She was leaning her back up against the cold tile wall when Nick Valentine stepped into the side tunnel of the abandoned subway station. Her gray hat brim was pulled low over her face, the collar of her trench coat popped up to cover the lower half. Not much else of her could be seen in the darkness where several light bulbs had gone out, a spot she'd chosen for that exact reason. She held a smoldering cigar between the fingers of one hand, white smoke curling upward into the shadows. The detective had followed her here, the way he always tried to catch her whenever she made an appearance.
This time was different because this time, she let him.
Maybe a little surprised at having caught up to her, the synth's glowing yellow eyes widened as he pointed a finger of his metal hand at her by-now familiar figure. "You! Stop right there!"
The stranger raised her hands where Valentine could see them. "I'm not going anywhere, detective," she said in a low, smoky voice.
"You're a woman?" Valentine said with a frown. "All the eyewitness accounts say you're male."
Making a noise of irritation, the woman said, "Maybe today I am. People see what they want to see."
Valentine drew a pipe revolver from his trench coat pocket and aimed it down the tunnel toward her. "Why aren't you running?" he said, tone suspicious as he started in her direction. "You always have before." Fallen bricks clinked together beneath his boots.
Unfazed by the gun, the stranger smiled in the glow of her cigar. "I thought it time we have a conversation. After all, I hear you're my biggest fan."
"I hear you're a serial killer," the detective retorted. "I'm a big fan of putting you away for good."
The woman's smile changed to a pout. "You mean you object to me killing that giant sewer rat that was about to eat your friend?" She made a general motion toward the synth with one hand. "Get any closer and I'm gone."
With a grimace, Valentine slowed and stopped, clearly believing her. She'd slipped through his fingers in the past enough times for him to know she meant it. Shrugging, he said, "I just want some answers."
Eyes narrowing, the stranger straightened up to her considerable height, towering over the synth. "You know what?" she said. "I don't owe you anything, answers least of all. In fact, you owe me for all the times I've saved your asses."
Valentine squinted up at her with a light sneer. "And why would you do that, eh? Are you following us?" he demanded, unthreatened.
It was always hard to intimidate a synth, especially the old ones. Detective Nick Valentine had been around for a long time.
There was a brief pause, and then the woman laughed a low, throaty chuckle, breaking the tension herself. "Just traveling in the same direction."
With a disbelieving tch! noise, the detective lowered his weapon. "I don't know what your interest is in Gale, but I'm willing to thank you for stepping in when you did."
Raising her hand, the stranger flicked the cigar at Valentine. It bounced off his chest with a hollow plink and landed in the rubbish at his feet. "Don't you forget it," she said. "Since we agree you owe me, don't come after me anymore. I don't want to have to kill you. Got that?"
A knowing smirk touched one corner of Valentine's mouth as his eyes briefly dropped down to the smoldering cigar before him. He looked back up at her and said, "Why not?"
Fabric rustled as the woman slipped both hands into her pockets. She nodded at the cigar. "Thinking you can track me with that?"
Valentine bent and retrieved it from the trash-strewn floor. He angled the cigar in the weak light from the old bulbs in the ceiling, tilting it back and forth. "Among other things," he said. "This is a Mint Mall."
"You're probably the only person left in the world who would recognize one," the woman said. "The reason no one smokes them now is they taste god-awful. But," —she smiled all-too knowingly— "habits are the best disguise."
Still with his face toward the object in his hand, the detective cut his eyes sideways to look at her across his shoulder. "You're saying you smoked this one here to throw me off your trail, 'cause these aren't your usuals."
"Among other things," said the stranger, tone pleased with his deduction. "I'm saying you can't touch me, detective. Might as well stop trying."
Grunting noncommittally, Valentine pinched out the glowing end and dropped the cigar into his coat pocket. "We'll see."
The woman barked a skeptical laugh. Then she tugged at the brim of her fedora in farewell. "You keeping hanging around that Vaultdweller," she said, "and you can bet we'll see each other again."
With that, the mysterious stranger vanished. Detective Nick Valentine was left alone, looking a little starry-eyed in an empty subway tunnel.