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6 Nights

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1.

Personally, V thought Judy’s choombas were all gonks. Regardless of the advanced reprogrammed behavioral chip, being a preem-tiered solo required a lot more than just mindless action. They could kill a person, but how would they handle the aftermath? How would they face the carnage or clean the blood from underneath their fingertips? The psychological toll was beyond Judy’s control unless she created another program that blocked and erased their memories.

The doubt ran through V’s mind as Tom screamed upon seeing a spider cross the kitchen counter. V came to his rescue and flicked the spider into the sink, washing it down the drain. She didn’t miss the shiver that rolled down his body.

She refocused on the pizzas, the only thing she’d been looking forward to all day. Her mouth watered, but her brain reminded her to be careful because of her white-button down. She had given Johnny the finger when he teased her about wanting to look nice and cleaned up for the meeting. She's a professional now, of course she'd preen herself for a gig. Sleeves rolled up, she went straight for a slice and pulled on it, watching the melty synthetic cheese stretch.

“Tom, have you ever held a gun before?” V asked after swallowing down the first chuck of delicious gooey heaven.

“Heck no,” Tom said, shivering even harder. “They make the sleazebags put their guns away at Clouds, so we never had to deal with any of that. Doesn’t mean they don’t manhandle us in other ways, of course.”

V didn’t like the sound of that. She turned to Roxanne. “How about you?”

Roxanne, who’d been dabbing her slice with a napkin, cocked an eyebrow. “Girl, I was raised in Heywood, of course I have. I’ve never actually killed a person, but I’ve seen and touched them.”

“That’s good to know.”

“We don’t need to actually kill anyone,” said Judy, making it a point to catch V's attention. “We’re gonna try and avoid that. As long as we can subdue security and get the club under our control, nobody has to play John Wick.”

“John who now?” Tom asked.

V replied for Judy. “John Wick, he’s a character from an old flick.”

That earned her an impressed look from Judy. V shoved another slice in her mouth, feeling heat warm her cheeks. They’ve been texting each other sporadically since Evelyn’s death, and V had a hunch it was more for Judy’s benefit than anything. She seemed like she needed someone to talk to, and V was happy to offer support if it meant keeping Judy’s head above water. Their exchanges were usually short, but the techie still revealed small things that stuck with V - like her tinkering with electronic junk hobby, passion for retro sci-fi/fantasy games, and admiration for old hollywood classics.

“How did you become a mercenary?” Roxanne’s voice tore V from her thoughts and - quite frankly - her creepy staring at Judy.

“Oh, um, it’s hard to explain,” V said, resolutely looking at everything but the one person she wanted to look at. “Wasn’t something that I decided to do, more like fell into. Needed some eddies so I was just taking odd jobs here and there and ended up with a fixer. Before you know it, here I am.”

She skipped out on the part where she met Jackie, the guy who would become her best friend and introduce her to the solo life. To put it frankly, the man had saved her from the streets after she returned to Night City from Atlanta. He provided her with a second home, helped her with food and bills, and showed her a path to making eddies. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Roxanne and Tom all of that (Judy already knew her history, having shared the same pain over losing someone special due to the botched Heist).

“How many people have you killed?” Tom asked her.

Judy smacked his arm. “Tom.”

V couldn’t help but smile. “S'alright. Honestly, don’t know anymore. After a while they all just blend in together?”

“Wow,” he said with awe. Then a second later, he added, “Do you know how to shoot a gun while doing a cartwheel?”

V, in fact, did not know how to shoot a gun while doing a cartwheel. She promised Tom that if the occasion were to ever arise, she’d try it.

They chatted a bit more about all the odd mercenary gigs V had picked up, including one where she needed to escort a man to a Ripperdoc because his crotch was burning. Judy also regaled witnessing V take a selfie with an incapacitated Scav during the middle of a rescue mission (V thought the way the gonk fell over after getting hit with a System Reset was hilarious). Seeing them all laugh at her stories eased the tension, a moment of reprieve away from the reason why they were gathered together in the first place.

For a while, she could pretend they were chooms shooting the shit.

The atmosphere changed and reality crashed back the second Maiko arrived. There were plans to go over and work to do. There was a behavioral chip that miraculously worked and sent V flying across Judy’s apartment. There was Maiko making her snippy remarks, V being just as sarcastic in return, Judy interfering and playing peacemaker, Tom and Roxanne appearing uncomfortable and out of place, and Johnny being overall grumpy. By the end, there was just V and Judy on the couch, the weight of what they were about to do befalling on them.

The relic took that as the perfect moment to malfunction. V screamed, grabbing her head and slamming her eyes shut in a futile effort to ease the pain. She could hear Judy calling for her, gripping her knee, and when she peeled her eyes open, it was to a face full of concern.

Shaky hands found the omega blockers inside her pocket, and V quickly popped one in her mouth. Time ticked by as she attempted to regulate the mess inside her brain, treating it like another breached protocol she had to protect herself from. Johnny was certainly akin to a virus. One deep breath later and V could finally see without static shaking her vision.

She ended up telling Judy everything and found it to be a great relief. If they were going to go off and take over a club, kill a couple of people, piss off a popular gang, then they might as well share each other's burdens.

“It’s 50 year old technology,” Judy said, hands clenched on her lap. “There’s gotta be a way to reverse engineer it, like there is with any other program. I know there is.”

V rubbed at her forehead. “Already talked to several people, including the one who created it, and none of them have any idea on how to remove it without flatlining me in the process.”

“Yeah, well, you haven’t met me yet. After everything settles down, I’ll take a peek inside that head of yours and figure something out. Even if I have to become a neurologist, I’ll find a way to get that stupid biochip out of your head.”

V forced out a smile. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, but she couldn’t deny the sentiment. “You will, will ya? That’s...thank you. Appreciate it.”

Judy reached for V’s hand and gave it a squeeze - a move that V realized was their first ever skin-to-skin contact. “It’s part gratitude for everything you’ve done, and part because I fuckin' like you as a person and wouldn’t mind seeing your mug around here a little longer.”

“I’ve been told I have a pretty mug,” V grinned.

Judy tilted her head and regarded V with a soft expression. “And a big head. It’s getting pretty late and you’re tired, you can crash on my couch if you want.” She got up, letting go of V’s hand. V couldn’t help but miss the touch as she glanced down and flexed her fingers.

She agreed to stay the night, and agreed to take some of Judy’s clothes for bedware. To say it was awkward when she came out of the bathroom to the sight of Judy in skimpy blue shorts and a black bra was an understatement. V felt herself being jolted back to her preteen years, bumbling around pretty girls and being unable to look in their direction. Was it hot in Judy’s apartment or was the relic malfunctioning again?

“Got you some blankets and a pillow,” Judy said, unbeknownst to V’s inner turmoil as she bent over to lay the items out on the couch. “If you need anything just holler.”

V nodded, mesmerized. Somewhere behind her, she could hear Johnny snorting. She gave him no mind. Her appreciation for Judy’s body was nothing compared to her overall appreciation for Judy when she woke up the next morning to coffee, a ham sandwich, and a shard regarding neurological pathways rewiring.

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2.

V hated depending on people. The only person in her life she relied on was Jackie, mainly because he was the same way and knew never to hold it over her head. While there was Viktor - bless the man - he was her Ripperdoc and was expected to help as long as she provided the eddies. Throughout her life, people who tried helping her always wanted something in return, and their aid was half-assed at the most. Even her parents stopped caring when she prioritized her need for autonomy over pleasing them.

Therefore, coming to Judy’s place instead of her Ripperdoc was a difficult decision. V reasoned that Viktor was miles away across town and it was 2am. But an undeniable part of her wanted to see Judy, wanted to know what Judy would do now that they no longer had a common goal holding them together.

It’d been almost a week since the Clouds takeover, and Judy had wanted space to process everything that happened; Maiko’s betrayal being high on the list. V had given her that, but what V hadn’t expected was the complete radio silence - no more texts, no more phone calls, no contact. Even Tom had surprisingly called her up to give her an update on the club. The ghosting shouldn’t have bothered V, she was so beyond girl drama, and yet she jumped every time her phone chimed and felt her stomach drop when it wasn’t the familiar ghost in the shell icon.

“You’re such a pussy,” Johnny goaded, leaning against the wall near her door.

V worked her jaw. “Johnny, I need you to disappear and not come back for a while.”

“Why? So you can drool at that nerd and do absolutely nothing about it? I’ve seen animals in heat with better game than you.”

“Again, like I said: Fuck off.”

“Whatever. Suit yourself. Call me back when you want some real advice on how to swoon women.”

V would’ve laughed in his face at the ridiculous assertion if he hadn’t already disappeared from her view. Instead, she chose to brood at the door while ignoring the painful stabs wrecking down her body, gifts from the gig she just finished. She thought back on the last time she saw Judy, where she’d received a kiss on the cheek and a simple “see ya later.” It was so casual, so plain, so nonchalant, and yet it stayed on her mind for days. What did it mean? Did it mean anything? Did she mean anything? Was she as much of a pussy as Johnny kept calling her?

She hesitated at the intercom, one hand clutching her limp arm. The decision was made for her when the door suddenly opened and the familiar green and pink head appeared from between the crack.

“V?” Judy said, voice croaked with sleep. “Heard you out here mumbling to yourself. What are you doing? It’s late.” She must’ve gotten her answer after looking V over, because her eyes popped wide open. “What the hell, are you hurt?”

One moment, V was standing awkwardly in the building hallway, and then the next she was sitting awkwardly on the edge of Judy’s bathtub. She groaned in pain as Judy examined her cuts and bruises, and skillfully righted her dislocated shoulder. Judy then demanded she strip down to her sports bra and boy shorts to make sure there weren’t any other bodily injuries they missed.

There was sharp intake of breath when Judy saw what was underneath her clothes (and not in the sexy way). V’s ribcage was an ugly purple, but fortunately more bruised than crack, and a bullet had managed to scrape her thigh.

“You’re going to need stitches,” Judy said, kneeling at eye level with V’s legs. “I have a suturing kit, so I can do butterfly ones for you, but they’re not going to be pretty.”

“Pretty sure nothing about me is pretty right now,” V grumbled.

“Wanna tell me what happened to you?”

“Preem gig gone wild. Accidentally broke out of stealth and suddenly it’s like everyone could shoot through walls. Only escaped because I pinged my MaiMai and that little shit broke through a window and ran over a few gonks to get to me. Never thought in a million years that could work.”

Judy smiled in amusement, prepping her needle and thread, forcep, scissors, and gauzes - supplies that V assumed were leftover from when she had to take care of Evelyn. The thought was sobering. “You’re the only one I know whose car actually comes to them when you call it.”

"A hack I picked up from Jackie."

Judy pulled out V's least liked healing item: rubbing alcohol. She hissed at the first dab but then went quiet while Judy began to meticulously clean the wound, applying the right amount of pressure as to not cause too much pain. Judy’s face was scrunched up in an adorable frown as she concentrated on her task, and V found herself besotted. “How are you so good with first aid?”

“You get used to playing doctor when you’re dealing with the Moxes,” her gaze raised to meet V, “and Clouds. Whenever the dolls would get hurt, management preferred they fixed each other up first before sending one to the hospital. Those assholes loved pinching pennies.”

Another round of silence. Judy went to the sink to sterilize the needle and thread, then returned to kneel by V’s side, a wry smile stretching her face. “Quid pro quo. How come you’re not good at first aid?”

“What makes you think I’m not good?”

“Your idea of first aid is stabbing yourself repeatedly in the chest with airhypos. I was there, I saw it.”

“Hey, that works!”

Judy laughed in a way that showed off her teeth, a sight that V rarely got to see. “Until you get a serious injury and need to drag yourself to your choom’s to get fixed up.”

“So we’re chooms now, huh?”

“Questionable.”

The first prick of the needle going into V’s skin caused her to clench her teeth and grip down on the porcelain beneath her hands. She tried concentrating on everything but the pain, like the creased between Judy’s eyebrows, the dark circles underneath her eyes, her messy bedhead, tan skin full of colorful tattoos, familiar bedtime clothes, a peak of red lines coming out of Judy’s bra, which meant she had a tattoo over -

No. No. No. Bad thoughts, V. Concentrate on something else.

She puffed and huffed and trained her eyes to the ceiling. As long as she was staring upwards, she didn’t have to see Judy in all her half naked glory. She should’ve gone to Viktor. Viktor would’ve given her anesthetics. Viktor didn’t hate her like Judy does. That was the only explanation for the horrible pain.

“For someone who deals with getting stabbed and shot daily, thought you’d be used to the pain by now,” Judy commented.

V looked down to see Judy biting her lips to stop a smile. The evil techie found this funny. “Usually too doped on adrenaline from the fight to feel anything else,” she said, wincing. “Now I have nothing to focus on but...this.”

Judy schooled her features into a serious face. “Pretend I’m a Scav stabbing you.”

V needed a distraction. Something to take away from Judy’s obvious joy at tormenting her. “Quid pro quo,” she settled on. “A while ago, I went to meet an old contact in a shady motel thinking she had a job for me. I ended up getting pegged. What was your most recent embarrassment?”

Judy paused what she was doing to bite on her knuckles, but couldn’t stop the laughter from escaping. “Ok, if you want me to make this go quickly and not fuck up the sewing, you have to not make me laugh, dude.”

V blew out a breath. “Actually just wanted you to take a break for a second.”

“You’re a gonk,” Judy said with a fond smile, but nonetheless stopped. Minutes passed before she got V’s nod to continue. “To answer your question, my most recent embarrassment was trying to find ways to thank this very nice chica who’s been nothing but kind to me. Didn’t know what to say, so I wasted time just staring down at my phone.”

V was definitely distracted now. Judy’s confession sunk deep within her stomach, causing butterflies to flutter inside her. The air hung heavy between them, and V realized it was her turn to say something before it turned awkward. Slowly, she said, “In my professional opinion, you could’ve just called and say, ‘hey wassup.’”

Judy nibbled on her lip. “Maybe, but after everything her and I have been through that sounded a little underwhelming.”

“It’s something at least, better than the alternative of the nice chica getting say, shot, to get your attention.”

Judy met her eyes and held them for a very long, tensed moment. “Is that what happened? Someone got shot to get my attention?”

“Of course not,” V laughed nervously. “She’s a gonk but she’s not that much of an idiot. Coincidentally, getting shot led her to your door, so I say it’s still a win-win.”

“Good.” Judy finished up the last bit of sewing, and reached for the scissors to cut off the thread. “Quid pro quo. I wished fixing people’s insides were as easy as fixing their outside. I still think of all the different things I could’ve said and done that day. Any personal regrets?”

V didn’t ask her what day she meant, because there were honestly so many days. Many days for many different outcomes. Choices that could have prevented certain scenarios and consequences. Days that Judy and her have shared both together and separately, but still intertwined. V knew all too well about that.

“So many regrets," she admitted quietly. "Sometimes I'll call Jackie’s number and leave messages about my day, and if I go to bed just right - like whenever I’m dead tired - I can pretend he’ll call me right back the next day.”

Judy ran her hand down V’s thigh and gave her knee a squeeze. “Evelyn hated the sight of blood. And needles. And bugs. And drinks under 20 eddies. She was quite a prissy little queen, to be honest.”

“Jackie has a drink named after him at the Afterlife,” V told her, proudly. “It’s not official, but if you were to ask the bartender Claire to mix you up a Jackie Welles, she’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Judy’s nose crinkled. “See, here you are thinking I could ever afford to go to a place like that.”

“I go to a place like that. Shit, does that make me a prissy little queen?”

“With how much you were moanin' and cryin' over a few stitches? Hmmm...It’s done, by the way.”

V mocked a gasp. “Hey, don't slander me! Wasn't crying.”

Judy rose up to her feet, hair falling down over half her face in that beautiful, perfect way, and shot V a raised eyebrow. “Sure you weren’t. We’re going to wrap up your leg and then you can clean yourself up.”

A little while later, and after a nice hot shower, V once again found herself borrowing Judy’s clothes and watching her from behind as her lord and savior made up the couch. Judy had also given her a homemade ice pack in a plastic bag to ease the ache on her ribs. It must've been close to 4am now, and V knew Judy had an early shift, but the best BD specialist in town still stayed up and took care of her.

“I don’t think you should be driving home in your state,” Judy said. “The pain meds might make you drowsy, so the last thing we need is to turn on the news and see you’ve rammed into a crowd of people.”

“Can assure you I don’t need to be high to run over pedestrians. Those street turns can get a little lethal.”

“Funny.” Judy tapped V’s cheek with a finger, the same cheek that her precious lips had touched not so long ago. V felt her ears burn while Judy continued on as if she hadn’t fried V’s synapses. “Do you need anything else?”

V shook her head. She arrived with zero expectations, and yet came away with the most pleasant after-mission recovery. There was something about Judy that kept pulling her in, making her second guess her doubts and fears. Judy went from a cute techie with an amazing setup, to someone V genuinely respected and cared deeply for. She was drowning, she knew that, and yet V couldn’t bring herself to swim up.

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3.

V was a lot of things at the moment: nervous, excited, apprehensive, and maybe a little sweaty.

This would be the first time she’d visited Judy in her apartment since they smashed by the lake. Smashed? What the hell, Johnny, get out of my head.

“What? You guys did smashed,” Johnny leered, taking his rightful place against the wall next to Judy’s door. “I respected you by not interfering or commenting then, but it’s been a week, I need to annoy you.”

“You can annoy me afterward, now can you please go away and give me the night?”

He rolled his eyes, but an understanding, un-Johnny like smile appeared on his face. “Fine. Since you seem to like this crazy chick, I’ll leave you at it. Just make sure you keep your eyes on the prize and not get too distracted?”

“When have I ever listened to you?”

He chuckled. Point taken. In the blink of an eye, he disappeared back inside her head. V straightened up her shoulder and prepared to press the intercom, only to remember that she now had unlimited access to the pad. She didn’t need to knock anymore. Still, would that be too presumptuous? Too soon? Should she still at least give Judy a heads up that she was here?

Seconds deep into her thought, her cell chimed. She glanced down and smiled at the name and message.

[Judy] I can practically see you thinking from behind the door. Just come in already, gonk.

V did just that, as if she had done it a thousand times before. With her bag of take-out ramen and a 6-pack of Nicola, she entered Judy’s apartment to see her output (her output!) by the kitchen counter, phone in hand. She looked tired, but not as hung-over as V would have expected. Their last messages to each other were from this morning, when Judy had apologized profusely over a few drunk texts. V thought they were cute, a giant contrast from all the other messages related to work, killing people, favors, and death threats that usually spammed her phone.

Plus, V knew Judy needed a break from everything. From the Tyger Claw retaliation shitshow at Clouds that left casualties like poor Tom, to hers and Judy’s overwhelmingly emotional sex at the lakeside cabin, a lot of feelings were understandably flaring around. Few people had quite the year that V has had, but if there was anyone comparable, it was Judy.

“First, I was your calabacita, but now I’m your gonk?” V teased, dropping the food on the counter before stepping up to Judy. She hesitated, head dipped down, not knowing exactly how to approach the other woman. They were essentially locked into a relationship after that talk by the dock, but V still didn’t want to seem too eager. Appear too needy.

Judy must’ve read the indecisiveness on her face, because she just rolled her eyes and pulled V into a hug, ending their days of separation. V reveled in the embrace, burying her face between the nook of Judy’s neck and wrapping her arms tightly around a slim waist. Human contact never felt so good.

“Argh, didn’t I tell you to forget about the texts?” Judy whined against her hair. “Please, lets not talk about my embarrassing night.”

“No, please do. Special occasion or something? Or just needed to unwind?”

“The girls needed to unwind,” Judy mumbled. “Suze is driving them insane. It’s quota this, quota that, as if they’re fucking accountants and not sex workers.”

“Hmm, maybe I can put Suzie out of commission for a while. Just a little while.”

Judy pulled her head back, dark eyes scanning V’s face. “You wouldn’t. You’re too nice for that. Shit V, you’re probably the most level-headed, considerate merc I’ve ever met. You sure someone else isn’t controlling your every move?”

“Probably Johnny. He’s a bitch like that, making me all sensitive.” V could almost hear Johnny cursing her from deep within her head.

Judy laughed, the sound echoing throughout the apartment. V was completely smitten, watching Judy’s head tipped back in happiness. She wanted to soak everything in: Judy’s breathtaking smile, the little vein that stretched down her neck, and the feel of her body shaking with joy. V had heard Judy’s laughter more within the last week than she had since meeting her all those months ago. Her ego secretly hoped she was part of the reason why.

Reluctantly, they broke apart so V could lay out the grub. The ramen wasn’t the fanciest of things, but she made sure to get the expensive, better quality kind that cost more than 50 ennies. They worked in compatible silence, with her assembling the meal while Judy got out glasses and ice cubes for their drinks. V was momentarily struck by how domestic everything was. U-Hauling was no joke in the lesbian culture.

“Did ya have a good day following your mistress’ every whim?” Judy said, after all that was left to do was wait for the water to boil.

“My mistress?” When the joke finally hit, V groaned. “Look, when Regina calls, you answer. There’s no way out of it. She’ll spam up my phone if I ignore her.”

“You’d think you were the only merc in town by how...excessive...she calls you. Maybe she just misses your voice?” Judy waggled her eyebrows playfully. Her favorite pastime had been teasing V relentlessly about how much Regina - or any fixers, really - blew up her phone. One day it had gotten so bad with three fixer calls trying to get through at once, followed by a text spam from Takemura waxing poetics about the color of blood, that V had to give Judy her phone to avoid a breakdown. Judy hid it, relieving V for the rest of the day. No interruptions, no calls, no stress - it was a blissful time.

“Cuz’ I’m best solo in town,” V said, puffing up her chest. “There might as well not be other mercs. Can’t help that my netrunning skills bring all the fixers to the yard.”

“Does it now? I remember when you,” Judy grabbed a chopstick and poked V in the side, “came crawling here, bawling your eyes out because you got a cut.”

V grabbed the other chopstick and poked Judy back. “I did not crawl nor bawl my eyes out! I was shot, and I lived. Pretty badass of me.”

Judy swiped at V’s stick, but her skills were no match for a professional merc. She tossed the sticks aside and used her fingers instead, trying to get the upper hand. They ended up tickling each other, pressed against the kitchen counter, and squealing like school girls. The mood immediately flipped the second they stopped and had a good long look at each other.

“Hey you,” V said after Judy’s laugh died down.

Judy smiled dreamily. “Heya back.”

Unable to resist the pull between them any longer, V nipped at Judy’s neck and then trailed her mouth higher until she reached behind Judy’s jawline. The noises Judy made were music to V’s ear, and she couldn't wait any longer to press their lips together.

They kissed lazily against the counter, Judy’s minor hangover and their dinner forgotten. V couldn’t get enough of Judy's soft lips moving against her own, how they seemed to fit together so smoothly. She teased Judy’s mouth open with her tongue, and then used the opportunity to deepen the kiss. The laziness of their kisses quickly devolved and intensified.

Their moment together at the lakeside cabin had been ingrained in V’s mind for days on end. It was tender, sensual, and all things V would’ve never associated with Night City. Most of her trysts had been quick fucks with people she barely knew to scratch an invisible itch, and V was content to never see them again. But with Judy? With Judy, it was an idea that grew into an addiction, something V never expected to need or want until it was too late and there she was, pressing Judy back against the kitchen counter with a tongue down her throat.

She raised one hand to hold Judy’s neck, the other pulling at Judy’s waist to try and get closer, even though their fronts were smashed against each other already. She felt Judy’s hands in her hair, her scalp, her shoulder blades, her hips, like the other woman was also struggling to get closer, delve in deeper, slither in more. Maybe V wasn’t the only one who had burgeoning fantasies over the sex they had.

Still, V had come over for a reason. And said reason began to make an annoying whistle as the water finished boiling. Without looking, V slapped a hand to turn off the electric kettle.

“Do you - umf - do you want to eat dinner?” V panted, nearly out of breath.

“No,” was Judy’s answer. She pulled V back to her, then began guiding them away from the kitchen. They only made it as far as the couch in the living room, with V toppling over Judy in an awkward landing. It took them no time to rearrange themselves before lips were back on lips, hands gripped at clothes, and legs intertwined with desperation to erase space.

“Get this off,” Judy husked, one hand pulling at V’s top while the other fidgeted with her belt.

Well, fuck, V was a little busy trying to undo the one single latch on Judy’s overall. But since Judy absolutely insisted V undressed first, she leaned back to get her tank top and bra out of the way while Judy worked on her pants. Somewhere along the way, they managed to get Judy’s clothes off too, and in seconds they melted back together into a writhing mess.

V became dizzy over the sensation of Judy’s skin rubbing against her own. Everything about Judy was so soft and warm, and V just wanted to touch her everywhere. She settled on running a hand alongside Judy’s ribcage, feeling the woman below her draw in deep, ragged breaths. As Judy bit and pulled on her lower lip, V groped her favorite breast - the one with the pretty spider web tattoo - and squeezed a hard nipple between her thumb and forefinger. Judy whimpered and squirmed in her grasp, causing a flood of arousal to leak from V.

The familiar aching desire built up inside of V’s cunt, and so she moved their legs until they each had a thigh pressed against their centers. V felt Judy grabbed her ass in retaliation for the boob play, tugging her into a needy grind that alleviated some of the pressure from their clits. V wanted more as she dragged her cunt up and down Judy’s slick thigh, her clit now a twitchy and sensitive mess.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Judy breathed hotly against her mouth, the nails on both hands now digging into the flesh of V’s bottom. She aided V’s movements, moaning and gasping in between their pisspoor attempts at kissing. Her own wetness was smeared all over V’s thigh.

The pressure inside of V coiled tighter every time she grounded harder against the firm thigh. She buried her face into Judy’s neck as her cunt clenched and unclenched with an unbridled desperation. She still wanted to get filled, for Judy to put those devious fingers to better use, but for now she’ll make do with their wanton grinding. She was chasing the butterflies at this point, almost careless in the way she was using Judy’s thigh to get off. Fuck if it didn’t feel amazing after a week of buildup, a week of only explicit memories to live on, a week of missing Judy’s cries and the feel of Judy’s body against her own.

Like a crescendo, it popped off. V seized during one last roll, the inside of her cunt throbbing to her own pulse in pleasure. She let out a silent scream as the orgasm tore down her body, toes curling and thighs shaking. Vaguely, she registered Judy rubbing her back, pulling her closer, kissing her temple and then biting her ear. Reassuring words were whispered, but V couldn’t make any of them out seeing as how it felt like her head was still in the air.

When she finally came back to herself, she realized her body was smashed on top of Judy, their breasts rubbing together in all the right places. She raised up on her elbows to give Judy some breathing space and was hit by such a beautiful sight. Judy was still squirming and panting heavily, her skin a delicious sheen that made V want to lick every sweat off the surface. She could almost taste the unresolved orgasm coming off the woman beneath her.

“V…” Judy begged.

She licked her lips, revering every part of her girl. “I got you.”

They came together in a hot and heavy kiss, and V wasted no time as she buried two fingers inside of Judy’s cunt. She was met with little resistance, overwhelmed by the warmth and wet sensation of being inside Judy. Shit, did everything feel so snug and soft. Shit, did hearing Judy moan and cry against her lips brought V right back to her previous state of horniness. She had to grind against Judy again to alleviate the ache, but reminded herself to focus on fucking the orgasm out of Judy first.

Her fingers moved in shallow thrusts, trying to find the spot against Judy's walls that would push her over the edge. When they found that perfect spot, Judy pushed up against her hand with a cry. V zeroed in on hitting it over and over again, her thumb coming into play to swipe messily at Judy’s clit.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Judy moaned, clenching harder and harder around V’s fingers. She yanked the back of V’s hair painfully, but they were both too far gone to care.

V added in another finger, but instead of thrusting this time, she repeatedly tapped the front of Judy’s walls. The move proved successful as Judy’s hips jutted erratically against V’s hand, a guttural moan escaping from her throat. Soon enough, a flush of wetness poured out onto V’s palm as Judy’s body tightened up. Unlike V, Judy was more vocal with her release and had no shame in expressing what made her feel good.

As Judy’s orgasm tapered off, V slowed down but continued to massage her inside. Eventually, Judy tried to pull her hips back, but V didn’t let up and quickened her pace, assaulting Judy’s front walls and managing to pull out another orgasm. She only eased up when Judy clawed at her wrist to stop.

“Fucking hell,” Judy panted, resting the back of her hand over her eyes.

V only half paid attention, her gaze lingering on her wet and sticky fingers. Her mouth practically watered, so she had to bring them up and give them a taste. Tangy and deliciously Judy.

“Fucking hell,” Judy repeated, making V glance back at her. Judy’s eyes were pitched black and trained on the fingers still in V’s mouth. A sly smirk spread across Judy’s lips as her fingers twisted through V’s hair and pushed. V didn’t need a verbal cue to know she was being guided downward.

Two hours later, the two of them found themselves on Judy's bed, lying on their backs and staring up at the ceiling as they tried to catch their breath. V felt wet, sticky, and sweaty all over, and she just knew her hip and that general area was going to be sore like a motherfucker tomorrow. That didn’t mean she wasn’t elated and high to all heavens and would love to do it again, and soon.

“Fuckin' starving,” V said, soothing her sore stomach. There had been a lot of unexpected ab workout during the sex.

Judy laughed beside her. “Ain’t gotta tell me. Think you got the legs to go warm up the food?”

“What are legs?”

Judy used her knee to nudge at V. Then nudged her some more until she was practically shoved off the bed. V groaned as her bare ass met the cold floor, and the person whom she thought was her output laughed at her misery. She flipped Judy off as she sauntered to the kitchen, bare hips swaying.

It had been so long since V felt this happy, this euphoric, this astronomically contented. Was it before she had install that stupid chip in her head? Or was it even before she moved back to Night City? For the past several months, it’s felt like she’d been doing everything for everybody else or for her own survival chances, but nothing that she wanted to do. Nothing just for herself.

“You’re staying the night, right?” Judy said, coming out from the bedroom just as equally naked as V. She wrapped her arms around V’s waist and hung onto her back, face squished against a shoulder blade.

“Oh, so you were capable of getting up and warming the food,” V teased.

“Course I was, I’m no lazy bum.” V could almost feel the smartass smile against her back. “Realized I didn’t want to be alone in bed though. So you staying the night?”

“If you want.”

“I want. Lots.”

V wanted that too. Very much so.

***************************************************************************

4.

The door slamming behind her gave V a headache. How does one even slam a sliding door? In any case, Judy managed just that, the miracle worker. V squeezed her eyes shut, tossing her jacket onto Judy’s couch the further she went into the apartment. After all the countless uncomfortable couch burns they’ve acquired from fucking on it, she could never look at that couch the same way again. But tonight wasn’t about that.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Judy seethed, trailing behind her.

V opened her eyes to the image of Judy, arms crossed, looking just as crossed. “Logically,” she said, knowing how much that answer would tip off the bomb.

And it did.

Judy scowled, reminding V of the face she made the time V had demanded where Evelyn was. “Sorry, are we joking here? Or do you just not care?”

V sighed. “Of course I care. It’s bothering you so yes, I care.”

“Then why did you do it? Do you know how fucking confused and scared I was when Suzie cornered me about Aoto and I didn’t know what to say? How fucking embarrassing it was to learn from my boss that my own output backstabbed my crew?”

V watched helplessly as Judy paced the apartment with fingers clenched into the flesh on her arms. Throughout her years on the street, and more recently as a solo, V had learned to control her emotions. She knew when to hold her cool, to analyze a situation and get out of any predicament. This was one of those instances. Even as she felt like she was swallowing her throat and her own anger was scratching at the back of her mind, she let Judy vent at her.

“The only thing keeping you off the Moxes' hitlist is me right now, do you know that?" Judy spat out. "I hadta fuckin' crawl my way out of that sinkhole so they won’t show up here with pieces to your head.”

“I’d like to see them try,” came Johnny’s voice.

V glanced over Judy’s shoulder to where Johnny was grinning and enjoying the front row seat. She shot him a glare, mentally reprimanding him to mind his own business. Even though he only said what she was thinking, she would never in a million years admit it to him, or even speak that out to Judy.

“I’m sorry I had to put you through that,” was the only thing V could say with honesty. She wasn’t one to apologize for what she did, only what it caused.

Judy regarded her with a dirty look, lips turning into a snarl. “So you’re sorry? That’s it?”

V shrugged. “Can’t take back what I did. It wasn’t personal. It was a gig, and it was also the right choice.”

That must’ve struck a nerve, because Judy came up to her face. “Oh, fuck you V. Not everything is about gigs or eddies, what happened to integry? To morals? Aoto was a monster! He kidnapped and murdered our girls and you had no right to snatch him from the Mox.”

“She’s right,” Johnny chimed in again.

V cut her eyes to him, which caused him to raise his hands in defeat before morphing out of her sight. She turned back to Judy and raised her chin. “Look, I get it if you’re angry, but questioning my morals after every fucking thing I’ve done is unfair, and you know it. And it wasn’t just about the eddies.”

“Then what was it? Hmm?” V remained quiet, matching Judy’s glare with her own. Judy threw her hands up. “Fuckin’ talk to me, V!”

V huffed, her irritation at Judy boiling over by the second. She had to take a step back and dropped on the couch, running a hand down her face. It had been a long day. “Aoto is one of the Tyger Claw’s top leader.”

Judy’s face contorted in annoyance.“I don’t give a -”

“You guys fuck with him and it’ll be Clouds all over again,” V cut in. “No, actually, it’ll be even worst. Lizzie 2.0 but with Suzie as your sacrificial lamb this time. If everybody would all take a step back and think, you’d admit I’m right.”

Mentioning Clouds was hitting low, but V knew that was the only way to get Judy to understand her. She saw a storm of emotions swirled across Judy’s face, and she hated being the one to put the pout there but it was necessary. V wasn’t used to this, having to explain her actions and knowing that there was someone she deeply cared for being affected by it. Jackie was the only other person she worried about during a gig, but that mainly involved finding ways to get them both safely out of a building. Sometimes V forgot that Judy was a Mox and could be just as involved in the street biz as she was.

“Clouds was my mistake,” Judy said, swallowing down the sorrow, and V took her demeanor to mean she was calming down. “It was my responsibility and I live with it everyday.”

“We all agreed to help you. I agreed to help you. It wasn’t just your fault.”

“Thanks V, but we all know Clouds wouldn’t have gone to shit if it weren’t for my plan. But the point is, that was our shitshow. This belongs to the Moxes. You think they’re just going to sit by and let him get away with everything he did? If we did that, then what’s the point in even having the Mox? We were created to protect our own, and we’re better prepared at protecting ourselves than Clouds ever was. Even Elizabeth Barden never had the Mox crew that we do now.”

V remained unconvinced. “You don’t know what the outcome would be. Even if you managed to defend yourself against the Claws, there would still be bloodshed along the way.” I can’t risk you, was the unspoken underlying truth, but V knew saying it outloud would only piss Judy off. Logically, V knew Judy could defend herself. Logically, V didn’t give a fuck about logic.

“We don’t know the outcome because you didn’t give us a chance,” Judy said. “You took that choice away from them.”

“Aoto isn’t getting off scot-free. The client that contacted my fixer had a daughter who Aoto also targeted. The client’s a corpo, in a bigger league than the Claws or Moxes. He’s going to get Aoto and all the lackeys underneath him charged and zeroed.”

Judy rolled her eyes. “A father who doesn’t want to strangle the man who killed his daughter? Give me a break.”

“Oh, he wants him flatlined, but he also wants everyone involved with him flatlined too, which means going through it the legal way.”

“Yeah? And how long is that going to take? A year or two?” Judy sniggered. “And what makes you or the client so sure the Claws aren’t going to pull some strings and get Aoto out of trouble? Those badges have never done anything right in their life.”

“Wakoko Okada is my fixer and she won’t let it slide, you just have to take my word for it.” V rubbed at her temple, the stress of the day beginning to take a toll on her both mentally and physically. “She doesn’t want Aoto’s head, but she also knows he fucked up big time. Listen, for what it’s worth she contacted me to extract him because she knows I won’t harm any of the Moxes.”

“I’m sure that would be really reassuring for Suzie to hear. ‘Hey, so my girl was specifically chosen to backstab our crew, non-lethally of course.’”

“If Aota gets out, Wakoko will help finish the job,” V stressed. “Either way, it won’t lead back to the Moxes. You guys will have your revenge without putting your fingers on it.”

Judy let out a loud frustrated huff. V couldn’t tell whether it was in defeat or if she was gearing up for another argument. She had stopped her pacing, choosing to glower at V instead. They both basked in the cold silence, each seeing the other’s points but were too stubborn to reach across the table. V had grown to learn that Judy, especially, was a brat when she wanted to be.

V broke the staredown. “What’s done is done, Jude. I’ll talk to Suzie tomorrow and explain everything.”

Judy snorted, “Yeah, if you can get inside Lizzie’s Bar with your head still attached.”

“I can be very sneaky.”

“Whatever.”

“I have a legendary perk for stealth.”

“Shut up.”

It was small and quick, but V definitely saw the twitch of a smile on Judy’s face. That moment of lightheartedness washed over them before the silence took over again. This was their first fight as a couple, and there will inevitably be more in the future, but at least they got it out and in the open. Most of V’s past relationships involved bottling up issues until it exploded into yelling, throwing shit, and then someone getting dumped and hurt. This was different, mainly because near deathbed V was a changed woman and Judy didn’t play like that.

Judy wasn’t one to hold stuff in or roll over, traits that V appreciated but also one that frustrated her sometimes.

When it appeared that Judy got out what she needed to get out, V took it as her sign to leave. Fighting back the exhaustion, she scooped up her jacket and stood up. “Gonna go, I’ll call you tomorrow when I leave for Suzie.”

Judy nodded, eyes downcast. “I’ll give Suze the heads up so she won’t call the cavalry on you.”

“Appreciate it.”

She waited just a bit, debating whether or not to touch Judy. A hug or kiss was no doubt out of the question. It stung a little when Judy didn’t move and wouldn’t look at her, but maybe it was for the better. V nodded to herself, defeated at the situation, and made her exit.

She got as far as two steps from Judy when she felt a hand around her arm.

“It’s late,” Judy said, turning V to face her. “I know how tired you get after a gig. You can um...just crash on the couch.”

An olive branch. A little one, but one nonetheless. All the fight had died out of V so she was indeed tired and would accept anything. Didn’t hurt to spend a little more time near Judy, even if it was with an angry Judy.

V agreed to the arrangement, and they began their routine of getting ready for bed, awkwardly sharing space without talking or making contact. When she exited the bathroom, she saw Judy had made up the couch with spare blankets and pillows. No sign of green-pink anywhere, which meant Judy must’ve already gone to bed. V took a peak at the bedroom door to see that it was closed. Of course.

“You know, there was an old saying back in the days,” said Johnny, who took shape near the window and was staring out into the moonlit night, “‘Don’t go to bed angry.’”

V scoffed. “Not so old, and please try not to give me dating advice Mr. I Wreck Every Relationship I’ve Ever Had.”

“Then all the more reason for you to listen to me, don’t you think?" he said, sounding oddly self-deprecating. "You’ve seen my mistakes, know how I fucked up, maybe you can learn a thing or two and do the opposite.”

V eyed him suspiciously. “Why do you care?”

“Because believe or not, I feel what you feel.” He turned to her, his face lacking humor. “And you know what I mean. Don’t make me say it.”

“You care about her?” V probed. Seeing how his face bunched up in annoyance, she guessed right. She had to inwardly laugh at that. “Wow, big bad anarchist Johnny Silverhand, actually cares about someone other than himself.”

“Fuck off,” he grumbled. “Not like I could help it, same way you can’t help picking up a smoke once or twice. It’s an intrusive fucking drawback, sharing this mind of yours. You women and your hormones and emotions, they’re fucking whack.”

V crossed her arms. “You know, it’s ok to just admit you care about someone. You don’t have to be a dick about it, nobody’s going to hurt you.”

“And yet, you’re hurt that she’s hurt, and now I’m over here feeling torn up. So yeah, take my advice, don’t fuck up the one good thing you have. And hell, maybe I’m getting used to the phantom feel of getting plowed by your girlfriend.”

Fucking asshole. He phased out, getting the last laugh, while V couldn’t help but consider his words, the implications. It was true that sometimes his bad habits and thoughts would leak through her mind, but it was strange to know it happened to him in return. Then he must know how much she cared about Judy and would never in a million years fuck things up.

She yawned long and hard and face-planted onto the couch. She preferred sleeping without pillows, usually sideways on her own bed, but this couch’s familiarity will do. Although, the last time she had slept on the couch was the first time she spent the night at Judy’s, and it brought back memories of Clouds and of Tom and of big, idiotic plans. All because she wanted to do the right thing, but also because a selfish part of her wanted to impress Judy. To get Judy to trust her and know that she could depend on her.

Jackie would tease her for being such a pendeja over a woman, all the while he would pick up a new skill just to create a mandala for Misty.

She shot up off the couch and headed to Judy’s bedroom. She knocked once, twice, then entered, knowing Judy was a light sleeper and would’ve kicked her out already if she wanted to. Everything was bathed in darkness, but V could make out Judy’s small form on the bed. Facing her, eyes open.

V closed the door behind her and crawled onto the mattress. Hearing no protest, she slipped an arm underneath Judy and pulled her closer. They got into position on auto-pilot, smooth as silk.

“I’m still mad at you,” Judy whispered, laying her head on V’s shoulder. “But I can’t have you here and not be with you.”

V closed her eyes, relishing in the feel of Judy wrapped around half her body, a leg over her lap. “I’ll take whatever you want to give me,” she whispered back. “I’m sorry. Don't wanna go to bed angry.”

Judy kissed her jaw. “Go to sleep, tomorrow I’ll go with you to see Suze.”

V hummed in response. Any other time and their snuggling would’ve been too suffocating for sleeping, but at that moment V was only relieved. She concluded that there was no shame in being a pendeja over this woman. Maybe Johnny’s advice wasn’t so bad after all.

***************************************************************************

5.

“You know, you don’t have to scrub that counter down to the rebar.”

“Not helping here, V.”

V chuckled, taking the rag away from Judy and tossing them into the wash bucket. She placed both hands on Judy’s shoulder and forced the other woman to look at her. “Can tell you right now, Panam and Mitch lives with sand up their asses everyday, they won’t care. River won’t either. And you know Misty and Viktor, they’re used to this shithole.”

“Are you calling my digs a shithole?” Judy raised an eyebrow.

V got herself into that one. “Well, um, no, you know that’s not what I meant.”

Judy let her off with a smile. “I’m pulling’ ya leg, V. But still! It’s the first time we’re having your choombas over, I want to make a good impression.”

“You haven’t dumped me yet, trust me when I say they’re all already impressed.”

“You’re such a gonk.” Judy pulled her into a hug and kissed her nape. “With shitty luck though. At least I get to have you and Nibbles for a while.”

Said Nibbles hopped up on Judy’s kitchen counter and meowed loudly, signifying her majesty’s dinner time.

Shitty luck and bad timing indeed. The get-together had been planned at V’s apartment, but due to a gas leak she had to evacuate until further notice. Without hesitation, Judy offered to have V stay with her and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not like V would’ve said no anyways, the thought of not staying at Judy’s didn’t even cross her mind. At this point, she had spent so many nights there that she felt more at home with Judy than at her own apartment. The sad truth was, she only went home to feed Nibbles and change clothes.

Nibbles seemed to have loved staying with Judy too. She got babied and served by not just one human, but two. Since Judy spent more time at home than V ever did, that meant Nibbles received all the head scratches she demanded. Not to mention all the computer towers and keyboards that Judy owned - those made perfect heating pads for Nibbles to nap on.

After they fed and catered to her majesty’s every whim, their guests started to arrive. Misty and Viktor were first, having already met Judy and therefore she was most comfortable around them. V had insisted they not bring anything, but Viktor still brought over his own moonshine concoction that looked like it was created before even V was born, and Misty came with cookies that smelled suspiciously like weed.

Next were Panam and Mitch, whom would’ve arrived earlier if Mitch hadn’t gotten lost. “I’d sooner find my way through a full borg’s inner guts than these shitty streets,” Mitch complained.

Panam smacked his jacket. “Next time, I will take the wheels.” She turned to V with open arms and a beaming smile, then did the same with Judy minus the hug. “Nice to finally meet the woman that’s able to put up with this headache.”

Last was River, who V had a passing thought might not show up. While they had gotten close as friends, it wasn’t long ago that V, being none the wiser, accepted River’s invitation to have dinner with his family. It wasn’t until he got her alone with drinks on the water tower that the whole picture became clear, and V had to awkwardly slip away while trying not to break the poor guy’s heart. She didn’t know why she hadn’t mentioned Judy to him before - maybe she was too distracted on getting the fuck out of there - but she rectified that situation the following day by telling him she was in a serious relationship.

Judy had a good laugh at that.

“Sup dude,” Judy said, taking in River's large frame curtailed by a flashy coat and giving him a cheeky smile. “Heard you tried to get at my girl.”

“Oh, I, um…” River stammered, looking between Judy and V with a wide eye.

“I’m messing with ya, just don’t do that again.” There was an unmistakable hint of threat there.

River made a noise that sounded like a laugh. He scratched the back of his head, turning his gaze to the floor, and V had never seen such a shredded bulk of a man appear so small before. Judy seemed to have that effect on people.

“Do not fret my guy,” said Panam. “I’m sure we’ve all been there before, right V?” She shot V a mischievous look.

That embarrassing haboobs moment, where a single V had put the moves on a very straight Panam, flashed before V’s eyes, and it was her turn to stammer. “Er, um, ok, you know what? Dinner! We have dinner!”

“Did I ever tell you the story of V hitting on me when we first met?” Misty said, tugging at Judy’s elbow. “She didn’t know who I was, but she complimented my hair and asked if I came there often. To the Coyote. Where I was meeting her best friend Jackie. Who I was dating.”

V hid her face behind her hand. “Can’t believe my own chooms are throwing me under the bus.”

Judy laughed. “Wow V, who here haven’t you been romantically involved with?”

“Ahem, hello,” Viktor raised his hand.

They all then turned to Mitch. He shrugged. “Sorry V, I’m pretty sure I caught you checking out my ass when I was fixing up the Panzer.”

V gave them all the middle finger, but was unable to contain her laughter. “You can all go fuck yourself.”

“Aw, sure you don’t want to do that for us?” Judy said with a bit to her lip and too big of a smile. V wanted to both ban her to the couch for the night and kiss her senseless.

She was glad the atmosphere was lighthearted fun, even if it was at her expense. Once upon a time she would’ve been embarrassed to the core, but her and Judy have gotten over that pasture. Judy already knew most of her sexual and romantic exploits, including the failed pass at Panam. She even knew about the one instance when a young and naive V spent the night with a Jig-Jig street joytoy who begged V to use her mantis blades as a dildo. Safe to say, she never went back there again.

They might have not been together that long, but V had laid out most of her messes on Judy’s table. It was only fair, considering Judy had already revealed so much of herself during their time synced-up in Laguna Bend. They knew each other’s pasts, and now were exploring each other’s present, and V couldn’t help but look forward to the future regardless of the shithole she was in. Every day she got the chance to gaze upon Judy was another day she allowed herself to think positively about the future.

She smiled softly to herself as she watched Judy interact with her crazy group of choombas.

“What’s the occasion?” Viktor asked her when the group settled down to admire the spread of food on the kitchen counter.

“I just wanted all the people closest to me together,” V said sheepishly. She’d never really been one to do this - it was more of Jackie’s specialty to throw parties, get a group of friends together, and be the center of attention. She’d hung back in his orbit, soaking up in his sunshine and everything it entailed.

She had missed that, so after everything that has happened, and everything that will happen, V thought it best to be surrounded by people she cared for.

“She’s a sap,” Judy slid in, sensing V’s mood. She wrapped an arm around V’s shoulder and squeezed. “Also, she finished a gig smuggling contraband for this idol group - Us Crackheads or something? - and they awarded her with…” She made a sweep of her hand over three hearty looking dishes. “...Real cuts of beef. Yes, ladies and gents, you heard right. Real beef, not that synthetic shit.”

“God damn.” River whistled, leaning over to take a whiff of the aroma, “Is my mind playing tricks on me or does this smell like heaven?”

Panam gawked just as badly as River. “You said the word real beef and now my mouth is watering.”

“Have to say kiddo, I’m glad to have met you,” said Viktor, sounding like he might cry.

V was pleased at their reactions. “Mama Welles couldn’t be here tonight, but she gave us a few recipes and I’m glad to inform you that Judy did most of the cooking while I watched, so you’re safe.”

“That’s very reassuring,” Misty said, quite seriously.

They spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and getting to know each other outside of their relationship to V. V could tell Judy was nervous by her tick, her foot bobbing up and down, but Judy still engaged and joked with everybody using that chill charm of hers. Later on, V watched as Panam tease River over his inability to swallow down Viktor’s putrid smelling alcohol, Misty give Mitch advice on centering his chi, and Judy bet Viktor on a boxing match. The whole scene made V feel warm inside. These were her people, and they would have each other in case she…

In case she…

“Don’t be such a debbie downer,” Johnny materialized just beyond everyone else, shadows obstructing half his form as he hid in a corner. “Hell, V, you know what I’d kill to have my crew come together for me?”

“Suspect they only did it when you needed an intervention,” V replied without bite.

“You’re fucking right. Cherish this moment and stop sending me negative vibes. You’re killing my mood.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know my happiness was your happiness.”

He snickered. “At this point, it sadly is.”

“Hey, you ok?” Judy asked, nudging V on the arm and reeling her back to reality. “You have that faraway look on your face as if you’re...that asshole isn’t bothering you, is he?”

“Christ, you’ve gotten so chummy she can read your mind now. Pathetic.” Johnny’s form disappeared before V could snap at him.

It was fine though, she didn’t want him there to ruin her mood either. Although, she begrudgingly admitted he was right; she needed to cherish the moment and put negative thoughts out of her head. No more doom and gloom, no more Arasaka, no more biochip or Johnny. Tonight was just about Judy and the people she considered family.

“I’m fine,” V said, reassuring Judy with a smile. “And yeah, you’re right. Johnny was being an ass because I have friends and he doesn’t.”

“Consider me not surprised to hear that,” Judy said, and then, to the air above V’s head, she spoke a little louder, “Yo, dead guy, leave my girl alone before I kick your ass.”

V pressed her face against Judy’s shoulder to muffle a laugh. “He’s gone Judy, but thanks for the reinforcement.”

“Mr. Silverhand being annoying again?” Viktor asked. “Would you like to try some of my booze? Won’t help make him disappear or anything, but I’d just like for you to try some.”

V considered it, even though she noticed both River and Panam were shaking their heads no behind Viktor’s back. Fuck it, if she was going to die, at least it’ll be to Viktor’s moonshine.

“Have a shot with me,” V urged Judy. “Don’t make me do this alone.”

Judy looked skeptical, but grabbed a shot glass anyways. “Only because I like you.”

“Braver than a cyberpsycho T-posing in the middle of a MaxTac orgy,” Mitch said, slow-clapping for the both of them.

River gave him a curious look. “Oddly specific.”

Panam rested a hand on his shoulder, face solemn. "We'll tell you that story later."

V, Judy, and Viktor clinked their glasses together over a loud round of “Cheers.” V suddenly understood why River was two seconds away from gagging up his dinner. The taste, like a mixture of nail polish drowned in car oil and dipped in battery acid, burned down her throat and punched out her stomach lining. She made the grave mistake of snorting a little of it up, burning the inside of her nose in the process. Through her tears, she watched as Judy chugged down an entire can of Nicola as a chaser. Viktor on the other hand, licked his lips as if he just finished a good bout of wine tasting.

Then the alcohol content hit her and V felt like she’d been smacked with 5 tequila shots in a row.

“What the hell is in this?” V choked out.

“You don’t want to know, trust me,” Viktor chuckled. “Feels good though, don’t it? Just got to ignore the aftertaste.”

“Or rather, the whole taste,” Judy said, accepting a new can of soda that Misty was nice enough to get her. “Why do I feel drunk already?”

“There’s about enough alcohol content in this to take down three Adam Smashers,” Viktor told them, like a proud father showing off his kid.

Panam, who’d been studying the glass jar of amber liquid like it was from another planet, congratulated Viktor with a loud smack on the back. “Well fuck, in that case give us another round!”

They all stupidly agreed to more rounds of shots, together this time. What was supposed to be a nice dinner with friends turned into a loud drunk party with friends all trying to talk over each other. Judy winded up on V’s lap, shouting and arguing with Mitch about engineering semantics that flew completely over V’s head. Panam and River were peacocking over who had the most preem Thorton, while Misty fought with Viktor over whether or not cats can do tricks. Occasionally they would all want V’s input, and then yell at V if she said what they didn’t want to hear.

All in all, V loved every fucking minute of it.

The whole ordeal lasted into the early hours of the morning, and everyone was forced to spend the night at Judy’s apartment. V pulled Judy into her arms the second their bodies hit the bed, and spooned her from behind.

“Thank you for doing this,” she mumbled into the back of Judy’s hair, taking in the familiar fragrance of citrus scented shampoo.

Judy yawned then responded with a heavy drawl. “You don’t have to thank me. You can ask me for anything you need.”

“So does that mean we can try -”

“No, you freak.” After a pause, she added. “I’ll consider it though.”

V smiled widely. “Nova.”

She held Judy tighter, not wanting the moment to pass despite how much she wanted to sink deep into the mattress and sleep for a thousand years due to the alcohol still buzzing in her system. Feeling brave, she snuck a hand underneath Judy’s shirt to cup a nice, squishy breast, causing Judy to giggle and press her ass into V’s pelvis. After a few minutes of wiggling around, leaving messy uncoordinated kisses on exposed skin, and giggling like kids, they finally settled down.

As the minutes ticked on by, V savored the rise and fall of Judy’s breathing. If she concentrated hard enough, she could hear everyone else’s snores coming from the living room.

Everything was perfect.

***************************************************************************

6.

Everything was busted.

Sand had gotten into all sorts of crevices and holes. Engines weren’t running like they should, tire wheels were in dire need of getting retreaded, and trying to keep the basilisk cool when they had other vehicles to worry about was a science experiment in and of itself. V had to stop Panam several times from shanking innocent Aldecaldo bystanders, although she couldn’t blame Panam; they were all stressed, tired, and hungry.

“Don’t know how you do it, V,” said Mitch, entering the main tent where V, Judy, and most of the Aldecaldos were going over maps and details. “But you’re the only one I know who can spawn the most vicious, random badges, even out here in the middle of the desert.”

“Did you lose them?” Panam demanded, voice tight.

Mitch picked up on her tone, because he dropped the humor. “Sure did. Cassidy and I distracted them with our drones, got them chasing their own tails miles away from here. I don’t think they’ll be heading close to our location anytime soon.”

“Have the drones continue scouting the perimeter. Don’t pull them back until we leave.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s going to stress our resources,” Carol interjected, glancing quickly at V before addressing Panam. “I know what we’re trying to do here, watching our backs, but those drones weren’t made for 24 hour surveillence. If we keep looking behind us, then who’s protecting our front?”

A hard look passed over Panam’s face, a tell she wasn’t going to be easily swayed. “I’ll send people to scout ahead when we move forward. For now we’ll stay here and rest, lay low until NCPD and border patrol gets tired of chasing us in the dark.”

Carol nodded, but looked like she wanted to push the issue further. “All I’m saying is, don’t get tunnel vision.”

“I won't.”

V watched the volleyball match with a wary uneasiness settling in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t want to be a cause of any problems, but there’s no mistaking it - the Aldecaldos had sacrificed so much just for her. Saul was dead, they were on the run, and their resources were limited. The only hope over the horizon were Panam’s contacts and the prospect of joining up with the other Aldecaldo families in Arizona. Whether or not they would welcome them with open arms was still up for debate depending on who you asked.

“Do you want to go lay down?”

V glanced over at Judy, who had snaked a hand down to tangle their fingers together. “No, I’m good,” V whispered back, keeping her voice low while Panam sorted things out with the other nomads.

Judy narrowed her eyes. “Don’t lie to me.”

V smiled, because who was she to pretend like Judy couldn’t read her like a shard. “I’m pretty fucking exhausted, yeah, but I want to be around for this.”

Judy studied her, eyes trailing over the cuts and bruises that littered V’s face after her adventure in Arasaka tower. “You know, you don’t have to be around for everything at all times. You can rest and let us take care of you for once.”

V felt her chest burst with overwhelming...love...for this woman. Like a warm blanket in the winter, that was the best way to describe Judy. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so enamored by someone, felt so cared for and cherished. Just by looking into Judy’s eyes, V swore she saw the same emotions reflected back so maybe, just hopefully, Judy felt the same way. It was all unprecedented territory and quite frightening, but V wanted to explore every last inch of it.

If Johnny were still around, he’d call her a pussy while pretending he was above it all. Although he never talked about it, they shared a braincell, sometimes shared a heart, so V could feel him becoming just as taken by Judy as she was, but without the romantic inclinations. If the separation hadn’t worked out, and Johnny had taken over her body, V liked to believe Johnny would’ve taken care of Judy and the rest of her family for her. The thought made V smile sadly to herself.

“Listen up, lovebirds,” said Cassidy, stepping up to V and Judy. “I’m going to gather up a few people and go hunting tomorrow. Would one of you like to come along? There’s a couple of fox nests not so far from here, and I heard thems a good eating.”

“Never hunted a thing in my life,” said Judy. “So I’m going to save us all the trouble and pass on that.”

“Think I can -”

“Absolutely not,” Judy cut in, silencing V. “You’re going to stay in tomorrow and rest.”

V frowned. “What? No, I’m fine! I’m a certified merc, the best shot there is here.”

“You also nearly got your ass handed to you by Adam Smasher,” came Panam, joining them with hands on her hips. “So no, you’re not fine, I agree with Judy and think you should keep it easy.”

“Well, damn, you heard the ladies,” Cassidy smiled apologetically at V, slapping her on the back before taking his leave. “Looks like you’re on latrine duty.”

“Now you’re shitting me, literally,” V groaned.

Judy pulled on V’s hand, running a thumb along the back of it. “V,” was all she said with pleading eyes, causing V to melt into a puddle on the floor.

“Alright,” V relented, unable to mask her adoring sigh.

Panam fake gagged. “Ugh, this is gross. Save it for when the lights are out, will you two?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Judy said with a wink.

Panam narrowed her eyes playfully but chose to ignore her. “I actually wanted to speak to you,” she said, directing her look at V who noticed the meeting was over and people were slowly dripping out of the tent. Panam had been such a busy-bee all day, this was probably the only time she had to chat. “How have you been holding up? No more migraines?”

V shook her head. “Was being honest when I said I feel fine. Maybe a little sore here and there, but nothing compared to my usual merc work."

"I'll have someone from the infirmary scour up some pain medication tomorrow. Things are a little hectic right now, I'm sorry V."

"Hey, don't sweat it, know you're doing the best that you can. You both are." V glanced between Panam and Judy, both of their faces full of patience and understanding. These were two people V could be completely honest around; the woman she wanted to spend the rest of her measly life with, and the woman who fast became her best friend. V was sometimes still surprised to find it so easy to talk to them.

“Feels different without Johnny in here,” she admitted, tapping her temple. “I only spent a couple of months with him inside my head, but damn does that asshole leave an impression.”

“Can’t say I’m not glad we don’t have a third wheel in our relationship anymore,” Judy said. “But I know how much he tried helping you, in his own way.”

“Yeah, he did,” V said wistfully.

Judy slipped an arm around her waist. “Hey, you know he kept leaving ashtrays in my apartment? Like mementos or something. Knew it wasn’t you since you only smoked when he wanted.”

V rolled her eyes. “Of course he did. Always tryna kill my body, that guy.”

“Mmmm, still a fine body though.”

“Oook,” Panam piped up. “And that is my cue to leave. For your information, your tent is up and ready. Please feel free to make googly eyes at each other in there. If you need anything, come and get me. Meeting adjourned, folks.”

Their raggedy tent was indeed set up and ready for them, perched up next to V’s Shion Coyote (her MaiMai had met an untimely death when she missed a turn and landed into the riverbank) giving off an even more mismatched, wear and tear vibe. Nibbles was impatiently waiting for them inside, meowing at the prospect of finally getting fed. She completely ignored them the second V filled up her bowl.

When V glanced over at Judy, who was dressing down for the night, appreciation curled within her chest. Here was someone who uprooted their entire life to follow her to god knows where (Judy had sold her old rusty van for some extra eddies while vying for V’s new car with shameless hunger). While they were leaving the city, Judy and Carol had worked their technician magic and fried all scanners and monitoring systems on the border patrol’s AVs. Like the Aldecaldos with them, Judy was now a fugitive.

All because of V, even though V didn’t have the courage to tell her everything.

That needed to change if they were going to make a future together. V had promised Johnny she wasn’t going to sulk - she was going to fight and live her life. She could at least give him that, while giving Judy the honesty she deserved. Bracing herself, she stood tall to address her partner in crime. “Judy, about the biochip -”

“I don’t care,” Judy cut her off, head tilted downwards as she unfastened her overalls, but her eyes bore into V’s own. “I already know. It’s still killing you, isn’t it?”

Like a punch in the gut. V opened and closed her mouth several times. “How did you…?”

“You think I left all those shards on neurotechnology around our apartment for fun?” Judy dropped her overalls and kicked them away, almost angrily. V didn't miss the way Judy said our apartment. “I did my own research, especially after you told me about your talk with Hellman and Alt Cunningham. I pieced a few things together to see what I can do to help you. Didn’t come up with much but I think I get the jist of it.”

She stepped right up to V, cupping her cheeks in both hands. “When I say I don’t care, what I mean is that I’m going to stay by your side through all of this. I’m not leaving you, even if you’re still dying. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - we’ll figure something out. You got this far, didn’t you? Even when everyone told you separating Johnny from your head was impossible, you still did it, didn’t you?”

“But this is different," V said forlornly. "Alt gave me a timeline, and she’s basically become an all-knowing AI god at this point. If she can’t figure it out, I’m not sure why I - not sure why I should have faith.”

Judy’s brows furrowed. “Don’t be such a gonk, V. She’s a program made out of zeros and ones, I can fuckin’ turn her on and off like a lighbulb if I wanted to. What does she know about human biology? About human resilience?”

V let out a shaky breath, feeling her eyes burn with tears. She let a few of them drop as Judy caressed her face. She wanted so badly to believe everything Judy was saying. “Panam said she has contacts that can help me, but I don’t - I don’t want to have false hope or even give you false hope. If something happens to me, I need you -”

“V, I’m saying this from the heart, but I need you to shut up. Please. Don’t talk like that.”

“Ok. Ok.” V sniffed, closing her eyes to lean into Judy’s palm. She felt the press of Judy’s lips on her forehead, then her wet cheek, and finally her lips.

Judy pulled back to look at her. “The world dealt us a shitty hand, I think we deserve each other, don’t you think?”

V smiled, although it didn’t reach her eyes. “You’ve lost so many people, I don’t know why you even want to bother with me. I don’t want to be another reason for you to hurt.”

“Let me stop your self-sacrificing bullshit right there. You think losing you now when you’re still alive isn’t going to hurt as much as losing you through death? It’s too late for me to pull back.” Judy added a helpless shrug and smile before pulling on V’s hand to lead them toward the makeshift bed. “You know what drew you to me in the first place? You have this stupid ability to know exactly what I’m going through. You push me constantly, even when I clam up. We’ve been through so much shit together, I can’t think of anyone else I’d like to share my life with. I’m not giving up on you, V.”

V chuckled wetly. “Ya getting pretty sappy there, Judes.”

“Argh, I know. Maybe Panam was right, it’s disgusting.” She kissed V’s cheek before bringing V down on the bed with her. “Lets not worry over the unknown anymore. We’re going to whoever might be able to help us and we’re going to solve it, just like we’ve solved everything.”

V wasn’t going to argue with her on that, because Judy was partially right. Although they had the lucky habit of solving all their issues, things never went unscathed. Someone always got hurt or a life was lost in the process. V ended up dying twice. Next time, she could only hope it wasn’t going to be permanent.

She’ll stay positive, if only for Judy.

“You’re incredible, you know that?” V said, hovering over Judy and admiring her face with unabashed adoration. “Can’t believe I got the emo acting all hopeful.”

Judy laughed. “Did you just call me emo? Fuck you. I’ll take the incredible though. C’mere.”

They met in a languid kiss. Even though V was scratched up and feeling like dead weight, she didn’t want to stop and couldn’t get enough of Judy. Needing to burrow within her girlfriend, V slid between Judy’s thighs and pinned her down into the mattress. Thoughts and worries about tomorrow began slipping away whenever they were intimate like this.

Judy’s deft hands got her out of her clothes in seconds, but V took her time with Judy. She treasured every inch of exposed flesh, of colorful and significant tattoos, and of every sighs and sounds she managed to elicit with her hands. Soon they became a tangled up mess, exchanging wet kisses while trying to find the right amount of friction. V concentrated on Judy first, enthusiastically pushing her over the edge as a form of thank you for being the best fucking output.

Judy’s high point was met by a loud wail as Nibbles chose that exact moment to hop on the bed and join them. Directly on Judy’s face.

Judy screeched right next to V’s ear, causing her to jerk, and the both of them ended up tumbling over, pulling on the bed sheets, the cat, and the side of the tent. One half of the tent came crashing down, making enough ruckus to alert the whole camp.

They were still underneath the rubble, shell-shocked, when they heard Panam’s voice call out. “What the hell happened? Are you guys ok?”

“Absolutely nova!” V answered back, blindly searching around for blankets to cover her and Judy, and praying to all sentient AIs that nobody would try and pull them out. “We were just um - training you know and uh - got a little too violent? It’s all good!”

It was awfully quiet before Panam spoke again. “You were both training were you?”

“Yes.”

“Training. That’s it. Nothing else?”

“No, no!”

“So if the guys were to help -”

“No! We got this. Go back to doing whatever you were doing.”

“There’s things I want to say but I will save it for tomorrow when I can see your face. Fix up your tent and try not to overexert yourself with training. Alright everyone else, back to your tents!”

V and Judy waited until it sounded like all the footsteps disappeared before they burst into laughter. Nibbles, who was squashed between them under the blanket, did not seem amused as she tried crawling away, making hissing noises at them as if it was all their fault. It took a lot of creative maneuvering, but they managed to redress and redo their tent without having to show their faces to the others.

“Pretty sure everyone just figured out we had sex the first night on the run,” said Judy, looking smug.

“I’m both horrified and proud of that.” V pulled Judy back into her arms as they both resettled on the bed. Most of the fire had burned out, but V still felt a little blueballed. “I just want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For staying with me, for being with me. Sort of flipped your life upside down when I came in with Evelyn that day, and it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but...you’ve been my anchor through everything. Every time my day went to shit, I thought of you and felt better. You're the most important person in life my right now.”

“Funny, I feel the same way.” Judy nipped at V’s neck, her hand coming to play with V’s waistband. “But...lets save the mushiness for another day?”

When Judy’s hands disappeared into her pants, V could only moan. “Yeah, ok. Can’t believe we put on our clothes just to take them off again.”

“We can just do it with our clothes on. Like teenagers.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Is Nibbles asleep?”

V glanced to the far end of the tent to check, and sure enough, her majesty had passed out on a pile of the fluffiest blankets. V turned back to Judy and waggled her eyebrows. “No more interruptions.”

“Good.” She drew V into a deep kiss as V put her own hands to work, coping a feel above Judy’s shirt. Like teenagers.