She stands in the wreckage of her old house and examines that phrasing in her mind. ‘Her old house’. She’d lived here, certainly. That was about it. Then there’s the sound of someone coming to a stop in the doorway behind her and she tilts her head to indicate that she knows they’re there.
They clear their throat in a way that makes her think it’s Preston. The voice that follows confirms it.
“Thinking about claiming this one?”
The urge to snort is so strong that she actually closes her eyes against it. “No.”
Preston shifts in the doorway and she finally turns to look at him. He’s still wearing that ridiculous cowboy hat, one side pinned up, but he’s got an honest face. Hardworking hands. Tired eyes.
“Well, I know you’ve been working hard, helping Sturges to make this place livable.” He leans his rifle against the wall, then leans his shoulder into the doorframe. “Figure you deserve a say in where you stay after all that. You’ve been staying at the Red Rocket, but -”
“I’m not going to live here,” she interrupts.
He blinks. “Oh.”
It’s hard to tell how much of his disappointment is because he’ll miss the additional layer of protection she would add to the settlement and how much of it is something else. She suspects he’s grown rather fond of her over the past few weeks. But again, how much of it is just how helpful she is?
She doesn’t mind lending a hand, but she won’t be sticking around. No matter how much Preston likes her, or vice versa.
“Nothing personal,” she tells him with a shrug. “I like my space.”
“I get that. I really do. Will you still be staying in the Red Rocket, then?”
She sighs, looking past him and through the door. The cracked concrete and dented metal siding are beginning to look familiar. Almost like they were never pristine. Almost like there was never a pre-war era to compare them to.
“In a loose sense of the word,” she says finally.
He frowns. “There some other business you need to take care of?”
She pauses, taking stock. There’s the old instinct to not give away too much information - especially not for free - but she’d already put this much effort into propping up this little podunk. She’d already pulled their asses out of the line of fire, dragged in the mattresses they’ve been sleeping on, and helped plant the seeds they would eventually harvest. Part of her does want to stick around, but that’s the dangerous part. She already doesn’t really want to do what she knows she has to do, and taking this excuse to linger will only make it worse down the line.
She settles on vague.
“Don’t we all?” She shrugs, palms face up. “The gas station’s got a good setup, though. I’ll be around from time to time.”
Returning her gaze to Preston’s face, she finds him watching her with calculation. And past that… Hope?
Her eyes narrow. “What?”
“There’s… something I need to ask you,” he says, weighing each word carefully. “I don’t think I ever told you what happened to the Minutemen. How I ended up the last one.”
So it’s going to be a story. She jerks her head to the side, inviting him in, and takes a seat on one of the raggedy chairs in the living room. She leaves the couch to Preston. When they’re both settled, she gestures for him to continue.
He breathes in deeply, holds it, and then lets it out slowly, controlled. “Have you heard of the Quincy Massacre?”
Of course she hasn’t fucking heard of anything in recent history, but he doesn’t know that because she didn’t trust him with it when they first met. So it’s not his fault that she knows nothing. Nor is it his fault that she’s annoyed that she knows nothing.
“No,” she says.
“I thought everyone in the Commonwealth knew about that by now,” he says, eyebrows shooting up.
“You assume I’m from the Commonwealth.”
Technicalities. The best lies are always technicalities.
“You’ve got me there,” he says, nodding. “Quincy was… a clusterfuck. The Minutemen betrayed each other, and the people they were supposed to protect. I was with Colonel Hollis’ group when a mercenary group called the Gunners attacked Quincy. The people there called for the Minutemen to help.”
“At a moment’s notice,” Autumn murmurs.
“Right.” He leans forward, elbows on his knees and hands clasped in front of him. “Except we were the only ones that came. The other groups… they just turned their backs. On us, and the folks in Quincy.” He pauses, and the brim of his hat, tilted down, shields his expression from her eyes. “Only a few of us got out alive. Colonel Hollis was dead. So I ended up in charge of the survivors. We never found a place to settle. One disaster after another… You saw how it ended, in Concord.”
So she had. The measly few bodies of the other Minutemen he must have had with him before the raider onslaught and the terrified group of civilians she’d found him guarding painted a vivid enough picture.
He hasn’t looked back up yet, head still down, hat still hiding his face. She wonders, suddenly, how old he is.
“I know how it feels,” she says, surprising herself. “To be the last survivor.”
Preston’s head jerks up and she meets startled brown eyes over the stained coffee table that rests crooked in between the chair and the couch. She says nothing, and once the shock wears off there’s a contemplative look on his face. His eyes linger on her face, on whatever expression she’s making, and he seems to come to a conclusion.
“I won’t ask,” he says, “but I believe you. And… that’s actually why I’m talking to you. I can’t rebuild the Minutemen, but I think you can.”
She clicks her tongue, already regretting letting as much slip as she had. “Preston -”
“No, Autumn, listen to me.” He’s sitting on the edge of his seat now, holding dogged eye contact with her. “I know you like your space, and that you have other business, and that… that maybe a ragtag band of civilians with one beat up soldier doesn’t mean much to you. But what about the whole Commonwealth? The Minutemen used to stand for something. They could again.”
“What makes you think I can do this and you can’t?” she says. “I know nothing about your Minutemen.”
“My Minutemen are gone,” he says fiercely. “And nobody’s going to miss them, the way things ended. As for why I can’t? That’s not me. I can get my men through a firefight. I can defend a perimeter against all odds. But that’s not going to be enough to bring the Minutemen back from the brink. We don’t need any more petty politics, or squabbling over resources, or arguing over who has seniority.”
Her jaw clenches. “So just what do you think you need, Garvey?”
His answer is swift and delivered so confidently that she sits back in her seat. “Someone who can bring the whole Commonwealth together under a common cause. I think you’ve got it in you to be that leader.”
Something in her is beginning to give way. This sounds an awful lot like what she was doing before she had to drop everything for Shaun. Sounds an awful lot like what she was trying to do, and failing at because she always worked alone. What she was missing had always been a reliable team like back in the old days when she was still fresh-faced.
Still. She finds herself shaking her head on principle. “And what, exactly, are you basing this belief on?”
“You saved us in Concord,” he says. “There was nothing in it for you; you obviously have your own problems to deal with. But you did it anyway. That kind of selflessness has been in mighty short supply around here for quite a while.”
“Selflessness?” she repeats incredulously.
There’s a stubborn and challenging tilt to his chin as he stares her down. “What would you call it?”
“Common decency,” she spits. “You don’t know me, Garvey. I could betray you at any moment and you would put me in a better position to do it.”
He has the gall to laugh. “You’re telling me you had the ‘common decency’ to take on a whole gang of raiders and a deathclaw practically solo, and then turn around and claim my trust is misplaced?”
She stands, turning sharply on her heel and pacing a few steps away so that her back is to him and she has space to think. She knows he’s right about one thing: she won’t betray him. If for no other reason, there’s no real gain to be had. The most useful thing on any of the people in Sanctuary is probably Preston’s rifle, and she has no idea how it works. It barely resembles any of the energy weapons she’s seen before. And it looks like it’s crank action, which is so antiquated it actually makes her feel a little less older than nearly 250.
But who is she kidding? The people Preston’s guarding are the same people she would’ve been guarding two centuries ago. There’s a reason she’s stuck around this long already, and it’s the same reason why both she and Preston know she won’t betray them. He has her there.
“Look,” he says, when she doesn’t turn back around after a few moments. “I’m not going to force you, but -”
“What would it entail?” she asks.
He goes quiet and she can damn near feel the weight of his attention on her back. Then, “For now, all it means is that you spread the word; do what the Minutemen were always supposed to do and protect people. More of what you already did for the folks at Tenpines Bluff. You should be able to do that while you’re carrying out… whatever it is that you have to do. And don’t worry, I’ll be right beside you all the way, General.”
“General.” She huffs a quiet laugh, half turning to look at Preston. “Where’s my army?”
He grins back, standing now even though she hadn’t heard him get up. “You’re looking at it, I’m afraid. But I wasn’t joking when I called you that.”
“No,” she sighs, “I didn’t think you were.”
“The leader of the Minutemen has always held the rank of general. Our last leader was General Becker. After he died back in eighty-two, nobody could agree on who should take his place.” His smile takes on an odd edge, a sort of dark amusement. “The one good thing about being the last Minuteman is there’s no one to argue with me when I say you’re the new general.”
“No one but me,” she says.
“Right. And now it’s your job to make it more than an empty title.”
Preston sidesteps the little coffee table and the chair, closing the distance between them and holding out his hand. There’s something infuriatingly earnest in his open expression, something that makes her less annoyed than it should. Turning around fully, she still hesitates for a moment before taking his hand and shaking it.
“We’ll see how this goes, Garvey. But for now… I’m in.”
“Good. Good!” There’s that same fierceness from before; it’s in his grip and in his smile. “Welcome aboard. I feel like this is a whole new start for the Minutemen, and the Commonwealth, too.”
Her smile is more on the grim side. “New starts all around.”