ-”

He swallowed hard. “Yeah?”

“I want you,” she panted. “I can’t take it anymore. I want to feel you inside me.”

God, if that wasn’t the most glorious thing he’d ever heard. “Gem…” He growled, kissing her intensely. “I mean- here? Or…?”

“Bed,” she managed to choke out.

He didn't argue, picking her up below her ass and very carefully stepped over the wall of the bathtub making sure not to slip again. He moved as quickly as his (noticeably weak) legs could carry the both of them as she clung to his back with her legs coiled around his waist back out to the main room and played her gently down on the bed on her back, immediately soaking the sheets with her still soaking body. She scooted to the backboard as he crawled after her, and when he reached her he stood on his forearms with her shoulders in between them, and he stared at her for a few seconds. Her freckled face had a playful expression, her blue eyes tinted with lust. 

Gemma an eyebrow at him. “What’s up…”

“You’re just… beautiful, that’s all.” He told her softly.

She stifled a laugh. “Another compliment?”

“You want me to stop?”

She reached up to kiss him, shutting the merc up successfully. He took the hint.

Her hands went around his neck and through his hair as he moved his body against hers, and now that they were out of the water the feeling of her body pressed so tightly on his was a feeling that he hadn't experienced in ages. He held himself up on his left arm as he grabbed his dick with his right hand, leading it gently in between her legs. Her lips parted in anticipation, breathing heavily. She touched the sides of his face with her hands, wincing when he again he moved his cock along her folds. She looked right into his eyes before she closed them, and he pressed his forehead to hers.

“Are you ready?” He breathed to her.

She nodded. “Yes.”

He guided his dick to her entrance, slowly inserting the tip in. She shivered below him, her breath hitching. His heart was beating deep within his chest, a ball of heat ready to boil in his stomach and he pushed himself a little further inside her, and she gasped loudly, her grip on his hair tightening in her fingertips. He groaned at the sensation and pushed further. “Damn, Gemma…” He managed to get out. 

“Please,” she whispered. “Deeper.”

Shit,” He breathed in a laugh. He obliged to her wishes, and thrusted a little more diligently into her, her legs coiling around his hips.

Fuck, RJ…” She nearly screamed when he thrusted to the hilt within her, a guttural moan escaping his mouth. Another knot began forming in her belly as he kept moving faster, her panting mixed with high pitched whimpers. “Oh, fuck…”

“Oh my god,” He agreed, gritting his teeth as her nails sunk into his back. 

“You feel so good…” she choked out amongst her shaky breaths.

He moaned softly hearing her words, thrusting faster into her until her whimpers melted into cries and her nails dragged down his back in rhythm with his movements. He pressed lips against hers, desperate to feel her moans in his mouth. 

Her breath hitched as one of his hands went under her ass and held her up slightly. Her eyes nearly rolled into her head as he hit her sweet spot. “FUCK!” She screamed, clutching his back even harder. “Right there!” She groaned. He thrusted where she instructed gladly, her body beginning to shake. “Fuck, RJ, yes!”

Shit, Slade,” he grunted, trying not to deviate from the spot, and the knot in his stomach ached once he felt her walls beginning to clench around him. She was whimpering in between her high pitched cries, profanity spattered within her noises.

“Oh, god-” She whined. “I- I’m gonna-”

“Please,” he begged her. “Come for me.”

That seemed to push her over the edge as she threw her head back. “RJ!” She screamed as her orgasm swept over her, her legs and arms trembling around him. 

He kissed her as her eyes closed in pleasure, and he could feel his own release nearing as well. She was struggling for air as her grip on him loosened. “Gem-” He said in a breathy voice. “Where should I-?”

“In me,” she breathed.

Good god. The thought of finishing inside her was too much, and suddenly his cock twitched and his breath staggered, moaning, as he spilled inside of her. She held his face in her hands as he came, and she was also making satisfied noises as he did so.  “Oh, lord.” He said quietly, swallowing before pulling himself out of her and collapsing beside her on the bed. 

Gemma turned onto her side to face him, nuzzling her head into the crook of his neck, draping one of her legs over his and placing a hand on his chest. He smiled quietly, holding her hand.

He grinned to himself as they laid together, and somewhere along the way, both of them had dozed off into sleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Gemma awoke to the sound of a door opening, and she fluttered her eyes open in irritation. There was a warm orange light in the room, so she assumed it was more evening now. She rolled from her side onto her back, rubbing her face with her hands as she yawned. Her blue sweater was coming off her shoulders… ‘Wait…’ She hadn't fallen asleep with this thing on, had she?

She glanced up to MacCready, who was beside all their belongings taking off his boots. “Hey.”

“Morning, sunshine.”

She looked up to him as he came towards the bed. “Was I wearing this before? I don’t remember.”

He sat down beside her, against the backboard of the bed. “Nah. You were shivering once I got up so I got it for you before I left.”

“Well, thanks.” She grinned, pushing a few curls out of her face. “Always the gentlemen, you are.”

“I try to be.” 

She scooted closer to him and rested her head in his lap. “When did you leave, anyway? I didn’t even realize you’d gone.”

He pursed his lips in thought. “Maybe an hour ago?”

“Oh I see.” Her lips curled into a grin. “You got bored, huh?”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah, of course.” He smirked down at her. “The excitement of laying around with a naked woman cuddling me had worn off.”

“Sounds like it.” She laughed.

He stroked her hairline, but he had a forlorn expression on it. Now that she thought about it, his tone of voice had sounded a bit off so far in the conversation. 

“Hey, are you okay?” She asked him softly.

A moment of panic flashed across his eyes before he composed himself. “Of course”

“What’s going on?” She asked as she sat up to see him more clearly.

His lips trembled a little bit as he hesitated with his words. “The courier came back. Delivered something to Daisy.”

“The-” She shook her head in shock. “The courier? Like the one we’ve been waiting for?!”

He nodded, the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. “The very one.”

“Well, that’s amazing news!” Her face sunk. “Wh-why do you seem upset?”

He let out a breathy laugh. “No, I- I’m not.” He shook his head. “It worked, Gem. The cure worked. Duncan’s alright.”

The words rang in her head, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes. “Oh, my god!” She cried happily, throwing her arms around him. “RJ… That’s incredible!”

He held onto her tightly. “My boy,” he choked out- he seemed to be crying, too. “He’s alive and well. For the first time in years, he’s well.”

She pulled away from him, wiping her tears with her sweater. “I- I don’t even know what to say. That’s wonderful.” She laughed, holding a hand to her heart. “I can’t believe it.”

He reached into his pocket, revealing an envelope. “Me neither.”

She took it with shaky hands and pulled out a folded piece of paper.

 

‘Hey, Mungo!

THE CURE WORKED. I wanted you to see that first and foremost. We got it just in the nick of time, too. I’m not sure how long Duncan would have been able to carry on, but as soon as we got the Prevent we made sure to get it administered right away. It seriously only took overnight for the boils to go away! You should have seen his face, he was so damn happy. Get this- he went OUTSIDE today to play! OUTSIDE! And he didn’t have any problems with it!

I don’t think Duncan has ever had this much energy, if I’m being honest. He’s been talking up a a storm, mostly about you. You’re his hero. He actually asked me now that he’s well if I could take him out to the Commonwealth to see you. I told him it’s still far too dangerous for him, but he was pretty upset. He misses you a lot, Mungo.

Duncan wants you to come home since he can’t come to you. I think it’s a pretty decent idea; you should come see things around here now. A lot’s changed since we saw you. Mostly, I think it would mean the world to D if you would come back, even just for a while if you’re wrapped up in Lord knows what over there. YOU should see him. He’s so big now and he’s so healthy and energetic and… well, NORMAL. He’s a normal kid now. I think you should come see him. 

Anyway, good luck out there. You know where to find us.

-L.W’

 

Down below in scribbly writing, she noticed something else.

 

P.S,

I MISS YOU, DAD. I’M ALL BETTER NOW! THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME!

LOVE,

DUNCAN’

 

Gemma had tears streaming down her face as she finished reading the letter and glanced over at RJ with a weakened smile on her face. “This is incredible,” she managed to get out.

He nodded. “I know.”

She looked back down at the paper, more specifically at Duncan’s short note to his father. “You have to go see him.”

He rubbed underneath his nose. “I know. I can’t believe I get to see my boy again.”

“I’m so happy for you, RJ!”

He smiled, taking one of her hands in his. “Man, I haven't been to the Capital Wasteland in ages.”

“I’ve never been,” she laughed.

His face lit up. “You should come with me,” he told her softly. “You could meet Duncan and see my farm!”

She froze, her face sinking. “RJ…”

“I’m serious!” He told her. “I would love for my son to meet the girl who helped save him.”

“I…” She could feel her heart breaking. “I can’t.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. She saw his face deflate, and her throat seemed sore all of a sudden. “I have to go to Diamond City; I… I can’t leave the Commonwealth now, I have to try to find the Railroad.”

His lip twitched. “What if-”

“It’s for Shaun.” She said boldly. Her face felt hot with tears. “I can’t give up on him.”

RJ looked down at his lap, a pained expression on his face. They sat in sorrowed silence for a few minutes, their fingers still intertwined, neither quite sure what to say. Finally, it was he who spoke up. “You’re right. You can’t stop now.”

“I’m sorry,” she told him softly. 

“Don’t be. I… I’d do the same thing if I was you.”

She bit her lip anxiously and let out an incredulous and breathy laugh. “Isn’t it ironic how things happen?” She asked quietly.

He tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

Today you hear back from Daisy, of all days we’ve been in Goodneighbor, and today is the day where we…” She sighed. “Y’know, get intimate.”

“I know.” He slipped his hand out of hers, instead extending his arms out. She nestled up against him, head against his shoulder as he wrapped his hands around her.

She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, trembling slightly. “So where does that leave us?”

“I… I’m not sure.” He admitted softly. “At least for now. But I’ll come back.”

“Wh-” She stammered in confusion. “Really?”

“Of course,” he said with a tiny chuckle. “You helped me cure my son and I’m going to help you find yours.”

She sighed out in pain. “You won’t want to come back after spending time with Duncan.”

“I promised you I was going to be there with you, and I meant it.” He told her. 

“You know, I feel kind of naive.” She admitted, her voice strained. “I finally felt like everything was fine, like how it was supposed to be. Hours ago I felt like everything made sense.”

“Gem-”

“And- and please don’t think I’m not happy that Duncan is alright, because I am absolutely overjoyed at the news. I’m just being selfish. For a brief moment there, I felt like-” she struggled to continue. “I don’t even know.”

“This doesn't change anything,” he explained softly. “It’s just going to be for a little while. I… I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. But I’ll come back for you, Gemma. I swear it, and we’re going to find Shaun.”

She tried to get a hold of her shaky breathing as he held tighter onto her. She wanted to believe him. She did. She wanted to think he’d return to her and everything would go back to the way it was right now.

But something inside of her told her to stop dreaming.

 

 

~~~

 

 

The rest of the evening was tense, to say the least. Gemma and MacCready got dinner and planned to head back to Sanctuary the following morning where his stash of caps and the rest of their weapons and equipment were and then he would begin his trek out southwest. The night was filled with a certain sorrow as they tried to fall asleep in each other’s arms, both avoiding speaking about what was to come. Slade had an especially hard time falling asleep, stirring well after he had drifted off due to her longer nap earlier. All she could think about was having to endure the foreseeable future without him. She’d gotten so used to him constantly by her side every single day- his sarcastic quips, their playful banter… his kisses, his hands holding hers, all of it was going to be gone.

She had finally slipped into a deep sleep early in the morning while it was still dark; in her earlier attempts at sleep her dreams were mocking the situation with images of terrible things happening to RJ while he was away. Her heart had felt shattered all over again and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Suddenly she awoke with a jump, gasping for air. “Shit…” She whispered to herself, putting a hand to her forehead. Something had scared her in her dreams, but now she couldn't even recall what it was. She rubbed her temples slowly before she realized the space next to her on the bed was empty. 

She sat bolt upright. “RJ?” She called out in a shaky voice. He wasn't beside her… why wasn't he beside her?!

She flung the covers off of her and got up from the bed, stopping shortly upon seeing the floor- all of his possessions against the wall were gone. The color drained from her face and she began to breathe in a panic. “RJ?!” She cried out louder. She jogged to the bathroom and stopped in the doorway- nothing.

Gemma turned around slowly, her hands scrunching up in her hair, her eyes feeling hot with the onset of tears. “No…” She whispered to herself. “No, no, no…” She  felt like she might hyperventilate as she scanned the room, but there didn't seem to be another trace that anyone else had been there- then she noticed a piece of paper on the nightstand on the side he had slept on.

With shaky legs she walked over to it and picked up the paper; a letter. She read it as best she could in her current state, her face screwing up in agony upon finishing it. “NO!” She wailed, sinking onto her knees. She sobbed loudly, curling up onto the floor.

 

‘Gem-

I’m sorry for leaving, and I’m especially sorry for doing it under the radar. I’m not good at goodbyes, even though this is more of a See You Later. I just knew I wouldn't be able to leave you unless it was like this- I’d get too caught up with your beautiful face to want to go. But I NEED to see my son, you know I have to do this. Please don’t be mad at me; I’m sorry for not saying anything, this is the best way I knew how to handle this.

I also didn't want to drag you all the way back to Sanctuary when Diamond City is so close, it would just be a waste of your time. I hope your friend has some answers and that you find the Railroad and that they’ll know of how to find Shaun.Even if they don’t, something will come up. I know it will. 

I promise I’ll be back. I’ll come right back and wait for you in Goodneighbor, just like where I was the first time you found me. I’ll wait as long as it takes while you’re out finding your son, and then I’ll be right there with you again. I won’t stop thinking about you. Every day I’ll be waiting to come back to you. I’ll see you soon.

-RJ

Also, I need you to know that I love you. Without a doubt, I really love you, Gemma.I hope after all this you can love me.’

 

She wept, head buried in her hands… alone, and she cried even more knowing it would stay that way. The ending of his note especially hurt; that was why she was so upset he’d left without saying goodbye to her face- she already did love him.

Chapter Text

JUNE 8TH, 2290

 

Gemma’s forehead was sweating as she made her way down the stairs of the entrance to Diamond City. She hadn't been to the Great Green Jewel by herself in over two years, and it reminded her of darker times when she was uncertain and losing hope. Now, well, she was determined. She hadn't remained in Goodneighbor for very long, merely collecting some caps owed to her and re-stocking on ammo before she took it upon herself to make her own way after RJ MacCready had gone without saying a word. It still stung that he just left, but she couldn't worry about it too much now- she had business to attend to.

She strolled to the base of the marketplace of the step-above-a-shantytown in the afternoon and noticed a familiar face standing atop a wooden crate to get attention, as any child would. She was waving a newspaper high above her head, screaming at anyone who came near her. Slade was no exception.

“Hey, lady!” The girl yelled. “You read the Occurrence lately?!”

Gemma grinned as she walked up to her. “Hey, Nat.”

The girl’s face narrowed briefly before her eyes widened in realization. “OH! It’s the Vault Dweller!”

“You know what my name is, don’t you?” She asked hopefully.

Nat’s lips pursed in thought. “I know I’ve heard it, but I don’t really remember. But if you’re looking for Piper, she just came back home!”

The raider grinned. “Thanks. Good look with the paper sales.”

“Oh, I don’t need luck.” Nat replied with a fiery intensity in her eyes.

She blinked as she walked behind the girl to an old, rundown building. “Alrighty, then.” She pushed the metal door open and walked inside to a cramped space that resembled neither an office nor a home, but somewhere in the middle. She heard the particular sound of the keys of a typewriter clicking away coming from upstairs before a sweet voice called out.

“What do you need, kiddo?”

Gemma stood at the base of the small staircase and glanced up to see a young woman hunched over at a desk, clacking away typing. She had on her signature red coat and a trusty press cap that had black hair poking out from underneath. “Well, kiddo is a little patronizing,” she began, causing the woman to snap her head in Slade’s direction. “But if you’re offering a favor, I’ll take you up on it.”

“BLUE!” Piper Wright jumped out of the desk and raced down the stairs, throwing her arms around Gemma and giving her the tightest hug she believed she’d ever received. “My GOD, I’ve missed you! Where have you been?” She pulled away and held Gemma’s hands in her own, an ecstatic smile on her face.

“Jesus, everywhere,” Slade mumbled. “How have you been, Piper?”

“Great, now that you’re here!” She cried. “Damn, I haven’t seen you in ages.”

Gemma winced. “I know, I’m sorry. I was actually here a year or so ago.”

“And you didn’t even visit?” She shook her head. “Tsk-tsk. I’m offended. Truly, I am.”

“I was with a hire that was new at the time. Ex-Gunner; I wasn't sure how it would turn out.”

“Well… doesn’t seem like it went well, considering you are by your lonesome now.” Piper said slowly. She looked into the freckled face in front of her, staring at it intently, her face shifting after a few moments. “There’s more to this, isn't there?”

She sighed. If Piper Wright was anything, it was damn observant. “Maybe one of these days I’ll let you know, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“Ah, I see. So this is a business visit, then?” Piper asked with a hint of a smirk, crossing her arms.

“Oh, don’t be like that. You know I love seeing you; but the Courser thing turned up empty.”

“Empty?!” She asked in shock. “How?  That was supposed to work- it seemed like a foolproof plan to me.”

“It should've been,” Gemma grumbled. “Gunner assholes messed everything up and wound up looking for it, too.”

The reporter raised an eyebrow. “Is that why your hire didn't work? They sabotaged you?”

“No, not at all.” She said quickly. “No, he was great, it just-” She shook her head, sighing. “Never mind. Anyways, the Courser wound up teleporting back to the Institute and there just wasn't another access point for me to look for.”

“Ah, I see.” She drummed her fingertips on her crossed arms. “So… where do I come in?”

Gemma narrowed her eyes at her friend. “What do you know about the Railroad, Piper?”

Her face lit up in a mischievous smile. “Ahhhh. Good question.” She nodded towards the sofa. “Let’s talk.”

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE 14, 2290

 

Gemma had her feet crossed on top of a table, slumped back in her chair, and with a bottle of whiskey in her hand as she watched the scene in front of her. The other raiders around were cheering loudly, mostly drunkenly, as they watched the fight in front of them. She’d heard about the Combat Zone many times before, but had never felt the need to go see it for herself; though her recent set back in following the damn Freedom Trail had been delayed.

Piper had told her of where the trail to find the Railroad supposedly began, and unfortunately it had led to an area so heavily infested with super mutants that she knew she wouldn't be able to continue on by herself. In her own experience in the wasteland, mutant hoards moved around after a few days or a week, so she needed to bide her time until that happened to continue following a pathetic red line to find her son.

She’d gone back to Diamond City after the setback and got to spend more time with Piper, which was always a pleasant time. She was perplexing in that she was always so unusually positive despite her consistently talking about all the things that made the world terrible, and her thoughts about the city’s mayor being a synth had only increased since the last time they’d chatted. 

Gemma also got to have a conversation with Nick Valentine, who was very eager to hear her progress in her search for the Institute as well. He, in fact, had been by her side when she’d killed the son of a bitch who murdered Nate, so Valentine was undoubtedly tied to her endeavors. He was very curious about the Courser and requested for her to tell him about the synth whenever she found it, which she promised to do.

Now, well… she was very much speculating a good old fashioned cage fight in a raider-exclusive bar. Some poor sap was getting his ass kicked by a furious red-head who was having a go at him with a baseball bat. This particular fighter had been in the last several matches, some of which included weapons, and some without. She was tough, relentless, resourceful, and seemed like she enjoyed the fighting-she was just what Gemma was looking for.

“YEAGH!” The girl swung her bat with one more final blow, making contact with the raider’s skull, and, with a deafening crack, knocked him dead to the floor as blood spewed from his head.

A fighting bell chimed twice as the announcer’s voice echoed over the loud speaker, barely audible over the drunken cheers of the raiders surrounding her. “And there you have it! Cait is the undisputed champion!”

Cait, still gripping the baseball bat, held it victoriously above her head, a smugness on her face. Gemma stared at her intently as she took another swig from her bottle, studying her. Before she made her decision, she needed to talk to this girl.

The redhead threw the bat down on the ground and walked out of the cage, not paying any attention to the cheers from the raiders as she waded through them, headed straight to the bar. Slade’s eyes were trained on her, and finally got up out of her seat when Cait herself sat down in one of the stools. She sidled up next to the fighter. “What’re you drinking?”

“What’s i’ to ya?” She spat in an unmistakably strong Irish accent.

Gemma’s lips curled into a smile. “You like whiskey?”

Her eyebrow raised suspiciously. “Depends. You buyin’, er what?”

“Sure am.”

Cait grinned. “Then o’ course I like whiskey.”

Gemma motioned to the bartender. “Whiskey.”

“Well thas awf’lly kind of yeh.” She said, that smugness still lingering.

“I was very impressed with your performance out there.” Slade told her.

Cait snorted. “O’ course yeh were. I been doin’ this fer a long time.”

She tapped her fingers on the bar as Cait received her bottle. “You get paid well here, or…?”

She took a long swig from the bottle and sighed. “Not as much as I should be. Hell, I practically keep this joint runnin’, but Tommy’s too fuckin’ cheap to give me a fair share.” She seemed to realize she was talking to a stranger, and she sat up a bit straighter and eyed her curiously. “Why’re yeh askin’?”
“I may have a proposition for you, Cait.” Slade said with a devilish grin.

“An’ what’d that be?”

“Let me ask you this- have you heard of Nuka-World?”

“O’ course I ‘ave. ‘Aven’t been meself since I’m scraping by here, but it sounds damn excitin’, thas for sure.”

“Good.” She said simply. “My name’s Gemma Slade, I’m the Overboss of Nuka-World, and I think I have something you’d be perfect for.”

Cait’s eyes widened, and she seemed a bit hesitant to respond. “Overboss?! Are yeh pulling me leg?”

She shook her head. “Not at all.”

“Why should I believe yeh?” She asked her suspiciously.

Gemma pursed her lips. That was a valid question. “It could be your chance to get out of this scene, make loads of caps, and basically live however you wanted without having to worry where your next meal’s coming from.” She raised an eyebrow at the redhead. “Because I get the vibe that’s what it’s like for you now, isn't it?”

Cait studied her aggressively, tilting her head up. “Fine. Let’s say I’m buyin’ that. What do yeh have in mind for me?”

Gemma’s gaze softened seeing her interest. “I need a middle man, essentially. I have way too many operations out here in the Commonwealth to take care of, and my gangs back at the park are getting antsy that I’m not around. What you’d be doing is standing in my place whenever a challenger comes. It’s kind of like what you’re doing here, but on a much grander scale. When you’re not fighting, all you’d be required of me to do is make sure the gangs send me my share of the profits when they’re supposed to… and make sure any rebels stay where they’re supposed to be.”

“So…” Cait said slowly, a hint of a grin on her face. “So I’d kinda be like your replacement? While yer away?”

“I can explain more of the specifics when we get there, but yeah.”

“Wha- get there? When would we go?”

“As soon as possible. I’d go with you to the park to show you the ropes, but I won’t stay for long- then it’s all yours.” Gemma grinned. “And I can pay you up front, if you aren’t convinced.”

Cait squinted at her. “And yer not bullshittin’ me, right?”

“Nope.” She reached into her pack slung on her back and dug around for a moment before pulling out a large sack. “Here.”

She took it hesitantly, and peered inside. “Holy SHIT!” She exclaimed. She glanced up at Gemma, absolutely stunned. “Dear Lord, I ain’t seen this many caps in one place in all me life!”

“That’s only the beginning if you take up my offer.”

Cait laughed incredulously and gave her an interested smirk. “I jus’ might.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE 16, 2290

 

“So, Boss, what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?” Mags Black asked nonchalantly.

Gemma stood up with her arms crossed with Cait standing beside her at the head of a table at the Fizztop Grille. Seated beside Mags was her brother, William, and they were joined by the Pack’s eccentric leader, Mason, and the Disciple’s leader, Nisha.

“Something very interesting happened when I was doing business back east.” Slade said in a lowered voice, making her way over to the man with colorful face paint masking most of his face. “Who should I see, but one of your men-!” She yelled at Mason. “Threatening me with extortion, telling me that there are some here thinking I’m going soft?!”

Mason’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t know shit about what happened. Mags told me to send someone capable to bring you your cut, so I did. How’s that my fault? I didn’t know about the threats.”

Mags’ face held a hint of satisfaction at the encounter. “If I may, my first instinct was to send one of my men, or possibly Nisha’s- I simply was giving the Pack a chance to prove their usefulness and loyalty, like we’ve shown to you, Slade.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Mason growled. “Cut the ‘high and mighty’ bullshit, Black. You should know a Pack is loyal to their Alpha.”

“And what should happen,” Nisha began cooly, “if they are not?

“I’m glad you asked.” Gemma said smoothly. “That’s where my new associate comes into play.” She gestured over to Cait, who’s face at rest looked threatening enough, but her stance and her muscular arms certainly gave off the vibe to the others that this Irish gal was not to be trifled with. “This is Cait. Apparently, leaving all of the raiders here without a leader here to babysit them is too much freedom for some.”

Mason’s eyes rolled. “Is this really necessary-?”

“Let the woman finish,” Nisha hissed underneath her helmet.

“Kiss-ass.” Mason grumbled.

“Moving on,” Gemma said threateningly. “Cait will remain here in my absence to fight in the Gauntlet and otherwise take on any other responsibilities Porter Gage had before his death.”

William shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. “So will the Operators still be dealing with the correspondence to you, or will that fall to… Cait?”

“I’ll take care o’ tha’, sunshine.” Cait said as she crossed her arms. “Don’ worry o’bout it.”

He looked from the redhead to the Raider. “Any other duties shifting from Operators to her?”

“Other than the correspondence and packages sent out, she will resume Gage’s duties, so revert back to those responsibilities and duties you had when he was here.”
“But-”

Mags elbowed her brother ferociously, effectively shutting him up. “We’ll calibrate.”

Gemma nodded. “Great. Nisha, do you have any concerns?”

“Yes; I need to see this girl fight.” Her hallowed voice replied. Her helmeted face shifted towards Cait. “Let me ask you this, are you prepared to kill?”

Prepared?” Cait scoffed. “Lady, killin’ weak-ass bitches with me bare hands was what I’ve been doin’ fer a livin’. My only rule I have for meself when I fight is that I do whatever it takes to win it. I ain’t afraid o’ killin’- this world is kill er be killed, an’ I prefer the former, don’t you?”

The corner of Nisha’s lips curled ever so slightly upwards. “That’s what I like to hear.”

“I need to see you fight, girl, not just hear that you can.” Mason said, leaning back in his chair.

“Funny you should mention that,” Slade said in a chilling voice. “Because I believe the others in your pack need a reminder of who’s in charge around here.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, OVERBOSS SLADE!” Redeye’s voice bellowed through the old bumper car arena as Gemma walked to the middle of it, a spotlight following her. She was back in her Raider garb and her hair in braids- there was a part of her that missed it.

“FIGHTERS!” She shouted. “FREAKS! FORTUNE FINDERS! Apparently I’ve been gone too long, and some of you have been getting fed up with a lack of LEADERSHIP!”

She was met with a mixture of booing and some half-hearted claps from the raiders who were seated all around. She walked around the area in a slow circle as she looked up to the spectators.

“SOME of you have brought it upon yourselves to try and DEFY your Overboss- and that bullshit WILL NOT FLY!” She screamed as the raiders yelled in cheers. 

Another spotlight fell upon the arena, focusing on a Pack member being pushed by a disciple into the fighting zone. He looked up at Gemma, a rage in his face.

Slade lifted her chin up and pointed at him. “SNAKE here has told me you all desire a more hands-on leadership approach.” She chuckled. “Well, that’s exactly what he's going to get.”

The lights dimmed and the raiders started thrashing against the caged seats, howling in approval. Gemma ran towards Snake, pulling out her serrated knife from her belt, as he charged towards her. He swung fiercely at her as she ducked underneath his fist, kicking him hard in his stomach as she came back up. Snake staggered back momentarily in shock, and screamed profusely when Gemma stabbed him in his eye.

The raiders were deafening in their cheers. “O-VER-BOSS! O-VER-BOSS!” They chanted as Gemma removed her knife from his eye socket with a grunt, blood spewing out of it as she did so. She made no hesitation as she stabbed him straight in his chest, a twisted expression of hatred on her face. Snake howled, panting, as he sunk to his knees.

“THIS-” Slade shouted above the noise. “Is what will happen with those who doubt the LEADERSHIP of this park!” She grabbed her knife, kicking Snake onto his back. She stood over him, breathing heavily with a frown. “HYA!” She jumped down onto her opponent, jamming the blade straight through his neck, and with a final gurgling noise, Snake lay motionless with his eyes open. She had killed him so easily in her pent up anger, but there was a part of her that thoroughly enjoyed it.

She looked around her as the raiders cheered for her, a rush of adrenaline searing through her veins. She forgot what it was like to fight- to truly fight- in a long time.

She missed it.

“Things are going to be different around here.” She yelled to the gangs as she plucked her knife out of Snake’s throat. “From now on, when I’m not in this park, there WILL be someone here to keep you in line. There WILL be someone to take my place in the Gauntlet. And there WILL be consequences like what you’ve just witnessed if you cause any other problems.” She turned towards the door that she entered the arena in, and pointed in it’s direction. “THIS- Is Red.”

Cait strutted into the arena, decked out in a combination of all three gang’s apparel, a baseball bat rested over her shoulders.

“She’s going to be my eyes and ears while I’m away, and she’s going to act as Overboss in the final stage of the Gauntlet.” She turned to Cait. “WHICH will now end in either a yield- or in DEATH.”

There was a moment of several gasps coming from the raiders before a wave of thunderous applause. Cait grinned as she looked around the large arena. Slade couldn't help but notice, and she figured that the redhead finally had found her place.

“If my knowledge is correct, we still have a competitor waiting for the final challenge.” Slade continued. “Let’s give them a go, shall we?” The raiders clapped as Slade jogged back to her entrance, where the door closed and locked behind her. She watched as Cait rolled her neck around and Redeye’s voice began narrating once again, but she wasn't really paying attention.

The door on the opposite side of the arena opened, where a man stumbled through. He had on armor, which was a good start, but was lacking weapons. Cait wasted no time in charging towards him and knocking him sideways with a hit to his side with her bat, the gang members going crazy in the stands. She glanced around at the faces, some with colorful makeup, others hidden with helmets, when she caught Mason’s gaze, though only for a moment, when he gave her a thumbs up, only to be torn away when a resounding “OOOOH!” came from the raiders. She looked back to the scene, where Cait was standing over the wanderer, his chest in between her feet, and she was bashing his head into the ground, over and over again with the bat, creating a bloody mess as she did so. But that was what they wanted, so that’s what Gemma gave them.

And boy, did she deliver.

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE 22, 2290

 

 

Gemma dragged her feet as she crossed the familiar bridge to Sanctuary Hills as the sun was setting, very tired and ready to get some damn sleep. She hadn't gotten much while she was at Nuka-World, but she felt like Cait had gotten the hang of things fairly quickly at the park and the gang leaders seemed to be alright with the new arrangements, so she headed back towards the Commonwealth after a handful of days. 

She noticed a fire at the cooking station that was outside one of the first houses on the street, and she could make out the figure of Preston Garvey seated at it. “Hey, Garvey,” she called out once she got closer.

His head shot up, looking momentarily startled, before he seemed to realize who she was. “Hey, look who’s back!” He stood up and walked to meet her. “Long time, no see.”

She smiled softly seeing his enthusiasm. “That’s an understatement. How have you folks been around here?”

“We’ve been keeping on; just keeping tending to the crops and laying low. What about you, huh?” He asked. “How did your mission go?”

She refrained from grimacing at his choice of words, but powered through it. “It went well. Very successful.”

“Good.” His face shifted to a confused look. “Where… where’s the other guy?”

“MacCready?” She asked, her heart sinking again. “He, uh… He had business to deal with in the Capital Wasteland.”

“Wow, that’s a long journey…” Preston mumbled. “I gather it was important?”

Gemma nodded. “Very.”

He inhaled deeply. “Well, I won’t pry. You must be tired, I’ll let you get some rest.”

“Thanks. Good to see you, Preston.”

“You too, Slade.” He gave her a warm smile before sitting back down to finish cooking his meal, and she went towards her house.

To her delight, Dogmeat was pacing around the front side of her little blue house. “Dogmeat!” She called out in a high pitched voice. His head snapped towards her upon hearing his name, his tail immediately wagging furiously. “Come here, boy!”

The german shepherd bolted towards her, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, and nearly knocked her over as he jumped up to greet her. He licked her face as she patted him, laughing. “I’ve missed you too, boy!” She told him happily. She held him in an embrace as much as she could with his excited squirming around. “Come on, let’s go inside.” She led the dog inside, where her trusted robot was hovering around in the kitchen.

“Miss Jenna!” Codsworth bellowed. “Good to see you, mum!”

“Hi, Codsworth.” She smiled at him. “I’ve missed you.”

“And I you, mum! You’ve been gone for quite some time and you look absolutely famished, shall I prepare something for you to eat or drink perhaps?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m mostly just tired.” She looked around the living room and felt a sting of sadness now that it was so empty with RJ’s belongings gone. “How have things been around here?”

“I must say it’s been pleasant having the Minutemen around. They’re delightful company and they sure have been working hard to keep it functional, and it was so kind of them to repair the water. Of course, I tried a about two centuries ago, but the lack of limbs didn't get me too far.”

“The water? What do you mean?” She asked him curiously.

“Oh! Sturges is quite skilled and he as well as Mr. Garvey and the Longs have managed to get the old pipes functioning again and have brought clean water back to Sanctuary!”

Gemma stood with her mouth open in shock. “They- Wh- How?”

“Isn’t that remarkable?”

“Sure, but how did they do it? Remember, we tried to do it years ago and it was impossible?”

“I suppose we needed the right person to make it possible, mum.” Codsworth said. “And if I may, I do believe these people were brought here for a reason.”

She glanced down at Dogmeat, who was still looking at her fondly. “I guess so.” She’d have to talk to the settlers more in the morning. “Well, I’m exhausted, but I’m glad to see you, Codsworth. Goodnight.”

“Sweet dreams, mum!” He said happily.

She walked down the hallway with her dog close behind to her room and slung her pack off her back near the old dresser by the window. The picture of her and Nate together caught her eye- it always did. She took a deep breath, a pain in her chest. She’d already lost him, why did she have to lose MacCready, too? It seemed the universe was out to make her miserable; why was she the sole survivor in the vault? Why did she have her son taken? Why was she constantly searching with no success?  Why was she losing those she loved, over and over again?! Nate, Shaun, Danse, RJ… who could be next? She felt the onset of tears and shook her head. 

“Keep it together.” She whispered to herself. Dogmeat made a curious sound at her, and she patted his head. “From now on, it’s you and me, buddy.” She told him. “I’m not letting anyone else get in my way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

JULY 3, 2290

 

She’d been through some pretty undesirable places in her time in the wasteland and had smelled some nausea-inducing aromas, but the stench of the madly and musky catacombs underneath the Old North Church took the prize for the worst. She held her breath as she looked down at her Pip-Boy and turned on the green light, just in the nick of time as one of those damn ferals lunged out at her after being disturbed in their sleep. She shot it down with her assault rifle with ease, her eyes stinging with the smell of the ghoul added into the mix.

But this is where the supposed ‘Freedom Trail’ had led to, so this is where she walked, and she was positive that this was the end of the trail. She had felt stupid for not coming to the conclusion herself to search here before for the Railroad since it made perfect sense that the clues for a secret organization that preached freedom would involve this historic building, but it didn't really matter now. 

She watched her steps very carefully as to not step on any more ghouls, her eyes watering from the putrid smells of neglect while also doing her very best not to think about how how much her body wanted to vomit.

Gemma slowed upon seeing some sort of contraption up ahead on the right side of the wall. She approached it warily and noticed a painted lantern at her feet. ‘Excellent.’ It was the same sign she’d been following all around Boston, and her heart began beating rapidly. There was a large wheel in front of her, the centermost piece having an arrow pointing straight up, with words in a circular pattern around it. “Boston… The Freedom Trail…” She read aloud. She walked nearer to it and placed a hand on it when the letters shifted, turning counter-clockwise. ‘Strange…’ She thought. She placed her other hand on the center with the arrow, when it lurched further into the wall, emitting a clicking sound. She stood back, trying to see what she’d done.

The arrow- it was pointing to an “R”. She touched her face as she thought. It had to be the answer to some puzzle. ‘Follow the Freedom Trail.’ That was all anyone seemed to know about the Railroad; what other solution to this could there possibly be? She looked back up at the puzzle when she noticed the “R” on the wheel was a part of the word “Trail”.

“No…” She whispered to herself. It couldn't be that simple… could it?

She turned wheel to the next letter, then the next, pushing the center after every one, until she ended with the “D” from “Freedom”, spelling out “RAILROAD”. She pushed the center, when the tomb next to her slid open, causing her to jump back. It had opened up further into the catacombs, though it was pitch black.

Gemma hesitantly walked through the new opening, her weapon raised in uncertainty. Her heart pounded in her chest but continued walking. “Agh!” She grimaced as blinding lights turned on, causing her to lose her sight for a second or two.

“Stop right there.” A woman’s voice bellowed threateningly.

Gemma panted as her eyes adjusted to the sudden light, where three figures stood several years ahead of her. The woman in the middle had ginger hair and probably could've killed her with her eyes alone. She stopped instantly seeing the woman on the left had a minigun aimed right at her and the man on her other side had a pipe pistol. She held her hands up. “Don’t shoot!” She pleaded.

“You went through a lot to arrange this meeting.” The lady in the middle said, glowering at the raider. “But before we go any further, answer my questions. Who the HELL are you?!”

Slade tilted her head with a confused expression on her face. “I need to know who you are first,” she said boldly. “If you are who I think you are, then I’m not an enemy.”

The woman grimaced. “In a world full of suspicion, treachery, and hunters- we’re the synths’ only friends. We’re the Railroad.” Gemma’s heart skipped a beat before she continued on with her interrogation. “So answer my question.”

“I- I followed the Freedom Trail hoping I would find you,” she said honestly, hands still raised. She had two weapons aimed at her, after all.

“Who told you how to contact us?!” The middle woman demanded.

She rolled her eyes. Like it mattered? “I helped Karl out of a jam.” She made up. “He knows a guy who knows a guy, and they just hooked me up with a lead.”

The woman’s jaw clenched. “We’ll look into that.” She hissed. “I’m Desdemona, and I’m the leader of the Railroad. And you-” She stopped as another man sauntered up beside her. He had black hair and had on sunglasses. Gemma narrowed her eyes at him. “Deacon, where’ve you been?!” She snapped at the newcomer.

“You’re having a party.” He said nonchalantly. That voice- she knew that voice. “What gives with my invitation?”

Desdemona sighed briefly. “I need intel. Who is this?” She asked.

“WOW,” Deacon said, a look of total surprise on his face, “News flash, boss- this lady is kiiiiind of a big deal out there. Gemma Slade; that name ring a bell?”

She huffed, shaking her head.

“Vault Dweller Gemma Slade? Gemma Slade, former knight of the Brotherhood of Steel?” Deacon said, grinning towards Slade. “Overboss Slade, at Nuka-World? Hell, the Railroad owes you a truckload of Nuka-Cola for what you did to Kellogg. He was our public enemy number one.”

“So… you’re vouching for her?” Desdemona asked him in surprise.

He turned to face Gemma. “Yes. Trust me, she’s someone we want on our side.”

Desdemona raised an eyebrow. “Well that changes things. So, Ms. Slade, why did you want to meet with us, anyway?”

Gemma stood in stunned silence for a moment before slowly lowering her hands.  “My son, Shaun, was kidnapped. I’m looking for help to find him; I just need to find a Courser but I don’t know how.”

“A Courser?” She asked. “Why?”

She made brief eye contact with Deacon (or probably did through his sunglasses), who nodded  at her. “I know how to get inside the Institute, one of their rogue scientists told me that they use teleportation to get in and out. He said if I can kill a Courser and get it’s chip, he might be able to use that and my Pip-Boy to get me inside.”

Desdemona’s mouth was slightly ajar. “I’m impressed. That is a closely guarded secret not known to many. That’s a good sign for your sake. However, if we’re going to be dealing with you, I need to make sure we’re on the same page. I’m assuming you know what a synth is, correct?”

“Yes, I do.” She confirmed.

“I have a question- the only question that matters.” She said with a deadly intensity. “Would you risk your life for your fellow man? Even if that man is a synth?”

Gemma pursed her lips in thought. “There’s a good chance I already have. If I’m risking my life for someone, it’s for a reason, and if they turn out to be a synth, it doesn’t really change the fact of why I would. I protect those I care about; doesn’t matter who- or what- they are.”

Deacon had an approving smile on his face as Desdemona nodded. “Well said. As far as the Courser goes, we do have run ins with them on occasion, but right now we don’t have the time to train up a new agent. There are, however, other valuable ways you can contribute- for now. If you prove yourself, we may just find the time to train you if you’re worth it. See Deacon for details. You’re free to go.”

She and the other two who had been beside her with weapons turned around immediately and vanished within more of the tombs. Meanwhile, Deacon had moved to the wall beside them and was casually leaning beside it.

Gemma cleared her throat and approached him.

“Hope you didn't mind the reception.” He told her with a smirk on his face. “When you tango with the Institute, you got to be careful when someone new gets on the dance floor. But it’s all good now. I vouched for you. Nobody got shot. Still, I would consider it a close personal favor if you didn't sell us out to the Institute.”

“You sure did vouch for me.” She said curiously. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact you’ve been following me, have you? I mean, I recognize those shades- not very sneaky, if you ask me.”

He laughed. “It’s my job to know things. And to be real, we were in a need of new members, and you piqued my interest, but you just weren’t getting the hint. So, I had to take matters into my own hands with that one. Not gonna lie, I was worried you wouldn't catch my clues.” He smiled at her. “I’m glad you did.”

“Well, you came in at a pretty good time.” She admitted. “Not to mention I needed the extra help with this.”

“Yeah, where’s your mercenary?” Deacon asked. “You’ve been glued to each other for a hell of a long time.”

Her face fell. “I thought you were supposed to know things?”

“To an extent; mostly on people who I think would work well with us.” He rubbed his chin. “I thought of scooping that guy up a while back, actually. He’s got a hell of a reputation for being good with a gun, but he didn't seem like he’d be a good team player.”

“Well…” She shrugged. “You’re not wrong, I guess.”

“Parted ways, then?”

“Something like that.” She said sadly.

He seemed to study her underneath the sunglasses. “Well, in any case, I’m glad you made it.”

“Thanks.” She smiled warmly at him. “So, what’s first on the to-do list?”

Deacon crossed his arms. “Dez wants me to make you a ‘tourist’. That’s what we call someone who helps out with the odd job here and there.” He made a disgusted face. “What a waste. I’m just gonna come out and say this: I know what you’re capable of and the Railroad needs  you.”

“You sure?” She asked, furrowing her brows. “Because Desdemona wasn’t.”

“Trust me on this.”

“Why should I? I just figured you’ve been stalking me for the last three years; that doesn’t really make you credible, just makes you a weirdo.”

He stifled back a laugh. “Fair enough. But I got a job- too big for, just perfect for the two of us. You help me out, we turn a few heads, then Dez invites you into the fold. Then if you get into a bind and need help, your buddies in the Railroad got your back.”

She crossed her arms, frowning. “That sounds great and all, but I didn’t really come here to join your club, I came here because I thought you could help me find a Courser.”

“We can.” He told her seriously. “I promise. We have to deal with them all the time, but the others need to know you’re committed before we spill those beans, you feel me?”

Gemma sat on his words, a little irritated. She was tired of waiting. She wanted her son, why was that so much to ask?

“I know it’s not what you were expecting.” Deacon said softly. “I get that; but we can help you, Slade. We have intel, bodies, and tech- we just need to play the part, and after this job I got lined up, you’ll be in.”

She sighed. “What’s the job?”

He grinned. “So up front, only thing I’ll say is it’s going to be a wild and dangerous ride. But probably nothing new for someone with your resumé.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, the job market definitely took a nose dive once the bombs fell.”

“So, you in?”

“Sign me up,” she said. What did she have to lose at this point?”

“Perfecto.” Deacon replied happily. “Let’s meet up at the old freeway outside Lexington. I’ll fill you in once you get there.”

She widened her eyes. “Lexington? What the hell’s over there? And why do I have to meet you there?”

He began walking backwards, shooting finger guns at her. “Keep an eye out!” He shouted as he disappeared.

Gemma stood alone and astronomically confused, and with an aggravated huff she turned back on her heels- apparently to Lexington.

 

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 16, 2290

 

Five months had passed since RJ MacCready vanished in the night, and her new alliance with the Railroad had kept Gemma on her toes for the majority of that time. Deacon’s initial plan of fast tracking her into Desdemona’s good graces had been a success, and it didn't take very long for her to be thrown out into the field, receiving deep drops or doing whatever the hell P.A.M or Doctor Carrington wanted her to do.   The severe changes from her partner leaving her to join a new one so quickly caused her depression to resurface, though temporarily, and had been on thin ice with the Railroad after letting it affect her fieldcraft, almost blowing cover and putting an operation in jeopardy. Desdemona had only recently put her back in action, luckily enough, because she and Deacon had good news upon returning back to the Old North Church that day. He had been sticking by her side in every way since she joined- whether it be out in the field, in the HQ, and he was especially supportive through her recent depression and was ecstatic when she was cleared to continue missions. She was glad he was the one she was paired with- even though he was consistently pulling her leg or trying to convince her of some bullshit that wasn't true. As goofy and immature as he was, and he was a great partner to travel and fight with. 

“You excited?” Deacon asked her as they made their way through the catacombs underneath the Church.

She didn't respond; she was too busy walking in a terrifically fast pace to even hear him.

“I bet you’re excited.” He answered himself. “You’ve still got it, right?”
“Of course I do.” She said immediately.

“Woah, pump the brakes.” He said slowly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We’re okay, there’s no rush.”

“I’ve been waiting for this for nearly a year. Let me have this!” She swatted his hand away.

“I appreciate the enthusiasm, but you need to take a chill pill, Slade.” He told her carefully. “If you go in full steam ahead, the others are gonna think something’s wrong.”

She pursed her lips. “Fine, fine.” She very dramatically raised a hand up to her mouth, inhaled through her mouth with her eyes closed, and exhaled through her mouth while dragging her fingers down to her stomach. She gave him a stink smile. “Happy?”

He stared at her for a moment. “Like… in general, or…?”

“Oh fuck off,” She laughed. They made their way to the secret entrance to the Railroad HQ, where Desdemona was seemingly waiting for them.

“Good to see you both,” She said, though more as courtesy than anything. “I’m eager to know- how did your mission go?”

Gemma glance over to Deacon, who nodded. She reached into her side bag and pulled out a small, technological looking device and held it for Dez to see. “Exactly as planned.”

Desdemona’s eyes widened. “My god…” She muttered. “You did it- an intact Courser chip.” She glared up at the two agents. “Follow me. Now.”

“Oh, I’m doing great, Des!” Deacon lulled on as they walked behind her. “I saw a dog while we were out, so that was pretty cool, but then it tried to kill us, so-”

“Deacon, for the love of god-” Gemma said through gritted teeth.

They approached a mildly crazed man who had welding goggles around his neck. “Oh, hey, Dez. You need something?”

“Tom, we got a Courser chip.” She replied.

Tinker Tom grinned from ear to ear. “Whoa! For real?! Oh man, it’s been ages!”

Desdemona turned towards Slade. “You two hit the jackpot with this. Hand over the chip, we’ll see what’s on it.”

Gemma hesitantly placed the chip into Des’s hand (albeit reluctantly) and took a deep breath. “Hopefully enough.”

“Once that’s done, we’ll need the schematics from this rogue in the Glowing Sea.” Dez lowered her head. “You have his location, yes?”

She nodded. “Sure do.”

“Excellent. Then I’ll send Glory and Deacon out to communicate with your contact.”

“What?!” She cried. “No, I can go!”

“We are too far into this operation and we can’t risk anything happening to you, Wanderer. We had you out of the action long enough; we can’t have that happening again. Everything we’ve been working for hinges on you being here to infiltrate the Institute. Glory is a synth and, beyond being physically capable, she won’t have as tough a go with the radiation.” Des lowered her head. “It’s too risky to send you out there now.”

“But that’s not fair, I-”

“Slade, c’mon.” Deacon said, his face in a small frown. “I love your go-get-em-ness, but Des is right. If you get canned out there, everything we’ve been doing, and what you’ve been doing, will be for nothing.”

Gemma looked incredulously to the ginger woman and gestured to her partner. “Why does he get to go?!”

“Because he’s met your contact before. Glory has not. We need to make sure we actually get schematics.”

She rolled her eyes and groaned. “This is such bullshit.”

“You need to think of the greater good.” She snapped. “This isn’t just about you.”

Slade’s jaw clenched tightly, her eyes narrowing. “I’m well aware.”

“Then act like it.”

“Fine.” She said quietly. “Next time you need someone to carry out your dirty work, come find me.” She began to walk away, her blood boiling.

“Slade, wait up!” Deacon called after her. “Come on, just wait a sec.”

“I’m fine.” She told him aggressively. “I don’t understand why everyone is treating me like I’m not capable anymore.”

“It’s because everyone here cares about you.” He simply said.

“Sure they do…” She mumbled, unconvinced.

His eyebrows rose slightly higher underneath his glasses. “Well, even if I’m wrong about everyone else, I do, and that should be enough for you.”

A hint of a smile crept onto her face. “It’s all about you, huh?”

“It’s part of the shtick, yeah.” He grinned. “But it’s true. We’d rather have me or Glory wind up cold than you, and that’s why Des says you shouldn't go out there. She might not say it, but we’re expendable- you’re a necessity.”

Gemma crossed her arms and sighed, looking slightly past him. “I just feel weird about not going, I mean this is my problem, not anyone else’s, you know?”

“Hate to break it to ya, but it absolutely is.” Upon seeing her confusion, he nodded. “You’re not by yourself anymore, you know that, right? We’re all here for the long haul; your problem is ours too. Same goals, same game, just more players. So let someone else take the field, sometimes even starters need to take a breather on the bench, you know?”

She smiled at him begrudgingly. “You have this weird juxtaposition of being so inspired and giving this sage wisdom yet sounding absolutely like a high dumbass while saying it; I tell you, it’s incredible.”

He pointed at her with a goofy grin. “That’s all I could ask for.”

“How do you know so many sports references, anyways?”

“All I can say is I’m an enigma,” he replied nonchalantly.

“Oh good lord…” She rolled her eyes.

“So… whaddya say, Slade?”

“Well,” she exhaled. “Guess I’ll go get Glory and we can run through the Glowing Sea situation.”

Deacon grinned, nodding. “Sounds like a plan.”

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH 24, 2291

 

 

Gemma couldn't remember the last time Sanctuary Hills was so filled with people- probably since even before the Vault. After Glory and Deacon returned to the Railroad HQ, the whole organization’s top priority was to begin construction on what Virgil titled the “Signal Interceptor”, a device that would hijack the frequencies that the Institute used to send Coursers and instead send her. The only issue was that the Interceptor was going to be entirely too large for an underground secret base, so a construction site was needed to begin. Slade, although begrudgingly, wound up offering her old home for the location. There was plenty of space, a decent amount of resources, and she knew that if the Minutemen could restore the water amongst themselves, that building such a thing like the Interceptor would actually be possible aided with Tinker Tom and the other minds that the Railroad had to offer.

After several months, Sanctuary had a large number of people inhabiting it, including but not limited to Preston Garvey and his original settlers, Desdemona and Glory, Deacon, Slade, Dr. Carrington, their robot P.A.M, along with about a dozen other agents who had been helping construct the device. It was no easy task; there were teams that worked in shifts throughout the days in order to minimize the time it would take to finish. Not to mention, it took extensive scavenging all over the Commonwealth for two months to find parts and junk that was even close to being usable in order to make Virgil’s schematics come to life. It was absolutely monstrous, the main platform and the mechanisms above it towered over the remaining houses in Sanctuary and it was hooked up to the biggest generator that Gemma had ever seen in the Wasteland thus far, as well as a control panel to operate it. 

At long last on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon, the Signal Intercepter was complete and it was time to put it to use.

Everyone was standing as near to the platform as they could be in excitement as Desdemona pulled Slade aside with Deacon right beside her immediately next to the platform that would send teleport her. “The Institute is a huge unknown. But before we can make any plans for the future, you need to do something as soon as you can once you’re inside.”

Gemma glanced over to her partner, who stared blankly back. “Okay,” she mumbled, “what is it?”

Des leaned closer to her, her voice barely audible above over all the noise the Interceptor was making. “What I’m about to tell you is the most closely guarded secret the Railroad has. It’s time you learn about Patriot.”

“Patriot?” She asked. “What’s that?”

“Not a what,” she corrected. “Rather a whom. There’s a man or a woman- we’re not sure- inside the Institute who helps synths escape to freedom.”

Gemma’s eyebrows raised. “Wow… okay, what do you need me to do?”

“We need you to make contact.” Deacon replied.

“Wait, wait-” she stammered. “Have you not been able to yet?” Upon seeing blank stares in exchange for a response, she frowned. “How am I supposed to do that if we know nothing about them?”

“Patriot devised a method to communicate with us, one-way. The plan hinges on us using this method to close the loop and contact them back.”

Slade looked apprehensively over to Deacon, whose lips curled into a supportive looking grin and nodded slightly. She faced Des again. “Okay.” She said slowly. “I’ll do my best.”

Desdemona gave her a warm smile- something of a rarity. “Great. Tom’s encrypted a message for Patriot’s eyes only. Once they see it, they’ll contact you.” 

“Got it.”

“Until you make contact, and probably after as well, you need to stay in the Institute’s good graces.”

“Hang on.” Gemma said, her brows furrowing. “You never mentioned anything about me being a double agent, Des.”

“You have to be.” She told her firmly. 

“Why?!”

“Because there are countless synths whose lives depend on it!” She said, her voice raised. “Not to mention what’s at stake for everyone else in the Railroad if you give up anything about us before we come up with a strategy. You need to do this, Wanderer. A lot of us are depending on you.”

Gemma’s lips were in a pout, her face screwed up somewhere between frustration and realization. 

“Can you do it?” Desdemona asked again, this time more softly than before. “Can you be our agent on the inside?”

She looked down at her feet and swallowed. All she wanted to do was find Shaun, and now she had another set of responsibilities added onto her ever growing list of things she needed to do while she was inside the Institute. Hell, she wasn't even sure she’d make it in one piece! She sighed. “Fine.”

Des nodded. She reached into a pocket on her vest and extended her hand which held a holotape. “Here. This is the message for Patriot. Just plug it into any terminal you can find in the Institute and wait for a reply.” She inhaled deeply. “Once you’re ready, step onto the platform.”

Gemma watched as Des walked towards Tinker Tom and looked up at the gigantic contraption, blue bolts of energy erupting from all kinds of wires. “Well, here goes nothing, I guess.” She took a deep breath, turning, and began to make the step.

“Slade, wait.” Deacon said, catching her before she stepped onto the platform and turned her to face him.

She blinked at him. “What?”

His eyes looked abnormal under the sunglasses- almost softer? She couldn't be sure. 

He suddenly put his arms around her, hugging her tightly, his chin on her shoulder. “Be safe, kiddo.” He told her softly.

She couldn’t help but grin to herself, hugging his back tightly. “Will do.” 

They shared their embrace for a few more moments before he let go of his grip, placing his hands on her shoulders, and gave her a wicked grin. “Go fuck ‘em up, partner.”

She nodded back at him, a weak smile on her face. She turned around and, after taking a deep breath once again, stepped up onto the main platform. She was facing everyone- the agents, the Minutemen, Des, Tom, and finally Deacon when he sauntered into her view. Louder and louder noises came from the Intercepter, and she could barely see Tom’s lips moving as he spoke, but couldn’t hear anything over all the blue light that was spouting as the ground beneath her began to shake. She held up her hand to shield her eyes, and she barely caught one last glimpse of Deacon giving her a thumbs up when in an instant,-

Everything was silent, and she could only see blinding white.

Chapter Text

“You okay, hon?” Magnolia’s voice said quietly.

RJ MacCready lifted his head up from his crossed arms on top of a table, eyes glazed and a confused expression on his face. “Hm?”

“You haven't moved for a long time; I thought you passed out.” The singer said sweetly.

She was moving… (Why’s she moving?) as she stared at him- or maybe she wasn’t. It was hard to tell, but he very suddenly felt an acid burning in his stomach that desperately wanted to come out. His face flushed white and he instantly leaned to the side and vomited onto the ground.

Magnolia didn't seem bothered by it, only leaving for a moment to grab a napkin from a nearby table and came back to him, placing a hand on his back. “It’s okay, honey.”

His nose started running and his head began pounding. He groaned. “I dunno…”

“How much was it tonight?”

He wiped the underneath of his nose. “Too much…” He coughed out.

“I think it’s time you get some rest, love.” She rubbed his back gently. “It’s quite late; you’ve been here all day.”

His head felt like it wasn't working properly, and now his throat was insanely sore.

“Why don’t I walk you back to your room, hm?”

He managed to bring his head back up to look at her- she really did look worried- only for a second before he collapsed onto the floor, and everything went dark.

 

 

~~~

 

 

A sharp pain woke RJ up, right in his right temple, and his eyes crossed as he opened them. “Jesus god…” He said softly to himself, holding a few fingers where the pain was. He was sweating, too, so he pushed off the comforter on top of him, soaking in the cool air of the morning(?) breeze. He took a deep breath. 

The Commonwealth hadn't felt the same since he’d returned from the Capital Wasteland. He wasn't sure exactly how long he’d been away, but honestly to him it hadn't seemed long at all because he spent it with his boy. For the first time in years, he was able to go outside with Duncan, go on walks, play games- he even taught him some basics of shooting. Nothing could compare to the time he had spent with his son- that being said, it was times like these he wondered why he even came back. He originally returned back to the Commonwealth in hopes he’d reconnect with someone important, but in the time he’d been back (at this point, he couldn't be sure precisely how long, but it at least a few weeks time), he hadn't seen or heard from them once.

So, he returned back to Goodneighbor. Only this time, he wasn't anxiety-stricken and under the pressure to constantly be involved in side jobs to provide for a child near death. He still kept himself busy with the occasional mercenary work if it came his way, or ran errands for WhiteChapel Charlie or Daisy, but his days so far in the settlement had been long and plentiful. When he wasn't busy with work, he did the only other thing he could think of to do- drink.

It was eerily similar to his old routine that he lived day-by-day however long ago when he was struggling to survive. It wasn't the life he envisioned he’d be living upon his return. He thought it would be a much fuller one.

He groaned and sat up slowly, his temples screaming in pain. ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ He thought. He hated this routine.

RJ hesitantly got up off the bed in his hotel room and walked very sluggishly to the bathroom. There was a ringing in his ear, though it was faint, and he was just regretting getting shitfaced in the first place. He turned on the sink, splashing cold water on his face, and then took a deep breath. His memories swam around in his mind- they always did when he was sober and alone, though especially where he stood. He felt his throat tighten up, and the recollections of happy times at the Rexford began to overwhelm him. He rubbed his eyes as he felt them get hot with the onset of tears.

Luckily for him, a knock on the door distracted him.

He patted his face with a nearby towel, shook his head, and hustled to the door. A familiar face stood outside, one that he had been relatively trying to avoid since his return. 

“What are you doing here?” He asked.

A young ghoul girl stared back at him. “Magnolia said you had a rough night. I came to make sure you didn't die on your own.”

“I, uh, appreciate that.” He said sheepishly. “Thank you.”

Riley nodded. “Sure. Well, I’ll leave you be-”

“No, no, it’s fine.” He said, rubbing his forehead. “You don’t have to go. I mean, I’m sure you hate me at this point, but-”

“Of course I don’t.” She replied quietly.“No, I understand why you did the things you did and said the things you said. But I don’t hate you.”

He smiled quietly. “Good. Good…”

She tilted her head, her blonde hair falling slightly in front of her withered face. “How’ve you been? I mean, I know you were gone for a long time, but since you’ve been back?”

RJ sighed, a light chuckle making its way out. “Not great.” He admitted. “If I’m being honest, I’m not sure why I’m still around.”

Riley’s face twisted into something sad. “Is it because of your friend? The woman?”

His heart skipped a beat. “Gemma?”

She nodded. 

He felt his lip beginning to quiver, but he tried to conceal it. “Yeah.”

“Where is she?” She asked him softly.

RJ swallowed hard, looking down at his feet. and shrugged. “I don’t know.” He whispered.

It was true; Gemma Slade was no where to be seen since he’d been back. He stopped by Sanctuary Hills but the perimeter had a new large wall surrounding it, which was never a good sign. He worried that those damn Minutemen had done exactly what he thought they would do and turn on her, but he couldn't be sure. He checked in with one Piper Wright and asked if she’d seen Slade, but she said she hadn't been around since the time the two had gone to Diamond City together so very long ago. He thought of pursuing the Railroad, but he didn't have the first idea of where to begin to look. Even in Goodneighbor, where the drifters and the loners and the traders and everyone in between stopped by, no one had a clue to where the curly hair woman had disappeared to.

“What do you mean?” Riley asked.

“I…” He bit his lip and looked up at the ghoul. “I… had to leave, for a while, and she stayed in the Commonwealth. I came back to find her, and I just-” He shrugged again, a sad breathy laugh escaping his lips. “I have no idea where she could be.”

Her face softened in thought, crossing her arms. “You don’t have any thoughts of things she would have set off to do, or…?”

“Well, I mean, yeah, but… I- I’ve looked everywhere I can.” He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “I mean, there’s always the chance that there was something she couldn't handle, and…” He shook his head.

Her eyes narrowed. “And what?”

He met her gaze briefly, a pained look on his face. 

“What, that she died?” Riley asked. “RJ, come on, don’t think like that. That lady knows what she’s doing.”

“You have no idea…” He began in a whisper. “The things she’s gotten herself into.”

The young girl was silent for a minute. “You trust her, right? Believe in her?”

He looked at her curiously. “Of course.”

“Then trust she’s out there.”

“But no one knows where she’s been?”

Riley shrugged. “Then maybe she’s somewhere not even you knows about.” She frowned. “It’s a big world. She might’ve gone beyond the Commonwealth.”

“But… I told her I’d come back, and that I’d be here.”

“Then stay.” She simply said. “But if she’s been on her own the whole time you’ve been away, she’s probably used to being alone by now.”

His lips curled into a flat line. “God, I hope not…”

“But I don’t think she’s bit the dust. She’s tough.”

The faintest hint of a smile crept up onto his face. “Yeah, she is.”

“You guys’ll find each other when the time’s right.” Riley told him softly.

“Just like the first time…” RJ said, mostly to himself. He smiled at the young woman. “Thank you, Riley.”

She grinned. “You’re welcome.”

He extended his arms, and she walked into his embrace, hugging his back. He held her for a few moments- it was the first time in a long time he’d had a genuine friend in a long time. And she was right; he’d find Slade again. 

Hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

 

~~~

 

 

After his conversation with Riley, MacCready was in better spirits than he was before. There was one thing she had mentioned he thought about frequently- when she said perhaps Gemma was somewhere he didn't know about. He figured that was a pretty good chance, either referring to the Railroad, wherever that was, or somehow she’d managed to find the Institute. Hell, maybe she went back to NukaWorld. He sure hadn't gone to check since he knew the other raiders would kill him if she wasn't around. The Institute idea seemed a bit of a stretch, but if she had indeed located the Railroad, she was probably safe and with them.

A week or so had passed since then, and he’d been considerably less drunk than he was before. Magnolia had actually asked him if everything was alright since he’d been spending far less time at the bar.

Today he was happy to be out of the settlement, even for a little while, while delivering a package for Daisy over to Bunker Hill. The air was fresher than it was in Goodneighbor, that was for sure, and the sun was beating down on him. Sure beat drinking himself blind, though.

He’d ran into a traveling group of Super Mutants shortly outside of Goodneighbor, which wasn't entirely surprising, but it took him off guard just enough for him to be even more alert than usual for the rest of his travels. 

RJ generally disliked going to Bunker Hill. It was always way too busy and far too many people who were way too loud. That seemed to be the very case this particular day, for when he approached the gate to the trade post there was already a line of travelers outside the wall waiting to enter to begin their business.

“Oh, for…” He grumbled to himself. For an impatient person, this was the last thing he wanted to deal with. Time seemed to come to a complete halt as he inched forward in the line, the sun still beating down. He adjusted his cap, swiping his sweaty forehead with his shirt sleeve. There were still a handful of travelers in front of him.

Finally, the gate opened up once again as someone-actually, two people it seemed- from the inside of Bunker Hill exited and the lucky person at the front of the line got to enter. MacCready eyed the pair leaving. One was a younger girl with black hair and tattered clothes. She had an expression that looked something on the verge of tears, and she was followed close behind by a bald man wearing a red flannel and sunglasses. The man seemed to look up at the merc, though he couldn't be completely positive, and the two men had a second or two of eye contact before the stranger walked past him.

RJ glanced over his shoulder as the man walked away. He was having the weirdest sense of deja vu… He knew he’d seen something almost exactly like that before.

“Oi!” A harsh voice seethed behind him. 

He swiveled in his place in line to see a very angry woman. 

“Get a move on!” She hissed.

He licked his lips, eyes flickering over to the red flannel. ‘Where have I seen him…?’ It had to have been in the Commonwealth… He would've remembered it in the time he’d been back; no one ever wore sunglasses. In fact, the last time he’d seen shades like that, he was with-

“Oh, sh-” He left his place in line instantly, moving his feet in a brisk pace to try to follow the bald man. He knew where he’d seen this guy. He was the one who Gemma wanted to find, so very long ago. The Railroad guy!

He began to jog, as the guy he was following seemed to be getting faster as well and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up enough so that he was still in view. He dashed, weaving in between alleyways and side streets, barely catching sight of the guy after each corner. This continued for several minutes, until RJ rounded a corner…

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase.” The stranger stood right in front of him (in fact MacCready nearly slammed into him). His arms were crossed, and his expression had the faintest hint of panic. 

“Sounds great.” RJ replied, taking a step back and pulling his rifle up. “Where’s Gemma?”

The guy briefly swiveled to the side and looked behind him. “Gotta hand it to you, good job. Didn’t think you’d recognize me. Gold star for you.”

“I’m not messing around!” He yelled. “Where is Gemma?!”

The stranger sighed. “She’s gonna be here. But you absolutely cannot show your face right now.”

He snorted. “Oh, sure. Yeah, not gonna happen.”

“Listen, MacCready-” he began.

“How do you know my name?!”

“I know everything.” He said shortly. “But even if I didn’t, she talked about you a lot. Listen, I don’t have a lot of time, but I promise to you right now after… what you’re about to see… goes down, you will be able to talk to her if you just chill here for a few more minutes. I can help shed some light after.”

“Why can’t I talk to her now?!”

“For fuck’s sake, dude, put the gun down.” He grumbled. “We’re on the same team.”

RJ huffed, but acquiesced. “Why can’t I talk to her now?!”

“To make a long answer short, she’s a double agent. If you don’t believe me, you can stand right here and watch until she goes. It’ll make a little more sense.”

He was a little out of breath. “Why should I believe you?”

“If you show yourself now, you won’t have another shot to really talk to her.”

He hesitated. “If you really know her that well, what’s her name?”

The guy’s face turned somber. “Not the phony one? Hale.”

RJ’s mouth trembled. He was telling the truth…“Has-”

“Listen, Mac, I gotta go. Your other questions can be answered- later.” He began to walk backwards away. “Just watch!” He shouted, before turning around completely and running across the street diagonally to another rundown church, where the girl he was walking with earlier was standing, looking absolutely distraught.

RJ stood, stunned, frozen in place. If this drifter was really telling the truth, and he could see Gemma, he’d take his word on keeping a low profile for the time being. He stood behind one of the walls of a building near him where he could still have a good view of the scene in front of him. 

The two people didn't do much. They were standing right next to each other, too. Every so often the bald guy would extend an arm, looking like he was rubbing her back, but not much other activity. He was beginning to think he had been bullshitted and was just about ready to approach the guy again when a thunderous crack and a blinding white light appeared near the church.

“Jesus!” He hissed to himself as he shielded his eyes. It only lasted for a second or two, but when it dissipated, another figure was standing in front of the pair.

It was Gemma.

She looked so different, but there was no mistaking it was her. Her curly hair was much darker in color than he remembered, and far shorter (it was just past her shoulders), but he knew it was her. She was wearing a very long leather coat with a high collar, gloves, and boots. It wasn’t anything like he’d seen her in. It didn't fit in with her regular apparel, and it was too monotonous for anything he ever remembered her to wear in NukaWorld.

Gemma approached the pair slowly, and she put her hands up as she began to speak. RJ had never wanted anything more in his life than to hear what she was saying. The bald man would nod as she spoke, crossing his arms, and the girl was crying, but she nodded occasionally as well. Gemma’s face was soft as she spoke to the girl, and, after a minute or two, extended her arms, and the girl walked into her embrace, still in tears. The girl was taller than Slade was, and buried her head into the raider’s neck. Gemma patted her back and stayed like that for several more minutes before the embrace ended. Slade seemed to say something else, the girl nodded in response. 

Slade looked over at the man, who said something to her. She barely shook her head, looking uncomfortable, then said something else. The girl looked like she was about to faint for a moment, but her head fell limp and it hung, and her body seemed to relax while simultaneously becoming more robotic-

‘Oh, shit.’ RJ thought to himself. ‘Synths? Is that what this is about?’

He looked on at Gemma, who crossed her arms and looked down at her feet. The guy in the flannel walked to her and enveloped her in a hug. MacCready’s lips winced. Sunglasses guy took a step back and nodded.

Slade held the girl’s arm in her hand, straightened her stance, and seemed to take a deep breath. She uttered a few more words, then another flash of blinding light seemed to fall from the sky right to where she was standing, and, with another crack of noise, it vanished. When RJ’s vision came back to him, both Slade and the girl were gone. The man in the flannel looked over to him, still standing, but his face looked a little different than it had a few moments ago. More… sad, almost.

RJ hesitantly took a few steps forward out of his hiding spot towards the stranger, but quickened his pace once he was certain he wouldn't be stopped. “Okay who are you?! What the hell’s going on?”

The man groaned. “I guess you deserve to know my title, at least. You can call me Deacon.”

“Your title?”

“Names are too risky out here. You should know what that’s like.”

“Cut the crap and tell me what that was all about!” He desperately gestured to where the light had just erupted. “I mean, really?! You expect me to act like that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary?”

Deacon smirked. “I never said you had to, I just told you to chill out, out of plain sight- which you did. So, sure, I’ll give you some insight. But I can’t share all of it… I don’t think I should be the one to fill you in on all the gaps.”

MacCready, breathing was a little heavier than he’d noticed. “Does that mean I can talk to her?”

He crossed his arms. “At some point, absolutely. But I’m not even sure when she’ll be back around again.”

RJ shook his head, mouth open slightly in confusion. “Wh- What does that mean? Where did she go?”
Deacon let out a sigh. “The Institute.”

His eyes widened. “The- She- What?”

“I know it seems impossible, but that’s her reality now. Everything you knew about her, why she did what she did, is different now. A lot has happened since you last saw her.”

RJ was stunned into silence as his thoughts swam in circles and tried to process everything. 

Deacon stood and watched the merc, careful not to say anything to overstep his boundaries, so he kept quiet and simply waited.

A minute or two later, RJ scratched his head. “Wait… you said she’s a double agent. Is she…?”

“She’s our man on the inside.” Deacon replied softly, nodding. “It’s been this way for a long, long time.”

“Was this her idea?” He asked.

Deacon hesitated, licking his lips. “Not entirely at first. But she knows what role she plays and she’s on board with all of it.”

“Did she find Shaun?”

He stood, seemingly frozen, as he searched for a response. “I think that’s a conversation you should have with Slade for yourself.”

MacCready winced at his words- that wasn’t a good sign. “When can I have that conversation?”

Deacon shrugged. “Like I said, I have no clue how long she’ll be underground. Could be today. Could be a week. It’s never clear when she’s gotta put on her tough face for them down there.”

“How will I know when she’s back?”

“Would you believe me if I told you I’ll find you?”

RJ sighed deeply, eyes drifting downwards, and shaking his head. “I guess I have to, huh?”

“You can count on me. I’m good at what I do. Keep doing what you do in the meantime; for real, it could be a while before she comes around again.”

“Alright.” He replied.

“Before I go, though,” Deacon started, “You should know, it may not be the reunion you’re hoping for.”

His face screwed up in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”

“She’s… uh… different, now. In a lot of different ways. And… well…” Deacon frowned. “She stopped talking about you like a year ago. She might not be as eager to see you than you are with her.”

RJ felt a sting and a sinking feeling in his stomach. “That’s a bold thing to tell me.”

He held up his hands. “I’m just trying to give you a fair warning. So don’t blame me if you go in for a kiss and you get knocked sideways instead.”

“She wouldn't do that to me.” He said firmly.

“Maybe she won’t.” Deacon said, an unreadable expression on his face as he began to walk backwards and away. “But you didn’t have to pick up the pieces after you left her alone in Goodneighbor.”

“Listen, you-!” 

“Oh my god!” He exclaimed, pointing past RJ. “What’s that over there?!”

He whipped his head around, instinctively bringing his rifle up (you could never be too careful out in the open). “What are you talking about?” He asked, turning around. “Theres-” MacCready stopped in his tracks and cursed to himself. 

Deacon had vanished.

“Ah, man.” He shook his head to himself. “Disappearing, seriously?!

He couldn't tell which one he was more angry about- the things that he had been told about Gemma, or the fact that he fell for the whole ‘Look behind you’ shtick. Whichever one it was, he instantly had a loathing for the man in the flannel. That being said, he resented the fact that if he wanted to see Slade, he’d have to put up with Deacon again.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

It had been the slowest eight days of MacCready’s life, waiting for Deacon to come around again. He figured he’d make it easier for the weirdo and try to stay as close to Goodneighbor as possible, at least for now, in case the time was a shorter span rather than a long one before Gemma arrived back. Luckily for him, those eight days were all it took before a note was slipped under his hotel room door that let him know that he should head over to Hardware Town near Diamond City. At first he was concerned it was a ruse from someone who wanted to set him up, but instead of a regular signature, all the note had in reference to a sender was a scribbly “You bet it’s who you think it is”, and quickly deduced it was Deacon. So, after gathering some supplies, he headed west through alleyways and side streets to get to the rundown store as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

He hated being out in the open, especially during daylight. It was a sure way to get yourself shot, stabbed, or something else grueling and unpleasant; yet here he was, standing outside a crappy old building waiting for who knows how long in broad daylight. He was leaning against the wall with his rifle in his hands right beside a door that led inside, but there was no way in hell he was going any further. There were lots of rumors about Hardware Town, and he didn't want to be involved in anything about it if they had any sort of truth to them.

RJ scanned the street once again, searching for any signs of movement or sound indicating someone was nearby. He sighed to himself before adjusting his hat on his head- how long was he supposed to wait here? Things were quiet for his taste, especially for the crazy Commonwealth. Perhaps it was due to being close to Diamond City. If anything, the settlement was well fortified with turrets, patrolling guards, and other security measures, so it made sense that it would be a little more laid back than what he was used to with Goodneighbor.

His mind wandered to the last time he’d seen Gemma Slade. The two had shared an intimate experience with each other hours before he’d received news that his son was cured and he decided to head back home. She had fallen asleep beside him, in his arms, and he’d woken up in the middle of the early morning when it was still dark. He still remembered her face, fast asleep, when he awoke and quietly got up from the bed- she was so beautiful, it hurt. She was so special to him… he knew that he truly would never be able to leave her if they both continued together and traveled to Sanctuary in the morning. She was intoxicating, and he needed to get out before he could be sucked in to her charm, her embrace, her everything. It was for Duncan, and to put his son first, that he decided to silently pack up his things and head out on his own. So, he wrote her a note, expressing his love and apology, kissed her forehead gently goodbye, and left. 

It probably wasn't the most delicate way of handling the situation, but those kinds of things were never his strong suit. It made sense to him at the time, and still even now, why he did what he did, but after thinking back to Deacon’s words about him “leaving her alone in Goodneighbor”, he wondered if it was the right decision after all.

“RJ?”

He looked over to the right, and his heart nearly skipped a beat.

Gemma Slade stood a few yards away beside Deacon, her face contorted into a mixture of shock and… well, it was either something sad or a little upset, but, much to MacCready’s dismay, definitely not happy. She looked so different- her skin was several shades paler than he knew it had been before and her hair was darker. But, most interestingly, her face was almost completely free of her scars. The only one she possessed was a small cut above her left brow, though he knew for a fact she had much more and much more prominent scars on her face the last time he saw her. Overall, she looked a little younger, cleaner… just… different.

He smiled weakly. “Hi, Gem.”

She ran to him, and he put his rifle on the ground beside him as she hurled himself into him. Her head was buried in his chest, and he closed his eyes tight as he held her in his embrace. His breathing was shaky, one of his hands gripping her hair, the other tight on the small of her back, and holding her closer. It felt unreal- having her with him again, it was overwhelming. She was making some breathy noises, almost like she was crying.

“Oh my god!” Deacon exclaimed, feigning surprise after a few moments. “Wow, what a coincidence this is! Who knew your old pal was gonna be here, eh?” He said with a grin.

“I missed you.” He said softly.

She pulled away from him, her eyes a little pink, and looked over to Deacon. “Did you know he was here?”

His lips twitched. “Well, I-”

“What am I saying, of course you did.” She wiped her nose with her hand and returned her gaze to the merc. “When did you get back to the Commonwealth?”

“Erm…” He bent down and picked up his weapon. “I’m not exactly sure. A few weeks? Maybe more?”

Her eyes widened. “So you’re saying you’ve been around for possibly a month?”

His face contorted in confusion. “Maybe…? Why?”

She licked her lips and turned to the man in the shades. “I told you to let me know.” She said quietly.

“I know, but with everything that’s happening, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea.” He replied.

“So… what’s this reunion for?”

Deacon sighed. “He spotted me at Bunker hill the other week and remembered me. Kudos, by the way; that’s still mad impressive.” He added, pointing to MacCready. 

Gemma’s eyebrows furrowed, and she looked more agitated now than a second before. “Did he see the extraction?”

Deacon filled up his mouth with air, closing his lips shut, and released a little bit. “Eh…”

“Oh for fuck’s sake…” She muttered to herself. 

“It’s fine, he stayed out of the way-”

“It doesn't matter where he was.” She spat. “You know what my consequences are if someone finds out.”

“Finds out what?” RJ chimed in.

“Of course I do,” Deacon said ignoring RJ. “But I know that he’s not gonna rat you out.”

Gemma closed her eyes. “I’m not doing this with you right now.” She told him firmly.

“Oh, come on, Slade. The bottom line is you two gal pals are here together! Isn’t that what matters?”

She stared at him with a deadly intensity. “I’m going to mention this to Dez later.”

“What?!” Deacon exclaimed. “You’re gonna tattle on me?”

“I’m going to make sure you don’t make things worse.” She corrected. 

“I was just trying to help.” He insisted.

She inhaled deeply. “I believe you. But you know how risky that could've been.”

“Yeah, yeah I know the drill.” He sighed.

“Hey, what’s going on?” RJ asked loudly. He’d barely been keeping up with their conversation.

Gemma shook her head, crossing her arms. “My partner is an idiot, but it seems like you two have met each other by now, so I’m sure you picked up on that.”

“I like to think of myself as unique.” Deacon corrected.

“I’ll deal with you later.” She aimed her comment at him. She turned to MacCready. “I… I still can’t believe you’re here.”

The gun grinned. “I told you I’d be back, didn’t I?”

Her face fell. “I was starting to think you wouldn't come back.

His eyes widened. “Woah, what?! Why would you think that?”

“I hadn’t heard from you once in the whole time you were gone, and I certainly wasn’t expecting you to be away for as long as you were.” She said quietly. “I figured something had happened to you. Guess I was wrong.”

“Wh- How? I wrote to you…?” He stammered.

“Well I never got wind of anything from you.” Her voice had a certain bitterness to it.

“Well, I suspect some courier somewhere got shot in the head because I sent you three or four letters.”

She let out an uncontrollable laugh. “Three?! The whole time you were gone? For fuck’s sake…”

“I was with my son, what did you expect?!” He said rather defensively.  “I’m sorry it probably wasn't as frequent as you wanted it to be, but I told you I was probably going to be away for a few months anyway, and-”

“A few months?!” She cried. Her face looked dumbfounded. “RJ… do you even know how long you’ve been gone?”

He opened his mouth to reply, then quizzically glanced over to Deacon, whose face was unreadable. “It was longer than I expected to be, but I don’t know exactly. Several months, I’m sure.”

Gemma’s face shifted into a new sort of anger RJ hadn’t remembered seeing. It held a note of near betrayal in it, as well as something sorrowful.

“You weren’t gone for a few months, MacCready.” She said, her voice barely audible. “You were gone for almost two years.

His face fell in shock. “Wh- No… Th-” He stammered, then fell to a stunned silence.

She crossed her arms. “You really didn't know, did you?”

He felt like he’d been slapped in the face. “Two ye-years?” He rubbed his temples with his hand, staring down at the ground. “There’s no way it was that long…”

Gemma laughed. “You think I’m lying?!” Her tone was abrasive.

“Easy, tiger…” Deacon mumbled, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

RJ glanced to the spy, maybe for some help, he wasn't really sure, but he didn't want to look at Slade- her face was red and she looked like she was going to explode. “No, I don’t th-”

“I still know the exact date you left.” She said through gritted teeth. 

“Gem, I-”

“I stopped checking the date after 15 months because I figured you weren’t coming back.”

“Slade, let’s take a deep breath.” Deacon interjected. “He’s here, you need to realize that. He’s back. So ease up.”

She glanced over to him, breathing heavily. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, seemingly to regain her composure. “Right.” She said quietly. She looked to RJ. “Okay. Well, um… what now?”

One side of his mouth curled into a little grin. “I mean, I’d love to just talk. Catch up, maybe?”

She nodded, extremely slowly. “Okay. That’s fair, sure.” She turned to Deacon. “I’ll take him to Home Plate, but I’ll be by HQ when I’m done. You good to head out?”

“No problemo!” He replied happily. “I’m always up for some nice, relaxing alone time getting shot at.”

She smiled, rolling her eyes. “Alright. I’ll see you later, D.”

“You got it, G.” He looked towards the merc. “You’re in for one hell of an experience. Until you get used to it, I’d close your eyes if I were you.”

RJ stared at him with uncertainty as he began to walk away from the pair. “Uhhh…” He mumbled. “The hell does that mean?”

Gemma was looking down at her Pip-Boy intently. “Listen to me very carefully.” She demanded. “You hold onto my arm, you do not let go. Keep your screaming to a minimum, and you do not mention it for any reason at any time.” She glanced up at him. “Do you understand?”

His eyes were wide. “I’m so confused.”

“Do you understand?!” She repeated.

“I guess?!” He shrieked.

“Good.” She extended her arm in front of him. “Prove it.”

He hooked his arm under neath hers and held on fairly tightly, completely lost and a little afraid, if he was being honest. “Gem what’s gonna-”

“Close your eyes!” She told him loudly, to which he obeyed. With her other hand, she was doing something with her Pip-Boy. “Here we go.” She put down her hand.

RJ suddenly felt like his soul had been ripped from his body, and even though his eyes were closed he could see blinding, white light flashing in his eyelids. He let out an involuntary cry, then gritted his teeth remembering what she had said about screaming. His eyes were shut tighter than they’d ever been, and he wasn’t sure what was happening but he certainly didn't feel like he was inside his own body. The most intense feeling of motion he’d ever experience was rushing over him and he thought for a moment that his brain might actually die on him. There were defeating noises surrounding him, but he couldn't make out what they were or where they were coming from, it just seemed like it was everywhere. It was absolutely agonizing, and he still didn't even know what was happening to him.

In an instant, the sensations had vanished, and he felt once again within his own skin. The world fell silent, though he knew there was a loud ringing in his ears. He was panting now, and he could feel himself shaking.

“You’re okay, I promise. You can open your eyes now.” He heard Gemma’s voice. It was calm, comforting- and he instantly realized he was truly alright.

He blinked his eyes open, swallowing deeply. He was inside some room, a workbench in front of him. He moved his head around to look more, though it wasn't a fluid motion- more robotic and strained than he knew it should be. It looked like a little living room to his left, with several chairs and a couch.

“Wh-where are we?” He choked out. Boy, was his voice squeaky…

She unhooked her arm from his, and shifted so she was in front of him. She put her hands on his shoulders, keeping him steady. “One of my safe houses, it’s in Diamond City.”

“Okay…” He said slowly. He looked down at her face, his breath shaky. She had a hint of a smile on her lips. “And… what the-the hell just happened?!”

She chuckled. “Let’s get you sitting down; it’ll help until the side effects wear off.” She lightly tugged, and he acquiesced and began dragging his feet along the floor with her.

“Side effects?” He muttered. “Of what?”

“The short answer? Teleporting.” She said simply. She took his hand in her own and guided him the remaining few yards to the couch, where he nearly fell down onto it.

“Wh-What?!” He stammered. He blinked a few times as he sat, his vision still not straight.

Gemma sat down on a small table in front of the couch and faced him. “Do you remember how we tried to hunt down an Institute Courser?”

“Yeah, at Greentech I think, right?” He said, his head spinning.

“I needed it’s ID chip- It was to tap into the Institute’s teleportation frequencies so I could be sent instead of a Courser.”

“Oh, oh right…” He said, nodding slowly. “So, I’m guessing it worked?”

She smiled. “You could say that.”

“My god…” He said quietly to himself. “You really did it? You found the Institute?”

“You sound surprised.”

“Of course I’m not.” He replied. “I guess…” He sighed, trying amongst everything else happening to him at the moment to think of the right thing to say. “I mean I wish I could've been there when you had.”

She pursed her lips, looking down at her lap. She was rolling her palms in her hands. “Well I wasn't going to wait around for you to continue my search.”

“I- I wasn't expecting you to…” He said slowly. She seemed so bitter, it was kind of off-putting.

They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a while. RJ was kind of glad for it, since he was still recovering from whatever the hell teleporting did to his body. Gemma had slipped a backpack off of her shoulders and hurled it to the wall behind her, and was rubbing her neck.

“Are you okay?” He asked her as she grimaced.

“Yeah,” she said, rather unconvincingly. “Just tweaked it or something.”

He nodded. “Ah, I see.”

“Speaking of, how are you holding up?” She asked him. “The first few times can be… rough.”

He exhaled a laugh. “You can say that again.” His brows furrowed. “When did you start teleporting everywhere, anyway?”

“I think almost a year now.” She told him.

“Is that… an… Institute thing?” RJ asked her, a little hesitantly.

She swallowed. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s an Institute thing.”

He rubbed his hands together, attempting to stay sitting up without falling down. “So what’s going on with that, anyway?”

Gemma sighed. “Um, it’s kind of a difficult story to tell without getting in trouble one way or another.”

“Wait…” He breathed. “Did you find Shaun? Was he there?!” He couldn't believe it took him this long to ask about her son, yet here he was.

She tensed up as soon as her boy’s name escaped RJ’s lips. “It’s complicated.” She said softly. She sounded sad…

“What does that mean?” He asked her slowly.

“It means I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Gem, I came back for you, and I know I’m too late, but one of the things I promised you was I was going to help you find him-”

“Well you didn’t.” Her words were loud, abrasive, and cold. “You weren’t here, RJ! I don’t owe you an explanation for anything that’s happened in the past two years, and frankly I could be killed for discussing too much anyways. What did you expect- that everything was going to go back to the way it was before you left?!”

He inhaled sharply and opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came. He was so utterly confused about pretty much everything that was going on, but her behavior certainly didn't help. “I mean… I-I don’t know?!” He stammered. “I wasn’t expecting you to act like I’m some nuisance to you, though, that’s for damn sure! Call me crazy, but I thought you would be the tiniest bit excited to see me. I guess I was wrong.”

She bit her lip, inhaling deeply. “Things just aren't the same, anymore, RJ. I don’t have time for whatever we used to be. I just don’t.”

He looked down at his lap, clearing his throat. “Gem… what the hell have you gotten yourself into?” He looked back up to her- her face looked strained. “I mean, you’re freaking teleporting, I saw you… I don’t even know, compel someone to go to sleep, and your face looks different! You look… I don’t know, cleaner or younger, or something, but all your scars are gone! I mean, what the hell?!” He was breathing heavily now. “I just don’t understand what’s going on! I’m sorry I was gone for so long, but, my god, if I’m really that much of an inconvenience to you, I can just go back to the Capital Wasteland!”

Gemma rubbed her face with her hands, slightly hunching over where she sat. She sighed loudly, shaking her head as she held her face. “Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?!” He demanded. 

“Don’t guilt me like that!” She shouted back at him, her voice strained. “You have no fucking clue what I have to deal with-”

“TELL ME!”

His interruption seemed to catch her off guard, and her face froze. She looked like she was on the verge of tears.

“Please…” He said, his voice much more quiet. “I’m just trying to understand. I want to be a part of whatever is going on; I promised you I’d come back to help and I intend on keeping that promise.” He chuckled. “Besides, I still owe you for helping me find the Prevent.”

Her eyes seemed to soften, and her entire countenance felt more relaxed. “How is he, by the way? Duncan?”

He smiled. “Better than ever. I, uh, was able to teach him some basics of shooting.”

“Of course.” She rolled her eyes, her lips curling into a quiet smile. “I’m sure that was a fun time.”

He nodded his head in recollection. “Yeah… it was.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

MacCready perked up. “That reminds me, actually…” He sat up a little straighter and reached into a pocket inside his duster. “I have something for you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “For me?”

“Sure do.” He pulled out a folded up piece of paper, though it was obvious it had gone through a journey- it was wrinkled,  some bits looked torn, and it appeared some sort of liquid got onto it. He handed it to her, a smile on his face. “He wanted me to give this to you.”

She took it from his hands, a little confused, and opened it up. It was a letter that had poor, scribbly writing. She could already feel a lump in her throat as she looked back up to RJ. “Did he-?”

“Yup.” He grinned proudly. “He’s a good kid.”

Her fingers trembled as she adjusted his son’s letter in her grasp and read the first line, addressed to her. It originally said “JEMA” but had the ‘J’ crossed out with a ‘G’ above it. She couldn’t help but smile as she continued reading.

 

‘GEMA,

My dad told me SO much about you. You sound like a superhero! Like from the old books! He told me you’re really old, older than he is even! He also said you helped him get the cure that made me better. Thank you so much for saving me! I can go outside again now! It’s a lot different than I remember, but it’s still fun. Dad told me you have a son too! Maybe one day him and I can be friends and play together. Anyway, thanks again for helping me get better! Dad says he likes you a lot. Maybe sometime I can meet you too! I can be your sidekick, if you don’t have one already. OK, bye!

-Duncan MacCready’

 

Gemma ran a finger under her eye to wipe away a tear. “Wow.” She let out a breathy laugh. “And he wrote all of that himself?”

He nodded. “Yeah, he’s a smart boy. Didn’t get it from me, though. Lucy was brilliant, so I think that’s where he gets it. My buddy back home… he’s been teaching him how to read and write- he picks up on those kinds of things really fast.”

She looked down at the letter again, her heart pounding heavily. “I don’t know what to say. This is wonderful.”

“I think someday I want to bring him here to the Commonwealth. Somewhere safer, but still here. I forgot how much I missed being with him.”

“I can imagine.” She nodded. “Well, soon, it will be safer.”

His eyebrows furrowed. “You sound pretty confident in that.”

“I mean I should be.”

“Why?” He asked suspiciously. “How do you know?”

She took a deep breath and looked down at her lap, the letter still in her hands. “I can’t say much about it; I could get in trouble. Possibly even killed if people find out.”

“Come on, Gem.” He said softly. “You know what you tell me stays between us.”

“That’s part of it.” She admitted. “I’m not sure how you’re going to take it.”

“Well, we’ll never know until you clue me in.”

She looked at him, a pained expression on her face. “It has to do with… with the Institute.”

He eyed her suspiciously. He figured that much of it on his own. “Okay…?”

“It kinda ties in to everything you were confused about- the teleporting, the synth stuff, my face- all of it.” She took a deep breath. “There’s even more to it, but that’s some information I cannot disclose with you right now.”

“Gem, what do they want with you?” He asked her shortly. God, he just wanted an answer.

She locked eyes with him. “I’m training to be the next Director of the Institute.”