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The morning air was cool and crisp as Ruby took a deep breath. They had made it to the Atom Cats' garage the night before, and after some pulled strings, she had managed to secure a place to sleep for herself and Charon. Not that she was opposed to roughing it outdoors – such a contrast to when she had first emerged from the Vault – but hey, a bed was nicer than the ground any day and she wasn't too proud to admit that. Ten long years had passed and she'd long shed that naive Vault dweller scent that had permeated her entire being as she stumbled out of 101, but when it came down to it, facts was facts, and she no longer felt a need to prove her toughness. Plus, with the years had come a lot more aches and pains, and if this operation she was facing was as big as Desdemona had hinted it was, she needed the best quality rest she could get.

 

Now that it was morning and everyone was starting to stir, Ruby took that chance to rifle through her pack and take an accounting of her arms and ammo. She smiled fondly at the 10mm that was stashed in the side, not her strongest weapon by far, but it was the first real weapon she'd gotten her hands on, and she kept it around more for sentimental value and backup rather than an actual intention to use it. She had far more effective weapons she went for, like her plasma rifle and laser pistol. She had even kept the strange alien blaster and plenty of ammo for it, just in case she needed something crazy strong, which she just might in this case. She also had a nice stash of shotgun shells for Charon's weapon, the only one he really liked to use. Ruby was the kind of person to keep a variety of weapons and ammo on her to adjust for whatever situation she might find herself in, but Charon only needed his shotgun. And considering how deadly it was with its almost unnatural range and concentrated spread, he really didn't need another weapon. And so Ruby made sure to keep a good stock of shells for him so he wouldn't run out and be forced to use something else.

 

When the sun broke through the morning mist, Ruby finalised her weapon and ammo stash and moved to make herself some coffee. She didn't consume it quite as much as she used to when she was younger, but a strong cup in the morning was a nice routine. Charon had already beat her to it, rising noiselessly and starting it up so that by the time she made it to the little fire they'd made, he already had a ready cup to press into her hand. Leaning forward, she gently kissed his cheek. "Thanks," she murmured, taking a sip, and he simply grunted in return. They were a couple of few words, but they found they didn't need to speak of much. They were simply there for each other, no matter what, and that was all they really needed. As they sat there by the fire, taking in the sounds of the Aton Cats' settlement waking up and starting their day, they relaxed as much as they could before the mission they awaited would start. Dez had said to expect the team around noon at the latest, so they had plenty of time. Only reason they were up so early was just force of habit, one that was hard to break. But better to be ready early than to make people wait, Ruby figured.

 

As it was, it was perhaps thirty minutes before the sun hit the middle of the sky before the forces they were waiting on started trickling in. Some Minutemen here, a few other Railroad agents there. And, to her surprise, some Brotherhood of Steel personnel. She hadn't even known they were in the Commonwealth, much less that they would be involved in an operation of combined effort like this. She remained suspicious, hanging back until Dez appeared so she could confirm with her. It had been a long time since she'd even seen anyone associated with the Brotherhood, a long time since she'd run with them, and the last time she'd parted ways with them it hadn't exactly been on friendly terms. She knew Desdemona probably knew nothing about it, and Ruby wasn't about to risk this operation turning south just because of her presence. Granted, it had been some years since she had been involved with them, and there was no telling if anyone present would even remember her tenure in the Lyons' Pride, but better safe than sorry.

 

Ruby's eyes narrowed as she spotted Dez, and she discreetly made her way over to the Railroad leader's side. "You didn't tell me the Brotherhood was involved here," the former Vault dweller hissed.

 

Desdemona raised an eyebrow, seemingly surprised. "Is that a problem?"

 

"I used to be a part of them. Years ago, I was made an honourary member of the Lyons' Pride, and I helped with several different operations. I broke from them a while back, but ... it wasn't exactly a friendly break."

 

Dez frowned slightly, but didn't change her stance. "Normally, I would tell you to be cautious and leave, but considering everything that's happened recently, it's probably fine if you stay. In fact ..." the former spy smirked, "... you might be pleasantly surprised."

 

Ruby couldn't help the chuckle. "That'd be the day," she mumbled under her breath. But then again, the day wasn't over yet.

 

She grew a little more apprehensive as a few vertibirds started flying overhead, circling to find a good place to land before they started their descent. And jumping out of one of them, she was surprised to find an old acquaintance, someone that she had once counted as a friend, until he'd grown up and changed.

 

Arthur fucking Maxson.

 

All breath felt like it had left Ruby's body, and she felt dizzy as she struggled to suck in oxygen. Out of everyone she knew, Arthur Maxson was the last person she'd expected to run into in the Commonwealth. If she was being honest, she was surprised to find him outside the Citadel at all, as while he did lead some missions, the Brotherhood liked to keep a tight leash on him, knowing that his charisma and bloodline helped keep the East Coast intact. Without Arthur, there was no one else to keep the organisation together, and so they tended to let him out less and less as time went on, especially after he was made Elder. She remembered that day well, watching from the back of the crowd, listening to him speak, feeling the disgust as all of the philosophy that spewed from his mouth was in direct contradiction to Owyn Lyons. She had fiercely refused to cry during the ceremony, but afterward in her own quarters, she'd allowed herself the space to fall apart, mourning the loss of her friend as it was like he was replaced with some brainwashed version of himself. Granted they hadn't seen a whole lot of each other at the time, as she was busy running missions both for the Brotherhood and herself, and he was busy readying himself for command, but to see how far he'd fallen ... it hurt. Later that evening, he'd knocked on her quarters and given her an ultimatum. "As a friend", as he'd put it, he told her to either turn out her ghoul companion or he'd put Charon down himself. When Ruby refused to do either, he threatened to have her thrown out of the Brotherhood, at which point Ruby had ripped off the carefully sewn on patch, thrown it in his face, and flipped him off as she gathered her things and took her dear friend and lover with her. It had been a new day for the Brotherhood, a day that had cemented their departure from Owyn's path, a fact that had Ruby leaving as well.

 

Time hadn't exactly been kind to Arthur. Though he was still young ... 20, right? Ruby thought ... she could see the stress wrinkles on his face from where she stood in the garage. That, combined with his rough, tanned skin, the beard he’d let grow out, and the ugly scar on his face – a present from a deathclaw – made him look far older than he was. Not that she was a beauty contestant or anything, but Ruby mused she probably looked younger than he did, even with the accumulated wrinkles on her tanned skin and the few stray grey hairs she hid in her red hair, just a little lighter than it was ten years earlier due to perpetual exposure to the sun. Nothing for it, she thought as she stepped out of the garage. "Well, well, well, didn't think they'd ever let you out of that gilded cage," she commented loud and clear, enough to get his attention, and when Arthur turned and saw who it was that was addressing him, he couldn't hide the surprise and shock on his face.

 

Eyes widening and eyebrows raising, he asked, "Ruby? Is that you?"

 

"Last I checked, that was my name," she said casually. "Didn't know you were kicking around in these parts. Hell, didn't even know the Brotherhood had come this far up north."

 

He quickly recovered his composure, clasping his hands behind his back and straightening his shoulders even more as he replied, "It was a recent operation that brought us here, though I must admit our mission has ... changed, as of late." He surreptitiously chewed on his bottom lip for a moment before he added, "A lot has changed since the last time we spoke. I didn't think I would ever see you again."

 

"Feeling's mutual," Ruby tossed back at him, and Arthur winced at the harsh sentiment. Good, he deserves it, she thought, remembering well how it hurt to hear what he'd said about Charon.

 

"Are you, uh ... still travelling with ..." he began to ask awkwardly, and while she was tempted to let him hang, she rolled her eyes and answered the partially asked question.

 

"Yes, Charon and I are still together."

 

Arthur nodded. "I see."

 

"Is that a problem?"

 

To her surprise, Arthur shook his head. "No."

 

It was her turn to be shocked. "Really? After all the fuss you put up in the Citadel?"

 

"I know, I ... I was young, and proud, and with everything that was being put into my head, I couldn't quite think straight. Haven't been until recently when someone ... helped me."

 

Ruby snorted. "Well I guess we'll see," she quipped, not quite ready to forgive him that easily. Not after everything that had passed between them. Maybe some day ... she thought absently, but that was as far as that thought went. While she didn't doubt Arthur's abilities, she was still suspicious of his motives, and she would watch him closely. His actions would reveal if he'd really undergone a change of heart, and if he hadn't really changed, then it would be no big deal to just cut ties and run again. She'd done it before, after all. If he was telling the truth, though ... she stamped down that hope before it even had the chance to grow. It had hurt the first time, cutting ties with a longtime friend. She wasn't about to get her hopes up just to be crushed a second time. She was older and wiser this time. Fingers crossed Arthur was, too, because she had become a lot more trigger happy over the years, to the point where even Charon had to tell her enough was enough. And when a ghoul merc tells you that you're starting to go too far, that may be when you're actually going too far.

 

Maybe it was because she was on edge after the unexpected reunion, but she quickly noticed someone staring at her. Eyes narrowing, she caught him in the act and demanded, "What?" He was on the shorter side, lanky, with that general malnourished look that most wastelanders had. His long coat was torn in a few places and his hat was worn, but that was typical, of course. How Ruby's own Vaultsuit had lasted over the past ten years was a mystery even to her, though she suspected that Vault-Tec had manufactured them with longevity in mind. He carried a long rifle with him, and the smattering of facial hair made it difficult to peg his exact age. He could have been young or he could have been even older than Ruby and she wouldn't have been able to tell. The way he was looking at her, though, with a shocked expression, made her think, Kid.

 

He shook his head. "Sorry, didn't mean to stare. It's just ... you look a lot like someone I knew." He paused a moment before he asked, "You wouldn't happen to be from Vault 101, would you?"

 

Crossing her arms, she asked, "And just what would you know about Vault 101?"

 

Charon came out from the garage at that moment, standing right beside her, and a small grin broke out on the guy's face. "I knew it! Long time no see, Ruby."

 

"And just who are you, pipsqueak?" she asked, still lost.

 

He just laughed. "Maybe I shoulda sworn at you, you mighta recognised me then. It's me, RJ MacCready."

 

Ruby's eyes bugged out. "RJ? From Little Lamplight?"

 

"One and the same," he replied, holding his arms out as if he was presenting himself.

 

She laughed. It had been years since she'd last seen the kid. She had made it a point to visit Little Lamplight a few times since she'd had to pass through there on her way to Vault 87, but over the years she'd gotten busy, and her visits had been less and less until they ceased entirely. She couldn't even recall how old MacCready had been on her last visit, but it had only been perhaps a few years since the first time she'd set foot there. She had told herself that she would try to be there for his birthday when he would get thrown out, offer him some help in the outside world, but she'd lost track of time, and with everything that had happened in her personal life, it was just one more thing to feel guilty about. He seemed to have made it just fine, however, and that feeling of guilt eased a little bit. Not a whole lot, but a little. She was elated to see him alive, and she stepped forward and pulled him into a bear hug. "Didn't know I'd ever see you again, kid, but I'm glad to."

 

He wrinkled his nose as they parted. "I'm not a kid anymore, ya know," he grumbled.

 

Ruby playfully punched his arm. "You always will be to me, just as much as that asshole over there," she said, motioning to Arthur with a jerk of her thumb.

 

RJ cocked an eyebrow. "You know him?"

 

She laughed again. "Of course I do. He was a little 10 year old when I first stumbled over him in the Citadel. That was ..." she had to pause a moment to confirm, "… that was right before I headed out to Vault 87 and met you ..."

 

"Huh," was all he said in response, eyeing the Elder. He probably hadn't even known they were so close in age, or so closely connected in Ruby's life. Despite whatever she had shared with them individually, she was still a big mystery, for the most part. She figured these days, the only person who really knew her, who knew her story and what she was about – and furthermore, accepted her in spite of it all – was Charon. Maybe some people might have been disheartened at the lack of close friends, and maybe in the beginning Ruby was, but over time she found she was most comfortable that way, glad to fade into the background as a legend in the Capitol, someone that raiders or super mutants rumoured about and hoped to never run into. And if her status as a Vault dweller meant that other Vault dwellers who emerged were treated just a little more carefully – you know, just in case – then that was fine by her as well.

 

Speaking of Vault dwellers, she was surprised to see one amoung their company. Tall and slightly muscled, he looked around Ruby's age, if not a little younger. There were a few faint scars on his face, nothing large or anything, barely even noticeable truth be told, and if he'd just been wearing typical wasteland wear, she probably wouldn't have even looked twice at him. But that bright blue stood out, and on the back, the number 111 was emblazoned in yellow thread. She couldn't recall hearing of a 111 before, but then again she only knew of Vaults in the Capitol area. Anything outside of it was fair game as far as her expertise went. She could know everything or know nothing, it was pretty much a toss up. He seemed to be familiar with Dez, however, as they greeted one another and the Railroad leader ushered him over to Ruby to introduce them. "Wanderer," she said as she officially addressed Ruby by her code name, "I'd like to introduce you to Bullseye. He's one of our agents, and also the General of the Minutemen."

 

Ruby smiled genially as she extended her hand to shake his as he offered. "Charmed. So, are you the one that got into Arthur's head and pulled it out of his ass?"

 

Bullseye snorted at the implication. "No, that wasn't me, that was ..."

 

"Oracle," Dez interrupted, as if she wasn't sure if Bullseye would refer to this person by name or by code.

 

"Right, sorry. Thanks for the catch." Bullseye shook his head. "I'm not the best agent, I admit, I suck at remembering code names when I know someone's real name."

 

Ruby smirked. "Well you'll have to introduce me to this Oracle sometime, I might like to thank them, if this change is real."

 

"I'd like to think it is, considering the Brotherhood is now allied with the Minutemen and the Railroad."

 

Yet another shock for Ruby. "Really? The Railroad? I would have thought their philosophy and the Brotherhood's was too contradictory to even coexist at all, much less ally with each other." Turning to Dez, she asked, "Is there something I should know about with the Railroad?"

 

Dez shook her head. "Nothing's changed for us, mission-wise. The Brotherhood is just support."

 

Ruby still felt a bit wary, but nodded. No use in starting shit now. She would just keep a careful eye on any Brotherhood personnel, make sure they didn't do anything to betray them. And if they so much as breathed funny or moved wrong, Ruby was ready to gun them down. She'd lost too much over the years to risk it.

 

Bullseye soon called for everyone to gather so he could go over the key elements of the plan. It was complex, and there were a few different sites they were set to strike, so he had a lot to go over. Despite that, his information was vast, and he went through each phase and possibility carefully. It almost seemed a little too convenient, and after they finally dismissed, she approached him. "That intel you provided ... it's good. Almost too good. You trust your source? Because we could be walking into a trap."

 

He shook his head. "This info comes straight from Oracle. She's been guiding us every step of the way so far, no reason she'd turn on us now."

 

"Hmmm. If you say so."

 

"Really, I do. She ... she was the first person I met when I came out of the Vault. She helped me adjust to this world, helped me put the Minutemen back together, helped me secure the Railroad's allegiance, and even saw to it that the Brotherhood started working with us. I know it's a lot to take in, but she really is one of the good ones."

 

Looking out over the amalgamation of troops that had gathered at the Atom Cats' garage, Ruby smirked. "Well, if she could pull all that off, I guess she ain't half bad."

 

Bullseye grinned widely and slapped her shoulder. "Tell you what, if you want, after all this is over, I'll take you to go meet her."

 

Ruby returned the smile as she agreed. "Alright, Bullseye, you've got yourself a deal."

 

Charon and Ruby grabbed their respective bags and loaded up onto one of the vertibirds, Arthur requesting specifically that she ride on one as he remembered well how good of a shot she was. And so she found herself nestled into the vehicle along with RJ and another Railroad agent that she was glad to see again. Deacon had barely acknowledged her, just giving her a curt nod and a half-smile, but she knew him anywhere, no matter what face he wore, mainly because he refused to go without those damn sunglasses. As they prepared to take off, he got right beside her and murmured, "Good to see you again, Wanderer."

 

"Good to see you again, too, D. It's been a while."

 

"Too long," he agreed. "Didn't know you were planning on coming back up here anytime soon."

 

She shrugged. "Didn't have any set plans, but I guess I was close enough that Dez figured I might be available for this."

 

Deacon nodded. "I'm glad you were."

 

Turning to look at him, she offered her old friend a genuine smile. "So am I, D. So am I." When she'd woken up that morning, she'd had no idea she would be seeing so many faces from her past. At any other time, she might have run, might have just packed up and left with little more than a wave to Dez to let the Railroad leader know that this wasn't going to work out for her. But on this day ... on this day, there was just something in Ruby that wanted to give this a chance to pan out, to see where it might lead. It had been a long, long time since she'd felt this adventurous, and she figured fuck it. Might as well see this through, right? Her life had become a little too routine as of late. Maybe something unexpected was just what she needed to shake her out of this rut. And so she kept her eyes focused on the horizon, playing through what she would need to do during this mission. After this was all said and done, maybe she would stick around instead of running off like she usually did. After all, if the Brotherhood could ally with the Railroad, maybe miracles really did exist. And hell, with everything she'd had to live through, a miracle was just what she needed in her life. Maybe this Oracle would have something for her, too. We'll see. One step at a time.