I haven't written for literally ever. Hopefully this will get me out of the not-writing habit.

Don't expect much okay I'm rusty as all heck.

Ella leaned forward, peering into the department store jewellery counter's cracked mirror. The early morning light slanting in through the window highlighted every speck of dust in its pale golden beam.

"I don't know why you feel the need to keep doing that," said Danse. His power armour whirred as he shifted position behind her.

"Of course you don't," she replied, leaning closer to the mirror. She drew the eyeliner brush across her eyelid, carefully forming a sharp point at the corner of her eye. "They used to call it 'war paint', back in the day," she said, inspecting her handiwork. "And they meant that in a slightly condescending way, but what's the point of bringing up old wounds now, right?"

"I just don't see why you bother," he said. "You look fine without it."

She laughed. "Fine," she said. "Yes. The point is, if you see a woman in perfect eyeliner carrying a huge fucking gun, the correct emotion to feel is terror." She glanced up at his reflection in the mirror. "It should be intimidating that someone has the free time to put into looking good while also being able to shoot you through the eye at three hundred paces."

"At three hundred paces, who's going to see your eyeliner?" he asked.

"Anyone looking back through a scope, I guess," she said, switching to her other eye.

"There's a reassuring thought," he muttered. He took a step closer to the window and looked down at the street below.

"You still shave, don't you?" she asked. "So it's not like the apocalypse is an excuse to let your appearance go to hell."

"Not every day," he said, defensively. "It's not mission critical if you're in the field. Besides, it's regulations."

"I'm not entirely sure how the facial hair hierarchy works in this organisation." She sat back from the mirror with a frown. Slightly uneven. She leaned back in, closer, to even it out. "Seems linked to seniority. I guess it isn't something I have to worry about, anyway."

"It's not that complicated," he said disapprovingly.

She drew one final line, narrowed her eyes critically as she compared them in the mirror, and turned around to face him. "The eyeliner's psychological warfare," she said. "Well. Barely, I guess. It makes me feel better. And please don't start getting into that 'frailty, thy name is,' bullshit, because I could do without it."

"Wouldn't dream of it," said Danse.

She smiled. "Well, how do I look?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Are you terrified yet?"

"Terrified isn't exactly how I'd describe it," he said.

Her smile widened. "How would you describe it?"

"I-" he said, taking a step back. "Uh."

"Exactly the reaction I was looking for," she said. "You've been a great help." She took one last glance back at the mirror and straightened up.

"If you're sure you're ready to go?" said Danse. "You don't want to put on lipstick or something?"

"What, do you think I'm crazy?" she asked. "I'd be reapplying it all day. That's far too much work. This is all about minimum effort, maximum impact."

"I'm - familiar with the concept," he said. "And I'm starting to see why they called it 'war paint'."

"Some of us took it more seriously than others," she said. "Though, in those days, it was more about boardrooms than battlefields."

She picked her way carefully past fallen mannequins and shattered display cases; torn clothes and empty bullet casings, and let her hand rest lightly on the wooden rail as she walked down the stairs. Paladin Danse's footsteps behind her were heavy and reassuring.

She paused at the bottom of the stairs. "I used to come here a lot," she said. "In my lunch breaks. When I was little I'd imagine coming here at night when no one else was around, and I could just take whatever I want." She rubbed her finger along a counter, scooping up a line of dust. "I can't say it's everything I ever dreamed of."

"This must be strange for you," said Danse. "Do you - recognise everything?"

She led them outside. "I didn't at first," she said. "Couldn't tell one street from another. So much is gone." She paused for a moment as gunfire rattled in the distance. "And then I walked right into Boston Common. I could just imagine being there on a sunny day, hundreds of people around, kids playing in the water. And everything just sort of fell into place. I could line up my memory with-" she waved a hand. "All this." She sighed. "And there was a supermutant in the pond wearing a boat. Because that's apparently just what life is like now."

"It doesn't have to be," said Danse. "That's why we're here."

She gave him a half-smile. "I used to work just around the corner from here," she said.

Danse was watching her. "Do you want to go see?"

She took a moment before answering. "No," she said. "Best case scenario, they're all dead, right?" She looked up at the old building. "I - hope they are, at least."

She turned to Danse. "Things weren't good before the war," she said. "Though I didn't know how bad they'd got until reading some of the old terminals out here. The Sanctuary Hills subdivision was very insulated. It's easy to ignore how bad things are if you're on your six months maternity leave and the furthest you ever go from home is the Concord grocery store. Food riots are easy to ignore when they're a thirty second segment on the six o'clock news. But still, I never expected - this." She stared down the bleak street ahead. Rubble was piled high on both sides, the remnants of shattered buildings reaching into the sky.

"Why is it still like this?" she asked incredulously. "If it's been two hundred years. How can things still be this bad? When you think of what America accomplished between 1776 and 1976 - I just don't understand. They're still subsistence farming. Still living in two hundred year old houses that are falling apart. Diamond City's a shanty town. I just - would have expected more."

"It's not like this everywhere," said Danse, watching the skyline warily. "Things are better out west."

She stopped, lowering her rifle. "Really?"

"Yeah. California, Nevada are doing okay. The Capital Wasteland's worse than here, though," he said.

"DC?" she asked. "Well - yeah, I bet. Christ."

"Do you need to take a minute?" asked Danse, turning to look at her. "We need to stay focused out here."

She sighed. "No, I'm pretty much done whining for now," she said, "Let's go."